Friday, May 25, 2018


Haiku Friday: Lost love

Lost love... it is a part of many lives, real and fictional. It may not have been meant to be, or maybe you just messed up. Or perhaps you imagined the whole thing.

Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

Sally Brown, doomed
By her love for Linus V.;
Not so Sweet Babboo.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018


PMT: The First Step Act

Late on Tuesday, the House passed the First Step Act, which would make a series of simple and relatively small reforms to the federal prison and re-entry system. According to FAMM, it provides that:

  1. Adjusts good time credit calculation so that prisoners receive 54 days of good time
    credit per year, not 47 days, for following prison rules. This change to good credit time
    would be retroactive;
  2. Requires BOP [Bureau of Prisons] to put lower-risk, lower-needs people in home confinement for the full
    amount of time permitted under current law (10 percent of the person’s sentence or 6
    months, whichever is less);
  3. Requires the BOP to place prisoners within 500 driving miles, not air miles, of
    home, if security classification, programming and medical needs, and bed space allow it;
  4. Reforms the BOP’s compassionate release process for prisoners facing “extraordinary
    and compelling” circumstances, including
    • -  Allowing prisoners to appeal denials of compassionate release to federal courts after
      all other BOP remedies have been exhausted or at least 30 days have passed since the
      request was submitted;
    • -  Requiring annual data reporting on BOP’s use of compassionate release;
    • -  Creating an expedited timeline for BOP consideration of compassionate release
      requests of terminally ill prisoners;
    • -  Permitting family members, lawyers, and BOP staff to help prisoners file
      compassionate release requests;
    • - Requiring better notice to BOP staff and prisoners of when compassionate release is available and how to ask for it;
  1. Authorizes $50 million in funding per year for 5 years for rehabilitative programs in federal prisons;
  2. Gives incentives to prisoners who cannot earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs, including:
    • -  Up to 510 phone minutes per month (which prisoners must pay for);
    • -  Additional time for visits, determined by the warden;
    • -  Addition time using the BOP’s email system (which prisoners must pay for);
    • -  Transfer to a prison closer to the person’s home, if the warden approves;
    • -  Increased commissary spending limits and product offerings;
    • -  Consideration for transfer to preferred housing units;
  3. Requires BOP to help people get government identification cards and birth certificates before they leave prison;
  4. Reauthorizes an elderly prisoner early release pilot program from the Second Chance Act of 2007, allowing elderly and elderly terminally ill prisoners to be released from prison early if they are at least 60 years old, have served 2/3 of their sentences, and meet all of the other requirements;
  5. Bans shackling of pregnant women in federal prisons and jails;
  6. Expands Federal Prison Industries;
  7. Requires BOP to expand programs quickly, putting them in place for all eligible
    prisoners within three years of the bill’s passage. During this phase-in period, prisoners closest to release get priority for being placed in programs. After the phase-in period, medium- and higher-risk prisoners are given priority to be placed in programs, while jobs are prioritized for minimum- and low-risk prisoners.
That's all good, right? Well, yeah, but compared to the complete agenda for reform, it is pretty slight. Still, it is something.

The politics on this have become fascinating. There is a stunningly rare bipartisanship on both the pro and con side. Check out these lists of opponents and supporters of the bill:

Opponents (all except Cotton oppose because it does not include more):

Brennan Center
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-OK)
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Eric Holder


FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)
CAN-Do Foundation
Van Jones
Trump Administration
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Rep Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA)

The Act passed overwhelmingly in the House, 360-59, but faces a tougher road in the Senate. 

I'm a supporter of the bill, even as I acknowledge it contains only a sliver of what I think is needed to make the federal criminal system humane. 

Perhaps most importantly, the bill represents a tiny step towards recognizing the human dignity of those in prison, and in the direction of preparing them for citizenship rather than eternal punishment. Momentum matters, and the fact that this slight movement is in the right direction matters to me. Moreover, it sends a message to the Bureau of Prisons that even the Trump Administration thinks that an approach to prison and sentencing rooted almost entirely on retribution is outdated and dangerous.

Doing a little is better than doing nothing. And once we do a little, we can do some more. And soon, the mountain can move. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Change comes

I loved this story about Amy McGrath, who won the Democratic Primary for a US House seat in Kentucky:

RICHMOND, Ky. — Amy McGrath, who packaged her biography as the first female Marine to fly in an F-18 fighter jet in combat with a powerful anti-Washington message, won the Democratic House primary in Kentucky’s Sixth congressional district Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

Ms. McGrath, 42, campaigned vigorously in all 19 counties in the district that stretch into deeply Republican rural areas, and was able to raise an extraordinary amount of money without the backing of national Democrats, many of whom thought that her opponent, Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington, would be the stronger candidate. Her win was the latest example of the strength of women candidates this year....

For much of the race, it seemed that Mr. Gray would win easily. Ms. McGrath’s campaign conducted a poll in December that showed she was behind by 47 points. By April, her campaign polling showed that she had surged ahead by seven points, a remarkable swing given that Mr. Gray retained high favorable ratings and his campaign had not been damaged by a scandal.

“Jim Gray in a normal year in normal times should win by 20 or 30 points,” said Fred Yang, the campaign pollster for Ms. McGrath.

After the 2016 election, IPLawGuy correctly identified Hillary Clinton's primary mistake: She did not discern that it was a "change" election. I think the mid-terms will be, too, in their own way. Will Democrats make that work for them?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018



Yesterday I was by the ocean.

I love watching shore birds: the ones that fly high, the ones that fly low, the ones that run back and forth plucking bugs out of the sand with long thin beaks as the water goes up and back.

One was soaring, heading away from me. Then it wheeled around sharply, dove, and plucked a fish out of the water. The white bird's action was elegant and smooth and violent; from the fish's perspective it was an abject tragedy. But what a move! To see a fish swimming under the water, to know where it would be in a few second, to time a dive just right, to grab it without drowning, even just to fly!

And yet the bird does not know that this is remarkable. None of us do, when we are the ones flying and diving.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Graduation haiku from all over...

I know where some of these come from...

Amy's was from UVA:

Nineteen eighty-three
Walked the Lawn with Ralph Sampson
Family looked his way!

[not mine]

Desiree's was at William and Mary (we were in the same class):

Wearing the flat hat, 
Praying for just one small thing --
please say my name right.

CTL got two degrees, so it could have been Baylor or Penn:

Forgot how to walk
When they called my name. Awkward
Shuffle did the trick.

Gavin's was at... well, I was there, and I wasn't giving the speech!

Oh, please do sit down!
It’s hot, and your speech bores us. 
A party awaits!

Jill's is universal:

Grad flat hats give you
the worst of all conditions:
The scourge of hat hair!

And Kitty's is the one that matters most:

I never got there
But I'm grateful for my life
Without a flat hat!

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Driving around curves

Yesterday, I was driving in Central Pennsylvania with my parents. We started in the old coal town of Shamokin and then went... well, I'm not exactly sure where all we went. Our navigational goal seemed to be getting lost, and we were highly efficient at achieving that goal.

My dad was in the front seat with a passel of maps, and my mom was behind us. My dad seemed to have a few of them unfolded at any given time, but it didn't seem to necessarily correlate to the whole project of navigation (at least in terms of that phrase meaning that you plan how to get from one place to another).

We would be heading down a county road and he would point off suddenly to an even smaller road off to the side. "Go that way!" he would instruct.

"I don't think that looks like the right way," I'd respond, with great understatement. "Why do you think that's the right way?

He would shrug. "It just looks more interesting."

So I would turn around and we would head down County Road YY towards a fading barn under a stand of trees and then, shockingly, a bright white church with a strident steeple pointing towards heaven plopped down starkly against a black mountain. He was right; it was more interesting.

It's a good kind of navigation.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Commencement, again

Just to follow up on yesterday's theme:

Friday, May 18, 2018


Haiku Friday: Graduation Time!

It's really the only time in life that you wear a flat hat, really.

But it's much more than that, of course. Commencement-- from high school, college, kindergarten, grad school, whatever-- really does feel significant. Let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:

It never looks right
I am not meant to wear hoods
So many bad pics....

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

Thursday, May 17, 2018


PMT: Docs removed from FINCEN? Bombshell!

When I was a prosecutor, one of the tools we had access to (even back then) was a remarkable financial database at the Treasury Department: the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN.  Among the documents available at FINCEN were "Suspicious Activity Reports," which banks were required to file when transactions raised certain red flags. Because much of the most serious systemic crime-- from drug trafficking to terrorism-- runs on a flow of money, these are very useful.

In a recent report in the New Yorker,  recent Pulitzer-winner Ronan Farrow reveals something that will in the end be a big deal in the Mueller investigation (if it is true). Apparently, two SARS reports relating to large transactions by Michael Cohen were removed from the FINCEN database. Which... well, that just does not happen at random. Certainly, Mueller could have gotten the same information from other sources (particularly within Cohen's own records or those of the bank), but the removal on its own could be a suspect action.

Who removed them?

That is the question Mueller will want answered (provided that he or the US Attorney for the SDNY did not remove them, which seems a small possibility). And it will be discovered. If the culprit is a political actor trying to remove the documents from view because of their damaging nature to the President, he or she will be prosecuted. This is the clearest example of obstruction of justice one can imagine, short of shooting a witness.

For a prosecutor, this is a big deal, and the prosecutors will be extremely motivated. They care so much because this crime, in particular, strikes at the integrity of the very tools they are supposed to rely on. Don't mess with a worker's tools-- there will be hell to pay.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


The end of the day

Yesterday was a long day.

I had a lot of meetings, pretty much straight through from 8:30 in the morning through 7 pm. The last of them was a pleasure, a conference call with Joanne Braxton and Rebecca Parker and other people involved in the Braxton Institute. Still, it had been a long day.

After all that, I headed over to Dick's Sport's Barbers (pictured above) to get a much needed haircut. It was late, and I was the only customer. Lon put the cape over me and got to work.

Outside, people were walking out of the store across the street, carrying a bottle of wine or a long baguette (it is that kind of store). It was warm, finally, and cars drove by with the windows down, going south on France Avenue towards home. Lon isn't much of a talker, so I watched the ball game on the television across from the chair. The Twins were playing St. Louis, a game that doesn't seem to matter much at this point of the season. On the scoreboard behind right field I saw that the Yankees were playing at Washington and imagined that IPLawGuy was at the game, keeping track of what happened on a scorecard.

The St. Louis pitcher had a wicked slider, a pitch that dropped to the ground right before it got to the plate. The Twins batter, Joe Mauer, swung madly at it and missed, staggering a little.

"That's some slider," I said to Lon.

"Yup," he said. He's not much of a talker.

Then there was just the clipping and the next batter walking up, knowing that the pitch was going to dive to the ground and there was nothing he could do about it, and that way out east IPLawGuy was scratching down sacred runes on his scorecard on a humid DC evening.

Winter's over. And that's good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Trump and the Grand Jury

On Sunday, I wrote in the Waco Tribune-Herald about the reasons President Trump really really really does not want to testify in front of a grand jury. You can read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, I'm getting the sense that a feeling of Trump Fatigue has settled over the electorate. All the weird stories just kind of become background noise after a while, I suppose. And that's dangerous, because some of it is probably really important.

Focus will come back though, when Mr. Mueller issues his report or indicts those closest to the President...

Monday, May 14, 2018


They go together

Wow! Lots of good haiku last week. But Anonymous (can I call you Anon?) was most prolific and enthusiastic with entries like this one:

Oh dear! I can’t stop!
There’s Simon and Garfunkel,
Yummy fish and chips!

Love that surf n turf!
Santa and his reindeer crew,
Sugar and spice, nice!

Am I boring you?
Dynamic duo blather 
Must cease and desist! (Ha)

Of course, Jill Scoggins couldn't be far off the mark, and she wasn't:

I have 3 sisters:
One from birth; one, step; and one
I chose. All are love.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Kindnesses

Kindness is not a strong human instinct; it is easily overwhelmed by our desires for retribution, advantage and superiority. No one needs to teach us to be be greedy, but we do need to be taught to be generous.

I don't remember disappointing my mom a lot as a kid. It's not that I was perfect, but rather that she seemed pretty accepting and forgiving. That makes the times I did disappoint her stand out more starkly in my memory.

And how did I disappoint her?

By unkindness, or when I wished a hardship to befall someone else. It was in those moments that she was almost sharp with me, and told me exactly what was wrong with my attitude. 

And what came of it? Even now, decades later, I hear her voice in my head when I have that kind of thought, pushing me back towards a generous spirit (and, of course, sometimes it is not a voice in my head-- it is her actual voice, telling me to get my head on straight!). 

How lucky am I?

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Presidential Travel

This video explains some things I have always wondered about....

Friday, May 11, 2018


Haiku Friday: Things that go together

Mac n' Cheese
Stockton and Malone
Minneapolis and St. Paul

There are a lot of things that just go in pairs. Let's haiku about that this week. It can be common pairs, unlikely pairs, whatever.

Here, I will go first:

Hey, Ernie and Bert
Who did that portrait you have?
Stunning likenesses.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2018


What's next with Iran?

Here is a chilling claim: That if it can obtain fuel from an outside source, Iran could produce a nuclear bomb within three months, now that it may not be subject to the restrictions of the Iran Nuclear Deal (or whatever it is formally called).

If that happens, two countries will feel directly threatened, and they are an odd pair: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both, of course, are favorites of President Trump.

What if one or both of them takes action against Iran to prevent nuclear weapons development? Well... maybe nothing. Maybe it ends there.

But the Middle East does not seem to work that way. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

When I was a little kid, there was a TV show called "Lost in Space" that was a space-themed update on Swiss Family Robinson. It featured a robot whose most important function was to wave his arms around and intone "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!"

Because dumb TV shows played a big role in programming my brain, my internal dialogue often features this robot. Lately, that's been true nearly every time I check out the news.

Most recently, our President's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in favor of, I guess, no deal at all, has brought the crazy robot back to the front of my mind. Danger, indeed!

Back during the Iraq war, I had a series of discussion/disagreements with IPLawGuy and few others about the validity of the Iraq War. It made no sense to me-- there just did not seem to be a reason that justified the cost of that military adventure. The best thing they could come up with was stable oil prices. That always seemed relatively inconsequential to me (compared to the trillions of dollars and the lives that would be lost).

If nothing else, the conflicts that will come of yesterday's move to step away from the Iran deal seem certain to create instability in the Middle East, which usually means instability in the oil markets-- and often, higher prices.

At the same time, it's not clear what this administration is going to do to limit Iran's nuclear development. It's like quitting your job in a fit of pique without having a new one lined up. 

Or... am I wrong?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


The Other Donald

Don Blankenship is running as a candidate for US Senate in West Virginia as a Republican in today's Republican primary. He's pretty terrible:

He has a chance to win the primary. President Trump has urged West Virginians to vote for another candidate, despite the fact that Blankenship has tried to tie himself to Trump and his appeal to voters in that state. It looks like Trump's opposition is born of political calculus-- he knows that Blankenship would likely be another Roy Moore (who lost in Alabama), and could lose a winnable race against the incumbent Democrat, Joe Manchin.

And, um, yeah-- this guy really is the next Roy Moore!

Monday, May 07, 2018



There were a lot of great haikus last week, but one has really stuck with me. It is this one from CTL:

What do you do when
You have what you wanted but
It's not what you want?

Wow! That is a great question, and I think I know what he means. There have been times in my life that I have asked myself exactly that. Now, by the way, is not one of those times. But... I've been there.

You hope for something. You attain it. Then you are doing it, and it just isn't good. I see this often with my students and former students: They have a dream job in mind, they get it, and three or four years in they realize it is not what they want. The good news is, they know what they don't want! That means it is time for a change. That can be hard, especially if you have gotten used to money or status.

But starting over can be a salvation. I've done it; going from being a prosecutor in Detroit to a teacher in Waco was a huge change, in ways I did not expect. But it was worth it.

What you wanted is a wish from a person you no longer are. The person you are now is someone to listen to.

Sunday, May 06, 2018


Sunday Reflection: Perspective

When I was a kid, there was a restaurant near our house called "Lum's." I think it was a chain, but not a very large or successful one. It was part of a group of similar places in the Midwest that served food that was reliable in a fundamentally unspectacular way, including Bill Knapp's, Isaly's, and the rare survivor, Big Boy.  They had booths where a family could pile in, and menus on laminated sheets that were impermeable to anything we might dump on them. None of that is particularly distinctive. 

Yet, to me, Lum's was the ultimate treat. I have no recollection of why. I just know that for fast food I wanted to go to the Red Barn in St. Clair Shores (where the chicken came in a cardboard barn), and for a sit-down place I loved to go to Lum's. 

It makes me sad that it is gone. So is the Red Barn, and the Roma, and Cardinelli's and Sparky Herbert's, and nearly every other place that I really loved as a kid and a young adult. Detroit does that, it seems, as do a lot of other towns that change for the better or worse, or both in time.

But, of course, it wasn't those places at all that I loved, really. It was the fact that I got to go there with my mom and dad and my brother and sister, and something funny would happen and then we would crack each other up and my mom would be the last one laughing.  I'm lucky; we can and do still do that sometimes. My mom is still the last one laughing, her voice trailing off as we all catch our breath. 

That's one reason I go to church. It reminds me of the right things, and one of those is to be grateful for today, for what was and is and will be. 

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