08/07/11 Christian Parenti

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Christian Parenti, author Tropic of Chaos - Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence + DTN Editorial

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / August 7, 2011


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.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Our guest today is a contributing editor at The Nation, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, visiting scholar at the City University of New York, PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics, the author of Lockdown America, The Soft Cage and The Freedom. Parenti has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Playboy, Mother Jones and the list goes on. I want to welcome the author of this great, very informative, very necessary book, I think, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. With that I want to welcome Christian Parenti.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Thank you, very much, for having me on Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Christian, this is a wide-ranging but very well held together book telling a very, very big story and I want to thank you for it.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, thanks, I appreciate that.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about it. I mean, this is talking about the impact of climate change. I want to preface this with, if folks aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the Southern United States and warming, I think they need to take another “think” about this issue. Please tell us about this book.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, maybe a place to begin – segueing off of what you just said – for those who don’t…for conservative listeners or listeners with conservative friends and relatives who don’t take this issue seriously, who don’t believe in the science of climate change – you might do well to remind them that the Pentagon does (an institution that the “Right” respects a lot) and adulates at every turn. And, the Pentagon takes climate science very seriously, takes the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which is the UN main body for vetting all scientific knowledge on climate change. It doesn’t produce any research, it vetes it – determines what’s relative from all the related disciplines, all the earth sciences that can relate to the question of climate change – not just climate systems themselves.

The Pentagon takes their findings very seriously. Every four years the IPCC issues a report and the last one was their fourth report and they have gotten more and more dire and more and more certain about these fundamental facts which are that :

The burning of fossil fuels by human civilization is leading to an increase in greenhouse gasses, the main one being carbon dioxide (CO2) which acts like glass in a greenhouse. It lets heat in but does not let it out. So the more CO2 that’s in the atmosphere, the more heat is allowed in but trapped. And so with increased burning of fossil fuels and increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere you get rising temperatures and with that the unraveling and disintegration of the climatological system and its component parts such as weather systems like the Indian Ocean monsoons or the Intertropical Convergence Zone which is a belt of precipitation that moves north and south between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Chaos following the Sun and governing the rainy seasons in the equatorial regions of the planet. The systems are off-kilter, off-whack like the monsoons are not coming properly or they come in furiously like they did last year in Pakistan and flooded one-fifth of the country.

So the Pentagon, Armed Services take this science seriously and they have projected scenarios into the future and they see an increase in conventional warfare not so much between states over resources (while that may happen) but an increase in internal warfare – civil warfare, banditry, religious warfare. And, they realize that humanitarian disasters and mass migration and that the United Services are going to be called upon to intervene in these situations with increasing regularity. And so they have put “front and center” the methodology of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, low-intensity conflict….They take it seriously and they are creating a military response.

To be fair to the military, they don’t create policy – they just execute it. They have one set of tools which is military hardware. They have “hammers” and every problem looks like a “nail.” And to their credit, actually, they say in most of these reports, “Well, you know, we can probably keep a lid on this rising chaos for a number of decades but if there isn’t really aggressive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions….” (meaning if we don’t stop burning coal and oil….like stop burning now and start reducing to the total elimination of dependence on fossil fuels in the next 30 years – we could easily hit tipping points, we may already have hit them.) After which the process of global warming will become self-fueling and at that point there’s very little civilization can do to stop it.

So an example of one of those tipping points would be the melting of the permafrost in the Artic beneath which is trapped large amounts of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20-times more powerful than CO2. Well if the planet gets hot enough due to our burning of CO2 that the permafrost (the kind of basically permanently frozen mud in the Artic tundra) if that melts and all this methane is released, there’s very little we can do to stop that and that process is sort of beginning. So, it’s very urgent that we mitigate the problem by reducing our emissions.

And, also, we’re locked in for considerable climate change so even in the best case scenario if we stopped burning fossil fuels we must adapt to the disruptions that we are locked in for. And so a lot of what this book, “Tropic of Chaos” is about is bad forms of adaptation that are already underway – how people surviving in the global south in face of the crisis of climate change.

And, what I argue is that climate change rarely just operates on its own. It usually works through pre-existing crises. So, you get this catastrophic convergence in the global change plus the pre-existing crises of Cold War and War on Terror - militarism which has destabilized societies, littered them with guns, littered them with unemployed, young men trained to fight, assassinate and smuggle and kill. And, the other pre-existing problem is NeoLiberal Economic restructuring. That is to say radical, free-market economic restructuring which has been the ideology pushed by the World Bank and IMF (?) for the better part of 30 years which holds that government is only a feather on the economy and should be removed from economic activity so it should lower taxes and governments that own utilities or own postal services or ports or transportation companies should sell all these assets. They should cut assistance to public education, public health agencies, remove the safety net and let the market – private capital investments – solve all these problems.

And what that philosophy produces is increased poverty and also increased inequality and upward redistribution of wealth. That destabilizing, in a number of ways: 1 because poverty is destabilizing of wealth and inequality is very destabilizing. Poverty becomes more problematic and painful when you realize others have lots and lots.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, folks, we’re speaking with Mr. Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Now, Christian, as you’re so well explaining there, this book kind of shows the connection between many of the frailties, I guess, of society, of civilization itself and….

I want to, if I can, bring this to … as you’re well aware, this is the Unvarnished Truth about the drug war and your book as two chapters, two large sections that deal with the ramifications, the cooperation (if you will) that leads us to escalating this drug war. And, I want, if we can, talk about this…Mexico…

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: It puts climate change in the context of the drug war and the drug war in the context of climate change. But maybe before you get to Mexico you know there’s another drug war’s element in the book which is Afghanistan.

It was in Afghanistan that the idea of writing the book came to me. I was reporting from Afghanistan over a number of years and I did a series of stories on the opium poppy and the heroin economy. And one thing that farmers would say to me when they were explaining why they grew opium poppies was that it was draught resistant. And the first time I had done any stories on this was in 2002 and I did them for the next several years. Not 2002 - 2004…and in 2004 I didn’t even know that there was draught.

Well, it turns out, Afghanistan is suffering the worst draught in living memory. Opium poppy, the flower from which opium and heroin are produced, uses one-sixth to one-fifth the amount of water that wheat uses. Given the draught context that Afghanistan is in – it’s one of the only crops that is economically feasible for farmers to grow.

In the war there are two sides via the opium. There’s the government and the NATO forces who attack and oppose opium and the Taliban who support the farmers’ right to grow opium. So, growing opium is, to some extent, a form of adaptation to climate change. I mean, just a caveat here, climate scientist are clear that you can’t really blame one draught or one weather event on climate change but there is this pattern of increased draught, increased flooding, increased chaos associated with rising CO2 – so to that extent the draught in Central Asia and Afghanistan fits the pattern that has been predicted for climate change.

Would that draught had happened without climate change? Maybe, who knows, but it fits the pattern. So, to the extent that it fits that pattern and may, in fact, be driven by climate change – the growing of opium poppy by the Afghan farmers is a form of adaptation and …it’s a form of adaptation that helps explain why there is an endless line of recruits to join the Taliban because that is the side in the war that, along with all the religious ideology and the nationalist ideology (because the Taliban are pashtun, irredentist, nationalist, genophobic, pashtuned movement – they hate Tajiks, they hate Hazaras – they have a very ethnic agenda). Which is opaque when viewed from the outside but there “on the ground” it’s very much about ethnicity.

So, along with the religious and ethnics, there’s an economic thing which is connected to climate change. They’re the side in the war that will defend your family’s right to grow the one crop upon which they can survive given the extreme weather the region is facing.

So, from that, investigating that drug-fueled war, I thought there must be other climate aspects. So then getting to your question about Mexico, I don’t argue that climate change is the main force behind the drug war in Mexico but I argue that it’s an increasingly important factor in helping to explain why there is so many people (just as in the Afghanistan case) why there are so many essentially young recruits to get involved in the narco-economy.

Partly because NAFTA has gutted the Mexican economy and really damaged the old, kind of import/substitution industrialization model of the Mexican post-pseudo Mexican revolutionary economic model. But, also, climate change is now to the extent that we can now ascribe to these events paralleling the process that scientists have predicted. Mexico is suffering the worst draught in 60 years - punctuated by extreme flooding occasionally. That’s helping to push people off the land, especially in the face of free economics were they have very little State support to fall back on when they face crises. So then they hit the road. They find themselves in the north in the cities which ones had booming maquetador sectors looking for work and they find that frequently the only way to make any money, possibly get to the U.S. is to get involved in the drug trade.

And then, of course, the chaos in northern Mexico is produced by much more than that. It is produced by the corruption of the Mexican State. A knee-jerk response of the U.S. to just funnel military supplies to a government that is riddled with corruption and again and again it’s a system that has been shown to be involved in the drug trade. So, it’s complex but there is climatological aspects driving the drug trade.

DEAN BECKER: Now, if we can, talk about the situation in Africa. Is that where the farmers are…no…it was India where the farmers are being constrained to growing one crop because the bankers will only load for that one crop else they fear the farmers might eat it, right?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah. In India there’s a gorilla war that’s been going on for the better part of forty years. An insurgency that started up in the north-east corner of India in west Bengal – the Naxalites which is a collection of different movements that in the last decade have pushed down the eastern coast of India. And, they have followed, district by district, the draught and the draught works…the draught is a stress in and of itself upon the farmers but it works through that policy - the matrix of that policy which is the result of India’s liberalization, its economic liberalization – and its abandonment of its … often highly problematic, semi-socialist regime…the Licence Raj that it was recently referred to in the past.

But, you know, they have a kind of mixed economy, heavily regulated and it involves supports for farmers. Since 1991 a lot of that has been reeled back. In urban India that’s associated with high growth rates, a new class of billionaires - business services that are developing. But, in the country side it means there’s less support, there’s no social safety net for the farmers. So, they, in the face of this draught, their crops fail. They need money. They have to borrow money, not from the State because the old, semi-socialist supports are gone due to neo-liberalism so they go to the private money lenders. The private money lenders will only lend them money to grow cotton, genetically-modified cotton, because that’s the one crop that in an emergency the farmers can’t steal which is to eat.

The money lenders…the environmental crisis is so intense in a lot of eastern India that the money lenders don’t even actually want the land so they’ll only take crops as collateral. And the only crop that they’ll lend for, frequently, is GMO cotton because it can’t be eaten in an emergency. So the worse the draught, the deeper in debt the farmers get. The deeper in debt they get, the more cotton they grow. The more cotton they grow, the less money the cotton brings in. So the more cotton they have to grow because they are deeper in debt, etc., etc. They eventually come to the end of their line. They’re losing their lands and thousands of them, possibly up to 200,000 farmers in India have committed suicide because of their debts. And, they commit suicide very often by drinking the pesticides that they use on this GMO cotton.

But others have committed political homicide, or have committed themselves to commit political homicide and they join the Naxalite. And so the Naxalites, the Maoists, come on the heels of the draught looking at the landscape of debt and humiliation and they have this alternative explanation that we’re going to use force of arms to cease power from the Indian state and we’re going to redistribute wealth and have a fair economy and all this.

Unfortunately I don’t think that’s realistic at all for the Naxalites to cease power from India. And then the State responds with more violence. They send in paramilitary police assassinating, interrogating people. They’re setting up private militias, the Salwa Judum, which is a sort of an auxiliary force in Chhattisgarh which ostensibly is under the control of the Indian state but, of course, is not really. It’s like the paramilitaries in Columbia or the war lords in Afghanistan. They start out as the auxiliaries of some project of some force but then, before you know it, they’re just war lords They are just militia forces in business for themselves, running amok, wandering the landscape pursuing their own agendas, destabilizing society, making it that much less capable of adapting to climate change and that much less resilient in the face of crisis.

DEAN BECKER: And don’t, quite often, these paramilitary groups…you mentioned become, in essence, the State? Taxation and providing a little bit of sustenance or whatever…the only actors in place.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yes. Providing a little bit of law and order and yeah they become…and in urban Brazil the gangs act as essentially the de facto State. The police aren’t really there and so the gangs meet out justice as they see fit. They collect taxes in the form of protection money and they kind of act as the force within the community that has the monopoly on the quasi-legitimate use of violence, you could say. Since the force in the society has the monopoly on the de jour legitimate use of violence, the actual State is pretty much just absent so they become the de facto State.

DEAN BECKER: And, again, for those who are in Rio De Janeiro are being filled with farmers just being driven off the land.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Right. Driven off the land from the northeast, which is a semi-arid region, which has always sent people to the cities in the south which is cooler and more industrialized but with climate change kicking in in the northeast, it’s getting even more precarious. And, again, it’s this combination of extreme weather linked to climate change plus bad policy.

Now, to Brazil’s credit with its embrace of social democracy, the government’s policies have gotten a lot better towards small farmers. But, they’re not perfect and there’s a long way to go. So, yeah, the farmers are struggling to adapt to this environmental crisis. The State is not there because of the prevailing economic orthodoxy coming out of the top universities and think tanks in the world which, as we see here in this country, around the debt-ceiling, the discourse does nothing but heap calumny on the State, disparage the public sector, cast it as inefficient and illegitimate, etc. etc. and portrays the market as always nimble and efficient and it’s really not that simple.

So, anyway, the people leave the land and end up in these villas and some of the only work to be had if you’re a young person is working for the gangs, getting involved in the drug trade.

So, again, it’s not the driving cause and the gangs in themselves are produced by the dictatorship in Brazil, the armed, Marxist resistance to the dictatorship which produce two things : (inadvertently and unintentionally) it produced the PT, the workers’ party, and LULA and Dilma Rousseff (the current president) who was a guerilla who was captured and tortured by the military regime. But, it also inadvertently produced the gang culture because the main gang in Rio is the Comando Vermelho (the red command) and as its name suggests it started as a guerilla army in the 70s. And it was the military dictatorship that put Marxist rebels in prison. They tried to organize the kind of criminal underground and did so and they moved into the villas and the project was to tax the drug trade and, you know, launch a war against the state. But, eventually, what happens in situations like that always is the drug trade takes over the political movement rather than the other way around.

And by the late 80s, by 1990 there was no politics really left in the Comando Vermelho or any of the gangs associated with it and it was just a paramilitarilly organized drug gang that had all the weapons and all the methods of guerilla insurgency but none of the ideas.

DEAN BECKER: Christian, let me break you for just a second here. Folks we’re speaking with Mr. Christian Parenti, author of a great book which kind of explains a lot of what’s going on around us. It’s Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Christian, we’ve got less than two minutes. I want to kind of wrap this up with a thought.

You know your book talks about the climate change, poverty, inequality and violence and just the madness and mayhem and much of it stemming from having its roots in climate change. Some closing thoughts, please.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: I think the stuff I say at the end of the book is important. It’s not totally hopeless. The problem we face is not an economic problem, it’s not a technical problem – it’s a political problem. There’s tons of money. Corporate America is sitting on more un-invested cash then anytime since 1956 according to the Federal Reserve.

There’s plenty of technology to move away from fossil fuels and overt the worst of this problem But, what we lack is the political solution. There’s not movement to force the political class to take on the corporate class – which is heavily invested in fossil fuels – and to make this transition. So, the good news is the only component that’s missing right now for the transition is the one that we can control – it’s political.

So that should offer some hope. And, there are things that can be done immediately. The EPA has a lot of power to essentially raise the price on burning carbon. The government can use its purchasing power at the state and federal level to buy clean power, to buy electric cars which would be good because it would reduce the government’s carbon footprint but it would also create huge economies for the burgeoning clean-tech sector which is stalled out because it doesn’t have markets.

So, even without lining up votes in D.C. and getting the wing nut, republican tea party faction to come on board or John Boehner to change his world view or any of that…there’s stuff that the government can do right now without allocating new money or passing legislation. Allow the EPA to do its job – to raise the price on carbon – and use the money that the government’s going to spend on its vehicles and electricity in buildings to retrofit those buildings and buy clean power from windmills and solar farms and hydro-electric.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you so much. Mr. Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos. Is there a quick website you’d like to point to?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: My website, http://www.christianparenti.com/ You can get in touch within The Nation Institute host, a page up for the book. Or, you can just go to Amazon and search Tropic of Chaos and buy the book there.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you Christian Parenti.


(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Swelling of the tongue, decreased bone marrow, fever, chills, infection, nervous system degeneration, confusion, loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, pain and seizures, speech disturbance, cancer and death.


Time’s up!

The answer: Levamisol, a dog de-wormer that has become America’s number one cutting agent for cocaine.


DEAN BECKER: This is a Drug Truth Network editorial.

Who is winning the drug war?

One of the main beneficiarys of drug war funds are US banks who launder the money for the cartels and gangs.  The banks use this money to mollify and seduce politicians to continue the drug war.  The politicians only get a penny on the dollar, but the black market in drugs is $350 to $500 billion a year.

Next up in profits are the drug bosses, the heads of the cartels and leaders of the Taliban and the major US gangs.

Then comes the bleating herd of corrupt judges, DEA and CIA agents, prosecutors, cops, defense attorneys, etc.  This group splits only about 10% of the take.

All this treachery and deceit still manages to entangle the brain of many US citizens into believing the world’s first eternal war is necessary; this despite the fact that decades of similar efforts have never prevented one overdose death, kept even one determined child from gaining access to drugs and not once has the DEA or more than 10,000,000 US cops managed to achieve any of their stated goals in waging this war.

Millions of "people" feed from this hog trough.   Billions of people think the drug war is the best we can do.

A trillion dollars spent in "stopping the flow" and Ten trillion spent in encouraging the flow. 40 million non-violent US drug arrests and what do we have to show for our efforts?

Let’s ask the good folks of Mexico how they like the US drug war.

It's the silver or the lead...

Take the money or you're dead...

THAT is the drug war.

The bankers, politicians, barbarians, terrorists and criminals of every stripe and "day job" thank you for your embrace of lies and ignorance.

Time to wake the hell up!

Dean Becker drug truth dot net


DEAN BECKER: Alright, I want to thank Christian Parenti for joining us. His book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. I better understand the mechanics of drug war after this. I hope you’ll give it a read. Be sure to join us on this week’s Century of Lies show. Our guest will be Mr. Neill Franklin. He’s director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

I’ll be at the Harrisburg Rotary Club noon on August 23r d and it’s near the shift channel, 85 Cypress Street speaking on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition – you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.


DEAN BECKER: 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.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.