Investigative journalist Greg Palast joins us in the Firehouse Studio to discuss the follow-up to his best-selling book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." [includes rush transcript]
Telecom giant Verizon has been sued for giving the National Security Agency the phone records of millions of Americans. The lawsuit was filed on Saturday just days after USA Today reported Verizon, Bell South and AT&T handed over millions of phone call records to help the government build the world’s largest database.
While the NSA spy story continues to make headline news, BBC Investigative reporter Greg Palast says that the corporate media is missing the real story.
He writes "The snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration’s Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI — though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.
"Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain’t nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration."
- * Greg Palast*, investigative reporter with the BBC and author of the books "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and "Democracy and Regulation." His latest book is "Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf? China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal "08, No Child’s Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War."
AMY GOODMAN: Investigative reporter Greg Palast joins us in the studio right now. He has a brand new book. It’s called Armed Madhouse, and the subtitle is Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Class War. Welcome to Democracy Now!
GREG PALAST: Thanks, Amy, for getting the entire subtitle without choking. There’s a lot of ground to cover in the book.
AMY GOODMAN: There certainly is. And right now, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, who you recently met with and interviewed and we broadcast on Democracy Now!, was in Vienna, offering to the poor of Europe cheap oil. Of course, the deaths continue in Iraq, both U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. We have the spy scandal that is unfolding here in the United States. Link them.
GREG PALAST: Yeah, that’s why I wrote a book, because it does link the whole thing together. I mean, I just got back from meeting with Chavez, as you know, and you showed our interview a few weeks ago. He’s offered the U.S. $50-a-barrel oil. That’s a third off of what we’re paying right now. Now, you would think our president would be down in Caracas kissing Hugo Chavez’s behind and saying, "Thank you, thank you for dropping the price of oil by a third, and let’s make a deal," because Chavez wants a deal.
But he’s not doing that, our president, even though the high prices are costing about a million jobs right now. And the reason he’s not is that what Chavez will not do is that Chavez will not return the money. It’s not about petroleum, it’s about petrodollars, as I explain in the book. In other words, when George Bush rides around King Abdullah in his little golf cart on the Crawford ranch, he’s not trying to get Abdullah’s oil. Abdullah can’t drink the stuff. He’s got to sell it to us and Japan. But Abdullah takes the money back from the — when you fill up your SUV, you give your money to Saudi Arabia, the big oil companies, Saudi Arabia. But then he returns it the form of petrodollars, and that is what is funding George Bush’s mad spending spree.
We have a president who has racked up $2 trillion in extra debt, you know, stone sober, apparently. And someone’s got to pay for that. And basically we’re paying for it by effectively an oil tax, which is returned to us, because the Gulf states and our other trading partners are now buying up $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds and debt. So, in other words, they’re recycling the money back and paying for George Bush’s spending spree on ending inheritance taxes, you know, several wars, etc.
Now, Hugo Chavez says, "I’ll give you cheap oil, not only to the poor, but to everyone. But I’m not giving you back the money. That money is going to stay in Latin America to build our nations." And he just withdrew $20 billion out of the U.S. Federal Reserve. You have to understand, this is a punch in the face of the U.S. administration, far more than withholding oil, withholding and withdrawing petrodollars, as I explain in the book, and that’s why you have that little nice floater from — balloon thrown out by Reverend Robertson, Pat Robertson, saying "Hugo Chavez thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, and I think we ought to just go and do it," because they have got to get that — it’s not that they need that oil, they need that oil money. And if they can’t get it, they have to eliminate Hugo Chavez.
AMY GOODMAN: Is the war in Iraq a war for oil?
GREG PALAST: Is the war in Iraq for oil? Yes, it’s about the oil, but not for the oil. In my investigations for Armed Madhouse, I ended up with a story far more fascinating and difficult than I imagined. We didn’t go in to grab the oil. Just the opposite. We went in to control the oil and make sure we didn’t get it. It goes back to 1920, when the oil companies sat in a room in Brussels in a hotel room, drew a red line around Iraq and said, "There’ll be no oil coming out of that nation." They have to suppress oil coming out of Iraq. Otherwise, the price of oil will collapse, and OPEC and Saudi Arabia will collapse.
And so, what I found, what I discovered that they’re very unhappy about is a 323-page plan, which was written by big oil, which is the secret but official plan of the United States for Iraq’s oil, written by the big oil companies out of the James Baker Institute in coordination with a secret committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. I know it sounds very conspiratorial, but this is exactly how they do it. It’s quite wild. And it’s all about a plan to control Iraq’s oil and make sure that Iraq has a system, which, quote, "enhances its relationship with OPEC." In other words, the whole idea is to maintain the power of OPEC, which means maintain the power of Saudi Arabia.
And this is one of the reasons they absolutely hate Hugo Chavez. As you’ll see in next week’s Harper’s coming out, which is basically an excerpt from the book, Hugo Chavez on June 1st is going to ask OPEC to officially recognize that he has more oil than Saudi Arabia. This is a geopolitical earthquake. And the inside documents from the U.S. Department of Energy, which we have in the book and in Harper’s, say, yeah, he’s got more oil than Saudi Arabia.
AMY GOODMAN: And is it accessible?
GREG PALAST: That’s the trick. It’s accessible, but the price of oil — it’s heavy oil, which means it costs about — you need oil to be about $30 a barrel, less than half of what it is now. Chavez says, "Cut a deal with me. Oil will never drop below a minimum price, but we’ll get off this insane world-destroying $75 a barrel. I’ll give you cheap oil, but you just put a floor under it." He shook hands with Bill Clinton on the deal. And Bush came in and spit on his hand, to say the least. He had the guy kidnapped back in 2002. Bush does not — you have to remember, he doesn’t like cheap oil. When we talk about paying $3-a-gallon gasoline, Bush’s benefactors, donors and his own family collects the $3 a gallon.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
GREG PALAST: Well, we’re paying three bucks a gallon. ExxonMobil is collecting $3 a gallon. There’s a chapter called "Trillion-Dollar Babies." When Bush came in, we had oil as low as $18 a barrel. It was like water. Bush has successfully built up the price of oil from 18 bucks a barrel to over $70 a barrel. That’s the "mission accomplished." He didn’t make a mistake here. That’s the "mission accomplished."
ExxonMobil, which after Enron is the biggest lifetime donor to the Bush campaigns, its value of its reserves, of its oil reserves, because of the Bush wars and Bush actions, has gone up by almost exactly $1 trillion in value. Just one company. A trillion-dollar windfall to a single company. That’s the Bush benefactors. And you have to look at where’s Bush make his money.
So, the problem that they have now is that Chavez is trying to supplant the Saudis running OPEC, and we’ve got a president who basically is caught up in, you know, these guys in bathrobes and crowns, these dictators of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf. And that’s what the Bush family is linked up to, and they are not going to let them be supplanted by Chavez.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, when you open your book, Armed Madhouse — most people have a white space there, but you use every inch, and you have a secret history of the war over oil in Iraq.
GREG PALAST: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a chronology.
GREG PALAST: Yes. I had a big fight with my capitalist pig publisher to put in this very fancy colorful front page to give you a chronology, the complexity of these secret deals between the administration and big oil. We actually got our hands on two different plans for Iraq’s oil, a 101-page plan and a 323-page plan, which is all about, in great detail, what we are going do with Iraq’s oil, and the number of Iraqis involved in writing this thing is exactly zero. You know, and of course, the number of Americans who know that that’s why we’re in Iraq, and we even know from — in my research for Armed Madhouse, going through this and getting this document, I now know what was in the discussions between the oil companies, Ken Lay and Dick Cheney, in his bunker.
AMY GOODMAN: All right, what?
GREG PALAST: Well, and you’ll see there, they were going over the oil maps of Iraq, and the question was why was Ken Lay, you know, the kind of Al Capone of electricity —
AMY GOODMAN: He’s on trial right now, of course, in Houston.
GREG PALAST: — who’s on trial right now. The verdict is about to come down. Why was he in the meeting with oil companies, looking over the maps of Iraq? The answer is he was on this committee, drafting up the program for what to do about Iraq. And they had to get rid of Saddam, because he was jerking the oil markets up and down. I was very interested in why did we go into Iraq suddenly, and the answer was he was destabilizing the oil markets. He was making it jump up, making it jump down. And he had to go. And that’s right in the documentation.
AMY GOODMAN: Plan B?
GREG PALAST: Plan B — there are two plans. There was a neo-con plan, which was 101 pages long. Now, they actually did want to break up OPEC and destroy Saudi Arabia, but the Bush family wasn’t going to let that happen, nor was big oil. And you will see behind this all: James Baker and, of course, Dick Cheney. You know, actually the interesting thing — I was just realizing this morning — four years of investigation, Amy, you’ll find in the book. You’ll see all the stuff about the hugger muggers between Cheney, big oil, Rumsfeld, Jim Baker. Nowhere is there any discussion of George Bush. He was not in the picture. He was not in the frame. Basically, there was no decision made or even discussed with George Bush. He’s the president who’s not there.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Greg Palast. He has written a new book. It is called Armed Madhouse, short title, extremely long subtitle, Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War_. Why "_Armed Madhouse"?
GREG PALAST: That’s back to the Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, my old teacher. He said, "The soul should not die ungodly in an armed madhouse." It’s like we have a circus of — it’s like we have the asylum taken over by the inmates, and they’re quite dangerous. And so, we have to get out of it. So, in a way, the idea is to kind of arm you with the information.
AMY GOODMAN: The scheme to steal ’08?
GREG PALAST: Yeah. Well, for those who, you know, know my background, I came to the U.S. attention when I broke a story that before the 2000 election, Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris knocked off tens of thousands of black voters off the voter rolls of Florida, and this is what gave the election to George Bush in 2000. It was fixed by knocking off of these black voters. There’s a chapter in the new book —
AMY GOODMAN: You broke this on BBC.
GREG PALAST: Yeah, I broke this on BBC, and to get in the United States, we got Michael Moore to put on a chicken suit and report it here as a joke. And then, thank you very much, Amy, for bringing it across the water and breaking through the electronic Berlin Wall. By the way, all of these stories are stories developed out of BBC and Guardian that basically are blacked out, except for here on Democracy Now! That’s very important, because these are the stories that they don’t want you to have for good reason. And they don’t want you to have it, because — I then followed up with 2004. Now, it’s accepted 2000 pretty much was fixed. Well, there’s a chapter, "Kerry won." 2004 was fixed. And the way it was done is that 3.6 million votes were cast and never counted in the United States. That’s very important to know. This isn’t Greg Palast conspiracy nut stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: Say the number again.
GREG PALAST: 3.6 million ballots cast, never counted. And that’s because they call these spoiled votes or rejected provisional ballots, 1.9 million so-called provisional ballots, and then, most of those don’t get counted. And so, whose votes don’t get counted? If it was random, it wouldn’t matter. In other words, if these were votes where the machine doesn’t record it properly, hanging chads, extra marks on a paper ballot, you had the wrong address on your absentee ballot, etc.
Three million ballots. Whose ballots? If you’re a black person, the chance your ballot will be technically invalidated is 900% higher than if you’re a white voter. Hispanic voter, 500% higher than if you’re a white voter. Native Americans, it’s like 2,000% higher than if you’re a white voter. The overwhelming majority — and I went to the state of New Mexico, which supposedly Bush won by 5,000 votes, 89% of the ballots were cast out of minority precincts that were thrown away. Kerry won New Mexico. You go into the dumpster, and it’s black votes, 155,000 black votes that were chucked away in Ohio. Kerry won those votes. He won Ohio.
AMY GOODMAN: ’08?
GREG PALAST: And '08, so what's happening is there is no fix of the system. In other words, just like black folk get bad schools and bad hospitals, they get the bad voting machines, which are going to kill those votes. But they’re not satisfied with just letting the ballots be thrown away. They’re going to move it along. And one of the things I discovered is the Republican Party has something called "caging lists," which came to our — you know, just like you had Friday, the way the Yes Men capture material by using false websites, so through a false website we were able to capture Republican Party internal missives, through georgebush.org.
And so, what happened was is that they sent us a bunch of lists of literally tens of thousands of names of voters and addresses. We were wondering what the heck this was. It turns out these were almost all African American voters, who they were prepared to challenge in 2004, and they did, to say that these people shouldn’t vote, because their addresses are suspect. And you’ll see in the book that in the lists of thousands of black voters that they were challenging over their address were thousands of black soldiers who were sent to Iraq; go to Baghdad, and the Republican Party challenges your vote.
And that’s the beginning, and because there’s been really no action taken, they’re accelerating the system now. And the next thing that they’re going after is the Hispanic vote. So when we saw two million votes cast/not counted in 2000, nearly four million votes cast/not counted in 2004, you’re going see that number massively increase in challenges to voters in 2008. And that’s what’s going back to this database story with the National Security Agency.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.
GREG PALAST: So, you have to say, "Why are they collecting this data?" The answer is 2008. It’s ultimately all about the elections.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is part one. Greg Palast, I want to thank you for being with us. You’ll be traveling around the country, and you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We will link to Greg’s website, gregpalast.com. Greg Palast’s book is called Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.