Monday, December 11, 2017


Taking the Test

Even reading haikus about tests made me a little nervous!

Jill Scoggins probably was the one that most directly addressed my question (about habits and traditions related to tests):

Rewrite all class notes
by hand. Tactile feeling makes

it stick in my brain.

But maybe we would all be better off if we thought about it like Fallen:

So few tests matter.
No paper scenario
Can mimic this life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Hope and Heartbreak

It's been kind of a hard year. In a piece out today at The Atlantic, Bruce Rubenstein explains why.

2016 was pretty unique for me, of course. The rejuvenation of clemency I pushed for years finally happened thanks to the work of many good and hard-working people (most importantly President Obama), and over 1700 people were given shortened sentences. Now some of them come and visit me, which is a miracle each time. But, of course, that moment in history--that short age of mercy-- ended in January, 2017. Since the inauguration there has been a single use of the pardon power, and that was for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

The Arpiao pardon was kind of a knife in the heart for me-- it celebrated the excesses and abuse of power by law enforcement rather than heal the effects of those wrongs. It's hard to explain how wrenching that feels- to have the momentum for mercy not only stop, but go backwards to reward a lack of compassion and humanity. 

I guess... imagine that you are a musician, one who loves to play and is wonderfully talented, like the man my father captured in the photo above. For a year, you get to be in a remarkable group and make music that people love-- you create beauty. Then, suddenly, the band breaks up, the venue closes down, and it all stops. But something worse happens, too: An announcement is made that now music will just consist of metal scraping noises (I know, I know, IPLawGuy-- that happened, kind of). Not only can you not play music, but now the very idea of music has been turned to something bad.

I'm heartbroken. And I'm able to say that from my comfortable house with my good job and a car that can take me wherever I want to go. I can only imagine how it feels for the multitudes in prison, the one whose fingers were crushed when the window slammed shut on them.

For a few years, I carried a coin with me that bore the image of the Roman goddess of mercy, Clementia. It was sort of the opposite of carrying a heavy weight-- the idea of that goddess made me lighter. A few weeks ago, I wrapped it up and put it in a drawer. 

Why? I suppose that it is just not her time right now. The Greek and Roman Gods were like that, of course; they would go away for a while, on a quest or diversion. But they were not gone. And Clementia, too, will come back, will regain her power, because she embodies something that is deep within the human spirit, that we can repress but not extinguish. 

And so, Advent. A baby. Hope. A world transformed. New days are coming, for me and those multitudes.

I will do my part.

Saturday, December 09, 2017


The only version...

... of "The Little Drummer Boy" I have ever liked (but I like it a lot):

Friday, December 08, 2017


Haiku Friday: Test day rituals

Yesterday I gave the final for my sentencing class. I got to the room a little early, and could tell that some of the students were finishing up some little ritual-- for example, on guy was listening to some kind of psych-up song on headphones. 

I had them, too, of course. For example, I always ate a banana before a test. Why? No one knows. It's a mystery.

So let's haiku about that today. Here, I will go first:

So many habits
I see being played out
Most common? Prayer.

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

Thursday, December 07, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Who is winning the war on Christmas?

In the wake of having totally given up on the War on Deficits, it looks like Republican leaders are finally taken up a war they can win: The War on Christmas.

Let's not forget how that war has been going. Here is one description from The Atlantic:

[President Trump recently tweeted that] “It is my tremendous honor to finally wish America and the world, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

Hearing the words would have come as a relief for millions of Americans who disagreed with President Obama’s decision to repeal Christmas. Recall that when Congress tried to tell him to stop, he said, “No way, no, no, no. I am Obama, and I do what I like. Political correctness!”

For eight bizarre years, the south lawn was dark and empty. There was an iron pentagram on a tower that said “Happy Holidays.” In the place of the National Christmas Tree, there was a glowing orb that emitted shrieking sounds. Anyone who touched it was overwhelmed by sexual urges. One passer-by saw the display and said, “That’s not very Christmas!” He was never seen again.

I there is one thing that makes me sad, it is Christians demanding their "rights," such as the right to have everyone recognize their holiday.  It's such an odd exercise; given that the faith itself has nothing to do with rights and getting, and everything to do with sacrifice and giving.

So, how do you think the war on Christmas is going?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017



The latest tumult is over President Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I think I have a handle on it now-- I was confused for a while about the implications of this.

There will be problems. Symbolism matters, and this is a huge one that could effectively end what is left of the peace process in the Middle East. Though it won't affect Americans in our day to day lives, I suspect it will mean another hit to our international reputation in some places.

Does this matter?

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Should I give it a rest?

If you are still interested in the Mueller/Flynn deal, I have a piece about that in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune; you can read that here.

Then I was all worked up to write a screed about the tax bill, which just seems like the worst legislation in a long time. I'm baffled at how any principled Senator could vote for it, unless they are deluded enough to think that every economists is wrong...

But, wait.

I think I am at risk of outrage exhaustion or something. It is just draining to constantly write about what is going wrong. On the one hand, I feel a duty to say it. On the other hand, it seems that others say the same things, more publicly, and better.

What do you think? Do I need to back away from the madness a little?

Monday, December 04, 2017


Dumb bunnies (in haiku)

I love this, Megan Willome:

Lawyer leaves gun in
briefcase. Tries to enter court.
Arrested. Take care.

And Gavin wrote this about me, I think:

Measure twice, cut once?
Pffft! I know what I'm doing.  
Three inches too short.

And I need more info on Gale's... (which is good!):

Roman emperors
Augustus Tiberius
Claudius Nero

We study the five
Emperors but only men
In their time a King.

Sunday, December 03, 2017


Sunday Reflection: So, Advent...

Of the whole year (well, the liturgical year), Lent and Advent are the deepest for me. Sure, Christmas and Easter have their charms, but I guess I am a sucker for anticipation.

This year will be a little different. I have been more still over the past several months, since I have been holed up writing. My reflection, though, has been focused on that work, and now I have the challenge of pulling out of it and thinking more broadly.

It is a time, too, when I really do need the Christ child to come. It has been a difficult and challenging year spiritually-- not due to the failure of God, but the failures of men (including myself, as always). I need to prepare for joy. I guess Advent is coming at just the right time...

Saturday, December 02, 2017


Because it is always good to learn more about Spinal Tap...

Friday, December 01, 2017


Haiku Friday: Being Dumb

So... did you ever have one of those not-so-smart weeks? I'm having one of those. I seem to be having brain problems or something.

Let's haiku about those less-than-perfect moments when we goof up a little. Here, I will go first:

I only mess up
When I talk or move around
Otherwise, I'm good.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Nothing says "I don't care" quite like putting Kellyanne Conway in charge of opioid abuse

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday announced that pollster Kellyanne Conway, 50, counselor to President Donald Trump, would oversee White House efforts to combat the opioid overdose epidemic.
More than 64,000 people died in the US of drug overdoses in 2016, largely from opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. Trump declared a national public health emergency over the crisis in October, and calls have emerged for an opioids "czar" to lead crisis response efforts in the last year.
Looks like Conway has the job. Trump has asked her "to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House," Sessions said at a news conference in remarks that went beyond prepared ones from the event.
Where to start with this?
The opioid crisis is real, and it is serious. There are a lot of people (I am one of them) who have devoted a lot of time to understanding this crisis and thinking about possible solutions. There are criminologists, sociologists, addiction specialists, emergency room doctors and other experts who would be wonderful in this position.
And Kellyanne Conway?
By profession, she is a pundit and a pollster. She ran Trump's campaign after supporting Ted Cruz. Her prior clients included Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, and Mike Pence.  Most recently, she has been accused of repeatedly breaking ethics laws. It was Conway who added the term "alternative facts" to our national lexicon. 
Maybe she will use her access to power to bring change-makers into the equation. Maybe. 
It's been a pretty weird week, hasn't it?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


On the tax bill-- two simple truths

1) If you want to provide jobs for Americans, you can do that through targeted tax incentives to employers-- you don't have to chop taxes overall in a way that favors the very rich over time. In fact, the ability to set incentives is one of the beautiful things about tax policy. The fact that this is not what they are doing is telling. It's not about "jobs."

2) There is a very simple dynamic that is repeating itself-- one that is cynical and destructive. First, taxes are cut for the rich in a way that is guaranteed to exacerbate the deficit. Second, when the deficit predictably grows, the same people who called for the creation of that deficit will suddenly be shocked-- shocked!--that this happened and demand cuts in programs that benefit everyone except rich people and corporations.

Time will tell, of course.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Myth and Reality: Flynn and Mueller

Yesterday, it was reported that lawyers for Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump, were talking to members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.  Some commentators treated this as a bombshell. They were right. It is a significant development.

However, a lot of the speculation about what was happening seemed a little off to me.  As a former federal prosecutor and someone who teaches criminal law, I knew that they were not simply "cutting a deal." 

The myth-- propagated by movies and television dramas-- is that when a key witness/potential defendant flips for the government the transaction is pretty simple. In this fictional world, the defense side asks for a deal based on a sentence or a reduced charge ("probation" or "manslaughter"). If the prosecution likes the offer, they accept the terms and then talk to their newest witness about what he knows.

That's not how it rolls in real life.

Think about it-- it would be stupid for the prosecution to agree to a deal before they know how much the witness knows, how clearly he can state his truth, and whether or not he is going to lie to them.

Instead, here is the routine prosecutors and defense attorneys follow when a potential defendant/witness like Flynn might flip:

1) The defense side will usually approach the government and signal a willingness to cooperate (sometimes this conversation is initiated by the government).

2) The two sides will schedule a "proffer of information." That is a meeting between the defendant, the defense attorney, the prosecutor and an agent (who can testify later if necessary). 

3) Next, the two sides will execute an agreement covering the terms of the proffer. This agreement is written out, and usually contained in a "Kastigar letter," (named after a Supreme Court case). Those terms will grant a type of limited use immunity. In other words, what the defendant says in the proffer session cannot be used directly against that defendant later; that is, they can't take him to trial and then use his admissions in the proffer to convict him. They can, however, use it for collateral purposes. The most important collateral purpose will be to impeach the defendant with his statement in the proffer session if he tells a different story later in the proceeding. That means that giving a proffer effectively bars the defendant from testifying on his own behalf later in most cases.

4)  The purpose of the proffer session is to allow the government to hear and assess the information the witness/defendant can offer. They listen not only to what the witness/defendant says, but how he says it. The proffer will start with "control questions": those are questions that the government already knows the answers to through other evidence. The witness/defendant, of course, may not know that they know this, though. If the witness/defendant lies on the control questions, that may well be the end of the proffer session-- or at least it will put the government on a stronger footing to demand more after they make clear what the lie was. The use of control questions means that any decent defense attorney will strongly advise a client that if they are going to give a proffer, they must do so honestly.

5) If the proffer session is promising to the government, they will then create a proposed plea agreement. That agreement, though, is contingent on the witness/defendant fulfilling all of his obligations to testify in the future. Sometimes, there is a variation on this-- the agreement is to give information, and the promise is only to make a general recommendation that this information be taken into account at sentencing. 

6)  The sentencing of the witness/defendant will often be delayed until all of his obligations-- including testifying against others-- are fulfilled.

This process gives a huge advantage to the prosecution, when it is played right. And it appears that Mueller is doing exactly that.

UPDATE: Flynn has now (as of 12/1/17) plead guilty to lying to the FBI (a violation of 18 U.S.C.  1001). The curious thing here is the low-level charge. My thoughts on that:

1) Often a prosecutor will charge a lot of counts then dismiss them later if the defendant cooperates. Mueller seems to be doing the opposite-- he is charging a low-level count and holding others in reserve in case Flynn violates the cooperation agreement (or is pardoned).

2) I suspect that Mueller has already gotten value out of Flynn through a proffer and possibly by putting him in front of a grand jury. If Flynn testified in front of a grand jury, that locks in his testimony in the future. Even if Flynn is pardoned by Trump, he can be called as a witness and held to his prior testimony. If he refuses to testify, he could be held in contempt. That's when the Arpaio pardon becomes an important precedent. 

3) Flynn was charged by an information, not an indictment-- meaning that he waived his right to a Grand Jury charge. That is a strong indicator that his plea is part of a broader agreement.

Monday, November 27, 2017



Haiku excellence last week! This piece by Megan Willome told a little (Texas) story:

Iced tea at dinner,
then: "Do you have any wine?" 
Becker chardonnay

And this one from Gavin, too (though not at all Texas-y):

Crepe in hand she stares
at Eiffel's glowing tower. 
I watch her and smile. 

But I think Christine may have had the biggest feast:

Perfect, smoked duck
Swiss cognac, pinot noir
cranberries abound

While Jill Scoggins had the best drinks:

Red blend “quietly”
aged in bourbon barrels. Makes
this Louvillian smile.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Going Home

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel time of the year, as people shuttle back to the town they came from. When I was little, I remember someone trying to explain why Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. I guess this youth minister did not want to explain what a "census" was to a little kid, so he told me it was like Thanksgiving, when everyone travels to the place where their family comes from. It makes sense to me-- and somehow I still connect Thanksgiving to Mary and Joseph.

There is something deep and meaningful and sometimes scary about that journey. People have often left that place for a reason, good or bad, and traveling back  brings back a raft of feelings related to that move away. And the people, of course: family relationships are complicated. There are the inner-circle family members, and those further out, and sometimes they all bring their own complexities.

That journey is worthwhile for many of us (including me).

Is finding or re-finding faith like that journey?

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Lady Bird

Yesterday, I saw the movie "Lady Bird," and thought it was great. My only problem was the reference to Sacramento as being so boring that it is "the Midwest of California." Hey!!!

Friday, November 24, 2017


Haiku Friday: The Things We Ate

I am a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, but I know that not everyone is. Whether it be turkey or pasta, I hope you ate with gusto and love yesterday.

For me, Thanksgiving is marked not just by the food but by the drinks. When I was a kid there wasn't room in the fridge for everything, and one of my jobs would be to take things out and bring them back: tall bottles of wine, jugs of cider, cans of soda, and squat bottles of beer. I loved dashing from the warm and loud house out into the cold and still night and back.

Let's haiku about what we ate and drank, yesterday and in the past. Here, I will go first.

The labels, magic:
Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Graves;
All so far away.

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017



Where I live, this time of year is marked by newly bare branches and wisps of snow. I went out to the store last night, and walking into a warm bakery or grocery meant slipping into a cozy hive of people preparing happily for what is to come.

And I am thankful. More than usual, but less than I should be.

Yesterday, after a real scare in September, my dad pulled through his hip replacement without a hitch. He now has a new hip made of titanium, with polymer linings. It will be a good thing for his body and his mind (and my mom's sanity, I suspect). It's a good thing for us all; the world needs him here with us.

And there is so much more to be thankful for, too. I am thankful for you all, for one thing. There are times that my week gets overwhelming and when I get to Friday I am struggling. But then I look on the blog and see some haiku, stories of love and life; that gets me through. 

Enjoy this day. I know that I will, with a full heart.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


What's the deal with people like Wes Goodman?

The Wes Goodman story, as told by The Independent:

An Ohio lawmaker who routinely touted his Christian faith and anti-LGBT views has resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.
Wes Goodman, who is the Republican state legislator for Ohio, is married to a woman who is assistant director of an annual anti-abortion rally known as March for Life.
The right-wing legislator, who pushed “family values”, was reportedly witnessed having sex with a man inside his office who was not employed by the legislator.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the observer told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe what had happened on Tuesday afternoon. Mr Dittoe responded by telling House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger who in turn met with Mr Goodman. 
The 33-year-old, who has been branded the “conscience of the conservative movement”, resigned for “inappropriate conduct” shortly after the meeting took place.
Mr Goodman, whose Twitter biography describes him as “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican. Husband to @Beth1027”, has regularly claimed "natural marriage" occurs between a man and a woman. 
"Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio's proud history and the key to Ohio's future greatness,” reads his campaign website which has now been taken offline.
There is something deeply sad about this story. Goodman obviously was so deeply living a lie that he had to exaggerate his opposition to... well, himself.  
This kind of hypocrisy is found in both parties, and among everyone at some level, of course. But between these episodes and the (probably more important) continuing revelations about sexual abuse by powerful men, it seems like our country has a major problem with sex. 

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