"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by Greg Palast

Reviewed by Ning Wu

Greg Palast's revised American Edition of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy provides painful and rare insights into how money from private corporations controls and influences elections and governmental policies in America, and in turn how corporate money, US government agencies and their associated organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund influence and control other countries politically and economically. If one is still wondering why many of our highest "elected" officials (both Republicans and Democrats) seem so ridiculously short sighted in their decision making, and show no concern for America's future - or worse, seem perfectly willing to destroy it - this collection of investigative articles provides some answers. Reading Palast is like examining many pieces of a complex puzzle and putting them into the right places. And at the end one will find that, through Palast's in-depth investigations, a clear and extremely ugly picture of the total alliance of governmental power with corporate interests and money emerges - an alliance that is especially strong in the current Bush administration.

Why a revised American Edition one year after the original version in England? Palast's investigative reports were first printed and broadcast, and a hardcopy edition of the book published in England. But in the revised American Edition there is a substantial amount of new information, particularly for readers in United States. Palast writes in his introduction "You (the Americans) 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 can call this book 'What you didn't read in the New York Times and What you can't see on CBS.' If you want to know how your president was elected and how the IMF spends your money, then this is your book."

Greg Palast is from Los Angeles and worked as a journalist in the US for many years, investigating corruption in corporate America. He struggled and failed to get the real stories out. His investigative efforts were often blocked by powerful government officials (including, e.g., former New York governor Mario Cuomo) and his investigative reports were ignored by editors of the American press. In 1989 Palast was encouraged by leading newspapers in England, notably the Guardian and Observer, and also by BBC's Newsnight, to pursue his investigative reporting. He has been reporting his investigations through these outlets in England ever since. (Note that in England, BBC is a real publicly owned network - not "generously funded" by big corporations.)

Palast's reporting is special, because "Investigative reports share three things: They are risky, they upset the wisdom of the established order and they are very expensive to produce." To produce each report, Palast buried himself in dusty files and found extensive information first hand. He was willing to confront his subjects regardless of who they were, and never shied away from any controversy. His reporting reminds us of the "All the President's Men" reporting of the Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the past. One might think that Palast's stories sound extreme, but he unearths the ugliest stories about Republican and Democratic leaders alike, and he is clearly not a partisan. Palast believes that the selling of America is a bipartisan business.

The book consists of eight reports and each one investigates a different aspect of the power and money in the American society. To list few:

"Jim Crow in Cyberspace" exposes how the 2000 presidential election was stolen in Florida by the Bushes, and how a half-trillion dollars of corporate money turned an election into an auction.

"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" explores why corporations spent the half-trillion dollars on Bush's 2000 campaign, and what their contributions bought after Bush took office. Palast took a trip to Texas in May 2001 and witnessed the environmental hazards caused by Exxon-Mobile in Houston. Exxon-Mobile representatives would later serve on Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. Palast unearthed not only what George W. Bush did during his first 100 days of presidency for his cooperate contributors, but also the history of Bush Dynasty, their cronyism, and their business relationships with the Bin Ladens and the Saudi Royal Family.

"California Reamin" establishes a link through the mystical economics of electricity deregulation between power blackouts in California and the Bush-Cheney energy plan. It digs deep into Enron and many other players, like accounting firm Arthur Andersen, IMF, The World Bank, etc.

"Sell the Lexus, Burn the Olive Tree: Globalization and its Discontents." Palast wrote this report in response to Tom Friedman's book The Lexus and the Olive Tree". "To Thomas Friedman, globalization is about the communications revolution: we are connected and empowered and enabled," Palast writes. In contrast, Palast examines the roles the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and global corporations played in the globalization process, in the name of "free trade," and the detrimental effects their actions had on the economy of countries like Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.

"Inside Corporate America" is a series of investigative reports on Wal-Mart, Enron, Reliant, Pfizer and Wackenhut. Hired in 1998 by the Observer of London, to "enter the bodies and soul of the world-spanning corporations" Palast's reports set out to answer the questions: who own these businesses, how do they operate, and why should we trust them more than we trust government? Ever since the administration of Ronald Reagan, the US public has been told that government bureaucracy is the enemy and the government regulations are obstacles to a more prosperous economy. Palast's reports present a sober view of these corporations and the necessity of governmental regulations, and prove that the distrust Teddy Roosevelt and other presidents (after him) had for big business, and their commitment to increased government regulation at the turn of the 20th century were justified.

Readers of differing political views, or who obtain their news from different sources, may disagree with Palast's conclusions, or regard his comments as extreme and rough at times. But no one can deny the obvious - that his investigations are thorough, and painstakingly researched. If only if we could have more journalists like Greg Palast from both the left and the right, to keep corporations and the US government honest, and to keep us informed….