Monday, September 12, 2016

September 12, 2016

New ceasefire deal in Syria reached, but may encounter problems

A new ceasefire deal in Syria has been reached by Russia and the US. The ceasefire set to go into effect at sundown today, and represents the most promising chance in weeks for any reduction in violence in Syria.

Unfortunately, that chance still isn't very good. As Bloomberg reports, the Al Qaeda-linked faction in Syria and ISIS will both be excluded from the ceasefire, as terrorist groups. Meaning the all sides in the conflict--US, Russia, Turkey, Kurds, Hezbollah, other rebel groups, and the Syrian government--will be free to continue engaging them. A logical exception, but in practice, it proved fatal to a previous ceasefire deal.

The problem is that, as is widely acknowledged, the supposedly moderate rebel factions that the US supports are known to collaborate with the Al Qaeda group--recently rebranded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. This, of course, raises the question of how moderate any group can be if it collaborates with people who still celebrate the 9/11 attacks against the US? In any case, it creates substantial practical problems, especially for the Russians. Frequently throughout the Syrian War, Russia has claimed to bomb the Al Qaeda groups, only to have Western countries accuse them of hitting US-backed assets in the region. In reality, both claims can be true simultaneously, given the well-known collaboration between Al Qaeda fighters in Syria and the "moderate" rebels.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement regarding the ceasefire, acknowledged the situation above and warned the US-backed factions that associating with the Al Qaeda group "would not be wise". It remains to be seen, however, whether this sober tone will be maintained when Russian and Syrian bombs continue falling on Al Qaeda and its often US-backed associates (and civilians too, undoubtedly).

For the sake of the Syrian people, we should hope that the ceasefire is thorough and lasts as long as possible.

Hillary Clinton thinks roughly 25% of Americans are "deplorables", but regrets saying so

Hillary Clinton took a page from Donald Trump's playbook this weekend by grabbing the headlines with an offensive quote. Here's how CNN summarized the comments, which were made at a private fundraiser on Friday night (emphasis mine):

"To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables," Clinton said. "Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it." 
She added: "And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric."
Clinton went on to call them both "irredeemable" and "not America".

Given the inflammatory and incredible nature of the comments--effectively condemning a fourth of US voters--one would think this was probably some kind of off-the-cuff remark said in the heat of the moment. But in fact, it appears to be rhetoric that was planned out in advance.

Indeed, speaking just a day earlier on an Israeli television network, Clinton used strikingly similar language, including the odd "basket of deplorables" bit. Again, from CNN (emphasis added):
"If I were to be grossly generalistic, I would say you can take Trump supporters and put them in two big baskets," Clinton said. "There are what I call the deplorables -- the racists, you know, the haters, and the people who are drawn because they think somehow he's going to restore an America that no longer exists. So just eliminate them from your thinking, because we've always had an annoying prejudicial element within our politics."
Once the language went viral, Clinton apologized for the comments--you know, sort of:
Last night I was 'grossly generalistic,' and that's never a good idea. I regret saying 'half' -- that was wrong.
In other words, she apologized for overestimating the size of the "basket of deplorables". This seems reasonable, given that she also implied the number might be close to 11 million, which is obviously nowhere near half of Trump's supporters. We get it; fractions are hard.

More important than Clinton's tenuous grasp of fractions, however, this episode reveals the distinct similarities between the Trump and Clinton campaigns for anyone who's willing to look. Trump's comments often focus on demonizing illegal immigrants and Muslims. Meanwhile, Clinton focuses on attacking Trump's supporters (for being racists, usually), and the Russians (for being Russians). The themes and targets may differ, but the strategy is remarkably similar: dehumanize the "other" to frighten people into voting for you.

Clinton's campaign slogan may be "Stronger Together" and Trump might want to "Make America Great Again". But the fact is that once the election is over, the America they will be leading will be more divided than it has been in a very long time. And when that day comes, both candidates and both mainstream parties will deserve blame for making it so.

Another stumble for Clinton campaign--this time, it's literal

With our apologies, our third story is also about the election. It was a busy weekend.

After a 90-minute stint at the New York memorial ceremony for the 9/11 attacks, Hillary Clinton decided to leave the event early. Unfortunately, (at least) two videos captured the moment of her getting in the van to leave. It didn't go well.

In the videos, Clinton appears to stumble or even faint as she steps off the curb. Her assistants were able to hold her up, but not quickly enough to make it unnoticeable. The result was another viral negative story for Team Clinton that needed an explanation.

Given the public nature of the episode and uniquely bad timing--presidential candidate faints(?) while remembering 9/11 attacks--the incident quickly gained traction. The Clinton campaign acknowledged the incident and first said that Hillary "overheated", before explaining later in the day that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.

This is certain to be a downer for the Clinton Campaign and has led to new questions about transparency. What we find more interesting, however, is the choice of wording.

As a general rule, cars, computers, and a great many other devices can overheat. But people are not among them. That's why it's kind of an odd phrase to use. This is particularly true when one recalls that an earlier viral Clinton gaffe involved her saying she "may have short-circuited". So wait, it overheats and short-circuits; are you sure we're talking about a human?

Kidding aside, this language is used in an attempt to downplay episodes--in this case, because they probably wanted to avoid saying she was ill, tired, exhausted, etc. But ironically, it actually makes the incidents more memorable. Last time, Donald Trump capitalized on the "short-circuit[ing]" by making an ad about "Robot Hillary" with sparks and all. One imagines a sequel will now be forthcoming shortly.

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