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2003-08-22

Investigative Reporter Greg Palast on the Real Reasons for Blackout 2003, Elections Past and Present and Disenfranchised Voters

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Speaking at a WBAI-sponsored event in New York City, Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, links the cause for Blackout 2003 to a "dim bulb in the White House." [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript

The New York Times in a front-page report yesterday said that "three months before the blackout a report called for Vigilance in a vulnerable region." The North American Electrical Reliability Council , an industry body singled out the sections of the grid covering Ohio and other parts of the Midwest, was particularly vulnerable to the kind of 'cascading events' that unfolded last Thursday.

Palast’s trenchant analysis of the blackout was the primary subject of his speech in New York City on the 19th of June at an event sponsored by Pacifica affiliate WBAI.

Addressing issues related to the US invasion of Iraq, Palast quoted from a 101 page classified State Department document and said it was "a plan for the post-conflict economy of Iraq, written before we knew there was going to be a conflict in Iraq and it has some very interesting statements including this one at page 73 that the state department will approve plans to support private sector involvement in strategic sectors including privatization, asset sales, concessions, leases and management contracts —- especially those in the oil and supporting industries, privatization of oil and supporting industries , the sell off of Iraq’s oil fields— do not destroy the wells." He added that, "I am not one of those cynical people who says that we went into Iraq for the oil, but we sure as hell are not leaving without it."

  • Greg Palast, author of the The Best Democracy Money Can Buy speaking on Aug. 19th, 2003 at a WBAI-sponsored event. Palast is an investigative reporter for the BBC and the Guardian of London.

TRANSCRIPT

GREG PALAST: For those of you who don’t know-before I was a reporter I worked for a living and I was an investigator-and I investigated power companies- and one company I investigated was this company called First Energy-and if you don’t know who these guys are-they were the model for this film called the China syndrome-that was Ohio Edison-that was these guys.

That is where the power outage started-then it moved over to their GPU Pennsylvania Unit-that was the guys that gave us the 3-mile Island nuclear plant-then it crosses over the great lakes to a company called Niagara Mohawk-it is owned by a bunch of Brits-who a couple of years ago laid off a couple of hundred workers-almost their entire maintenance staff-and carted of 90 million dollars to its British stock holders.

Not surprisingly that the three stooges of the power industry got together and poked out their lights and poked out our lights and this is not surprising-but what I begin to find surprising is a statement by a guy called Spencer Abraham. He is our Energy Secretary and our Energy Cop-if you get mugged you go to a cop and say you have been mugged-what Secretary Abraham said and I quote, "We need to pass an energy bill that gives the FERC the authority to impo wse mandatory reliability standards." That’s like going to a cop and saying I have been mugged and the cop says-Yeah, there ought to be a law.

Mr. Abraham there was a law and as a senator you voted to eliminate the law-you voted to end the Department of Energy-he is now Secretary of Energy, right. And he voted to end this department but in fact there is a law-the FERC are the cops-they do have supposedly reliability standards-these guys are supposed to keep the lights on-so what happened-who is the cop who was not on the beat? So what happened? The chairman of the FERC is a guy named Pat Wood-so Pat Wood is the guy who let the lights go out-so how did we get Pat Wood-where did Pat Wood come from?

Now, I have a letter here-for those of you who know me-I have a friendly relationship with these helicopters that drop things on my desk-and here is the letter:

“Dear George-this is to the honorable George W Bush-written some while back-Dear George-I want to underscore some of the recommendations that were recently made by Karl Rove with reference to the Utility Commission-the appointment is a critical one-to achieve the economic growth that you and all of us hope for it is essential that we achieve maximum efficiency within the Public Utility Sector. Based on the various candidates that we are aware of — we believe that Pat Wood is best qualified to provide that new thinking-Linda joins me in wishing you, Laura and the entire family a joyous holiday season and we look forward to seeing you early in the New Year-sincerely Ken-this is from Ken Lay Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of a company that is not in business anymore-that is how we got Pat Wood.

But I thought tonight with the lights out that it would be nice to have a second and a half of silence for the poor Jake Horton-Jake-see the biggest power company — once there is now a hole in the ground where Enron used to be and some of us realize that we once had 401 (K) plans-they are now 201 (K) plans.

Jake Horton was the senior vice president of a company called Southern which since the sad demise of Enron is the number one power company in the United States-they are the guys who have us by the bulbs. Who are these guys? Jake Horton was the Vice President of that company and he found something unusual in the mid eighties-he found that the company was making political campaign contributions. He knows because he was delivering them in little brown paper bags-and in the good old days before the miracle of de-regulation-there was a guy- a disabled president called Franklin D Roosevelt-who was morally however abled. He gave us a law called the Public Utility Holding Company Act- which didn’t put a limit on campaign contributions by power companies-he said no soft money, FDR-he said no hard money-he said NO MONEY-because when a power company gives money to the government that regulates it-it has got to be a bribe, right? That went out the window, right?

But with de-regulation signed by George Bush senior in 1992 on his way out, right? But in the meantime before that Jake had delivered some cash and he was going to take the fall-so he said you know what else-he said make me take the fall and I have some news for you-there is a little bit of a problem with our accounting system-there is one set of books that we give to our regulators and there is another set of books locked in the trunk of the car of the Senior Vice President of the company. This is the biggest power corporation that is there in North America, right? And they pretended according to these books that the company had spent 61 million dollars repairing its power plants and its grid systems-but it didn’t.

It pocketed the money-Now Jake thought that the Attorney General ought to have this information-borrowed the company plane-10 minutes after the plane took off, April 1989-the plane exploded. Co-incidence? I don’t want to hear from the conspiracy nuts out there-actually the company did not believe it was an accident-the chairman of the board said to BBC television, where I work, that Jake saw no other way out-and anyway the company was about to be indicted by Grand Jury not for Jake’s demise but for the funny books under the US Racketeering Laws-except there is a funny provision in the country’s racketeering laws which says that the justice dept can pull an indictment-and in fact the Justice Dept under George Senior’s government pulled out the indictment on this company-because they said it may be an odd method of keeping your books in the trunk of the car of the company’s Vice President-but according to Bush’s guys it was approved by that upstanding auditing firm-Arthur Anderson

And that was the signal. The company has since committed itself to stop breaking the law-not by going straight but by changing the law-that’s what is called de-regulation, so now instead they give the bags of money to the politicians. Enron was Number One contributor to the Bush Campaign, Exxon No. 2, Southern No. 3-so for campaign contributions they were found guilty of felony crime- so what was previously jail time for their guys-they now get an invitation to the Crawford ranch for their donations.

Well let’s move on-heard any good wars lately? I thought I’d go back into ancient history tonight-March 17th of this year-and I know this because I was just on Fox News and I know this kind of professional amnesia that goes on in the American news industry-lets go back to ancient history. March 17th our President gave his 'Get Out of town, High Noon, Saddam' speech’ and he said’ I want to speak to the Iraqi people’-which is obviously very interesting because Dick Cheney did not tell him that they speak Arabic.

But OK Good Enough I thought he’d say something like please don’t shoot our boys-they are here to liberate you- but he didn’t. He said and I quote-he said, "Do not destroy oil wells’. I don’t make this up-he also said that we are going into Iraq after those who have aided, trained and harbored terrorists including operatives of Al-Qaeda.

And I thought (expletive) he is going to bust his Daddy.

And he also said 'War has no certainty except the certainty of sacrifice-He would know because he was a war hero during Vietnam-I mean you saw him doing that Tom Cruise Top Gun thing landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier-you are laughing but you don't have an action doll-but he really was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War-not in the real Air Force like it says on the Box-but he was in something called the Texas Air National Guard-which is an army for warriors who are afraid of the sight of blood-especially their own right?

And its amazing now-keep in mind that we have had this three front war going-we have had a war against Osama, against Saddam and we have also had this war on affirmative action going and our President believes that no one should get their position except by merit-and he did in all fairness. I just did an investigative one hour show for BBC Television-you can unlock the women and children-we will not be showing it on American TV-but Bush took a test young George and out of a possible 100 he scored 25. Whatever!

So who won the war-we just had a war-who won the war? Democracy? Who won Gulf War 1? We were supposed to get Democracy remember in the first Gulf War 12 years ago-all we had to do was get rid of the evil Saddam-get his foot off the neck of the Kuwaitis-and they would have a democratic monarchy women would drive in cars-and its 12 year later and I am still waiting for the election returns from Kuwait.

So we are bringing democracy to Iraq-kind of like we brought democracy to Afghanistan-one war lord-one vote there.

I know you are laughing but so before we can remember who won Gulf War 2 we should try and kind of remember who won Gulf War 1. It wasn’t democracy-so who won?

After Daddy Bush was asked to leave the White House by the American public he writes a letter to the Sheikhs-the Emirate-the royals of Kuwait-we call them royals right-that means oil guys with robes and crowns-they are dictators with robes and crowns. He writes a letter to the Kuwaiti dictatorship-he doesn’t say Gee! Didn’t you promise elections-you know we have some kids buried in the sand there-he said would you please give my friends at Chevron Oil a drilling concession in the Gulf-and he saved their Rolls Royce’s- you know what the Kuwaiti army fighting song is- Onward Christian soldiers!

Yeah look it up So they got their oil drilling concession-and then George W Bush we see from Chevron oil, a 660 thousand contribution into Republican campaign funds-and I don’t want you to think that the two are connected-I am just throwing it out…

So who has won the current war? Jay Garner said that there would be elections in 90 days that was 30 days ago-He is gone, so who won?

Well the envelope please-A document landed in my hands-it’s a 101 pages-it is a confidential document out of the files of the State Department-it was–It is a plan for what they call the post-conflict economy of Iraq-it was written long before we knew there was going to be a conflict in Iraq and it has some very interesting statements including this one at page 73 that the State Department will approve plans to support private sector involvement in strategic sectors including privatization, asset sales, concessions, leases and management contracts-especially those in the oil and supporting industries-it calls for the privatization of 'all state owned companies with a goal of rapid divestiture.'-privatization of oil and supporting industries-the sell off of Iraq’s oil fields-do not destroy the wells.

I am not one of those cynical people who says that we went into Iraq for the oil-but we sure as hell are not leaving without it.

I was very interested you know-there were 28 pages missing from the Sept 11 attack report from the US Congress-This might help them-I have got some pages here-these I do know are the material that went into those missing pages. On the top the document is marked secret and on the left side it is marked-199 I which means national security and WF which means Washington Field Office of the FBI-now how did I get this document-this was not a helicopter drop actually oddly enough-some FBI agents came to the BBC offices and they came to us and asked some questions about God knows what and as they were leaving they had dropped a file on the Desk and then they called-little while later and said Oh my God-we accidentally left the file on your desk-you haven’t read it have you and they said we will be back for it in 30 minutes unless you need 45

What is interesting about this document is that it talks about an investigation FBI agents wanted to do but were not released to do until September 13, 2001-to investigate what the FBI calls a suspected terrorist organization-why cant the FBI investigate a suspected terrorist organization? A lot of these guys do not want to go after guys throwing cream pies at anti globalization protests-these are not nice guys-this organization they were looking at backed by the Saudi royal family-I have obtained tapes of some of their discussions talking of the wonders of attacking civilian targets-and one of their staff members is the conduit for Osama Bin Laden’s Valentine Tapes to America on Al-Jazeera- so these are the kind of guys that FBI agents would like to go after but they couldn’t- Why-who are these guys and I turned to page 2 and what do you know-there it says Abdul and Omar Bin Laden-now that was kind of interesting to me-because we were told that there is the black sheep of the Bin Laden family and that is Osama and then there is the white sheep of the Bin Laden family-now we know that the rest of them are White Sheep because they have supported the Bush family enterprise-for example our President George W Bush became a very rich man in the oil industry-he never struck any oil-all he struck was into the pockets of Salim Bin Laden-older brother of Osama-so I was very interested in that

Apparently some of the FBI agents thought that a couple of members of the Bin Laden family were gray sheep-but by the time they released-there was a hole in the ground a block from here-where I used to work incidentally and these birds had flown.

My good friend Cynthia McKinney is in town-she made a mistake-see she as former Congresswoman of Georgia used to read the transcripts of my reports from BBC TV and make speeches on the floor saying we got to investigate this stuff-we ought to investigate the intelligence failures before September 11-especially our blindness towards Saudi involvement in funding terrorist organizations-almost the exact words used by Sen. Bob Graham of Florida-for which her words were changed by the New York Times and NPR-National Petroleum Radio-and Pacifica the WBAI network ran an interview with her-two separate statements-completely separate statements at the back and front of the interview were pasted together by NPR and they said that 'What Cynthia Mc Kinney said was that George W Bush knew about the attacks of Sept 11 in advance and didn't tell anyone so that his buddies could make a profit-this is not what she said-they wouldn’t give her a chance to reply-they simply said it-John Sugg — the editor of an Atlanta paper said it was the worst case of journalistic abuse he had seen his career-and I said well you haven’t been hanging around-but they got her-she was a loony and a fruitcake because she asked some questions

But its your fault at Pacifica and I thought I’d let you know-Cynthia will be here tonight and I want to make sure that we recognize the one place where she is allowed to tell the truth

I was interested in why they went after her. I know why they didn’t go after Bob Graham —- the Graham family owns the Washington Post-I was interested in a deeper question-my book is all about money and elections and money and the democratic process-because in the last election the guy with the most votes lost-the guy with the most money won-which meant that instead of an election we had an auction-it is efficient—

I was interested in this issue-I am looking at the donors-who are the big donors for the Bush campaign-there is Enron-there is Exxon, there is Southern Company-there is Barrick Gold Mining-in Canada-why are these Canadians so patriotic that they are giving us money? Looking at the Board of this company-what do you know there is George Senior-who is he working for? It was started by that well known Canadian Adnan Khashoggi-but why would Barrick hire George Bush Senior out of the White House when two thirds of American public asked him to leave-I mean what do you do with a used President-what caught their attention about this guy and then I took a look and lo and behold-just before Bush is asked to leave the White House-his administration changes the rules for gold mining companies so that gold mining companies like the old prospectors can lay claims to the mines-so Barrick Gold Mining-said Eureka we found it-they took George Bush to the claims office and they grabbed the largest gold mine in the US-10 billion dollars worth of gold and they paid the US treasury for thee claim-10,000 dollars-Then they gave Bush a job.

Now I reported this-you saw this in the paper if you were in England right-in the Guardian Observer-and Bush’s gold finger buddies sued my paper-they didn’t deny that Bush got the job-they didn’t deny that they got the gold mine for 10 grand-they didn’t deny that Khashoggi started the company-they didn’t deny that they gave donations to Sonny Bush-what they said was that any reasonable person reading this set of facts might conclude that they are connected-well wait, that is pretty grim-under British libel law I was in real trouble-because if someone thought they were connected-libel-my paper is liable-so I sign a statement that there is no connection-so I want you to remember tonight that Barrack got the gold mine, Daddy got the job and the public got the shaft-so there is no connection right?

But it is a bad thing-and I want you to remember it is about the USA-we are the only nation in the world with this precious thing called the First Amendment-the only nation in the world that has a true legal right of freedom of speech and press and I have been campaigning-if you read my book-for a First Amendment for Britain-in fact I suggested that they borrow ours since we are not using it

But I still don’t know what do you do with a used President and I looked at the Barrick website and it says there that the President helped them get a gold mining concession in Tanzania-so I wonder-why do you need a President to do this for you? Why cant you just bid for it-there was a political problem-because the gold field in Tanzania already had gold miners on it-Tanzanians you would be surprised to hear-and which got in the way of the Canadian-Saudi-American deal-so the Tanzanians had to go for Barrick to buy the land-so it was cleared by running bulldozers across the property- August 1996 they ran bulldozers across the property-smashed the workers houses, filled the mine pits and chased away 30,000 workers-all but 50-because according to our reports 50 miners were in the mining pits when they were sealed-yeah and I reported that too and they sued me and my paper. It is no co-incidence that my outlet BBC TV is not for profit and my paper like WBAI is run by a non profit-we do not have the cash to pay for these armed and dangerous billionaires-to fight these guys-so we were nervous-they wanted me to sin a statement saying that no one died in the peaceful clearing of these mines-I said I would love to sign that what is your evidence. They said the evidence is that we are billionaires —You are not, so sign. I said I need a little bit more than that— they said OK-they provided nothing-my paper sent one of the top human rights investigators in the world-Tundu Lissu is his name-he is a member of the Tanzanian bar- a lawyer-speaks Swahili-he sent back photos off crushed corpses-he sent back statements he sent back a videotape of the bodies being exhumed-and I showed this to the gold-fingers-Bush’s guys and they said OK sign here-no one died-I said I cant do that-and I will tell you why I didn’t-because Tundu Lissu before he left had a press conference in Dar El Salaam and said that there ought to be an investigation of the clearance of the mines and for that he was charged with sedition and so I couldn’t sign off and hang him literally-it turns out though he’d left the country without knowing that he had been charged-and he got back safely to his home in DC-his wife was pregnant and I met up with him and I said Tundu what are you going to do after the twins are born and he said go back to Tanzania and I said they are going to arrest you and he said if I am lucky. Now he did go back-in case he wanted to change his mind the Bush administration pulled his visa and took away 3 million dollars from the World Resources Institute because they refused to stop their investigation in Tanzania-he went back and has been in and out of jail-his offices were burnt down-go to Gregpalast.com and keep abreast of what is going on with that story.

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