by: Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
Near the front of his new book, “Vultures’ Picnic,” Greg Palast quotes BuzzFlash at Truthout as calling him “a cross between Seymour Hersh and Jack Kerouac.” He also quotes a White House spokesman as saying about him, “We hate that sonovabitch.”
During its first several years, Palast was the most interviewed resource on BuzzFlash. That was and is because he drives the global elite crazy, not to mention the mainstream corporate media.
He’s a one-person investigative junk yard dog, who chomps down and doesn’t let go. He’s indefatigable, as the subtitle of his book indicates, “in pursuit of petroleum pigs, power pirates, and high-finance carnivores.”
Mark Karlin: More than any of your other books, your personality appears to come through most strongly in “Vultures’ Picnic.” Yes, it’s got all the corruption you’ve exposed around the world, but it also reveals a very wry sense of humor. After all, I really wasn’t expecting to discover that Azerbaijan has the tallest flag pole in the world. How would you describe “Vultures’ Picnic”? [It will be released on November 14, and has been chosen as a Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week. You can order the book by clicking here.]
Greg Palast: You got it. This is the story of “The 1%” the vulture final, oil industry bag men, nuclear conmen – but it’s also my own story. Chapter One takes you from a pre-dawn stake-out to a bourbon breakfast and a fist in the face before appearing on Democracy Now to my arrest in some Islamic oil-state by goons on BPs payroll. (They took my film but not my pen … which contained one of those Austin Powers video-cameras.)
“Vultures’ Picnic” is different than my bestsellers “Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and “Armed Madhouse.” This time, you really follow me on the investigation. Here’s the no-bullshit confidential inside info on British Petroleum, on nuclear industry clowns and killers (I’ve got their files), on the globalization master-spiders … the stuff you won’t see on CNN about bribes, babes, beatings and a coup d’etat.
The real-thing investigative reporting and berserker investigation.
MK: BuzzFlash at Truthout first came to know you through the brilliant investigative work you did proving that Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris removed tens of thousands of likely Al Gore voters from casting ballots through a sub-contracted “caging” project. Since then, you’ve covered the gamut of corrupt corporations and governments, but you keep coming back to big oil as a culprit. What draws you back to the king of fossil fuels?
GP: It’s always about the oil – except when it’s about the uranium.
MK: How did you end up chewing whale meat in the Arctic?
GP: I got an urgent demand from the Chief of Intelligence of the Free Republic of the Arctic to get up to the Arctic Circle immediately. I thought, “Yeah, bullshit; someone’s pretending they’re Santa’s elf. But it was a request from the great Eskimo leader Etok, whale-hunter and all-around bad-ass. So I shot to the Arctic and met him at a strip club, then boated over to his whale carcass, bigger than my apartment. Etok explained that I should tell the Queen (I work for BBC) that she better keep her mother**** oil wells out of his whale-hunting water. By the way, the book has films for each chapter. Here’s Etok in the Whale.
From there I found several oil industry insiders, including Pig Man, who gave me the stone cold evidence that the safety software for oil and gas pipelines had been jacked (he did it himself). Result: cracks, spills, explosions, death.
But as you say, even in a tale of lethal corruption, there’s a lot of humor in that. Sick, sick humor.
MK: Your second-biggest target is the corrupt financial industry. You address this — among other places in the book — in your chapter “The Generalissimo of Globalization.” You call the successful neoliberal/Phil Gramm effort to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act the decriminalization of the financial industry. In what way?
GP: I mention that my Uncle Max, a mobster who competed with Capone (and lost) used to say, “The perfect crime is the one that’s legal.” I got my hands on the private emails of Timmy Geithner to Larry Summers, several confidential documents from inside the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Trade Organization and these things smoke. It’s the secret program for kicking the crap out of any national government (Brazil is their main target) that dares to stand in the way of the banks-turned casinos.
MK: Ironically, you were studying at the University of Chicago during the Milton Friedman years. In your chapter “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” you reflect on that time. How did the “Chicago School” of economics, which is still shaping the Obama administration, impact you, because your first job out of college was for a union exposing utility monopolies?
GP: It wasn’t irony – it was an undercover assignment to get in with Milton Friedman himself and the entire right-wing freak show including Art Laffer (still a guy I like).
I wormed my way into Friedman’s circle — and the Chicago Boys helping Pinochet — at the request of the industrial union chiefs in Chicago and some others. I didn’t want to be some Marxist professor pinhead with a beard bonking his undergraduates. I was an angry kid from an LA barrio who wanted to kill these monsters and do what my failure of a father should have done.
MK: In chapter four, you point out a greater long-term oil danger to Louisiana, for example, than the BP spill in the gulf. Would you elaborate?
GP: Well, read the book. The oil-poisoner-in-Chief is Chevron. But that only makes sense once you meet the Rex, the King of Mardi Gras – which is a far more serious business than beads and feathered costumes.
MK: This book is entitled “Vultures” for a reason. Do you think that in the human order of things – the way that we are wired as a species – we can ever cage the vultures who prey on the rest of us and keep them under control?
GP: This book is about the 1% feeding on the rest of us. They are not “job creators” as Mitt Romney tells us. They’ve been waiting for economy to die so they can make billions – billions – on scams, flim-flams and political, military muscling.
MK: To this day, major American corporate media outlets won’t touch you because you smash through the clichÃ©s of the status quo elite and reveal the gaping lies behind the thrones of power. Is it maybe a blessing that they ignore you? After all, you’re still alive.
GP: Let me quote Asia Times: “Greg Palast, the man widely considered as the top investigative journalist in the United States, is persona non grata in his own country’s media.”
US media, Murdoch’d and bought, locks me out. But it’s not about me: it’s that they ignore and bury the facts that I uncover. Did Anderson Cooper tell you that BP had a blow-out, nearly identical to the one in the Gulf two years earlier in the Caspian Sea? Of course not, that would require him reporting the news instead of repeating the news.
MK: You always seem ready to take on the next story. But do you ever despair that justice can always be perverted by those with the fortunes to buy whatever they want, even governments?
GP: I despair all the time. I’ve got a Pulitzer Prize in despair. I’d drink and vomit and wake up with a blonde whose name I don’t know and hope she didn’t remember mine. Just get nuts, angry, crazy. I want to get them and rip out their lying lungs.
A journalist isn’t supposed to say that, I know. I’m supposed to have cool; like Sam Spade.
But then, what am going to do? I can’t kill, just can’t pull a trigger. So I write, I investigate.
In fact, at the bottom of my sense of hopelessness last year, I was lying in a crap hotel room in Liberia, West Africa. Just interviewed a kid with an arm he lost in the Civil War (I tried to shake his non-hand … I’m such a schmuck). He’s got nothing and this Vulture from New York, “Doctor Hermann,” was using a shell company to seize all of Liberia’s civil war reconstruction money. A UN diplomat told me, the Vulture was “killing babies.” I had staked out his house … it was bigger than the Vatican, I kid you not.
And that’s when I decided to write the book; but there, in the dark room in Africa, with the rain coming down, all I could write were two words: “F**k God.”
Photo: Doug Grinbergs ©2009
Greg Palast is the author of Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores.