Gates and the Wisdom of Experience

Posted February 4, 2017 by Phil Odence
Categories: Politics, Uncategorized

images.jpegJust over a week ago, Robert Gates spoke at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event. Of course, the first days of the Trump presidency were high on the list of questions he received, and he responded with unique perspective.

You have to think Mr. Gates view is balanced. A lifetime republican, he served both Bush adminstrations as head of the CIA and Defense Secretary respectively. But after the next transition, he was retained by Obama to run the Defense Department. Last, September he loudly criticized candidate Trump in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, but more recently advised the transition team, and, evidently, put forth Rex Tillerson and General Mattis for their cabinet positions.

Much of the discussion in Boston was about advice Gates would give the new president during that first week in office. About the White House and the media, he stressed the importance of a free press (and Congress, by the way) as the guarantors of liberty and that it is a mistake to make the press an enemy. Candidly he disclosed that most presidents privately share some of the feelings with which Trump has been so very public. But, rather than getting hostile, he advised that Trump should consider whether the media may be right. In fairness, he also thinks the media needs to take it down a notch and get their heads out of the Twitterverse.

Asked for his advice on implementing change, Gates was very clear that President Trump needs to listen to the career pros who have been at this for a while. Gates has concerns about foreign policy going forward. Isolationism is popular because foreign policy is so outside most people’s day to day; it’s up the president to bring a global perspective to the people. He pointed to Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, John Kelly, and General Mattis as tough minded individuals who will tell him what he needs to hear.

So how’s it going? Not great viewed through the lens of Secretary Gates’ advice. The day after this talk, Steve Bannon suggested the “opposition party,” aka the media, should “keep its mouth shut.” Relations have continued to spiral down with the latest hub bub over the Bowling Green “massacre” and subsequent travel ban, both fictional which drove the press bonkers. And @realDonaldTrump still tweeting about “FAKE NEWS” in the wake of his awkward phone call with Malcom Turnbull.. Almost unbelievably, one of today’s early morning tweets from realDonald was:

After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!

Is the press blowing some of this out of proportion? Yes, I think so, but such is the nature of an adversarial relationship.

On the foreign policy front, Oy vey! According to the AP (a credible source in my mind if not Bannon’s) with regard to the seven country travel ban:

At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.

The reorganization of the National Security Council suggests the likelihood that the President will, now officially as well as unofficially, discount input from the experienced folks that the former Defense Secretary says he should be relying on. In the wake of that move, Gates himself went public calling the demotions of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs “a big mistake.” Senator McCain (Republican chair of the Armed Services Committee) is “worried about the NSC” for the same reasons.

So, who is the President listening to? In Judy Woodruff’s Wednesday NPR interview with Vice President Pence, she inquired about the extent of Bannon’s influence. He responded that the President “asks for input from everyone in the senior circle, and a lot of people outside the circle.” Pence is a master of staying on message, but honest, in my estimate. Still, the “a lot of other people” seemed like a bit of an afterthought, and it’s unclear to whom he was referring. I’m sure the Presdident is calling the shots. My concern is that he is only listening to his like-minded, tight inner circle most of whom have little experience in the business of running a country (and playing nice with others). Trump took some good advice from Gates on some key appointments; it would be great it he were to listen to him and them.

Seriously?

Posted January 29, 2017 by Phil Odence
Categories: Politics

Unknown.pngIn her September 23 piece in The Atlantic recounting her interview with then Candidate Trump, Selena Zito came up with the best two-liner of the year: “When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” She actually presented him with the idea during her interview, and he thought it was “Interesting.”

How interesting? Wasn’t it soon after that that he really started stepping up his criticism of the press? Maybe Zito’s comment was just reinforcement of what was already bugging the soon to be presumptive nominee, but maybe that comment really iced it for him. What could infuriate a narcissist more than not being taken seriously? And how much worse, for it to be by the noisy press. I’ll bet he thought, “I’m going to get those bastards.” And he’s proven to be pretty good at it.

Yesterday, Brooks and Shields on NPR were discussing two possible explanations for the President’s behavior during his first week in office. Essentially: 1. He’s calculating and Orwellian (did you see how popular 1984 has again become?) or 2. He’s a 5 year old who needs to do this to feed his ego. (For the record, I was twice as charitable calling him a 10 year old.) David Brooks (staunch Reagan republican, mind you) thinks he’s a 5 year old. Take me seriously or I am going to hit you, Press!

Now that we are all taking him seriously (like a heart attack), my theory is that the string of executive orders this week were his attempt to be taken literally too. Give the President credit, he has not forgotten his campaign promises. This was a week of: See, I was serious and literal. I’m going to build a wall, I’m going to keep Muslims out, I’m going to end Choice, etc.

So here’s what’s interesting. If Selena Zito was right with the second part of her pithy quote, are those serious-but-not-literal supporters having second thoughts after the literal first week of the new presidency? Were some of these voters thinking?: “I think we should tighten up the borders a little, but of course we won’t build a wall, that would be ridiculous. And of course we won’t ban Muslims, that would be un-American.” And now…holy moly!

And, more interesting, how about the Republican Congressional Leadership? Were some of them only comfortable getting in line with Trump Republicanism because of the false comfort of assuming he was not being literal? Any second thoughts? Yes, the Republicans own the Congress, but the big question is does the President own the Republicans? More to the point, does he own all the Republicans. It only takes three in the Senate to break ranks on an issue and the vote flips the other way. Literally. Seriously!

Is the Foreign Payments Lawsuit Spurious?

Posted January 24, 2017 by Phil Odence
Categories: Politics

I’m not thinking the lawsuit filed Monday holds a lot of water. I’m neither a lawyer nor Unknown.jpegconstitutional scholar (and I’d love my attorney friends to weigh in with some case law) but I really don’t believe the framers intended the Constitution to ban routine business transactions.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 reads, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

We’re clearly not talking about present, office or title, so the concern must be with an “Emolument.” I have to confess I missed that one in the SAT study guide. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” I have a hard time seeing how a foreign government involved in a fair quid pro quo for a product or service from one of the Trump businesses would meet that definition. Is there really something wrong with our neighbors to the north putting up Justin Trudeau at the Trump Hotel in Vancouver? There are likely scenarios that would sound shadier, but in any case the claims seem too broad.

The suit was filed by smarter guys than I, including actual constitutional scholars and former White House ethicists (both Democrat and Republican). So where were they coming from? Well, there must be enough of a case that it will not be deemed frivolous. And, all are on the record as saying the the President has not gone far enough to separate himself from his businesses. So, they must calculate this will give them a bit of a stick to help whack him into taking steps towards a blind trust. Perhaps they are also thinking this might be a lever to force a peek at the secret tax returns.

If I works, then good. He does, IMO, remain tied far to close to The Trump Organization. And he should, like all other President’s, release those tax returns. The public does care, not just the press.

Barefoot Phil’s Political Rant

Posted January 22, 2017 by Phil Odence
Categories: Politics

I don’t think the President is ill-intended, stupid, or evil. He sincerely believes that he can make America great. But, I am extremely skeptical, and his actions since the election have done nothing to bolster my hopes. In fact, his speech, his Day 1 executive order allowing 170121123548-women-earthcam-exlarge-169.jpgagencies to stonewall the ACA and yesterday’s ludicrous speech at the CIA have more or less torpedoed any hopes I have that he might, in some ways, do a good job.

I get the appeal, I really do. The political correctness pendulum has probably swung too far; a little plain talking can be refreshing. It would be fantastic if everyone could magically have terrific healthcare at affordable prices. I’d love to see the obliteration of ISIS, more jobs in America, sparkling new infrastructure, a better education system, an even more vibrant economy…a Big Rock Candy Mountain! That would be unbelievable! It is unbelievable. Literally.

It’s baffling that thoughtful people buy into this rhetoric. The only rational explanation is “You can’t take him literally.” He says, “We’re gonna build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it, folks” means we are going to tighten up on border security a bit. Maybe. And then there’s “He’s just saying what he has to get elected. After that he will become presidential.” Evidently not, unless we write off the weekend and he pulls a 180 on tomorrow, or sometime soon.

Come on, “folks,” he’s irrational. He’s out of touch with reality. He says X one day and not X the next and may end up back at X. And doesn’t even know he’s doing it. How can we expect the executive branch to move forward in any direction when the compass is constantly spinning? And, facts don’t matter; he makes shit up. All the time! It’s a deeply engrained habit, it’s reflexive. Who can trust him? Congress? Foreign powers? Us?

The scary thing is how effectively he has been able to marginalize the press whose job it is to call him out. The founding fathers understood the critical role of a free press in maintaining a free society. In essence, we depend on the press to fact check, to hold elected officials accountable for being truthful. When have we ever needed that more? And, yet, somehow, Trump’s relentless attacks press’ veracity and ethics seem to have raised more than a question mark in the collective mind of the people. An uninformed electorate allows corruption to grow unfettered.  Said Jefferson, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” Chris Matthews went too far with the adjective “Hitleresque.” Trump is not Hitler. However, Hitler understood the power of controlling the message; witness the work of Goebels. Putin gets it too. Dictators and kleptocrats blindfold the public by neutering the press.

And he’s a prickly 10 year old bully. Now that he is in command of weapons far more dangerous that his Twitter account, is it really so far fetched that he might fire back more than a tweet at a foreign state that personally offends him? Do I really think he’s launch a nuclear F You? Probably not, but combine the revived isolationist, protectionist “America First” posture with his big-stick disposition and the types of calamity we all feared during the Cold War become more plausible.

Finally, the guy is over his head and seems to have no clue. A shrink might identify underlying insecurity as the root of his bravado, but the practical manifestation is that the hand at the helm disregarding (along with the facts) the educated inputs of the experienced professionals that surround him. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that The President is new to elected office. The political kid needs adult supervision.

Trump is not stupid and some of his instincts may be good, but if he can’t get out of the way of his ego, this country will be flying by the seat of his pants. In As You Like It, Shakespeare said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  And some call me a fool for running barefoot. Oy.

Measuring the Way to Good Health

Posted April 10, 2016 by Phil Odence
Categories: Diet, Exercise, Health

Tags: , , , ,

Management guru Peter Drucker is well-known for the maxim, “If don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” There’s a corollary I stumbled upon in my Total Quality Management studies that suggests if you do measure it, it will tend to improve. The idea is that just drawing attention to an issue is often enough to cause people to address it.

This can also be applied to one’s personal health and thus I’ve started measuring stuff. It probably doesn’t work for everyone, but if you are the kind of person who strives for 10 out of 10 in Facebook quizzes, holds your breath for 60 seconds or checks your pulse during business meetings, or engages in other frivolous games with yourself, it might.

FullSizeRender.jpgWeight is so central—both an indicator and a driver of health—that it’s well-worth shining a light on. Face the reality of the scale every day. Doing so creates the little voice in the back of your head that quietly reminds you when faced with the dessert menu that tomorrow morning you will also have to face the numbers. It’s good to have some goal in mind. An excellent internist advised me years ago to pick a number that triggers red flashing lights and sirens. In my case, a nice, round 200 works very well. If I find myself approaching that threshold (which, by the way, I had blown past by my late thirties): Whoop, whoop…flash, flash, it’s a sobering condition red.

I no longer count every calorie, but as discussed in another posting, that’s a great practice, both to steer daily behavior and to educate you on the goods and bads of what you are putting into your system. Doing it for a few months is enough to give you a practical sense for what foods fit your dietary needs and which ones are better to avoid.

IMG_0296.PNGI never jumped on the FitBit, but as soon as my iPhone started counting steps, I began mildly obsessing over getting in 10,000 steps every day. This has clearly modified my behavior. I have cranked up the mileage on my runs, walk to someone’s desk at work rather than texting, and just yesterday, took the dog for another walk in the late afternoon, because I was sitting about 7,500 steps. As with anything, one can go overboard. And the reality is, I fall short, sometimes way short, a day or two a week, but being mildly obsessed with one’s health is a positive.

IMG_0297.PNGMost experts agree that for a male two drinks a day on average and never going above four are good guidelines. Knowing that I occasionally deviate, I started measuring using a simple iPhone app. It requires me to log in every drink which is a little bit of hassle, but manageable for the mildly obsessed. I’m positive that the act of measuring has caused me to drink less over the last couple of months. Having misbehaved a bit last weekend and to create some buffer for this weekend, I turned teetotaler for Sunday – Wednesday to get my 14-day average down.

I hope for and expect technology to enable more and easier health measurement. I would love to have the phone in my pocket vibrate whenever my blood sugar spikes a little. Last fall I experienced the joys of a kidney stone. Now I must avoid oxalates (spinach, almonds, and other otherwise healthy foods), up my calcium intake slightly, and drink a lot of lemon water to achieve a balance of chemicals in my blood that avoids the formation of stones. It drives me crazy that I can’t see how I’m doing; I’m shooting in the dark. The next measurement will not be for six months, a back-looking urinalysis, CAT scan and ultrasound. Boy would I love to have a real time graph on my phone, but I’d settle for a home urine test.

My Annual Easter Joke

Posted March 27, 2016 by Phil Odence
Categories: Humor, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Kicking off the new Barefoot Phil off with my annual Easter joke:

Three Italian guys were sitting on a stoop, discussing the best holidays.

The first one opined (in English with a strong, lousy Italian accent), “My favorite holiday is-a Easter. It make me so happy to see the happy childrens get all dressed up in those costumes. And, it make them so happy to visit their neighborhood and get all that candy. ’at’s-a why I love-a Easter.”

“Luigi,” followed Cute-Happy-Easter-Photos.jpgthe second, “Easter is my favorite holiday too, but-a you got it all wrong.” He went on. “I love Easter because it’s when the fat man dresses up in his red suit and brings gifts to all the little children. He go down the chimney and it make ’em so happy. So that’s why I love-a Easter.”

“Giuseppe, Luigi, don’t-a you know about Easter?” admonished the third. “Easter is my favorite holiday, too. It’s the time when we think back to-a Christ our Lord. He-a die on the cross for your sins. And then they shut his-a body in a cave.” Wide-eyed, the other two listened as he slowly continued. “It stay there for two days. After that, He-a rise up from the dead….He-a step outta that cave…and-a…if He see his shadow…”

A new thing for Barefoot Phil

Posted December 13, 2015 by Phil Odence
Categories: Books, Uncategorized, Writing

After now nearly 6 years, I continue to run barefoot 4-5 times per week. Actually, my gym and showers at work are currently under construction, so that  has slowed me down a bit, but I just finished my second run of the weekend on Cape Cod where it is unseasonably mild. Should be back in full swing by January 1. I continue to run, but I simply ran out of things to say about it a few years ago; I just do.

VanWie_TheConfluence copyBut, I still love to write. The last 18 months I’ve been working on a book abut a twenty-five year annual fishing trip. I actually mention my barefoot running in the book in a chapter where I explain about another sartorial oddity of mine–fishing without waders. (I do wear pants, though.) I mention it here in case any old BFP fans have interest in stories of friendship and the woods and fishing. Many test readers have given it a big thumbs up. Please check out the website at: http://www.confluencebook.com