Book Review: "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"

palastNear the top of the New York Times' Nonfiction Paperback Best Sellers list, right up there with Seabiscuit and a few spots below The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner), you can find Greg Palast's "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Plume; $14).

In this age of corporate media conglomerates, it's a bit of a shock to see top sales for a book subtitled "The truth about corporate cons, globalization, and high-finance fraudsters." But there it is.

Greg Palast is an American investigative reporter working for the BBC and London's Observer newspaper. Imagine a cross between Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, if such a beast is possible -- that's Greg Palast. In fact, Moore borrowed a good deal of the information for his bestseller, Stupid White Men, from the reports of Greg Palast.

"The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" opens with an 80-page account of how Katherine Harris rigged Florida's 2000 election. She enlisted the help of Database Technologies, a conservative company hired for the bargain basement price two million dollars -- a 350 percent markup over the previous contractor. Jeb Bush said he would deliver Florida for his brother; along with Harris and Database, he did. Together they purged 94,000 people from Florida's voter rolls, mostly blacks, overwhelmingly Democrats. According to Database's court documents, 91,000 of those voters should have retained the right to vote.

On what grounds were the voters cut? Well, they were either former criminals, had names similar to the names of former criminals, had committed misdemeanors (including traffic offenses), were suspected of having committed misdemeanors, or were registered as Democrats. For good measure, the state of Texas sent a list of 8,000 former felons who had moved to Florida. Those people were cut too -- never mind that Florida's laws clearly permitted them to vote.

Once you've stolen the White House, you've got to do something with it, right? After connecting the 2000 election theft to Database's conservative parent company, ChoicePoint (the primary contractor for the "Total Information Awareness" program, by the way, poised to plunder your private records in the name of homeland security), Palast sheds light on Bush's links to the Bin Laden family and other Saudi Billionaires who are in turn connected to various power companies that raped and pillaged California during the state's energy crisis.

This may sound like dry material. It's not. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy is about as much fun as you can have while reading the gory details of how screwed up the world really is. Palast writes colorful, lucid prose, as intelligent as it is flamboyant.

The book doesn't offer conspiracy theories; it offers page after page of links between wealthy corporate players and elected (or not-so-elected) representatives. According to Palast, those connections extend beyond our borders into such institutions as the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank -- each of which is joined at the hip and ready to tie a "golden straitjacket" tight around any third world country foolish enough to need a loan.

Palast collects several of his award-winning investigative reports in a chapter called "Pat Robertson, General Pinochet, Pepsi and the Anti-Christ." With wit, style and serious conviction, the author compares Chile's former dictator, Pinochet, to Tinker Bell and Cinderella's fairy godmother -- and to the extent that magical deeds happen only in fiction, the comparison holds.

As Palast connects the dots between corrupt politicians, stolen elections, globalization, terrorism and the passivity of mainstream American media, he also lays a foundation for informed progressive activism. He closes the book with an invitation for whistle blowers to contact him through his Web site. That is followed by an appendix list of resources that will help readers take action.

This book won't make you feel comfortable. It certainly won't help you sleep at night. If you're among the majority of Americans who believe that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were connected with the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite the fact that even the Bush administration has publicly denied any connection, this book is not for you. Perhaps the only people who might be cheered by the news in this book are billionaire CEO's.

On second thought, when the billionaires find out how quickly this book is selling, they may not sleep so well.

Eric Bosse is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He edits a literary journal, The God Particle, and is co-editor of
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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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