Tuesday, May 17, 2005

PALAST IN SANTA FE

As published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
May 17, 2005


Gov. Bill Richardson usually is treated with chummy deference when he makes one of his frequent appearances on national news shows. In fact some say the national media tends to fawn over Richardson, even conservative commentators.

So it must have been a shock for the governor two years ago when making the rounds on the talking-head circuit after the New York blackout, a fellow guest on The O’Reilly Factor accused Richardson, a former energy secretary of being a party to “the snake oil of deregulation” and described the governor’s observations as “wonderful blather.”

That other guest was Greg Palast, an American investigative reporter whose work is featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation, The Observer and The Guardian, Harper’s magazine, and who authored the 2002 book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.Don’t bet on Richardson showing up Saturday when Palast speaks at Cloudcliff Cafe and Art Space about his work.

In a telephone interview last week, Palast said he’s coming to New Mexico to investigate what he and several progressive activists in the state say are problems with the presidential election here last November. President Bush beat Democrat John Kerry by less than one percent here according to official results.

“I’m coming here more to investigate than talk,” Palast said.

It won’t be his first time here. In the 1980s, Palast said, he assisted then state Attorney General Paul Bardacke in an investigation of Public Service Company of New Mexico and the now defunct Southern Union Gas Company.

Working for The Observer, he also investigated the Geo Group, then known as Wackenhut, the private prison company that operates facilities in Santa Rosa and Hobbs. The story focused on the 1999 killing of Ralph Garcia, a Wackenhut guard killed during an inmate uprising.

Palast said he plans to talk Saturday about some of his recent investigations, including a Harper’s story about Pentagon documents he uncovered indicating the Bush administration — long before the Iraq invasion — was considering two very different plans for Iraq’s oil fields. One plan called for privatizing Iraq’s oil, a move that would have damaged the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries. But, Palast said, American oil producers balked at this plan. So instead, the administration went with a plan in which the Iraqi government owns a single oil company. Under this plan, OPEC and American oil companies continue to prosper.

He also intends to talk about “the smoking gun memo,” a top-secret British government document written by a foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair describing a July 2002 meeting between Blair and the head of British intelligence.

“Military action was now seen as inevitable,” the memo said. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

But it’s Palast’s views on the election that local organizers are stressing.

After all, one of Palast’s best-known investigations concerned the 2000 presidential election — specifically Florida state officials’ purging voting rolls of alleged felons, a move some critics say tipped the election to George W. Bush.

Then last year, Palast created a noisy Internet buzz in a widely circulated article published only days after the election. There Palast wrote, “... it's my job to tell you who got the most votes in the deciding states. Tuesday, in Ohio and New Mexico, it was John Kerry.”

The culprit, Palast argued was “spoilage” — ballots from old punch card machines that were unreadable and provisional ballots that were cast but never counted.

“Hispanic voters in the Enchanted State, who voted more than two to one for Kerry, are five times as likely to have their vote spoil as a white voter,” Palast wrote Counting these uncounted votes would easily overtake the Bush ‘plurality.’”

Palast’s numbers were challenged in Salon.com by writer Farhad Manjoo in a “debate” published in that online magazine.

Palast said last week he wants to look at why there was such a high “undervote” — ballots that were cast but showed no choice for president — in this state and why so many of those tended to be in high Hispanic or American Indian areas.

The statewide undervote rate was 2.45 percent. According to a study for a national organization advocating a recount, Indian precincts in New Mexico had an undervote rate of 6.7 percent , while Hispanic precincts had a 3.5 percent undervote rate.

According to a report by Scripps-Howard News Service New Mexico was one of only four states with an undervote of more than 2 percent in 2004.

Election errors are often just due to “a goofball factor,” Palast said. “I don’t look at it as Dick Cheney in his bunker calling up Diebold.”

But he said that voting machines seem to break down and have problems mainly in poor and minority districts. “If it happened in Republican country club districts, it would be fixed,” he said.

Palast is scheduled to speak 5 p.m. Saturday at Cloudcliff Cafe and Art Space, 1805 Second Street in Santa Fe. Tickets are $15. For more details CLICK HERE

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