BuzzFlash Interviews Greg Palast

Greg Palast

Discussing Jeb Bush, Exxon Valdez and Bush-bin Laden
We are honored to post our second interview with Greg Palast, an investigative reporter for the BBC and the Observer (sister paper of the Guardian).

You can purchase Greg’s new book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” on BuzzFlash.com.

Excerpts:

“In the days following the presidential election, there were so many stories of African-Americans erased from voter rolls you might think they were targeted by some kind of racial computer program. They were.”

“New Mexico’s privately operated prisons are filled with America’s impoverished, violent outcasts — and those are the guards. That’s the warning I took away from confidential documents and from guards who spoke nervously and only on condition their names never appear in print.”

Praise for Greg Palast

“The journalist I admire most. I’m an avid reader of everything Palast writes — can never get enough of it.” — George Monbiot, Guardian

“The type of investigative reporter you don’t see anymore — a cross between Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes.” — Jim Hightower

“Astonishing — gets the real evidence no one else has the guts to dig up.” — Vincent Bugliosi

“George Bush’s nightmare.” — Laura Flanders, Working for Change Radio

*****

BUZZFLASH: Is there any doubt in your mind that Gov. Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, removed 57,000 African-American voters from the registries because they knew that George W. Bush needed to carry Florida to “win” the presidency?

GREG PALAST: Well, golly gee, are you telling me a politician doesn’t know what happens in a state where every vote is fought over, and they were wondering what would happen when they could just erase 57,708 votes with the flick of a computer button. Did that happen by accident? My God, politicians look at every single vote. 57,000 votes is not just something that they lost track of. It’s not like a laundry list that they put at the bottom of a file cabinet and forgot about it. The Republicans spent almost their entire budget in the Department of Elections on conducting this computer hunt for black voters. And that was almost the entire budget for that office. They knew what they were doing and they knew why they were doing it. We have plenty of evidence of the intent.

One of the things you’ll read in the book for example, is that this law was written by Katherine Harris, and her crony Clayton Roberts, of the Florida Department of Elections. He’s a kind of bullneck, red-faced, chubby character that helped her draft the law. Roberts took over the agency when Harris grabbed the Secretary of State’s office and put this law that targeted African Americans into effect. And when the U.S. Department of Justice questioned whether this was gonna have a racial effect — ’cause remember this is a Jim Crow state that’s under the Voting Rights Act. Roberts wrote back and said, “Aw, shucks, ain’t nothin’ but some administrative changes,” when he knew that this was a cruise missile aimed at innocent black voters. And I want to emphasize that — innocent black voters. Just for those who don’t know the story, it’s 57,700 people targeted as supposed felons, purged from the voter rolls. Most of them are black. Almost all of them were Democrats. And almost all of them — about 90% plus — were innocent of any crime and have the right to vote. Their crime is being black or being Democratic.

BUZZFLASH: Was this Jeb’s decision?

GREG PALAST: What you’ll see in the book, in fact, are letters out of Jeb Bush’s office in which they are directing county supervisors not to register legal voters if they had clemency from other states and were allowed to vote. Now, that’s against the law; that’s against the United States Constitution. Bush’s operatives knew it was wrong, and it was evil and corroded, because when I asked Jeb’s office for the letters, they said, “We never sent such a letter. It doesn’t exist. It’s not in our files. It’s not in our computers.” I have the letter. I quote it in the book.

BUZZFLASH: You actually broke the story while the recount was going on in Florida, and before the Supreme Court appointed Bush. Not one American newspaper picked up the story.

GREG PALAST: I caught them in the act, and Al Gore was still hanging in the race by his thumbs. And we figured out, working with the BBC and the Observer in London, exactly how the Bush’s fixed the vote. We did get it in the Washington Post under my byline, seven months after the fact, when Bush was reading it from the White House and grinning. And that was the big problem was that some of this information came out in the American media, but so much later and only in little teeny bits. Finally this month, I got a story in Harper’s in which I actually show you the computer purge list.

In Harper’s, I point out one guy, Thomas Cooper, whose conviction date was 2007. In other words, Harris had removed this guy from the voter rolls because of the crime he’ll commit in seven years. And there were hundreds and thousands like that. What they were very careful about doing was making sure that they got down the race of the voters. But whether they were actually convicted or not didn’t mean a hell of a lot to Harris, Jeb Bush, and the Republican Party.

BUZZFLASH: You cover a lot of topics in Best Democracy Money Can Buy besides the Florida purge of African American voters. In chapter 3, which is titled, “Small Towns, Small Minds,” you coin the phrase “the Americanization of America,” and go on to open the chapter by saying, “The United States is ugly.” Can you explain that?

GREG PALAST: That’s in the chapter about how my Mom was a hypnotist for McDonald’s, and so the question is, do we break out of the trance? We sing America the Beautiful, and if you’re in Britain, the images of America are the Grand Canyon and the Rockies. I’ve been all over this planet on every continent, and America is the most gorgeous place. The problem is, to get to the gorgeous, you have to get around the Jiffy Lubes and the Wendy’s Burgers and you’ve got to get around the billboards. When I say ugly, I’m not talking about some moral sense, I’m talking about “you look out the window and you just see Wal-Mart.” If you drive in Britain a hundred miles out of London, it’s rolling green hills. And yet the population’s really dense. They just don’t junk it up. It’s all a metaphor, which is that a guy like George Bush being the image of America hides what’s beautiful about America.

I say that the “uglification,” or the “Americanization,” of America is tragic. What that means is that places with character, like New Orleans, like the Texas panhandle, New England, are images and looks and flavors of America, and we iron them out into one plastic golden arch? That’s my complaint, and it goes with numbing America through hypnotism.

What my Mom did was actually teach the managers at McDonald’s how to hypnotize themselves so that they wouldn’t go berserk and start machine-gunning people down. And I’m not kidding, because they were working, fourteen to twenty hours a day from several jobs and not making any money, and they started going berserk. So McDonald’s, one of the biggest franchises hired my mother to teach people how to hypnotize themselves. When you get those people grinning at you saying, “And would you like fries with that Happy Meal?” just remember they may not know that they’re actually there.

BUZZFLASH: To an investigative reporter, the devil is in the details. You write in your book that the Exxon Valdez had failed to repair its radar system and computer system. Of any detail, that completely flips that story upside down, it’s got to be that single fact that you uncovered, which I haven’t seen in any other media outlet.

GREG PALAST: The entire point of the book is to tell you what you don’t read anywhere else in the United States of America. And one of the things you’re not going to read is that the Exxon Valdez and its sophisticated radar was shut off because it was too expensive to repair.

In addition, Exxon said they would put oil spill equipment near the reef in Prince William Sound. That way, if a ship ever ran aground they could put some rubber booms around it and that would be that. You would have never heard of the Exxon Valdez. It would have been a two-inch item at the back of a business section. But they lied. They lied about the radar. They lied about the equipment and being prepared to contain an oil spill.

The story went to hell and they said, “Oh, the captain was drunk. The captain wasn’t at the helm.” Yeah, he was drunk. He was drunk as a skunk and down below deck sleeping it off. That’s not why the ship hit the rocks. And the reason they gave you this fairy tale story about the Exxon Valdez is that they want you to think it’s not corporate America, or it’s not corporate Britain — ’cause I got to tell you, most oil out of Alaska is controlled by Britain. They want to tell you it’s just some drunken skipper. It’s a human error, frailty. It won’t happen again. It happens all the time. They were just trying to save some money. That’s why they didn’t put the oil spill equipment out on those rocks.

I worked for the natives of Alaska — the Chugach Natives, in doing this investigation. They’re the ones that were covered with oil. It was their property, their lands and their food. The seals that died — that’s what they ate. And I was trying to tell that story. No one talked about the human victims. You saw so many pictures of oily otters but you didn’t see the fact that this oil was dropped on someone’s home. It was all over the beaches. It’s still there, by the way. Corporations like Exxon say nature takes care of everything. Well nature forgot about Alaska and left the oil there. But the media never looked into the story.

BUZZFLASH: Greg, you state in the book that Bush spiked investigations into Bin Laden and Al Qaeda before September 11th and that Bush directed any probe to not target the Saudi government and Saudi businessmen.

GREG PALAST: That’s right. With BBC television and the Guardian newspapers, I led an investigation which uncovered a really ill-making, sad, horrid fact that George W. Bush put an absolute block on investigations of Saudi financing of terrorism. Where do you think Al Qaeda gets their money from?

I know about meetings that were held in Paris, in which the billionaires of Saudi Arabia divided up who had to pay what to Al Qaeda and to Osama Bin Laden. The problem is that no one wanted to tell that story for fear of being unpatriotic. I’m trying to protect the flag. My God, I worked in the World Trade Center. My office was on the 52nd floor. These were my friends there. And I was trying to find out how the intelligence apparatus of the United States, on which we spent a trillion bucks in the last decade, missed any information on the biggest attack on America since Pearl Harbor? And the answer is that they were told to shut their eyes.

I don’t want to get my report confused with stories alleging that Bush knew all about the September 11 attack before it happened. I’ve found no evidence he knew anything at all. In fact, the point is that we knew nothing because we were blindfolded by our own guys. Now, why they did it is that Bush is very close, financially, politically, socially, to the Bin Laden family. They’re partners in the Carlyle Group and others. And basically you don’t investigate buddies who are your friends. They invest in the same deals. It’s the same social group.

I can tell you one particular investigation they killed off, which was the investigation into how Pakistan was able to build an atomic bomb, because it was done with Saudi money. The problem with killing these investigations is that we don’t know who else got their hands on this atomic bomb information. So we’re still trying to find that out. I’m still investigating. Let’s put it this way: if I knew about the money to Al Qaeda, and I knew about the Saudi involvement in the Pakistan bomb program, you’re telling me the CIA didn’t know this? They were told not to know this.

BUZZFLASH: Greg, it’s always a pleasure. Your book is a stellar work of investigative reporting. We wish you all the best.

GREG PALAST: Thanks Buzz for all you do.

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At http://www.GregPalast.com you can read and subscribe to Greg Palast’s London Observer columns and view his reports for BBC Television’s Newsnight.