There is something I really love about this picture of me with Jason Hernandez yesterday in my Dad's studio in the Eastern Market. It is the painting above me-- the one where they guy looks like he is blessing us.
It epitomizes how I feel. I know how fortunate I am to have a week like this. I got to teach bright and engaged students, a job that I love. I got to introduce them to Rudy Martinez, whose freedom was won through the hard work of people at St. Thomas. My weekend was spent with my parents and Jason Hernandez, who wrote his way to freedom. There is something deeply powerful about that. After all, in the book of Genesis God speaks the world into existence. Jason wrote himself back into a world that had cast him out, a sentence of life without parole for a first-time non-violent drug crime.
One of the deep joys of this life is to see and know and embrace and give thanks for the grace we are given, and I am full of joy.
I have CNN fatigue. And yet, I can't seem to stop looking every half-hour or so. That said, the trajectory seems to be getting better; the Trump administration's worst ideas are running into roadblocks in Congress and the courts, and it seems possible that Democrats will be something more than just a party of rejection.
It'll start with meeting my friend Ron Fournier for breakfast in Detroit's Eastern Market, then heading over to speak at Wayne State as part of this symposium. It is going to be a first for me, and a good one-- out of 19 panelists, I am the only white male.
Later, I will head to the airport to pick up Jason Hernandez, who will be spending the weekend with me and my parents as we prepare our work on a super-secret (for now) project...
So, it's a good day to be in Detroit. Let's haiku about that city today: what you think of it, a memory, maybe even a car that you liked. Here, I will go first:
There is just too much going on! It's exhausting. Anyways, don't blame me-- I voted for Grarf.
The Trump/Russia story keeps on getting more momentum. This week, the testimony of Jim Comey revealed that there is an FBI investigation ongoing, and it appears that other sources are suggesting coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign, particularly in the release of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign.
If the story continues to evolve in this direction, with a drip drip drip of information over a course of months solidifying around a narrative that the Trump people worked with the Russians to reveal information stolen from the Clinton campaign, I'm sure I won't be the only one who will see the parallel to Watergate. There, Nixon staffers coordinated the burglary of documents from Democratic National Committee headquarters. President Nixon was never directly implicated.
There would be three factual differences, I guess. First, the theft was from the Clinton campaign, not the DNC. Second, the theft would be electronic rather than physical. Third, the purpose of the theft would be to make the documents public, rather than to gain a behind-the-scenes tactical advantage. I'm not sure any of those distinctions are significant.
Will we be as outraged as we were at Watergate, if this plays out to show a similar scandal?
Through about the 90's, I kind of understood music. There were bands I liked; I bought their music and sometimes went to concerts. Then something weird happened-- it seemed like there weren't as many bands out there to follow. Sure, I followed some groups and went to concerts, but somehow once radio got divided up between people yelling about politics, sports call-in shows, country music, yucky pop by auto-tuned adolescents, and classic rock, there just didn't seem to be music by bands formed after 1980.
In August, I had a wonderful moment: I got to call up Rudy Martinez, who had served 26 years of a life sentence, and tell him that he was going home. His clemency petition had been granted by President Obama.
Yesterday, I got to meet him in person. He came up to Minneapolis and visited with writer Bruce Rubenstein, who had recruited me into the case in the first place. Then they both headed over to St. Thomas.
In the afternoon, Rudy came to my Crim Law class and talked about his case. It was fascinating, and important. Criminal law in the end has to be about people, not rules, and it is important to have both crime victims and people like Rudy who have done time come to school and tell their stories.
Sometimes there is a comment that is so good that it warrants its own post. Desiree's comment on Thursday about environmental issues (I asked if there was reason for hope) is one of those. I shouldn't be surprised of course; Desiree runs her own awesome blog on environmental themes, the Green Momster.
There's definitely hope. I frankly think, though, that the federal government is pretty useless on this issue (not that I'll stop pressing to see positive change). Where I see hope is in the state and local governments (particularly city governments), in the leadership of other countries worldwide, and in, believe it or not, industry. Many city governments are acting decisively to move toward renewable energy (ie. the 2015 Mayors Climate Action Pledge) because they realize that renewables have a short pay-back period and are fiscally responsible. Many industries are also switching to renewables for the same reason -- see Amazon's new solar array in VA. "Wind energy turbine mechanic" is the fastest growing career field in the U.S. The cost of solar panel installations is becoming so low that installers can't keep up with demand -- our main problem is that many of the panels are made in China, because the U.S. has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to renewable R&D. Farmers and landowners in the midwest and west are realizing there's gold in them thar hills, and it comes in the form of wind and solar. Even geothermal energy holds great promise in the U.S.
Unfortunately, our government and many of the largest lobbyists are living in the past. Coal is not coming back -- there's not enough money to be made. The foolish and shortsighted opening of more pipelines throughout the U.S. will not bring permanent jobs. As climate change progresses, and it will, we're going to see loss of habitat as you mentioned (we're already in the Anthropocene, the 6th extinction event). But we're also going to see many more environmental refugees due to sea level rise and water scarcity (Kiribati is the canary in the coal mine).
The only fossil fuel we need to expand, slightly, right now is natural gas, and that's only as a gap fuel. But natural gas needs to be much more severely regulated than is currently the case (see the "Chaney loophole" for fracking in the Safe Drinking Water Act). Renewables make sense for the environment AND for the economy, and that's why I feel hopeful.
When winter seems to be lingering a little too long, my mind wanders to a warm place: California. I'm not sure why-- you would think Texas (where I lived for 10 years) would be more logical-- but that's what I think about.
So let's haiku about California today. Here, I will go first:
Brightly colored signs
Nestle by the green roadside:
Hey, look! It's Legoland!
Now it is your turn-- just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: The Cost of Climate Change
I believe that climate change is real, and that humans are a primary cause of that change. I was alarmed yesterday when I read this New York Times article about the Great Barrier Reef:
sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles
of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead,
killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around
the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a
potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s
most visited areas of color and life.
didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier
Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a
government-funded center for
coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead
author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”
damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living
structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding
intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In
the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the
third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the
most widespread and damaging.
state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their
distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global
The Trump administration seems dead-set on reversing efforts to limit climate change. That isn't surprising-- he promised as much-- but I am surprised that there does not seem to be much resistance in Congress.
To my mind, the turning point was the failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation on carbon production. That would have both limited emissions and raised money for the government, and I am baffled as to why it wasn't adopted.
Today I am on my way to Virginia, back to William and Mary. I'm going to get to see some old friends (maybe even CraigA), and familiar haunts.
Yesterday was a pretty great day in Minnesota, though. I teach class in the morning and afternoon on Tuesdays, but I had a few minutes to watch one of my favorite things-- the swearing-in of new citizens in the atrium of the law school. There is a part of the ceremony where they name the countries the new citizens are from, and they stand up as their country is called. There was a stillness, a solemnity to it that that was deeply moving. It reminded me that each of them wasn't just coming here, but leaving something behind, something that to them was in some way ancient and precious. They can go back... but they will never again be of that place.
So... Edina did not qualify for the state boys hockey championships this year (though the girls won the state championship for the first time ever). Last week when IPLawGuy were in a basement bar in Montana, a guy called out to me as I went by wearing an Edina sweatshirt: "Hey, did the Cake-eaters make the tournament this year?" I think he already knew they didn't....
Anyways, that all means that it is time for the All-Minnesota Hockey Hair Team!
This week I get to go back to William and Mary to give some talks. If you are in the area, the primary public lecture will be in 201 Washington Hall at 7 pm on Wednesday the 15th. All are welcome.
My visit is sponsored by the Libertarians and the NAACP at the College. That may seem like an odd combination, but it is not so odd, really-- they both have a strong interest in limiting government intrusion on human liberties, an intrusion that (especially in my area) often is focused on minorities.
Freedom is an American ideal, but is it a Christian one?
Certainly not in the sense of freedom from moral restriction; Christianity requires an awful lot of self-restraint. But in a broader sense, any faith requires a strong independence from other moral arbiters, including the state. I realize that the Constitution does not literally create a wall of separation between church and state, but fear that if the two are intermingled it is religion that comes off the worse. One problem with school prayer is that an atheist child might be forced to pray, but also wrong is having secular teachers lead religious students in prayer. It just doesn't work, and one risk is the decay of religion's edge of deeper truth.
Religion is in its nature anti-authoritarian, since people of faith will (sometimes) answer to a power higher than a political leader. I know that in America now too many people have conflated those two the higher power with the political leader, but that is not always so, as witnessed by the political upheavals that are often driven by people of faith resisting an unjust leader.
There is space for religion in the state (that is, people of faith can pursue the virtues they favor through politics), but not so much for the state in religion.
Of course, on a previous visit to the 'Burg, I gave a sermon in the College's Wren Chapel (and it is a state school). So... there is that, too, to cut against any absolutist impulses I might have....
The final four teams in the Big 10's men's basketball tournament are Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That's just weird. It will be the first time ever that Northwestern has made the NCAA tournament (and they will). That leaves only four teams that have never made the tournament-- and one of them is my alma mater, William and Mary.
Last night, IPLawGuy and I had dinner at a bar here in Montana. He had pad thai and a framboise lambic, and at one point commented that "the fry sauce would be better with some sriracha." Then he took a call from a cowboy boot manufacturer. Guy is the original hipster.
Lets haiku about hipsters this week! Or if want, just about IPLawGuy. But I am going with hipsters:
It's not all bad, folks
They bring good beer and green cars
But, what's up with beards?
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling that the Trump administration plans to make changes to policies the Obama administration implemented to seek less serious charges in some drug cases.
In a memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide Wednesday, Sessions called on them to crack down on violent crime. Most surely already view that as a core part of their duties.
However, another passage in the directive says changes in Justice Department charging policies are in the offing.
"I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority — including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases— will be forthcoming."
Legal experts said the language indicates that Sessions is planning to make significant revisions to policies Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2010 backing away from prior directions that prosecutors seek the most serious viable charges in every case and in 2013 calling for prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences in some cases by leaving the quantity of drugs seized out of charging documents.
While a consensus has developed that imprisonment is largely ineffective in staunching drug use and trafficking, the Trump administration appears to be going to the other way.
Most disappointing to me is the way in which this represents the dashing of hope some of us had in the new businessman-president: That he would understand that narcotics is a market, and that as long as there is demand, supply would appear. We aren't going to "get rid of the scourge of drugs." The most we can hope for is to make them more expensive (and I think that is a worthwhile goal), and incarceration of low-lever players is an ineffective way to do that.
So, IPLawGuy and I are off on our annual ski trip. We decided this year to drive from Minneapolis to Bozeman, Montana, which is a pretty long hike. It was fascinating, though. We stayed in Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, and stopped off at the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, which is chock-full of prairie dogs and bison. After that we had lunch at CC's Family Cafe in Glendive, Montana, and everything you have heard about that place is absolutely true!
We started the ski portion of the trip at Bridger Bowl yesterday, and it was pretty great.