Book review

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization and High-Finance Fraudsters, by Greg Palast, Penguin Plume, 372 pp., $14.00

Greg Palast, an American investigative reporter, has, in recent years, been working for British media interests: the Guardian newspapers and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In his work, Palast has uncovered numerous closets littered with corporate and political skeletons.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy is a compendium of his work, most of which has been printed overseas while being ignored by the U.S. corporate-owned media. He notes: “You could call this book, What You Didn’t Read in The New York Times, and What You Didn’t See on CBS.”

Palast has written a virtual smorgasbord of accounts relating how corporate wealth and influence have corrupted the political, economic, and media institutions in the U.S. Palast’s research encompasses a wide variety of topics from Bush’s war on terror to the power deregulation scandal in California, which he views as just a small part of a much larger “multi-continental war for ownership and control of $4 trillion in public utility infrastructure – gas, water, telephone, and electricity lines.”

He also examines the wholesale private takeover of public-funded services in third world countries as part of the inhumane lending requirements of the IMF and World Bank (both are U.S.-controlled).

American readers will probably be most interested in Palast’s investigation of the 2000 election in Florida. Previously, most attention had focused on the the recount process, as did the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. The Palast inquiry, however, which was sponsored by BBC Newsnight, uncovered a massive purging of thousands of legal voters from Florida voting rolls in the months before the election. The book also includes reprints Palast’s articles from and The Nation on this subject.

The state of Florida had contracted with a private company, Database Technologies, ChoicePoint, to come up with a list of voters with criminal records that could be purged from voter lists. The first list, with 8,000 names, had a 100 percent error rate – they were former Texans with misdemeanor convictions – not a disqualifying factor.

The company then developed a list of 57,700 names on two CD-ROMS that were given to Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who sent the names to local election supervisors with orders to purge all of them. Most on the list were African Americans (Gore received 93 percent of the African-American vote in Florida). Thousands of persons did not belong on the lists. For example, one small sample of the entire list showed 325 persons with future conviction dates – e.g., a certain Thomas Cooper was convicted on January 30, 2007.

Palast’s investigators examined numerous e-mails from nervous clerks in Harris’s office who had found many persons “convicted in the future, in the next century, in the next millennium.” Republican operatives had a simple solution to that problem – blank out the conviction dates so as to not alert local election supervisors – and over 4,000 dates were blanked out.

Over all, BBC investigators estimate that Al Gore lost over 22,000 votes from the purging process, far more than the 537 vote margin by which Bush won the state. Not one single major media source in the U.S. mentioned the BBC investigation results, which were available before the Supreme Court decision.

In addition to all of this, Governor Jeb Bush’s office barred another 40,000 voters from voting – 90 percent Democrats – because they had out-of-state convictions from states that did not bar voting due to criminal records. Bush’s disenfranchising of these voters was even done in defiance of Florida court decisions. In June of 2001, The Washington Post became the only major media source to do an article on the Florida voter purge. Even ABC television, with a film-trading agreement with BBC Newsnight, ignored the story and did its own “investigation,” which covered up the purge and insulted Black voters in Florida.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy is an indictment of corporate power and influence in the U.S. The investigative results in Palast’s work have one characteristic in common: all have gone unreported, underreported or distorted in the American commercial media.

Yes, we do have press censorship in the United States: the deliberate exclusion by the media owners of news items harmful to their class interests. Buy this book, read it, and give it to a friend!

– Al Olson (