Learning to listen with three ears | TheUnion.com

Learning to listen with three ears

“Always listen with three ears; two to hear what is said, and the third to hear why.” – an ancient proverb.

As a young lawyer, I had the good luck to apprentice under two of the best trial lawyers I have ever known. Mac Fleming believed in preparing for every contingency. We would go into court with armloads of notebooks (which I had to carry). His watchword: “Never ask a question unless you are prepared to deal with the answer, whatever it might be.”

Dick Rogan was a handsome, charismatic Irishman who entered trials without notebooks and very few notes. Using his wits, his personality and his innate instincts, he would simply charm the jury. As far as I know, Dick didn’t have a watchword. He simply shot from the hip. Fortunately, he had very good aim.

Good lawyers come in lots of different flavors. So do good presidents. But the stakes are higher for our presidents. If they shoot from the hip and miss, their errant bullets may cause catastrophic damage. The question isn’t whether Bush is shooting from the hip. The real questions are, “What are his targets?” and “Has he hit them?”

Initially, Bush said that our target in Iraq was to rid the world of a ruthless dictator who was threatening his neighbors (and us) with imminent destruction by weapons of mass destruction. Today, almost no one believes that was his real target. Hans Blix and his U.N. team had already spent months scouring Iraq; they found no weapons of mass destruction and there were none. If nuclear bombs were our concern, then North Korea and Pakistan were better targets, because both had nuclear bombs and both were willing to sell them. If ruthless dictators were our concern, then the dictators of North Korea, the Congo, and at least half a dozen other countries would have been better targets.

Today, Bush says that the target in Iraq was to bring democracy and freedom not only to Iraq, but to the entire region – a region stretching from Morocco to Malaysia and encompassing billions of people. If that is our target, it is certainly a worthy one, warranting the expenditure of the hundreds of billions of dollars we are spending and the thousands of lives that have been maimed and killed. But if that is our target, then so far, our bullet has certainly missed its mark. Today, after invading Iraq, most people in the region hate us.

The jury is still out, however. The elections that have just taken place in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq are a good sign, and it is too early to tell what effect they will have. But Bush surely can’t think that these elections, alone, will turn scores of dictatorships into democracies or change the minds of billions of people who revile us. That’s precisely the short-sighted type of thinking that won us the war but left us unprepared to deal with the aftermath. What is Bush’s next step? Does he have a next step?

The same questions arise when we hear Bush telling us that private savings accounts are needed to save Social Security. In fact, while Bush keeps saying this, no one believes it; even his own experts say that private savings accounts will have no effect on mitigating the Social Security “crisis” (if a crisis exists). It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to compute that if Social Security is short of money, then Bush cannot cure that shortage by reducing the amount paid into it by one-third and redirecting those funds into private accounts. If the stock market is a better investment, then why doesn’t Bush have Social Security invest in the stock market? If we dump trillions of private savings account dollars into the stock market, who stands to reap the benefit, Wall Street or the working poor?

There is a tendency to pass everything we hear through a red filter or a blue filter depending upon whether we are Republicans or Democrats. That, of course, simply obscures the truth. Let’s face it, we have a Republican president, a Republican congress, and the majority of the Supreme Court has been appointed by Republicans. The Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want. That begs the question of whether Bush and the Republicans are hitting their mark or even aiming at the right targets. Our job, and it is our job, is to listen, critically and carefully, with our third unfiltered ear, and to vote accordingly.


Hank Starr is a divorce lawyer who lives and practices in Grass Valley.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Margaret Burlew: Mining is our history


I am writing in regards to the “Stop the Mines” signs I am seeing around town. Grass Valley is known to be a mining town. If not for the mines our beautiful city might not…

See more