Santa Fe’s Lensic Theater. A packed house. Techno rap rattles the sound system. A gruff baritone on full automatic slams rhymes of defiance and rebellion. The audience sways to the relentless, driving beat. The woman next to me slides to the edge of her seat. I think she’s holding her breath.
Then the rock star who’s packed the theater on a Sunday night takes center stage ... behind a podium. This crowd has come not for a concert, but a lecture.
The celeb wears a fedora. He’s Greg Palast, considered by many to be the world’s best and funniest investigative journalist. On April 29, 2007, he gave a lecture like you’ll hear from no other reporter. He lambasted crooked Republicans, knucklehead Democrats and our calcium-deficient American corporate media. He talked of disappearing voters in Gallup, ghost voters in Albuquerque, purged voters in Florida, floating bodies in New Orleans, oil fields in Iraq, how the GOP has already stolen the 2008 election and how we can steal it back—all before he sucked in his first breath.
Palast wore an impish grin the whole time. He loves what he does, especially when tasty secret documents flutter over his transom and he can read them aloud to hundreds of people hungry for irony and outrage. Like confidential e-mails between Karl Rove and Republican troglodytes, mistakenly sent through “gwb.org” instead of “gwb.com.” The latter site is owned by the Republican National Committee. What Rove and his boys used by mistake is owned by one of Palast’s friends. Oops!
Palast held aloft the tiny recorder that has made lying politicians squirm with the sound of their own voices. He took time to honor New Mexico voting rights activists who have been withstanding Rove’s national strategy to turn our elections into meaningless shadow theater. Then he announced he was not copyrighting his latest book, Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans—Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House GONE WILD, just released in paperback with new chapters. “It’s my book,” shouted Palast, “but it’s your information. Use it! Copy it! Spread it around! Fight back!”
The thrilled crowd drowned out his closing words. You could barely hear him shouting a plea to the nation, particularly Americans in the military, “Don’t die for a dying regime! Don’t die for a dying regime! Don’t die for a dying regime!”
Much later, after signing scores of books, Palast was still stuck in the “on” postion. Over dinner and drinks at the St. Francis Hotel we talked about his work, his insomniac investigators (one worked 80 hours straight to close a case), memories of New Mexico and stories American media won’t touch.
Palast knows more about our state than you’d expect from the man who leads off Britain’s BBC nightly news. Palast once worked as an investigator for the New Mexico Attorney General. But he has a deeper attachment to our fair land of corruption (“the most corrupt in America,” Palast says, “with apologies to Louisiana”). Palast credits Albuquerque businesswoman Marianne Dickinson and her late husband, Bob Slattery, with inspiring him to trade the spreadsheets of a forensic economist for the notepad and concealed microphone of an investigative reporter.
Palast makes the most impenetrable complexities entertaining. The BBC helps by letting him use Brits in bikinis to explain turgid topics like antitrust policy. But mostly it is Palast’s ability to highlight the absurd in the most outrageous crimes and injustices that lifts the fog in a delightful way. “Hey,” he cracked, “this stuff is downright depressing. I’ve got to keep people from burning out on it.”
“Here’s a good one,” he said, eyes gleaming. “Let me tell you about Bush’s Goldfinger, a vulture capitalist gobbling up hundreds of millions of dollars of Third World debt.” Goldfinger’s henchmen drive tricked-out Caddies. Palast’s investigator, a former punk rocker fluent in four languages, talked her way past Goldfinger’s guards by posing as a rich Russian neighbor—fur-trimmed hat and all—speaking with a thick accent, desperately searching for a lost cat. “Dah-leen, pleez, have you zeen my pooh-see?” Palast giggles as he tells it.
“Goldfinger” is the Internet moniker of Paul Singer, currently Bush’s largest individual contributor. Singer’s scheme works because Bush has been surrendering our nation’s position as senior creditor on the debt. Bush talks of altruistic “debt relief,” but what he’s really doing is moving our country out of the way so Goldfinger can get his hands on money intended to fight hunger and AIDs in Africa.
“Bono is pissed, pissed!” Palast winks at me as he waves for another glass of wine. “I promise you, this story is only beginning.”
I got the definite feeling that’s a promise Palast keeps.