Discussion on North Korean Human rights on Alex Jensen’s TBS eFM show

I had the opportunity to speak about the Trump-Kim summit on TBS eFM’s “This Morning with the inimitable Alex Jensen on June 12 (just a few hours after the summit).

It was a great opportunity to discuss the summit with a variety of experts from around the world.

The discussion is available at

This Morning with Alex Jensen 

“US -North Korea Summit & the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”

The other guest on Alex Jensen’s show was Sarah Son, research director of the NGO Transnational Justice Working Group.

She spent most of her time talking about the abysmal human rights situation in North Korea. I did not disagree as I am certain that North Korea, like many other developing nations, suffers any number of human rights abuses. I also kept my mouth shut as she detailed the prison gulags in North Korea that are so offensive that they must be discussed at the summit.

But that is where it all fell apart. I was asked my opinion and I responded that not only does the United States have the largest prison population in the world, not only does it abuse prisoners as laborers, not only does it have for-profit prisons, but that it is now engaged in the explicitly illegal activity of separating children from parents among immigrants. Such actions are an act of intentional and unnecessary cruelty. It is also a blatant violation of international law—the sort of action the US has condemned other nations for.

Ms. Son was silent on this topic. When she was pressed, she responded that she dealt only with North Korea in her work. She refused to say a single negative word about the Trump administration.

But that was not all. When I suggested that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un had much in common as the products of inherited dynasties of corruption and power, she was again silent.

The working assumption for Ms. Son was that North Korea was somehow horrible in a sense that no other country in the world is, a miserable universe unto itself.

This argument did not convince me.

Finally, she was not interested in engaging in the question of whether North Korean workers were entitled to protection from exploitation. This part I was not able to press her on—as I wanted to keep it polite. But you listen to yourself.

My impression from what she said is that North Koreans are entitled to “human rights” like advanced Western countries, but that they have no rights to protest against their exploitation by corporations and they have no rights to collective bargaining.




One response to “Discussion on North Korean Human rights on Alex Jensen’s TBS eFM show

  1. craig June 13, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    The reason Son didn’t respond was that you had engaged in a classic case of “whataboutery” designed to let north Korea off the hook.

    North Korea isn’t just another developing country. Its existence is predicated on a political foundation that almost demands gulags and torture. It locks its people into an existence that isn’t accidental but deliberate. It denies civil rights not as an accident but as a key component of what north Korea is.

    On the other hand, while other developing nations or even the United States do have problems, they aren’t founded on noxious principle. The American failure is a failure to match its goals.

    In North korea’s case, it is terrible by deliberate design.

    This is what distinguishes a bad policy from fascism by design.

    And this is why Son didn’t respond: you had used a classic argument used by apologists for tyrants and ogres in the past. The argument you used is, without any serious alterations, identical to those used to say excuse mussolini or Hitler before 1939, but especially those who needed to paint prettier pictures of uncle joe’s soviet union.

    It’s the same old same old and it shows contempt for North Koreas victims. The argument you used is contemptible and that kind of “whataboutery” is among the least creditable deflection, for the tacit if not deliberate dismissal of criticism of North Korea, ever used.

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