Is vote suppression just another profit center?--Greg Palast
Follow the man, oh Muse, as he travels the worlds of society's dregs, from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest on Earth, from sub-Saharan Africa to north of the North Pole, from foreclosed-on hovels and trailers to "cottages" in the Hamptons, from shots of his recovery from a quadruple bypass, IV tubes sticking out, to his return to hyperaction: confrontations eye to eye with the arch, money-groveling lunatics of the world responsible for untold amounts of human suffering.
The sentence above alludes to the crafty, well-traveled, and brilliant mythical hero Odysseus, but Palast's activism, yes activism not just investigative journalism, dwarfs the adventures of the immortal hero by a long shot and redefines heroism and even, believe it, altruism, for the twenty-first century. He puts us all to shame.
The book this film is based on [and updates], The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires and Ballet Bandits, combines the titles of his first and last blockbuster publications, both bestselling books, one published in 2002 and the other in 2012. I worried that this was a swansong, so I am relieved at this follow-up that adds on the 2016 presidential "election." The cast is star-studded, including Willie Nelson, featured to exemplify a name that appears often on voter rolls; Bobby Kennedy Jr., Rosario Dawson, and Ice-T. The music is energizing and varied. Skillful and witty animation and diversity of media captivate, while comedy weaves in and out of the carnage. The opposition is quoted and interviewed often, more often than supporters.
Toward the end of the film, amid the slime he can only expose but never vanquish, Palast gives up. The U.S. media refused to cover two gut-wrenching horrors, the Interstate Crosscheck voter database and the exporting of most Delphi Auto Parts jobs to China. Why bother?
We find him gorging himself on junk food in a sleazy restaurant. But the woman on the TV above him jars him with the pronouncement that he'd better get back to work. His chief investigatrix Badpenny thereupon phones him with his next assignment, a trip back to Ohio where SoS Husted is working his head off to hand his state over to the GOP in 2016. Palast goes.
But the first episode in the film pays homage to another major concern of Palast's [and all of us]: the environment. He flies to Kaktovik, Alaska, an island north of the Arctic Circle, in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Of course, at the root of his two main concerns, the environment and election corruption, are billionaire capitalists--none are victimless, he later quips.
The Inuit Itok, whale hunter and former University of California at Berkeley professor, tells him, with colorful language (the first spoken lines in the film) and serving him whale meat soaked in fermented blood (mikyup), that he and his people are the last of the Pleistocenes, who have lived there for 28,000 years and live on every part of the whales they harvest. The footage shows whale carcasses in profusion. Their way of life in one of the last untrespassed ecosystems in the world, nurturing hundreds of thousands of species endangered if not extinct elsewhere, is threatened by the warthog billionaires' (Kochs' and BP's) plans to drill for oil there. The Inuits will lose everything.
Palast has documented other scenarios where whole civilizations have been gutted. One example is the people of Prince William Sound, Alaska, whose whole way of life was gutted by the pollution as a result of the Exxon-Valdes oil spill of 1989. Twenty years later, as shown in this latest film, the ground is still soaked with the filthy oil Exxon had promised to clean up.
So the film's one allusion to environmental distress is a gut punch that stands out amid the main focus of the film: the corrupt decimation of the middle and lower classes--that is, most of the world's population--by a minuscule handful of multi-billionaires, who hold 50 percent of the world's wealth and want their fair share of it, all of it, as one of the Koch brothers refers to the Osage Native American reservation they bled of the invaluable oil hidden beneath its rag-tag, dried-up ground ("poorer than dirt"). The ultimate Koch take was $1 billion. And they got away with it by buying off Sen. Robert Dole, who could not even keep his take.
Palast takes us to the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after a KKK Grand Dragon) in Selma, Alabama, to revisit MLK's brave attempts and ultimate success in crossing it in the long march to freedom that culminated at the statehouse in Montgomery. Blood, death, and hideous abuse and discrimination over a hundred years finally gutted Jim Crow when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The dream was realized before demolished again by the heart-stabbing of the VRA in the Shelby County v Holder decision of 2013. The states most responsible for Jim Crow torture were the first to cash in, passing stringent legislation that gave renaissance to James Crow, Esq. This time the lynching ("white sheets") took the form of digital repression ("spreadsheets") on a massive scale. Palast pinpoints events throughout the era kicked off by the Florida 2000 debacle: the 94,000 "felons" scrubbed from the voter rolls by an outsourced data cruncher (costing taxpayers $4 million) that matched up common names throughout the country: if a man in North Dakota named John Jones had committed a felony at any point, even far into the future, then Jonathan Q. Jones in Florida was kicked off too, even when birthdays didn't match. Most of those eliminated were black--undoubtedly because the voters' race is one of the few data points. Much more skullduggery slimed the Florida scene, but this miasma, by far the worst, is discussed in a few sentences if that, by anyone other than the discoverer, Palast, who did his damnedest to reach the American public with this news before Bush v Gore selected G. W. Bush in 2000 and with him transferred the irreparable harm they saved him from to a good portion of the rest of humanity.
There is footage of the results of this disaster--the decimation of Bagdad, for example: blood, gore, crumbling buildings and infrastructure, untold lives lost or destroyed. Dick Cheney and Karl Rove's ugly countenances are studied in detail. Mission accomplished! Bush is shown proclaiming, commander and chief of annihilation.
Jump to Ohio 2004 and another miasma engineered by Rove and his henchmen SoS/Bush politico Kenneth Blackwell as well as the blighted Triad corporation. Rove began his brilliant career in direct mail and applied these skills to hand Ohio and hence the presidency in 2004 back to W via a variation on his pristine expertise, called caging. This technique discovers likely Democratic voters likely not to be at home because of foreclosure or military service. Then notices, unforwardable, are mailed to their addresses, informing the registered voters that they have a given period of time in which to respond by verifying their addresses; otherwise they are removed from voter rolls as punishment for having given an inaccurate address (RFK Jr. supplies this information and the fact that caging is illegal and a felony). The number of voters eliminated by this process, 350,000, vastly exceeds the 120,000-odd votes by which Bush took Ohio, stole Ohio, adding four more years of red politics and the destruction they wrought on democracy, this country, and the world.
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