Muckraking Around the Globe

A Dollars & Sense interview with investigative reporter Greg Palast

This article is from the Spring 2007 issue of Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

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This article is from the Spring 2007 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

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BBC investigative reporter and international gadfly Greg Palast has dug into many critical stories in recent years—particularly those, like the vulture funds saga (see Palast's article in the current issue of D&S), that lie at the intersection of political decision-making and corporate greed. Dollars & Sense recently interviewed Palast about the sometimes-surprising appraisals that he offers in his latest book, Armed Madhouse, which came out in a revised paperback edition in April.

Dollars&Sense: Many progressives are focused on privatization of the Iraqi economy, including its oil industry, as Bush's real goal for the invasion. But you write about two radically different plans within the administration, the neo-cons' versus Big Oil's—and Big Oil's plan was the one opposed to privatization. What's going on here?

Greg Palast: A lot of intelligent folk believe that before the tanks started to roll, Bush had a secret plan to grab Iraq's oil fields. That's wrong. He had TWO plans. In Armed Madhouse, I show you both—the result of two years undercover for the BBC. The plans conflict. There's the neo-con plan: Privatize—that is, sell off—everything, "especially the oil" industry. That's a quote from the neo-cons' 101-page planning document. That didn't happen because a Jim Baker team—he's the lawyer for both Exxon and Saudi Arabia—secretly wrote a 323-page plan that called for CONTROLLING the oil flow, not owning it. The purpose was to LIMIT the supply of oil from Iraq and keep prices high. This would "enhance [Iraq's] relationship with OPEC," the oil cartel—just the opposite of the neo-con plan, which aimed to break OPEC. So dig it: the invasion was about LIMITING the flow of oil from Iraq and keeping prices high, not about grabbing the oil to bring prices down. The secret Baker plan is now the law in Iraq and oil prices are over $50 a barrel. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

D&S: We've covered some of the less-told stories of Venezuela under Chávez—for example, how he's dramatically expanding the cooperative sector of the economy. Some progressives worry, though: is he a populist demagogue, maybe in the Juan Perón mold, or is he really committed to worker autonomy, democracy, and all that good stuff? You've spoken with Hugo Chávez. What's your take?

GP: Chávez recommends that everyone read my book, so obviously I think he's the greatest statesman since Lincoln. But seriously, folks, what makes the guy such a threat to the Bush World Order is that he insists on keeping the cash from the sale of Venezuela's oil—shock of shocks—in Venezuela! With some lent to the rest of Latin America. Up until now, Venezuela sold us oil, then immediately invested the proceeds in Treasury bills, shifting the funds right back to the United States. Chávez withdrew that money and, heaven help us, spent it on building his country's economy. Is he a "demagogue"? The word means "spokesman for the people." That he is. Fun trivia: Robert Kennedy Jr. reminded me that Chávez picked up the line "whiff of sulfur" in speaking of Bush from my last book, which he had just read.

D&S: You write about how, depending on the price of oil over time, Venezuela's oil could turn out to be a pivot point of huge geopolitical change. Can you explain?

GP: Internal U.S. Department of Energy analysis (I got my hands on it for BBC; it's in the book) shows that Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, has the largest reserve of crude. That's a geo-political earthquake.

D&S: Are you really convinced that a big devaluation of the Chinese currency would be meaningless in terms of saving U.S. manufacturing jobs by making imports from China more expensive? Then why are U.S. policymakers across the political spectrum so obsessed with getting China to devalue its currency?

GP: Why do politicians feed us bullshit? That's a whole book right there. Both parties are winking and nodding and giggling behind your back while they proclaim that the way to save U.S. jobs is to change the value of China's money. A complete red herring, but a brilliant cover for the bipartisan banging the American worker received with the one-two punch of NAFTA and Most Favored Nation trade status for China. There are now 700 Wal-Mart plants in China—zero in the USA. Hillary Clinton was on the board of Wal-Mart when that shift went into full swing. No wonder she's joining George Bush in talking about baloney like exchange rates.

D&S: Bush fired eight prosecutors. You were behind the scenes on that story long before it broke in the United States. What's your take on it?

GP: Look, it's all about VOTES. You'll see that the prosecutor that Karl Rove insisted in putting in place in Arkansas, a slithery character named Tim Griffin, was the spider-mind behind the "caging lists" which purged thousands of Black voters. As Armed Madhouse details, the prosecutors who were fired include those, like Iglesias in New Mexico, who refused to bring phony cases of fraud against legitimate voters. It's a matter of economics: the Republican party is systematically knocking out lower-income voters. That makes their purges racially biased—but my data show that's just the effect of hunting down and attacking the ballot power of working class and poor voters. Disenfranchisement is class war by other means.

D&S: Why hasn't the U.S. press covered the vulture funds, the stolen election, Iraq's oil, or any of the other stories you've put on the front pages in Europe?

GP: Robert Kennedy Jr. just complained to the head of ABC News about the blackout on my stories. (ABC has the right to take my stuff from BBC for free.) I'm not holding my breath for an answer. I call it "The Silence of the Media Lambs." We've got loads of terrific investigative reporters in America, but gutless editors. So the suck-ups to power get the choice posts in metropolitan dailies and on the networks. Think of the punishment inflicted for the crime of investigative reporting. Seymour Hersh told me he was forced out of the New York Times, and Bob Parry, the guy who busted open the Iran-Contra story, was pushed out of the Associated Press. On the other hand, Bob Woodward, who had his journalistic tongue close by George Bush’s rectum, who went from writing All the President's Men to being one of the president's men, is doing just fine. end of article