Friday, February 24, 2012

Gonzo is Here, Now and Forever

“Vultures’ Picnic – In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores,” by Greg Palast, 2011

It’s a good time to be an investigative journalist. Funny or crazy guys like Thomas Frank, Matt Taibbi, John Perkins, Michael Lewis and yes, Greg Palast, are bringing the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson into the fucked-up ‘modern’ age. Are they going to run out of crooked disasters and lies? No! After this book, I’m thinking Palast is the craziest and most dangerous of all.

This bald-headed left-wing gumshoe gets into every big disaster since the Exxon Valdez – or at least he starts there historically. He pulls the pants off of the lies, fraud, cover-ups, crooked schemes, conspiracies and hair-pieces of modern corporate America. He focuses first on our friends the oil companies - you know, those vampires who only think about ‘shareholder value’ – or perhaps, just their own value. He starts with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf and goes from there.

Palast had to go to work for an actual public television/radio station in another country, the BBC, to be partially paid for his time. And an actual newspaper, the British Guardian. National Petroleum Radio – home to the same talking heads as CBS/ NBC/ ABC/ CNN/ FOX – wouldn’t touch him. Who wants a guy who doesn’t believe a comforting, cliché’d lie when he hears one? If all the ruling class big shots and newspapers say something, Palast figures it can’t be true. And he’s nearly always right. NPR reporters are trained to lob softball questions in unctuous, kind voices to every corporate, political and military hack they interview. Palast does not fit in. As he puts it: “Must U.S. reporters submit to hypnosis before interviews? Lobotomies? Or are they just drugged by careerism and lazy-fuckism?”

Palast, son of a frustrated furniture salesman, started out lying his way into the University of Chicago and got to be friends with Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boy’s ‘economics’ department. What is up with that? Then he got side-tracked by union commies like Frank Rosen in Chicago, who put his economic analysis skills to work digging up dirt on corporate Chicago energy entities like Con Ed and People’s Gas. And the rest is history.

I’m not going to detail every incriminating fact Palast digs up, but the list of targets is long – oil companies British Petroleum, Shell, Chevron, Exxon; nuclear construction and maintenance companies Stone & Webster and NRG; rapacious power companies Entergy, Southern Company and Reliant; international hedge funds that rape small weak countries like Greece and Liberia; large banking cartels that get the public to pay for their scams; the IMF and the World Bank in cahoots with the banking industry; incompetent construction behemoths Halliburton, Shaw Construction and Brown & Root; government bureaucrats and whole governments on the take; phony journalistic outlets, corrupt judges, front-groups for corporations, companies that buy Inuit islands for $1 in the modern age – the list is endless. Hell, he even uncovers the fraud about Fukushima.

A note to readers of “Collapse” – here is the real story of those sainted entities Chevron and Shell that Mr. Mainstream Green Diamond does not tell. (Review of “Collapse” below.) After all, Chevron named one of their ships the “Condoleezza Rice” after her sterling work for them in Kazakhstan. In other words, if you think the word ‘conspiracy’ is not nutty, but factual too much of the time, you will understand Palast’s angle. He knows there is a smoking gun under every conventional explanation.

Just one set of facts to whet the appetite as a prelude to the whole sorry oil story. We all remember the simple old tale of the “Exxon” Valdez – about a drunk captain who ran onto a reef and leaked 32 million of gallons of oil into the water and land. Bad man. Case closed. Here is what Palast dug up:

The Alyeska Cartel (which was really run by British Petroleum, who hid behind Exxon) had promised to the State, the U.S. government and the native villages that, if they got permission to build an oil port in Prince William Sound, they would:
A, use ‘state of the art’ radar on their ships to avoid the very dangerous reef in Prince William Sound. What was the state of the radar at the time the Exxon Valdez ran aground? Not working.
B, have oil spill equipment set up in case a disaster happened. Where was the equipment? Missing and its absence concealed.
C, have spill containment barges on standby. Where were the barges? Not operating, not usable, condition concealed.
D, have trained ‘spill response teams.’ Where were the teams? The jobs terminated, the teams disbanded and this was also concealed. They ignored native pleas to have a station on the island near the reef to warn ships. Alyeska ignored employees and others who warned about these failures before the disaster struck. To cap it off, all the partners in Alyeska privately agreed to these violations of their contract to save money. I.E. – it was a conspiracy. We’re talking RICO.

According to Palast, it is only the actions of courageous inside individuals who told their stories in spite of real or threatened economic and physical retaliation that any of these facts came out, and any court or journalistic victories won. As Palast puts it, the U.S. media totally dropped the ball on that spill in 1989. BP took that lesson and did the same thing in the Gulf in 2010. Nothing had changed 20 years later.

When you get done with these multiple stories, you will understand that much of modern day capitalism is nothing but a literal criminal enterprise – not just bad people who make serial mistakes. It strengthens any argument for immediately nationalizing the oil, banking, construction, auto and energy industries as anti-social and anti-environmental organizations.

Palast is a funny, easy, personal read, and perhaps his aging hat act wears a little too thin around the sexual and alcoholic edges. But so what – we’re all human. At least that is what they say.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, February 24, 2012

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