Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Immigration Brings Racism Front and Center

After building the most powerful nation on earth by welcoming those around the world who want a better and freer life, a significant number of Americans now want to slam the gates.

Sorting out and integrating millions of illegal aliens is no easy matter, too long delayed, but John Boehner and Ted Cruz are taking off the masks that Republicans donned after losing the White House in 2012 largely because of the minority vote.

Shackled by his right-wing caucus, the House Speaker is having trouble selling members even a narrow punitive path to citizenship he has outlined, while Cruz wants the Senate to turn away from the issue altogether until after the November elections.

Those of us who grew up on “God Bless America” (written by a Jewish immigrant) can barely recognize a nation of people whose forebears came here in the last century or the one before to escape tyranny and make a better life for their children.

In its details and implementation, immigration reform is a massive undertaking but not for a nation built on the principle of freedom and opportunity for all, even though it took a Civil War and a post-World War II outpouring of protest to move forward to the point of having an African-American president.

What is most troubling is the meanness of today’s debate. After demonizing Barack Obama for five years with undisguised racism, the GOP Right can’t bring itself, even in the face of its self-interest at the ballot box, to honor the tradition of inclusiveness that built America.

Boehner’s plan wants Latinos to pay fines and back taxes, submit to criminal checks, study civics and go through other mea culpas before even being considered for citizenship, but even all that is not enough to overcome the barrier of racism for some of his members.

As usual, all this will be seen through the prism of getting and holding political power but, even by that standard, the Republican resistance to a start on immigration reform is senseless. Yet for a party that was making the likes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum front runners for the White House four years ago, anything is possible.

As the GOP struggles with the issue, Boehner may want to think about his German “barkeep” father’s immigration and Cruz about his family who had to move to Canada to escape Castro tyranny even more recently before settling in Texas.

Yes, they played by the rules, but those old rules can’t deal with millions who came here not only for their own freedom but to provide cheap labor for  America’s sacred free enterprise. The principles haven’t changed, even though the skin color has.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SOTU: Super Bowl with No Game

Perhaps the sharpest commentary was a repeated cutaway to John McCain smirking as the President went through a laundry list of ways to improve the State of the Union, mostly by executive action, inviting the GOP to join the game with him. But with John Boehner visibly reacting only to the reference to himself as the “son of a barkeep” who attained high office, the Republicans refused to suit up.

It was like the Super Bowl, with one team staying off the field, while the other raced up and down the field, eating up yardage while nobody scored.

McCain may have a point. With the President ending two Middle East wars and trying to avoid new ones, what is there for those like him to get excited about? They will have to make do with rehashes of Benghazi.

The lobotomized atmosphere continued into the postgame with the GOP trotting out a tranquilized Sarah Palin lookalike, complete with her own Downs Syndrome child, but no zingers, offering instead a sweetly reasonable content-free alternative to the President’s vision, consisting mostly of a rehash of her life story from humble beginnings and “offering a prayer” to God three times in her last sentence.

Barack Obama, for all his eloquent proposals that make sense, will in his last two years continue to play a game against a team that stays on the sidelines sniping and waiting for time to run out so they can win the next two elections by blaming Democrats for not scoring big.

Even if he achieves some of his goals laid out last night in lame-duck time, Obama’s legacy is already engraved in stone as a President who couldn’t get the big things done and had to settle for symbolically small and/or tainted accomplishments like Obamacare in a time that called for FDR-like transformation.

Perhaps the most pointed commentary on all this was the final standing, roaring tribute to Sgt. Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan who was found in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

Both sides of Congress ended the SOTU with a standing ovation for this young man in the gallery, his body wrecked in the service of his country, in a war that the President says is ending but, in the fine print, will go on.

Is the maiming of our best young people all that politicians can agree on in a time of urgency for the nation?

Cory Remsburg’s heart is still alive and beating, but what about the dead hands of Tea Party naysyayers as they applaud him but obstruct every value that he was defending?

In the Super Bowl Sunday, somebody will win. In last night’s Washington, everybody lost.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Crazy in Love

In very old age, stories haunt you, not necessarily your own. Some have such a wild resonance with your inner life they demand to be told.

Louis B. Mayer, at the height of his power as head of MGM in the 1930s, the most highly paid man in America, maker and breaker of studio executives, the supreme Beverly Hills poobah, came down with an unconsummated crush on a would-be starlet.

He courted Jean Howard with fatherly advice about doctors and dentists, avuncular offers to help with any problems she might have. When Mayer finally asked her out to dinner, she told him she had a date with a woman friend. Undeterred, he took them both. “He never grabbed me or tried to kiss me or do anything that almost everybody else had,” Jean Howard later recalled.

At the time, she was having a stormy affair with an agent, later a producer, named Charles Feldman who, she had just found out, was also seeing someone else. When Mayer asked Jean Howard to go to Paris with him, she agreed, but only if her woman friend could come along as chaperone.

Soon after they arrived at the hotel, an MGM press agent called, urging Howard to come to Mayer’s room where he was clutching a sheaf of papers—-a detective’s report on her comings and goings with Feldman. “How could you do this to me?” Mayer screamed, gulped a tumbler of whiskey and tried to heave himself out the window. It took Howard, her friend and the MGM man (who broke a thumb) to wrestle him to the floor.

After being sedated by a doctor, Mayer meekly agreed to arrange Howard’s return to the States. In the taxi, on his knees, he swore he would divorce his wife and begged her to marry him, but she left for New York, where Feldman was waiting. (She married and later divorced him but kept living in the same house, a tempestuous Hollywood life in which her greatest achievement was taking pictures of the rich and famous at parties she hosted.)

At about the same time that Mayer was succumbing to passion, the King of England gave up his throne to be with the “woman I love” whom he would not be allowed to marry. No sexual innocent as the Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII had cut a wide swath through a generation of young British women before succumbing to the charms of Wallis Simpson, an American about to be divorced from her second husband.

After his abdication of the throne, the couple spent the rest of their lives in Café Society as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, she an imperious figure with a fondness for jewelry, he trailing her with a sad face and the couple’s dogs.

Obsessive love touched me when my best friend left his wife and two children to marry a younger woman who had bewitched him. No philanderer, he had interviewed and written sympathetically of such women as Jacqueline Kennedy, Ingrid Bergman and Princess Grace.

When sex researchers Masters and Johnson wanted a book in their name on love and commitment, they asked him to write it with them. It ended with the assertion that “in their later years, it is in the enduring satisfaction of their sexual and emotional bond that committed husbands and wives find reason enough to be glad that they still have another day together.”

No so for my friend. Soon afterward, his young wife casually betrayed him without bothering to hide it. He literally took that to heart but even on his deathbed implored me to help in her career as a magazine editor. I kept that promise and gave the eulogy at his funeral with a heavy and troubled heart.

I draw a confessional veil over details about the woman who inspired obsession in me with her grief after a traumatic divorce that left her face as if in a glaze of broken glass, setting off romantic rescue fantasies that broke my heart but never touched hers. She took every ounce of my passion and the comforts that came with it, as if by divine right, and gave back only permission to be adored. After thirty years, it still hurts.

The men in these stories did no harm to the objects of their passion, quite the opposite, yet are seen as addled predators, but no note is taken of the women’s use of them on their impervious paths to totally self-absorbed lives while leaving behind the kind of deep endless pain they themselves were incapable of feeling.

Perhaps Dante was lucky to have met Beatrice only briefly before she inspired his passion for “The Divine Comedy.” In real life she married a rich man in Florence and lived a very ordinary life.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Governors Gone Wild: Now Vitter?

Mediawise, running a state used to be a boring job. Mostly signing papers and posing at the opening of small town rec centers. But no more.

On the heels of the Christie circus comes word that Sen. David Vitter wants to go back and govern Louisiana.

Surely you remember Vitter: Since being outed seven years ago as a frequent flier on the DC Madam’s joy circuit, he has been busy lowering his profile in the Senate with such landmark moves as casting the solo vote against Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary of State.

Now he proposes to go back to Baton Rouge and brighten his home state after two decades in Washington.

Those with long memories may recall Mrs. Vitter’s reaction to the Madam revelations.

“I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” she said about her husband’s philandering. “If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.”

“I think fear is a very good motivating factor in a marriage,” she added. “Don’t put fear down.”

(Bobbitt was famous back then for removing her abusive husband’s penis with a knife.)

Depending on how the Vitter marriage has been going since then, his ascension as governor would provide Republicans with a bookend for the portly Christie on the GOP governors roster.

Meanwhile, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking conservative heat for saying “extreme conservatives, who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay...have no place in the state of New York,” a remark his staff insists that is being taken out of context.

Whatever. Crazy is seeping down from DC at an alarming rate.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Christie, Nixon and Their Enemies Lists

We can expect a Checkers Speech any time now in New Jersey as Chris Christie follows the career path of the only US president to be driven from office for criminal behavior in the last two centuries.

With each new revelation, Christie evokes Richard Nixon who divided the world into friends and enemies and, with ruthless helpers, punished those on the wrong list and played dirty tricks on them.

In his first run for national office as Eisenhower’s VP, Nixon had to make a mawkish TV talk to save his place on the ticket after revelations that he had taken under-the-table contributions from supporters. Admitting illegality, he argued it was not “morally wrong” because the money was for political not personal use, closing with a mock-defiant promise to keep the family gift dog Checkers nonetheless because “the kids love it.”

As President almost two decades later, Nixon escaped impeachment by resigning after revelations of a “massive campaign of political spying and sabotage” against opponents by aides in charge of “dirty tricks.

On a state level, Gov. Christie is running well ahead of his role model as we learn not only of bridge traffic jams but new accusations that he withheld Hurricane Sandy relief from Jersey mayors who did not do his political bidding.

Opinion polls suggest that Christie’s thuggish approach to governing has not taken hold enough with voters to derail his budding presidential campaign, but the signs are all there for those with memory of Nixon and Watergate to see.

Democrats are pressing the issue, and it’s a safe bet that New Jersey is filled with Woodward and Bernstein wannabes beating the bushes for more evidence of Christie’s dirty tricks against perceived enemies.

Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Give Me Liberty or Mass Death"

The Founding Fathers are often cited in the debate over government surveillance vs. individual freedom, but we don’t have to go back that far to disentangle rhetoric from reality.

In the aftershock of 9/11, the bipartisan commission found ample evidence that the FBI and other agencies, out of sloppiness or squeamishness, kept ignoring evidence of Arabs enrolling in American flight schools to fly commercial airliners without too much interest in landing them but failed to grasp its significance and follow up assiduously.

As the President addresses the furor over NSA excesses, directing his government to “develop options for a new approach,” his self-righteous critics should not be allowed to obscure the bottom line, security against another 9/11. Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden won’t be held accountable for a sneak nuclear attack.

“Some who participated in our review,” said the President yesterday, “as well as some in Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters, so that we have to go to a judge before issuing these requests. Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime.”

As the Administration struggles to curb abuses without damaging our chances of preventing future attacks, critics have every right and duty to demand that more and better safeguards be developed.

What they don’t have the moral standing to do is follow Greenwald’s lead in denouncing the President thus:

“They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic ‘reforms’ so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.”

In the Internet Age, talk is cheap, but in the aftermath of an another attack on the US homeland, it won’t be Greenwald or his puppet Snowden telling the American people what went wrong.

Barack Obama took a solemn oath to protect America. He is not immune to criticism but deserves the respect and credibility that should accompany that burden as he struggles with a bottomless pit of conflicting pressures. Political posturing is not the issue.

Friday, January 17, 2014

MLK st 85: Person of the Century

He was no plaster saint, this remarkable man who brought a race out of American darkness with soaring words and body rhetoric more muscular and effective than any mob uprisings might have been.

In his 39 years on earth, Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence to the oppressed. “Our weapon is love,” he told them, and he used it with stunning force.

At the dawn of TV, he brought into American homes images of peaceful protesters being beaten, driven with high-pressure hoses and arrested without fighting back. Their stoic suffering exposed racial hatred to a nation as never before.

His birthday this weekend will elicit the usual eulogies, grainy old videos of speeches and marches as well as tributes from the first African-American President and other nation leaders for whom he paved the way to political power, but they can barely revive the essence of the greatest figure of our time on earth.

Of the many gifts he bestowed on America, the most undervalued may be hope, an unyielding optimism transcending the kind of bitterness and hate that divides people and would eventually take his own life.

“The reports are that they are out to get me,” he told his parents before the murder in Memphis. “I have to go on with my work, I’m too deeply involved now to get out, it’s all too important. Sometimes I want to stop. Just go away somewhere and have some quiet days, finally, a quiet life with Coretta and the children. But it’s too late for that now. I have my path before me. I know what I have to do.”

That kind of selfless dedication is an invitation to see Dr. King as a martyr, but he was also a mortal man with human failings that led J. Edgar Hoover to bug his hotel rooms and have anonymous letters sent urging him to commit suicide.

In Hoover's files were angry scrawls on press clippings. On Dr. King receiving the St. Francis peace medal from the Catholic Church, he wrote "this is disgusting." About the Nobel Prize: "King could well qualify for the 'top alley cat' prize!"

During his last years, despite gratitude to LBJ for pushing through a landmark Civil Rights law, Dr. King had turned against the Vietnam War and was actively opposing it, much to the President’s displeasure. His focus remained on human life, not politics.

In 1966 Dr. King wrote for me about an apartment he had rented in Chicago’s slums to connect with gang members: “I was shocked at the venom they poured out against the world.”

He asked them to join Freedom Marches in Mississippi and they did in carloads, where “they were to be attacked by tear gas. They were to protect women and children with no other weapons but their own bodies...

“They learned in Mississippi and returned to teach in Chicago the beautiful lesson of acting against evil by renouncing force...

“And in Chicago the test was sterner. These marchers endured not only the filthiest kind of verbal abuse but also barrages of rocks and sticks and eggs and cherry bombs...

“It was through the Chicago marches that our promise to them—-that nonviolence achieves results--was redeemed and their hopes for a better life rekindled, For they saw that a humane police force, in contrast to police in Mississippi, could defend the exercise of Constitutional rights as well as enforce the law in the ghetto.”

Some of those young men Martin Luther King helped to grow up and away from their worst selves to exercise their civil rights must have been among the millions of Americans of all races to vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

In the past five years, they and we have learned that the old hatreds die hard, but bitterness was not in Martin Luther King’s character. If he were still here at 85, he might well remind us as he did toward the end of the brief life we celebrate:

“Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace. We must combine the fervor of the civil rights movement with the peace movement. We must demonstrate, teach and preach, until the very foundations of our nation are shaken. We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.”

Amen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Public Posturing, Authentic Lives

In 2008, Barack Obama told Tim Russert with a worried smile on “Meet the Press” that his wife and friends thought he was still there behind all the hype and on 60 Minutes admitted that the “attempt to airbrush your life...is exhausting.”

Five year later, we can still see an authentic person in the Oval Office, the man himself not buried in all the sludge that has been heaped on him by rabid opponents.

The contrast comes up with the undoing of Chris Christie in just a week, from plain-spoken populist to mean-spirited pol who plays dirty tricks on those who cross him and, when caught, throws his closest associate to the wolves to cover his tracks.

Say what they will about the President, even those who hate him can’t pair him with Christie as inauthentic. In defending the Jersey governor, Rush Limbaugh is reduced to daydreaming of better scandals.

“Why can’t we have Obama running around on Michelle or something?” asks El Rushbo. “Wouldn’t that be a much better scandal than Christie and bridge lane closures, for crying out loud?”

As the President wades into Year Six of his tenure with straightening out Obamacare and extending unemployment on his plate, no matter what valid criticisms may be aimed at him from Left or Right, no rational observer will pair him with the intellectual and moral pygmies like Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and their ilk that the GOP is teeing up to replace him in the 2016 balloting.

When all their “airbrushing” is done, will Republicans have to fall back on someone like Jeb Bush, as they did last time with Romney, to create even the illusion of authenticity?

“You can beat somebody with nobody” is an old political axiom, which may lead to a 2016 retro match of former White House names.

Whatever. One thing is sure: Michelle and Barack Obama will be leaving the place hand in hand, Limbaugh’s fantasies not withstanding.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Moral Heart of "Downton Abbey"

In life, a minor character can assume a crucial role. For one who has experienced this phenomenon often, so too in popular art, as the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, who has figured in all 34 episodes of “Downtown Abbey,” increasingly comes to the heart of conflicts that beset other characters.

That someone who has willingly suppressed her own passions in the service of others should be in this position is not an unexpected irony for those sensitive to the chasm between human beings who mindlessly eat the world for their own pleasure and those imbued by nature and/or experience to compassion and caring for others.

In the latest plot turn, Mrs. Hughes is again burdened by an impossible dilemma, her sole knowledge of the shocking assault on the housemaid Anna and what to do about it. Telling might punish the rapist but drive Anna’s husband to murder; concealing it forces her to share in the pain and guilt.

In life, as others keep pushing ahead mindlessly from day to day, the most responsible people are often put to such choices by their own natures, swallowing their own suffering in silence.

At every point, Mrs. Hughes takes the consequences of turning down her second chance to become a farmer’s wife in Season 1 and providing moral support and practical help to other Downton denizens at the price of her own emotional pain.


Even with her own strict moral code, she is compassionate over Bates’ physical handicap, the housemaid who is impregnated by a wounded soldier, the plight of Carson’s former vaudeville partner, Mrs. Patmore’s shifty suitor--anyone wounded by circumstances in an unfair world.

As viewers worry over the fates of all the other cast members, they may want to spare a good thought for the only one (beside her upstairs counterpart Matthew's mother) who keeps carrying the burden of being a feeling human being rather than a cardboard cutout. And for those she may resemble in real life.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christie, Osama and Spite

Size matters, but so does moral essence. Snarling bridge traffic out of political pique may be petty compared to aiming airliners at tall buildings, but the dazzling human disproportion between ends and means, the reckless assault on innocent people and the subjugation of life to self-serving abstractions are inescapable, the mark of what Eisenhower’s favorite philosopher, Eric Hoffer, called “The True Believer.

Hoffer’s prototype, in search of self-realization, used “a freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse,” to destroy perceived enemies by whatever means necessary to achieve his righteous ends.

Christie joins such company, not by his breadth of vision, but a pathetic failure to recognize the borders between populist posturing and making political power a literal bully pulpit. For months, observers have been parsing his performance but, in one swipe, he clarifies it with the kind of meanness that hasn’t been seen in politics since Nixon turned loose “the plumbers” to sabotage his perceived enemies with “dirty tricks.”

The New Jersey governor will continue to squirm out of as much responsibility as he can, but voters may have a harder time erasing the image of themselves being stuck in traffic jams at his whim than being killed by Osama in the Twin Towers.

Each question he dodges only raises more questions, and he is more than likely to end up in the ashbin of history without getting anywhere near the White House, as Nixon and Osama’s hijackers did.

How many of the GOP’s core will follow Christie’s low-rent True Believer  banner from now on?


Update: As if on cue, Karl Rove turns up to cheer Christie on. W’s “Turd Blossom,” who left the White House just before being nailed for firing Bush’s US Attorneys for not being political enough in prosecuting Democrats, thinks Christie has the “right qualities” for President.

He would.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

GOP's New Grimm Tales

Just when Republicans were getting some traction with their “Chicken Little” yarn about Obamacare, the sky falls on them from different directions. Call such cautionaries from the new Brothers Grimm’ canon, “The Elephant and the Weasel,” as Chris Christie and Robert Gates personify why the pachyderm party just can’t seem to get a break in the realm of instructive narrative.

Christie is on an opinion-poll roll in Santa Claus disguise when he is outed as a vindictive bully over jamming bridge traffic to spite a political opponent while Gates’ tales out of White House school are getting the blowback they deserve from Obama’s people, albeit in a polite way

They point to a harrumph in his book: “I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, ‘For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe you be my witness.’ I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.” So many meetings, so much offensive levity.

GOP problems with children’s literature go all the way back to 9/11/2001 when George W. Bush’s was reading “My Pet Goat” to second-graders and froze over the attacks.

Parents, teachers and child-care experts have been arguing for two centuries over whether Grimms’ Fairy Tales are too bloody and traumatic for young children. But not to fear. In this age where politicians tell tall stories every day about the real world, nothing shocks any of us of any age any more.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why Is Gates Opening Up Now?

The first question about the former Defense Secretary’s memoir is timing. For someone who prides himself on patriotism, why now?

In a flurry of leaks, advance excerpts and reviews, Robert Gates has put the President and his White House on the kind of political griddle he professes to abhor.

In his book, Gates says he “bristled at what's become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks on witnesses by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior. Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner...in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management.

“I continue to worry about the incessant scorched-earth battling between Congress and the president (which I saw under both Bush and Obama) but even more about the weakening of the moderate center in Congress.”

No one will argue with that, but in view of excerpts from Gates’ memoir, questions arise about his own anger management, not only over Congress but White House colleagues like Vice-President Joe Biden, “a man of integrity,” who “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Say what? Is this the same Biden who, as a Senator, appeared regularly on Sunday talk shows, to criticize and question the misbegotten war in Iraq that Gates was helping the Bush Administration to conduct?

The political flood of finger-pointing that he has unleashed will go on for a while but, in a back-handed way, Gates may have done a service for those who question the sanity of our continuing investment of so much blood and treasure in the Middle East by bringing the issue front and center.

The propriety of his doing it now is another issue entirely. For a man who entitles the book “Duty,” his timing raises questions that infuriated John F. Kennedy when he was in the White House.

In 1962 when former speech writer Emmet Hughes wrote a tell-all about his Eisenhower days, Kennedy was appalled. According to Ted Sorensen, Kennedy thought Hughes "had betrayed the trust of Republican officials by quoting their private conversations against them" and told his White House staff, "I hope no one around here is writing that kind of book."

No one did. Both Sorensen and Schlesinger wrote doorstop volumes about JFK’s White House tenure without a hint of gossip. Loyalty did not stop at his death.

We live in a different world now, but reading Gates’ unbuttoned book, it would be wise to remember that it is the work of a man who, although he says he “silently wept” at night for troops in Afghanistan, served all his “Duty” as a Washington spook, not in combat.

Whatever else he says about Obama’s White House, the people Gates is excoriating in his untimely memoir had actually been trying to stop their bleeding while he was still micro-managing it at the CIA and in the White House.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Downton Abbey Yard Sale

Phew! Avoiding spoilers for those who watch later, it’s hard to recover from last night’s Season 4 opener of everybody’s favorite gilded guilty pleasure without at least a warning about what mastermind Julian Fellowes is up to now.

Key cast members gone, the two-hour Downton premiere is stuffed with not only surviving lead actors but what looks like a lawn sale of forgotten characters from past years returning for whirlwind reprises. Without a scorecard, there are heirloom plates in the air everywhere.

Fellowes has too much aplomb to be overcome by jumping-the-shark anxiety, but some sense of hurry-up pervades the air in what is normally the most leisurely of atmospheres, with some moving moments and others more openly contrived.

As Downton moves through the 1920s with electrical gadgets invading the kitchen, there is an underlying sense that Fellowes is heading toward some kind of closure with his award-winning writing debut, Robert Altman’s 2001 “Gosford Park,” which turned him from actor to author, set in 1932 with a cast of decaying characters upstairs and down.

A disappointed aficionado can’t forgive Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown-Findlay for jumping ship last season to terminate Dan Crawley’s and Lady Sybil’s Downton lives. A spiteful check of their IMBD sites shows them both working in upcoming films, nothing major, and...yes, other TV series.

Downtown will no doubt sort out its transition problems, but a fan is reminded of a classic line in “All About Eve,” with the playwright yelling at the actress, “When will the piano realize it has not written the concerto?”

Meanwhile, Fellowes seems to be hard at work trying to sort out his keyboards for the future.
  

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Is Blame Obama Game Ending?

For Republicans with brains, the handwriting is clear. Five years of bashing the President on everything have left the GOP in opinion poll hell, and their frontrunner for the White House in ’16 is Chris Christie, no Tea Party icon.

Little surprise, then, that the disloyal opposition is in rebranding mode: Paul Ryan makes a budget deal with Democrats and edges toward other accommodations while John Boehner shows up with a kind word for extending unemployment benefits.

Even the whooping over the Obamacare muddle is receding, leaving it to the diehards like Rand Paul to grumble about local sign-up difficulties.

While it’s much too early to certify a trend, opportunities for actual governing in Washington seem to be opening up.

The burden now will be on the President to seize the moment and take advantage of inching toward dialogue while the GOP sorts out its internal problems and tries to fashion a new face.

Next up: Immigration? Fiscal policy? Who knows?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Defining Snowden's Deviancy Down

"When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law,” says a New York Times editorial, recommending amnesty for Edward Snowden, “that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.”

The TimesPublic Editor agrees, that Snowden “has done the United States, and in fact, the world, a great service.”

With all due respect, that plea comes tainted by the Newspaper of Record’s partnership with Snowden and his adviser, Glenn Greenwald, whose dedication to tearing down American government and media is legend.

What would the Senate’s last sociologist, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have made of all this?

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” the late New York legislator wrote in 1993 in his now-famous American Scholar article, “Defining Deviancy Down,” arguing that society keeps adjusting for the amount of unacceptable conduct it can tolerate.

He pointed out that, in 1929, the killing of seven gangsters in Chicago became the stuff of legend while half a century later “Los Angeles has the equivalent of a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre every weekend.”

By all means, let the Times advocate for Snowden, if it chooses, but before publishing that editorial, did anyone re-read former Rxecutive Editor Bill Keller’s exchange defending traditional journalism against Greenwald’s open desire to tear down American society with his agenda-driven attacks disguised as reporting? Do we need a Fox News of the left with even fewer scruples to balance Rupert Murdoch?

Snowden’s “patriotism” could have expressed itself in many ways open to whistle blowers, but he chose his outlaw status with Greenwald as business partner, mentor and legal advisor.

Whatever persuades the Times to plead his case, it concentrates on the harm to American society that NSA spying may have done but overlooks the collateral damage that its own partnership with Snowden and Greenwald may have done at the same time.

There is more than one way to define deviancy down in American society today, and the Times should reconsider its self-congratulation in pleading Snowden’s case for amnesty and encouraging those who consider endangering security heroism.

It is a step down from the newspaper that vetted and published the Pentagon Papers in the last century after carefully facing the legal and moral consequences of doing so.