Class warrior

Investigative journalists live by the rule “follow the money,” and few follow the money more closely than BBC Newsnight investigative reporter Greg Palast. Money is power, and when it comes to today’s mainstream journalists, Palast is the odd man out, a reporter more concerned with speaking truth to power than cozying up to it—which probably explains why he works out of London instead of his native United States.

Many Americans would be unfamiliar with Palast if not for the Internet, where his reports on the alleged Republican theft of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections have become a staple on progressive Web sites such as In 2004, a collection of those dispatches was published as the best-selling book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Palast follows that work up with a second collection, Armed Madhouse (Dutton, $25.95), which bears the rather unwieldy subtitle Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf? China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal ’08, No Child’s Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.

The title, taken from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” (“the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse”), informs the reader that the subject matter within is serious. The lengthy subtitle hints at Palast’s tendency to occasionally crack wise despite the seriousness of that subject matter, as he does at the suggestion that George Bush had foreknowledge of 9/11.

“There is one big problem with theories that George Bush knew about the September 11 attack in advance,” Palast writes. “At BBC, my producer insists that one has to have solid evidence before accusing Bush of knowledge of anything at all.”

Palast’s irreverence would be nonsensical if not offered with an alternative explanation, and more often than not, he delivers the goods, by—you guessed it—following the money. To paraphrase the song, following the money changes everything, including perceptions of events previously thought to be written in stone.

For example, it’s pretty much taken for granted that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda attacked us because they are religious fanatics who detest our freedom, democracy and way of life. Not so, says Palast. All you need to do is follow the money—and what bin Laden himself said, in his 1996 declaration of war against the West: “The presence of the U.S.A. Crusader military forces on land, sea and air in the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world.”

It’s not all about the oil just for billionaire petroleum barons. It’s all about the oil for pampered Saudi elites like Osama, too.

It’s not all about the oil for Palast. His reporting on U.S. election fraud included here is unequaled—while the rest of the press worries about sexier computer voting fraud, Palast points out that Republicans are winning elections the old-fashioned way: by denying millions of minorities the vote.

Palast spends considerable time skewering New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s latest best seller, The World is Flat. Friedman argues that capitalist democracy is reshaping—flattening and evening out—the economies of the world for the better. But, as Palast points out, the people getting flattened by the New World Order’s laissez faire policies are the working class, both here and abroad.

Palast sets his sights firmly on the New World Order. Raised in a working-class family, he unabashedly stays loyal to his roots, marshalling facts gathered through hard-nosed investigative work in an all-out assault on the powers that be. After finishing Armed Madhouse, you’ll be glad Palast is on your side.

Or worried if he’s not.