“These are the landlords of your planet. Some are fictional — like Tom Brokaw.”

Greg Palast

The Joker’s Wild: Dubya’s Trick Deck
Review by Scott Thill

Speaking of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” most of the evidence that African-Americans were vote-jacked in Florida in 2000 — a tragedy ignored by Gore until it was too late, as Moore’s film illustrates — came from the tireless efforts of Greg Palast, an investigative reporter who’s also responsible for bringing some of America’s most egregious scams to light. Early reporting on the Exxon Valdez drive-by on Prince William Sound? The greed-is-good Enron shell game in Texas and Cali? Bush’s buddy-up with Bath, the bin Ladens and the Saudis? That would be Palast stirring the shit, long before anyone else cared.

Now he’s taken some of the not-so-beautiful losers found at length in his bestselling “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” — reissued in April with new information on Florida’s plans to screw the same people again in 2004 — and assembled them for a deck of cards not unlike the one Rumsfeld concocted for his Project for the New American Century pipe dream in Iraq. The usual suspects are here, resplendent in caricature courtesy of Robert Grossman, the mightier-than-the-sword pen for the Nation, the New York Times and others. Grossman-Palast make a formidable tag-team against Bush-Cheney; I’d like to watch them square off against each other with chairs in the WWE someday. Until then, this hilarious stack should do the trick.

Why a card deck? Because it’s a fitting metaphor for our current political environment, for one. “These are the landlords of your planet,” Palast told me recently. “I thought you should be properly introduced to them. Some of them are, of course, fictional — like Tom Brokaw. It’s a stacked deck; you’ve lost the game before you open the pack. We’ve made these twice as big as other card decks, but not so big you can’t hide them in your cell in Guantanamo.”

According to Palast, humor has always been activism’s hidden butcher knife — check “The Daily Show” for more on that score — and he’s adamant about keeping that tradition alive. “That’s the thing,” he says. “We have to be very careful — progressives should not become grim. The success of the antiwar movement was not built on the gloomy speeches of Tom Hayden but more on the antics and fun of Abbie Hoffman.”

Of course, one man’s antics are often another man’s lawsuit, but the jokes in the Dubya deck are worth a little jail time, especially since some of them include ridiculous quotes from Palast’s respective targets. Pat Robertson’s slam on the Presbyterians — “I don’t have to be kind to the spirit of the Antichrist” — and Tom Friedman’s bias toward military-enforced globalization — “The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist of the U.S. Marines” — land both in the diamonds, along with other notables like Botox zombie Katharine Harris and, my favorite, Pervez Musharraf, whom Palast describes as a “Berserker Muslim fanatic dictator with weapons of mass destruction; in other words, a close friend of George W. Bush.” Al Gore also gets the skewers (“Wife Tipper thinks Marvin Gaye songs are obscene”), as does the aforementioned ExxonMobil, Bush’s top donor — after Enron — which according to Palast netted “record profits of $14.9 billion in [the] nine war months of 2003.”

But it’s not all gloom and doom; righteous cats like Russell Simmons, Amy Goodman, John O’Neill, Jim Hightower, Tundu Lissu and many more own the heart cards, because theirs evidently still work. “The hearts are the non-asshole suit,” Palast explains. “Ass-kickers like federal Judge Rosemary Pooler, who told Ashcroft, ‘No matter how terrible 9/11 was, it didn’t repeal the U.S. Constitution.’ I knew Charles Bukowski when he was a postman, and he’s worth playing just for the line, ‘Americans do things in the worst possible way, like voting for the candidate for president most like themselves.'”

You can be sure that Palast is carrying on the hearts’ sometimes Sisyphean tasks, whether he’s being called to testify before a government commission investigating the cleansing of African-American voters from the 2000 and 2004 Florida rolls or taking Chicago Eight-like swipes at the power elite who’ve been handed America on a silver platter by Bush and his various cronies.

None of this might save Palast from being painted into the paranoid corner by the mainstream (read: multinational-funded) American news media, but he’s used to that by now. “The fact is,” Palast asserts, “that I report for the BBC television’s prestigious Newsnight’ and I write for prestigious newspapers like the Guardian and the Observer. I have George Orwell’s old post, and yet somehow I’m treated like the Unabomber.”The sad thing? That situation might not change, no matter who wins the 2004 election. And the first reader to e-mail me and change my mind on that score wins a free deck of cards in an anthrax-free envelope.

“The Joker’s Wild: Dubya’s Trick Deck”
By Greg Palast
Illustrations by Robert Grossman
56 pages
Seven Stories Press