Greg Palast: Live from the Armed Madhouse

[5 August 2007]

By Joe Tacopino

Before anyone gets the idea that Greg Palast is some punk rock legend signed to Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, think again. Greg Palast is actually an investigative journalist working out of London for outlets such as the BBC and The Observer. He is an American, but his disturbingly revealing reportage on the US election shenanigans has relegated him to the self-appointed status of “reporting in exile”.

For anyone living under a rock, the 2000 election of George W. Bush was wrought with inaccuracies and, sometimes, downright malfeasance. There were many reports on the debacle in Florida (hence the whole “hanging chad” controversy), but the US media never seemed to be able to put a definite end to the madness that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling and eventual coronation of George W. Bush. It is surprising, however, that one of the most compelling investigative reports came from across the pond, where the BBC aired Greg Palast’s investigation on how the Florida Republican Party used a company called Choicepoint to systematically disenfranchise minority voters, the majority of which were democratic. Palast’s report never gained much traction here in the States, where the local media was kowtowing to the impending Bush administration and disavowing all extenuating facts as crazy conspiracies.

Palast’s BBC report and corresponding stories in the Independent and Guardian have made him somewhat of an icon of America’s radical leftist movement. So it’s no surprise that Jello Biafra recruited him to do a spoken word album for his withering Alternative Tentacles label. The former front man for the Dead Kennedy’s has been touring the country for years now, lambasting the Bush Administration in front of hipster communities and burnt-out hippie audiences.

Live from the Armed Madhouse treads similar territory to Biafra’s incessant rants – except Palast is not nearly as comical, entertaining, or informative as the godfather of Reagan-era polito-punk. Whereas Biafra backs up a list of grievances with witty jokes, hilarious anecdotes, and insightful commentary, Palast simply lists his grievances – and that’s about it. However, Palast’s gripes against the Republican Party’s insidious election tactics are justified—he even provides some compelling evidence on how certain districts and blocs of voters are completely shut out of the process—but the CD comes off like a list of complaints from a frustrated reporter.

Palast even goes on riffs about the oil industry and the elaborate global conspiracy to divide up the oil wealth by keeping the supply down and controlling the oil-rich regions.
Of course, Hugo Chavez is some sort of hero and Dick Cheney is the devil: no surprise here. The second half of Palast’s spoken word is largely concerned with the OPEC Cartel conspiracy. Again, Palast has some valid concerns here, but ultimately his gripes sound like the usual laundry list from radical leftists – which is a shame, because Palast is a reputable source.

The contents of this disc are recordings from Palast’s tour for his book Armed Madhouse. Are things really that bad that young punk rockers need to be fed their political commentary through spoken word CDs instead of reading a book, flipping through The Nation, or searching the internet? Biafra released spoken word albums back in the ‘80s, but these records fed into an already informed audience. Does our youth’s political propaganda now have to be packaged in the form of a punk rock CD? Or could this actually be the end of amateur activists, high school vegans, and $5 DIY shows? To soon to be sure, but it really doesn’t look good.

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