Donald Trump appeared before the United Nations General Assembly this week and read a belligerent speech written by his vile little political adviser Stephen Miller. This week on Intercepted, Jeremy weighs in on Trump’s threats and the massive military budget the Democrats just gave him. Journalist Gary Rivlin takes us deep inside the world of Goldman Sachs and how Trump’s top economic adviser helped fuel the subprime mortgage catastrophe that crashed the economy. Poet Aja Monet performs and discusses her ideas of justice, womanhood, and racism. The Intercept’s Alice Speri investigates the militarization of police and how Israel is training American cops. Plus, Donald Trump stars in American Psycho.
Anthony Atamanuik: My name is Donald Trump. I am 71-years-old. I live in the White House, and Mar-a-Lago, in Bedminster, and in Trump Tower in the penthouse. Paul Manafort has the 43rd floor. Guido Lombardi is on the 62nd and 63rd floors.
I don’t believe in taking care of myself, because I don’t need to need to. I mean, I just grab that pussy, I eat McDonald’s, KFC, and have zero exercise routine.
In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on a frozen Trump steak while tweeting. I have 38 million followers now. That includes the sex bots, white supremacists, and a lot of Macedonians. Great people. They love Trump.
After I removed the Trump steak, I use a half a container of Vaseline mixed with a little gasoline. In the shower, I use an Old Spice gel, Steel Courage.
Then I apply a bright orange facial mask, which I leave on for ten minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use a primer coat with little or no alcohol because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look like Carly Fiorina.
Then, the first coat of spray bronzer, then Melania’s anti-aging eye balm, followed by a final coat of orange #7. And don’t forget the anti-baldness medication — that’s what makes me nice and crazy.
There is an idea of a Donald J. Trump, some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me. Only a collection of emotional states assembled into the illusion of a human being.
And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my small hand and feel clammy flesh gripping you, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably not comparable, I simply am not there.
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 28 of Intercepted.
DJT: If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.
JS: Donald Trump appeared before the United Nations General Assembly this week and read a speech written by his vile little political advisor Stephen Miller. That speech was as belligerent as it was ridiculous. And as Trump read the speech, his chief of staff, General John Kelly appeared visibly embarrassed — or maybe he just had a ripping headache that forced him to constantly place his head in his hands.
But for hawkish neo-cons, those that feared that Trump might not be heinous enough for them on some of their core issues, this speech must have felt like a grand relief. Especially when Trump echoed George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” when he heaped praise on Israel, and came pretty close to calling for regime change in Venezuela and Iran.
And I can just imagine Trump when he was reading drafts of Stephen Miller’s speech, or the final version of it last night, and thinking how amazing he was going to sound when he delivered this zinger that really was about teaching socialism a lesson.
DJT: The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.
JS: My favorite part of this exact moment was that several U.N. delegates were actually, openly laughing at Trump when he delivered it. But then there was this insanity about North Korea.
DJT: We will have no choice but to totally, destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about.
JS: For Donald Trump to threaten to “totally destroy” a country of 25 million people, people who already live under a horrid dictatorship, that’s a serious cry for intervention. It’s an insane thing to do, but Trump did it.
And calling Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man,” well, first of all, it’s not even a little bit funny, it was as dumb as Kid Rock — just leave it there, it was as dumb as Kid Rock. But it’s a form of dumb that is so unbelievably dangerous for the entire world.
And of course, you know, Trump did his customary bragging, “Oh the stock market’s doing so amazing because of me” and “America’s finally getting on its way back to greatness, blah, blah, blah.”
In the speech Trump also boasted that the U.S. was finally going to have a massive military budget — finally — as though it’s been relying on like GoFundMe or Kickstarter for all that war and drone bombing and occupying countries that the Kenyan socialist Obama was doing.
DJT: Last month I announced a new strategy for victory in the fight against this evil in Afghanistan. From now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations. Not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.
JS: But what Trump was referring to is that the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved $80 billion in increased military spending. A $700 billion budget for the military.
And this wasn’t some super-secret White House operation sponsored by Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange. No, this was done with the support of almost every single Democrat in the Senate — only four Democrats voted against that funding bill, as did Bernie Sanders and three Republicans.
This bill that the Democrats supported, it gave even more money to the military than Trump had asked for, for things like fighter aircraft and extra ships. Bring this up the next time you hear one of these Democratic leaders or their supporters pooh pooh Bernie Sanders and his allies and their Medicare-for-all plan, because, oh! How are we going to pay for it? They gave Trump more than he asked for.
Or like when Hillary Clinton was chastising Bernie Sanders over his plan to offer free college. She said it was like Sanders asking America to buy a pony. Hello? Sanders’ proposal for free public college tuition, that was estimated to cost $47 billion a year. But the Democrats just gave Trump $80 billion in increased funding, $700 hundred billion total, for more wars and weapons and sweetheart deals with big defense corporations. That’s real principle there. That’s fighting for the little man. None of this “Buy America, pony shit.” Let’s get more cluster bombs and cruise missiles and boots on the ground. Yeah, let’s give the insane lunatic in the White House more than he actually asked for. #resistance.
To kick off the show today, we’re going to take a deep dive look at one of the most powerful voices in Donald Trump’s head when it comes to economic issues and that is the voice of Goldman Sachs.
Remember how Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for giving big money speeches at Goldman Sachs? I mean it was a totally legitimate criticism of Hillary Clinton, and Wall Street loves the Clintons, but then Trump, once he becomes president turns around and brings in more Goldman Sachs people to the administration than Bush or Obama ever had at a given time during their entire two-term presidencies.
Among the Goldman Sachs Mafia Don’s masquerading as public servants in the White House is Gary Cohn. Gary Cohn was the president of Goldman Sachs before Donald Trump named him as the head of the National Economic Council and Trump’s top economic adviser.
To discuss what some people call “Government Sachs,” I’m joined now by Gary Rivlin. He’s a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He’s also a former New York Times reporter. And along with Michael Hudson, Gary has a fascinating story up at The Intercept this week, called “Government by Goldman: Gary Cohn is giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump Administration.” Gary Rivlin, welcome to Intercepted.
Gary Rivlin: It’s great to be here.
JS: Let’s start with kind of, I think what for most people is the obvious hypocrisy here, the sort of top level hypocrisy, which is that Trump railed against Hillary Clinton, characterizing her as the Goldman Sachs candidate when they were fighting each other for the presidency.
DJT: She got caught in a total lie. Her papers went out to all our friends at the banks, Goldman Sachs, and everybody else. And she said things, WikiLeaks, that just came out. And she lied.
JS: And yet, as you point out in your piece, Trump at its peak had six people who had worked for Goldman Sachs in his administration.
GR: Right, actually, technically five, because the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission was a lawyer for Goldman Sachs and married to someone who works at Goldman Sachs, so I don’t know if we can include him as one of them. It’s interesting you always hear the —
JS: Let’s give it a half. We’ll say five and a half.
GR: Five and a half. It’s interesting because, you know, you hear that “oh Goldman Sachs wins no matter who wins the White House,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. You go back and every administration has one, maybe two. George W. Bush at his peak had three Goldman Sachs veterans.
So, having the five and a half, if we determine that that’s what it is, is much more of a Goldman contingency. Elizabeth Warren had a very funny line, you know, the White House is now a branch office of Goldman Sachs.
JS: Yeah. They can have their own wing of the White House. Especially with all these people leaving and getting fired, there definitely is the space in the White House for it. But why do you think it was that Hillary Clinton, that that hit her and it stuck with her that she was the candidate of Goldman Sachs?
GR: It started with Ted Cruz, who was in quotes in bed with Goldman Sachs, his wife had worked for Goldman Sachs at the time. To me, Goldman Sachs for Donald Trump was just the easy shorthand. I think we all use that. Goldman Sachs is almost a stand-in for Wall Street, manipulating money in, you know, businesses that really don’t do anything then help take apart other businesses.
DJT: It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.
GR: But you know for Hillary, you take $650 grand, whatever the exact number was, for three speeches. That’s going to stick to you. And, you know, besides that, her policies were generally very friendly. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO, and Gary Cohn, the president, were supporters of Hillary Clinton. Much of Wall Street supported Hillary Clinton. You know, we’ll have our nice little social liberal policies, but, you know, when it comes to business let’s calm down this financial regulation stuff, let’s be a little bit more in quotes, “friendly,” to business.
DJT: I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total, total control over him, just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton, they have total. But they have no control, they have no control over Donald Trump. I don’t want to their money, I don’t need their money.
JS: I think will be really helpful to explain what Goldman Sachs is and what it does.
GR: So it’s an investment bank, and traditionally what an investment bank does is arrange financing for corporations and governments. So, the startup that goes public, initial public offering, a company needs to raise money to build a new factory, a government needs money for a bridge, or what have you.
Interestingly, in the 1990s, I covered technology, I covered Silicon Valley. And Goldman Sachs, I always respected the Goldman Sachs guys back then, or people. Because they’re all smart and they had what they called long-term greed, rather what we see nowadays which is short-term greed
When Gary Cohn and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman started there, that still was the main way they made money. But over the years it’s gotten much more into trading into derivatives, into buying and selling currencies, in interest rate swaps and these increasingly more complicated things — commodities.
In large part because of the influence of Gary Cohn and Lloyd Blankfein, it turned from gentlemanly Goldman Sachs, which, again, I had some respect for back then, into this rip your face off, we no longer have customers, we just are trying to make as much money as we can in a short term greedy way.
JS: Well, and part of that, as you write, was when Goldman itself went public, then this ethos of the client or the customer comes first, was replaced by, “Shit, we want to make a lot of money ourselves, too,” and that, and the priority was sort of the institution itself and making a lot of money for the people that run it.
GR: When Goldman Sachs, before they went public in 1999, they were a partnership and so if the government fines you a few hundred million dollars for misbehavior, for bending the laws, for breaking the laws, you, as the partners, had to pay that.
Once it’s a publicly traded company, the company pays the fines and there’s no personal consequence for the misbehavior.
JS: Talk about Gary Cohen’s role in the subprime mortgage catastrophe and Goldman’s key role in it.
GR: Cohn took over as president of Goldman Sachs, the number two spot, the president and chief operating officer in 2006, but most interesting to me were the four or five years leading up to 2006.
He, by happenstance, in the early 2000s, took over the mortgage-trading desk, the desk that would do mortgage-backed securities that, you know, these complex packaging of subprime loans, of loans of any kind, but what got all the attention, where it grew phenomenally was subprime loans. And it was Gary Cohn himself who aggressively got Goldman Sachs into mortgage-backed securities. They were a minor player when he took over this role within Goldman Sachs, and he turned them into a major player, meaning they were doing $100 billion of these or more every single year. And Goldman Sachs, which had barely been a player, became one of the major players in the securitization. At the same time, and this isn’t Gary Cohn, this is a company more generally, they were providing the lines of credit to AmeriQuest, one of the biggest subprime lenders to New Century, another one of the biggies in subprime.
So, they were both providing the capital to allow what turns out to be some nefarious players to be making these loans, and then they were a big player in buying up these loans right after they made, putting them into big packages and selling them to pension funds, to wealthy people, to whoever wanted to buy a piece of these. It was, it was quite the thing and you were making money for a while until you weren’t.
JS: I mean, explain that. What is the product that they were essentially asking these pension funds or other you know quote-unquote investors to buy into, when they were engaged in these subprime mortgages and the securities behind them?
GR: So, investment banks, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, all the major banks you’ve heard of that were involved in investment banking, they would buy up huge quantities of loans, largely subprime loans from lenders. And they would package them together in a single mortgage-backed security and then sell off small slices.
What Goldman Sachs wasn’t sharing with their clients, what other banks were not sharing with their clients, is that what they were purporting were very safe investments, were not very safe investments. And we all saw the hard way, once it fell apart, loans that they were selling were suddenly worth 80 cents on the dollar, 50 cents on the dollar.
And so holding these packages, the underlying investment was worth less and less and less, to the point where they were virtually worthless.
JS: People were just defaulting left and right on the mortgages.
GR: Right, default rates were huge on subprime mortgages.
JS: And also, that we should remind people, that they basically eliminated almost any requirements for people to get a mortgage. But a big part of this was that they were taking advantage of poor people or people who had a desire to live beyond their means and shoving these mortgages at them and saying, “You could afford this mansion.”
GR: And, you know, here again, we’re kind of — the old-fashioned way of banking versus the newfangled way of banking. In the old days, a bank really cared if you can afford to pay it back, because the bank held the mortgage for the 30 years that the terms were for.
Once you start with securitization, which became much more popular in the 80s and the 90s, suddenly the lender didn’t care, they’re going to get rid of this in a month anyway. Let me make the loan, make some quick money and let the next person down the line worry about whether the people are actually pay back the loan.
JS: And Gary Cohn’s specific role in the subprime mortgage catastrophe?
GR: At the end of 2006, there’s a meeting inside Goldman, Gary Cohn’s not added, but he’s getting e-mails afterwards and then from then on is following very closely, there’s a whole e-mail trail that the Senate investigative committee looked into this, and so there’s a trove of e-mails, you could just dip in and see Gary Cohn and others in Goldman Sachs, but they said that, “Uh oh! We see this going south rather quickly, the subprime market.” And that’s where they came up with the big short, and that’s saying that, “Hey, those companies that we’ve been providing lines of credit to, AmeriQuest, New Century, let’s short those stocks, let’s bet against those stocks. Let’s find other ways of betting against the subprime market, because we think it’s going to go down and if we put this bet down, we’re going to make a lot of money because we’re shorting the market.” There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what investment bankers do, they’re smart about money, they figure out what the trend is.
The part that I think is unforgivable is that they never shared this information with their own customers. In fact, they had a problem. They’re buying up subprime loans all the time, they have billions and billions of dollars in subprime loans in their inventory, and so they have to get rid of them.
December of 2006 they say, “Ok, the big short, we believe the market’s going to go south.” Through the first half of 2007 through the summer of 2007, they’re still selling these mortgage-backed securities to their clients. There are e-mails that came out that they’re, in quotes, “shitty products.” “Hey, great job guys, making lemon out of lemonade.” With their job, as they describe it, is to provide information to their customers so they can make wise investments. They’re offloading these securities because of course they don’t want to own them, who wants to own mortgage-backed securities? They themselves have decided that these things are not going to be worth nearly what we paid for them. And so, they were secretly selling them the big short.
CARL LEVIN: How much of that shitty deal did you sell to your clients after June 22, 2007?
DANIEL SPARKS: Mr. Chairman, I, I don’t know the answer to that but the price would have reflected levels that they wanted to invest —
CL: Oh, they don’t know, you didn’t tell them you thought it was a shitty deal.
DS: I didn’t say that.
CL: No. Who did? Your people.
GR: In fact, there is an e-mail that was sent to Gary Cohn from his chief financial operations officer, CFO, calling it The Big Short. I mean it’s become this famous expression that most people know nowadays. It was actually famously used within an e-mail to Gary Cohn, while he was president of Goldman Sachs.
CHRISTIAN BALE (AS MICHAEL BURRY): I’m going to buy swaps on mortgage bonds, credit default swaps that will pay off, if the underlying bond fails.
GOLDMAN SACHS SALES REP: You want to bet against the housing market.
CB (AS MB): Yes.
GOLDMAN SACHS QUANT: Why? Those bonds only fail if millions of Americans don’t pay their mortgages. That’s never happened in history. If you’ll excuse me, Dr. Barry, it seems like a foolish investment.
CB (AS MB): Based on prevailing sentiment, the market, banks and popular culture, yes, it’s a foolish investment, but everyone’s wrong.
JS: As depicted in the movie with Steve Carrel and Christian Bale, who I thought was fantastic in The Big Short film, is it literally true that sort of the way that Goldman Sachs and others found out about this was because of one kind of quirky character who really did see this coming? Who went in and basically said, “I want you guys to allow me to short subprime loans.”
GR: Yeah, I mean it is more than one character if you talk about all the banks, but in the case of Goldman Sachs, the one character was this guy John Paulson, he wasn’t well known then.
JS: Not related to Hank Paulson?
GR: Right, Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, who had been the CEO of Goldman Sachs right before that. It was one of George W. Bush’s three Goldman Sachs people.
John Paulson is this unknown hedge fund guy, or unknown to Goldman Sachs people. He comes in and is describing in early 2006, he wants to short the subprime market. And they’re thinking he’s a whackadoodle. Like, Ok, sure you want to do that, we will arrange this. You are gonna pay us fees for it? Ok. They did several of these for him and they suddenly realize they, hey, wait a second, he’s onto something.
And he goes from being, a customer to a rival. And they start doing what John Paulson did.
So, in fact there was one guy who taught them or, you know, opened their eyes to like, “Hey, this is not going to turn out very well.”
JS: Trump, you know, for all of his railing against Goldman Sachs in the context of Hillary Clinton, when he then starts appointing these Goldman people and then publicly has to sort of defend it, earlier this summer you write, “Trump boasted about his team of economic advisers at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”
DJT: This is the president of Goldman Sachs. Smart. Having him represent us, he went from massive to paydays, to peanuts, to little tiny —
GR: He actually does. He went from $20 million a year, and has a very low salary, something like, 30, 40 grand a year. So, I guess, I guess he went from peanuts. There was a big advantage in him leaving. I don’t know if people know this, but when you take a government job, there’s this magic window where you can sell your stock and not pay capital gains, because, because you half to do it to satisfy ethics regulations. So, Gary Cohn, at this point, owns like $250 million of Goldman stock and he was able to sell it without paying capital gains, which you could rough, roughly estimate saves himself about $50 million.
So, in that quote, he talks about the great pains and the great sacrifices, it cost him all this money, like, well, yes, he’s not making a salary, but boy that was, that was a nice little moment for him.
JS: But my favorite quote here that you guys point out of Trump’s is this.
DJT: So, somebody said, “Why did you appoint the rich person to be in charge of the economy?” [Laughter and clapping] I said — no, it’s true. I said because that’s the kind of thinking we want. I mean, you know, really because they’re representing the country. They don’t want the money. They’re representing —
JS: Trump said he needed, “great, brilliant business minds, so the world doesn’t take advantage of us.” You write: “How else could he get the job done? Trump continues, ‘I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?’ Trump asked. And the crowd cheered.”
GR: You know, I mean, on the one hand, it’s the one and only time that Donald Trump has explained how he used Goldman Sachs on the campaign trail as a cudgel. Like, I’m going to beat you over the head, if you have any ties to Goldman Sachs. And then he turns around, and, you know, the treasury secretary is from Goldman Sachs. His chief political adviser for seven, eight months was from Goldman. I always wanted an explanation from that. I guess you could say that was an explanation. At least he acknowledged that there was this contradiction here.
But, I mean, isn’t that the Trump Administration. I’m going to fight for you, little guy, and if you look at what Gary Cohn is doing as Trump’s chief economic advisor, it’s a pretty radical agenda. It’s not radical in the sense of Steve Bannon radical, but he wants to cut corporate taxes by 57 percent. From 35 percent corporate tax to 15 percent.
So, I went back and I figured out what kind of advantage would that be for Goldman Sachs. He had saved $1.5 to $2 billion a year. Goldman Sachs is, more than any other firm on Wall Street, is big in what’s called prop trading. That means using their own money to buy shopping centers and hotels and invest their own money. Under Dodd-Frank, the financial reform bill in 2010, they greatly limited prop trading. And about half of Goldman Sachs’s business to now, even though there’s a law against it, you know, is prop trading and of course he wants to do in Gary Cohn. You know all of Dodd-Frank, which includes prop trading, that’s worth billions and billions of dollars every single year to Goldman Sachs.
You know, they talk about a different approach to infrastructure, the $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan, it’s kind of left, right, middle. Everyone understands that we need to be dealing with our infrastructure problem in this country, but the Goldman Sachs plan, the plan that Gary Cohn gave President-elect Donald Trump when he was just Goldman Sachs’s president meeting with Donald Trump, before he was named to the White House, he said, “You know, why don’t we put up a little bit of money, in this case a couple hundred billion dollars of government money, and the rest will be private financing from Wall Street firms.” And guess what firm is among the three or four largest in the public infrastructure business? Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs is huge in IPOs. When Gary Cohn was president of Goldman Sachs, he was lobbying to loosen the initial public offering laws.
Well, six months into the administration, the FCC has loosened the IPO rules, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Goldman Sachs alone. And so here was a president who said, “I’m going to represent you, little guy, because it’s the big firms like Goldman Sachs that are draining the economy, that are enriching themselves at your expense.” And in the position as, to head his economic policy team, is a guy who, down the line, you look at every policy, is trying to perpetuate the Goldman Sachs’s of the world. The Wall Street firms draining the economy at the expense of the little guy.
JS: Trump is on the one hand speaking with this, what’s meant to be kind of populist rhetoric that resonates with the middle class, and then when that seeps out into it, you start to see a revolt from some of his core supporters on the right. Not just this, but more of these conservative or alt-right type figures seem to be paying attention to the revelations in your article than people on the left thus far, in part because they feel betrayed by Trump.
GR: Right. I mean, if you voted for Trump because, wow! Someone’s going to finally fight for the little guy. And it’s not just like the president of Goldman Sachs is the chief economic advisor, but one of the main villains in the subprime meltdown, is now your guy? To help turn around the economy? I actually think one of the reasons Donald Trump won is because there are a lot of Tea Party people on the right, who are really angry at Wall Street for what happened in 2008. So taking one of those main villains and putting him to top your economic team, I think it really infuriates people.
JS: What does it feel like to be, this happened to me, too, but I just wanted to ask you, what does it feel like to be retweeted by Ann Coulter?
GR: (laughs) First of all —
JS: It happened to me, too, I said I felt dirty as fuck, but let’s hear your version.
GR: First off, you sort of like, kind of rub your eyes, like, ok. I’m reading this wrong.
JS: Maybe it’s a parody account?
GR: No, no I actually had to go to Ann Coulter’s account and like, “Oh, wow, OK that’s Ann Coulter.” But to me one of the shocks is that, I mean, hear, Donald Trump, everybody there could be a whole newspaper about him. The coverage is crazy. And, you know, it’s never come out what we’re talking about that he’s one of the main villains of the subprime meltdown. Except for in one place. In the few months I’ve been working on this, I saw one place that talked about Gary Cohn in that context and it was Breitbart. You know? It’s like, they do get it. They do get that the swamp in their mind is Wall Street. Big money, big finance, and the power big industry and the power they have in Washington, and they’re trying to fight that, just like people on the left are trying to fight that.
So yes, I was shocked, but then when I started thinking about it, sorta — I would say is about even, left and right.
JS: In the kind of one part of what sometimes characterized as a civil war within the White House between varying camps of influence around Trump, where does Gary Cohn fall. Like, who is he close to in the Trump Administration?
GR: So, almost from the start, he’s been part of the JIvanka — you know Jared, Ivanka Team. You know there’s — Cohn has been a Democrat for his adult life until now. If you look at his corporate, his political giving, until financial reform and Dodd-Frank in 2010, he skewed very much more Democrat than Republican. Since 2010 in financial reform, he’s skewed much more Republican than Democrat. But I would call him a Democrat up until now. So he’s the one that Steve Bannon would be railing against: “Globalist Gary” was an insult that they use for him. Or just, you know, one of the New York Democrats.
JS: Then it makes sense, too, that Breitbart would start beating the drums against Gary Cohn, also, I mean and Bannon, who, who knows what Bannon is going to do now that he’s, you know, he’s officially out of the White House. But it does seem like his campaign against the people that he identified as globalist is certainly going to continue unabated.
GR: Well, but I think one thing that’s really important to say is in the shorthand of what we’re talking about, you know, Gary Cohn is a moderate. And yes, on climate change, on immigration, on other issues, he’s a moderate. But I think it’s really important that people don’t lose sight that there is a radical agenda here, a radical deregulation.
And we’ve seen this play out before. You know, Dodd-Frank ain’t perfect but it’s sure a hell of a better than what was there before.
And if the Trump administration is successful in taking apart Dodd-Frank, we’re going to have deregulation and we’re going to see the same thing happen again. Things like you can’t be leveraged 30-1. You can’t like, loan out 30 times the amount of money. When things fall apart, they fall apart disastrously. And you can’t just have banks betting their own money, prop trading, like it’s federally insured deposits. You know? Yeah JP Morgan Chase lost, in quotes, “its own money.” But if they can afford to give the depositors their money back, it’s our money, they’re losing. And there’s a, you know — it’s a radical agenda of deregulation that started in the Reagan years and played through the Clinton years and led to subprime. And I really fear that it’s going to be a radical agenda of deregulation that’s started during the Trump years and who knows how it’s going to play out.
And just to repeat: cutting corporate taxes by more than 50 percent, you know what that’s going to do to our budget? I mean talk about deficits. We’re what, $20 trillion now. It’s radical. I don’t want to call it moderate because it’s not what a moderate would be pushing.
JS: What does it mean to have someone like Gary Cohn from Goldman Sachs in the key position that he’s in with Trump as president?
GR: So, it’s a really interesting position he’s in. The National Economic Policy Director, and so, OK, Treasury has its view, Congress has its view, I’m supposed to take everyone’s point of view and give advice to the president.
Traditionally, that position is someone from Wall Street who quits. And then goes into public service and I think some have legitimately at least tried to say, “OK, I’m no longer from Goldman Sachs or whatever company I’m from. I’m now going to wear a different hat and give advice. And the part that is really stunning to me, and it’s not just me speaking, it’s not just The Intercept speaking, you see in the Financial Times, you see it in The Economist criticizing this like, “Wow, that is not supposed to be, ‘Hey, this is now our chance to help run government and you know now we’re Government Sachs instead of, you know, Goldman Sachs.'”
Record a snippet of it in the story, where there’s actually an interview he’s giving, or a speech he’s giving, where he’s using “we” and “you” and it’s just kind of obvious to me that he’s still kind of thinking Goldman Sachs. Like, no, no, no, “we” is “we,” dude. Here it’s not Goldman Sachs. All of his interviews that I found: CNBC, Wall Street Journal, you know, Bloomberg, it really is interesting, he’s still the president of Goldman Sachs, in his approach to the job, in his philosophy. I have been paying attention this guy intensely for seven, eight, nine months now, and he has not said a word that is different than the what he was saying as the president of Goldman Sachs. His policies prior to his appointment seem to me exactly the same as his policies and priorities since his appointment.
JS: All right, we going to leave it there. Gary Rivlin, thank you so much for being with us on Intercepted.
GR: My pleasure. Thank you.
JS: Gary Rivlin is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He’s the co-author of a story up at The Intercept this week called: “Government by Goldman.”
And this is Intercepted. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the paramilitarization of police in the United States and how Israel is training cops across the US. We’re also going to be joined by the brilliant poet and activist, Aja Monet. She’s also going to share some of her spoken word. Stay with us.
AA: Wow, there are so many more incredible things you could be listening to rather than The Intercept. Alex Jones or how about survival food bucket infomercials. Jim Baker’s all over that stuff. Listen to an air conditioner hum. That’s going to be better than this show. But don’t listen to The Intercept, because it’s truth, and we can’t handle that. I can’t handle it. Listen to the earlier podcasts. You’ll get the joke.
JS: We are back here on Intercepted and that was Anthony Atamanuik doing Trump. Anthony is the host of Comedy Central’s, “The President Show.” But before that, Anthony was doing Trump for Intercepted. A new season of his Comedy Central show premieres this Thursday, September 21st at midnight. And when Anthony dropped by our studio to do the Trump segment for the beginning of this show, I asked him for his thoughts on all the love that was showered on Trump’s recently departed press secretary, Sean Spicer, at the Emmys.
AA: I was very disappointed by the disconnect between the rhetoric of a lot of wealthy people in that room and their actions at a moment where they could’ve taken an opportunity to distance themselves from essentially the Lenny Riefenstahl of the Trump Administration, with none of the photographic talent, which is even more disappointing.
Stephen Colbert: I mean, is their anyone who can say how big the audience is? Sean do you know?
Sean Spicer: This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period!
SC: Melissa McCarthy everybody, give it up.
AA: It’s sort of a split thing, which is that I don’t believe that those types of things do massive influence in terms of voting and decision making, like I think we overestimate the value, in a way, of TV entertainment influencing people.
But that’s a separate concept from sort of the moral compass that we’re setting for ourselves in terms of associating with people who are reinforcing, really directly white supremacy in the United States. And I think at a core level, if you strip away, although they’re all intertwined, economic policy, education policy, energy policy, foreign policy, if you strip all that away, there is a movement that is dangerously percolating, not only in our country but around the world, in a way that it hasn’t for 80 years, you know, 70, 80, 90 years and we are not taking it seriously. And I, I feel like each of these moments of this tacit endorsement and, I don’t want to say humanizing, but normalizing and forgiving of someone’s participation in elevating a type of thinking that’s destructive to civilization, I think is offensive.
JS: That’s Anthony Atamanuik. He’s host of The President Show on Comedy Central. He’s also the resident Trump whisperer here on Intercepted.
JS: As we’ve said repeatedly on this show, one of the key components of fascism and authoritarianism is stomping out free expression. Crushing cultural and creative independence. That’s why we play the music of artists and performers who stand for something, whose work contributes to making the world better or understanding the times in which we live. And we’re going to continue to air these voices and share their work.
And the Brooklyn-born, Cuban-Jamaican poet Aja Monet has emerged as a powerful voice of struggle. Struggle for justice against police violence, violence against women, racism, capitalism, and war. She’s also spent time on the ground in Palestine and she’s become an outspoken critic of Israel.
Aja Monet’s weapon is her poetry and her spoken word, and she has a new collection of poetry that’s just been published by Haymarket books. It’s called, “My Mother was a Freedom Fighter.”
Aja Monet joins us now. Aja, welcome to Intercepted.
Aja Monet: Thank you, thank you for having me.
JS: There’s a lot I want to ask you about, but I first wanted to go in on the title of your latest book, “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.” Maybe you could just explain where the inspiration for that title came from?
AM: So the title is from a poem that is called “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter” and the poem essentially covers what I feel is the story of the trajectory of women who have nurtured and who have had to take care of other people and raise society and raise cultures and raise civilizations. And we think about mothers in such a, like we say it in a very romantic way, like, “Oh, my mother, I wouldn’t be here without my mother, blah, blah, blah.” But I don’t think we talk about it very practically. Like, what women do and what specifically women who bear children and take care of children, or maybe not be able to bear children, but nurture and take care of other people’s children, they teach the values of society.
And so, I feel like every woman I know who has tried to exist in contemporary society, at least, or in any society in their time, has struggled to be and exist and to love and to nurture, and to raise up other nurturing loving people. And I think we haven’t really seen, at least in America, we haven’t seen a lot of support around what women do for society and the values that they instill.
So, the first poem is called, “The Emerging Woman After Aborting a Girl”:
Eight A.M. in September, my daughter chose to show up at my doorstep, unannounced.
Had the nerve to come talk to me about being a mother when I wasn’t ready for no giving up my life to mother no ungrateful child. Wasn’t in no place to open no doors, to let her see my empty cupboard, to open my empty fridge, I ain’t got time to explain to no child why I write poems to relic the ruckus, why I collect Sallie Mae letters in bags and post collages on walls, or why I can’t love the way nobody taught me how. Or why my flaws show up in her face, or how my dimples fall deep in her cheekbone. Ain’t got the heart to reason with her, my selfish choices are all the ways I couldn’t be of sacrifice,
I couldn’t be nobody’s Christ, I ain’t got enough hours in the day to be somebody’s God.
And I look at her face, I couldn’t bring myself to open the door, I couldn’t stand to see her through the peephole. All my life flashed before my eyes and one day — one day she’ll be a woman, or not. Have some children of her own, or not. She’ll understand, or not.
Not till she does will she know the depth, how we raise our heartaches and love the world whole, healing through snatches at glimpses of ourselves, while we offer pieces of flesh to this earth. Nah, there ain’t no mother here. You best be on your way.
AM: And, this is “Dream Deferred”:
I wear a wreath of miscarriages, the right and wrong of it. Heavily drugged, I bled and bled watching droplets of me swirl down the drain. My breasts were voltaic to touch, shouting words at doorknobs, I cry my worst cry. Ugly, my mouth is frightened.
My partner cannot face me, he is on call. Everywhere we go, I am a single mother mourning in public. My joy is short-lived. I mutter confessions to strangers, “I’m fine, I promise. I’m fine.”
JS: So those, you chose those pieces in the context of this conversation, what was the — what was going through your mind or what, what’s the connection.
AM: The first one was a poem that I wrote trying to reconcile the things that were told to me about having a child, and how that might have shaped the moment where I didn’t want to have to have a child, and I didn’t think I was ready, and I didn’t think the life was really. I mean I say, “Eight AM in September, my daughter chose to show up at my doorstep unannounced,” you know? “Had the nerve to come talk to me about being a mother/when I wasn’t ready for no giving up my life/ to mother no ungrateful child.”
Part of that is, you know, these are things that are said from, from mothers that, and my mother, you know, that I know had she had more support had she been around a better relationship with her mother, that perhaps it would have been a very different response to having a child.
There’s a very different woman who emerges after a woman decides to not keep a child. I think you have come into questions about what does it mean to be a woman, why are you bestowed this responsibility, quote-unquote, why does your body change, and what does it do and how does that affect you?
And so, I think it was a moment where I felt mostly transformed and also that I needed to find a way to process what I was feeling. You know, that sometimes words help you communicate that.
“Dream Deferred,” was for me, it has a lot of meanings and, I don’t know, without crying, I don’t know how comfortable I will feel speaking about it but, my partner is the head of an organization called, “Dream Defenders” and Langston Hughes wrote a poem called you know — speaking on a “dream deferred” and “a raisin in the sun” and “what happens to a dream deferred?” And he speaks about it from the perspective of a black person in America, what happens to someone when they don’t fulfill their dream. And, for me, this was a time when I was in a different place in my life and I thought I would have loved to have a child and I was at the best place to in my spirit and ability and I couldn’t. And I didn’t.
And everyone around me had seen the hysteria of what I was engaging in, or what that felt like, but they couldn’t understand it, and so that’s why I said, “I’m a single mother/mourning in public.” Something about it was, you felt like, he couldn’t understand it, he couldn’t empathize, there was no, you know, as sad as it is, there was little to no compassion, I think men have very little understanding of what women — what questions women are forced to face in light of how their bodies are. In light of what their bodies do and speak and say for them, and the spirit of that.
And there was a moment for me in this poem where I felt like I, I spoke up, feeling so silenced about the whole such situation. A lot of my poems are the ways that I kind of speak to the situation and I try to resolve something in it.
JS: In terms of the world that you live in and the work that you do and the creativity of your work, does it change from president to president? Particularly in the case of having, I mean you wrote you wrote a poem that really cut to the heart of the hypocrisy of some key parts of Barack Obama’s legacy, which also is one of my favorite poems that you wrote in terms of the overly political work. Has it changed you or your view of the world at all to have someone like Donald Trump in power and saying some things overtly and plainly that are considered a little more couth if you only whisper them in the corridors of power in Washington, rather than tweet them or say them out loud?
AM: It’s not different. It’s no different. I think it’s different for a lot of white people. A majority felt like this country was progressive because it had a black president. And so, I think people were really blind to what’s actually going on in this country and what’s always been going on. And so, for me I think Trump is only a reflection of their quote-unquote worst, but there’s even worse out there. I think white folks have to face who Trump is, you know, they need to face what he represents and what he’s spewed to the world and the values that he’s demonstrating that he believes are American.
I’ve always known America was not him and I’ve always known that America was not great. And so, it’s not lost on me that, you know, we have a lot of work to do. We’ve always had a lot of work to do.
I think now it just gets more people at the protests maybe. People are trying to find their own ways of making a difference, in a more profound — because I think for a lot of America it was all about how much money can I make, and when you brought up race or sexism or any of those things it was like, “Oh, you did, you get in the way of money, so shut up.” You know? And so, we have to find ways to really redefine what it means to be human. We’ve always had to do that. And what it means to love one another, and to truly stand for freedom, equality, justice, those are all things that only the people who have been fighting this country really know, because they’ve been pushing the country to really stand for what it means.
JS: Maybe you could share, “it is what it was.”
AM: “it is what it was”:
When your president bails out the banks not the students, it don’t make no difference if he’s black or blue. All you care about is how much money you got before you overdraft your account. For reading books and writing essays and all you got to show for it is garnished checks, cups of noodles, fancy friends, and terms your family don’t understand.
They just want to know why you got two degrees, and no health care and no decent income. I tell them, I got all the ways of talking about the problem but no way to make solutions.
So, dear Mr. crazy foreign policies, false flags, war, and propaganda, Mr. GMOs, chemtrails, drones, and deportations, dear Mr. false hopes and bamboozled dreams, Mr. Osama Bin Laden and Gaddafi killer, Mr. no powers to close GITMO while chastising black folk to defend your white cousins, we know Trayvon could’ve been your son
sad thing is, he was, he was you, too.
JS: Mm. Talk about your involvement with making some people think of it as a hashtag, #sayhername, because it went viral on Twitter and on social media. But maybe talk about that campaign, if you can call it that, and your role in it, and what was at the center of it.
AM: I was reached out to by Eve Ensler, who was working with, I believe it was Kimberly Crenshaw she was working with on it. Rachel Gilmer, who now is the co-director of Dream Defenders in South Florida, who was helping to organize this event that they wanted to do that would share and pay homage to all the women who have been murdered by police.
Because, I don’t think it matters whether you’re women or men, who’s murdered by the police, it’s just wrong.
However, you know, we do tend to memorialize and lift-up the names of men a lot more than we do women, I think that’s just, in all scenarios that happens, and in this specific situation, the mantra was “Say Her Name.” You know, there’s power in a name. There’s power and people’s spirits are carried through names, and so how do we lift-up these names and let them know that one, they’re not forgotten, and two, the world is going to do something about it and their lives weren’t lost in vain.
And so, Eve Ensler asked me if I would read a poem, and at the at the time I didn’t know what I was going to say or what I was going to read, and so I wrote this maybe about a few hours before the, the actual rally in Union Square.
And I was, I think there’s a lot of pressure when you’re a writer, just in general, to write things on a deadline. But there is always even more pressure when it’s for the people, and you want the people to feel it, and you want them to know where you’re coming from and you want people to feel elevated or risen in some way.
And so, I think there was a, there’s still issues I always have with my writing, where I’m constantly grappling with, did I communicate when I really want? Did people really get, come away with what I hope they did, and did I, did I speak truth to power for myself?
And so “say her name” for me was a poem that I felt needed to be written. And I was grateful I was asked to read it because it was my marching order, it was what I was called to do so.
I am a woman carrying other women in my mouth. Behold a sister, a daughter, a mother, dear friend. Spirits demystified in a comrade’s tone. They gather to breath and exhale, a dance with the death we know is not the end. All these nameless bodies haunted
by pellet wounds in their chests. Listen for them in the saying of a name you cannot pronounce, black and woman is a sort of magic you cannot hashtag. The mere weight of it too vast to be held. we hold ourselves an inheritance, felt between the hips
woman of soft darkness. Portal of light watch them envy the revolution of our movement. How we break open to give life flow. Why the terror of our tears, torment of our taste, my rage is righteous. My love is righteous. My name is righteous. Hear what I am
not here to say, we, too, have died. We know we are dying, too. I am not here to say, look at me, how I died so brutal a death, I deserve a name to fit all the horror in. I am here to tell you, how if they mention me in their protest and their rallies, they would have to face their role in it, too, my beauty, too. I died many times before the blow to the body. I have bled many months before the bullet to the flesh. We know, we know the body is not the end.
Call it what you will but for all the hands, cuffed wrists of us, the shackled ankles of us, the bend over to make room for you of us, how dare we speak anything less than I love you. We who love just as loudly in the thunderous rain as when the sun shines golden on our skin and the world kisses us unapologetically. We be so beautiful when we be. How you gon be free without me? Your freedom tied up with mine at the nappy edge of our soul singing for all my sisters. Watch them stretch their arms and my voice, how they fly open-chested toward your ear.
Listen for Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Aiyana Jones, Kayla Moore, Shelly Frey, Miriam Carey, Kendra James, Alberta Spruill, Tarika Wilson, Shereese Francis, Shantel Davis, Malissa Williams, Darnisha Harris, Michelle Cusseaux, Pearlie Golden, Kathryn Johnston, Eleanor Bumpers, Natasha McKenna, Sheneque Proctor, Sandra Bland.
We are each saying, we do not vanish in the baited breath of our brothers. Show me, show me a man willing to fight beside me, my hand in his, the color of courage. There is no mountaintop worth seeing without us. Meet me in the trenches where we lay our bodies down in the valley of a voice. Say it.
Say her name.
JS: Aja Monet, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
AM: Thank you, thank you for having me.
JS: Aja Monet’s new book is called, “My Mother was a Freedom Fighter.” It’s published by Haymarket books.
JS: Last month, Donald Trump issued an executive order tossing out some restrictions that president Obama had placed on something called the 1033 program. That’s a government scheme under which local and state police agencies in the United States can purchase excess military equipment, including armored vehicles and grenade launchers from the military.
Now, this program started in the 1990s, but it only really started to catch attention of a wider swath of the population in in recent years because of the massive paramilitarized operations that have become commonplace during large protests as occurred in Ferguson or in Baltimore, where you see these paramilitarized cops facing down against people who are coming out to protest the killing of black and brown people by police.
Now, for most of Obama’s presidency, the 1033 program operated as it always had, it operated at full steam. But then in 2015, Obama decided to place some restrictions on it in direct response to the images of these militarized police confronting protesters. While Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement on behalf of Trump that they would be getting rid of Obama’s restrictions and sessions made that announcement in a speech in front of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the country.
Jeff Sessions: President Trump, this day, is issuing an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities. He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that had limited your agency’s ability to get equipment through federal programs, including lifesaving gear.
JS: To discuss all of this, I’m joined by my colleague at The Intercept, Alice Speri. Her most recent piece, which we’re also going to discuss, is called, “Israel Security Forces Are Training American Cops Despite History of Rights Abuses.
Alice, welcome back to Intercepted.
Alice Speri: Thanks for having me.
JS: So let’s begin with the very big picture here: explain the roots of the 1033 program and what it is.
AS: The 1033 program has actually been around for many years. It was signed into law by President Clinton in the 90s, but it’s really been talked about more recently and specifically in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. Basically this is a Pentagon program by which police departments across the country can buy excess supplies from the military, including grenade launchers and armored vehicles. And we really saw a lot of that equipment in Ferguson and in following protests against police brutality from 2014 onwards.
[Audio from Ferguson protests]
AS: Then, so in 2015, President Obama actually signed restrictions into place so that not all police departments would be able to get as much material. That was really one of the programs that was key to the militarization of police departments. And, of course, president Trump is, you know, in his effort to undo many of the efforts of police reform, really president Obama hasn’t done a whole lot of police reform, but there were programs put in place that Trump has very promptly rescinded, and the 1033 is one of them.
Barack Obama: We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. Can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.
JS: How widespread is the transfer of this kind of equipment to state or local law enforcement agencies?
AS: It was pretty massive, you’ve seen departments across the country, not just the big cities, but really everywhere. And you see that these SWAT teams coming in, you know, with full body armor and full military equipment in small towns on drug raids. And that, which some of that has been exposed in recent years. There’s also been a few incidents in which you know, like, full SWAT teams would break into somebody’s home looking for a presumed drug dealer, and just finding kids and grandmothers and, you know, shooting up the place. So like, there has been some attention brought to the programs, it’s really, they’ve really made it across the country to all police departments.
[Audio of police raid]
JS: It’s really interesting to see how, particularly in the post-9/11 world, the United States has all of their new toys and weapons of war. And we’ve seen this increased use of technologies that were developed by the CIA or the Defense Department, used for surveillance of people that were determined to be terrorists or terror suspects, like Stingrays and other surveillance gear that’s being used to go after so-called common criminals. And this is a pretty ominous development because of the U.S. role in the world, because of the leading edge of technology that the U.S. finds itself at with the weapons of war and surveillance.
And now it’s being used in everyday drug busts, but also increasingly to face down against nonviolent protesters.
AS: Yes. Absolutely. That’s actually where we’ve seen most of this, and this is how a lot of the attention was brought to these programs. In Ferguson, we saw armored vehicles coming through the suburbs of St. Louis, and since then, we’ve seen that repeated, that scene repeated in Baltimore and Chicago in other cities across the country. Not always big cities.
Of course, during the conventions there’s always a big fear that, you know, police will show up, as they have in the past with full military gear. And for instance, I covered the Republican convention in Cleveland where there really, ultimately weren’t that many protesters. But the city was on lockdown and police were armed as if they were going to war, so that’s very much the image they’re putting out there.
JS: I remember when I was starting off in journalism; I was in Seattle in 1999, for the World Trade Organization meetings where there was this huge uprising. And there I think was the first time that a new generation of activists faced down against this, it’s not even paramilitarization, really, it’s the militarization of the police.
And so what Trump is doing right now is basically saying, “Ok, they put a little bit too short of a leash on this program, let’s just take the leash off completely.”
AS: Mhmm. And it’s very important to notice, you know, the militarization of police is not a partisan issue in any way, it’s not that Democrats really ever opposed it. And that’s why, when I talk about President Obama’s reforms on policing, I always say, those are very limited, very belated reforms that he was able to pass. They really just kind of began to tackle the issue, but they weren’t nearly sufficient and, you know, Trump rescinding many of them is predictable, but—
JS: But, see, if you get a job at one of these, like, venture capital firms or hedge funds that Obama is getting paid a half a million dollars to speak at, maybe you could ask him a question about that.
AS: I’ll try!
JS: Let’s turn to this really fascinating story that you published at The Intercept. I think for a lot of people in this country, they would have no idea what you’re talking about. Israeli security forces training American cops? What does Israel have to do with local policing in the United States?
AS: Well, Israelis are actually training local police and private security forces all over the world, that’s really one of their, one of the big businesses. But what’s so fascinating to me about this story is that it’s been on my radar at least for a decade, if not more. It’s something that’s not a secret by any means, I mean these trips are advertised on the websites of the groups that sponsor them. And yet it is never talked about.
It’s really fascinating to me that, even now, that we have so much attention on police departments in the US, on the militarization of police, the fact that these officers, and we’re talking about hundreds of them, are going to Israel yearly to train with military forces there, is just not talked about, and I think that’s quite fascinating.
JS: I mean I first encountered Israeli private security in 2005 when I was in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There was a firm called Instinctive Shooting International, ISI, that was hired to guard a wealthy, white enclave in New Orleans.
And when I was researching at that time, I was sort of stunned to see how deeply embedded Israeli firms are in every level of the U.S. Homeland Security apparatus, in terms of training, and also the national security apparatus. That to me I think is one of the most disturbing aspects of this. That Israel is viewed in the world as one of the most efficient assassins that exists on the international scene, and now they’re increasingly working with American police forces armed with what are clearly weapons of war, not policing.
AS: Right, you think American cops don’t need any further militarizing, but I guess you can always get better at killing, I suppose. But no, I actually met Israeli security forces in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there in 2010, so they’re everywhere. This is a huge business for Israel. It makes sense, right? When your entire country has gone through the military and everybody has military experience. That’s, you know, a great thing to have on your resume if you’re going to look to make money. That’s something you can market.
And what’s really interesting is they’ve been able to market their experience in the occupied territories. And the occupation of Palestine has become this selling point, really, that’s put on brochures that sort of highlight Israel’s strength as a counterterrorism force. But when they train American cops on counterterrorism, a majority of what they’re teaching them ends up being used against civilians in the U.S. I mean, most police departments in the U.S. do not face serious terrorism threats.
JS: This is an incredible part of your story, I just want to share this with our listeners. You write: “In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel seized on its decades-long experience as an occupying force to brand itself as a world leader in counterterrorism. U.S. law enforcement agencies took the Jewish state up on its expertise by participating in exchange programs sponsored by an array of pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Anti-Defamation League.” What on earth are those lobbying entities doing arranging counterterrorism, so-called counterterrorism training for U.S. police forces?
AS: I mean and I think perhaps the most ironic of them is the Anti-Defamation League, which really presents itself as a civil rights organization, that here in the U.S. counters, supposedly abusive policing, and they in the aftermath of Ferguson have been very strongly opposed to people that draw comparisons between the occupation of Palestine and, and the militarization of police in the U.S.
You know, a lot of people in Ferguson were sort of comparing themselves to Gaza, which is questionable in many ways, obviously, but, but there is definitely a solidarity that’s being built between occupied people in different ways.
JS: Right and you talked about in recent days, there was this delegation of top U.S. law enforcement officers, in Israel, for a seminar that was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, it was a national counterterrorism seminar, topics such as leadership in a time of terror, balancing the fight against crime and terrorism, more than two hundred law enforcement executives from over one hundred departments in the U.S. participated in this?
AS: Having participated in this, since 2004 when it first launched, this week there were several top US officials, sometimes immigration enforcement agents also participate. Sometimes campus police participate in these trainings. They go to Israel and they learn from Israeli Police as well as the IDF, the Defense Forces military, as well as security forces that really work on border patrol.
And I think the most important thing to remember here is that these are U.S. cops that are tasked with enforcing civil law and criminal law here in the U.S., but they’re learning from people that are enforcing military rule over occupied people. So that the parallel is really quite interesting.
I mean Israeli security forces operate in a non-democratic context and these are U.S. public servants that are learning those tactics, presumably to bring back and use against U.S. citizens.
JS: You specifically talk in your article about the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Commander Morgan Kane who attended the training. What did the D.C. police say to you when you reached out to them?
JS: Right, so, well first of all, we only know about Morgan Kane, who’s a female commander actually in D.C., and she — we only know about this trip because Jewish Voices for Peace, which is one of the organizations that’s been exposing this, was able to find her name in a document they FOIA’ed. And so I reached out to the police department in DC, and basically they as many others really framed this trip as a counterterrorism opportunity. An opportunity for D.C. police to learn, you know, techniques that will keep DC residents and tourists safe. That’s really what they present.
Never mind that D.C. also has major problems, as many other cities do, with policing its own poor black brown citizens. It has a history of abuses, there have been a number of police killings there, as there have been in other cities. And so it’s really difficult to kind of draw a line and say, “I’m learning about counterterrorism and I’ll come back and not use it against everybody else and still police in a constitutional manner.”
I mean these things really are connected. You can’t separate one from the other. There’s kind of this idea that counterterrorism is OK, but unconstitutional policing isn’t. And even on the counter terrorism front, I mean there’s plenty, obviously of abuse that comes out of these trips.
For instance the NYPD infamous Muslim spying program a few years back. That was pretty much modeled on the surveillance of Palestinians in the West Bank, and one of the officers, one of the top commanders actually in the NYPD, that was behind it, had participated in one of these trainings in Israel. So you really see these techniques and how these methods are brought back home and put in place against US citizens, in this case, Muslim citizens.
But one other thing I would point out is that the exchange also goes both ways. I mean you think Israelis don’t have anything to learn from Americans in terms of oppressing populations, but they, they do. And one thing that, for instance, happened last year in Israel is that the government passed basically the equivalent of our stop and frisk law, which of course has been very much contested in a number of U.S. cities.
Meanwhile, in Israel, this new law is essential to doing the same thing. And, of course, because the law itself is so vague, basically any officers can stop anyone they suspect of being up to something, essentially. That’s being applied very discriminately, and it’s, you know, with racism towards Palestinians.
JS: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of cohesion between how the U.S. conducts itself in the world and how Israel conducts itself in Palestine, and increasingly we’re seeing those two merge in the U.S. And I wanted to get your analysis on, once again, the violence that we saw of the police in St. Louis in recent days.
AS: I mean, I always feel like St. Louis is just a little bit ahead of the rest of the country in terms of finding out the flash points and really sort of showing you in a nutshell what policing and relationship between police and black and brown communities in this country is. As you know, I was in Ferguson three years ago. I’m kind of beginning to see to same thing happening again. I don’t know if you saw from people that were on the scene, there was a moment when after making a number of arrests, police reportedly started chanting:
JS: Whose streets? Our streets!
AS: Whose streets? Our streets!
[Police shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!”]
JS: Which is, of course, the protester anthem by default. And the fact that police would have really the arrogance and the nerve to chant this, in the streets, that they are supposed to serve, is just astounding to me. So really, St. Louis, I think captures this kind of conflict. St. Louis has, in the past, been an indicator of how these conflicts will play out. We’ll be watching, for sure.
JS: Alright, Alice Speri, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
AS: Thank you for having me.
JS: Alice Speri is a reporter at The Intercept. Her latest article is about Israeli security forces training U.S. cops.
JS: Before we go, I want to make sure you all know that we have a new Intercepted Facebook group. It’s simply called Intercepted Listeners. You should join us on there. Our staff has been really engaged, and actually a community of people who listen to this program have been engaging in discussion and debate. I popped in there myself as well, and I’m going to try to do so as often as I can.
Also, as I said on last week’s show, we’re going to be launching a fundraising campaign, a membership campaign for this podcast. You’ll notice that we no longer have any ads in it. We would much rather build with you our community and see where we can take this program. So be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks.
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. Bryan Pugh mixed the show. Elise Swain is our production assistant and graphic designer. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.