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2006-06-14

The Front Lines of the Class War from 1927 to Today

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Investigative journalist Greg Palast discusses the disenfranchising of black voters from the voters rolls and what he calls "other dispatches front lines of the class war." Palast is author of the book, "Armed Madhouse." [includes rush transcript]

“Years from now, in Guantanamo or in a refugee relocation "Enterprise Zone", your kids will ask you, "what did you do in the class war, daddy?" We may have to admit that conquest and occupation happened before we could fire off a shot. The trick of class war is not to let the victims know they’re under attack. That’s how, little by little, the owners of the planet take away what little we have."

That’s an excerpt from the book "Armed Madhouse" by investigative reporter Greg Palast. He joins us today to talk about what he calls the "front lines of the class war."

  • Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the BBC. His latest book is titled "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."
    - Website: GregPalast.com

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Greg Palast. His new 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. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Greg Palast.

GREG PALAST: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we talk about the class war — what isn’t supposed to be talked about in this country — I wanted to ask about a very specific story that you touch on in the book but have seemed to gather more information on, and that is the story of black soldiers in Iraq and voting here at home.

GREG PALAST: Yeah. They went after — they lost their vote. Let me explain what happened. A lot of people know me from my story of how — for BBC, that I reported here for you — how just before the 2000 election, thousands of black voters were scrubbed off the voter rolls of Florida, by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, you know, who wiped out all of these voters — 94,000 — claiming they were felons, criminals, but their only crime was voting while black. And we busted that story on BBC, and it took years to get over here, but that’s how 2,000 was fixed. So I looked at 2004 for BBC, and we were able to get out of — they didn’t go after the felons this time. The new target group —- or they did, but now they’ve added a new target group: suspect voters, with suspect addresses. And I was able to get out of Republican Party computers, using a fake front, actually working with a joke website, GeorgeWBush.org, we literally sucked files and emails out of the Republican computers. I know some people may object to that but -—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.

GREG PALAST: Well what happened was the top brass of the Republican Party, a guy Tim Griffin, who is head of operations and research, was sending a bunch of emails to the chairmen of the state committees, top-level guys of the Bush campaign in 2004, attaching lists of voters and addresses — very unusual. What’s all of this clerical stuff going on back and forth between the very top guys? And they’re saying, "Here’s a caging list. Here’s another caging list. Here’s another caging list."

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, 'caging lists'?

GREG PALAST: Well, it’s these spreadsheets with names and addresses of voters. It was really odd and why the top guys were with it.

AMY GOODMAN: But I still don’t understand why you were seeing these lists.

GREG PALAST: Ok, what happened was, is that GeorgeWBush.com was the internal secret way of communicating through email in the Republican campaign. Someone changed one address from "com" to "GeorgeWBush.org." That allowed us, through a false website, GeorgeWBush.org, to suck down all of these emails at the top level of the Republican Party, and attached were these sheets. And at first, we didn’t know what the heck they were until the team — we had 70,000 names from one state, of names on these so-called 'caging lists'. We do the demographics, and first we go — and by the way, we went straight to the Republican Party for BBC and said, "What are these?" And they said, "Lists of donors." And there’s page after page of guys from homeless shelters. You know, I don’t think there’s a lot of Bush-Cheney donors there. "Donors? You get another — We’ll give you another chance to answer the question." They wouldn’t answer.

The experts say, look at the demographics. We’d spent endless hours matching whose names were on these secret sheets against the demographics, the racial breakdown of the — of where these voters live. 98% were in African-majority precincts, African-majority precincts, except for 2%, which were in Jewish-majority precincts, retirement areas in Miami. What was this about? These are called — These are "challenge" sheets. It was a secret system to challenge tens of thousands of voters, actually hundreds of thousands, maybe a million voters in the United States. We had over a million challenges in the United States, never seen before in the United States.

How did this happen? This was the secret program. Now, who was on these sheets? What was the basis of challenge? What they said is these people have — "Oh, they have suspect," you know — when we finally caught them with it, they said, "Oh, suspect addresses." Well, who’s suspect? We looked. Page after page, and I have a page here if you — on the radio you’ll just have to take my word for it, but a page where every name says "Naval Air Station." "Naval Air Station, Naval Air Station, Naval Air Station," page after page of African-American soldiers, sailors and seamen, who were targeted on the challenge list to have their vote challenged. How? We called up — we called them up, their families, and one, for example, Randy Prousa, was the first one we got. We said, "Where is Mr. Prousa?" Is he really at this address? Is he a fake voter?" And they said, "Well, Randy has been sent overseas, he shipped overseas." These are soldiers, black soldiers shipped overseas to Germany, to Baghdad, and now they’re being challenged by the Republican Party because they were not at their voting address.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain how the challenge works?

GREG PALAST: Very simple. Anyone can challenge another voter. In other words, Amy Goodman can say, "Greg Palast shouldn’t vote."

AMY GOODMAN: I can at the poll and saying, "I challenge his" —

GREG PALAST: You can be at the poll. There’s two ways to do it. One, you give to elections officials evidence that this is a voter, who if their absentee ballot comes in, should not be counted. And you have to understand; 3.6 million votes were cast and not counted, mass challenges all over the swing states.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know if I’ve challenged your vote, if you’re an absentee voter?

GREG PALAST: No, and so —

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t know if your vote has counted?

GREG PALAST: No, unless you’re standing — unless it’s a challenge right there and you’re standing there, but even — by the way, this is the other evil — even if you’re standing there and you’re challenged, in the 2004 election, three million people, if they were challenged, were not given real ballots, they were given what’s called "provisional" ballots, and those provisional ballots, of the three million ballots cast, 1.1 million were never counted, 88% of those, black voters, by the way, and Hispanic voters.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, if I was standing at the poll challenging you, then they would give you a provisional ballot, and they would decide whether they would count that ballot later.

GREG PALAST: That’s right, and it went two ways. In the case of the black soldiers, what was particularly evil — see, in the felon case, they could make some type of claim, 'Oh, we didn't know that we had a bad list; we didn’t know that these were innocent people.’ Like, in fact, in 2004, Bernice Kines, she was convicted of a felony. Right on their list it says — and we had thousands of these — "Bernice Kines, convicted on July 31, 2009." I said — when we confront the state is — what about, you know, I mean, this is quite a master criminal that, you know, she can commit a crime in the future. You didn’t know that this was a false name? Ok. They had an excuse, though. They said, 'we didn't know, it’s an error.’

What about black soldiers? Here’s what they did. They sent, we found out — here’s now what we’ve just found out. They sent first-class letters to the homes of African-American soldiers shipped overseas. They wrote on the envelopes "Do not forward. Return to addressee." Well, of course, they’re shipped overseas, so the letter can’t be forwarded, to Baghdad or Germany, or wherever. Letters are sent back to the Republican National Committee, filtered back out to the state committees, and then elections officials are told, 'These people don't live at that address. We have evidence that they’re falsely registered.’

Now, here’s the trick. You send in your absentee ballot. That is a great act of faith, probably the greatest religious act of faith since Moses walked across the Red Sea, you know, hoping that he wouldn’t get drowned. You just mail in that ballot, and soldiers — this is, remember the Republican Party made a big deal about Al Gore complaining about soldiers’ illegal absentee voting. These people knew that these soldiers couldn’t defend themselves, would not know that their ballot would not be counted, would be challenged. And there’s no way, I mean you could — from Baghdad you can fight George’s war, but you can’t fight for your ballot — massive, massive, nationwide challenge.

In places like Wisconsin, by the way, we’ve just discovered — How did they even know how to challenge these people? They were using Blackberries loaded with the names. This is one expensive multimillion-dollar operation, and by the way, Amy, it’s illegal, okay? One of the reasons why the Republican Party didn’t 'fess up when we showed them the sheets and they said, ’Oh, it's donors,’ is that if you target black people, or Jewish voters, as they did in a few districts, because that’s a democratic demographic, if you challenge these people, that’s against the law. That’s against the voting rights act of 1965. It’s a felony crime, you know.

So you can’t, you can’t just — You know, this is the old gimmick of — like they used to have literacy tests in the South in you know, in the Jim Crow era, where only black people were asked tough literacy questions. Same thing, you cannot target just African-Americans. I mean, you go to jail for that. The only problem is — and people ask, 'Why didn't they go to jail now that you’ve caught them?’ Because the cops, the voting cops in the United States are in the U.S. Justice Department, and at the time, 2004, the voting cop was John Ashcroft. You know, George Bush’s guy, and now we have Gonzales.

I mean, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, called, by the way, for a criminal investigation when I began showing this evidence. I don’t give them my sources, but I do give them the public evidence, with the BBC’s approval. You’ll see it in the book. They did vote for criminal investigations. This never got reported in America. The reaction of the Justice Department was to completely ignore the demand for a criminal investigation, and George Bush fired every member of the Civil Rights Commission that voted for the criminal investigation. Do you like that?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse. Very quickly, Greg, on the issue of class war, where this relates, if you can just summarize your thoughts?

GREG PALAST: Class war — look, when they take away your vote — 3.6 million people cast ballots that didn’t count. While race is the badge of poverty, what we’re finding is that it’s the income of the voter that mattered on whether your vote counted. It’s not — and, look, you go through my book and you’ve seen my reports on your show. Whether it’s Iraq, what Huey Long of 70 years ago, used to call "rich men’s wars."

AMY GOODMAN: Huey Long being —

GREG PALAST: Huey Long was the governor of Louisiana, and it’s a very simple point. Whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s elections, whether it’s Hurricane Katrina, and whether it’s Enron that we’ve discussed. These are all aspects of a class war against the very powerful and the very wealthy, against the average person. We’ve had a class war declared in America, and one of the points in the book is that these are — all of my investigations are really investigations of various fronts in the class war. And we are not shooting back because we don’t have a general. The closest thing we have to a general is far away in Caracas, Hugo Chavez. And we’ve been here before in America. You know, last night, you and I were with Paul Krugman, who said, 'We need a new F.D.R., a new Franklin Roosevelt to bring us a New Deal, to turn things around.' That’s not how it works. Back in 1927, the entire nation changed when the levees of New Orleans broke and New Orleans was drowned. This entire nation —- it was a Republican era, Republican Congress, Republican President. Business was in charge of everything, then New Orleans’ levees broke. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: The great flood of 1927.

GREG PALAST: The great flood of 1927. When the floodwaters hit Louisiana, one guy — and Democrats were saying nothing except, 'Balance the budget.' One Democrat stood up on the back of a flatbed truck, grabbed the Internet of the day, which was the radio. He was the first guy to use radio. He grabbed the radio microphone and said, "This is it. The rich are drowning us. The rich don’t pay for our schools. The rich are leading us into their wars for oil." — At that time, by the way — "The rich will not give us social security for old age. They are not protecting us or providing infrastructure. They are not saving us from deadly work, and they’re letting the oil companies and the banks control this nation, and we have got to end it. We’re going to take this nation back. We’re going to share the wealth. Join with me." And there was a huge national uprising.

Huey Long created something called "Share the Wealth clubs." And it went like a prairie fire, man. It was explosive. And the Democratic Party itself got scared to death. And I hate to say it, two things happened. First, they assassinated Huey Long, who had become governor of Louisiana and was heading towards the White House, but then Franklin Roosevelt, a very weak governor, conservative governor of New York, conservative Democrat, suddenly said — took on Huey’s spirit, kind of, and said, 'Okay, because we're going to lose this country, and even the billionaires are going to lose their billions.’ And so, it was not that we had a great man. This is a new myth that we had a great man, F.D.R. What we did was, we had a great movement that found F.D.R., and F.D.R. found the movement, and that changed America. It’s 1927 again, Amy. It could be.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His new 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. Thanks for being with us.

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