09/29/13 Beto O'Rourke

US Congressman Beto O'Rourke of El Paso Texas + Daniel Robelo of Drug Policy Alliance re UN call to examine drug war policies

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Guest: 
Beto O'Rourke
Organization: 
Congress
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Cultural Baggage / September 29, 2013

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[music]

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

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DEAN BECKER: We’ve got a powerful show. Put your ears on.

It’s very rare that I get a chance to speak to a working U.S. congressman but today we are proud to have with us from El Paso, Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke. How are you doing Beto?

BETO O'ROURKE: I’m doing great, Dean. I’m doing really well. Thanks for having me on your show again.

DEAN BECKER: There are so few working congressman, senators, others who are willing to come on this show because we want to talk about this eternal drug war. You and Suzy Byrd (a council woman in El Paso) wrote a book, “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico.”

This is a much larger problem than most elected officials are willing to admit. Am I right?

BETO O'ROURKE: You are definitely right. I’ll tell you this and you and your listeners I think already know this but there are some really amazing current members of congress who have been there in some cases for many years that have been working on this issue.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I got to congress to find people like Jared Polis out of Colorado, Earl Blumenauer out of Oregon, Steve Cohen who I think has just been bucking the trend from representation of southern states on dealing with this issue.

On the other side of the aisle you have people like Justin Amash from Michigan and others who all see the futility of the current War on Drugs and this idea that you’re going to be able to get to these desired outcomes of reducing drug use and availability especially amongst the most vulnerable among our society like children, that you are going to be able to reduce drug-related crime, that you are going to be able to reduce profits going to crime bosses...on all those counts we have failed miserably prosecuting a policy for now more than 40 years.

You ask the people in congress who “get it” and they’re not just open to doing something differently they are authoring legislation, they are trying to build coalitions. I have faith that they are going to be able to make something happen.

Just to start things on a positive note. That’s been the big positive surprise so far in congress.

DEAN BECKER: Well, certainly and we’ve had the pronouncements by Cole and Holder and the senate hearings about the drug war and about marijuana in general. There is some hope on the horizon.

BETO O'ROURKE: There is and it doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a lot of work to do. You’ve been really kind in allowing me to be on your show now for over 2 years – maybe 3. Just that there are people like you who have been persistently advocating on this issue is really making a difference. It is building awareness. It’s holding people accountable who are in positions of public trust. It’s creating the opportunity for people to do the right thing.

I’ll tell you this and this is an educated guess – I would wager that the vast majority of certainly the Democratic members of the congress and I would say the vast majority of members of congress know that the drug war has failed. They know that we need an alternative. They just are not so sure that it’s politically viable.

The more that we hear from constituents throughout the country and from people like you who are advocating on this issue I think the easier it becomes to do the right thing.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for those thoughts. You are not a one issue politician. You are a freshman – is that the right term?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yes, brand new member. I’ve been in office not even 9 months yet.

DEAN BECKER: I took a tour of your website. I looked at some of the resolutions you have put forward, some of the ideas that you have embraced. I think chief among them is recognition of the service of our veterans and how they deserve more respect, more support from our nation. Am I correct?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yes. We have just in El Paso nearly 80,000 veterans in our service area. These are men and women who have served going as far back as World War II and as recently as Afghanistan who have more than served this country. I think served this country in the most difficult role of being in combat, putting your life on the line, sacrificing their comfort and security and safety for ours, for this country and for people who for whatever reason do not end up serving.

Hopefully most people know our system of taking care of these veterans when they return - whether it’s the Veterans Benefit Administration or the Veterans Health Administration or other key service areas out of the VA – we’re just really falling down on the job. People are waiting hundreds of days to hear back on a disability claim when they’ve been injured in relation to service of their country.

It’s far too hard to see a mental health specialist. I really especially think of those young men and women who are returning from Afghanistan right now – many of whom who are suffering from PTSD or have traumatic brain injury.

Our fight in the office has been to ensure that we have the appropriate resources and the level of accountability in the VA to serve those who have served us. There is a lot left to do but we have made progress in that area. That’s certainly one of the core efforts in our office and what we fully expect to make progress on in this term and, hopefully, in future terms as well.

DEAN BECKER: I perceive a little bit of anti-war stance in some of your position. That’s what I have. These soldiers go to war based on false premises put forward by these other officials. They do their duty and they deserve respect for having done so but you also are calling for bringing our troops home and getting out of some of these involvements. Am I right?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yes, you’re right. It ties back to a subject that you and I have spoken about on a number of occasions and that is this War on Drugs. I think the more powerful we have become as a country the easier it’s become and the more readily we have been to react to threats or needs in the world with military force or through an enforcement-only policy.

It’s the War on Drugs and everything that we do here in the U.S. and everything that we promote and push down through Latin America and other parts of the world. It’s meeting the perceived threat that Saddam Hussein posed by military intervention. It is the war in Afghanistan which is now the longest war this country has ever fought. It is response to the crisis in Syria from the administration to pursue a unilateral military strike. Thankfully that did not happen and hopefully will not happen.

I do think that as a country we need to rethink how we respond to the crisis that arise or we perceive to arise. I think we would benefit by looking at some non-violent and perhaps non-traditional means of responding to these threats.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. I agree with you, Beto.

We are speaking with U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke out of El Paso, Texas.

Beto, one of the issues I saw on your website dealt with the militarization on the frontier. I’m assuming that’s the Mexican border and how it is disrupting lives, commerce, etc. Do you want to talk about that?

BETO O'ROURKE: I’m glad you asked. There are 6 million U.S. citizens who live on the U.S. side of the U.S. / Mexico border. That’s every community from Brownsville through the California/Mexico border, all of the Arizona communities like Douglas and Nogales through New Mexico (Las Cruces, Deming) down through Texas (El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo – all the way down to Brownsville).

6 million people and that part of our country (a lot of people don’t know this) that part of our country is far safer than the rest of the country on average. In fact, El Paso, Texas = where I live and have the honor of representing – is the safest city in the United States today for three years in a row.

San Diego (another one of those border communities) is the second safest city and the rest of the border fallows very closely. This idea that we need to further militarize our border, put up more walls, double the size of the border patrol (and these are all proposals that have passed the U.S. senate) ...the idea that we need to do this when we are already as safe as we’ve ever been on the border, we’re already spending 18 billion dollars a year to secure the border in a time when net migration from Mexico is 0 – I think it begs the question, “What are we really talking about here?”

I’ve pushed for a more humane, rational and fiscally responsible approach to border policy. That certainly pertains to immigration and not continuing to build these fences and walls and militarize. It pertains to our trade relationship with Mexico which is connected to more than 6 million jobs in the U.S.

It’s also connected to our drug policy. It’s something that we, in El Paso, have been talking about now for many, many years. These very well-intentioned drug enforcement policies that originated in Washington, D.C. but are largely carried out here in communities like El Paso or on the U.S./Mexican border that really diminish our quality of life.

I think we can argue that we don’t pose a real threat to the homeland. I think if we can work on things like passing comprehensive immigration reform, substantially and meaningfully reform our drug laws, we then allow our country to focus on those real threats that are, in fact, out there.

There are human smugglers who are, in some ways, not too far from slave drivers. People bringing in other people to work in a constricted fashion – sometimes without any pay – which is, to me, the definition of slavery – being held in bondage. There are people who are trafficking in children. There are people who are trafficking in weapons. There is the potential (although we haven’t seen it on the southern border) there is the potential that terrorists will see this as a gateway into the country.

If you can more rationally respond to those other perceived threats of immigration and drugs I think you can focus very limited resources on the real threats that are out there.

DEAN BECKER: I think about the situation....they talk about they intercept perhaps 10, 15, 20% of the drugs being brought across the border and this has been going on for, as you say, decades on end. They’re justification for continuing this same failed path totally escapes me. I’m wondering...these congressman, these senators who basically stand with “reefer madness” hundred year old propaganda – they’ve never really taken a look at this information or they’ve not wanted to see what’s before their eyes. Your response?

BETO O'ROURKE: I think you are 100% correct. I’ll tell you it doesn’t come out of any maliciousness. It really comes out of ignorance. It comes out of having...I can speak a little bit to this from my 9 months on the job – it really comes from the fact that you are asked to vote on and respond to so many thousands of issues every year that you are in congress and there are a limited number of those that you are going to be a subject matter expert on or really have much expertise at all.

For many members of congress the drug war and its terrible unintended consequences and effects (like the fact that we imprison more of our own population here in the U.S. than any other country in the world, that we’ve spent over one trillion dollars since 1970...etc. etc.)...You know, they just don’t know these things and in not knowing about them and how these policies affect their constituents they just don’t care.

My belief is (and I believe in people essentially being good at their core) I think if they were able to better understand all of this I think they would be more open to doing the right thing.

I think that’s where it is coming from. I think, again going back to what you do and your program and others in the advocacy community, that work is so important to generate interest and attention and focus and help educate those members so that they can make the correct decisions and do the right thing.

But, as you know, a lot of the people that we’re talking about...when I say we imprison more people than any other country on the planet – a lot of those people can’t vote after they’ve been in prison and a lot of those people don’t get involved in the public process and they’re not at town hall meetings and they don’t really apply any pressure on those elected leaders.

They’re really a constituency without representation in the highest levels of government. I think it is then ever more important for you and others, people who are listening to these programs to be the voice for those who are essentially shut out of this system.

I think the more we are able to do that the more successful we’ll be in changing opinions and building the consensus in congress to get something done.

Building the consensus within the administration to make the right call that are in the right purview as you mentioned at the outset in terms of decisions the Justice Department has made.

It’s a great question but I do think positions that the majority of members of congress have taken come out of ignorance more than anything else.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for that, Beto. I think about, again referencing the Cole memo and Holder statements and the senate hearings, this is opening the doors for these ignorant politicians to perhaps reexamine the police, perhaps change their stance, right?

BETO O'ROURKE: It’s opening the door and it’s forcing people to talk about it. What will really be decisive, in my opinion, is to have the constituents, the voting constituents in those districts pressure their members of congress because if a member of congress perceives that the pressure is coming from outside of his district it’s really not going to be much pressure at all.

I can point to immigration reform. It’s something that most of the country wants to see happen and it is something that after the 2012 presidential election every pundit and analyst said had been decisive in Mitt Romney losing to Barack Obama. The fact that Barack Obama was able to connect on this very important issue and that connection, especially among Hispanic voters, provided a decisive edge.

Everyone’s conclusion from that is that if the Republican party is ever going to truly be a national party and have a chance at winning the Whitehouse or controlling the senate it is going to have to act on this.

And yes, despite that, in the House of Representatives you’ve seen absolutely no movement towards comprehensive immigration reform. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the republicans were the majority in that house and are really beholden to their constituents and are very focused on winning the next election and especially the next primary election.

In some ways they could care less about the national prospects for their party. What they really care about is maintaining their seat. If there were that kind of pressure around the reform of our nobly-intended drug laws but disastrously enacted drug laws – if there were that kind of pressure around that kind of change I think you would start to see a lot more openness.

DEAN BECKER: I recently got some communications from Mr. Grover Norquist who indicates he wants to come on this show. That’s some hope there, isn’t it?

BETO O'ROURKE: It is. I’ll tell you there is a meeting of the minds in the Democratic party and some elements in the Republican party. I also am glad that I’ve had the chance to get to know you over the years, meet you in person and you’ve been kind enough to invite me on your show a number of times.

I think that in that short time that we’ve known each other we’re seeing more and more Democrats who for social justice reasons and making sure that we’re doing the right thing by the most vulnerable in our communities and Republicans for almost Libertarian reasons of keeping big government out of your life and whatever you choose to do that is non-violent and it doesn’t harm anybody else you should be allowed to do is something that I hear from many of them.

You’re seeing these two groups come together around this issue of drug policy reform. To me it’s really exciting. I’m not a hyper-partisan person. I don’t operate that way. I’m truly pleased to see people from both parties coming forward...leaders in both parties and influential people in both parties.

You mentioned Grover Norquist on the right and I think there are people like the Soros family on the left who have been leaders on this and openly advocating or, at least, promoting a more sensible policy. I think that’s terribly exciting.

It will require a really unique coalition to make progress but that’s essentially what we saw with the repeal of prohibition in the 1930s. You had the most unlikely of coalitions come together and finally admit that this very noble experiment to try to improve human behavior, to try to limit lawlessness and vice was a complete failure that created far more problems than it ever resolved. I think many of us have reached that same conclusion about the War on Drugs.

So, yes, like you, Dean, I’m holding out hope and I definitely see promise out there.

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(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects

Works directly on the brain by interfering neurotransmitters and dopamine levels, because of drug prohibition, this product is made with over the counter cold medicines, matchbook covers, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel and antifreeze.

(Gong)

Time’s up!

The answer: Tina, chalk, go fast, zip, Christie, crank, speed, meth amphetamine hydrochloride.

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DEAN BECKER: It gives me great pleasure to speak with one of my fellow “caravaneros” from last summer’s 7,000 mile journey across America with the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity. He’s got a great piece in the Huffington Post. It’s titled “Guatemalan President Praises Colorado and Washington for Marijuana Legalization at a UN Speech.”

With that I want to welcome from the Drug Policy Alliance Mr. Daniel Robelo. How are you doing, Daniel?

DANIEL ROBELO: I’m doing well, Dean. It’s great to be with you. Thanks so much.

DEAN BECKER: Your piece talks about some very profound, some very substantial changes perhaps at the United Nations, right?

DANIEL ROBELO: It still remains to be seen but certainly there’s unprecedented momentum at the highest levels - nationally, regionally in the western hemisphere and now we’re seeing internationally at the forum of all the world’s leaders and what the President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Melina, but three other representatives of Latin American countries (either heads of state or foreign ministers) denouncing the drug war as a failure.

They are calling for fundamental changes. It’s huge. We’re seeing momentum growing like really never before.

DEAN BECKER: This coincides with momentum here in these United States like never before. The pronouncements of Cole and Holder, the senate hearings and, as I understand it, next week the House is going to have a hearing on marijuana as well.

DANIEL ROBELO: Absolutely. The game has changed after the historic elections last November with Colorado and Washington - the people there leading the way. We’re seeing it like never before. Of course the administration it really is a big step of what officials in the states of Colorado and Washington as they’re implementing the laws expected but doing the right thing.

Saying that all the polls showing what the American public wants them to do. Saying that they’re going to respect the will of the people in Colorado and Washington.

And then, of course, we’ve got Uruguay which is poised to join Colorado and Washington and should become the first nation in the world to legalize and regulate the production, the distribution and the sales of marijuana to adults for recreational use.

It’s huge. The tide is really turning. That’s what the Guatemalan President Molina acknowledged. He praised the voters of Washington for their visionary decision to vote to approve the legalization and regulation of marijuana. He also acknowledged President Obama for a wise decision to do the right thing and respect their will. He also commended the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica for his proposal. He is heading to the senate of that country next month and it is expected to pass with flying colors.

We’re on the cusp of even bigger changes.

DEAN BECKER: The American people don’t realize, it’s never clarified very well to them is that as horrible as the violence is in Mexico it is exponentially worse in Guatemala, Honduras, and other Central and South American nations. It’s a war. It must be stopped, right, Dan?

DANIEL ROBELO: Sadly that is right, Dean. While Mexico has captured the most headlines the violence in Mexico that is directly related to drug prohibition on these organizations probably wouldn’t exist – certainly not in their current size and shape – if not for drug prohibition.

In these other countries of Latin America, especially Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the national homicide rates are far higher – twice as high as in Mexico. It varies, of course, but so high that the United Nations has actually said that Central America is the most violent region in the world right now outside of active war zones.

It absolutely must be stopped. The crackdown that Felipe Calderon ( the ex-President of Mexico) launched in 2007 against drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico has only increased the violence in that country, increased human rights violations, seen the deaths of countless journalists, of the few honest politicians at the local level who haven’t been corrupted by the cartels and increased the number of children and migrants who have been killed.

When the crackdown happened what else also happened was just these organizations moved more of their operations to neighboring countries and Guatemala has been especially hard hit.

For your progressive listeners out there the Guatemalan president is sometimes a controversial figure because he was a military officer during that country’s civil war but he has really come out as a champion of drug policy like few other leaders. He is being joined by an increasing number.

That was the other remarkable thing at the UN meeting this week is that the president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, the foreign minister of Mexico speaking on behalf of that country’s President Pena Nieto and a couple other countries joined the statement saying the War on Drugs has failed. It is time to explore alternatives and those alternatives need to be based in health, human rights and harm reduction. It’s really incredible.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Daniel Robelo. He’s the research associate in the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Legal Affairs in Berkeley, California. Their website is http://drugpolicy.org

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DEAN BECKER: Couple of closing comments. It was one year ago that we finished up the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity. That effort is still ongoing.

Another side note...I do now have Grover Norquist’s phone number and he will be our guest on next week’s Cultural Baggage – the 12th year celebration of the DTN.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org