Saturday, December 10, 2011

David Brooks on Gingrich

David Brooks is the moderately conservative pundit whom most liberals consider a reasonable man. He just happens to have a more conservative view of government than they do. So I was interested in his 12-09-11 column, "The Gingrich Tragedy," which he begins by saying that Gingrich comes closest to Brooks' own core political worldview of "using government in energetic but limited ways to increase growth, dynamism, and social mobility" as opposed to a conservative laissez-faire view that government should just get out of the way of private enterprise. This means that he would approve limited stimulus investments, some regulations, some government social services -- just not too much and preferably without setting up a bureaucracy.

He quotes some of Gingrich's past approvals and historical explanations: the Homestead Act that gave away land to people who would live on it and develop it; the railroad land grants that made possible the expansion of the U. S. railroad system; the public-private partnership that brought telephone service to rural areas.

Brooks further shows how, through the years, this enduring political philosophy has led Gingrich to support cap-and-trade energy legislation, universal health care coverage, efforts to combat poverty, and humane immigration reform. He is currently opposed to most of those, of course.

However, Brooks also recognizes Gingrich's faults as disqualifying. It's not so much his "shifting views and odd phrases" as it is his temperament and character.

From Gingrich's bombastic, rhetorical style to his temperament and character, Brooks faults him in comparison with Romney. Both are policy wonks and both have moved to the right as the party has moved to the right; but according to Brooks: Romney "seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s," while Gingrich "seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s."
"He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with '60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form. As nearly everyone who has ever worked with him knows, he would severely damage conservatism and the Republican party if nominated. . . . It's really too bad. We could have had a great debate about the progressive-conservative tradition. . . .

"But how you believe something is as important as what you believe. It doesn't matter if a person shares your overall philosophy. If that person doesn't have the right temperament and character, stay away."
That is a sober assessment from a careful thinker who would have liked to be able to support Gingrich -- but he can't. Just re-read Brooks' last paragraph. It says it all.


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Silly Season continues

More silliness and stupidity from the pack of clowns who would be president.

1. Rick Santorum, who famously insists that religion has a place in politics and in government, has now told the Des Moines Register that "science should get out of politics." Which prompted one blogger to recall the line from The Simpsons' School Superintendant Chalmers: "God has no place within these walls, just as facts don’t have a place within organized religion!” But do the American people really want a theocracy?

2. Newt Gingrich, who by his own admission makes millions of dollars giving advice "as a historian," has now mangled history by saying that the Palestinians are "an invented people" who have no right to have a state created for them. They are Arabs and could have gone many other places back when the State of Israel was created for the Jews who deserved the place, Gingrich said. And then he piled on, saying that President Obama's effort to treat the Palestinians the same as the Israelis is actually favoring the terrorists. Whew !! When Newt panders, he really does it big time. He was speaking on the Jewish TV Chanel.

Historian Gingrich needs to brush up on his history. Suffice it to say that the 1947 U. N. Resolution 147 did in fact recognize the Palestinians as a people and called for two independent states, one for Israel and one for the Palestinians.

3. Donald Trump is perplexed that 5 of the 7 GOP candidates turned down his invitation to a debate moderated by Himself -- despite his plan to endorse one of them following the debate and despite his claim that he may run against them as an Independent if the "right one" is not chosen by the voters. If there's someone with a more inflated cosmic ego than Gingrich, it is The Donald's. He seems to think of the debate as another episode of his TV show where he can "fire" contestants and choose the one he would hire.

4. Rick Perry's TV ad, in which he is dressed up like a wealthy rancher guy, in order to spew his anti-gay diatribe, has sort of backfired on him. First, it revealed the now much-publicized discord in his campaign staff, some of whom vehemently objected to the anti-gay text. But then it was shown that the jacket Perry wears in the ad looks almost identical to the jacket worn by Heath Ledger as one of the gay cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain." Nice touch (heh heh).

Perry gets a two-fer mention this week. He made another "oops !" In trying to explain his claim in this same ad that Obama is waging a "war on religion," he referred to the eight "unelected and unaccountable" Supreme Court Justices; and then he couldn't remember Justice Sotomayor's name.

5. Herman Cain -- can we still count him in our silly season? -- says he's considering suing those women who accused him. Careful, Herman. Let's hope you're just bluffing. You're not likely to win, and we might just hear more about your dallying.

6. Michele Bachmann? Is she still around? I'm sure she said some silly things this week. Frankly, I hardly even register her anymore. So I forgot what she said. I'm sure she'll provide me another chance next week.


Income disparity

We've heard the dry statistics about income of CEO's compared to their workers, about the growing gap between the 1% and the 99%, so much that it's all beginning to lose it's emotional punch. Yeah, yeah, what's new? It would be bad if we lose this opportunity to really do something about it.

So this blurb out today makes it a bit more personal.

The six heirs of the Walmart founders together have a net worth that is the same as the entire bottom 30% of Americans.

Yes, that is the way of capitalism. The wealthy benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor. But is that what we want for out country? Is it even fair?

I'm with Elizabeth Warren:
"Nobody got rich in this country on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads that the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factories because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . .

Now look. You build a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is: you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along."
They call her a socialist. First, that is not socialism. That is building a healthy nation. But what if it is socialism? It couldn't be worse than what we have now.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Newt's Cynicism and Lies

Pay attention, voters !!! Evidence is fast piling up of Newt's cynical lying and/or his cluelessness. I personally think it's a unique combination of the two: Sometimes Newt is just outright making up stuff and saying what he knows will excite his gullible crowd. At other times, he really doesn't know but has convinced himself at the moment that he does know and he does believe what he's saying.

A couple of examples:

1. The AJC's fact-check column gave him a "pants on fire" false rating for his claim about the food stamps program. He's right that more people are on the program than ever (isn't that what happens when people lose their jobs and their homes and have no money?). But he is dead wrong, and he's got to be cynically lying, when he says that people are given credit cards instead of stamps now and that some people redeem them for cash and take trips to Hawaii.

The truth is that instead of stamps or coupons, the program now issues a special debit card that can only be used for very specific food items, can't be used in restaurants, can't be used to buy alcohol, or even certain luxury foods. And no way can they get cash or go to Hawaii. That's just plain a lie. And Gingrich either knows it -- or he is just cynically repeating some outrageous claim from somebody's wild imagination.

2. Rachel Maddow skewered him for his retort to Nancy Pelosi in which he claimed that the sanctioning of him by the Ethics Committee back in 1995 was politically motivated. Just look at the House vote count that sanctioned him with a $300,000 fine: 395 to 28.

To be perfectly clear: 196 House Republicans voted to sanction Newt.

And this week conservative Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said that Gingrich is too erratic, too self-centered, and that he "does not have the discipline, does not have the capacity to control himself. . . . [If he is elected] the country and Congress would be going through one crisis after another."

This is a member of his own party who served under him when he was Speaker of the House. From the other side, Paul Begala wrote in Newsweek: "When I look at the economy, I think Obama can't win. When I look at the Republican field, I think Obama can't lose."

Newt is betting that the anti-Washington base he is pandering to won't be listening to either of these Washington insiders, however.

Just for safe measure, Newt made headlines of his own that swamped any such criticism by telling the Republican Jewish Coalition that he would appoint John Bolton as his Secretary of State. Now that is a headline grabber. And it did.


PS: Liberal blogger Jason Linkins has perhaps the best, succinct words to describe Newt: "gaseous, grandiose, and divisive."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Etched in memory 70 years later

Certain moments in history are so laden with emotional impact that not only the event itself, but also my circumstances and my exact location, remain etched in memory like an ancient insect preserved in amber. In retrospect, these all have to do with loss and fear.

September, 11, 2001. The twin World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists flying airplanes into them. I was in my office waiting to see my first patient of the day, when I received an urgent and terrified call from home, telling me what was happening. It became imperative to get home and gather my family together for protection against the unknown enemy.

January 28, 1986. The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, killing the entire crew. I was standing on the 17th floor of my office building at Colony Square waiting for the elevator to go down to lunch when someone told me about it. Our mighty space program had flaws -- and suddenly we knew just how fragile human life is.

November 23, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I was a second year psychiatry resident at Emory, sitting in a conference room in class with other residents, when the secretary interrupted to tell us that the president had been shot. A dream was shattered.

April 12, 1945. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died from a brain hemorrhage. A large pecan tree had fallen in our backyard and was yet to be removed. It's wonderful leafy canopy, now horizontal, made the perfect "jungle" for the imaginative play of a 12 year old boy. I was there in my private jungle when I heard the news. In the South, FDR was credited not only with getting us out of the Depression but with almost god-like leadership through the fears and anguish of World War II. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And now had had brought us within sight of victory, it seemed. His death revived all the fear we had experienced in those preceding years of war and worry, of loss and shared sacrifice on the part of everyone. Could we still win? Would we still be safe, without him? Was Truman up to the job?

December 7, 1941. A week before my 9th birthday. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was visiting my cousins who lived out in the country eight miles from town. We were walking back toward their house along a sandy road, barefoot. That seems improbable in December, but I distinctly remember squishing my toes in the soft, warm sand. Or maybe I'm conflating a memory of another time, in summer. But we were definitely on that road when someone came running from the house, shouting what they had just heard on the radio: "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor." What that meant wasn't immediately clear to a young boy -- but the urgent terror in that voice was etched in my memory and has lasted for 70 years . . . and counting.


Krugman explains the GOP primary circus

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times on Monday, stepped back from the details of the GOP primary circus to offer an explanation of what it's all about and why "Herman Cain was not an accident."

What he means by that quip is that Republicans have an almost impossible dilemma in choosing a presidential nominee. Despite the easy win that such tough economic times might ordinarily give the opposition party, they can't really seize the opportunity because their ideology demands exactly the wrong solutions for our time.

So, Krugman says, there are only two kinds of politicians who could make the cut in this situation: those who are totally cynical and those who are totally clueless.

Romney falls in the cynical category. He knows very well what needs to be done, but he knows that he cannot win the nomination if he takes that position.
"Mr. Romney's strategy, in short, is to pretend that he shares the ignorance and misconceptions of the Republican base. He isn't a stupid man -- but he seems to play one on TV.

"Unfortunately . . . his insincerity shines through. So the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what every candidate for the party's nomination must pretend to believe. Yet . . . the only way to actually believe the modern GOP catechism is to be completely clueless."
Krugman goes on:
"And that's why the Republican primary has taken the form it has, in which a candidate nobody likes and nobody trusts has faced a series of clueless challengers, each of whom has briefly soared before imploding under the pressure of his or her own cluelessness."
How to explain Newt Gingrich and his sudden surge? He actually is a hybrid of the cynical and the clueless. According to Krugman:
"He is by no means the deep thinker he imagines himself to be, but he's a glib speaker, even when he has no idea what he's talking about. And my sense is that he's very good at doublethink -- that even when he knows what he's saying isn't true, he manages to believe it while he's saying it. So he may not implode like his predecessors."
Krugman is recognizing what I've been saying about Newt. He has no core belief, no integrity. He's is a chameleon and totally unprincipled. AND he has the capacity to sound like he knows what he's talking about, even when he is just making it up. The difference is that he is able to convince naive listeners because he convinces himself, at that moment, that he believes what he's saying. This is what makes him dangerous, in my opinion. It is one of the hallmark traits of the sociopath.

Krugman wants to emphasize his larger point, however, which is that whoever gets the Republican nomination will be a deeply flawed candidate -- and could only be a deeply flawed candidate because:
". . . the fact that the party is committed to demonstrably false beliefs means that only fakers or the befuddled can get through the selection process."
And here's the really scary parting thought from Krugman:
"Of course, given the terrible economic picture and the tendency of voters to blame whoever holds the White House for bad times, even a deeply flawed GOP nominee might very well win the presidency. But then what?"
Well, my answer is: we have to make sure we don't find out "then what," and we can do that best by re-electing Obama.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An easy solution

A group of economists at the University of Massachusetts has reported that Corporate America is hoarding $3.6 trillion (yes trillion) in cash reserves. Since they are able to borrow the money from the Federal Reserve almost free, why not?

Of course, it's only prudent to keep a healthy level of cash reserves as a safety cushion. One of the problems in 2007 was that the reserves were only about $20 billion. These economists conclude that, even allowing for a massive safety cushion, at least $1.4 trillion could be quickly invested in loans that would stimulate jobs.

Here's their bottom line prediction:
By moving this excess into productive investments, 19 million jobs would be created over the next 3 years, bringing the unemployment down to 5%.
They say that getting the banks to do this would take both carrots and sticks from the government: a new round of government stimulus spending and a tax on the banks' excessive reserves. Neither is going to happen with the current stalemate in Congress.

To see such an obvious and easy solution at hand, and know that our dysfunctional political system precludes our doing it -- is very discouraging.


The only poll that matters right now

We're awash in early, probably meaningless, polls that change drastically week by week.

Here's the one that does have significance, here just 4 weeks from the Iowa caucuses (from TPM):
The latest poll of Iowa voters from the Des Moines Register shows that “More than 70 percent of likely caucusgoers are still up for grabs.” That means that despite Newt Gingrich’s lead, voters haven’t settled on a final candidate and the landscape could shift before the January 3 caucuses.
If 70% of those likely to go out on a cold January night in Iowa are still not decided, even despite their whirlwind romance with Newt, then anything could happen.

And, as we know from the past, more than in any other early voting contest, the organizational ground game -- who actually gets their supports to go out to the caucuses -- is what counts most in Iowa.

Callista might ought to hold off a while before she starts measuring for drapes in the White House.


Monday, December 5, 2011

"Be careful, Nancy"

Nancy Pelosi seems to be treading pretty close to an ethical boundary herself, in threatening to disclose confidential information from the House Ethics Committee. I want to caution her to be careful. At the same time, I'm eager to hear what she has to say, even if she shouldn't reveal it.

Here's what she has said thus far about Newt:
"One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. . . . I know a lot about him. I served on the [Ethics] investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff."
But isn't an ethics committee investigation supposed to be private? If she can really talk about it, or if it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, why don't we already have it?

Pelosi further stated that, at one point in the investigation, it was so sensitive that she asked her husband to leave the bedroom at 3:00 am so she could talk privately on the telephone about it. She did tell the San Francisco Chronicle in 1997 that "he is such a hypocrit."

Gingrich was sanctioned by the House with a $300,000 fine for using tax-exempt money for political purposes; but Pelosi said she had wanted them to censure him.

Meanwhile, enjoy Barney Frank's comment:
"I did not think I had lived a good enough life to be rewarded by Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee."
Let us hope that sentiment is not misguided. I don't even trust Newt to remain Newt and behave the way we have come to expect him to.


Don't write Hunstman off yet

Newt surges, Mitt's inevitability suffers -- and there are knives being sharpened to take Newt down. And, for those dissatisfied and still looking, there sits Jon Huntsman.

Despite his dismal poll standing (2%), there's other data. The website InTrade, where people actually "bet," not on who they like but on who they think will win. Huntsman is in third place at 6.2% -- a distant third, to be sure, behind Romney at 45,3% and Gingrich at 32.2%.

The far right think he's too liberal. He should be the moderate's second, if not first choice. But all Republicans want most of all to win. Huntsman should be that man. On paper, he would win hands down as best qualified, without Mitt's woodenness and objectionable flip-flops and without Newt's baggage and objectionable flip-flops.

But folks just don't warm up to Huntsman. He doesn't exude charisma or project the image of a bold leader, despite his success as a governor and as ambassador to China. Nor does he seem like a tough fighter capable of slaying dragons.

Maybe he knows it and is ramping up his feisty side.

Having made it known that he would not be participating in the debate run by The Donald, he added this line when questioned about it:
"I'm not going to kiss his ring . . . nor any other part of his anatomy."
Now that might get some attention from the crowd that loves a fight: David sling-shotting Goliath. And, for those still shopping, Huntman could be the man. And maybe the toughest opponent for Obama to beat.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Least imaginative headline of the week

The Huffington Post's headline writer seems to be suffering from Bachmann-fatigue and an exhaustion of creative ideas to catch our attention. Here's all he came up with today:
"Michele Bachmann Makes a Controversial Statement."
Perhaps we're to read that, not as vapid, but as ironic. Meaning something like: it would be news if any statement she made were not controversial.


Newt surges in Iowa

Newt Gingrich has surged ahead in the latest Iowa poll, which was conducted between November 27-30 -- after Herman Cain's drop in polls but before he announced he was suspending his campaign.

The results: Gingrich 25%, Paul 18%, Romney 16%, Bachmann and Cain tied at 8%, and Perry and Santorum tied at 6%.

Wise observers say it's still volatile, that the majority of voters are not that committed -- and we may see further changes. But frankly, I can easily see Gingrich winning the nomination now -- and I admit that I counted him out way too soon.

If he takes Iowa, especially if Paul knocks Romney into third place; and if he comes in a respectable second to Romney in New Hampshire; if he then wins South Carolina, as now seems likely; and add to that his strong lead in Florida at this point -- then the only way Newt fails to get the nomination is if Newt defeats Newt.

Maureen Dowd had this to say about him in today's New York Times:
"Newt Gingrich's mind is in love with itself. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker. His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. . . . Newt swims easily in a sea of duality and byzantine ideas that don't add up."
This was discussed on Christine Amanpour's "This Week" this morning. One of the panelists said that the problem with expecting Newt to defeat himself is that "he only has to be disciplined for about 8 weeks" to win the nomination. And Newt can probably do that. The implication being that his self-destruction would occur after he has sewed up the nomination.

Meanwhile, we'll have the appalling reality show of one flip-flopper trying to outdo the other flip-flopper.

But the most appalling thing of all is the prospect of yet another debate, this one to be moderated by none other than Donald Trump.

Jon Huntsman has declined to participate -- which gains him points in my book.