The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with investigative journalist, bestselling author, economist, and filmmaker Greg Palast. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of June 2-8, 2016. Find the podcast of this interview here.
MN: Joining us today here on Dialogos Radio for this week’s edition of the Dialogos Interview Series is one of our regular and most prominent guests, investigative reporter, filmmaker, and bestselling author Greg Palast, author of books such as Vulture’s Picnic, Armed Madhouse, and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Greg, thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule to join us once again.
GP: You’re very welcome, anytime.
MN: You’ve been spending the past few months on the road, from what I understand, as part of your new film project, taking an investigative look at the state of democracy and election fraud in the United States today. What have you been seeing, over the course of the primary season these past few months?
GP: It’s very interesting, because the news that we get, at least in America, doesn’t reflect what’s going on in the street. We’ve had, obviously, revolution in both parties, a non-violent revolution. The Republican Party has Donald Trump, who has been playing a strong, populist line—that is, he is anti-corporate, he has said that companies that move jobs overseas are going to be punished, he is strongly in favor of maintaining the social safety net such as pensions and medicare and health insurance—and this is very much non-Republican. The leaders, the billionaires who run the Republican Party aren’t happy with this. He’s also, unfortunately, selling a very racist line. He’s saying that no Muslims, zero, should be allowed into the United States for now because they could all be terrorists, which is pretty funny because Trump, remember, owns casinos, and without the Arab Sheiks coming in to his casinos and losing billions of dollars, he would go bankrupt. It’s all political chit-chat. Also, he wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico, to keep Mexicans from running into the United States illegally. There’s a certain dark humor in that because almost everyone who is in the United States who does not have legal papers to stay here, almost everyone flew in, and most come from Asia, some from Europe, very few from Mexico. I guess he just saw an old copy of the movie Viva Zapata with the Mexicans running across the border on horses. And so, if he’s going to build a wall, it’s going to have to be at least 40,000 feet high, because most people just fly in and then stay.
Keep in mind, as you know from the very large Greek community in the United States, the United States is an entire nation of immigrants. Unless you’re a Navajo Indian, you’re an immigrant, or children of immigrants or a grandchild of immigrants, including Donald Trump, by the way. So that’s what’s going on. What we’re not getting in the news, what I’ve been investigating and will be in my new film, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” is the story of how they are trying to manipulate the vote and steal the vote in America. That’s the big uncovered story.
MN: Let’s give a little bit of background regarding this story, beginning with what happened in Florida back in the 2000 elections. How did those elections set the stage for what we see today, such as electronic voting machines, electoral fraud, and the disenfranchisement of voters, particularly poor and minority voters?
GP: Back in the year 2000, that’s when George W. Bush was first elected, but he really wasn’t elected. He lost the vote. The nasty secret of American democracy is that we don’t count all the votes. We are, by all modern measures, we have one of the most corrupted and least trustworthy voting systems in the Western world. For example, in 2000, when I was working for The Guardian and the BBC out of England, I discovered that the person in charge of counting the votes in Florida was a Republican official who not only was in charge of recording the votes, but was also the chairwoman of Bush’s election campaign. Before the election, she removed 56,000 African-Americans from the voter rolls, citizens, so that they couldn’t vote. What was the reason? She said they were convicted of crimes and therefore they couldn’t vote. As it turns out, none of these people were criminals. Not a single one. But they all lost their right to vote, almost none of them were going to vote for Bush, but that’s how Bush became president of the United States. People have to understand, out of over 100 million votes cast, George W. Bush won the presidency by just 537 votes. Now, that election was pure stolen, and I uncovered it. In 2004 Bush stole it again, and I uncovered that.
Today, I’m working with Rolling Stone magazine, and I’ve uncovered a brand new gimmick called “cross-check,” and they’re literally removing another million people from the voter rolls of the United States. You have to understand, we have a very strange system called the electoral vote system, which makes vote theft fairly easy, and makes it profitable, because if you win a single state in America, you get all of its electoral votes. So, even if you win a state by 200 votes, you get all of its electoral votes for choosing the president. Now, that’s a little complicated, but the point of that is, when they remove one million voters from such states as Ohio and North Carolina and Florida, these are the states that determine who becomes our president. It doesn’t matter who gets the most votes in the United States, it’s a matter of these strange electoral votes, and that’s how they’re stealing it. What they’re doing is, they have a new gimmick to remove people from the voter rolls secretly, quietly, people don’t even know they’ve been removed from the voter rolls.
About a third of Americans mail in their ballots, send them in by mail, and if their vote isn’t counted, they don’t know it. Americans don’t know if their votes even get counted. We know officially that about 6 million votes never get counted. That’s the official word. The thing is that almost all the votes removed are votes of poor people, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, and Asian-Americans. These are all basically Democratic voters. The Democrats, of the 6 million votes lost, is about a 4 million vote lost to the Democratic candidates. Not only the president, but the United States Senate which is up for grabs. So even though the Republican Party does not like Donald Trump, the problem is that they still have to control the election process and steal votes, because they need to control the United States Senate, which is very much up for grabs in this election.
MN: We are on the air with bestselling author and investigative journalist Greg Palast here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and Greg, all of this, of course, is leading up to your new film project, which you mentioned a moment ago, a crowdsourced documentary titled “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” which is also the name of one of your books. Tell us more about the project, and also, how interested listeners might be able to support it.
GP: Well, there’s two things going on. One, the book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” which is a big international bestseller, was about the theft of these elections in America, how it just doesn’t stop and it’s gotten worse. The film is actually, even though it’s about a grim subject, most of it is quite a lot of fun, and that is following me around as an investigative reporter, from state to state, seeing how many votes they’re stealing, and you get to meet the guys who are stealing the votes, and you also meet their victims.
The important thing is, the subtitle is “A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.” “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” is another book I wrote, and the important thing is, who is buying these elections. It’s very expensive to steal elections. It’s very expensive to get elected, but it’s even more expensive to go through the process of stealing votes. So, we hunt down the guys behind the vote theft, billionaires like David and Charles Koch and their brother Billy Koch, who is often forgotten. We go after a guy named Paul Singer, known as “The Vulture,” a major vulture investor, who if you read my new book, just translated into Greek, “Vulture’s Picnic,” you get to meet Paul Singer the vulture—a very important character, a financial marauder, a financial pirate. He is behind the vote theft as well. He’s funding these efforts to block black and Latino and poor voters from voting. That’s the game. These billionaires have an agenda. They’re going to help Republicans get elected, but they don’t really care about the Republican Party, they care about their own bank accounts. They don’t care about the political philosophy of any of these candidates. In fact, some of them are Democrats themselves, but they’re going to support the theft of the election by the Republicans, especially for the United States Senate.
MN: Let’s take a look now at Latin America, where we’ve seen the impeachment of president Dilma Roussef in Brazil, the electoral loss of president Kirchner in Argentina and the election of a neoliberal, pro-U.S. government that is now working on repaying the vulture funds, plus we’ve seen the opposition score a major victory in the recent Senatorial elections in Venezuela, putting the already destabilized Maduro government in further jeopardy. What’s your take on what is happening in South America?
GP: The answer is oil. Venezuela was rebuilding its nation by spreading its oil wealth. Hugo Chavez, before he died, when he was president, directed a massive shift in the nation’s wealth from the small group of the white elite—they didn’t call themselves Venezuelans, they called themselves Spaniards—and spread the money amongst the poor people, the black and Indian population, because he was black and Indian, as he told me. I knew Chavez well. If you go to gregpalast.com, you can download for free my film “The Assassination of Hugo Chavez.” It’s about the political assassination of Chavez. So what happened is, with the collapse of oil prices, there was no way to continue this program of redistributing wealth, unless you now start taking it away from the rich people. So now, the rich are in revolt, so you have a revolution of the rich in Venezuela, and of course, because there’s no money left in the Treasury with oil prices destroyed, the current government, any government would have a tough time surviving that.
Same thing in Brazil. Brazil was becoming a major oil producer, but suffered not only the collapse of oil prices, but also the collapse of its commodities which it sold to China. As China’s economy has slowed, Brazil’s economy has died. So of course the government in power, once again a leftist government, has been under attack. They’re impeaching the president Dilma Rousseff, but I can tell you, I’ve been down to Brazil many times. The particular problem with Rousseff is that she has never been a politician, never held public office until she was elected president, and she is just the worst politician. So she literally does not know how to speak to the people. I see that in Venezuela, President Maduro—who I know personally—he’s a wonderful guy but he’s not a politician and has no idea how to speak to his nation. So you’ve got two non-politicians who are suddenly running governments in crisis mode.
Finally, in Argentina, this is a situation that is very close to the Greek situation. We had the Kirchner governments, two presidents—Cristina and Néstor Kirchner—a family of presidents just like the Clintons or the Bushes. They had fought very hard not to pay the vultures that took over the debt when the nation was poor. And they took a very, very different route from Greece. When they had a financial crisis because their governments, their military governments had bought the entire neoliberal program of austerity and privatization and liberalization and open markets, just like Greece, the economy of Argentina collapsed. But then the leftist governments of Néstor and Cristina Kircher took over. They rejected the neoliberal programs. They moved away from austerity. They tightened their regulations. They deprivatized and renationalized their critical industries like electricity and water and oil. And the government thrived! Suddenly the nation thrived by rejecting the whole neoliberal austerity program. In fact, the banks that were owed money ended up getting their money. People don’t realize that while Argentina declared a default, in the end the banks that they owed money to got their money, because the economy grew. This really very much applies to the situation of Greece. If someone is dying, the solution is not to bleed—it’s Medieval to be bleeding a nation economically when it’s wounded. That’s why Argentina was dying and that got reversed when austerity was rejected. Obviously that didn’t happen in Greece, so as you’re wounded, you’re also being bled at the same time.
Now what’s happened in Argentina is that a few “vulture investors,” as they’re called, bought up some of the old debts of Argentina back from the military dictatorship. They paid 50 million dollars—Paul “The Vulture” Singer paid about 50 million dollars for debt, bonds of the Argentine government, and then demanded 3 billion dollars, after paying 50 million for the debt. The Kirchner government refused, and he held out, he used U.S. law to strangle the nation of Argentina, to prevent it from getting funds from the IMF, to prevent the nation from borrowing, to seize the assets of the nation, including its navy ships on the high seas! The vulture seized its satellite rockets. The types of things that are threatened of Greece if you dare declare a default. But remember, the vultures never lent money to Argentina. The vulture investors never lent money to Greece. These guys just buy up old debts at a discount and then hold the nation economically hostage, for ransom. And unfortunately, in the case of Argentina, it worked! They were strangling the economy, destroying the economy, so then the leftist government which said “we will never pay these vultures” ended up getting thrown out of office and a new right-wing government just wrote a check to the vultures for 6 billion dollars. So they basically gave up the Argentine Treasury to these vultures who paid 50 million dollars for bonds. You’re talking about a 3,000 percent profit. It is obscene, it’s horrible, and by the way, it reflects on the U.S. election, because Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed the vulture attack on Argentina and said “this guy is a threat to world finance”—the vulture and his friends—and it carries over to Greece because, I have to tell you that, Paul Singer the vulture in Argentina, people thought he was behind the vulture attack, the financial attack on Greece. It wasn’t. It was, as it turns out, the Bass brothers, who were his partners in Argentina, attacking Argentina. These are the guys who were threatening Greece, and they were paid by your government. You’ve got no money, but they’ve been paid.
MN: We are speaking with bestselling author and investigative journalist Greg Palast here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series – Before we talk more about Greece, we’ve seen a similar crisis unfold in recent years in Puerto Rico, and a crisis that is only now reaching the limelight. Puerto Rico of course is not an independent country, it is a U.S. colony, yet there are many similarities with what we see in Greece and elsewhere in Latin America. What is your take on what is happening in Puerto Rico today, the role of the vulture funds, and how the U.S. government is responding to the issue.
GP: This is fascinating, because Puerto Rico is one of America’s last colonies. A lot of Republicans, a lot of people fear making them a state. But this is the interesting thing: all the people in Puerto Rico are American citizens. Now, Puerto Rico, as a semi-independent state, got into trouble because just like Greece was stuck to the Euro, Puerto Rico was stuck to the U.S. dollar. It’s a Caribbean nation, so remember, Puerto Rico has to compete economically with Haiti, with Trinidad, with Jamaica, but it has the U.S. dollar, just like Greece has the euro. And so what’s happened is, the Puerto Rican economy has been dying, and so people are fleeing Puerto Rico. Probably nearly half of the population of Puerto Rico now lives in the United States proper, in New York and Florida mainly. So what’s happened is, the economy of Puerto Rico has died because it’s stuck with the U.S. dollar, just like Greece is stuck with the euro and has suffered.
The difference is that there’s a real debate in the United States between paying off not only the banks but the same vulture investors that have gotten involved. Paul Singer’s vulture partner, a guy named Mark Brodsky, is now the big vulture holding the bonds and debts of Puerto Rico. So what’s happened is that a great number of American politicians and the government of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, have called for a very un-German solution, which is to allow Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy and to cut down and eliminate and agree not to pay most of its debts, and to refinance its debts with help from the U.S. government. And this is not like the IMF, where they are demanding all kinds of cuts and austerity. However, that’s the Obama administration’s position. The position of the Republican party, for the most part, is to basically do what the Germans are doing to Greece: demand massive austerity, massive layoffs of public employees, privatization of the electric company, and all these various same measures, cutting the pensions, all the same things that Greece is going through, the demand for austerity. So right now, part of the election fight is over whether the vultures win or the people of Puerto Rico. But at least, the majority—and I want to emphasize this—the majority of people in the United States do not feel like the Germans. The majority of people in the United States think that Puerto Rico is still part of America and therefore the people of Puerto Rico deserve to be treated as Americans and therefore the island not be destroyed economically. So it’s a fierce battle, just like you have in Greece, except that in Greece it’s a battle between your people, your government, the IMF, and the Germans, and in the U.S. it’s a battle between the people of Puerto Rico, the vulture investors, and the Republican and Democratic parties. Though there’s a lot of Democrats who are anti-Puerto Rico and a lot of Republicans who are in favor of helping Puerto Rico. The problem is that the vultures are supporting the Republican Party, and remember, even with a Democratic president, we have a Republican Congress, and they’re holding up a solution for Puerto Rico, just like the Germans are holding up a solution for Greece.
MN: Looking now at Greece, recently the SYRIZA-led government passed further sets of strict austerity measures, targeting the country’s pension and tax systems and mortgaging the country’s public assets to foreign lenders for the next 99 years. Greece, of course, remains in the Eurozone, and there’s no discussion or debate at governmental levels in Greece about an exit from the Eurozone or the EU…what’s your reaction to these latest developments in Greece?
GP: Basically, the SYRIZA government lied to the Greek people. It ran on a platform of saying we’ll get a good deal from Europe or we will leave the euro. They had a lot of power and a lot of leverage when they came in. There was a great deal of panic about Greece leaving the euro, that could have been used to squeeze concessions. But concessions are somewhat meaningless in one way. As long as you’re in the Eurozone, you are chained to the German economy, and you are chained to Germany’s need for higher interest, you’re chained to Germany’s need to maintain high employment at a cost to the rest of the Eurozone. That’s what’s going on. As long as you have this ridiculously high currency, you can’t compete against Turkey—you’re getting some of the tourism back now, but only at a devastating cost to your wages.
I think what’s happening now is, now the whole idea of leaving the Eurozone is completely lost. It’s one of those things where you say “we should have done it a year ago,” every year you say you should have done it a year ago. It is very late, a high price has already been paid, but it’s still not the end of the price that you will be paying, because if you don’t leave the Eurozone, you are going to be stuck! And unlike the United States, where Puerto Rico is stuck with the U.S. dollar and has to use the U.S. dollar but there’s an understanding that the U.S. government has to be responsible for this nation basically changed to its dollar—there’s no sense of responsibility to Greece, by the European Union. It’s not a union. The European Union is not anything close to a union in any manner. It is an occupation, and I don’t say that lightly. You had a Greek elite which was more than happy to combine with this tremendous outside pressure force, and don’t forget that the plunder of Greece’s assets is not just by Germans or foreigners. The plunder includes the takeover of a lot of your assets by some rich Greeks as well, who saw this as a way to pry golden assets out of the government. And of course, did that help? I mean, you’re constantly being told that austerity would save you, and it hasn’t! So, you know, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.
Austerity is an idea that is dangerous and failed. It really is, as Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist told me, it’s completely Medieval. The idea of bleeding an economy, cutting your pensions, cutting your wages, selling off more, is going to improve your economy, is insane! You keep doing it and it doesn’t work, for a very simple reason: when you cut people’s pensions and you cut people’s wages and you eliminate government employment and you eliminate employment in the shipping industry, you end up with people who don’t have money to spend, and if people don’t spend money, your economy dies. It is not surprising that when you slash and bleed an economy, that it starts bleeding to death, and now, these past weeks, your government, your parliament decided to go along with more austerity, but it’s not good enough for the Germans! And the Germans aren’t demanding austerity because it’s good for you or it’s even good for the Eurozone, because they know that this will drag down Greece further. They absolutely know it. Even the IMF, which is an organization which is infamous for its insane cruelty, even the IMF says that this is too cruel! It’s as if Pinochet the dictator said “I can’t watch this torture anymore!” Even the IMF said this is insane! Christine Lagarde, she’s even saying this is madness, this will just make it impossible for Greece to recover.
If you look at the program that they have in mind for Greece, they’re not even promising recovery anymore. They’re saying you’re going to be in austerity mode for the next 20 years. That’s not true. You will be in the austerity mode forever. This is a permanent change in your wages, a permanent change in control, a permanent change in ownership, unless you get the hell out of the Eurozone! Yes it’s too late, but it’s not too late. It should have been done before, but it’s got to be done now! And, you know, it will happen. Either the Eurozone will collapse as it enjoins Greece, or Greece, ironically, is going to be shoved out of the Eurozone when they decide that you’re just too costly to keep around.
MN: We are on the air with bestselling author and investigative journalist Greg Palast here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and Greg, we’ve discussed this in past interviews but I believe it bears repeating: you had spoken to the founding father, if you will, of the euro, economist Robert Mundell. What did he have to say about the European common currency and its true objectives?
GP: This is very important. The man who invented the euro is the economist Robert Mundell, whom I’ve had long discussions with. Mundell said absolutely straight-faced—and by the way, he’s not European, he’s a Canadian-American who lives in New York—he said that the creation of the euro was a way to bring the supply-side economics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to the continent [of Europe]. By creating the euro, he said, you take away fiscal power, monetary power from any government, so if you’re ever in trouble you can’t use stimulus spending, you can’t change the value of your currency. Therefore the only thing that’s left for you to do is to cut government employment, cut wages, eliminate union power, and privatize industry. Just so you understand, what happened in Greece was not a mistake, it was not a problem of the euro, it was the program of the euro, it’s the purpose of the euro. What happened to Greece is what Mundell and the creators of the euro had in mind, which is to break your unions, take your properties, etc. Now understand, is Mundell some type of crazy bezerker? No, he’s a Nobel Prize-winning economist, he was the man that created supply-side economics for Ronald Reagan, which is now known as “voodoo economics,” and he actually believed in the long run this would be better for Europe and for Greece, to get rid of labor unions, to get rid of public employment, and basically eliminate all kinds of regulations which he thought were strangling the economy. This is an old, right-wing, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher view of world economics which is now long discredited. But while supply-side economics is now roundly considered a failed, wrong economic philosophy, an experiment that was disastrously wrong worldwide, you’re still stuck with the supply-side chain, the supply-side prison known as the Eurozone. That’s the problem. Basically, the euro is simply a tool to enforce supply-side, right-wing economics, and everyone is getting hurt by this except the Germans, who have reorganized their economy to be an export machine, because they have, for them, the currency is priced too low. So they have a tremendous export advantage and they use it, so they are the export machine and you are the victims.
MN: Now before we wrap up, let’s talk about your most recent book, Vulture’s Picnic, which has finally circulated in Greece with a Greek-language translation. What can our listeners expect to read in this book?
GP: First of all, think of it as a real-life detective story. I call it “Pulp Non-Fiction.” So it reads like a detective story because it is, and you follow me as a detective through such things as the Greek financial crisis, where we uncovered such things as the tremendous, ugly influence of the manipulation of the Greek debt, the hiding of the Greek debt by Goldman Sachs and big banks. You’ll also find such things as what we call the “end game memo,” which was the original memo of the World Trade Organization, written by U.S. Treasury secretaries, which basically the blueprint for this neoliberal takeover of the world economy, and Greece is its natural victim. You’ll get the whole story about what is behind this, what kicked off what you call the “Greek crisis,” but was really the Greek plan. In fact, in the book, the detective (me, Greg Palast), I end up meeting with this economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and he was on the inside. He was the chairman of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, and he was also the chief economist of the World Bank. As he laid it out, he explained that this destruction, this squeezing of the economies was a deliberate plan. I showed him a document I got—throughout Vulture’s Picnic you get all these inside documents, I get a lot of confidential documents, and that’s what’s fun, I pull these things out of files—and out of the files of the World Bank and the IMF, I found plans that basically suggested that they knew that their plans would cause riots, and the riots were good, because this would allow them to move in the troops, take over the government, and impose their austerity plan. So they’re literally trying to provoke riots, and I said “it looks like they’re trying to provoke riots, am I reading this correctly?” and Stiglitz said “absolutely.” Remember, this was the chief economist of the World Bank. He’s inside, he’s not guessing. He said “we used to call those the IMF riots,” and they liked the riots because just like you had the burning of the bank in Athens and four people died, they love this stuff. I hate to put it this way, but they really love it, because when there is rioting and commotion and crisis, they move in and impose austerity and people are afraid of insurrection, afraid of civil war, Greece suffered a civil war, no one wants that again, so people say “okay, we’ll go along with the austerity,” even though you know, you have to be kidding yourself if you think this is somehow going to save you or improve your economy.
MN: Greg, where can our listeners find out more about your books, your film project, and also your podcast?
GP: Number one, read the book, read “Vulture’s Picnic,” which I’m thrilled is now in Greek. My other books, “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits,” “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” these have been translated into several languages, but the important thing is get the story, get the information. Then, you can read all of my reports for free at gregpalast.com. Please go there and you’ll get the latest information on all the hijinks and vote thievery and bad billionaires, and if you want, you can support this film [Billionaires and Ballot Bandits]. It is a film that is nearly complete now, and it has been funded by the public so that we don’t owe any commercial interests any money to tell the truth about the U.S. elections. We’ll be putting out a television broadcast, radio broadcast, etc. You can get all this information and how to join in producing this film at gregpalast.com.
MN: Wonderful…well Greg, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series.
GP: Thank you so much, Michael.