Month: November 2018

I Don’t Need to Know Stephen Vladeck has a Pug Dog Named Roxanna

Professor Stephen Vladeck, being formally informal

I despise Twitter, the Black Hole of social media. Full of information, yet uninformative.  Meaningful discussion doesn’t take place 240 characters at a time. Still, I am drawn back.

This morning I was pulled in by a (Stay Tuned with) Preet Bharara tweet, cited in an article I was reading.  One thing led to another, and I came up fore square  with the twitter account of Stephen Vladeck,  CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and the A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas School of Law.  I think he might have some interesting things to say.  After a nod to his “better 1/2,” Prof. Vladeck gives a shout-out to Roxanna, his Pug Dog.

I recoil. Less than a minute ago, I didn’t know of Steve Vladeck’s existence. Now, I am knee-deep in the details of his household.  I quit after his nod to Roxanna, his beloved Pug .  I don’t need to know that Vladeck has a Pug Dog.  No disrespect to the estimable Professor, but I’m still not sure I need to know about Vladeck at all.

What’s more, I don’t want to know about the greater Vladeck cohort.  It takes up brain space, and I can’t spare any. Now I’m stuck with another Roxanna in my head, loitering with Police’s Roxanne and a girl from grade school.  This absorbs capacity needed for important information, like the phone number of my dog’s vet. That’s the kind of info that for me was always on standby. Now,  it’s being displaced by the dog name of a complete stranger. 

When I speak to people I might mention our dogs as a common interest or breeds for the same reason.  But no names, please.  There’s something too familiar about that.  

I shouldn’t be thinking about a Pug Dog named Roxanna, any more than I should be on a first-name basis with Prof. Vladeck.  I just can’t call him Steve. It’s too intimate, and I’d  get him mixed up with a bunch of other Steves already on my personal server.

Professors like Steve Vladeck are usually wrapped in the formality of their offices. I doubt he goes by Steve for his One-L  students.  Why any stranger should think of him as Steve puzzles me.  I’ll bet it’s not on his CV.  Nobody introduces him as plain old Steve at his lectures on constitutional law.  “It’s Prof. Vladeck, thank you very much.”  But for 47.1K of his closest friends, the CNN audience and me, it’s Steve. 

Nothing against the highly-regarded pedagogue. We are disarmed by informality. Like a man boxed in an anonymous suit, formality, not education, is the great equalizer.  Now, it’s Steve or Bernie or Hillary. It’s the tyranny of the familiar. We now go by given names with strangers; everyone, really, except  for doctors.  Time was, there were no given names without a courtship. Now we’ve gotten used to familiarity by telemarketers and robocallers.  I think Bill Clinton started it. Maybe Bill and Hillary. And Buddy, another dog coopted by his celebrity owner.

I like the comfort of formality.  It’s a handshake, not a hug.  Hugs are tricky. Was that hug affectionate? Was it intimate?  Was that an “I-don’t-know -you-that-well” hug or a “guys-don’t-hug” hug? Do we know each other well enough for a conventional hug or just a side hug?  Handshakes are dignified but noncommittal. You will soon find out if your new acquintance is wielding an olive branch  or a subpoena.

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Bienvenidos a Tijuana

6479944A-25DF-4E78-8053-56AAA3D059F5.jpegThe first migrants have reached Tijuana. But the troops are not engaging them. That’s because the services are not authorized to perform law enforcement. In fact troops helping protect the border are packing to go home.

When a Blue Wave Meets a Red Wall, No. 1

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We Americans had our Kumbaya moment. Now it’s back to war.

The mid-term election may not have been a lovefest. If we are in for two years of political mayhem, it may look like one.  Less than one day after the voting, Future Ex-President Donald Trump forced AG Jeff Sessions into quitting his post. He appointed Matthew Whitaker, a Trump sycophant, as Acting AG, promoting him over Rod Rosenstein, a Trump nemesis. FEPOTUS may have shot himself in the foot, as the appointment seems to violate the law. Sessions’ resignation was coerced, which his letter explicitly states. In addition, Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate for any principal position and therefore is not legally qualified for the temporary appointment.

The appointment has thrown the administration into controversy, once again forcing Republican legislators into an uncomfortable position. Whitaker is openly critical of the Special Prosecutor’s office. His appointment is viewed as a threat to the Mueller investigation, and it has triggered renewed talk of the need for a law protecting Mueller from being handcuffed or fired. Republicans who vote for this law will incur the wrath of and suffer retribution from FEPOTUS.

As Majority Leader and President, Lyndon Johnson manipulated senators and representatives. Whereas Johnson twisted arms, Trump just rips them out of their sockets. He demands loyalty, and he crushes anyone who refuses it. Trump’s savaging of legislators caused a number of them to “retire” ahead of the mid-terms.

Trump’s purge of renegades, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, opened the door for Democrats to take back seats in the House, one reason leading to Republicans’ loss of the majority. He hasn’t learned anything from the defeat.

Surfing the Blue Wave

Does anybody remember the election in 2016 — because one of the same patterns is emerging. The polls are giving the Democrats an 80% probability of taking back the house. Uh oh, Trump may have them right where he wants them.

In 2016, polls overwhelmingly projected Hillary Clinton to win the election. Nate Silver’s forecaster, Fivethirtyeight.com, before Election Day gave Clinton a 70% probability of winning, and he has been a very accurate forecaster of elections. By 11 P.M. that night, after Pennsylvania was called for Trump, her chances had dropped to 5%, and that was being generous. To focus attention, it’s better to think that she started with a 1 in 3 chance of losing, which is what happened. The Democrats have a 1 in 5 chance of not taking back the House. Is that a cold shower or what?

A probability of 80% assumes that everything goes as the Democrats expect. If things do not go perfectly, the percentage diminishes rapidly. The polls get a whole lot more accurate once voters go to the voting booth. Forecasting polls are a snapshot and contingent; who answered the phone and who didn’t. They are inexact and can’t be treated as a foregone conclusion. Don’t look at the 80%; look at the 20%. That’s the key.

Don’t hold your breath until the House turns blue. Get out and canvass, make phone calls and get everyone to vote. If you’re in a safe district, assuming there is one, work for a district that is contested. Participatory democracy means pushing beyond complacency and escaping your own gravity. Step out of your front door and roll up your sleeves.

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