(This was originally published in Kotori Magazine, a print magazine I founded and ran in a previous life)
Guantanamo's Orange Suit City is America's 8th largest metropolis, we have 11,000 TV stations all programmed by Rupert Murdoch's wired brain preserves, and President Jeb Bush is buddy buddy with President bin Laden of Eurasia. This is Greg Palast's report from the future.
Far fetched? Maybe. But after reading Greg Palast's latest better-be-bestseller Armed Madhouse, it's hard to think anything other than 'we could only be so lucky.' The facts and details and reports that he offers are so much more disturbing than the scenario described above, it's sure to make you wonder why we don't all just get our tubes tied and pipes smashed before clocking out of work today. Yet, as vile as the contents may be, this is undoubtedly one of the most important books of our time. If we were truly focused on liberty and justice for all, this would become required reading in our nation's classrooms. But it's not. And it never will be. It's too depressing. In other words...it's too honest. "Considering the stories I have in Armed Madhouse, if it was all done in a serious grim style, you wouldn't make it without Valium," Palast confesses. Damn good thing he has a sense of humor.
Sure, you can write him off as a "conspiracy freak maniac weirdo pinko," but the fact of the matter stands, he's a 'maniac' that has won more distinguished journalism awards and accolades than he can find room for in his cramped NY office, and a 'freak' who has been one of the most coveted correspondents for some of the world's largest and most esteemed news outlets, including Harper's, the BBC, The Guardian, and The Observer. Yah, many of those are British outlets, but really...would any domestic mainstream news outlet be stupid enough to print any sort of stories that might provoke a bit of thought? Their families need to eat for cryin' out loud (not to mention those darned Lexus payments)! But that still didn't stop his last book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy from popping up on the New York Time's bestseller list.
Not only that, but he's a 'weirdo' that has earned enough respect to warrant the attention of some of our country's highest level individuals from the world's highest level institutions. Among those from where he magically manages to acquire a seemingly continuous stream of dizzying inside information are the World Bank, the FBI, the State Department, ExxonMobile, and the Pentagon. "A lot of reporters won't take it. It's a lot of hard work to go through this stuff, verify shit, figure out what a lot of it means," Palast tells us, "but I will. Stuff marked Top Secret...Confidential...I LOVE that stuff."
This brings up a couple of important ethical points. One...there is actually someone out there willing to do the work that their job description calls for: investigate. Two, people truly exist...from within the system itself, who believe it imperative enough to make certain incriminating information public that they are willing to risk their careers, and in many cases, their lives. "For personal decisions or moral reasons, they put themselves in the line of fire. But I'm telling anyone that wants to hand me documents, I'll go to prison before I give you up. Like the shit I get from inside the World Bank, it's fantastic shit!! But if any of those people got caught, their careers are toast, so I would never give them up.
"What we have in America is 'silly news' which is done in this weird serious solemn style...we're telling you fluffy bullshit about the President...he's at his ranch, he's just a regular guy, he just fell off his bike...whereas I'll do some funny offbeat crap about some really heavy serious stuff about Iraq. It's also more fun for me, because I would otherwise go insane," Greg explains. "If you talk to people in weird language about anti-imperialism and stuff like that...if you use that kind of twisted language...well, two things are going to happen...you're not going to convince anyone, and you're not going to get laid." Sold me.
Palast may be the only person in the world to claim that "I had two writing teachers...Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsburg" after studying finance under free-trade luminary Milton Friedman. "I didn't go to journalism school," he confesses. "That's probably why my brain isn't fuckin' twisted in a pretzeled bullshit careerist knot." His work only validates that point.
He was the first to break the Bush voting scandal of 2000 and describe in horrifying detail their methods (and no, it wasn't faulty voting machines), and he was the guy that snuck his way into Tony Blair's inner circle, exposing him to his biggest scandal, "Lobbygate." Now, among other things, Palast is the first to report the story of the voting scandal of 2008...but wait...that hasn't happened yet...or has it?
With Armed Madhouse, Palast comes at us armed with information from within the very establishments he criticizes. In addition to the proof that the 2008 election is already fixed, and the names and circumstances of those responsible for drowning New Orleans, Palast has acquired both of Bush's plans to seize Iraq's oil (yes, both). Surprisingly enough, it wasn't so they can sell it...quite the contrary. The reports reveal that we went into Iraq "to make sure we don't get the oil. The oil companies love it. They're getting 70 bucks a barrel. 3 bucks a gallon. That's mission accomplished. I mean, if we're chanting down the street 'no blood for oil', most Americans think that's a bargain...blood for oil." Makes sense in a disturbing way doesn't it?!
In our A.D.D. society that has turned to 15 second 'news' reports centering more on how large the reporter's rack is or splashy motion graphics that flash 'HOT' where one would normally expect a fahrenheit figure, Palast remains one of the few still willing to put himself in harms way to gather and expose real and relevant truth. "Look, we're made stupid," he shouts. "All this shit about 'they're coming to get us'...if it's not the Muslim hordes, it's the Mexicans crawling over the border to get us. It's this whole thing to make us afraid, and when you're afraid, you get stupid."
But if you're like me, at this point, you don't want to hear anymore about what is happening. You don't want to see anymore about the depressing huntas and corporate regimes that control our lives and our futures without a single breathe of our consideration. You're tired of hearing about the corruption and the scandal. And the exponentially growing front in the class war? Fuggedabit! What you (well, at least I) want to know is, is there anything we can do about it? So that is precisely how I approached him on a recent evening in Manhattan. His immediate response?
"Well, there are simple solutions like 'kill the rich.'"
"But really, we haven't been doing too bad. Did you expect Cheney to come out of his bunker with his hands up saying 'you got me' so we can read him his rights? And I mean, yah, Bush stole the election, but that means he didn't win. Score one for the American people," he explains matter of factly.
"The question is...are people going to un-stupid themselves? I think there are signs of it. We start out with the ability to do a few things," he continues. "We can organize, we can march..."
At that very point, his wife walks in, inquiring about putting their children to bed, prompting him to add "we can have lots of babies so they can't get rid of us!"
It's this very demeanor and presentation that has made him so effective. The sarcasm, the wit, the humor.
"Listen." He gets serious. "Every action that's worth a shit starts at the fringe. It starts off as marginal, then it becomes the center. Even when frickin' Nixon was President, you got this shit scheming little bastard and he still passes the Environmental Protection Agency law, the Occupational Safety and Health law...there was a lot of progressive action that happened."
"New Orleans should have been our rallying cry. Why didn't people march and gather there by the thousands? For the most part people were like 'oh well, we lost a city,'" Palast laments. "We should NEVER LET THAT GO...that a government can let a city drown...bodies floating in the streets...that city was drowning long before the levees ever broke...economically. 1927 is when the entire American political system changed, when the levees broke in New Orleans. The nation was horrified. At the time, the local Public Service Commissioner, Huey Long, rose up and said 'screw this...these rich guys are drowning us!' He literally began a revolution, then he became governor of Louisiana, and then Roosevelt picked up the line as the New Deal."
"You have to bring the war home to people, the concepts home to people. All I know is that suddenly you hit people's points...their kid has cerebral palsy and they have no goddamn health insurance...and someone asks 'why is that?' No matter what we say, we still had 59 million people that voted for this guy. They didn't care that they didn't have health insurance, he just told them he'd make sure boys don't kiss boys and that we can have the 10 commandments at the courthouse door."
"You’ve got to vote, just like you have to wipe your ass. It's just a part of life. Don't let them take that away from you. They can steal some of the votes some of the time, and all of the votes some of the time, but they can't steal all of the votes all of the time. If you're a black person, you've got about a 1 in 7 chance that if your ballot will not count. Does that mean you don't vote? No, that means, you better get your brother to vote too! For God's sakes, fuckin' vote! If you can't do something that dipshit simple, then take the Che Guevara poster off the wall, get rid of the fashion statement, and just bag it. Do the basics man!"
"One way to bust through the electronic Berlin wall is through music. I mean, to me it's pretty significant that my stuff's been introduced in spoken word form by Jello Biafra, that Eminem did a video, 'Mosh,' that was inspired...whatever the hell that means...by my work. So they can tape my mouth and keep me off Fox, but they can't take me off the dance floor. That's no shit important!"
"Use the music and the full concept of the counter culture," he passionately continues. "Not everything has to be political. You buck the system by creating music they don't understand, by having clothes and language they don't understand, by not taking shit-dumb-stupid-brain-dead-fuck-up jobs that destroy you and eat your life and then you're dead. You don't want their music that's picked out by Sony and EMI. You don't want the food that's been packaged for you by McDonald's. You don't want the movies that they have chosen for you. You don't want your job as a way of thinking, or the candidate they have chosen for you. I think it's a question of total resistance from morning til' night on all fronts cultural and political."
He stops and looks out the window upon 2nd Avenue for a brief moment. A touch of nostalgia glimmers in his eyes. He begins fondly reminiscing about his days as a working class child growing up in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. "We were the loser class," he softly utters. "We were ready to be shipped off to 'Nam. And here were these people playing this weird guy with a weird voice...Bob Dylan. I remember his first album.”
“That's when it started busting apart."
"But remember, it was all fringe shit until it became mainstream."
Here is where our interview session began to draw to a comfortable close. Duty called. Our future was in his hands and he had to attend to it. In this case, it took the form of twin 9 year olds.
Before I turned to walk out, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself as his dog ran off with his wife’s shoe, and he went chasing after it. The genius mind behind some of the world's most important information is human after all..
...and so are we.
(This was originally published in Kotori Magazine, a print magazine I founded and ran in the mid-2000s)