Randy's Corner Deli Library

04 September 2008

Is John McCain Suffering from the Onset of Alzheimer's Disease?

I. Introduction

Is John McCain suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease? A Milwaukee-area physician who is familiar with the outward signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease who has been observing John McCain of late says that he is. I ask the question not out of a mean-spirit. I had to watch my own grandmother suffer from the effects of and die from this horrible disease. The fact remains that Mr. McCain, while having beaten cancer so far, has made so many obvious and horribly bad errors concerning foreign affairs that one has to wonder if they are done out of ignorance, which I seriously doubt, or rather, as John Kerry said on "Meet the Press" last week, he is acting erratically (with specific reference to the nomination of Sarah Palin as the person who will be a breath away from the highest office in the land), one of the signs of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The unsolicited comment by the physician caused me to give credence to the comment by Mr. Kerry, which was, to my way of thinking, mainly political posturing per the Sunday Morning News Program political ritual. In this article, I attempt to define what Alzheimer's Disease is, then go on to illustrate Mr. McCain's accomplishments and experiences in his life that show us just how smart he really must be, and then catalog the errors he has made over the course of the current election campaign. The sad conclusion is that Mr. McCain is too smart to have made the errors he has without some contribution of an organic brain problem that he has yet to disclose to the public.

II. Alzheimer's Disease

Wikipedia contains the following description of Alzheimer's Disease: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer%27s_Disease


The disease course is divided into four stages, with a progressive pattern of cognitive and functional impairment.


The first symptoms are often mistaken as related to ageing or stress.[4] Detailed neuropsychological testing can reveal mild cognitive difficulties up to eight years before a person fulfills the clinical criteria for diagnosis of AD.[19] These early symptoms can have an effect on the most complex daily living activities.[20] The most noticeable deficit is memory loss, which shows as a difficulty to remember recently learned facts and an inability to acquire new information.[21][22] Subtle problems with the executive functions of attentiveness, planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking or with impairments in semantic memory (memory of meanings, and concept relationships) can also be symptomatic of the early stages of AD.[23][24] Apathy can be observed at this stage, and remains the most persistent neuropsychiatric symptom throughout the course of the disease.[25][26][27] The preclinical stage of the disease has also been termed mild cognitive impairment,[28] but there is still debate on whether this term corresponds to a different diagnostic entity by itself or just a first step of the disease.[29]

Early dementia

In people with AD, the increasing impairment of learning and memory will lead to a definitive diagnosis. In a small proportion of them, difficulties with language, executive functions, recognition of perceptions (agnosia) or execution of movements (apraxia) will be more prominent than memory problems.[30] AD does not affect all memory capacities equally. Older memories of the person's life (episodic memory), facts learned (semantic memory), and implicit memory (the memory of the body on how to do things, such as using a fork to eat) are affected to a much lesser degree than the capacities needed to learn new facts or make new memories.[31][32] Language problems are mainly characterised by a shrinking vocabulary and decreased word fluency, which lead to a general impoverishment of oral and written language. The person with Alzheimer is usually capable of adequately communicating basic ideas.[33][34][35] While performing fine motor tasks such as writing, drawing or dressing, certain movement coordination and planification difficulties (apraxia) may be present, which may appear as clumsiness.[36] As the disease progresses, they can still perform tasks independently, but may need assistance or supervision with the most cognitively demanding activities.[30]

Moderate dementia

People with AD can usually care for themselves during the early stages of the disease, but progressive deterioration hinders independence.[30] Speech difficulties become evident due to an inability to recall vocabulary which leads to frequent incorrect word substitutions (paraphasias). Reading and writing skills are also progressively lost.[33][37] Complex motor sequences become less coordinated as time passes, reducing the ability to perform most normal daily living activities.[38] During this phase, memory problems worsen, and the person may not recognise close relatives.[39] Long-term memory, which was previously left intact, becomes impaired.[40] At this stage, behaviour changes are more prevalent. Common neuropsychiatric manifestations are wandering, sundowning,[41] irritability and labile affect, leading to crying, outbursts of unpremeditated aggression or resistance to caregiving. Approximately 30% of the patients also develop illusionary misidentifications and other delusional symptoms.[42][25] Urinary incontinence can develop.[43] These symptoms create stress for relatives and caretakers, which can be reduced by moving the person from home care to other long-term care facilities.[30][44]

Advanced dementia

During this last stage of AD, the patient is completely dependent upon caregivers. Language is reduced to simple phrases or even single words, eventually leading to complete loss of speech.[33] Despite the loss of verbal language abilities, they can receive and return emotional signals.[45] Although aggressiveness can still be present, extreme apathy and exhaustion are much more common results.[30] Patients will ultimately not be able to perform even the most simple tasks without assistance. Muscle mass and mobility will deteriorate to the point where they are bedridden,[46] and they will also lose the ability to feed themselves.[47] Death occurs from some external factor such as pressure ulcers or pneumonia, and not from the disease itself.[48][49]

I want to see just how many very clearly obvious mistakes Mr. McCain has made over the course of the present Presidential campaign. The decision of Mr. McCain to make Sarah Palin his Vice Presidential choice was called "erratic" by John Kerry on Sunday.

III. John McCain's Background

Let us first understand Mr. McCain's background and the knowledge that he had to have to achieve the political/governmental status he has. Mr. McCain comes from a family that has deep and strong roots in the US Military. His father and paternal grandfather were four-star Navy Admirals. Together with his older sister and brother, they followed their father around the US and the Pacific as he was transferred from base to base. After high school, Mr. McCain entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, starring in wrestling and becoming a lightweight boxer. He graduated 894th out of 899, though apparently he didn't try terribly hard at subjects he disliked and did not get good grades in those subjects. He did well at subjects he enjoyed like literature and history. Not so well at mathematics.

He graduated from Annapolis in 1958 and was posted to Pensacola with the rank of ensign. He completed flight training in 1960. He was assigned to the USS Intrepid and the USS Enterprise, flying A-1 Skyraider ground-attack fighters. He crashed twice and got caught in power lines but walked away from all the mishaps. In 1965, he got married for the first time and adopted his new wife Carol's sons. Thereafter, he requested and received combat assignment to the USS Forrestal, flying A-4 Skyhawks. Actual combat came in 1967, when he was 30 years old and the Forrestal was assigned to bombing raids on North Vietnam. He barely escaped with his life when a rocket under the wing of an F-4 phantom accidentally fired while still on the ship, causing a huge explosion and fire in which 134 sailors were killed.

McCain flew his 23rd and final mission on October 23, 1967 when his plane was shot down over Hanoi and he began five years of imprisonment by the North Vietnamese, who refused to treat his very serious injuries (two broken arms, a broken leg and more, including a bashed shoulder and stab wounds received from angry North Vietnamese who pulled him out of Truc Bach Lake ) until they discovered that he was the son of a four-star Admiral, after which the North Vietnamese tried to cultivate world opinion by broadcasting the fact that they were treating Mr. McCain's wounds. Subsequently, he was put into solitary confinement for two years, beginning in March, 1968. He was tortured mercilessly by the North Vietnamese and was coerced into giving a "confession" of "war crimes". He was released on March 14, 1973.

After returning to the United States, he was reunited with his wife and rehabilitated, though he began a series of extramarital affairs which he disclosed to his wife. Beginning in 1977, he became the Navy's liason to the Senate, his entree into the Washington establishment. In 1979, he met Cindy Hensley, whose father had a very successful beer distributorship in Phoenix. In 1980, Mr. and Mrs. McCain (who had suffered horribly debilitating injuries as the result of an automobile accident while John was a POW) agreed to a divorce.

He and Cindy married on May 17, 1980. John and Cindy McCain entered into a prenuptial agreement that kept most of her family's assets under her name; they would always keep their finances apart and file separate income tax returns.

This might explain the reason why he was unable to answer the question concerning the number of homes he "owns" - undoubtedly many of them are in his wife's name and the question of "ownership" for someone in their tax bracket is a more complicated question that those who own but a single home without having paid much attention to tax ramifications of ownership.

McCain being pulled from Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi and becoming a POW on October 26, 1967
McCain being pulled from Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi and becoming aPOW[33] on October 26, 1967

Mr. McCain retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1981, as he realized he would never make full admiral because of failed physical examinations and had been given no major sea command. The prospect of becoming a rear admiral did not excite him and he made the decision to run for Congress in the first district of Arizona. His 17 military awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medal, for actions before, during, and after his time as a POW.

As Vice President of Public Relations at his father-in-law's beer distributorship, he gained political support among the local business community in Phoenix, meeting powerful figures such as banker Charles Keating, Jr., real estate developer Fife Symington III and newspaper publisher Darrow "Duke" Tully, all of whom supported his budding political career. He began his Senate career in 1987, replacing Barry Goldwater after beating his Democratic opponent by 20 points in the general election.

He was enmeshed in the Keating Five scandal by having accepted $112, 000 in campaign contributions and travel on Keating's private jets at the same time he was meeting with Federal regulators about their investigation of Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan. He was "mildly rebuked" by the Senate for the appearance of impropriety, confessing that he exercised "bad judgment" in connection with the Lincoln Savings and Loan matter.

Since January 1993, McCain has been Chairman of the International Republican Institute, an organization partly funded by the U.S. Government that supports the emergence of political democracy worldwide. In 1997, he was voted one of the top 25 most influential people in America by Time Magazine. In 1999, McCain shared the Profile in Courage Award with Russ Feingold (D-WI) for their work in trying to enact their campaign finance reform, although the bill was still failing repeated attempts to gain cloture.

Likewise in 1999, McCain published his memoirs, written with the help of a co-author entitled "Faith of My Fathers", which received mainly good reviews and was made into a movie. According to one reviewer, the book describes "the kind of challenges that most of us can barely imagine. It's a fascinating history of a remarkable military family." 115 Another reviewer observed that, "The appearance of John McCain's 'Faith of My Fathers' seems to have been timed to the unfolding Presidential campaign...." 116 Indeed, McCain did run for the Presidency in 2000.

The Arizona Republic would write that the McCain-Bush primary contest in South Carolina "has entered national political lore as a low-water mark in presidential campaigns", while The New York Times called it "a painful symbol of the brutality of American politics". A variety of interest groups that McCain had challenged in the past ran negative ads.Bush borrowed McCain's earlier language of reform, and declined to dissociate himself from a veterans activist who accused McCain (in Bush's presence) of having "abandoned the veterans" on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues.

Incensed, McCain ran ads accusing Bush of lying and comparing the governor to Bill Clinton, which Bush said was "about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary". An anonymous smear campaign began against McCain, delivered by push polls, faxes, e-mails, flyers, and audience plants. The smears claimed that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (the McCains' dark-skinned daughter was adopted from Bangladesh), that his wife Cindy was a drug addict, that he was a homosexual, and that he was a "Manchurian Candidate" who was either a traitor or mentally unstable from his North Vietnam POW days. The Bush campaign strongly denied any involvement with the attacks.

McCain lost South Carolina on February 19, with 42 percent of the vote to Bush's 53 percent, in part because Bush mobilized the state's evangelical voters and outspent McCain. The win allowed Bush to regain lost momentum. McCain would say of the rumor spreaders, "I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those." According to one report, the South Carolina experience left McCain in a "very dark place".

McCain's campaign never completely recovered from his South Carolina defeat, although he did rebound partially by winning in Arizona and Michigan a few days later. He made a speech in Virginia Beach that criticized Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, as divisive conservatives, famously declaring

"... we embrace the fine members of the religious conservative community. But that does not mean that we will pander to their self-appointed leaders."133

McCain lost the Virginia primary on February 29 and on March 7 lost nine of the thirteen primaries on Super Tuesday to Bush. With little hope of overcoming Bush's delegate lead, McCain withdrew from the race on March 9, 2000. He endorsed Bush two months later, and made occasional appearances with the Texas governor during the general election campaign.

Beginning in 2001, Mr. McCain fought the Bush administration's tax cuts, HMO Reform, climate change and gun legislation. Indeed, he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts. 138, 139 By the time the 2004 Presidential campaign rolled around, there was discussion of his possibly joining his friend Sen. John Kerry as his Vice Presidential pick owing to the reputation he had developed as a "maverick" who would not be bound by Republican Party Orthodoxy. The position was never offered, and he has said he would not have accepted it if it had been. 154, 155, 156.

McCain still had hard feelings left over from the 2000 Republican primary campaign yet campaigned with George W. Bush for his 2004 re-election bid, though he did this because he had to, not because he and George Bush were friends. 140

Breaking from his 2001 and 2003 votes, McCain supported the Bush tax cut extension in May 2006, saying not to do so would amount to a tax increase. 139 Working with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, McCain was a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, which would involve legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components. The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act was never voted on in 2005, while the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed the Senate in May 2006 but failed in the House.151 In June 2007, President Bush, McCain, and others made the strongest push yet for such a bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but it aroused intense grassroots opposition among talk radio listeners and others, some of whom furiously characterized the proposal as an "amnesty" program, 164 and the bill twice failed to gain cloture in the Senate.165

Following the publication of "Faith of My Fathers", Mr. McCain subsequently published four more books:

He wrote the following Articles and Forewords:

I have not read any of Mr. McCain's books. I read his Foreign Affairs article. I disagree with many of the positions and statements Mr. McCain makes in the article, but it is well-written and thoughtful. Mr. McCain is, it appears to me, a thoughtful man but is clearly also a political animal who will do what it takes to get elected, regardless of his past positions or perceptions of his positions.

IV. Errors By McCain

On May 30, when he told a public gathering that things were going swimmingly in Iraq: "I can tell you that it (the Surge) is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-Surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet."

Well, we can look McCain right in the eye and remind him that, as a matter of fact, we have not drawn down to pre-Surge levels. It's just a matter of comparing the actual numbers. Before President Bush ordered his troop escalation in January 2007, we had 128,569 soldiers in Iraq; today, we have 155,000 soldiers in Iraq. In accordance with how math generally works, the latter number is larger than the former. http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/americandebate/19455269.html

McCain has twice confused the Sunnis and the Shiites. He has insisted that Iran was training al Qaeda operatives, whereas, in reality al Qaeda is a Sunni organization and Iran is run by Shiites. Fortunately, his friend and confidant, Joe Lieberman, was standing within earshot of this booming blunder, softly corrected Mr. McCain in his ear, whereafter Mr. Mr. McCain instantaneously corrected himself. http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/2008/03/and-another-john-mccain-error.php

Just as McCain’s initial assertion about Iran training al Qaeda was false, his claim that he “corrected it immediately” is also false. In fact, McCain made the claim at least three times on two separate occasions. He corrected himself only after the third utterance when Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) whispered in his ear.

While NBC aired only a snippet of O’Donnell’s interview, in the full video, which isposted online, McCain also played the common conservative game of using “intentionally deceptive language” to blur “the differences between groups with different goals and ideologies in order to create the illusion of a united Islamofascist enemy”:

Al Qaeda is military. Al Qaeda is killing Americans as we speak. Islamic extremists are being trained in Iran and they are being sent back into Iran, I mean into Iraq.

Making a false claim and then making it again is the opposite of the correcting it immediately. It’s also the opposite of “straight talk.”


KELLY O’DONNELL: I’d like to ask you about a moment yesterday when you were speaking about the influence of Iran and there was a gaffe, if you’d call it that. When you described Iran aiding al Qaeda, does that suggest that your depth of knowledge on some of the cultural issues may not be as great as some of your military knowledge?

JOHN MCCAIN: Al Qaeda is military. Al Qaeda is killing Americans as we speak. Islamic extremists are being trained in Iran and they are being sent back into Iran, I mean into Iraq. And explosive devices, these copper ones, which we just discovered, uncovered a large cache, are killing American soldiers. We should care about that. We should care about Iranians who are sending these lethal devices, the most lethal devices, into Iraq and killing Americans. That’s what I care about. That’s what the subject is. I just simply misspoke when I said al Qaeda. But they are training extremists and they are sending the most lethal devices that are killing Americans. That’s what we should care about.

O’DONNELL: Do you feel comfortable with understanding the differences between the Shia and Sunni political agendas?

MCCAIN: In all due respect, that was my eighth visit to Iraq. I am constantly briefed. I am constantly engaged in this issue. I’ve been involved in every major national security challenge this nation has faced for the last 20 years.

O’DONNELL: I ask it respectfully because people did notice that you made this comment and wondered, was it simply a slip of the tongue…

MCCAIN: I corrected it immediately. I corrected it, my comment immediately. I don’t claim that I won’t misspeak on occassion, but I will correct it immediately. Ha ha ha, I’m astonished. Frankly, I’m astonished.

O’DONNELL: You don’t think that’s a fair question?

MCCAIN: I think anything is a fair question, but to think that I would have some lack of knowledge about Sunni and Shia after my eigth visit and my deep involvement in this issue is a bit ludicrous.



To my way of thinking, the foregoing mistakes are too severe to overlook, even if it did come in the midst of the bruising Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination. This is either the mistake of a very uninformed person or someone who is unable to mentally hold simple facts in his brain due to some organic malfunction.

Mr. McCain has insisted that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the most powerful figure in that country, whereas, in reality, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's national security council are the powers that run the show. (McCain is fine with the idea of repeating the error about Ahmadinejad: "I think of you asked any average American who the leader of Iran is, I think they'd know.") And after a recent clash between Iraqi government troops and Shiite insurgents pledged to Moqtada al-Sadr, McCain erroneously stated that a chastened Sadr had sought a ceasefire, whereas, in reality, the ceasefire was kick-started when the Iraqi government asked its allies in Iran to broke the process; in the end, Sadr's forces were left virtually intact. http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/americandebate/19455269.html

Mr. McCain gave an interview to Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt on March 17, 2008 in which he said the following::
" As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq. I think Americans should be very angry when we know that Iran is exporting weapons into Iraq that kill Americans."

This again betrays a fundamental mistake as to who is whom in the Middle East. Joe Lieberman was not around at that point to correct him and Mr. Hewitt did not of course correct Mr. McCain's mistake.

In July of this year, Mr. McCain gave an interview to Katie Couric of CBS News in which he attributed the "Anbar Awakening" of the Sunnis in that Iraqi province to his much touted "surge":

Katie Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as-- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.


Sadly for the American pubic, this story ended up on the editing floor at CBS News. But the failure of the media to take Mr. McCain to task for an area in which he prides himself for his knowledge is just inexplicable, other than fear that the conservative base would howl and scream "liberal media bias". This has suppressed legitemate debate over the one area that Mr. McCain claims expertise. The indisputable fact is that the "Anbar Awakening" took place well before the "surge" was even conceived. A mistake like this or any of the others Mr. McCain has made by, say, Mr. Obama would have caused the entire Republican party to howl and moan that Mr. Obama was unqualified to be President or dogcatcher for that matter. No less a standard should be applied to Mr. McCain, whether it is ignorance or, again, an organic brain problem that is causing Mr. McCain to make these sorts of mistakes. They are not the sort of mistakes that an intelligent person with a functioning brain could possibly make.

There are simple geography errors that a reasonably educated high-school student would know, nevermind a United States Senator:
Two days back on Good Morning America he stated that Iraq and Pakistan share a border. That's his third geographical goof. Its predecessors were stating that Iran is training Al Qaeda operatives, thereby exposing his ignorance of the difference between Sunni and Shia, and referring to "Czechoslovakia," which hasn't existed for about 15 years, replaced by two countries. People have treated these lapses as trivial. I think they're significant of a real problem, he's indifferent to/unable to grasp the sort of details that are essential to statecraft. Expect more and more of these blunders, and better yet, expect it to become an issue.

V. Conclusion

These are not the mistakes of an intelligent man who has Mr. McCain's education, life and political experience could make unless something was organically wrong with his brain.

Mr. McCain, it is now widely known, wanted Joe Lieberman to be his Vice-Presidential running mate. Mr. Lieberman is very close personally and professionally with Mr. McCain, though I cannot see Hadassah Lieberman and Cindy McCain hanging out at an ORT Convention. I have to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Lieberman are informed about Mr. McCain's condition. It makes sense that Mr. McCain would want such a close confidant at his side during his tenure; but politics make strange bedfellows, and when it became evident that the core of the Republican party was demanding representation on the ticket lest there be a revolt of massive proportions, Mr. McCain was forced to approach the un-vetted Mrs. Palin about the slot. No matter how much his campaign tells the world that she was inserted to give the campaign a shake-up, the fact is that the sublimation of the entire McCain narrative prior to the selection of Mrs. Palin to Mr. McCain's own penchant for making impetuous and, dare I say, erratic decisions. As to whether this belies some organic brain problem with Mr. McCain, we can only speculate. But the facts are the facts: a person as smart, as educated and as experienced at foreign affairs as Mr. McCain certainly is would not otherwise make the clear factual and conceptual (e.g., Sunni vs. Sh'ia) errors if there were not some deeper underlying cause.

Randy Shiner

Unless otherwise stated, the data herein is obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McCain.

No comments: