Author Archive

UNTRUTHS VS. LIES

Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to present strategies for speaking to people with different opinions. What he didn’t say also offers much to think about.

Promoting his new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Brooks advised, “When you’re talking to somebody else, you’re not positioned to say that that person is a pathological liar. What you know, or what you believe, is that person is saying something untrue—and that’s what you should take on.”

In forsaking personal attacks, Brooks cited NYU’s Jonathan Haidt on two values that might draw us closer together: compassion and fairness.“We don’t define those things in the same way,” Brooks warned, “but we care about those things.” Brooks also acknowledged that conservatives and liberals have different moral foundations. His endgame regarding discussing—and arguing: Listen to the other person then let compassion and fairness perhaps lead to common ground.

It’s important to listen to those with whom we disagree and acknowledge what they’re saying. Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But it can reduce some of the pent-up rage in the other person, who may see you as foolish, unpatriotic, maybe evil. Letting someone else get their words out—even vitriolic words—can be like releasing air from a balloon inflated to the point of bursting. Also, the active listener becomes better informed about the opposing position. You can’t advance your own position without a clear sense of what another believes and on what values they draw their position.

So you listen. You acknowledge. But still, things often get sticky. What happens when the other guy distorts or ignores provable facts, or proposes non-facts? Can you use the “L” word? 

Granted, your opponent may simply be misinformed and utter an untruth. That’s easy enough to do. How many times has any of us mentioned a movie with an actor who never appeared in it or a sports statistic we didn’t get right? Some people—some—will acknowledge an untruth when it’s pointed out. Facts often can easily be arrived at. A smart phone makes a great starting point.

But your opponent—or someone she supports—may, yes, lie. The difference? An untruth represents a lack of knowledge through error or ignorance. No harm may be intended. A lie involves deliberation, falsifying fact and truth, usually to seek some advantage. 

Liars, knowing they haven’t an objective leg to stand on, often fall back on a murky right to their own alternate reality. The crowd at your inauguration was the largest ever or the Mueller Report completely exonerated you as long as you believe it. Fact loses any relationship to demonstrable reality. George Orwell presented an authoritarian government’s concept of fact and truth in his classic novel 1984: Black is white and white is black.

Re Brooks, can you really love your enemies when they scorn reality and objective truth? Of course, using enemy to describe those with whom we disagree creates a toxic political climate preventing reasonable solutions. At the same time, enemy may be an apt term for those who deny facts. We can love them only if we’re hellbent on committing physical or national suicide.

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AFTER MUELLER—WHAT?

Attorney General William Barr recently reviewed Special Commissioner Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Some Americans believe that Barr’s four-page letter to Congressional leaders provides satisfactory answers. Given that Mueller’s report exceeds 300 pages, I have questions.

I note first that a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday reveals that 84 percent of respondents want the report made public. Also, 75 percent of Republicans surveyed favor the report’s release.

As to the attorney general’s letter, Barr declared that Mueller saw no collusion by Donald Trump. Yet Barr wrote that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction” and quotes Mueller that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr also writes, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr states that such proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. All well and good. That’s our legal system.

But why did Trump refuse to acknowledge American intelligence and security agencies’ findings that Russia manipulated social media and stole Democrat emails? He conjectured that the culprit might have been a 400-pound guy in a New Jersey basement. The joke was ill-conceived.

Why did Trump, on national TV, ask Russia to provide Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails? Another joke? If so, it was on the American people. Presidential candidates know—or should—when such “levity” is totally inappropriate. And why did Trump later accept Vladimir Putin’s word that Russia had not engaged in nefarious activities, again throwing U.S. intelligence and security professionals under the bus?

I can think of two reasons. 

First, Trump couldn’t stomach the thought that Russian interference might tarnish his “overwhelming” victory (with 46.1 percent of the popular vote; Barack Obama had 52.9 in 2008, 51.1 in 2012). Did Russia give Trump his victory in the Electoral College? We’ll never know. But Hillary Clinton topped Trump by three million votes. Trump claimed fraud—as he claimed his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. Lies. 

Second, Trump didn’t want to upset business relationships in Russia. During the campaign, he said he had no business with Russia. Another lie. Trump representatives discussed a Trump Tower project in Moscow before, during and even after the campaign. Aside from the Miss Universe contest, did Trump have other dealings with Russia? If so, did some or all violate U.S. law? We’ll see where other investigations lead.

Until the full report becomes public, we have no idea just how unethical—if not illegal—Trump’s position on Russia has been. But if legal standards for criminal prosecution are high, so should be the moral/ethical standards of a president. 

The Talmud (Yevamot 121b) states that God is most feared by those nearest to Him—the righteous—because He is more exacting of them. Leaders are held to a higher standard. 

Whatever the Mueller report states, Donald Trump has demonstrated a clear failure to uphold the standards expected of leaders and continually demonstrated his contempt for the United States. The Mueller report will never clear him of remaining mired mouth-deep in the swamp he promised to drain.  

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LARRY

I lost my friend Larry Raphael last Sunday. I’m writing about Larry because he deserves it—and I need to.

Larry became Congregation Sherith Israel’s senior rabbi in July 2003 after three decades at Hebrew Union College in New York. It was his first pulpit. He was ready. A dedicated and accomplished teacher, Larry immediately led Torah Study Saturday mornings before services. Several friends and I were regulars. We loved it. A bond formed. After a while, Larry asked me to lead the group when he had to be away. I was honored.

Larry taught evening courses about various subjects. The classes were great, including those on one of his passions, Jewish mystery and detective stories. He’d edited two volumes. Larry never displayed an ego and encouraged everyone’s opinions. 

Occasionally, Larry joined some of us for dinner before class or for lunch after teaching Talmud downtown—another great success. Discussions covered many topics, including baseball—another passion (he also loved photography). The two of us started going to lunch and did so monthly after he retired in 2016. Occasionally, we’d go to a Giants game. When he left his seat, I filled in his scorecard. 

Larry was a private person and I’m an introvert, but we shared stories—he loved stories—about our families, congregations he served part-time in retirement, my writing. He related travels in Europe, Israel and Guatemala, as well as living in Brooklyn—we had a mutual friend there—and growing up in Los Angeles. I detailed growing up in Queens, army service, Texas, travels in Europe and Asia, and caught him up on Carolyn and our kids.

Larry wrote a column for the Sherith Israel newsletter, which I co-edited. When he was busy, including fundraising for our successful $16 million seismic retrofit, I’d suggest ideas and write first drafts. “I couldn’t have written it better myself,” he’d say. “But you did,” I’d answer. “I’m only channeling you since you taught this idea and we talked about it.” Larry’s trust meant so much to me.

At my request, Larry wrote a blurb for the cover of my 2009 book, God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible. I’m not a rabbi or academic, but Larry read some of the manuscript and responded, “Great. What would you like me to say?” 

Let me get one thing straight. Although soft-spoken, Larry was nobody’s fool. He could get angry with those who acted badly. But he was incredibly welcoming to everyone who came to Sherith Israel and people he met elsewhere. He also was a wizard at remembering names. (I’m terrible at it.) He could have created a memory act for Las Vegas. 

Larry spent most of the last three-plus months in the hospital and rehab facilities, so we chatted periodically on the phone. He gave me some details on his illness, but I emphasized my calls as “Hi, we’re all thinking of you” moments. We hoped to have one last get-together. It didn’t work out. 

I don’t regret not having a final in-person goodbye. The end of a life doesn’t define a person or a friendship. What counts is all that takes place in the years before. Larry inspired so many students—rabbinical and lay—congregants, more than 50 converts, and me. His memory is a blessing. 

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SHALOM, DOLLY!

Carolyn and I just saw the road revival of the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly! My life passed in front of my eyes.

Dolly Gallagher Levi is a matchmaker and hustling Jill-of-all-trades in 1885 New York. Widowed a decade, she sets her sights on Horace Vandergelder, a Yonkers widower and reputed half-a-millionaire. All the rest is commentary.

Except, who is Dolly? Originally Dolly Gallagher, she’s Irish. But she married a Jew, Ephraim Levi. (Ephraim was one of the biblical Joseph’s two sons, Levi Jacob’s third son and antecedent to Israel’s hereditary priests beginning with Aaron). The musical’s roots lie in Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker. Making Dolly’s late, beloved husband a Jew seemed to have been a rather brave undertaking on Wilder’s part.

But, was Ephraim really Jewish? During a monologue by Dolly, we see the store Ephraim owned—a haberdashery—a men’s clothing store. In 1966, a Jewish-owned men’s store was the first thing I saw in Anniston, Alabama heading to Fort McClellan and advanced infantry training. And when Dolly is asked to name a great American, her reply: Moses!

In 2006, the Jewish actress Tovah Feldshuh decided not to play Dolly as Jewish because she herself was. The late Carol Channing, who originated the role, did play Dolly as Jewish “On the basis of my own early marriage right out of Bennington. I married into a Galician, Yiddish-speaking family.”

Which brings me to me. Actually, to my wife. Carolyn was raised in Waco as a Catholic but had many Jewish friends and a Jewish aunt, uncle and cousin. She was falling away from Catholicism when we met. No, she never converted. A justice of the peace married us. 

But over the last 50 years (this September marks our golden anniversary), she’s been a true helpmate to a Jewish man, raised three Jewish children, supported our synagogue and championed Israel, which we’ve visited together twice. I should add that she often enlightens her friends (many or most Jewish) on Jewish practices and Israel.

This may be due in part to my parents, Morris and Blanche, who welcomed Carolyn into the family sight unseen. Of course, my mother had to meet this girl after we called from San Antonio to say we were getting married. A sophisticated woman with perfect hair, makeup, nails, clothing and accessories, Blanche Perlstein flew down and brought gifts—among them a potato grater and jar of chicken fat.

It was love at first sight. My mother signed me over to Carolyn as Dolly Levi gave Horace Vandergelder no choice but to marry her. Carolyn has “guided” my life, clarifying what I really wanted to do about various things because how could I be expected to make decisions about the menu at our kids’ b’nai mitzvah or our 36th (double chai/2×18) recommitment ceremony at Congregation Sherith Israel, or the colors for the exterior of our house.

Doubtless, Ephraim Levi knew how lucky he was to marry Dolly Gallagher. I feel the same way about Carolyn. So does my entire family, who from the outset made Carolyn their own while relegating me to “Carolyn’s husband.”

Without Carolyn, I’d be nothing. So from now on, I’ll refer to Hello, Dolly! as Shalom, Dolly! because the moment I met Carolyn, I said hello to a better life.  

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CRAFT

Last Monday, Carolyn was in Hollywood shooting a scene for a TV show running on CBS. I can’t reveal which until before it airs, but I can say that her comments got me thinking about the little things—the mastery of craft—required of us all.

This was not Carolyn’s first rodeo. She’s appeared on “Chuck” (ABC), “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “Chance” opposite Hugh Laurie (Hulu) and other shows and films. Doing so, Carolyn’s learned a lot about the special skills the camera demands.

For example, actors must hit their marks—taped spots on the floor putting them in proper position relative to other actors, the camera and lights. There’s also eyeline. When a scene is shot from multiple angles, actors must look at the same person or object in the same way for the sake of continuity. 

Carolyn’s also aware of a tip I read from the great actor Michael Caine. In a two-shot (two actors on camera), look at your opposite’s eye nearest the camera to keep your face from being hidden while not distorting the shot.

One more tip—and a key one: Be polite. Carolyn’s worked with accomplished actors who, along with the rest of the cast and crew, have been unfailingly gracious. TV/film production is arduous. The set is no place for egos to run amok.

What does this teach us? Without devotion to craft—the small stuff too easily ignored—there is no art. An actor brings to life—fleshes out—a character other artists—writers—create. The art involves going deep inside and finding the soul of that character. But it’s also critical to hit your mark, maintain your eyeline and work seamlessly with others to make art—and commerce—happen.

I’ve seen sad results when people enamored with their “art,” whatever it may be, fail to master their craft. During my long career as a freelance copywriter, my “art” (though it wasn’t art but rather a business communication skill set) was concepting and writing print, radio and TV commercials along with other media. My craft involved such mundane attributes as listening to my clients, respecting their authority if we disagreed and assuring that copy was concise, well written and, yes, correctly spelled. 

Because I ran my own business, my craft also included sending invoices in a timely matter, following up to be sure I received payments on time, setting aside funds for taxes and maintaining client relationships. To accomplish the latter, I promoted a simple selling point not so easily achieved by many: On target, on time, on budget.

I’m often amazed that many artists—or those who wish to be—want to live the artist’s life— whatever that is—but not practice the artist’s craft and the discipline it involves. As for me, I’m currently half-way through draft 3 of my new novel, editing and polishing every day, having received valuable feedback on draft 2b from nine readers. In a few weeks, my writing coach/editor Tom Parker will read and comment on it so I can produce a final draft 4.

If more people paid attention to the small things—not only in art but in life, every facet of which requires a mastery of craft—we might spend less time sweating so much of the big stuff.

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LAURA AND DUKE—A HATE STORY

America generally accepted racism in 1871, even though the Civil War had ended six years earlier. A century later, bigotry stood officially condemned. Yet prejudice had its champions. Today, those champions have champions. 

On Laura Ingraham’s February 20 Fox News show, author/journalist Raymond Arroyo rebutted the furor resulting from the resurfacing of a 1971 Playboy interview with John Wayne. The Hollywood legend friends called Duke told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” 

Arroyo claimed that Wayne shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Ingraham agreed and likened protestors to the Taliban and ISIS, who “don’t want any vestige of what was.” 

So, what “was” in 1971? Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act seven years earlier. Although millions of whites fought desegregation and equal rights, America officially took a new stance towards racial equality. It was inevitable. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against the concept of separate but equal schools. In 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Before and after that decision, thousands of black Americans died for our country. Theircountry. 

Educated and responsible citizens? In the ’60s, I viewed my fraternity brothers Paul and Bob, my officer candidate school buddies Kent and Cliff, and L.M., starting center on the Fort Sam Houston post basketball team I coached for two seasons, as more than well-educated to the point of responsibility. Exemplary African Americans? No. Exemplary men.

Duke Wayne’s comments become more reprehensible because he stood as a symbol of American manhood. The symbol was false. His real name? Marion Morrison—although that’s not an issue. Until about the time of Wayne’s comments, Hollywood required actors to adopt short, Anglo-Saxon sounding screen names. These often mollified moviegoers uncomfortable with seeing “foreigners” on the silver screen. (Blacks played maids and train porters, Asians maids and gardeners.) Tinseltown disguised Jewish stars like Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfruend), Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch), Lauren Bacall (Betty Perske) and Judy Holliday (Judith Tuvim).

Wayne’s heroism? Celluloid myth. He played courageous cowboys and World War Two servicemenas an actor. During the war, the military rejected him because of his age and status as a father. To Wayne’s credit, that dissatisfied him. He made USO tours and visited wounded veterans in hospitals—worthy endeavors but hardly on a par with those who endured combat.

In the post-war years Wayne, a conservative, vociferously supported the red-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC blacklisted many Hollywood actors, writers, directors and others for liberal and/or communist sympathies during the Depression years. It destroyed careers, damaged lives. 

Laura Ingraham’s giving a pass to John Wayne’s racist views helps maintain an environment of hatred that over the past three years has crawled out from the shadows. Recently, an Alabama newspaper editor called on the Ku Kux Klan “to night ride again.” And federal agents in Maryland arrested a white-supremacist Coast Guard officer with a large arsenal of weapons. They accused him of plotting to kill Democratic members of Congress, television journalists and others. 

Should today’s racists be exonerated because their views reflect those of a supposedly cherished—and deeply flawed—past? Should their views be accepted because they match those espoused by a current self-proclaimed hero who also never served in the military? The Laura-Duke hate story deserves no love.

For a detailed look at Washington’s Hollywood purges, read Victor Navasky’s 1980 National Book Award winner, Naming Names.

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WE ARE ALL MEXICO

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump boasted that Mexico would pay for a wall on our southwestern border. His frenzied supporters cheered. What they failed to realize is that the wall would be paid for by them.

In a way, Trump may have been right. Today, we are all Mexicoakin to the millions around the world who declared, “We are all Charlie Hebdo after the January 2015 Islamist killing of 12 people at that French magazine’s Paris offices.

Most Americans support the Mexican people’s desire for a nation free of ignorance, hatred and corruption, all of which threaten our own democracy. Many American citizens—yes, citizens—have roots in Mexico. Many more vacation in or retire there. At home, we eat Mexican food, drink Mexican beer and tequila, and even learn Spanish.   

Of course, the Republic of Mexico refused to pay for however-many miles of wall—or barrier. So our beleaguered president declared a state of emergency. 

As things stand, funding will be pulled from the Department of Defense. Not every American believes that our defense budget needs to be as high as it is, but we all believe that defense is important. Also that our military personnel must be well cared for—from training to deployment to homecoming. If Mr. Trump, an advocate of increased military spending, pulls away $3 billion or more, who gets hurt? Not the members of his golf club, Mar-a-Lago.

Suits already have been filed. Today, House Democrats introduced a resolution—to be voted on Tuesday—to overturn Trump’s trumped-up state of emergency. Ultimately, the courts will rule. One sure bet: If they find for Trump, Americans will pick up the tab.

While legal issues remain up in the air, the facts should ground American opinion regarding what constitutes a national emergency. Trump points to illegal drugs. But the FBI, DEA and other law-enforcement agencies state that the vast majority of drugs from Mexico—85 percent and up—arrive at ports of entry. On January 31, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the largest-ever seizure of Fentanyl—245 pounds—at the border crossing in Nogales, Mexico. 

Barriers can be partof the solution to illegal immigration and drugs. But Trump continues to put the cart before the horse, offering a symbolic sop to his anti-brown base without assessing the reports and statistics government experts present to him. Why? Trump prefers making decisions based on his gut, which translates to obtaining daily approval from Fox News. 

Where does the public stand? A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reported that 36 percent of Americans favor building a wall, 61 percentoppose.

What lies ahead? NPR reported last Tuesday that 90 percent of the Trump base supports the wall. That leaves 10 percent against. Given the closeness of the 2016 presidential election—Trump lost the popular vote by three million—and the upcoming report on Russian interference in that election from Special Commissioner Robert Mueller—a chipped base can hurt Trump badly. 

Come 2020—if Trump remains president and runs for re-election—American voters will likely declare, “We are all Mexico.” They will refuse to pay for Trump’s wall and what it stands for, as well as his Oval Office salary.  

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DON’T TURN AWAY

The January 25 issue of J! The Jewish News of Northern California reported on Jews of color rising to take their places in the Jewish community. I applaud this. But the article also made me nervous.

Yes, Jews of color have faced difficulties in a religious and cultural world led by Ashkenazim—Jews of European descent (like me). Yet the Jewish world is incredibly diverse. It includes those born of two non-Ashkenazi parents—of color or not—or one. And Jews by choice. At my synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, we’re majority Ashkenazi but include Sephardim (descended from the Jews of Spain), Mizrachim (Jews from the Middle East) and congregants with genes from Africa, Asia and Latin America. I’m not sure about Native American descendants, but that would be cool.

Still, Jews of color often are asked, “What brings you here?” and “Are you Jewish?” Many Ashkenazim have no idea regarding Jewish diversity and non-Ashkenazi legitimacy. It’s only natural and right that Jews of color demand an equal place at the table.

Lest you think this problem is confined to North American and Europe, consider Israel. Wander through its cities and towns, and you discover Israeli Jews’ wide genetic and cultural backgrounds. Jews have immigrated—or fled—from the West, Latin America, North Africa and the Arab Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Ethiopia. Some have come from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East.

Yet pre- and post-state Ashkenazim often exhibited racist attitudes. Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews were welcomed to swell the young nation’s population but under-funded regarding housing and education. In his book Spies of No Country, Israeli author Matti Friedman notes how Mizrachi Jews spied for Israel’s “Arab Section” during the War of Independence but were looked down on as “blacks.”

Racism isn’t gone, but it has been much reduced. Mizrachim and Sephardim make up half the population—and vote. Also, military service and a growing economy have brought together Israelis from all backgrounds. My cousin Maxine has a son-in-law whose family comes from Iran and Yemen. We spent last Passover with our cross-cultural family at the ancient fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. I love Tsachi’s family the way I love the varied backgrounds of my fellow Sherith Israel congregants and friends newer to Judaism—African-American, Korean, Mexican, Chinese and other. 

The Torah states, “The stranger (ger, later considered by the sages to mean proselyte) who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:34).The commandment to love the stranger appears at least 36 times in the Torah. I hope Ashkenazim everywhere take this to heart.

I also hope that Jews of color will refrain from turning inward. Be’chol Lashon (“In every tongue”), headquartered in San Francisco, runs programs and a summer camp for Jewish kids of color. It enables them to look in the communal mirror and see themselves. That’s good. In a Christian-dominant society, Ashkenazi Jews don’t always get to do that, either. But will Be’chol Lashon remain necessary ten or twenty years from now? It would be wonderful to see the organization eventually disband because it’s simply not needed.

So, I extend a plea to Jews of color: Don’t turn away from me. That would hurt us all.

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STATE OF DISUNION

Tuesday night, as always, I watched the State of the Union address. As always, I suffered. I drew two conclusions: You’ve seen one State of the Union, you’ve seen almost all. And, it’s time to amend the SOTU, mandated by the Constitution’s article II, section 3, with seven new rules:

1. 30-minute time limit. Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” can tell a story in 30 minutes or less, so can our president. For that matter, Congress has passed some legislation in less time. A president who can’t reduce his/her lofty platitudes to half an hour should one million dollars of campaign funds per overtime minute. At the 35-minute mark, TV and radio networks should be forced off the air. Disclosure: My mind turned to jelly well before 60 minutes into you-know-who’s 82-minute address.

2. No guests. This emotional manipulation is no less obscene than corporations’ TV commercials, which deliver platitudes but no specifics about what said corporations are doing to right the wrongs they’ve done—like overcharging for drugs and wrongfully foreclosing on people’s homes. Besides, TV’s few remaining soap operas appear mornings and afternoons. Disclosure: My mother Blanche was a big soap fan.

3. No standing or applauding. Do presidents and their staffs take us for fools? The answer is obvious. Members of Congress in the president’s party stand and whoop at least every sixty seconds while members of the opposition party sit on their hands. Except when the president forces the opposition to endorse motherhood, apple pie and the flag. Well, the flag gets contentious. What a waste of time. I could be watching Sports Center or the Warriors’ pre-game show.

4. No chanting, “USA! USA!” I’ll wager with anyone that the members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military joint chiefs and assorted hangers-on know that they—and most of us—are citizens of the United States of America. If they’re unsure prior to the performance, they can check their passports. One allowable exception: Homer Simpson doing the chanting. If the White House and Congress are going to produce a comedy, they should do it right.

5. No bragging. Dramamine, please! It’s hard to escape the nausea caused by presidents regaling us with their fantastic accomplishments—all seasoned (i.e. skewed, slanted, distorted) with half-lies, outright lies and statistics. One bright spot: Many people get paid well by the media to serve as fact-checkers and shed light on presidential falsehoods ranging from slight to egregious. They get plenty of overtime, too. America needs growth industries.

6. No platitudes. Forget what I wrote in #1. Everyone agrees on national security, a growing economy and good infrastructure along with affordable healthcare and educational opportunities. Besides, if the state of the union is always strong, why do presidents keep carping on these issues? 

7. Eliminate calls for bipartisanship. More Dramamine! Presidents lead and are beholden to their parties. Sure, bipartisanship can bind many of our nation’s wounds. But the time to call for it is when presidential and congressional candidates stump for their parties’ nominations . . . Finished laughing? 

Let me know if you want to add anything—like a president who shuts down the government or rails against being investigated not being allowed to give the next year’s SOTU on Capitol Hill. That might unite us all.

Do away with the State of the Union altogether? Check Kevin Williamson’s “Great Caesar’s Ghost” in National Review (1-28-14). Thanks to Ron Eaton for sending it my way.

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SCHULTZ VS. TRUMP

Last Sunday, Howard Schultz of Starbucks renown announced he would explore a presidential run as a third-party centrist. Democrats attacked: He’d siphon away enough voters to give Trump a victory. Trump supporters celebrated. But let’s look closer.

While Schultz stands head and shoulders above Trump as a human being (and businessperson), I’m also not thrilled he’s exploring a presidential run. Of course, he’ll be his own man beholden to no one; he has enough money to fund his campaign. But Howard Schultz isn’t prepared to be president no matter how noble his thoughts and how civil his demeanor.

Disclosure: In my novel San Café, I drew on Starbucks for Mobys, the coffee-hustling corporation that seeks to control the affairs of the Central American nation of San Cristo. I presented Mobys’ chairman as a right-wing megalomaniac. He was not patterned on Howard Schultz. 

That said, Schultz has no experience in government. To many voters, that’s attractive—a man uncorrupted by the system. It’s also folly. Lack of government experience—witness Donald Trump—can be disastrous despite soundness of character (Schultz, not Trump). Example: several days ago, Trump called his senior intelligence officials “naïve.” Government’s complexities far exceed those of a private company or corporation. So do the consequences of its failings.

Michael Bloomberg, former Democratic mayor of New York, advised Schultz that he has no shot as an independent. Bloomberg may throw his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Yes, he’s a business titan (also way more successful than Trump). but 12 years in New York’s city hall offered preparation to take on the office’s challenges.

So, by this fall or winter at the latest, Howard Schultz will—pardon me—wake up and smell the venti-cinnamon-shortbread-latte-whipped-cream-for-sure.  He’ll also be done promoting his new book.  Howard Schultz will not run against Donald Trump. 

No one will.

“Donald Trump 2020” may cause the hearts of his MAGA base to flutter, but Trump is toxic. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Office of the Special Commissioner, aka Robert Mueller III, is tightening the noose on Trump and those closest to him. This is no rush to judgment. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said this week that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. If Whitaker thinks Mueller’s report will appear in February or March, he’s wishing under the influence. 

The end, however, is approaching. Mueller obtained seven indictments against Trump sidekick Roger Stone. Stone approached WikiLeaks when requested by a “senior campaign official.” That official was prompted by a “higher up.” Mueller knows who they are. They know Mueller knows. Expect more indictments at the highest levels, very possibly including one or more of the Trump family—Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

When will Mueller release his report? May, June or early September. Summer’s a bad time. The report will provide American voters and politicians what they need to go forward. I suspect it also will reveal that Trump instructed someone to pursue the Russia-WikiLeaks connection or was advised about it and remained silent. Result: His resignation sometime between impeachment—unless he wakes up and smells the coffee (from McDonald’s)—and trial in the Senate. 

That will leave him even farther on the sidelines than Howard Schultz.

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