Monday, August 15, 2011

NotSerious campaiging

Of the many threads of discourse on the results of the Ames Iowa straw poll, there are two that contradict each other entirely.  One is that the straw poll is a poor predictor of success in the nomination game and the other is that Pawlenty had to do well in the straw poll to be viable.

The first is based on history.  While there was a poll in 1979, it was a minor event with low turnout and not repeated soon.  So the history of the poll as part of the electoral scene starts in 1987.  Since I haven't seen it laid out in full detail anywhere else (it may have been, I just haven't seen it), here's the list of all previous placings versus nomination results (Republican only):

Bush (3rd)
Dole (1st)
Bush (1st)
McCain (10th)

Of the four significant Ames Iowa Republican straw polls, in two the winners became the Republican nominee, in one it was the third place candidate, and most recently, the guy who came 10th out of 11 won the nomination.   So how does coming in third spell doom for the Pawlenty campaign?  Not just third place, but one of only three candidates to break double-digits, putting him significantly ahead of most of the others. 

The claim that he needed to do well in Ames is more than just a talk-show meme; Pawlenty said in no uncertain terms that his campaign "needed some lift" from Ames and that, having not gotten it, his candidacy was no longer viable.  He also said his campaign was about getting his record of achievement before the voters.  Not about charisma or a vision for America, but getting his record out there.  That's a valid strategy, but it's a long-haul strategy.  It's going to take time for voters to get past the flash-in-the-pan candidates to see your worth.  That is incompatible with a strategy that depends on winning a popularity contest at the first state fair of the campaign season.  These are basic realities that any serious politician or handler knows.  Which makes me wonder if Pawlenty was ever in it to win.  Either he has really, really bad political instincts or it was all a game.  

What kind of game?  Well, it does occur to me that ex-presidential candidate Pawlenty is a much more bookable speaker than ex-governor Pawlenty.  He said himself, his campaign was not about a vision for America, it wasn't even about winning the presidency, it was about getting himself more recognition.  Which makes him more marketable.

Let's face it, politicians make a hell of a lot less money than the people they hobnob with, especially Republican politicians.  Compared to most of the big names in his party, he's a relative pauper.  Now is the perfect time to start building that fortune: his kids are about to start college and opportunities for Republican speakers are as good as they've ever been.  His local party offered him the chance to run for senator, but he's given them a definite no on that.

The way I see it, this all adds up to one thing: He's pulling a Palin, capitalizing on a failed foray into national politics by leaving public service for the service of Mammon.  The difference is, he meant to all along.  If I was one of his donors, I'd be pretty unhappy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

That's not ... what is that?

In my ongoing quest to provide historical context to contemporary issues, I could not possibly allow the latest incarnation of exploratory endeavor to pass without comment.  The platform of the Tea Party in Space* brings to mind a number of important historical precedents.  Alexander the Great's independent bid for world domination, taken with the reluctant permission of the Greek city-states, but not their financial backing, comes to mind as an example of the potential of individual initiative.  The voyages of Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama demonstrate the problems inherent in introducing the heavy hand of government into the quest for knowledge.  And yet, there is another precedent that strikes me as more relevant, more apt, more perfectly suited to this topic:

*I must be a sinner, for I covet that teacup.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That's notCommon Law on assault

There has been an astonishing new development in criminal law, or at least some lawyers are hoping to make it so.  The story, as told by a local news show:

The part I find appalling is that, after two men opened fire on a Philadelphia bus, aiming at the passengers within, their defense is that they should not be charged with assault because no one was injured.

What a fascinating legal principle: "No harm, no foul."

Except that's not how our legal system works.  We have a little thing called the Common Law system, based on hundreds of years of precedents, mostly from England.  How did that happen?  A series of what are known as "reception statutes" were enacted in post-Revolution America.  Some were legislative acts, some were court decisions, the rest were written into state constitutions.  Here, for example, is the New York one, enacted in 1777:

[S]uch parts of the common law of England, and of the statute law of England and Great Britain, and of the acts of the legislature of the colony of New York, as together did form the law of the said colony on the 19th day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, shall be and continue the law of this State, subject to such alterations and provisions as the legislature of this State shall, from time to time, make concerning the same.

By adopting English common law, with the right to make changes as needed, the new states avoided the legislative nightmare of having to create an entirely new legal system.  Given that the colonies the states derived from had also followed English common law, this meant they could keep their courts and legal systems as they were.  It was a practical decision, but also an ideological one; the newly independent states may no longer be subject to the British crown, but they still saw themselves as culturally and philosophically British.  And so, throughout the United States of America today, we still follow the British common law legal system.  Oddly enough, the words "no harm, no foul" are not found in that system.  Nor has such a clause been added by any American state.  Instead there is a legal definition of the term "assault" that goes something like this:

an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact

The key elements here are intent and apprehension of harm.  The video shows a bunch of very scared people running and ducking, and in one case crawling under a seat.  That pretty much covers apprehension.  As for intent, aiming a gun at someone and pulling the trigger satisfies that condition.  

There has been a great deal of abuse of the rule of law in the U.S. in recent years, most notably in areas where massive harm has gone unpunished.  Notions like "too big to fail" and the need for restitution does outweigh the need for prison corrupt our justice system.  They replace the notion of justice with harm minimization, a dubious concept in principle and even more dubious in execution.  But creating new definitions of criminal acts based on wishful thinking is not yet the common law for the common people, only the super-rich.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Really notInsane

Is Anders Behring Breivik insane?  I have no idea.  But I’ve heard the comment, several times now, that he must be because only the insane would imagine that a terrorist attack could garner support for their cause, rather than the other way around.  That’s nothistory.

There are plenty of examples of terrorist acts that have worked against the intention of the perpetrator.  Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Alfred P. Murragh Building in Oklahoma City created sympathy for the federal civil service rather than the anti-government uprising he hoped for.  But there are also examples where terrorists have gotten exactly what they wanted.  Here are a few:

1181 Reginald de Chatillon-sur-Marne was unhappy with the fact that the Crusader states had signed treaties and settled into peaceful co-existence with their Islamic neighbors.  Not satisfied with possession of Jerusalem, he believed that all Muslims were agents of the Devil and that all good Christians should do everything in their power to eliminate the scourge of Islam from the earth.  So he got some followers and attacked a caravan of pilgrims on their way to Mecca.  The next year he attacked a ship full of similarly intentioned Muslims.  The problem for the Crusaders was that their entire mission had been founded on anti-Muslim propaganda, albeit most of it based on falsified information.  To denounce Reggie would require admitting that their own cause was false.  The atrocities themselves horrified the Islamic world, but it was the unwillingness of the Crusaders to do or say anything about them that convinced Saladin and his allies that the treaties were nothing but stalling tactics and that the Christians were, in truth, not reliable regional partners but their avowed enemies.  The Islamic world united behind Saladin and retook Jerusalem, which in turn ignited the third and some subsequent Crusades (the ones aimed at the Islamic world, that is; not the ones against Christians of non-papist inclinations).  A stable, amicable relationship was successfully turned into years of bloody warfare by the acts of a single terrorist leader.  The heads of the Crusader states played into Reginald’s hands by allowing the perception that they sanctioned his actions.

1932 The two major parties took 93% of the vote in the Japanese election, the militarists being relegated to an invisible portion of the “other”.  Three months later, an attack by junior naval officers in Tokyo left the prime minister dead.  The officers surrendered and turned their trial into a platform for their political views, the first major presentation of the expansionist, emperor-worshiping position.  The young, handsome, passionate officers’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs garnered massive public support.  Petitions begging for leniency were signed in blood by hundreds of thousands of people.  To appease the newly energized pro-military forces, the new government was led, not by the head of the parliamentary party in the majority, but by military leadership which immediately recognized the territorial gains in Manchuria, legitimizing the army’s adventurism, and increased the navy’s budget.  The next election, in 1936, proved that the support was personal, not political, as the militarists still couldn’t break double digits or gain a single seat in the parliament, so the ideologues in the military did it all again with another terrorist attack that overturned the results of another election.  The militarization of Japan in the 1930s happened despite elections in which over 90% of the population consistently voted against expansion (the same results occurred in 1939 as well), because the government responded to terrorism with appeasement, with precisely the same results Chamberlain got over on the next continent.

2001 Is there anyone who doubts that the Al-Qaeda terrorists who took down the Twin Towers in New York got exactly what they wanted?  A decade ago, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in every country that takes polls had positive feelings towards the U.S.  Today, the U.S. is seen, at best, as untrustworthy and erratic, at worst as an outright enemy.  A decade ago, Muslim Americans were broadly accepted as part of the melting pot.  Today, there is a growing anti-Muslim industry that is prominent in the public discourse and making inroads into our government.  The terrorists wanted to turn Christians and Muslims against each other.  As horrified as we were by their actions, we gave them exactly what they wanted.  They succeeded, not because they were smarter than McVeigh or their cause was more just, but because we let them.  We played into their hands.

So far the Norwegians are not playing into Behring Breivik’s hands or trying to appease his co-believers.  So far, all accounts indicate, the backlash is promoting the Labor Party he was trying to overthrow.  But that doesn’t make him crazy for thinking it might have gone the other way.