This Saturday evening, Roberto and I braved steam heat and a relentless summer downpour and headed to the University of Tampa's Fletcher Lounge for Greg Palast's final U.S. speaking engagement promoting his new book, Armed Madhouse. The event was sponsored by our local community radio station, the venerable (and wonderful) WMNF.
Introducing Mr. Palast was a famous Floridian whom many have called a true American hero: Ion Sancho, the Leon County, Florida elections supervisor who helped expose Diebold & DRE voting machine flaws. Sancho has been an outspoken proponent of verified voting; Saturday night he drew raucous applause with this statement:
We are born, and we're given a certificate to prove we exist. When we graduate, when we get married, when we buy a house or a car--there is a piece of paper that legally confirms these things. When we go to the grocery store and buy our lettuce and tomatoes and beef, we get a receipt that states what we purchased and how much it cost. Yet when we perform the most important duty as citizens--when we cast our votes--we do not have any way of knowing if our vote was recorded correctly or if it will be counted...ladies and gentlemen, I submit that our vote is more important than our lettuce and tomatoes.
And the energy simply grew from there. When Palast walked to the lecturn, wearing a bright tie and his signature fedora, the cheers and applause went on for minutes. Palast is well-known for his tenacious reporting and groundbreaking exposés, but he's also a man who embodies the spirit and ethos of the old-school reporter--beholden to no-one and nothing but the Truth; indeed, he was described by Sancho as "...fearless; a pitbull...the only reporter to show up in my office after the election and continually call me to follow up on stories."
Palast began by holding up a piece of paper with simple pie charts depicting the results of CNN's exit polls in Ohio, compiled at 1:05 am November 3rd 2004, just after voting ended. There were two black and white circles, one for male and one for female voters. Palast noted that if 51% of males voted for Kerry, and 47% of females didn't vote for Kerry (meaning 53% did), "...what was this Third Sex that put George W. Bush in the White House again?"
From there, Palast launched into a detailed analysis of the dirty and astonishing tricks the RNC pulled in 2004, including the unprecedented challenge of more than three million voters which resulted in them having to cast provisional ballots because they were guilty of a "crime": Voting While Black. A million of these provisional ballots were never counted, and the vast majority of these were ballots cast by people of color. He pointed to statistics showing the chance that an African American's vote will be "spoiled"--not counted--is 900% higher than that of a white person's vote. The rate of spoilage is even higher for votes cast by Native Americans.
Shifting gears from outraged to instructive, Palast then discussed the realities behind the Iraq war, starting with some historical perspective. He talked about the origins of the oil-rich area that the politicians outlined and began calling Iraq in the late 1920's and the subsequent sale of its oil monopoly to British Petroleum and Exxon; then, he discussed how members of the Big Oil cartel controlled prices by capping or manipulating the supply of oil throughout the twentieth century; finally, he discussed George W. Bush's problem with addiction--not to drugs, but to Petrodollars, and explained how the ongoing suppression of Iraq's oil production was intended to keep prices in the stratosphere. From Palast's book, Armed Madhouse:
Iraq has 74 known fields and only 15 in production; 526 known "structures" (oil-speak for "pools of oil"), only 125 drilled. And they won't be drilled, not unless Iraq says "Mother, may I?" to Saudi Arabia, or, as the Baker (Bush crony and Saudi Arabia's attorney James Baker)/CFR paper says, "Saudi Arabia may punish Iraq." And believe me, Iraq wouldn't want that.
The decision to expand production has, for now, been kept out of Iraq's hands by the latest method of suppressing Iraq's oil flow--the 2003 invasion and resistance to invasion.
Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five U.S. oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002.
That suggests an interesting arithmetic equation. Big Oil's profits are up $89 billion a year in the same period the oil industry boosted contributions to Mr. Bush's reelection campaign to roughly $40 million.
And there was more: Palast talked about Venezuela's vast oil reserves and the country's spread-the-wealth leader--Hugo Chavez--who is ever poised to throw a monkey wrench into Big Oil's works and whom BushCo dearly wishes would go away permanently (so much so, one of their favorite "spiritual advisors" actually called for this. No, really.)
Palast concluded by telling us how we could take arms against this oil-clotted and seemingly insurmountable sea of troubles: by voting. That's right. He wants us to not only get out and vote, but bring along as many new voters as we can, saying "If they're going to steal 5 million votes in the 2008 election, well, we'll just have to counter that with six million more votes. And to those who say But they're just going to steal my vote anyway, I say this: Make them. Let's make them steal your vote."
Finally, BBC's star American reporter said two things that were breathtaking in their originality, brilliance, and capacity to stir the collective soul of his audience. First, he held up a copy of Armed Madhouse and told us "I have not copyrighted this. I want you to take it all, reprint whatever you want--just get it out there." Then he left us with this, a quote from--of all people--George W. Bush:
"Do not fight for a dying regime. It is not worth your life."
My Madhouse is a very, very, very fine Madhouse.