Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Republicans have only themselves to blame

By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, Published: January 30, 2012

On Saturday night, at precisely 9:19 and 30 seconds, my iPhone, my iPad, my computer and, for all I know, my toaster were informed that Herman Cain had endorsed Newt Gingrich. The ping-ping of the devices suggested that something momentous had happened — alerts from both The Post and the New York Times — but in fact it was just additional evidence that the Republican Party has become a circus: One clown endorsed another.

It’s hard to know who is the more ridiculous figure — the grandiloquent, bombastic and compulsively dishonest Gingrich, or the beguilingly ignorant Cain, a man who has never held elective office and who was reduced to speechlessness when asked a question about Libya. Nonetheless, Gingrich, his Alfred E. Neuman grin on his face, accepted the endorsement and then went on with his nihilistic campaign for the White House. This has been an exceedingly silly political season.

But it has also been a sad one. The Republican establishment acts as if this season’s goon squad of presidential candidates has come out of nowhere, an act of God — a tsunami that hit the party and receded, leaving nothing but nitwits standing. In column after column, conservative commentators lament the present condition, but not their past acquiescence as their party turned hostile to thought, reason and the two most important words in the English language: It depends.

If you ask me what I think of abortion, I’d say, “It depends.” It depends on whether you’re talking about the ninth month of pregnancy, the first, the health of the mother, the fetus — or, even, the morning-after pill. But in the Republican contest, the answer to the question is always the same: no, no and no again. Thanks for giving the matter such careful thought.

It is the same with taxes. Should they be raised? It depends. It depends on economic and fiscal conditions — and on whose taxes will be raised and by how much. The answer cannot be “No, never.” That’s not an economic position; it is an ideological one and exhibits a closed mind.

Similarly with global warming, GOP candidates are not certain it is exacerbated by industry, auto emissions and such. They take this position not because they have studied the science but because they are opposed to government regulations. They fear the solution more than they do the problem. Some also take a skeptical position regarding the theory of evolution — proof right there that there is something wrong with this theory.

This rampant anti-intellectualism is worrisome. The world is a complex place, but to deal with it, the GOP presented a parade of hopefuls who proposed nostrums or, in the case of Michele Bachmann, peddled false rumors about vaccinations. When this started I cannot say — the late Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer Prize for his “Anti-intellectualism in American Life” in 1964 — but the embrace of Sarah Palin by the GOP establishment has got to be noted. The lady has the gift of demagoguery and the required anti-elitism, but she knows next to nothing about almost anything — and revels in her ignorance.

Should the United States bomb Iran’s nuclear installations? It depends. Should America enable Israel to do it? It depends. How should China be handled? What about Russia and Turkey, not to mention Pakistan — our ally and a mosh pit of madmen? From the GOP candidates, the answers are simple: Bomb Iran if it goes nuclear, confront China, stare down Russia and — from the unfathomably shallow Rick Perry — kiss off Pakistan. Subtlety is banished. Yahoos stride the stage.

It is entirely appropriate that last week’s GOP debates fell between “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers” in the 10 most-watched cable television shows. They are sheer entertainment having little to do with us and our problems. The Republican Party has veered so far from reality that Gingrich is lambasting Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate” — moderation being, as it was with the clueless Barry Goldwater, an epithet. Romney, who has all but collapsed his rib cage to conform to conservative dogma, must be perplexed. Others have prudently stayed out of the race.

The Republican establishment that has now risen up to smite the bratty Gingrich has only itself to blame. For too long it has been mute in the face of a belligerent anti-intellectualism, pretending that knowledge and experience do not matter and that Washington is a condition and not a mere city. The endorsement of Gingrich by Cain was not a bulletin. It was a feeble blip on a scope. The Republican Party is brain dead.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Mia Culpa (Not the Actress)


Having reflected on my own rating system, I realize that I have mixed together two different types of rating measures; character, and views held, i.e., policy. They should be assessed separately, then brought together in a way that accounts for their weight, because a candidate could be rated high on things like his/her moral character, but hold views or espouse policies, entirely at odds with those of the rater. In such a case, the rater -- the prospective voter -- would not support the candidate no matter how highly he might rate his character. There is also the factor of importance, or weight. Some things on both the character scale and the policy scale will be more important to individual voters and they should have the option of giving those things greater weight in arriving at their figure of merit.
As I wrote previously, Article II of the Constitution specifies that the president has two primary job functions: to serve as chief executive of the federal government, and to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. In the latter role, the president has the authority to send troops into combat, as well as the power to decide whether to use nuclear weapons; awesome responsibilities. Our rating system should use this “job description” in considering how to rate our candidates: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (recent winner of the South Carolina primary), U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (winner of the New Hampshire primary), and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (winner of the Iowa primary).
So, once again, how does a committed Republican decide who they want to support as the GOP nominee for President of the United States of America? I developed the following scheme with my best friend in mind. He’s a staunch Republican, a former Marine, and a person who considers me sadly misguided in all things political. He's also a decision analyst. Here’s how such a person might decide their candidate choice among the four remaining Republicans running.
First, for the CHARACTER measures, rank the measures by how important they are to you, from 1 (least important) to 5 (most important). You must prioritize the measures, e.g., they can't all be 5s. Then rate each candidate on how closely they demonstrate the characteristic on each measure, as follows: MINUS 2 - fails, MINUS 1 - poor, ZERO - average, ONE - above average, TWO - outstanding. Multiply the candidate's score on the measure by the measure's importance, add all results (retain the sign, positive or negative), and set that figure of merit aside while you score the policy measures.
CHARACTER
  1. (Importance: _____) Has a core set of principles that guide his life and the decisions he makes.
  2. (Importance: _____) Has the maturity and confidence to seek different viewpoints, to learn from his mistakes, accept blame, and share the credit for success with others.
  3. (Importance: _____) Has a strong moral compass, is able to master his “inner self” and execute self control at all times. Seldom or never gets his mouth in gear before engaging his brain.
  4. (Importance: _____) Is courageous, stays strong in the face of adversity, conveys strength and resolve, and inspires others.
  5. (Importance: _____) Is intelligent, farsighted, imaginative, in touch with popular sentiment, knowledgeable about key issues facing the Nation, and makes informed, well thought-out decisions.
For the POLICY measures you will be ranking the issues reflected in the statement according to how important they are to you, with 5 being most important and 1 being least important. Then you will rate the candidates on how closely they reflect the policy stipulated, as follows: MINUS 2 - definitely does not support, MINUS 1 - is non-committal,  ZERO - supports with major qualifications, ONE - supports with minor qualification, TWO - definitely supports without qualification. Now do the multiplication, importance by rating.


POLICY
  1. (Rank: _____) The Environmental Protection Agency should be eliminated and environmental regulations severely curtailed or eliminated. No unilateral action by the United States should be initiated concerning global warming, which in any case, hasn't been shown to be human caused.
  2. (Rank: _____) Roe vs Wade should be overturned, and a "personhood amendment" should be passed making abortion at any stage of conception, and for any reason, illegal. In addition, a constitutional amendment should be passed making marriage a strictly a union between a man and a woman.
  3. (Rank: _____) Corporations are JOB CREATORS and should be relieved of unnecessary and burdensome regulations, including repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Corporate taxes should be eliminated, as they are simply passed on to consumers and thereby depress consumer spending.  should be repealed.
  4. (Rank: _____) The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") should be repealed and replaced with a common sense approach to reducing health care costs that includes tort reform and private health savings accounts.
  5. (Rank: _____) The United States must maintain a strong military and continue to project force aboard, including maintaining a significant presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East at large. Draconian cuts to military spending must be off the table. Under no circumstances should Iran be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and all means must be employed to prevent such a development.
Now multiply the results for Character by the results for Policy. The candidate with the highest total is your Republican nominee for president. Remember the sign, negative or positive, and that if you multiple a positive by a negative, the result is negative (by the same token, if you multiple a negative by a negative, the result is a positive, in which case, you've selected Barack Obama as your nominee).

To illustrate, I've arbitrarily ranked the Character traits and Policy issues as some "thoughtful" Republican might and then ranked the candidates based on what this fellow or gal might have learned to date about the four candidates' character and their stated policies. Here's what the hapless Republican came up with.

CHARACTER
Item
Import
1-least
5-most
Gingrich
Paul
Romney
Santorum
Rating
X
Rating
X
Rating
X
Rating
X
1
1
-2
-2
2
2
-2
-2
2
2
2
2
-2
-4
1
2
1
2
2
4
3
4
-2
-8
1
4
2
8
0
0
4
3
2
-6
1
3
0
0
0
0
5
5
1
5
-1
-5
1
5
-1
-5

Total

-15

6

13

1

POLICY

Item
Import
1-least
5-most
Gingrich
Paul
Romney
Santorum
Rating
X
Rating
X
Rating
X
Rating
X
1
1
1
1
2
2
1
1
2
2
2
2
-2
-4
-1
-2
1
2
2
4
3
4
2
8
2
8
1
4
2
8
4
3
2
6
2
6
2
6
2
6
5
5
2
10
-2
-10
0
0
1
5

Total

21

4

13

25

Multiplying Character totals by Policy totals yields the results below.


Gingrich
Paul
Romney
Santorum
-15*21
-315
6*4
24
13*13
169
1*25
25

Making Mitt Romney, the one person no "real" Republican seems to want, the "thoughtful" Republican's pick.

Now you try it. Rank the measures first, as you see their importance, then rate the Republican candidates on each measure, multiply ranking by rating, and total the five Character and then the five Policy columns. Then multiply Character by Policy and see who your pick would be. Record it in the Comments box below.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Qualities of a Great President: Which Republican Candidate Has Them?

Here we are, the South Carolina primary is history, Newt Gingrich won, upsetting the GOP bandwagon, and Republican primary voters are ping-ponging back and forth between four men contending for the Republican nomination for president: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. How does a committed Republican decide who they want to support as the GOP nominee for President of the United States of America?
Article II of the Constitution specifies that the president has two primary job functions: to serve as chief executive of the federal government, and to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. In the latter role, the president has the authority to send troops into combat, as well as the power to decide whether to use nuclear weapons; awesome responsibilities.
There have been numerous books, essays, and articles written about what makes a great president. Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Gergen have each put pen to paper articulating in relatively recent articles the characteristics they believe they’ve gleaned from history and experience. I’ve taken these characteristics, added a few of my own, and created a set of ten questions that you can rate the Republican candidates on using a five-point scale: 1 - strongly disagree, 2 - disagree, 3 - maybe yes/maybe no, 4 - agree, and 5 - strongly agree.

Go ahead and make your rating, and please be objective, even if you wouldn't vote for one of these clowns if they paid you (and they would).
  1. Has a core set of principles that guide his life and the decisions he makes.
  2. Has the maturity and confidence to seek different viewpoints, to learn from his mistakes, accept blame, and share the credit for success with others.
  3. Has a strong moral compass, is able to master his “inner self” and execute self control at all times.
  4. Is courageous, stays strong in the face of adversity, conveys strength and resolve, and inspires others.
  5. Is aware and in touch with popular sentiment, and gives the sense that he will hear and understand the concerns, hopes, and aspirations of the people he hopes to lead.
  6. Is intelligent, farsighted, imaginative, knowledgeable about key issues facing the Nation, makes informed, well thought-out decisions, and seldom or never gets his mouth in gear before engaging his brain.
  7. I am comfortable with the views he espouses; the things he says make perfect sense to me.
  8. Would “hit the ground running” and be an extremely hard working, exceptionally committed president.
  9. Able to work effectively with other world leaders.
  10. I am confident that as the commander and chief of our armed forces and the deciding authority on the possible use of nuclear weapons this man will make the right decisions.
Let us know your ratings and your selection for president in the comments box below.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A carefully thought-out strategy: Throw the bums out!

 “The single most important thing we want to achieve is
for President Obama to be a one-term president...,” 
Mitch McConnell
Honestly, I find it puzzling that anyone but a died-in-the-wool Republican (like my retired Marine buddy) would even consider voting Republican on anything; president, senator, representative, dog catcher. And yes, I realize that in saying this I’m exhibiting the same mindless partisanship that in the past I’ve railed against, but let’s be truthful. For the last three years -- since Obama’s election -- Republicans have done everything they can to make government, all branches, dysfunctional.

This wasn’t just some knee jerk reaction to the election of a black, populist president, who wasn’t part of the old boys cabal. This was a carefully thought-out strategy (actually hinted at in a Dick Morris talking points memo) to sour the public on government and convince voters to “throw the bums out” -- the bums being majority incumbents, who were for the first two years, Democrats.

This strategy succeeded in 2010, when Republicans, with a witch’s brew of Tea Party participation, took over control of the House. It also succeeded in reducing the public’s approval rating for Congress to an all-time low, and may have fundamentally eroded faith in our Republic.

When it came to debt ceiling “negotiations,” it had the unintended consequence (unintended except perhaps for Tea Party members) of crashing the United State’s credit rating. Mitch McConnell said that the full faith and credit of the United States was “a hostage worth ransoming.”

McConnell made no bones about his party’s priority. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president....” I know you’ve all heard this before, but do you know how the Republicans have gone about trying to achieve their goal? By just saying “No.” To everything. In unison.

Republican obstructionism has ranged from opposing the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to refusing to confirm Obama’s judicial nominees. Obama's attempts to compromise with Republicans have weakened his position with his base -- a consequence Republicans welcome.

Not a single House Republican voted for the ARRA. Nada. Zero. Despite the urging of economists who saw the stimulus package as critical in avoiding a slide into a deeper recession, or worse, a depression. Three Senate Republicans supported the bill, giving it the 60 votes needed to overcome what has become the de-facto Republican response to any bill proposed by Obama and the Democrats -- the threat of a filibuster. Most economists now think the $787 billion stimulus package was too little, but Obama did well to get this much.

Likewise, financial reforms designed to prevent another meltdown were stonewalled by Republicans, despite Democratic compromises that ultimately weakened the bill. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act finally passed 60 to 39 in the Senate, with 3 Republicans siding with Democrats to avoid a filibuster. Not through with their obstructionism, Republicans refused to confirm President Obama’s selection of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), established by the Act. The President had to resort to a recess appointment to get Cordray on the job. He had to do the same to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board, where Republicans were refusing to confirm Obama’s appointees.

Republicans have blocked 223 of President Obama’s 1,132 executive and judicial appointees—over 20 percent. Republican senators have enforced a strict sixty-vote threshold for most nominations, but sometimes holds are placed on nominees by individual Republican senators. For example, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), he of the "D.C. Madam" scandal, put a hold on Obama’s selection of David Ashe to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Vitter vowed to keep it there until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued fifteen offshore oil drilling permits. The permits were issued, but another Republican senator placed a hold on Ashe’s appointment over the Interior Department’s wild lands policy. Any individual senator can place a hold on a nomination for any reason, no matter how inane, and can do so anonymously. You can read about some of the more important Obama nominations being held up by the GOP here.

Of the 105 nominations submitted by President Obama during the first two years of his term, only 62 – two Supreme Court justices, plus 16 courts of appeals and 44 district court judges – were confirmed. That is the smallest percentage of judicial confirmations over the first two years of any presidency in American history. The Alliance for Justice has stated that due to Republican obstructionism, the high number of judicial vacancies has pushed the Judiciary into crisis.

Republican opposition to health care reform was no surprise, and one can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they voted their principles. Their tactics in trying to get public opinion on their side were despicable, but anything’s fair in love, war, and politics -- especially politics. But the bill passed anyway, and so the Republicans, vowing to repeal it “when they’re in charge,” are now working to dismantle it piece by piece by refusing to fund key provisions, and by taking the issue of mandatory insurance coverage to a stacked court.

This is another Republican tactic. Whenever they can’t block a bill, they simply refuse to fund its enactment, or the enforcement of its provisions.

In writing about President Obama’s recess appointments, Susan Brooks Thistlethwait, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said:

“There is a larger issue here than a president making appointments to fill vacancies. The issue is the deliberate and sustained obstructionism that has as its goal maintaining vacancies in key positions in government. One or another party may agree or disagree on what government should do, but keeping government dysfunctional is profoundly wrong.” (Washington Post, On Faith, 01/05/2012).

Of course she’s right. Voters elected Barack Obama with 53% of the popular vote in 2008. What Republicans are doing now amounts to an ex post facto disenfranchisement of the people who voted for him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Living without a pericardium, continued.

[This essay begins here]
♫ Happiness is Lubbock, Texas, in your review mirror ♫
My wife arrived in Lubbock, Texas, in November, bringing along my two sons, the youngest born in Florida without me in attendance. I had to tell her about the Surgeon General’s letter and try to assure her that everything would be okay; I felt fine and told her I had no doubt I would again pass the medical board. But would I?
The Air Force was about to spend several thousand dollars putting a guy through an advanced degree program who’d been sick with a debilitating disease and had his chest opened not once, but twice in an effort to combat it, only to find it cropping up again, albeit in less severe form. Why take a chance?

My wife remembers me shopping for Thanksgiving and coming home with Cornish Game Hens. It was our first Thanksgiving together as a family of four, and the last time we had Cornish Game Hens for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I managed to get a delay in reporting to Sheppard AFB so that my time there would coincide with Texas Tech’s Christmas Holiday break. I threw a few clothes in a suitcase, stuffed my school work in my briefcase, said goodbye to my anxious wife and little sons, jumped in my trusty VW, and headed to Wichita Falls, Texas, about 4 hours east of Lubbock through some of the flattest, driest,  most boring country in America. Nothing to occupy my attention, but my future.
Sheppard AFB Hospital

&&&&&
I returned to Lubbock a few days before Christmas feeling pretty good about my experience at USAF Sheppard Hospital. My tests had been normal, my consultations with the medical staff had gone well; they seemed well-informed and friendly. But I’d have to wait for their decision.
I went shopping for presents, a Christmas tree, and the makings of Christmas dinner. I came home with what turned out to be a stewing hen for the main course. It was our first Christmas together as a family of four, and the last time for many years that I was assigned holiday meal shopping responsibilities.
I returned to class after the holiday and tried to concentrate on passing Statistics. In January, one year after my pericardiectomy, I received the Sheppard Medical Board’s report, dated December 28, 1966.

Although the patient has had one episode of “pericarditis” [in quotes because this episode was thought to be an artifact of the surgery] since surgery two years ago (in comparison with nine episodes...prior to pericardiectomy), his prognosis appears to be excellent. It is possible that he will have recurrent episodes; however, the paucity of attacks since the pericardiectomy appears to be an excellent prognostic sign. He has absolutely no evidence of reduction of cardiovascular function and is totally asymptomatic in the interval between attacks and at the present time. The patient can go worldwide.
I spent another 15 years in the Air Force retiring in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel. The Air Force sent me back to graduate school again during that time and I earned a PhD. The board’s finding that, “It is possible that he will have recurrent episodes.” was prescient. I’ve had mild bouts of pericardial pain on and off all my life. None have been so severe as to require hospitalization or even extended bed-rest. None have required ACTH (steroid) therapy. Pain has been controlled by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

For many years I was unable to sleep on my right side -- the side of my original thoracotomy -- because I felt my heart beating. I think this was psychological. I always checked in with a cardiologist wherever I was assigned. And I got a waiver to the flu shot required by the Air Force, because there was a worry that I might get a repeat of whatever caused the inflammation of my pericardial tissue. I don't worry about that anymore; I worry more about getting the flu.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone without a pericardium playing football (although I did play touch football during my assignment to the Pentagon in 1968). Certainly a person without a pericardium is more vulnerable to cardiac injury, say as the result of an automobile accident, but beyond that, people without a pericardium can, and do, live a relatively normal life.

I went for 11.5 minutes on my stress test last year. That's 1.6 minutes less than I did in 1966 when I was 28 years old. My EKGs are normal. My blood pressure is usually about 114/76.
Prepped for for a heart monitor. Right scar was the window, left scar was the pericardiectomy.
Today, whatever pericardial pain I may experience is masked (confused with?) by the more banal discomforts associated with aging; arthritis, osteoporosis, gastritis, and who knows what. I’m 73 years-old. I’ve lived longer than the surgeon who did my pericardiectomy (he died at 71). I’m grateful for these old-age associated aches and pains. I know what the alternative was.

The one thing I'd change if I could is how self-absorbed I was when I was going through the worst phases of the disease, the operation, and the medical board. It was a very difficult time for my wife and I didn't spend enough time with her talking through things and listening to her concerns. It's a testament to her courage, loyalty, and love that she not only stuck with me, but supported me all along the way.

What's it like living without a pericardium? Great! That's the whole point. Before I had this life- threatening experience, I was a moody fellow who wanted to get out of the Air Force as soon as my 4-year obligation was up and write poetry about love and death. Being face-to-face with death changed that. I realized I wanted to live, and I realized that life was a gift. As strange as it seems, having pericarditis and all that went with it, made me a much happier person.

The End (?)