Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Democracy On Ice In America And At The Ballot Box

Investigative journalist and filmmaker Greg Palast.

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, October 18, 2016

GREG PALAST is a throwback.  The classic 1950's-type investigative journalist.  Fearless, intrepid and dogged.  He is the antidote to the toxicity of the U.S. corporate news media.  Mr. Palast is an American who generally isn't welcomed by the U.S. corporate news mediasphere.  For decades now Mr. Palast has been travelling the globe and traversing the U.S. and uncovering undemocratic American schemes to eliminate millions of Americans from voting. 

"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", Mr. Palast's explosive and entertaining documentary based on his same-titled New York Times best-selling book - is a powerful experience that enlightens and outrages.  The corrupt wheels of power within state governments and corporations that imperil the ordinary everyday American voter are the centerpiece of "Best Democracy", a must-see film Mr. Palast hopes is seen and spread around the country prior to next month's U.S. presidential election.  ("Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a theatre that will do a week run at the last minute?," Mr. Palast asks.)

A recent Friday evening in San Francisco finds Mr. Palast and a couple of his friends artist and illustrator Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys rock band leader-founder/spoken word artist Jello Biafra in lively banter at a local restaurant, speaking on almost everything you can think of.  Most of it is on the record.  Getting a word in in this free-for-all was a challenge but Mr. Biafra's frequent interruptions added good flavor to this late night post-"Best Democracy" movie screening conversation in a San Francisco dot-com neighborhood arguably oblivious to the serious nature and widespread aspects of voter suppression in America.

Speaking of voter suppression, Crosscheck, a program adopted by Kris Kobach, the Republican Secretary of State in Kansas, scours mass voter lists and links millions of voters with similar names and knocks them off the voting rolls under the guise of "well, they've voted twice because they have the same name" - when in fact their names, dates of birth, residence, etc. clearly reveal they are two different people.  The result is that millions of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans are left out in the cold on election day through this and other crude means, unable to cast their vote as American citizens.

The Crosscheck program is in effect in about 30 other ovewhelmingly Republican-controlled states right now in the U.S., and will have a substantial effect on the outcome of the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  The election is on November 8, and in a post-screening Q&A Mr. Palast urged a San Francisco audience to ask others around the country to check their voter registration.  (In California for example, the registration deadline to vote in next month's election is October 24.)

A Crosscheck caging list as reproduced in Mr. Palast's updated book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy". 

For two hours "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", directed by Mr. Palast and David Ambrose, rivets.  Styled in film noir tones the film sees Mr. Palast on an odyssey to confront the corrupt and expose them and their nefarious deeds in a way akin to Mr. Moore's ambush-style filmmaking.  Celebrities including activist-actresses Shailene Woodley and Rosario Dawson, appear and add cogent discussion and insight.  "You need to do this with celebrities," Mr. Palast says, while studying a menu.

Also anchoring the film is its executive producer Leni Badpenny (her real name), a musician who has long worked with Mr. Palast and whose own investigative and undercover work and ideas onscreen are impetus.  Mr. Palast was grateful to her, though cited her initial reluctance to appear on camera due to concerns about the protection of her identity.  On his film and his life Mr. Palast was as open a person as you might expect from his take-no-prisoners expose style of investigative reporting. 

"I want this on the record.  Everything in it is real.  I mean, everything in it - it actually happened.  Except that there is no Santa Claus - that really is (actor-activist) Ed Asner.  Spoiler alert - it has Ed Asner!"

Mr. Palast writes for Rolling Stone, and has worked for the BBC and its Newsnight program.  He has also written for The Guardian and numerous other publications.  Yet in American news media, with one or two exceptions Mr. Palast is as unwelcome as a terminal illness.

"Only the Black shows will have me on.  The paleface ones won't," Mr. Palast remarks, citing the "white-out" of his information on Republican voter suppression and purging, which disproportionately affects Black, Latino and Asian-American voters (the last a fast-rising group of new American voters.)

"Even the law we have is not enforced," Mr. Palast adds, in response to a question about trying to get a constitutional amendment that affirmatively grants the right to vote.  He wanted to put so much more into the documentary - but had to leave many things out, though said there were outtakes that were to come. 

"The reason I stayed away from the electronic (voting fraud) stuff is that white people are whining about their vote -- and fuck 'em!  That's right here.  So you can quote me on it.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen.  What I'm saying is I'm not gonna let you get away with, 'well, everyone hurts.'

"In fact, someone wanted me to change my thing (Mr. Palast's four-minute video on Crosscheck) -- and I say, 'Black votes matter, Asian-American votes matter, Native American votes matter, Hispanic votes matter' -- and one of my sales agents wanted me to say 'white votes matter'.  I say, 'I don't have to say that because the system's already there.'  And once you do that (say "white votes matter") then you're not representing anything at all.  So I'm trying to tell a story not about Crosscheck - I'm trying to talk about the return of apartheid in America.  That's a much more serious issue - the return of apartheid and class war, which are these billionaires - which is inextricably linked in America with race war," Mr. Palast noted.

"George Bush (the 43rd U.S. president) sued me in England - sued The Guardian (over Mr. Palast's "Best Democracy Money Can Buy" article, which was originally going to be called "Burning Down The House" - that latter title ironically, was the one Mr. Palast felt would get himself sued - and he decided to change it to the present title.)

A few of the chapters in Mr. Palast's book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", which his new documentary is based on. 

Mr. Palast revealed the threats against him from various circles, including U.S. news media.

Greg Palast is someone the powerful are afraid of.

"National Petroleum Radio (Mr. Palast's satiric dig at the evolving and much-changed NPR) did a piece on Crosscheck that they're finding double voters.  That's NPR, not Fox.  They're all Democrats.  A producer on a major NPR show said, and you can quote me, 'well we haven't had Greg on for a while but let him on this time on one condition that he doesn't say anything against Hillary.'"

"I'm constantly being told, 'oh, you're this swashbuckling courageous guy.'  No, no, no, no.  That's an excuse for people not to do shit.  If I'm a special guy then you're off the hook.  But if I'm an ordinary guy then what are you doing?"

Born in Los Angeles, Greg Palast saw from an early age what the rich did to his father, an industrial worker.  He was fired.  Ruthlessly.  By what he'd likely term a corporation's greed agenda.  And this outrage fueled Mr. Palast in his dedication to naming and shaming the rich people in America who were making the 90% of American people's lives a living hell.

In a 21st century landscape dotted with reality TV atmospheres and personality drivers, Mr. Palast strives and succeeds in entertaining and informing with a just-the-facts-ma'am endeavor and outrageous comments from some interviewees.  This is all part of the cost of doing business, and Mr. Palast admitted that he needed people other than those "who have read my shit" to see his film, which is playing now in San Francisco through Thursday, and begins in Seattle on Friday and in Washington, D.C. on October 28.  This pertinent and important film is also having many one-night-only screenings across the U.S. and is also on DVD and on demand as of today.

"The original title (of Mr. Palast's article) was 'The Great White Hope Machine', but they wouldn't let me use it.  They didn't think it was serious enough," Mr. Palast said of Rolling Stone, which published his article "The GOP's Stealth War Against Voters".

"The one thing I am is a title maven," Mr. Palast proudly declares.

At one point in this long, spirited evening of cross-talk Mr. Palast asserts that Tipper Gore is homosexual.  "Let her fucking deny it," he adds, while being reminded he is on the record.  He implied that Ms. Gore, who led the fight against explicit lyrics and for parental warning labels in the 1990s, was an impediment to her husband's 2000 campaign.  (Mr. Biafra spontaneously mentions that Ms. Gore was "getting it on with her Secret Service Agent.")

There are many other things, salacious and otherwise, spoken on the record about Republicans and Democrats, including Mr. Palast's repeated line about "we have an ultra-rich, psychopathic narcissist running for president and Donald Trump", his blunt reference to the two main party candidates in next month's American election.

Considering his book's first edition emerged several years ago "The Best Democracy" documentary took two years to complete.  The new book, which the film is largely built from, has new material on the billionaires like the Republican Koch Brothers, who are affecting the elections up and down the country thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. 

At the film's inception Mr. Palast had just had quadruple bypass heart surgery.  The now-defunct Al Jazeera approached him to do another story on the elections.  He decided to move forward, and things evolved from there.

"One of the challenges of the movie is to challenge yourself to be fucking honest.  I didn't want to do this.  I just wanted to sit in the hammock.  I'm just a dirty old man who wanted to hang out.  I'm tired of doing - haven't you guys learned a fucking thing?  How come I'm still on this same vote theft story after 12 years?  Doesn't anyone give a shit?"

"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Movie - A Tale Of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits", is playing in San Francisco (through Thursday October 20 at Presidio Theatre).  It opens on Friday (October 21) at Ark Lodge Cinemas in Seattle for one-week only before heading to Washington D.C. on October 28 at Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market.  The documentary will be on demand this week and on DVD and throughout the U.S. in many one-night-only screenings.

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