The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

4.5 8
by Greg Palast
     
 

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Award-winning investigative journalist Greg Palast digs deep to unearth the ugly facts that few reporters working anywhere in the world today have the courage or ability to cover. From East Timor to Waco, he has exposed some of the most egregious cases of political corruption, corporate fraud, and financial manipulation in the US and abroad. His uncanny investigative… See more details below

Overview

Award-winning investigative journalist Greg Palast digs deep to unearth the ugly facts that few reporters working anywhere in the world today have the courage or ability to cover. From East Timor to Waco, he has exposed some of the most egregious cases of political corruption, corporate fraud, and financial manipulation in the US and abroad. His uncanny investigative skills as well as his no-holds-barred style have made him an anathema among magnates on four continents and a living legend among his colleagues and his devoted readership.This exciting new collection brings together some of Palast's most powerful writing of the past decade. Included here are his celebrated "Washington Post" exposé on Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris's stealing of the presidential election in Florida, and recent stories on George W. Bush's payoffs to corporate cronies, the payola behind Hillary Clinton, and the faux energy crisis. Also included in this volume are new and previously unpublished material, television transcripts, photographs, and letters.

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Editorial Reviews

Village Voice
Filmmaker Michael Moore's rant against Dubya and clan, "Stupid White Men", remains among the top five New York Times bestsellers, despite a virtual press blackout. But much of the guts for Moore's opening screed on how Bush "stole" the 2000 election came from investigative reporter Greg Palast, whose own book, "The Best Money Democracy Can Buy", has fast become a cult fave among progressives. Palast styles himself as the dogged outsider, a former working-class gumshoe from L.A. now reporting on corporate America for the BBC and The Guardian, unable to secure a regular gig from U.S. media firms wary of his impolitic exposés. Hence his book, which strings together his award-winning reports on everything from the Florida election debacle to the role of the IMF in crashing Argentina's economy, is as much a portrait of how our profit-addicted American media ignores hard news. In sold-out appearances, Palast has detailed how Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush swung the Florida election by purging tens of thousands of eligible voters - mostly blacks - using electronically generated "scrub lists" produced by a Texas firm paid millions to screen out felons, yet not required to verify the accuracy of its data. Florida's use of an outside firm to in effect privatize voting rights plays into Palast's central theme: how corporate power is riding roughshod over democracy. From the "cash for access" scandal that rocked Tony Blair's government in Britain to the revolving door between Monsanto and the FDA that led to the flood of BST growth hormone in America's milk supplies, Palast lays bare patterns of corruption so sadly commonplace. Palast's problem is that he unearths such juicy information withoutfollowing up in greater detail (see www.gregpalast.com for updates. In one short chapter, he argues that prior to September 11, Bush spiked FBI and CIA investigations of the bin Laden family and alleged Saudi funding of terror networks because of the Bushes' cozy relationship to the Saudis via companies like Arbusto Energy and the Carlyle Group. Given the current flap about what the Bush administration knew about Al Qaeda threats, one wishes Palast had explored these connections further. But his book provides a road map for other journalists, and he's donating the proceeds to a fund for investigative reporting. Let's hope more DIY muckrakers heed the call.
Baltimore Chronicle
Buy it to support Palast's work (proceeds will underwrite his research. Read it to inform yourself, since the establishment press seems determined not to let you in on who is doing what to whom (unless it's something like Monica and Bill - a comparatively trivial story Palast skips entirely. Share it. Talk about it. Ask for it at the public library to make sure they order it.
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Many of Palast's articles explore territory that will be familiar to readers of the "Nation", among other alternative publications. But his Inside Corporate America column in the "Observer" is a reminder of what is lacking from the business pages of America's leading newspapers — namely, critical, in-depth coverage of big business.
Chicago Tribune
Palast distinguishes himself from many other advocacy journalist, both left and right with his near obsession with documentary evidence - memos, correspondence, e-mail, briefing reports and raw data, much of it stamped "Confidential"- and his painstaking research methods. Palast's most recent splash (is his expose on how Florida purged its voting rolls before the 2000 election in a way that almost certainly gave the White House to George W. Bush. It's not about chads or overvotes or butterfly ballots. It's about citizens denied their right to vote in a process that seemed designed to target mostly Democrats. And it was Palast's first-hand research, detailed in the opening chapter, that everyone, even the US Commission on Civil Rights, followed.
C-Span TV
The last of the great journalists.
Midwest Book Review
Wow. Investigative reporting like this hasn't been seen in America for many years. No major media outlet is willing to expend the time and effort needed, and that is a shame. This book is brilliant, it's incredible, it shows just how wimpy most of the American news media really is, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Herald-Leader Lexington
It is disheartening for a nation to proclaim itself as the leader of democracy and yet have thousands of its citizens enter the 21st Century denied the same rights they were denied 300 years ago. If justice does not come from our Justice Department, it may have to come in the form of private lawsuits.
Andrew Tobias
Your reports should be read all over America.
Jude Wanniski
Great writing on the evil empire of the IMF.
Laura Flanders
George Bush's nightmare.
Counterspin
John Pilger
The information is a hand grenade.
New Statesman
Will Hutton
All power to Palast's pen!
Harry Evans
Fabulous stories.
Sunday Times
C-Span
The last of the great journalists.
Jim Hightower
The type of investigative reporter you don't see anymore - a cross between Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes.
George Monbiot
The journalist I admire most. [Palast's] amazing work puts all the rest of us journalists to shame. I'm an avid reader of everything Palast writes - can never get enough of it.
The Guardian
Maude Barlow
Courageous writing - when no one else will do it.
Alan Colmes
To Americans who cannot read his stories printed in Britain's Observer, he is America's journalist hero of the Internet.
Industrial Society
[Palast's reports] created shockwaves which have yet to die ... outstanding journalism.
Private Eye Magazine
The Most Evil Man in the World.
Harper's & Queen
Tony Blair's nightmare.
MediaChannel.org
An American hero in journalism.
Cleveland Free Times
The world's greatest investigative reporter.
US Journalism Hall of Fame
Intrepid investigative reporter who first broke the news that tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters were disenfranchised in Florida before the 2000 election.
Publishers Weekly
Muckraking has a long, storied tradition, and Palast is evidently proud to be part of it. In this polemical indictment of globalization and political corruption, Palast (a reporter with the BBC and London's Observer) updates the muckraking tradition with some 21st-century targets: the IMF, World Bank and WTO, plus oil treaties, energy concerns and corporate evildoers of all creeds. Some of Palast's reports are downright shocking (if familiar). He shows, for example, how the WTO prevents cheap AIDS drugs from reaching victims in Africa and how World Bank loan policies have crippled the economies of Tanzania and other developing countries. On the home front, he details Exxon's horrific safety record before the Valdez disaster and reveals the price-gouging by Texas power companies during the California energy crisis. In Britain, Palast exposes the "cash for access" policies of the Blair administration, and blasts the legal system for shielding Pfizer Pharmaceuticals from lawsuits by victims who had defective Pfizer valves installed in their hearts. These are all good, important stories. Most of them, however, have been published before. This book is essentially a collection of Palast's newspaper articles, hastily stitched together with some commentary and exposition. As such, it lacks cohesiveness and the depth his subjects deserve. In addition, Palast's bombastic style and one-sided perspective do much to undermine his own credibility. How seriously should readers take a journalist who labels former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers an "alien" and dismisses Wal-Mart shareholders as "Wal-Martians"? There is much of value here, but readers who want a full-bodied, serious analysis of how globalization is affecting developing countries or how corporate giants pay for political favors should look elsewhere. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Money can't buy democracy any more than it can buy happiness, but it does buy the assassins hired to kill any tenet of democracy that happens to get in the way of profit. First on the hit list is the pesky democratic system itself, an idea far too messy for that tripartite commission of villainy—political parties, corporations and churches—whose politicians, executives and ministers reap spoils from a nation they continue to plunder. That is the crux of Palast's thesis as he presents a sensationally disturbing brief on legal corruption fomented by deregulated, market-driven greed. Palast's long list of usual suspects begins with a well-documented indictment of the entire Florida election apparachik from Governor Bush to Katharine Harris to ChoicePoint, a sweetheart (no bid) contractor who at Harris's direction purged 57,700 legitimate names of blacks, Hispanic and other assorted Democratic voters from key Florida precincts long before George W. "won" by 537 votes. Every chapter of this book is a compendium of worst-case villainy: Enron gouges Californians with an overnight 600% increase in energy rates, all perfectly legal thanks to deregulation. Wal-Mart bulldozes forests, farms and hometown retailers "anchoring" malls, then exhorts customers to "buy American" products; not that easy to do since 83% of the stock on Sam's shelves is foreign made. The U.S. also exports its laissez faire, market-driven policies worldwide through the rapacious triumverate of IMF, WTO and the World Bank. In return for loan "guarantees," this economic Trojan horse demands that client countries impose draconian "reforms" on their citizens. Argentina was required, along with other devastating economic measures,to cut worker's salaries 20%, payments to pensioners and the aged 13% and raise interest rate on loans to 90%. Argentina was then required to repay its loans to the usurious IMF at the prevailing U.S. Treasury interest rate plus a "whopping 16% risk premium." If you are puzzled by those demonstrations in the streets wherever these institutions meet, you need only remember Andy Grove, chairman of Intel Corp, who delivered a telling epithet of IMF policy in this succinct sound bite: "The purpose of the new capitalism is to shoot the wounded." After reading this book, students may indeed wonder why the government, judicial system, regulatory agencies and the media say little or nothing about this runaway, albeit legal, corruption. One reason may be best summed up in a conversation Palast had with Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff, who at lunch one day gave Palast a mountain of startling documentation on the Florida presidential election scam. Palast asked Isikoff why Newsweek was not publishing this blockbuster story. "Because," he said, "no one gives a shit." KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Penguin Putnam, 370p. illus. index.,
— William Kircher
Booknews
Eight updated articles by award-winning iconoclastic reporter Palast represent some of the better known stories he has investigated such as the purge of African-Americans from Florida's voter registry, the iron triangle of globalization, and big money in dirty places. He also reflects on being an American exile in London. Distributed in the US by Stylus. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452283916
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/2003
Edition description:
Older Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.83(d)

Read an Excerpt

Who Gives a Shit?
An Introduction to the New American Edition

You read the papers and you watch television, so you know the kind of spider-brained, commercially poisoned piece-of-crap reporting you get in America.

You could call this book What You Didn't Read in the New York Times and What You Can't See on CBS. For example:

Five months before the November 2000 election, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida moved to purge 57,700 people from the voter rolls, supposedly criminals not allowed to vote. Most were innocent of crimes, but the majority were guilty of being Black.

I wrote that exposé for page one of the nation's top newspaper. But it was the wrong nation: Britain. It ran in the Guardian of London and its Sunday sister paper, the Observer. You could see it on television too-in Europe, on BBC TV's Newsnight, which airs my investigate reports. (If you want to know what was in that diseased sausage called a presidential election, read Chapter 1, "Jim Crow in Cyberspace.")

Something else you didn't read: After the American electorate booted the senior Bush from the White House, he landed softly on the board of a gold-mining company originally funded by the Saudi Arabian Adnan Khashoggi, arms dealer to the Axis of Evil. The former president's gold-digger friends made a billion off changes in rules courtesy of the outgoing Bush administration. From there, the story gets more brutal and much bloodier (see Chapter 2, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," new to this American edition).

Then there's the story of Monsanto's genetically modified milk-making hormone. The stuff caused company test cows to drip pus into milk buckets. Yummy. Monsantofixed that problem the easy way-by burying test data. U.S. officials helped out, slipping the company confidential regulatory documents. American journals couldn't cover that. They were too busy licking the loafers of Monsanto's Robert Shapiro, GE's Jack Welch and Enron's Ken Lay to write something not cribbed off a company press release (see Chapter 5, "Inside Corporate America").

And you didn't read how the "Reverend" Dr. Pat Robertson secretly, illicitly used his Christian Crusade jihad assets to boost his berserker get-rich-quick business schemes (see Chapter 6, "Pat Robertson").

Nor did you get the news about Anibal Ver—n. In August 2000, Ver—n, a bus driver who hadn't received his pay for nine months, protested and was shot dead. Argentines believe the World Bank had a secret plan to force the nation to cut wages. Antiglobalization conspiracy fantasy? I'll show you the document. Instead, American-style journalism gives you proglobalization gurus like Thomas Friedman. It tells you the new international financial order is all about the communications revolution and cell phones that will call your broker and do your laundry at the same time. Golly. And if you're against globalization, you're against the future. The kids protesting in the streets are just a bunch of unsophisticated jack-offs. And in the United States especially, there's no dissent from this slaphappy view. I'm not going to argue with Friedman and guys in favor of The Future. What I will do is take you through Country Assistance Strategies, Article 133 diplomatic letters and GATS committee memos. Most are marked "confidential" and "not for public disclosure"-having walked out of filing cabinets inside the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization. And there's nothing in there about cell phones for Incas.

If you read the original hardcover edition of this book, you'll see here a substantially different text. An awful lot has happened since we last met between these covers, and new material arrives daily. There were letters like this: "You are a freak liberal asshole! [signed] A Reasonable American." That is not news.

However, there was an extraordinary note from Florida. Katherine Harris, secretary of state, wrote that my reporting was "twisted." Again, no news there; but I was astonished by the evidence she provided me in her lengthy high-volume screed. In this book's first edition, I disclosed that Governor Jeb Bush's office had knowingly blocked 40,000 legal voters from registering. Coincidentally, over 90 percent of those voters were Democrats. Bush's office stone-cold denied it. Now, his buddy Harris faxed me the proof (unwittingly, I presume). You'll see the documents in this new American edition.

In addition, there's the latest on how Governor Jeb fixed his own race for reelection in 2002 and how Republicans are finagling the machinery for 2004. The first edition of this book included ten pages introducing you to a company named Enron. "This is Enron. You've never heard of them." Presumably, by now, you've heard. But if you think the truth has come out about Enron, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, Reliant and the host of other sharks in CEO clothing, don't kid yourself: The U.S. media is still peeing on your leg and telling you it's raining. You're now being told that Harry Potter-magical accounting is a new, short-lived game limited to a couple of corporate rogues, a few bad apples.

New? Limited? The apples are dropping because the U.S. corporate tree is rotten-root and branch. Andersen should have been indicted a decade ago. If you want to know why they weren't, ask our president's daddy-and read the new section on the Power Pirates in Chapter 3.

Also in this edition, new information indicating that U.S. financial institutions helped Argentina's ruling families speculate on their nation's death spiral. That opens the door to more tales of Enron, the kidnapping of the president of Venezuela and the Bush-Bush's gold mine, all new to this edition.

Some of you may be wondering why I'd bother with a revision. After all, in 2002 the U.S. Congress passed campaign finance reform. Our president signed it into law. The election process is "reformed." Bush signed another law promising to jail corporate bad guys. But if we look closely, reform consists of doubling the amount of so-called "hard" contributions politicians may legally harvest, eliminating only "soft" contributions. Stiffening flaccid contributions may be Congress's idea of progress, but the financial poisoning of our body politic continues. And the corporate governance reforms, like the elections reforms, are simply covers for new mischief.

Am I a bit too rough on the Republicans? I recognize that the selling of America is a bipartisan business. If I spill more ink here on the Bushes than the Clintons, it's primarily because a journalist's first job should be to discomfit those in power. Regarding the Democrats, my policy is to let sleeping dogs lie and lying dogs sleep.

Words in Exile

So why have you not seen these stories, or very few of them, in the mainstream media? Take that story of the theft of the U.S. election. In America, editors looked at their shoes and whistled-and hoped it would go away. Not everyone ignored it, of course-I got lots of letters like this one: "Stay out of our politics, you English pig!" I hate to quibble, but I'm not British.

I'm from Los Angeles. Actually, the scum end of L.A., in the San Fernando Valley, raised in a pastel house between the power plant and the city garbage dump. It was not as glamorous as abject poverty, but not far above it. Half the kids in my school were Mexican American and, brown or white, we were pretty much tagged as America's losers. You graduated, worked minimum wage at Bob's Big Boy on Van Nuys Boulevard, and got your girlfriend pregnant. If Vietnam didn't kill you, overtime at the Chevy plant would.

America was a carnivore and we were just food. Anyway, I got out and so did my sister-how we did is neither interesting nor remarkable.

Am I bitter? Why shouldn't I be when I look at the privileged little pricks that call the shots on this planet, whose daddies could make the phone calls, write the checks, make it smooth? Daddy Bush, Daddy Koch, Daddy bin Laden-I've got a list.

As a scholarship kid at the University of Chicago, I witnessed the birth of the New World Globalization Order. It was the mid-1970s and I'd worked my way into Milton Friedman's postgraduate seminar and into a strange clique, which later became known as the "Chicago Boys." That was the little cabal of South America's budding dictators and right-wing economists who would turn Chile into an experiment in torture and free markets.

Even then I was undercover, working for Frank Rosen, head of the United Electrical Workers Union, and Eddie Sadlowski, the dissident steelworkers' leader, for a greater purpose I could understand dimly at best.

I avoided journalism. Starting in 1975, from a desk in the basement of the electrical workers' union hall, I began grinding through U.S. corporate account books. Using their own abstruse financial codes, I challenged gas company heating charges. I negotiated contracts for steel and iron workers. I was broke and I was in heaven.

My dad had been a furniture salesman. He hated furniture. If it were up to him, we would have eaten sitting on the floor. Mom worked in the school cafeteria (you know, hairnet and creamed corn) until she became a hypnotist for McDonald's (really-see Chapter 7). From them, I gained a deep and abiding fear of working for a living.

Bang: One minute I was this dead-broke anticorporate scourge with his head buried in bureaucratic file cabinets, and the next I was "America's number one expert on government regulation bar none" (wrote one kind newspaper). My office, on the fiftieth floor of the World Trade Center, was bigger than an L.A. bowling alley.

Still, I kept my nose in dusty files. I found things like this: Executives of a megalithic power company, Long Island Lighting of New York, swore under oath that their nuclear plant would cost $1.8 billion. Internal confidential memos said the plant would cost $3.2 billion. I convinced the government to charge them with civil racketeering, and a jury said they should pay $4.8 billion. Then, the governor of New York, a slick operator named Mario Cuomo, reached the chief federal judge in New York-and poof!-the jury's verdict was thrown out. That's when I learned about love, and that there is no love greater than the love of politicians for the captains of finance.

So am I bitter? See above.

I finally quit. It was during my investigation of the Exxon Valdez crack-up (see Chapter 6). I was working for the Chugach natives of Alaska. Our team quickly discovered the oil spill was no accident: Before the tanker's grounding, Exxon shut off the ship's radar to save money and a British Petroleum affiliate had faked the safety equipment reports.

How could I get the real story out? From a kayak in the Prince William Sound, who can hear you scream? The press had f'd up the Exxon Valdez story something awful. That was six years ago. I decided from then on I'd write these stories myself, an idea immediately encouraged by the British Guardian and Observer papers and BBC's Newsnight.

While American journalists spent those years smothered in Monica Lewinsky's panties, I had the luxury of diving into the filing cabinets of the Reverend Pat Robertson, the World Trade Organization and George Bush's favorite billionaires.

I began in earnest in 1997 and my work quickly attracted a little more attention than I'd expected. On July 8 of that year, the entire front page of the Mirror, one of Britain's biggest-selling papers, was taken up by a picture of this nasty-looking bald guy-me-under a four-inch-tall headline: THE LIAR (figure i.1). And I thought, "Damn, it doesn't get any better than this." The Mirror-and the man they loved, Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair-did not like a story I had written with Antony Barnett for the Observer. To get the story, "Lobbygate," I'd gone undercover and exposed a stinky little deal-making operation running through Blair's cabinet. That story and the others to follow grew out of this idea: Why not apply the techniques of investigations I've conducted in government racketeering cases to news reporting? This would be a quantum leap in dig-out-the-facts methodologies rarely used even by "investigative" journalists. That's what makes these writings a bit different-lots of facts, many from documents thought by their writers to be hidden away in desk drawers, from missent faxes and from tape recordings made when big mouths didn't know whom they were talking to.

If Britain's government was selling its nation, corporate America was buying. That's my main beat: "Inside Corporate America," the title of my column in the Observer. Those columns-updated, all fresh material-are in Chapter 5. There you will get, for example, the skinny on Wal-Mart ("What Price a Store-gasm?") and the tale of the strange little deal cut by a big-time environmental group and the number-one lobbyist representing polluters ("How the Filth Trade Turned Green").

This book is largely a compendium of the investigations printed and broadcast overseas, expanded, with the newest information, plus substantial new material for this special edition for the United States.

* * *

The question remains, why were these stories (and their author) exiled to Europe? Where are you, America? Don't you want to know how your president was elected? How the IMF spends your money?

Mike Isikoff, a Newsweek reporter, suggested an answer. A couple of years ago, he passed me some truly disturbing information on President Clinton, not the usual intern-under-the-desk stuff. I said, "Mike, why don't you print this?" And he said,

"Because no one gives a shit."

But if you're one of the few who do, here's your book.

—from The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization, and High-Finance Fraudsters by Greg Palast, Copyright © 2003 by Greg Palast, published by Plume Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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