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Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about ┬áRepublican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman

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The Health Issue in an Unhealthy Presidential Election Year

One of the crazier things about this crazy election year is that the major party candidates are, by historical standards, a couple of old geezers. Either Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican nominee Donald J. Trump will likely be the oldest person ever elected to a first term as President of the United States, which seems a crazy choice for such a traditionally youth-obsessed country to be choosing from. Yet it’s no surprise, given the country’s current craze for physical fitness, that the relative haleness of the candidates has become an issue.
Even the most reliably Democratic media seem to understand that Clinton looks to be at a disadvantage on the issue. Although a year younger than Trump, Clinton hews to a less-rigorous campaign schedule than her rival, has well-documented coughing fits that never seem to bedevil Trump’s steam-of-consciousness orations, been photographed being helped up a few stairs, and is clearly unready to face any of those amazonian “ultimate fighting” women in a cage match. The headlines that tout her “excellent health” are obliged to acknowledge a couple of paragraphs into the story that they refer to released the same medical reports that acknowledge she does suffer hyperthyroidism, and until a few years ago had transverse sinus thrombosis, and still takes a regimen of a blood thinner and the purportedly energy-boosting Vitamin B12, along with antihistamines for seasonal allergies, and that she’s pushing 70 and probably with all the usual complaints of that age. Those more impolite Trump partisans on the internet go so far as to post footage of an apparent bulge on the front of her ubiquitous pants suits that might be a medical device and a dark stain on the bottom that might also be embarrassing, and they speculate everything from Parkinson’s Disease to dementia to demon possession, all of which seem alarmingly plausible enough in this crazy election year.
Although year a older than Clinton, Trump does seem the more hale of the two. He routinely bounds unaided up the steps to the platforms of well-attended rallies to enthrall his audiences with those stream-of-consciousness orations, which are no doubt tiring, and afterwards he’s always seen rushing up the steps of those “Trump”-branded airplanes to get back to New York and sleep in his bed, and he’s got those famously long fingers, and you know what that means about longevity, wink-wink nudge-nudge, not to mention those naked photos of his third wife on the front page of ┬áThe New York Post, and we know he gets by on four hours of sleep because he’s “tweeting” insults at obscure cable talk show hosts in the early morning. No wonder that Trump himself has made a campaign issue of his seemingly better health, or that his supporters have run so very far with it.
In this crazy election year, though, the Republican nominee and his more fervid supporters always seem to run too far with an issue. That Clinton is not the picture of youthful health is plain enough, and should suffice for a political issue in such a youth-obsessed and physical fitness-crazed country, but any insistence that she’s too feeble to open a pickle jar only invites the ridicule of the late night comics. Late night comic Jimmy Kimmel, who’s actually rather bipartisan in his ridicule as far as what we call from the videos that occasionally pop up in the political news, made sport of it by having special guest Clinton actually open a pickle jar on his program. The crazed conspiracy-monger and Trump supporter Alex Jones tried to debunk the stunt on his much lower-rated and tin-foil-hat-wearing “Infowars” program, where Trump has been a frequent guest, insisting over seven full minutes that the “pickle can” had been pre-opened, giving Kimmel the opportunity for higher-rated ridicule.
Trump and his supporters have the same tendency to overstate his own health, of course, which has revived another round of ridicule. Those reports of Clinton’s hyperthyroidism and seasonal allergies and all that come from her relatively routine disclosure of her medical records, whereas the Republican nominee has only disclosed a year-old letter from a doctor who wrote “To whom my concern” that Trump’s health is “extraordinary” and his blood pressure is “astonishingly excellent,” with strength and stamina that is “extraordinary,” and that overall, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It got a few chuckles, even at a time when Trump’s candidacy seem a quixotic prank, that a doctor would assert in such Trumpian hyperbole that the old geezer was healthier than the famously athletic and much younger Washingtons and Jeffersons and Theodore Roosevelts and other presidents the doctor had never had a chance to examine, but with Trump giving them a chance to revisit that doctor’s note the ridicule has been much harsher. Throw in that the doctor crowed how all of Trump’s disease tests had proved “positive,” which every doctor knows is actually a negative outcome for the patient, and all that Trumpian prose suggests that it’s a lot like those obviously fake letters from Epstein’s mother on the old “Welcome Back, Kotter” sit-com that were signed by “Epstein’s mother.” The National Broadcasting Company’s news division took the opportunity to interview Trump’s enthusiastically testifying doctor, who turns out to be a gastroenterologist who looks the like the last of The Grateful Dead, and he explained that he wrote the note in five minutes under stress while awaiting a limousine and that perhaps “I think I kind of picked up his kind of language and then interpreted to my own.”
In this crazy election year such dueling embarrassments are likely to cancel one another out, and in any case we don’t much care. We’d much prefer the infamously obese William Howard Taft to either one of these nominees, or even the famously hale yet actually addled-by-Huntington’s disease and drug-addiction John F. Kennedy or the polio-crippled Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and although we don’t wish anyone an early death we’d like think that either candidate’s administration would be as short-lived and inconsequential as William Henry Harrison’s. If we were making a choice based solely on a candidate’s physical fitness we’d have to go with the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, who has climbed the highest peaks on every continent and runs in grueling athletic contests despite his admitted until-recent marijuana use, and has scoffed at Trump’s physical fitness with the same foul language that Trump used when one of his Republican rivals went wobbly on torturing terror suspects. We’ve got some fundamental disagreements with him, too, though, no matter how buff and mellow he might be, so there’s still no telling how we’ll wind up voting in this crazy election year.
Perhaps we’d write in Jack LaLanne, but even he didn’t last forever.

— Bud Norman

Tortured Logic

Although we are squeamish about torture, to the point we can barely sit through a Quentin Tarantino movie without experiencing nausea, under certain specific circumstances we reluctantly countenance our government engaging in what is euphemistically called “enhanced interrogations.” Whenever American lives are imminently at risk, and there is a high degree of certainty that a captured unlawful enemy combatant has information that might help avert their deaths, we are inclined to allow the authorities wide latitude to interrogate away.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her fellow Democrats on the Senate’s intelligence committee take a harder line against torture, judging by the much ballyhooed report they issued about the matter. After six years and $40 million and no interviews of anybody they have accused, they have uncovered a few instances where agents of the United States government apparently interrogated suspects when there was no imminent risk and no certainty of useful information to be gained and the methods went even beyond the widest latitude we would allow, which is a service to the country, but we think they take an otherwise admirable aversion to torture too far. They are critical of techniques that have demonstrably proved helpful in the past, and are well within the bounds of the the public understands is going on, and would surely inhibit agents dealing with future imminent risks from subjecting potentially useful sources to anything harsher than a comfy chair and a cup of tea.
The report is clearly intended to remind America of the bad old days of George W. Bush, when Dick Cheney used to stick needles into the arms of innocent Afghan goat herders just for kicks, no matter how dissatisfied it might be with Obama and the out-going Democratic Senate majority. After so many years without a major terrorist act on American soil, unless you count the countless “lone wolf” attacks and plots that failed entirely to their own ineptitude or the sporadic incidents of “work place violence,” or the successful slaughter of Americans overseas, Feinstein and her fellow Democrats believe they can once again be indignant about the rough men who have been keeping them safe. The sense of moral superiority that comes with a willingness to sacrifice American lives rather than cause pain to an unlawful enemy combatant is irresistible to the likes of Feinstein and her fellow Democrats, especially when they sense a political advantage.
Recent polling suggests that much of the public shares the Republicans’ reluctant willingness to pay rough, though, and the argument quickly leads to the Obama administration’s alternative method of sending drones to vaporize the unlawful enemy combatants and whatever innocent Afghan goat herders happen to be standing nearby. This has the advantage of sparing the president the awkwardness of sending the unlawful enemy combatants to that nasty Guantanamo Bay detention camp that he’s been promising to close for the past seven years, and there won’t be any of that rough stuff that was done back in the bad old days, but it doesn’t provide any useful information from the sort of suspects that used to be nabbed by the special forces, and it tends to lose the hearts and minds of the relatives of those innocent Afghan goat herders who happened to be standing nearby, and we doubt that the unlawful enemy combatants find it preferable to a few rounds of water-boarding.
Current policies should offend the more refined sensibilities of the left, and alarm the more pragmatically ruthless right, so let that debate begin.

— Bud Norman