Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (4th of July Weekend)

What's on your mind? Open thread Friday. Give me your comments.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thoughtful, Experienced, and Modest

Is there any minute of television that is more condescending than Minneapolis TV anchor Don Shelby's "In the Know" segments?

Here are a couple of quotes from his brief commentary segments over the last two nights:

"Part of me likes that. The other part of me, the thoughtful part, doesn't...."

"...those of us who've been at it for awhile..."

Don Shelby not only tells us that we're wrong, but that we are not "thoughtful" or as experienced as he is. That must be why we foolishly disagree with him.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Harvard, Michigan, and Cosby

I had a hunch when I saw this piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about local attorney Clinton Collins and Joseph C. Phillips:
The next day at Antoine's Creole Maison in the Uptown area, the audience got to see them get on each other's nerves.

The Republican Phillips is on a different side of the debate about affirmative action and reparations from Collins.

When Collins, an attorney and columnist for the Rake, got up to make his case, he mentioned being Harvard-educated. Phillips joked to the crowd that he wondered how long it would take Collins to mention Harvard. Eventually, Phillips ordered his old friend, "Sit down, please."

Phillips said that before Collins started talking, the two women in the back looked ready to buy books.
Recently, SwanBlog linked to a Center of the American Experiment speech by Ward Connerly on affirmative action. In particular, I focused on the Q and A portion, where Clinton Collins was acting like a boor. An exasperated Mitch Pearlstein, CAE president, had to cut off Collins, saying, "Clinton, we have people....CLINTON, we have [other] people [with questions]."

I had a hunch that Collins might have made mention of his Harvard education at the CAE event. Sure enough, fast forward this link to the 45 minute mark.

Collins also has a column in the Rake Magazine. Mentions of Harvard here, here, here, here, and here in his Rake columns. Nothing so far on his old Star Tribune and Pioneer Press columns, but I have a hunch there, too.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bills, Bills, and Lawyer Bills

Long story short, Greg Wersal was awarded nearly $1.4 million in attorney fees. News stories here and here. Previous blog posts by me here, here, and here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives

I have a couple of comments on this Minneapolis Star Tribune article about the graduation rates for black Minnesotans. First of all, if we focus on the "gap," rather than overall achievement, then one solution would be to lower white graduation rates. I don't think that's what people have in mind.

Also, take a look at this quote from the article:

Demond Davis, 18, who is black, knows what it's like to have a tough time graduating. He is three credits short of getting his diploma from Cooper High School, in New Hope, and he's attending summer classes to make up the difference. Davis said that he thinks his teachers have helped him where they could. But they could help more "if teachers could speak our language."

Will Ebonics be making a comeback?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Glass, Aluminum, and Newspaper Columns

Former Justice James Gilbert recycled his Minnesota Lawyer op/ed piece for today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. So, I recycled my response to Gilbert and sent it in. We'll see if the Strib prints it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Clowns, Jokers, and Stuck in the Middle

More on the judicial elections controversy. Minnesota Lawyer editor-in-chief Mark Cohen wrote another piece this week on the controversy I blogged and wrote about.

* * *

The column led to quite a bit of feedback — both pro and con. (We published two of the more detailed responses as letters to the editor last week.) There is no doubt that Mr. Wersal has become a lightning rod of sorts in the legal community. Just mentioning his name these days is enough to spark a debate.

I thought Minneapolis attorney Peter Swanson sent a particularly well-written epistle questioning whether the legal community should look into its own soul in explaining Mr. Wersal’s behavior. He quite cleverly entitled the piece: Greg Wersal: Hero or clown? [Me: actually, it was "Greg Wersal: Hero or joker?" which made the Batman reference work.]

So which is Mr. Wersal? The answer, of course, depends on who is writing the history. I believe we all have elements of the heroic and the ridiculous in us, and Mr. Wersal is no exception.

* * *

I am reminded of Elliot Rothenberg’s battle a few years ago over Minnesota’s elimination-of-bias continuing legal education requirement. Mr. Rothenberg maintained that lawyers should not be mandated to attend two hours of such training every three years and refused to attend, thereby putting his law license in jeopardy. (When the state Supreme Court found against him in his case against the requirement, the court gave him the opportunity to avoid suspension by getting the credits within a certain time period after the decision.) While you can certainly take issue with the positions of Mr. Rothenberg or Mr. Wersal — as many have — there should be no doubt that it takes a degree of fortitude to do what they did. [Me: I was involved in that CLE whale hunt, too, except that I never risked my law license.]

In any case, I was heartened from the responses I received to my retreat column that the art of metaphor is alive and well in Minnesota. A few of you played off the act that the column contained a Moby Dick reference, comparing Mr. Wersal’s latest complaint to Captain Ahab chasing his great White whale. Judge Jack Nordby switched the metaphor around and postulated: “The courts are not Mr. Wersal’s white whale. He is theirs.” [Me: When I read Judge Nordby's letter, I realized that he made the exact points that I was trying to make, only better.] Meanwhile, Mr. Swanson preferred using Batman rather than a sea-going motif to illustrate his counterpoint. While I thought the hero reference was super, I think I will stick with Herman Melville next time I am spouting off. Just call me Ishmael.

* * *

Me: Why use a classic when a comic book will do the trick?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cops, Stops, and Race (6-19-06)

Kathy Kersten's recent column on crime in Minneapolis brought out the usual suspects with the usual complaints. One complainer was Beth Hawkins in the City Pages, who suggested that Kathy should have provided context to her interview with Minneapolis police officer Jeff Jindra. In support of her position, Hawkins cites three citizen complaints against Jindra, none of which have been substantiated. She begins with the discredited complaints by Stephen Porter, who memorably limped for the cameras, and stopped limping when he thought he was not being observed. Click here for a sample of problems with Porter's fanciful allegations (scroll down).

Oddly, Beth Hawkins' added "context" actually bolsters the position of police officers who say that false claims of harassment and brutality are hurting their ability to stop crime. Hawkins also makes reference to the short length of Kersten's column, saying that it would be tough to explore these issues in a "meaningful way" in "572 words." This is apparently a reference to an earlier City Pages post about the shortened length of columns in the redesigned Star Tribune. I say that this calls for a second column on the issue.

Elsewhere, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington pulled a switcheroo on this segment of the Almanac public television program. Chief Harrington described probable cause as the "gold standard" for cops making a stop (didn't mention silver or bronze). He then went on to say why racial profiling was bad, as though anyone was advocating it as a tool for law enforcement. To clarify the issue, cops are complaining about false accusations of racial profiling. It is not a question of to profile or not profile. The issue is whether studies of racial statistics are deterring otherwise legitimate stops by police.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

In-State, Out-of-State, and Personal Responsibility

Here is the money quote from this story on illegal aliens having problems paying for college:

Like Castro, he graduated from Highland Park and earned a full academic scholarship to the University, as well as a full football scholarship to St. Thomas University. But Mancera wasn’t able to secure residency like Castro, so he couldn’t get either scholarship, he said.

Mancera and Castro said what upset them most was that no one told them until late in high school that being in the United States illegally would prevent them from keeping their scholarships. (emphasis supplied)

Where do I begin? Wow.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Women, Wersal, and White Whales

I wrote a letter to the editor of Minnesota Lawyer, a copy of which is posted here (scroll down). Judge Jack Nordby provides an even better rebuttal in the same issue of the legal newspaper. Judge Nordby begins:

Your editorial attacking Greg Wersal (“Sometimes a retreat is just a retreat” in the June 5 issue) was unfair and unbecomingly patronizing, unlike your more balanced and thoughtful piece on May 15 (“Ethics investigation a good thing for Confidence in the Judiciary”).

You minimize Mr. Wersal’s resounding victories in a series of battles about the most fundamental of rights — free speech — as making “some valid points over the years.” In fact he undertook, with a good deal of courage and at great personal risk (which you like others suggest was mere eccentricity: a “gadfly” who “lights himself on fire” and “needs a hobby”?) to confront a Minnesota Supreme Court, that loomed with enormous power over him, for its wholesale stifling of constitutional rights. And he won — not only in the U.S. Supreme Court, but in the 8th Circuit as well.

Nordby also raises the point that I made about Wersal facing his own ethics complaints for allegedly violating regulations that were later held unconstitutional. Then Judge Nordby continues:

You suggest that the $3,000 for the retreat he complains about was trivial, (a very odd rationalization), and that the investigation will raise the “taxpayers’ tab.” You overlook the enormous cost — that will also at some point be presented directly or indirectly to the taxpayers —of the court’s ill-advised resistance to Mr. Wersal’s well-founded constitutional arguments. (Someone will have to pay his successful lawyers’ well-earned fees for a costly fight that could and should have been avoided.)

Whatever the merits of the present allegations about this “retreat” — upon which, like you, I make no judgment — it is time for the bench and bar to stop being pettily poor losers. Mr. Wersal won, unequivocally. So did the Constitution. This should make judges (and journalists) joyful and respectful, not morose and spiteful.

You misuse Moby Dick. The courts are not Mr. Wersal’s white whale. He is theirs.

This should serve as sufficient rebuttal to yet another piece in the June 12 issue of Minnesota Lawyer, this one by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert. But there are a couple of nuggets by the former jurist that deserve mention:

There certainly is partisan irony in the Republican Party’s recent activities. On the one hand, Republicans have spent the last five years promoting First Amendment rights of judicial candidates. However, at last week’s convention, the Republican Party would not even let a woman candidate appear at the convention to challenge Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement. This candidate, Sue Jeffers, is a successful business owner who has voted for Republican candidates and supported the Republican Party for 30 years. However, she happened to disagree with the governor on using taxes to fund sports stadiums. The party was not only timid but disrespectful of Ms. Jeffers’ First Amendment rights and they refused to even let her into the convention!

* * *

It is time for Gov. Tim Pawlenty to speak about this important issue of judicial independence. The governor has been AWOL in this struggle. He is a trial lawyer who earned his living in the courtroom before he became governor, and the first lady is a trial court judge in the 1st Judicial District. The governor knows full well the importance of a nonpartisan, impartial judiciary even on the cases that he is now bringing before the court on behalf of the state. However, he has not exerted any leadership in this area. He has merely uttered a faint voice of protest and then lets events unfold. Similarly, in 2000 he had offered to publicly endorse my candidacy and then at the last minute changed his mind. He stated that his endorsement might cause discomfort among his conservative political base.

Here is the deal. Sue Jeffers was denied the opportunity to speak, not because she is a "woman candidate" or because she disagrees with the governor, but because she was an endorsed (at the time of the convention) Libertarian Party candidate. It would be chaos to let anyone who wants to make a speech do so, without any standards. There was a committee that looked at a number of factors: existence of campaign committee, fundraising, attendance at county and legislative district conventions, etc. This was the method used at the 2006 Republican State Convention to determine whether a candidate was serious. At past conventions, the party required a petition drive to allow a candidate to speak. Whatever the method, a political convention needs to control who wields the gavel and who gets the endorsement. I would argue that it is more important to avoid meddling by a close ideological cousin like the Libertarians than by the Greens or the Democrats. It is unlikely that leftists could sneak in and steal an endorsement, but right-leaning types might be able to.

It is unfortunate that former Justice Gilbert would intimate that the Republican Party of Minnesota violated the First Amendment by not letting Jeffers speak. Permitting a political party to endorse its chosen candidates and control its own message is exactly what the First Amendment protects. It would be a strange perversion of the First Amendment to read it to require every political convention to open up the microphone to opposing parties.

Actor Steve Talbot portrayed Gilbert Bates on the old Leave it to Beaver television show. Gilbert's catchphrase was "Gee Beav, I don't know." For our own (former Justice) Gilbert, the phrase would be "First Amendment? Gee Beav, I don't know."

Finally, the attack on Governor Pawlenty is misplaced. The First Lady is a sitting judge. The Governor has quietly and respectfully stated his disagreement with the party platform plank on endorsement of judges. Even if he were to charge ahead with this issue, it could be seen as self-serving, given his wife's position.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Blois, Quarters, and Bob Newhart

New drinking game. Every time Blois Olson is a talking head on some political panel, listen for him to conclude that Governor Pawlenty is "in trouble." When he says it, drink a shot.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Letters, Letters, and More Letters
Here is a letter from my friend Rob Hewitt that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Thank you, President Bush! Thank you for having the courage to make unpopular decisions. Thank you for pursuing the War on Terror. Thank you for supporting freedom. Thank you for supporting our military. I am proud to celebrate this success along with our president and our military.


Here is how it was written (emphasis supplied):

Thank you President Bush! Thank you for having the courage to make unpopular decisions. Thank you for pursuing the War on Terror. Thank you for supporting freedom. Thank you for supporting our Military. As Liberals continue to celebrate failure, I am proud to celebrate this success along with our President and our Military.

Rob Hewitt

Why the edit? It certainly was not for space considerations. And it wasn't directed at a specific person such that it could be considered libel. Apparently it is OK to praise President Bush, but you must never criticize liberals.

On another note, here is my letter to the Minnesota Lawyer (subscription required):

Letter to the Editor: Greg Wersal: Hero or joker?
By Peter Swanson | June 12, 2006

To the editor: This is in response to Mark Cohen’s commentary (“Sometimes a retreat is just a retreat” in the June 5 issue) on the Campaign Finance Board complaint filed by Greg Wersal. Mark Cohen complains that Greg Wersal is “filing complaints at the least little provocation” and “aiming his harpoon at mosquitoes.” I wonder if he applies the same standard to the complaints filed against Wersal?

Wersal withdrew his candidacy for the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1996 after a complaint had been filed with the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (later dismissed). In 2000, a judge filed a contempt of court motion against Wersal, but dismissed it less than a week after Wersal lost in his race against Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert. Throughout the 2000 election season, nearly a dozen ethics complaints were filed against Wersal who, in turn, filed four of his own. All this for a candidate who was going to lose anyway.

Cohen compares Wersal to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. I think a more apt analogy is Batman. The Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, starting Wayne on a career in crime fighting. The Caped Crusader later returned the favor by foiling a chemical plant burglary and causing the Joker to become disfigured. In the 1989 film version, Batman tells his nemesis, “You made me,” to which the Joker responds, “You made me.”

People may differ on whether Greg Wersal is a hero or a joker, but it is clear that he is reacting to his treatment at the hands of the legal community. If members of the bar had not been so quick to file charges against Wersal, maybe he would not be returning the favor today. And with all the legal community hand-wringing over RPM v. White, maybe we all could heed Cohen’s advice to “find a hobby.”

— Peter Swanson, Minneapolis

I will have more on the context of this letter in a future post. Yes, I did talk about the Joker in this blog, previously. As if you, the reader, have never repeated yourself. Gimme a break.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (6-9-06)

Open thread. Tell me what you think in the comments section below.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lectures, Debates, and Questions

Click on this lecture and listen to the segment from 45 minutes through 53 minutes. How would you describe the behavior of the questioner?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

IB, AP, and US

I am interested in the debate over International Baccalaureate classes, as demonstrated by this article. Like Intelligent Design, I don't know/care much about the issue itself, but I am fascinated by the debate over the issue. More later....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Boys, Men, and Champions (6-6-2006)

Here is my Veterans' Day 2005 post about the Boys of Pointe du Hoc. Happy D-Day.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Kerry, Boyd, and 2004

Boydot is at it again. Star Tribune editorial staff member Jim Boyd is still fighting the 2004 election. Here is what he wrote in 2004:

.... Along with former and current Republican elected officials, Hinderaker and Johnson are serving as part of the effort to smear John Kerry, just as Republicans smeared Sen. John McCain in 2000, then-Sen. Max Cleland in 2002, and critics Richard Clarke and Joe Wilson in 2004....

Here is an excerpt from the editorial from Saturday's newspaper:

Reprising a campaign tactic that had worked well against Sen. John McCain in 2000 and Sen. Max Cleland in 2002, White House political strategist Karl Rove went straight at Kerry's most significant strength: his war record.

Do you suppose Boyd had a hand in writing Saturday's unsigned editorial?

Here is the initial article (to which Boyd was responding in 2004) and the knockout punch, both by Powerline.

The recent editorial is a target-rich environment. It misstates questions that have been raised about one of Kerry's purple hearts. Also, it fails to ask why Kerry did not authorize release of all his military records before the election, despite promising to do so.

Bring it on!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Moore, Damon, and the Truth

Sergeant Peter Damon, a veteran who lost both arms in Iraq, is suing Michael Moore for his portrayal in Fahrenheit 9/11. Damon also appeared in Michael Moore Hates America, which we reviewed here. The review describes a special scene with the veteran. Finally, this SwanBlog post talks about Damon throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game.

I may have more to say in the future about the merits of the lawsuit. For now, I will say that it is interesting that Moore obviously has lawyers combing over every inch of his scripts, allowing him to say as much as possible without getting sued. I am surprised that the lawyers let Sergeant Damon's depiction slip through.