Dr. Naomi Wolf in conversation with Daniel G. Newman and Greg Palast – PART 1
Daily Clout thanks Nicole Powers for her tireless efforts to edit and produce this transcript.
Author and former political advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton, Dr Naomi Wolf talks to Daniel G. Newman (author of Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy) and Greg Palast (How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt For America’s Vanished Voters) about the challenges voters — and the very institution of democracy in the U.S. — face in the upcoming election. Both books “hold the key to what we can actually do to save the vote, save the election, and save democracy,” says Wolf, who moderates a discussion that is essential pre-election viewing.
WATCH DR. NAOMI WOLF’S DISCUSSION WITH GREG PALAST & DANIEL G. NEWMAN HERE
Naomi Wolf: Hey everyone, it’s Naomi Wolf and I’m absolutely thrilled to be here today in conversation with two of my personal heroes, extraordinary men who are, in my view, at the frontlines of waging the life and death battle right now to save democracy. And it is a life and death battle. All of you know both of these important authors. The books are Greg Palast’s How Trump Stole 2020: The Hunt For America’s Vanished Voters and Daniel G. Newman’s Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy.
The minute you’re done with this interview, you have to literally drop everything and order both of these books, because everyone knows that our democracy is going down in flames. Both of these men have been tracking the ways that it could go down in flames ahead of the curve and fearlessly for years in their careers. Now it’s all coming about as they foretold… No other books, both separately, but I think even more importantly together, hold the key to what we can actually do to save the vote, save the election, save democracy.
Their bios are as important as these individual titles. Greg Palast is of course is the freelance journalist who exposed some of the biggest scandals of the last century and now this one. He’s a four times New York Times bestselling author, he writes regularly for many important outlets, including, well, I read him most recently and he blew my mind in Rolling Stone, but he writes for The Guardian, he’s on BBC regularly and a host of other outlets. And he has his own investigative nonprofit with a really exciting venture that he’ll tell you about to get out the vote and make sure we fill out our ballots properly.
Daniel G. Newman is the president and cofounder of MapLight. MapLight is a real inspiration to me as co-founder of DailyClout, because it was a beacon of what you can do in the democracy protecting space. MapLight exists to shine a light on money’s corruption in politics. Now they’re shining a light on fake news. But before Newman was running MapLight, he was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, he had a for-profit company, Say I Can, for speech recognition software and he was a Harvard Fellow.
So extraordinarily distinguished men and, as you know, I’ve spoken to each of them separately, but this conversation, I’m not exaggerating, it’s one of the most important conversations we can have as they communicate with each other about what to do in this emergency. So welcome to both of you.
Greg Palast: Welcome Naomi. Happy to be with you.
NW: Thank you. Thank you.
GP: Virtually, safely.
NW: That’s right, you’re actually hosting, so you’re welcoming me and it’s delightful to be hosted by you virtually. It’s so wonderful to have you both in the same space. Let me get right to it because I really see you as the two men who can save it as it goes down in flames… I’ll let both of you express the thesis of your respective books in the answer to this first question. But what I want to ask you first is where do you agree with each other about the threats to democracy and to the election? And then my next question is, where do you disagree? Where do you think your different focus, your warnings differ from each other? So that someone can listening to both can get a full sense of the arguments that you’re making and where one of you might have seen a danger that the other might also now know about by reading each other’s books.
GP: If you want me to start, this is Greg Palast. And the reason the book is called How Trump Stole 2020, it’s not a prediction, it’s a warning. And he did steal it already. We can steal it back. We can bust the burglary if we take certain steps. I’ve written the book to show you how they’ve shoplifted the election and how you can basically protect your vote and take it back, both through agitation and legislation, but especially by protecting your own vote. You’re going to have to take action to do that. So I call my book How Trump Stole 2020, because it’s not a prediction. I don’t know who’s going to get the most votes. It is a warning about the theft of your vote and the blockade to your voting and your friends voting. We can though, steal it back, that is bust the burglary. I’m explaining how they do it, how they block your vote, how they don’t count your vote. And I’ve done it in em>How Trump Stole 2020 in what I hope is an interesting way. I don’t want you to cry through the book when you read all these things. Both myself and Daniel Newman in his book Unrig, we are both trying to make the decay of American democracy, its destruction at the hands of vicious billionaires, as entertaining as possible. He’s written in graphic novel form. I actually have a 48-page comic book in the middle of my book and lots of photos and interesting stuff. Because I want you to read it, I want you to take it in, maybe have a few laughs and probably a few tears, but I want you to protect your vote.
Now the difference between our books is that Daniel Newman is concentrating on the money side. Now, I include the money side. Those who know Greg Palast, I was by profession for many years before I was an investigative reporter, I was a financial investigator, a detective working with the Justice Department Attorneys General around the world. This is what I did. And so, yes, it’s about the money. It’s always about the money, but Daniel takes you on a path and shows you in disgusting, corroded detail, but in an interesting, colorful manner in a colorful book, how money has poisoned American politics.
I learned stuff I didn’t know about, like the Democracy Vouchers of Seattle. I won’t take away your topics, but I hope you’ll get to that one because that was fascinating and you’ll want to hear about that. So what a pleasure to come back with you Naomi and to be with, really, one of my heroes is Daniel Newman.
NW: So what I’m hearing, and I agree with you, is that both of you could have spoken to the elites, spoken in language that’s difficult to understand, spoken in jargon and gotten lots of kudos from a tiny coterie, but both of you, the way I see it and the way I’m hearing what you’re saying, made the decision — and Daniel and I talked about this when we last spoke, as did we — to make it as accessible as possible. Because you don’t want just six people who are really influential to read this book. You want everyone and their grandma and their dog and their 12-year old to read this book. Daniel can you tell me how Unrig and em>How Trump Stole 2020 are on the same page with the warnings we’re facing.
Daniel G. Newman Thanks for those comments, Greg. I think your book does such a great job of making it be engaging. And you have a point of view. It’s not like one of these dry books. It’s about voting rights and that could be complicated and intricate, but you have an appropriate sense of outrage and you’re painting a picture in a way that people can do something about it. I share those sentiments about the rules of our democracy, voting rules, money and politics rules, gerrymandering, all these things that are kind of arcane and technical, that control who has power. They control who writes the laws that all of us live under. So by writing this graphic novel, in partnership with illustrator George O’Connor, it puts in 250 pages of comics [concepts] like, what are the rules of our democracy? How are they stacked in favor of the wealthy? But then, really importantly, what you can do about it. What are the solutions.
Greg mentioned Democracy Vouchers… In Seattle, a group of 10 citizens — that’s all it took — started a movement that now has led to the city mailing out $100 coupons to every person in Seattle that they can spend on city council candidates and mayor candidates. What that means is, if you want to run for office and you want to represent the people and not the big money special interests, that you have the means to finance your campaign and run and win. It was really important to me to show people solutions. To show people the ordinary folks who are actually making this happen. And one of the things, Greg, I really liked about your book is you also put inside of an action manual kind of form, that here are specific things that you can do to protect your vote.
GP: Yeah. In fact, actually, at the back of my book, we have something which we call “Ted & Greg’s New & Improved Ballot Condom for Safe Voting“. No, you don’t wrap it around your ballot. You do follow the seven steps, starting with check your registration. I don’t care if you’ve been voting at the same place for 30 years, please, go online to vote.org or even better to your county board of elections. Every county, every state in America allows you to look up your registration. You think, I’ve been voting same place 30 years, well, 16.7 million people have been removed, purged, wiped off the voter rolls in the past two years of record keeping. That could be you. It’s about one to nine voters. It was me. I looked myself up, Greg Palast, no such voter in California. So I reregistered right there online. Please do this.
NW: Turning to you, Greg, what would you say of all the incredible threats to the integrity of the elections that you identify in How Trump Stole 2020, what would you identify as the biggest threat? Why is this time worse, it sounds like, than ever before? And what would you hold up as the one takeaway, scary thing that people should know about from reading your book or from being about to read your book?
GP: Some people are gonna freak out when I say it; the scariest thing is mail-in voting. Mail-in voting is the most dangerous form of voting that we could imagine. Twenty-two percent of all mail in ballots are never counted. Now, wait a minute, is Greg Palast saying don’t mail in your vote? Like Trump, have I turned orange? No, no. What he’s trying to do is make it difficult for you to vote and put your mail-in vote at risk. In other words, right now, 1 in 5 mail-in votes isn’t countered and he wants to make that 7 out of 10. Right? So what do we have to do? You must mail in your ballot. That is, you must get an absentee or mail-in ballot, but you must learn how to protect it.
NW: Are you saying it’s better than going to the polls, Greg?
GP: Oh, absolutely. Look, unless something extraordinary happens that no expert can predict, at this moment the virus is going to be with us. You can’t wait in those lines because if we’re going to have a hundred million people go to the polls, or 150 million people go to the polls like this last time, we are going to have a millions sick and many die and that’s insane. You shouldn’t have to die to vote. But you have to know how to protect your mail-in ballot. And the number one thing, the number one way people lose their votes with mail-in is you don’t get the ballot. Now, if you’re an Oregon, if you’re in California, Washington, in other words, if you’re in what I call a Pacifica Nation, Hawaii and Colorado, you’re going to get your ballot mailed to you. You’re cool. Pretty much. The problem is in America — which does not include California, Oregon, or Washington, okay — in America it’s a bitch to get your ballot.
So you’ve got to do two things. Number one, if you’re not registered, if you’re part of that big 16.7 million purge list, you ain’t getting no mail in ballot. Remember, this might sound simple Homer, but if you don’t get the ballot mailed to you, how do you mail it back in? In California, it’s just going to be sent to you. In Oregon, it will be sent to you. In Georgia, Ohio…? In Georgia, they’re not even sending out the usual cards that ask you if you want a mail-in ballot? You actually have to contact your county office and request the mail-in ballot.
Now, I got to tell you, it’s not so easy. Jerry Thomas requested his ballot 45 days in advance with his wife in Georgia. It arrived June 10. The election was June 9. Now, are these unsophisticated people? No. Jerry Thomas, his wife, somehow she got her ballot in time, she’s the head of the ACLU of Georgia.
Stacey Abrams, the top voting rights figure in this nation, almost lost her mail-in ballot because it came with an envelope that was already sealed in the Georgia humidity, the envelope inside that you have to return your ballot in. She knew, as a Yale law graduate, not to just put it in another envelope, because you lose your vote.
3.3 million mail-in ballots were not counted in 2016, and unfortunately it’s not just anyone’s vote. It’s particularly young voters, when you look at the demographics. And again, it ain’t Greg Palast, I wasn’t sitting there counting the ballots that were thrown out. It’s a study by CalTech. The people that get shafted on mail-in ballots are young people, Hispanic voters, Asian-American voters, African-American voters, in other words, voters of color — and the color’s blue!
NW: Tell us again, for people who missed our first conversation, what you found out about how an algorithm purged a disproportionate number of voters of color, please.
GP: Wow. There’s many ways. Number one, I’m the reporter, as you’ll see in the book, who uncovered how back in 2000 Bush won because they called 58,000 black men felons. And I’m not guessing, because it said “BLA” next to their names on the voter rolls. 58,000 black men, were purged as ex-cons who weren’t allowed to vote. Their only crime was voting while black. There wasn’t a single illegal voter on that list. Just black voters who had names similar to someone who got convicted somewhere of a crime.
That worked so well that they took that game on the road and they expanded it… Like in Georgia, where it was first tested out, and in Ohio. They said if you’ve moved [and not notified the state, you should be removed from the voter rolls]. How do they know you’ve moved? You missed a couple elections? Well, what does that have to do with moving? So we had experts go through their lists and see who moved in Georgia. They said a half a million voters moved. Where are the U-Haul trucks on the road? We discovered that in fact, 340,134 of those voters who lost their registrations, who were wiped off the voter rolls, never moved anywhere. They’re still in the house where they registered.
It included people like Christine Jordan. She had been voting in the same voting station for 50 years. I was there at her voting station. It was going to be her 50th year of voting. They said, you’re not registered here anymore. This is Martin Luther King’s cousin, so you know she was guilty of voting while black. This is what’s happening, I think, around America.
It happened to me. I was purged. It can happen to anyone, but especially if you’re a voter of color or you’re a young voter, you better check your registration. And if you’ve moved down the street, you definitely better reregister. Even though the law doesn’t require it, you won’t get your mail-in ballot, I guarantee it. If you moved and didn’t notify the voting authorities… If you’ve changed you driving license… sixty precent of Americans think that when you go into the DMV and you change your address for your driver’s license, that it changes your voting address as well when you move. No, no, it doesn’t happen that way. The only state I think that does that in fact is Oregon. But you know, in America, that don’t happen. You are going to have to reregister, please.
NW: Reregister. Got it. And how about you? This is so terrifying. How about you Daniel Newman? What is the scariest thing that you’re trying to sound the alarm about out of all the many scary things you identify in Unrig?
READ PART 2 [The Transcription] of DR. NAOMI WOLF’S DISCUSSION WITH GREG PALAST & DANIEL G. NEWMAN HERE
READ PART 3 [The Transcription] of DR. NAOMI WOLF’S DISCUSSION WITH GREG PALAST & DANIEL G. NEWMAN HERE