Intercepted Podcast: Pyongyang and the White House Gang

With spiking tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, we reflect on the history of the region. And Naomi Klein talks to U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Photos: Getty Images (2) Photo Illustration: Elise Swain for The Intercept

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The developments coming out of the White House this week are like a twisted mash up of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Macbeth,” “Project Runway,” and a Mr. Bean movie. Dime-store Sopranos reject Anthony Scaramucci was fired after just 10 days as White House communications director. Reince Priebus is out as chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly is in. All that and an idiotic call for a ban on transgender service members because of their “tremendous” costs annually (only $2.5-8.5 million) when his own trips to Mar-a-Lago are estimated to have accumulated at least a $20 million price tag. With spiking tensions between the United States and North Korea, we reflect on the history of the region with author and foreign policy expert John Feffer. And The Intercept’s Naomi Klein talks to U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn about the Reagan-Thatcher era of privatization policies and lessons the Democratic Party could learn from Corbyn’s unexpected electoral success.

Elaine Benes: You know what? It’s getting late. Can I call Tony?

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah.

Anthony Scaramucci: Well, let me tell you something about myself. I am a straight shooter. You’re from New York, I’m from New York.

EB: Wait, what is going on?

AS: The fish stinks from the head down. If I’m done talking, you can ask me questions.

J. Seinfeld: Hey, I told ya, I don’t want you doing that on my phone.

George Costanza: Hey, uh, Tony, I just had this brainstorm for us. Can you guess what it is?

AS: I don’t like this leaks. I’m gonna stop you. It’s just really that simple. Somebody said to me yesterday — I won’t tell you who. How about it was the President?

GS: Wow! I am totally down.

J. Seinfeld: You know, what is it with you and Tony? What, are you like his sidekick now?

GC: He’s the first cool guy I’ve ever been friends with in my whole life. He’s not afraid of anybody.

Cosmo Kramer: You love him.

GC: (laughs) That’s ridiculous.

CK: No, no. I don’t think so.

Female Reporter: Tonight, Anthony Scaramucci out as White House communications director after just 11 days.

EB: This isn’t a very good time, George.

GC: I just wanted to talk to Tony for a minute.

AS: You’re coming across a little bit elitist, so let me just say something to you, okay? I grew up in a middle class family, okay?

GC: Me? Step off?

AS: Where I grew up, in the neighborhood I’m from, we’re front-stabbers.

GC: Why? It wasn’t my fault. I —

AS: Okay, so we have a little bit of a different communication style.

GC: Oh, Tony, don’t. Tony, please.

[Stan Bush, “On My Own”]

I know you didn’t mean to leave me
on my own tonight
I’m gonna gather my strength
Gonna find the power

[Music interlude]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from The Intercept, and this is episode 25 of Intercepted.

Wow, wow, wow, what a batshit insane crazy time this is. The developments coming out of the White House feel like we’re all watching some really twisted mashup of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Project Runway, and a Mr. Bean movie. Dime-store Sopranos reject Anthony Scaramucci was fired after just ten days as White House communications director. Reince Priebus is also out as chief of staff, and General John Kelly is in.

Donald J. Trump: So, I want to congratulate you on having done a fantastic job, General, and we look forward to, if it’s possible, an even better job as chief of staff.

General John Kelly: I’ll try, sir. Thank you.

DJT: Thank you.

JS: Trump is continuing to bash his attorney general and white supremacist Jeff Sessions on Twitter, and he is avoiding him in person. As somebody pointed out on Twitter, there are a million reasons to fire Jeff Sessions, but Donald Trump has probably found the one reason that is not legitimate. Meanwhile, President Trump’s lawyer has said over and over that the President had nothing to do with crafting Don Jr.’s less than truthful response to that whole kerfuffle over his meeting with that Russian lawyer that Jared Kushner was at. Well, now it seems that that’s not exactly true at all. The Washington Post is reporting that Trump actually dictated the statement that Jr. put out. At the same time all of this is happening, the effort to repeal Obamacare and replace it with The Hunger Games — well, that was defeated in an epic humiliation, not just for Donald Trump, but for the Senate’s vile little turtle man, Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell: I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time.

JS: On Russia, meanwhile, the U.S. Congress authorized sweeping sanctions against Russia, and the White House has indicated that Donald Trump negotiated with the Congress, and that he’s going to sign it. That’s an odd move for a man accused of being Putin’s puppet.

DJT: As far as Putin is concerned, I think Putin’s been a very strong leader for Russia. I mean, he’s been a lot stronger than our leader — that, I can tell you.

JS: Though we should point out that Trump was facing almost certain humiliation if he did veto it because it almost certainly would have been overturned if it went back to the Congress. For his part, Vladimir Putin responded by expelling 755 U.S. diplomatic personnel. I would say that the people rooting for escalated tension with Russia seem to have scored some points on all of this.

Now, last week, Trump also announced a new Pentagon policy, which he appeared not to have informed the Department of Defense about in advance. Donald Trump’s saying on Twitter that he’s going to ban transgender people from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military. The President tweeted, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory, and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Well, the Pentagon quickly issued a statement saying that it had not received any official directive from the President, just his tweet, and that it would continue to respect all soldiers in its various forces. This could end up being a bit like Trump’s Muslim ban, and it’s almost certainly going to end up in the courts, if his tweet is actually a reflection of an attempted new policy. But just to put this statement Trump made about the cost, the medical cost associated with transgender soldiers, in perspective, transgender-related care in the military costs about two-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half million dollars. Secret Service protection for Trump Tower? It’s 26.8 million dollars. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips? Yeah, those come in at 20 million dollars. Each one of Trump’s golf outings — and there are a lot of golf outings — they each cost us an average of about three-and-a-half million dollars. Priorities, priorities.

DJT: Played a lot of golf. He’s played more than most PGA touring professionals play. More than a guy who plays in the PGA tour plays.

JS: Well, speaking of colossal wastes of money, I encourage people to read the excellent new article by Bill Hartung that was published on TomDispatch over the weekend that takes a meticulous look at plans for military spending under Trump.

The first line of that piece is: “You wouldn’t know it based on the endless cries for more money coming from the military, politicians, and the President, but these are the best of times for the Pentagon.” Hartung combed through all the data. He added up all of the hidden and buried spending. And he calculates that Trump’s military budget would be a whopping 1.09 trillion dollars. Check out that piece. It’s called “The Trillion-Dollar Military Budget,” and it’s on
I should say, as I’ve said over and over on this show, the institutions of the CIA and the military are doing just great under Trump. He does not represent a threat to their core interests. If anything, these institutions are entering a golden age of their power, particularly because Trump is such an incompetent, fawning fool when it comes to military ad national security matters.

Now, on that token, Trump is really doing his best to inflame tensions with North Korea after his brilliant “Let China handle it all” strategy fell apart almost immediately. This past weekend, the U.S. flew two B-1 bombers over the Korean Peninsula. That followed last Friday’s intercontinental ballistic missile test by North Korea. That missile that North Korea tested reportedly has a longer range than any previously tested by Pyongyang and — in theory, according to experts — it could reach the U.S. South Korea is now asking the Trump administration for its own new missiles with the capacity to strike deeper into the North.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are not new. Every U.S. president seems to find themselves in a similar situation — a crisis with North Korea. But Donald Trump is pretty erratic and he tends to just spit out whatever he’s thinking, and that can probe very dangerous with North Korea. And it can certainly prove very dangerous with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Now, when North Korea is discussed in the U.S. media, it’s largely centered around how unstable and crazy Kim Jong-un is.

DJT: Kim Jong-un, this crazy fat kid that’s running North Korea. He’s not rational. We’re not dealing with — even with someone like Joseph Stalin.

JS: How we got here is largely ignored. So, today, we’re gonna take a deep dive into the history of North Korea and its leaders. And we’re joined now by John Feffer. He is the Director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s also the author of several books, among them, “North Korea, South Korea: U.S. Policy in the Korean Peninsula” and “Powertrip,” which laid out U.S. unilateralism during the George W. Bush administration. John Feffer, welcome to Intercepted.

John Feffer: Thanks for having me on your show.

JS: How did we get to this situation? Not just with Kim Jong-un in power. How is it that the Korean Peninsula is divided, and what happened in what’s called the Korean War?

JF: Much of what we understand about North Korea today should be based on our understanding of Kim Il-sung and how he came to power. Because at the end of World War II when Korea was divided and North Korea was effectively created, Kim Il-sung was not in Korea. He was actually in Russia. He had spent much of the war in the Soviet Union. He comes back to Korea basically on Soviet ships and he is effectively installed as the leader of North Korea by the Russians, who see him as a kind of pliant client. He also kind of learns from the Soviet model the importance of a strong leader, a leader how commands not only the respect of the population, but is in effect worshipped by the population.

So, he merges the idea of a government and of personal authority, and establishes a personality cult which, you know, becomes extraordinarily important in the development of North Korea. Because he leads from 1945, 1946 all the way to his death of 1994, so it’s an extraordinary period of time that he controls the country. And he controls the country in a way that’s, from outside perspective, seems quite successful. In other words, if you look at North Korea and South Korea as they emerge from the Korean War, North Korea develops economically much faster than South Korea. Seems to develop a much more prosperous country in a shorter period of time, using basically the Soviet style command economy strategies. South Korea, not as successful. This is the case up until approximately the early 1970s. So, this model that Kim Il-sung develops attains a credibility, a legitimacy within North Korea, not only on the basis of kind of manufactured reality — if you will, this personality cult — but even by some objective standards, economic standards and social standards.

JS: Typically, when that happens, it’s — you have a society that’s cut off from the outside world, and you start to tap into the new generations and ensure that they’re kind of brainwashed into believing that this is the truth, and this is the way the world is. When did that start in North Korea around Kim Il-sung’s identity?

JF: Well, Kim Il-sung came from a very Christian family, and the northern part of kind of Korea was very strongly Christian during the late 19th and early 20th century. In fact, Pyongyang was really the center of Christian theology. Many people came to Pyongyang to study, including Billy Graham’s wife studied in Pyongyang at the theology center there, which was why Billy Graham was so interested in North Korea.

Billy Graham: Now, God doesn’t have a body likes yours. He doesn’t look like an American. He doesn’t look like a Korean. God has no body. God is a spirit! And because God is a spirit, he can be everywhere at the same time.

JF: Kim Il-sung bases his cult of personality on Christian roots. So you have, for instance, the father and the mother and the son. Kim Il-sung, his first wife, and their first son, Kim Jong-il, form this kind of trinity in the North Korean ideology, very similar to a Christian trinity. Kim Il-sung, through this period, is able to add on to this cult of personality with some indigenous aspects. I mean, of course it was identified as a Communist country, but gradually, over the decades, those Communist elements become superseded by more nationalist elements. And of course, the ideology that maybe people are familiar with is the Juche ideology that Kim Il-sung developed, which is effectively a self-reliant ideology. It says that North Korea really can’t depend on other countries — so, the notion of self-reliance, of nationalist sovereignty, extremely important to North Korean ideology. And Kim Il-sung grafts this on to the personality cult so that you have a rich kind of nationalist underpinning to create a kind of organic one mind, one body ideology, if you will.

JS: Take us from that period through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and then the ultimate ascent to power of Kim Jong-il following the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994. What happened from the ‘70s up to the fall of the Soviet Union?

JF: North Korea, with its kind of Juche ideology, decides not to integrate into the Soviet Comecon or the economic cooperation sphere of the Soviet Union. It establishes itself as a kind of indigenous autonomous economy. So, it is isolated from both the east and the west. South Korea, of course, makes its decision to become a very globalized economy. It will base its economy on trade, on exports, on its integration into the world economy. So, that decision that was made both in the north and the south in the 1970s leads to a pretty extreme divergence in economic performance.

And North Korea, because it’s not connected really to any other economic block, cannot compete, really. It cannot generate enough autonomous, indigenous capacity to meet the needs of its population. South Korea advances very rapidly. You know, from the 1960s, South Korea was basically at the level of a sub-Saharan African country. And within the space of one generation, South Korea becomes one of the top industrial powers in the world. So, this divergence is quite dramatic. And it’s really exaggerated or aggravated by the collapse of Communism.

North Korea had the most mechanized agriculture in the region, but that whole system was based on cheap oil — cheap oil either provided subsidized rates by the Soviet Union or China. Suddenly, North Korea faces an enormous crisis. Everything that was based on cheap oil suddenly becomes prohibitively expensive. It becomes impossible, in fact, for North Korean agriculture to survive. And its industrial capacity also drops because it too was based largely on cheap energy. And by 1993, 1994, all it took was a little push. And that little push was basically floods and droughts that tip North Korea over the edge. And so, by 1995, North Korean agriculture had collapsed. Its industry had collapsed. It could no longer feed its population, and it enters into the famine period.

Male Reporter: Inside this orphanage lie babies too easily described as the lucky ones. The survivor of famine are fortunate, for these youngsters are citizens of the world’s last hardline Communist regime, and that puts them to the back of the charity queue in many countries. But international aid in North Korea is still only a trickle. Some European countries and South Africa have sent corn and grain, but the U.S. and others have held back, perhaps hoping the regime collapses.

JF: And that comes right after Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994. So, for a lot of people, this was a sign of the heaven’s displeasure with North Korean leadership. Kim Il-sung dies. The country’s plunged into crisis. The famine kills a lot of people. We don’t know how many — as much as 10 percent of the population of approximately 25 million people in North Korea. But it’s still difficult to find estimates — a famine that lasts from approximately 1995 until 2000.

Also in this period, you have Kim Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il, take over — someone who you could say never really wanted to be the leader of a country. I mean, he was a guy who was much more comfortable behind the camera. I think he wanted to be a film director. He loved films. He had this enormous private library of movies. If he could have just sat in a movie theater all day long, he would have been a happy guy. But he’s thrust into this position I don’t think he ever wanted, and he certainly wasn’t — he didn’t have the capacity for. He was not charismatic. He barely uttered any word in public. He didn’t have a kind of — a notion of where he should take the country economically. He manages, by 2000, 2001, to stabilize the country, but it has been knocked backwards significantly. You could say it really hasn’t recovered from that period of the 1990s, even today. I mean, it has some modest economic growth, but it really — I mean, you take a tour of the North Korean countryside, and you know, it still — because energy is expensive, it looks futile. It looks like people, you know, pushing plows instead of tractors. It’s still suffering from the problems it faced in the ‘90s.

JS: Another key component of this is that around 1994, the North Koreans begin to invest more heavily in nuclear power, in part to try to offset what you’re describing. Was it actually the case that the nuclear aspiration of North Korea started from that position, or was it always dual-headed with a military aim?

JF: Yeah, I think it was always two-pronged. It was necessary for North Korea to find some other fuel source, and nuclear power seemed a very alternative. But there was a military component as well. Because from the 1970s on, in part because of South Korea’s economic success and the fact it could invest more money into the military, and in part because it had the United States as an ally — and the U.S. was providing cutting edge technology in the military sector — North Korea fell behind rather rapidly.

To level the playing field, well, to have a nuclear capability, that was perceived as a cheap way of coming up to speed, essentially. They were also concerned of course that the United States was, you know, invading other countries around the world and was kind of taking advantage of the unipolar moment that happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, nuclear weapons were not just a way of leveling the playing field with South Korea, but they offered a real deterrent against any possible U.S. intervention, either bombing or actual physical military intervention in the country.

JS: But on some level, just speaking from a strategic perspective, it was smart on the part of the North Koreans to want to pursue nuclear weapons, given that in the emerging nuclear world, countries with nuclear weapons seemed to have at least some form of an insurance policy from their complete destruction.

JF: Absolutely. If they had not developed nuclear weapons, North Korea probably would not exist today. And that’s an important consideration when we think about what kind of negotiations can solve the current conflict between the United States and North Korea, as well as between North Korea and South Korea. If nuclear weapons serve this critical deterrent function, why on earth would North Korea give them up? Would they give them up simply in exchange for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War? Well, I mean, North Korea’s asked for a peace treaty, and certainly there are a lot of folks here in the United States and South Korea that support a peace treaty. But honestly, a piece of paper’s probably not gonna substitute for a nuclear deterrent.

So, we have to come up with the different kinds of security guarantees in the process of negotiating with North Korea, as well as acknowledging that, A) North Korea’s not gonna give up its nuclear capability as a precondition for negotiations — which was of course the Obama administration’s articulated position — and they’re not going to give away that nuclear capability after, say, only a week of negotiations, and they say, “Hey, you know, you guys convinced us. We really believe in your sincerity. Thank you for your offers of removing sanctions. We’ll get rid of our nuclear weapons.” No. I mean, they’re not gonna trust us after a week of negotiations. It’s gonna take a while for this trust-building exercise to have any kind of impact on the size and the technical qualifications of North Korea’s nuclear capability.

JS: What’s your read on how the Trump administration’s public posture is being received in Pyongyang, and what this could lead to?

JF: Well, the Trump administration comes in like pretty much every previous administration in its policy toward North Korea, saying that what his predecessors did failed, and he’s gonna do a better job. So, of course, Obama said that.

Barack Obama: When it comes to changing Pyongyang’s behavior, it’s tough. It is true that our approach, my approach since I’ve been president, is to not reward bad behavior.

JF: George W. Bush said that.

George W. Bush: It’s the intransigence of the North Korean leader that speaks volumes about the process. It is his unwillingness to choose a way forward for his country, a better way forward for his country. It is his decisions.

JF: Even Clinton said that.

Bill Clinton: North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the threat of nuclear weapons. The United States and international inspectors will carefully monitor North Korea to make sure it keeps its commitments. Only as it does so will North Korea fully join the community of nations.

JF: So, that’s nothing new. Obama’s position for eight years was strategic patience. It failed. I mean, it failed obviously. There were no successful negotiations, with the exception of the Leap Day agreement, and that lasted for about a day-and-a-half. And then the Trump administration has discovered, as all other administrations did previously, that, yes, it’s easy to say that the previous government’s position was a failure, but it’s really difficult to come up with a more successful alternative. Trump initially said that he would, you know, as previous administrations said, outsource the problem to the Chinese, get China to solve this problem for the United States.

DJT: I actually told them, I said, you’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea, because that’s what it is. It’s a menace right now. So, we’ll see what happens.

JF: And that of course fails on any number of counts. Number one, China does not do the bidding of the United States on foreign policy issues, and number two, China doesn’t have that kind of influence on Pyongyang. Pyongyang assiduously avoids any kind of dependency relationship with China and spurns all of China’s advice, for the most part. So, failing that, of course Trump realized that he couldn’t rely on the Chinese. He tried something else. We’ll do it ourselves. What does that mean? Well, it could mean tighter economic sanctions. It could mean a preemptive military strike. It could mean negotiations. Well, the Trump administration conducted its own strategic review of North Korea policy. The conclusion was that a preemptive military strike was wrong on probably every conceivable count. It would be catastrophic for the United States, and even more so for South Korea and Japan, and of course, North Korea and China. And so, that leaves tighter economic sanctions and negotiations. And I think we get both of those coming out of the administration right now.

How it’s received? Well, of course, South Korea’s tremendously anxious about any possible attack on North Korea because of course, the South Koreans would suffer the consequences. South Korea would bear virtually the entire brunt of North Korea’s attack, so they don’t want that, obviously. Pyongyang? Well, Pyongyang’s reaction was to have a missile display on the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. And so, they trotted out as many missiles as they could find, even if they are not operational, to send a signal that they are ready for any kind of attack, and if the United States were foolish enough to try to take out North Korea’s nuclear testing site, they would respond in kind. And so, that, I think, is where we’re heading.

We have kind of the usual steps towards escalation that every kind of initial government, new administration in the United States faces with North Korea.

My hope is that the Trump administration recognizes that, okay, tighter economic sanctions is one possibility. But frankly, we’ve tried that, and it hasn’t really worked. But negotiations? Well, they have worked. They’ve worked in 1994. They even worked during the George W. Bush administration with the six-party talks. Both of those agreements led to effective freezes and even some dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear capability. So, that’s the no brainer, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just a question of whether the Trump administration comes to that realization as well.

JS: I’m curious at your take on what happened. We don’t know exactly what Barack Obama said to Donald Trump, but it was reported that he basically, like, scared the shit out of Trump when he brought up North Korea as they had their meeting. Do we have reason to be afraid of North Korea right now? And what would you imagine was the content of what Barack Obama actually said to Donald Trump?

JF: Well, I suspect that Obama said to Trump something similar to what Bush said to him during the transition, and Bush we know said two things. He asked Obama please to keep two programs in place, and that was the drone program and the Stuxnet program, the kind of hacking of Iran’s centerfuges that set back their nuclear program. And Obama said, “Okay. I mean, there are other things I’m gonna change.” But Obama held to those two positions. In this go-around, I suspect that Obama said, “Please stick to the drone program,” because Obama, you know, was very much in favor of that. And I suspect he said something similar about a comparable program with North Korea’s nuclear program. In other words, a kind of hacking of the code there that has, from all reports, impeded North Korea’s success rate with its missile launches. I think he also probably said that North Korea is a significant problem, that Trump can avoid it, cannot ignore it. Whether that’s effective, you know, it’s hard to know what gets through to Trump. It’s certainly not wonkish policy advice. Certainly, special pleading gets through to him through Jared Kushner or his daughter. But it’s —

JS: Fox & Friends, John.

JF: (laughs) That’s right.

JS: Fox & Friends is the single most important source of information for this White House.

JF: That’s true. So —

JS: But the point I’m getting at about — do we actually have something to fear from North Korea? And when I say we, I don’t mean necessarily the United States, but that’s how things get covered here. We always ask how does it affect us personally? But my sense — and I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on Korea. I’ve ever been. I’ve never reported on it. So, I’m asking this, I think, with a lot of other people a well. My sense is, if we don’t swat the hornet’s nest, the chances that North Korea’s gonna just attack the United States or even South Korea is like basically nonexistent. And I wrong in that, or is there fear mongering that’s going on?

JF: No, I think you’re basically correct. The representation of Kim Jong-un as a kind of tyrannical brat or an infant who has no rational goals is incorrect. Number one rational goal for Kim Jong-un is preservation of his own authority and the preservation of his system of government. He knows that any attack of South Korea or the United States would spell the end of North Korea as a country, and of course, by extension, the end of him and his regime. So, pure self-preservation dictates that, no, North Korea’s not going to engage in any kind of attack on a sovereign country.

On the other hand, just as we fear that Donald Trump might do something entirely unexpected because he’s listening to Fox & Friends, or he has developed, you know, some hobbyhorse notion about a country, that he might indulge in some entirely irrational act that would basically be shooting the United States in the foot and undercutting his own political authority. But he would do it anyway because, you know, he doesn’t think about these things. It is conceivable that Kim Jong-un would do something similar. I would put that in a very remote set of possibilities, but I wouldn’t, you know, exclude it entirely.

I would say, you know, basically I’m not worried about North Korea in that way. But there is this kind of if North Korea’s pushed against — to the wall, that it feels like it has absolutely no other choice, that the system, its system is on the brink of collapse anyway, and it’s being threatened by both South Korea and the United States and Japan, and the only way out of that seems to be a military approach, well, it is not inconceivable that they would go that route.

JS: Okay, John. Really quick speed round here. Who is more likely to use a nuclear weapon, Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un? Brief answer, please.

JF: Donald Trump.

JS: Donald Trump.

JF: Donald Trump. (laughs)
JS: Okay. Who is more of a narcissist, Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump?

JF: Donald Trump, absolutely. (laughs) I mean, that’s — it’s a function of American culture. Korean culture doesn’t foster that kind of narcissism.

JS: Who spends more time on their hair each morning, Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump?

JF: Probably, you know, Donald Trump, ‘cause he’s older and his hair requires that kind of care.

JS: Are both Kim Jong-un’s and Donald Trump’s suits made in China?

JF: (laughs) Not the North Korean. I mean, Kim Jong-un is either gonna get suits from the West, or they’re going to be produced by the Vinylon factories inside North Korea.

JS: Your prize is on the way. It’s an amazing North Korean car. It runs totally on Juche.

JF: (laughs) That’s fabulous. And is this going to be delivered by Amazon drone?

JS: It is, yes. See, we’re trying to have our own peace settlement here between Trump and Kim Jong-un, and I think we’ve figured it out, John. John Feffer, thanks for being with us on Intercepted.

JF: Thank you for having me on the show.

JS: John Feffer is the Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

And you are listening to Intercepted. When we come back, my colleague Naomi Klein sits down for an exclusive interview with the head of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Stay with us.

[Music interlude]

JS: Okay. We are back here at Intercepted. Donald Trump has a lot in common with Ronald Reagan. Yes, they were both stars of the screen.

Ronald Reagan: A lot of people think they’re born better than others. I’m trying to prove it’s the way you’re raised that counts. But even a monkey brought up in the right surroundings could learn the meaning of decency and honesty.

Hugh Grant: Trump.

DJT: I hear Kelson finally dumped you.

JS: But more what I mean is that they both advocated horrid immigration policies. Both tried to convince people of the myth of trickledown economics, that the ultra-rich are gonna bring up the poor. They both fawned over the military and spoke in sort of farcical terms about American greatness while advocating policies that hurt working class people and the poor disproportionately.

RR: For those who have abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope, and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.

JS: And of course, Reagan had a kindred ally across the pond in Margaret Thatcher. Now, her rightwing reign marked a very dark period for many, many people in the United Kingdom. Britain now has a Thatcher-ite in power once again in the form of Theresa May, but just barely. When May called for early elections this past summer, she was attempting to consolidate conservative power, and she came ever so close to being beaten by the forces led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn: Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which sleep in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many — they are few! (Crowd cheering)

JS: What made it even more incredible is that Corbyn was simultaneously taking on May while also battling an insurgency from the Tony Blair-ite factions of his own party. Corbyn led Labour to an astonishing 40 percent in the June elections. Jeremy Corbyn is a militant leftist. He’s an anti-imperialist, and he is unapologetic about those things.

JC: Will the Prime Minister accept that ten years ago, in 1979, there were 2,750 households in temporary accommodation in London? The current figure is over 25,000, and a further 2,000 people are sleeping on the streets. Does she not agree that people sleeping on the streets of our capital city being charged exorbitant rates, and children being brought up in bed and breakfast hotels is a disgrace to a civilized country?

JS: It is an extraordinary thing that he has come so close to winning power in Britain, and that he may well eventually succeed. As Britain becomes accustomed to the realities of life under Theresa May, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is surging in the polls. Like Bernie Sanders in the U.S. campaign, Corbyn has energized young people. He’s galvanized voters who’d become complacent with the whole system. By the way, Sanders remains the most popular politician in the U.S. In both Corbyn and Sanders, there are great lessons to be learned about confronting seemingly unbeatable entrenched political and financial institutions in our countries.

My colleague Naomi Klein recently sat down with Jeremy Corbyn for a wide-ranging interview, covering everything from Reagan-Thatcher privatization and deregulation policies to lessons the Democratic Party could learn from Corbyn’s surprising electoral successes. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation.

Naomi Klein: I want to talk about this extraordinary moment we’re in where this project that really began under Thatcher and this country and Reagan in the U.S. is crumbling — the whole so-called consensus that never really was a consensus, that really — the war on the collective, the war on the idea that we can do good things when we get together. That whole thinking has collapsed. But it’s also kind of a dangerous moment, right, when you have a vacuum of ideology, because dangerous ideas are also surging. So, what is the plan to make sure that it is progressive, hopeful ideas that enter into this vacuum that has opened up?

JC: I think it’s important to put it in the broad sweep of history as well, and you’re quite right on this. I first became involved in political activity as a very young man from my teenage years onwards in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and I was a union organizer during the 1970s. And the early ‘70s in Britain were the high point of collective strength in many ways. A lot of what he did was very progressive at the time, public ownership for a number of industries, and also the idea of a security of peoples’ lives through health and social care and pensions at that time.

JC: If this government can find time and money, apparently, to appease the police, how is it they have not found the time to do anything to bring about Democratic control of the police?

JC: We then heard of somebody called Ronald Reagan in California on Proposition 13.

RR: I still say that the answer to our problems in this country, even at the national level, is to have a law that says there is a percentage limit of the peoples’ earnings that government cannot go beyond without the consent of the people. (Crowd cheering)

JC: And then the ideas of privatization came with rightwing economists aping Milton Friedman.

RR: And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics. As government expands, liberty contracts.

JC: Margaret Thatcher later on was then heavily into privatization and destruction of the social compact, if you like, of the post-war period.

Margaret Thatcher: Let us never forget this fundamental truth. The state has no source of money other than the money people earn themselves. If this state wishes to spend more, it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. And it’s no good thinking that someone else will pay. That someone else is you. There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money. (Crowd clapping)

JC: And so, we’ve had this kind of neoliberal economic strand for a long time in Western Europe, and that has meant that we have a deeply divided society and a greater gap between rich and poor in Britain than most other parts of Europe as a result of that. We challenged for the leadership of the Labour Party on the basis of opposition to economic austerity and opposition to the growing gap between the richest and poorest, and the pledge to invest in a growing economy and invest in social justice, if you like. There’s a huge confidence amongst those that are campaigning for ending the wage cap in the public sector for investment in public services. Huge confidence there, and a huge degree of uncertainty by the right and by the conservatives. But you’re right.

NK: They’re losing their confidence.

JC: This is a dangerous time because you had the growth of the far right across Europe. We’ve seen the rise of racism in Britain, although it’s been strongly challenged and opposed. We have seen the very large vote Marine Le Pen got in France and the vote that Wilders and other have got across Europe. But I think there’s a confidence developing, particularly amongst young people, that they can do something and the future belongs to them, and also amongst older people that actually, the certainties that a system of real welfare and welfare security brings is something worth fighting for.

NK: Right, right. It really strikes me that there has been this slow death of that political project that took off in the late ‘70s and really sped up in the ‘80s. It’s died in stages. And the last stage is the war on the imagination, right? It is that phrase, “There is no alternative,” that’s lasted longest. And I feel like what your campaign has done, and the boldness of the Labour manifesto, and this election campaign has proved that when you put the ideas forward, when you put the bold vision of the world we actually want, not just the opposition to austerity, not just the “no,” but also a picture of the world that could be so much better than we have, that’s when people get excited.

JC: The strongest message, indeed. The strongest message in the election campaign — I’ve said this at many, many events we held, and some of them were enormous. I said, “Look around the crowd. Look at each other. You’re all different. You’re all unique. You’re all individuals. You have different backgrounds, languages, different ethnic communities, but you’re all united. You’re united in what you actually want in the sense of a collective in society.” And I think the election campaign was a turning point away from the supreme individualism of the right towards the idea that you’re a better society when you have a collective good about it.

JC: And if you look around yourselves in this hall tonight, look at each other, who are we? What are we? We’re young, we’re old, we’re black, we’re white, we’re gay, we’re straight. We have disabilities. We don’t have disabilities. We have different experiences, different skillsets. But we all want to contribute to something together.

NK: And what about that picture of the world after we win? How important is that?

JC: The picture of the world is a crucial one. It is about what we do here to deal with issues of injustice and inequality and poverty, and above all, hope and opportunity for young people — hope that they can get the college or university, opportunity that they can get a decent job, well paid.

It’s also about the contribution we make to the rest of the world and the relationship we have with the rest of the world. So, we want a good trade relationship with Europe. We want a good working relationship with Europe. But it’s also how we approach the rest of the world. I want a foreign policy based on human rights, based on respect for international law, based for recognizing the causes of the refugee flows, the causes of the injustice around the world. And there were some awful events during the election campaign. There was the attack on Westminster itself and on Parliament. There was then the dreadful bomb in Manchester which killed a lot of young women, mainly young women. And then there was an attack on London on London Bridge when a group of people ran amok and killed many.

NK: Mm-hmm. And you committed kind of political heresy because you talked about some of the root causes, but yet that resonated with people.

JC: Yes. We had a pause in campaigning with agreement with the — of the parties, which I think was the right thing to do. Then we restarted the campaign. I gave a presentation of what security was, and also looked at some of the international links of these things, but not in any way minimizing the horror of what happened or the awful things the individuals did — or the individual in the case of Manchester — did to bring this about. But I said, you’ve got to look at the international context in which there’s been this growth. And I can hear myself like yesterday on February the 15th, 2003.

JC: September 11th was a dreadful event. 8,000 deaths in Afghanistan brought back none of those who died in the World Trade Center. Thousands more death in Iraq will not make things right. It will set off a spiral of conflict, of hate, of misery, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression, and the misery of future generations.

NK: What do you say to some of the world leaders who think that they can only go so far in standing up to Trump? You know, like maybe they’ll put out a sassy meme of some kind, but ultimately, they’re gonna welcome him with open arms. What do you think the stance of other world leaders who claim to stand for progressive values should be in this moment?

JC: I think you’ve got to meet Trump and discuss with him, as one would with any leader. I was shocked by the language he used during his election campaign, talking about women, about Muslims, about Mexicans, other people in society. I was also appalled at the language he used surrounding the Paris Climate Change discussions.

DJT: The Paris Agreement handicaps the United States economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense. They don’t put America first. I do, and I always will. (Crowd clapping)

JC: I mean, these are serious, serious global issues.

NK: Yeah.

JC: What kind of world are we gonna leave in the future, and what are we doing to this planet? Having worked like you have for a very long time on these issues, the fact that finally India and China in a formal setting came on board with the idea there are limits to emissions, there are limits to pollution, there are limits to what you can do. There is a need to regulate the sea, to control the air quality, etc. For them, the U.S.A. — having come on board under Obama — then walks away under Trump, is beyond sad.

DJT: At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be. I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. (Crowd cheering)

NK: I want to talk a little bit about the way some of my friends in the United States are feeling right now who were very inspired by this election campaign and by your leadership bid within the Labour Party. I have to tell you that people are feeling a little discouraged right now in the United States. They are up against Trump but they’re also up against a Democratic Party that is fighting them on single payer healthcare, on universal public healthcare, that seems to want to keep charting this very — what they see as a safe, centrist path, but what we’re seeing again and again is it’s not safe because it’s a losing path. It’s not speaking to peoples’ urgent needs for good jobs, for free public education, and affordable healthcare. What do you say to the people who organized for Bernie and are just feeling really frustrated right now?

JC: Bernie called me the day after our election here. And Bernie comes on to say, “Well done, the campaign. I was interested in your campaigning ideas. Where did you get them from?” And I said, “Well, you, actually.” (laughs) And what I would say to people is: Look, don’t be discouraged. Don’t be discouraged because at the end of the day, human beings want to do things together. They want to do things collectively. And that’s the kind of society all of us are trying to create.

We went into an election campaign in a difficult political position, and we put forward a manifesto that was collective in its approach, was specific in what it would do, in the sense of ending university tuition fees, in the sense of raising minimum income through minimum wage legislation, as well as job protection legislation. We gained the biggest increase in votes for our party since the Second World War. We didn’t win the election. I wish we had. But in that campaign, we changed the debate in exactly the same way Senator Bernie Sanders’s intervention into the Democratic nomination did mobilize a very large number of people.

NK: But that campaign wasn’t ultimately successful within the Democratic Party. Do you think people should keep fighting for the soul of that party?

JC: Well, it’s the soul of the people, isn’t it? I think people should be mobilized on causes and mobilized on issues. But Senator Sanders ran for president calling himself a socialist. Now, the last person to use the word “socialist” in any kind of national campaigning was probably Henry Wallace in 1948 or Eugene Debs before that.

NK: Yeah, yeah.

JC: And now you have somebody standing for the Democratic nomination and getting within a whisker of it calling himself a socialist, which he is. Now, you never lose everything. You never win everything. But you do change things. So, what we’ve done is change the terms of debate in this country, and the terms of debate across Europe are changing in terms of: Do you appease the far right and the racists and start blaming every minority for every problem that exists all across Europe, knowing full well that would just lead to some horrible vortex where you get into a nastier and nastier intercommunal racist society? Or do you say, actually, a solution to that housing problem is build more houses and share the ones that you’ve got more fairly. The solution to ill health is have a health service. All these kinds of things. So, you create this sense of collective.

NK: When you talk about changing the debate, and that’s clearly happened. And one of the places we’ve seen this is in the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. And the way in which this horrific event has been interpreted, it seems, throughout British society, is as extreme evidence of a failed system that does not value human life, that puts a kind of a hierarchy on life, where the people on the outside who are benefiting from the aesthetics of this cladding are valued so much for, you know, their property values than the people on the inside.

JC: What is exposed was something about modern urban living. This is the borough in London that is the richest in the whole country. That tower had several hundred people living in it. Nobody really knew who was in the block. The whole system collapsed. The building went up in smoke, and the result was a catastrophe and the deaths of a very large number of people. We probably will never know the total number that died there. And the emergency services did everything they possibly could. I make no criticism whatsoever of the police, of the fire, of the ambulance, of the paramedics. They all did everything they could. The reality was, it’s a product of insufficient regulation, of deregulation, and it was a towering inferno of the poor being burnt in the richest borough in the country. And that’s a wakeup call about safety of buildings. It’s a wakeup call about the idea you go forward to this wonderful free market Valhalla of the future by tearing up every regulation like it’s a denial of the opportunities for the private sector.

NK: And I think we learn this lesson again and again during times of crisis when, you know, we’re tested. We can either turn inward and against each other, and we saw a lot of that after 9/11 in the United States, where Muslims were scapegoated, and we lost a lot of liberties in this country and around the world with these draconian laws pushed through. Wars were started in the name of that attack. But we also — these moments of crisis that expose the failures of the system, like Katrina and now Grenfell, can be moments where things really change. But there needs to be an agenda. And it feels like this might be a moment like that in this country.

JC: I think there is a more radical, more socialist principled agenda that’s developing worldwide amongst young people who are being told you’ve got to pay for university when it used to be free, and therefore, your life chances start to disappear. And your health service declines and diminishes, and so you’re encouraged, if you’ve got enough money, to go into private healthcare. So, the whole idea of the community disappears.

NK: Mm-hmm. I want to ask you if there’s been a moment that really sticks with you during the campaign or since that is the most hopeful moment you’ve seen, where you could see the country that you want to live in, a glimpse of it.

JC: Some of the people I meet are quite amazing. There was a gentleman came to our rally in Hastings, which is south coast seaside resort fishing town. He was aged 91. He joined the Labour Party in 1945. Been a Party member ever since then. Very active all his life. And he said this was the most hopeful time of his life. And I just thought, this man has come out to a rally on a Saturday morning at that age because he’s full of hope for young people.

And so, we were characterized as an election campaign that was full of young, idealistic people. Yeah, there were a lot of young people there, many of them with brilliant ideals and brilliant imagination. There were also a lot of older people there who came there saying, “I want something better for my grandchildren. I want something better for society in the future.” It was the coming together of large numbers of people. And the membership of the Labour Party is now somewhere around 600,000, which is the highest it’s been in my lifetime. And we are putting a message out there that’s a very strong one, a very realistic one, about the way the world can be. Are we gonna go down the road of naked individualism, free market operations, and an enormous gap between the richest and the poorest, or are we gonna say, hang on a minute. We’ve got to preserve this planet. We’ve got to give something for everybody, and got to have a collective in society. And so, our manifesto gave that general message but also was very specific about what we’d do on healthcare, housing, social care, and education.

NK: Mm-hmm. Well, I really want to thank you for your leadership and for your boldness in doing that, because it isn’t only inspiring people in this country. I think it’s inspiring people around the world who really do need some inspiration right now, particularly in the United States. And, you know, that road that you’re describing I think is the road that leads to Trump, right? Who’s just the epitome of all of that and more.

JC: And I say thank you very much. But it’s not about you or I as individuals. It’s actually about our responsibility to respond to the needs of people in order to bring about the opportunity for people to understand that different and better world they can live in. And when peoples’ minds are opened up, there is no end to the possibilities.

NK: Mm-hmm. Thank you so much, Jeremy.

JC: Thank you.

JS: That was Naomi Klein interviewing the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. You can watch the entire interview on our website at

[Music interlude]

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. Elise Swain is our production assistant and graphic designer. Many things to Rino Dunic from Zadar, Croatia for engineering help for this week’s episode. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

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