Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Sally Says No. Gets Fired.

Yesterday, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates announced that so long as she was in charge of the Department of Justice, the Department will not enforce the travel restrictions imposed by President Trump's executive order. That lasted about three hours, as Trump fired her as fast as he could.

Yates is a holdover from the Obama Administration; she was the Deputy Attorney General from 2015 through the end of the administration. When Loretta Lynch resigned as Attorney General just before the inauguration, Yates was named Acting AG. Since Sen. Sessions had not been confirmed as AG, she was the Acting head of the Department.

Things are moving pretty fast these days, huh?

The important challenge to Trump's antics will come from within the President's party. They will have to step up and take a risk.

Will that happen?

Monday, January 30, 2017


The all-night train to Mexico

I love Megan Willome's stuff, but especially this:

Early in marriage
my parents rode the all night
train to Mexico.

Every line is evocative. I want to take that train.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Sunday Reflection: And the Christians?

On Friday, President Trump signed an order barring citizens of seven nations from entering the US for the next 120 days, and indefinitely barring refugees from Syria. He did say that he would consider exceptions for Christians.

It appears that the people who took Trump "seriously but not literally" were just as wrong as the people who took him "literally but not seriously," since he is now doing exactly the things that he promised he would do.

Barring refugees (unless they are Christian)? Getting rid of health care for the poor?  Building a literal wall between ourselves and our neighbors?

Will the Christians in this nation resist these things, as the faith compels?

Or, as I fear, is American Christianity largely about a comfortable life for American Christians?

Saturday, January 28, 2017


The sad truth

As many of you know, Rachel Barkow and I set up a pop-up law firm, the Clemency Resource Center, to represent worthy clients seeking clemency, at no cost to them. They did a great job, winning the freedom of 96 people, which is a remarkable record.

One of the eight lawyers for that project, Sean Nuttall, wrote a great piece about one of the sadder outcomes of the clemency initiative; you can read it here. This is how it begins:

Of the thirty-odd clemency petitions I prepared this year as an attorney with the NYU Clemency Resource Center, Tom’s was perhaps the strongest. Tom left home at sixteen because his mother, a methamphetamine addict, physically abused him. Out on his own, he began using drugs and was soon addicted, dealing small quantities to support his habit. One night when he was twenty-one, his girlfriend, also a drug user, asked him for heroin. They shot up together; unbeknownst to Tom, she had also taken a large amount of cocaine, and she suffered a fatal overdose. At trial, the jury found Tom guilty of drug distribution, but acquitted him of causing his girlfriend’s death, following testimony she had taken only about one-twentieth a lethal dose of heroin. Notwithstanding the verdict, however, the Judge found that heroin had contributed to her death. He sentenced Tom to eighty years in prison, under then mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Tom is no angel, but eighty years for an accident that happened when he was twenty-one seemed wildly excessive. I was not the only one to think so: In a letter of support to the pardon attorney, the judge explained that Tom’s sentence had haunted him since he imposed it sixteen years ago. But despite this strong support, last week I had to inform Tom his petition had not been granted.

Friday, January 27, 2017


Haiku Friday: Mexico

Since it seems to be the talk of the day, let's haiku about Mexico-- your trip there, people you know, the food, etc.

Here, I will go first:

I haven't been yet. Glad they
Don't believe in walls.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: So, do deficits matter?

There are some things that I agree with Republicans about. One of them is that deficits matter, and that the federal government should spend less money and (when reasonable) raise more. 

 So why don't I vote for Republicans? Because they say they care about deficits, but they don't act like it when they are in power. Reagan put the Soviet Union in a bad place through outrageous spending on military arms. George W. Bush spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on wars and Medicare Part D. 

In addition to raising taxes more readily, Democratic administrations (particularly when checked by Republican control of at least one house of Congress) actually grow federal spending at a slower rate:

So... now we are entering a period in which Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency, and here is what they are talking about:

-- lowering taxes
-- spending lots of additional money on the military
-- building a wall on the southern border (and paying for it)

So, what gives? Why do people believe Republicans when they say they will constrain spending if we elect a Republican president?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Still Funny...

SNL has been pretty good lately. The diversification of the cast has helped-- and an election season usually perks the show up, too.

Of course, you might prefer the comedy stylings of Kellyanne Conway (from 1998):

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


The Election that Never Ended...

Yesterday, President Trump (I'm still not used to writing that) told a group of Congressional leaders that he would have won the popular vote in the election but for the votes of 3-5 million "illegals." It's a crazy, obviously untrue claim, but he seems to really believe it. 

That, and his obsession with the size of the crowds at his inauguration, is bizarre at this point-- yesterday was arguably the "day one" that he had identified as the day he would end Obamacare, etc. He has signed some executive orders that move in that direction, but his focus seems largely on these things that really don't matter now. The election is over. He is literally in the White House.

It makes one think that he is going to be highly ineffective at getting his agenda through. That means that he will be relegated to signing off on bills that pass through the Republican-controlled Congress, reflecting their priorities rather than his (and they do diverge). That means trade reform will not go far, nor will infrastructure building. Those two items, of course, are the ones most likely to provide jobs. 

Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich suspects that Congressional Republicans are setting Trump up to fail:

According to Reich, he recently had breakfast with a Republican friend who claimed he held his fire over his misgivings about Trump during the election, saying, “You kidding? I was surrounded by Trump voters. I’d have been shot.”

That was when the conversation took an interesting turn when Reich asked his friend what the GOP will do now that Trump is president.

“They’ll play along for a while,” the unidentified friend said. “They’ll get as much as they want – tax cuts galore, deregulation, military buildup, slash all those poverty programs, and then get to work on Social Security and Medicare – and blame him. And he’s such a fool he’ll want to take credit for everything.”

Asked what happens then, the Reich’s friend laughed and said, ‘They like [Vice President] Pence.”

“Pence is their guy. They all think Trump is out of his mind,” he explained. “So the moment Trump does something really dumb – steps over the line – violates the law in a big stupid clumsy way … and you know he will …”

“They impeach him?” Reich asked.

“You bet. They pull the trigger,” was the reply.

That rings true to me. Does it to you? 

Monday, January 23, 2017


New to Haiku! (at least at the Razor)

I think people were either celebrating the inauguration or depressed on Friday. Nevertheless, we got some gems. It is always good to learn history from the Medievalist, of course:

Oh Millard Fillmore,
Better than Berlusconi,
and Washington weeps.

We had some great newcomers, too! Like TRW Joe:

Good man Obama,
Thanks again for your service.
Sunny skies always...

And Cully Lipsey:

Tippecanoe died
Who knows how he would have led?
Was this God's blessing?

Thank you all!

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Sunday Reflection: The Multitudes

There was a way to freedom, but many of equal merit were not chosen.

I suppose that with the conclusion of President Obama's clemency project, one of the larger tasks of my life will conclude. It began six years ago; that's when I started to advocate for a historic use of clemency to free non-violent narcotics offenders who had served very long sentences.  In the end, over 1700 did receive commutations (including 9 through the clinic at St. Thomas and another 96 through the Clemency Resource Center that Rachel Barkow and I started in New York). 

But, many who had strong cases did not get clemency.  Almost 19,000 petitions were denied (most, but not all, with justification).  Another 8,800 the Obama administration just did not get to-- there petitions were neither granted or denied, so they now flop over to the Trump administration. In that batch were some, including some of ours, that were filed last summer or earlier.  They never built a system that could process the cases they invited-- they left behind many people they gave hope to. I urged them to do it differently at the start, the middle, and the end-- not just from afar, but within the gates of the White House six times-- but I failed as an advocate to convince them of that.

To those people who never got a ruling, it must seem that the water is crashing in, and the path to freedom is gone. Those to be saved have been chosen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Well, yeah, of course Biden left on the train....

Friday, January 20, 2017


Haiku Friday: Presidents

On this inauguration day, of course we should talk about Presidents-- this one or any other! Here, I will go first:

It matters he cared
About the least of us all.
So... thanks, Obama.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Inauguration

Tomorrow is the day-- one that many people did not see coming-- of the inauguration of Donald Trump as President.

He will give an inaugural address, there will be a parade. According to his tweet, "people are pouring into Washington in record numbers." Some of them, of course, might be coming for Saturday's protests, but no doubt a lot of people will be there for the new President and this moment in our national democratic cycle.

What should the new President say in his inaugural address?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Art and Radio!

Today I get to do two of my favorite things. The first is to talk on the radio about something worthwhile with someone I have listened to for years. In this case, I'll be talking to John Hockenberry (pictured here) on Public Radio International's "The Takeaway" about clemency. His is one of those familiar voices that have often traveled along with me in the car. You can hear that here.

And, of course, there is a lot to say about clemency right now.

The second is to stand up in front of my criminal law class for the first day of the semester, and talk about art. What a great job I have!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Memoir of MLK Day

For about the last four years or so, I have spent the MLK holiday the same way: At work, working on a clemency issue.

On my way home, I heard about various speeches and events, and realized that I had done the same thing again. For a moment, I felt bad, as if I hadn't marked the holiday in an appropriate way. I really did not think about Dr. King all day, until I heard people talking about him on the drive home.

But then again, what I am doing is working to correct what is largely a racial injustice. Almost all of my clients and the people who call me are black. That shouldn't surprise anyone; it was black defendants who tended to get the worst sentences in the first place. It wasn't because they were the worst criminals, though. It was because they were dealing the drug that was penalized the harshest (crack) or had the worst lawyer (two of my clients had lawyers who pled them guilty to a crime that had a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole-- meaning they had nothing to lose by going to trial), or got slammed by a judge in a place like Louisiana who seemed not to think too hard about it.

At the end of a day dealing with that, it doesn't feel much like a holiday. But maybe this isn't that kind of holiday.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Wicked good, Kitty

Kitty Cornwell wins!

New Hampshire: Live Free
Or Die! Mountains to ocean,
It's wicked awesome!

IpLawGuy's was heartfelt:

Ohio, Midwest
Every visit makes me
wish we had not left.

And Gavin made me want to go to Idaho:

Northern Idaho
Mountains, lakes, streams, trout. Heaven!
But with better beer.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Inauguration, Dissent, and the Next Four Years

As we all know, there will be an inauguration this week, one that many people thought highly unlikely; Donald J. Trump will become the president, having won the election according to the rules we have. I have said before that elections have consequences, and this one certainly will.

I'm starting to realize something.

Christians may continue to be the majority in the country, but Christians who believe that Christ meant what he said-- the two great commandments, for example-- are becoming a small and embattled minority, nearly invisible beneath the greater number who believe that the faith is one of self-congratulation and judgment of others.  The election and the discussion that surrounded it is one of two events that has led me to this sad realization (the other has to do with Baylor).

Meanwhile, in my project on clemency, rooted in the idea of mercy, few of my co-travelers are Christian.

I would not say I am losing my faith in God. I am losing my faith in the role of Christians in American society, though.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Good hugs, good-bye...

Friday, January 13, 2017


Haiku Friday: Your favorite state!

One of the things I love about the US is the goofy way we divide the country into states with really no rhyme or reason to it. California: Huge! Populous! Wildly varying terrain!  Delaware: Tiny! Small population! Pretty much all flat!

Of course, there are states that we love. Let's haiku about that today. It doesn't have to be your home state (though it can be).

Here, I will go first:

Virginia, what's up?
Longer than I think, smarter
Than people expect.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Trump's Press Conference

Yesterday Donald Trump held his first press conference as President-Elect. Here are some of the primary points he made:

-- He finally acknowledged that it was Russians who hacked the DNC.

-- He said that his friendship with Vladimir Putin will be an "asset" for the US.

-- Trump vigorously attacked news sources that had reported on a briefing he had about    "compromising information" that the Russians may have.

-- Rather than put his assets into a blind trust, Trump's sons will run his businesses while he is president. He will donate profits from foreign government payments to his oversees businesses will be donated to the US treasury.

-- Apparently, Trump does not like CNN. CNN reporter Jim Acosta attempted to ask a question, but Mr. Trump said “No, not you, your organization is terrible. Quiet. Quiet... Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude. Don’t. Be. Rude. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”

-- He pledged to build the wall on the Mexican border, then cover the expense (later) with "payments" or (more likely) taxes on Mexico.

-- On Obamacare, he suggested that repeal and replacement should be simultaneous.

Any surprises here?


Looking Back

You might want to check out my dad's blog post from this week (and every week). Here is how it begins:

As I am getting a little older, I find myself contemplating more and planning tasks less.

I am getting more comfortable bringing back good memories than looking at what lies ahead. This reminder of how good life can be will carry me for a while.


As I am getting a little older, I find myself contemplating more and planning tasks less.

I am getting more comfortable bringing back good memories than looking at what lies ahead. This reminder of how good life can be will carry me for a while.


It was a beautiful summer day and I had a lot of outdoor projects lined up. In the morning of this near perfect day I learned that the jazz legend Ron Carter was going to be at the Dirty dog Jazz Café. He was in town and offered  to spend some time with fortunate local high school students from the Detroit Jazz Festival program. Reluctantly I said goodbye to the warm sun filled backyard. I packed up my camera,  I headed over to the Dog, and I went out of the sunshine into one of my most soul enriching experiences of 2016.

The students had arrived and set up to play some music. There was some youthful jabbering until Ron Carter arrived. Ron Carter looks as good in person as he does on his CD covers, only taller and even more elegant. He introduced himself to a suddenly very quiet group of young jazz musicians. He asked them to play and soon with some gentle nudges a relaxed band entered into a shared learning experience. Here was a player of jazz music who has had an entire  lifetime at the top of his craft listening carefully to some Detroit kids starting out. His taking the time didn’t go unnoticed.

The next day I returned to the Dirty Dog knowing that Ron Carter was setting up for an evening gig. He was scheduled to join his pal the great guitarist Russell Malone for a special evening honoring the supporters of the Detroit Jazz Festival. I figured that they would do a quick sound check and leave. The staff was busy setting up for the guests. Tables were being arranged and covered. In the middle of this activity were two artists making music for themselves. I set my camera down as I knew that it was too loud for the occasion. Imagine being in the room with these two great artists who were spending some time quietly facing each other for almost an hour, musically surprising each other and grinning just like a couple of kids, a couple of really talented kids. It seemed like they were happily transferring a lot of knowledge. I will carry this experience with me for some time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Today I had the pleasure of talking to Jana Shortal at KARE 11 about the death penalty, and with Gregory Korte at USA Today about clemency.  Mostly, though, I was at my desk writing, working on what should be a very important project. I like days like that-- putting together ideas, trying to get it right.

Outside, snow was coming down, which is something that happens in January in Minneapolis. The quiet was good.

Monday, January 09, 2017


Poems about Papers

I love the Waco Farmer's enthusiasm!

L.A. Times was BEST!
As a youth I was convinced.
Sports Page. Scott Ostler!

While Noel loved a paper that I love, too:

The Washington Post,
my constant companion
each dawn without fail.

While the Waco Friend had a more developed (and fascinating) story:

Akron Beacon Journal's
Knight opposed Viet Nam
war in '54!

Repub publisher
kept that course, said US pushed
Ho to Soviets!

Blamed the ignorance
of the Dulles brothers at
State and CIA.

And IPLawGuy added a bit of reality:

No paper for me
Just played with my guns
Didn't know how to read.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Terrifying Beauty

On Friday I was working hard on a new project, an important one. My computer binged, three times. Bing... Bing... Bing. I turned away from my manuscript and looked at the messages as my heart sank. The messages were from the United States Pardon Attorney, telling me that three of my clients-- men I had come to know and believe in, who had changed themselves in prison and were there for too long anyways-- were being denied clemency. It was like a death, the death of hope. 

I sat quietly, and I cried. When you lose at this, you lose big. And I know that with the Trump Administration looming like the Death Star for people like these three men, there might not be hope again for a while.  

But, of course, I chose this.  I chose it because Christ calls me to it, and what Christ promised, again and again, was that those who follow his path of radical forgiveness will be hurt, not celebrated. This is what I signed up for-- actually just a fraction of it. 

But I am not the one who pays the price, really, of this President's brutal timidity and the reckless retribution of the next one. That price is payed by others, who I know, who sit in a prison cell in despair. 

There are those who need to be in prison. I turn down most of the people who want me to help them. That means, though, that I truly believe in the ones I do work with. And the deep cruelty of that green light of hope having been held just outside their cell, then extinguished, is a sharp shard against bare skin.

Saturday, January 07, 2017


Strange events in Central Park

Have you been looking for a video where Spiderman takes Elsa on a date in Central Park to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell?" Well, I found it! Intriguingly, it nearly verbatim re-creates an actual date that IPLawGuy had in 1982 (especially the dance sequences and the part at the end where he steals a helicopter).

This video contains some disturbing images and bad dating behaviors-- see if you can spot them, and describe them in the comments section!

Friday, January 06, 2017


Haiku Friday: The Paper

I'm a newspaper guy; I always have been. When I was in elementary school, I used to rush home for lunch. My mom would make me lunch and I would read the Detroit Free Press. Now I often get to write for newspapers, too, and I'm still a big consumer.

Let's haiku about that this week-- the newspapers we love now, or remember from our childhood. Maybe even the newspaper we really don't like, or a memory of a parent or grandparent reading the paper.

Here, I'll go first:

I lit a candle,
Read the paper, ate my soup
The paper caught fire...

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

Thursday, January 05, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: What happens on January 21?

Earlier this week, Republicans botched the opening of the new legislative session by first gutting an ethics office, then reversing course. That seems to be in the rear-view mirror now. Here are three key issues that will be featured at the end of this month as the Trump administration gets underway:

1. The fate of Obamacare

Republicans, from Trump on down to the newest members of Congress, have long castigated the Affordable Care Act and pledged to "Repeal and Replace" it.  The first part of that will be easy; Congress can simply reverse course on the legislation that made up Obamacare. Replacing it, though, will be hard. That's because they want to keep some parts that protect sick people (such as coverage for pre-existing conditions) and get rid of the parts that spread costs over a large group of people (such as the mandate for coverage).  That ignores the basic idea of insurance, which only works if people who don't make claims are part of the pool to pay for those who do. Some are now talking about "repeal and delay," meaning that they would repeal the ACA but delay the effects of that-- essentially preserving Obamacare for at least the near future, an outcome that undermines their protestations. How should they accomplish this, or should they?

2. Trade with Mexico and China

Trump has said that he will challenge existing trade agreements with these two major trading partners. His appointments back up the idea that he will take this seriously. However, he does have a problem with pro-business contingents-- especially in his own party-- who vigorously support free trade. The push-back on this one may come primarily from his own side, but he may be able to build a coalition mostly of Democrats in Congress to make significant changes.

3.  Supreme Court Nomination

Poor Merrick Garland-- he would have been a great justice. That door has closed, though, and now Trump gets the pick. This will matter for decades, though the fact that he is replacing Justice Scalia means that it is unlikely to significantly change the balance on the Court on many (though not all-- Scalia could have surprising independence) issues.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017


Star Wars 3, dubbed into Chinese and then back into English (for some reason)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


Almost 100 years later, a subway line appears

I'm sometimes in New York, and ride the subway when I can. It's efficient, but mostly I love the people-watching there.

On New Year's Eve, the long-awaited Second Avenue line finally opened. It was an idea first floated in the 1920's, but kept getting delayed for a variety of New York-ish reasons, like wild financial downturns.

With the opening of the first three stations, it is clear that one great feature will be the public art. Chuck Close photos are used:

It also includes this piece by Vik Muniz, the first non-political public art with an LGBT subject in New York:

I can't wait to see it-- and thanks for the tip on this from local expert Marta!

Monday, January 02, 2017



His intriguing take on 2016:

We all die, ya know.
You. Me. Everyone someday.
Its the way of things.

Concepts died this year
'16 saw the death of facts
"Feeling" rules the day

"Truth" now subjective.
Is this the end of reason?
Auld lang syne indeed.

Sunday, January 01, 2017


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 

2016 is behind us, and 2017 is ahead. I really have no idea what this year holds. I do know that it will mark the end of a big project for me-- the effort to get President Obama to grant clemency to hundreds of non-violent narcotics offenders, a project I began promoting six years ago.  

What next? 

Here are some of the projects I have in the works:

-- I'm working hard on a new Criminal Law textbook, and have some of the chapters completed already.  I'm going to incorporate them into my Crim Law class this Spring.

-- There is a second book cooking, co-authored, that I think will be really terrific. I can't discuss that one yet, though.

-- I am not giving up on clemency; this year's project will be to get President Trump to change the process by which petitions are considered.

-- Also, IPLawGuy and I are going skiing....

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