New Afterword to Palast’s Armed Madhouse Reviewed by Marta Steele

Greg Palast

If I could read every email I receive from activist organizations, I would feel more qualified to write what I write. When I read Greg Palast, it is clear to me that he has done his homework—granted, that’s how he makes his living; to revive my tired metaphor, he turns over rocks and shows us the slimy microstructures playing macroroles in embezzling our human rights in one way or another.
I first read Armed Madhouse when it came out in 2006 and reviewed it in my 8 May 2006 blog. It was a masterpiece of a slapstick expose, that tragicomedy that comprises our reality and so blemishes it.

Greg rushes in where us sane folks fear to tread, to tell us what we need to know; if we can’t change it, at least we can know about it (Nietzsche: “Without an understanding of the present, we’ll never understand the past,” for what that’s worth.).
And we let him do things we wouldn’t do. He should, at least, own a Palast’s palace on Long Island with numerous illegal aliens mowing the lawn and gardening.
One of the questions I took to Greg’s new afterword is why the Democrats gained back Congress in 2006 despite all that Neocon machinery he describes that surely could have won it. Was that a way for them to pretend we still have a democracy? To prove that touchscreen and push-button voting machines can produce a Democratic victory (only when controlled to, I’m sure)? To give the Democrats two years to try to get something done (or undone), the way that Bush undid so much of Clinton’s innovations in 2001 and placed terrorism at the bottom of the priority pile?

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This answer, my friends, will become apparent in 2008, on election day that the author claims has already been stolen. From whom? One example is the minorities being punished for victimization by Katrina by fenced-in trailer parks in an area outside New Orleans know for its pollution due to proximity to an oil refinery. They are not being allowed to return and rebuild their own property, their own homes. They will eventually emigrate to Houston or Atlanta, says Palast, focusing on families broken up by this huge tragedy, focusing on the ineptitude of FEMA and the exportation of the Army Corps of Engineers to Iraq when they were so badly needed in New Orleans to fix the levees.
And how has election 2008 been stolen? Palast counts the ways with a hugely reader/student-friendly chart juxtaposed with a table that compares the outcome of election 2004 with his predictions for 2008, all in terms of statistics. The caption to the table, set on a silkscreen background illustration, is hard to read, and the text that follows sometimes misquotes the stats (the editor’s fault, not Palast’s), but Palast proves his predictions with a cornucopia of empirical, statistical evidence and research that follows his dual outline point by point..
The language is entirely accessible, stamping itself on our memories with wit and even poetic alliteration (HAVA heave-ho) and assonance (the author was a student of Allen Ginsberg as well as Milton Friedman).
Palast encompasses all of his new ideas in a compact 55 pages, to be exact, set in short chapter divisions with plenty of white space to preserve our vision from paperback atrophy.
He criticizes the election-integrity movement for being focused on e-voting when so much else is involved— Well, election-integrity people encompass more than machinery as so many of them are trashing Rush Holt’s HR 811 (see my yesterday’s blog on that). They are focused on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) established by HAVA, for instance, and its connection with the ten fired U.S. attorneys, and I believe that ties in with an ingenious attempt to confuse the public by substituting alleged (wrong!) voter fraud with the colossal violations that voting integretists are fighting.
The EAC, all four of them, comprises Bush appointees, according to HAVA guidelines, and they collude with those nauseating Neocons and toy with certification practices and so on. But Palast is right, we also attack abuses generated by the DRE etcs., as he rehashes live scenarios of paper-ballot voting as corrupt as the e-machinery. He cites examples of opscan malfunctions as well.
He is outstanding on the issue/events he makes pivotal to this afterword, New Mexico’s decision to switch from e-voting to optical scanners, but what we know less well is that along with the optical scanners came the requirement for voter i.d.s that so discriminate against all those people with “funny” last names whom the Neocons are fighting tooth and nail to prevent from voting. Right in Albuquerque the Democratic candidate for the House was kept from office by such an effort, but the jubilation at the national level (the Democratic sweep) was so high that this wasn’t noticed.
Also amid this camouflage of confetti and balloons, in typical Neocon fashion, a provision in HAVA slipped through, sort of retroactively legitimizing the illegal voter purge in Florida 2000. Secretaries of state, most of them in charge of elections, can reject voter registrations at will, period. It’s now legal, folks.
And what can we do about all this and much more of the harrowing corruption we read about in so few pages? Avoid the polls in disgust because we can’t beat the machinery?
Nope. Keep on tangoing. Keep on voting, not just in presidential years but all four; vote for coroner, keeper of wills, certainly election officers, council members, tax collectors, mayors—the list goes on. Keep on registering and bothering the powers that be to make sure you stay registered. Join activist and political groups, who persist in fighting the fight and occasionally win back crumbs of our rights.
Again I say, for the umpteenth time, that democracy is hard work. It is keeping me indoors on a lovely spring day when I could be out visiting museums and getting to know my new home district better. I am so excited about that, but don’t pity me at my desk instead. It’s the least I can do, blogging, that is.
The photography of Palast’s afterword is set much too small and therefore illegibly, and the promo is lousy, but that’s nothing new; I’m sure some of the people who work on his publications are politically opposed to this outspoken and courageous gadfly. However, his message is perpetrated by Penguin, a wide-selling imprint, so that many people are reached and absorbed by well-written, entirely accessible prose that sometimes reminds me of Vonnegut (r.i.p.—how can he? Everything is such a mess).
In short, if you haven’t read Madhouse, go out and buy this augmented version. If you have, it’s worth a repurchase just for the afterword and the optimistic conclusion that we’ve won before and will win again, though as a result of one such victory, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act, southern Democrats, most of them, migrated to the Republican party, making Democratic victories far more difficult thereafter, the sort of victory LBJ himself had captured for Kennedy by the narrowest of margins.
What more can I say? Thanks for all that impossibly inaccessible information, all the work involved, directives for how to continue fighting the fight, and an optimistic conclusion.
Let’s hope that in that regard Mr. Palast is correct. He is so right most of the rest of the time.
©Marta Steele