Posts Tagged ‘Mid-term elections’

CANARIES IN THE COAL MINE

A major announcement or carefully placed leak from the Mueller Commission linking Donald Trump to Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election will hit the media between February 1 and March 31. The news will come as the nation prepares for Congressional primary elections. How do I know? Some canaries are about to sing.

This week, a federal grand jury indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business (lobbying) partner Rick Gates on a dozen charges, including conspiracy. Only a jury can determine guilt. Yet it’s unlikely either man will go to trial.

Further, unsealed court documents reveal that a former Trump campaign adviser on foreign affairs, George Papadopolous, pleaded guilty to lying about Russia offering the Trump campaign emails containing dirt on Hillary Clinton. Don’t expect Papadopolous to receive prison time.

I don’t suggest that the Justice Department will overlook evidence secured by Mueller. Quite the opposite. Manafort and Gates were arrested and released on bail of $10 million and $5 million respectively. They’re under house arrest, their passports confiscated. Mueller would not have sought indictments if he didn’t believe he had conclusive evidence.

Of course, Mueller could have waited. But it appears that at this point in the investigation, the time is right to offer Manafort and Gates a choice: come clean or face harsh prison sentences. And let others involved in the matter know about it.

The Papadopolous disclosure sends an added message: If you stuck your toes in the muddy waters of collusion with Russia or know anything about it, speak up. Papadopolous doubtless has sung. Were you named? Come forward now or risk a federal indictment.

Two arrests and a plea bargain represent not the end of the investigation but the beginning. Its pace likely will pick up. Robert Mueller and his staff doubtless know more about possible collusion with Russia than does the public. When these three canaries sing, the commission may learn a lot more. And additional canaries may flock to Mueller to warble about people higher in the pecking order.

Why wouldn’t they? Men of integrity might take the hit to protect another man of integrity wrongly accused. But Manafort, Gates and Papadopolous look no more like men of integrity than Harvey Weinstein. It’s just that they preferred to screw the United States instead of Hollywood stars and wannabes.

Moreover, they know that Trump would never take the hit for them.

The arc of the Mueller investigation likely will bend towards a faster, rather than slower, conclusion. This will enable Americans to go to the polls this primary season and make better-informed decisions regarding candidates who deny collusion and support Trump versus candidates who remain open to the Mueller Commission’s investigation, see the pattern that keeps emerging and distance themselves from Trump.

Will this entail politicizing the commission? Withholding information could bring the same accusation. Better to enable voters to make important choices based on knowledge—at least those voters who don’t believe in alternative facts.

Trump’s base? They’ll close their eyes to Mueller’s findings, no matter how blatant the violations of ethics and the law. But Trump’s hard-core supporters will be unable to silence the bittersweet chirping of more canaries who prefer coming clean to being caged.

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CATCHING CAMBODIA

A few years ago, Carolyn and I visited Cambodia. After a stay in Phnom Penh, the capital, we flew to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, the huge 12th-century temple complex, was breathtaking. But something else also caught my attention. The roads we traveled on made San Francisco look like a third-world city.

I often say that life is maintenance. On a personal level, we (well, not all Americans) take care of our bodies. We wash. We trim our nails and get haircuts. We also try to eat healthy food and exercise.

On a communal level, we seek to maintain our physical environment. But infrastructure projects don’t come cheap, and Washington is the prime mover. Shamefully, we’ve long neglected our roads, bridges and tunnels, and school buildings. Fortunately, the economy has generated more government revenue so more work has taken place. It hasn’t always been efficient, but that’s a problem of politics rather than engineering. Witness the attractive east span of the Bay Bridge pushed as a legacy by former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and present governor Jerry Brown. Politically mismanaged construction often stalled. Costs soared. Grave questions remain about the bridge’s structural integrity.

In my neighborhood, the news is mostly good. The Doyle Drive project connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina District and downtown, as well as to San Francisco’s west side and the Peninsula, will be completed in another two years. Hopefully. In August, crews replaced our street’s sewer lines, part of a huge citywide project. Three weeks of dust and noise proved a small price for those needed repairs. Last month, other crews repaved our street. Nearby Park Presidio, a major boulevard badly in need of repaving, waits.

Infrastructure-wise, we’re catching Cambodia. But another type of infrastructure is crumbling down to the level of Cambodia, a dictatorship under Prime Minister Hun Sen: Washington. Last Tuesday’s election, which gave Republicans control of the Senate and expanded the GOP majority in the House is a symptom. So is a lack of leadership and candor coming from President Obama whose reserved, seemingly disengaged manner has worn thin with many Americans who voted for him. Our system of government—brilliant in its conception—has lost its way. Big money and the shrill ideology from extremists on both right and left have paralyzed Washington’s ability to advance the cause of ordinary, “purple” Americans.

In an age when citizens have huge caches of information at their fingertips, Washington’s ability to get things done has slowed beyond a crawl. It’s at a virtual standstill. Yes, powerful interests always have impacted elections, legislation, even war. Once, machine politics and backroom compromises—and yes, hands got dirty—moved the nation forward by passing the riches around. The system was imperfect but effective. Now, it’s dead.

We have the capacity to span bays and rivers, dig through mountains and construct inspiring buildings that serve the common good. We also have the capacity to build bridges across the aisle in Congress and down the Hill to the White House. If we’re intent on not catching Cambodia in political respects, we won’t need a new constitution. We’ll need integrity, courage and will. What are the odds?

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THE YEAR OF LISTENING

During the Jewish month of Elul (August/September) leading to the recent High Holy Days, I made a semi-resolution. The Sages caution against making vows and for good reason, so I avoided going that far. But I determined to try to be a more attentive listener. That’s a challenge.

I took inspiration from Pirke Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers) 4:1 attributed to Ben Zoma: “Who is wise? One who learns from every person.” So often, we only pretend to listen to others while our mental wheels spin on and on. We hear words, but the thoughts and intentions behind them don’t register. We’re too engrossed in googling our minds for ways either to refute the speaker or demonstrate that we know more.

Many people, myself included, love to engage in forms of mental gymnastics. But at the age of seventy, I’m increasingly aware not of what I do know but of what I don’t. I’ve recognized the possibility—indeed, the probability—that others can offer ideas worthy of reflection rather than rebuttal or revision.

Not that I’m waving the flag of false humility. Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:7 advises that there is “A time for silence and a time for speaking.” Obviously, I’m still blogging. Moreover, we all have a responsibility to add knowledge to a discussion or class. When we withhold a fact or considered comment, we deprive others of a learning experience. And while good judgment is required, we have an obligation to correct an error that might mislead others.

Attentive listening also can improve personal relationships. At Congregation Sherith Israel’s Rosh Hashanah services, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller gave a sermon on listening without defensiveness when an issue arises. Rather than protesting, interrupting or displaying anger, she said, we do better simply to hear the other person out. Yes, disagreement and anger have their places. But they too often become knee-jerk reactions when someone else speaks about a subject or offers an opinion that may make us uncomfortable or even be contentious.

I started practicing attentive listening last Saturday morning at Torah Study. It went fairly well. I spoke only once—to ask a question. I focused not on what I know but on what others know or how they might get me to look at a piece of the text in a different way. Members of the group may not hear very much from me for the next year (at least), but that’s because I’ll be listening to them.

This brings to mind mid-term Congressional elections only a few weeks off. Our senators and representatives in Washington have a less-than-praiseworthy record when it comes to listening to members of the other party—and sometimes to those of their own. I don’t expect Republicans to become Democrats or Democrats to morph into Republicans. But failing to listen attentively reflects a disturbing preference to demonize others rather than find common ground. Such elected officials say they seek to strengthen the nation. They only weaken it.

So here’s to listening and learning something new. I can’t promise that I’ll succeed, but I won’t fail to try.

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