Donald Trump is treating the health of the planet as a short sell. The deadly game? Make as much money for big oil as possible before the planet goes up in flames. This week on Intercepted, Naomi Klein confronts the White House’s declaration of war on the planet, dissects the bizarre institution of “concierge” disaster response for the ultra-wealthy, and explores whether Trump’s administration is producing the fourth Purge movie where we all are unwitting cast members. The president does not enjoy the new song from Snoop Dogg. Boots Riley of The Coup discusses Trump and hip-hop and performs. Murtaza Hussain talks about the U.S. bombings in Iraq and Syria that have killed 1,000 civilians in one month. And we talk to Josh Begley, the developer of an app that tracks U.S. drone strikes that Apple has censored 13 times.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes: If I really wanted to, I could have snuck on the grounds late at night, and probably nobody would have seen me. I’m quite sure that — I think people on the West Wing had no idea that I was there.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: He’s going off on a lark by himself, sort of an Inspector Clouseau investigation here.
CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer: Why did you meet with a source on the White House grounds the evening before you came out in that news conference?
Inspector Clouseau: I know when there is a trouble and when there is not a trouble, and I can definitely tell you that there is a trouble. You may rest assured of that.
WB: Did you think it might be conspicuous for the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be visiting the White House complex at night?
IC: Please, tell me nothing. I prefer to investigate the scene of the crime spontaneously. That way, it gives my trained instincts full reign, you know?
WB: By holding the meeting on the White House grounds, it makes it appear that someone in the administration was coordinating the release of this information to you. Is that not the case?
IC: It is my business to locate trouble. Monsieur, all I require is a phone, my little bag of tools, and some privacy in which to work. That is all I require.
WB: Why would you need to brief the White House on what you yourself have called Executive Branch documents?
IC: [Laughing] Very ingenious. In this case, it is a clue.
WB: Do you understand why it might have been better to avoid that kind of meeting at the White House?
IC: That is why I have always failed where others have succeeded. For me, the greater the odds, the greater the challenge. And as always, I accept this challenge.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 10 of Intercepted.
Donald J. Trump: Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers, and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry. My action today is the latest in a series of steps to create American jobs and to grow American wealth. We’re ending the theft of American prosperity and rebuilding our beloved country.
JS: Donald Trump wrapped himself in the cloak of “America First” with a backdrop of coal miners, and he bragged openly, for all the world to see, that he wants to destroy the environment in the name of corporate profits.
Reporter: Rank and order, as you see it, the greatest challenges facing the United States: Russia, China, radical Islam.
DJT: I’ll tell you the one thing I know isn’t is global warming. That’s the one thing. Crowd cheers] No, no. That’s the one thing I know isn’t.
JS: Trump has put a climate change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He put a buffoon, Rick Perry, in charge of the Department of Energy. And Trump handed the U.S. State Department over to Exxon Mobil’s sort of former CEO, Rex Tillerson.
Rex Tillerson: Words like “climate consensus” don’t mean anything to us. They ring hollow because they are — that’s an oxymoronic statement. You cannot have a —you cannot have a scientific consensus.
JS: On Tuesday of this week, Trump issued yet another executive order, or as he calls it, executive action, smashing to pieces the Obama era initiative that was known as the Clean Power Plan.
DJT: We have a very, very impressive group here to celebrate the start of a new era in American energy and production and job creation.
JS: And when Obama announced that in 2014, he said that climate change was a national security issue, and the point of that plan was to try to move the U.S. away from energy sources that would damage the environment. Now, radical activists, environmental activists criticized that plan as not going far enough, but it was something. And we had a president that actually acknowledged that climate change was real.
Now, at the same time, Trump has begun issuing construction permits for the Keystone Pipeline that had been delayed, and Obama had intervened at the end, and you had the uprisings at Standing Rock. Now, Trump, gloating that he’s gonna make the Pipeline great again, starts issuing these construction permits. Now, there’s no doubt that this pipeline has the potential, the great potential to cause serious harm to the homelands of indigenous people across swaths of the United States where this pipeline is gonna run. And it’s also going to put at risk the environment, the drinking water of ranchers and farmers and others in the path of this snaking pipeline. This is nothing short of a declaration of war on the planet that is coming directly from the Oval Office, directly from the most powerful position in the world. And they know damn well that climate change is real. They know it’s not a hoax. So, why do they lie, lie, lie? Money. Money and profits. It’s as simple as that. It is a necessary lie for their corporate profits. They are treating the planet like it’s a stock that they can short and then make a killing on. And they know that one day, it’s all gonna come violently crashing to pieces, but the short-term profits, they’re worth more to these bandits than the livelihood of the planet.
I’m joined now by my colleague Naomi Klein. She has investigated and reported on climate change and its effects around the world, and she’s also exposed some of the greatest corporate and human vultures who have contributed to this war against the planet and the war against our health. Naomi’s latest book is “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate.” Naomi is now a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Naomi, Welcome back to Intercepted.
Naomi Klein: Thanks, Jeremy. It’s great to be with you.
JS: Okay, we’ve got a lot to cover on the environment, on deregulation, on the insanity that seems to be taking place 24/7 at the White House. But I want to begin with the Keystone XL pipeline.
DJT: Today, I’m pleased to announce the official approval of the presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It’s gonna be an incredible pipeline, greatest technology known to man or woman.
JS: Trump is issuing construction permits and moving forward with this incredibly controversial pipeline that has sparked massive indigenous-led protests in this country. Give us an overview of what the stakes are here and what’s happening.
NK: So, I mean, this isn’t a surprise. It was one of his campaign pledges. It’s — he actually pushed it ahead his first day on the job. Now, it’s moving further along. They were waiting for State Department approval, which they now have, and they have —without any kind of environmental assessment, they said they’d considered all of the factors and then listed them. And not one of those factors was climate change, which is really significant, because when Obama finally said no to Keystone after years of protests, he said that one of the factors was that it would contribute to climate change. And that’s because of what is in the pipes. The pipe starts in the Alberta Tar Sands, and it ends at Gulf Coast refineries. That Southern leg is already constructed, but it’s the Northern leg, coming from Canada, going through South Dakota and Nebraska. That’s what’s yet to be constructed.
Now, the reason why this is relevant in terms of climate change, it’s two-fold. One, because the oil in Alberta is a particularly heavy, carbon-intensive kind of oil. It has the consistency of tar. So, what you have to do is mine it. And so, there are many accidents associated with it. It’s a particularly dangerous form of fuel on a bunch of different levels. But also, this process of mining takes more energy than a conventional barrel of oil. On average, it takes three times more fossil fuels to extract one barrel of tar sands oil than a conventional barrel of North American crude. So, from a climate perspective, it’s a disaster. This has been such a defining feature of the Trump administration, this determination to unleash a fossil fuel frenzy. It is a major, major, major priority of Donald Trump. And it is not the only way to create jobs. There are — you can create many more jobs, exponentially more jobs, if you invest in renewables, if you invest in energy efficiency, if you invest in public transit, than if you build a pipeline, right?
I mean Keystone is going to create 35 permanent jobs at the end of the day. But it is a very lazy way to create jobs, right? And it should not be lost on people that the company that will gain the most if these pipelines, these various pipelines, are constructed is ExxonMobil, the company that Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, was head of until a couple of months ago.
ExxonMobile Advertisement: Oil sands projects like Kearl and the Keystone Pipeline will provide secure and reliable energy to the United States. Over the coming years, projects like these could create more than half a million jobs in the U.S. alone. From the Canadian border to the Midwest . . .
NK: Exxon has around one-third of its fossil fuel reserves tied up in the Alberta Tar Sands. Now, if they can’t get those reserves out, if they can’t dig it up because they don’t have the pipeline capacity, which is the current situation, then those become stranded assets. And of course, they also become stranded assets if there’s serious climate regulation. And of course, the Trump Administration is waging war on climate action on every front, most notably this week’s attack on Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to reduce emissions.
JS: What are the long-term stakes of actions like constructing the Keystone Pipeline or extracting the Alberta tar sands? Like, why does this matter to our planet? In plain terms, what is this gonna do?
NK: So, right now, we have warmed the planet by one degree Celsius, and we are already seeing huge impacts from that, from massive wildfires — and this is happening right now under the Trump administration, although you wouldn’t know it from Donald Trump’s tweets. But the prairies have seen huge wildfires that have killed tens of thousands of cattle. Ranchers there are calling this their Katrina because they’re being completely ignored.
Reporter: The wildfires have already swallowed dozens of structures and millions of acres as they continue to grow, marching across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, where strong winds and dry conditions have created a tinderbox.
NK: If we do not radically get — move very, very quickly to get 100 percent renewable energy by mid-century, which is very soon, then we will have lost our chance to prevent warming at double what we’ve already done. So, we’ve increased temperature by one degree Celsius. We’re already seeing the bleaching and die-off of natural wonders of the world like the Great Barrier Reef. We’re already seeing a huge increase in drought and forest fires. We’re already seeing sea level rise and super-storms like super-storm Sandy. We will increase temperatures more than that. That’s already locked in. But if we do everything we can and mobilize wartime efforts, we could move quickly enough to prevent warming of more than two degrees, or if we are we extremely lucky, 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But if we do what we’re doing, which is known as business as usual, i.e., pretend it’s not happening and just keep digging up this stuff — what that leads to is four to six degrees of warming. Now, that comes from not 350.org or Greenpeace. That comes from the World Bank. That comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Four degrees Celsius of warming is incompatible with anything you could describe as organized, civilized life. Even with two degrees warming, Jeremy, we may well be losing coastal cities.
JS: And so, how would that happen, if the base temperature of the world increases by two degrees or four degrees, as you’re saying could potentially happen? Does it mean, then, we see more tsunamis, we see more earthquakes, floods, etc.? Like, what is — what would this look like if we end up at four degrees or six degrees increase in temperature?
NK: Even thinking about two degrees, we will see significant sea level rise that could potentially threaten coastal cities like New York, like Mumbai — major, major population centers — at two degrees. The problem is, we’ve waited so long that that is the only kind of target that seems feasible if we do everything possible. The centerpiece of the U.S.’s Climate Action Plan is exactly what is being dismantled, right now, by the EPA under Scott Pruitt, which is the Clean Power Plan. And so, yes, it means warmer ocean temperatures, which is what superpower storms like Katrina and Sandy — you know, you could never say, “Well, this one storm was caused by climate change.” The storm would’ve happened anyway. But what turns it into a super-storm — and we’re seeing these sort of once-in-a-century storms happening with greater and greater frequency — is that added accelerant of temperatures being that much warmer, and also, the baseline sea level being that much higher, so that the storms are reaching into areas that — where they have never reached before. The high water mark is changing.
And we are already going to be dealing with a rocky future, which is why the Trump administration’s war on the public sector is so dangerous. I mean it’s so dangerous and so profoundly cruel on so many levels. But from a climate perspective, the very fact of collecting data that this is even happening is being attacked at NASA —satellite programs that tell us that Arctic ice is melting, leading to sea level rise. So, they want us to be blind, [laughs] and they want to do nothing about it. And I think part of what we’re going to see under Trump is the rise of very privatized disaster response. You and I reported together from New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and saw that the corporate states descend on the city, the Blackwater Private Security, and Bechtel, and Flour, and Halliburton, and the whole Baghdad Gang coming into profit from it. And this is what frankly worries me most, because I think, you know, there’s — I think we’re paying too much attention to these minor schisms within the Bush administration of, you know, whether not —
JS: You said Bush. It’s Trump. But okay, point taken.
NK: Oh no, I’m sorry, Jeremy! [Laughs] This has been happening to me.
JS: Fair enough. Fair enough.
NK: I realized that the incredible similarities between Donald Trump and Paul Bremer, you know, locked up in the Green Zone issuing executive orders.
JS: He hunkered down in the White House this weekend and made a big deal about how he was staying in town to actually work instead of going golfing — not golfing at Mar-a-Lago. I wanted to —
NK: The sacrifice! It’s incredible.
JS: And one other — you know, you were talking about the privatized disaster response. I mean, even on a kind of micro-level in cities around the country, we already see privatized fire forces, firefighting forces where if there are wildfires that break out, including because of climate change, the ultra-wealthy have contracts with privatized firefighters that will go and put out the fires for them. If you’re poor and the budget has been gutted and there is no fire department, well, your land’s just gonna blow. You know, it’s — the fire’s gonna blow through it, and, and you’re finished.
NK: In California, we heard a few years back that AIG had pioneered what they were calling a concierge service for their higher-end customers where, you know, if a fire was coming to your area, they would rush in with these private firefighters and spray your home in fire retardant.
AIG Advertisement: Some of the most beautiful places to live are prone to natural disasters. That’s why AIG created the Wildfire Protection Unit. This complimentary service helps our customers prepare their homes to withstand wildfire season.
NK: Meanwhile, 4,000 of California’s state firefighters are prison inmates being paid between one and two dollars an hour to fight fires. So, this disaster apartheid is here. You know, and that’s the phrase I used when I wrote “The Shock Doctrine,” but it’s accelerating quickly. And this is why I think we can really overstate the importance of whether or not Rex Tillerson and Ivanka believe climate change is happening versus Trump, who says it’s a hoax, and Pruitt, who denies the science. What they all share in common is that they think they’re gonna be fine. And that is what is so scary about this.
The New Yorker had a really good piece a month or so ago on high-end survivalism, right? The people in Silicon Valley and Wall Street building gilded bunkers, buying land, — elevated land, in New Zealand, and really, you know, luxury prepping for the disasters to come that are the intersection between social collapse and climate change. So, what we’re seeing is the loss of an incentive to solve these problems. And that’s what’s really worrying. You know, what matters is not what an individual person in the Trump administration says or doesn’t say about the science of climate change. The problem is, they think they’re gonna be okay.
JS: Right. I mean, it’s sort of like their version of “The Purge.”
The Purge: This is not a test. This is your emergency broadcast system announcing the commencement of the annual Purge sanctioned by the U.S. government.
JS: Where — except, like, climate is the killing fields, and lack of appropriate disaster response, lack of evacuation — evactuation plans from the public sector, the kinds of abandoning of cities like you saw in New Orleans. I mean, in a way, this is the most twisted version of their idea of social Darwinism mixed in with a Hollywood horror-esque scenario, like “The Purge.” It’s really, like, kind of “The Purge” for the climate. I don’t know if you watched that movie — those movies — that movie series.
NK: And this is happening, right? I mean, Rex — coming back to Rex Tillerson, right, who — his company —
JS: Before you go to Rex Tillerson, can I just ask you, Naomi Klein, have you seen any of the Purge movies?
NK: I’m sort of feeling badly that I have not seen them. But I’ve seen many dystopian sci-fi films. You know, and I feel like part of the problem that we have is that —
JS: But do you know what “The Purge,” what the basis of “The Purge” is? Can I just tell you?
NK: What is the basis?
JS: Okay. So, “The Purge” is set in our world, but slightly in the future. And the policy in the United States that the government has set is that for 24 hours once a year, murder is legal, and anyone can go out and murder, or maim, or attack anyone they want, and it’s perfectly lawful, and you have exactly 24 hours to do it. And it’s a trilogy of movies. And in the first film, you see that wealthier families have very sophisticated security systems to protect them from the Purge, and that you have a lot of poor people or people without resources being subjected to either random murder, or neighbors, or gangsters, or what have you, settling scores. And also, the ultra-wealthy pay to go to clubs where they can actually kill poor people that have been abducted by a private company that then delivers them to the gathering for the rich people to murder in a kind of burlesque show.
The Purge: Don’t force us to hurt you. We don’t want to kill our own. Please just let us purge. Toodle-oo, Sandins.
NK: Are they good?
JS: No. But the fact that I’m talking about them means that they’re relevant —
JS: Because in a way, it’s sort of prescient. I mean, it’s — I really do feel like if they’re not intending to implement the Purge here, this is a very brilliant, unintentional plagiarism of those films that Trump and his team are engaged in.
NK: The feeling that I think so many people had during the aftermath of Katrina, which was like, this is too sci-fi. It’s too sci-fi that Blackwater is here. It’s too sci-fi that this is being seen as a site for profit. Let’s not forget that the other thing that was happening in New Orleans is that white vigilantes were hunting black people on the streets. Let’s not forget that the New Orleans Police Department has had to pay settlements because their police officers were shooting black people to keep them from getting to safety. That future is already here.
JS: You know, and just one other note. I remember, when we were in New Orleans, seeing Israeli security guards that had been flown by helicopter from Texas into New Orleans, and they deployed outside of a gated community. And when I interviewed them, they were from a company called ISI, Instinctive Shooting International. And they were there. Some of them were, you know, veterans who had been in Lebanon, you know, of the Israeli Intelligence or Armed Forces—been in Lebanon, been in Palestine, and here they were with semi-automatic weapons deployed in defense of the rich in New Orleans.
DemocracyNow! host Amy Goodman: We’re joined now by two journalists who’ve just returned from New Orleans. On the line from Canada is writer and author Naomi Klein. Her piece in The Nation is called “Purging the Poor.” And we’re joined in our studio by Democracy Now correspondent Jeremy Scahill.
NK: I remember those days. We need to look really, really closely at these models, right? This is not about the future. This is about the present. If we want — and this is where the road we’re on leads, right? So, Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, when he was CEO of Exxon, after this company conducted their own climate change research in the 1970s, cutting edge climate change research: They were taking C02 samples off of their oil tankers, publishing articles — their own scientists saying, “Yes, this is happening, yes this is a real”— does this about-turn in the ‘90s and pours money into climate change denial. Exxon knew all about climate change. They knew about it before Hansen testified on Capitol Hill in 1988 and said, “Yes, it’s happening. Humans are causing it.”
They knew all about it. They were already rejigging their operations, thinking about — and this, you know, has come out in investigative reporting by Inside Climate News, by the LA Times. So now, we know what they knew when they knew it, or some of it, right? That they were looking at the opportunities that would come from melting Arctic ice and the ability to drill for oil. They were planning to raise their drilling rigs to compensate for sea level rise. They knew all about it, and yet they poured millions into very, very strong lobbying to keep the U.S. from signing the Kyoto Protocol. Full-page ads in the New York Times taken out by Mobil saying, “The science isn’t clear.” They knew the science was clear. Pouring money into climate change denial, spreading doubt. We lost decades because of this company.
Finally, Rex Tillerson, I think it was in 2011, publicly says, “Yes, climate change is happening, but humans will adapt.” Right? So, if you can’t grow food in one place, humans have always adapted. Now, how do humans adapt to not being able to grow food, Jeremy? They move. They seek safety. They do what humans do and have a human right to do.
But we now are in this era of fortressed continents — continents fortressing themselves using these same private contractors. I mean, this is Erik Prince’s new business, right? What’s it called, Frontier Services something?
JS: Yeah. Frontier Services Group.
NK: So, he pitches himself to the European Union as the guy who’s gonna keep the boats from ever getting there. These privatized camps on islands, on Nauru, on Manus, where the Australian government intercepts ships, flies migrants fleeing war zones to these camps that are run by private contractors. By the way, this is what caused Donald Trump to hang up on the Prime Minister of Australia, ‘cause there was a deal made between Obama and Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia, to take some of those refugees because the Australian government is so determined not to let them into their country. You know, Rex Tillerson says humans adapt, but yet he’s working for an administration that understands, actually, how humans are adapting is by turning people who dare to try to find safety into criminals.
JS: Now, shifting to — I just wanted to briefly touch on the Clean Power Plan. This was the Obama administration initiative that began in the summer of 2014 that was aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants. And the Obama administration portrayed it as this very strong stance on climate change. So — and we know now that Trump is right now initiating the dismantling of that. So, explain what the Clean Power Plan was under Obama, ‘cause you were critical of Obama as well, and what this means that Trump is dismantling it.
NK: So, this was about getting off coal-powered energy. And so, it would have shut down a lot of coal-powered refineries. And the reason why I was critical is that far too many of them were being replaced with natural gas from fracking, with all of the environmental risks associated with that. You know, we keep learning more and more about how much methane is being leaked, how much methane is produced in the fracking process, and also just in the burning itself. And one of the things that the Trump administration is doing, by the way — at the end of the Obama administration, they started to get serious about this and were requiring much better monitoring and reporting to find out how much methane was being released and leaked — and one of the first things that the Trump administration has done is said, “Oh, we don’t want to know — not only do we not want to know if climate change is happening, we don’t want to know what you’re polluting.” So, this is part of their “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy around climate change. It was not good enough, but it was important. It was important. It just wasn’t enough. And this is why a lot of us thought that, you know, we were gonna be having to push very hard under a Clinton presidency to try to get much more ambitious climate policies. But this is much, much worse to get rid of it, obviously.
And I think it needs to be understood as part of a broader war on the poor and on people of color in the United States by the Trump administration. Because of the fact of environmental racism in the United States, it means that the communities that have had the dirtiest coal powered fire plants are overwhelmingly communities of color, where you have very, very high rates of asthma and over respiratory illnesses, cancer clusters, because of the siting of these dirty industries in their backgrounds. The EPA under Scott Pruitt is completely eliminating the Environmental Justice Program, which was the program dealing with this very, very unequal siting of where the most pollution is happening and who’s having — whose bodies are dealing with the impacts. So, you know, I think that this is both a climate disaster —it’s also a human rights disaster because of the enormous health risks associated with coal. Which is not to say natural gas is great, but coal is particularly noxious for human health.
JS: I wanted to talk for a moment about Jared Kushner — this is Donald Trump’s son-in-law and by many accounts, the central figure, along with Steve Bannon, wandering the West Wing. And this is the guy that Trump has — the kid — that Trump has put in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
DJT: I actually think he likes politics more than he likes real estate. I’m gonna tell you. And he’s very good at politics, so.
JS: But he recently created a new position for Jared Kushner, heading up what they’re calling the “White House Office of American Innovation,” which is staffed entirely by former corporate executives, of course, from Goldman Sachs, and General Motors, and Microsoft, etc. They’re calling them the SWAT team of strategic consultants. And of course, at the heart of this is deregulation. Your response to the role of Jared Kushner — but also the mission of this Office of American Innovation? I mean, it really is kind of a horribly, violently ironic name to be given to this department worthy of Orwell.
NK: It is, and also just kind of honest, right? Because this is a war on the public sphere, and now they have a SWAT team. And the SWAT team is gonna be looking for more things to cut. Bush announced — sorry. What am I gonna do, Jeremy? [Laughs] I keep doing it. Trump announced, I believe it was his first day on the job, that there would be a 75 percent cut in regulation under his administration, so I think probably what they’re gonna be looking for is any way they can to cut regulations. I mean, this is gonna have huge implications for food safety, for water safety — and they’re also looking for privatization opportunities.
JS: Right. And recently, Jared Kushner sort of put a fine point on what you’re saying when he told the Washington Post, “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
NK: I mean, the really chilling part, of course, is what Donald Trump has done as a businessman. You know, how he has run his incredibly opaque company, the number of bankruptcies, the number of ripped off workers and contractors. I mean, he so consistently sacrifices his own investors, his — you know, his own partners, and just looks out for number one, you know? This has been — the expansion of his business model internationally has been based on just leasing his name, right? I mean this is what his sons are out doing. They’re not building buildings themselves. For the most part, they’re selling the Trump name. One Trump development project in Panama, they got $50 million from in licensing and branding fees. So, it’s incredibly lucrative.
But when there are problems, and there are very often problems with Trump developments, whether — if it’s not on time; if it’s — if people aren’t able to — these are often revenue properties. If they feel that they’ve been lied to, whatever happens — and there have been several collapses — Trump is not responsible, right? The liabilities are held by these business partners to whom he’s just leased his name. So, if the U.S. government is run anything like the Trump organization: Expect to be looted.
JS: [Laughs] All right. On that very uplifting note, we’ll end it there. Naomi Klein, who is the author of “The Shock Doctrine,” of “This Changes Everything,” and of “No Logo,” working on a forthcoming book, and now is a reporter, columnist, writer for The Intercept. Thanks a lot for joining us, Naomi.
NK: Thanks, Jeremy. Great talking with you.
[The Coup, “Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO”]
Help me out
Yo, yo, yo, yo
We’ve got 5 million ways to kill a CEO
Slap him up and shake him up and then you know
Let him off the flo’ then bait him with the dough
You can do it funk or do it disco, y’know how this go
(Yo, yo, yo, yo)
JS: “Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO.” That is The Coup. The group’s emcee, Boots Riley, is a legendary Bay Area hip-hop artist, and he’s also a dedicated activist. The Coup’s albums include: “Steal this Album,” “Genocide and Juice,” “Party Music.” And more recently, Boots has teamed up with Tom Morello, who of course rose to fame with his band Rage Against the Machine. And they have a group that’s called Street Sweeper Social Club.
Boots Riley: Hey, hello?
JS: Hey, Boots. It’s Jeremy.
BR: How’s it going?
JS: All right. So, Boots Riley, welcome to Intercepted.
BR: Thanks for having me on the show.
JS: So, Boots, we recently had this kind of crazy situation where the President of the United States was engaged in a Twitter battle with Snoop Dogg and some other hip-hop artists.
Snoop Dogg: Yeah, nigga, fuck Donald Trump. We ain’t voting for your punk ass. Go get you a new hairdo, you bitchass nigga.
[Remix of BadBadNotGood’s “Lavender” (featuring Katranada and Snoop Dogg)]
Snoop Dogg: My dogs don’t bark, but they get off
Fuck around and get your whole face bit off
Sinister, spit truth like a minister
JS: Way, way back in the day, you actually had a song where you were taking on Donald Trump.
[The Coup, “Pimps (Freestylin’ at the fortune 500)”]
I’m Trump Trump check out the cash in my trunk
Trump Trump check out the cash in my trunk
I am Donald Trump me think you mighta heard about me
JS: What’s your analysis of the Trump presidency and also his little mini beef with Snoop Dogg?
BR: The reason that we talked about Trump even back in those days is because we were always analyzing our problems in terms of how our problems are created by the economic system that we’re in: Capitalism. And in that analysis, we understand that the primary contradiction in this system comes at the point of exploitation. And so, our critiques are not just of the government. They’re of the ruling class. And the ruling class are the puppet masters that the government works for. So, in the sense that Trump has been part of the ruling class for a while — that’s why critique of him was needed — whereas most public schools and private schools, for that matter, teach us that capitalism is the way to some sort of freedom and some sort of power individually. Our culture mimics that.
So, we’re told that to get rich, it takes merely rugged individualism, and that that is something to be looked up toward. So, many hip-hop songs have looked up to Trump, not because people are stupid, but because people are going off the information that we’re taught in elementary, junior high, high school, and college, and making that into song. But we need to take advantage of this clarity that’s happening right now and show people that it’s not just — it’s not a personality contest, that Trump being in office is a development that has come from years of the Democrats rolling it slowly towards this direction, and the Republicans, obviously.
JS: All right, Boots. Well, we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on Intercepted. Thank you very much.
BR: Aight, thank you. Peace.
JS: Hip-hop artist Boots Riley. Boots sent in some verses for Intercepted. The track is called “Ghetto Blaster.”
[Boots Riley, “Ghetto Blaster”]
Listen to the shotgun sonata from personas non grata
With a plot to rock harder than the second intifada
I do, drink firewater but I’m more like Hiawatha
and will slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, your armada
Inform your scholars that our alma mater’s squalor
So my squad’ll pull your collar at your black-and-white gala
We’re canon fodder for dollars both under Trump and Obama
I’m not a baller I’m a brawler callin’ y’all to come harder
I’m from the land o’ the free labor that planted the plan of the
black-and-branded to scram it over to Canada
A fan of radical bandits and bandanas
who slammed in the banana clip and rat-a-tat-tat-tatted-a
They spat the grammar to scam y’all to clamber up
The damn ladder to grab for Excalibur
Not a rap battler, but the next caliber
Catch the program, not just my pentameter
JS: When we come back, we’re gonna discuss the intensifying U.S. bombings against Iraq and Syria. They’ve killed upwards of a thousand civilians just this month alone. This is Intercepted. Stay with us.
JS: Okay, we are back here at Intercepted. And Donald Trump claimed on the campaign trail that he was against the U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 2003. Now, that’s in dispute, but he claimed it over and over and over.
DJT: We should have kept the oil when we got out. And, you know, it’s very interesting — had we taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS.
JS: And now, Trump seems to be getting his own Iraq War. I mean, the Iraq War has been going on for, you know — you could say for decades, but certainly since 2003. But Trump is sort of initiating a new campaign. There are more U.S. ground troops moving to the region and onto the ground in Syria and Iraq. They’re still calling them advisers, but it’s clear that they are gonna be in a combat role. Trump has also taken moves to give military commanders much greater authority to conduct strikes, even when they know that civilians are gonna be killed. And it’s important to be clear. You know, Barack Obama authorized both overt and covert wars and military operations that killed tremendous numbers of civilians. And at least Obama on numerous occasions paid lip service to the idea that killing civilians is wrong, and that the U.S. doesn’t want to be doing it.
Barack Obama: And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.
JS: Trump, though, appears to believe in scorched earth. And on just one day earlier this month, U.S. airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq and the north of Iraq killed around 200 people. And there are some reports that suggest that in just one incident, that 80 civilians may have been killed as they huddled in a basement trying to get shelter from these air raids. While all of this is happening in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia’s continuing to just utterly destroy Yemen. Defense Secretary General James Mattis is reportedly pushing Trump to try to expand the U.S. military’s role inside of Yemen and to directly go after the Houthi militias that rule parts of that country in it’s civil war. And part of what we’re seeing happening here is a proxy war with Iran. That could quickly morph into something much worse.
To discuss all of this, I’m joined now by the Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain. Murtaza covers these wars and other issues for us at The Intercept. Maz, welcome to Intercepted.
Murtaza Hussain: Thanks for having me.
JS: Maz, it seems like wall-to-wall coverage right now in the United States on cable news and online is all about whatever palace intrigue exists in the Trump administration, and the battle between Trump and the Republicans over healthcare, and what’s happening with Trump’s inner circle. And yet, we had strikes that have killed more civilians and more people in a small amount of time since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Why do you think this story is not getting more attention in the broader news media?
MH: Unfortunately, Iraqis and other have become simply numbers. These numbers are very hard to even humanize at this point. The past 26 years, the United States has been bombing Iraq almost continuously, or at war with Iraq in some form almost continuously. This attack in Mosul is perhaps one of the deadliest mass —single mass casualty attacks in the past few decades, but it’s not the only one. There was a very devastating attack during the first Gulf War, which killed upwards of 400 people in a bomb shelter in Amiriyah. Unfortunately, Iraqis have become dehumanized in American discourse. And the death of 200 people barely even registers. They’ve become merely statistics. And it’s depressing, but it’s become unsurprising that the news media and the public at large has just tuned out of these terrible, terrible massacres.
JS: Right. And we do know that at the end of Barack Obama’s time in office, they were already ratcheting up the strikes. But what Trump did early on in his administration was to lift some of the — I don’t want to say restrictions — but some of the rules in place that the military was, at least on paper, supposed to be governed by concerning potential civilian deaths. That seems to now be radically either reduced or altogether obliterated under Trump.
MH: Yeah. It’s no secret that there were a huge number of similar deadly airstrikes under the Obama administration. But Obama did attempt to at least introduce some constraints on rules of engagement for the U.S. military to minimize those deaths. Because, if nothing else, they’re strategically costly and they’re bad for the image of the United States and they’re not conducive to achieving goals, even in these theaters. Trump made no secret about his intention to conduct U.S. wars in a more brutal fashion. He campaigned specifically on a platform of taking the gloves off against all U.S. enemies.
JS: Well, he put it very eloquently when he said, I believe it was —
DJT: ISIS is making tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil camps, right? They have certain areas of oil that they took away. They have some in Syria, some in Iraq. I would bomb the shit of ‘em. [Crowd cheering] I would just bomb those suckers. And that’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. I’d blow up the refi —I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what? You’ll get Exxon to come in there in two months. You ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker brand new. It’ll be beautiful. And I’d rig it, and I’d take the oil.
MH: He was very stark and blunt about what he was gonna do. And people voted for him based on that. He was applauded at debates for these sort of statements. And now, what you’re seeing since he was elected are numerous — what can’t be called anything other than massacres, which have happened by U.S. forces not just through airstrikes, but also that deadly raid in Yemen a few weeks ago, which killed dozens of civilians. Iraqi forces have said that they have noticed an increasing laxity in U.S. targeting standards in the past few weeks in the Mosul operation. And the U.S. military has not conceded it’s changed its rules of operation. But the proof seems to be — or the indication seems to be in these staggering civilian death tolls in these strikes in the last few weeks.
DJT: Well, and it seems as though we’re — well, we are witnessing an increased deployment of U.S. personnel on the ground. I mean, they’re still kind of grooming the media to refer to them as advisers, but the reality is that there are both conventional and Special Operations forces that are being deployed on the ground in both Syria and Iraq right now. Where is this headed, in your view?
MH: Well, Trump, one of the mainstays of his campaign was he was going to escalate the war against ISIS, and he’s escalating it. He’s sending ground troops in to fight. I think we’re gonna see major battles in Raqqa and other territories held by ISIS, and maybe even U.S. ground troops in Mosul, if the Iraqi operation stalls, which it seems to be at the moment. I think that you’re seeing an escalation of U.S. involvement in all these theaters, and not just in Iraq and Syria, but also in a totally separate conflict in Yemen against the Houthis. You’re seeing very strong indications the U.S. is gonna be more directly involved in supporting Emirati and Saudi aggression against the Yemenis.
JS: What’s the endgame here?
MH: That’s a very good question.
JS: I mean, from the U.S. perspective or from some of these Gulf monarchies that are financing these wars, who stands to gain from the policy as it currently is unfolding on the ground?
MH: Well, there seem to be two goals the U.S. is trying to achieve. And neither of them are very well defined goals. The first one is to, okay, degrade ISIS and take the territories out of its control, which is fine, but then you’re setting up what’s the day two after that? How do you prevent this group from reemerging, or an even more vicious group from reemerging out of the defeat — the very brutal, it seems, defeat of their territories right now? Secondly, you have a broader campaign by the Trump administration as Gulf allies to roll back Iranian influence in the region. The thing is, the reason Iranian influence increased in the region in the first place is in large part a product of U.S. actions, like the war on Iraq and the war on Afghanistan, which took out two major Iranian enemies and allows Iran to spread influence much further.
So now, the intention is to roll back Iranian influence starting in Yemen. But that can only be a very long, very costly, and very involved effort by the United States. It will be a year’s-long effort. Very bloody and very uncertain to roll back Iranian gains in the last few years. So, I think what you’re seeing is a new era of warfare throughout the region, and not just with the U.S. and Iranian-backed forces, but also — it could also involve Israel, too, because Israel is threatened by developments in Syria and elsewhere in the region. And you could very well see in the near future a war between Israel and Iran or Iranian-backed forces.
JS: All right. Murtaza Hussain, Thank you very much.
MH: Thanks for having me.
Apple commercial: Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.
JS: Apple is certainly one of the most powerful companies in the world, not just because of its financial position, but because of its central role in so many peoples’ private lives. And yet, Apple, this huge, powerful corporation — yeah, they seem to be afraid of one of my colleagues here at The Intercept, Josh Begley. Five years ago, Josh created an app that would ping you whenever the U.S. conducted a drone strike. And of course, those happened a lot under President Obama. But over these years, Josh has discovered that Apple does not seem to be a very big fan of his app. I’m joined now by Josh Begley. Welcome back to Intercepted.
Josh Begley: Thanks for having me.
JS: Before we get into the whole situation now between you and Apple over your app, why don’t you take us back to when you first created this drone strike tracking app, and what was the purpose that you wanted it to serve?
JB: So, the original idea for the app was really simple. I could not think of anything that felt further away than the drone war, and so, I wanted to be in touch with it a little bit more closely. And so, I was sort of wondering what it would mean if I received a notification every time one of these drone strikes was reported in the news. Say I’m walking down the street and my phone buzzes. Maybe I think it’s my friend texting me, and then I’m sort of surprised by this unsettling news. Would that change my relationship to the drone war at all? —
JS: Did it?
JB: It did, certainly, because the last five years have been this sort of ongoing process of submitting and resubmitting an app that I never thought I would continue to update, because of the particularities of Apple’s secrecy. And it has actually made me learn a tremendous amount about the geography of Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, and where these drone strikes take place.
JS: And when you created it—just kind of walk people through how it worked.
JB: Mm. So, it was dead simple at first. I really just wanted it to ping your phone every time one of these reports was mentioned in the press. I didn’t really want it to have much functionality. But originally, Apple said that that was not useful, so I added a map, and I added a newsfeed. And then, it ended up getting through the App Store after three rejections because they said it was, “excessively crude or objectionable content.” The fifth time I submitted it, it actually was accepted, and it was in the App Store for about a year. And so, for about a year, I was sending out these alerts every time a drone strike was reported in the news. It definitely changed my relationship to it.
JS: Wait, wait, wait. Back up a second here.
JS: So, you create the app. The initial criticism from Apple was that it was so stripped down that it didn’t serve a real purpose.
JS: You then upped your game. You created a map, etc. And it was rejected on what grounds?
JB: On “excessively crude or objectionable content.”
JS: Did you ever get any understanding of what it was that they found crude or objectionable?
JB: You know: No. The process for approving apps is somewhat labyrinthine, and there have been a number of people that have had the experience of having apps rejected a bunch. But they never really comment and tell you why. They’ll just say, “Oh, it was under this 2.1 or 1.1.” I forget the actual technical term. But it’s “excessively crude or objectionable content.” They said it would be either not useful, or not enough people would be interested in it, and then finally, that it was objectionable.
JS: Well, and let’s remember here that there are all manner of stalking apps that are available on the App Store. There are apps with an overtly racist theme in some of the games. Not to mention all the shit that’s happened with companies like Uber. And, you know, Uber’s app has led to a lot of objectionable content — actions in some part committed by their drivers and the CEO toward the drivers. But somehow, your app, which is intended to put people in more touch with what their tax dollars are being used for and their foreign policy, was declared “crude and objectionable.” Now, I woke up on Tuesday morning this week, and when I looked at The Intercept, I saw an article that you wrote saying after, you know, numerous — a dozen, I think — rejections, Apple had finally accepted your app in the App Store. And you did an article about it, and people start downloading it. And then, we start getting messages from people saying, “It’s not working for me.”
JS: What happened?
JB: So, on Tuesday morning, the app was in the store for about five hours, and I sort of was thinking, maybe Apple changed their mind. Maybe they were gonna let it be there, and maybe they were gonna stop blocking it. And around 2 o’clock, I received a push notification on my iPhone that told me that it was removed from sale. And then there were some people tweeting about how it had not been available in the store when they tried to download it.
JS: And when you say sale, it was free?
JB: It was free.
JB: Totally free.
JS: And what was the name that you registered the app under?
JB: It was called Metadata. About in 2012 or 2013, when I was submitting it a bunch of times, Metadata was the name we went with because it really was metadata about English language news reports. There isn’t a whole lot of data to speak of about a lot of these reports. So, that’s why the app is so barebones. It’s really just sending you a sentence, maybe, or a small little bit of narrative about what happened in one of these drone strikes that’s reported in Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia. And so, I received a notification that told me it was not in the store. And I suppose that that was to be expected on the one hand, but at the same time, I kind of thought Apple might have come around.
JS: Now, with the Trump administration relaxing — it’s such a strange phrase to use, but that’s how it is — relaxing some of the restrictions on operations that will kill civilians or the likelihood of killing civilians, and with the pummeling that we just talked about with Murtaza Hussain that we’re seeing in Iraq and Syria with these increased airstrikes, have you considered expanding the app to not just be exclusively about drone strikes, but to include all sorts of U.S. airstrikes?
JB: Yeah, I think my own biggest critique of the app is that it’s in some ways too narrow, because the distinction between a drone strike and an airstrike by a manned aircraft is pretty insignificant if you’re on the ground, right? The missiles land sort of in the same way. And so, I think expanding it to include both unofficial and official war zones perhaps would be a more accurate reflection. If you really want to be in touch with our foreign policy and with the drone war, what does it mean to be in touch with all airstrikes that the U.S. launches or that the Saudi campaign sort of backed by the U.S. launches? What would that mean? Would that change our relationship to our own foreign policy in any sort of meaningful way?
JS: You know it sucks that they pulled it down for a number of reasons. But one thought I had is if somehow Donald Trump discovered this, and he learned that the U.S. was doing all these drone strikes around the world and other airstrikes around the world, maybe he would tweet against these strikes if he was aware that they were happening. I mean, ‘cause that’s — that really — he gets a lot of information from social media. So that, I think, is the grand disappointment: That you do not fall into the category of Breitbart in briefing the President.
Josh Begley, thank you for creating the app. We’ll continue to follow this saga. And, you know, if people feel so inclined, I think they should reach out to Apple and let them know that this kind of censorship undermines the democratic spirit of our society because it strips us of an ability to understand the actions of our government. So, Josh Begley, thanks for being with us.
JB: Thanks for having me.
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. We had production assistance from Elise Swain. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. A couple of announcements here: One is, we now have our own dedicated Twitter feed for the Intercepted podcast. It is simply: @Intercepted. We would love to start hearing from listeners. What do you like about the show? What would you like to see more of? Do you have any questions for us? Check us out on Twitter. Our handle is @Intercepted.
And also, I want to give a shout-out to my friends here at First Look Media and their incredibly funny, but also smart podcast: Politically Reactive. The show is hosted by Hari Kondabolu and Kamau Bell. You should check it out. Politicallyreactive.com. They kick off a new season this week.
If you like what you’re hearing on Intercepted, we would love it if you make sure you’re subscribing to the show, however you do such things. Also, when you rate us or you give us a review, it helps spread the word about our show. And we really do enjoy hearing from all of you if we can. And the best way to do that right now is on our Twitter feed, @Intercepted. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
Rep. Trey Gowdy: Whether it’s the White House or Waffle House, what difference does it make if the information is reliable and authentic? It just so happens Devin had to do it this way.