Truth in Exile

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Remember Cynthia McKinney? The conventional wisdom is that the outspoken congresswoman was too abrasive and too extreme, and she got whacked by an uprising of voters last November.

People who are a tad more sophisticated understand deeper doo-doo was flowing. For example, Republicans crossed over in droves to vote in the Democratic primary, an affront to the two-party system and, in general, to democracy. Certainly, McKinney helped do herself in — primarily by not disowning her virulently anti-Semitic father.

All that aside, there’s still an untold story. It’s untold, anyway, if you rely on the mainstream media, such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Editorial Page Editor Cynthia Tucker waged a highly personal attack against McKinney in an effort to ensure that there would be only one Maximum Cynthia in Atlanta.

The deeper story — and it is a tale of a vast, mostly right-wing, conspiracy — has been printed in one of the hottest books on the newsstands, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, by American-journalist-turned-BBC-expatriate Greg Palast.

The hell-raising journalist is coming to Atlanta April 15, where he’ll speak at a Creative Loafing-sponsored talk at Emory University (7 p.m., White Hall, room 208).

Some of the tastiest passages in Palast’s book have compelling local interest.

Consider: He went after Atlanta’s Southern Co. for keeping two sets of books that enabled it to charge customers for $61 million in spare parts that had not been used. A Southern senior veep, Jake Horton, was going to blow the whistle on this and other company misdeeds such as illegal payments to politicians. But, on April 10, 1989, Horton boarded a corporate plane to go to a meeting where he planned to confront Southern’s top brass — and the plane exploded. Why the big boom? No one knows — or is saying.

Palast’s reporting almost resulted in the criminal indictment of the company — until Bush the First had his Justice Department intervene and declare that all of the alleged wrongdoing was kosher because an accounting firm had OK’d the cooked books. That accounting firm was none other than Arthur Andersen, whose ill fame would peak a decade later in the Enron meltdown.

"Jake’s death and the failure to indict Southern and Andersen in 1989 marked the radical turning point, albeit unseen at the time, in the way corporate America would do business," Palast comments in his book.

That turn would lead to the massive corruption of Enron, Global Crossing and the other mega-crooks.

"Since I reported on Southern Company," Palast told me, "we’ve seen all that has happened in the corporate world. Southern was at the cutting edge, and the final prize sought by [Enron’s] Kenny Lay and his pals was throwing the rules out the window. In the old days, crooks like Al Capone would buy a judge. But that’s tough, paying off one judge at a time. So the new crooks just buy the whole government and get new laws."

Back to McKinney, Palast points to a New York Times article from last November that declared the congresswoman had lost the support of Atlanta’s "prominent black figures."

"But," Palast told me, "Julian Bond said that wasn’t him. He doesn’t get involved in races. And Martin Luther King III said to me, ‘No, not me.’ So who was it and why did she allegedly lose their support?"

The answer lies with a Canadian gold mining outfit called Barrick Corp. It takes a bit of explaining.

In the final days of the first Bush regime, the Interior Department adopted policies that enriched Barrick — and cost U.S. taxpayers — "a cool billion or so," according to Palast. In 1995, Barrick hired Bush I as "honorary senior adviser" — but of course claimed there had been no deal. (When Bush the Younger became president in 2001, one of his first deeds was to dump rules on gold mining waste disposal — which is likely to cause irreparable environmental harm. One of the biggest beneficiaries is, of course, Barrick.)

Barrick in 1999 acquired another Canadian mining company, Sutton Resources, which was seeking to grab land in Tanzania from small-time prospectors. In his book, Palast reports: "In August 1996, Sutton’s bulldozers, backed by military police firing weapons, rolled across the goldfield, smashing down worker housing, crushing their mining equipment. … About 50 miners were still in their mine shafts, buried alive."

Not good public relations.

Bush left Barrick in 1999 — it was probably a risky affiliation as his son’s campaign ramped up. Replacing Bush was Atlanta’s own Andrew Young, who joined another of the city’s favorite sons, Vernon Jordan. In an interview, Palast was brutal. "Andy Young is pocketing blood money from African gold." (Young did not return a detailed message asking about his relationship with Barrick.)

McKinney, meanwhile, chaired congressional hearings that had launched a probe of Barrick’s activities in the Congo, where the firm was accused of, as Palast says, "stoking the civil war." McKinney was also fighting to protect the life of a whistleblower in the Tanzania episode.

So, who were the black leaders that helped torpedo McKinney? "Andy Young and Vernon Jordan," replies Palast. "No one has held them accountable." (McKinney did not respond to e-mail messages.)

Palast is most famous for his reporting on the Florida election meltdown in 2000. "It’s the story they couldn’t do in America," Palast told me. The election story got a shot of juice at the March 23 Academy Awards ceremonies, when Michael Moore correctly described the Bush presidency as "fictitious" and said the invasion of Iraq was "for fictitious reasons."

The self-righteous, flag-wrapped rabid right got a royal wedgie.

One of the truths the neocons and the radio ignorance brigade most fear is that, in a real sense, George Bush is a fictitious president. I sure as hell feel that people shouldn’t get over it. Our nation was robbed of its democracy in November 2000. Our right to chose our leader was usurped, a far greater sin by a billion fold than Bill Clinton diddling Monica.

Here’s the background on what Moore told the Oscar ceremony — and on what Palast uncovered.

First, I’m not talking about hanging chads or butterfly ballots. The American media’s least reported Huge Story of the decade — ignoring the largely unreported fabrications used to justify the Iraq invasion — was the intentional disenfranchisement of 57,700 Florida voters by Jeb Bush and Chief Elections Subverter Katherine Harris.

Palast reported his accounts for the BBC, English newspapers and progressive American journals such as The Nation.

The Bush-Harris shit list supposedly tagged people who had been convicted of felonies and, therefore, were ineligible to vote in Florida. Yet, included among the 57,700 names were people listed as being "convicted" in 2007. That isn’t a typo. Perhaps the Bushies had seen a sneak preview of Minority Report and were nailing people of future crimes. Palast found 325 time-traveling bandits on the Bush-Harris list.

More serious — an analysis of the 57,700 names showed 90.2 percent were innocent of any crime that could have kept them from voting. Most on the list were black and Hispanic, and most were Democrats. BBC researchers projected that Al Gore lost 22,000 votes as a result of the bogus purge — plenty of margin for him to have won Florida and the presidency.

Later, Palast turned up another scrub list, about 40,000 names of people who had been convicted of crimes but who had had their rights restored — Bush-Harris had axed them also, which was patently illegal. Most would have undoubtedly voted Democratic.

The purge list was compiled by an Atlanta-based company, ChoicePoint, that is closely tied to Republican circles. Palast exposed that ChoicePoint failed to do even basic checking of the list — despite charging taxpayers curiously high fees topping $4 million.

Palast, in his book, states:

"Was ChoicePoint paid to get it wrong? Every single failure — to verify by phone, to sample and test, to cross-check against other databases — worked in one direction: to increase the number of falsely accused voters."

Eventually a ChoicePoint official testified to a congressional committee — not that you read about it in your daily newspaper — that "ChoicePoint told state officials that the rules for creating the list would mean a significant number of people who were not … a felon would be included in the list."

According to Palast, when ChoicePoint tried to draw Bush-Harris attention to the problem, the company was told to forget about it.

If you followed the vote scandal that led to Bush’s coup, the last press report you probably remember came about two months after 9-11. Newspapers, with their own media consolidation agenda before the Bush administration, clearly were angst-ridden at the thought of offending the appointed president. Add to that the spike in Bush’s post-9-11 popularity, and what should have been a milestone in precision journalism became, instead, a spectacle of media slavishness. A media consortium concluded that even had the recount been concluded, Bush would have won. The radically Republican Tampa Tribune editorial page, for example, crowed on Nov. 14, 2001: "Exhaustive media ballot recount confirms Bush victory over Gore."

Actually that story, too, was false. Only by a highly selective set of rules could the lapdog media construct a model where Bush won. But, far more important, the media consortium focused on the ballot-chad issues — and totally ignored the more than 90,000 voters denied their right to vote.

Dubya, if you recall, won Florida by a 537-vote plurality.

Had Bush-Harris not devised a technological scheme to impose voting apartheid in Florida, Gore would easily have scored enough votes to sit in the White House.


On May 30, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft set in motion the snooping on private citizens using commercial databases — even when there is no reason to suspect criminal conduct. ChoicePoint, as one of the biggest such databases — and despite its frightening record of inaccuracy in Florida — will reap a windfall.

McKinney in 2001 launched a congressional investigation of the Florida election and summoned ChoicePoint executives to testify. It wasn’t long after that the assaults on her began. The most infamous was the claim that she had questioned whether Dubya had knowledge of 9-11 before it happened, and that he didn’t act because his dad and cronies were going to make bundles off the war machine.

The truth was that McKinney quite accurately predicted — months before it broke in the press — that Bush had extensive intelligence on likely terrorist attacks and failed to act. And McKinney was equally accurate in saying that Bush insiders would reap windfalls from slaughter.

However, nowhere did McKinney ever link the two statements. Palast has vowed to eat an entire AJC at the April 15 speech if the paper’s Tucker can come up with a transcript that shows McKinney said Bush tanked 9-11 intelligence so that poppy Bush and friends could prosper. That’s a meal that will never happen.

Passages from Palast’s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy are posted at

Senior Editor John Sugg — who says, “For the neocons to get their movement started, it took lots of tools and cranks” — can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at [email protected].