SFR interviewed Alternative Radio host and creator David Barsamian in advance of his Tuesday, June 9 lecture at the Center for Contemporary Arts.
The interview regarding the premise of his lecture, The War Expands: Obama, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be published in SFR on June 10. The full transcript will be available at sfreporter.com that same day.
What follows are outtakes detailing Barsamian's views on the state of the media, how to affect meaningful change and the delusions popularly held about the Obama presidency.
In your lecture, you propose that Obama is pursuing militaristic nation building, just as his predecessor did. Why isn't the president who promised change acting differently?
That would require policy makers, even liberals, to recalibrate their whole menu of options. There was a criminal attack on the US that was launched from Afghanistan. For American liberals, Afghanistan has always been the just war, while Iraq was the wrong war. I reject that formulation. Both wars are crimes against the peace, to invoke the rulings of the Nuremberg trials, the planning and waging of aggressive war is the supreme crime. In doubling the number of troops in Afghanistan there are already more Americans dying there in the first months of this year than in the previous 5 years combined. And now that we're going into Pakistan where you've got almost 200 million people, it's not going to turn out well. Who knows how many jihadis are being born in the refugee camps that have been created?
What can be done instead of the current course?
Convene a conference that will include all the stakeholders, including the Taliban. If I talk to an axe murderer, it doesn't mean that I endorse his views. And the fact is is that the Pakistani Taliban is very different from the Afghani Taliban. The Taliban is very different from Al Qaeda, even though the two are always conflated in the American media. So we need to sit down with the Taliban, and bring in China, Russia, India, Pakistan and diligently seek a diplomatic solution to the many problems facing the region.
But when such an option is politically untenable to the Obama administration, how do the people move toward affecting such a shift?
That's the toughest question and it can only come about through organization and solidarity. Take the Civil Rights Movement for example. Without cell phones or the internet or even answering machines, a half million people found their way to DC on a hot August day in 1963. That's the power of organization. Today we have the illusion of organization. Email is great, but it's not a substitute for organizing, it's not a substitute for sitting in at the state capitol or blocking a Marine recruiting office. Obama has given people the sense that they're part of a grass roots movement, but there is no sustained national movement. It's quite intoxicating to believe that you're involved in something. Ani De Franco proclaimed “thank God we have somebody in Washington who is listening to us.” It's very revealing: It's pure delusion.
So where do we start?
It takes work. The nature of the national system is that it's very hard to get any leverage. I think it's easier to get involved locally. It's on the city council level, the school board level that it's easier to have penetration. So it starts at the local level and then it can expand out to other communities to the statehouse, to the region, to Washington, just as the Civil Rights Movement did. Elected office wasn't even an option for those people and we've forgotten the lessons of that era. Now is a good time to revisit them. Community media is where these ideas take hold. Public radio, the Santa Fe Reporter, these places must provide the intellectual nutrition and the voice of different opinions on a sustained level so that people hear about it just as much as they hear about Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie.
Is the national press not doing its job?
The national press is rather conformist and predictable. One doesn't go to the corporate media for real information, one looks there for entertainment, gossip, scandals, that's one reason young people are leaving traditional media in droves—which is a good thing. Journalism is certainly in a precarious situation right now. Corporate media is being consolidated and at the same time there's a powerful lobby for imperialism. Who is making money during the recession? Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon. Just last year Exxon turned the greatest net profit in the history of capitalism. Dwight Eisenhower wasn't kidding when he said there was a military industrial complex.
Is informative journalism moving to the internet?
The internet has had a tremendous impact on the market. Millions have left television, millions have left newspapers and magazines. But most of the stuff on the internet is opinion. It's not investigative journalism. It's people being very subjective but there's not the digging and the hard work of following a story, of tracking down the leads and the sources. The economic model is not there. Who will pay these journalists to seek out deep information? It's quite ominous in the sense that, if politicians know that nobody is looking over their shoulder, they can become even more brazen than they have been. It's not healthy for democracy. If the press is not there, who is going to monitor them? Me? My neighbor? I'm not coming down to Santa Fe to keep an eye on what Richardson is doing. I think we're headed toward two or three major newspapers in the country and that's it. The onus will be on weeklies and alternative magazines to be the voice of dissent.
You don't have a new book out. Why are you touring now?
Because this stuff is important to talk about. Because of the escalation in the war in Afghanistan, because of the catastrophe in Pakistan. Because we need to challenge the conventional wisdom. It's as simple as that.
David Barsamian presents The War Expands: Obama, Afghanistan and Pakistan
6 pm Tuesday, June 9
1050 Old Pecos Trail
Suggested donation $5
Reservations at 505-982-1338