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Mainstream Groupthink and Artificial Intelligence Could Stifle Dissent in an Orwellian Future

Posted on Jul 31, 2017
By Robert Parry / Consortiumnews
[Image: Orwellian_Future_590.jpg]
Big Brother poster illustrating George Orwell's novel about modern propaganda, "1984." The book was first published in 1949 and describes a future in which a totalitarian regime controls what people think. (Sstrobeck23 / Wikimedia)

It seems that The New York Times can't let a good lie lie. Even after being pushed into running an embarrassing correction retracting its false claim that there was a consensus of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked Democratic emails and made them public to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, the Times is back suggesting exactly that.
The Times' current ploy is to say the Russian hacking claims are the "consensus" judgment of the U.S. intelligence community without citing a specific number of agencies. For instance, on Friday, the Times published an article by Matt Flegenheimer about the U.S. Senate vote to prevent President Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia and deployed the misleading phrasing:
"The Trump administration has opposed the sanctions against Russia, arguing that it needs flexibility to pursue a more collaborative diplomacy with a country that, by American intelligence consensus, interfered in last year's presidential election."
So, instead of explaining the truth that the Jan. 6 "Intelligence Community Assessment" was the work of a small group of "hand-picked" analysts from three of the agencies under the watchful eye of then-CIA Director John Brennan and beneath the oversight of then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper the Times opts to give its readers the misleading impression that there was a "consensus" within the U.S. intelligence community.In other words, unless a Times reader knows the truth by having read it at a non-mainstream media outlet such as, that reader would continue to believe that all 17 intelligence agencies were in agreement on this foundational point in the Russiagate affair.
Marginalizing Dissent
And the continuation of this willful deception comes as the Times and other mainstream media outlets make progress in their plans to deploy Internet algorithms to hunt down and marginalize what they deem "fake news," including articles that challenge the mainstream media's power to control the dominant news narrative.
A report by the World Socialist Web Site found that "in the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing fake news,' the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly."
Google's strategy is to downgrade search results for targeted Web sites based on a supposed desire to limit reader access to "low-quality" information, but the targets reportedly include some of the highest-quality alternative news sites on the Internet, such as according to the report
Google sponsors the First Draft Coalition, which was created to counter alleged "fake news" and consists of mainstream news outlets, including the Times and The Washington Post, as well as establishment-approved Web sites, such as Bellingcat, which has a close association with the anti-Russia and pro-NATO Atlantic Council.
This creation of a modern-day Ministry of Truth occurred under the cover of a mainstream-driven hysteria about "fake news" and "Russian propaganda" in the wake of Donald Trump's election.
Last Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article citing accusations from an anonymous Web site, PropOrNot, that identified 200 Web sites including such Internet stalwarts as Truthdig, Counterpunch and Consortiumnews as purveyors of "Russian propaganda."
Apparently, PropOrNot's standard was to smear any news outlet that questioned the State Department's Official Narrative on the Ukraine crisis or some other global hot spot, but the Post didn't offer any actual specifics of what these Web sites had done to earn their place on a McCarthyistic blacklist.
An Orwellian Future
In early May 2017, the Times chimed in with a laudatory articleabout how sophisticated algorithms could purge the Internet of alleged "fake news" or what the mainstream media deems to be "misinformation."
As I wrote at the time, "you don't need a huge amount of imagination to see how this combination of mainstream groupthink and artificial intelligence could create an Orwellian future in which only one side of a story gets told and the other side simply disappears from view."
After my article appeared, I received a call from an NPR reporter who was planning a segment on this new technology and argued with me about my concerns. However, after I offered a detailed explanation about how I saw this as a classic case of the cure being far worse than the disease, I was not invited onto the NPR program.
Also, as for the relatively small number of willfully produced "fake news" stories, none appear to have traced back to Russia despite extensive efforts by the mainstream U.S. media to make the connection. When the U.S. mainstream media has tracked down a source of "fake news," it has turned out to be some young entrepreneur trying to make some money by getting lots of clicks.
For instance, on Nov. 26, 2016, as the anti-Russia hysteria was heating up in the weeks following Trump's election, the Times ran a relatively responsible article revealing how a leading "fake news" Web site was not connected to Russia at all but rather was a profit-making effort by an unemployed Georgian student who was using a Web site in Tbilisi to make money by promoting pro-Trump stories.
The owner of the Web site, 22-year-old Beqa Latsabidse, said he had initially tried to push stories favorable to Hillary Clinton but that proved unprofitable so he switched to publishing anti-Clinton and pro-Trump articles whether true or not.
While creators of intentionally "fake news" and baseless "conspiracy theories" deserve wholehearted condemnation, the idea of giving the Times and a collection of Google-approved news outlets the power to prevent public access to information that challenges equally mindless groupthinks is a chilling and dangerous prospect.
Russiagate Doubts
Even if the Russian government did hack the Democratic emails and slip them to WikiLeaks a charge that both the Kremlin and WikiLeaks deny there is no claim that those emails were fake. Indeed, all evidence is that they were actual emails and newsworthy to boot.
Meanwhile, U.S. government accusations against the Russian network, RT, have related more to it covering topics that may make the Establishment look bad such as the Occupy Wall Street protests, fracking for natural gas, and the opinions of third-party presidential candidates than publishing false stories.
In some cases, State Department officials have even made their own false allegations in attacking RT.
The current Russiagate frenzy is a particularly scary example of how dubious government conclusions and mainstream media falsehoods can propel the world toward nuclear destruction. The mainstream media's certainty about Russia's guilt in the disclosure of Democratic emails is a case in point even when many well-informed experts have expressed serious doubts though almost always at alternative media sites.
See, for instance, former WMD inspector Scott Ritter's warning about lessons unlearned from the Iraq debacle or the opinions of U.S. intelligence veterans who have questioned the accuracy of the Jan. 6 report on Russian hacking.
Perhaps these concerns are misplaced and the Jan. 6 report is correct, but the pursuit of truth should not simply be a case of grabbing onto the opinions of some "hand-picked" analysts working for political appointees, such as Brennan and Clapper. Truth should be subjected to rigorous testing against alternative viewpoints and contradictory arguments.
That has been a core principle since the days of the Enlightenment, that truth best emerges from withstanding challenges in the marketplace of ideas. Overturning that age-old truth by today unleashing algorithms to enforce the Official Narrative is a much greater threat to an informed electorate and to the health of democracy than the relatively few times when some kid makes up a bogus story to increase his Web traffic.
And, if this new process of marginalizing dissenting views is successful, who will hold The New York Times accountable when it intentionally misleads its readers with deceptive language about the U.S. intelligence community's "consensus" regarding Russia and the Democratic emails?

Ethics Group Wants Steve Bannon Investigated

Posted on Aug 4, 2017
By Christina Wilkie / Reveal
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Steve Bannon. (Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)

A leading government ethics group today requested that the White House, Department of Justice and Office of Government Ethics investigate presidential strategist Steve Bannon for using a private public relations executive to conduct official White House business.
The complaint was prompted by a Center for Public Integrityinvestigation that detailed Bannon's unorthodox arrangementwith veteran Republican strategist Alexandra Preate one that might violate federal laws.
It also comes less than a month after the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting launched #CitizenSleuth, a crowd-sourced investigation examining detailed financial disclosures from more than 400 Trump administration officials, including Bannon.
"Veteran Republican media strategist Alexandra Preate is providing professional services to the White House and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, yet is not employed by President Donald Trump's administration or paid by the federal government," wrote Lawrence Noble and Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington.The letter, sent today and addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol and newly hired White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, asks the officials to "exercise the appropriate authority to investigate, prosecute, or make recommendations regarding potential violations of federal laws and regulations."
Representatives for Kelly, Sessions and Apol were not immediately available for comment.
In its complaint, the Campaign Legal Center cites "several potential violations of federal law and regulations."
"If Bannon has accepted Preate's provision of professional services to the government without any compensation, then Bannon is likely in violation of the Antideficiency Act," wrote Noble and Fischer, referring to a law that provides that government employees "may not accept voluntary services for (the) government."
"Second, Preate appears to be providing services to the White House, but at other times, she also appears to be providing services to Bannon indeed, Preate had been serving as spokeswoman for Bannon as far back as August 2016," Noble and Fischer continued. "Those duties may be intertwined."
They added: "To the extent that Preate is providing services to Bannon (or other White House staffers) in his personal capacity, Bannon may be in violation of the executive branch gift rules." These laws prohibit employees from soliciting or accepting a gift "because of the employee's official position."
Citing reporting from the Center for Public Integrity, Noble and Fischer noted that Preate's "top client and a major source of her firm's income is Breitbart News, which Bannon led until recently."
It is unclear who, if anyone, is paying Preate for the public relations consulting services she provides to Bannon.
In July, as the Center for Public Integrity was reporting a story about Bannon's financial debts, Preate made 18 phone calls during three days on Bannon's behalf.
The White House, Bannon and Preate all refused to answer questions about Preate.
Preate has represented Rebekah Mercer, whose family is part-owner of Breitbart. She also has a long working relationship with Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO. Members of the Mercer family continue to co-own with Bannon at least two companies, according to Bannon's most recent financial disclosure form: the production company Glittering Steel and the data firm Cambridge Analytica.
"If Breitbart is subsidizing Preate's work for its former CEO, or if the Mercer family is paying her to provide services to their longtime business associate, then Breitbart or the Mercers may be providing prohibited gifts to Bannon," Noble and Fischer wrote.

EPA STAFFERS ARE spending their days addressing an industry wish list of changes to environmental law, according to Elizabeth Southerland, a former senior agency official who issued a scathing public farewell message when she ended her 30-year career there on Monday.
Southerland, who most recently served as director of science and technology in the EPA's Office of Water, said that agency staffers were now devoted to regulatory rollback based on the requests from industry. Companies and trade groups have directly asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for some changes. Other requests have come in through public comments in response to executive order 13777, which the White House issued in February. That executive order directed federal agencies including the EPA to suggest regulations to be changed, repealed, or replaced.
[Image: betsy-southerland-1501702314-1024x682.jpg]Elizabeth Southerland in a family photo.
Photo: Provided by Elizabeth Southerland

The overwhelming majority of the more than 467,000 public responses to the EPA about the executive order urged the agency not to roll back environmental regulations. "I am a PhD chemist, recently retired after more than 35 years of industrial research in material science and chemistry. I am also old enough to remember life before the EPA," read a typical comment submitted in May. "Do not take us back to those times!"
But Southerland said that a working group headed by EPA Associate Administrator Samantha Dravis and the agency's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson both of whom were appointed by Scott Pruitt cherry-picked industry comments calling for rollback and submitted them to scientists and other career employees at the agency.
"They pulled out the ones from the industry the coal, electric power, oil and natural gas areas, just them and sent them around and asked us to respond within one day about whether we agreed with the request for a repeal," said Southerland.
An internal agency spreadsheet obtained by The Intercept supports Southerland's account of the EPA's efforts to prioritize the energy industry's requests. The document appears to be a response of industry and government groups to executive order 13777 and details the desires of organizations representing electric power, natural gas, oil, and coal to revise, amend, withdraw, or otherwise change more than 20 environmental regulations in various ways.
One entry notes that the American Public Power Association asked the EPA to revise the Section 316B Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule. The rule, which was finalized in 2014 after 20 years of scientific work and litigation, requires power companies to minimize the damage to aquatic animals when they intake water to cool engines in their plants. The APPA's comments, accessible on, describe the rule as "cumbersome" and ask that it be revised.
Another regulation that the document shows the EPA to be reconsidering at the behest of industry is Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which gives states the authority to issue permits for facilities or activities that will impact local water quality. According to the undated spreadsheet, the natural gas and oil industries would be affected.
Agency staffers were also asked to withdraw the 2015 Water Quality Standards Rule, an update of the Clean Water Act that was designed to limit water pollution and protect water quality. The EPA document lists EEI as the source of that request, an apparent reference to the Edison Electric Institute, which submitted public comments in response to the executive order that describe the rule as impinging on states' "authority to set water quality standards" and ask that it be withdrawn.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
Southerland noted that "states would know better whether it impinges on their ability to set quality standards. But no state has asked" that it be withdrawn.
Other rules the EPA is reassessing include drinking water standards for beryllium, which would affect the coal industry, according to the spreadsheet; guidance for selenium levels in freshwater, which would impact oil and coal; the aquifer exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act; and the National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System, which would affect the oil, coal, and electric power industries.
Although these requests came directly from industry and were delivered to staff by political appointees, Southerland said that EPA career staffers are assessing the requests on their merits. "We said, No, because there's no new science that would indicate that this report is out of date, there's no need to change it,' or, There's no reason to repeal this rule because there's no new data,'" said Southerland. "Or, in the case of a regulation, we'd say, We found no flaw in the process or technical basis,' because that's the normal way of doing things."
Many of these EPA employees are scientists like Southerland, who holds a Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering. "They're all super technical people," she said. "They want to finish their careers, and in order to mentally survive this atmosphere, they have to have hope."
Scott Pruitt began to wage war on environmental regulation as soon as he was appointed in February. Among the more than 30 rules and policies he has targeted for delays or elimination since then are the Clean Power Plan, the methane rule, the Waters of the U.S. rule, and a proposed ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Southerland clarified that this first round of regulatory rollbacks represents only a fraction of the rules the EPA staff is now being asked to evaluate. "These 30 are just the ones that the oil and gas and pesticide people asked for up front," said Southerland, who described the companies and industry groups that requested these initial changes as having "their own special deal."
The full range of proposed rollbacks will become apparent in September, when the EPA and other agencies are required to report back on their assessments of regulation. In the meantime, the staff of the EPA is spending their time considering how to dismantle the policies they have helped create a process that's both time consuming and extremely expensive.
"The taxpayers are paying for us to now spend enormous amounts of federal employee hours undoing everything they had spent those same federal employee hours building," said Southerland. "Look at the enormous treasure that these people are having everyone expend for their ideology."

The Beckoning of Nuclear War with Russia

Posted on Aug 5, 2017
By John Pilger /
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A missile test at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base in August. (Senior Airman Ian Dudley/Vandenberg Air Force Base via AP)

The U.S. submarine captain says, "We've all got to die one day, some sooner and some later. The trouble always has been that you're never ready, because you don't know when it's coming. Well, now we do know and there's nothing to be done about it."
He says he will be dead by September. It will take about a week to die, though no one can be sure. Animals live the longest.
The war was over in a month. The United States, Russia and China were the protagonists. It is not clear if it was started by accident or mistake. There was no victor. The northern hemisphere is contaminated and lifeless now.
A curtain of radioactivity is moving south towards Australia and New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. By September, the last cities, towns and villages will succumb. As in the north, most buildings will remain untouched, some illuminated by the last flickers of electric light.This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
These lines from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" appear at the beginning of Nevil Shute's novel "On the Beach," which left me close to tears. The endorsements on the cover said the same.
Published in 1957 at the height of the Cold War when too many writers were silent or cowed, it is a masterpiece. At first the language suggests a genteel relic; yet nothing I have read on nuclear war is as unyielding in its warning. No book is more urgent.
Some readers will remember the black and white Hollywood film starring Gregory Peck as the U.S. Navy commander who takes his submarine to Australia to await the silent, formless specter descending on the last of the living world.
I read "On the Beach" for the first time the other day, finishing it as the U.S. Congress passed a law to wage economic war on Russia, the world's second most lethal nuclear power. There was no justification for this insane vote, except the promise of plunder.
The "sanctions" are aimed at Europe, too, mainly Germany, which depends on Russian natural gas and on European companies that do legitimate business with Russia. In what passed for debate on Capitol Hill, the more garrulous senators left no doubt that the embargo was designed to force Europe to import expensive American gas.
Their main aim seems to be warreal war. No provocation as extreme can suggest anything else. They seem to crave it, even though Americans have little idea what war is. The Civil War of 1861-5 was the last on their mainland. War is what the United States does to others.
The only nation to have used nuclear weapons against human beings, they have since destroyed scores of governments, many of them democracies, and laid to waste whole societies - the million deaths in Iraq were a fraction of the carnage in Indo-China, which President Reagan called "a noble cause" and President Obama revised as the tragedy of an "exceptional people." He was not referring to the Vietnamese.
Filming last year at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I overheard a National Parks Service guide lecturing a school party of young teenagers. "Listen up," he said. "We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom."
At a stroke, the truth was inverted. No freedom was defended. Freedom was destroyed. A peasant country was invaded and millions of its people were killed, maimed, dispossessed, poisoned; 60,000 of the invaders took their own lives. Listen up, indeed.
A lobotomy is performed on each generation. Facts are removed. History is excised and replaced by what Time magazine calls "an eternal present". Harold Pinter described this as "manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force for universal good, a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis [which meant] that it never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest."
Those who call themselves liberals or tendentiously "the left" are eager participants in this manipulation, and its brainwashing, which today revert to one name: Trump.
Trump is mad, a fascist, a dupe of Russia. He is also a gift for "liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics", wrote Luciana Bohne memorably. The obsession with Trump the mannot Trump as a symptom and caricature of an enduring systembeckons great danger for all of us.
While they pursue their fossilised anti-Russia agendas, narcissistic media such as the Washington Post, the BBC and the Guardian suppress the essence of the most important political story of our time as they warmonger on a scale I cannot remember in my lifetime.
On 3 August, in contrast to the acreage the Guardian has given to drivel that the Russians conspired with Trump (reminiscent of the far-right smearing of John Kennedy as a "Soviet agent"), the paper buried, on page 16, news that the President of the United States was forced to sign a Congressional bill declaring economic war on Russia. Unlike every other Trump signing, this was conducted in virtual secrecy and attached with a caveat from Trump himself that it was "clearly unconstitutional".
A coup against the man in the White House is under way. This is not because he is an odious human being, but because he has consistently made clear he does not want war with Russia.
This glimpse of sanity, or simple pragmatism, is anathema to the "national security" managers who guard a system based on war, surveillance, armaments, threats and extreme capitalism. Martin Luther King called them "the greatest purveyors of violence in the world today".
They have encircled Russia and China with missiles and a nuclear arsenal. They have used neo-Nazis to instal an unstable, aggressive regime on Russia's "borderland" - the way through which Hitler invaded, causing the deaths of 27 million people. Their goal is to dismember the modern Russian Federation.
In response, "partnership" is a word used incessantly by Vladimir Putinanything, it seems, that might halt an evangelical drive to war in the United States. Incredulity in Russia may have now turned to fear and perhaps a certain resolution. The Russians almost certainly have war-gamed nuclear counter strikes. Air-raid drills are not uncommon. Their history tells them to get ready.
The threat is simultaneous. Russia is first, China is next. The U.S. has just completed a huge military exercise with Australia known as Talisman Sabre. They rehearsed a blockade of the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea, through which pass China's economic lifelines.
The admiral commanding the U.S. Pacific fleet said that, "if required", he would nuke China. That he would say such a thing publicly in the current perfidious atmosphere begins to make fact of Nevil Shute's fiction.
None of this is considered news. No connection is made as the bloodfest of Passchendaele a century ago is remembered. Honest reporting is no longer welcome in much of the media. Windbags, known as pundits, dominate: editors are infotainment or party line managers. Where there was once sub-editing, there is the liberation of axe-grinding clichés. Those journalists who do not comply are defenestrated.
The urgency has plenty of precedents. In my film, The Coming War on China, John Bordne, a member of a U.S. Air Force missile combat crew based in Okinawa, Japan, describes how in 1962 - during the Cuban missile crisis - he and his colleagues were "told to launch all the missiles" from their silos.
Nuclear armed, the missiles were aimed at both China and Russia. A junior officer questioned this, and the order was eventually rescinded - but only after they were issued with service revolvers and ordered to shoot at others in a missile crew if they did not "stand down".
At the height of the Cold War, the anti-communist hysteria in the United States was such that US officials who were on official business in China were accused of treason and sacked. In 1957 - the year Shute wrote On the Beach - no official in the State Department could speak the language of the world's most populous nation. Mandarin speakers were purged under strictures now echoed in the Congressional bill that has just passed, aimed at Russia.
The bill was bipartisan. There is no fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. The terms "left" and "right" are meaningless. Most of America's modern wars were started not by conservatives, but by liberal Democrats.
When Obama left office, he presided over a record seven wars, including America's longest war and an unprecedented campaign of extrajudicial killings - murder - by drones.
In his last year, according to a Council on Foreign Relations study, Obama, the "reluctant liberal warrior", dropped 26,171 bombs - three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day. Having pledged to help "rid the world" of nuclear weapons, the Nobel Peace Laureate built more nuclear warheads than any president since the Cold War.
Trump is a wimp by comparison. It was Obama - with his secretary of state Hillary Clinton at his side - who destroyed Libya as a modern state and launched the human stampede to Europe. At home, immigration groups knew him as the "deporter-in-chief".
One of Obama's last acts as president was to sign a bill that handed a record $618 billion to the Pentagon, reflecting the soaring ascendancy of fascist militarism in the governance of the United States. Trump has endorsed this.
Buried in the detail was the establishment of a "Center for Information Analysis and Response". This is a ministry of truth. It is tasked with providing an "official narrative of facts" that will prepare us for the real possibility of nuclear war - if we allow it.



[Image: image2-3-700x470.jpg]Photo credit: Lubos Houska/Public Domain(CC0)
Republicans spent the first half of this year trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Their efforts were stymied in part by Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections showing that all of their proposals would result in millions of additional Americans being uninsured and a sharp reduction in Medicaid funding.
GOP lawmakers and the White House, unhappy with the so-called CBO scores, reacted by attacking the non-partisan entity. Last month, for example, the White House Twitter account posted a video questioning the validity of a report issued by the CBO. That video, which was found to be misleading at best, suggests the CBO used faulty numbers to reach a conclusion that ultimately did not bode well for Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Some conservative Republicans in the House went a step further and sought to slash CBO's funding.
While most Americans will have heard about these projections, not all of them know what CBO is and does.
The Congressional Budget Office has been active since 1975, producing independent economic analyses and projections based on proposed legislation.
According to its website, CBO hires based solely on "professional competence with no regard to political affiliation." The agency was created through the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. That act "reasserted the Congress's constitutional control over the budget by establishing new procedures for controlling impoundments and by instituting a formal process through which the Congress could develop, coordinate, and enforce its own budgetary priorities independently of the President."
In the past, depending on whether a CBO score helped or hurt their causes, lawmakers from both parties have criticized or defended the agency. However, in the current hyper-partisan climate, it appears as though the attacks have reached a new level.
In response to the recent criticism, all eight previous CBO directors, in a display of solidarity, issued a joint letter to the Senate defending the agency.


[Image: image1-2-700x470.jpg]Let the war on math begin. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
Usually, the phrase "kill the messenger" is a bit of overwrought hyperbole.
But that was not the case late last month when House Republicans almost did just that. The House considered amendments to a spending bill that could have gutted that very inconvenient messenger, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Conservative Republicans and the Trump White House were apoplectic when CBO delivered the bad news on their various proposals to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. The agency predicted that the proposals would cause tens of millions of people to join the ranks of the uninsured. CBO's headline-grabbing estimates were a major factor in ginning up massive opposition to the health care bills.
The reasonable reaction to the bad numbers would have been to retool the proposals. But politics is far from reasonable these days. Instead, the White House released an ad and an op-ed insisting that CBO's numbers were wrong, a claim not bolstered by the fact that the ad misspelled the word, "inaccurate." Fact-checkers soon questioned the administration's other challenges to the agency's estimates, adding context and defending CBO's prediction about the number of uninsured.
When those attacks pretty much backfired, a few Republican conservatives intensified their opposition, challenging the agency's very existence. They offered amendments to a spending bill that would have eviscerated CBO's budget of under $50 million by $15 million or more, and outsourced much of its work to private think tanks.
Republican firebrand Rep. Mark Meadows (NC) claimed that CBO's role should be one of aggregating cost estimates from the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute and the more progressive Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Meadows charged that CBO was "the one group that makes a weatherman's 10-day forecast look accurate."
The attacks on CBO are not business as usual in Washington. The nonpartisan office was created in 1974 to serve Congress, by helping lawmakers understand the effects their proposals would have on the federal budget.
Those impact estimates have become a fundamental part of the legislative process. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle rely on a CBO "score" to inform their proposals. They often grumble about the CBO score their pet ideas receive, and may sometimes challenge some of CBO's assumptions, but they appreciate and respect the process.
Meadows may have been surprised by the outrage his attack on CBO provoked. Every living former CBO director, both Republican and Democratic, wrote a letter to congressional leaders defending the agency in no uncertain terms, pointing out its 42-year history of providing nonpartisan budget estimates to Congress.
Nonprofit advocates also weighed in. The Project on Government Oversight, which trains congressional staff to do more effective oversight, predicted that gutting CBO "would send a chilling message to all other independent offices, such as the Congressional Research Service or the Government Accountability Office." R Street, a Republican-leaning free-market advocate, teamed up with Demand Progress, a progressive policy advocate, to urge Congress to fully fund the agency.
In the end, the pressure worked. The House defeatedthese attempts to gut the CBO. For now.
But it is difficult to imagine that the prospect of its imminent demise did not affect the folks at this small nonpartisan office. Its staffers well know the perils of trying to give Congress impartial information.
After all, in 1995, another nonpartisan agency created to help Congress bit the dust when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich found its fact-based work not worth even its tiny budget. Republicans and Democrats banded together to try to save the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), formed to deliver advice to Congress on emerging scientific and technical issues. But their efforts failed.
The OTA has been missed. Let's hope some measure of sanity in Washington prevails and CBO will not suffer the same fate.
Is the Trump administration trying to silence government scientists from working or talking about climate change? That's a growing concern in Washington. On Monday, The Guardian reported staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been instructed to avoid using the term "climate change" in their work.
Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a draft of an alarming government report looking at how climate change is already causing drastic impacts in the United States. The report found the average temperature in the U.S. has risen dramatically since 1980. Scientists who worked on the study fear the study will be changed or suppressed by the Trump administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Scientists working inside the government are also being silenced in other ways. We're joined now by Joel Clement, senior official at the Interior Department. Up until recently, he focused on the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities in the Arctic. But, without explanation, Clement was recently transferred to an unrelated job within the Interior Department. He now collects royalty checks from oil and gas companies. Clement believes he was targeted for speaking out about climate change. He went public with his concerns in the pages of The Washington Post, where he wrote a pieceheadlined "I'm a scientist. I'm blowing the whistle on the Trump administration." According to news reports, as many as 50 other senior Interior Department officials have also been reassigned since Ryan Zinke became head of the department.
Joel Clement, welcome to Democracy Now! First, can you talk about the action that you took?
JOEL CLEMENT: I blew the whistle on the Trump administration because I believe they retaliated against me for disclosing the fact that these Alaska Native villages in the Arctic are threatened by climate change, and my work with the federal government to try and get those folks out of harm's way.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response of the administration?
JOEL CLEMENT: There has been no response yet. I didn't hear anything from leadership before the reassignment or after the reassignment, just to tell me where to move my things.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about thisthe directive for your reassignment, from work as a scientist to basically work as an accountant, and how that happened or what explanation was given to you?
JOEL CLEMENT: Well, there was no explanation for that. I think the irony, of course, is not lost on me. I think the intention was thatto get me to quit. I think that that may have been the intention behind many of these reassignments. That's why it's very chilling, because that goes against a long list of rules and procedures in the federal government.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the work that you were doing as a scientist in terms of the conditions in Alaska?
JOEL CLEMENT: Yeah. I wasI was coordinating the federal engagement here in Washington, D.C. The villages in Alaska are poised on permafrost that is melting. These islands are no longer locked in place. So the villages, in some cases, have voted to relocate. Others just want to get out of harm's way, develop evacuation plans that are realistic. And my goal and my objective here in Washington was to get the federal act together on helping them do that. It's an essential role. It can't be done without full engagement here in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the landmark federal government report that has just been leaked that's found the average temperature in the U.S. has risen dramatically since 1980 and that the impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country? The New York Times obtained and published a copy of the report amidst concerns from scientists that the study's findings may be suppressed, changed or censored by the Trump administration, which has sought to deny the effects and human impacts of climate change. This just out yesterday and today.
JOEL CLEMENT: Yeah, that report is world-class science. That's some of the best work that is done through the Global Change Research Program. Until my reassignment, I was the Department of the Interior principal to that program. This report is no secret. This has been going around. It's gone through draft form. It's been evaluated by the National Academies and many other very august scientific bodies. It is a concern that they would suppress this. I'm not surprised that it's gotten out. There's a long pattern within the Trump administration of muzzling and sidelining scientists and suppressing science. And for scientists, the integrity of their work and the integrity of the organizations they work for are paramount. And this pattern of undercutting scientific integrity is very, very worrisome.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about how long this report has been in the making? And very interesting that it came out just a few days after Sessions held a news conference about leakers, and we know it's a top priority of General John Kelly, the chief of staff now of President Trump.
JOEL CLEMENT: This report's been in the works for a very long time, over a year. These reports that come out of the GCRP, the Global Change Research Program, are very meticulous. They're very well reviewed. It's a long drafting process. Some would say it just takes too long, you're being too careful. But the fact is, you have to do that. It's important that that be done. And this has turned out to be very world-class work that they've developed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, meanwhile, The Guardian has revealed that workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been instructed not to use the words "climate change" in their reports. A series of emails show the censorship started immediately after Trump's inauguration. In a January 24th email, a top official at the USDA unit that oversees farmers' land conservation wrote to other senior officials, quote, "It has become clear one of the previous administration's priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch," unquote. Can you talk about what kind of pressure you've received, or other scientists that you know of, in terms of your work on climate change?
JOEL CLEMENT: Well, first, I have to say that's absolutely chilling to hear those words. And we at DOI have been very nervous about this, as well. I will say, though, that those of us at DOI, we work on climate adaptation and climate change resilience issues. We didn't think that we would be targeted for this kind of suppression, because what we're dealing with are the impacts that are already baked into the system. And there are consequences. For example, the NativeAlaska Native communities in Alaska, there are direct consequences to American health and safety if weif that is suppressed and we are forced to step away from the table. So this is extremely chilling to hear. Department of Interior is alsoit feels there's some hostility. Everyone is looking over their shoulders, a lot of concern about those that have worked with anything that even sniffs of climate change, even if it's adaptation and resilience.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you filed a couple of forms, a complaint and a disclosure of information with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Could you talk about what thosewhat those filings represent, from your perspective?
JOEL CLEMENT: Yeah, there are two filings. One, the complaint about being retaliated against for disclosing the threats that climate change poses to these Alaska Native communities. And that's where the consequencesthe rubber hits the road. Many of us lay awake at night wondering what's going to happen in the coming storm season, which is upon us in just a few weeks up there. So that is a direct concern for the health and safety of Americans.
Also filed a disclosure about thethat mass reassignment process. That was very unusual, raised a lot of eyebrows. It appeared very clear that they were trying to shake some people loose and get them to quit or retire, which is absolutely not what the Senior Executive Service procedures are meant to be used for. They're meant to be used to move senior executives around. We understand it's a mobile workforce. We all sign up for that. But it's not meant to try and get people to quit, or to retaliate against them.
AMY GOODMAN: Joel Clement, can you talk, overall, about the response of other scientists within not only Interior? You know, we were down in Washington on Earth Day for the March for Science. There were many government scientists who were there among the thousands of people, deeply concerned. And I was wondering specifically about Ryan Zinke, the former congressman from Montana, who heads your department. Did he personally reassign you?
JOEL CLEMENT: The reassignment letters came from the associate deputy secretary, so, no, it wasn't a personal reassignment. But, of course, the secretary has to sign off on all such reassignments. And it isthere is certainly a lot of concern amongst all federal scientists right now that the incoming leadership is being very ham-handed about how they're trying to suppress this information, and, I think, quite reckless, in fact. So, I'm hoping that there will be others like me to speak up, because this is something that has direct consequences for American health and safety.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in news from Washington, D.C., recently resurfaced blog posts show that Trump's nominee for the Department of Agriculture's top scientist, Sam Clovis, called progressives, quote, "race traitors" and "liars" and called President Obama a socialist supported by what he said were "criminal dissidents who were bent on overthrowing the government of the United States," unquote. Clovis has come under fire for lacking the credentials to be the Agriculture Department's top scientist, given that he's published few peer-reviewed research papers, has no experience with agricultural research and denies the human impact on climate change. I'm wondering: Your sense of some of the appointees so far to key positions in the Trump administration in terms of science?
JOEL CLEMENT: Well, I won't speak to the qualifications of specific individuals. I think there is, of course, this pattern of putting special interests before the interests of Americans. And that'sin fact, that's vexing, because they're talking about "America first," but they're putting special interests first and putting Americans last. And that's why I'm so worried about, right now, the consequences for people like the village of Shishmaref up in Alaska.
AMY GOODMAN: Just talking more about Clovis, though you don't specifically know him, nominated by President Trump, he was an F-16 fighter pilot turned defense contractor turned conservative radio host in Sioux City, Iowa. He was a failed U.S. Senate candidate, now the pick for the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist, a position that, by law, must be drawn from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics. I'm reading from a Politico piece. Does this fit a trend, Joel Clement?
JOEL CLEMENT: It appears to fit the trend. It's vexing. It's of concern particularly to scientists within the federal government that feel that their work is being compromised and suppressed, but also it's chilling because these are the leaders that are coming in that are meant to interpret that work and serve it up to the American public. So, it isthis is a very disturbing trend. And hopefully this administration will step back, because they're being very sort of transparent about this, and have a close look at what the consequences might be for American health and safety, because, ultimately, if there is a superstorm in the Arctic, for example, and one of these villages gets wiped off the map or there's loss of life, heaven forbid, it's on their watch. And this is athis is a major concern for many of us.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has been the reaction by your fellow scientists whobecause you're still working at the agency, and also your superiors, to your pretty public statements now that you've made in numerous interviews in the past few weeks?
JOEL CLEMENT: Well, there's a great contrast between those two reactions. I have heard nothing from my superiors or the leadership at the department or the White House. But I have heard just a groundswell of response from my colleagues, both at Interior and in other agencies, thanking me for speaking up, feeling empowered to do the same, should the opportunity present, and, in general, appreciating the fact that there is a voice out there saying, "Hey, you know, you've got rights. You've got a voice. Please us it."
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Senator Al Franken questioning Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in June.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: Can you tell how much warming government scientists predict for the end of this century under a business-as-usual scenario?
INTERIOR SECRETARY RYAN ZINKE: Well, the Paris accord, in the president and my's judgment, it wasn't about climate change. It was about a bad deal. We spent $3 billion, $1 billion in cash
SEN. AL FRANKEN: Let me justI know we're out of time, so can you just answer my question? Can you tell me how much warming government scientists predict for the end of this century under a business-as-usual scenario?
INTERIOR SECRETARY RYAN ZINKE: I don't think the government scientists can predict with certainty. There isn't a model that exists today that can predict today's weather, given all the data
SEN. AL FRANKEN: Well, they predict a range. And you said we have to go with the science. That's what you said during the early part of this hearing. You said we have to go with the science. And there is agreement among climate scientists about the range of what we would have in warming by the end of the century. Do you know what that range is?
INTERIOR SECRETARY RYAN ZINKE: If everyone adhered to the Paris climate accord, that change would be roughly 0.2 degrees, which is insignificant. And yet people ignore the fact
SEN. AL FRANKEN: No, no, no.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: No, no, no.
INTERIOR SECRETARY RYAN ZINKE: That was an Mthat was an MIT study. We can give you
SEN. AL FRANKEN: That was athat was what the change would be under the period covered by the agreement. That's not what the change would be in the end of the century if they continued it. So you're really mixing apples and oranges.
AMY GOODMAN: So that's Minnesota Senator Al Franken questioning your boss, Joel Clement, the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
JOEL CLEMENT: Yeah, that'sI certainly listened in to that hearing. And, of course, it's very disturbing to hear leadership talking like that. That is, those arethose are sort of simplistic and poorly delivered talking points of the climate deniers. I will say it is very heartening for many of us to have good minds in Congress to take these folks to task, because it is important there are three branches to government, and there are checks and balances. And hopefully we can trust that system to some degree, because now Congress is very concerned, on many fronts, about the level of leadership and expertise that's being brought in during this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, a senior official resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency, citing the Trump administration's war on science and administrator Scott Pruitt's business-friendly ties. Elizabeth Southerland, a 30-year veteran of the EPA, ended her tenure as director of the Office of Science and Technology for the agency's Water Office. In a public letter of resignation, Southerland wrote, quote, "Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth. The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man's activities." Do you know Elizabeth Southerland? Do you know other people in the government who are going to be resigning or speaking out, as you are, Joel Clement?
JOEL CLEMENT: I don't know Elizabeth. I appreciate her words. I think she's spot-on. I do know a lot of people that are asking themselves what to do next. This is a very difficult time for a civil servant. We are brought on to keep the ship of state running, regardless of the administration, this neutral competency to just focus on what's good for Americans. And so, there are timesand I have spoken with many folks who have been through several transitions over the past few decades. They don't recall any assault like this on the integrity of their work and on the quality of their work. This has been really vexing. A lot of people are certainly considering doing what Elizabeth has done.
But I have to say, I hope people stay in. I think you can have a voice, you can still speak out about these things, but stay in your positions in the civil service, because this is absolutely key. America without subject matter experts and climate scientists, that's a frightening prospect. So, I am really impressed with her letter and her words. I hope others speak out. And I hope many choose to remain, as well. I know it's very, very difficultin some situations, untenableto remain. But for those that can, I encourage people to and stick it out, because your work and your expertise is absolutely essential.
AMY GOODMAN: Joel Clement, you were the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department. So, what exactly are you doing now?
JOEL CLEMENT: I've been reassigned to the accounting office. They collect the royalty revenues from the oil and gas industry and mining industry. So, of course, the irony is pretty explicit. I don't think there was any attempt to conceal the fact that they expected I would quit upon being reassigned.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Have you been surprised by the royalties you've been collecting?
JOEL CLEMENT: The numbers are certainly staggering. But that'syou know, at this point, I haven't been assigned to many duties. They're now scrambling. This is an excellent office of people. Their auditors and their accounting people, they do a great job. I have no idea how to do those things. So they're trying to find out nowthey're forced into the position of trying to find a way to incorporate and integrate a senior executive into their office. I'll need to be retrained. There will need to be travel involved. It's going to be an extensive process, and it's all happening at taxpayer expense. So, it's vexing not just for me and for the folks I used to work with, but also the office I'm going to. It's a very difficult situation for them. So, overall, I think this classifies as a huge mistake. And, of course, I do see it as retaliation. That's why I blew the whistle on the Trump administration for this action.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to be suing them?
JOEL CLEMENT: I have to trust the investigation process. You submit your whistleblower complaints to the Office of Special Counsel. They conduct an investigation. I'll trust the process and, of course, hope that they will then direct the Department of the Interior to put me back in my position.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your biggest concern about the Trump administration?
JOEL CLEMENT: Well, the overall concern right now is the suppression. There's been a long pattern, since the administration took over, of suppressing science, muzzling scientists, sidelining subject matter experts. The biggest concern is that doing so has huge consequences for Americansand, particularly in my case, those Alaska Natives. I mean, that permafrost is melting. They're fully exposed to storms now that the sea ice has receded. And that concern is not going to be limited to Alaska Natives for long. Right now they're on the front lines, but every coastal city, the deserts of the Southwest, the farms of the Midwest that are getting these frequent and almost biblical deluges, these are direct impacts on the health and safety of Americans and our economic prosperity. So, I see this as an assault on our nation's well-being, and that's my biggest concern.
AMY GOODMAN: Joel Clement, we want to thank you for being with us, director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Departmentwell, until he was reassigned. And we will follow what happens to you, now senior adviser at the department's Office of Natural Resources Revenue. We will link to your piece in The Washington Post headlined "I'm a scientist. I'm blowing the whistle on the Trump administration."
Ronald McDonald today threatened to unleash fire and destruction and power like the World has never seen on N. Korea if they so much as threaten the USA again. Trump has always advocated the use of nuclear weapons. Many, including myself, feel that we are now closer to a full nuclear holocaust than ever in history - even the Cuban Missile Crisis. I personally feel Trump is an unstable madman narcissist, who could easily unleash a nuclear exchange - and make no mistake that even if N. Korea only has one or a few nuclear weapons, this could start a Worldwar and even a nuclear strike by the USA against N. Korea could precipitate deadly fallout and nuclear winter - killing, in total, tens of millions to billions. This is total madness.....and the fact few are reacting much is even more frightening.

Quote:The war of words between the U.S. and North Korea continues to intensify, with North Korea threatening to strike the U.S. territory of Guam, while Defense Secretary General Mattis warned North Korea's actions could result in the "destruction of its people." This came after Trump vowed to strike at North Korea with "fire and fury." Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council recently imposed a new round of sanctions against North Korea over its test launches of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. We speak with journalist Tim Shorrock, who recently returned from South Korea.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States. On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned North Korea not to take any action that could result in the, quote, "end of its regime" and the, quote, "destruction of its people." Mattis's warning came one day after President Trump startled the world, hinting the U.S. could carry out a nuclear strike on North Korea.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. Thank you.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Hours after he spoke, North Korea threatened to strike the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific. Guam is home to 163,000 people as well as several major U.S. military bases. A statement issued by the North Korea state media said of Trump, quote, "Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work [on] him."
AMY GOODMAN: Tension has been rising over North Korea in recent weeks. The U.N. Security Council recently imposed a new round of sanctions against North Korea over its test launches of two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month. The sanctions ban North Korean exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood, which would slash up to a third of North Korea's export revenue.
Meanwhile, China is warning a war of words between the U.S. and North Korea could spiral out of hand. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attempted to defuse the situation. He spoke on Guam at a stopover on his way back to Washington.
SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON: I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by Tim Shorrock, a Washington-based investigative journalist, who grew up in Tokyo and Seoul and has been writing about the U.S. role in Korea since the late '70s, a correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul. He spent April and May in South Korea, where he interviewed South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in.
So, you return from Korea, Tim. This tension escalates to a level we have not seen before this week, with President Trump promising "fire and fury." Your response, and how people in South Korea and, as your reading of all the press, in North Korea are responding to this?
TIM SHORROCK: Well, I thought Trump's statement was astonishing and, frankly, frightening. It was reminiscent of the statements that President Truman made before he dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And basically, he was threatening North Korea with nuclear strikes. And this is an extremely dangerous position for an American president to take, especially when there is no immediate threat to what they call the homeland.
North Korea has definitely built rockets that can go for thousands of miles. It's not clear if they actually have an ICBM that can reach the United States. The DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, put out a report this week. They actually leaked a report this week to The Washington Post saying they should have the capability to put a nuclear weapon on an ICBM by next year. It's not clear if that's going to happen. There are clearly forces within the administration, within the military-industrial complex and within the think tank industry here in Washington that are driving towards war with North Korea.
As far as people in South Korea go, when I was there in April and May, you know, the tensions were pretty high. That's when Trump sent this armada of ships and carriers and also, later, submarines to Korean waters. People in South Korea were a lot more concerned about what Trump might do than anything that North Korea might do. And I think that's still the feeling today. I think that people in South Korea have, you know, heard similar kinds of statements from North Korea for years and see it asoften see it as kind of, you know, bluffing and just making strong words just to scare people. But what Trump said raised it to a whole other level, and I think there is a deep concern there that Trump and the U.S. military could do some kind of preemptive strike on North Korea's missile sites, as was reported last night on NBC News. So I think it's a very, very serious situation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you think the significance is, Tim, of North Korea saying that its plan to fire four missiles near Guam, which is, of course, a U.S. territory, will be ready soon? And they denounced Trump, his remark, saying that he is "bereft of reason."
TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, starting in the Obama administration, when tensions became high with North Korea, the U.S. began routinely flying B-1B-2B bombers from Guam to the Korean airspace. Sometimes they've been accompanied by Japanese fighters on the way, and then they're picked up by South Korean fighters as they enter Korean airspace. And, you know, these bombers, while not nuclear-capable, they are capable of widespread destruction. They have incredible amounts of ordnance inside that could probably destroy half of North Korea. And the U.S. has been sending these planes over routinely from Guam, and they did it as recently as two days ago. And so, I think North Korea's statement was, you know, a warning to the United States that it's very aware of the base where these planes fly out of and that they may have the capability to shoot missiles at this base.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let's go to that statement made on North Korean state media.
KCTV NEWSREADER: [translated] The North Korean army will complete its plan to hit Guam before mid-August, reporting it to our nation's nuclear forces commander-in-chief. And we'll stay ready for his order of proceed.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that was a statement made on North Korean state media earlier today. So, Tim, can you talk about what was said in that statement and whether this is unprecedented in terms of remarks that the North Korean state has issued before?
TIM SHORROCK: It's unprecedented in a veryin saying they're going to go after a specific U.S. base or, in this case, territory, as well. But they've made statements like this before. You know, during the 1990s crisis, they talked aboutwhen they pulled out of the nuclear proliferation treaty, they talked about turning Seoul into a sea of fire. And that scared people in South Korea, for sure.
But, you know, their statement isthey talk about a plan and that theythey say that they would be carried out on the order of, you know, Kim Jong-un. And they have made this kind of statement before. Earlier in the year, they said they were prepared to test another nuclear weapon, and they're just waiting for the order to do it. So, it's a threat saying that they have the capability, and they're just waiting for, you know, the dear leader, the great leader, whatever they call him now, to make thisgive them the order to do this. So it's notthey're not saying they're going to do it tomorrow. They're saying they're prepared to do it.
And I think it was a clear statement of recognition that, you know, these planes that the U.S. is talking about launching a preemptive strike with, you know, come from Guam. So, it shows you how high the military preparations are on both sides, North Korea and the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us, from North Korea's perspective or from the president's perspective there, why he's tested the last two ICBMs? And then, President Trump was responding, when he said "fire and fury," to a question at his vacation resort, the golf club, his golf club in Bedminster, to the question about a news report that North Korea had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads, which could theoretically strike the U.S. mainland.
TIM SHORROCK: Well, that was the DIA report I was talking about earlier. And it'syou know, that report is from someone in the DIA. It was reported in The Washington Post, and it wasthen it was reported more widely. But it's not a standard intelligence community report where all the various agencies sign on to it. So it wasn't a complete report, not definitive. And I think it was put out there for a reason. And, you know, Trump was definitely asked about that report, and then, apparently, that's when he made these statements.
But, you know, North Korea has been building missiles and, you know, building slowly its nuclear capability, after a series of negotiations thatwith the United States, that some were completed, went on for a while, and then they fell apart for various reasons. And, you know, they fell apart during the Bush administration, in particular. And then, Bush, President Bush, tried to reinvigorate the talks toward the end of his term. And they actually had six-party talks, involving China and Russia and Japan and South Korea, later in Bush's term. And they madethey were close to a six-party agreement at that time, where North Korea would end its nuclear program and put a moratorium on its missiles, when Obama came in.
And ObamaPresident Obama's policy was basically to ratchet up the tension. I mean, hethey looked at negotiations and direct talks with North Korea for a while but rejected that. And early on in Obama's administration, North Korea fired a rocket that they claimedand I think accurately claimedthat they were trying to put a satellite in space. And that was grounds for Obama taking North Korea to the United Nations, and they were condemned in the United Nations for this, and sanctions were slapped on them. And they began proceeding, you know, to test more nuclear weapons after that and proceeding on their missile campaign. And the Obama administration was veryyou know, their policy was basically they hoped that North Korea was going to collapse and that that would end the problem. And they took on this policy of cyberwar, basically. They tried to use cyberattacks to weaken orweaken North Korea's missile program and try to damage it in some ways, like they did with Iran in Stuxnet, and their nuclear program. And they also had, you know, lots of information operations directed atdirected at North Korea.
And for North Korea, its most important goal in all of this, throughout, has been wanting an end to the United States' hostile policy. That's what they say in almost every statement. They want an end to the American hostile policy. And they saw what Obama was doing and also what Bush was doing as noit was clearly a hostile policy. And I think the grounds for talks now are to take their desire for an end to the hostile policy and our desire for a denuclearization and try to use that as a basis to begin talks.
And, you know, it was mentioned earlier about this idea for a freeze for freeze, North Korea freeze its nuclear development and missile tests in return for a freeze of these massive U.S.-South Korean military exercises that take place at least twice a year. And that's a starting point that both China and Russia have very strongly endorsed and actually talked about at length at the U.N. Security Council last weekend and also at the meetings in Manila this week of the foreign ministers, where Secretary of State Tillerson was. But the U.S. has rejected, so far, this freeze-for-freeze idea, although Tillerson the other day said he would open talks with North Korea if they would suspend their missile tests for a while. So, I think the door is slightly open there for diplomacy, but this war talk is raising it to araising tensions to a very dangerous level.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let's go to yesterday's State Department press briefing. This is State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
HEATHER NAUERT: It was a good week for diplomacy. I know you all want to obsess over statements and all of that and try towant to make a lot of noise out of that. ...
MATTHEW LEE: Can I just take issue
MATTHEW LEE: with your choice of the word "obsess"? I mean, we're not obsessing about this. This is the president of the United States threatening a nuclear-armed country, whether you want to accept it or not, a country that is armed with nuclear weapons, with "fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen." I don't think that it's obsessing to want to know what theyou know, to have a further clarification of exactly what that means and whether or not it means that you're preparing to send "fire and fury" raining down on the North Korean regime.
HEATHER NAUERT: And I'll let the president's statement stand for itself.
MATTHEW LEE: But, I mean, it's not obsessing to want to know more about what that means.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that's State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert responding to questions about North Korea and accusing people of needlessly obsessing about statements that Trump has made. So, Tim, can you respond to that? And also, experts, analysts, many of whom suggest that actually nothing is going to happen, this is all bluster, because neither the statements of the leader of the United States or North Koreaneither of them and their statements can be taken seriously. And what you think needs to be done?
TIM SHORROCK: First of all, kudos to that reporter for pushing back on the State Department spokesperson, because, you know, generally, here, the media, particularly the broadcast media, has been all focused on war, war, war and the possibility of war. And I think this is particularly true at CNN. It's almost like they're craving a war with North Korea. And I think it's very good for reporters to be asking about negotiations. After all, you know, Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis have been stressing diplomacy throughout, until the statement yesterday by Mattis. Mattis, in fact, has been, you know, a voice of reason within the administration, has been saying all along, you know, throughout the last few months, that the Trump administration is going to go for a diplomatic solution, not for war. And the statements he made yesterdayI guess, was on the orders of his commander-in-chiefwent in the opposite direction. So I think it's very appropriate to ask about the diplomatic solution.
You know, why are we going to war, why are we threatening war, when we haven't even attempted talks with North Korea? And I think, you know, you talk to anybody who is an expert, who's been around the region, who's actually negotiated with North Koreans, there is plenty of room, plenty of flexibility, to talk to North Korea. And there are certainly, you know, proposals that North Korea itself has made, as recently as 2015, two years ago, when they said they would put a moratorium on their program if the United States would start opening talks about a peace treaty to end the Korean War, which is still an armistice. The Korean War has never formally ended. And so, I think, you know, that's why people, reporters, are pushing back against the State Department, because, after all, you know, here you have the top two national security leaders of the Trump administration have been stressing diplomacy, and suddenly they're talking nuclear war. And, you know, it's about time reporters started pushing back on that.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, before we wrap up, Tim Shorrock, when you were in South Korea, you interviewed the South Korean president. Talk about his perspective? He washe was opposed to the THAAD missiles that the U.S. put on South Korean soil, even complained, most recently, that he didn't know when the last pieces were brought into South Korea. He, as president, was not informed. What is his view on what has to happen?
TIM SHORROCK: Well, his view is that, you know, he wants to start talking directly with North Korea and having a negotiated settlement to the North-South issues, and also to bring back what his predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun called the Sunshine Policy, where tensions were greatly eased in the late '90s and early 2000s between North and South Korea, where there was, you know, economic and cultural exchanges and, actually, economic developments, South Korean investment in the North Korean economy through this Kaesong Industrial Zone, that was closed during the Lee Moo-hyunduring the days of the lastone of the last South Korean presidents. And one of the things he stressed to me was, you knowI mean, I asked him, like, "You know, a lot of people in America, in the national defense area, are critical of you because of yourthey think, you know, this Sunshine Policy won't work." And he said, "Well, you know, if thisif South Korea can help bring peace with North Korea, that's good for the United States, and, you know, Trump should be happy about that."
But he also said that while, you know, Trump criticizes his own predecessors, President Obama and President Bush, in bringing us to the situation, he, himself, President Moon, said, you know, previous South Korean presidents, such as Park Geun-hye, who was just impeached and thrown out, and Lee Myung-bak, who was her predecessor, were very, very right-wing, very militaristic. In fact, they brought South and North Korean relations way backwards and helped create the current crisis. And so, he wanted to have a different policy than that.
So, you know, he's kind of caught between a rock and a hard place, because the U.S. has an enormous military presence there, and U.S. pressure on South Korea is very, very strong. And so, you know, when theseNorth Korea fired thesetested these ICBM rockets, so-called ICBMs, recently, you know, he agreed to hasten the delivery of moreof more THAAD antimissile batteries. But heeven, you know, two days ago, two orthis week, he stressed the fact, after having an hour-long conversation with President Trump, that war is out of the question. There cannot be a military solution. And he's repeatedthe South Korean government repeated this again today. And also, he also said today in Seoul that the door to negotiation and diplomacy with North Korea is still open. So, they are very concerned about this ratcheting up of the tensions, and you will not hear this kind of statement from President Moon and his administration like you've heard from President Trump and his administration.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Andrew Bacevich, we'd like to get your response to the escalating rhetoric on North Korea and how you think this fits into other comments that Trump has made and positions that his administration has taken on other foreign policy issues confronting the U.S.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I'm struck by the fact that six months into his administration, this really is the first genuine national security crisis that he's had to face, and his initial performance is very troubling. You know, when I think about that "fire and fury" statement, one of the things that strikes me is that I think it's a sort of a fundamental of diplomacy 101 or politics 101 that when a public figure makes a public statement, it has to be done in a way that it will play to multiple audiences. So, it's not inappropriate, I think, for the administration to issue warnings directed at the North Korean regime, but it's absolutely imperative that the warnings be voiced in such a way that they reassure American allies in the regionSouth Korea, Japanshould be voiced in a way that doesn't create panic here at home. And on that score, it seems to me that the president has failed radically.
Furthermore, there's been a lot of hopeful commentary, especially, I think, in the last 10 days or so, since General Kelly became the White House chief of staff, that the generals that President Trump has surrounded himself withnot only Kelly, but also McMaster and Mattis in the Pentagonthat they will be the voices of reason, that they willthey will rein in this impulsive president. And if we are to look at the "fire and fury" statement, that's pretty clear indication that our president is not about to be reined in. And that also has to be very, very troubling.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, one of the concerns of many, as he is inmired in domestic problems at homeI mean, just yesterday, we also learned that, actually, two weeks ago, his former campaign manager, Manafort, has hishad his home raided by the FBI, that as Trump feels increasingly encircled and under pressure, that he's going to look for an enemy abroad to divert attention to. Do you think that there could be this very strong connection, as he uses words like "fire and fury," is what he's actually feeling here at home, but trying to project attention away from what he's facing here?
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think that's very plausible. And he would not be the first president in our history or the first major figure in world history to try to generate problems abroad in order to detract attention from problems at home.
But that said, you know, one of the things that strikes me about this president is his inability to use the English language with any sort of precision or finesse. And I think this was evident in spades in the "fire and fury" statement. And we should emphasize that it was a threat of "fire and fury," meaningnecessarily meaning the use of nuclear weapons, in response to further threats. And I think it's that, the notion that threats voiced by another country could lead to preemptive nuclear attack by the United States of AmericaI think it's thatthat notion, which is embedded in that statement, is what causes great concern and, again, is what is so indicative, and indicative in such a troubling way, about the inability of this individual to speak with some understanding of the implications of what he says.
I mean, many people have commentedand I think accurately commentedon the narcissism, which seems to be such a prominent characteristic of Trump's personality. And youwhen you watch the video of him making that "fire and fury" comment, it's difficult to avoid thinking that the motivation of the moment is to make himself feel good, to somehow demonstrate that he's a tough guy, that he's standing up to what he perceives as a threat, and to, somehow or other, derive some sense of personal satisfaction from thatfrom issuing that threat, utterly oblivious as to the larger implications and how that statement will play to other audiences. And that'sthat's got to be very troubling.
And again, to emphasize the fact that he still does these things, despite the fact that he's now surrounded by, ostensibly, more mature figures, does not bode well for how well this crisis is going to play out. But it doesn't bode well for how other crises, which he will inevitably encounterhow other crises are going to play out.