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November 09, 2003
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Palast)

The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization, and High-Finance Fraudsters (Greg Palast)

According to Greg Palast, that list of infamously purged Florida voters (now at 90,000 and overwhelmingly Democrat) contains the names of over 4,000 "convicted felons" whose conviction dates in the official records are blank. That's because those inconvenient dates were, upon investigation, found to have been, somewhat inconveniently, located a touch too far in the future. (some of them in the next millennium) for verisimilitude.

After all, it would be difficult to explain how one had come by the knowledge that any specific voter was going to be convicted of a felony, even in so short-term a prophetic prediction as, say, 2007.

The best thing I can say about this chapter in the book is that the stories get a lot less entertaining from this point on.

Not that Palast doesn't have a humorous and engaging writing style, because he does, but that was in Chapter One and after that you get into the Bushes and the billionaires (the buying of America) which includes such gems as Shrub's first pass at a federal budget, which included a "big, fat zero for the key EPA civil enforcement team."


Bush put vice President Dick Cheney in charge of the committee to save California consumers [because of the power crisis]. Recommendation number one: Build some nuclear plants. Not much of an offer to earthquake-prone California, but a darn good deal for the biggest builder of nuclear plants based in Texas, the Brown and Root subsidiary of Halliburton corporations. Recent CEO of Halliburton: Dick the Veep.

Add some more discussion of Bush family ties with the bin Laden family and a frank and distasteful story about Bush Senior's (post-presidential) ties to a corporation accused of wholesale murder to gain control of rich Tanzanian gold fields, and the chapter makes uncomfortable reading.

California, Enron, and the deregulation of the UsofA power industry also get a chapter of their own. This is a story where there's plenty of public documentation through newspapers, magazines, and online.

Suffice to say that the story is even more dishonest, unethical, and criminal than your daily newspaper reading might have led you to believe and none of the random selection of events I chose to verify was untrue. All of the public events Palast described and that I went looking or documentation or verification on were quite true.

Next up: Globalization.

There are about a dozen specific steps, but the key ones are: cut government, cut the budget and bureaucracies and the rules they make; privatize just about everything; deregulate currency and capital markets, free the banks to speculate in currency and shift capital across borders.

Sound like the policies of any presidential Administration you know of?

But don't stop there. Open every nation's industry to foreign trade, eliminate those stodgy old tariffs and welcome foreign ownership without limit; wipe away national border barriers to commerce; let the market set prices on everything from electricity to water; and let the arbitrageurs direct our investments. Then haul those old government bureaucracies to the guillotine: cut public pensions, cut welfare, cut subsidies; let politics shrink and the let the marketplace guide us.

What this means for all of "us" around the world who didn't happen to be born into families of power, is described in this chapter. There's no way to pull out handy sound-bites from this one, you have to read the chapter which is fairly heavy on dates and statistics, so let me just copy Palast's quote from Andy Grove, chairman of Intel corporation:

"The purpose of the new capitalism is to shoot the wounded."

Sixty pages of very sobering text that I'd like to believe is exaggerated or even completely made up. I'm having a little trouble with that at the moment.

Next up is corporate America - an interesting hodge-podge of stories about how the UsofA media bows to money, the cult of Sam Walton is weirder than you'd believe the privatization of prisons, and more.

In Chapter Six, Palast exposes the money-grubbing hypocrisy of Pat Robertson and I enjoyed every word of it. (Oh, yeah, he exposes a few other things. Like Monsanto's Viagra campaign and a few unsavory details about the Exxon Valdez disaster.)

The book covers a lot of other territory as well. McDonald's, Enron's contribution to the collapse of the U.K.'s energy distribution system, Argentina (a country with perpetual problems and some astonishingly close ties to the Bush family) and more.

I meant to write a review, not the kind of content recap you could get by thumbing through the book's pages, but I guess the truth is that I'm so appalled by what I've read that I'm not yet sure how to react.

I remember that yesterday, or maybe it was the day before, when I heard yet another story of a child expelled from a school for bringing a dangerous weapon onto the premises (it was either a paper hole punch or a small paper cutter this item, I donít remember which), I remember I got to thinking about the way kids are raised today and the world they live in and I was wondering why, instead of trying to change the kids, we couldn't change society to better serve and fit human nature.

You know. Outlaw guns instead of sex. Give violent movies an automatic X rating and not treat sexual relations like a dirty secret. Leave room for individualism and creativity and not try to straitjacket us all into little conforming, consuming robots. That kind of thing.

But now? Now, seeing what people who have the freedom provided by power and money actually do with themselves, now I'm not quite that fond of human nature any more. (Not being criminally inclined myself, I tend to discount the extent to which others are law-abiding because of the threat of punishment and not because it's, well, the right way to behave.)

Anyhow. Yeah, read the book. But don't read it all at one sitting. You might find the cumulative evidence of corruption in high places discouraging. (If you do, turn to page 343 to check out the "Resources for Action" section.)

Posted by AnneZook at 03:50 PM


Richard L. Berke, who's vaguely heard of the name of Greg Palast, should read his own paper's Best Seller List. He would have found Palast's book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" right there at the top for weeks!

Posted by: Heather Chait at December 13, 2003 11:46 AM