Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, by Greg Palast (Seven Stories Press, New York, NY, 2012, 300 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
February 23, 2013 (San Diego’s East County)--Greg Palast,author of the New York Times’ best sellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse, and, most recently, Vultures’ Picnic, has followed up in a similar satirical vein with Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. An internationally acclaimed investigative journalist, Palast has roots in California; his parents were long-time residents of La Mesa.
Ironically, the publication of this book came just before the recent re-election of President Barack Obama. Palast, who studied economics under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, is also the co-author of Democracy and Regulation, published by the United Nations International Labour Organization, based on Palast’s lectures at the Cambridge University Department of Applied Economics and the University of Sao Paolo. Additionally, he is co-author with Bobby Kennedy of the comic book Steal Back Your Vote!, illustrated by Ted Rall and Lloyd Dangle. Clearly, the author has a bent for satire.
In the foreword to this brilliant and incisive book; A Hostile Takeover of Our Country, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Kennedy states: “American democracy is under assault. In one super-PAC alone, Karl Rove and the Enron grifter Ed Gillespie, have assembled $200 million from big polluters and Wall Street moguls to buy the 2012 election. Two of the Koch Brothers, Charles and David, pledged $130 million to elect candidates who favored unrestrained profiteering. The senators and congressman they fund and elect are not representing the United States – they are representing Koch and its oil industry cronies, Big Pharma, and the Wall Street banksters currently mounting a hostile takeover of our government.”
Palast has been described as “exactly what a journalist is supposed to be – a Truth Hound, Doggedly Independent”, by the Chicago Tribune. Norm Chomsky states, “Palast upsets all the right people. The Rev. Al Sharpton observed, “Palast is an Inside-Out Oreo: White on the outside, Black on the inside.” It certainly comes out in his book. Palast is also quick to note that Billionaires & Ballot Bandits is sponsored by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose son Jesse Jackson, Jr., recently had federal charges filed against him and his wife Sandi growing out of a scheme to use $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use. I am sure that Palast did not have the former Congressman Jackson in mind when he wrote this book, and it is ironic that the senior Jackson, who has championed causes of civil rights and voter empowerment, would not have envisioned his own son in the crosshairs of a federal investigation and criminal complaint.
Billionaires & Ballot Bandits investigates the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and their ilk. In one particular passage in the book Palast outlines the U.S. Justice Department draft of an indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) anti-mobster law against Koch Industries Incorporation, based out of Wichita, Kansas. The Koch Brothers, and specifically Charles and David, were known to be major benefactors of the Republican Party, and especially in the recent campaign against President Obama. The indictment states on page four that Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Jones: “after reviewing the facts of this case, stated it appeared to her at this time that there was reasonable cause to believe that KOCH OIL COMPANY under the direction of [blacked-out and written-in by hand: ‘67C’] was engaged in corporate directed theft from Government lands and non-government lands, involving interstate pipeline, and from Indian country.”
Palast, in his inimitable way, stated: “What the hell was going on? What happened to the criminal charges against Koch?”
First, a key witness was bullied: Christopher Tucker received a threatening visit from a security firm that worked for Koch Oil. Tucker, who wouldn’t break, contacted Assistant US Attorney Nancy Jones, who drafted the original indictment. Now she was considering drafting another charge, obstruction of justice, naming Koch Oil. The felonies were piling up.
Then, as Palast indicates, Jones had an accident: Senator Don Nickles. Prosecutors serve at the pleasure of a state’s US senators. And senators from Oklahoma serve at the pleasure of the Kochs, according to Palast. Using his senatorial privilege, Nickles had Tim Leonard, an oilman who did business with the Kochs, named US attorney for Oklahoma, making him Jones’s boss. In 1992, Leonard pushed out Jones. The brilliant investigative reporter Bob Parry, who’d been sleuthing around the story a long time, discovered that – to no surprise – Jones had to leave because the “political” fix was in on the Koch case, and she refused to roll over.
Jones’ replacement disbanded the grand jury charged with investigating the Kochs without letting the jury even see the evidence compiled, according to Palast. Senator Nickels' handpicked prosecutor then wrote the Kochs, promising there would be no prosecution. Everything else is history as to the funding of operations to disenfranchise voters and to steal an election.
The message of this brilliantly conceived and told story by Palast is punctuated throughout the book with the political and social commentary cartoons of Ted Rall, in particular Rall’s cartoons indicating how blacks had their voting rights disenfranchised.
It’s the Palast investigative team that busted the story of how former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris knocked tens of thousands of African-Americans off the voter rolls by calling them felons – when their only crime was VWB: Voting While Black. This is a very entertaining and informative book by the author, who shows how politics really works.
Dennis Moore is the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine. He is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago.” Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.