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The Flaming Moderate

LiberalOasis Interviews Greg Palast

On February 25, 2003, the man that has been called "the greatest investigative reporter of our time," Greg Palast, released the new, expanded American edition of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."

About 40 percent of the material in this paperback edition was not part of the original hardcover import. You can read the intro here and order the book here.

Combining tenacious reporting and a fierce pen, Palast connects the dots on the biggest stories in recent years, including: Sept. 11, the economic collapse of Argentina, the 2000 election, Enron, and the attempted coup in Venezuela.

To mark the occasion, Palast joined LiberalOasis for a one-on-one interview.

LiberalOasis: In your view, what is the real motivation for the Bush Administration to start a war with Iraq?

Greg Palast: You don't seem to buy the notion that Saddam is the Butcher of Baghdad. He's Bush's Butcher of Baghdad.

The most important phrase from Condi Rice was when she said it's immoral to leave Saddam in power for 12 years.

Of course, it's been 24 years. He was their favorite dictator. They kept him in power because he was against the Unicycle of Evil, Iran.

Saddam is a killer, a murderer and a berzerker. A Frankenstein created by Bush. He hired him, so I guess he has the right to fire him.

LO: What's changed?

GP: One, Saddam's gone renegade. Two, the war on Iraq is the weapon of mass distraction. When you say attack Osama, he says attack Iraq. It's bait and switch. Don't watch that man behind the curtain.

Bush put a turban and a beard on Saddam. Now most Americans believe Saddam played a part in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush also wants an endless war economy. We have an economy completely in the toilet, the same thing that defeated his daddy.

But if you have an endless war economy, you create a distraction through patriotism, and you boost the economy, by spending money on the military, on the berzerker weapons.

LO: Does all that mean oil is not the main motivator here?

GP: Bush is oil. His number one donor is the petroleum and energy industry. We didn't hold an election. We held an auction, and they put up the money.

And you can't look at Iraq alone. You have to look at the entire picture, including Venezuela, which is a swing nation in OPEC.

Just as we're concerned about Iraq, we're concerned about Venezuela. But we can't get away with attacking Venezuela because Hugo Chavez was elected.

LO: Some conservatives would argue that if it was all about oil, we'd be cutting deals with Saddam, not attacking him.

GP: He cut his deal with the French and the Russians. Exxon and British Petroleum [BP] are sliced out of the action. It is not true that without a war that we would have access to Iraqi oil.

But it's never that simple. It's a combination of geopolitical factors.

LO: So does that call into question France's motivations?

GP: I don't like war for oil and I don't like peace for oil and that's France's game at the moment.

We can't show the French any tricks how to run their empire, They're pretty good at it. [Besides,] if they're against war, then what are their troops doing in the Ivory Coast?

LO: What is motivating Tony Blair to stand with Bush on the war? Are they political, economic or moral considerations?

GP: BP has been cut out of the action. And remember that Iraq was a British colony created for BP out of nothing, by Winston Churchill drawing mad lines on a piece of paper.

So they're upset, they want it back. It's a definite economic interest.

But politics is local. There's no opposition [to the Labor Party] in Britain. [The Tories are so weak,] you have an effective one-party state.

But like Margaret Thatcher, who was voted out by her own party members, Blair risks the same fate.

So he's using war to beat up the left wing of his party and maintain control. However, it's beginning to backfire on him.

LO: On Venezuela, liberals certainly opposed attempts by the White House to subvert democracy and back a coup to depose Hugo Chavez.

But is Chavez a guy that liberals can be comfortable standing by? Does he have respect for democracy? Is he above oppression, human rights violations, and political assassinations?

GP: This guy is the real voice of democracy in Venezuela. I have never seen such misinformation in the media. The New York Times has literally fabricated reports. I have never seen anything like it.

Chavez is the Nelson Mandela of his country. 20 percent of the country is white, while millions of brown people live in intense poverty. And they finally elected their own guy and they fighting as hard as they can to keep him.

But the white reporters meet the white elite in the white part of Caracas and based on that, they call Chavez a would-be dictator, even though he was elected with 56 percent of the vote.

George Bush was never elected, and I've never seen him called would-be dictator in the American media.

Chavez has gone as far as to pardon those who have attacked him. That's what he is willing to do to avoid a civil war between his people and the armed, jealous white elite.

LO: Does the Bush Administration's aversion to multilateralism extend to institutions that epitomize globalization -- such as the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank?

GP: No, because those institutions are not multilateral. They are controlled by the financial axis of Europe and the USA. They have become instruments of the financial centers.

What I talk about in my book are the documents, from these institutions, that explain how they handle nations such as Argentina, Bolivia and Tanzania.

It involves "conditionality," what the nations have to change about their economy to receive assistance. And the changes happen to link to the interests of the banks in New York.

When I talked to Joe Stiglitz [top economist for President Clinton and the World Bank], he said that when he discussed these issues with [former Clinton Treasury Secretaries] Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, they would talk about how these policies would affect Goldman Sachs.

Their world view was that -- what's good for Goldman Sachs was good for the world.

And so, they have seized control of economies like Argentina's, and we've seen what happens when they do so.

In trying to create free-market oases, they've torn economies to pieces.

Argentina was supposed to be poster-child. But now the once-richest Argentineans pick through garbage for food.

LO: Was Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's initial approach, refusing to bailout Argentina, any better?

GP: That's just ratcheting up the threat. Paul O'Neill wasn't going let Citigroup take a drenching. No way.

LO: How does your book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" shed light on this issue?

GP: The value of the book is that I go through documents, with Stiglitz, to find out what this stuff means. Then you can you make up your mind.

You don't need my views. If you want views, go read Arianna Huffington. The point of my book is to give you real ammo that you don't get in the US press.

The book is important to me because it's the only way I can get this information to Americans, since the mainstream media won't touch this stuff.

It's interesting. I'm mainstream in the Continent, but in America, I'm the Unabomber.

LO: It seems like no matter how much hard work you put in, how much you uncover about what's really happening behind the scenes, unethical corporate interests still have undue influence on our society.

How frustrated do you get? How do you find the motivation to keep digging?

GP: What the work can do is change minds. That's the point of my work. I can't run a movement but I can provide information.

You know, they call me a conspiracy nut, but it's the conspirators are who are grinning when they say it.

**********

Read the intro to "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and then place your order.

**********

PLEASE NOTE: Modifications have been made to this transcript since its original posting on Feb. 25, 2003. For more details, see the daily "Leading With The Left" columns for Feb. 25 and Feb. 27.

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Liberal Oasis Logo Design: Ed Kim | Advice and Assistance: LuckyDave, Gina-Louise Sciarra and Maya Voskoboynikov | Special Thanks to Eric Alterman, Bartcop, Hated.com, MediaWhoresOnline and Smirking Chimp for their early cybersupport