Friday, December 10, 2004

The Palast, Goodman & Clarke Trio

Last Tuesday night, well over 1,000 New Yorkers ignored the rain to turn out for a lecture held at the New York Ethical Center located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So many showed up that hundreds had to be turned away since there was only room for a thousand inside the auditorium. The two-hour conference featured four renowned speakers: Richard A. Clarke, former anti-terrorism czar and author of the best selling “Against All Enemies”; Amy Goodman, host of NPR’s Democracy Now!; Esther Kaplan, senior editor of Nation Magazine; Greg Palast, BBC journalist and the author of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” Each gave a brief ten-minute speech before answering some questions submitted on index cards by members of the audience. Not surprisingly, Mr. Palast crammed in more words during his allotted time, and didn’t stop when he was supposed to, although, thankfully, there was no orchestra around to cut him off.

As the only official to offer any apologies to the victims of 9/11, Mr. Clarke was greeted with a standing ovation by most of the audience. Mr. Clarke spoke a bit about the bill to overhaul America’s intelligence community, which he later happily announced was passed by the House of Representatives that same night. He also had some strong words to say about the recent comings and goings from President Bush’s cabinet, which has been viewed by many as an attempt to purge any and all hints of dissent and close ranks. “If the old cabinet was a closed circle, this cabinet is an infinite dot,” scoffed Mr. Clarke.

Ms. Goodman spent the majority of her time decrying the dangers of the corporate consolidation of media, and the lack of coverage given to the anti-war movement. She complained that the mainstream media only paid attention to the sides taken by the two major political parties, both of which were responsible for the mad rush to invade Iraq, and since they broadcast upon the public airwaves they need to “go outside that extremely narrow spectrum.”

Turning her attention toward the Administration’s deliberate and deceptive conflation of the attacks on 9/11 with the war in Iraq, Ms. Goodman mentioned New York Governor George Pataki’s plan to incorporate pieces of the toppled Saddam Hussein statue - which had been staged for the media to mark the end of the war over a year-and-a-half ago – into the foundation of the next incarnation of the World Trade Center. “If he does that,” she remarked, “I think it will be the first proven link between Iraq and September 11th.”

Esther Kahn talked in some detail about the Christian fundamentalist movement, and about how much power they really possess and how much has been over-hyped by the compliant press. She emphasized that many, and perhaps, most Christians didn’t agree with the fundamentalist agenda, and that there were many ways to woo them to the Democratic Party. On the subject of morals, which it’s believed that many fundamentalists based their presidential votes on, Ms. Kahn noted that liberals and progressives voted morally as well, citing beliefs against war and the death penalty and for a woman’s right to choose. She declared, “We have morals that kick the ass out of their values.”

Mr. Palast wasn’t the last speaker (he spoke before Ms. Kahn), but he was – according to my eyes and ears – the most dynamic, along with being the main reason why I braved the inclement weather in order to attend. He opened up by warning us about “kooks on the Internet” who believe that John Kerry was the actual winner of the 2004 presidential election. One such “kook” even wrote an article the day after the election entitled “Kerry Won.” Of course, Mr. Palast was making fun of himself, to the delight of the crowd. He joked that he received an e-mail from The New York Times the day after his column hit the Net, which contained two questions: “Are you a conspiracy nut?” and “Are you a sore loser?”

While Mr. Palast didn’t offer up any new revelations or scoops regarding the election, it’s fair to assume that most of what he did say was news to the majority of the audience, since it hasn’t exactly been widely circulated throughout the “narrow spectrum.” He defined “spoilage” as the votes that haven’t been – and probably won’t ever be – counted due to hanging chads, undervotes, overvotes and etc. He also made fun of the fact that he was forced to work in exile, and that his stories reached more people overseas than they did in America because he didn’t work for the “Petroleum Broadcast System.” He didn’t fit in here because here “you’re not a reporter, you’re supposed to be a repeater.”

There was one story that Mr. Palast told that I hadn’t heard about. Despite a “media lockdown” (in my opinion, a self-imposed one, half due to the White House and half due to the DLC and moderate Democrats) on election abnormalities and irregularities, CNN has recently been devoting some attention to the topic. Many liberals have chalked up CNN’s stepped-up coverage to a desire to improve ratings, and while that may be partially true, Mr. Palast attributed it to something else. It seems that Rev. Jesse Jackson paid a visit, recently, to CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta and “kicked in the door.”

There was only enough time for the guests to respond to a few questions, one of which was along the lines of “now, what should we do?” Mr. Clarke said that we owed it to ourselves to stay informed while Ms. Goodman and Ms. Kahn stressed organizing and constant communication with the media, politicians and political organizations. Mr. Palast reminded us that we had been given a lot of information and that it was our job to “get it out there” on the Internet, through e-mails and to all of our friends and families.

Mr. Palast provided the biggest laugh for the night, when he interrupted the audience questions to ask one for himself of Mr. Clarke, whom he noted had worked for and with President George Bush. “As a journalist, because no one’s ever asked this question: Is he crazy?” After the laughter died down, Mr. Clarke good-naturedly replied, “Let me be polite and say he is uncurious.”

After I left the auditorium I ran into an activist distributing flyers urging people to demonstrate this coming Sunday and Monday in front of the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio:

Sunday, December 12, 2:00 - 4:00 PM, and Monday, December 13, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM: Picketing on the sidewalk in front of the Ohio Statehouse, corner of Broad and High Streets, Columbus, Ohio. Protesting the slow approach to the recount, requesting Blackwell’s recusal, supporting the recount and the contest of the election, and protesting the fact that the Electoral College is meeting BEFORE the recount is finished. Sponsored by C.A.S.E. Ohio and Contact: 51 Capital March: Endorsed by and other groups fighting to reverse the fraudulent election.

Wish I could go, maybe you can.


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