Thursday, June 21, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Belief and Politics

I was doing some research for an upcoming presentation when I came across the slide above, which was produced as part of the Pew Foundation's Religious Landscape Study (you can see the whole thing here).

Let's just reflect on something here: About half the people in West Virginia don't believe in evolution.

How did our country get to the point where this is possible? How have we let public education become hostage to religious interests?

And here something interesting, if you are thinking that only Evangelicals would deny evolution: Evangelicals only make up about 39% of West Virginia's population.

And it's not just West Virginia; Mississippi is even worse:

This is not just a political problem (in that we aren't educating our children), but it is the problem with our politics. Truths are not winning out, and this is rooted in a broader, deeper, systemic failure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


World Cup update!

It has been a tournament of unexpected outcomes so far. Here are some of the stranger results in the first round thus far:

Mexico 1-Germany 0
Brazil 1-Switzerland 1
Argentina 1-Iceland 1

Out of these, the most shocking might be tiny Iceland, the smallest nation ever to play in the World Cup (with a population about the same as Omaha's), tying with might Argentina.

Other than that, one of the stranger games so far occurred yesterday. Japan (which had never won a World Cup game in Europe) and Columbia played in a match that most people assumed Columbia would win easily. But, of course, it got weird.

In just the third minute, a defender from Columbia blocked a shot with his hand. That meant two things: first, Japan got a penalty kick, and second, Columbia would be a man down the rest of the match.

You can see the highlights of that game here (in what appears to be four different languages):

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


The video Donald Trump made for Kim Jong-Un

I dug up the video that President Trump made for Kim Jong-Un. What do you make of this?

Monday, June 18, 2018


Sweet Haiku, Prof. Gordon!

Surprises? Mitchell Gordon showing up on haiku Friday was one! And check out his entry:

Got home, opened food ...
What is *this*? A *burrito*?
I ordered a mouse!

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Disentangling the SBC from the GOP

Something interesting is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This fascinating report from Jonathan Merritt describes some significant changes in the huge denomination, which has lost a million members since 2003:

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is the denomination’s public-policy arm, hosted a packed #metoo panel discussion. And several leaders publicly suggested that women must be included in top levels of leadership. Multiple prominent leaders even insinuated that it may be time to elect a woman as SBC president, a notion that would have been considered unthinkable, if not heretical, even a decade ago.

In addition to the elevation of women, the second Southern Baptist revolution is committed to fostering greater diversity throughout the denomination.

It's not that the SBC is revising some of its most conservative views, such as barring women from pastoring churches. But it does seem that there is a conscious attempt to de-link the SBC from the Republican Party:

Though most Southern Baptists remain politically conservative, it seems that some are now less willing to have their denomination serve as a handmaiden to the GOP, especially in the current political moment. They appear to recognize that tethering themselves to Donald Trump—a thrice-married man who has bragged about committing adultery, lies with impunity, allegedly paid hush money to a porn star with whom he had an affair, and says he has never asked God for forgiveness—places the moral credibility of the Southern Baptist Convention at risk.

I know so many people who have been hurt and cast out by the SBC, and the denomination's marriage to a political party has been repulsive. But, if that is being re-thought, it is all to the good. Change will come slowly-- but at least it might come.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Fooled me!

This fake movie trailer is totally convincing...

Friday, June 15, 2018


Haiku Friday: Surprise!

Sometimes, life deals us surprises. Little ones, big ones, national, local, personal... good or bad. Predictability is not always achieved (or even desired).

Let's haiku about surprises this week. Here, I will start:

The flight's been cancelled
Because... no one really knows.
Stuff, it just happens.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Trump in North Korea

This week's meeting in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un is being roundly criticized. In a nutshell, most commentators are focusing on these points, all of which seem based on facts:

-- It is wholly hypocritical for Trump to approach Kim the way he has-- and rely on vague promises-- when he rejected the Iran deal as not strict enough. 

--Though it may have been discussed, the focus was not on human rights abuses in North Korea.

-- And, most commonly, pundits are noting that Trump seemed to give something up (war exercises in and around Korea) without getting anything.

I get all that. Yet, I am hesitant to criticize Trump on this one (there is a lot else where I don't have that problem). Here's why:

During the Obama presidency, I hoped that President Obama would do two things. First, stop the military exercises in and around Korea. To me, they always seemed needlessly provocative. Second, begin a dialogue without preconditions, just to establish a relationship. Without that, we have no real way to inveigh on human rights and other issues.

Now Trump has done exactly that.  It's confusing, and certainly contrary to other things he has said and done, but in this one area, what he did is what I hoped for.  

In the end, if someone switches over to my way of thinking, the last thing I want to do is accuse him of being a hypocrite! Rather, it's better I think that they have begun being reasonable...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


The World Cup!

The World Cup, without the United States (who did not make the field), begins tomorrow in Russia. If you missed it, here are the teams that are in the competition, by group:
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


My dad on editing

Over at my dad's blog, this week he explores the idea of editing. Here is part of what he said (though you should follow this link and read the whole thing):

One of the hardest tasks a musician, writer or artist has is to edit their ideas, feelings and discoveries. Sometimes this means you have to throw out some beautiful stuff in order to simplify and make your message more easily understood. We can be arrogant souls who believe all our experiences and ideas are important. We go on and on trying to prove  just how interesting we can be. Unfortunately this approach sometimes only shows just how boring we can be. We  can also have an idea that  is strong enough to stand on its own, but gets in the way of telling the story.

Shedding some stuff  will ask your listener or reader to fill in the blanks and will get them more involved. The longer an artist works at his/her craft the better they are at editing.

I have been thinking a lot about editing myself, lately. I tend to be more of a build-outer rather than an editor; that is, I start with a small thing and build out from that when I write, rather than sculpting out from something bigger than what I need. So what is my process if it is not editing? I'm not really sure, but I'm going to put some thought into that.

Monday, June 11, 2018


Because it's all about the Caps...

I loved Desiree's very timely haiku this week, which is the very rare piece of poetry that is focused on the Stanley Cup:

Smiles on the metro
and no politics -- what's up?
Our team took The Cup!

Sunday, June 10, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Divisiveness and progress

On this weekend's On The Media from NPR, I talked with Bob Garfield about clemency (you can listen to it here). Because I was open to the Trump administration actually accomplishing something with clemency, I've gotten some blow-back from progressives, similar to what some of my friends (and people like Van Jones) have encountered after they came out in support of the First Step Act, which improves prison conditions and re-entry with small, practical steps like ensuring that those leaving prison have an ID.

It's disappointing that anyone wants a good thing to fail simply because they don't like the President-- and it seems clear that for some folks that is what it comes down to.

In 2010, there was a political development that really bothered me. Before winning the House and gaining in the Senate in the mid-term elections, the Republicans declared that their top goal was to basically not get anything done-- to deny President Obama any achievements. Here is how Politico described it in an article titled "The GOP's No-Compromise Pledge":

Here’s John Boehner, the likely speaker if Republicans take the House, offering his plans for Obama’s agenda: “We're going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed up his plan to National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Why did that bug me? Because it's the worst kind of governance--acting so that someone else loses, rather than in the best interests of the country on any one decision. And, of course, they fulfilled that goal pretty well.

Now I am hearing the same thing coming the other way, and it bugs me just as much. For some politicians (and a lot of citizens), the most important thing right now is to stop President Trump from achieving anything-- and especially anything that might be popular. 

If you are against divisiveness-- and everyone claims to be-- then there is an imperative to look for common ground and move forward where that exists.  

That's what I am going to try to do. I hope others can see the point of doing that, especially when the lives of those unjustly serving harsh sentences are at stake.

Saturday, June 09, 2018


Wait... did baseball season start?

I must have missed it! Seriously, other than noticing some bad weather back in March, the baseball season has slipped right past me. And, somehow, that hasn't affected my life much.

Not so with IPLawGuy. He is a season-ticket holder for the Washington New Senators, and is often seen at the games wearing his favorite Walgreen's hat (which I finally gave back to him).

I'm not proud that I have abandoned my home team... is there time to catch up?

Friday, June 08, 2018


Haiku Friday: On the subway (or the bus or the train or the plane, or in the car...)

When you pack a bunch of people into a very small space that moves-- a bus or train or car or plane or subway-- stuff happens.  Interesting stuff. 

So, let's haiku about all that today. Here, I'll start:

A stranger, two feet
Away. One tear rolls down, slow.
Then the doors open.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and show us what you've got!

Thursday, June 07, 2018


PMT: Three things Donald Trump should do to restructure clemency

The United States actually has an official with the title "Pardon Attorney." The current Acting Pardon Attorney is Larry Kupers, pictured here. Kupers is actually a great pick for the job; from my encounters with him and his hard-working staff, he is doing things right. I admire him and his two predecessors, who dedicated themselves to a thankless job that should matter a lot.

However, it doesn't seem to matter much right now. Kupers's work isn't going anyplace, from what anyone on the outside can tell. His office makes recommendations upstream to a number of other decision-makers (more on that in a second), and there the pipeline is clogged.  Over 10,000 cases remain pending. Meanwhile, none of Trump's grants of clemency appear to have come up through that process (though it can be hard to tell from the outside of this opaque process).

The formal clemency process is supposed to work like this:

1) A citizen completes a clemency petition and sends it to the Pardon Attorney's office.
2) A staff member at the Pardon Attorney's office reviews the case and prepares it for the Pardon Attorney.
3)  The Pardon Attorney decides whether to recommend granting or denying the requested relief.
4)  Next, the case goes to a staff member at the Deputy Attorney General's office, who reviews the case.
5)  Then the Deputy Attorney General decides whether or not to recommend clemency.
6)  After that, a staff person at the White House Counsel's office looks over the case.
7)  Then the White House Counsel decides what to recommend.
8)  Then it goes to the President.

Think of it a pipe with seven valves, each operated by a different person. Those people are usually inclined to keep the valves closed (you only get in trouble, after all, if someone gets out and commits a crime), and some of them have a lot of other jobs to do. Sometimes one of the seven is just gone altogether when a position is vacant.

As you might expect, that system does not function very well, except in the very rare circumstance where a President forces each portion to work in league to keep the valves open (i.e., the last months of the Obama administration). Too much bureaucracy, sequential review, negative decision bias-- it's a disaster. The current Deputy Attorney General and White House Counsel have way too much on their plate to care much about clemency. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that the review pipeline is completely obstructed, or nearly so, at those chokepoints.

And now, Donald Trump has decided pretty much to ignore that whole formal process (and the people who have trusted it and submitted a petition). Instead, he meets with celebrities (Alan Dershowitz, Sylvester Stallone, Ted Cruz, Kim Kardashian) about individual cases or sees an appeal on Fox News and takes action.  

That means that right now we have two parallel clemency processes: A formal one (which does not work) and an informal one (which does work). That is not sustainable. 

In the end, I hope that President Trump gets rid of the non-functioning formal system and frames up a new one that incorporates three aspects of his informal process. To play out a little more of what I pitched to the BBC yesterday:

1) The new process should be outside of the DOJ, which has irresolvable conflicts on clemency questions (and some other functions, as Rachel Barkow and I have argued).
2) He should be advised by someone he knows and trusts.
3) He should meet with that person in person and regularly.

Of course, this is only worthwhile if this better process is open to all-- and not just to celebrities and those who know them. But... that's possible, right?

And, that new person would have to be given the money and resources to clear the huge backlog of cases. 

It could happen. And if it does, it would be better for this administration and all that follow.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


Keith Ellison-- what?

Since moving to Minnesota, I have been represented in Congress by Keith Ellison, who has a fairly prominent profile nationally. For me, it's a wonderful thing, since he supports nearly every issue I care deeply about (plus, we were both born in Detroit in the same year).  The times I've met him, too, we have gotten along pretty well

Yesterday he announced that he is going to give up his seat in Congress and run for Minnesota Attorney General

I'm a little baffled by this, but here are some guesses as to why it might make sense:

1) Being in Congress seems like a lousy gig these days, and maybe it's the right time to come home to continue his public service.

2) If you want to staunch the bad policy coming out of Washington (from either party), it might be easier to do it as a state AG than a member of Congress. 

3) If he wins, he gets to be on the Pardon Board (along with the Governor and the Chief Justice)-- which is one of the weirdest and most interesting deliberative bodies I have ever observed!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018


From Shamokin

I talked about our trip to Shamokin last week on this blog; this week, my dad wrote about it on his own blog. Here is part of what he said:

Today 7200 still fill the single family homes tucked into a valley that is now surrounded by forests. The coal fields have almost completely given way to nature. The town’s white houses are mostly grey and and show the signs of low cost repair. The front porches are  often used as storage space for neglected couches and tattered red, grey and blue American flags. The average selling price for the good housing stock in this high unemployment town is $38,000.  If you just pass through this community, only viewing the town from inside your car, you will  be left with a sense of hopelessness. A brief glance will leave you with a sense that there couldn’t possibly be much of a  future hanging Shamokin. Yet the place continues to be  occupied by folks pretty happy to be there and some genuinely nice people.

It would be easy to zip past a lot of good stories if you didn’t take the time to stop and spend some time talking to the good people of Shamokin. We had a recommendation to visit a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. We spent some time talking and grinning with customers and our waitress, non of whom reflected the grayness of the weather nor the grimness of the town. There was a lot of good nature banter and heaps of comfort food.  I sensed that these were people who knew how to handle hardship and I left with an image that they were going to be all right. That is what I observed, and maybe that is the reason so many residents are still around.

Monday, June 04, 2018


Three winners, and one... person who doesn't get it

There were three great haikus last week, from Amy, Jill, and the Waco Friend. And then there was this, from "Brizilaya Ashila":

It's extremely frustrating because an increasing number of cases of statutory rape are getting to be rampant in the modern society. You can find more details on Criminal Offences Lawyers » The Criminal Law Team Toronto on the site

Let's face it-- there is a whole lot of weird going on there. Is her problem that there is too much statutory rape or too many statutory rape cases?

Also, she just is not respecting the format for haiku. This could have worked:

Modern Society
You have a problem with rape
I have more details.

And it be great if Mr./Ms. Ashila actually could do something to address sexual violence and the sexual abuse of children.  Sadly, I don't think that is the probably outcome.

Sunday, June 03, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Hope and politics

If you are a clemency scholar, these are very odd times.

When Donald Trump was elected, I imagined that I would have to turn my focus to either state processes or the next presidential election. Little did I think that the Pardon Power would be in the news even more than it was at the end of the Obama term, and for stranger reasons. My assumption that Trump would just ignore clemency was wildly misguided; to the contrary, he seems to love using it.

I suppose that this should not surprise me. It's a potent tool, one that always captures the attention of the press, and he is all about getting their attention. When he ran "The Apprentice," the simple ability to fire someone was the whole premise of the show, and firing someone has a lot in common (in a somewhat polar-negative way) with clemency: even though one is welcome by the recipient (clemency) and the other is not (being fired), the rush for the person taking the action is kind of the same, I suppose. Now clemency is its own kind of reality show.

Yet... I have in my soul this bit of hope.

There are two things I hope for.

One is that eventually he will turn to people who are not celebrities or paraded on Fox News. People scoff at this, but it is possible, especially if celebrities urge him to do it. And, of course, they are.

The other hope is that he will ditch the lengthy DOJ-based review system that he has been wholeheartedly ignoring as he makes these grants of clemency. It's a terrible system, as Rachel Barkow and I set out at length in a law review piece this year. If he gets rid of it, something shorter, simpler, and more prone to grants will likely emerge for this president and (importantly) the next.

Hope is not a bad thing, and even thin reeds sometimes hold up the world.

Saturday, June 02, 2018


The Gargoyle

Gargoyles are supposed to represent evil spirits being driven out of a building, and I love them. I want to have some built into my house someday.

Long ago, I worked at a big law firm in Chicago with offices on the 50-something floor in the Loop. From up there you could see the gargoyles in the older buildings clearly, and I found them fascinating. 

My favorites, though, are on the side of Yale Law School. Above, you can see a crooked cop; there is also a corrupt judge and an armed robber. I loved that these were the evil spirits we were driving out! And some days, I think it might be true.

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