Trump-Kim Summit a Breakthrough or Prelude to Disaster?
Interview with Tim Shorrock, journalist and author of the book, “Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing”, conducted by Scott Harris
After a year of trading threats and insults with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted Kim’s invitation for a face-to-face meeting by the end of May. In extending the invitation for a summit meeting, North Korea committed to a temporary halt to its nuclear and missile tests, even during scheduled joint U.S.–South Korean military exercises in April.
A diplomatic initiative by South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in succeeded in reducing tensions, when the North agreed to participate in the South’s Olympic Winter Games in February, setting the stage for the Trump–Kim summit. Until last week, such a meeting seemed impossible, with Trump mocking Kim as “little Rocket Man,” and repeated threats to launch a preemptive military strike against North Korea and imposition of harsh sanctions. Trump’s direct threat to “totally destroy North Korea,” implying a U.S. nuclear attack, alarmed the world.
Despite hope for a successful summit, there’s concern that with little time for preparation, and the sudden firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un could end in failure, further escalating tensions. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tim Shorrock, a Washington-based journalist who spent part of his youth living in South Korea. Here, he assesses the chance for successful summit, and the opportunities and dangers of the planned meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. [Rush transcript.]
TIM SCHORROCK: I think it’s very important that there’s going to be this face-to-face meeting and of course, it’s going to take some effort of diplomacy to line things up before the meeting. But I think it’s very possible, and I also think there’s absolutely been a lot of backdoor discussions for the last year, even though there hasn’t been much publicly said about that.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Tim, what are the concessions that North Korea has made here in order to get a positive response for this invitation they’ve made to President Trump?
TIM SCHORROCK: Well, first of all, apparently they’ve said they’re willing to discuss eventual de-nuclearization. I mean, that’s key to this with the U.S. and that was a major concession, because they’ve said previously that they would negotiate around their nuclear capabilities only after the U.S. had ended what they call its “hostile policy”, which is a formula they’ve put forward many times. And by hostile policy, they mean these military exercises which take place twice a year. They mean the nuclear threats against North Korea, which of course, the U.S. has plenty of nuclear weapons aimed at North Korea and has had them aimed at North Korea for decades.
And, also ending the sanctions and the embargo on North Korea, which they see also as a hostile act. And so, by saying that eventually they’ll talk about denuclearization, that’s a major concession right there. And then, they told the South Korean delegation they understand why the U.S. and South Korea hold these exercises and they would not make a big issue out of the exercises when they start up again in March. But I think their understanding, and the South Korean understanding is that these exercises will happen, but they’ll be much more scaled down than in the past. And in particular, these exercises won’t include training in what the U.S. and South Korea have previously called “decapitation teams” that would be sent into North Korea during a war to eliminate the leadership, assassinate Kim Jung Un.
And in the past two years, they’ve actually had teams that were running through these exercises practicing that very act. And then of course, they would train in nuclear attack on North Korea and that kind of thing in these exercises. So, you know, according to reliable reports from the South Korean press, those exercises are going to take place absent U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, as well as nuclear submarines and nuclear-armed submarines and then those ships and vessels will not participate. So that’s the concession that I think the United States is not talking about.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Well Tim, I wanted to ask you about the specter of failure here. I think pretty much everyone here in this country and around the world hopes for a successful outcome of this meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, and success for a peaceful resolution of the long-standing conflict on the Korea peninsula. But what are the dangers of failure here if President Trump goes to this meeting with Kim Jong Un and they can’t agree on much? Donald Trump is known as a very vindictive man, and we’ve seen in the past his penchant for getting even. When it comes to a nuclear confrontation that kind of posturing is extremely dangerous. What are you concerned about if there is a failure at the negotiating table?
TIM SCHORROCK: I think you’re right about that. I mean, I think there are definitely dangers and risks here. But the fact is South Korea is going to be very involved these negotiations, even the bilateral. And (South Korean President) Moon (Jae-in)’s idea is to have kind of consecutive parallel negotiations that are U.S.-North Korea, South Korea-North Korea, and other countries in the region together with North Korea. So there will be an international settlement. And as more countries get involved – not necessarily in pressuring North Korea, like Trump has been trying to do – but in trying to find a regional solution to this. And I think there’s dangers, but I think there could be a huge leap, there could be a huge deal.
I mean, imagine, a peace agreement to end the Korean war. It would end 60-70 years of war. If you talk to people in Korea, they’ve been saying for months they’re much more worried about what Trump will do, than Kim Jong Un. But what they were very worried about, and what President Moon Jae-in was very worried about, was the U.S. taking unilateral action – unilateral military action against North Korea – that of course would spill over into South Korea and could become a major war within hours.
You know, it’s a divided country in the south. Koreans, while they want to defend their land from any kind of invasion, they don’t want to have a war that kills hundreds of thousands because of some unilateral decision made by the United States to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program.
Clearing Hurdle, Children’s Lawsuit Puts Federal Government on Trial for Climate Change Inaction
Interview with Jacob Lebel, Our Children’s Trust climate change lawsuit plaintiff, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
On March 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a historic generational lawsuit charging that the U.S. government failed to take sufficient action to address climate change, can go to trial. The 21 plaintiffs were 7 to 18 years old at the time the suit was filed by Our Children’s Trust in 2015.
With this unanimous ruling denying the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the case, the suit is now cleared for trial in federal district court in Eugene, Oregon. The litigation charges that the United States government “has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” The case rests on a principle called the “the public trust doctrine,” which says that the government has a responsibility to safeguard certain public assets—in this case, a stable climate. In an earlier decision which favored the youth plaintiffs, district court Judge Ann Aiken wrote, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Jacob Lebel, one of the original plaintiffs, who’s now 21 years old. Here Lebel, who lives on a farm in southern Oregon, explains the legal challenges and outcomes, and what he and his fellow plaintiffs hope to win. [Rush transcript.]
JACOB LEBEL: So that decision by Judge Aiken was the major decision that we got; that was the question of standing: “Do we have legal standing to bring that case?” That’s where a lot of environmental cases actually fail. And we actually won that. Judge Ann Aiken of the Eugene, (Oregon) federal district court ruled that we do have standing and we can bring this case to trial. And then what happened is that the Trump administration filed with the Ninth Circuit, and it’s an obscure piece of legalese called the writ of mandamus – rarely used, it’s a desperate measure, kind of a last resort tactic. Basically, they were asking that the case not go to trial and go straight up to the Ninth Circuit court, have the Ninth Circuit immediately review the lower court’s decision, which, if you know about legal matters, is highly unusual, because the Ninth Circuit is the appellate court, and it’s supposed to overview the decision by the lower court once you’ve gone through the discovery process and gone through trial.
It’s not its job to oversee discovery or trial or whatever, it’s just supposed to review the findings once the case is developed. So we weren’t even getting the chance to develop the case and go to trial if the Trump administration had its way. What happened is the Ninth Circuit said, “Okay, we’ll review it and let you know if you can continue to trial in the lower court or we’re going to step in.” And that took a while, and we just got the decision that we got the go-ahead to go to trial, and we’re back in the district court where we should be, and we’re going to trial. But there was a delay there, and we actually went to San Francisco and had oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit court of appeals, the three-judge panel.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I know this case was originally filed against President Obama and his administration, and after Trump took office, I was in D.C. when the youth plaintiffs appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court to change the name of the suit from Juliana v Obama to Juliana v Trump, Kelsey Juliana being the lead plaintiff. Who are you expecting to have testify?
JACOB LEBEL: The case is really about the U.S. government, it’s not about particular individuals. That’s kind of the beauty of our case, in a way. I think we do need efforts targeting particular companies, agencies or individuals who are corrupt and are horribly worsening the situation for their own profit. That is great. What our case is doing is trying to achieve systemic change through the legal system, so we’re addressing decades of willful action by the U.S. government to worsen this problem of climate change by creating this fossil fuel-dependent energy system. So it’s not about Obama or Trump. That’s my first point.
However, it’s kind of striking and dramatic; I don’t know if it’s poetic justice or whatever, that Trump is one of the most – as far as fossil fuels and corruption and climate change goes – is one of the most horrific politicians that we’ve ever had in power. So if we win, it’s very fitting I think, that we’re fighting the Trump administration. There’s no ambiguity there about what the moral stakes or values are on both sides, I’d say. We’re suing all the major agencies – Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, EPA, the White House – so they’re all in there, and it all depends on what information we really need that we can’t get otherwise. I’ll say that we were trying to depose Rex Tillerson —
BETWEEN THE LINES: In his capacity as head of Exxon Mobil, right, before he became Trump’s Secretary of State.
JACOB LEBEL: All the major companies had actually filed to intervene in our case.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And after Trump took office, the companies asked to withdraw, right, so they couldn’t be deposed…
JACOB LEBEL: Yeah, they withdrew because once you enter a legal case, you can get deposed; so they basically got in to throw us out, because they thought this would be a small, easy to throw-out lawsuit, and I was in court all the times and they completely got shut down by the judges, and then the case got really serious and got a lot of press, and it was moving forward and suddenly they were going to be the ones getting deposed, and that’s when they started to freak out and filed to withdraw from the case, and the judge actually let them out, which is fine because it actually simplifies the case a lot; it’s such a big case that we appreciated them not contesting the climate science in court.
Actually, the Trump administration right now as far as the legal front goes, is not contesting the facts of climate change. Right before the Obama administration left, literally a month before, filed a document that agreed with all our assertions on the climate science, actually saying it was going to be worse in some cases than our lawyers were saying. What they disagreed on was the remedy, and the government’s historic role in that. So that’s actually factual record in court, and the Trump administration has not revoked that, and I don’t know if they still can.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What exactly is the goal of the lawsuit? What do you want to get out of it?
JACOB LEBEL: First of all, some people – I hope less people now – think there’s money involved, like money reparations or something. We’re not asking for money reparations, so that’s the first point. The second point, what we’re actually suing for is a science-based climate recovery plan. That’s the key phrase.
For more information, visit Our Children’s Trust at ourchildrenstrust.org; ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/; on Twitter @youthgov; and the Washington State Chapter at ourchildrenstrust.org/state/washington .
Uncovering the Hidden History of the NRA
Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” conducted by Scott Harris
In the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead on Feb. 14, a bipartisan group of legislators met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the epidemic of gun violence. At the conclusion of that meeting, Trump called for legislation that would strengthen background checks, address mental illness, and spoke in support of raising the age limit for the purchase of military-style assault rifles from 18 to 21 years old. In recognizing the difficulty of passing new gun control laws, the president repeatedly accused members of his own Republican party of being “afraid of the NRA (National Rifle Association).
However, just two weeks later, after the president met with NRA officials in the Oval Office, the White House unveiled its plan to combat school shootings, which included a proposal to arm teachers, but no measure that would raise the age limit on buying assault rifles. A dramatic shift by the president, who now embraced the controversial policy positions of the NRA.
The power and influence of the NRA has long been one of the major obstacles standing in the way of passing widely supported gun control legislation in Congress. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the new book, “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.” Here, she discusses the hidden origins of the NRA, which has transformed from a club promoting target shooting and hunting, to an organization now identified with right-wing culture wars and white nationalism.
ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: The National Rifle Association, which up to 1977, had been a pretty benign, kind of stupid organization for men and boys, you know of target shooting, and hunting, recreational shooting. They never, ever talked about the Second Amendment.
But a white nationals organization, kind of neo-Nazis, they were anti-Semitic, anti-black – it was in the state of Washington, out in eastern Washington, which is still a hotbed of white nationalism. This organization called the Second Amendment Foundation formed, and very specifically, about promoting the Second Amendment as a right, a way for them to arm themselves legally because they were always getting busted for having all kinds of weapons, automatic weapons and stuff. Because NRA was a membership organization, they began joining. And they got enough of a solid group together that got themselves elected and actually they took over the leadership of the organization.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What was the year that this group took over the NRA?
ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: 1977.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So today’s NRA, very different from the one that existed before the late ’70s, they seem to be very much keyed into right-wing culture wars and as you describe them, they also seem to push hot button issues related to racism and white supremacy. Tell us a little bit about today’s NRA and how you think they’ll survive in a climate where the public is becoming ever more angry and outraged at this culture which promotes the idea that the more guns, the guns the better.
ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ: Well, they succeeded a lot and their success is based not on money or bribing legislators. That’s an easy explanation and falls into the U.S. tendency of finding a culprit, a single culprit and if you can just wipe that out, everything will be okay.
But’s much scarier than that because they are a membership organization of 5 million and a lot of them are passive members – they just want the discounts and whatever. Apparently among those, you know, they’re actually losing some memberships over their radicalism, you know, it’s not something everyone wants or buys into, think they’re getting into.
But there is this core group of about a million. I’m talking about not a small conspiracy, but a mass-based organization. There’s no way any organization on the left in the United States comes anywhere near those kinds of numbers of dedicated, hardcore volunteers. They’re not being paid. They’re citizens in every congressional district in the United States and they make sure that anyone who’s elected – either on the local level – because most gun laws are state laws, even the municipal level, federal level – they’ve largely been the dedicated base that has brought Trump to the presidency and the entire Congress is afraid of them. Because all they have to do is send out the names. They watch what’s going on in Washington. And they send out alerts. They’ve become very much more effective with social media, just as other movements have.
It is a white nationalist, mass-based organization and that is why it’s so powerful. There’s no way it could be that powerful if just an organization, no matter how much money they had. And they actually don’t operate with a whole lot of money – $300 million a year is their budget. And when they give to Congress members, it’s usually like a gift, a thank you. It’s not really a contribution to their campaigns. They don’t need it. They have the Koch brothers. They have these huge, rich right-wing donors. They don’t need the NRA’s money. It’s their political base. But the evangelicals, which are the largest single voting group in the United States, are allied with the NRA.
For more information, visit “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment” at citylights.com.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
Prison reform in Costa Rica, focused on a specific group of women, has been a success and a model for other Latin American nations and around the world. This reform, known as “77 bis” and implemented in 2013, reduced prison terms for women who were convicted of smuggling drugs into prisons to a minimum of three to eight years, if they meet certain conditions. The new law also permits the use of alternatives to incarceration for sentences of three-years or less. The immediate result of this reform was the initial release of female prisoners which also addressed the problem of overcrowding in women’s prisons. (“Costa Rica: Could Drug-Law Reform for Women Open Door to Wider Change?” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 13, 2018)
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are suing California over the state’s sanctuary laws, claiming they violate federal supremacy over immigration law. In announcing the federal lawsuit in Sacramento, Sessions exchanged verbal insults with Governor Jerry Brown and other officials. Sessions specifically called out Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf who publicly warned of pending federal immigration raids in the Bay Area. (“Trump Administration Sues California Over Immigration Laws,” New York Times, Mar. 6, 2018; “Some of the California ‘sanctuary’ Laws Targeted by Feds Could Be Vulnerable, Legal Experts Say,” Los Angeles Tomes, Mar. 8, 2018; “Jeff Sessions’ Lawsuit Is An Invitation for California to Break the Law,” Los Angeles Tomes, Mar. 8, 2018)
In a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott signed a new gun safety law, which imposes a 3-day waiting period on gun sales and raises the legal age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. But the law doesn’t ban assault weapons, sought by student activist survivors of the Parkland school massacre, who marched on the state capital. The NRA is now suing to block the law. (“Florida Gun Bill: What’s in It, and What Isn’t,” New York Times