Blow, Kristof and Collins

In “Republican Collapse” Mr. Blow says far-right elements of the House prefer to go down in a blaze of glory — or at least take the country down in one.  Mr. Kristof has a question in “This Is Your Brain on Toxins:”  What are the lessons from the human catastrophe of lead poisoning over so many decades?  Ms. Collins also has a question in “Let’s Make a Deal:”  Wouldn’t you agree, people, that the only thing more beautiful than the fall foliage is a budgetary can being kicked down the road?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Congress has finally worked out a deal to end the government shutdown and dodge default, but not before the Republican Party demonstrated to Americans just how conflicted and dangerous it is.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, this week described our current Congress as a greater danger to national security than Al Qaeda, writing, “We don’t tend to talk about Congress as — at this stage — what it plainly is: the clearest and most present danger in the world to the national security of the United States.”

That is what the G.O.P.-led House has brought us. Conservatives outside the chamber know defeat when they see it, and want to live to fight another day. But they beat their chests in vain as their laments fall on the deaf ears of the far-right political death squads.

On Tuesday, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial pages blasted:

“This is the quality of thinking — or lack thereof — that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.”

Senator John McCain said this week, “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

Senator Lindsey Graham put it more bluntly: “We really did go too far. We screwed up.”

But, far-right elements of the House cannot be reasoned with. They prefer to go down in a blaze of glory — or at least take the country down in one.

And arguably no one is more the face of this disaster than Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, labeled by one New York Republican representative, Peter King, as a “fraud” and “false prophet,” who helped orchestrate it.

The Houston Chronicle editorial board on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of trying to withdraw its endorsement of Cruz, an endorsement that no doubt helped get him elected. An editorial posted to the paper’s Web site began, “Does anyone else miss Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison?”, the senator Cruz replaced. It went on:

“When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November’s general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation — that he follow Hutchison’s example in his conduct as a senator. Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.”

It seems everyone is waking up to what a disaster this current Republican contingent of extremists has become and how poisonous they are to the functioning of our democracy. Better late than never, I suppose.

Cruz’s favorable ratings are underwater in Pew’s, Gallup’s, Fox News’ and Quinnipiac’s polling.

But then, Cruz doesn’t put much stake in polls, with their pesky numbers.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken last week, views of the Republican Party sank to record lows and 70 percent of respondents thought Republicans in Congress were putting their own political agenda ahead of what was good for the country.

The poll also found that negative feelings about the Tea Party had risen, with 47 percent saying they had negative feelings about the group, including 34 percent who described their feelings as “very negative.” Just 21 percent of Americans now say they feel positive about the group.

But when Cruz was asked Friday about the poll, he dismissed it as having a problematic methodology. He said: “If you seek out liberal Obama supporters and ask them their views, they’re going to tell you they’re liberal Obama supporters. That’s not reflective of where this country is.” In fact, it is Cruz’s methodology that is flawed. His grandiloquence may well be the undoing of the Grand Old Party.

According to a Pew Research report released Tuesday:

“A record-high 74% of registered voters now say that most members of Congress should not be reelected in 2014 (just 18% say they should). By comparison, at similar points in both the 2010 and 2006 midterm cycles only about half of registered voters wanted to see most representatives replaced.”

The report also found:

“An early read of voter preferences for the 2014 midterm shows that the Democrats have a six-point edge: 49% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 43% support or lean toward the Republican candidate.”

Republicans terribly misplayed a weak hand on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. There was never any chance of success other than scaring the president and the Democrats into caving. President Obama and Harry Reid called their bluff and they were left with no real options.

This is an embarrassment for the country, yes, but it’s also an embarrassment for the Republican Party that lays bare their motives, tactics and intention. It may not be so easy for voters to forget this come next November.

As the conservative Matt Drudge tweeted on Wednesday: “Speaker Pelosi Part 2: Opening Jan 5, 2015.” If only.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

“Lead helps to guard your health.”

That was the marketing line that the former National Lead Company used decades ago to sell lead-based household paints. Yet we now know that lead was poisoning millions of children and permanently damaging their brains. Tens of thousands of children died, and countless millions were left mentally impaired.

One boy, Sam, born in Milwaukee in 1990, “thrived as a baby,” according to his medical record. But then, as a toddler, he began to chew on lead paint or suck on fingers with lead dust, and his blood showed soaring lead levels.

Sam’s family moved homes, but it was no use. At age 3, he was hospitalized for five days because of lead poisoning, and in kindergarten his teachers noticed that he had speech problems. He struggled through school, and doctors concluded that he had “permanent and irreversible” deficiencies in brain function.

Sam’s story appears in “Lead Wars,” a book by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner published this year that chronicles the monstrous irresponsibility of companies in the lead industry over the course of the 20th century. Eventually, over industry protests, came regulation and the removal of lead from gasoline. As a result, lead levels of American children have declined 90 percent in the last few decades, and scholars have estimated that, as a result, children’s I.Q.’s on average have risen at least two points and perhaps more than four.

So what are the lessons from the human catastrophe of lead poisoning over so many decades? To me, today’s version of the lead industry is the chemical industry — companies like Exxon Mobil, DuPont, BASF and Dow Chemical — over the years churning out endocrine-disruptor chemicals that mimic the body’s hormones. Endocrine disruptors are found in everything from plastics to pesticides, toys to cosmetics, and there are growing concerns about their safety.

The Endocrine Society, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology and the President’s Cancer Panel have all warned about endocrine disruptors — also referred to as E.D.C.’s, for endocrine disrupting chemicals. The World Health Organization and United Nations this year concluded: “Exposure to E.D.C.’s during fetal development and puberty plays a role in the increased incidences of reproductive diseases, endocrine-related cancers, behavioral and learning problems, including A.D.H.D., infections, asthma, and perhaps obesity and diabetes in humans.”

Alarm about endocrine disruptors once was a fringe scientific concern but increasingly has moved mainstream. There is still uncertainty and debate about the risk posed by individual chemicals, but there is growing concern about the risk of endocrine disruptors in general — particularly to fetuses and children. There is less concern about adults.

Scientists are also debating whether the old toxicological models are appropriate for chemicals that mimic hormones and thus may trigger bodily changes, especially in fetuses and children.

These are the kinds of threats that we in journalism are not very good at covering. We did a wretched job covering risks from lead and tobacco in the early years; instead of watchdogs, we were lap dogs.

One common thread is industry’s greed, duplicity and powerful lobbying in Washington and around the country. The chemical industry spent $55 million lobbying last year, twice the figure a decade earlier, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Chicago Tribune last year documented how the chemical industry created a fake movement for flame retardants in furniture, supposedly to prevent fires; in fact, flame retardants don’t reduce fires but do contain endocrine disruptors that may be harmful to our children.

This summer 18 scientists wrote a scathing letter railing against European Union regulations of endocrine disruptors. That underscored the genuine scientific uncertainty about risks — until Environmental Health News showed that 17 of the 18 have conflicts of interest, such as receiving money from the chemical industry. Meanwhile, more than 140 other scientists followed up with their own open letters denouncing the original 18 and warning that endocrine disruptors do indeed constitute a risk.

Andrea C. Gore, the editor of Endocrinology, published an editorial asserting that corporate interests are abusing science today with endocrine disruptors the way they once did with lead: for the “production of uncertainty.”

She added that the evidence is “undeniable: that endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a threat to human health.”

When scientists feud, it’s hard for the rest of us to know what to do. But I’m struck that many experts in endocrinology, toxicology or pediatrics aren’t waiting for regulatory changes. They don’t heat food in plastic containers, they reduce their use of plastic water bottles, and they try to give their kids organic food to reduce exposure to pesticides.

So a question for big chemical companies: Are you really going to follow the model of tobacco and lead and fight regulation every step of the way, once more risking our children’s futures?

Yes.  Mr. Kristof, this has been another installment in SASQ.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, um, yippee.

Wow. Congress has decided it won’t trigger a global financial crisis out of pure pique. Can’t get any better than that.

Plus, the government is going to be funded until after the holidays. Halloween is going to be so terrific.

Important Halloween note: When you’re thinking about party costumes, forget going as Senator Ted Cruz. Everybody will be going as Ted Cruz. (Consider going as Representative Ted Yoho. You would need a name tag, but “Ted Yoho” would be so worth it.)

Even in defeat, Cruz was in the limelight on Wednesday. “It is heartbreaking to the American people that Senate Republicans divided as they did,” he told his colleagues, demonstrating an unshakable confidence in his capacity to peer into the national mind.

Earlier, in a press conference, Cruz announced: “Unfortunately, once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people.” There have been about nine million polls taken since the government shutdown, all of which showed the American people shrieking do not shut down the government! Where do you think Ted Cruz gets his information about public opinion? Twitter, that’s where. There is nothing so dangerous to national well-being as an extremist with a smartphone.

Also, he keeps pointing out that two million people signed an online petition to defund Obamacare. Two million people is approximately 0.6 of 1 percent of the American public. Two million is also about the number of Twitter followers for Adam Lambert, the runner-up for the 2009 season of “American Idol.”

O.K., I’m done complaining.

Let’s think positive. Americans want to get back to normal. We want to admire the fall foliage and plan for Thanksgiving and complain about Congress’s failure to pass a farm bill. There is nothing we find more attractive than the sight of a bipartisan majority, holding hands to kick the budgetary can down the road.

As Congress began debate on the new get-out-of-this-ditch plan, the Senate devoted most of its time to a celebration of that sudden blossoming of bipartisanship. “I was wondering why I came to the United States Senate,” confessed Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Heitkamp claimed she had despaired over the behavior of her colleagues until she joined a group of 14 Republicans and Democrats working on proposals to restart the government. None of their specific proposals actually got passed, but everyone except the Tea Party praised their team spirit. Besides Heitkamp, the group included both senators from Maine and New Hampshire. Perhaps people from cold places have a greater appreciation of the advantages of coming together.

The House whipped through its approval with virtually no comment. There is nothing more efficient than a sullen majority. Democrats said a few lukewarm words about the agreement. “It does have my support as a means to an end,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Good work in repressing the temptation to gloat, House Democrats!

It was the outcome Tea Party conservatives had theoretically feared — Democrats and moderates ascendant. But, by the end, most of them seemed sort of grateful for a way out. The Republican caucus gave Speaker John Boehner a standing ovation, which really did suggest that he’d been exceptionally canny in the way he played his cards. And it only required 16 days of government shutdown to put him on firm political footing.

About the plan: Everything goes back to normal and all the fights get postponed until early next year. Meanwhile, a House-Senate conference committee will try to agree on a budget. This is basically the same House-Senate conference committee that the Senate Democrats have tried to create nearly two dozen times over the past seven months. The Republicans resisted, arguing that it all might be a trick to raise the debt ceiling. Which is now being raised. So it’s fair, if you have the urge, to say that this whole ordeal has been for nothing whatsoever.

Any further consideration of what is going to happen with Congress and budgets would require bringing up the sequester issue. Sequester is incredibly important, but, really, we’ve been through a lot lately and I believe a rest is in order.

Instead, discuss the following: Would you say that Congress is more like the movie “Gravity” (government employees helplessly adrift in space) or the movie “Captain Phillips” (hero trapped in small, sweaty place with unstable people waving guns)?

I am going for “Captain Phillips,” which has Tom Hanks stuck in the end in a lifeboat-capsule with three Somali pirates: the navigator who does not know how to steer, the strongman who keeps shrieking and threatening everybody, and a nice kid who is in way over his head.

Obviously, we the people get the Tom Hanks role. Everybody likes Tom Hanks. I will allow you to attach Congressional identities to each pirate. Feel free to bring up Ted Cruz.


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