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Other Views: Mueller holds all the cards. He can play them when he chooses

We have now entered the second phase of the Russia probe. In the first, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team, starting from scratch, gathered sufficient evidence to file felony charges against Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos.

Phase 1 has given Mueller leverage against higher-level targets, who must be wondering how much the special counsel already knows, and how much he’s about to learn. Careful work may, eventually, enable him to secure evidence against the greatest target of them all: the president. In this second round, Mueller is holding all the cards and has the latitude to play them when and as he chooses.

The initial charges sent a message to the White House and former Trump campaign officials, who had tried to whistle their way past the graveyard, portraying the probe as lacking in substance and likely to be short-lived. The Oct. 30 flurry demonstrated that 1) people will be going to jail for a long time and 2) the probe is unlikely to stop short of the Oval Office. No more talk of fake news.

The sophisticated charges against Manafort and Gates, in particular, also revealed to veteran observers the meticulous professionalism and industry of Mueller’s squad, which is among the most formidable prosecutorial teams ever assembled. Further bad news for Team Trump.

From the public reports of potential criminal activity, it looks as though Mueller has set his immediate sights on no fewer than nine characters in Trump’s orbit: Michael Flynn (father), Michael Flynn (son), Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Carter Page, Corey Lewandowski, Stephen Miller, Keith Schiller and Sam Clovis. And of course there are possible wild cards that have not come into general public view. (No one anticipated the Papadopoulos indictment.)

Which of these men will next be charged? That depends not only on ease of proof, but also who can be used to induce cooperation among other campaign and administration insiders. My guess is that the Flynns are next on the chopping block.

It is a safe bet, moreover, that already discussions are taking place between Mueller’s team and multiple defense attorneys over terms of possible cooperation.

For these targets, Mueller can credibly warn that if they don’t talk first, others will, and their opportunity to receive a sharply reduced sentence will disappear. They are in effect playing an excruciating game of musical chairs in which the last defendants standing will be stuck with nothing but mammoth legal fees and lifelong disrepute.

Consider, for example, Manafort’s position should Mueller next bring charges against Flynn. He and Flynn have overlapping information. Now the two are locked in something like a classic prisoner’s dilemma: If one of them agrees to cooperate, it could sharply reduce the value, and thus the reward, for cooperation by the other. That means Manafort needs to make a decision promptly about whether to talk. And he has to do so knowing that his prospects for an acquittal are slim.

The charges against Flynn, should Mueller bring them, will likely be extensive, including false statements, conspiracy, money laundering and violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, all growing out of his illicit and highly profitable dealings with the Turkish government.

Flynn the elder is effectively ruined at this point. He has no professional prospects and the only upside for him would be to stay out of jail. Not so for Flynn the younger, whose reputation is not yet fully tarnished. A conviction would be devastating. If Mueller charges the son, that will put immense pressure on the father—a controversial and arguably mean-spirited maneuver, but one that’s absolutely in the playbook.

The most recent prominent example was the decision to charge the wife of Andrew Fastow in the Enron investigation. The man behind that decision, by the way, was Andrew Weissman, Mueller’s No. 2.

A similar dynamic arises with Donald Trump Jr., whose stumblebum flirtations with WikiLeaks and with Russian figures he believed could provide dirt on Hillary Clinton could give rise to a series of criminal charges. True, Trump Sr. appears to be hermetically self-centered, but he is in his 70s and facing, at best, a failing presidency. What will he do if he knows that his son and namesake could go to prison, forever soiling the Trump brand?

There will be future rounds of the probe in which Mueller’s path will be less smooth. In particular, his team will one day face in the courts a battery of legal and evidentiary arguments crafted by some of the country’s most sophisticated (and expensive) defense lawyers. But for now, Mueller rules.

Cepeda: This Thanksgiving, give others a helping of gratitude


Let’s be real: Sometimes it’s just plain hard to give thanks.

It may be because of personal issues like a job loss, a death in the family, the end of a relationship or an illness. Or it could be the accumulation of terrible events in the world whether it be natural disasters, mass shootings, the daily drumbeat of sexual assault news or the failings of our political system.

Under such circumstances, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the injustices of life.

And yet, these are the very times when it’s more important than ever to be grateful for all that is going well in our lives.

In fact, gratitude is the best method for combating all the negativity that swirls around us on a daily basis, according to Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis and the author of “The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Well-Being by Giving Thanks.”

“In my research, I have been amazed that the most grateful individuals have often—from a purely objective level—lived lives of loss and suffering,” Emmons told me. “How can this be? They’ve had plenty to feel depressed over, and even a sense of victimization wouldn’t have been surprising. This is where it becomes useful to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. Of course, no one ‘feels’ grateful that they have suffered. How could they? But they understood that they could choose to maintain a grateful outlook on life, as a fundamentally enduring orientation that says that amidst the rancor of daily life, an underlying goodness exists in the universe and therefore ‘I will be grateful in spite of the circumstances.’”

Emmons calls this “defiant gratitude,” a term that speaks to the spirit of taking your feelings about a situation into your own hands instead of letting them control you.

Sure, this is easy to say. We’ve all read research about how people with the syrupy-sounding “attitude of gratitude” report feeling healthier, being less depressed, getting a better night’s sleep and having more and better relationships.

But if you struggle with pessimism (and let’s face it, some of us were born into worry-wart families and grew up looking at the storm clouds and not their silver linings), exercising “defiant gratitude” has a certain appeal.

“To offset chronic negativity, we need to continually and perpetually hear good news,” Emmons said. “We need to constantly and regularly create and take in positive experiences, and gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter these internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy.”

According to Emmons, entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. So if you can’t see yourself as someone who is grateful, try considering whether you’d rather be seen as entitled—a character trait that pairs well with “jerk.”

“An entitlement attitude says, ‘life owes me something’ or ‘people owe me something’ or ‘I deserve this,’” Emmons said. “It comes from a focus on the self rather than others. In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful.”

Yuck, that definitely doesn’t sound like the kind of person any one of us wants to be. Self-absorption is another one—no one in their right mind would want to be described that way.

To counter this, Emmons says, you must continually think about the people who have done things for you that you would never have been able to do for yourself. Another way to cultivate gratitude is to think about all the people who you take for granted. Make a mental list of all those who take care of you or make your life easier—and be thankful for them.

The last pro tip Emmons offered was, perhaps, the most important:

“Those who fail to feel gratitude cheat themselves out of their experience of life. And why would we want to cheat ourselves? Why would be want to become victims when we can empower ourselves to choose our own attitudes and thus emotional states? A very wise person once said, ‘If there is any day in our life that is not Thanksgiving Day, then we are not fully alive.’ Gratitude is simply too good to be left at the Thanksgiving table.”

Amen to that.

Green job's essential for state's future

Throughout 2017, Wisconsinites kept hearing an old argument: jobs versus the environment. We must choose, we are told, between a healthy environment and a strong economy.


In fact, during this age of global warming, one of the best ways to build a robust economy is to protect the environment and promote clean energy. And ignoring the effects of climate change hurts our economy.

In October, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office released a report detailing how climate change will increasingly burden our national economy. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine commented, “We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that’s going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change.”

Here in Wisconsin, as the The Capital Times recently noted in an extensive report, a warming climate is harming recreational tourism, with declines in cool-water fish such as walleye and trout and fewer winter days for snowmobiling and skiing. Forestry is threatened by an increase in tree-killing insects, and winter logging is curtailed by fewer days of frozen roads. Agriculture faces more extreme weather events and our roads are being damaged by increased flooding.

Yet Republican politicians seem determined to move in the wrong direction. This year state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, pushed legislation to create jobs in northern Wisconsin by allowing toxic sulfide mining. Gov. Scott Walker recently signed an agreement that will sacrifice wetland protection, and billions of taxpayer money, in order to convince a Taiwanese corporation to bring in jobs.

But those are not jobs for Wisconsin’s future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published a report that found that by far the two fastest-growing job sectors are wind turbine mechanic and PV solar installer. There are also plenty of potential jobs in energy efficiency.

According to the group Clean Jobs Midwest, Wisconsin ranks dead last among Midwestern states in its percentage of clean-energy jobs—0.85 percent, compared to an average of 1.8 percent. If Wisconsin had just the average rate of Midwestern states, we would have around 30,000 more jobs.

These clean-energy jobs do not depend on handing taxpayer money to foreign corporations. They do not involve sacrificing environmental protections. They would be situated throughout the state and could not be outsourced. And, all the while, they would help protect our economy from the increasing ravages of global warming.

Mark Pischea, president of the free-market oriented Conservative Energy Network, has noted that Republican governors in Michigan, Iowa and Ohio have been encouraging investments to promote their states’ clean-energy economies. Yet in Wisconsin, since Republicans took control of the state government in 2010, support for renewable energy has declined.

It is time that Wisconsin begins building its own clean-energy economy, one that will stimulate the growth of 21st-century jobs while protecting our environment. We need state legislators and a governor who will bring that about.