Cultural Baggage, March 19, 2008
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
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.
Dean Becker: Alright, welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I'm glad you could be with us. Today we're going to feature an interview we did with Mr. Jim Hightower who has a brand new book 'Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow' and we'll also hear from Mr. Cliff Thornton of Efficacy Online. He recently returned from a UN convention in Vienna dealing with the subject of drug war.
Well, it's a great thrill for us today on the Cultural Baggage show to have as our guest Mr. Jim Hightower. He's perhaps America's most popular populist. He has a great new book out: 'Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.' Welcome Mr. Hightower.
Jim Hightower: Great to be with you, Dean.
Dean Becker: Well, yes Sir. We have a reach across the country on up into Canada with this show, just like you and your radio programs and it's time for American people to stand up and do what's right, to do their part, is it not?
Jim Hightower: It is indeed, and the good news is, as we report in the book, that people are doing it. My friend John Dromgoole, he's up in Austin, he's a pioneer in the organic movement and he's been told 'you can't do this' numerous times but, as he puts it, those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.
Dean Becker: (laughter) This is so true. We deal almost exclusively with the war on drugs and how it's impacted our nation. Gosh, in the last couple of weeks they've reported that more than one out of one hundred of us are behind bars and predominately because of this drug war.
Jim Hightower: That's a cultural statement, isn't it? We're number one, number one in the world, we outdo China, we outdo repressive regimes all around the world. We have more people in prison and therefore more people guarding people in prison and more expenditure of funds and mostly, as you indicate Dean, off on absurd things like our so-called 'drug war' that really is a war against the people and war against common sense.
So many people in our prisons and, you've got all the numbers, who are there for nothing more than a toke of marijuana and this is a, not only a humungous waste of billions and billions of dollars that we spend trying to get these people each year but also leading to total cynicism, distrust, disgust with the legal system and that's not healthy for any sort of democracy.
Dean Becker: Jim, in your new book 'Swim Against the Current' there is much displayed there of people fed up with various aspects, whether it's the environment or the foods that we receive or doing what they can to stand up against this, I guess I'll call it injustice, but this imbalance of power that these corporations have taken over most everything and given us the choice of second place or nothing.
Jim Hightower: Yeah. The system would have us believe that the corporate way is the only way. The only way in work, the only way in business, in consumerism, in media, in education and politics et cetera, but of course the fact is that we're a very innovative, creative bunch of people. And there's many ways to organize our society and to actually live progressive values outside of the corporate structure and I'm not talking about the hippy-dippy 1960 alternatives.
I'm talking about things that are mainstream. Of people who are organizing their businesses, for example, as cooperatives or as sole proprietorships or as consumer owned enterprises, even. And sole proprietorships and partnerships, there are so many ways to do it. And the good news is that folks are out there doing it and these people are not anomalies, they're not just big exceptions to the rule, this is becoming mainstream in so many aspects of our lives that we write about in the book.
In business, for example, we talk about the folks who are, a cab company in Madison, Wisconsin that has organized, it's taking them, it's not been an easy effort but they have managed to do it, to establish a, just a remarkable worker owned and managed cooperative cab company there that allows the cabbies to make enough money, as one of them told me, that he could send two of his kids to college up there.
There's not many cabbies in America that are able to do that. A pharmacist down in Texas who broke away from the corporate system because he said 'it made me sick to my stomach.' He was making $100,000 a year as a corporate, in a corporate drug store operation but it made him sick because people were coming in to get their medicines, they couldn't afford to pay the price so they would leave without getting the pills that they needed for their health, and he, as a corporate functionary, had no ability to say 'Hey, let's work something out. You really need for your health to have this.'
So he spun off and created something called Medsavers where he's able to sell at a drastically reduced price because he doesn't go through the insurance companies. He sells to people who have no insurance or whose policies don't cover prescriptions. A bottle of pills that would cost $59 at the corporate store, he sells for 16 bucks. That's just an indication of what he calls the 'obscene' profit levels that are built in to these medicines. So, as he puts it, ' it's a matter of aligning your work with your values.'
So these are just some of the, we quote Louis Grizzard, the great Southern humorist, died a couple of years ago, and Grizzard, he's very adept at explaining the Southern culture to the rest of the country, and he pointed out the difference between being naked and being 'nekkid.' Naked means you don't have any clothes on. 'Nekkid' means you don't have any clothes on and you're up to something. (laughter) And these folks are up to something and they're achieving success not only for themselves but also for their communities and showing a new way to do things.
Dean Becker: Included in the book was a summary of a situation involving a bunch of strippers who, in essence, unionized themselves, got better wages, working conditions and then the strip club owners decided to shut the place down and so they took it up another notch. Tell us about that.
Jim Hightower: It is really a wonderful and, you know, a bit of an offbeat story but nonetheless an indication that things in just about any aspect of business different ways are possible and yes, these ladies at the Lusty Lady Theatre in San Francisco were facing an economic demise as a result of the owners' actions but they decided, 'Well, wait a minute. We could run this place.' And so they took assignments, Pepper negotiated the purchase with the owners. Miss Muffy signed the people up to be co-op members. Ruby dealt with the city. Havana handled the incorporation. Rapture and Cayenne wrote the by-laws, right on down the line and so the result is we have the first worker owned, unionized, democratically managed cooperative strip joint in America. It's a great country, isn't it Dean?
Dean Becker: It is indeed, Sir. Now, this brings to mind, I think for generations people have been fed this bag of lies about the drug war and have just kind of gone along to get along with the situation, unwilling to speak up, and yet the truth about this matter is becoming more and more evident and I see signs that people in Houston in particular with our crime lab scandals and our DA scandals and the jail scandals and just repetitions of these things, have begun to realize that they have indeed been fed that bag of lies and many are working together to expose this fraud for what it is. But that's happening across America, is it not?
Jim Hightower: It is and the early progress has been achieved through the medical marijuana movement. This is a medicine that people need, that the doctors and the scientists now agree is enormously beneficial to cancer patients and people with chronic illnesses, especially illnesses involving great pain, that marijuana is of medicinal value to these folks.
And of course the idiots who run the drug war out of Washington D.C. trying to score political points and also to keep the billions of dollars flowing into this absurd process, they try to do 'reefer madness' type scare-tactics, and even worse, to engage in thuggish, repressive police actions, literally kicking in the doors of ill people and ripping out their marijuana plants in the case of California and a couple of other places, that are perfectly legitimate, had been authorized by State law under the supervision of doctors, so this insanity has caused people to say 'It is insane' and there's got to be a better way and so there has been State after State legalizing the medical use of marijuana and I don't mean Massachusetts and Greenwich Village and Berkeley, California, I'm talking about Arizona and Montana and Alaska and very supposedly 'red' states. Just 'cause you're conservative doesn't mean you're nuts. And these people are making sense and are rebelling against this repressive nature of the drug war and now we have efforts in Colorado and elsewhere for people who are pushing the decriminalization of marijuana.
Dean Becker: Once again, we're speaking with Mr. Jim Hightower, author of the great new book 'Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.' Jim, you're on a book tour, you're headed for Houston a little later today and we will get a chance to hear you. You're going to be speaking at the River Oaks Theatre on Wednesday at about 7:00 and what has been the response? I know you have done several interviews already in this regard. What are people saying about the book?
Jim Hightower: Oh, it's terrific. People are turning out because people are turning out for all kinds of good progressive causes across the country. People, as you indicated at the start of our chat here, Dean, are fed up with the status quo, the way things are being run as we're seeing in this political season.
Presidential or otherwise, people are turning out in record numbers and trying to take their country back so I've been doing, I'm on a forty some city book tour here, but rather than just going into book stores and talking about myself we've organized this tour around benefits for good-guy groups, in this case KPFT right there in Houston, to have the tour itself reflect the values that we write about in the book.
And certainly KPFT, shows like yours, Dean, the alternative media that is all across our country and expanding every single day, this media is a classic example of people finding their way to break free of the corporate tentacles. If we had to rely on Clear Channel and just the big media barons to give us our information and to allow, to promote the discourse that we need to have a democracy then we wouldn't have any democracy at all.
So it takes great efforts by stations like KPFT and people supported stations like KPFT to be able to have any possibility of democracy so that's the kind of groups that I'm supporting as we go across the country with the book tour. And that's why people are turning out. You'd get maybe 50 people turn out to a book store event that I went to but I think we're going to do a whole lot more than that at the theatre there in Houston on Wednesday.
Dean Becker: Jim, we have, over the years, just kind of bought what was offered, you know, but people have finally begun to realize that it's not working, that we have been deceived and that we have to stand for our own rights because these politicians, corporations, and as you said, the corporate media is just not going to do it for us. In my case, when I turned the age of fifty I realized I wanted to leave something better behind and there's a chapter in your book that talks about some grandmas that stood up against some injustice as well, right?
Jim Hightower: Well indeed. The Granny Peace Brigade. I was just with them up in New York City last week at an event. It was a benefit for Common Cause up there but we had several of the people that we had written about in the book were at the event including the Granny Peace Brigade.
These are ladies who range up into their 90s who have been going down to a military recruitment center in Manhattan and doing a very creative protest against the Iraq war, George W's private war over there, a war in which he doesn't want his family to be involved in but happy to send hundreds of thousands of kids of other families and the loved ones, but what they did was to go down there and say 'Instead of taking 18, 20, 22-year-olds and enlisting them through enticements to go to Iraq, take us. We want to go.'
Their slogan was 'Grandmas, let's unite while we're still upright.' (laugher) It's just got that great American spirit to it.
Dean Becker: Indeed it does. Now, Jim, we have met a couple of times in the past. I remember up in New York at the MPP gala they had there, you spoke and you were so well received. We carried some of it on the Cultural Baggage show that we had recorded. But you've worked with MPP, heck, they were one of your sponsors I guess you call it, for your daily reports and you have, I think, through that investigation or cohesion with those guys become more focused on the marijuana situation. But we've been duped insofar as these other drugs, I think, as well. We have truly been duped, have we not?
Jim Hightower: Well, we have and we've been sold into a police state mentality. I don't want to overstate that but also it's fair I think because, there's money in this drug war for police organizations, there's political gain for politicians to be able to look like they're 'tough', you know, when in fact they're making something of a mess, spending billions of dollars that's doing no good, and creating a level of cynicism among the public about the legitimacy of our legal and police organizations in the country.
Dean Becker: I've been working with some of the local politicians. I have one Democrat running for State Rep who has joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I'm inviting everybody running for any office to come on this show and defend this policy of drug war and yet we're not getting any takers.
Jim Hightower: See, that's good media. You're doing the right thing. You are informing people by bringing on folks who are on your side of this and then the other people too. Let's have a discussion about it and if you've got good facts and good rationale on your side then, well, that's what democracy is all about. Let's have that discussion but otherwise we're just getting the proponents of the drug war are controlling the whole debate in the country. Yet, again, thanks to efforts by folks in MPP and by, in your own program, Dean, we're able to have, to give people a mechanism to not only be informed but to take action that produces reform.
Dean Becker: Right. As I said, I think, early on in our discussion that people have to become citizens. I mean the 80s and 90s were such a financial windfall to most everybody and they just trusted that these politicians were doing the right thing and that everything was going to work out fine but it's having enormous blowback, is it not?
Jim Hightower: Yeah. Democracy is not a quick fix. Democracy takes effort. And we have, oh, over the last thirty years and then accelerated under the Bush/Cheney regime, we have moved away from our principles of democracy toward plutocracy, autocracy, theocracy and ultimately kleptocracy, a government of thieves, in this country and that's not going to change because somebody's running for president.
It's going to change because the citizens themselves stand up and say 'We have values in this country. We have principles. We have the rule of Law. We have the balance of power, checks and balances and we're going to insist on those.'
And that's the difference that I see being made is people, just take the Bush period, they kind of laid back the first three or four years and said 'Well, I don't know, they tell us we need to be afraid, terrorism is everywhere so we've got to change' but then they realized, well, we're making the changes but we're fighting the wrong war, we're doing the wrong thing constitutionally so even very conservative people, constitutional conservatives, are now standing up saying...we've got that saying down in Texas, Dean, 'once you find that you've dug yourself into a hole, the very first thing to do is quit digging' and the politicians are still digging but the people themselves are looking for a different path.
Dean Becker: Indeed they are. Well, once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Jim Hightower, author of 'Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.'
Jim, as we're wrapping this up I want to kind of get your opinion on the possibility...you know, we have these politicians running for President, speaking of the need for change, at least in some cases, and others saying a hundred more years of the same war, and like in the instance of Obama they're now trying to blame the sins of his pastor on him. And yet, shouldn't we just judge people on their actions and not the rumors?
Jim Hightower: Oh yes. And Obama made a speech dealing with that issue, went head to head. And that's exactly what we have to do. We've got to put the, not let the little snippets on TV or on YouTube or wherever frame who we are and what the debate's about, Obama went head on at that issue and had a lengthy discussion, a very eloquent but also erudite, a smart presentation, that if you read it, not just see whatever the nightly news is saying about it, but read it, you'll be impressed.
It puts it all in perspective, and not only on that issue but all the issues that you've been talking about, Dean, and issues of the war...people, you can fool them for a while but you can't fool them forever. And folks are 'onto' the system today. I saw a bumper-sticker up in Austin on an old pickup truck. It said 'Where are we going and what am I doing in this hand-basket?' People know what's happening. They've got a sense of it.
They don't necessarily know all the details of what to do but they know that we're being led down the wrong path and that's why they're in rebellion and that's why I have such optimism because I, Susan DeMarco and I, my co-author of 'Swim Against the Current', we've been out there in the countryside and just about every place that's got a zip-code and we see ordinary people who are doing the most extraordinary things.
Standing up and fighting back and saying, just as you're advocating, we're the citizens. George W. likes to say 'I'm the decider', well, no he's not. And neither are the Democrats. The decider is us. It's you. It's me. And, Dean, we dedicate this book to our old pal, Molly Ivins, Susan and I were close friends of Molly's and great admirers, but we also do a little quote at the top of the book from Patti Smith, the great rock singer. She says 'The people have the power, the power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools'. That's the fight we're in.
It's time to play 'Name That Drug by its Side Effects.'
(horrible side-effects including including diabetes and hemophilia)
Answer: The answer, from the manufacturer, Pepto-Bismal.
Pink does more than you think.
Cliff Thornton: My name is Cliff Thornton from the organization Efficay. Efficacy is the policy produced desired effect and the effect we want to produce is peace.
Dean Becker: Well, Cliff, you just returned from the UN convention in Vienna. Give us a summary. Was there any progress made?
Cliff Thornton: I look at the UN this way. The UN is basically controlled by the United States and they're going to follow the United States government and that means that they are going to give all types of excuses as to why they should continue the drug war.
Dean Becker: Now, Cliff, we have over the years talked about the impact of the drug war, particularly on the Black community, like up around Hartford and such and Baltimore where it's just devastating the community. And there was a big story breaking here about Mr. Barack Obama and his preacher, his preacher stood up in the church and said something to the effect that 'God Damn America and its incarceration of our people for drugs.' And people backed away from it and didn't want to touch it and didn't want to examine the heart of that matter, that in fact the United States does indeed lock up enormous amounts of Black people for minor amounts of drugs.
Cliff Thornton: Now, what we have to understand about politicians is this: a leading indicator of a politician's character is judged by the drug war or the lack thereof. Politicians, be they Black, White, Yellow, or Green are not going to touch this issue.
Now, pertaining to the preacher that they're talking about Barack Obama, you've got to understand that this man came up under the vestiges, the memory of slavery, but also directly involved with segregation. Now that is going to shape one's personality. What he has actually done, and many of the civil rights leaders, is open the door for people like Barack, that understands that we have to talk about this issue.
Because whether or not we're talking about affirmative action or bussing or the like, Blacks, for the most part, will favor this and White's won't. What we have to do is really sit down and understand what this race issue is all about. And I think Barack has the wherewithal to bring everybody to the table to talk about this issue the way in which it should be talked about. It should not be, Blacks should not benefit at the detriment of Whites and vice-versa.
The only thing that's going to shape this country and continually make it what it should be is that we sit down and talk about this issue earnestly. I don't think that Barack should distance himself from it, from the preacher, but he should definitely distance himself from what this preacher has said pertaining to Whites and the way in which he looks at things that are highly controversial because once you establish a relationship the way in which he had with this preacher, it does not make any sense and he would lose credibility not only with the Black community but the White community if he denounced the preacher. He should denounce what this man has said and he has done that. He rejects and denounces, as he says.
Dean Becker: Well, Cliff, if folks would like to learn more about the work you're doing, why don't you point them to your website.
Cliff Thornton: They can reach me at www.Efficacy-OnLine.Org.
Dean Becker: Just enough time to 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.
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