Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Greg Palast's conspiracism isn't helpful …

by Joshua Holland

I've read Palast's books and greatly admire the guy. You might say I'm a fan.

But, on the issue of yesterday's still-too-close-to-call vote in Mexico, he's apparently decided that there's rampant institutional fraud taking place -- aided by the Evil Ones in the Bush administration -- and he's not going to let a bunch of pesky facts get in the way of that narrative.

The problem with that is that he's sending progressives to bark up the wrong tree; as the Institute for Policy Studies' Chuck Collins, an observer with the Global Exchange delegation, reports on the front page, the real issues to watch -- and let's hope any irregularities aren't enough to sway the outcome -- are vote-buying by party operatives, local officials telling poor, rural voters that they'll lose access to public services if they don't vote "correctly" and various forms of voter intimidation.

The last thing anyone needs in what is shaping up to be a hyper-charged post-balloting environment is a bunch of conspiracy theories about the Mexican electoral institutions themselves.

And that's just what Palast's been peddling. Consider this ominous-sounding but substance-free report from Friday:

George Bush's operatives have plans to jigger with the upcoming elections. I'm not talking about the November '06 vote in the USA (though they have plans for that, too). I'm talking about the election this Sunday in Mexico for their Presidency.

It begins with an FBI document marked, "Counterterrorism" and "Foreign Intelligence Collection" and "Secret." Date: "9/17/2001," six days after the attack on the World Trade towers. It's nice to know the feds got right on the ball, if a little late.

What does this have to do with jiggering Mexico's election? Hold that thought.

This document is what's called a "guidance" memo for using a private contractor to provide databases on dangerous foreigners. Good idea. [...]

He points out that the lists weren't of, say, Saudi nationals ...

All the target nations had one thing in common besides a lack of terrorists: each had a left-leaning presidential candidate or a left-leaning president in office. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, bete noir of the Bush Administration, was facing a recall vote. In Mexico, the anti-Bush Mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was (and is) leading the race for the Presidency.

Most provocative is the contractor to whom this no-bid contract was handed: ChoicePoint Inc. of Alpharetta, Georgia. ChoicePoint is the database company that created a list for Governor Jeb Bush of Florida of voters to scrub from voter rolls before the 2000 election...

In Mexico this Sunday, we can expect to see the same: challenges of Obrador voters in a race, the polls say, is too close to call. Not that Mexico's rulers need lessons from the Bush Administration on how to mess with elections.[…]

How the US' purloined "counterterrorism" lists will be used, we don't know.

That last sentence is really all you need to know about this report.

Do you notice what's missing here? An actual allegation. Palast throws the name ChoicePoint out there -- a bogeyman for the left if ever there was one -- but doesn't connect it in any way with Mexico's electoral authorities. Remember, his excellent reporting on ChoicePoint's involvement in the 2000 Florida vote revealed that Katherine Harris had ordered the company to purge tens of thousands of voters from the official voter rolls, most of whom turned out to be eligible African-American voters. Nothing like that in this case.

Mexican authorities actually arrested the ChoicePoint operatives for creating the list in question, but Palast says, bizarrely, that the arrests simply proved that "Mexico's attorney general did [it] to avoid his party from looking too much the stooge of its Washington patron." Huh?

It gets worse…

In 1988, the candidate for Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR), who opinion polls showed as a certain winner, somehow came up short against the incumbent party of the ruling elite. Some of the electoral tricks were far from subtle. In the state of Guerrero, the PDR was leading on official tally sheets by 359,369. Oddly, the official final count was 309,202 for the ruling party, only 182,874 for the PDR.

It's simply irresponsible to discuss the blatantly stolen 1988 election without also telling his readers that Mexico's electoral institutions have undergone radical, dramatic reforms since then (which I touched on last week).

Chuck Collins, in his reality-based analysis, also discusses the 1988 vote, but follows it with this:

But the Mexican electoral system has come a long way since 1988 and even 2000. The independent Federal Election Institute is well-resourced, politically independent, and by all accounts ran a fairly clean election.

That last point is crucial to understanding the complete nonsense Palast is peddling in his column in today's The Guardian. In it, he refers, as he did Friday, to "The PAN-controlled official electoral commission."

According to every single observer except Greg Palast, the Federal Election Institute (IFE) is completely independent. The IFE ordered Vicente Fox -- PAN's outgoing president -- to keep his nose out of the campaign. They ordered Felipe Calderon's ads off the air more than once because they were misleading or defamatory. Last week, I noted that José Salafranca, head of the EU's observer mission, told Inter Press Service that Mexico's electoral institutions are now among the most reliable and trustworthy in the world.

But Palast has to put the IFE in PAN's pocket, or else his column today -- read and no doubt believed by many -- falls apart entirely …

As in Florida in 2000, and as in Ohio in 2004, the exit polls show the voters voted for the progressive candidate. The race is "officially" too close to call. But they will call it - after they steal it.

Reuters reports that, as of 8pm eastern time, as voting concluded in Mexico, exit polls showed Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the "leftwing" party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) leading in exit polls over Felipe Calderón of the ruling conservative National Action party (PAN).

We've said again and again: exit polls tell us how voters say they voted, but the voters can't tell pollsters whether their vote will be counted. In Mexico, counting the vote is an art, not a science - and Calderón's ruling crew is very artful indeed. The PAN-controlled official electoral commission, not surprisingly, has announced that the presidential tally is too close to call.

Let's understand what he's saying. As of 8 PM eastern time, exit polls -- which The Guardian Reuters clarified were conducted by television broadcasters -- showed a result that was within their margins of error. Lopez Obrador's own exit polling showed he had a lead, and Calderon claimed that he was in the lead. But the Guardian's own headline was: "Mexico election too close to call -- exit-polls." The official "quick count" -- a sample -- wasn't released to the public because, by law, it can't be if it's within the count's 2-point margin-of-error.

In other words, official sampling shows that the race is too close, the TV station's exit polls show that it's too close to call and -- gasp! -- the IFE says the exact same thing! Only the parties' private exit polling shows a clear winner at this point.

It gives me no joy to have to debunk one of the beest progressive investigative reporters out there. But this stuff, like the Jason Leopold thing, undermines all of our credibility.

More importantly, we're looking at an already tense situation. Both sides are declaring victory in a tight vote, and in all likelihood there are going to be real allegations of various shenanigans on the part of local party operatives. The last thing anyone needs is Greg Palast throwing fuel on the fire by inventing a grand institutional conspiracy at the federal level.

In the next few days, we're going to be getting independent reports from the many NGOs that have monitored the polling. On Wednesday, we'll get the official count. In the meantime, let's take a wait-and-see approach.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

Feathers: Now, wait a minute, where I have see this practice of forcing poor voters to vote "correctly" by the barrio's party representatives, otherwise they will loose their chavista misiones?? Anyone?

Where I have seen the CIA conspiracy theory before?? You guessed correctly, coming from the big, loud mouth of Hugo Chavez. Not helping Venezuela either. Maybe it's the Greg Pallast effect screwing Venezuela as well.
Nevermind. It's Venezuela, who cares about Venezuela anyway? Apparently nobody since they have kept the oil supply steady to finance all those Chavez's crazy little plans to conquer the world, just like Kim Jong Ill.

Why I am not surprized with Mr. Spin Doctor Palast in here? If the left wins, then the IFE would become the excellence institute of transparency for the lefties selective analytical brain, but, until that happens they are all pupppets of Georgie boy. His purpose and modus operando is the same than democrats have been using with Bush with the last elections, if he wins and there's anything else we can do, we will disacredited the institution and put the doubt cloud in the mind of the citizen, so even though he could have win legitimately by one vote, the fraud cloud will always follow the winning candidate. Undermining the institutions is definetely the beginning of the end for any country. Ask any Venezuelan about this.

My question to Holland is that if he will be admiring Palast the same way than before he wrote this pile of horse shit about Mexico's elections. I wonder what Holland thinks about the Venezuelan case.

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