Saturday, December 31, 2016


Say it isn't so, Stanford Marching Band!

Boy it just didn't seem like the Sun Bowl yesterday, with Stanford playing (and beating North Carolina) but their infamous marching band nowhere to be seen. Sadly, they have been suspended and are being reorganized under a "professional director" who will pry responsibility for their routines out of the hands of students.

As Donald Trump might tweet: "Sad!"

Friday, December 30, 2016


Haiku Friday: Deaths in 2016

Chris Barker of London created the Sgt. Pepper-style montage here, showing some of the famous people who died in 2016.  There is a good comprehensive list here.

Let's haiku about those we lost this year, whether they were famous or not.

Here, I will go first:

Quiet, graceful, true
I saw her planting flowers
Not by her own house.

Now it is your turn-- just use the 5/7/5 formula, and remember well.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Appointments

Listed below (distilled from NPR's listing) are the top appointments made thus far by President-elect Donald Trump. My hunch is that these choices will be particularly important since Trump is likely to leave policy development largely in their hands. 

What do you think? Are there particularly good picks or bad ones in here? Are there any that you would call either inspired or dangerous?

Chief Strategist And Senior Counselor  NO SENATE CONFIRMATION NEEDED
A key adviser for the president in crafting messaging, an agenda and employing political tactics to see it through.
Stephen Bannon
Bannon is a 62-year-old former executive chairman of Breitbart, the right-wing news website. Bannon has bragged that the site is the "platform for the alt-right," a movement associated with white nationalism, racism and misogyny. He served as Trump's campaign "CEO" for the final months of the campaign and is credited with getting Trump to attack Hillary Clinton with false conspiracy theories about her health and bringing forward women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. Bannon had a stint in the U.S. Navy, worked at Goldman Sachs in the 1980s, became a Hollywood investor who made a fortune off Seinfeld reruns, and ran the secretive experimental community Biosphere 2 outside Tucson, Ariz. Bannon faced a domestic abuse charge in 1996 and financial difficulty through the 1990s with multiple federal and state tax liens against him at the time.
Announced Nov. 13, 2016

Advises the president and works with senior leadership to further the administration’s goals, with a focus on strategic planning and messaging.
Kellyanne Conway
Kellyanne Conway is a longtime Republican pollster and strategist. She served as Donald Trump’s third and last campaign manager and was credited with bringing discipline to Trump’s messaging and campaign, according to NPR’s Scott Horsley. Conway is the president and CEO of The Polling Company, a small polling firm based in Washington, D.C., that she founded in the mid-1990s. Conway has worked for several prominent Republicans throughout her career, including former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. She has a reputation of being brought on board to serve socially conservative clients who are having trouble connecting with female voters, according to The New Yorker. Before joining the Trump campaign, Conway ran a superPAC that supported Texas senator and former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. In a statement announcing Conway’s position as counselor to the president, Trump called her “a tireless and tenacious advocate of my agenda.”
Announced Dec. 22, 2016

National Security Adviser 
Principal adviser to the president on national security affairs, leading White House national security staff.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Prior to advising Donald Trump during the campaign, Flynn, a registered Democrat from Rhode Island, ran the Defense Intelligence Agency. Within military circles, Flynn had been a highly respected intelligence officer serving as the top aide to Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan. But he was a controversial, hard-charging figure, and was forced out of his job after less than two years at DIA. At Trump's national security briefings, Flynn reportedly challenged the information the candidate was being given by his briefers. He's been critical of Russia geopolitically in the past, he has also been criticized for financial ties to Russia after leaving DIA. He also served as a lobbyist for a firm with ties Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Announced Nov. 18, 2016

Informs the press and public about the activities of the president and the administration.
Sean Spicer
Sean Spicer is the Republican National Committee’s communications director and chief strategist. Over his nearly six-year tenure as communications director, Spicer has overseen the expansion of the RNC’s social media efforts, outreach to minority media and led the effort to improve the primary debate process, the RNC said. A longtime Washington insider, he served as assistant United States trade representative for media and public affairs under George W. Bush and as communications director for the House Republican Conference. Despite some policy differences, Spicer’s desire to win kept him in the president-elect’s good graces, the Washington Post reported in August. In the fall, he was virtually embedded at Trump Tower in an effort to help the campaign. He appears regularly on TV as a spokesman for Trump and can be combative (See past spats with Politico and most recently CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.) He has a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, a master’s degree from the Naval War College and was once featured as Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s “Moment of Zen.”
Announced Dec. 22, 2016

Provides principal legal advice to the president and the administration.
Donald McGahn
McGahn served as counsel for both Trump's campaign and transition. McGahn is a partner at the Jones Day law firm in Washington, D.C., where he's long represented candidates and elected officials. Unlike many people in Trump's inner circle, McGahn has deep roots in the nation's capital. He served as the top lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee and led the FEC, where he helped usher in looser regulations for campaign spending. Like his most famous client, the president-elect, McGahn embraces the role of disrupter, telling the Center for Public Integrity that he served on the FEC "to change how the place thinks."
Announced Nov. 25, 2016

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Advises the president on homeland security, counterterrorism and cybersecurity, as well as coordinating policy work by the Cabinet on those issues.
Thomas Bossert
Bossert is coming into an elevated position, as Trump has decided to make this position co-equal with the National Security Advisor, who will focus on "international security challenges." Bossert previously served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy homland security advisor, where among other duties he worked on reviewing the response to Hurricane Katrina and developing cybersecurity policy. Bossert got attention for an oped written in late 2015 critiquing Barack Obama's approach to the use of force, in which he defended the invasion of Iraq. "To be clear, the use of military force against Iraq and Afghanistan was and remains just," Bossert wrote. He currently leads a risk management consulting firm and serves as a cyber policy fellow with the Atlantic Council.
Announced Dec. 27, 2016

Responsible for day-to-day operations in the West Wing and traditionally controls access to the president.
Reince Priebus
The 44-year-old Republican National Committee chairman oversaw the party apparatus as it shored up the bare-bones Trump campaign and was a rare member of the party establishment to maintain a strong relationship with Trump through the ups and downs of 2016. Priebus has a close relationship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite. He's a former corporate litigator and Wisconsin state GOP chairman.
Announced Nov. 13, 2016

Secretary Of State
Chief foreign affairs adviser to the president and carries out the U.S. foreign policy agenda.
Rex Tillerson
Transition officials said that President-elect Trump wanted a secretary of state who is good at making deals. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson certainly fits that bill. He also seems to share another goal with his new boss: working more closely with Russia. Tillerson has run ExxonMobil since 2006. The Texas native began his career at Exxon as an engineer in 1975. Though he has no government experience, the 64-year-old oversees a company that has operations in 50 countries around the world and has worked closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson will likely face some tough questions in a Senate hearing as well about his connections with the Kremlin. In 2011, he struck a deal with a Kremlin-controlled oil company to drill in the Arctic, but the project was put on hold after the U.S. and Europe imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal. There will be some tough questions ahead about how Tillerson can take on the role of America's top diplomat and distance himself from his company's interests and his vast holdings of Exxon shares. According to The Hill, Tillerson believes in man-made climate change and supports the Paris climate agreement that Trump opposes.
Announced Dec. 13, 2016

Oversight of U.S. economic and financial systems.
Steve Mnuchin
Mnuchin was Trump’s campaign finance chairman. He worked at Goldman Sachs for 17 years and was ultimately a partner at the investment firm. After leaving Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin created his own hedge fund and financed movies like the X-Men franchise and Avatar. From 2009 to 2015, Mnuchin was the head of a California bank that has been referred to as a “foreclosure machine.” The bank foreclosed on an estimated 36,000 homeowners, according to NPR’s John Ydstie. Mnuchin does not have any government experience.
Announced Nov. 30, 2016

Principal defense policy adviser, with authority over the U.S. military.
Retired Gen. James Mattis
Mattis is a retired Marine Corps general, famous for both his blunt talk and his engaging leadership in recent U.S. conflicts. He served as the commander of U.S. Central Command, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from 2010 to 2013. Nicknamed "Mad Dog," Mattis is known for an ability to connect with troops, his intellectualism — quoting Roman philosophers at will — and controversial statements, like when he said "it's fun to shoot some people" in a 2005 speech discussing fighting the Taliban. Mattis advocated against isolationism recently, and warned Donald Trump against embracing the use of torture. To serve in this civilian post, Mattis will need a congressional waiver from a federal law that requires a member of the military to wait seven years after leaving the armed forces before serving as secretary of defense.
Announced Dec. 1, 2016

Primary law enforcement officer of the federal government.
Sen. Jeff Sessions
The 69-year-old Republican senator from Alabama was one of the first lawmakers to ally himself with candidate Trump. He embraces a hard-line anti-immigration platform and approach to fighting crime. Sessions is a controversial pick. His appointment to a federal judgeship was denied by the Senate in 1986 after lawyers testified he had used racially charged language, including calling the NAACP "un-American."
Announced Nov. 18, 2016

Oversees public lands, national parks, Native American relations, mineral extraction.
Rep. Ryan Zinke
Ryan Zinke is the sole U.S. representative for Montana. He was elected in 2014 and won a second term this year. Zinke is also a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALS, which he retired from in 2008. His service included a stint as a commander of the elite SEAL Team 6, which is best known for killing Osama bin Laden in 2011. Zinke is currently on the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources. A self-proclaimed fifth-generation Montanan, Zinke told The New York Times in a 2015 interview that he resented “regulation being formulated and forced in Washington from bureaucrats that have never been to Montana.” Zinke has been seen as the likely GOP challenger to Sen. Jon Tester, an incumbent Democrat up for re-election in 2018. The seat is a top target for Republicans, and Zinke’s nomination throws into question how the party will proceed in its efforts to defeat Tester.
Announced Dec. 15, 2016

Principally charged with promoting American business and industry.
Wilbur Ross
The 79-year-old billionaire investor is the chairman and chief strategy officer, as well as the founder, of the private equity firm WL Ross and Co. (He later sold the firm to Invesco but is still involved with it.) According to NPR’s Marilyn Geewax, Ross made his name restructuring failing companies using borrowed money. In 1990, he was instrumental in helping Trump’s Taj Mahal casino emerge from bankruptcy. In 2002, Ross joined several troubled U.S. steel companies together to create the International Steel Group. He cut costs and employees and flipped the company, selling it to Mittal Steel in The Netherlands. Shortly after his company purchased the Sago Mine in West Virginia, an explosion there killed 12 miners. A former Democrat, Ross has been a loyal Trump supporter. In a June interview with CNBC, he said that the U.S. needed a “more radical, new approach to government.”
Announced Nov. 30, 2016

Oversees the welfare, working conditions and opportunities for workers, job seekers and retirees.
Andrew Puzder
Andrew Puzder is the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., which is the parent company of several fast-food restaurants including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder began his career as a lawyer in St. Louis and, according to CKE’s website, helped the founder of Carl’s Jr. avoid bankruptcy. He eventually relocated to California, where he became the general counsel for CKE and later its CEO. Puzder is a strong advocate for deregulating government involvement in businesses. He has strongly opposed minimum wage increases, has said that government benefits discourage workers from seeking higher paying jobs, and that regulating overtime pay will cause companies to cut corners elsewhere. Puzder has also said that machines, rather than workers, are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” according to Business Insider. Puzder later wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where he further explained his views saying, “having access to a person is important to assure smooth experiences for everyone.”
Announced Dec. 8, 2016

Secretary Of Health And Human Services  PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Charged with enhancing the health and well-being of Americans, including medicine, public health and social services.
Rep. Tom Price
Before being elected to Congress in 2004, the 62-year-old Georgia Republican was an orthopedic surgeon for more than 20 years. He currently serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price has been a leading Obamacare critic and has offered several detailed plans to repeal and replace the health care law.
Announced Nov. 29, 2016

Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Oversees policy on home ownership, housing assistance, fair housing practices, addressing homelessness and housing development.
Dr. Ben Carson
Former 2016 presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson endorsed Trump less than a week after he dropped out of the presidential race in early March. Throughout the general election, Carson was an avid Trump defender. When a tape of Trump bragging about groping women came out, Carson urged Republicans not to be “distracted” by the revelation. Originally from Detroit, Carson was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., for nearly 30 years. He initially pulled himself out of the running for a position in Trump’s Cabinet; A Carson adviser told The Hill that he did so because he didn’t have government experience and didn’t want to “take a position that could cripple the presidency." But Carson has cited his own personal story as the son of a single mother who grew up in Detroit as experience he would bring to the agency that oversees affordable housing in inner cities.
Announced Dec. 5, 2016

Secretary Of Transportation
Responsible for national transportation policy and promotes transportation of and among various modes.
Elaine Chao
Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao served as secretary of labor under the George W. Bush administration and the deputy secretary of transportation under George H.W. Bush. In the 2016 election, Chao threw her full support behind Trump, endorsing the then-candidate ahead of the first presidential debate along with 50 other Bush administration alums. She also served as a member of his Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee. Chao, a Taiwanese immigrant, was the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a presidential Cabinet position. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Announced Nov. 29, 2016

Secretary Of Energy
Oversees national energy, nuclear and environmental issues, and science and technology to address them.
Rick Perry
Rick Perry was the governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015. He also ran for the Republican presidential nomination twice, in 2012 and 2016, but was unsuccessful in both bids. In 2011, during a Republican debate during his first presidential campaign, Perry famously couldn’t recall one of three government departments he said he would abolish if president. It was the Department of Energy, which he is now picked to run. Though Texas is an oil state and Perry has advocated for fewer restrictions in that industry, the majority of the Department of Energy’s resources are actually devoted to managing the country’s nuclear weapons, according to The New York Times. After dropping out of the 2016 election, Perry initially endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and called Trump a “cancer on conservatism” and a “barking carnival act.” Trump responded on Twitter, saying Perry “should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.” After suspending his second presidential campaign, Perry had a brief stint on the reality competition show Dancing with the Stars.
Announced Dec. 14, 2016

Addresses national education issues, equal access to education, federal aid and research on the nation's school systems.
Betsy DeVos
The 58-year-old is a longtime GOP donor from Michigan and a proponent of school choice. A charter school advocate, she chairs the American Federation for Children, which also supports school choice. She and her husband, the billionaire heir to the Amway fortune and former president of the company, unsuccessfully led an effort in Michigan to amend the state's Constitution to provide vouchers for private schools.
Announced Nov. 23, 2016

Secretary Of Homeland Security  PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Responsible for protecting the nation from terrorism and cyberattacks, recovery from natural disasters and border protection.
Retired Gen. John Kelly
John Kelly was most recently head of the U.S. Southern Command. The four-star general retired from the Marine Corps earlier this year after a 45-year military career. As head of the Southern Command, he oversaw military operations in Central and Southern America, and the Guantanamo Bay prison. He disagreed with President Obama's desire to close the facility, saying "there are no innocent men down there." He also opposed Obama's decision to open combat positions to women. Kelly served in the Middle East, where he led combat forces in Iraq's Anbar Province. Kelly lost a son, Marine Lt. Robert Kelly in combat in Afghanistan. Kelly, 66 at the time of his retirement, was the nation's longest serving general. He is a native of Boston.
Announced Dec. 12, 2016

Office Of Management And Budget Director
Oversees the president's budget, assesses agency practices and coordinates interagency programs.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney
First elected in 2010, Mick Mulvaney is a congressman from South Carolina. He is a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus that has fought with establishment Republicans and helped push out former Speaker John Boehner. Mulvaney told The Washington Post in September 2015 that “we’re either going to figure out how to save this party or the establishment is going to drive it to irrelevance." In the 2016 presidential election, Mulvaney initially endorsed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Announced Dec. 17, 2016

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Oversees federal regulations, distributing grants and conducting studies to ensure that environmental risk is addressed in public policy.
Scott Pruitt
Pruitt has served as attorney general of Oklahoma since 2010. His official biography calls Pruitt "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda" and as a proponent of the oil and gas industry he has fought hard against Obama administration regulations. Pruitt co-authored an article in May 2016 saying the debate over climate change is "far from settled." As Oklahoma AG, Pruitt set up a "Federalism Unit" within his office aimed at combating, particularly in court, what he saw as federal overreach on a host of issues. Before being elected in 2010, he served in the Oklahoma Senate for eight years.
Announced Dec. 8, 2016

Ambassador To The United Nations PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Principal U.S. representative at the United Nations.
Gov. Nikki Haley
The 44-year-old Indian-American is the first female and minority governor of South Carolina, but doesn't have much diplomatic experience. Initially a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, she ultimately supported Trump close to Election Day but had earlier argued that he should be careful about the things he says when it comes to foreign policy. She called his early suggestion for a travel ban on Muslims "an embarrassment to the Republican Party."
Announced Nov. 23, 2016

Administrator Of Small Business Administration 
Charged with providing assistance, guidance and benefits to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Linda McMahon
Linda McMahon co-founded the pro-wrestling enterprise World Wrestling Entertainment. McMahon has never held elective office, though she ran for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut twice. In a March interview with Yahoo News, she did not hold back on criticizing Trump’s “objectionable” comments toward women. Later reports showed McMahon donated to a pro-Trump superPAC in August and September.
Announced Dec. 7, 2016

Central Intelligence Agency Director  PENDING SENATE CONFIRMATION
Oversees the federal government's civilian foreign intelligence gathering service.
Rep. Mike Pompeo
The 52-year-old congressman from Kansas was a visible member of the House investigation into Benghazi. He graduated from West Point, served as an Army officer and attended Harvard Law School before working as an executive in aerospace manufacturing and the oil industry.
Announced Nov. 18, 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The Last Week

The last week of the year is different than every other. It can be quiet, shrouded in snow and calm on the lee side of Christmas. It can be frantic with travel and parties. It can be a little of both. What it can't be, for most of us, is just another week.

My dad often lays out a big puzzle in the living room, on what had been the "Kid's table" at Christmas dinner. He sets out a little green banker's light over it, and we work away when we are able. I love the collaboration of it-- everyone has a part.

For years, I had to work for part of this week, but even that was different; the pace and mood were not the same. I love that. It is only when something is different that we usually see the deep and abiding duty that was there all along.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Hurry Up!

The podcast is up for last weekend's NPR "On the Media" piece where I got to talk to Brooke Gladstone about clemency.  She was great-- as was her staff-- and it is well timed.

You can hear it here at about 18:30 into the first segment.

One of the fun things about doing national radio is that people hear it and are surprised to hear my voice. I have the same reaction when I hear an old friend on the radio when I was not expecting it-- Bob Darden or Ron Fournier opining on something they know well.  It's a great medium that way; a string that connects us with just a voice.

Monday, December 26, 2016


The Songs...

IPLawGuy, do you think everyone knows who "Little Joey Farr" is? Wait, was that the guy from M.A.S.H.?

Rock 'N Roll Santa
Little Joey Farr Single
Always Makes me smile. 

Christine poses a good question (one I have asked myself before):

Have always wonder'd
Who is Good King Wenceslas?
Follow the North Star?

And Megan Willome sent me on a little research venture with this one:

This Christmas only
Judy Garland and Tootie
by the grand window.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I have a piece in today's Waco Tribune Herald. Here is how it begins:

My parents have a beautiful old crèche that is set up every year with all of the familiar characters: The beatific Mary, slightly dazed-looking Joseph, baby Jesus, three wise men, assorted animals, and some shepherds. To my brother and I, this was the original action-figure set, and we spent hours posing the figures and arranging unorthodox new developments. We also had a parade of other characters visiting the baby Jesus: hockey players from the knob-hockey set, our sister’s Barbies, and at one point a figure of Coleman Young, the then-Mayor of Detroit. My mother seemed to view this as heresy, but to us it represented a spiritual truth: Everyone could visit the Christ child, even if you were a goalie for the Maple Leafs or an arms-akimbo waif from Malibu.

You can read the rest of it here.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Back in the 313

So, I am back in Detroit for the holidays, getting to catch up with some old friends (like Ron Fournier, pictured here) and remember what slush is like. It's good to be back.

One of the things I really love about this place is the unexpected things you stumble across. Yesterday, I was traversing a part of East Jefferson Ave. in Detroit that has been pretty desolate and forbidding for a long time-- the houses gone, burned, or barely hanging on, and the grand old buildings (like the Vanity Ballroom) slowly rotting away. I did find something new, though: Rock City Records, which had a nice selection of vinyl. Next door is Coffee and (...), where I found some pretty good pie. And that makes any day better, right?

Importantly, IPLawGuy likes both records and pie. If I tell him about this stuff, he may come back and finally make good on his promise to rescue my del Sol that he sunk in the lake...

Friday, December 23, 2016


Haiku Friday: Songs of Christmas

Radio is just about my favorite medium. This weekend I will be on NPR's "On The Media" show, talking about clemency. It was great to go to the studio and talk about something that matters so much.

One thing the radio brings us is the songs of Christmas. Let's blog about them this week! Here, I will go first:

Some clanging sleigh bells
And two voices sing as one
Happy, I sing too.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Two charts on Clemency

First, here is the distribution of Obama's clemency grants by state, from the Dallas Morning News. They have not been evenly distributed:

Second, here is the chart (prepared by PS Ruckman, Jr.) that punctures the administration's claim to have granted more clemency than the last 11 presidents combined-- for some reason (which I think I know) they don't include the clemency President Ford granted to draft evaders and army deserters:


Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I miss that car!

Twenty-five years ago, I owned a great car: a blue Honda del Sol. It was a weird and wonderful vehicle: A two-seater with a targa roof that came off and stowed in the trunk, and an electric rear window in the back. 

It was basically a goofy Honda Civic, but it was a wonderful vehicle, especially in the summer. If I was to reach back in time and reclaim one car I have owned, it would be that little goofy Honda.

Sadly, I lost it one summer when IPLawGuy was visiting. He was reading an Archie comic book while driving along Lake St. Clair, and the car sunk to the bottom when he went off course while trying to turn the page and eat a lemon zinger cupcake at the same time. Luckily the top was off and he was able to float to safety. 

What car would you want to have back?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


A Bittersweet Day

Yesterday, President Obama (seemingly acting from a beach in Hawaii) granted over 150 commutations, for a total of about 1200 over his presidency.  10 of those receiving commutations yesterday were clients of the Clemency Resource Center that Rachel Barkow and I set up, and one of them was a client of my clinic at St. Thomas.

The routine is pretty familiar to me by now... first, rumors circulate that grants are coming. Then, the rumors are confirmed as calls go out to the attorneys with instructions to contact their clients. In the middle of it is the hardest thing of all: Taking calls from clients who are not on the list, who are becoming panicky as the end of hope nears with the close of the Obama Presidency. I have to tell them no, no, I'm sorry, they are not on the list of the chosen. There is a silence. I don't know what to say. It is like standing next to someone as you both look into a deep hole and feel a landslide behind you.

But there is also the good, even great. A man named Tyrone Trader is-- well, was-- doing a life sentence for relatively small-time narcotics trafficking. My students Pat O'Neill and Matt Blubaugh worked on his case and submitted a strong petition on his behalf. Yesterday, they got to call him up and tell him that he would not be spending the entirety of his natural life in prison. That is a moment you don't forget.

I got to make a call, too. The judge who sentenced Trader was the Hon. Jan E. DuBois of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Twenty-five years ago I was his clerk, and he made a huge and important impression on me, convincing me of the type of lawyer I wanted to be. I helped him sort out tricky sentencing issues, including some in a complex case brought by new prosecutor Robert Zauzmer-- the same Robert Zauzmer who is now the pardon attorney.

Every so often, I call Judge DuBois, or see him when I am in Philly.  Yesterday, though, I got to call him and tell him that the sentence he gave to Trader-- one he did not choose, but that was mandated by a mandatory minimum law-- had been amended by the grace of the executive. It was a good moment, a quiet one, the elegant spiraling of a silvery loop into a circle. And so in the tumult there is that, too.

Monday, December 19, 2016


Tree poetry

Will Hutson described a good moment:

Our tree is plastic
My kid doesn't care, "it's cool"
It's not cool, he's cool.

My dad's was close to my own heart:

Bringing us good cheer
our proud tree holds on to its
beautiful needles

until we take it
naked to the curb for all
the neighbors to see.

And so was this one:

To define priceless
Examine all the branches
Cherished memories

Little green handprint
Santa and his cockroaches
Bright silver cradle

And every branch holds
Felt ornaments crafted to
Let us know we're loved.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The Deep Cold

The deep cold is here in Minnesota. Last night it got down to -25 degrees, cold enough that the house creaks and the animals burrow into the snow. The rink is up down at Arden Park by the creek, and there is ice on the river thick enough to ski over.  

That cold brings a brilliant stillness. It heightens the senses; when I walk on the snow I hear and feel it beneath me. The sky is thick with stars.

This year is ending. It has been a strange one, too, lacking the crispness and clarity of cold cold air. But there will be another one. I look forward to that.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Now the Univ. of Minnesota football team is looking pretty messy, too

1) A complaint was made about a sexual assault involving several football players and a female student. In the police report, the details are messy and often unclear (you can read the police report here). The EEOC report is much more complete (you can read that here).

2) The Athletic Director at that time was later fired for sexual harrassment.

3) No charges were brought against the students involved in the assault.

4) The University just announced that ten players would be suspended or expelled over the incident.

5) The players have reacted by saying they will boycott football. Today, they called the boycott off.

More details here. Ugh. I am losing my affection for college football pretty quickly this year.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Haiku Friday: The Tree

It is such a strange and wonderful thing-- to take a tree from outside and bring it into the house. Let's haiku about that this week. You can write about a tree you have had, or saw, or an ornament or light. Here, I will go first:

My dad and I, young
We tied the tree to the roof
Two thin green strands, hope.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Looking for a good Christmas movie?

I recommend Peppa Pig!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Rick Perry will be America's New Energy Secretary!

President-Elect Trump has announced that he will nominate Rick Perry for Energy Secretary, a position that lately has gone to wonky science types (President Obama's pick when he won his first term was Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize winning physicist). It's good Perry started wearing those glasses a few years ago!

In fact, the Department of Energy doesn't have a lot to do with the regulation of energy production-- that falls to the EPA and the Department of the Interior, mostly. But it does have a lot to do with the handling of nuclear weapons and waste, and that IS important. As the Daily Beast pointed out, there is some link to that and Perry, since Texas does host the nation's largest contractor for the disassembly of nuclear weapons. 

Still, it does not seem that PEOTUS Trump is going big on "expertise." He's not the first to do that of course-- but it is a departure from the precedent of the Obama administration (with some notable exceptions).


Thornetta and Spike

Have you been keeping up with my dad's blog? Either way, you should check out his latest post, which manages to philosophize about gift giving, recap his involvement with the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, pitch his awesome book of photography, and introduce Thornetta Davis (pictured here in his portrait of her) as this week's feature act. Not bad!

Monday, December 12, 2016



Yeah, Dad-- you win!

"Racket" the racoon
will find warmth in our attic
until I trap him.

I can vouch for the fact that this haiku is based on a real-life story. Or, actually, dozens of them. Animals love to break into my parents' house for some reason. One summer, while we were on vacation, some squirrels moved in and created complete havoc in their efforts to get out. It is amazing what small mammals are capable of...

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Humility in Quiet

The quiet of Advent, when I let it in, takes me to some good places.  One of them is a place of humility, which is important.

Sometimes I think too much of what I can do-- I overestimate my abilities.  There is an arrogance in that, which is harmful and wrong.  Too see it, though, I have to stop for a bit.  That slowing down is always good.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


"Great Bludger Play..."

So, did you know that Quidditch has become a real thing? Because it has... though I'm a little stumped as to why they hold brooms the whole time.

Friday, December 09, 2016


Haiku Friday: Fitting Pet Names

There are some great pet names out there. I'm partial to Pickles the Cat, of course, but there are others nearly as good. So here is your chance to haiku about dogs, cats, lizards, whatever. Here, I will go first:

Famous: Socks the Cat
Lived in the White House; his job
Was catching slow mice.

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

Thursday, December 08, 2016


Great Gift Ideas

As you may have noticed, I'm taking a break from Political Mayhem Thursday for Advent-- and after all, haven't we had enough political mayhem for a while?

Instead, let's take a look at a few terrible Christmas gifts. For example, exactly who on your Christmas list really needs a toy Taser?

If that doesn't fit the bill, how about this great doll? (IPLawGuy owns it, but he might sell it to you):

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


My favorite graph ever

Today's New York Times has a great editorial on clemency (which links to both the op-ed I wrote in April and the group letter I organized with a few others two weeks ago).  It is both concise and right on point.

For years, I have fought an uphill battle to have someone, anyone, recognize the reality of President Ford's 1974-75 clemency project that led to clemency grants for over 13,000 Americans who had deserted the armed forces or evaded the draft in the Vietnam era. Every time I see the White House claiming that they have "granted more clemency than the last 11 presidents combined" I cry out to no one in particular that it just is not true.

The reason it bothers me so much is because the Ford example is the best precedent for what President Obama should have done several years ago-- taken clemency out of the DOJ and set up an independent commission.

Finally, P.S. Ruckman over at the Pardon Power blog has created an accurate graph:

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


Mass Delusion Comes to the Pizzeria

In case you missed the story (probably because, like me, you live outside of the DC area), there was a bizarre fake-news-driven event there centered on a pizzeria called "Comet Ping-Pong." The fake news was that Hillary Clinton led a child sex ring centered at the pizza shop, and a guy from North Carolina came up to "investigate" with assault rifle in hand.  Here is how CNN described it:

A suspect arrested Sunday with an assault rifle at a Washington, DC pizzeria admitted he had come to investigate an online conspiracy theory, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said Sunday evening in a statement.

Police have identified him as 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina.

"During a post arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory)," the police department said in a statement.
"Pizza Gate" is a name given to the online false news stories begun last month that charged the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and its owner were involved in a child sex operation. The owner has vehemently denied the charges, but they continued to proliferate online. The owner and employees said they were repeatedly threatened on social media.

When Welch entered the restaurant he allegedly pointed the rifle in the direction of an employee who police said was able to flee and notify police. Patrons inside the restaurant had rushed out of the building.

Police said Welch has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Two firearms were recovered inside the restaurant, and an additional weapon was recovered from the suspect's vehicle police said.

How did we get to this? 

Monday, December 05, 2016


Thank you, Mr. Waco Farmer

For this fine haiku:

Some Heroes: Lou Grant,
Woodstein, Jack Webb in 30;
Gotta see Spotlight.

Meanwhile, IPLawGuy is just trying to goad me:

Post, Times, Trib-Herald?
when do you tour "The Paper"
of note, The Onion?

And Megan Willome, is the "Westlake Picayune" a real thing?

First publication
on the front page
Westlake Picayune.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Sunday Reflection: Release to the Captives

Susan Stabile asked me to submit a Reflection for Advent to the St. Thomas collection this year. It came out on Dec. 2. Here is what I said:

First Friday of Advent

Release to the Captives
The deep pain of waiting is something that has become a part of my work. With my students, I seek clemency for those serving long sentences for low-level and non-violent narcotics offenses. I get to know their families well as they wait with a mixture of hope and fear.
A few weeks ago I was in Washington DC, at a vigil in front of the White House. Many of the family members I have come to know were there. One of them was a woman named Veda. We have corresponded with for years, as her brother is incarcerated for a non-violent narcotics offense. She has been a remarkable advocate and hero, pushing me to take on his case (I prepared and submitted his petition earlier this year). As we talked, she told me about the sleepless nights and worry, the disappointment that her brother has not been on the lists of those given clemency, and the slam of despair that came after the election for her and many other African-Americans. I gave her something, an ancient Roman coin bearing the name of the Goddess Clementia, and she broke down. I held her as she sobbed, all the sadness and heartbreak pouring out of her. It was deep and real and true, for both of us.
When Jesus began his ministry, he told his family and neighbors that he had come to "proclaim release to the captives" and "to let the oppressed go free." Each of us is captive; each of us oppressed. But it is for those who are literally, physically captive that these words may mean the most.
One part of the work I do-- the joyous part-- is calling and telling people their petition has been granted. The prisoner is called to the warden's office and handed a phone, and I give them the good news. In August I called a man named Robert, a Christian. I simply said "God is good." He knew what that meant, and replied (as we do) "all the time." Sometimes, during the waiting, that is hard to remember.

Saturday, December 03, 2016


A Brutal Timidity

Writing for the Washington Post yesterday, Tana Ganeva described the very sad case of Ferrell Scott, who is doing a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana trafficking case. To be sure, Scott was convicted of actual trafficking of significant amounts of marijuana, but a life sentence (which is greater than that for nearly any federal crime other than first-degree murder or terrorism) is not proportional to the crime.

Yesterday, I was really trying to work on a new project, but people-- family members, those in prison-- kept calling me wondering if there was any hope in their case. Some I knew, some I did not. But I gave them all the same answer: I just don't know.

Friday, December 02, 2016


Haiku Friday: The Paper

I love newspapers. In the last year, I have gotten to tour three of the papers I have read for a long time (and that have published my stuff): The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Waco Tribune-Herald. All of it fascinates me, and it is amazing to see the places where some of my heroes work (and there are some in all three of those places).

Let's haiku about newspapers this week! It can be about your favorite story, or an old paper you loved, or perhaps your ideal headline. 

Here, I will go first:

Came home every noon
Each day in high school; eat lunch
And read the Free Press.

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

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Update from Washiington

I was in Washington yesterday for the White House Convening on Criminal Justice. The main event was a little bit of a downer; I was looking for some urgency on clemency, and got no sense of it. Loretta Lynch did tell us about three new programs-- to get ID for prisoners being released, improving education in prison, and create standards for halfway houses-- all of which are good and very much needed. Still, I left the building and walked out into the dusk in less than a festive mood.

The rest of the day was great, though. In the morning, I toddled over to the Heritage Foundation and met Paul Larkin for lunch. He is someone who has done some great work exploring clemency reform, and there is a lot of overlap in our views. After the White House event, I met up with Sari Horwitz, who gave me a little tour of the Washington Post. It is a fascinating place, purpose-built for the digital age.

Finally, I met up with IPLawGuy for dinner. Captions welcome for the photo above...

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