All posts by Greg Palast

How the “Bernie of Mexico” Won the Presidency

This is Trump’s nightmare.I’m writing minutes after the victory of the Bernie Sanders of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Everyone calls him, “AMLO.” This is actually AMLO’s re-election: He first won the presidency in 2006. But back then the thieving, scheming, blood-stained criminal gang that rules Mexico (and I’m being polite), declared AMLO’s dissolute opponent the winner.

In 2006, rather than concede to vote thievery, lick his wounds and toddle off on a book tour, AMLO took his supporters into the streets, raised hell, blocked the capital’s central square for months, held a People’s Inaugural, and vowed to never, ever concede.

And tonight, twelve years later, AMLO has won a crushing, too-big-to-steal victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

And while the Good and Great told him he’d be finished if he kept protesting the stolen election, he made counting every vote the very first of his five-point campaign platform. He understands that even those with empty stomachs also hunger for democracy.

And there’s a lesson here. Are you listening, Al Gore? Mr. Kerry and Mrs. Clinton?

Bernie or Hugo?

And AMLO gave the people something to vote for. The rest of his platform included expanding free college education, raising the minimum wage, fighting income inequality and creating a massive infrastructure-fixing jobs program.

If that sounds like Bernie Sanders, that’s no accident. AMLO, like Bernie, said he is taking his program from that great Mexican hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, Mexican media blared apoplectic prophesies that AMLO would be the Second Coming of Hugo Chavez, with mass nationalizations to follow. (The hysteria was parroted in the New York Times, not coincidentally, owned by Mexico’s richest man.)

I can tell you, AMLO is way more Bernie Sanders than Hugo Chavez (and I’ve known all three).

Both AMLO and Sanders were mayors who ran their cities as what I’d call, “Pothole Populists.” It’s get-the-job-done socialism with the emphasis on social not –ism.

AMLO proved he could tamp down corruption, keep a stingy hold on budgets while increasing pensions and providing education grants. Mayor AMLO, unlike a certain Mr. Trump, completed major city infrastructure projects—all out of the savings from cutting waste and corruption.

But unlike Bernie, who did his good works in the mean streets of Burlington, Vermont, AMLO worked nothing less than a miracle in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York and ten times as ungovernable.

(And like Bernie, AMLO is a working class kid who worked in the social movement trenches: Sanders as a SNCC organizer in Chicago, while Lopez Obrador spent six years living with, sharing the lives of and fighting for the poorest Mayan families.)

But they are stealing it right now

Let’s not get carried away with our democracy high. This election is being stolen as I write.

Not the presidency. AMLO’s poll lead of 52% to 25% for his nearest competitor, is just too much to steal. But every seat of the Mexican Congress is up for grabs, and the Powers that Be, the laughably named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are fighting for their lives – and sometimes they fight with bullets.

So, far, 132 officials and candidates have been murdered in this election cycle. I spoke with voting rights activist (and movie star) Yareli Arizmendi in Mexico City, who told me that the old guard politicians were tied up with the Zetas and other drug gangs.

In all fairness, I should note that many victims were not just AMLO allies but also PRI, Green Party and independents who challenged the control of their cities and states by narco-traficantes.

Indeed, AMLO’s campaign gained fuel when, in 2014, the public learned of the disappearance of 43 students (and 3 investigating journalists). Evidence now indicates they were hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by the Guerreros Unidos gang – on orders from a politician connected to the ruling party.

Arizmendi reports that ballots have been burnt in gang- and ruling-party controlled districts. She sent me a video of a woman pre-marking a stack of ballots.

I saw this game up close in 2006 when I was sent by the Guardian and Democracy Now to investigate AMLO’s shock loss by just half a percent of the vote.

On election night, AMLO was way ahead when the official count was halted—then resumed with a massive reversal in the final count. Our investigators found massive ballot-box stuffing, ballot box dumping and intimidation of voters at gunpoint. There were games with electoral rolls apparently orchestrated by the Bush Administration which, I found, had used the same company that helped Katherine Harris rig the 2000 election in Florida, ChoicePoint, to steal Mexico’s entire voter roll! (Watch this Democracy Now! report, “Florida con Salsa,” from Mexico City.)

And this time, the incumbent PRI hired Cambridge Analytica. Trump’s social-media manipulators and data thieves were paid $7.2 million on their promise—I can’t make this up—to repeat a Mexican variant of their “Corrupt Hillary” campaign to smear AMLO.

It was a hard sell, especially as the wife of the current President, PRI man Enrique Peña Nieto, was caught taking a $7 million condo from a government contractor.

As I write, it looks like AMLO has crushed the second-highest candidate vote two-to-one and swept the House of Deputies. However, his coalition of parties is, as of the moment, showing poorly in the Senate race, way below pre-election polling data.

AMLO: Arrest Trump
Mexicans have had enough of the Trump-ito grifters who have held the Mexican presidency, usually by theft, for decades.

President Peña Nieto made his nation cringe with his invitation to Trump during the US Presidential campaign, boosting Trump’s candidacy. And he’s not had much to say about the caging of children on the border.

Although Trump’s child prisoners and their families detained at the border are not Mexican citizens (most come from Central America), AMLO has called for Trump’s arrest for the kidnappings as violating international law.

That’s just one indication AMLO’s victory is Trump’s nightmare. AMLO has shown he is not afraid of privileged pricks, even if they try to make themselves look fierce by staining themselves orange.

NAFTA
Weirdly, Lopez Obrador has also been called “The Trump of Mexico,” simply because they both speak to the desperation of their nation’s working classes. And both have few good words for NAFTA.

But Trump’s act, the billionaire turned class warrior, was always a fake. AMLO is for real.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has demanded that Mexico raise the wages of all auto workers so that the US can better compete within NAFTA.

AMLO is calling Trump’s bluff: he said, “yes” – which may come as a shock to Secretary Ross… Ross owns eight of those auto factories.

Hope and Danger

The slogan of AMLO’s coalition is, Juntos Haremos Historia. Together, we’ll make history. But history has a way of bleeding to death in Mexico.

In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio was on the cusp of winning Mexico’s presidency. But his political turn to the Left infuriated his PRI bosses. At a public rally where he supposedly had government protection, one assassin, and possibly a second, put two bullets in his head.

I hope AMLO’s story will have a happier ending.

I went to School with the Vegas Shooter

Mobile home on tracks, Sun Valley CA, birthplace of the Vegas shooter. From the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

Los Angeles — When we were at Francis Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, Steve Paddock and I were required to take electrical shop class.  At Poly and our junior high, we were required to take metal shop so we could work the drill presses at the GM plant.  We took drafting.  Drafting like in “blueprint drawing.”

Paddock. Palast.  We sat next to each other at those drafting tables with our triangular rulers and #2 pencils so we could get jobs at Lockheed as draftsman drawing blueprints of fighter jets.  Or do tool-and-dye cutting to make refrigerator handles at GM where they assembled Frigidaire refrigerators and Chevys.

But we weren’t going to fly the fighter jets.  Somewhere at Phillips Andover Academy, a dumbbell with an oil well for a daddy was going to go to Yale and then fly our fighter jets over Texas.  We weren’t going to go to Yale.  We were going to go to Vietnam.  Then, when we came back, if we still had two hands, we went to GM or Lockheed.

(It’s no coincidence that much of the student population at our school was Hispanic.)

But if you went to “Bevvie” – Beverly Hills High – or Hollywood High, you didn’t take metal shop.  You took Advanced Placement French.  You took Advanced Placement Calculus.  We didn’t have Advanced Placement French.  We didn’t have French anything.  We weren’t Placed, and we didn’t Advance.

Steve was a math wizard.  He should have gone to UCLA, to Stanford.  But our classes didn’t qualify him for anything other than LA Valley College and Cal State Northridge.  Any dumbbell could get in.  And it was nearly free.  That’s where Steve was expected to go, and he went with his big math-whiz brain.

And then Steve went to Lockheed, like we were supposed to. Until Lockheed shut down plants in 1988.  Steve left, took the buy-out.

And after NAFTA, GM closed too.

Land of Opportunity?  Well, tell me:  who gets those opportunities?

Some of you can and some of you can’t imagine a life where you just weren’t give a fair chance.  Where the smarter you are, the more painful it gets, because you have your face pressed against the window, watching THEM.  THEY got the connections to Stanford.  THEY get the gold mine.  WE get the shaft.

This is where Paddock and Palast were bred:  Sun Valley, the anus of Los Angeles.  Literally.  It’s where the sewerage plant is.   It’s in a trench below the Hollywood Hills, where the smog settles into a kind of puke yellow soup.  Here’s where LA dumps its urine and the losers they only remember when they need cheap labor and cheap soldiers when the gusanos don’t supply enough from Mexico.

I’ll take you to Sun Valley. It’s in my film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. In the movie, a kind of dream scene, the actress Shailene Woodley takes me back to my family’s old busted home in the weeds and then down San Fernando Road, near Steve’s place. Take a look, America. Along the tracks that once led in to the GM plant, you see a bunch of campers that the union men bought for vacations. Now they live in them.

No, Steve’s brain was too big to end up on the tracks.  He lived in empty apartments in crappy buildings he bought, then in a barren tract house outside Reno.  I laugh when they say he was “rich.”  He wanted to be THEM, to have their stuff.  He got close.

It’s reported that Steve was a “professional gambler.” That’s another laugh. He was addicted to numbing his big brain by sitting 14 hours a day in the dark in front of video poker machines. He was a loser.  Have you ever met a gambler who said they were a Professional Loser?

It’s fair to ask me:  Why didn’t I end up in a hotel room with a bump-stock AR-15 and 5,000 rounds of high velocity bullets?

Because I have a job, a career, an OBSESSION:  to hunt down THEM, the daddy-pampered pricks who did this to us, the grinning billionaire jackals that make a profit off the slow decomposition of the lives I grew up with.

But I’m telling you, that I know it’s a very fine line, and lots of crazy luck, that divided my path from Paddock’s.

Dear Reader: The publication that pulled this story at the last moment was plain scared–that they’d be accused of approving murder.

Paddock slaughtered good people, coldly, with intense cruelty, destroying lives and hundreds of families forever.  If you think I’m making up some excuse for him, then I give up.

But also this:  The editor of the Beverly Hills-based publication, a Stanford grad, could not understand that, just like veterans of the Vietnam war who suffer from PTSD even today, so too, losers of the class war can be driven mad by a PTSD that lingers, that gnaws away, their whole lives.

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it …fester like a sore? Does it stink like rotten meat? Sag…like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes

Steve, you created more horrors than your cornered life could ever justify.

But, I just have to tell you, Steve:  I get it.