Essential guide to the US election
Billionaires and Ballot Bandits
Out September 18
If you really want to understand the forthcoming US presidential election, read this book.
Former corporate fraud investigator Greg Palast previously showed how the 2000 US election was rigged through "purging" black voters off the electoral rolls. He showed how the 2004 election was rigged the same way. In 2008, the same thing happened again, yet Barack Obama still managed enough votes to get in.
"But in 2012, it will be much worse," writes Palast. "Get ready for the bottom line: the number of black and Hispanic registered voters in the USA has fallen radically since 2008, by two million in these four years.
"In 2012, the colour of the voter, not the choice of the voter, could for a third time in a dozen years determine control of the White House."
Obama is clearly in the pocket of big business, but on April 4 this year he made a move that could prove to cost him his presidency. Obama demanded a US federal court stop billionaire hedge fund manager Paul "The Vulture" Singer from attacking Argentina.
"In this case, Singer had sued to get millions, even billions, from the government of Argentina for old debt that President Ronald Reagan had already settled in a deal involving the biggest US banks," writes Palast.
"But Reagan’s deal was not good enough for Singer and his hedge fund NML Capital. Singer demanded that a US court order Argentina to pay him ten times the amount he’d get under the Reagan deal. And to get his way, the Vulture also sued to stop the Big Banks from getting their own payments from the Reagan deal.
"But then a bolt of legal lightning cooked the Vulture’s goose: Obama’s Justice Department and Hillary Clinton’s State Department together filed an amicus curiae, a 'friend of the court' brief in the case of NML Capital et al. v. Republic of Argentina. It wasn’t all that friendly.
"Obama, a constitutional law professor, suddenly remembered that the president has the power, unique to the Constitution of the USA, to kick the Vulture’s ass up and down the continent, then do it again.
"Specifically, Obama and Clinton demanded the court throw out Singer’s attempt to bankrupt Argentina (because that is what Singer’s demand would have done). This was Singer’s nightmare: that the President of the United States would invoke his extraordinary constitutional authority under the Separation of Powers clause to block the Vulture and his hedge-fund buddies from making superprofits over the dead bodies of desperate nations.
"Now, UBS, JPMorgan, and Citibank chieftains are lined up with Obama and Clinton. The Establishment banks look upon the nouvelle vultures like Singer as economic berserkers, terrorists in a helicopter ready to pull the pin on the grenade. If Singer’s demands aren’t met, he’ll blow up the planet’s finance system.
"In this war of titans, Obama and Clinton are merely foot soldiers, not the generals. It’s billionaire banking-powers versus billionaire hedge-fund speculators. One is greedy and scary and the other is greedy and plain dangerous. Take your pick. Here is the real battle of 2012 — a winner-take-all war over the control of the world financial system."
The winner is likely to be whoever is willing to throw the most cash into the ring, and the limits on corporate political donations were removed two years ago.
Palast's fellow investigator, attorney Robert F Kennedy Jr - who Palast calls "as outraged as I am but a lot calmer" - writes: "The most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the Gilded Age had declared in its notorious Citizens United decision that corporations are people and that money is speech.
"Those who have the most money now have the loudest voices in our democracy while poor Americans are mute. And the money is talking; in 97 percent of federal elections over the past two decades, the best-funded candidates were victorious."
The billionaires are now backing the berserkers rather than Barack - and that could add to the further destruction of the planet. Palast notes how Texan corporate raider Harold Simmons, who is known as "The Ice Man" due to his "merciless, cold-hearted tactics", is now the number one donor to the Republican Party. He has plans for a radioactive dump in Texas.
"Now, toxic dumps have a habit of leaking and causing cancers," writes Palast. "If this one leaks it will poison and irradiate the Ogallala [aquifer, the drinking water source for eight states]. And that leads to lawsuits.
"No problemo, pardner! [Texas's Republican governor Rick] Perry supported a voter referendum and lobbying campaign, backed by two million dollars from a group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which virtually eliminates the ability of Texans to sue for pain and suffering if they are dying of cancer from negligently leaked toxins.
"The two million for 'Texans' came from the Ice Man. For Ice Man Simmons, this is a two-fer — because Simmons’s main source of billions is in the mental retardation business. That requires some explanation. Simmons controls NL Industries, a name that beats the hell out of 'National Lead', its old name, whose most well-known product was the popular Dutch Boy paint. The paint’s brilliant colours were attributed to its special ingredient: lead."
The Republicans also have huge financial backing from oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. Palast relates an illuminating tale from the 1990s about Koch Oil swindling an Indian reservation out of mere gallons of oil when its tanker turned up to siphon off the aboriginals' tiny output.
"Why in the world would Charles Koch, then worth about US$2 billion, want to take three dollars from some poor Indian lady? It even puzzled his own henchmen. Roger Williams asked Koch, who was literally giggling over the amount of 'overage' he’d pocketed, why the billionaire bothered to filch pocket change from Osage families.
"Williams was wired, and what he related on the tape has stuck with me a long time. According to Williams’s recording, Koch answered: 'I want my fair share—and that’s all of it.'"
Getting their fair share now means getting the XL oil pipeline, which was stopped amid huge environmental protests this year, reinstated. "Progressives looked in vain for the Koch Brothers' interest in the pipeline or in Canada’s tar sands," writes Palast.
"But they were looking at the wrong end of the pipe. My question was, Why the hell are we running an oil pipe two thousand miles to Texas? That’s a bit like 'coals to Newcastle', ain’t it? The answer is: Flint Hills Refining of Corpus Christi, Texas — now owned by Koch Industries.
"In March 2012, the price to import light oil from Saudi Arabia was 18 dollars a barrel higher than the heavy crude that Texas refineries import from Venezuela. East Coast refineries forced to import the premium Saudi oil were going broke, while Gulf Coast refineries like the Kochs’ crank cash — so long as the heavy-crude supply flows. But there’s a problem over the Lone Star, and its name is [Venezuelan president] Hugo Chavez."
But just in case the investment theory of politics - in which the best-funded candidates are victorious - fails, the billionaires have the back-up of ballot banditry. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal column titled "Why Obama Is Likely to Lose in 2012", Karl Rove, senior advisor to former US president George W Bush, said that if you can get rid of one-quarter of 1 per cent of black voters in the US, you can turn the election. And Rove knows how to do it.
"He became rich as owner of a direct mail company and was, in college, the CREEP computer whiz-kid who first introduced computer database mining in politics for Richard Nixon," writes Palast.
The purging of black voters - who overwhelmingly vote Democrat - partly entails matching the name of a felon, white or black, to a black voter with the same name, and striking them off the roll.
The notion that felons are struck off the voter rolls for life is commonly held, but not accurate - and politicians like it that way. So much so that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney does not even know the law in his own state. Romney was challenged by his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, about his knowledge on whether felons could vote in Massachusetts.
"[W]eaving along the way, he came down on the side of guns-not-votes for felons," writes Palast. "US presidential hopeful Santorum then informed a surprised Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, that his own state never took away the right to vote from ex-cons. Indeed, Massachusetts even allows some convicts to vote from prison. Many voted for Romney (go figure).
"How is it that maybe ten million ex-cons, eligible to vote, don’t? To a great extent, it’s because, like the ex-Governor of Massachusetts, they don’t know the law. And politicians want to keep it that way. So they lie."
Palast says the Republicans have whipped up the mythical monster of "the fraudulent voter", yet despite millions of voters being purged from voter rolls for the crime of being "fraudulently" registered, there have been only a handful of arrests.
There are many other tricks to get rid of unwanted voters. "All over the nation, party hacks are playing 'gotcha' with mail-in ballots," writes Palast. "Here are some of my favourites, each one costing several thousand folks their vote: wrong envelope; wrong postage; questionable signature; stray mark (spoilage); folded wrong; lost by election officials; and an X instead of a dot in the bubble."
The subprime crisis that sparked the 2008 Global Financial Crisis has also been played for all its worth. "I was told that banks were foreclosing on tens of thousands of homes; families were being forced from their houses in herds," writes Palast.
"And as the judge’s gavel came down, sealing the foreclosures, something most interesting happened: the foreclosed residents had their names struck from the voter rolls. It seems the Republican Party had challenged the rights of voters to cast ballots because their addresses were no longer valid, having lost their right to live where they lived. Lose your home, lose your vote. Even if they still lived in the state, or even if they had remained in the house."
Palast says the media are to blame in the story being left unreported. "I have neither sufficient time, space, nor alcohol to enumerate the failings of what is laughably called 'news reporting' in the USA," he writes.
"But I have to mention at least four -isms that scare away America’s press from covering the finagling of the vote: 1. Lazy-ass-ism. 2. Phony 'balance'-ism. 3. Fear of journalism. 4. Racism."
Reading Palast's book is astounding because his old-school, investigative, document-based reporting stands in such stark contrast to the vast majority of journalists.
But he also stands alone in injecting style, attitude and comedy into the mix. Palast makes the notion that the US is "spreading democracy" around the world truly laughable. Billionaires and Ballot Bandits might even make you thankful for Australia's legal mandate to vote.
Palast's last book, Vulture's Picnic, was his best work when it was released. This is even better.
Greg Palast says, "if you find the monkey entertaining, feed it", so the reviewer is buying a signed copy. To win it, send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org before the next issue comes out. Winner picked at random.