02/14/10 - Beto O'Rourke

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke on the ultra violence in their sister city of Ciudad Juarez & Michael Blunk, board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, February 14, 2010

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’

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.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m glad you could be with us. We have Mr. Michael Blunk. He’s a board member of Student’s for Sensible Drug Policy in-studio, with us. We have another gentleman, a city councilman out of El Paso where there is great news, both positive and negative and let’s go ahead and bring him onboard. We’ll have him for this first half-hour, Mr. Beto O’Rourke. Are you with us ,sir?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I am. Good evening.

Dean Becker: Thank you, sir. Glad you could be with us. You know, Beto, about ten days ago, I went before the Houston City Council and proposed that they consider joining the voice of the El Paso Council, in asking that a new look be taken at this drug war. The response was complete silence, but at least they heard me and at least thing’s are sometimes a very slow process, are they not?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: They are and I bet you feel like you’re a voice in the wilderness in Houston, especially if they’re not responding to you when you speak. I feel like here in El Paso, the situation is a little bit more obvious and urgent in that, thousands of people are dying in what is our sister city that we’re connected to, Juárez Chihuahua in Mexico, and we all know that even those who are proponents of the drug war, everyone here knows that drugs are a fundamental aspect of the violence that we see in Juárez.

So people here are a little bit more open to talking about it and it doesn’t mean that we all agree on the strategy to carry forward with, but we all know that drugs are a big part of this.

Dean Becker: You know Beto, it has… advanced. It has grown in recognition, if you will, by the media around the country - this situation in Juárez and in Latin America in general. I want to quickly read from *Der Spiegel. The German’s are getting this.

“The failed war on drugs in Latin America: Could Decriminalization Be the Answer?”, and they say, “The massacre in Ciudad Juárez at the end of January made it clear that Mexico is losing the war on drugs. Narcotics-related violence is on the rise in other Latin American cities as well. An increasing number of voices are demanding that drugs be decriminalized.”

But that may not indeed be the answer, to simply decriminalize, but it’s working for Portugal. Your thoughts, Mr. Beto O’Rourke.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I’m not an expert on it, but the math is pretty clear that US consumers of illegal drugs, when they spend their money on those drugs and that money flows back to Mexico, those Mexican drug trafficking organizations then use the money to corrupt public officials; to buy arms; to build up their private army’s and to kill and terrorize with complete impunity in cities like Ciudad Juárez, which is part of our larger community here on the border metroplex, El Paso and Juárez.

It’s not just people like me saying that. You have three former Latin American Presidents, all known for their conservative credentials. Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, César Gaviria of Columbia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, all advocate marijuana law reform as part of the way to help deal with drug related violence.

We know our White House office on Drug Control Policy tells us that, ‘at least sixty percent of drug trafficking revenues in Mexico come from the marijuana market here in the US. So if we could destabilize those trafficking organizations by sixty percent, we wouldn’t end the violence in Mexico; it wouldn’t be a silver bullet the would make the problem go away, but it would at least give us some room to work on much needed reforms in Mexico, like restoring public safety; like the respect for rule-of-law that’s completely missing and judicial reform that goes hand in hand with that.

So there’s a lot to be said for looking at drug law reform, specifically marijuana. In that, specifically making marijuana legal. Not decriminalizing or medicinalizing marijuana, but making it legal; treating it like we treat alcohol here in the US perhaps, or cigarettes here in the US. That, I think, is a key part of the answer to the problem that we have in Mexico which, as we all know, deeply affects us here in the US. Our economies are interlinked and our cultures and histories and families are shared across borders.

Dean Becker: Alright. We’re speaking with Mr. Beto O’Rourke, a city councilman in El Paso. Beto, in regards to your thought about marijuana, there are cities; there are states across this country that are considering lowering the bar; changing the law; making it a misdemeanor, a citation and in Seattle, they’re going the full nine yards. I’ve got a little clip I want to play for you. We’ll be right back.

The following comes to us from the Seattle channel program, City Inside/Out. The speaker is Seattle City Attorney, Pete Holmes.

“You know, for me again, it remains a public policy decision on how we’re going to spend our resources. It is a budget crisis that we’re facing right now. But that begs more the question of, ‘What are we going to spend our resources on?’ rather than, ‘We’re going to look to for other sources of revenue’, and I think that most the voters would say, ’I want you to address the backlog in violent cases that are in your office, and let the possession cases go.’ ”

Dean Becker: Alright. It’s a voice of reason as far as I’m concerned. Your response there, Beto?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I agree that that’s a very reasonable approach to prioritizing public safety issues in a community where you have limited resources. I will say, as we discussed before, prior to this incredible violence that we’re seeing in Ciudad Juárez where over almost twenty-seven hundred people were killed last year in a most brutal, horrific fashion possible…

Dean Becker: Yes, sir.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I had never really thought about the drug war, to be honest with you, and I’d never thought about it’s intersection with public policy, as it pertains to Mexico and Juárez and what it leads to. Having now learned and been sensitized to the issue and done my research, I’m convinced that nothing short of making, in this case, marijuana legal, and that is - not stopping at decriminalizing it or de-prioritizing it in the criminal register or stopping it at medicinal marijuana, but really making it legal.

That’s when you really get to the full cycle of the production; the distribution; the trafficking; and the sales of marijuana, any part of which, as long as it remains in the black market, is going to produce very unwanted, negative consequences like we’re seeing in Juárez right now.

So, I’m happy to hear about cities like Seattle and the states that are beginning to decriminalize; or open up marijuana to medicinal use. But it’s almost too little and almost too late for us, here in El Paso/Juárez. It may not be the politically right thing to do right now and people may be saying, ‘let’s bide our time on this’, but we really need it here as really almost an issue of ‘life and death’, here on the US/Mexico border in El Paso and Juárez.

Mr. Michael Blunt: Hi, Beto. This is Michael Blunt from the Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I was kind of wondering how the communities of Juárez and El Paso react to your message and how do they feel about this? Do they agree with you that we need to be ending this war on drugs, or do they kind of fall into the trap of, ’Oh, we just need to ramp up enforcement and keep doing what we’ve been doing?’

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Well, as you can imagine, there are definitely people who feel that we should continue to do more of the same and the policy priority that they fall under is the Plan Merida, which basically seeks to spend one point four billion dollars of US money in Mexico, on things like helicopters and surveillance airplanes, equipment and police and military training… and those might all, at some degree, be warranted.

I would argue that we could get much more done much more quickly by looking at our drug policy and our policy of interdiction and then putting our resources towards social, economic and educational reform in Mexico.

So, there is some people who, I feel, understand that or agree with that here in El Paso. But I think almost everyone feels that what we’re doing, the US and Mexico right now, is not enough and you have people willing to take a look at something like drug policy or even considering something that was absolutely beyond the pale two years ago, which is making marijuana legal. As a result of seeing the consequences of this policy - you know first hand, right here on the border.

So, I think you have a city here that’s very sensitized to the role that drugs play, and drug laws play, in what happens to the innocent people in many cases in Ciudad Juárez, who’ve been plagued by this terror for the last two plus years.

So as I was saying at the outset of the show, maybe a little bit of a different situation than Houston, which is a couple of times removed from this terror that we’re seeing first hand, here in El Paso. So, that’s the perspective that we bring to it. I don’t think El Paso would be having this conversation at all, but for the drug related violence that we’re seeing in Juárez right now.

Dean Becker: Beto, I sometimes tune in the Mexican channels on the cable and it’s amazing the - I’ll just say it - the ugliness; the horror, that is visible on those channels, when they show that violence in Mexico. It just doesn’t appear on the American broadcasts. It doesn’t get the focus. It’s…

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Right, and it’s really gone to another level altogether, recently. I think a lot of people unfortunately or… whatever - I don’t guess I should judge it, but I guess a lot of people assumed - and it’s hard to know the truth, because the Mexican government hasn’t solved but five percent of these tens of thousands of horrible murders that have taken place over the country, but they assume that if you’re dead and if you were killed, then your part of the drug trade and I think the implication being, ’you deserved it‘.

If you didn’t want to die and you didn’t want to have this happen to you, then you should have stayed out of the drug trade. But we don’t know if that’s true or not, whether those victims in the previous couple years were in the drug trade.

We do know now that the violence is much less discriminating. About two and a half weeks ago, there was a party, here in Ciudad Juárez. People celebrating a birthday party of a young teenager and hit-men came into the party and killed fifteen of the partygoers - just massacred them and eleven of the fifteen were teenagers or younger. The youngest of whom was a thirteen year old girl. So we definitely know that the violence is getting worse. It’s spinning out of control and it seems less and less targeted in the sense that, it’s part of doing business in the black market.

It really seems like there’s this horrific, as bad as it was before, there’s this horrific new twist on the violence, where it’s really starting to spin out of any kind of control that it was in before. Which is a really scary scenario for us here in El Paso and Juárez and I think it give a lie to the understanding a lot of people had that, ’If you weren’t in the drug trade, just keep your head down and you’ll be ok’. I think it’s gone beyond that and it’s created a really terrible situation here that I think reforming drug control policy will help bring to an end, but there’s obviously some much larger systemic problems now, that need to be addressed as well.

Dean Becker: We’re speaking with Mr. Beto O’Rourke. He is a city councilman in the City of El Paso. We’re talking about a very desperate situation. The forces of darkness, if you will, these cartels that are, as he indicated, escalating their brutality; their means of showing their power and I have fear and trepidation that unless we do something to stop them, this will just continue to escalate.

Want to play for you track number seven, here. This is my latest. Beto, it’s kind of silly but, then again it’s not. Maybe we can talk about this when I’m done. Go ahead.

The drug war exists thru fear

And little sister hysteria

Wrapped up tightly in the hearts of man

Big Brother propaganda’s eternal issue

Floods forth a cornucopia of lies

Flowing like a river from the cartels to the cops

The poor people are so afraid to make it stop

Our fear makes Shorty Guzman a very happy man

These drugs are soo dangerous,

yehaw, andele, ariba, epa, epa y qua su!

(Sound of gunshot)

Dean Becker: It’s not so damn funny. It’s just not funny, at all. I try to make fun of the situation. I try to make people look at this situation. I try to make them fully understand this situation and I hope that does it. But here again, that’s on the Drug Truth Network ring-tone disk. We’ve got dozens of them on there. Just think of the conversation that ring might start in your office.

It’s time to talk about this. It’s time to take it out and look at it and dust it off and see what this drug war is all about; what it’s actually “accomplishing”.

Once again speaking with Mr. Beto O’Rourke, El Paso City Councilman. Beto, you earlier talked about this. Now it was a year ago January, you guys had first brought forward that idea, that we ought to look at the drug war and just earlier this week you guys had another resolution brought forward. Tell us how that one proceeded.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: A year ago, when sixteen hundred people had been in the previous year, we had a resolution that talked about a number of ways that we thought the US and Mexico should respond to the violence in Juárez. One of them being, ’Have an open and honest dialog on ending drug prohibition’ and there’s a long story to how that turned out. It was originally supported unanimously by the council and then it was vetoed and we were unable to override the veto after some congressional pressure.

So a year later, where sixteen hundred people had died in ‘08, over twenty-six hundred people died in ‘09 and so we came back, especially after this latest massacre where the fifteen people were killed at a birthday party in a private home, we came back and said, “Look. This is a really, really serious problem on a number of levels and if you don’t get the moral level; the humanitarian level, then look at it economically.

El Paso’s heavily dependant on Mexican nationals in Juárez spending here in El Paso. They spend at a minimum of one point two billion dollars a year in our local economy. On top of that, about fifty billion dollars in trade, that’s twenty percent of all US/Mexico trade, passes through the El Paso/Juárez ports of entry.

So, beyond the humanitarian aspect - which is the most important, if you just look at it economically, there’s a lot at stake. A lot of jobs, a lot of money and a lot of future potential for this region. So, if we understand that Juárez is failing and then if Juárez fails then El Paso, Texas fails and if you have those failures, you have a serious strain on the US/Mexican economies. Then how do you respond to that?

So we suggested a number of things that number one, Mexico be a top priority for US foreign policy and then number two, that we stop spending money in ways that make no sense and only enrich the drug lords, like Chapo Guzman, who’s fighting for control of this territory against La Linea or the Juárez cartel and encourages this kind of bloodshed in this area.

Then we had three or four other suggested policy changes, and specific to the drug war aspect of the resolution, we advocated the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws and for the imposition of a scheme that would regulate control and tax marijuana production, distribution and sales here in the United States to adults and obviously, that was going to be the most controversial part of what we ask for.

We have an eight person city council. Four voted for it and four voted against. The mayor broke the tie, against it and so that one paragraph dealing with marijuana laws specifically was removed, although there’s still some really strong language in there about the drug war and about the need to rethink that drug war. In one of the lines specifically that was left in there was, “We urge the comprehensive re-examination of our countries failed war on drugs and we support drug policy initiatives that do not result in wasting government funds and empowering criminal gangs and trafficking organizations.”

I think that the message is very clear that what is happening now is not working for us and in fact is leading to the deaths of thousands of people in our community. Again, I think there’s a community here that’s now educated and sensitized to the issue and is open to different ways of approaching this. Although I think , as we saw in the vote ‘Making Marijuana Legal“… we’re just not there yet. Although I would tell you that we need to get there because the situation is desperate and while making marijuana legal doesn’t solve the problem, it sure helps us get closer to a solution and without doing that, I don’t know how we’re going to get there.

Dean Becker: We have Mr. Beto O’Rourke. He’s a city councilman from El Paso, online with us. Beto, I wanted to kind of talk about it this way. You know the city council here, as I said earlier, kind of ignored me. I think they do know this and, as you say, it’s kind of a matter of perception - your city being so close, right next door to this horrible violence.

I saw a kind of interest, if you will, in some of the council members faces, but they just weren’t quit ready to talk and that seems to be the case for many politicians and other officials around the country. But you have a chance to probably talk with other officials. Is the topic beginning to ‘come out of the closet‘, so to speak? Your thoughts.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I think so, and one of the things we were hoping to do, especially if we had the marijuana language in the resolution, was to go other communities who are facing this kind of border drug violence and we think of San Diego, Tijuana, and Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and other cities on the US/Mexico border, with whom we might seek common cause and then go to our federal government and say, ’Look, this isn’t just El Paso saying this. This is El Paso, this is San Diego, this is Reynoldsville, McAllen, Laredo, etc… and you can’t ignore us at this point’ and if they do, then we need to build common cause with more cities and approach the government with something that they can’t just ignore.

I think you probably remember a great comment at the DPA Conference, that Ethan Nadelmann gave. I don’t know if this is documented anywhere or passed down through oral history, but that apparently the African American leadership approached Roosevelt in the thirty’s and pled their case in terms of how they were treated in equality; in a country; lack of justice and Roosevelt said something to the effect, ’I know you’re right. Now make me do something about it.’

I wonder if that’s not the same with the City Council in Houston. I’m sure that they know you’re right but if you’re the only one appearing there and they don’t have to do anything about it and it’s such a politically charged issue, then there’s no way in hell that they’re ever going to approach something like this. They have to be forced to do it.

That’s unfortunately what I think it’s going to take in El Paso. I think people understand that we have to do something and when we had our resolution on the agenda Tuesday, there were literally dozens of people there coming to support it and there were dozens of people there coming to oppose it, but it was at least a debated issue and it was taken seriously on it’s merits, which is an important step for us to get to.

But again, it can’t remain academic and it can’t remain abstracted. It’s really affecting people and lives here and so I feel a certain urgency to it. So I’m not sure what the next steps are, but we need to continue to push our case and we need drug law reform desperately, here in this part of the world.

Dean Becker: Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Thank you so much for being with us. Keep up the good work. Please let your fellow council members know my hat’s off to them. I respect them for bringing this subject to the fore.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Dean, thanks for having me on your show and good luck in your future efforts.

Dean Becker: Thank you, sir. Wouldn’t be a Cultural Baggage with out a chance.

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

Abnormal dreams, confusion, coughing up blood, decreased sensitivity to stimulation, decreased sex drive, difficulty concentrating, difficulty speaking, hepatitis, impotence, memory loss and sensitivity to light.


Time's up! The answer: Claritin!

Another FDA approved product

We have with us in-studio, Mr. Michael Blunk. He’s a board member for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Hello, Michael.

Mr. Michael Blunk: Thanks for having me, Dean.

Dean Becker: Michael, tell the folks a little bit about Students for Sensible Drug Policy. What the heck’s that about?

Mr. Michael Blunk: We’re a large group of students who know that the war on drugs is a failure and since we’re one of the most effected populations, we feel it essential that we work to change our policies into something that is effective.

Since we are students and we believe in education and science and research, that it’s essential that we actually look at what can work and actually stop believing in the dogma and the falsehoods that have guiding this policy for the long time. We have chapters at ~whew~ at this point over a hundred and thirty colleges in the US and by the end of the year we should have between two to three hundred.

Dean Becker: Wow.

Mr. Michael Blunk: We’re seeing rapid growth lately.

Dean Becker: I understand that it’s even starting to branch out; go international. Chapters elsewhere.

Mr. Michael Blunk: That’s true. We just started our U.K. SFSDP network, a couple years ago and then we also have a great Canada SFSDP network and then we’re also starting a Nigeria chapter and then we’re about to start doing a lot of outreach down into South America and to Brazil, Peru, Columbia. Into the countries that really need us to change our policies a lot.

Dean Becker: The, I think it’s, *collusion… *coercion, it’s a… it’s a US led war. It has it’s impact…

Mr. Michael Blunk: Most definitely.

Dean Becker: It has it’s impact around this world, right?

Mr. Michael Blunk: Oh, yeah. It’s definitely the US policies that are driving all these problems, but they’re not ’here’. They’re being pushed elsewhere. I mean, that’s part of the we see in trying to change it. It’s ‘cause during alcohol prohibition all the violence was here and so people go outraged over it. But all this violence has been exported to Mexico, as Beto has been saying, in Juárez. The situation with the students being killed at a party, that’s about the same number of students who were killed at Columbine High School.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Mr. Michael Blunk: But where’s the outrage? That’s what certainly bothers us.

Dean Becker: It’s not in the US at all. Because that’s Mexicans, what do we care. Right?

Mr. Michael Blunk: Unfortunately.

Dean Becker: We just picked up our seventy-second station. It’s WHUS in Storrs, Connecticut. They’re going to broadcast Cultural Baggage Tuesdays at 6:30 there and I welcome the good folks there at WHUS.

We have a seventy-third station that we haven’t quite finalized the details. I tell the new stations, ’What I want is to know what day of the week, what time… and that’s it. There’s no contract. You do that and I’m aware of the day and time, we’re done. The deal is done and I’m just glad to share that information.

I wanted to point it out too, that starting probably by the end of February of 2010, the archives; the total archives - eight years plus - of the Drug Truth Network will soon be stored at the James A. Baker the Third Institute for Policy Studies at Rice University, here.

Mr. Michael Blunk: That’s awesome.

Dean Becker: Yes, it is. It’s showing that even the conservatives are starting to understand this need for change; this need to open the dialog. I’m not saying I know the answers… though I know the answers. But I’m saying, we could come to a new understanding of what the answers should be, by opening the dialog and re-examining what obviously does not work.

Mr. Michael Blunk: Well, it’s really hard to say what the best policy is if you’re not trying anything else…

Dean Becker: You’re right.

Mr. Michael Blunk: …since we’ve tried the same thing for, what is it… four decades, now?

Dean Becker: Well….

Mr. Michael Blunk: Nothing’s changed.

Dean Becker: If you reach back to the Opium Exclusion act of 1909, it’s a little over a hundred years. But it depends where you want to draw that line. Was it the Harrison Act of 1914 or the Marijuana Tax Act of ’37 or the Boggs Act of ’53 or the…? You know. {chuckling} There’s an ongoing series of ’more draconian measures’ implemented in this regard and …. We’ve got to back the train up. We’ve got to see what all we’ve run over, because it’s an ugly mess under there.

Mr. Michael Blunk: Yeah.

Dean Becker: I’ve often thought that it was Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, I still think we’ll have a large part of it, but now I’m beginning to think that the Students for Sensible Drug Policy are going to have a huge part in making these changes. Your thoughts?

Mr. Michael Blunk: Well thanks for that, Dean. One of the big things that we try and do, is that by talking at our colleges; at universities across the country and putting this message out, we’re reaching people before they become entrenched in their ideas. Everyone who’s going to university is going to become future leaders; business; CEO’s; people who actually will have influence and if we can get them now, to hear this reform message, they won’t just go along with this blind policy we’ve been following for years and years.

The vigil that you mentioned that we did last week, they actually held two in Mexico, in solidarity with the students that were killed in Juárez and they saw huge outpourings of support, in Mexico. But then once again in the US, we had dozens across the country with sporadic attendance. The people in this country just don’t seem to realize or want to realize how much of an effect our policies are having on other countries. Especially Mexico.

Dean Becker: The website for Students for Sensible Drug Policy ssdp.org and as always I remind you, that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

Submitted by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org

*SPIEGEL Online International - 10.02.2010

*collusion: a secret agreement esp. for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy

*coercion: use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance; force or power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.