Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Death comes to Minnesota

Way back in March (Remember? That month where the first half we were all carefree, and then the second half we were living in a dystopian novel?) I wrote a piece in the Minnesota Star-Tribune urging the state to thin its prison population to prevent deaths from COVID. 

It kind of worked, it seemed. After some false starts, the Department of Corrections set up a system to grant conditional medical releases to people who were most at risk-- the elderly and those with clear risk factors. I even worked with other profs to set up a network of students to answer questions and help people prepare their petitions for release.  That project ended up working with about 2,000 prisoners (out of a total prison population of about 8,000). We hoped to avoid the death that had come to so many other prisons in the country to people who had no ability to space out or protect themselves.

But... the state slow-walked it. Then they were overly cautious about releasing people. I was alarmed earlier in the month to find out that less than ten people had been released. It was a recipe for disaster, for death, and I told them that. Still, not much happened. They worried about who should be eligible, who was sick enough, who might object. They didn't act.

Predictably, death came.  Two have died at the Faribault prison. One of them, Leroy Wallace Bergstrom, is pictured above. He was 71.

There is a deep sadness that goes with this kind of failure as an advocate. I knew what needed to happen, I knew it was urgent, and still I failed to convince those in power to act. And that failure, now, is measured in human lives.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Who knows grilling?

Jill Scoggins does! Here was her haiku:

Spelled boudin, pronounced
boo – dan’. Smoked Cajun sausage
that’s the stuff of dreams.

And the Medievalist actually had a recipe:

Indirect grilling,
Salmon and honey, parsley,
Sweet smoky flavor.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


Sunday Reflection: Providence

In the last few weeks, a couple things have happened that have me thinking. 

First, I got a call from someone I didn't know. That happens a lot-- since my phone number isn't hard to get, and people see something I have written or said and want to talk about it. A lot of times, they want to pitch and idea or argue about something. This guy started out with "I'm a financial advisor, and I have an idea about policing..." and I almost tuned out. But, I listened and his idea was great. In fact, I immediately asked him to co-author a piece on it, and that piece is now up at CNN: you can read it here

Then, on Tuesday I was getting ready for a presentation the next day on COVID and incarceration. Just then I got a message from a woman I didn't know, Lorri Stennis Brown. She said "I just recently got out of federal prison, and I love the work you do to help people." It was great to get that affirmation, of course, but I also realized she knew things I do not, so I asked her to join me for the presentation the next day, and she was fantastic! The video isn't up yet, but I will post it on Tuesday if it is available by then. She made the presentation a success.

Some would say that these chance encounters were providence, the workings of God in my life by presenting those people to me at just the right moment. I don't know God well enough to assume that-- it could be chance.

But I do know this: it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life that left my heart open to nearly everyone I encountered last week. It is the teachings of Christ that makes me want to hear each story, and to uplift those stories and then step into the background. It is the idea of human dignity that makes me want to trust those I encounter. Maybe God doesn't move the chess pieces around for us, but God is there if we allow it. I too rarely do-- these examples are exceptions, unfortunately, since too often I portray myself as "too busy" to hear people out too. But perhaps providence is more subtle than we imagine- and free will has something to do with it.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


What Up With "Rapture?"

So, after watching this video-- including everything going on in the background starting at about two minutes in-- I have to believe it is the inspiration for Kenan Thompson's SNL skit "What Up With That." I mean, really: there is a woman walking a goat, a girl ballerina, Uncle Sam on stilts, AND both Fab Five Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat appear in person.

Here is the imitator:

Friday, June 26, 2020


Haiku Friday: Grilling!

Grilling is one of the points of contention between IPLawGuy and I. Personally, I love grilling and do it every chance I can in the summer and early fall. My specialties are salmon and hamburgers. IPLawGuy, though, refuses to grill after "the incident." This was a while ago, back when he lived in his previous house which was further back in the woods away from town. He was grilling one night when a hawk came down and snatched the hot dog he was grilling right off the spatula he was wielding. The theft enraged him, and he came up with a plan to address the issue. At great expense, he purchased a black-market honey badger. The next night, when the hawk swooped down he grabbed the honey badger from its cage and threw it at the hawk. Both animals then fell on the grill, and he cooked them, seasoning to taste (he told his family it was chicken). Later, he was arrested for killing and eating a threatened species. Anyways, it kind of messed him up.

We last wrote haiku about grilling seven years ago, so it's time to do it again! Here, I will go first:

All about timing
Oh, and heat, and seasoning
And good condiments.

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

Thursday, June 25, 2020


PMT: 1968 & 2020 (feat. Nkechi Taifa)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


YLS '90: Tanya K. Hernandez

I'm devoting Wednesdays to profiling my classmates in the Yale Law Class of 1990.

Tanya Hernandez came to Yale Law from Brown, where she earned her undergrad degree in sociology (which, I have learned as a teacher, is a particularly good preparation for law school, especially at a school where you have to do a lot of analytical writing).  Her published note about bias crimes for the law journal was excellent-- I remember reading it when it came out, and having it make a real impression on me. You can read it here.  She also served as the Note Editor for the Journal.

After law school, she clerked in the US District Court in Puerto Rico for two years, and then began three years of public interest litigation in New York. After that, she began her illustrious academic career at St. John's. She now serves as the Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law at Fordham, and has established herself as a leading scholar of Comparative Race Law. Her scholarly production has been both pretty remarkable and impactful-- her field has become more important in part because she worked to have it matter (as it should).  If you have a while, you can see her full CV here.

Her most recent book is Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination, which you can see here

Among the members of our class making the world better in an active way, Prof. Hernandez is right up there with the best.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020



On a college trip with my parents, we drove down Monument Avenue in Richmond. There they were: Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson... I remember looking for Mussolini and Hitler. I obviously was new to the South.

Four years in Williamsburg and ten years in Waco, though, did not change my mind about confederate monuments. They celebrate people who fought to preserve slavery, and I found that indefensible. It is important to remember what is being depicted when we are talking about monuments of confederate leaders and soldiers: They are men who are memorialized because they fought to preserve the institution of slavery in a war against the United States, a war which they started.

Over and over, people told me that confederate monuments were not about slavery-- that they were really about "heritage" and "preserving history." Hmmm... these Bible-believers would, I'm sure, agree that Satan is an important part of spiritual history, but they would probably not put a triumphant statue of Satan up in their church.

It is true that the soldiers were "a part of history." The problem is that they are people who fought for something that is thoroughly rejected by American society, which is the enslavement of human beings because of their race. We know that this was their reason for seceding and fighting a war because they said so at the time. The argument that it was about "states rights" is a smokescreen-- the "right" that those states wanted was the continued ability to own other human beings.

To be clear, I'm not talking here about people who owned slaves (like Washington or Jefferson) or were otherwise oppressive of others (that is a different, important discussion)-- I am talking about monuments celebrating confederate leaders and soldiers. It is inconsistent with our values as a nation-- and the professed values of the states where they stand, all of which claim to honor residents of all races-- to allow these to stand.

Take them down.

Monday, June 22, 2020


Juneteenth Poems

If you read just one poem this week, make it Jill Scoggins's haiku:

“What’s Juneteenth, Moma?”
“Slaves fine'ly learned they’d been freed.”
“Who kept it from them?”

Silence. A long pause. 
Moma was thinking, thinking … then,
“White people. Like us.”

Meanwhile MKS said hers was a precurser to Christine's, so here it is:

The war was over
For two more years they waited. 

And here is Christine's:

Juneteenth, not much changed
one hundred and fifty five
years later, waiting...

We had this from the Medievalist:

Juneteenth just shows us
How far we still have to go,
Slavery is bad.

And an entry from my dad! (quoting Janis Joplin, a Texan):

Freedom is just an-
other word for nothing left to 
lose Janis Joplin 

Free to stand up this 
Juneteenth, for many there is still
nothing left to lose

And one I read over several times, from Robert Johnson, a story picture:

A black landowner,
named Salls, would visit Mema
and Papa often.

Mema always had
coffee and coffee cake there,
for him to enjoy.

Sunday, June 21, 2020


Sunday Reflection: Adulation, accomplishment, and Dad

It sounds like things in Tulsa did not go the way President Trump hoped. The arena was one-third empty (which, on the plus side, lowered the COVID risk) and the overflow area outside the arena--pictured above-- was pretty much vacant.

Randy Potts posted something on Twitter that I thought was really insightful and deeply sad:

"Seeing a new connec between Trump and my grandfather, Oral Roberts: Oral didn’t have friends. Zero. Zilch. His “friends” were the crowd; his social moments happened on stage. He loved his audience *as an audience.* Seeing that with DJT tonight, too. He’s talking to friends."

There is a lot there, in that short statement. At the core, though, is the emptiness of measuring your success by adulation.

I sometimes end a class with a little soliloquy about this: That when you do the best thing in your life, something that really makes things better, they probably won't have a parade for you. The truth is that the brave, good actions are often unpopular. They usually threaten to upset a status quo, change the lives of the rich or powerful, and that is something that the rich and powerful do not like. Think about how many of our heroes were actually killed for the courageous things they did (starting, but not ending, with Jesus).

The roar of approval can lead you to some bad choices. Following adulation is not the same as following your principles or your God. Humiliation and condemnation are more often the rewards for making hard, good choices.

Parenting is like that, too. Sometimes the most important things a parent does isn't the most popular with the kid. I know that was true of my dad- he wasn't someone to be mean or controlling to us three kids, but he was certain to do or teach the right thing even when it wasn't really what we wanted to hear.

It's probably not an accident that all three of us kids have gone on to be adults whose work has been focused not on making money but on making other people's lives better in some direct way.

One thing that fascinates me about my dad is that he is the person who takes the picture, not the one who is featured (as you can see on his blog here). To be good at that, you have to be kind of a visual listener. That takes a certain kind of insistent humility, where you make decisions while not getting the attention the subject of the photo or painting does. I think that has deeply influenced us all.

Aren't we lucky kids?

Saturday, June 20, 2020


Updates from Tulsa

I'm probably not alone in thinking that President Trump's rally in Tulsa is going to be, um, newsworthy. There is so much that can go wrong, after all. Here's a short list:

1) It turns into a COVID super-spreader event. We wouldn't know about this, of course, for a couple weeks after the infections had developed.

2) Some kind of conflict between protestors and Trump supporters. The tensions seems to be quite high there right now.

3)  Trump may say something so epically offensive--even for him--that comes out of this super-heated and racial charged situation.

Or, I suppose, all three. Yikes.

If you want to keep track of things going on in Tulsa, I would recommend the Twitter feed of my friend Randy Roberts Potts, a native of the place who is writing about events there this weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2020


Haiku Friday: Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth. 

The holiday celebrates the announcement of freedom to all slaves in Texas on June 19th, 1865. A Union General, Gordon Granger, read the federal orders to the public in Galveston, Texas, At the time, Texas was relatively remote and word that the Civil War had ended in April was inconsistently communicated. 

Other than the Fourth of July, it is the only American holiday I can think of that literally celebrates freedom. 

If you are wondering what this means today, I recommend this excellent essay by Nkechi Taifa

So let's haiku about Juneteenth and all that relates to it. Here, I will go first:

I met a woman 
Who was alive that day.
One lifespan away.

[It's true. When I was three in 1966, I met a woman who was 103. One lifetime separates me from Juneteenth. The harms of slavery are not so distant.]

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

Thursday, June 18, 2020


PMT: 17 Minute History Lesson

My Dean's brother Phil put together a very worthwhile (and short) history lesson on race in America:

It's striking how few of my students grasp this broader scope of history and how it impacts things like criminal law today. After all, there were 250 years of slavery here, followed by 100 years of Jim Crow, followed by 50 years of pretending things were all better. History matters-- and it also matters what is happening right now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


YLS '90: ?

I have been devoting Wednesdays to profiles of my remarkable classmates in the Yale Law School class of 1990. 

There are moments in school that you remember for the rest of your life. I hope that once or twice I have provided that moment for my students. 

One of those moments for me came in a law school class-- I don't even remember which one. We were talking about discrimination based on sexual orientation; that is the ability of employers, retailers, states, and others to openly discriminate against gay men and lesbians. There were the usual positions staked out, of course: many students argued that this discrimination was wrong, and others argued that it was ok both legally and morally.

Then, one student made a point that stuck with me and deeply influenced my thinking going forward. He (or maybe she, though I seem to remember it was a guy) asserted that, in fact, discrimination against against gay men and lesbians violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because discrimination against them was fundamentally discrimination based on sex (a type of discrimination that is expressly covered under that law). In essence, he said this: take the set of people who are attracted to men, a group that includes both men and women. Among that group, biased employers would discriminate against the (gay) men but not the (straight) women. The difference in the discrete group of people (who are attracted to men) between those suffering discrimination and those free from it was their sex, nothing more and nothing less. Men were fired. Women were not.

"Huh," I thought, as I pondered that. "He's right."  

And on Monday, the Supreme Court, through a majority opinion by Justice Gorsuch, used exactly that logic to find that gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people were covered by the protections of Title VII-- some 30+ years after after I first heard that argument.

And I can't remember who it was. I'm ashamed of that. But whoever it was-- good job. You convicted me of your position a looooong time ago. And now it is the law, to the benefit of millions of people, some of whom I love very much. 

At any rate, here is part of how Justice Gorsuch put it in the Bostick case:

"Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the  male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a but-for cause of his discharge. Or take an employer who fires a transgender person who was identified as a male at birth but who now identifies as a female. If the employer retains an otherwise identical employee who was identified as female at birth, the employer intentionally penalizes a person identified as male at birth for traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth. Again, the individual employee’s sex plays an unmistakable and impermissible role in the discharge decision."

The world changes slowly. But sometimes it does.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


F.A.Q. on police reforms

I've been talking to a lot of people-- family, friends, people who looked up my phone number, the media-- about police reforms. I'm thrilled people are talking about it, because it is a really important subject which lies at the core of some of the discussions we are having now about race.

I do find that people are having some confusion over some of the basics, so let's cover some of those today.

Q: Does limited immunity protect police officers from being charged when they kill someone?

A: No. Limited immunity is an important concept that need reform, but it is limited to civil law. In short, limited immunity gives individual police officers some protection from being sued for damages by people they have hurt in some way. It affects the way citizens can make tort claims.

Q:  But don't police officers have permission to shoot people in some situations?

A: Many jurisdictions do give police officers an expanded ability to legally use lethal force, usually in situations where the officer acts in self-defense, or someone is escaping custody and may hurt others.  For example, here is the provisions of MN 609.066:

Subd. 2.Use of deadly force.

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 609.06 or 609.065, the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only when necessary:
(1) to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm;
(2) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the peace officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of deadly force; or
(3) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or great bodily harm if the person's apprehension is delayed.

However, most of the time that police officers are not charged or are acquitted of killing someone, it is under the self-defense provision listed first in the statute above-- and that is a defense that is available to anyone who kills to protect themselves or others. That was the situation in the Jamar Clark and Philando Castile cases (though probably not in the George Floyd case).

Q: Why do police officers get away with killing people so often, then?

A: Like many things in the law, the answer lies not in the statute so much as in the use of discretion by actors within the system-- for example, the discretion of a prosecutor or grand jury not to charge an officer, or the discretion of a jury to acquit. All of those actors are inclined to believe a police officer when they say they were exercising self-defense-- for example, by claiming that the victim was trying to grab the officer's gun.  That, of course, may change as more people see videos that show police officers using lethal force in situations where it is not justified as self-defense.

Monday, June 15, 2020


The student becomes the teacher

There were some great haiku last week. You should read them all here.

However, there was one truly outstanding entry.

You may remember that my haiku was this:

I am so confused
You only ate the one plant!
What a dumb bunny.

And here was my former student Gavin's response:

Dear Sir, I’m not dumb.
I take only what I need.
Your kind? Not so much.

That's pretty awesome.

Sunday, June 14, 2020


Sunday Reflection: We're not robots

A few weeks ago, I was pondering something troubling. The pandemic had pushed people back into their homes and onto their computers as nearly everything-- school, work, commerce, church-- turned into an online exercise of some kind.

I've always had this vague fear that we are slowly merging into computers; that eventually our physical selves will become obsolete as our identities become more prominently tied to the internet. It was a sad thought, since I believe in a lived life in which the senses are engaged.

But then George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police, and that tragic event led people to the streets. Suddenly, there was this thing, an awful thing, that pulled everyone out of what had become their normal. Of course, the news of the events were circulated online, and the video of the death is what drove the righteous anger that followed, but still there was something to it all that was beyond that, which seemed rooted in sight and taste and smell and sound and touch. It got real

Now we will see what happens with it. Will it drive us to be more engaged with one another, to create better social spaces and relations? Will we, finally, really take on the sources of racism?

Saturday, June 13, 2020


What the police do

This graph represents the volume of incidents the police addressed in Philadelphia-- a relatively high-crime city-- in 2015. It is from Jerry Ratcliffe's book "Intelligence-led Policing" and was made a part of his blog post here. He is a former police officer who is now a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

What do you think when you see this?

Friday, June 12, 2020


Haiku Friday: Wildlife

A few weeks ago I pondered an old tree stump next to my house. It was flush with the ground and slightly rotted.

Trying to make something of it, I got an axe and chopped seven holes in it, put in some potting soil and planted some red and white geraniums. The took right away and started to thrive. But, for some reason, a bunny ate one of them. Just the flowers! [It was not the bunny pictured here- my sister drew that one]

Wildlife comes in all kinds of shapes this time of year. Let's haiku about them this week. Here, I will go first:

I am so confused
You only ate the one plant!
What a dumb bunny.

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

Thursday, June 11, 2020


Piglet Mayhem Thursday: Art

I would like to use this opportunity to share this drawing of adorable pigs by my sister, Kathy Osler. Because it is awesome.

You can see a bunch of her drawings here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


Remembering Tom Johnson

On Monday, Minneapolis lost Tom Johnson, a good man who had a profound effect both on his community and the lives and work of many of the people in it. I am one of those people.

Tom was a member of the city council and then elected as the County Attorney, the top prosecutor here. He served in that role for twelve years, leaving in 1991 to go into private practice. Both as prosecutor and as a community leader, he pressed for reform of the criminal justice system to address systemic racism, though he would always say that he didn't do enough. I was in many meetings with him where he shifted the topic back to the endemic racial disparities we face here. 

I met him through my colleague Hank Shea, who worked closely with Tom in addressing clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic church. That was typical of the causes he chose-- he had a heart for those who had been hurt. 

As someone new to town, I deeply appreciated Tom's friendship and mentorship. Just a few weeks ago he sent me a note of encouragement at just the right time, when I needed it most.  He was someone who guided you to a better conclusion rather than pushed you there, a rare and welcome trait.

He is someone I will think of and remember for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020


The opposing view

My Sunday piece in the Waco paper did not stand alone. That issue also featured another op-ed with a very very very different viewpoint,  titled Looters, Vandals Block Path to a Better America. Here is the colorful beginning:

"One day long ago I was walking out of the house to attend a high school party with friends when my mother asked me who was going to be at the party. When I told her the names of some of the people who would be there, I remember hearing her say, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
That was the first time I had ever heard that phrase. I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but I knew it was bad.
Today one should associate the phrase with the so-called “peaceful protesters” when they’re merely anarchistic, arsonist rioters and looters. Anyone who sympathizes with this group is just part of the problem. The media and others frequently refer to them as Antifa. I do not think all the so-called peaceful protesters are associated with any movement except to create chaos in our neighborhoods. Looting, burning buildings, killing and injuring innocent people and destroying lives is a crime. I hope President Trump is successful in officially labeling them a terrorist group and that they meet the same fate as al-Qaida and ISIS."
In short, the piece first conflates peaceful protesters with rioters (because his mom said "birds of a feather flock together"), denies that they have any objective other than selfish destruction, and then proceeds to urge that they all be put down by the military. The coup de grace, after urging this violent response to lawfully assembly, is this closing line:

"A presidential election beckons in November, so quit destroying our country and vote — and no matter who wins, accept the results and be glad you live in a democratic republic brimming with rights."

I'm often surprised how often those who urge a limitation on freedom end with some kind of celebration of freedom. But... there you go.

Monday, June 08, 2020


Bread of life

Who can haiku? Anyone who wants! And this week we got IPLawGuy commenting on his car:

Yes, 280z 
Wish i had one, and Could
Drive on a highway.

Christine stuck to bread:

Measure, mix, take great
comfort in kneading a fine
silky dough, pliant

cover, hope, rising
punch down, knead, punch down again
shape, score, bake, smell, eat.

As did TRW Joe:

Bread, glorious bread,
Don’t we all want to eat it?
Yes! Because it’s good!

Steve chimed in (he inspired this topic):

Funky smell. Sticky.
Wrestling with a sullen dough.
The taste is worth it.

And, fortunately, the Medievalist (with a clever play on the classic haiku line "refrigerator":

Home of Hal the starter dough,
Great cinnamon rolls!

Sunday, June 07, 2020


Stuff to read and hear!

If you are interested, I had a piece in Waco's paper today about the events in Minneapolis-- and the too-often-hidden history of racism behind it. You can read that here.

Also, I gave the sermon today at First Covenant Church, Minneapolis, and you can watch that here.


Sunday Reflection: Faithful Protest

Protesting is a moral and a faith imperative when the situation demands it (as it does now).

Compared to the protests of the 1960's, something is missing: Where are the faith leaders? Other than the Bishop of DC who had her church abused for a publicity stunt, there has been a dearth of ministers at the front of the crowd, exhorting peace and justice.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights battles in the 50's and 60's, often flanked by renegade priests, other Protestant ministers, and faith leaders of many varieties.

Certainly, a wealth of faith leaders have spoken out, on Twitter and media associated with their denominations (among other places). I don't want to diminish the importance of that signaling to people of their own faith-- it does matter. But what I don't see is leadership in the streets, at the front of the crowd.

Sadly, I suspect it is the crowd that has changed; many people (not just in those crowds, but any crowd outside a church) don't look to faith for moral guidance.

Have others seen something different?

Saturday, June 06, 2020


Dennis Plansker

I was lucky to grow up in a very interesting house. Not only were my parents both good and interesting, so were many of their friends. Watching them all together was like a little window into the future, a glimpse at what adulthood would be like. And their friend Dennis Plansker made adulthood look great. He was funny, smart, and kind, and wildly creative-- he was in the advertising business with my dad and some of their other friends, and were constantly creating art. It was fascinating.

When we lived on Harvard Road on the east side of the City of Detroit, the Planskers were our neighbors down the block. My first friend was Jeff Plansker, who has some of the best qualities of his father.

Mr. Plansker passed away yesterday, having contracted COVID-19. I'm sad for all who knew him, and especially the remarkable family he and his wife Geri created. As a father, a teacher, a friend, and as a guy this kid watched with awe, he made a lot of peoples' lives better, and that's a legacy any of us would want.

Friday, June 05, 2020


Haiku friday: Bread!

Yesterday, I was hard at work when IPLawGuy called me from somewhere on I-95. He was driving his unrestored 1975 Datsun 280Z, which is a fascinating shade of green. He had the top down-- it's not a convertible, but he used a reciprocating saw to remove the roof for the summer-- so it was hard to hear him. From the amount of yelling he was doing, I could tell he was really excited about something in his house or his yard. After a while, it was clear that he was telling me about his sourdough starter and how it was doing.

What is it with sourdough right now? We have two major national crises going on at the same time, and everyone is growing a gross jar of yeast in their backyard. 

I do love the bread, though. IPLawGuy promised me he would send me a slice in the mail once he gets back from his business trip to Myrtle Beach. Bread, basically, is a good thing. Let's haiku about that today.

Here, I will go first:

In winter's deep heart
My mom would make a fresh loaf
Love scent after school.

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

Thursday, June 04, 2020


PMT: H.R. 40

My dad did the portrait above of longtime Detroit Congressman John Conyers. Among other things, Conyers was the champion of H.R. 40, a bill he introduced every session but never passed. Now is the time to do that.

In short, H.R. 40 calls for a commission to study the idea of reparations for African-Americans based on slavery and its legacy in our society. It doesn't create reparations, or mandate them-- just sets up a mechanism to study them and create a proposal or proposals. Here is the gist of it:

This bill establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. Among other requirements, the commission shall identify (1) the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.

My friend and mentor Nkechi Taifa has promoted H.R. 40 for years, and convinced me long ago of its wisdom. Now, the nation seems ready to have this discussion.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


YLS '90: David Flattum

Yeah, there is a lot going on out there, huh? And I will get to that tomorrow. But for today, I am going to revert to profiling my classmates in the Yale Law Class of 1990.

David Flattum was part of a small coterie of Californians who came East to be a part of the Yale Law class of 1990. He had just graduated from USC.

After law school, he went to work for Latham and Watkins, where he made partner. In 2001, he jumped over to Allianz Asset Management, where he was a Managing Director, COO, and General Counsel (which seems like a lot of jobs to have!).  Currently, he works for PIMCO, a ginormous asset management firm, as Managing Director and Global General Counsel.  It's an impressive career.

Boy, I am not doing justice to this guy's accomplishments. So, yeah, I'm not feeling it this week. Sorry, David Flattum. It's not your fault. I'm just feeling kind of overwhelmed by the failure of our society to adequately address racism, and unless I am missing something there really is no internet-obvious nexus between that and your career. And, frankly, not enough of a nexus between solving that problem and my own career. We left law school with the potential to do so much-- and in fact, as this series has shown, we have done a lot. But much of it was directed towards our own financial security or political ambitions or personal interests, rather than the yawning abyss of need in our country. I look at us, and see a lot of people who are financially comfortable, secure, happy in most senses-- and I am one of those people. But I wish I could look at the broad scope of our work, including my own, and say that we made any kind of dent in the mountain of legal problems in our country that were made very plain to us while we were in school. A few of us, like Cornell William Brooks, fought hard and well on the national stage (and continues to do so). Others made quieter but also important efforts. But I wish we who received all these advantages, as a whole, had led the way to a place where racial prejudice didn't drive us to the precipice we have arrived at. We always had a voice, and too often did not use it for what matters most.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020


That crisis is here

A few years ago, I said that the true test of President Trump will be when he faces a crisis. My worry then was that the talent needed in those dark moments is creating unity and division and... well, that's not really his skill set.

Now we have not one but two crises-- COVID and the George Floyd killing. And, as I feared, there seems to be little effort from our national leader to bring unity as we face very stark challenges. Of course, this is an almost unbelievable set of unfortunate circumstances, but that only raises the stakes.

Now is when the president needs to stop worrying about re-election and instead worry about the success of our nation. Real leadership takes sacrifice, and part of that sacrifice has always been a willingness to go to one's political enemies in times of crisis and present a united front. Ronald Reagan did that-- it was a part of his legacy that ensured he would be well-remembered.

The events last night, though, are a chapter that suggests that division and tumult are not only our present, but our future.

Monday, June 01, 2020


Some gems

This haiku from my dad:

until a few years ago
didn’t have a clue

Then friends reached
out to me, only later
I saw them as black

That was just a start
I still can't put my head 
around their ordeal

I have felt some pain
It goes away but prejudice 
inflicts pain every day, 

And Bob Darden sent this:

Hard time, oh hard times
They say hard times never last,
It just seems that way.

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