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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits'



One week before inarguably the most contentious presidential campaign in American history is an apt time to share thoughts regarding the recent Cinema Libre DVD and VOD releases of the 2016 documentary "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." The nature of both this film by Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast and the election require the first of a few diversions into blogland in this review; your not-so-humble reviewer dreads the prospect of a Clinton or a Trump presidency; he is not voting in this election. Consequently, personal politic views are not behind the criticism of this movie.

The spoiler regarding the following review also relates to the nature of the campaign. People who support Clinton will like "Democracy" and want to see it regardless of the views of your not-so-humble reviewer. Folks who back The Donald almost certainly already consider all the assertions in the film false and only will want to see it to challenge these claims or to ridicule Palast. Those of us who comprise the silent middle majority regarding these extremes approach the film with open minds.

The most important things to consider regarding "Democracy" are that even propaganda that supports your position is still propaganda and that there is your side, the other side, and the truth. One further should be aware that Palast is the writer and the director of this report on his efforts to expose the Republicans manipulating the democratic process. The saddest part of all this is that the conspiracy aspects of the story and the timeliness of it coming out a few weeks ahead of the aforementioned election make one hope that it would be better than it is.

The following YouTube clip of the "Democracy" trailer comprehensively outlines the theme of the film and provides a strong sense of how Palast presents it.


Palast begins with highly stylized live-action and animated images that establish the film noir/pulp fiction vibe the permeates "Democracy." These early scenes discuss his prior investigation into Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris manipulating the voter rolls in that state to enable Jeb sibling George to be declared the winner of the 2000 presidential election.

Palast then discusses his desire to hang up his cape and not get involved with assertions of similar wrongdoing this time but being coaxed into springing into action; in other words, he is a crusading legend in his own mind who is the only one up to that task.

Much of "Democracy" revolves around around numerous states subscribing to the Crosscheck system that has the stated purpose of riding purging duplicate names and people who otherwise ineligible to vote from voter rolls. One aspect of this is that most of the affected individuals either are black or a member of another minority group, The very strong implication is that these alleged malfeasors are much more apt to vote for a Democrat than for a Republican.

Palast meets several of these individuals and asks them if they have voted more than once. This is designed to prove that Crosschesk is designed to improperly deprive these people from participating in the democratic process.

Although an interview with county music legend Willie Nelson is intended to add star power to "Democracy," the role of this singer is relegated to disputing claims that he voted in several states under variations of his name. Limiting his role in this manner is very surprising considering the well-known reputation of Nelson to speak out regarding political issues.

Similarly, Palast only has uber-outspoken actor Richard Belzer and hip-hop artist Ice-T appear in cheesy cameos in which they interrogate Palast in the guises of their "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" characters.

Palast also follows the paper trail to high-ranking Republicans and their supporters. This rogue's galley includes the perennial favorites the Koch Brothers, whose influence on American politics is quite strong. One problem regarding this portion of "Democracy" (and several similar segments) is that Palast goes off topic. In this case, the exposed sins of the Kochs include an improper contribution to Bob Dole that seems to relate to Dole using his influence to curtail a criminal investigation of the brothers. This seems extraneous to the benefits that the Kochs derive from a Republican occupying the Oval Office.

Another topically and geographic diversion has Palast traveling to the Arctic Circle to speak with a whale hunter about a plan to ruin the island of that predator in a quest for the oil in the area. As heinous as such a plan is and despite Republican support for it, it is not the same story as the assertions of invalidly removing people from voter rolls in an effort to "steal" the election. This segment also suffers from the aforementioned flaw of Palast depicting himself as both a savior and the only person who is qualified for that job.

The biggest sin of "Democracy" is the highly frustrating repetitiveness of it. Palast communicates his point the first time that provides evidence that individuals and groups of people are improperly being prevented from voting. He does not need to keep doing it ad nauseam. He even has a segment with actress Rosario Dawson that is very similar to the earlier interview with Nelson.

Returning to the earlier statement regarding the truth (and once again diverting into Blogland), Palast seems to disregard that some voter fraud exists and the boys in red equally disregard that said wrongdoing is not nearly as rampant as Fox News and Crosscheck would have us believe,

The past of your not-so-humble reviewer includes being a long-term independent contractor for a leading international private investigations firm. One assignment involved investigating the voting records of the members of the council of a large city that amusingly is built on a swamp. A review of those records revealed that the husband of a council member voted several times after the highly public death of that man.

More recently, the voting rolls in the community of yours truly continued to include the seller of my home several years after that couple moved out of the city and I told the election officials that these former residents moved one city over. It is possible that no one voted in the names of those persons, but the fact that voters were not required to provide identifications would have facilitated someone voting in their names.

The only thing that remains to be stated is that "Democracy" is miles away from being fair-and-balanced, and that veteran reporter Palast may benefit from a primer in journalistic principles.

Anyone with CIVIL questions or comments regarding "Democracy" is welcome to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. Those whose thoughts are not civil are reminded of the adages "I know that you are, but what am I, and "I'm rubber and you're glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you."