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Truth in exile

U.S. reporter breaks Bush blockbusters -- on English TV


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.)

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