Greg Palast

Ohio’s Dirty Postcard Trick Led the Supreme Court to Approve Jim Crow Voter Purge

Monday’s Supreme Court decision blessing Ohio’s removal of half a million voters was ultimately decided on the issue of a postcard.

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Trump’s Top Vote Suppressor and Illegal Alien Voter Claim Goes to Court

The mainstream media has simply missed the voting rights trial whose outcome could unleash the newest mass vote suppression weapon, the invention of Donald Trump’s chief vote suppression tactician, Kris Kobach of Kansas.

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Greg Palast: Trump Picks the Al Capone of Vote-Rigging to Investigate Federal Voter Fraud

Kris Kobach was spooning down vanilla ice cream when I showed him the thick pages of evidence documenting his detailed plan to rig the presidential election of 2016. The Kansas secretary of state, sucking up carbs at a Republican Party fundraiser, recognized the documents and ran for it while still trying to wolf down the last spoonful.

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Larry Summers and the Secret "End-Game" Memo

When a little birdie dropped the End Game memo through my window, its content was so explosive, so sick and plain evil, I just couldn't believe it.

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The Koch Brothers' Chavez Problem

I’ve been tracking a tube of black putrid ooze, a toxic viper slowly slithering 2,000 miles across the belly of America, swallowing all water aquifers, politicians and reason in its path.

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Greg Palast: "Mitt Romney’s Bailout Bonanza: How He Made Millions from the Rescue of Detroit"

AMY GOODMAN: we turn to a major new exposé on the cover of The Nation magazine called "Mitt Romney’s Bailout Bonanza: How He Made Millions from the Rescue of Detroit." Investigative reporter Greg Palast reveals how Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made at least $15 million on the auto bailout and that three of Romney’s top donors made more than $4 billion for their hedge funds from the bailout. Greg Palast, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, lay it out for us.

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Did You Hear The One About the Nuns Who Weren't Allowed to Vote?

The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast's brand new book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (Seven Stories Press, 2012), with a foreword by Robert F Kennedy Jr. and comics by Ted Rall.

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Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: Karl Rove and the Republican Dark Art of Election Theft

The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast’s new book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, including a comic book by Ted Rall and an introduction by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (7 Stories Press, 2012).  

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Japanese Company Responsible for Nuclear Catastrophe Is Slated to Build Plants in Texas

I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.

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The Real Reason Why Arizona Passed Such Harsh Immigration Laws

Our investigation in Arizona discovered the real intent of the show-me-your-papers law.

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Is Obama Getting Bad Advice on His Appointments?

Has Barack Obama forgotten, Michael "Way to go, Brownie" Brown? Brown was that guy from the Arabian Horse Association appointed by President George W. Bush to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brownie, not knowing the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain from the south end of a horse, let New Orleans drown. Bush's response was to give his buddy Brownie a thumbs up.

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New Bush Attorney May Have First-Hand Experience with Law-breaking

There's only one thing worse than sacking an honest prosecutor. That's replacing an honest prosecutor with a criminal.

There was one big hoohah in Washington on Tuesday as House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers pulled down the pants on George Bush's firing of US Attorneys to expose a scheme to punish prosecutors who wouldn't bend to political pressure.

But the Committee missed a big one: Timothy Griffin, Karl Rove's assistant, the President's pick as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Griffin, according to BBC Television, was the hidden hand behind a scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 citizens prior to the 2004 election.

Key voters on Griffin's hit list: black soldiers and homeless men and women. Nice guy, eh? Naughty or nice, however, is not the issue. Targeting voters where race is a factor is a felony crime under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In October 2004, our investigations team at BBC Newsnight received a series of astonishing emails from Mr. Griffin, then Research Director for the Republican National Committee. He didn't mean to send them to us. They were highly confidential memos meant only for RNC honchos.

However, Griffin made a wee mistake. Instead of sending the emails -- potential evidence of a crime -- to email addresses ending with the domain name "@GeorgeWBush.com" he sent them to "@GeorgeWBush.ORG." A website run by prankster John Wooden who owns "GeorgeWBush.org." When Wooden got the treasure trove of Rove-ian ravings, he sent them to us.

And we dug in, decoding, and mapping the voters on what Griffin called, "Caging" lists, spreadsheets with 70,000 names of voters marked for challenge. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts.

The Griffin scheme was sickly brilliant. We learned that the RNC sent first-class letters to new voters in minority precincts marked, "Do not forward." Several sheets contained nothing but soldiers, other sheets, homeless shelters. Targets included the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida and that city's State Street Rescue Mission. Another target, Edward Waters College, a school for African-Americans.

If these voters were not currently at their home voting address, they were tagged as "suspect" and their registration wiped out or their ballot challenged and not counted. Of course, these "cages" captured thousands of students, the homeless and those in the military though they are legitimate voters. We telephoned those on the hit list, including one Randall Prausa. His wife admitted he wasn't living at his voting address: Randall was a soldier shipped overseas.

Randall and other soldiers like him who sent in absentee ballots, when challenged, would lose their vote. And they wouldn't even know it.

And by the way, it's not illegal for soldiers to vote from overseas -- even if they're black.

But it is illegal to challenge voters en masse where race is an element in the targeting. So several lawyers told us, including Ralph Neas, famed civil rights attorney with People for the American Way.

Griffin himself ducked our cameras, but his RNC team tried to sell us the notion that the caging sheets were, in fact, not illegal voter hit lists, but a roster of donors to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Republican donors at homeless shelters?

Over the past weeks, Griffin has said he would step down if he had to face Congressional confirmation. However, the President appointed Griffin to the law enforcement post using an odd little provision of the USA Patriot Act that could allow Griffin to skip Congressional questioning altogether.

Voting law expert Neas testified on Wednesday before Conyers' Committee on the topic of illegal voter "disenfranchisement" -- the fancy word for stealing elections by denying voters' civil rights.

Maybe Conyers should have held up a line-up of suspected vote thieves and let Neas identify the perpetrators. That would have been easy in the case of the Caging List Criminal. He only had to look for the guy wearing a new shiny lawman's badge.

Hugo Chavez in His Own Words

You'd think George Bush would get down on his knees and kiss Hugo Chávez's behind. Not only has Chávez delivered cheap oil to the Bronx and other poor communities in the United States. And not only did he offer to bring aid to the victims of Katrina. In my interview with the president of Venezuela on March 28, he made Bush the following astonishing offer: Chávez would drop the price of oil to $50 a barrel, "not too high, a fair price," he said -- a third less than the $75 a barrel for oil recently posted on the spot market. That would bring down the price at the pump by about a buck, from $3 to $2 a gallon.

But our President has basically told Chávez to take his cheaper oil and stick it up his pipeline. Before I explain why Bush has done so, let me explain why Chávez has the power to pull it off -- and the method in the seeming madness of his "take-my-oil-please!" deal.

Venezuela, Chávez told me, has more oil than Saudi Arabia. A nutty boast? Not by a long shot. In fact, his surprising claim comes from a most surprising source: the U.S. Department of Energy. In an internal report, the DOE estimates that Venezuela has five times the Saudis' reserves.

However, most of Venezuela's mega-horde of crude is in the form of "extra-heavy" oil -- liquid asphalt -- which is ghastly expensive to pull up and refine. Oil has to sell above $30 a barrel to make the investment in extra-heavy oil worthwhile. A big dip in oil's price -- and, after all, oil cost only $18 a barrel six years ago -- would bankrupt heavy-oil investors. Hence Chávez's offer: Drop the price to $50 -- and keep it there. That would guarantee Venezuela's investment in heavy oil.

But the ascendance of Venezuela within OPEC necessarily means the decline of the power of the House of Saud. And the Bush family wouldn't like that one bit. It comes down to "petro-dollars." When George W. ferried then-Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia around the Crawford ranch in a golf cart it wasn't because America needs Arabian oil. The Saudis will always sell us their petroleum. What Bush needs is Saudi petro-dollars. Saudi Arabia has, over the past three decades, kindly recycled the cash sucked from the wallets of American SUV owners and sent much of the loot right back to New York to buy U.S. Treasury bills and other U.S. assets.

The Gulf potentates understand that in return for lending the U.S. Treasury the cash to fund George Bush's $2 trillion rise in the nation's debt, they receive protection in return. They lend us petro-dollars, we lend them the 82nd Airborne.

Chávez would put an end to all that. He'll sell us oil relatively cheaply -- but intends to keep the petro-dollars in Latin America. Recently, Chávez withdrew $20 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve and, at the same time, lent or committed a like sum to Argentina, Ecuador, and other Latin American nations.

Chávez, notes The Wall Street Journal, has become a "tropical IMF." And indeed, as the Venezuelan president told me, he wants to abolish the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, with its brutal free-market diktats, and replace it with an "International Humanitarian Fund," an IHF, or more accurately, an International Hugo Fund. In addition, Chávez wants OPEC to officially recognize Venezuela as the cartel's reserve leader, which neither the Saudis nor Bush will take kindly to.

Politically, Venezuela is torn in two. Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution," a close replica of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal -- a progressive income tax, public works, social security, cheap electricity -- makes him wildly popular with the poor. And most Venezuelans are poor. His critics, a four-centuries' old white elite, unused to sharing oil wealth, portray him as a Castro-hugging anti-Christ.

Chávez's government, which used to brush off these critics, has turned aggressive on them. I challenged Chávez several times over charges brought against Súmate, his main opposition group. The two founders of the nongovernmental organization, which led the recall campaign against Chávez, face eight years in prison for taking money from the Bush Administration and the International Republican [Party] Institute. No nation permits foreign funding of political campaigns, but the charges (no one is in jail) seem like a heavy hammer to use on the minor infractions of these pathetic gadflies.

Bush's reaction to Chávez has been a mix of hostility and provocation. Washington supported the coup attempt against Chávez in 2002, and Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld have repeatedly denounced him. The revised National Security Strategy of the United States of America, released in March, says, "In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region."

So when the Reverend Pat Robertson, a Bush ally, told his faithful in August 2005 that Chávez has to go, it was not unreasonable to assume that he was articulating an Administration wish. "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him," Robertson said, "I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

There are only two ways to defeat the rise of Chávez as the New Abdullah of the Americas. First, the unattractive option: Cut the price of oil below $30 a barrel. That would make Chávez's crude worthless. Or, option two: Kill him.

Palast: Your opponents are saying that you are beginning a slow-motion dictatorship. Is that what we are seeing?

Hugo Chávez: They have been saying that for a long time. When they're short of ideas, any excuse will do as a vehicle for lies. That is totally false. I would like to invite the citizens of Great Britain and the citizens of the U.S. and the citizens of the world to come here and walk freely through the streets of Venezuela, to talk to anyone they want, to watch television, to read the papers. We are building a true democracy, with human rights for everyone, social rights, education, health care, pensions, social security, and jobs.

Palast: Some of your opponents are being charged with the crime of taking money from George Bush. Will you send them to jail?

Chávez: It's not up to me to decide that. We have the institutions that do that. These people have admitted they have received money from the government of the United States. It's up to the prosecutors to decide what to do, but the truth is that we can't allow the U.S. to finance the destabilization of our country. What would happen if we financed somebody in the U.S. to destabilize the government of George Bush? They would go to prison, certainly.

Palast: How do you respond to Bush's charge that you are destabilizing the region and interfering in the elections of other Latin American countries?

Chávez: Mr. Bush is an illegitimate President. In Florida, his brother Jeb deleted many black voters from the electoral registers. So this President is the result of a fraud. Not only that, he is also currently applying a dictatorship in the U.S. People can be put in jail without being charged. They tap phones without court orders. They check what books people take out of public libraries. They arrested Cindy Sheehan because of a T-shirt she was wearing demanding the return of the troops from Iraq. They abuse blacks and Latinos. And if we are going to talk about meddling in other countries, then the U.S. is the champion of meddling in other people's affairs. They invaded Guatemala, they overthrew Salvador Allende, invaded Panama and the Dominican Republic. They were involved in the coup d'état in Argentina thirty years ago.

Palast: Is the U.S. interfering in your elections here?

Chávez: They have interfered for 200 years. They have tried to prevent us from winning the elections, they supported the coup d'état, they gave millions of dollars to the coup plotters, they supported the media, newspapers, outlaw movements, military intervention, and espionage. But here the empire is finished, and I believe that before the end of this century, it will be finished in the rest of the world. We will see the burial of the empire of the eagle.

Palast: You don't interfere in the elections of other nations in Latin America?

Chávez: Absolutely not. I concern myself with Venezuela. However, what's going on now is that some rightwing movements are transforming me into a pawn in the domestic politics of their countries, by making statements that are groundless. About candidates like Morales [of Bolivia], for example. They said I financed the candidacy of President Lula [of Brazil], which is totally false. They said I financed the candidacy of Kirchner [of Argentina], which is totally false. In Mexico, recently, the rightwing party has used my image for its own profit. What's happened is that in Latin America there is a turn to the left. Latin Americans have gotten tired of the Washington consensus -- a neoliberalism that has aggravated misery and poverty.

Palast: You have spent millions of dollars of your nation's oil wealth throughout Latin America. Are you really helping these other nations or are you simply buying political support for your regime?

Chávez: We are brothers and sisters. That's one of the reasons for the wrath of the empire. You know that Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world. And the biggest gas reserves in this hemisphere, the eighth in the world. Up until seven years ago, Venezuela was a U.S. oil colony. All of our oil was going up to the north, and the gas was being used by the U.S. and not by us. Now we are diversifying. Our oil is helping the poor. We are selling to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, some Central American countries, Uruguay, Argentina.

Palast: And the Bronx?
Chávez: In the Bronx it is a donation. In all the cases I just mentioned before, it is trade. However, it's not free trade, just fair commerce. We also have an international humanitarian fund as a result of oil revenues.

Palast: Why did George Bush turn down your help for New Orleans after the hurricane?

Chávez: You should ask him, but from the very beginning of the terrible disaster of Katrina, our people in the U.S., like the president of CITGO, went to New Orleans to rescue people. We were in close contact by phone with Jesse Jackson. We hired buses. We got food and water. We tried to protect them; they are our brothers and sisters. Doesn't matter if they are African, Asian, Cuban, whatever.

Palast: Are you replacing the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as "Daddy Big Bucks"?

Chávez: I do wish that the IMF and the World Bank would disappear soon.

Palast: And it would be the Bank of Hugo?

Chávez: No. The International Humanitarian Bank. We are just creating an alternative way to conduct financial exchange. It is based on cooperation. For example, we send oil to Uruguay for their refinery and they are paying us with cows.

Palast: Milk for oil.

Chávez: That's right. Milk for oil. The Argentineans also pay us with cows. And they give us medical equipment to combat cancer. It's a transfer of technology. We also exchange oil for software technology. Uruguay is one of the biggest producers of software. We are breaking with the neoliberal model. We do not believe in free trade. We believe in fair trade and exchange, not competition but cooperation. I'm not giving away oil for free. Just using oil, first to benefit our people, to relieve poverty. For a hundred years we have been one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world but with a 60 percent poverty rate and now we are canceling the historical debt.

Palast: Speaking of the free market, you've demanded back taxes from U.S. oil companies. You have eliminated contracts for North American, British, and European oil companies. Are you trying to slice out the British and American oil companies from Venezuela?

Chávez: No, we don't want them to go, and I don't think they want to leave the country, either. We need each other. It's simply that we have recovered our oil sovereignty. They didn't pay taxes. They didn't pay royalties. They didn't give an account of their actions to the government. They had more land than had previously been established in the contracts. They didn't comply with the agreed technology exchange. They polluted the environment and didn't pay anything towards the cleanup. They now have to comply with the law.

Palast: You've said that you imagine the price of oil rising to $100 dollars per barrel. Are you going to use your new oil wealth to squeeze the planet?

Chávez: No, no. We have no intention of squeezing anyone. Now, we have been squeezed and very hard. Five hundred years of squeezing us and stifling us, the people of the South. I do believe that demand is increasing and supply is dropping and the large reservoirs are running out. But it's not our fault. In the future, there must be an agreement between the large consumers and the large producers.

Palast: What happens when the oil money runs out, what happens when the price of oil falls as it always does? Will the Bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chávez simply collapse because there's no money to pay for the big free ride?

Chávez: I don't think it will collapse, in the unlikely case of oil running out today. The revolution will survive. It does not rely solely on oil for its survival. There is a national will, there is a national idea, a national project. However, we are today implementing a strategic program called the Oil Sowing Plan: using oil wealth so Venezuela can become an agricultural country, a tourist destination, an industrialized country with a diversified economy. We are investing billions of dollars in the infrastructure: power generators using thermal energy, a large railway, roads, highways, new towns, new universities, new schools, recuperating land, building tractors, and giving loans to farmers. One day we won't have any more oil, but that will be in the twenty-second century. Venezuela has oil for another 200 years.

Palast: But the revolution can come to an end if there's another coup and it succeeds. Do you believe Bush is still trying to overthrow your government?

Chávez: He would like to, but what you want is one thing, and what you cannot really obtain is another.


Access To Evil

The only thing more evil, small-minded and treacherous than the Bush Administration's jailing Judith Miller for a crime the Bush Administration committed, is Judith Miller covering up her Bush Administration "source."

Judy, Karl Rove ain't no "source." A confidential source -- and I've worked with many -- is an insider ready to put himself on the line to blow the whistle on an official lie or hidden danger. I would protect a source's name with my life and fortune as would any journalist who's not a craven jerk (the managing editor of Time magazine comes to mind).

But the weasel who whispered "Valerie Plame" in Miller's ear was no source. Whether it was Karl Rove or some other Rove-a-tron inside the Bush regime (and no one outside Bush's band would have had this information), this was an official using his official info to commit a crime for the sole purpose of punishing a real whistleblower, Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, for questioning our President's mythological premise for war in Iraq.

New York Times reporter Miller and her paper would rather she go to prison for four months than identify their "source." Why?

Part of her oddball defense is that the Times never ran the story about Wilson's wife. They get no points for that. The Timesshould have run the story with the headline, Bush Operative Commits Felony To Punish Whistleblower. The lead paragraph should have been,

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The War On Democracy

Hugo Chavez drives George Bush crazy. Maybe it's jealousy: Unlike Mr. Bush, Chavez, in Venezuela, won his Presidency by a majority of the vote.

Or maybe it's the oil: Venezuela sits atop a reserve rivaling Iraq's. And Hugo thinks the US and British oil companies that pump the crude ought to pay more than a 16% royalty to his nation for the stuff. Hey, sixteen percent isn't even acceptable as a tip at a New York diner.

Whatever it is, our President has decided that their president has to go. This is none too easy given that Chavez is backed by Venezuela's poor. And the US oil industry, joined with local oligarchs, has made sure a vast majority of Venezuelans remain poor.

Therefore, Chavez is expected to win this coming Sunday's recall vote. That is, if the elections are free and fair.

They won't be. Some months ago, a little birdie faxed to me what appeared to be confidential pages from a contract between John Ashcroft's Justice Department and a company called ChoicePoint, Inc., of Atlanta. The deal is part of the War on Terror.

Justice offered up to $67 million, of our taxpayer money, to ChoicePoint in a no-bid deal, for computer profiles with private information on every citizen of half a dozen nations. The choice of which nation's citizens to spy on caught my eye. While the September 11th highjackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the Arab Emirates, ChoicePoint's menu offered records on Venezuelans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Mexicans and Argentines. How odd. Had the CIA uncovered a Latin plot to sneak suicide tango dancers across the border with exploding enchiladas?

What do these nations have in common besides a lack of involvement in the September 11th attacks? Coincidentally, each is in the throes of major electoral contests in which the leading candidates – presidents Lula Ignacio da Silva of Brazil, Nestor Kirschner of Argentina, Mexico City mayor Andres Lopez Obrador and Venezuela's Chavez – have the nerve to challenge the globalization demands of George W. Bush.

The last time ChoicePoint sold voter files to our government it was to help Governor Jeb Bush locate and purge felons on Florida voter rolls. Turns out ChoicePoint's felons were merely Democrats guilty only of V.W.B., Voting While Black. That little 'error' cost Al Gore the White House.

It looks like the Bush Administration is taking the Florida show for a tour south of the border.

However, when Mexico discovered ChoicePoint had its citizen files, the nation threatened company executives with criminal charges. ChoicePoint protested its innocence and offered to destroy the files of any nation that requests it.

But ChoicePoint, apparently, presented no such offer to the government of Venezuela's Chavez.

In Caracas, I showed Congressman Nicolas Maduro the ChoicePoint-Ashcroft agreement. Maduro, a leader of Chavez' political party, was unaware that his nation's citizen files were for sale to U.S. intelligence. But he understood their value to make mischief.

If the lists somehow fell into the hands of the Venezuelan opposition, it could immeasurably help their computer-aided drive to recall and remove Chavez. A ChoicePoint flak said the Bush administration told the company they haven't used the lists that way. The PR man didn't say if the Bush spooks laughed when they said it.

Our team located a $53,000 payment from our government to Chavez' recall organizers, who claim to be armed with computer lists of the registered. How did they get those lists? The fix that was practiced in Florida, with ChoicePoint's help, deliberate or not, appears to be retooled for Venezuela, then Brazil, Mexico and who knows where else.

Here's what it comes down to: The Justice Department averts its gaze from Saudi Arabia but shoplifts voter records in Venezuela. So it's only fair to ask: Is Mr. Bush fighting a war on terror – or a war on democracy?

The Sour Smell of Spoiled Ballots

In the 2000 presidential election, 1.9 million Americans cast ballots that no one counted. "Spoiled votes" is the technical term. The pile of ballots left to rot has a distinctly dark hue: About 1 million of them -- half of the rejected ballots -- were cast by African Americans although black voters make up only 12 percent of the electorate.

This year, it could get worse.

These ugly racial statistics are hidden away in the mathematical thickets of the appendices to official reports coming out of the investigation of ballot-box monkey business in Florida from the last go-round.

How do you spoil 2 million ballots? Not by leaving them out of the fridge too long. A stray mark, a jammed machine, a punch card punched twice will do it. It's easy to lose your vote, especially when some politicians want your vote lost.

While investigating the 2000 ballot count in Florida for BBC Television, I saw firsthand how the spoilage game was played -- with black voters the predetermined losers.

Florida's Gadsden County has the highest percentage of black voters in the state -- and the highest spoilage rate. One in 8 votes cast there in 2000 was never counted. Many voters wrote in "Al Gore." Optical reading machines rejected these because "Al" is a "stray mark."

By contrast, in neighboring Tallahassee, the capital, vote spoilage was nearly zip; every vote counted. The difference? In Tallahassee's white-majority county, voters placed their ballots directly into optical scanners. If they added a stray mark, they received another ballot with instructions to correct it.

In other words, in the white county, make a mistake and get another ballot; in the black county, make a mistake, your ballot is tossed.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission looked into the smelly pile of spoiled ballots and concluded that, of the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53 percent were cast by black voters. In Florida, a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter.

But let's not get smug about Florida's Jim Crow spoilage rate. Civil Rights Commissioner Christopher Edley, recently appointed dean of Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, took the Florida study nationwide. His team discovered the uncomfortable fact that Florida is typical of the nation.

Philip Klinkner, the statistician working on the Edley investigations, concluded, "It appears that about half of all ballots spoiled in the U.S.A. -- about 1 million votes -- were cast by nonwhite voters."

This "no count," as the Civil Rights Commission calls it, is no accident. In Florida, for example, I discovered that technicians had warned Gov. Jeb Bush's office well in advance of November 2000 of the racial bend in the vote-count procedures.

Herein lies the problem. An apartheid vote-counting system is far from politically neutral. Given that more than 90 percent of the black electorate votes Democratic, had all the "spoiled" votes been tallied, Gore would have taken Florida in a walk, not to mention fattening his popular vote total nationwide. It's not surprising that the First Brother's team, informed of impending rejection of black ballots, looked away and whistled.

The ballot-box blackout is not the monopoly of one party. Cook County, Ill., has one of the nation's worst spoilage rates. That's not surprising. Boss Daley's Democratic machine, now his son's, survives by systematic disenfranchisement of Chicago's black vote.

How can we fix it? First, let's shed the convenient excuses for vote spoilage, such as a lack of voter education. One television network stated as fact that Florida's black voters, newly registered and lacking education, had difficulty with their ballots. In other words, blacks are too dumb to vote.

This convenient racist excuse is dead wrong. After that disaster in Gadsden, Fla., public outcry forced the government to change that black county's procedures to match that of white counties. The result: near zero spoilage in the 2002 election. Ballot design, machines and procedure, says statistician Klinkner, control spoilage.

In other words, the vote counters, not the voters, are to blame. Politicians who choose the type of ballot and the method of counting have long fine-tuned the spoilage rate to their liking.

It is about to get worse. The ill-named "Help America Vote Act," signed by President Bush in 2002, is pushing computerization of the ballot box.

California decertified some of Diebold Corp.'s digital ballot boxes in response to fears that hackers could pick our next president. But the known danger of black-box voting is that computers, even with their software secure, are vulnerable to low-tech spoilage games: polls opening late, locked-in votes, votes lost in the ether.

And once again, the history of computer-voting glitches has a decidedly racial bias. Florida's Broward County grandly shifted to touch-screen voting in 2002. In white precincts, all seemed to go well. In black precincts, hundreds of African Americans showed up at polls with machines down and votes that simply disappeared.

Going digital won't fix the problem. Canada and Sweden vote on paper ballots with little spoilage and without suspicious counts.

In America, a simple fix based on paper balloting is resisted because, unfortunately, too many politicians who understand the racial bias in the vote-spoilage game are its beneficiaries, with little incentive to find those missing 1 million black voters' ballots.

Vanishing Votes

First, the purges. In the months leading up to the November 2000 presidential election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in coordination with Governor Jeb Bush, ordered local election supervisors to purge 57,700 voters from the registries, supposedly ex-cons not allowed to vote in Florida. At least 90.2 percent of those on this "scrub" list, targeted to lose their civil rights, are innocent. Notably, more than half -- about 54 percent -- are black or Hispanic. You can argue all night about the number ultimately purged, but there's no argument that this electoral racial pogrom ordered by Jeb Bush's operatives gave the White House to his older brother. HAVA not only blesses such purges, it requires all fifty states to implement a similar search-and-destroy mission against vulnerable voters. Specifically, every state must, by the 2004 election, imitate Florida's system of computerizing voter files. The law then empowers fifty secretaries of state -- fifty Katherine Harrises -- to purge these lists of "suspect" voters.

The purge is back, big time. Following the disclosure in December 2000 of the black voter purge in Britain's Observer newspaper, NAACP lawyers sued the state. The civil rights group won a written promise from Governor Jeb and from Harris's successor to return wrongly scrubbed citizens to the voter rolls. According to records given to the courts by ChoicePoint, the company that generated the computerized lists, the number of Floridians who were questionably tagged totals 91,000. Willie Steen is one of them. Recently, I caught up with Steen outside his office at a Tampa hospital. Steen's case was easy. You can't work in a hospital if you have a criminal record. (My copy of Harris's hit list includes an ex-con named O'Steen, close enough to cost Willie Steen his vote.) The NAACP held up Steen's case to the court as a prime example of the voter purge evil.

The state admitted Steen's innocence. But a year after the NAACP won his case, Steen still couldn't register. Why was he still under suspicion? What do we know about this "potential felon," as Jeb called him? Steen, unlike our President, honorably served four years in the US military. There is, admittedly, a suspect mark on his record: Steen remains an African-American.

If you're black, voting in America is a game of chance. First, there's the chance your registration card will simply be thrown out. Millions of minority citizens registered to vote using what are called motor-voter forms. And Republicans know it. You would not be surprised to learn that the Commission on Civil Rights found widespread failures to add these voters to the registers. My sources report piles of dust-covered applications stacked up in election offices.

Second, once registered, there's the chance you'll be named a felon. In Florida, besides those fake felons on Harris's scrub sheets, some 600,000 residents are legally barred from voting because they have a criminal record in the state. That's one state. In the entire nation 1.4 million black men with sentences served can't vote, 13 percent of the nation's black male population.

At step three, the real gambling begins. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 guaranteed African-Americans the right to vote -- but it did not guarantee the right to have their ballots counted. And in one in seven cases, they aren't.

Take Gadsden County. Of Florida's sixty-seven counties, Gadsden has the highest proportion of black residents: 58 percent. It also has the highest "spoilage" rate, that is, ballots tossed out on technicalities: one in eight votes cast but not counted. Next door to Gadsden is white-majority Leon County, where virtually every vote is counted (a spoilage rate of one in 500).

How do votes spoil? Apparently, any old odd mark on a ballot will do it. In Gadsden, some voters wrote in Al Gore instead of checking his name. Their votes did not count.

Harvard law professor Christopher Edley Jr., a member of the Commission on Civil Rights, didn't like the smell of all those spoiled ballots. He dug into the pile of tossed ballots and, deep in the commission's official findings, reported this: 14.4 percent of black votes -- one in seven -- were "invalidated," i.e., never counted. By contrast, only 1.6 percent of nonblack voters' ballots were spoiled.

Florida's electorate is 11 percent African-American. Florida refused to count 179,855 spoiled ballots. A little junior high school algebra applied to commission numbers indicates that 54 percent, or 97,000, of the votes "spoiled" were cast by black folk, of whom more than 90 percent chose Gore. The nonblack vote divided about evenly between Gore and Bush. Therefore, had Harris allowed the counting of these ballots, Al Gore would have racked up a plurality of about 87,000 votes in Florida -- 162 times Bush's official margin of victory.

That's Florida. Now let's talk about America. In the 2000 election, 1.9 million votes cast were never counted. Spoiled for technical reasons, like writing in Gore's name, machine malfunctions and so on. The reasons for ballot rejection vary, but there's a suspicious shading to the ballots tossed into the dumpster. Edley's team of Harvard experts discovered that just as in Florida, the number of ballots spoiled was -- county by county, precinct by precinct -- in direct proportion to the local black voting population.

Florida's racial profile mirrors the nation's -- both in the percentage of voters who are black and the racial profile of the voters whose ballots don't count. "In 2000, a black voter in Florida was ten times as likely to have their vote spoiled -- not counted -- as a white voter," explains political scientist Philip Klinkner, co-author of Edley's Harvard report. "National figures indicate that Florida is, surprisingly, typical. Given the proportion of nonwhite to white voters in America, then, it appears that about half of all ballots spoiled in the USA, as many as 1 million votes, were cast by nonwhite voters."

So there you have it. In the last presidential election, approximately 1 million black and other minorities voted, and their ballots were thrown away. And they will be tossed again in November 2004, efficiently, by computer -- because HAVA and other bogus reform measures, stressing reform through complex computerization, do not address, and in fact worsen, the racial bias of the uncounted vote.

One million votes will disappear in a puff of very black smoke. And when the smoke clears, the Bush clan will be warming their political careers in the light of the ballot bonfire. HAVA nice day.

Oil-Slick Jim Moves In

Editor's Note: This piece is excerpted from the new edition of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Plume), by Greg Palast.

I usually avoid the New York Times, but lately it's become a compulsion, though only for the new daily column titled, "Names of the Dead." Today's listing: "DERVISHI, Ervin, 21, Pfc, Army. Fort Worth."

I'm not one of those cynics who thought Bush sent us into to Iraq for the oil. To me, Saddam Hussein was always a Kurd-killing cockroach with a Hitlerian mustache. I never liked the guy -- not even when he worked for George Bush Sr.

It's worth going over the work the Butcher of Baghdad did for his Texas patrons when he was their butcher:

  • 1979: Seizes power with U.S. approval; moves allegiance from Soviets to U.S. in Cold War.


  • 1980: Invades Iran, then the "Unicycle of Evil," with U.S. encouragement and arms. (In fairness, credit here goes to Nobel Peace Laureate, James Carter.)


  • 1982: Bush-Reagan regime removes Saddam's regime from official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.


  • 1983: Saddam hosts Donald Rumsfeld in Baghdad. Agrees to "go steady" with U.S. corporate suppliers.


  • 1984: U.S. Commerce Department issues license for export of aflatoxin to Iraq useable in biological weapons.


  • 1988: Gasses Kurds in Halabja, Iraq.


  • 1987-88: U.S. warships destroy Iranian oil platforms in Gulf and break Iranian blockade of Iraq shipping lanes, tipping war advantage back to Saddam.


  • 1990: Invades Kuwait with U.S. permission.


U.S. permission? On July 25, 1990, the dashing dictator met in Baghdad with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie. When Saddam asked Glaspie if the U.S. would object to an attack on Kuwait over the small emirate's theft of Iraqi oil, the ambassador told him, "We have no opinion.... Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction ... that Kuwait is not associated with America." Saddam taped her.

Glaspie, in her 1991 Congressional testimony, did not deny the authenticity of the recording, which diplomats worldwide took as a Bush Sr's okay to an Iraqi invasion.

So where is Secretary Baker today? On the lam, hiding in deserved shame? Doing penance by nursing the victims of Gulf War Syndrome? No, Mr. Baker is a successful lawyer, founder of Baker Botts of Houston, Riyadh, Kazakhstan. Among his glittering client roster is Exxon-Mobil oil and the defense minister of Saudi Arabia. Baker's firm is protecting the Saudi royal from a lawsuit by the families of the victims of September 11 over evidence suggesting that Saudi money ended up in the pockets of the terrorists.

And Baker has just opened a new office ... at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This is a White House first: the first time a lobbyist for the oil industry will have a desk right next to the President's. Baker's job, to "restructure" Iraq's debt. How lucky for his clients in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom claims $30.7 billion due from Iraq.

If you remember, Henry Kissinger ran away from appointment to the September 11 Commission with his consulting firm tucked between his legs after the U.S. Senate demanded he reveal his client list. In the case of Jim Baker, our elected Congress had no chance to ask him who is paying his firm nor even require him to get off conflicting payrolls.

To get around the wee issue of conflicts galore, the White House crafted a neat little subterfuge. The official press release says the President has not appointed Mr. Baker. Rather Mr. Bush is "responding to a request from the Iraqi Governing Council." That is, Bush is acting on the authority of the puppet government he imposed on Iraqis at gunpoint.

Why is our President so concerned with the wishes of Mr. Baker's clientele? What does Bush owe Baker?

It was Baker, as consigliore to the Bush family, who came up with the strategy of maneuvering the 2000 Florida vote count into a Supreme Court packed with politicos.

Over the years, Jim Baker has taken responsibility for putting bread on the Bush family table. As Senior Counsel to Carlyle, the arms-dealing investment group, Baker arranged for the firm to hire both President Bush 41 after he was booted from the White House and President Bush 43 while his daddy was still in office.

We know why Jim Baker is in the White House. But what was Private Dervishi doing in harm's way in Iraq? Saddam was already in the slammer and Iraq "liberated" nearly a year.

The answer came to me in a confidential document that oozed out of Foggy Bottom, 100 pages from the State Department's secret "Iraq Strategy." It's all about the "post-conflict" economy of Iraq written well before Americans were told we would have a conflict there.

There's nothing in the Iraq Strategy about democracy or voting. But there's plenty of detail about creating a free-market Disneyland in Mesopotamia, with "all" state assets -- and that's just about everything in that nation -- to be sold off to corporate powers. The Bush team secret program ordered: "... asset sales, concessions, leases and management contracts, especially those in the oil and supporting industries."

The Strategy lays out a detailed 270-day schedule for the asset grab. And that's why PFC Dervishi was kept there: to prevent or forestall elections. Because no democratically elected government of Iraq could ever sell off its oil. Democracy would have to wait, at the point of a gun, for the "assets sales, concessions, leases" to Bush's corporate buck-buddies.

There you have it. The secret Strategy tells us that, if Bush didn't go into Iraq for the oil, he sure as hell ain't leaving without it.

For more information on the book and the book tour, visit www.gregpalast.com/calendar/.

Waging War on the BBC

He did not say, "hello," or even his name, just left a one-word message: "Whitewash."

It came from an embattled journalist whispering from inside the bowels of a television and radio station under siege, on a small island off the coast of Ireland: from BBC London. And another call, a colleague at the Guardian, said, "The future of British journalism is very bleak."

However, the future for fake and farcical war propaganda is quite bright indeed. Today, Lord Hutton issued his report that followed an inquiry revealing the Blair government's manipulation of intelligence to claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass murder threatening imminent attack on London.

Based on the Blair government's claim, headlines pumped the war hysteria. "Saddam Could Have Nuclear Bomb In Year," screeched the London Times; "Brits 45 Mins from Doom," shrieked the Sun newspaper. Given these facts only a sissy pacifist, a lunatic or a Saddam fellow traveler would fail to see that Prime Minister "Winston" Blair had no choice but to re-conquer its former Mesopotamian colony.

But these headlines were, in fact, false, and deadly so. Unlike America's press puppies, BBC reporters thought it their duty to check out these life-or-death claims. Reporters Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts contacted a crucial source, Britain's and the United Nation's top weapons inspector. He told reporter Watts that the Weapons of Mass Destruction claims by Blair and our own President Bush were, "all spin." Gilligan went further, reporting that this spin, this "sexed up" version of intelligence, was the result of interventions by Blair's PR henchman, Alistair Campbell.

Whatever reading of the source's statements, it was clear that intelligence experts had deep misgivings about the strength of the evidence for war.

The source? Dr. David Kelly. To save itself after the reports by Gilligan and Watts, the government, including the Prime Minister himself, went on an internal crusade to out the name of its own intelligence operative, so it could then discredit the news items.

Publishing the name of an intelligence advisor is serious stuff. In the U.S., a special criminal prosecutor is now scouring the White House to find the person who publicly named a CIA agent. If found, the Bush-ite leaker faces jail time.

Blair's government was not so crude as to give out Dr. Kelly's name. Rather, they hit on a subterfuge of dropping clues then allowing reporters to play "20 questions" -- if they guessed Kelly's name correctly, the government would confirm it. Only the thickest reporters (I name none here) failed after more than a couple tries.

Dr. Kelly, who had been proposed for knighthood was named, harangued and his career destroyed by the outing. He then took his own life.

But today is not a day of mourning at 10 Downing Street, rather a day of self-congratulation. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear warheads just short of completion, no "45 minutes to doom" bombs auguring a new London blitz. The exile group which supplied this raw claim now calls the 45 minute story, "a crock of shit."

Yet Blair's minions are proclaiming their vindication.

This is not just a story about what is happening "over there" in the United Kingdom. This we must remember: David Kelly was not only advisor to the British, but to the UN and, by extension, the expert for George W. Bush. Our commander-in-chief leaped to adopt the boogey man WMD stories from the Blair government when our own CIA was reticent.

So M'Lord Hutton has killed the messenger: the BBC. Should the reporter Gilligan have used more cautious terms? Some criticism is fair. But the extraordinary import of his and Watts' story is forgotten: Our two governments bent the information, then hunted down the questioners.

And now the second invasion of the Iraq war proceeds: the conquest of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Until now, this quasi-governmental outlet has refused to play Izvestia to any prime minister, Labour or Tory. As of today, the independence of one of the most independent major networks on the planet is under attack. Blair's government is "cleared" and now arrogantly sport their kill, the head of Gavyn Davies, BBC chief who resigned today.

"The bleak future for British journalism" portends darkness for journalists everywhere -- the threat to the last great open platform for hard investigative reporting. And frankly, it's a worrisome day for me. I'm not a disinterested by-stander. My most important investigations, all but banned from U.S. airwaves, were developed and broadcast by BBC Newsnight, the program where Watts works.

Will an iron curtain descend on the news? Before dawn today, I was reading Churchill's words to the French command in the hours before as the Panzers breached the defenses of Paris. Churchill told those preparing to surrender, "Whatever you may do, we shall fight on forever and ever and ever." This may yet be British journalism's Finest Hour.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His reports for BBC Newsnight and The Guardian papers and other writings may be viewed at his website.

Baker Takes the Loaf

Well, ho ho ho! It's an early Christmas for James Baker III.

All year the elves at his law firm, Baker Botts of Texas, have been working day and night to prevent the families of the victims of the September 11 attack from seeking information from Saudi Arabia on the Kingdom's funding of Al Qaeda fronts.

It's tough work, but this week came the payoff when President Bush appointed Baker Botts' senior partner to "restructure" the debts of the nation of Iraq.

And who will net the big bucks under Jim Baker's plan? Answer: his client, Saudi Arabia, which claims $30.7 billion due from Iraq (plus $12 billion in "reparations" from the First Gulf war).

Puppet Strings

Let's ponder what's going on here.

We are talking about something called 'sovereign debt.' And unless George Bush has finally named himself Pasha of Iraq, he is not their sovereign. Mr. Bush has no authority to seize control of that nation's assets nor its debts.

But our President isn't going to let something as meaningless as international law stand in the way of a quick buck for Mr. Baker. To get around the wee issue that Bush has no legal authority to mess with Iraq's debt, the White House has crafted a neat little subterfuge. The President, says the official press release, has not appointed Baker, rather Mr. Bush is, "responding to a request from the Iraqi Governing Council." That is, Bush is acting on the authority of the puppet government he imposed on Iraqis at gunpoint.

(I will grant the Iraqi 'government' has some knowledge of international finance. Its key member, Ahmed Chalabi, is a convicted bank swindler.)

The Bush team must see the other advantage in having the rump government of Iraq make the choice of Mr. Baker. The US Senate will not have to review or confirm the appointment.

If you remember, Henry Kissinger ran away from the September 11 commission, with his consulting firm tucked between his legs, after the Senate demanded he reveal his client list. In the case of Jim Baker, who will be acting as a de facto Treasury secretary for international affairs, our elected Congress will have no chance to ask him who is paying his firm nor even require him to get off conflicting payrolls.

For the Bush administration, this marks a new low in their Conflicts-R-Us appointments process. Or maybe there's no conflict at all. If you see Jim Baker's new job as working not to protect a new Iraqi democracy but to protect the old theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the conflict disappears.

Iraq owes something on the order of $120 billion to $150 billion, depending on who's counting. And who's counting is very important.

Much of the so-called debt to Saudi Arabia was given to Saddam Hussein to fight a proxy war for the Saudis against their hated foe, the Shi'ia of Iran. And as disclosed by a former Saudi diplomat, the kingdom's sheiks handed about $7 billion to Saddam under the table in the 1980's to build an "Islamic bomb."

Should Iraqis today and those not yet born have to be put in a debtor's prison to pay off the secret payouts to Saddam?

James Wolfensohn says 'No!' Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, has never been on my Christmas card list, but in this case, he's got it right: Iraq should simply cancel $120 billion in debt.

Normally, the World Bank is in charge of post-war debt restructuring. That's why the official name of the World Bank is "International Bank for Reconstruction and Development." This is the Bank's expertise. Bush has rushed Baker in to pre-empt the debt write-off the World Bank would have certainly promoted.

"I Fixed Florida"

Why is our President so concerned with the wishes of Mr. Baker's clientele? What does Bush owe Baker? Let me count the ways, beginning with the 2000 election.

Just last week Baker said, "I fixed the election in Florida for George Bush." That was the gravamen of his remarks to an audience of Russian big wigs as reported to me by my somewhat astonished colleagues with BBC television.

It was Baker, as consiglieri to the Bush family, who came up with the strategy of maneuvering the 2000 Florida vote count into a Supreme Court packed with politicos.

Baker's claim to have fixed the election was not a confession, it was a boast. He meant to dazzle current and potential clients in the former Soviet states about his big In with the Big Boy in the White House. Baker's firm is already a top player in the Great Game of seizing Caspian Sea oil. (An executive of Exxon-Mobil, one of Baker Botts's clients, has been charged with evading taxes on bribes paid in Kazakhstan.)

All in the Family

Over the years, Jim Baker has taken responsibility for putting bread on the Bush family table. As Senior Counsel to Carlyle, the arms-dealing investment group, Baker arranged for the firm to hire both President Bush 41 after he was booted from the White House and President Bush 43 while his daddy was still in office.

Come to think of it, maybe I'm being a bit too dismissive of the Iraqi make-believe government. After all, it's not as if George Bush were elected by the voters either. It would be more accurate to say that two puppet governments have agreed on letting the man who has always pulled the strings come out from behind the curtain, take a bow, take charge, take the money, and run.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller �The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."

Power Outage Traced To Dim Bulb In White House

I can tell you all about the ne'er-do-wells that put out our lights tonight. I came up against these characters -- the Niagara Mohawk Power Company -- some years back. You see, before I was a journalist, I worked for a living, as an investigator of corporate racketeers. In the 1980s, "NiMo" built a nuclear plant, Nine Mile Point, a brutally costly piece of hot junk for which NiMo and its partner companies charged billions to New York State's electricity ratepayers.

To pull off this grand theft by kilowatt, the NiMo-led consortium fabricated cost and schedule reports, then performed a Harry Potter job on the account books. In 1988, I showed a jury a memo from an executive from one partner, Long Island Lighting, giving a lesson to a NiMo honcho on how to lie to government regulators. The jury ordered LILCO to pay $4.3 billion and, ultimately, put them out of business.

And that's why, if you're in the Northeast, you're reading this by candlelight tonight. Here's what happened. After LILCO was hammered by the law, after government regulators slammed Niagara Mohawk and dozens of other book-cooking, document-doctoring utility companies all over America with fines and penalties totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, the industry leaders got together to swear never to break the regulations again. Their plan was not to follow the rules, but to ELIMINATE the rules. They called it "deregulation."

It was like a committee of bank robbers figuring out how to make safecracking legal.

But they dare not launch the scheme in the USA. Rather, in 1990, one devious little bunch of operators out of Texas, Houston Natural Gas, operating under the alias "Enron," talked an over-the-edge free-market fanatic, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, into licensing the first completely deregulated power plant in the hemisphere.

And so began an economic disease called "regulatory reform" that spread faster than SARS. Notably, Enron rewarded Thatcher's Energy Minister, one Lord Wakeham, with a bushel of dollar bills for 'consulting' services and a seat on Enron's board of directors. The English experiment proved the viability of Enron's new industrial formula: that the enthusiasm of politicians for deregulation was in direct proportion to the payola provided by power companies.

The power elite first moved on England because they knew Americans wouldn't swallow the deregulation snake oil easily. The USA had gotten used to cheap power available at the flick of switch. This was the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt who, in 1933, caged the man he thought to be the last of the power pirates, Samuel Insull. Wall Street wheeler-dealer Insull creator of the Power Trust, and six decades before Ken Lay, faked account books and ripped off consumers. To frustrate Insull and his ilk, FDR gave us the Federal Power Commission and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act which told electricity companies where to stand and salute. Detailed regulations limited charges to real expenditures plus a government-set profit. The laws banned "power markets" and required companies to keep the lights on under threat of arrest -- no blackout blackmail to hike rates.

Of particular significance as I write here in the dark, regulators told utilities exactly how much they had to spend to insure the system stayed in repair and the lights stayed on. Bureaucrats crawled along the wire and, like me, crawled through the account books, to make sure the power execs spent customers' money on parts and labor. If they didn't, we'd whack'm over the head with our thick rule books. Did we get in the way of these businessmen's entrepreneurial spirit? Damn right we did.

Most important, FDR banned political contributions from utility companies -- no 'soft' money, no 'hard' money, no money PERIOD.

But then came George the First. In 1992, just prior to his departure from the White House, President Bush Senior gave the power industry one long deep-through-the-teeth kiss good-bye: federal deregulation of electricity. It was a legacy he wanted to leave for his son, the gratitude of power companies which ponied up $16 million for the Republican campaign of 2000, seven times the sum they gave Democrats.

But Poppy Bush's gift of deregulating of wholesale prices set by the feds only got the power pirates halfway to the plunder of Joe Ratepayer. For the big payday they needed deregulation at the state level. There were only two states, California and Texas, big enough and Republican enough to put the electricity market con into operation.

California fell first. The power companies spent $39 million to defeat a 1998 referendum pushed by Ralph Nader which would have blocked the de-reg scam. Another $37 million was spent on lobbying and lubricating the campaign coffers of legislators to write a lie into law: in the deregulation act's preamble, the Legislature promised that deregulation would reduce electricity bills by 20%. In fact, when San Diegans in the first California city to go "lawless" looked at their bills, the 20% savings became a 300% jump in surcharges.

Enron circled California and licked its lips. As the number one life-time contributor to the George W. Bush campaign, it was confident about the future. With just a half dozen other companies it controlled at times 100% of the available power capacity needed to keep the Golden State lit. Their motto, "your money or your lights." Enron and its comrades played the system like a broken ATM machine, yanking out the bills. For example, in the shamelessly fixed "auctions" for electricity held by the state, Enron bid, in one instance, to supply 500 megawatts of electricity over a 15 megawatt line. That's like pouring a gallon of gasoline into a thimble -- the lines would burn up if they attempted it. Faced with blackout because of Enron's destructive bid, the state was willing to pay anything to keep the lights on.

And the state did. According to Dr. Anjali Sheffrin, economist with the California state Independent System Operator which directed power movements, between May and November 2000, three power giants physically or "economically" withheld power from the state and concocted enough false bids to cost the California customers over $6.2 billion in excess charges.

It took until December 20, 2000, with the lights going out on the Golden Gate, for President Bill Clinton, once a deregulation booster, to find his lost Democratic soul and impose price caps in California and ban Enron from the market.

But the light-bulb buccaneers didn't have to wait long to put their hooks back into the treasure chest. Within seventy-two hours of moving into the White House, while he was still sweeping out the inaugural champagne bottles, George Bush the Second reversed Clinton's executive order and put the power pirates back in business in California. Enron, Reliant (aka Houston Industries), TXU (aka Texas Utilities) and the others who had economically snipped California's wires knew they could count on Dubya, who as governor of the Lone Star state cut them the richest deregulation deal in America.

Meanwhile, the deregulation bug made it to New York where Republican Governor George Pataki and his industry-picked utility commissioners ripped the lid off electric bills and relieved my old friends at Niagara Mohawk of the expensive obligation to properly fund the maintenance of the grid system.

And the Pataki-Bush Axis of Weasels permitted something that must have former New York governor Roosevelt spinning in his wheelchair in Heaven: They allowed a foreign company, the notoriously incompetent National Grid of England, to buy up NiMo, get rid of 800 workers and pocket most of their wages - producing a bonus for NiMo stockholders approaching $90 million.

Is tonight's black-out a surprise? Heck, no, not to us in the field who've watched Bush's buddies flick the switches across the globe. In Brazil, Houston Industries seized ownership of Rio de Janeiro's electric company. The Texans (aided by their French partners) fired workers, raised prices, cut maintenance expenditures and, CLICK! the juice went out so often the locals now call it, "Rio Dark."

So too the free-market cowboys of Niagara Mohawk raised prices, slashed staff, cut maintenance and CLICK! -- New York joins Brazil in the Dark Ages.

Californians have found the solution to the deregulation disaster: re-call the only governor in the nation with the cojones to stand up to the electricity price fixers. And unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Gray Davis stood alone against the bad guys without using a body double. Davis called Reliant Corp of Houston a pack of "pirates" --and now he'll walk the plank for daring to stand up to the Texas marauders.

So where's the President? Just before he landed on the deck of the Abe Lincoln, the White House was so concerned about our brave troops facing the foe that they used the cover of war for a new push in Congress for yet more electricity deregulation. This has a certain logic: there's no sense defeating Iraq if a hostile regime remains in California.

Sitting in the dark, as my laptop battery runs low, I don't know if the truth about deregulation will ever see the light -- until we change the dim bulb in the White House.

Greg Palast is the author of the bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" (Penguin USA), and the worstseller, "Democracy and Regulation," a guide to electricity deregulation published by the United Nations (written with T. MacGregor and J. Oppenheim).

Silence of the Media Lambs

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Greg Palast's book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Five months before the November 2000 election, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, moved to purge 57,7000 people from the voter rolls, supposedly criminals not allowed to vote. Almost every one was innocent of crimes -- though the majority were guilty of being African American. BBC reporter Palast asks, "How did 100,000 US journalist sent to cover the election fail to get this vote theft story?"

Investigative reports share three things: They are risky, they upset the wisdom of the established order and they are very expensive to produce. Do profit-conscious enterprises, whether media companies or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and the opportunity to be attacked? Not in any business text I've ever read. I can't help but note that Britain's Guardian and Observer newspapers, the only papers to report this scandal when it broke just weeks after the 2000 election, are the world's only major newspapers owned by a not-for-profit corporation.

But if profit lust is the ultimate problem blocking significant investigative reportage, the more immediate cause of comatose coverage of the election and other issues is what is laughably called America's "journalistic culture." If the Rupert Murdochs of the globe are shepherds of the New World Order, they owe their success to breeding a flock of docile sheep -- snoozy editors and reporters content to munch on, digest, then reprint a diet of press releases and canned stories provided by government and corporate public-relations operations.

Take this story of the list of Florida's faux felons that cost Al Gore the presidential election. Shortly after the U.K. story hit the World Wide Web, I was contacted by a CBS TV network news producer eager to run a version of the story. The CBS hotshot was happy to pump me for information: names, phone numbers, all the items one needs for your typical quickie TV news report. I freely offered up to CBS this information: The office of the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, brother of the Republican presidential candidate, had illegally ordered the removal of the names of felons from voter rolls -- real felons who had served time but obtained clemency, with the right to vote under Florida law. As a result, another 40,000 legal voters (in addition to the 57,700 on the purge list), almost all of them Democrats, could not vote.

The only problem with this new hot info is that I was still in the midst of investigating it. Therefore, CBS would have to do some actual work -- reviewing documents and law, obtaining statements.

The next day I received a call from the producer, who said, "I'm sorry, but your story didn't hold up." And how do you think the multibillion-dollar CBS network determined this? Answer: "We called Jeb Bush's office." Oh.

I wasn't surprised by this type of "investigation." It is, in fact, standard operating procedure for the little lambs of American journalism. One good, slick explanation from a politician or corporate chieftain and it's case closed, investigation over. The story ran on television, but once again, in the wrong country: I reported it on the BBC's Newsnight. Notably, the BBC is a publicly owned network -- I mean a real public network, with no "funds generously provided by Archer Mobil Bigbucks."

Let's understand the pressures on the CBS TV producer that led her to kill the story simply because the target of the allegation said it ain't so. The story demanded massive and quick review of documents, dozens of phone calls and interviews -- hardly a winner in the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am school of U.S. journalism. Most difficult, the revelations in the story required a reporter to stand up and say that the big-name politicians, their lawyers and their PR people were freaking liars.

It would be much easier, a heck of a lot cheaper and no risk at all to wait for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to do the work, then cover the commission's report and press conference. No one ever lost their job writing canned statements from a press release. Wait! You've watched Murphy Brown so you think reporters hanker to uncover the big scandal. Bullshit. Remember, All the President's Men was so unusual they had to make a movie out of it.

The Election Fix Story Steals Into the States

In London the Guardian and Observer received about two thousand bless-you-Britain-for-telling-us-the-truth-about-our-elections letters from U.S. Internet readers circulating the samizdat presidential elections coverage. I also received a few like this:

You pansey brits seem to think that the average American is as undereducated and stupid as the average british subject..Well comrad [sic], I'm here to tell you . . . . . .which ended with some physically unfeasible suggestions of what to do with the Queen (figure 1.1).

My Observer report went to print within three weeks of the election. The vote count in Florida was still on. Watching the vote-count clock ticking, Joe Conason, the most determined of American investigative reporters, insisted to his editors at Salon.com, the Internet magazine, that they bring my story back to America. Salon posted "Florida's Ethnic Cleansing of the Voter Rolls" to the Net on December 4, 2000. It wasn't exactly "print," but at least it was American. Still, not one U.S. news editor called, not even from my "sister" paper, the Washington Post, with whom the Guardian shares material and prints an international weekly.

From a news perspective, not to mention the flood of site hits, this was Salon's biggest politics story ever -- and they named Part I their political story of the year. But where was Part II? On their Web site and on radio programs the magazine was announcing Part II would appear in two days... and in two days... and in two days... and nothing appeared. Part II was the story blown off by the CBS Evening News about an additional 40,000-plus voters whom Jeb Bush barred from voting. The fact that 90 percent of these 40,000 voters were Democrats should have made it news... because this maneuver alone more than accounted for Bush's victory.

I was going crazy: Gore had not yet conceded... the timing of Part II was crucial. Where the hell was it? Finally, an editor told me, "The story doesn't check out. You see, we checked with Jeb Bush's office and they said..."

Argh! It was déjà vu all over again.

Another staffer added, as a kind of explanation, "The Washington Post would never run this story."

Well, he had me there. They hadn't, they didn't. Not yet. At least Salon helped me sneak the first report past the border patrols. So God bless America.

While waiting for the United States to awaken, I took my BBC film crew to Florida, having unearthed a smoking-gun document: I had a page marked "confidential" from the contract between the State of Florida and the private company that had purged the voter lists. The document contained cold evidence that Florida knew they were taking the vote away from thousands of innocent voters, most of them Black.

It was February. I took my camera crew into an agreed interview with Jeb Bush's director of the Florida Department of Elections. When I pulled out the confidential sheet, Bush's man ripped off the microphone and did a fifty-yard dash, locking himself in his office, all in front of our cameras. It was killer television and wowed the British viewers. We even ran a confession from the company that was hired to carry out the purge operation. Newsworthy? Apparently not for the United States.

My program, BBC Newsnight, has a film-trading agreement with the ABC television network. A record twenty thousand Net-heads in the United States saw the BBC Webcast; and several banged on the door of ABC TV's Nightline to run our footage, or at least report what we found. Instead, Nightline sent its own crew down to Florida for a couple of days. They broadcast a story that ballots are complex and Blacks are not well educated about voting procedures. The gravamen of the story was, Blacks are too frigging dumb to figure out how to vote. No mention that in white Leon County, machines automatically kicked back faulty ballots for voter correction; whereas in Gadsden County, very Black, the same machines were programmed to eat mismarked ballots. That was in our story, too.

Why didn't ABC run the voter purge story? Don't look for some big Republican conspiracy. Remember the three elements of investigative reporting: risk, time, money. Our BBC/Guardian stories required all of those, in short supply in U.S. news operations.

Finally, in February, my Part II -- the report that was too scary and difficult for Dan Rather's show -- found asylum in the Nation magazine, that distant journalistic planet not always visible to the naked eye.

And then, mirabile dictu, the Washington Post ran the story of the voter purge on page one, including the part that "couldn't stand up" for CBS and Salon . . . and even gave me space for a bylined comment. Applause for the Post's courage! Would I be ungrateful if I suggested otherwise? The Post ran the story in June, though they had it at hand seven months earlier when the ballots were still being counted. They waited until they knew the findings of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Report, which verified BBC's discoveries, so they could fire from behind that big safe rock of Official Imprimatur. In other words, the Post had the courage to charge out and shoot the wounded.

The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney

Have you heard about Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Congresswoman?

According to those quoted on National Public Radio, McKinney’s “a loose cannon� (media expert) who “the people of Atlanta are embarrassed and disgusted� (politician) by, and she is also “loony� and “dangerous� (senator from her own party).

Yow! And why is McKinney dangerous/loony/disgusting? According to NPR, “McKinney implied that the [Bush] Administration knew in advance about September 11 and deliberately held back the information.�

The New York Times’ Lynette Clemetson revealed her comments went even further over the edge: “Ms. McKinney suggest[ed] that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war.�

That’s loony, all right. As an editor of the highly respected Atlanta Journal Constitution told NPR, McKinney’s “practically accused the President of murder!�

Problem is, McKinney never said it.

That’s right. The “quote� from McKinney is a complete fabrication. A whopper, a fabulous fib, a fake, a flim-flam. Just freakin’ made up.

Keep reading...Show less

Jim Crow Revived in Cyberspace

Birmingham, Ala. -- Astonishingly, and sadly, four decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Birmingham, we must ask again, "Do African-Americans have the unimpeded right to vote in the United States?"

In 1963, Dr. King's determined and courageous band faced water hoses and police attack dogs to call attention to the thicket of Jim Crow laws -- including poll taxes and so-called "literacy" tests -- that stood in the way of black Americans' right to have their ballots cast and counted.

Today, there is a new and real threat to minority voters, this time from cyberspace: computerized purges of voter rolls.

The menace first appeared in Florida in the November 2000 presidential election. While the media chased butterfly ballots and hanging chads, a much more sinister and devastating attack on voting rights went almost undetected.

In the two years before the elections, the Florida secretary of state's office quietly ordered the removal of 94,000 voters from the registries. Supposedly, these were convicted felons who may not vote in Florida. Instead, the overwhelming majority were innocent of any crime -- and just over half were black or Hispanic.

We are not guessing about the race of the disenfranchised: A voter's color is listed next to his or her name in most Southern states. (Ironically, this racial ID is required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a King legacy.)

How did mass expulsion of legal voters occur?

At the heart of the ethnic purge of voting rights was the creation of a central voter file for Florida placed in the hands of an elected, and therefore partisan, official. Computerization and a 1998 "reform" law meant to prevent voter fraud allowed for a politically and racially biased purge of thousands of registered voters on the flimsiest of grounds.

Voters whose name, birth date and gender loosely matched that of a felon anywhere in America were targeted for removal. And so one Thomas Butler (of several in Florida) was tagged because a "Thomas Butler Cooper Jr." of Ohio was convicted of a crime. The legacy of slavery -- commonality of black names -- aided the racial bias of the "scrub list."

Florida was the first state to create, computerize and purge lists of allegedly "ineligible" voters. Meant as a reform, in the hands of partisan officials it became a weapon of mass voting rights destruction. (The fact that Mr. Cooper's conviction date is shown on state files as "1/30/2007" underscores other dangers of computerizing our democracy.)

You'd think that Congress and President Bush would run from imitating Florida's disastrous system. Astonishingly, Congress adopted the absurdly named "Help America Vote Act," which requires every state to replicate Florida's system of centralized, computerized voter files before the 2004 election.

The controls on the 50 secretaries of state are few -- and the temptation to purge voters of the opposition party enormous. African-Americans, whose vote concentrates in one party, are an easy and obvious target.

The act also lays a minefield of other impediments to black voters: an effective rollback of the easy voter registration methods of the Motor Voter Act; new identification requirements at polling stations; and perilous incentives for fault-prone and fraud-susceptible touch-screen voting machines.

No, we are not rehashing the who-really-won fight from the 2000 presidential election. But we have no intention of "getting over it." We are moving on, but on to a new nationwide call and petition drive to restore and protect the rights of all Americans and monitor the implementation of frighteningly ill-conceived new state and federal voting "reform" laws.

Four decades ago, the opposition to the civil right to vote was easy to identify: night riders wearing white sheets and burning crosses. Today, the threat comes from partisan politicians wearing pinstripe suits and clutching laptops.

Jim Crow has moved into cyberspace -- harder to detect, craftier in operation, shifting shape into the electronic guardian of a new electoral segregation.

Sign the petition to Stop the Florida-tion of the 2004 Election.

Globalization 101

April's big business-led coup in Venezuela failed, where international finance's coup in Argentina over the last year has succeeded. Greg Palast gives us the inside track on two very different power-grabs.

Caracas -- On May Day, starting out from the Hilton Hotel, 200,000 blondes marched East through Caracas' shopping corridor along Casanova Avenue. At the same time, half a million brunettes converged on them from the West. It would all seem like a comic shampoo commercial if 16 people hadn't been shot dead two weeks earlier when the two groups crossed paths.

The May Day brunettes support Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They funneled down from the ranchos, the pustules of crude red-brick bungalows, stacked one on the other, that erupt on the steep, unstable hillsides surrounding this city of five million. The bricks in some ranchos are new, a recent improvement in these fetid, impromptu slums where many previously sheltered behind cardboard walls. 'Chavez gives them bricks and milk,' a local TV reporter told me, 'and so they vote for him.'

Chavez is dark and round as a cola nut. Like his followers, Chavez is an 'Indian.' But the blondes, the 'Spanish', are the owners of Venezuela. A group near me on the blonde march screamed 'Out! Out!' in English, demanding the removal of the President. One edible-oils executive, in high heels, designer glasses and push-up bra had turned out, she said: 'To fight for democracy.' She added: 'We'll try to do it institutionally,' a phrase that meant nothing to me until a banker in pale pink lipstick explained that to remove Chavez, 'we can't wait until the next election'.

The anti-Chavistas don't equate democracy with voting. With 80 per cent of Venezuela's population at or below the poverty level, elections are not attractive to the protesting financiers. Chavez had won the election in 1998 with a crushing 58 per cent of the popular vote and that was unlikely to change except at gunpoint. And so on 12 April the business leadership of Venezuela, backed by a few 'Spanish' generals, turned their guns on the Presidential Palace and kidnapped Chavez.

Pedro Carmona, the chief of Fedecamaras, the nation's confederation of business and industry, declared himself President. This coup, one might say, was the ultimate in corporate lobbying. Within hours, he set about voiding the 49 Chavez laws that had so annoyed the captains of industry, executives of the foreign oil companies and latifundistas, the big plantation owners.

The Banker's Embrace

Carmona had dressed himself in impressive ribbons and braids for the inauguration. In the Miraflores ballroom, filled with the Venezuelan lite, Ignazio Salvatierra, president of the Banker's Association, signed his name to Carmona's self-election with a grand flourish. The two hugged emotionally as the audience applauded.

Carmona then decreed the dissolution of his nation's congress and supreme court while the business peopled clapped and chanted, 'Democracia! Democracia!' I later learned the Cardinal of Caracas had led Carmona into the Presidential Palace, a final Genet-esque touch to this delusional drama. This fantasy would evaporate 'by the crowing of the cock,' as Chavez told me in his poetic way.

Chavez minister Miguel Bustamante-Madriz, who had escaped the coup, led 60,000 brunettes down from Barrio Petare to Miraflores. As thousands marched against the coup, Caracas television stations, owned by media barons who supported (and possibly planned the coup) played soap operas. The station owned hoped their lack of coverage would keep the Chavista crowd from swelling; but it doubled and doubled and doubled. On l3 April, they were ready to die for Chavez.

They did not have to. Carmona, fresh from his fantasy inaugural, received a call from the head of a pro-Chavez paratroop regiment stationed in Maracay, outside the capital. To avoid bloodshed, Chavez had agreed to his own 'arrest' and removal by the putschists, but did not mention to the plotters that several hundred loyal troops had entered secret corridors under the Palace. Carmona, surrounded, could choose his method of death: bullets from the inside, rockets from above, or dismemberment by the encircling 'bricks and milk' crowd. Carmona took off his costume ribbons and surrendered.

Taking On the Oil giants

I interviewed Carmona while I leaned out the fourth floor window of an apartment in La Alombra, a high-rise building complex. I spoke my pidgin Spanish across to his balcony on the building a few yards away. The one-time petrochemical mogul was under house arrest -- the lucky bastard. If he had attempted to overthrow the President of Kazakhstan (or for that matter, the President of the US), he would by now have a bullet in his skull. Chavez, in a gracious if strained nod to the ultimate authority of the privileged, simply confined Carmona to his expensive flat.

In response to my question about who gave him authority to name himself president, coup leader Carmona responded, 'Civil society'. To him this meant the bankers, the oil company chiefs and others who signed his proclamation.

Most telling were Chavez's laws to which Carmona and coup leaders objected. The prime evil was the Ley De Tierras, the new land law which promised to give unused land to the landless, in particular, properties held out of production by the big plantation owners for more than two years.

But Chavez's tenure would not have been threatened had he not also taken on the international petroleum giants. Chavez's crimes against the oil industry's interests included passing a law that doubled the royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil operators from about 16 per cent to roughly 30 per cent on new finds. He had also moved to take control of the state oil company PDVSA -- nominally owned by the government, but in fact in thrall to the foreign operators.

Chavez had almost single-handedly rebuilt the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by committing Venezuela to adhere to its OPEC sales quotas, causing world oil prices to double to over $20 per barrel. It was this oil money, which paid for the 'bricks and milk' programme and put Chavez head to head against ExxonMobil, the number-one extractor of Venezuelan oil. This was no minor matter to the US. As OPEC's general secretary Al Rodriguz says: 'The dependence of the US on oil is increasing progressively. Venezuela is one of the most important suppliers of the US, and the stability of Venezuela is very important for [them].'

It was the South American nation that broke the back of the 1973 Arab oil embargo by increasing output from its vast reserves way beyond its OPEC quota. Indeed, I learned from Al Rodriguz that the 12 April coup against Chavez was triggered by US fears of a renewed Arab oil embargo. Iraq and Libya were trying to organize OPEC to stop exporting oil to the US to protest American support of Israel. US access to Venezuela's oil suddenly became urgent.

In an interview Chavez told me: 'I have the written proof, I have the time of the entries and exits of the two military officers from the United States into the headquarters of the coup plotters -- I have their names, who they met with, what they said on video and still photographs.' He elaborated: 'I have in my hands a radar image of a military vessel that came into Venezuelan waters on 13 April. I have radar images of a helicopter that takes off from that ship and flies over Venezuela and of other planes that violated Venezuelan air space.'

With such powerful enemies, it seems unlikely that attempts to remove Chavez will stop there.

Exception to the New Order

While the immediate cause of America's panicked need to remove Chavez was a looming oil embargo, the Bush administration's grievances go much deeper. Miguel Bustamante-Madriz, a member of Chavez's cabinet, paints a bigger conflict with the global corporate agenda: 'America can't let us stay in power. We are the exception to the new globalization order. If we succeed, we are an example to all the Americas.'

Despite the European and American media's hoo-ha over how Chavez has 'ruined' Venezuela's economy, in fact last year its Gross Domestic Product grew by 2.8 per cent. And it wasn't all due to improvements in oil-prices; excluding crude oil, economic activity jumped by about 4 per cent. Compare the 'ruined' Venezuelan economy to Argentina's. That 'poster boy' of neoliberalism ended last year in a depression which has since turned into an economic death spiral.

Old Style Reform Clashes with Free Market Agenda

Chavez is an old-style social democratic reformer: land to the landless, increasing investment in housing and infrastructure, control over commodity export prices. But with Marx discredited as the philosophy of the 'losers' of the Cold War, 'Chavismo' is as radical as it gets. His redistributionist reformism offers an operating, credible alternative to the corporate-friendly free-market prescriptions of the kind currently being handed to Argentina by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Since 1980, the World Bank and IMF have peddled a four-part free-market agenda: free trade, 'flexible' labour laws, privatization and reduced government budgets and regulation. Chavez rejects it all outright, beginning with the phony 'free' trade agenda under the terms of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (which the US would expand to South America under the aegis of the Free Trade Area of the Americas).

Trade under these terms is anything but free to the peoples of the Southern Hemisphere. Instead he calls for a change in the North-South terms of trade, increasing the value of commodities exported to Europe and America. Chavez's longer-term policies of rebuilding OPEC and higher tariffs on oil must be seen in the context of smashing imbalanced trade relations epitomized by the WTO.

World Bank and WTO rules have also forced nations such as Argentina to sell off their state-owned and locally owned banks and insurance companies to foreign financial giants such as America's Citibank and Spain's Banco Santander. These swiftly vacuumed up the country's hard currency reserves, setting the stage for the national bankruptcy at the first hint of speculator-driven currency panics.

The 'Anti-Argentina'

Argentina accepted the World Bank's four-step economic medicine with fatal glee. Not that it had much choice. I have obtained the secret June 2001 'Country Assistance Strategy' progress report of the World Bank, ordering Argentina to pull out of its economic depression by increasing 'labour force flexibility'. This meant cutting works programmes, smashing union rules and slicing real wages. Contrast that with Chavez's first act after defeating the coup: announcing a 20-per- cent increase in the minimum wage. Chavez's protection of the economy by increasing the purchasing power of the lower-paid workers, rather than cutting wages, is anathema to the globalizers.

His Venezuela is the anti-Argentina, taking a path exactly opposite to the guidance given, and ultimately imposed, on Argentina by the World Bank and IMF.

For example, in the June 2001 document, World Bank President James Wolfensohn expressed particular pride that Argentina's Government had made 'a $3 billion cut in primary expenditures'. Slicing government spending in the midst of a recession is economic suicide, killing demand when it's most needed. Who could have pushed the banks to demand such a berserk programme?

The answer is hinted at in the document. That $3 billion cut will 'accommodat[e] the increase in interest obligations' to pay off those foreign banks -- Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, and Lloyds Bank -- who, having bled the nation of capital, lent Argentina back its own money at rates that can only be called usury. Foreign banks working with the IMF had demanded that Argentina pay a whopping 16-per-cent risk premium above US Treasury lending rates.

Chavez would take Venezuela in the opposite direction. His plan is to pull out of a downturn threatened by a corporate embargo of investment in his nation by taxing the oil companies and spending -- the 'Bricks and Milk' solution, old-style Keynesianism.

And while Chavez moved to renationalize oil and rejects the sale of water systems, Argentina sold off everything including the kitchen-sink tap. The World Bank beams: 'Almost all major utilities have been privatized.' That includes the sale of water systems to Enron of Texas and Vivendi of Paris, companies which immediately fired workers en masse, let the pipe systems fall apart and raised prices as much as 400 per cent. Wolfensohn, for some reason, is surprised to note that after these privatizations, the poor lack access to clean water.

Coup Nouvelle

George W. Bush is an oil man; he owned oil companies, now it looks like they own him.

Certainly the Keystone Kops-style plot against Chavez by Venezuela's military-industrial complex served Big Oil's interests. But that's an old-style shoot'em-up coup, likely to fail. The coup d'états of the 21st century will follow the Argentine model, in which the international banks seize the financial lifeblood of a nation, making the official presidential title-holder merely inconsequential except as a factotum of the corporate agenda.

Greg Palast, author of the book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," is an investigative reporter for London's Sunday paper, The Observer, and BBC TV's Newsnight. Read, view or subscribe to his columns at www.GregPalast.com.

The Globalizer Who Came in from the Cold

"It has condemned people to death," the former apparatchik told me. This was like a scene out of Le Carré. The brilliant old agent comes in from the cold, crosses to our side and in hours of debriefing, empties his memory of horrors committed in the name of a political ideology he now realizes has gone rotten.

And here before me was a far bigger catch than some used Cold War spy. Joseph Stiglitz was chief economist of the World Bank. To a great extent, the new world economic order was his theory come to life.


I "debriefed" Stiglitz over several days, at Cambridge University, in a London hotel and finally in Washington in April 2001 during the big confab of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Instead of chairing the meetings of ministers and central bankers, Stiglitz was kept exiled safely behind the blue police cordons, the same as the nuns carrying a large wooden cross, the Bolivian union leaders, the parents of AIDS victims and the other "antiglobalization" protesters. The ultimate insider was now on the outside.

In 1999 the World Bank fired Stiglitz. He was not allowed quiet retirement; US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, I'm told, demanded a public excommunication for Stiglitz having expressed his first mild dissent from globalization World Bank-style.

Here in Washington we completed the last of several hours of exclusive interviews for the Observer and Newsnight about the real, often hidden, workings of the IMF, World Bank and the bank's 51 per cent owner, the US Treasury. And here, from sources unnamable (not Stiglitz), we obtained a cache of documents marked "confidential", "restricted" and "not otherwise [to be] disclosed without World Bank authorization".

Stiglitz helped translate one, a "Country Assistance Strategy", from bureaucratese. There's an Assistance Strategy for every poorer nation, designed, says the World Bank, after careful in-country investigation. But according to insider Stiglitz, the Bank's staff "investigation" consists of close inspection of a nation's five-star hotels. It concludes with the Bank staff meeting some begging, busted finance minister who is handed a "restructuring agreement" pre-drafted for his "voluntary" signature (I have a selection of these).

Each nation's economy is individually analyzed, then, says Stiglitz, the Bank hands every minister the exact same four-step program.

Step 1 is Privatization -- which Stiglitz said could more accurately be called "Briberization". Rather than object to the sell-offs of state industries, he said national leaders -- using the World Bank's demands to silence local critics -- happily flogged their electricity and water companies. "You could see their eyes widen" at the prospect of 10 per cent commissions paid to Swiss bank accounts for simply shaving a few billion off the sale price of national assets.

And the US government knew it, charges Stiglitz, at least in the case of the biggest "briberization" of all, the 1995 Russian sell-off. "The US Treasury view was this was great as we wanted Yeltsin re-elected. We don't care if it's a corrupt election. We want the money to go to Yeltzin" via kick-backs for his campaign.

Stiglitz is no conspiracy nutter ranting about Black Helicopters. The man was inside the game, a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet as chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

Most ill-making for Stiglitz is that the US-backed oligarchs stripped Russia's industrial assets, with the effect that the corruption scheme cut national output nearly in half, causing depression and starvation.

After briberization, Step 2 of the IMF/World Bank one-size-fits-all rescueyour- economy plan is "Capital Market Liberalization". In theory, capital market deregulation allows investment capital to flow in and out. Unfortunately, as in Indonesia and Brazil, the money simply flowed out and out. Stiglitz calls this the "hot money" cycle. Cash comes in for speculation in real estate and currency, then flees at the first whiff of trouble. A nation's reserves can drain in days, hours. And when that happens, to seduce speculators into returning a nation's own capital funds, the IMF demands these nations raise interest rates to 30 per cent, 50 per cent and 80 per cent.

"The result was predictable," said Stiglitz of the hot money tidal waves in Asia and Latin America. Higher interest rates demolished property values, savaged industrial production and drained national treasuries.

At this point, the IMF drags the gasping nation to Step 3: Market-Based Pricing, a fancy term for raising prices on food, water and domestic gas. This leads, predictably, to Step 31/2: what Stiglitz calls "The IMF riot."

The IMF riot is painfully predictable. When a nation is "down and out, [the IMF] takes advantage and squeezes the last pound of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up" -- as when the IMF eliminated food and fuel subsidies for the poor in Indonesia in 1998. Indonesia exploded into riots, but there are other examples -- the Bolivian riots over water prices in April 2000 and, in February 2001, the riots in Ecuador over the rise in domestic gas prices imposed by the World Bank. You'd almost get the impression that the riot is written into the plan.

And it is. Stiglitz did not know about the documents the BBC and the Observer obtained from inside the World Bank, stamped over with those pesky warnings "confidential", "restricted", "not to be disclosed". Let's get back to the "Interim Country Assistance Strategy" for Ecuador. In it the Bank several times states -- with cold accuracy -- that they expected their plans to spark "social unrest", to use their bureaucratic term for a nation in flames.

That's not surprising. The secret report notes that the plan to make the US dollar Ecuador's currency has pushed 51 per cent of the population below the poverty line. The World Bank "Assistance" plan simply calls for facing down civil strife and suffering with "political resolve" -- and still higher prices.

The IMF riots (and by riots I mean peaceful demonstrations dispersed by bullets, tanks and tear gas) cause new panicked flights of capital and government bankruptcies. This economic arson has its bright side -- for foreign corporations, who can then pick off remaining assets, such as the odd mining concession or port, at fire sale prices.

Stiglitz notes that the IMF and World Bank are not heartless adherents of market economics. At the same time the IMF stopped Indonesia "subsidizing" food purchases, "when the banks need a bail-out, intervention [in the market] is welcome". The IMF scrounged up tens of billions of dollars to save Indonesia's financiers and, by extension, the US and European banks from which they had borrowed.

A pattern emerges. There are lots of losers in this system, but one clear winner: the Western banks and US Treasury, making the big bucks from this crazy new international capital churn. Stiglitz told me about his unhappy meeting, early in his World Bank tenure, with Ethiopia's new president in the nation's first democratic election. The World Bank and IMF had ordered Ethiopia to divert aid money to its reserve account at the US Treasury, which pays a pitiful 4 per cent return, while the nation borrowed US dollars at 12 per cent to feed its population. The new president begged Stiglitz to let him use the aid money to rebuild the nation. But no, the loot went straight off to the US Treasury's vault in Washington.

Now we arrive at Step 4 of what the IMF and World Bank call their "poverty reduction strategy": Free Trade. This is free trade by the rules of the World Trade Organization and World Bank. Stiglitz the insider likens free trade WTOstyle to the Opium Wars. "That too was about opening markets," he said. As in the nineteenth century, Europeans and Americans today are kicking down the barriers to sales in Asia, Latin American and Africa, while barricading their own markets against Third World agriculture.

In the Opium Wars, the West used military blockades to force open markets for their unbalanced trade. Today, the World Bank can order a financial blockade that's just as effective -- and sometimes just as deadly.

Stiglitz is particularly emotional over the WTO's intellectual property rights treaty (it goes by the acronym TRIPS, of which we have more to say later in this chapter). It is here, says the economist, that the new global order has "condemned people to death" by imposing impossible tariffs and tributes to pay to pharmaceutical companies for branded medicines. "They don't care," said the professor of the corporations and bank ideologues he worked with, "if people live or die."

By the way, don't be confused by the mix in this discussion of the IMF, World Bank and WTO. They are interchangeable masks of a single governance system. They have locked themselves together by what are unpleasantly called "triggers". Taking a World Bank loan for a school "triggers" a requirement to accept every "conditionality" -- they average 111 per nation -- laid down by both the World Bank and IMF. In fact, said Stiglitz, the IMF requires nations to accept trade policies more punitive than the official WTO rules.

Stiglitz's greatest concern is that World Bank plans, devised in secrecy and driven by an absolutist ideology, are never open for discourse or dissent. Despite the West's push for elections throughout the developing world, the so-called Poverty Reduction Programs "undermine democracy". And they don't work. Black Africa's productivity under the guiding hand of IMF structural "assistance" has gone to hell in a handbag.

Did any nation avoid this fate? Yes, said Stiglitz, identifying Botswana. Their trick? "They told the IMF to go packing."

So then I turned on Stiglitz. OK, Mr Smart-Guy Professor, how would you help developing nations? Stiglitz proposed radical land reform, an attack at the heart of "landlordism", on the usurious rents charged by the propertied oligarchies worldwide, typically 50 per cent of a tenant's crops. So I had to ask the professor: as you were top economist at the World Bank, why didn't the Bank follow your advice?

"If you challenge [land ownership], that would be a change in the power of the elites. That's not high on their agenda." Apparently not.

Ultimately, what drove him to put his job on the line was the failure of the banks and US Treasury to change course when confronted with the crises -- failures and suffering perpetrated by their four-step monetarist mambo. Every time their free market solutions failed, the IMF simply demanded more free market policies.

"It's a little like the Middle Ages," the insider told me. "When the patient died they would say, 'Well, he stopped the bloodletting too soon; he still had a little blood in him'."

I took away from my talks with the professor that the solution to world poverty and crisis is simple: remove the bloodsuckers.

Joe Stiglitz survived his sacking from the World Bank and complaints about our interviews. In September 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.

This is an excerpt from Greg Palast's book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." For more information visit GregPalast.com.

The Election Story Never Told

Here's how the president of the United States was elected: In the months leading up to the November balloting, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, ordered local elections supervisors to purge 64,000 voters from voter lists on the grounds that they were felons who were not entitled to vote in Florida. As it turns out, these voters weren't felons, or at least, only a very few were. However, the voters on this "scrub list" were, notably, African-American (about 54 percent), while most of the others wrongly barred from voting were white and Hispanic Democrats.

Beginning in November, this extraordinary news ran, as it should, on Page 1 of the country's leading paper. Unfortunately, it was in the wrong country: Britain. In the United States, it ran on page zero -- that is, the story was not covered on the news pages. The theft of the presidential race in Florida also was given big television network coverage. But again, it was on the wrong continent: on BBC television, London.

Was this some off-the-wall story that the Brits misreported? A lawyer for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission called it the first hard evidence of a systematic attempt to disenfranchise black voters; the commission held dramatic hearings on the evidence. While the story was absent from America's news pages (except, I grant, a story in the Orlando Sentinel and another on C-Span), columnists for The New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post cited the story after seeing a U.S. version on the Internet magazine Salon.com. As the reporter on the story for Britain's Guardian newspaper (and its Sunday edition, The Observer) and for BBC television, I was interviewed on several American radio programs, generally "alternative" stations on the left side of the dial.

Interviewers invariably asked the same two questions, "Why was this story uncovered by a British reporter?" And, "Why was it published in and broadcast from Europe?"

I'd like to know the answer myself. That way I could understand why I had to move my family to Europe in order to print and broadcast this and other crucial stories about the American body politic in mainstream media. The bigger question is not about the putative brilliance of the British press. I'd rather ask how a hundred thousand U.S. journos failed to get the vote theft story and print it (and preferably before the election).

Think about "investigative" reporting. The best investigative stories are expensive to produce, risky and upset the wisdom of the established order. Do profit-conscious enterprises, whether media companies or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and the opportunity to be attacked? Not in any business text I've ever read. I can't help but note that the Guardian and Observer is the world's only leading newspaper owned by a not-for-profit corporation, as is BBC television.

But if profit-lust is the ultimate problem blocking significant investigative reportage, the more immediate cause of comatose coverage of the election and other issues is what is laughably called America's "journalistic culture." If the Rupert Murdochs of the globe are shepherds of the new world order, they owe their success to breeding a flock of docile sheep, the editors and reporters snoozy and content with munching on, digesting, then reprinting a diet of press releases and canned stories provided by officials and corporation public relations operations.

Take this story of the list of Florida's faux felons that cost Al Gore the election. Shortly after the UK and Salon stories hit the worldwide web, I was contacted by a CBS network news producer ready to run their own version of the story. The CBS hotshot was happy to pump me for information: names, phone numbers, all the items one needs for a quickie TV story.

I also freely offered up to CBS this information: The office of the governor of Florida, brother of the Republican presidential candidate, had illegally ordered the removal of the names of felons from voter rolls -- real felons, but with the right to vote under Florida law. As a result, thousands of these legal voters, almost all Democrats, would not be allowed to vote.

One problem: I had not quite completed my own investigation on this matter. Therefore CBS would have to do some actual work, reviewing documents and law, and obtaining statements. The next day I received a call from the producer, who said, "I'm sorry, but your story didn't hold up." Well, how did the multibillion-dollar CBS network determine this? Why, "we called Jeb Bush's office." Oh. And that was it.

I wasn't surprised by this type of "investigation." It is, in fact, standard operating procedure for the little lambs of American journalism. One good, slick explanation from a politician or corporate chieftain and it's case closed, investigation over. The story ran anyway: on BBC-TV. Let's understand the pressures on the CBS producer that led her to kill the story on the basis of a denial by the target of the allegations. (Though let's not confuse understanding with forgiveness.)

First, the story is difficult to tell in the usual 90 seconds allotted for national reports. The BBC gave me a 14-minute slot to explain it.

Second, the story required massive and quick review of documents, hundreds of phone calls and interviews, hardly a winner in the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am school of U.S. journalism. The BBC gave me two weeks to develop the story.

Third, the revelations in the story required a reporter to stand up and say the big name politicians, their lawyers and their PR people were freaking liars. It would be much easier, and a heck of a lot cheaper, to wait for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to do the work, then cover the Commission's canned report and press conference. Wait! You've watched "Murphy Brown," so you think reporters hanker every day to uncover the big scandal. Bullshit. Remember, "All the President's Men" was so unusual they had to make a movie out of it.

Fourth, investigative reports require taking a chance. Fraudsters and vote-riggers don't reveal all their evidence. And they lie. Make the allegation and you are open to attack, or unknown information that may prove you wrong. No one ever lost their job writing canned statements from a press conference.

Fifth -- and this is no small matter -- no one ever got sued for not running an investigative story. Let me give you an example close to home. The companion report to my investigation of the theft of the election in Florida was a story about Bush family finances. I wrote in the Guardian and Observer of London about the gold-mining company for which the first President George Bush worked after he left the White House. Oh, you didn't know that George H. W. Bush worked for a gold-mining company after he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992? Well, maybe it has to do with the fact that this company has a long history of suing every paper that breathes a word it does not like -- in fact, it has now sued my papers. I've gotten awards and thousands of letters for these stories, but, honey, that don't pay the legal bills.

Finally, there's another little matter working against U.S. reporters running after the hard stories, papers printing them or TV broadcasting the good stuff. I'll explain by way of my phone call with a great reporter, Mike Isakoffa of Newsweek. Just before the elections, Isakoff handed me some exceptionally important information about President Clinton, material suggesting corruption in office -- the real stuff, not the interns-under-the-desk stuff. I said, "Mike, why the hell don't you run it yourself?" and he said, "Because no one gives a shit!" Isakoff was expressing his exasperation with the news chiefs who kill or bury these stories on page 200 on the belief that the public really doesn't want to hear all this bad and very un-sexy news. These lambchop editors believe the public just doesn't care.

But they're wrong. When I ran my first story in the London Observer about the theft of the Florida vote, Americans by the thousands flooded our Internet site. They set a record for hits before the information-hungry hordes blew down our giant server computers. When BBC ran the story, viewership of the webcast of Newsnight grew by 10,000 percent as a result of Americans demanding to see what they were denied on their own tubes. Obviously, some Americans care.

And it's for them that I say, "This is Greg Palast reporting from exile."

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