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!

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