Greg Palast did not seem like a dangerous man when he approached the microphone in the UNC-Chapel Hill auditorium last weekend. He walked casually to the front of the room and opened his speech with offbeat jokes. With a slight grin, he said Bush's "no child left behind" policy should be renamed "no child behind left."
Despite his wit, many government officials see this American-born, BCC activist-journalist as a real threat. Katherine Harris called Palast "twisted" and the White House said, "We hate that sonovabitch."
Through his best-selling book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, and articles such as How the Bush family stole the election in Florida in 2000, Palast has been shaking up the Bush Administration and calling attention to often-untold scandals. For this reason, Palast was asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2004 SURGE, Students United for a Responsible Global Environment, conference at UNC on Feb. 6-8.
Palast began his speech by focusing on the war in Iraq. He took the audience back to Bush's March 17, 2003, speech.
Bush "said that he wanted to speak to the Iraqi people," Palast said. "I thought he would say, 'Our kids are coming in, don't shoot them,' but instead his first words were, 'Do not destroy the oil wells.'"
Palast was not surprised. While investigating the war, Palast said he read State Department documents about the reconstruction of post-war Iraq, documents written before the case for war had been made public. Those reconstruction documents focused on trade policy reform, privatization of nationalized companies and copyright laws--far from the water, electricity and infrastructure outlines one would expect.
"I'm not one of those cynical people who thinks we went in for the oil," Palast said in reference to the reconstruction documents, "but I sure as hell don't think we are leaving without it."
Palast connected the illegal war in Iraq to the illegal voting procedures that got Bush into office in 2000.
Holding up his computer for the audience to see, Palast scrolled through a long list of names compiled from Katherine Harris' database of ineligible voters. The voters were stricken from Florida's voter registration lists because of supposed felonies. However, Palast and his research team found 90.2 percent of people listed were innocent of any crime. In a state where 537 votes gave Bush his victory, his findings are staggering.
Palast refused to believe that Harris and her team could independently compile such a faulty list. He discovered that for the price of $4 million, the list had been obtained from ChoicePoint, an Atlanta-based company. The high-priced contract bound the company to ensure the list's accuracy through phone calls and statistical analysis. However, when Palast asked the company how many calls were made, he discovered the answer was none.
Palast set up an interview with Clayton Roberts, director of the Florida Division of Elections, to ask him about the faulty list. But the interview was canceled when Palast showed Roberts a classified document confirming ChoicePoint's lack of research. Roberts called state troopers to remove Palast from the building.
Palast argued the national figures for spoilage were uncomfortably similar to those in Florida.
"1.9 million votes were cast and never counted, considered spoiled," Palast said. "And of those, a fragment more than 1 million were cast by black people--1 million votes cast, not counted."
Palast wondered how this could be true. He decided to look into voting procedures in majority black districts. For example, in Gadsden County, Fla., the county with the highest percentage of black voters in the state, Palast found that 1 in 8 votes were not counted. This was not the case one county in Tallahassee, a white-majority district.
Palast found the answer was as simple as machinery, and he went to Tallahassee to test his theory. He filled out a ballot incorrectly and put it into a machine in the white-majority county. The ballot came back. The machine would not accept a ballot that was filled out incorrectly. However, in Gadsden County, machines did not spit back ballots the computer could not read. Voters with faulty ballots had no way of knowing their vote would not count and were not given the opportunity to resubmit their vote.
Without a paper trail, Palast said he would not have been able to track voter spoilage. Palast said Bush realized this too, and on Oct. 29, 2002, the president signed the "Help America Vote Act" into law. The act gives $3.9 million to create computer voting systems in all 50 states. The new system permits legal purges in all states, but will leave no paper trail.
Palast's articles and leads on his latest discoveries are available on his Website, www.gregpalast.com.
"We have to stay informed," Palast said, "It's how we keep people alive."