Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Friday, March 31, 2017
Haiku Friday: Movies we hated
We remember the movies we love... but also the ones we hate. We might even remember those better. It's different for everyone. Some people dislike one trait or another, and others just look for all-around awfulness. As someone who often enjoys movies that the rest of the world has decided is "bad," I'm the first to admit the subjectivity of the choices people will make on this.
Here, I will go first:
Ugh: Marley and Me!
People in the theatre chant
"Die, already, die!"
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Sometimes (especially on this blog) the comments are better than the post. I think that was true earlier this week, in fact. I posted something about "1984" and the current political system, and CTL responded with this very intriguing comment:
Trump was elected, in part, because lots of folks thought President Obama had already installed Orwell's dystopia. I don't think he did, of course, but following the rubric you laid out, President Obama lead a much more effective Inner/Outer party construct. On the one hand, the vast government bureaucracy is largely sympathetic to progressive and expansive policies, and implemented the Obama agenda faithfully. And on the other, President Obama was no beacon of truth. He regularly manipulated and misrepresented facts to serve his own interests--"all politicians lie," as they say. The media were sometimes complicit in this, and often too cozy with the Administration to be (or to appear) objective. So, for many conservatives, 1984 came to fruition in 2008, not 2016.
None of which excuses Trump from his toxic, disqualifying character flaws. But being an erratic, inveterate liar with no particular morals does not make Trump an Orwellian autocrat. Leadership in 1984's Oceania required a litany of evil but refined skills. Trump is dangerous--largely due to his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to policy and apparent manipulability--but don't give him too much credit. I think CTL is right in observing that the government bureaucracy "is largely sympathetic to progressive and expansive policies." In part, that is out of self-interest, of course-- if you work for the government, then expanding the role of government gives you job security and space for advancement. That the bureaucracy is largely hostile to much of what Trump wants to do is going to make it hard for him to implement those parts of his agenda that go beyond simply cutting programs so that they no longer exist. As I have said before, I did admire the Obama administration's willingness to listen to divergent views. It was almost exactly a year ago that I gave my rant at the White House, and yet I got invited back to subsequent events despite myconsistent criticism of Obama's policies. But CTL's point makes me wonder... would that have been true if I was affiliated with a right-wing advocacy organization rather than a University? Was the fact that I networked through groups on the left part of the reason I was able to be heard, even as what I had to say was critical? Perhaps it was. Trump could better implement policies through the bureaucracies CTL describes if those policies had some progressive components. He has talked about those things (health insurance for all, infrastructure improvements) but has not moved toward implementing them. So far, though, it seems like he is moving in another direction-- towards cutting away at the existence of those bureaucracies, a choice that is supported by a different set of principles, and in the end might be just as successful at his apparent long-term goal of somehow influencing the trajectory of what government does and is.
My NCAA bracket is looking pretty good right now, in part because I picked Gonzaga to win it all. Not that it was so much of a stretch-- they had a #1 seed in their region-- but I picked them in part because I love the idea of a small school doing so well.
Here are some fun facts about Gonzaga:
-- It's a Catholic school with about 7,000 students in Spokane, Washington.
-- Bing Crosby went there, as did Sherman Alexie, author of "The Absolutely True Story of a Part- Time Indian" and other books.
-- Intramural sports include Pickleball.
-- The got rid of football in the 1940's (and, in a twist that might surprise some people, did not collapse as an educational institution)
When I was in high school, I read George Orwell's "1984." I remember the whole thing seeming a little silly, since it was already 1980, and everything seemed pretty normal.
The problem, of course, is that I wasn't a very good reader. The book was not intended as a prediction, but a metaphor. I only got that a few decades later, in a conversation with my parents and my brother (all of whom are better readers than I am).
Thinking about it now, maybe the most prescient insight involves the "Inner Party" and the "Outer Party" which run the government. The Inner Party is composed of a core group of people who decide what will happen while the Outer Party implements them. Truth is skillfully manipulated by changing reporting of facts and the destruction of documents that may contradict the party line.
If the Trump administration intended anything like this (and many are using 1984 in this way), there have been two major failures already. First, Trump has been largely unable to form an Outer Party-- the bureaucrats that comply with his directions. He has left many positions open, and others are filled by holdovers. It is unclear if he and his staff have the capacity to ever fulfill this goal (if it is a goal). Second, the failure of the Trump-supported health care bill reveals the inability of an Inner Party to come up with a "truth" that can be manifested through government.
Have you read the book? What are you thinking about it lately?
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.
A long time ago, as a federal prosecutor, I actually got a wiretap authorized. It was a long and exhaustive process. It also turned out to be very useful in making a case that really made a difference.
There doesn't seem to be any actual basis for the claim. And here is the deal: While there is little chance that Obama authorized a wiretap on Trump's phone (in large part because Presidents don't do that-- judges authorize a tap after a prosecutor submits a motion seeking one), there is a decent chance that something else happened. That something else is this: the FISA court may have authorized, properly, the monitoring of communications to and from Russian officials. Then, once that monitoring was in place, it may have captured conversations between Trump or his associates and those Russians.
If that is true, I'm not sure the President wants the information out there...
Sunday Reflection: The state of a soul in search of hope
The past few years, in a weird way, my work was profoundly connected to the President. Not that we were buddies or anything, but what I did-- push for clemency-- had everything to do with the fact that I knew I was dealing with someone who was humane, intelligent, thoughtful, and funny. I disagreed with him about something fundamental: the best way to implement clemency.
Now we have a different president, and I'm having trouble adjusting. And there something about that feels like a deep cut, a soul hurt. It challenges not only what I do, but how I think and what I hope for. I am ok with a president I respect but disagree with. But I can't respect this president.
I keep trying. Then something like this happens. I'm struggling, because I don't want to be someone who has given up hope, even for a moment, even about this one thing.
There is a larger world, a galaxy, a universe under God. That I know.
I happened across this compilation of Academy Award Best Pictures going back to the 1920's, and realized that I have seen almost none of them. How did that happen? Especially given all of the terrible movies I have seen...
In his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, President Trump suggested a lot of things, some of which I agree with (and others I don't). However, I know we can't afford it all, or even much of it, without serious cuts elsewhere.
One thing I don't understand is this: If Trump is really an isolationist (a position I agree with, especially in military operations), why does he want to jack up military spending?
But, he does. And he wants to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, and not change social security and Medicare, and spend more on a border wall. Oh, and cut taxes. It just doesn't work without creating a huge(r) deficit. [For those of you who are inclined to say "When did you worry about deficits under Obama?" I did, several times, on this blog]
Anyways, if you want to see how hard it is to make the federal budget work, check out this slightly-out-of-date "budget simulator." It is kind of fun and terrifying all at the same time.
In short, if Donald Trump wants do anything that costs a lot of money in a fiscally responsible way, he will also have to do one or more of the following:
-- cut defense spending significantly
-- cut Social Security and Medicare payouts
-- raise taxes
That's really pretty much all of the options. Cutting the EPA or the State Department's budget does very little relative to the need new projects will generate.
Last night, Donald Trump gave a joint address to Congress that served as a sort of State of the Union speech. You can see the full transcript here.
He stayed on script. He started out by condemned threats against Jewish centers and the killing of two Indian immigrants. He avoided using his time to rage against the press. That all was good.
In terms of initiatives, here were some of the things he argued for:
-- infrastructure spending of $1 trillion from public and private sources
-- lower taxes for businesses and the middle class
-- building a border wall
-- creating the greatest speeding increase in history on the military
-- develop a plan to "demolish and destroy" ISIS.
-- institute a "merit-based" immigration system
-- replace Obamacare with tax credits and expanded Health Savings Accounts
-- fund "school choice for disadvantaged youth"
-- start a new Homeland Security bureau called "Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement"
-- increase funding for veterans
Probably everyone agrees with at least one of these, and disagrees with at least one. Some will recognize that the whole package is a budget-buster, especially if (as Trump has promised) the major entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare are unchanged. Others will point out that it is unlikely the whole package, or even most of it, will survive the Congressional culling process.