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Armed Madhouse opens with a dystopian news report from the not too distant future… Orwell, eat your heart out. There’s yet another Bush in the White House, Michael Moore’s exploded, and reality TV is replacing the news and health care riots But this is the only part of Armed Madhouse that’s fiction – the rest is something that America doesn’t get to see too often any more, true investigative journalism.
As Palast states, “If my report from the future gives you the creeps – the present ain’t a joyride either.” And with the separation of the rich and poor ever increasing, many Americans losing the vote, and a seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East – he’s right, this country is no joyride.
In Armed Madhouse we take a whirl-wind tour of a world brought to you by Bush and his cronies – as the subtitle states, ‘From Baghdad to New Orleans’. Documents in hand, Palast shows us in-depth the real story behind many of the biggest stories of the past decade. Immediately in Armed Madhouse we are introduced to the planned incompetence that has run the White House and thus the country for the past 7 years. From the writings of Osama to the databases of ChoicePoint, Palast tells you what you really should be afraid of. We then move to the oil fields of Iraq to answer the question, “Did Bush have a plan for Iraqi oil?” The answer: no, he had two.
Coming back to America - specifically to the offices of The New York Times - there is a class war going on. Thomas Friedman, formally known as Milton - Palast kids - says that the ‘world is flat’, arguing that free market capitalism will solve our problems. It all seems a little to close to the film Network for the author. “Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multidollars, reichmarks…It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.” Palast argues that this system is going to take us back to the turn of the century - making America and the world a ‘company town.’
In Palast’s previous book Best Democracy Money Can Buy, he uncovered what really happened in 2000 Florida election. This time it’s Ohio… and New Mexico… and Iowa. This time around, millions of voters across the country were either not allowed to vote or their votes were thrown away, enough to swing the election from blue to red. In 2000 Republicans had to use illegal caging lists to win, this time they used the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) - something that the Democrats actually asked for. But the vote suppression/fraud doesn’t stop there; in 2004 Bush and Rove pulled out all the tricks.
The class war isn’t being waged just on the pages of the Times - it’s happening on the streets of America. This war doesn’t have any soldiers and no Humvees have been deployed but it is a war. The casualties are our loss of overtime, greater income disparity, and our public education. In August 2005, the war became real, and the frontlines were the streets of New Orleans; they said it was a natural disaster but the documents, or in this case the lack of them, prove that it was a man-made disaster.
Before Palast got into journalism he was a forensic economist - think CSI: Wall Street. Instead of cutting into corpses in the morgue he dissected the documents and statements of big corporations like Enron and Exxon. Now reporting from abroad for the BBC, Palast uncovers some of the most important stories that America has never heard, from the real story behind the drowning of New Orleans to Bush’s two plans for Iraqi Oil. Author of the New York Times bestselling book Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Palast is Guerrilla News Network’s Guerrilla of the Year and a Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. His writings have won the Financial Times David Thomas Prize–and inspired the Eminem video, Mosh.
Q. Where does ‘Armed Madhouse’ come from?
A. It’s from 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.
Q. Is the war in Iraq a war for oil?
A. 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.
Q. In Armed Madhouse you say that there are not one but two plans for Iraq’s oil.
A. 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.
Q. In the election we saw a huge turnout and a massive growth in the vote. Did you have any suspicions about that?
A. Oh, more than suspicions; I did the calculations, and therefore ... one of the chapters of Armed Madhouse is Kerry Won, Now Get Over It. It was about how... there's no question. In the US, the presidency's determined by the winners of each state. It's a winner-take-all in each state and those Electoral votes are added up. There's no question that John Kerry not only won Ohio, which technically went to George Bush, but he won the state of New Mexico, he won the state of Iowa, probably Nevada and a couple of others. Unquestionably. If you counted all the votes. What happened was that all these votes were just thrown in the garbage. In the case of places like Ohio.
One thing I've added in the new edition of Armed Madhouse is records from the state of Ohio where someone had literally crossed out--you'll see the actual cross-outs on these documents--where they'd crossed out and removed voting machines from African American neighborhoods. That's why you had these massive lines. They deliberately removed machines so that there'd be gigantic back-up lines. Seven- and eight-hour waits to vote if you were in a minority neighborhood, but if you were in a white suburban neighborhood, you walked right in and voted. That was just one of the games that they played.
Massive challenges. Guys with little Blackberries challenging voters as they came up. No particular reason, but basically Democrats are black and they're pretty much defenseless. And, of course, the US media doesn't cover this because the US media doesn't cover anything that involves black people or poor people, in particular. And they're not going to do anything that involves challenging, suggesting that the American presidency was decided by an electoral coup d'etat.
Q. Does 2008 look any better?
A. 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.
Q. In the first edition of Armed Madhouse you describe your search for a evacuation plan for New Orleans, specifically one from Innovative Emergency Management. Did you ever find it?
A. Actually, I finally got the contract that said they were "supposed to create" an evacuation plan. FEMA had withheld the documents we requested for a year and a half. FEMA was keeping it secret and was telling us it's a national security document until we threatened to sue.
I worked on an evacuation plan in Long Island, New York, for a hurricane. And you know what the key part about an evacuation plan is? You have to have it. Cops have to have it. Emergency workers have got to have it. The bus drivers have got to have it.
The most important thing is that we found out from the experts at the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University that they had a detailed evacuation plan.
Q. Do you think part of the reason is that they may have had an evacuation plan for a hurricane, but not necessarily for a breach of the levees or a major flood?
A. That's part of the problem, because they had no plan in case of a breach. Number one, the LSU Hurricane Center told the White House before the flood -- and I want to reemphasize this -- before the flood -- that New Orleans would be under water on a class 3 hurricane, that the levees were deficient, and that they were 18 inches short. The White House completely ignored their warnings.
You have to understand that the LSU hurricane experts actually spoke directly to the White House about this and what they saw as an emergency situation.
You should also know that the White House knew for nearly a full day that the levees had in fact been breached, and were about to drown the people left in the city. The emergency crews and police stopped the evacuation because they thought the city had survived Hurricane Katrina because the storm missed New Orleans. The hurricane watch center didn't realize that the levees had started to crack.
The White House knew it because the Army Corps of Engineers sent them photographs. Again, I want to emphasize that the White House had the photographs of the levees breaking, and didn't tell state and local officials who had stopped the evacuation because the hurricane missed New Orleans. Everyone thought they dodged a bullet, but the White House didn't tell anybody the levees broke and were drowning the city.
- Of the revelations in the book, which were new to you? Do you think the average American is informed on these issues? Why do you think that the public is still in the dark on so many of the questions that this book answers (the war in Iraq, the issue of Iraqi oil, the elections of 2000 and 2004)?
- Instead of debating whether or not the FBI has the right to review library records, Palast places the discussion in the context of a larger concern: “Why isn’t [the FBI] reviewing Swiss, Pakistani and Saudi bank transfer records instead?” What point is Palast making? How do you weigh practicality versus principle in choosing which battles to fight?
- General Jay Garner, whose plans for Iraq included elections within ninety days of Saddam’s capture, was fired by the Bush administration for those plans. He would later become an executive of a defense firm that would profit from the war. How do you feel about Garner’s efforts and ideas?
- Palast argues that there is no actual war on terror; instead the war of terror revolves around creating fear. Do you see this reflected within your daily life?
- Palast points out that the 2005 bombing of the London tube had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda, contrary to what was said at the time. When the London bombing occurred, how did you react and did it change or confirm your feelings about the war on terror? Since then, have your views changed again? What kind of lessons can we learn from how we reacted to events such as the London bombing and 9/11?
- Regarding the battle over Iraqi oil between neo-conservatives and Big Oil, Palast quotes one oil executive as saying, “Many neo-conservatives have certain ideological beliefs about markets and democracy and this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, don’t have a theology, they don’t have a doctrine.” Which group poses a greater challenge: those who have an opposing ideology or those who don’t operate with any kind of ideology?
- Palast refers to the “silence of the media lambs,” pointing out instances where the media remained silent, asked the wrong questions, or came to a conclusion without proper investigation. How do you feel about the role the media has played, and what needs to change in the future? Is there any link between the media’s actions and how the American public has been silenced by the fear created from Bush’s war on terror?
- Palast discusses the class war in context of labor, education, and New Orleans. If the gap between the classes continues to widen in the future, what kind of repercussions will there be? How have you been affected by the class war, and how do you expect to be affected in the future?
- Consider the amount of effort required to illegally challenge millions of voters in the last two presidential elections. Palast points out several examples of the media and political figures backing down from challenging and exposing these tactics. Why was no comparable effort made on their side, especially considering the political figures were the ones hurt most?
- Given the level of vote tampering documented in the book, why do you think there hasn’t been a comparable public reaction? Does the general public not understand, not believe, or simply not care what has occurred?
- What do you think of the author’s ideas to counter the Republican Party’s plan to steal the 2008 election? Is it enough? Are there more options out there?
- Palast concludes that George Bush is un-American. Of the actions of the Bush administration, which one struck you as the most un-American and why?