Thursday, March 15, 2018

Just another day in the life of America’s national nightmare

This past Tuesday, the news went something like this: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was abruptly fired to deny him the “honorable” way out by just asking him to send in his resignation; Tea Party bigot and far-right hardliner Michael Pompeo is to replace him; Gina Haspel, his second-in-command at the CIA, is tapped to replace him; another senior Trump aide with no government experience was shown the door; during his trip to California to spread the Trump gospel of hatred and xenophobia, one of his supporters were caught on camera tearing up a Mexican flag and attempting to burn it; and Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, announced new sanctions against Russia.

Well, so what you say. This is all part of the “fake” news about nothing, right? Who cares that the Trump administration is fast running out of “adults” in the room. The “last straw” for Trump was Tillerson supporting May’s claim that the Russian government was behind the poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the deadly Russian-made nerve agent Novichok. Since May announced the expelling of 23 Russian “diplomats” who are suspected of being undeclared intelligence agents and other sanctions, Trump has hypocritically decided to back those actions after the fact. Tillerson was on the “outs” with Trump anyways, so was this a case of a petulant Trump unhappy with a “rogue” player who wasn’t getting proper “guidance” on how not to upset Trump with more evidence of his good buddy Vladimir Putin’s shenanigans? For that matter, why is Trump so desperate to keep the Mueller investigation from crossing the “redline” into his financial dealings with Russia, if he has done nothing “wrong”?

Trump proposes to replace Tillerson with the current CIA director, Pompeo, a man who has no known diplomatic experience. Pompeo rode the Tea Party wave into the House of Representatives in 2010, and his ideology is typical of that “movement,” with far-right proclivities on every issue. He was an early and vociferous supporter of Trump, and was naturally “properly” rewarded. As CIA director, he knew how to coddle Trump, a man who values “loyalty”—which, of course, means being blind to his many faults and feeding his narcissism; Trump has shown time and again that his own loyalty comes at a serious moral and ethical cost. For example, it was learned that during his briefings with Trump, Pompeo was careful never to mention intelligence about Russian activities out loud. Not so fortunate was long-time aide John McEntee, who fell into Trump’s trap of skirting ethical considerations in business dealings, finding out the hard way that Trump has no loyalty toward people “dumb” enough to get caught; before he could confront Trump, McEntee received a personal escort out of the building. Maybe he’ll talk, which is a cost Trump will have to face.

Pompeo may run into trouble at his confirmation hearings. At least one Republican, Rand Paul, has said he will vote against confirming him as Secretary of State. Paul claims that he (and Haspel) is too much the warhawk who wants “to manipulate the president into the sphere of the neocons who never met a war they didn’t want to star in.” Others have noted that in terms of his military credentials and support of torture, he fits Trump’s requirements supporting the engagement of naked power over compromise. Richard Boucher, a former diplomat who teaches at Brown University, has been quoted as saying that in Pompeo Trump sees a man “who see every problem as a threat that needs to be dealt with by military force, rather than an issue that can be countered through diplomacy. There’s an over-all failure by this Administration to understand what diplomacy can do for the country—and the world.”

No sooner did Trump tap Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement he announced that he had the privilege to tap Haspel as the first female as head of the CIA. Unfortunately, this is another example of being the “first” doesn’t do much to advance the cause of gender politics.  Perhaps gender advocates will applaud this, although there is every possibility that it will only further undermine their credibility—in Trump lingo, “victory” at any cost. Haspel was an undercover CIA operative and her record is technically “secret.” But we know that in 2002 she personally oversaw a “black site” in Thailand where two alleged Al-Qaeda detainees were not only tortured, but tortured under the personal supervision of Haspel. One interrogation tape that was not illegally destroyed by Haspel showed that she took personal delight in the performance of torture of at least one of the two detainees held there, despite his protestations that he was just a low-level operative. According to former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou on Democracy Now,

We did call her Bloody Gina. Gina was always very quick and very willing to use force. You know, there was a group of officers in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, when I was—when I was serving there, who—I hate to even make the accusation out loud, but I’m going to say it: who enjoyed using force. Yeah, everybody knew that torture didn’t work. That’s not even the issue. Lots of different things work. Was it moral, and was it ethical, and was it legal? I think the answers to those questions are very clearly no. But Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.

For “lighter” news on Tuesday, Trump’s visit to California was the occasion for the usual scenes we’d expect from Trump supporters. At the border, a group of white (well, almost all white) people were shouting “USA, USA” and then “Burn it, Burn it” when a man who appears to be Filipino grabbed a Mexican flag, proceeded to rip it to shreds, and attempted to set the pieces on fire—although not too successfully with a cigarette lighter. He can be heard declaring in an amusing accent “This is America.” Apparently a woman tried to stop him, not because she disagreed with his sentiments, but because people watching this might get the wrong “message”—as if the xenophobic message of this bunch wasn’t clear enough.

The reason why I mentioned that a Filipino was a part of this narrative is because this is one of those “clean-up your own house” situations. Current Philippines president Rodrigo Duarte was elected on his vow to kill 100.000 “criminals,” offering bounties of anywhere from $1,400 for killing a drug peddler, to $85,000 for a “drug lord.” He’s even urged “citizens” to double or triple their killing count of real or suspected drug dealers. Even women are getting into the act; in one story I read a woman boasted of the all the money she has made for her nocturnal human hunting activities, claiming it is the only “job” available. Perhaps not surprisingly, church and human rights groups have charged that no evidence of criminality is required to carry out these killings, with the victims more likely random targets or simply someone’s personal enemy.

So that was the news for one day this week. Just another day in the life of the nightmare that is the Trump presidency.

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