Thursday, December 31, 2015


Clemency redux

No political mayhem during the Christmas season-- we will get plenty in the year to come. But, it is kind of a big day for the Razor….

First, the New York Times quoted the Razor (and linked to it) in a great editorial on clemency today. Check it out! The Razor has been quoted in both the New York Times and the Washington Post this month.

Second, today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune includes my op-ed on a subject you have seen here before: President Obama's Parsimony on Pardons.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Wowza, Baylor!

So, the end of the season was rough on the Baylor Bears. They had two quarterbacks on the roster, and they both got hurt. Then they pulled a guy who had been a quarterback from his new position as a receiver, and he got hurt. They lost their best receiver and best running back, too, and a key member of the offensive line. At the end of the season, they lost three out of four games, to Texas, Oklahoma, and TCU (having won all of the others to finish 9-3).

Then last night they played UNC in the Russell Athletic Bowl. UNC was ranked tenth, and not decimated by injuries, while Baylor was still missing all of those top players.

What Baylor did was return to an ancient formation, the Single Wing, on offense. Some teams have revived it recently and called it the "Wildcat." It is used almost exclusively to run the ball, a huge change from the pass-happy spread offense that Baylor employs.

It worked. They won, 49-38,  and set a record for the most running yards in any bowl game, anywhere. 

Sometimes, you just have to boldly change strategies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


The Clemency Conundrum: It's not a mission accomplished

As you might imagine, I am still working through in my mind what has happened and what is yet to come with federal clemency. The next year will be crucial to resolving whether this principled tool of mercy will be revived.

 While I was very glad to see them, I was bothered by two things that the White House said after the set of grants earlier this month.

First, they sent out a press release announcing that this president has granted more commutations than his immediate predecessors. It was misleading, sure-- this president also has many more petitions before him, so the denominator of the equation (about 9,000) dwarfed the numerator (95 grants of commutation)-- but it also felt like a premature declaration of victory. By claiming success without emphasizing the hard road ahead, it was the moral equivalent of George Bush standing proudly in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner well before a resolution of the Iraq conflict.

Second, the White House Counsel said this:

“The theory is not that this by itself is going to make a dent in the prison population — this is part of an overall approach,” W. Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, said in an interview. “He thinks it fits into the broader effort of criminal justice reform. What it does show is, on a very individual basis, the way some sentences in the past have been excessive.”

At one level, Eggleston is exactly right: legislative reform and clemency are both important. Of course Congress should deliver to the President a clean and comprehensive bill that both changes the current law and grants relief to those serving sentences under laws that have been changed.  It is a good thing that the President has been a strong supporter of those changes through reform of the statutes. Those who think the current laws are too harsh, like me, applaud both the movement towards legislative reform and the recent grants of clemency and the promise of more.

However, only one of those things is really up to the President.

The core truth ignored in saying that commutations are "part of an overall approach" is that the Pardon Power is uniquely within the President's ability-- and he alone is accountable for it. The legislation that is the other part of the approach is moribund at the moment, and in the hands of a Congress that somehow is both inactive and unpredictable. That will be Congress's fault if it fails, and the President's victory if it passes-- a nifty deal for the administration. There is no political risk. In contrast, clemency offers a risk if he uses it, as he well knows, especially since he has waited until the last year rather than spreading that risk out over time.

The Pardon Power is a crucial Presidential power. Even setting aside the equities associated with mass incarceration, the fact is that the President has an obligation to save that power from abuse (Clinton) and disuse (the Bushes). He has the imperative to reclaim it as a tool of public morality, and in promoting a particular set of values: balance and mercy.  Clemency shouldn't merely be part of an "overall approach," secondary to legislation, because this tool is fit to the President's hand alone. His true intent, and clear virtue, will be revealed in how he uses it.

It could be that he is holding off on using clemency more aggressively in hopes that a reform bill will pass. I suppose it could be that some in Congress will be swayed against a bill if the President uses the Pardon Power, because it would seem to be furthering his agenda. That is some twisted logic given that the President has already made sentencing reform a clear part of his agenda in several speeches and statements, but the logic of Congress has been pretty twisted lately. More likely is that Ted Cruz, a staunch opponent of reform, will win in Iowa and his fellow Republicans will run away from the issue in deference to him.

The risk the President takes by relying primarily on a Congress that rarely functions rationally is that he could end up with next to nothing to show for his good intentions. For him, it would be a minor blow to his legacy. To those doing life sentences for low-level crimes, like Ronald Blount, the cost would be much higher.

Using clemency bears a risk. Saying you will wait for a bill does not. However, legacies are not measured by risk-averseness, but by bold moves toward a discernible good.

Monday, December 28, 2015


Studio Party

My dad has a beautiful studio in the Eastern Market in Detroit, which you enter through the studio of Grammy and Oscar-winning composer and musician Luis Resto. On Saturday, Luis was hosting a jam session, and some of us visited my dad and his work next door.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Sunday Reflection: The Off Week

Many people, for one reason or another, have this week off of work. As a prof, I do have the Christmas-to-New-Year's week off of work, but in some prior jobs it was a busy period in the office (or at court). I appreciate the break.

Still, like a lot of people, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. I feel like I have forgotten something, or let it slide.  I check my email, and when there is nothing new I worry that there is some problem with the account.

This isn't good. It should be possible, easy even, to slip away from the cares of work for a week without nagging thoughts, but I am not there yet.

Are you?

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Boxing Day

When I was a kid, I thought that "Boxing Day" was about kangaroos fighting each other. I'm not sure where this came from-- probably it combined the kinda-true idea that it was an Australian holiday and the sense that boxing was a sort of fighting.

Here in the U.S., many people have the day off, just because it is the day after Christmas. The British idea of "Boxing Day" has never caught on, but it's a good idea to have some holiday on the day after Christmas.

Friday, December 25, 2015


Merry Christmas

Even though Christmas has consumed most of the month of December (and sometimes most of November, too) in the commercial calendar, in the Christian calendar the holiday does not begin until today. Advent is over, that period of patient waiting, and a time of wonder and celebration begins.

I was in a line recently, and the couple in front of me had a newborn baby. It was tiny and wrapped up tight, fast asleep.  The parents looked completely exhausted, and yet exhilarated-- this mix of weary and joyful.  They couldn't believe that it had happened, that this baby had been born; they kept peeking under the blanket to see their child.

A baby, a newborn, is all potential. There is nothing yet to judge him or her on. Their timeline is an arrow, pointing out towards the future. Any hope or dream can be pinned to that child, and each of those hopes and dreams has a chance of coming to fruition.

How different that is than my own faith, laden down with rules and theological conflict and the expectations of others! Maybe I have lost track of that sense of freedom that comes with this child's birth, the wonder and joy.

But I can change that.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


The Razor in the Post

Sari Horwitz wrote a great update on my client, Weldon Angelos, which is appearing in today's Washington Post.  In it, she actually quotes the Razor! So... you read it here first, though I wish it had been a happier moment.

Since it is advent, and Christmas Eve, even, I am going to take a break from Political Mayhem this Thursday. I suspect we will have enough of that in the year coming up...

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


The sad but true story of Flint water...

As I was traveling through Chicago a few days ago, I got to visit with my sister, who lives just outside that city. We talked about what was going on back in Michigan, and she told me the remarkable and sad story of how Flint, Michigan's water system became poisoned with lead.

The whole story is captured in a wonderful timeline provided by Michigan Radio. In short, Flint has been led by a number of Emergency Managers appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. While these managers quickly rotated in and out (and with the acquiescence or even the suggestion of local leaders), the city decided to save money by changing over from Detroit water to cheaper water from another district. In the process, though, they messed up the transition and ended up pumping water from the Flint River and treating it locally. Almost immediately, it was clear this was a bad plan. The water was discolored and tasted bad. It tested very high for lead, as well. However, officials denied there was a problem.

Now it appears that children in Flint, one of America's poorest cities, may have lead poisoning.

Monday, December 21, 2015


Yeah, I saw Star Wars… and it was awesome

I wasn't one of those people who stayed up all night on Thursday, but I was there on Saturday to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was great. I am not going to lay out any spoilers, but here are some general thoughts:

1) I have seen all of the Star Wars movies, and this is the first one that doesn't feature at least one terrible actor in a speaking role.  Yay for good acting!

2) The droids are more entertaining in this movie than any of the others. One of them, BB-8, even has a quirk that I share: the habit of looking down at every step before continuing down the stairs.

3) The story was solid. That was one shocking moment, and good character development throughout. The action sequences served the story, not vice versa.

4) As with the other movies, the music was great. That has been a hallmark of the franchise from the beginning.

So, without giving anything away, what did you think?


Big hunk of holiday haiku

So, I immediately understood what Gavin was saying:

Vhat stinks? Lutefisk!
Ya, Even I'm not dat Sveedish
Pass da ham der please.

Lefsa was good stuff
Ya, not as good as grandma's
Vee sure do miss her

(Said in a good North Dakota accent)

But not so much my dad (Regret? What does he regret?-- but then I figured it out…):

Consumption, conversation

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Sunday Reflection: The sad call

On Friday, just before leaving DC for a few weeks in California and Hawaii, President Obama announced 95 sentence commutations.  When the news hit, I was at the new Surly Brewpub for  lunch with  two lifelong friends, Sleepy Walleye and his brother (shown above)-- it was SW's birthday, and we had special reason to celebrate his life.

My phone blew up with calls and messages. I sat in the car and took a deep breath. It is, I guess, like being 18 and getting an email that says "admission decision"-- just more important.  I knew that one of the 45 emails I had gotten in ten minutes would have a link to a list of those who had received clemency. I found it, and clicked.

I ran down the long list and my heart sank. Two of our clients at the Clemency Resource Center were a part of this set, but many people I have worked for were not. In fact, there are about 8,000 people, many with great equities for release, who have petitions pending but were not on that list.

Feeling overwhelmed, I checked again, looking at the A's and the B's and the F's and the L's. Their names were not there, all of them small-time long-ago drug dealers who have turned their lives around after a decade or more in prison. I drove back to work quietly, thinking about the list, the winners of the freedom lottery.

I had grading to do, but as I sat at my desk with the set of tests, I dreaded the phone ringing. It rang anyways. I looked at the screen and it said what I feared it would: "Unknown," which is how calls from prison always come up.  I let it ring once, twice, three times before pressing "answer."

And they did call. Not in anger, but in sadness. And each time I talked to them about what had happened, how I did not know how they picked the lucky ones.  They told me, in heavy voices, what they would miss: a son's graduation, the last days of a mother in fading health. And each time I hung up and sat in silence. When it got dark around four-thirty, I neglected to turn on my lights. Outside my window the city transformed in the dusk. There is a small hotel across the street. It bustled with activity as people returned from shopping. A man walked out and stepped into a cab, and it drove off taking him wherever he wanted to go. It looked effortless, normal.

In the shroud of quiet, I mourned. This can't be how the movie ends. There has to be more, in the months to come.

I guess that sometimes that is Advent, too. The time is not yet here, and may never come.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Sing to Me

A while back I was digging around for something in the basement, and found a cache of notes from college. Even then, it seems, my handwriting was terrible.

In one notebook was a poem. I must have written it when I was 21 or so-- that age where "adult" is really more of a formal title than a reality, like the kid Mormons on bikes with black and white name tags identifying them as "Elder."

The poem was not based on anything that had happened to me at that point. I think it was more an idea of what I thought life might be like in the years then to come:

"What do you want?
What do you want?"
She does not expect an answer
And speaks with such urgency.

But I do know.
I look at her.

"Sing to me
In the dark
In French.

Put the palm
Of your hand
On my chest
Right there.

Take the skin
Of an orange
Rip it open
With your nail
Breathe deep."

Friday, December 18, 2015


Haiku Friday: Best Holiday Meal

So which is best for the big holiday (whatever that is for you)?

Roast Beast?
Hobbit Loaf?

Here, I will go first:

Turkey is awesome
But a good salty ham steak
Fills me up just right.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Rise and Fall of ISIS

I am pretty fascinated by this video, and in particular two points it makes:

1) That ISIS arose in part because of forces  created by the US invasion of Iraq.
2) That President Obama's air strikes against ISIS succeeded in weakening it, and led to the loss of 1/5 of the ISIS-held territory. I did not know that. I thought it was interesting at the Republican debate this week how often the candidates suggested a course of action (such as embedding troops with the Iraqi army or asking tech companies to help with intelligence) that the Obama administration has already done.

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The Woodchuck

I'm getting pretty tired of constantly fielding questions about the Canadian Woodchuck, so here is an informational video that many of you will find helpful:

A few follow-up questions I have gotten from readers:

CraigA:  Do woodchucks live in Canada?

Answer: Yes. I thought that was pretty clear in the video.

IPLawGuy:  There is this one guy who plays for this baseball team I like, who sometimes makes this face when he is pitching, where he totally looks like a woodchuck. When he makes the face, I tell the people sitting by me "look at the woodchuck!" and everyone laughs, because it is true. He totally looks like a woodchuck. Does that mean he is Canadian?

Answer: No.

Christine: I am thinking of dressing my dog up like a woodchuck for Halloween.

Answer: That's not a question.

IPLawGuy: I think JEB! was making a good point about the purple unicorn in the debate.

Christine: I thought so, too! We have a unicorn in our shed.

Answer: What? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


FLOTUS on the mic

Others may disagree, but Michelle Obama's rap song is waaaaaay better than Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton's (though Barbara Bush rocked the mic)...

Monday, December 14, 2015


The Ornamental Haikus

I love a haiku that tells a story. IPLawGuy did that this week:

Felt Star. I made that
"NO WAY" says my little bro
We're both past fifty.

As did Trevor Theilen:

Wife's infant portrait.
"Quick! Between her screams!" Snap! Flash!
sapped mom now timeless...

Don't you kind of want to see that?

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Impatient at Advent

Earlier this week, I posted a new essay at the Huffington Post, titled "Blessed Impatience at Advent." I hope you will read the whole thing; I am still struggling with the dilemma I describe.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


On Compromise

Faith groups tend towards absolutes. It's the nature of the beast; we form groups and then define ourselves in contrast to everyone else. Political groups work the same way in the early stages of an election.

What compromises should we make though, really, to be a part of a religious or political group? It appears that people are leaving political parties and denominations at about the same rate. Is this flight from group identities actually a resurgence of individualism?

Friday, December 11, 2015


Haiku Friday: Best Ornament!

Do I really need to explain this one?

Here, I will go first:

My mom uses felt
And scissors, and needle, thread
Each one is precious.

Now it is your turn! Just make it 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and have some fun!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Political Mayhem Thursday: Republican Analysis with Guest Blogger Waco Farmer!

As I mentioned a few days ago in reference to Ron Fournier, I am lucky to have friends who are often better-informed on many subjects than I am. One of them is the Waco Farmer, who (like IPLawGuy) has a consistent, reasonable, well-considered conservative viewpoint that I may not agree with, but always need to consider carefully. Sometimes they are right, and I am wrong.

Here are his thoughts on the coming Republican primaries:

A Few Notes on the Very Earliest Stages of an American Election.


Possessing a genius for free publicity, Donald J. Trump, the master showman, clearly understands that his success is driven in most part by media outrage.  Every time the Donald starts to flag he seems to rebound with an imbroglio. I believe these blustering contretemps were unintentional at first, but now I suspect they are orchestrated.

What makes them so effective?  What is the core of the Donald’s appeal?  Trump is trafficking in grossly distorted kernels of truth that the mainstream media and other liberal thought leaders insist do not exist.  While his thoughts on immigration and Islamist terror do not stand up to careful (or even casual) scrutiny, all of those coarse assertions touch on topics that are generally off-limits for public discussion--but are, in fact, well worth discussing.

His inaccurate and vulgar generalizations are often sprinkled with a few rarely-heard truths.  Illegal aliens really do commit crimes..  The system for vetting immigrants from Islamic countries evidently does, in fact, have a few holes.  These are things we should talk about in a rational and fact-based environment much more than we do.  Trump keeps stomping clumsily through the dark forbidden zones of modern American political culture--and to the delight of his fans.  To these “regular Joes” Trump is not a bully; rather, he is sticking to the bullies who regularly torment them: the mainstream media and cultural “elites.”


Having said that, in truth, it is very unlikely that the Donald will be the GOP nominee.  As so many experienced observers  have noted (Charlie Cook, Nate Silver, and Michael Barone, just to name three of the very best), this early polling means very little.  As for me, I have pledged not to panic until the Donald wins at least one delegate.  It is early.  No one has voted yet.  

The preseason is made up of the “money primary” and the “media primary.”  The Donald has clearly won the media primary (using his aforementioned gift).  However, he has not built the kind of campaign organization that usually wins nominations.  And I remain dubious that his out-sized personality (even with his penchant for stirring up salutary troubles) can actually power a successful primary campaign. In fact, I will be surprised if he wins even one state outright.

So, if I’m right and the Donald and Dr. Ben Carson are NOT really the frontrunners in any sense that makes that word meaningful to the nomination contest of 2016, who should we be talking about?

One sharp pundit observed that GOP voters want a person just like Donald Trump...who is NOT Donald Trump.  Who would that be?

I see five possibilities for the Republican nomination.  In descending order of first most likely to least likely they are: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.  

Although Kasich and Bush look moribund, they remain viable because of their connections (money), name recognition, and policy chops. But this is a bad year to be the steady competent guy.  These are the two “viables” who are the least like the Donald and, therefore, least likely to catch fire unexpectedly and surprise.  But candidates who stay in for the duration always get a second look, at least one last look.  If they go the distance (refuse to quit), each has a remote chance of coming back from the dead as the sane alternative as the choice goes into a frenzied overdrive in February.

Chris Christie seemingly combines the best of all possible worlds: experienced chief executive, former federal prosecutor, and a bombastic, in-your-face, no-nonsense guy from Jersey.  Trump with a brain and a plan and resume.  But Christie has lots of problems with his record as governor (including the fairly manageable “bridgegate” affair).  And, unlike Trump who gets a pass on this concern, Christie faces a nagging sense among many true believers  that he is more establishment than rock-ribbed conservative on key issues.  But Governor Christie possesses quick-strike potential.  He needs to breakout in the next few debates, and he must win NH.

Ted Cruz has the conservative bona fides and the support of the actual conservative base (as opposed to the less-reliable populist-driven Trump coalition).  He is whip smart.  He has built the best organization of any of the seventeen originals, his money-raising is super efficient and prolific, and he has from day one courted conservative evangelicals (which is why he is emerging as the frontrunner in Iowa where previous winners Santorum and Huckabee seem like irrelevant has-beens, Carson is fading, and Trump proves daily he is too much of a vulgarian for your average Iowa church-goer).  If Cruz wins Iowa, he will finish in the money in Cleveland.

And then there’s Marco.  Great smile.  Great orator.  Great narrative.  Young and dynamic.  He speaks the language of the Tea Party but has the confidence of the establishment.  Republicans cheer him.  Democrats fear him.  He is unlikely to win a huge chunk of Hispanics--but he might slice just enough off of that 78-percent cohort to make things very difficult for the Party of Jackson.  By all accounts, Rubio makes for the dream general election candidate.  GOP top hands are salivating at the possibility (some call him a 52-percent candidate).


If it comes down to Rubio and Cruz (and it might), Rubio will have the full support of the GOP establishment.  And the establishment usually wins.  We are more than a generation removed from an insurgent Republican wresting away the nomination (Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Barry Goldwater before that in 1964).  On the other hand, these things do happen.  A Cruz victory would engender a great sigh of relief in the Clinton camp (very much like the reaction in the Carter administration upon the Reagan nomination).  

Would Cruz be Reagan or Goldwater?  We would have to play that one out to know for sure.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


A chat with a friend

One of the pleasures of middle age is the people who have known you for a long time-- who know you and understand you. They know where you came from. I'm lucky to have many of those people in my life (including some people here on the Razor, like IPLawGuy and Christine).

One of them is Ron Fournier, who has had an incredible career as a White House reporter and journalist. I met him for lunch last week, and the conversation led to his column yesterday.  Here is part of it:

FOURNI­ER: OK. Let’s get the per­son­al dis­clos­ure out of the way. Have we ever met be­fore?

OSLER: Yup—we met back when we were scrawny run­ners, stu­dent journ­al­ists, and friends in high school. I like to pre­tend we look pretty much the same now.

FOURNI­ER: We do. But that’s off the re­cord. So tell me why a former fed­er­al pro­sec­utor from De­troit cares so pas­sion­ately about clem­ency for con­victed drug deal­ers and users. Why should any­body care about them?

OSLER: I’m still a pro­sec­utor at heart. Some people are dan­ger­ous, and need to be locked up. But when I was pro­sec­ut­ing young black men for selling crack, I real­ized it did not make any dif­fer­ence. We were sweep­ing up low-wage labor, people who would be re­placed the next day by someone else selling crack. Their sen­tences were out of line, too. Low-level, non-vi­ol­ent drug deal­ers were get­ting longer sen­tences than bank rob­bers and those who com­mit­ted ma­jor frauds. We have changed the laws, but many of those people are still in pris­on even though they would be out if they had been sen­tenced un­der our cur­rent laws, sen­ten­cing guidelines, and policies. Keep­ing them in pris­on is a fail­ure of justice and mercy at the same time. It wastes money, tears up lives, and solves no prob­lem. As justice is­sues go, this should be an easy one, a lay­up.

FOURNI­ER: Then why the air balls? Tell me what you want Pres­id­ent Obama to do and why you think he hasn’t got­ten it done. 

OSLER: It’s the same reas­on that GM can’t fix an ig­ni­tion switch that kills people: too much bur­eau­cracy and not enough ac­count­ab­il­ity (we De­troit guys can’t stay away from car ana­lo­gies). He sees the prob­lem. He knows the broad scope of the par­don power, too, since he taught con­sti­tu­tion­al law for all those years at the Uni­versity of Chica­go. He just re­fuses to fix a broken sys­tem, something he could do with the stroke of a pen on an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der.

You can read the rest of it here!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Trump: Exclude all Muslims

So… Donald Trump has now called on the US to bar all Muslims from entering the United States until we "figure out what is going on." 

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Trump, who in September declared “I love the Muslims,” turned sharply against them after the Paris terrorist attacks, calling for a database to track Muslims in America and repeating discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11. His poll numbers rose largely as a result, until a setback in Iowa on Monday morning. Hours later Mr. Trump called for the ban, fitting his pattern of making stunning comments when his lead in the Republican presidential field appears in jeopardy.

Saying that “hatred” among many Muslims for Americans is “beyond comprehension,” Mr. Trump said in a statement that the United States needed to confront “where this hatred comes from and why.”

“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.

Will this appeal work? Should it?

Monday, December 07, 2015


Oh, Mrs. Claus!

Ok, you just gotta read all the haiku from last week.  I can't even pick a favorite-- we learned more about Mrs. Claus than I ever imagined!

It turns out that she was, among other things, a Stanford Ph.D. (figures-- the whole Tree thing), and that she lured Santa with "outlandish hats."

Which revelation was most shocking to you?

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Impatient

In today's Washington Post, Sari Horwitz has a wonderful and lengthy story about the Obama administration's fitful efforts to end the War on Drugs and undo some of its harm.  Much of the story is (appropriately) about the primary administration actors, but the piece ends like this:

In July, Obama gave his first major criminal justice speech to a crowd of more than 3,000 at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia, saying “mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it.” The next day he became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison by traveling to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
But thousands of inmates with harsh sentences tied to the war on drugs, some with life without parole, are still waiting for relief in cramped prison cells. Their only hope is Obama’s unique clemency power. And time is running out.

The caller is Ronald Blount, 52, a former crack addict who was convicted of conspiracy to sell crack cocaine and given a life sentence in federal prison. He’s been there for 16 years.

“Every Friday morning, Ronald Blount calls me on the phone and I have to tell him nothing has happened,” Osler said. “It breaks my heart. I have to tell him, not only that he has gone another week, but that everyone has. That the entire system has failed for another week.”

“Something about that call gives me an urgency that I wish the president felt,” Osler said. “I wish he would take a call from a prisoner every Friday and then decide if it’s worth putting this off for another week, another month, another year.”

Holder says he thinks “people just need to be patient.”

“He has talked about these issues in ways that no other president ever has,” Holder said. “He wants to use the power of his office and his persuasive abilities to get Congress to pass legislation that would put into law the changes that we have made.”

“I think the test will ultimately be, where do we stand at the end of the president’s term opposed to where do we stand now? He still has months to go.”

The story makes me seem… well, impatient. And I am.  When an overloaded bureaucracy says "trust us, we will get around to this," I don't believe it.

As many of you know, the desire to make clemency real again is a faith imperative for me; mercy must be a part of the system for it to be moral.  This is the best chance we will have for reviving this Constitutional power, and it is slipping away as the administration takes credit for "talking about these issues." 

Saturday, December 05, 2015


Thank you, ladies!

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's new movie, "Sisters," opens on the same day as the new Star Wars movie-- December 18.  They apparently know that:

Friday, December 04, 2015


Haiku Friday: Backstory on Mrs. Claus

There are some characters we just don't know much about. The Easter Bunny, for example-- how did that happen? How does he get around? Who assigned him this task? Etc. Etc.

Mrs. Claus (pictured here with her husband, Nick, and one of their adult children) is one of those characters. Here are some of the questions I have had about her:

-- Where did she go to college?
-- How did she meet Nick?
-- How did Nick talk her into moving to the North Pole?
-- Does she like wearing matching outfits?
-- Does she prefer Starbucks or Caribou?
-- What do Mr. and Mrs. Claus do for date night?
-- Did she give birth in a hospital?
-- What kind of car does she have?
-- Does she make any of the presents?
-- Who does her hair?
-- Are the "elves" really more accurately called "slaves?"

Anyways, there is a lot to cover here! I will go first:

We don't want to see
All she does for Santa; She's
His North Pole dancer.

Now it is your turn! Five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five at the end...

Thursday, December 03, 2015


Trump, and then another mass murder.

I was all set to blog today about Donald Trump's continuing popularity in the polls. I was going to say that it surprised me, but probably not as much as it surprised many long-time Republicans, who last summer were saying "don't worry, he will fade. If he is leading in December, then we can worry."

But then the shootings in San Bernardino, California happened. Syed Rizwan Farook, an American citizen who is Muslim, went to a holiday party for work. He left, then returned to the banquet with his wife, Tashfeen Malik.  Both were dressed in full battle gear, and they began killing people with assault rifles.  14 died, and 17 were seriously injured. Farook and Malik died later in a shootout with police. They had left behind a complex bomb, which was defused.

I woke up in DC this morning, and on the way to the airport I listened to a report on NPR about the shooting. The reporter said two things:

1) That Syed Rizwan Farook went to Saudi Arabia, came back, grew a beard, and then committed a mass murder and planted a bomb.

2) Officials were trying to determine the motive.

In that moment, right there, I understood why some people like Donald Trump. Because we all know what he would do with those two things.

I also know that it will make things even harder for Americans with names like Syed who have a beard.  Because in many minds, terrorism of this sort is committed by people with names like "Syed," not by people with names like "Tim," or "James" or "Adam." Which is true, until Tim blows up a federal building, and James shoots up a theater and Adam kills people in a church in Charleston.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Political Mayhem Wednesday (Special Edition)

It's been a little while since I have talked about the Presidential race, so I'm going to devote two days to it now.  I'd like to examine two of the three most intriguing and (to my mind) important participants in the race-- Hillary Clinton today and Donald Trump tomorrow. (Bernie Sanders is the third, but he can be discussed some other week).

No candidate is perfect, and Hillary Clinton's imperfections fall in the areas I care most about. I fervently want to avoid more foreign wars, and I fear she does not share that view (of course, only Rand Paul does, probably).  There is nothing about her that gives me hope that she would pay attention to the pardon process, sadly.  And, beyond that, Ron Fournier has done a good job bringing out the deeper meanings of her email issue and the rougher edges of the Clinton legacy.

Something happened, though, that seems to have been a turning point. In late October, she spent 11 hours testifying in front of a House committee investigating Benghazi.  I feel pretty sure that the point of the endurance session was to harm her campaign. I am more confident that it had the opposite effect. She was steady, consistent, and unflappable. She was straightforward, and did not claim victimhood.  It was perfectly handled, and required energy, determination, and poise. She has that skill set.

And that is, along with everything else, important. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


The snow

Yesterday morning was the first Monday of Advent, and something great happened. The snow fell here, the first big snow of the year, and it slowed everything down. The cars went slow, and people walked on the slippery ground with each foot searching for its place before landing, gently.  Even the whoosh of cars was hushed, and the big flakes mottled the light.  Snow makes people wait.

It takes me for a while to catch Advent, though; I'm not there yet. I need more snow.

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