Donald Trump is a racist and the perfect man to represent America’s racist legacy in the countries he called shitholes. This week on Intercepted: Jeremy lays out the bloody U.S. history in Haiti and El Salvador and blasts the bipartisan, selective amnesia and historical revisionism that “American exceptionalism” demands. In an exclusive interview, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard calls for direct talks with Kim Jong-un to avert a catastrophic war with North Korea. She defends her meeting with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, explains why she holds Hillary Clinton responsible for regime change in Libya, and says Bernie Sanders would have defeated Trump. Steve Bannon was ousted from Breitbart and ridiculed as “Sloppy Steve” by his hero. But Bannon is very popular in Washington — with investigators. As Robert Mueller hits Bannon with a grand jury subpoena, former CIA officer and Cipher Brief columnist John Sipher and journalist Marcy Wheeler analyze the Russia investigation, the Steele dossier, and the Trump team’s collusion … with Israel. Leading Marxist scholar David Harvey talks about alienation and debt peonage in the age of Trump, the crimes of capitalism, and why he believes the French and American revolutions would not be possible today.
Don Lemon: Are you a racist?
President Donald J. Trump: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.
DJT: They’re bringing drugs —
DJT: I don’t care if the judge is Mexican or not —
DJT: — They’re bringing crime. —
DJT: — so I don’t care about Mexican —
DJT: — They’re rapists …
Jake Tapper: He’s not from Mexico, he’s from Indiana.
DJT: In my opinion — he has Mexican heritage and he’s very proud of it …
DJT: And some, I assume are good people.
John Dickerson: If it were a Muslim judge, would you also feel like they wouldn’t be able to treat you fairly?
DJT: Uh —
DJT: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims.
DJT: — Uh, it’s possible, yes. Yeah, that would be possible, absolutely.
DJT: It’s really very curious as to what’s going on with our president. Why doesn’t he show the birth certificate? Maybe it says he’s a Muslim.
DJT: Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him.
DJT: I have a great relationship with the blacks.
DJT: Are you the greatest? You know what I’m talking about? OK.
DJT: I have, I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.
DJT: I love these guys, look at these guys. “Blacks for Trump.” I love you.
DJT: A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white. If I was starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black.
DJT: How many of these people are even Indians to begin with, because I’ve looked at them and I have to tell you something, they don’t like Indians to me.
DJT: They don’t look like Indians to me. And they don’t look like the Indians — now, maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don’t look like Indians to me and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.
DJT: Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what? I like you.
DJT: Negotiating with China. They say, “We want deal!” He jump out of the seat!
DJT: I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?
DJT: I didn’t even know he endorsed me.
DJT: White supremacy or white supremacist?
DJT: David Duke endorsed me? OK.
DJT: You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.
DJT: Alright, I disavow. OK?
DJT: I think there is blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt about it either. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
DJT: Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.”
DJT: What’s going on in Chicago?
DJT: He’s fired. He’s fired!
DJT: What the hell is going on?
DJT: Of course, I hate these people, and let’s all hate these people because maybe hate is what we need, hate is what we need.
[“Black Mirror” theme song.]
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 40 of Intercepted.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: That we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill in Vietnam, while we spend in the so-called “War on Poverty” in America, only about $53 for each person classified as poor.
JS: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday is an important reminder that one of the defining characteristics of the American exceptionalism that Democratic and Republican politicians constantly mention is selective amnesia combined with historical revisionism.
Dr. King, as he is celebrated in the U.S. by the majority of politicians and institutions would be unrecognizable to King himself. King was a militant opponent of U.S. wars and militarism.
MLK: What they ask, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.
Their questions hit home and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.
JS: Dr. King was a fierce advocate for the poor, the forgotten, the victims of the fabled American success story celebrated by its white beneficiaries. He repeatedly risked his life, confronting not just racist policies or segregation but the white supremacy ingrained in U.S. society to this very day.
But King the radical, the anti-imperialist, the anti-racist, is not the King that’s celebrated today.
MLK: The problem of racial and justice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.
JS: The real Martin Luther King, Jr., the King who J. Edgar Hoover tried to blackmail, wiretapped, and told King to kill himself, the King who described himself as a Democratic Socialist, who believed in redistribution of wealth, the King who was assassinated, would today undoubtedly be labeled a black identity terrorist and shunned by the Republicans and Democrats alike for being too radical and anti-American.
When King was gunned down, his popularity was at all-time low. He had been largely abandoned by his friends in the civil rights movement and was regularly denounced in the papers and on radio and TV for being too radical.
Lawrence Spivak: Dr. King, former President Truman was quoted by the AP as saying that the March from Selma, and this was his word was, “silly” and can’t accomplish “a darn thing” except to attract attention.” Now, there have been two murders, many beatings, and a federal expenditure for troops of about $300,000. Would you say that what the march accomplished was worth that cost?
JS: Perhaps it’s fitting that days before the King holiday, we learned that Donald Trump had called black nations “shitholes” or “shit houses” — it doesn’t matter which. We see you Trump.
The Democrats express their outrage that the president would say such a thing and Trump’s defenders say it’s the truth regardless of what anyone thinks of his language.
But here’s what the Democrats and Republicans, and certainly Trump himself, will never ever talk about: The U.S. role in destabilizing and mercilessly punishing the countries whose citizens Trump wants banned from coming to the U.S. or having protective status.
DJT: We will suspend the Syrian refugee program. [Cheers and applause] Have no choice. And we will keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country, believe me. [Cheers and applause]
JS: Take Haiti. The first black Republic in the world. The first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. A country consistently targeted by violent, anti-democratic U.S. policy ever since. Why don’t we ever talk about the support that Ronald Reagan offered to the brutal dictatorship of Baby Doc or how George H.W. Bush and the CIA unleashed murderous death squads in an effort to stop the democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, only to facilitate his overthrow in a brutal coup after Aristide won? Why don’t we talk about how Bill Clinton would only allow Aristide to return to Haiti if he agreed not to seek reelection or the inhumane way that Clinton treated Haitians fleeing their country and warehouse them at the Guantanamo prison in appalling conditions before George Bush turned it into an illegal gulag for suspected terrorists?
President Bill Clinton: I want to thank our partners in the hemisphere. When the United States decided that, if necessary, we would use force to remove the military regime and to restore president Aristide and democracy, I was so determined that no one would think we were trying to revive any hemispheric imperialism.
JS: Why don’t we discuss the George W. Bush administration, once again supporting the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected government in 2004, or the neoliberal economic policies pushed by the Clinton Global Fund and the Obama administration, or the story of how president Obama backed a corrupt government in Haiti as it used corruption and anti-democratic tactics in an effort to keep power.
President Barack Obama: It’s a great pleasure to welcome president Martelly of Haiti to the Oval Office. Our, you know, our two countries really brought about the trend towards independence in the Western Hemisphere.
JS: No Democrats or Republicans ever want to talk about this history. Yes, Donald Trump is a racist — a horrid, overt, shameless racist. But let’s be honest: U.S. policy toward Haiti has always been racist. Trump should be condemned for what he said but so too should all U.S. presidents, going back well over a century, who have ravaged Haiti in defense of corporate profits and the elite.
On Martin Luther King Day, MSNBC repeatedly played a clip of Ronald Reagan, denouncing the use of racial epithets in a speech that Reagan gave on King’s birthday. And they contrasted that Reagan speech to Trump’s “shithole” or “shit house” comments.
President Ronald Reagan: As recent unfortunate events have demonstrated, we cannot be complacent about racism and bigotry. And I would challenge all of you to pledge yourselves to building an America where incidents of racial hatred do not happen, because racism has been banned, not just from the law books but from the hearts of the people.
Joe Scarborough: So there you have it. Two presidents, two Republicans, two men claiming to be conservatives. And yet, a great divide between race, even among two conservative Republican presidents. But after all these decades of progress, here we find ourselves with a reactionary, and yes, some would say a racist president.
JS: The violent irony here of course is that Reagan is directly responsible for a tremendous amount of death and destruction in Haiti. And that little fact was not mentioned at all, because history doesn’t matter to these people. Only empty platitudes gain bipartisan praise.
Now I could also talk about the role the U.S. has played in destroying Somalia and other African nations whose citizens Trump believe should be banned from coming to America. And it isn’t just Haiti and African nations — tens of thousands of people in El Salvador were mercilessly murdered, tortured, raped in the 1980s as Reagan poured us weapons, training and funding to a heinous military junta. That country has never fully recovered from what the U.S. did to it over a sustained period of time.
Oh, and it wasn’t just Salvadoran civilians who paid the price. Forces backed by Washington raped and murdered four American church women. Archbishop Oscar Ramiro was shot dead as he performed mass; his killer was trained by the U.S. Six Jesuit priests were murdered in their home by paramilitaries backed by the U.S.
Newscaster: The priests were shown no mercy. During the night, gunmen invaded their dormitory, clubbed them, dragged them out to a lawn and shot them. Two women caretakers were also murdered.
JS: You see, no one wants to discuss this history when we try to understand why El Salvador faces the violence and poverty that make people want to flee. So, yes, we should all be outraged at Trump’s racist words and his racist policies. They’re dangerous and vile. But they don’t exist in a vacuum.
It’s the U.S. that’s been the “shithole” or the “shit house” in countries the world over. It’s a legacy of racism built by Democrats and Republicans, and Donald Trump is a fitting person to now represent that legacy because his overt racist rhetoric matches this racist legacy that no one ever wants to talk about. OK. Let’s go on with the show.
JS: As I speak, the United States is engaged in multiple wars across the globe, covert and overt. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Niger, Yemen — on and on. These wars get very little attention in the permanent Trump news cycle that we all live in. At the same time, the U.S. Congress is moving forward with a surveillance bill that’s going to have far-reaching implications on the privacy of American citizens. And it’s not even received a fraction of the attention that it deserves. But don’t ask the leaders of the Democratic Party about that. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and other prominent Democrats, have joined with their Republican colleagues in killing an amendment that would have put in place extremely minor requirements that would have curbed warrantless spying on Americans.
And remember: This is in a bill to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act another six years. Foreign, as in foreigners outside of the United States. But Pelosi and people like Democrat Adam Schiff, who is leading the investigation into Trump-Russia in the Intelligence Committee, they joined with president Trump and the Republicans in making sure that the NSA can still collect the communications of Americans without a warrant.
Adam Schiff: Section 702 I think is among the most important of all of our surveillance programs.
JS: So, let’s get this straight: some of the most prominent Democrats who claim to be trying to end the Trump administration, who characterize Trump as a tool for Vladimir Putin they want to give that same Donald Trump sweeping surveillance authorities. Got it? And they defend this position by saying that it rises above politics. That it’s necessary to defend the country.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has been one of the leaders of the fight against this legislation on the Senate side, said the following on Twitter, “I just want folks to know, if Donald Trump gets expanded spying powers, Jeff Sessions gets to decide when to use this collection against you.”
Ron Wyden: It allows warrantless government surveillance of foreigners thought to have foreign intelligence information. That’s practically anything that relates to the foreign affairs of the United States. Practically everything about foreign countries relates to American foreign affairs.
JS: One of the sponsors of the House amendment that tried to limit the NSA’s ability to spy on ordinary Americans, and to use what they collect without a warrant against Americans in criminal proceedings, is Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Since her election in 2012, Gabbard has repeatedly broken ranks with the Democratic Party leadership. She has consistently blasted hawkish policies and regime change under president Obama and under president Trump. She has confronted the DNC and the Democratic primary process. She was a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders and is routinely vilified by supporters of Hillary Clinton.
Tulsi Gabbard, who is a U.S. military combat vet, who deployed to Iraq, also made a trip to Syria last year and she met with Bashar al-Assad. When Gabbard returned to the United States, she was widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans after she said that she had not seen sufficient evidence to prove that Assad, and not other forces in Syria, had used chemical weapons.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard: If president Assad is found to be responsible after an independent investigation for these horrific chemical weapons attacks, I’ll be the first one to denounce him, to call him a war criminal and to call for his prosecution in the International Criminal Court, make sure that those consequences are there. But the key is now with president Trump’s reckless military strikes last night, it flew directly in the face of the action that the U.N. was working on at that time to launch an independent investigation, to find out exactly what the facts are, who was involved and who was responsible so the appropriate consequences could be levied.
JS: This past weekend, Tulsi Gabbard was back in the news after an alert was sent to the mobile phones of everyone in the state of Hawaii warning them of an imminent incoming missile attack. Now, that alert, of course, turned out to be totally false. It was Tulsi Gabbard who first alerted the public via Twitter that it was a false alarm and that no missile attack was happening. She tweeted that 12 minutes after the alert was sent across Hawaii and caused panic and fear. It took Hawaiian state authorities 38 minutes to officially retract the alert. Once again, Tulsi Gabbard was attacked. Some said she had no business intervening in the alert system, that it could cause problems for the U.S. military. Others criticized her for linking the fear that Hawaiians experienced after that false alert to president Trump’s belligerent policy toward North Korea.
There is a lot to talk about with Representative Tulsi Gabbard and she joins me now. Tulsi, welcome to Intercepted.
Rep. TG: Aloha, Jeremy. It’s great to talk to you.
JS: Why do you draw a connection between the Trump Administration’s posturing on North Korea and this horrible, frightening event that just took place in Hawaii?
Rep. TG: Well, first of all, let me just start with kind of painting the picture for folks who were not in Hawaii or who are not from Hawaii where you can just imagine, you know, you’re at work, you’re at school, you’re at home on a Saturday morning. And all of a sudden you get an alert that comes across your phone saying, “Ballistic missile incoming, take cover immediately. This is not a drill.”
Now, keep in mind that just a couple of months ago people in Hawaii started hearing and were briefed by state civil defense officials about a monthly nuclear attack siren test that would begin and that if they heard that on a day that it was not a test then they would have fifteen minutes to take shelter, to find shelter somewhere. So, running through my mind, running through people — over a million people all across Hawaii when they saw this alert on Saturday morning was: “I’ve got fifteen minutes to try to find some shelter, to say my last goodbyes to my loved ones before what could be the end. Before my family and my home could be completely destroyed by an attack.”
What turned out to be a false alarm because someone in the civil defense emergency operation center pushed the wrong button that sent this alert out, it really was a wake up call about this threat that exists in the first place. You know, the people of Hawaii are literally paying the price for what has been decades of failed leadership from both Democrat and Republican administrations on allowing this threat to build and grow, this capability to increase on the part of North Korea to the point where we sit here today under threat of nuclear attack. Failed negotiations, if they even occurred, unrealistic preconditions, as well as this long-held U.S. foreign policy of regime change and how that has led North Korea to develop and tighten their grip on nuclear weapons, because they see that as the only deterrent to the U.S. leading an effort to topple their regime.
We’re sitting here today, president Trump is in office, and he needs to take this threat seriously and begin direct negotiations to make it so the people of Hawaii and this country don’t have to live under this dark shadow of a potential nuclear attack and war.
JS: Well, and you also have, now, this discussion, and there’s a lot of leaks being floated by individuals within various entities of the national security apparatus and the White House, floating the idea of potentially a conventional military strike on North Korea or some kind of a surgical strike that they believe could knock out some of the nuclear capability. You’re against, as I understand, any U.S. military action in North Korea right now.
Rep. TG: Any kind of preemptive or so-called preventive strike and war will kick off a catastrophic war that doesn’t even bring into account the nuclear war that could ensue. It doesn’t bring into account, you know, all of the different layers of consequences that experts in many different fields, in the military and in foreign policy agree would have casualties and destruction that we haven’t seen before in history.
So, you know, I am opposed to those leaks and those rumors of such a preventive or preemptive attack. And, instead am, as I have been for quite some time, calling for these direct talks to explore and maximize all peaceful avenues towards finding this path to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and prevent that catastrophic war and eliminate this nuclear threat that exists.
JS: Do you believe that Donald Trump should directly speak with Kim Jong-un?
Rep. TG: I do. I do.
JS: And say what to him?
Rep. TG: I think, well, I think they should sit across the table. There are a number of things that I’m sure North Korea wants. There are a number of things that we want and actually have those negotiations that could lead us towards this path towards denuclearization. We’ve got to be willing to put things on the table as North Korea has to be willing to, you know, perhaps begin with freezing the program. But, again, build that pathway towards denuclearization.
JS: But if you’re North Korea and you’re looking at the U.S. position, why on earth would you ever engage in a negotiation aimed at you having to get rid of your nuclear weapons? It’s the only thing, from the North Korean perspective, that keeps them from having their regime changed?
Rep. TG: Well, and this is exactly what I’ve been talking about. Yet another reason why it’s so critical for us to end our long-held regime-change war policies to begin to have some credibility in these types of negotiations with North Korea that, when the United States says that they’re not going to come in and topple the North Korean regime, that there is some credibility that exists there.
There are other actions that can be taken. I think the sanctions that have been put in place have been ineffective. If we look throughout history, through different administrations that have tried to enact sanctions to be able to spur these kinds of negotiations, they haven’t worked. You know, many of them because they either haven’t been put in place long enough to have an effect or they just simply were ineffective.
For example, one of the ones that had worked in the past under George W. Bush was sanctions on hard currency. This was something that I think we began to see some immediate effect on North Korea, but then they were lifted far too quickly and were not carried out in a way that would actually be able to be used as leverage with North Korea to get them to get rid of their nuclear weapons program.
JS: Now, but before I ask this next question, I want to remind people that you, Tulsi Gabbard, are a combat veteran. That you were deployed to Iraq. And I bring that up because I have found it very interesting to watch as you have criticized American foreign policy, the pile-on against you from both Democrats and Republicans for the positions that you’ve taken in opposition to regime change.
So, I want to give you a chance to answer some of the criticism that’s been leveled at you. For instance, you were opposed to the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. And, you know, when you debate that, people say: “Well, Tulsi Gabbard was pro-Gaddafi.” You’ve said that it was a mistake for the United States to remove Saddam Hussein and people say, “Well, that means that you were supportive of Saddam Hussein.”
How do you respond to the criticism that’s thrown at you when you speak out against regime change, whether it was under Obama or Bush or potentially going forward under Trump?
Rep. TG: It’s laughable, honestly, because this is coming from people who levied these attacks because they cannot debate the actual substance, and the truth, and the facts, about how these decisions — and those two examples that you have shared with Iraq and with Libya broadly — if you look at those two situations, are the Libyan people’s lives better off today because of what we did in overthrowing Gaddafi? Are the American people safer today because of going in and overthrowing Gaddafi?
The answer to both of those questions is absolutely not. In fact we are less safe today because of that action. We are less safe because we went in and overthrew the government there, spurring not only death, chaos, and destruction, but Libya became a country that became a haven for terrorism, now increasing the threat against the United States.
Again, same thing with Iraq. You can look at this from a very clear perspective: Did that action help keep the American people safe or did it not? What to speak of the many American lives that were lost in that war there, the destruction, the chaos, the trillions of dollars that this kind our country has spent on rebuilding these nations that we have gone in and overthrown their governments. The cost of these wars and how counterproductive they have been purely from American interests what to speak of the, to say the destructive impact on the people of these countries is a complete understatement. So, again look at the hard facts. If you even look at this from the perspective of acting in the interests of the American people: whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s our past and continued attempts to overthrow the government in Syria or even these rumors that are becoming louder and louder of people in Washington talking about overthrowing the government in Iran or any of these other countries where we have done so through military or nonmilitary means in the past have ended up worse off for the people of those countries and have been counterproductive to the interests of the American people.
JS: I’m wondering what your position, I know that in the past you have said that you favor a small footprint approach with strike forces and limited use of weaponized drones. Is that still your position that you think that’s the — to the extent that you believe the U.S. military should be used around the world for counterterrorism, is that still your position?
Rep. TG: Well, when we’re dealing with the unconventional threat of terrorist groups like ISIS, al Qaeda and some of these other groups that are affiliated with them, we should not be using basically what has been and continues to be the current policy of these mass mobilization of troops, these long occupations and trillions of dollars going in, really abusing the Authorization to Use Military Force and taking action that expands far beyond the legal limitations of those current AUMFs.
So, with these terrorist cells, for example, yes, I do still believe that the right approach to take is these quick strike forces, surgical strikes, in and out, very quickly, no long-term deployment, no long-term occupation to be able to get rid of the threat that exists and then get out and the very limited use of drones in those situations where our military is not able to get in without creating an unacceptable level of risk, and where you can make sure that you’re not causing, you know, a large amount of civilian casualties.
JS: Right, I mean from my experience on the ground in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, et cetera, I came to the conclusion that our policy, including under president Obama, that our — any time we got engaged militarily in these countries we ended up making more new enemies than we did kill actual terrorists who represented any kind of a feasible threat to the United States.
To what degree are you concerned that our policy is actually fueling the very terrorism that we claim to want to stop?
Rep. TG: When I talk about what the consequences of our interventionist foreign policy have been, this is one of them. Too often, as we sit here in armed services hearings and foreign affairs hearings and have briefings from people within the administration, the programs that they’re raising, the strategies that they’re talking about do not often go beyond the very specific action that they’re advocating for. They’re often not able to answer the questions of, you know, what happens next, what are the consequences, you know, down the line in the military, what we call the second, third, fourth order of effects that we can expect and should know before we decide to take a specific course of action.
JS: I want to talk to you about one trip that you took that just caused you know a massive string of attacks against you from your own party and that was your trip to Syria. I want to say that I have shared your position, I’ve been against U.S. military action in Syria, both covert and overt. I was against the idea of the Obama administration ratcheting up airstrikes.
At the same time, I do believe that Bashar al-Assad is a butcher and a war criminal and I want to know why you, as a member of Congress, went to meet with Bashar al-Assad.
Rep. TG: My mission was one of peace. And I feel strongly that if we truly care about the Syrian people, that if we truly want to do what we can to bring about an end to their suffering, then we have to be willing to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that peace could be achieved.
This is the same reason why I’ve been calling for us to have direct talks with Kim Jong-un, regardless of our opinion of these people, whether they be adversaries or dictators or others. The reality is that there is no possibility of peace unless we’re willing to talk and engage directly.
Ultimately it must be up to the Syrian people to determine their own future, to determine who is the leader of Syria, to determine what kinds of reforms, and changes, and things that they want to see in their future. We should never have gone into Syria to both directly and indirectly try to topple their regime. And we have seen the disastrous consequences of that.
JS: It seems if you look at Iraq as a model that you’re on the money with your analysis. I mean, it does seem clear at this point that there really isn’t a viable path to peace that doesn’t include some form of a negotiated solution with Assad.
At the same time, Assad is also receiving outside help from Russia, from Iran, from Hezbollah, and from a lot of other actors.
Rep. TG: Let me ask you this: Why and when did all of these outside forces come in? They came in as a reaction to the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries coming in and flooding Syria with weapons, providing these arms to groups that they called “moderate rebels” which we know and has widely been reported now that these groups were and are affiliated directly with, or under the command of, fighting alongside al Nusra, which is al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
So, Russia and Hezbollah and Iran, they didn’t come in to Syria just, you know, on a whim. They came in as a consequence and a reaction to this war that we helped fuel.
JS: I acknowledge, you’re 100 percent right in terms of this, the level of military action and actually flying planes and sending in weapons, etc. But the Syrian government has had a long relationship with Russia where it’s essentially been a sort of client. And I agree with you that a lot of these other powers in the region jumped in as soon as the United States started ratcheting up its attempts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. What do you say to reports, including from I think pretty credible journalists on the ground that don’t, you know, that aren’t sort of mouthpieces for the corporate media, that have a sense that the United States in some of its actions seems to be supporting Assad rather than trying to overthrow him and that at other times the exact opposite is true?
Rep. TG: I think your point is that our policy in Syria has been counterproductive in the sense that on the one hand we’re saying that, you know, we’re going into Syria because we want to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda and these terrorist groups who do pose a threat to United States and the American people, which I actually agree with and support this very specific action to take out those threats.
But, on the other hand, our policy made it so that we were both directly and indirectly arming militants in Syria who were fighting alongside and under the command of al Qaeda. So, in that sense, yes — in our policy we were both, so to speak, trying to put out the fire while also pouring fuel in growing the fire and worsening the problem.
JS: As I followed your political career in Congress, I’ve noticed that the most passionate denouncers of you are Hillary Clinton Democrats, rather than any other political faction, they seem to really loathe what you stand for.
Rep. TG: This points to why people in this country are so frustrated and fed up with politics, why we see lower and lower voter turnout, why we see people being less and less engaged in the process. Because whether it is within the Democratic Party, or if it’s partisanship between Democrats and Republicans, seeing these kind of cheap attacks rather than solid substantive debates on issues is something that they’re not interested in. It’s not productive and it actually undermines the very important work that we’re trying to do here.
JS: When Donna Brazile’s book came out and she clearly wrote that there was rigging going on there, that the Clinton people were in fact messing with parts of the internal process by having this sort of quid pro quo where, in return for kind of bailing out parts of the DNC, the Clinton people got to control quite a bit of the of the DNC operation even before she had secured the nomination and you were one of the more visible and well-known supporters of Bernie Sanders.
Do you believe that the process was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton? I mean do you think Bernie Sanders was robbed there and that the Clintons played dirty or is Donna Brazile off-base?
TG: No, I mean it’s clear both from what Donna Brazile was talking about, as well as other things that were happening, that it was rigged. And the coins were in and the decision had been made about who was the preferred candidate from the DNC. And it was not Bernie Sanders.
So, you know, again this points to the problem, the lack of faith, trust and confidence that people have, not only within the DNC itself but within politics in general. So, when people think, “Oh, you know, my vote doesn’t actually matter anyway because the decision’s already been made by a few people and in a dark smoky room in Washington,” you know, what happened really only added to that, which is a threat to our democracy.
JS: Do you think Bernie Sanders would’ve beat Trump?
TG: I do, actually. I do. Because I think that, you know, Bernie Sanders — I traveled with him on the trail through quite a significant chunk of time there in 2016, and we visited, you know, big cities on the coasts, in the Midwest, we visited small towns, many different parts of America where I saw the diverse groups of people, huge crowds of people who came out to hear him and who came out to support him. And they were not people who, you know, fit into one single demographic, easy demographic. They were not people who, all of them, who are maybe are traditional Democratic voters. There’s a very diverse group of people who are actually interested in someone that they could trust, someone who would be a champion for them, who would listen to their challenges and who would fight for them. And I think that they saw that in Bernie Sanders. He was someone who was able to kind of crossover and get that appeal from people — Democrats, independents and some Republicans.
JS: If you watch MSNBC or you listen to leading Democrats or even Hillary Clinton herself, one would think that the only factor, the only real factor in the 2016 election was Russian interference in the elections. And I’m wondering how much weight you would give to what we know about Russia’s involvement in our electoral process in 2016 versus other factors like Hillary Clinton’s platform or her record or other factors.
Rep. TG: I don’t give much weight to it at all. And I think it ignores the voices of the American people who ultimately decided this election, you know. There were very real issues that people had, very real problems, very real challenges that they felt weren’t being addressed or weren’t being heard. There were a whole host of things that I think the Democratic Party would do well to pay attention to try to understand why so many people stayed at home and why too many Democrats ended up actually vacating the Democratic Party and voting for Trump.
Until the Democratic Party really takes the time to be introspective, to go out and listen to the people of this country, not just Democrats but listen to the people of this country in every part of the country, until the Democratic Party actually does that then they’re going to continue to lose the trust and the confidence of the people.
JS: You know, just because you mentioned that, the only person that I think that some of the Hillary Clinton Democrats hate more than Bernie Sanders is Jill Stein, who was the Green Party candidate.
Do you believe that Jill Stein should have any sense of guilt for Trump or that that she is responsible in any way for Hillary Clinton’s loss?
Rep. TG: I don’t. You know what I do believe in? Our democracy. I believe in our democracy and strengthening that democracy by making it easier and more accessible for people to exercise their right to vote, by encouraging more engagement, by having substantive debate on the issues and by actually listening to the needs of the American people. The more strong and robust that debate and engagement is, the stronger our country will be.
JS: This amendment that you tried to get passed regarding the FISA authorization — for people that haven’t been following this it’s the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And this is the main mechanism that the NSA and other U.S. intelligence entities use to conduct surveillance on foreign targets overseas. But as you, and Justin Amash, who is a Republican by the way, pointed out in introducing your amendment, as it currently is written, Americans’ communications can be collected with no warrant and they can also be used in criminal prosecutions that have nothing to do with foreign intelligence collection. What happened to your amendment?
Rep. TG: Unfortunately, even though we received 183 votes in support, it wasn’t enough to cross the finish line and this was largely because of misinformation that was being put out by opponents of the resolution — opponents of reform of the intelligence agencies and Section 702. I think that caused some to vote against the amendment.
You know, it’s the fear tactics and misinformation campaign that we have seen far too often, especially after 9/11 that’s been used to pass things like the Patriot Act, that’s been used to allow this Section 702 reauthorization to occur without serious reform that really is a disservice to the American people and undermines the constitutional civil liberties that we were seeking to protect within our amendment, while also making sure that the Section 702 tools provided focused on foreign targets were maintained.
JS: Lest people think that it was just Paul Ryan and the Republicans that campaigned against your amendment, very prominent Democrats, including the most prominent Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, spoke openly and also to members trying to crush your amendment. In fact, she was so good at trying to crush your amendment that Speaker Paul Ryan publicly thanked her for crushing your amendment.
Speaker Paul Ryan: I want to thank the minority leader for coming up and speaking against the Amash amendment and in favor of the underlying bipartisan amendment.
JS: So, this is not just Republicans. You had a bunch of powerful Democrats that also were pushing this line that it’s going to make Americans less safe if the amendment that you and Justin Amash were pushing was to pass.
Rep. TG: This was a disheartening thing to see, but something that unfortunately doesn’t surprise me that we had the establishment and we had the leadership of both parties ceding this issue even though there are very clear constitutional problems with the search and use of incidental collection of Americans’ communications by law enforcement agencies without a warrant.
It was very clear that the amendment that we offered was a compromise amendment that sought to keep the American people safe through the section 702 on foreign targets, while also making sure that those back doors and loopholes that existed were closed so that the civil liberties of Americans was protected.
JS: Last question: Have you ever considered leaving the Democratic Party or switching your affiliation to being Independent?
Rep. TG: I haven’t. You know, I’ve been focusing my efforts on reforming the Democratic Party. You know, I’ve been pretty vocal in calling for open primaries all across the country or primaries or caucuses that have, allowed for same-day registration. So, we can get rid of a lot of the barriers that people saw, especially in 2016, where many people either couldn’t vote or their votes weren’t actually counted and so on. We need to be as open and inclusive as possible.
But also getting rid of the superdelegate program. You know, this program that really is so undemocratic and that it allows a few hundred people to have the power to sway an election over the votes of the population. You know, I think there are some good reforms that the Unity for Reform Commission within the Democratic Party have suggested. In just a few days, the Rules Committee will be voting on some of those reforms. To me, they don’t go quite far enough. But it’s a start. It’s a start.
JS: Well, Tulsi Gabbard, I want to say thank you so much for what you do.
Rep. TG: Thank you. Aloha.
JS: Representative Tulsi Gabbard is a combat vet who deployed to Iraq. She now represents Hawaii in the House of Representatives.
JS: The various investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged relationship or collusion with Russia and Russians continue to move forward. Following the release of Michael Wolff’s much-hyped book on Trump, which contained an insane amount of blabbing by Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart chief and Trump consigliore has become a popular man in Washington. Well, at least popular with investigators.
Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. We also learned this week that Bannon has received a subpoena to testify in front of the grand jury hearing evidence in the Mueller investigation. It was reportedly the first subpoena that Mueller has issued to a member of Trump’s inner circle.
Bannon’s in an interesting position. He was a major player in Trump’s victory, and, at least for the time being, seemed to be one of the primary drivers of Trump’s policies and executive orders in the early stages of this administration.
But Trump has now denounced him as “Sloppy Steve,” despite Bannon’s attempts to kiss Trump’s ass after the Wolff book dropped. Bannon has also lost his major financial backers, the Mercers, and he’s out at Breitbart News. All of that could add more spice to Bannon’s conversations with investigators.
When the Wolff book came out, one of the most covered comments made by Bannon involved that now-infamous June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., among others. Bannon was quoted as saying that these senior Trump campaign officials, “Thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers.”
Bannon allegedly continued saying, “Even if you thought this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad shit, and I happen to think that it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
But there are other comments attributed to Bannon in that book that have not gotten quite the same attention, though they may prove to be of much greater importance to the Mueller investigation, and those comments deal with alleged money laundering and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
Here’s what Bannon allegedly told Wolff, “This is all about money laundering. Their path to fuck Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner.” Bannon said it was “as plain as a hair on your face.” Bannon suggested that the laundering was “sloppy” and that the FBI will find it “easily,” adding that quote, “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner stuff.”
Meanwhile, Senator Diane Feinstein last week leaked the transcript of the testimony of Glenn Simpson, the head of GPS Fusion. That’s the firm initially hired by a Republican opponent of Trump to do opposition research, before it was hired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Interestingly, Clinton’s people tried to suggest that they had not paid for the work that was done by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, which of course was not true. They did pay for it. Anyway, Steele was the guy who wrote up the series of reports that came to be known as the Steele dossier. They’re essentially raw intelligence reports of the type spies file all the time to their agencies. Except in this case, they were produced for Hillary Clinton. The dossier contains a number of explosive allegations about Trump and it’s often referenced by Democrats to bolster their case that Trump is essentially a Russian Manchurian Candidate. And Republicans and Trump supporters, they use the dossier to suggest that the Russian investigation was all a plot cooked up by Hillary Clinton and that fake dossier.
To break all of this down, I’m joined now by two people: John Sipher is a former CIA officer. He spent 28 years at the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and has extensive experience in Russia, and also in counter-espionage against spies for Russia, like former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.
And, I’m joined by my friend Marcy Wheeler who is perhaps the most dogged investigative researcher I know. Her excellent news site is emptywheel.net.
John, Marcy, welcome to Intercepted.
John Sipher: Thank you, glad to be here.
Marcy Wheeler: Always good to be on.
Jeremy Scahill: Marcy, you and John both have said that in general you think that there’s quite a bit of credence that should be paid to the Steele dossier. What is it, Marcy, that convinces you that, in the bigger picture, the thrust of what Steele is reporting is true?
MW: The thrust of what Steele reported is that the Russians basically had developed compromising information on Trump, also on Hillary Clinton, and that they were manipulating that to support Trump in the election. And I think that is true, but as I read the dossier, there’s been actually nothing in the dossier that has matched known reality. And on the hack and leak, the dossier particularly weak.
There was a meeting on June 9, 2016 where:
Suzanne Malveaux: Donald Trump, Jr. was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, before agreeing to meet with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin at Trump Tower on June 9, two weeks before his father became the Republican nominee.
MW: And Don Jr., and Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner thought that they were going to get dirt, and we now know that they had been offered dirt in the form of e-mails in exchange for a meeting with Putin, in exchange for some policy considerations.
So, I think that maps out clearly that the Russians offered the Trump camp dirt in the form of e-mails before it happened, and then it happened, and we’ve seen Trump try and make moves towards policy considerations that are the kinds of things we know the Russians wanted on the front side.
So, I have no doubt that, that happened, that there was some conversation back and forth. Will it rise to the level that Mueller will, you know, indict Jared Kushner? I think it probably will, but I don’t — I haven’t seen all the evidence he has.
But that’s a separate question from the Steele dossier, and one of it one of the most interesting things about the Steele dossier, in my opinion, is that the company that did it, Fusion GPS, also was working with two of the attendees at that June 9th meeting. And so, the Republicans are trying to discredit the entire Mueller investigation by saying, you know, “This dossier was just some Russian junk, and look Fusion was doing work with those who were trying to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.”
And so that’s where we’re at now, is that the dossier has become the means that the Republicans are using to discredit what is otherwise an obviously meritorious investigation.
JS: John, you’ve certainly been around espionage. I mean, let’s say that every single thing that is alleged in the in the Steele dossier is true. Is this completely out of sync with what the U.S. and other countries, Israel, around the world do on a regular basis or is this something uniquely bad that Russia has done?
John Sipher: Russian active measures — the one thing that is different about Russia than a lot of intelligence services is this idea of subversion and of political guerrilla warfare, psychological warfare, is central to what they do. Throughout the Cold War, this was very important, they would set propaganda, they would do it oftentimes by going to India and putting articles in newspapers and then using agents around the world to try to move that story up through the media food chain until it got into the West and hopefully into U.S. papers. And there were stories about the United States, about the Pentagon creating the AIDS virus, about, supposed assassination attempts against leaders in Africa and Asia. In 1979, an early sort of al Qaeda group took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca and it was very troubling obviously to the Islamic world, and the Russians put out a story that the U.S. military was behind that which led to riots around the world to include an attack on our embassy in Pakistan, in Islamabad, which they burned to the ground and killed a bunch of Americans.
And so, there’s no shortage of information about the Russians doing this type of thing to include, in the lead-up to 2016, in almost every European country they were doing the same thing with propaganda and using intelligence assets to try to, you know, change the situation on the ground.
So, what’s different is not that other countries might be interested or might do some things, It’s that Russia’s primary foreign policy goal is to do damage to the United States, to hurt the United States’ image abroad and its connection between the U.S. and its allies. And so, you had a hostile power attacking our system and so I think it needs to be taken seriously. The question is: Do others do it? Maybe. But what happened here is something we need to take seriously because we have the evidence to show what they did against us.
JS: Well, I agree on that last part, I, 100 percent agree with you that we need to take this very seriously, and I think we all have a right to know the extent to which Russia did seek to interfere and potentially influence the course of our election.
I mean look, John, the agency that you worked for: ’53, the overthrow of Mosaddegh, ’54 the overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz —
John Sipher: Yeah, that’s true.
JS: The financing of the contras in Nicaragua. I mean Trump called, reportedly called Haiti a shithole country. PAIPH, the movement for the advancement of the Haitian people, was essentially a CIA front in Haiti that was trying to stop the election of, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And don’t want to go down this list, but sort of — the point I’m making on one side is the point you’re making about Russia. I’m saying I could make that same historical case about the United States. So, what I’m trying to get to is —
John Sipher: The United States is not an innocent party over our history: We made a lot of mistakes, don’t get me wrong. However, what happened this time was different in the sense that those efforts to push propaganda in the past had an effect, but this time there’s a few things I think that made it different.
One is the internet and social media allowed them to weaponize information in a way that was much more successful than the past. Algorithms allowed them to target audiences and then, you know, we often did the rest. You know, the U.S. is still considered the main enemy of Russia. He [Putin] obviously hated Mrs. Clinton for her activities in 2012. He took the Panama Papers information, I think, personally and thought that that was an attack on him. So, his level of willing to take risk and to attack us was higher than it might have been in the past.
I think our dysfunction was probably one of the main things that made this successful. You know, we were dry tender for the match that the Russians threw into our system.
MW: I don’t think we Russia is unique for doing this. Israel obviously has done very similar things, both dumping a ton of money overtly into our politics, but also with the social media side. And also the Saudis, and the Saudis are very good at propagating disinformation, as are the Russians. The difference there is that they’re our friends.
But I think it’s actually really interesting, because if you look at where Jared Kushner has been going from a foreign policy perspective, it is a plan, I joke about his “peace plan,” it’s a plan that really is implementing Israeli, Saudi, and to some extent, Russian interests — not the U.S. interests. And I think too little attention has been paid to the degree to which the Saudis and the Israelis have been using the same tactics against the Trump people.
But the other thing to go back to the tinder comment, John’s comment. I think one of the things we have paid far too little attention to is the degree to which on the electoral front what the Russians did or are alleged to have done really was just, you know, throwing a match on top of the bonfire that is the far-right disinformation campaign that has gone back at least to the 90s.
So, this disinformation is not qualitatively different than what came out of 4chan and what came out of Breitbart. And what came out of 4chan and Breitbart already had much more take up than anything the Russians did.
In my opinion, the single most important fake news story of the election had nothing to do with Russian disinformation, but had to do with Brett Baier saying on November 2nd that Hillary Clinton was going to be indicted for something.
CNN’s Brian Stelter on Brett Baier: This lit up the Internet. The I-word: Indictment. Countless conservative blogs and websites ran with this. Some started fantasizing about Clinton behind bars about serious legal peril for Clinton and for the Foundation.
MW: False news, he retracted it. But that didn’t take it out of the news stream and we know from the studies that have been done after the election that what really resonated with people was still old media, cable news or Breitbart, more so than anything that came off of Facebook. And there was plenty of disinformation that came out of Fox News and still is coming out of Fox News — and that is what I think has poisoned our politics.
And yeah, Russia came in and took advantage of that. But until we fix that poison, until we fixed the Fox/4chan poison, it doesn’t matter what we do against the Russians because that poison is really what’s creating the toxins in this country.
JS: One of the most flagrant documented cases of attempting to change an Obama-era policy while he was still in power by the Trump transition team, according to Michael Flynn’s statement of offense when he pleaded guilty, that a senior member of the presidential transition team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments including Russia to learn where each government stood on a resolution that the Obama administration had planned to abstain from at the U.N. Security Council that would have either delayed or defeated a resolution condemning Israeli position in Palestine. And there’s been attention, they say, “Oh well, Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador.” But it really is seldom mentioned: what were they talking about? They were talking about advocating a policy on behalf of the government of Israel.
Why, John, do you think there hasn’t been more attention paid to what seems to be pretty clear attempt to subvert the current President of the United States on behalf of Israel, not Russia in this case?
John Sipher: What’s interesting here is the fact that they thought the Russians were the right people to be going to. So that to me fits into that sort of narrative of collusion, of working with the Russians. How would they develop a relationship, such with the Russians, that they thought before they were even in power, they could go to them on such tactical issues like this to get their help?
For a lot of this stuff we get caught up in the weeds of what’s happening here and we don’t go back and ask sort of some of the fundamental questions. Like, why did a campaign running for president in 2015 and 2016 think that they needed to engage with Russia?
I don’t know that any other campaign of any other person was dealing with Russia. When they were asked, they just say, “Oh it’s perfectly natural.” And then people sort of let them get away with it.
I don’t think it’s perfectly natural. I don’t understand why they would do it and then when they’re asked about it, they’ve lied about it.
JS: Well, that’s the thing. Even if there’s some level on which this is either legally defensible or they make an argument that there is precedent and they start picking out examples from, you know, various incoming administrations.
My favorite would be actually the Reagan administration undermining Jimmy Carter prior to Reagan’s defeat of Carter. But it’s the lying about it — I mean that to me is what’s incredible. If they really truly believe that there was nothing wrong with this, why on earth are they just systematically lying about every single communication they had with Russia?
John Sipher: Yeah, what is the narrative of innocence. If it’s normal, just explain to us why it’s normal and conceivably we’ll understand.
JS: The point I’m getting at here is: Yes, we should examine what these guys were doing with Kislyak, and all of these other Russians, and Manafort, and Carter Page, and all of the stuff that we’re all talking about regularly. But I am surprised that the focus is that Flynn was talking to the Russian government rather than who he was doing it apparently on behalf of, which is the Israeli government.
MW: I mean one of Trump’s most remarkable foreign policy decisions was naming Jerusalem the capital, right?
DJT: I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
MW: That’s stunning. Shocking. And yet that hasn’t been traced back to the agreements that Kushner has been making with the Saudis, with the Israelis, and add the Emirates in there, because we know that there were some funny meetings with them.
I absolutely agree there is a lot of smoke and a good deal of fire with regards to the Russian discussions. But I also think that one way to understand what is going on is to take a look at, again, what I call Jared’s peace plan. And he thinks, this 30-some-year-old kid who can’t even fill out a form adequately, he thinks he’s going to remap the Middle East. And the mapping that he is doing is fairly breathtaking and involves far more players than Russia. Russia, you need to get involved to isolate Iran and again we know that Trump is trying to reverse Obama’s policy on Iran. But that to me I think is an important way to at least consider this issue. Because I do think that Trump was making deals. And Kushner has said so. He was like, “I had meetings with people from all these other countries.” I think to understand what Trump is up to we need to not focus exclusively on the Russian thing.
John Sipher: I think that’s correct.
JS: You know, John, in reading the various reports from Christopher Steele, one of the things that kind of pops up a number of times is this idea that that Trump’s people were not so concerned about the increasing reporting on the campaign’s connections and communications with Russia because they viewed it as kind of a convenient bogeyman to distract investigators or the media from much more nefarious relationships like with China, where there were large kickbacks and bribes. So, unlike in the case of Russia.
What’s your assessment of that, John?
John Sipher: I don’t want to oversell the dossier, because it’s just a series of, sort of, intel reports, and we don’t know who the sources are, and we don’t know a lot of information around it. But it does provide sort of a narrative of collusion around the 2016 elections and it gives us a narrative around it.
You know, we focus so much on the sort of Russia part here that we haven’t paid attention to those other things. The point that I want to make as I look at this dossier is not so much of those of us in the outside in the private world now looking at it, and trying to look at each one of these pieces of information and see if we can run it to ground; it’s that it gives professional investigators, for the first time, a series of things to grab onto to test, to use the tools that only they have in terms of travel records and telephone collection and working with foreign partners to pull down information. So that’s the kind of thing, exactly, that people like the Mueller investigation may be looking at that we’re not paying attention to.
JS: I mean Marcy, could it be the case that it when Mueller comes back, there is just like some bombshell involving evidence of Chinese collusion with Trump’s campaign?
MW: Or Israeli or Saudi? You know, I don’t know whether that —
JS: I’ll put money on it that neither Saudi nor Israel is included in any kind of condemnation of Trump or indictment of Trump.
MW: Right. I mean a. at this point we know there are far more important threads to check: the June 9th meeting. And I would bet a lot of money that the public story about the June 9th meeting we have currently is actually a limited hangout, that what happened is far more damaging than what we know publicly so far. So, we don’t need the Steele dossier any more.
JS: I want to read part of the op-ed that Glenn Simpson published in The New York Times. Now, of course, Dianne Feinstein did release the transcript of his congressional testimony much to, you know, the outrage of Senator Chuck Grassley and other Republicans saying that in doing this the Democratic senator had undermined the investigation. But Simpson, in his own op-ed in the New York Times wrote the following: “We suggested that investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip. Reportedly ours are the only bank records that the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed” — meaning Fusion GPS’ bank records.
What about this issue of why Congress hasn’t seemingly looked into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others funding Trump’s businesses?
MW: Well, remember, one of the things the Simpson transcript made clear is that there was the Republican project first, that was funded by Peter Singer and that actually focused on Trump’s mob ties, and we haven’t gotten that report. And I would very much love to see that report.
And then as his, according to his description, there was a bunch of the work that he and his researchers did and I think they got into more of those financial ties. That Simpson’s expertise as well — follow the money guy, right? So, I think to some degree he’s saying that even he did research that got into a lot more of Trump’s corruption. Deutsche Bank clearly gets you right to Kushner and also to Trump. And some of what we know happened with Deutsche Bank happened literally right before the election, so it wouldn’t be in the dossier in any case.
I think that Richard Burr is conducting at least a competent investigation, but remember, he was an adviser to Trump during the period when — I mean the only state that Russian tampering may have affected is North Carolina. The only state that we know that the actual tampering with vote tallying may have affected is North Carolina, where Richard Burr was re-elected last year. He was on the advisory committee to Trump in that period, Devin Nunes’s transition official. So, both of these intelligence investigations are being run by people who, at one point or another, were part of the Trump camp.
I have been told that there are a bunch of SARs, suspicious activity reports at Treasury that would implicate some of these questions and that they’re not getting to Congress. You know, the Democrats in, on the House Intelligence Committee are saying, “Let’s ask for these financial related records and Nunes refuses to bring them in.”
So, I think both of those investigations are scoped specifically to avoid any financial questions. And that’s what Trump has sort of said is his line in the sand: You can’t go after my businesses.
The Manafort prosecution is interesting because it makes a very clear he is a pretty expansive money launderer. You know, it just sort of seems like Mueller’s playing with him until such case as he dumps the June 9th meeting and other things on him.
But the money laundering necessarily gets you to why the Russians have Trump by the nuts. Right? Because his entire brand and Kushner’s family brand, in fact, both collapse if you take out their ability to money launder not just for the Russians but for the Chinese and for everyone else.
JS: John, isn’t the case though, I mean based on what we’ve seen from not just the past year but also Trump’s history, even if the congressional investigations do find clear evidence that the Russians had compromising information on Trump, maybe they had this you know video of the golden showers that everyone keeps talking about, that Trump just says, “fake news” or “that’s a doctored video” or “that’s not really me.”
I mean reality doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
John Sipher: As an American I’m appalled by it and it does seem that way. You know, we’ve seen a pattern of behavior here and financial crimes and money laundering, potential collusion and conspiracy around the dossier we’re talking about. You know, sexual assault and patterns of lying and attacking all of those people who could hold you accountable to make us worried on a number of fronts.
However it’s the Mueller investigation that could come up with, you know, specific criminal charges. And in the past he’s been able to get away politically because he has a strong base and he has Republicans supporting him. And in the past, when he was charged in his previous businesses, those were civil cases and he often could do deals to get out of them. I don’t know, but my hope is that, serious investigators in a serious investigation that come up with criminal charges are not the same kind of thing that he can just sort of slide out of. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m being too optimistic there.
But, you know, that if he can slide from serious criminal charges then we’re in a world of hurt.
JS: That is one of the possible outcomes and it’s not so wild of a potential outcome. There is a lot of information that has been revealed to the American public that shows dubious activity and activity that people don’t believe that their leaders should be engaging in, but it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal activity, particularly by Trump himself.
John Sipher: You know, I worked with the FBI very closely in a number of espionage investigations, including the Hanssen arrest, very closely. And in that, it was fascinating to me because we collected information that we could have given to any, you know, breathing human being and showed it to them and they would have said, “Oh my God, this is espionage, this man’s a spy.”
But when we went to the Justice Department they were like, “well you know this might be tough in court, a lawyer could do this and the rules of evidence.” And they didn’t want to take the case.
Now in the case of Hanssen, we were able to then, you know, step back and catch him in the act and arrest him. What I worry about what’s happening here is, you know, as an intelligence professional, some of the stuff I see around that June 9th meeting and over the summer could very well be espionage or conspiracy related. But making the case to a jury or to a trial in counterintelligence is really difficult. If you don’t have the smoking gun and you can’t produce it given the rules of evidence, I think I think it’s very hard to make a case like that.
So, I agree with you. What’s going to probably happen is we’re going to get a mass of really ugly things that you should pay a serious political price for, but it’s going to not rise to the level of a specific crime and then we’re in the same place where we are now.
MW: I want attention. I mean, I’ve talked about what I think the intelligence committees are doing. On Monday, I wrote a piece where I pointed out that Nunes not only is not letting the Democrats investigate stuff that that should be investigated, and Nunes — he’s the leading edge of what I call the law fare against the dossier, to turn the investigation into the dossier, and then politicize it as a way to discredit the investigation.
But it appears that in the last couple of weeks he has forced the FBI to share, at least their interviews, not their grand jury materials. The letter that Nunes wrote appears to mean he wants anything that would impact the Russian tampering with the election. If that’s the case, then Nunes basically has seen half of what’s in Mueller’s hand and has done it in such a way that anybody who might go in and cooperate with Mueller is then going to be subject to whatever the Republicans want to do against this person.
So that I think isn’t getting enough attention, the degree to which Nunes is going way overboard at trying to undercut this investigation. That said, I think, you have two cooperators. You have Papadopoulos who was on the front end of getting the e-mail offer. You’ve got Flynn who I think was on the back end of the quid pro quo. We will see whether Mueller has other things in his pocket that will surprise people.
Even from what has been publicly reported about the June 9 meeting, again I say that it’s pretty clear what we know is a limited hangout. If I know that, then I assume Mueller’s people know that and have more reasons to believe that to be true.
JS: Just to define the terms Marcy’s using, when you talk about a limited hangout, you’re saying like you admit to one thing that appears to be bad for you, but you’re doing it in the service of covering up a much greater malicious act or bad act on your part?
MW: I think that’s why there’s so much focus right now on whether Trump is going to sit for an interview with Mueller. And there’s a lot of historic — I mean it will actually impose a significant political cost if Mueller does that, if Nunes hasn’t already undermined the investigation. Because, you know, George Bush sat for an interview in the CIA leak case. Dick Cheney had what counted as a grand jury appearance for it, and that was, the last similar case like this. For a president refuse is pretty significant.
JS: We’re going to leave it there. John Sipher, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
John Sipher: My pleasure.
JS: Marcy Wheeler, thank you again for being with us on Intercepted.
MW: Thanks as always, Jeremy.
JS: Marcy Wheeler runs the news site emptywheel.net. John Sipher spent 28 years in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.
JS: For the past year, we’ve all experienced an intense sort of political or news vertigo. And I believe it’s making us dumber by the day. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that Donald Trump is president and he constantly scoops the story of the latest outrage about himself by performing yet another outrage just as we start discussing the previous one. It’s exhausting and brain melting.
But this is also because major media organizations have all chosen to constantly chase the rabbit. In a way, all of us in media are complicit. When we’re constantly on the run, it’s very difficult to take stock of where we are and where we’ve been. To take a good look at the big picture becomes a luxury that none of us seem able to afford.
And this is going to have serious consequences. Our brains are actually being altered. The way we process news and information, our ideas about what constitutes resistance and what constitutes tyranny. In general, we live in a society that doesn’t study its own history — I mean its unvarnished history. And often current events are analyzed in a vacuum that almost never includes the context or history necessary to understand what’s new, what’s old, and how we got to where we are. We’ve become detached from our own reality and our own work.
Having said all of this, I thought it would be fascinating to talk to David Harvey about the Trump moment. He is one of the leading Marxist thinkers in the world and an authority on Marx’s “Das Kapital,” which turned 150 years old late last year. Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York and he was one of the pioneers of the discipline of modern geography.
David Harvey has a new book out. It’s called “Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic reason.”
JS: David Harvey, welcome to Intercepted.
David Harvey: Thank you.
JS: First, I’m curious having now read your book: How did we get Trump?
DH: If I had to simplify it would be one would be one word: alienation. That you have a population that’s increasingly alienated. It’s alienated from its work process, because there are not very meaningful jobs around. It’s been promised kind of a cornucopia of consumerism and they find a lot of products that don’t really work, they find themselves having to renew their phone every two years. You find them having to live a lifestyle which is, you know, they’re disillusioned. And of course they’re disillusioned with the political process; they realize that it’s big money that buys it. They’re disillusioned in lots of ways. And it’s not only in this country. Alienated populations don’t necessarily behave in kind of a way that would probably make sense to somebody like me. They don’t go to the left, for example, they just kind of say: Give me something that looks different. And I think when Trump came along and said, “I’m going to be your voice,” he actually, completely trumped — if I can use that term — Hillary Clinton. And I think the same thing you will see over the Brexit vote in Britain, where the metropolitan areas which are doing OK, but you’ll find alienated populations in those small towns where the economic basis of life has just disappeared. So, you get this kind of real rash of neo-fascist, populist, right-wing kind of people who are coming along and saying, “Listen to me, listen to me, I have a different answer to all of these kinds of questions.” And I think that that sort of thing is going on, not only in this country, but elsewhere.
JS: Do you do you believe that Trump has any ideology based on the actions that he’s taken officially as president or the ideas that he floats when he speaks or tweets?
DH: I think he has some ideas, whether it adds up to an ideology or not. For instance, one of his ideas is to dismantle everything that Obama did. That’s almost instinctual on his part. So, he has ideas.
An ideology? I don’t think he has a clear ideology. But he certainly has a persona who is — it’s about me, me, me, and the narcissism is obvious. But I think this is a classic sort of situation of populist leaders.
JS: I mean, Trump’s brand of what, you know, a lot of observers call his populism. But Trump has multiple mantras that he sort of repeats and his favorite when he talks about his successes is the stock market keeps breaking records, people’s 401ks are just going through the roof. He never mentions that the vast majority of workers in this country actually have no pension and are not participating in 401k plans.
DJT: The stock market is hitting an all-time, high record, for another, and think of this, 86 times since Election Day. And then you look at all of the money that you folks are making. Oh, I wish I could take 10 or 15 percent. But I think you’re not going to do that right, you’re not going to do that? But it’s getting better and better, your pensions are getting bigger and bigger —
JS: What’s going on right now on Wall Street and with the stock market? I mean clearly it is breaking records. Trump is totally right. The Dow is above 25,000. I mean, it’s nuts if you think about it. What’s happening on Wall Street?
DH: I think it’s just a matter of that, since the problems of 2007 and 2008, what we’ve seen is essentially central banks adding to the money supply. And the money has to go somewhere. And it mainly goes into the stock market and, of course, that money goes into the pockets of the top one percent. So actually if you look at the indices of inequality since 2007, 2008, they’ve increased markedly, not only in the United States but worldwide.
And so, in a sense, what you’ve done is you’ve run into a difficulty in 2007, 2008, and you answered it by throwing money at it, which has been great for the stock market and all rest of it. But as we know, the incomes of ordinary people have not improved at all, peoples’ situation hasn’t, and hardly any of the benefits of the small recoveries been since 2007, 2008 have gone to anybody other than the top one percent. That’s the bondholders solution to the economic problem. And the last tax cut was really bondholders’ charter.
So this has been the case in the United States that in fact the bondholders are creating an economy, which is good for the bondholders.
JS: If someone were to arrive here from a different universe and you were asked the question, “What is the wages that workers are paid or the money that exists in the stock market or the money that changes hands from ‘we the people’ to companies like Amazon, what’s it based on?”
DH: Well, the dollar should be worth whatever it will buy which is the commodities and so on that people want. And we want useful commodities. And the trouble with that is that capitalism is very good at making commodities that don’t work, or break down, or only last two years. I mean, I often use this example: I’m using my grandmother’s knives and forks. If capital made things that lasted 100 years, what would it do? Instead it makes computers that actually don’t function if they’re more than about three or four years old.
One would like to think that capital was a rational system, but it’s not. It’s irrational, it introduces these irrationalities because that’s the only way it can reproduce itself. And I think, again, people are beginning to see that this is not exactly the good life that they thought they might have at some point down the line, particularly for the mass of the population now, who are indebted, and who have to pay off that debt — whether it be credit card debt, or mortgage debt, or consumer debt, or — this is this is the world we’re living in. We’re living in a world of debt peonage, in which must of the population is actually — their future is foreclosed by the way in which the capital is wrapped around them. This kind of thing about the good life is: Borrow money and then everything will be OK.
JS: What about the role of Amazon, Google, Facebook in our lives? I mean is this something new in the evolution or devolution of capitalism?
DH: I don’t think it’s new. I just — look at this historically: We went through this from the 1970s onwards, with what we call deindustrialization, the loss of industrial jobs and the loss of manufacturing jobs. And the result was the unions which were very strong — everything gets lost.
So, the deindustrialization of the manufacturing sector was one big thing. Now we’re seeing the same thing happening in retail and marketing. We’re seeing it through Wal-Mart, we’re seeing it through Amazon, we’re seeing it through online purchasing. And we’re going to see happening in the retail sector the same thing that happened in the manufacturing sector.
And so, then, the question is what kind of jobs are going to be anywhere? And those places that do have the jobs are going to do what Amazon does, which is to say, “Well, you’re not really doing anything significant. You’re just doing manual work, just packaging things and sending it out. This is a rather meaningless kind of work, this is what I mean about alienating kind of work.
I mean so here we have a real transformation in labor processes which I think is going to have a real big impact upon the American economy. The example of deindustrialization and what happened to industrial communities is now going to hit big consumer centers which rely upon the retail business.
JS: What is your critique or problem with the idea that competition is going to give not only consumers, but nation states, the highest quality product.
DH: First off, I’d like to say: What competition? We’ve got a tremendous amount of monopoly. I look at it in energy, look at pharmaceuticals, look at it everywhere and actually there’s a lot of monopoly around. So, the competition is kind of fake competition in lots of ways.
And, internationally, of course, there is some sort of level of competition going on between different nation states in terms of — but notice what it does. Basically what you’re supposed to do is to create a good business environment. That’s what the state is supposed to do. And the better the business environment, the more capital will go to it. So that means lower taxes — again, the last tax bill was very much about trying to improve the United States as a business environment — so you’ve got to give, actually, money to corporations. And that’s the astonishing thing that corporate capital doesn’t seem to be able to survive these days without subsidies from the public sector.
So, in effect, the public is perpetually supporting large corporations and they’re not really competing. They’re simply using their monopoly power to assemble a great deal of wealth in few hands.
JS: When it comes to electoral politics in the United States, what do you make of the argument that — I mean, first of all, there was a pretty ferocious debate on the left in the United States about the 2016 elections. And I think very significant chunk, even of leftists, ultimately held their noses and voted for Hillary Clinton as a way of sort of voting against Donald Trump. Where do you come down on these questions when it comes to electoral politics?
DH: Well, I think where I come down is to say, “well we’ve got to organize something which is very different and alternative on the left, instead of having, what I call, in a sense, the party of Wall Street governing in both parties.”
The sorts of things that worry me about Trump is what he’s doing with the environment, what he might do with nuclear war —
DJT: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
DH: He’s totally irrational about some of those kinds of things. So, yes, I would rather have Hillary in, but I don’t want to be in a situation in which I say the only answer to somebody like Trump is Hillary, because that seems to me is going back into exactly all those problems that we hit with the first Clinton administration which was the beginning of this process of the selling out of the U.S. government to the bondholders and Wall Street. So, we’ve got to find something which is a non-Wall Street kind of party. And we’ve got to have a real, solid, good left movement, which you began to see elements of that crystallizing around Bernie Sanders and the like. But we need to go further than that, I think.
JS: Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a Democratic Socialist and yet his voting record indicates that he supported regime change in Iraq, he said he would continue the drone assassination program as it existed under Obama.
Senator Bernie Sanders: Drone is a weapon. When it works badly, it is terrible and it its counterproductive. When you blow a facility or a building which kills women and children, you know what, not only doesn’t do — it’s terrible.
Chuck Todd: But you’re comfortable with the idea of using drones if you think you’ve isolated an important terrorist.
JS: What form of socialist would you describe Bernie Sanders as? I mean, is he a Marxist in your view?
DH: No, no, he’s not a Marxist at all. He’s, as you say, kind of a Social Democrat. But Social Democrats have a rather long history of being rather warlike about all kinds of things and believing in things like military humanism and those sorts of issues. The history of social democracy is rather a bit tainted by all of that. And so, I think that there has to be a genuinely left socialist movement.
And I think that Sanders, the more he got into sort of talking to the millennials, I think his rhetoric began to shift well away from social democracy to a more socialist line. So, talking about a single-payer system and talking about free access to higher education.
JS: What’s your assessment of the current state of the Democratic Party?
DH: I mean, somebody like Chuck Schumer, for example. He’s raised more money off Wall Street than almost anybody else in Congress. So, I mean, while rhetorically he can say some certain things, I think that he’s very much part of that. Nancy Pelosi also.
Representative Nancy Pelosi: Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalists. And that’s just the way it is.
DH: I think the leadership in the power structure within the Democratic Party is antagonistic somewhat to a kind of real socialist push. And my nervousness is that they will simply have to say, “Well, they are the alternative to the crazy man Trump.” And they will get into power. But that’s not going to make any real difference. It’s going to actually exacerbate the problems as I see it.
And I don’t see them taking on the kind of question of, say, student debt and I don’t see them taking on single-payer and those kind of questions at all.
JS: The term neoliberal is thrown around so much these days by people that I think have literally no clue what neoliberal economic policy is or neoliberalism. Give people a definition: What does neoliberalism mean?
DH: I took it to be a political project, which originated in the 1970s with the Business Roundtable, and The Rockefellers, and everybody else, which is to reorganize the economy in such a way as to restore power to an ailing capitalist class. The capitalist class was in difficulties in the late 1960s, early 1970s, because the worker movement was rather strong, there were lot of community activists, the environmental, there were all of these reform things coming through, the formation of the EPA and all those kinds of things. So they decided, through the Business Roundtable, that they were going to really try to recuperate and accumulate as much economic power as they could amongst themselves.
And that had a number of elements to it. For example, if you were faced with a situation of bailing out the people or bailing out the banks, you would bail out the banks and let the people struggle. You would always, say if there’s a conflict between capital and the well-being of the people, you choose capital. That was the simple form of the project.
Now some people say it’s just an idea about the free market. Well, yeah, a free market to some, personal responsibility, yeah. A redefinition of citizenship such that a good citizen is not a needy citizen. So, any citizen who’s needy is a bad person. Social services get set up to punish people as opposed to really assist them and help them.
JS: And what I often think of as one of the most visible aspects of neoliberal economic policy is the notion of austerity measures that are imposed on economies in the global South, but also in the case of Greece, for instance. You see this demand from the creditors that the first thing that has to go, if we were to give you this debt, is your social programs, and the money that you would normally spend on those is going to go toward paying off either the principle or the interest on the money that is being generously lent to you.
DH: Well, it’s the debt peonage again. You organize debt peonage in such a way as to lock people in, and then they have to pay. But, you don’t take the money away from the bondholders. I mean, in the case of Greece, for example, it wasn’t as if anybody went after the French and the German banks who lent all that money to Greece. They kind of basically socialized their debt, turned it into the IMF, and the European Stability Fund, and all the rest of it, and then made the Greeks pay.
Well, actually, if the banks made a bad judgment they should pay. But they didn’t and this is this neoliberal principle at work. And I tend not to like the term austerity, because austerity is used for policies which are administered to the population. Austerity is not for capital.
JS: Right. Right.
DH: Absolutely not for the financial institutions, and it’s not for the top one percent. So austerity is about social programs. And, in fact, the state has been heavily, heavily involved in subsidizing capital. So, the banks never get hurt. This is what the neoliberal order is about.
JS: When you have politicians campaigning in part on this idea that they’re going to reduce the debt or eliminate the debt of the U.S. federal government, what are they really talking about?
DH: Well, this is a sort of a baseball bat which is taken to politics periodically. Remember Dick Cheney saying that “Ronald Reagan taught us that debt doesn’t matter.” Because Reagan went into debt like crazy, mainly on the military side, Bush also, was going into debt.
Then the Republicans turn around when Obama comes in and says, “We got to something about the debt.” And that becomes the excuse to stop any kind of programs going through. So, the question of the debt — and we see now the Republicans are back into power, what do they do? They increase the debt by a half trillion dollars or something like that.
I don’t think there’s a real issue here, what is simply a political excuse to raise the rhetoric about indebtedness and we’ve got to deal with the debt on our children, but then, of course, it’s turned around. And like this last tax bill, nobody cares about it when, in fact they’ve been bleating on about the debt for ages, and ages, before that. But it’s a political tool which you use in this particular way, in a particular historical moment.
JS: Who owns the U.S. debt?
DH: China owns a great deal of it, and actually Russia owns quite a bit. Japan owns quite a bit. And, in fact, there’s a very interesting story about that if you want to know, when in the middle of the crisis when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG were all kind of going dim, the Russians went to the Chinese and said to the Chinese, “Let’s sell all our debt in those institutions and that will crash the U.S. economy.” And it would have done, because, actually, the holders of the debt of those institutions were primarily China and Russia. China refused, for a very simple reason: They didn’t want the U.S. economy to crash because it’s a main consumer market. But if Russia and China decided at that moment to sell all of their holdings in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG, the U.S. economy would have gone down.
JS: What would it look like if we were to radically reorganize U.S. society under a philosophy or an ideology rooted in Marxism? Or that the social good was actually a priority in this country rather than, sort of everyone fend for themselves? What would that mean in a country as big and as populated as the United States?
DH: If I put it sort of crudely: I think the future of the U.S. in so far that it has a radical future, lies more with some sort of what I would call almost non-ideological anarchism. I don’t think that it’s ready for the kind of collective endeavor that would really be required to confront the power of the Federal Reserve and find an alternative. I don’t think it’s ready for thinking about a mass movement of some kind that will actually start to redefine how the economy works.
I think if there’s going to be any real kind of left, it’s going to be a kind of a socialist-anarchist kind of left politics that will remerge, which has, many redeeming features. Coming out of a Marxist history was supposed to be very hostile to anarchism, but I have a great deal of appreciation for the anarchist tradition. And I think there’s an ideological area of overlap that has something which will be distinctive to U.S. history and culture, and I think we have to recognize the significance and importance of that history.
JS: There’s no there’s no plausible path to that short of a complete collapse of the capitalist state in the United States. Am I wrong?
DH: Well, no, I think that one of the things that is going on to some degree on the left is the attempt to redefine forms of governmental power, if you want to call it that, which are alternative to the existing state structures. And, to some degree I see the activism that’s going on at the municipal level as an interesting kind of way to start to explore what those alternative structures might, might look like. Can we create democratic forms of municipal governance for example?
If, so, what kind of institutional structures would work, so that people become involved, become un-alienated, as opposed to alienated entirely from the rather corrupt structures of government that we now have. So, I think there would need to be already in place the capacity of people to organize themselves into alternative structures of collective governance, which are outside of the conventional forms of the state apparatus.
JS: The technology that exists right now in the world is such that the world could easily be destroyed many times over, by single actors in some cases: United States, Russia, China could instantaneously destroy the world.
DH: Right. Right.
JS: The guns and the caliber of weapons that people have in this country are much more fierce than ever before in history. And I’m not even sure that Marx or anyone from that era would have been able to imagine the level of destruction that could be caused by one individual person with these weapons. Does that factor into how you think about the future and the possibilities of rebellion or transformation in society, just the sheer level of destruction that could be wrought by a very small groups of people?
DH: Yeah, I mean —
JS: Do you understand what I’m saying? Because people are obsessed with dystopic novels and everything, but it’s like: This guy who killed all these people in Las Vegas? I mean the amount of firepower that that individual had, not just in his hotel room but also in other properties, I mean, 200 years ago, it would be unthinkable that one person could hold that kind of power in their hand.
DH: I agree, and I think that politics really has to take account of that. I mean there’s no such thing, I mean what happened in the American Revolution couldn’t happen today. What happened in the French Revolution couldn’t happen today.
DH: I mean the thing that struck me about Ferguson was the sight of those militarized police — I mean, there’s no way, it seems to me, that a political movement could imagine taking to the streets and storming the barricades and getting anywhere. They would simply be mowed down. And so therefore politics has to start to think about a kind of progressive transformation which does not involve confrontation and violence of that sort. Because, quite simply, I think any movement of that sort would lose. And therefore, we have to think of something that is an alternative kind of movement.
The difficulty is that movements which are, say, attempting to construct some kind of alternative will get criminalized. And so, we see the criminalization of environmentalists. We see the criminalization, as we saw in the Dakota [Access] Pipeline, kind of thing, you criminalized people who are engaged in protest. And then of course you have the right to go in and kill them.
This is, if you like, the problem on the left. The left has to think of an alternative strategy and not have dreams of the Russian Revolution or the American Revolution or anything of that kind. Because right now it’s not so much that there’s one person that’s got a finger on a button. I mean if Trump pushes the button, then, we’re not going to be here to talk about anything.
JS: It’s a very big button. Much bigger than your button, let me tell you.
DH: Right. So that’s not what worries me so much. But what worries me is the militarization of social control. And the intense militarization and the super-militarization of it. So that even something like Occupy, which was a fairly innocent kind of affair in some ways, got treated as a criminal organization which had to be smashed. Even something as elemental as that, it seems to me, is that it’s not going to be able to do very much. The closer we get to actually doing something about the real centers of political and economic power in society, I think that we will be treated as criminals.
JS: Something that I’ve said when I’ve had debates with people who say, “Oh, you know, there’s going to be a coup in the United States that the military ultimately is going to take over. Or that they’re going to build these FEMA camps, etc.” And I’ve often argued with people, including from my own world on the left, and said, “The state doesn’t need to do any of that. They don’t need to build the camp to put you in. They’re already winning.”
That’s capitalism in this country: The idea that people think that it requires a finite group of fat, white men, smoking cigars, coming up with a way to lock up all of the dissenters because of their thoughts — that’s not how that kind of a force operates. It’s much more ingrained in every aspect of our life.
DH: Yes, and that’s why I come back to notions of debt peonage. One of the ways in which social control is exercised is to get people so deeply in debt they cannot imagine anything in the future other than simply living in such a way as to pay off their debt.
And if you kind of say what is one of the biggest checks on the radicalism of, say, the millennial generation, it’s the huge student debt that hangs around them. And, I think that cognizant of that, they’re not going to rock the boat. Debt peonage is the order of the day.
JS: For young people listening to this right now, what advice would you give them about how to be better contributors to society and making the world more just. Like what, what should young people read and what ideas should they explore as they kind of go further and further out into the world to make it better?
DH: Two things. First, while being on Snapchat and all the rest of it, try and cultivate a circle of very close friends that you can have real communication with, because there has to be some ground-truthing, as they sometimes say in these words, of what all these abstractions, which you’re getting through the internet, are about.
And I think that by having a group, sitting around a table with none of the devices on, and talking and drinking or whatever, you know. I mean just so that you have a real human closeness and you can talk about a lot of the issues that you’re encountering.
And I would be very much in favor, and I think this has been going on a lot, of forming reading groups: eight, ten people sort of get together and once a week they get together and they talk about: I’m not saying everybody should do “Kapital.” But you have reading groups of that kind so that you can discuss ideas and alternatives.
But I also recognize that when I talk to people who form those reading groups and that they’re doing something significantly different from what goes on in terms of — I’m not against all of the new stuff, I mean, I tend to have a slightly Luddite view of some of this, I’m more in favor of a lot of it — but there has to be something else going on as well. And that’s something else, it’s something which has to be actively constructed. Not in opposition to, but as a companion to what is going on around them in the internet.
JS: What a great note to end on. Professor David Harvey, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
DH: Well, thank you for this opportunity. It’s been great. Thank you.
JS: David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York and author of many books. His latest is “Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.”
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join. Sam Sabzehzar is our honorary producer, and we thank you very much for your generous support.
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. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.