Good riddance, Ariel Castro

I awoke this morning to news that made me gasp — but didn’t surprise me in the least.

Ariel Castro, the man who held those three young women captive for 10 years or more in Cleveland, Ohio, hanged himself in his prison cell.

This animal had pleaded guilty to the charges of kidnap and murder and was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison. His lawyers talked him into the guilty plea to avoid the death sentence.

Turns out that Castro couldn’t stand being locked up. He couldn’t tolerate being hassled by others behind bars. He hated being deprived of the freedom he once enjoyed.

Turnabout wasn’t exactly “fair play,” according to Castro … or so it seems.

I’ll be interested to know a couple of the details of this guy’s death, such as the extent to which the medical staff tried to revive him. Did any prison administrators ever think he just might pose a suicide risk? If so, how was he allowed to have bed sheets or anything else that could be used to strangle himself?

Well, the family members of the victims he terrorized for a decade — not to mention the women themselves — who likely wanted some semblance of closure by removing this guy from the ranks of the living have had their wish come true.

Boehner, Cantor sign on with POTUS on Syria

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has been persuaded: Striking Syria is the right thing to do, given the Syrians’ horrifying act of gassing civilians.

So will House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The question? Will these two leaders be able to bring the rest of their Republican caucus behind them, giving the president an important foreign-policy victory? My guess is that most of the GOP caucus will join them.

President Obama sought and received the backing of the House GOP leadership in advance of Congress’s planned vote on whether to authorize a military strike. What the president has done is put the burning ember in the Republicans’ pocket. Now it’s their call, along with congressional Democrats, on whether Syrian military authorities should be punished for using the chemical weapons on innocent victims.

I still believe a strike must occur. Barack Obama drew that “red line” when he said using the chemicals would violate all “international norms.” The president reportedly is considering a limited strike aimed solely at military targets. Whether our forces can pull this off without inflicting civilian casualties remains to be seen.

Rest assured, even if the attacks are executed as planned, someone within the Syrian government is going to accuse us of harming civilians. Hey, that’s politics — even in international affairs.

The political battle back home, though, has cleared an important hurdle with the House’s two leading Republicans signing on.

Let the debate continue.

Did POTUS pull rug out from Kerry’s feet?

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., poses an interesting theory that might open up some questions about the relationship between the president of the United States and his top diplomat.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an impassioned, emotional speech about the need to make Syria pay dearly for its use of chemical weapons on civilians — and then President Obama decided to ask the Congress for authorization before taking any action.

Rangel thinks Kerry should be “embarrassed” by the sudden switch.

I have to agree with Rangel.

The timing of the two events does seem odd and more than a little clumsy. Kerry’s speech has been labeled one of the finest of his public career. Obama, meanwhile, had been talking tough and appeared to have been ready to strike at Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s forces. Then he stopped. Did the president flinch? Has he left the secretary of state, to borrow a phrase from the Watergate era, “twisting slowly in the wind”?

We’ll know in short order whether the juxtaposition of these events has damaged one of the Obama administration’s most critical relationships.

Unborn babies would vote Republican?

Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman is reaching deeply into the darkest corners of some rhetorical warehouse for a recent comment on abortion, politics and related matters.

Smitherman is running for the Republican nomination for Texas attorney general. He told a Texas anti-abortion group that most unborn babies would vote Republican.

Smitherman was the keynote speaker of the Alliance for Life meeting in mid-August. An abortion-rights activist, Jessica Luther, called the remark a “strange statement.” Meanwhile, Smitherman spokesman Allen Blakemore, said his boss was merely citing a “statistic,” given that Texas is a heavily Republican state.

I’m trying to figure out precisely what Smitherman’s message is intended to convey. If it was meant to state the obvious, as Blakemore noted, I find it an odd expression. I’m inclined to go a little farther than how Luther described it. It sounds downright weird.

Remember all that Randall County jail fuss?

I was tooling around the south edge of Amarillo this afternoon, crossed the intersection of Hollywood Road and South Georgia Street and looked to the south and noticed the Randall County Jail complex.

Then it hit me: I remember the intense public debate many years ago as the county revealed plans to relocate its lockup from the Courthouse Square in Canyon to this location in a rural portion of the county. I say it was “intense,” because I recall the NIMBY faction — those who said “not in my backyard” — raising all kinds of heck about the location.

They didn’t want it anywhere near them. If not there, then where? It didn’t matter. Just not at that location.

That was back in 2000, when the jail opened its doors to inmates.

What came to my mind this afternoon was the absence of any of the nightmare scenarios predicted by those who wanted no part of the jail.

I recall one particular escape from the lockup not long after it opened. Some young inmate managed to conceal his activities from security officers, busted through the ceiling in his cell, climbed to the roof, jumped to the ground, then got over the fence and ran out. I can remember one aspect of the story, which is that he hitched a ride with a couple of men, actually told them he had escaped from the jail — but the men in the car thought he was joking. They returned later that evening to the jail area, noticed all the police cars and lights and reported to the cops where they had taken the escapee.

He was caught several hours later in a neighborhood in central Amarillo. Sheriff Joel Richardson took full responsibility for the guy’s escape and vowed to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. To my knowledge, he’s kept his word.

I guess the lesson of the county jail is not unlike a lot of similar lessons that people have to learn the hard way. It is that circumstances that you fear quite often don’t actually materialize those fears.

Thirteen years after it has opened, the jail remains relatively isolated. The neighbors in the subdivisions north of the site have gone about their lives. Indeed, they cannot even see the jail from the homes where they live.

I’m wondering now — just as I did then: Why all that fuss?

Now it’s Congress’s turn to weigh in on Syria

President Obama’s abrupt about-face on Syria has a lot of American scratching their heads.

He’s talked about punishing the Syrian government for gassing civilians and has sounded for all the world as if he was ready to pull the trigger on a missile strike against Syrian military targets. Then he said: Not so fast; I want to ask Congress for authorization.

Now the debate has begun.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is beginning to sound reasonable. He says Syria should be punished, but the Senate will need to know precisely the scope of the attack and what the overall strategy will be. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says an attack on Syria must be with “regime change” in mind, that it must lead toward a change of leadership in the Syrian government.

I believe the president is playing this issue smartly. Congress has asked for authority within the War Powers Act. Barack Obama now has given lawmakers the chance to exercise that authority.

Several ships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet are standing by in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The hammer is pulled back and the missiles will fly when they get the order. The president has gathered compelling evidence that the Syrians used the gas on civilians. They must be punished, as Cornyn has said.

This debate should be full and complete. As the president said, he is both convinced that the Syrians did something that requires a response and that he also is leader of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. The Constitution gives both houses of Congress co-equal authority to run the government, right along with the president.

It’s good that he’s asking for their authorization. I’m hopeful he can make the case, that we can act quickly and decisively — and then apply intense diplomatic pressure all sides in this bloody conflict to call a halt to the killing.

What’s up with Dewhurst?

What in the world is happening to Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst?

The one-time giant of Texas politics — the guy who came out of nowhere to become Texas land commissioner in 1998 — and has been elected three times as the state’s lieutenant governor — is looking and sounding like a floundering underdog in his race for re-election next year.

Now he’s singling out state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who’s pondering whether to run for governor next year.

A new poll suggests Dewhurst isn’t the favorite in a four-person Republican primary race for lieutenant governor. Blogger and Texas Monthly editor Paul Burka thinks Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is the man to beat in the primary. Dewhurst might end up third in that four-person race.

Dewhurst cracked to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board that the state likely will be asking next year “why were we talking about Wendy Davis?” Burka wrote this: “What he should be worried about is whether people will be saying, about a year from now, ‘Why were we talking about David Dewhurst?’ As for Davis’s prospects in a general election race, they depend upon whether she can make inroads among Republican women in the suburbs. Getting picked on by a man is a good way to start.”

Burka’s commentary reminded a bit of the shabby treatment that Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams gave Democratic nominee Ann Richards in that fiery 1990 governor’s race. The two of them appeared together at a function as the campaign drew to a close. They shared a dais. Richards walked over the Williams and extended her hand. Claytie refused to take her hand, calling her a liar because of things she said in a campaign ad about her opponent. The snub was seen all across the state and as a few pundits said at the time, Williams managed to offend Texans’ traditional view that men treat women with courtesy and respect. That act of rudeness — plus Claytie’s infamous “sit back and enjoy it” comment about rape — sealed his fate. Richards was elected governor.

Dewhurst’s star has been falling. He got steamrolled in the first of three special legislative sessions — by Sen. Davis, of course, in that well-documented filibuster of an anti-abortion bill. Let us remember, too, that he lost the GOP U.S. Senate primary race in 2012 to that upstart loudmouth Ted Cruz, who painted Dewhurst as some kind of squishy moderate. Dewhurst has been trying to out-Cruz everyone in Texas ever since — and he doesn’t do it with much grace.

Dewhurst has his hands full trying to hold his office next year. Staples, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston all are challenging him in the primary.

A year ago I would have bet on Dewhurst beating them all. I’m not so sure now.

Obama to seek congressional permission on Syria

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz recently called President Obama “imperial” and “lawless.”

The junior U.S. senator from Texas, of course, is fond of tossing out pejorative terms, often recklessly.

I’m curious now whether he feels that way about the Obama administration as it seeks congressional approval to strike at Syria in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on civilians, including women and children.

I’m quite certain Cruz would vote “no” on a congressional resolution. But in the grand scheme, seeking congressional approval for a strike is both wise politically and from a policy standpoint.

Politically, a “no” vote from the House and Senate puts the monkey on lawmakers’ backs for failing to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad for gassing innocent victims. The president has made a compelling case that Assad’s military machine needs to be punished severely for this horrifying action. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, two former senators with extensive foreign policy experience — not to mention actual military combat experience — have declared their outrage over the chemical weapons attack.

Obama now seems willing to ask Congress for is approval. He is willing to wait for House members and senators to return from their month-long recess before taking the issue up with them. He’s consulted heavily with congressional leaders along with our allies to line them up in support of whatever action might occur.

Is there a lesson to be learned from the British Parliament’s rejection of a use-of-force resolution? That remains to be seen. For now, any U.S. action likely will be done solely with our military might.

The Navy is standing by, as are all available forces that would be deployed against the Syrians.

All the president needs — and it’s no small task — is an approval by the rest of the country’s elected representatives.

I’ll weigh in with this: Congress should approve a limited, but decisive, strike against the Syrian military. However, if it says “no” to such an action, the president would be wise to heed Congress’s “advice and consent” on this critical matter.

As for some of the loudmouths who serve on Capitol Hill, they ought to put a lid on the nasty name-calling and give the president credit for asking their permission to act.