Tuesday, July 26, 2011

#46: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast

Plume, 2003. 351 pages

It is hard to say exactly what this book is about. Is it about the Bush Family? Is it about Corporations fucking democracy seven ways to a Sunday? Well, it can be broken into two parts: the excellent work Palast did on the 2000 election (stolen/plagiarized by Michael Moore) and any number of uneven screeds that make up the other 1/2 of the text. Most of what is in this book is old news to anyone who reads Mother Jones, listens to Democracy Now or buys groceries at Whole Foods.

What I do like a lot about this edition is Palast's inclusion of an appendix with multiple places for people to be heard or get outside information (some of the sites are gone, but some are still going and are quite good). No one in their right fucking minds should read CNN or watch CNN or listen to CNN. Here are their "most popular stories" as of 9 am PST, 26 July 2011:
1. Netflix addresses customers "upset" with price hike: Well, as one of those people, I'm angry. Not as angry as I am at the Republicans, but still a little upset.
2. Obama calls for compromise amid stalemate: People may finally be paying attention to this.
3. Low tech Internet scams harvest billions of dollars: So what? Never give out your credit card or SSN to anyone. If they want it, fuck 'em. When filling out anything that does not involve something being shipped to you, put in a false address and name. Use a god damn firewall and for Christ sakes stay away from the porn.
4. Men weigh in on love, money and kids: awwwwww, isn't that cute?

This isn't CNN's fault per se, but do ya think if they stopped producing stories of this type, people would cease to care about what random men have to say about money and kids? This is where Palast and the Censored Project come in; I don't like Palast's writing and I think he is kind of an egotist. However, he is important. One thing that progressives and conservatives (even nutty freakshows like Palin and Bachmann) have in common is a distrust of mainstream/lamestream media. What really pisses me off is that Palin et al gets blasted for ridiculing media, while Palast and progressives are championed.  Palin and Bachmann should get blasted for their ideas. Or lack thereof.

Back to the book. If you do not understand the machinations behind the voter rolls and "Jim Crow in cyberspace" that brought Bush the 2000 election, the first sections will make you squirm. In Palast's view, Choice Point and Katherine Harris worked together to purge over 57,000 voters from Florida rolls because they were convicted felons. Palast throws around a bunch of numbers, but comes down repeatedly on 15% of these people being wrongly listed (pages 35-49). That's 8550 people, 90% of them African American and Hispanic. You do the math. My father could not vote in the state of Iowa for the last 34 years of his life, as he committed a felony for which he did jail time; I always thought this was bull shit. BTW, Florida ended "felony disenfranchisement" in 2007 and Iowa did in 2005. Then there is this nugget: "In a race decided by 537 votes, Florida simply did not count 179,855 ballots (italics his, 62). These are votes that were voided as "spoiled". As you may have guessed, in counties such as Gadsden and Madison (52% and 42% African American respectively) roughly 10% of the votes were voided. In counties over 95% white, roughly 2.5% were voided. Again, you do the math. (See page 62-70 for the scam.)

The other part of the text that really shines is Palast's take on the so-called "Chilean Miracle". For a fun bit, read his description of this rampant corporate placement of their balls in the mouths of regular Chileans while Augusto Pinochet readied a red hot poker for introduction into their collective brown stars. Then, compare it to Daniel Yergin's Commanding Heights, which casts Milton Friedman as God, Maggie Thatcher as St. Theresa and Ronald Reagan as St. Paul. No one is Jesus, because he most likely would have been a socialist.

The rest of the book is weaker, but still reads fairly well considering the economic implosion of 2007-8 and the corporations who are profiting from it. One thing bothered me about this text, and it is this statement on page 4: "Regarding the Democrats, my policy is to let sleeping dogs lie and lying dogs sleep." I call bull shit on that. President Bush may have gotten to the White House on the backs of scheming, sleazy wanna-bes like Katherine Harris and five old fuckers in black robes, but Gore and Clinton did their fair share of shitty things also. If pointing out corruption in the political process is the goal, then point it out when it happens. I am a registered Democrat who gleefully voted against every incumbent Democrat in the primaries last year. Why? Because I don't like their policies, and I just think that Barbara Boxer is a little too cozy with business.

For me, Palast's entire text is undermined by that line. The system is broken, kids, and the Republicans and Democrats both have a shared interest in keeping it that way. Change those in power to change things; the Tea Party is not change but the hoary ghost of the 1890s, and it will haunt you forever. The Progressives of this time are really scared shitless; where the hell is Harry Truman when you need him? Where is JFK? Where is liberalism with honest-to-God balls?

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