Sunday, June 18, 2006

Greg Palast Wants to Blow Your Mind

Palast wants to blow your mind

Who's afraid of Greg Palast? According to the best-selling, left-wing muckraker, here's who should be: Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney and the entire American press corps

By Edward Nawotka
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Investigative journalist Greg Palast doesn't do anything the easy way. He wires himself up and tries to get the political and corporate elite to admit to malfeasance. He "liberates" confidential documents from places such as the World Bank.

Though Palast is a born and bred American, his incendiary stories usually appear in the U.K., on BBC television's "Newsnight" and in the Guardian newspaper. In the U.S., he's shunted onto fringe radio stations such as Pacifica. Among the mainstream media outlets, only Harper's magazine has dared run his stories. Even so, his 2004 book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," was a best-seller here.

Palast's new book, "Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal 'O8, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War," is breathless and cryptic and must be read to be believed. (Or, for many, disbelieved.) It appears to offer documentary proof that there really are secret and not-so-secret rulers of the world.

I spoke to Palast, who regularly appears on television wearing a Sam Spade-style fedora and trench coat, by phone from San Francisco, where he was launching his U.S. tour with an appearance on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! radio show. He is, if anything, even more provocative in conversation than he is in print, if only because he doesn't have the opportunity to footnote some of his more lurid accusations — not all of which the American-Statesman can vouch for. When I asked him how it felt to go head-to-head on the best-seller list with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, whose book "Godless" went on sale the same day as "Armed Madhouse," he suggested that her popularity is a mirage, accusing her supporters of simply buying her books en masse and dumping them in the ocean. He offered no proof for this assertion.

Austin American-Statesman: You talk about there being a class war in the U.S. and describe the flooding of New Orleans as its "Gettysburg." Would you explain?

Greg Palast: It's the second time that this happened. When the levees burst in 1927, it was a period of time when everybody said the Republican Party was going to control the U.S. government for the rest of the century. But then one Democratic politician stood up and said, "The rich are killing us." This one guy — Huey Long — stood up and said we need pensions, we need government protection, we need regulation of the power companies that have gone wild and are ripping us off. And he created a program that was later renamed the New Deal and the Democrats ran this country for decades on that. It took bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans for us to realize this is happening again, but (the Republicans) are doing their best to stamp it out.

One of the things that comes across in the book is your faith in the power of the press to make change. Do you still believe in that?

I see the power of the press to disinform. In 1929, Huey Long was able to deliver his message by using a new, uncontrolled medium by going over the airwaves. He was the first to deliver a message that wasn't controlled by the newspaper barons. It was called radio. Now we've got the Internet. That's all we've got at the moment.

You're a big fan of Long's.

I'm a big fan of getting around the privileged class. So, you know, we do have a Huey Long today. He's called Hugo Chavez. When the levees broke in New Orleans we had a president who sent in rescue teams and desalinization plants. It was Chavez, but our State Department sent back the planes. In the book I report on Chavez's assassination — I just thought I'd do it in advance. You know, I reported on two stolen elections (2000 and 2004). Now I'm reporting on 2008 being stolen. I figure if I do it in advance I might be able to affect things.

So what makes your reporting different?

First of all, I wear wires and do secret recording and get oil executives to fess up to planning with Dick Cheney's team what they are going to do with the oil fields of Iraq. Then I've got to go find the documents. It takes two years of hunting and looking. First I had a sense it was there, then there is the confirmation it is there, then I finally get it. Once you get the stuff, a lot of it is highly technical and interpreting it and confirming it is very complicated. No one has the time or interest. Then again, the U.S. press doesn't want to confront power. For example, I had these "caging lists" that came out of the Republican computers. How was I going to prove this was actually a scheme to wipe out black voters? Well, you can stand in their doorway and literally ask, "What is this stuff?" Sometimes you get your answer when the guy turns pale and bolts. The BBC often accepts that as confirmation.

So do you consider yourself a great reporter?

I always appreciate praise, but I don't. You or any other reporter in America could do what I do if you had editors and producers who gave you months to go out and find proof that the Republicans shoplifted the state of Ohio.

You praise the Internet as the medium of the future, yet it is often criticized for factual inaccuracies, often due to the speed at which stories are posted online.

Let me ask you how accurate were Judith Miller's reports on weapons of mass destruction in The New York Times? Of course the Internet has all sorts of garbage on it, but it's also one of the few places you'll get the hard stuff. Anyone can drive a car: a drunk or an ambulance driver.

You blame a lot of our troubles on Texans, from Bush to James Baker. Are you trying to say we should be ashamed of being Texans?

No, it was Texans (such as journalist Jim Hightower) who exposed George Bush. But if there's one place that the class war could not be clearer, that's in the Lone Star State.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Bookstore Camp Brings Greek Myths to Life

Bookstore Camp Brings Greek Myths to Life

This story originally appeared in Children's Bookshelf on June 8, 2006 Sign up now!

by Edward Nawotka, Children's Bookshelf -- 6/8/2006

This week BookPeople in Austin, Tex., is hosting a unique summer camp. It’s for nine to 14-year-old fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, which include 2005’s The Lightning Thief and this season’s sequel, The Sea of Monsters, both published by Hyperion.

Dubbed Camp Half-Blood, it takes its name from the “half-bloods,” the children of Gods and humans who populate the novels.

The inspiration for the camp came from BookPeople’s Topher Bradfield, who in his job as the store’s outreach coordinator, visits Austin-area elementary schools. Often of late, he says, he found himself reading from the first chapter of The Lightning Thief. “It was a great way to get the boys to pay attention,” he explained.

The subsequent sales that his visits generated—so far, BookPeople has sold more than 400 hardcover copies of The Lightning Thief and another 300 paperbacks, as well as 300 hardcover copies of Sea of Monsters—proved to him that the project would have support within the local reading community.

With Riordan’s blessing, Bradfield concocted an elaborate storyline that relocated the camp from its original fictional location in New Jersey to Austin, under the pretense of needing to re-fashioning The Apple of Discord (which was in part responsible for the Trojan War), which has been broken into 13 pieces. Accordingly, campers are broken up into 13 cabins, each representing a different Greek god—with Zeus and Poseidon at the pinnacle.

This past Saturday night, BookPeople staged an elaborate theatrical “claiming” ceremony—complete with colored smoke, storm sound effects and stage lighting—at which campers were assigned parent deities and given an individual prophecies by the Oracle of Delphi. Various deities and mythical creatures were portrayed by BookPeople employees.

Riordan celebrated his birthday by driving the hour from San Antonio for the festivities. Describing the scene, he sounded awed. “There was Greek dancing drumming and even a man dressed up as a Spartan,” he said. “It was like stepping into my own book, and it was the first clue that something I had written was larger than me.”

A total of 55 campers are participating in the camp. Some have traveled such far-flung areas as New York, Colorado, Arizona, Iowa and Greece to take part. Word spread through Riordan’s Web site, and BookPeople answered queries from as far away as Japan and the U.K.

The city of Austin lent use of Zilker Park’s rock garden, a part of Austin’s public park’s system, as the location for the camp. Activities start at 8 a.m. and involve a daily quest for pieces of the Apple of Discord, lessons on Greek mythology and philosophy from University of Texas and Austin Community College graduate students, swimming, kickball and Frisbee golf. A Greek war re-enactor has been flown in from California to teach Greek battle formations, such as the phalanx.

According to Bradfield, the budget for the camp was $9,500 and sponsors include a local bakery, ice cream parlor and an Arabic bazaar. Bradfield and three Austin public school teachers are acting as camp counselors. Campers paid just $185 for the week, and BookPeople offered five needy students full scholarships.

“The price works out to about $4 per hour for childcare, which I think is quite a bargain,” Bradfield said. He joked that if the camp were a success, there may be opportunities to franchise the concept. “But let’s see how it goes first this year. Steve [Bercu—owner of BookPeople] insisted that this [event would have to] sell out before we make any future plans, and it has.”