t r u t h o u t’s Marc Ash interviews Greg Palast

Greg Palast

ma . t r u t h o u t | Greg, welcome to TO. We have been looking over your new book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

Greg Palast | Yes, now there is some prophecy in there that is coming too true, unfortunately.

ma . t r u t h o u t | You raise a number of hot-button issues. You revisit Florida. How far are we away from Florida at this point? What do we know that we didn’t know before? What’s the relevance to where we’re at right now?

Palast | Well, we have a president that thinks he can take office without being elected. There are not many limits on what he thinks he can get away with, including, for example, handing out pieces of American policy to his donors. It’s serious business. It’s a serious business when the votes don’t count in this country. So, what I was trying to do, what I had done for BBC and when I expanded the book to include a report that I had never previously published is to show exactly how Bush, the Bush family, stole the presidential vote — and the republicans of Florida. And what we do is provide evidence which I did for investigations for BBC television and for The Guardian newspaper of Britain — a shame that it had to be British media which had to find out who got elected president — but you’ll see that information in there, the material I have yet to broadcast and publish.

In particular, the core of this whole thing is that in the year before the election, Katherine Harris’ office, her Department of Elections, purged thousands upon thousands of voters, half of them black, from the voter rolls. She did that on the grounds that they were felons who aren’t allowed to vote in the state of Florida. In fact, most of those people were barely guilty of being black and very few of them, very few — it looks like 5 percent — may have been felons without the right to vote. That’s how your president was elected.

ma . t r u t h o u t | You raise in this book a number of issues concerning corporate greed, corporate corruption, misuse of governmental power, or influence over governmental power by corporate influence —

Palast | Sounds pretty grim, huh?

ma . t r u t h o u t | For the person who sits back and says to themselves: corporations provide employment to millions nationwide here in this country, and certainly in Europe also —

Palast | They provide unemployment, too, as the Enron workers know. That’s what the Enron workers are getting. They’re getting worthless stock for their pension and no future, no job. I think one of the problems is that there is a fantasy that the world went through beginning with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that we could turn over our planet to the entrepreneurs and the money makers will not only make money but they will make wonderful things for us. They will reduce our electric bills. They’ll provide safe and cheap water from around the world. The engine of the market competition will create a miracle of new expanded production. Well get rid of these bureaucrats, their little rule books and we’ll let business get to work. And build economies. You know, I don’t have any particular problem, if that were the result. The problem is that that’s not how it’s turned out. Not in the least.

In fact, today what we’re doing is — I’m at the World Economic Forum today — and what we’re really seeing is a funeral. A funeral for the poster boys of the commercialization and globalization movement, the globalizers. Their two poster boys were Argentina which the IMF [International Monetary Fund] had held up as its great success, this is the country that we’re supposed to turn to as the example when you follow all the IMF dictates, you sell off all your state assets, you get rid of the unions, you let business do business, and we now have a country — that was their poster boy.

Go to the IMF site, the old one and they’ll say “Look at our success in Argentina!” And their success now is that the country that was the breadbasket of South America, millions of people, tonight, are scouring the streets looking for garbage to eat.

That was one burial.

And its commercial twin went under, which is Enron. Enron was picked as the number one innovative corporation by Forbes Magazine. These are the boys that everyone wanted imitate. These were the go-get-em capitalists that showed us that you can make markets in water, markets in electricity, you name it, you can make markets on markets. Everyone was salivating to be another Enron. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of other Enrons. But, now we’ve buried this fantasy of Enron, but not the disease of which it was simply a symptom: that you can deregulate everything, that everything is for sale, and everything can be made into a market.

ma . t r u t h o u t | Okay, terrific. Once again, the name of the book is “The Best Democracy that Money Can Buy,” and it will be out in —

Palast | It will be out — well, you can actually buy it now, but it will be, you won’t get it for a month in the USA.

ma . t r u t h o u t | And they purchase that on your web site?

Palast | You can purchase it — I don’t sell anything on my web site. I do recommend, by the way, that people go to my web site to get the information from BBC television and the Guardian that you can’t read in the USA. But, if you go to my web site, I’ll click you through to your choice of bookstores or Amazon or whatever you like. The address is: www.gregpalast.com.

ma . t r u t h o u t | I was going to touch on a couple of other issues. You know we’ve quickly gone ahead and taken a look at Enron. Let’s follow-up there for a moment. What do we have in the way of a direct connection between the White House and Ken Lay and the Enron corporation? What direct assistance was rendered there in your opinion?

Palast | Well, it’s not even so much my opinion. I know, I went down to Texas when people hadn’t even heard of Enron. Actually, I’ve been investigating Enron since they were called Internorth Gas. These guys, as one executive put it, when you hear George W. speak about energy, it’s Ken Lay who is coming out of his mouth. And it’s been that way for years. These guys go back, way back, in fact, even though George W. says he didn’t get to know Ken Lay until ’94 — “get to know” is a pretty slithery term. In fact, George W. called a minister in Argentina in 1988, and the ex-minister tells me that W. asked him to give an Argentine pipeline to Enron corporation. So, these guys go way back.

Ken Lay was on the transition team. He was the biggest donor to George Bush, and he actually got to name the chief electricity regulator of the United States. They even told the guy “Here’s what I want, and I want you to know that I have veto power over your appointment.”

So, you know, we’ve gone from pretty creepy government where lobbyists had enormous influence — they don’t have influence anymore — they ARE the government. You actually have these people inside. I mean, the Enron boys are in the government. If that worked to the public benefit, I would say “Well, you know, I have nothing to say.” But, the problem is, it’s not — and by the way, let me make one thing clear that really annoys the heck out of me: I wish people would stop whining for the poor little stockholders, because the “poor wittle stockholders” didn’t mind when Enron stock was shooting through the roof, when they were squeezing the hell out of the California consumers through Enron’s manipulation of the electricity markets.

One thing I do in the book is I show you exactly how they do it. I have a whole story in a section called “Power Pirates.” It explains how they actually manipulate the markets, so that you understand how it’s done, not only in California but how they did it in Pakistan, how they did it in the United Kingdom. Enron had its tentacles everywhere and has been sucking money out of the pockets of consumers and workers all over the planet. It just came home to roost, that’s all.

ma . t r u t h o u t | What laws were broken, especially as it pertains to the actual disintegration of the company itself? What laws were broken? Do we know that the White House was involved, or at least aware that laws were being broken?

Palast | Well, here’s a good question. You see one of things that happens that you say “laws being broken” — now, you should know that before I was a journalist, an investigative journalist, I was an investigator and investigated corporations like Enron, and one of its buddies, for example, Southern Company —

ma . t r u t h o u t | Securities fraud?

Palast | For manipulations and frauds on the market and ripping off consumers was my big concern. For example, I led the racketeering case for the government against Long Island [?] Lighting Company in New York State, where they built the Shore Nuclear Plant, and they defrauded the public. They had to pay back $400 million. So, I’m quite familiar with the concept of fraud. The big problem we have here is that with deregulation of the markets and deregulation of power markets, you begin deregulating the rules of accounting. You know there used to be, until recently it was against the law for power companies to make political donations. That was a rule established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of the great New Deal rules. And that went by the boards.

So, the key things in deregulating the power market was deregulating control over political donations. So, it’s not illegal anymore. And you see the same thing with accounting. We used have, until very recently, something they called a Uniform System of Accounts. Well now, Enron and Arthur Andersen got to put on a magic show instead of doing accounting. I’ve seen Arthur Andersen do this in other companies.

And, by the way, it’s not just Arthur Andersen. Price Waterhouse Cooper was also waving a magic wand over some Enron subsidiary books. It was just stunning.

So, the answer is — “Have they broken laws?” — since so many laws have been repealed that protected the public, it’s hard to say what’s left. In other words, if you take down all the speed limits and someone runs off a cliff by going too fast, what law have they broken?

ma . t r u t h o u t | What about securities fraud?

Palast | I think that we do have a strong case for fraud, however. And I say that as someone who has worked on a lot of fraud and racketeering cases. I would say that there’s no — it’s hard to imagine that anyone can call this anything but a racketeering conspiracy. I would say there’s very strong grounds from prima facie evidence.

You see, one of the problems that I have is that as an investigator, I don’t come to all the conclusions until I’ve seen all the evidence. But, boy-oh-boy, I don’t think I’ve seen so much evidence pouring out on the floor without much digging that you have to do!

What is a shame — this is the big shame — I’ve been screaming about Enron for a long time. I did a show for BBC television back in May screaming about Enron. The problem is that until the stockholders were hit, no one really gave a damn.

ma . t r u t h o u t | Okay, let me ask you a couple of quick questions with regard to — we’ve just heard a long State of the Union Address that was noteworthy for a number of reasons. One of those reasons were the implications of American military involvement in other countries. Namely, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. In Europe, what are they really feeling over there? What’s the mood in Europe right now towards the potential for US military involvement in those countries?

Palast | There was a lot of sympathy amongst people, because of the attack on New York. But there is a great fear that the attack becomes an excuse for some type of worldwide bombing campaign. So, there’s a real fear that Bush is out of control. Let me tell you what I’ve been looking at. Europeans are concerned that in its just reaction to an attack, the American response coming out of the White House is unjust, and in fact embroils the world in a wider war, and that’s what we want to avoid.

Now, there are some real problems when Bush is being very bellicose. One of the stories I ran on BBC television and in the Guardian newspapers which got almost zero coverage in the United States, was that George W. Bush, when he came into office, put a chill on all investigations of Saudi financing of terror until September 11th. That’s very significant. I am not saying — I want to be very careful. I have no evidence, none, that Bush was involved in planning the attack of September 11. I just don’t have that type of information. I’m talking about something different, which is that it was “Let’s give the Saudis a pass” time.

Now, one of the investigations that was killed, for example, was the investigation of Saudi financing of the Pakistan atomic bomb. Very serious stuff. Because if they are monkeying around with getting a bomb to Pakistan —

ma . t r u t h o u t | Let’s back up there for a moment. What you’re saying is that there was an investigation of the Pakistani nuclear weapons development program that was being financed through Saudi Arabia —

Palast | Apparently.

ma . t r u t h o u t | You have information that the Bush Administration took steps to derail that investigation of the Saudi financing of that program?

Palast | That’s correct. I spoke directly with some of the higher level intelligence people. I can’t say more that than, but believe me, BBC would not report that unless they were damn sure that we got the right people giving us the right information and the right documents. We also had to deal with some creepy people like arms dealers, etcetera, to verify some of these other allegations. But basically there was a sentiment within the Bush Administration. — they are very close, the [Bush] family is very close financially to the Saudis and politically they believe that maintaining friendship with the Saudi royal family is paramount to US policy. Unfortunately, that means that they are also telling intelligence agents, “Don’t go there!”

In fact, I put one ex-CIA agent who was willing to go on the air, unmasked, which is very unusual, and he said, “Look, we were just told, ‘You get caught spying on the Saudis or looking into their affairs, and you will lose your head!'” He meant professionally, although if you were in Riyadh, you would probably lose it physically. So, the problem is that we weren’t looking, so we didn’t see the punch being thrown at us. The question to ask is how did a trillion dollar intelligence apparatus miss the signals of the biggest attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor? The answer was that they were told not to look.

ma . t r u t h o u t | Let’s just look at that a little more deeply. Let me ask you this question: three governments, so far, have publicly stated through their press offices, that they formed US intelligence through their intelligence services that attacks of an unspecified nature were imminent in late summer in the range of six weeks prior to the September 11th attacks. Those three countries that we’re aware of are Israel, Egypt, and France. They have all publicly stated that they informed American intelligence. What do you know about those reports? And what do you know about additional reports? What were you told by foreign intelligence communities?

Palast | I don’t know of any information regarding this attack. What I have been looking at is rather — I’m a finance guy, I’m following the money trail, how these guys get the money, and what I am finding is that, for example — and I don’t want to say too much because I’m still working on this story, but there was a meeting of Saudi big shots and arms dealers which divided up among them who would make payments to al-Qaeda. And this was not because they loved al-Qaeda, but it had to do really with a shakedown operation that Osama bin Laden was running. In other words, “If you guys don’t take care of me, your yachts may blow up in the Mediterranean.” The problem was that, again, US intelligence was not allowed to follow this stuff down and put an end to it. Again, because the idea is if we upset the Saudis, they’re sitting on the oil spigot and we don’t want to do that. So, this is the problem. We blind sided our own intelligence agencies, which do a lot of foolish and crazy and berserk things, and when they finally get on the trail of REAL bad guys, they’re told, “Hey, listen! Just shut your eyes and shut-up!”

ma . t r u t h o u t | Okay. Very interesting. Human rights in Afghanistan. We received a number of reports that a number of innocent Afghanis have died in the American raids. What are the real numbers there? What are we really talking about? And let’s talk a little bit about the relief effort, our efforts to provide food and assistance, and the world community’s efforts to provide food and assistance.

Palast | I don’t want to disappoint you, but it’s one area that I haven’t investigated, because I’m so much into the area of financing and looking at everything from deregulation to corporate malediction and the theft of the election and other things, that I have left it to others who know Afghanistan a heck of lot better than I do.

ma . t r u t h o u t | Okay, fair enough.

Palast | I did end up stumbling – well, not stumbling — I did end up taking this intelligence story because I couldn’t ignore it. The information came to me. But I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert in an area where I’m not.

ma . t r u t h o u t | Greg, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure having you. We look forward to the release of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and to having back again.

You can Visit Greg Palast and order an advance copy of, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” at his site GregPalast.com.