Friday, October 30, 2015

Response to The Younger Brother

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Younger Brother)

I was a fan of boxing when I was a kid, which was a natural thing for me to be because I was that painfully skinny kid who was always buying these cheap paperback books on how to learn to defend myself with Jiu-Jitzu, and wondering if I should send in for information from Charles Atlas, the guy who advertised in comic books about skinny kids always getting sand kicked in their faces at the beach.

(True story: When I was working at NBC News back in the late 1960s, someone there noticed how skinny I was and asked if they could use me in a piece they were doing on Charles Atlas. All I had to do was run down a beach, looking skinny -- that part was easy -- and kick sand in Charles Atlas' face -- that part was hard to do because all he asked was that the sand not get him in the eyes. But with all my trying, I couldn't control the aim, and it always got him right in the eyes. Weeks later, I was informed that, because of a "camera malfunction" that day, they had to discard the footage. They later found someone else to do it. I never saw the piece on the air so I never found out if my replacement had better aim than I did. I wasn't paid for the day, although I did get a free pair of swim trunks from Saks 5th Avenue out of it.)

But back to boxing:

I especially liked Floyd Patterson in his title bouts against Sweden's Ingemar Johansson, the first of which was stopped in the third round after the Swede knocked Floyd down seven times. I thought Johansson was a crass braggart whenever I heard him boast about his fists being like "toonder and lightning", so I identified with Patterson, who was a nice and humble guy, just like me. I liked the idea of the nice guy winning, which is what he did in his rematch:
Patterson knocked out Johansson in the fifth round of their rematch on June 20, 1960, to become the first man in history to regain the Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship. Johansson hit the canvas hard, seemingly out before he landed flat on his back. With glazed eyes, blood trickling from his mouth and his left foot quivering, he was counted out. Johansson lay unconscious for five minutes before he was helped onto a stool.
That wasn't actually when I decided to stop following boxing. That came years later, once I realized I was enabling a bunch of guys to get paid lots of money by others who enjoyed watching big tough men turn their otherwise healthy brains into mashed potatoes. From that point on, if they insisted on doing that to themselves, they'd have to do it without me.

There's probably a good reason for boxing to exist. We can only suppose it dates from prehistoric times, maybe when strong guys would fight each other to prove which of them should lead the tribe. If so, it's a vestigial ritual that's lost it's usefulness; otherwise, we'd have elected Mike Tyson president long ago.

And I've also come to the conclusion that -- like that tried-and-true practice of taking women accused as being witches and dunking them in ponds, with the ones who didn't drown having been proven to not be witches, but also the thinking behind filtering all our presidential candidates through those incomprehensible caucuses of ethanol growers, then on to a primary in a state with such a small (not to mention, lily-white) population that by the time the primary is over, the only New Hampshironions not to have met a candidate face-to-face had to have spent the whole campaign season in a coma -- this political debate system we've been engaging in, especially the Republican ones, are vestigial rituals, seemingly left over from some ancient time and totally unhelpful to the task at hand. Someday, maybe after we've banned birthright citizenship and defunded Planned Parenthood, we do need to get around to revising the way we pick presidents.

These debates are too much like those ironically-named "Reality TV" shows, which have about as much reality in them as Rocky Mountain Oysters have oysters. They're games, with their own rules and techniques for demonstrating dominance over other contestants, but which reveal nothing needed to run the country.

One of those techniques is to inject an opinion that, while totally irrelevant to the discussion at hand, is made to sound otherwise by shouting it with synthetic conviction, something Chris Christie did right after Jeb Bush gave a reasonably thoughtful answer to Carl Quintanilla's question about the regulation of fantasy football gambling:
We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? (APPLAUSE) How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play, who cares?
But unlike talking about "ISIS and al Qaeda" and "securing our borders" and "supporting American values and American families", at least discussing government regulation of bets on Fantasy Football has something to do with the economy, which was supposed to be the theme of this particular round of the debates anyway. Like the schoolyard bully he has always been, Chris Christie is still showing his ability to score points by wowing the mob with irrelevancies -- which, yes, I know, at least is how this debate game is played, like it or not. Still, winner or loser, Chris Christie would make a lousy president.

Also, I can totally sympathize with what Jeb was quoted as whining about just before he went into this latest debate:
"I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, be miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
Now, there's a candidate who really speaks his mind!

His main problem is, maybe he should have stuck to that plan during the debate. Instead of giving into the compulsion to "demonize" Rubio, he should have risen above all the petty snippiness and been the candidate with the content, the guy who doesn't "play the umps" by shamelessly attacking the questioners, but eschewing the shenanigans of the Cruzs and the Rubios and Christies. After mocking the games people play, you shouldn't join in and play them -- but at least if you do, you better play to win. He didn't.

And I, for one, absolutely agree with his criticism of Rubio, except maybe this:
Could I — could I bring something up here, because I’m a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. He got endorsed by the Sun-Sentinel because he was the most talented guy in the field. He’s a gifted politician. But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.
Except that Rubio himself has defended his not showing up for votes, which is the real criticism, by saying at least his staff performs "constituent services" -- something, of course, he doesn't have to be there for, and which is one of those ancillary things senators do to keep voters liking them, but is not what senators are elected to do.

Back when this season began, I naively thought that Jeb Bush, the ex-president's "smarter" brother, was obviously the strongest candidate the Republicans could come up with. But that was before I realized that he would be forced to not only account for his own record as governor, he'd also have to defend his brother's indefensible record as president. So unless he was a genius -- which, as it happens, he wasn't -- his campaign was sunk before it ever even left the harbor.

All that having been said, I'm still not sure that, out of all those Republican candidates, Jeb's not the best Republican available for the job, certainly better than those humbling him in these stupid debates. Rubio and Cruz and Christie come to mind, of course, but also Trump.

Okay, really second best, after John Kasich, a fellow state governor with the actual experience of seemingly having done a pretty good job, but whose campaign is also going absolutely nowhere.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Response to October Unpleasantness

(See: Just Above Sunset: October Unpleasantness)

My debate observations, such as they are:

To paraphrase Henry Higgins, "Why can't Republicans be more like us?" And by "us", I obviously mean Democrats. And they aren't, you know. You can see the difference in their debates.

Here's Ted Cruz last night, allegedly fielding a question from CNBC's Carl Quintanilla and John Harwood:
QUINTANILLA: Senator Cruz. Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of — another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want? 
CRUZ: You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. (APPLAUSE) This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?” How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about? (APPLAUSE) 
QUINTANILLA: (inaudible) do we get credit (inaudible)? 
CRUZ: And Carl — Carl, I’m not finished yet. The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, “Which of you is more handsome and why?” (LAUGHTER) And let me be clear. (CROSSTALK) 
QUINTANILLA: So, this is a question about (inaudible), which you have 30 seconds left to answer, should you choose to do so. 
CRUZ: Let me be clear. The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. (LAUGHTER) And nobody watching at home believed that any of the moderators had any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions that are being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other. It should be what are your substantive positions… (CROSSTALK) 
QUINTANILLA: OK. (inaudible) I asked you about the debt limit and I got no answer. (CROSSTALK) 
CRUZ: You want me to answer that question? I’m happy to answer the question… (CROSSTALK) Let me tell you how that question… (CROSSTALK) Let me tell you how that question… (CROSSTALK) 
HARWOOD: Senator Paul, I’ve got a question for you on the same subject. 
CRUZ: … so you don’t actually want to hear the answer, John? 
HARWOOD: Senator Paul? 
CRUZ: You don’t want to hear the answer. You just want to… (CROSSTALK) 
HARWOOD: You used your time on something else. Senator Paul? 
CRUZ: You’re not interested in an answer.
Three things to notice in this case study:

* First of all, Cruz didn't answer the question.

He decided early on to use his answer time to, instead, perform his own little standup routine, and it was only way after his time had run out that he tried to answer the moderator's question -- but by then, the moderators had decided to move on.

In fact, the very first question of the debate was asked to John Kasich, and he, too, spent all of his allotted time not answering the question.

Come to think of it, not following rules, including not answering questions, earns you points with conservative voters, especially if you're trying to prove your conservative bona fides. Show all the folks at home that you are someone who is always able to take control. Remember Ronald Reagan booming at that New Hampshire debate when someone tried to cut off his microphone?
“I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”
(Once again, keeping with a long tradition of the Republican low regard for truth, the guy's name wasn't "Mr. Green", it was "Mr. Breen".)

And remember Sarah Palin's debate with Joe Biden? She started out by announcing at the beginning that she would not be answering any of their questions -- probably because she had already demonstrated in interviews her inability to answer questions. Later, she wrote a book that, to keep consistent with the conservative "lawlessness" can't-be-controlled meme, she called "Going Rogue", possibly unaware of the Urban Dictionary definition of that term.

* Second of all, Cruz wasn't the only candidate last night to launch into a (I'm sure "pre-rehearsed") rant.

In fact, this Republican debate was noticeably more ranty than the Democratic one. CNBC could have just as easily called this program "Ten Angry Men" (even though one of them was arguably a woman. Anyway, she'll probably be gone soon.) It was imperative for each candidate, except maybe the passive-aggressive Ben Carson, to start yelling about something at some point, even if what they yelled was meaningless and confusing dreck -- and more than once, they need to turn and rant directly at that camera with the red light on it, just so people at home can experience that anger, eye-to-eye. I don't remember any of the Democrats pulling that nonsense.

* And thirdly, whenever a candidate was stuck on what to answer, or maybe just didn't want to address his criticism at any one of his primary opponents (after all, why risk pissing off supporters of another candidate, who you hope will turn to you as more and more candidates drop out?), he or she would lavish praise on all the others, or would instead focus his rancor on one of two other targets: 

(a) Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats, or, because they'd soon run out of anything specifically to say about Hillary, outside of the general charge that she's done a terrible job in some way ...

(b) The "media". That's always good for an audience response. Yeah, it's kind of a cheap shot, but apparently never fails to change the subject.

The media calls candidates out on their propensities for foolishness -- which, in the Republican case, of course, are legion. Therefore, if a candidate can imply, if not outright charge, that all members of the media are biased, the public will be disinclined to believe them or put any stock into their questions. And because reporters, as Karl Rove once allegedly told an interviewer, are part of the "reality-based" community, while Republicans are of the "faith-based" community, the two groups don't speak the same language anyway. News folks obsess about the truth, while Republicans obsess about winning.

But while news people try hard to ask hard questions of both Democrats and Republicans, there are just more hard questions to ask the Republicans, so they appeared to be lobbing softballs at the Democratic debate. I mean, what hard question would they ask a Democrat about, say, climate change? Why they steadfastly refuse to give up their silly belief in global warming?

The fact is, there are differences between the parties, and that obviously extends to the candidates. For one thing, we Democrats are not nearly as entertaining. Hell, we have an honest-to-god socialist running for office, but when it comes to wresting media attention from that herd of angry clowns on the other side of the aisle, we can't seem to get ourselves arrested.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Response to Disarming the Rebels

(See: Just Above Sunset: Disarming the Rebels)

With North Korea's Kim Jung family having, for decades, periodically threatened to annihilate anyone who looks in their direction, you'd think we would long ago have nuked those little guys, but I'm pretty sure I heard somewhere those in the know have calculated that their little Pekinese barks are worse than their bites -- in other words, making threats is just their style, and they really don't mean it. And that's a good thing, because if the threats are ever determined to be real, a lot of innocents will die.

In other words, sometimes pipsqueaks do get their way through intimidation. As for what Matt Yglesias thinks Paul Ryan will do about his North Korean-like Republican Whackadoodle Caucus?
Even if House Republicans get a new speaker this week in Paul Ryan, they're not going to get what they really need: a new strategy. 
The core problem that afflicted John Boehner during his tenure in office remains in place — a band of hard-line conservatives routinely insists that the GOP use routine but critical pieces of must-pass legislation (debt ceiling bills, government funding bills, etc.) as "leverage" to secure ideological concessions from the White House. The plan fundamentally doesn't make sense and can't work, which most Republicans know but aren't willing to say. It's a recipe for disaster, and it hasn't changed one bit. And in some ways, things may be worse than ever under Ryan, who isn't really a practitioner of the kind of crass transactional politics that Boehner used to make it work.
"Boehner used to make it work"? In what sense did he "make it work"?

While I really like the way Yglesias later breaks down the House Republicans into three groups -- the "Pragmatists" (the good guys), the "Fire-Eaters" (the bad guys), and the "Timids" (like the Claud Raines character in Casablanca, they're not really bad, but just go in whichever direction the wind blows) -- I do think I disagree with him on the above. The reason I say I "think" is because I'm pretty sure Yglesias knows more about this stuff than I do.

Still, it seems to me that, rather than reprising Boehner's strategy -- which was that of trying to get the Fire-Eaters to do the right thing, and eventually giving in to their demands under threat of losing his speakership -- Ryan might be better advised to try to light a fire under the Timids, and threatening that, if they don't go along with him, he will just quit his job -- putting everyone back to square one, that of trying to find a Speaker that is acceptable to everyone.

His threat would obviously be credible, since everybody knows he didn't want the job in the first place and had to be coaxed into taking it. And what makes the threat even more believable is everyone knowing that the reason he didn't want the job in the first place was his desire to someday become president, and that no longer being Speaker would allow him the freedom to go back to working on that project.

But won't the Freedom Fries crowd then go berserk? And by that, you mean even more so than they are now? Sure, but what of it? After all, the power of this maniac-minority only seems to be in intimidating the majority, which is what they're doing already. And so, if Ryan is unable to reverse that situation, then he just goes back to his old job.

But if Ryan is successful, he then will have done his party -- and his country -- an almost immeasurable good turn that countless presidential candidates, both winners and not, can only envy, and one that also might help him in any future run for the White House.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Response to Fresh Eyes

(See: Just Above Sunset: Fresh Eyes)

It's a no-brainer that being president is not brain surgery. And this is exactly why Dr. Ben Carson, the brain surgeon, is not qualified to be president, any more than Barack Obama, the president, is qualified to be a brain surgeon.

That all may be obvious to you and me, but it probably isn't to the populists who support Carson. Among all the things that populists believe is, you don't need to be particularly smart to know how to do big things, and it certainly doesn't take an experienced politician to run a nation of 320 million Americans, with the largest economy and military budget in the world. Anyone with good old common horse sense can probably pick that up after a week or so on the job.

And right there is one of the many reasons I'm not a big fan of populism. I think it's better to be smart than be popular. Case in point: Both Donald Trump and Ben Carson are very popular right now. I rest my case.

Yes, I realize leading in the polls is not really what is meant by "populism", but in fact, since "populism" has so often crossed party lines down through history, it's hard to know exactly what is meant by the word. I do think David Masciotra gets history slightly wrong in Salon:
The debate and dichotomy between populism and elitism has its origins in the foundation of the United States. Alexander Hamilton believed that an educated-elite should legislate and lead with the consent of the governed, while Thomas Jefferson envisioned a “nation of farmers” in which the power of ordinary people surges through the halls of capitol buildings everywhere.
Yes, Jefferson thought farmers like him and his fellow Virginians to be morally superior to the money-shuffling New Yorkers like Hamilton, but education is not where the two men differed; both of them were big believers in education, which means neither one of them was a populist. It should be remembered, after all, that near the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson founded a university, for godsake!

When you think of American populism, you think of William Jennings Bryan, who probably learned it at his father's knee. Bryan's father was Silas Bryan, a politician of Scots-Irish and English ancestry, and a fervent "Jacksonian" (as opposed to "Jeffersonian") Democrat:
Jackson's equal political policy became known as "Jacksonian Democracy", subsequent to ending what he termed a "monopoly" of government by elites. Jeffersonians opposed inherited elites but favored educated men while the Jacksonians gave little weight to education. The Whigs were the inheritors of Jeffersonian Democracy in terms of promoting schools and colleges.
With Jacksonian populism came some good, but also some not-so-good:
Even before the Jacksonian era began, suffrage had been extended to (nearly) all white male adult citizens, a result the Jacksonians celebrated. ... [but] Jackson's expansion of democracy was largely limited to Americans of European descent, and voting rights were extended to adult white males only. There was little or no progress for African-Americans and Native Americans (in some cases regress).
Forgetting political parties per se, traditional populism seems more at home among conservatives rather than liberals. Populist movements in this country tend to be crowds of peasants with pitchforks, from the rural farm areas, who don't like cities and don't care about your goddam education that makes you doubt God created us all in his image, and who don't like you elites just out to destroy capitalism with all your global warming talk.

For example, the bible-thumping anti-education crusader against teaching evolution,William Jennings Bryan, was a famous populist. Another was George Wallace. No, Bernie Sanders isn't really a populist; before you can be an American populist, you have to be a conservative. Populists are those people who don't know much about anything but know what they don't like.

There are no liberal populists in America, or at least that's the way it seems. And that's why I got no truck with populists.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Response to Attempting Preemptive Impeachment

(See: Just Above Sunset: Attempting Preemptive Impeachment)

The odd thing is that we all saw this coming. So the question is, why didn't they? I think one answer is that they think when they plot among themselves, the rest of us can't hear them.

So, for example, we sometimes hear them openly debate among themselves closing down the government and then blaming Obama. So then they settle on going ahead with that plan, and the next thing we hear them all saying is, "President Obama shutting down the government does nobody any good!", followed by photos everywhere of small groups of hapless and confused veterans at some war monument, surrounded by Republican operatives carrying signs demanding that Obama open up the government he heartlessly closed down.

Meanwhile, polls show the public overwhelmingly blames Republicans, who are totally confused by that.

Maybe Kevin McCarthy should have asked Fox News to not tell anyone when he made that comment that Hillary's poll numbers dropped after the House announced they'd hold another hearing. Unfortunately, Fox accidentally leaked it to the world, and eventually, the Democrats got wind of it. If this were a TV sitcom, this would be the point where one of us non-conservatives would pipe in and ask, "You do know we're standing right here, and that we can hear everything you're saying, don't you?"

So having been to several of these dog-and-pony shows already, Hillary apparently knew what not to do this time -- that being, to lose her temper, giving the Republicans a soundbite such as "What difference does it make?" to use against her. She kept her cool yesterday.

And we have to remember the context of that quote, from that Senate committee hearing back in January 2013, during questioning from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, an administration critic, who asked her about exactly when everyone knew the assault wasn't a protest against some film:
Clinton: ... I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB [State Department Accountability Review Board] said about it and the classified ARB because, even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown -- 
Johnson: No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that. 
Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC [Intelligence Community] has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out.
So, yes, the big issue back then, as it was yesterday, was talking points. And where, you may be asking yourself, do "talking points" fit into the deaths in Benghazi?

In fact, "talking points" always have nothing to do with anything except politics.

From the Republican perspective, even while the fires were still burning in the Benghazi outpost, the administration was playing politics with them -- wondering what effect the attacks would have on the upcoming 2012 reelection, with the Republicans assuming the Democrats would be thinking that labeling this a "terrorist" attack would allegedly go against the Democrats' alleged campaign narrative, that all al Qaeda terrorism had been wiped out by the Obama administration.

Okay, stop right there.

First of all, I don't remember any such narrative at that time. Second of all, as Democratic strategist Paul Begala pointed out on CNN yesterday, you'd think a better Democratic strategy back then would be that we need to keep in power the president that finally caught up with bin Ladin, since the terrorist threats were still out there. And they were, as Obama frequently noted.

So yesterday, by concentrating on the imaginary politics that the Democrats were playing in 2011, the Republicans were playing politics for 2016. Not only that, everybody in the world now realizes that. Had they realized that would happen beforehand, you'd think they'd save their embarrassment by canceling the hearings.

As for where were all those Sidney Blumenthal questions headed? For a while, it seemed to be to prove that Hillary spends too much time texting old friends than her ambassadors, since there were hardly any emails between her and them in her recently released emails. She, of course, countered that by pointing out that she communicated with embassies by other, more secure means, than emails. Case closed.

And why did none of the Benghazi requests for increased security reach her? Because those requests from the embassy would not have gone to her, they would have gone directly to the State Department security department. Case closed.

And finally, did this hearing hurt Hillary Clinton? No. In fact, it probably helped her campaign, by showing she's a professional who knows how to do things, and that her critics, whenever they get the chance to set a trap for her, seem to fall into the trap themselves.

So what was learned? Maybe this:

How can one escape the conclusion that, if there is a God, he put conservative Republicans on Earth solely for the amusement of the rest of us?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Response to No Time For Nice

(See: Just Above Sunset: No Time For Nice)

I keep hearing reporters say that Joe Biden really wanted to be president? I think most of us have realized for over a month now that he didn't, really. Can anyone imagine, after all that hesitation, seeing him spring to life with all the enthusiasm needed to win it? All this drawn-out indecision reminds us of 1992 and the original "Hamlet on the Hudson", Mario Cuomo, or even the half-hearted campaign of Bob Kerry that same year. Nobody ever wins the job who doesn't sincerely want the job.

But there was that hint that lingers after Biden's announcement (during which it was easy for me, after a while, to imagine a cartoon thought-bubble above the president's head saying, "Somebody, get the hook!") that we may all have dodged a bullet:
I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It's mean spirited, it's petty, and it's gone on for much too long. I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to talk to Republicans. I don't think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They're not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together. 
As the president has said many times, compromise is not a dirty word. ... 
Four more years of this kind of pitched battle may be more than this country can take. We have to change it. We have to change it.
Technically, he's right, but his implication seems to be that both sides are to blame. Maybe he's trying a little too hard to be even-handed, sort of like saying, "Well, okay, you Jews may have a point about the Nazis. But still, one wonders if, had you just been a little bit more willing to compromise with them, things might have worked out differently!"

And yes, I know, Nazi analogies are supposed to be off-limits in political discussion, probably because nobody else in history can ever compare to their level of evil. But I'm not saying Republicans are really like the Nazis, I'm just saying it's hard to waste an opportunity to point out the inherent absurdity of these phony "both sides share the guilt" arguments. Both sides don't. The only reason Obama couldn't deliver on his promise to bring both sides together in Washington is because the Republicans decided from day one to make sure it didn't happen, and to pretend otherwise is just dangerously disingenuous. It wasn't until Obama himself stopped pretending it that he was able to get anything done.

Ezra Klein's observation, that the Republicans were happy to deal with Biden rather than Obama, is a good one, but not just because it made Obama seem "too extreme and partisan to work with" -- which is totally outrageous on its own! How can someone be "too extreme and partisan", and at the same time, as they claim, be too naive and weak to negotiate with our enemies? But it was really because the Republicans, especially the now-called "Freedom Caucus", made the Obama name poison, and that any Republican who did deal with him at all was violating a code, and was liable to be "primaried". It got to the point where even Obama himself, if he really wanted to get something done, knew to send in Joe to do it.

Having said all that, I have always liked Joe Biden, and I still do, and am happy to learn that I'm not the only one thinking he would make a pretty good vice presidential candidate in 2016. After all, he's one of the only people alive with actual experience in the job.

The question is, I think, whether she would take him. I still think he's a good choice, although I don't think Joe would have the working relationship with Hillary that he had with Obama, and I'm not sure she could trust his loose-cannon mouth to not blurt out something she disagrees with.

Meanwhile, who else is out there?

There's always those other candidates, especially Bernie, although her people might be afraid that the other party would label the ticket "Benghazi and the Socialist", or some such thing. Bernie might not worry about that word, but especially if the race is a close one, the Clinton campaign would probably think they don't need that albatross hanging around their necks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Response to Refusing to Project Foolishness

(See: Just Above Sunset: Refusing to Project Foolishness)

Here's part of Obama's problem:

I bet if you polled one hundred Americans, asking them two questions -- the first being, "What's President Obama's policy in Syria?", and the second being, "Who's the United States Secretary of Labor?" -- more people could answer the second question than the first.

Knowing the answer to the first question doesn't really help all that much:
“We are prepared to work both diplomatically and where we can to support moderate opposition that can help convince the Russians and Iranians to put pressure on Assad for a transition,” Obama told “60 Minutes” in the interview, which was scheduled to air Sunday night. “But … what we are not going to do is to try to reinsert ourselves in a military campaign inside of Syria.”
By the term "reinsert ourselves", he apparently means something like "boots on the ground", but not "planes in the air", as you can see if you read further at that WaPo link:
The U.S. military has dropped thousands of bombs on Iraq and Syria since returning to the country last summer to battle the Islamic State. The air attacks have been successful in some parts of the country, but haven’t been able to dislodge the Islamic State militants from their key strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
And just last week, he did a little finessing of that half-a-billion-dollar training program that ended up graduating four or five guys:
The Obama administration announced last week that it was ending a blighted $500 million effort to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in favor of a new plan that will provide direct aid to existing rebel units that the Pentagon thinks has a better chance of succeeding against the militants. Obama, who resisted pressure from some of his top national security advisers — including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to arm the moderate rebels in the early months of Syria’s civil war, told “60 Minutes” that he had grave doubts about the training program before it even began. 
But he pressed forward with it last year out of an instinct to “try different things” to improve the chaotic and deteriorating situation inside the country. Obama said the program failed because it was difficult, if not impossible, to focus the moderate Syrian rebels on fighting the Islamic State when they viewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military as an even greater threat.
So what confuses me is, based on all our planes bombing and our trainers training, and now us providing "direct aid to existing rebel units", what exactly does it mean to say "we are not going to do is to try to reinsert ourselves in a military campaign inside of Syria"? Likewise, what do all these critics mean when they accuse Obama of doing nothing? No wonder so many of us are confused by all this.

What do I want our policy to be?

Despite all the missteps and confusion (or maybe because of it), I'd just trust Obama on this. I see the choices he faces in Syria as sort of being, "Do we want to single out one of the random rebel groups to support, then insist they fight who we want to fight, instead of who they want to fight, also taking the chance that they will lose?" or "Do we just stay the hell out of it and watch who ends up the winner?" Sort of like asking, "Would you prefer running out into the deadly surf to save the drowning man, or would you prefer to stay on shore and watch to see if he is able to save himself?"

Yes, I'm sorry Obama ever took that public stand that Assad has to go, I guess placing his bet on the expectation that Assad will eventually be ousted, so we end up on the winning side. We shall have to wait to find out if Putin bet on the wrong horse, especially since he's attacking everyone else, even the group that will probably win the fight.

By the way, Obama's Secretary of Labor is Thomas E. Perez, who's "maternal grandfather," according to his government webpage, "was the ambassador to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the 1930s until he spoke out against his home country's brutal dictator and was declared non grata. His Dominican-born parents eventually settled in Buffalo, N.Y., where Perez was born and raised." Hmm. I find that interesting.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Response to At the Waffle House

(See: Just Above Sunset: At the Waffle House)

I knew there was something wrong with Carson's Hitler-taking-guns-away story but it's been so long since I'd heard anybody use it that I forgot the true story until Kevin Drum reminded us, which is worth repeating, lest we forget it again:
In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles disarmed Germany. ... This was long before Hitler came to power. 
In 1928 this legislation was relaxed. “Germans could possess firearms, but they were required to have permits” ... Again, this was before Hitler came to power. 
In 1938, Hitler relaxed the law further. Rifles and shotguns were completely deregulated, permits were extended to three years, and the age at which guns could be purchased was lowered to 18. 
Now, Hitler did effectively ban Jews from owning guns in 1938. However, this is highly unlikely to have affected the fate of the Jews even slightly. The Nazis were considerably better armed and organized, and if Jews had taken to shooting them it would have accomplished nothing except giving Joseph Goebbels some terrific propaganda opportunities. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a good example of this: Jews fought back, and the result was a few dead Germans and 13,000 dead Jews.
One way to remember this in the future is just to remember that Hitler was a conservative, and conservatives generally favor loosening gun controls, not tightening them.

But it's discouraging that the truth has to be constantly recovered from long forgotten memory, since in time, these false histories always seem to bubble back up from the slime, including this one:
“What I’m talking about is the reason we have a Second Amendment in there,” Carson explained. “In case of an invasion by foreign power, the people will be able to aid the military. And also, if we have a time when we have the wrong people in office and they want to dominate the people, the people will be able to defend themselves.”
I realize I'm repeating things I've mentioned before, but as John Wayne never actually said, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

The real "reason we have a Second Amendment in there", despite what some will tell you, isn't so much so the people could "aid the military", it was so the people could be the military, since -- as difficult as it is for us to grasp today -- the founders purposefully founded a nation that had virtually no military! Oddly enough, early Americans thought the idea of maintaining a "standing army" was not only not necessary, but was even slightly evil, something their recently defeated enemy, the British, would do:
In June of 1787, James Madison addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the dangers of a permanent army. “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty,” he argued. “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." ... 
While polls today generally indicate that Americans think of the military in glowing terms (rightly associating terms like “sacrifice,” “honor,” “valor,” and “bravery” with military service), Americans of the 18th century took a much dimmer view of the institution of a professional army. A near-universal assumption of the founding generation was the danger posed by a standing military force. 
Far from being composed of honorable citizens dutifully serving the interests of the nation, armies were held to be “nurseries of vice,” “dangerous,” and “the grand engine of despotism.” Samuel Adams wrote in 1776, such a professional army was, “always dangerous to the Liberties of the People.” Soldiers were likely to consider themselves separate from the populace, to become more attached to their officers than their government, and to be conditioned to obey commands unthinkingly. The power of a standing army, Adams counseled, “should be watched with a jealous Eye.”
In case our country was invaded, we would depend on local militias to hold the line until an army could be raised -- after all, they reasoned, militias served us well during the Revolution. But this would only be possible if we guarantee the people's right to own guns -- and therefore, the Second Amendment. But then, along came the War of 1812, which disabused us of thinking it wise to fight a major war without a regular military:
The United States was not prepared to prosecute a war, for [President James] Madison had assumed that the state militias would easily seize Canada and that negotiations would follow. In 1812, the regular army consisted of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular; it offered poor pay, and there were few trained and experienced officers, at least initially. The militia objected to serving outside their home states, were not open to discipline, and performed poorly against British forces when outside their home states. ...   
The war was ... a major turning point in the development of the US military. The poor performance of several US armies during the war, particularly during the 1812–13 invasions of Canada and the 1814 defense of Washington, convinced the US government of the need to move away from its Revolutionary-era reliance on militia and focus on creating a more professional regular force.
By then, of course, it was too late to go messing around with the Constitution, so the Second Amendment became a vestige of a bygone era. In fact, throughout most of our history, most American families did not even own guns.

But as strange as it may sound to many of us, Carson's "if we have a time when we have the wrong people in office and they want to dominate the people, the people will be able to defend themselves" has some truth to it. Why, we ask, should the people fear a government of their own making, a government that they own and run?

When founders wrote about the right to bear arms, it was often hand-in-hand with that fear of standing armies, such as the writing of James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution":
In Federalist No. 46, he confidently contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he contemptuously described as "afraid to trust the people with arms." He assured his fellow citizens that they need never fear their government because of "the advantage of being armed ..."
This idea of people having a right to defend themselves from their own government traces back to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, exactly 100 years before our own government got up and running, after King James II, a Catholic, tried to disarm all the Protestants:
One of the issues the Bill resolved was the authority of the King to disarm its subjects, after James II had attempted to disarm many Protestants, and had argued with Parliament over his desire to maintain a standing (or permanent) army. The bill states that it is acting to restore "ancient rights" trampled upon by James II, though some have argued that the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms. 
In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court did not accept this view, remarking that the English right at the time of the passing of the English Bill of Rights was "clearly an individual right, having nothing whatsoever to do with service in the militia" and that it was a right not to be disarmed by the Crown and was not the granting of a new right to have arms.
Okay, well, more to the point, the English Bill of Rights guaranteed the right of Protestants not to be disarmed (which I guess means you Catholic gunmen out there are SOL), unless maybe you're willing to admit that our Bill of Rights has nothing whatsoever to do with the English Bill of Rights, with all its Catholic vs Protestant folderol, especially since our Bill or Rights specifically cites a "well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state..." as a reason for the right to be guaranteed by the government.

But a lot of us are thinking about the huge numbers of shooting deaths in this country, compared to all those European countries that are "afraid to trust the people with arms" that Madison talked about, and wish we could go back in time to chat with Madison and the other founders about their overwrought fear of standing armies, and the mess they left for future generations of Americans.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Response to The Amazing Disappearing Republican Party

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Amazing Disappearing Republican Party)

Speaking of Hollywood-type movie references, how about "Village of the Damned", the 1960 British-made science-fiction film, starring George Sanders?

The setting is the fictional British village of Midwich, in which a number of strange occurrences lead to a bunch of babies all being born on the same day.
Their children have an unusual appearance, including: "arresting" eyes, odd scalp hair construction and colour (platinum blond), and unusually narrow fingernails. As they grow and develop at a rapid rate, it becomes clear they also have a powerful telepathic bond with one another. They can communicate with each other over great distances, and as one learns something, so do the others. ... 
At age three, the children are precocious, physically and mentally the equivalent of children four times their age. Their behaviour has become even more unusual and striking. They dress impeccably, always walk as a group, speak in an adult manner, and behave maturely, but they show no conscience or love, and demonstrate a coldness to others, causing the villagers to fear and be repulsed by them.
You've probably seen the flick while surfing the dial. A bunch of little blond-headed kids with no sense of humor, walking around in a group, and god-forbid they all start staring at you, with those glowing eyes of theirs.
The children begin to exhibit the power to read minds and to force people to do things against their will. There have been a number of villagers' deaths since the children were born, many of which are considered unusual, and some citizens believe the children are responsible. This is confirmed when the children are seen killing a man by making him crash his car into a wall, and again when they force his suspicious brother to shoot himself.
In other words, all the weird children started staring at John Boehner, which made him off himself by crashing his car into a wall, and then they shifted their gaze to Kevin McCarthy, and right away, made him go shoot himself.

Why? Nobody really knows for sure. All anyone can guess is these two guys, for some reason or other, just pissed them off.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Response to Death Wish

(See: Just Above Sunset: Death Wish)

A confession: I dissent.

I think everyone's making way too much of a deal about what Ben Carson thought he would have done if faced with a shooter, and how Trump defended him. And this, of course, is not because I'm a big fan of either of them. In fact, just the suggestion of the remote possibility of one of these guys actually becoming president gives me hives.

The contention is that Carson was insulting the shooting victims for not fighting back? Except that, for something to be an insult, it has to be intended to be one, and it's pretty obvious it wasn't. When I first heard him say what he would do, I remember wondering the same thing; could that work? Could I even have the time to convince everybody to rush the gunman, or would I be dead after saying five words? What is one supposed to do in that situation?

It did not occur to me that victims and their families would take this as criticism, or that he was calling them cowards. I tend to think that this is a case of people who are angry at all Republicans (as well they should be) for their defending the right of gunmen, in essence, to go into schools and shoot people to death, refusing to give Ben Carson any slack.

In fact, what Carson said on his FaceBook page is, to me, much more damning:
I grew up in the slums of Detroit. I saw plenty of gun violence as a child. Both of my cousins were killed on the streets. As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions. The Left would prefer to use these tragedies to advance a political agenda. To me, that is also devastatingly sad. The Left would have you believe that a man that asked Christians to stand up (and then executed them one by one) would obey “new gun laws”. That kind of logic explains many of the problems we find ourselves in today.
What exactly does this even mean? He wishes these bullet-riddled victims had more gunpower to keep from getting shot? He's glad that whoever shot these people had a constitutional right to own the guns they used to shoot them? And the question is not whether the bad guys would "obey" those new gun laws, since we wouldn't be demanding they do, we would be forcing whoever sold the guns to obey those laws. So I have to, once again, agree with Carson on something he said on his website, above:
That kind of logic explains many of the problems we find ourselves in today.
But don't get me started on Carson, who I sense is sort of a mild-mannered crockpot, and maybe even nuttier than Trump. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Defending Carson. I just wanted to say that the demand that we all be so sensitive to everyone's sensitivities puts too much of a crimp on our ability to talk these things out, and it shouldn't.

And no insult intended, but I still wonder what I would have done if I came face to face with someone exercising their Second Amendment right, who was threatening to kill me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Response to The Fatalists

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Fatalists)

As accomplished a theoretical physicist as Albert Einstein was, what with his attempts to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field, leading to the development of his special theory of relativity and later his general theory of relativity, he was never quite able to unify all the laws of physics with gravity, to develop one big "unified field theory", which pretty much would have been an all-encompasing "theory of everything".

Unfortunately, Einstein died in 1955 and didn't live long enough to witness Jeb Bush's explanation of why we have all these mass killings in America, which could, if you've noticed the way these people think, even be seen as a wider attempt at a "Republican Unified Theory of Everything":
“Things happen all the time. Things."
Yep. Things. The implication, of course, being that if those things be bad things, you should just leave them be, since they're just natural occurrences in the Almighty's own cosmos, and any attempt to fix them will somehow just upset God's master plan.

So yes, as Bush says -- and seems to get an "amen" from the amen corner of Republican candidates that includes Trump, Rubio, Kasich and Christie -- while "things happen all the time", many more of them seem to happen in our country, and one would hope our next president would not only notice that and see it as a problem, but would look for ways to fix it.

And yet, many of us non-Republicans immediately spot the flaw in the theory, that being that, while these "things" do "happen all the time", they do seem to happen more in the United States than they do elsewhere. In fact, President Obama tried to make that point back in June in his comments after nine people were gunned down in a Charleston Church:
At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."
All obviously true, right?

Well, not according to some nit-pickers who asked PolitiFact to rule on it. After showing a chart that lists the incidence of mass shootings between 2000 and 2014 in eleven advanced countries, including our own -- with the United States in first place, with 133 shootings happening during that time, and the second place going to Germany with six, and last place being a tie between four countries (England, France, Switzerland and Norway) with one each -- Politifact announces its ruling:
On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.
And so, in my mind's ear, I can hear your mind asking, "Whaaat?!?!" Yeah, that's what mine did, too. How the hell did they come up with that?

It seems that they decided, firstly, to break the statement into its constituent sentences, the first being "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries" -- which, okay, if taken literally, is obviously not true. After all, it even happened in Britain that one time. Still, Obama didn't leave it at that, he completed the thought by adding, "It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Yet secondly, rather than determining how often ("frequency") it happens in America in comparison to other countries, PolitiFact wandered off on its own to, instead, analyze how many fatalities and injuries there were per 100,000 people of each country's population, in which we ranked behind Switzerland, Norway and Finland.

I see that shortly after PolitiFact put out its ruling, a guy named Jason Linkins mercilessly, but justifiably, ridiculed it on Huffington Post, in which his rejiggering of the same data showed that America's incidence of the events -- that is, not deaths or injuries -- per million of population was in first place, at .417, followed by Finland, at .380, with Norway in third place, with .194 (all from that one incident, where the guy blew up a building, then went on a shooting spree of that island, killing a total of 77 people).

China came in last place on Linkins' list, at .003 events per million, but if that country, with their much higher population, had experienced the same number of events as we did -- 133, instead of 4 -- but they'd be way up in first place, way above us, at 9.810!

In fact, Linkins goes even further, using that same chart, by ranking the U.S. incidence of mass shootings against all the other countries on that list (Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Germany, England, Mexico, France, and China) combined, and gets this:

United States incidents: 133       population: 318,892,103
incidents per million population: .417

The Others incidents: 23             population: 1,752,555,493
incidents per million population: .013

Keep in mind that the United States has only about one-sixth the population of the rest of those countries combined, and yet experiences about 32 times the number of mass shootings of all of them put together! This gives a whole new meaning to the term, "American Exceptionalism".

But if you think this should convince even the other side that we really do have a mass-shooting problem in this country, forget it. First of all, Republicans don't care what happens in other countries, and they especially don't like to dive too deeply into science and statistics that contradict their opinions.

So none of this matters, since none of these facts refer to real problems -- like Benghazi, long-form birth certificates, and the murder of Vince Foster.

Whoops! Wait! That last one hasn't come around again yet, has it? Well, give it a little more time. The campaign season is still young.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Response to Complications Arise

(See: Just Above Sunset: Complications Arise)

Two nits to pick today, one with a Republican elected official, and the other with someone who has incredibly phenomenal ambitions to be one:

 - - - - - - - - - -
First, there's that famous "Red Line", reported by Kristina Wong in The Hill:
[Foreign Relations chairman] Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) ... criticized the Obama administration for missing opportunities in Syria, citing the decision to pull back from its red line after the regime used chemical weapons.
The Republicans have been saying that for so long, a lot of people are starting to assume it's true, but here's what really happened when Obama used the phrase, "red line", in response to those who questioned under what conditions he would intervene in Syria:
Barack Obama used the phrase on August 20, 2012, during the Syrian civil war in relation to chemical weapons, saying that "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation." 
In the US, the phrase then became a source of contention when political opponent John McCain said the red line was "apparently written in disappearing ink," due to the perception the red line had been crossed with no action. On the one year anniversary of Obama's red line speech the Ghouta chemical attacks occurred. Obama then clarified, "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war," in reference to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
That Ghouta attack occurred in the morning of August 21, 2013.
Several opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus, Syria, were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. Estimates of the death toll range from at least 281 people to 1,729. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq War.
The president probably should have made clearer to everyone that, on the breach of that red line, we would not immediately be dropping troops into Syria with guns a-blazing. His actual response was more realistic:
United States President Barack Obama said the US military should strike targets in Syria to retaliate for the government's purported use of chemical weapons, a proposal publicly supported by French President Fran├žois Hollande, but condemned by Russia and Iran. ... 
In early September, the United States Congress began debating a proposed authorisation to use military force, although votes on the resolution were indefinitely postponed amid opposition from many legislators and tentative agreement between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on an alternative proposal, under which Syria would declare and surrender its chemical weapons to be destroyed under international supervision. 
In contrast to the positions of their governments, polls in early September indicated that most people in the US, UK, Germany and France opposed military intervention in Syria. One poll indicated that 50% of Americans could support military intervention with cruise missiles only, "meant to destroy military units and infrastructure that have been used to carry out chemical attacks."
Also, Republican members of Congress and candidates for president, especially those advocating that Obama listen to his military, please note the following:
In a survey of American military personnel, around 75% said they opposed air strikes on Syria, with 80% saying an attack would not be "in the U.S. national interest".
And to those who suggest Putin may be just trying to please his population back home?
Meanwhile, a Russian poll suggested that most Russians supported neither side in the conflict, with less than 10% saying they supported Assad.
But the bottom line was this:
Within a month of the attacks, Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and allow all its stockpiles to be destroyed. The destruction began under OPCW supervision on 6 October 2013. On 23 June 2014, the last shipment of Syria's declared chemical weapons was shipped out of the country for destruction. By 18 August 2014, all toxic chemicals were destroyed aboard the US naval vessel MV Cape Ray.
So to summarize, Obama once alluded to use of chemical weapons in Syria as a red line that, if crossed, would change the calculus of our getting involved in the Syrian civil war. One year after saying that, the line was crossed. He first considered a military response, but found very little appetite for it, neither among his fellow citizens, nor in Congress, nor in our military, nor among the populations of our allies. Instead, he opted to make a deal with the Russians and the Syrians for us to pick up all Syria's chemical weapons, then destroy them all at sea -- which was done.

Therefore, we here at The Inside Poop rule that the claims of Senators Corker and McCain and all those other conservatives, that the Obama administration decided "to pull back from its red line after the regime used chemical weapons", is nothing more than one of those flaming paper bags of poop that some nasty neighborhood brat places on your front porch, then rings your doorbell and runs away, hoping you'll come to the door and stamp out the fire -- which, of course, you do.

(We contemplated using the much-more concise "Pants On Fire", but that was taken.)

 - - - - - - - - - -
Trump now thinks Assad may be okay, after all?
“I’ve been looking at the different players, and I’ve been watching Assad,” Trump told O’Reilly. “I’m looking at Assad and saying maybe he’s better than some of the people we’re supposed to be backing because we don’t even know who we’re backing. We have no idea.”
Yeah, I've had those suspicions, too.

Since the first time I heard that Obama pronounced the American position as "Assad must go", I'd wished he hadn't said it. I never liked the idea of us singling out some country's leader, then telling the world that we think he ought to go.

For one thing, we did that in 1953, with Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically-elected popular prime minister of Iran, and it has been biting us back ever since. Also worth considering is a situation in which we say some guy has to go, but then he just keeps hanging in there, like some smarmy guest who won't go home after your house party -- something Assad has been doing. That makes us -- and in particular, Obama -- look a bit foolish. And thirdly, what's the point of saying some leader has to go, but then not lifting a finger to help him pack, so to speak? In other words, if we're really against Assad's leadership, we should show it by joining with some opposition group; otherwise, we should probably just put a sock in it.

I think I'd have preferred that, instead of deciding who's side to join in that war, since we couldn't ever verify that the good guys were really all that good, meaning we'd end up arming our future enemies, we should have stayed totally neutral -- and furthermore, quietly hinting to the Russians to do the same. The risk we'd face, of course, would be pissing off whatever legitimate rebels by not helping them in their time of need, and then watch them ally themselves with ISIS or somebody else we don't like. But while I'd be willing to take that risk, Obama was not -- and, to paraphrase some other president, Obama is the decider, not I, and certainly not all his Republican critics.

Not only did Assad start this thing by attacking peaceful demonstrators, pretending they were all evil extremists, then savagely killing thousands of civilians, apparently with chemical weapons and barrel bombs, but on top of that, he could not, and cannot, be trusted. In short -- in the words of many who have paid closer attention to the man than Donald Trump ever did -- Bashar al-Assad is a "pathological liar", a recent example being this interview he granted to the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen:
Bowen: What about barrel bombs, you don't deny that your forces use them? 
Assad: I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven't heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots. 
Bowen: Large barrels full of explosives and projectiles which are dropped from helicopters and explode with devastating effect. There's been a lot of testimony about these things. 
Assad: They're called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets. 
Bowen: So you wouldn't deny that included under the category of 'bombs' are these 'barrel bombs', which are indiscriminate weapons. 
Assad: No, there's no indiscriminate weapons. When you shoot, you aim and when you aim, you aim at terrorists in order to protect civilians. If you're talking about casualty, that's war, you can't have war without casualty.
Plenty of people have testified to seeing barrel bombs being dropped from helicopters in Syria. Nobody else but the government uses helicopters In Syria. Assad just denies things that everybody else knows is true, like the possession of those chemical weapons that he later turned over for destruction.

If Trump had only been following him over the years, he'd be aware of Assad's reputation as a blatant liar from way back, this being an assessment of his broken promises from the GlobalPost back in 2012:
Assad's vows have come almost weekly since the uprising began. And they are broken often times within days, or even hours. 
A little over a year ago, Assad promised to abolish the much-maligned emergency law that gives his security forces license to violently crackdown on threats to the state. A month later he again promised to lift the controversial law. Four days later the Syrian cabinet said it backed the law's removal. 
On April 21, 2011, there was little celebration when Assad finally made good on the promise. Little changed. His security forces continued to operate under the same impunity the law sanctioned. 
On June 20, 2011, Assad made a rare public speech, promising to amend the constitution and call his soldiers back to the barracks. Three days later the country's foreign minister promised "serious reforms." Syria would eventually hold a referendum on a new constitution, but it would do so amid violent crackdowns throughout the country. 
Turkish officials said it doubted the vote was legitimate. US officials called it "laughable." 
"It makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at the time. "Promises of reforms have been usually followed by increase in brutality and have never been delivered upon by this regime since the beginning of peaceful demonstrations in Syria."
I think I heard that Donald Trump has said everything he knows about the world comes from watching television and reading. Same with me. My advice to you is, just to be safe, don't vote for either of us.