Big Business / Corporations

Chernow, Ron. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. 812 pages.

Author Ron Chernow divides this history of the House of Morgan into three parts: the baronial age, which ended with the death of the famous J.P. Morgan in 1913, the diplomatic age from 1913-1948 with J.P. Morgan, Jr., Thomas Lamont, Dwight Morrow, and Russell Leffingwell, and the postwar casino age, when Morgan was three houses in one. (As required by the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, it became J.P. Morgan and Company and its bank, Morgan Guaranty Trust; Morgan Stanley, an investment house; and Morgan Grenfell in London, an overseas securities house.) In its golden age, the House of Morgan catered to prominent families such as the Astors, Guggenheims, DuPonts, and Vanderbilts, and to corporations such as U.S. Steel, GE, GM, and ATT. By the 1980s they found themselves in a more competitive Wall Street environment, and made money by engineering hostile takeovers.

Chernow enjoyed unusual cooperation from the Morgan empire while writing this book. Despite his disapproval of the House of Morgan's support for fascist Italy and Japan in the 1930s, and his ability to throw around concepts such as "interlocking directorates," in the end Chernow is just one more "liberal" scholar who has written a conservative history. There is no mention, for example, of the 1934 Morgan-DuPont conspiracy involving Smedley D. Butler, to organize a military coup against Franklin Roosevelt.

Barnet, Richard J. and Mueller, Ronald E. Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1974. 508 pages (includes 90 pages of end notes).

In the 1970s it was still possible for scholars to affiliate with think tanks whose budgets did not depend on huge corporate donations. This didn't always make them less elitist, but in most cases it made them more honest. Richard J. Barnet, who has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations for more than ten years, was associated with the left-liberal Institute for Policy Studies when he co-authored this book. "Global Reach" is one of the first (and only) books to examine the transnational corporation, which was then just emerging as a separate political and economic entity, with the potential to subvert the historic social-welfare functions of the sovereign state, and thereby affect billions of people.

After two decades of collecting dust on our bookshelf, it's amazing how well this book anticipated our problems. Today's issues are all here, from free trade and the loss of U.S. jobs, to how the transnationals also make things worse for most people in the Third World -- whether through the replacement of culture and tradition with mindless consumerism, or through the outright concentration of income, rape of natural resources, elimination of jobs, and increased hunger. For the 1990s, this book merely needs to change is its cover: it ought to be titled "Global Grab."

Barnet, Richard J. and Cavanagh, John. Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1994. 480 pages.

Richard Barnet and John Cavanagh are veterans of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, a left-of-center think tank, and both specialize in the politics, economics, and culture of transnational corporations. A 1974 book co-authored by Barnet (Global Reach) is more scholarly, while this one is better described as a series of portraits. About half of this book, intermingled with the other half, provides a valuable look at five transnationals and some of the moguls behind them: Bertelsmann, Citibank, Ford, Philip Morris, and Sony. This snapshot from above is based on interviews with some of the CEOs in addition to research.

The other half of the book is all over the map, which is perhaps appropriate for a book about globalization. It consists mainly of anecdotes that illustrate emerging trends in culture, consumerism, and labor. In the final chapters, this is contrasted with the frantic speculation that is now typical of transnational financial markets. The total impression is of a huge, unstable Disneyland with plenty of waste, and lots of people standing in line but not yet suffering. A third book is needed that depicts the poverty and hunger in the Third World, in the shantytowns just beneath those billboards for Marlboro and Coca-Cola.

Auletta, Ken. The Highwaymen: Warriors of the Information Superhighway. New York: Random House, 1997. 346 pages.

As a snapshot of where high-tech was headed, this book was out of date by the time it was published. Except for a fawning chapter on Michael Kinsley and his move to Microsoft as the editor for "Slate," there is almost no mention of the Internet. These sixteen essays were written for New Yorker magazine between 1992 and 1996. There is a fair amount of information on personalities such as Frank J. Biondi, Jr., Edgar Bronfman (Sr. and Jr.), Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gerald M. Levin, John C. Malone, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Ovitz, Sumner Redstone, and Ted Turner.

Ken Auletta is not qualified to report on the digital revolution, so it's appropriate that most of this book is about the analog "information superhighway" of cable TV, broadcast satellites, and Hollywood getting its act together for "500 interactive channels." The chapter titled "Portrait of a Software Giant" is about Viacom, because Auletta defines "software" as movies, sitcoms, and videocassettes. Then there's the problem of excessive toadyism; one critic brutally dismissed Auletta's writing as "CEO porn." But how else do you get access to Hollywood's rich and famous? The chapter on Rupert Murdoch alone is worth the price of this book -- but only because this book was quickly remaindered, and is now available for a song.

Black, Edwin. IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. 519 pages.

Washington-based writer Edwin Black is the son of Polish survivors, and on rare occasions a bit of axe-grinding pops out of his prose. More importantly, the research in this book is thorough, the documentation is solid, and the level of detail is amazing. It describes how IBM, then dominated by Thomas Watson, conspired to keep the Nazis supplied with the punch-cards and machines that made efficiency possible. Nazi use of this technology allowed the comprehensive census-taking that identified Jews, fed the infrastructure that supplied the military and kept the trains running, and even organized slave labor in the camps and factories.

Thomas Watson received a medal from Hitler in 1937, which he returned in 1940. He wasn't pro-Nazi -- he was merely a globalist who increased profits at every opportunity. Throughout the war IBM did business with Germany, although it was soon done discreetly through IBM employees in Switzerland. At every point, Watson was in charge. This book raises issues that are still relevant today, as new technology and new transnationals make a mockery of borders, and remain immune to nations or populations that are adversely affected by these corporations. It's a classic tale of money power vs. people power, in which big money still has the advantage.

Byrne, John A. Chainsaw: The Notorious Career of Al Dunlap in the Era of Profit-at-Any-Price. New York: HarperBusiness (HarperCollins), 2003. 406 pages.

Albert "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap was the CEO of Scott Paper Company from 1994-1995. He laid off 11,200 people and put intense pressure on those who remained to increase short-term shareholder value. The stock went up. Kimberly-Clark acquired the company and Dunlap moved to Sunbeam, leaving a seriously-wounded Scott Paper behind. Scott Paper was the sixth company that was dismembered by Chainsaw Al since 1983. Wall Street loved Dunlap, and Dunlap thrived on the "tough-guy CEO" publicity he was getting. He left Scott with $100 million in salary, bonuses, stock gains, and other perks.

Almost all of this book is about Dunlap at Sunbeam from mid-1996 until he was fired by the board on June 15, 1998. This time no one was fooled and Al Dunlap was stuck with what he had destroyed. Sunbeam was nearly bankrupt. Accounting restatements were required for 1996 and 1997, and the stock went from a peak of $53 to about $6 a share. Even though the SEC accused Dunlap of "massive financial fraud," he was able to settle with only a $500,000 fine. Part of the reason why Dunlap got off lightly is that new corporate scandals were suddenly in the news. The amount of the restatements made by Enron, HealthSouth, and WorldCom, made Sunbeam look like a comparatively minor incident.

Carroll, Paul. Big Blues: The Unmaking of IBM. New York: Crown Publishers, 1994. 375 pages.

Paul Carroll covered IBM for the Wall Street Journal for seven years prior to this book. Even though IBM did not cooperate with this book, Carroll enjoyed extraordinary access to IBM executives during those years. This is a rather impressive chronicle of a company that got too big, too top-heavy, too self-confident, and too isolated from the outside world. The mistakes that IBM made with the personal computer, and with their dealings with Microsoft, are covered thoroughly here. Carroll depicts an overweight and arrogant IBM constantly creating headaches for Microsoft. One suspects that IBM deserved to get the shaft, even if Microsoft didn't deserve the windfall from IBM in the first place. Microsoft gave IBM many more opportunities to do the right and reasonable thing than IBM deserved, and it never even occurred to IBM to treat them with respect.

Some of the details of IBM high-flying are amazing -- for example, spending millions of dollars on foreign junkets for board members and their families. In another case, Jim Cannavino, the head of IBM's PC section, met with Gates in Las Vegas in 1989 to talk about OS/2. Cannavino had a mobile office with a "big desk, plush carpeting, a bathroom, several phone lines, and room for several assistants." He had also "outfitted eight lavish trailers and had them driven cross-country to Las Vegas from New York."

Colby, Gerard. DuPont Dynasty. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984. 968 pages.

Gerard Colby, who previously went by the name of Gerard Colby Zilg, has written the definitive book on the DuPont family. This is an expanded edition of "Behind the Nylon Curtain" by Colby (then Zilg), which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974. When the first edition came out, the DuPonts played hardball with publisher Prentice-Hall and anyone who dared review the book favorably. P-H caved in and slashed its print run and advertising, and despite high demand, ultimately let it go out of print altogether.

Colby first became interested in the DuPonts while working as a press secretary for Congressman John Dow of New York. His research on Vietnam war profiteering led him to the 1934 Senate munitions hearings, which revealed that the DuPonts made over $250 million in profits from World War I. In 1934, according to witnesses and the findings of a House Committee, a plot existed to seize the White House with a march on Washington by veterans who were to be armed by the DuPonts.

The DuPonts, America's richest dynasty, run a network of companies around the world from their base in Delaware, a state which is controlled by the family. To Colby's credit, he avoids much of the titillating family trivia emphasized by other books on the DuPonts, and concentrates instead on the DuPonts' political significance in American society.

Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. New York: Picador USA, 1999. 490 pages. Website at

The daughter of American draft expatriates, Canadian Naomi Klein came out with this stunning book just as the Seattle demonstrators began addressing some of the same issues. This was a four-year effort, almost a "Das Kapital" for Generation Y. Klein is mainly concerned with the marketing influence of corporations such as Nike. But to her credit, she also visits a free-trade sweat zone in the Philippines. (How can labor organize there, when a strike would mean that the U.S. contractor merely switches to another contractor in some other sweat zone within a week?) Klein even has an excellent chapter on the shortcomings of recent campus-based activism, and another on the crummy service jobs available for young people today.

There are problems with this book as well. Some of her analysis of marketing and branding should be focused on the overproduction that leads to false consciousness and over-consumerism. Add to this the huge role played today by speculative international finance, which is basically nonproductive. There's more happening here than branding; Nike's swoosh logo phenomenon is more of a symptom than the real problem. In the end, Klein's fascination with "culture jamming" and adbusting (painting moustaches on billboards, for example) won't provide the answers and activism that we need. Nevertheless, this important book should be read by everyone.

Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. Copublishers: Kumarian Press (West Hartford CT) and Berrett-Koehler Publishers (San Francisco), 1996. 376 pages.

This book has sold over 120,000 copies in 15 languages, because its description of the problem is excellent. Korten has a Ph.D. in economics and business, and spent five years teaching at Harvard. During the 1980s he worked in Southeast Asia as an aid expert, first with USAID and then with NGOs. He moved to New York City in 1992 after concluding that for the world to survive, U.S. policies must change.

Korten's basic point is that the mode and rate of economic growth, spurred by transnational corporations and exacerbated by institutional systems failure, is ultimately suicidal. This is revealed by "a rise in poverty, unemployment, inequality, violent crime, failing families, and environmental degradation. These problems stem in part from a fivefold increase in economic output since 1950 that has pushed human demands on the ecosystem beyond what the planet is capable of sustaining." What's the solution? At the end of the book Korten is bravely optimistic. He makes the case that reform is possible, and that while "issues of class and political power figure prominently in its agenda, the Ecological Revolution is less a class struggle than a struggle of people against an economic system running out of control."

Huffington, Arianna. Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America. New York: Crown Publishers, 2003. 277 pages.

Arianna Huffington, a syndicated columnist who lives in Los Angeles, slings some choice words in this delightful book. The targets of her outrage include everyone from Wall Street analysts to overpaid corporate kingpins, and slavish lapdog deregulators in Washington to the lobbyists who make sure they stay ineffective. This is the book that was written the morning after that huge bubble of hot air during the nineties, when our lovely corporate media pushed the line that we'd all get stinking rich, just so long as we allowed the big stinkers to get even richer.

Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, Adelphia, Bayer, Citigroup, Halliburton, Merrill Lynch, AOL, Xerox -- these are a few of the culprits. Their corporate leaders and lobbyists, and the politicians eager for the soft money that was stolen from unsuspecting employees, consumers and 401(k) suckers, come from both parties. It's not Republican vs. Democrat, but rather it's Tax-Free Unaccountability for the Rich vs. Minimum Subsistence for the Rest of Us. The next time some wretched, lying pundit in a nice suit tells you that a rising tide lifts all boats, stick his head under water and see if he likes it.

Lieber, James B. Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000. 428 pages.

In 1995 Archer Daniels Midland Company, the "Supermarket to the World," had its Decatur, Illinois headquarters raided by 70 FBI agents. ADM was accused of price fixing, and the feds had a mole by the name of Mark Whitacre, who had recorded some conspiratorial meetings between ADM officers and Japanese companies. All the defense had was the best lawyers that ADM's money, and the political connections of CEO Dwayne Andreas, could provide. In earlier years, ADM paid fines on other price fixing charges, but this case was different: Michael (Mick) Andreas, who was expected to succeed his father to the throne, was among those indicted on criminal charges. In 1998 he was convicted and sentenced to 24 months by judge Blanche Manning. Whitacre, who was already in prison for extorting money from ADM, had his sentenced extended. (Once the FBI had the tapes, Whitacre was charged anyway, because by then he seemed unstable and posed a threat to the prosecution.) Dwayne Andreas resigned in 1998 at age 80, and his nephew became CEO.

The author, who practices law in Pittsburgh, spent three years tracking this case and sat through the two-month trial. This book is meticulous in a way that would delight most lawyers. Others, however, may start yearning for a larger social and ethical perspective.

Lisagor, Nancy and Lipsius, Frank. A Law Unto Itself: The Untold Story of the Law Firm Sullivan and Cromwell. New York: Paragon House, 1989. 360 pages.

After two years in the Princeton library, where the archives of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles are stored, the authors knew about Sullivan and Cromwell's ten-year record of cooperation with Hitler. Then they approached the law firm for interviews, but soon a memo went out instructing the lawyers not to cooperate. At that point the authors found a National Archives microfilm detailing the Justice Department investigations of John Foster Dulles's wartime collaboration. They were finally allowed to see a representative of the firm, but he wouldn't answer any questions. A year later Sullivan and Cromwell changed chairmen after some embarrassing press concerning three important partners. Now they were willing to grant interviews to present their side of the case.

But until then the firm didn't like publicity, and this book helps us understand why. After 100 years of creating power and wealth by manipulating the interface between government and business, and with a transnational reach that considers World Wars a mere inconvenience, the story of Sullivan and Cromwell makes it clear that there's one set of rules for the rest of us, and no rules at all for the ruling class.

Manheim, Jarol B. The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. 362 pages.

Jarol Manheim, a professor at George Washington University, has produced a book that is unique, comprehensive, and utterly obscure. This is a history of the organized anti-corporate campaign that began with New Left activists in the 1960s, and today is increasingly sponsored by labor unions. It's not a general, continuous movement (although it could become one soon), but rather a series of nearly 200 campaigns against specific corporations over specific issues during the last 30 years. The worst nightmare of corporate public relations departments, the typical anti-corporate campaign throws it back in their faces, using some of the same mass-media techniques (the author calls it "strategic political communication"). A well-done campaign can have a devastating effect on a company's stock price.

Manheim tries to be academically objective, but he also seems to sense that most of his readers will be professional PR hacks who are paid to know the enemy. The reader gets an occasional innuendo that hints at his distaste for the rabble (maybe we're just sensitive). But the book is so thoroughly researched, with so many concrete examples and so many names, that all is forgiven. This is first time we've seen the terms "power structure analysis" and "power structure research" in print in 25 years. It's been a long wait.

McCann, Thomas. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. New York: Crown Publishers, 1976. 244 pages.

Thomas McCann joined United Fruit in 1952; when he resigned in 1971 he was vice-president in charge of public relations. United Fruit was the most powerful economic and political force in Central America during the 1950s. They were cozy with foreign interventionists and media owners back home, which meant that they could make or break little countries at will. In 1954, United Fruit and the CIA broke Guatemala. The media, having been carefully prepped and by United Fruit's PR experts such as Edward L. Bernays (the "father of public relations"), cheered from the sidelines. (Forty years of death squads and tens of thousands of killings later, it remains very much broken, and our media are happy to keep it buried.)

Guatemala's peasants were powerless against United Fruit, so it took a corporate raider by the name of Eli Black to bring it down. In 1968, when United Fruit was 70 years old, Black began acquiring shares. After six years as CEO, making all the wrong decisions and alienating everyone who could help him, United Fruit was in deep trouble. Black jumped out of his office window on the 44th floor in 1975, while the SEC investigated his bribes to Honduran officials for tax relief on banana exports. Now peasants had only the CIA to worry about -- those thugs from that big banana republic up north, whose job it is to keep all the little bananas in line.

McCartney, Laton. Friends in High Places: The Bechtel Story, The Most Secret Corporation and How It Engineered the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. 273 pages.

It's trite to observe that some of the world's most powerful people and corporations are rarely in the newspapers. An example of the former is John McCone (1902-1991), who made $44 million during World War II on an investment of $100,000. Then he was Deputy to the Secretary of Defense (1948), Under Secretary of the Air Force (1950-1951), Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1958-1961), and CIA director (1961-1965). McCone was involved in the 1973 coup in Chile as a director of ITT, and his other corporate connections are too numerous to mention. He didn't give interviews.

From 1937-1945 McCone was the president of Bechtel-McCone, which became the privately-held Bechtel Corporation when he was bought out after the war. Bechtel thrived on its government and intelligence connections, along with its huge energy-engineering contracts in the Middle East. After Steve Bechtel was appointed to the advisory board of the Export-Import Bank in 1969, generous Exim loans were available for Bechtel projects in the Philippines, Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, USSR, and nuclear power plants in Brazil and elsewhere. When Ronald Reagan needed help at the White House, all he had to do was to place a call to Bechtel and ask to have George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger transferred to his administration.

McLean, Bethany and Elkind, Peter. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. New York: Portfolio (Penguin Group), 2004. 440 pages.

In early 2001, Bethany McLean, a writer for Fortune magazine, wrote "Is Enron Overpriced?" It was the first time Enron had been publicly questioned. Jeffrey Skilling called her unethical for failing to do more research, and Kenneth Lay complained to Fortune's managing editor. They need not have bothered -- Fortune published it anyway, and the story had little effect. No one could understand those complex Enron financial statements. Her article, McLean says, "barely scratched the surface."

Eleven months later McLean was a hero, with a pensive photograph stretching across four columns on page A11 of the New York Times. Today this book is already a movie. What happened? To make a long story short, Enron collapsed spectacularly, followed by other huge corporations that had been enjoying a deregulated bubble economy. The execs at Enron, who used to hang out with important politicians, were now taking perp walks into court, escorted by the FBI. It wasn't entirely McLean's doing -- Peter Eavis from turned up the heat on Enron with negative stories after McLean lost interest. But McLean and her coauthor, Fortune writer Peter Elkind, deserve a lot of credit, because this book is excellent. In addition, McLean, who was just 31 years old in 2002, photographs very well.

Nader, Ralph and Taylor, William. The Big Boys: Power and Position in American Business. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. 571 pages.

Ralph Nader is still a liberal, which makes it amazing that he still does good research. If he were to concentrate his commitment, skills, and resources on issues involving the national security state, they'd have to shut him down. But as it is, America's foremost consumer advocate believes that the system merely needs some fine tuning and rational tax policies, based on an enlightened appreciation of capitalism's long-term interests. There are no inevitable conflicts of interest in Nader's repertoire.

This book, based on exhaustive research and copiously documented, provides portraits of nine corporate executives, each in separate chapters: David Roderick (U.S. Steel), Roger Smith (General Motors), Paul Oreffice (Dow Chemical), Felix Rohatyn (investment banker), Charls Walker (tax lobbyist), Whitney MacMillan (Cargill), Thomas Jones (Northrop), William McGowan (MCI), and William Norris (Control Data). The chapter on Cargill is fascinating, both for what it reveals and what it couldn't. Privately-held Cargill is the world's largest grain trader, one of the largest flour millers, and its second-largest meatpacker. Extracting information from them is next to impossible. A year after Nader started, a Cargill vice president still didn't believe that Nader's sleuths had managed to include some former Cargill employees among the 175 people they interviewed.

O'Shea, James and Madigan, Charles. Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin. New York: Random House (Times Business), 1997. 356 pages.

The authors, senior editors and writers at the Chicago Tribune, take a close look at the elite companies that offer consulting for businesses in exchange for fat fees. These mainly include McKinsey & Company, Bain, Boston Consulting Group, Andersen Consulting, Deloitte Touche, and Gemini. There are a couple of success stories that benefitted from consulting. One is Sears, and another is a small pharmaceutical company.

And then there are the disasters. Andersen got a contract that was directly tied to the number of jobs that were eliminated. More jobs cut meant bigger bonuses, and few or no jobs cut meant cash penalties. Another consultant was into high-tech babble, and caused a company to pour huge sums into systems that were delivered late, and didn't work as well as the old system. A consultant at a super-secret firm, Bain & Company, turned state's evidence based on knowledge he gained while helping a British client, Guinness brewery. The most powerful firm is McKinsey. Self-aggrandizing McKinsey insiders believe that they're a combination of Jesuits and U.S. Marines. The authors leave the impression that business consulting pushes too many philosophical fads, is frequently unsuccessful, and demands high fees that ought to be more contingent on performance.

Pacific Northwest Research Center. Rockwell International: Where Business Gets Down to the Science of War. Eugene OR: PNRC, 1975. Written by Paul Fitzgerald, John Markoff, Roger Walke, and John Woodmansee, with a foreword by G. William Domhoff. 69 pages.

PNRC was a collective of researchers that thrived for a time in the 1970s when "power structure research" meant identifying and tracking the influence of corporate and government elites. One of PNRC's contributions was this booklet on Rockwell International's cozy relations with Washington and Pentagon bigwigs. By looking at Rockwell and its B-1 bomber contract in particular, this booklet presents an amazing case study of how the military- industrial complex works. (Nothing has changed since 1975. In 1991 I was employed by Grumman, which along with Rockwell and others was a contractor for NASA's space station. This latest tax-dollar boondoggle caused me to resign in disgust after only three months of very fat paychecks.)

By the late 1970s the tendency of "the personal as political" replaced "power structure research" on the U.S. left, and progressive funding sources were now controlled by self-interested feminists and multiculturalists. They succeeded in forcing one foot into the power structure by legislating and lobbying for preferential treatment. But this neither exposed nor challenged the way the system works, and by now it's increasingly clear that they were simply bought off. -- D.Brandt

Palast, Greg. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth About Globalization, Corporate Cons, and High-Finance Fraudsters. New York: Plume (Penguin Group), 2003. 370 pages.

Greg Palast was raised in Los Angeles by working-class parents, studied with Milton Friedman's "Chicago Boys" at the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s, and worked for two labor unions as an anti-corporate researcher. In 1997 Palast began writing and reporting from Britain, for the Guardian and Observer papers. His major scoops there were about a payola scandal in Tony Blair's cabinet, the machinations behind the 2000 presidential election in Florida, and claim-jumping in Tanzania by Barrick Gold Corporation. The Guardian and Observer got more than their fair share of nuisance lawsuits over some of this reporting, but Palast had the documentation to persevere. Another story involved Britain's energy privatization, which revealed the hand of Enron Corporation before anyone had heard of them in America.

This book is an in-your-face account of Palast's adventures. The first edition was on the NYT bestseller list in 2002. By 2003 Palast had become something of a cult figure, with a slick website at, and numerous accolades from mainstream reviewers. Today Palast is an exception to the rule that muckraking won't fly in corporate America. You always need one or two exceptions, to make the media look blameless, but that's not his fault. At this point, he may as well see how far he can go with it.

Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. Trust Us, We're Experts! -- How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2001. 360 pages.

John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton are activists who live in Madison, Wisconsin, and work out of their nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy. They publish a quarterly called "PR Watch: Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry" ( An excellent previous book of theirs, "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You!", is also indexed in NameBase. If the U.S. had a hundred more investigative reporters as competent and dedicated as Stauber and Rampton, we could turn this country around (assuming that it's not too late, and such journalism could get published at all).

This book blows the lid off of "expert opinion" and "research" in America. While many recognize the threat from the big corporations, it remained for Stauber and Rampton to show that scientists and experts are often eager to sell their lab coats to the highest bidder. When you hear about some new research, what may be happening is that mega-corporation "A" hired PR firm "B", which hired expert "C" to fake some research. Then "B" organizes some astroturf pseudo-activists "D", to spin the results to the media "E", or better yet, "E" just runs the video feeds produced by "B" on the evening news, pretending that it's a story. This all translates into more profits for "A" through "E", while We the People get "F*****".

Sampson, Anthony. The Money Lenders: Bankers and a World in Turmoil. New York: Viking Press, 1982. 336 pages.

In 1978, Willy Brandt invited British journalist Anthony Sampson to become an advisor to the Brandt Commission on North-South relations. "Listening to the discussions and helping to write the final report, I became more aware that the future of many developing countries was interlocked with the problems of the big banks," Sampson explains. The result was this book, which is as good as it gets on international banking from a liberal perspective. As the author of The Sovereign State of ITT, The Seven Sisters, and The Arms Bazaar -- all excellent books on various aspects of transnational big business -- Anthony Sampson is one of the few journalists qualified to tackle this complex topic.

This is a history of banking, particularly since World War II with Bretton Woods, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and then evolving into Eurodollars, the end of the gold standard, OPEC, and Third World debt. In the end Sampson tries to wrap it up in the social-democratic package that motivated Willy Brandt, which might be described as "better world management for the sake of peace, justice, and jobs." In other words, more international regulation is needed to achieve better stability. Because by the last chapter it's clear that no one has a clue, and the whole system is balanced on "the dangerous edge."

Sampson, Anthony. The Seven Sisters. New York: Bantam Books, 1976. 395 pages.

"The Seven Sisters" sorts out the tangled histories of the seven mega-corporations that dominate international oil: Exxon, Gulf, Texaco, Mobil, Socal, BP and Shell. Their shifting allegiances, Sampson argues, are best understood by remembering that the "sisters" are "basically committees of engineers and accountants preoccupied ... with profit margins, safeguarding investments, and avoiding taxation." The interests of the sheikhs of OPEC, media villains at the time Sampson was writing, clearly lie in defending the world the "sisters" have created. Sampson's analysis stands up well to subsequent events.

The son of a research scientist, Oxford-educated journalist Anthony Sampson writes elegant and exhaustively-researched books about powerful and often secretive elite groups: South Africa's white leadership, Britain's ossified elites, a multinational pirate corporation, the world oil industry, the international arms trade, international bankers. Without truckling, Sampson is able to get far enough inside such circles to show us how the world looks through their eyes -- while also providing a wealth of information that makes independent judgment possible.

-- Steve Badrich

Sampson, Anthony. The Sovereign State of ITT. Greenwich CT: Fawcett Publications, 1974. 335 pages.

"The Sovereign State of ITT" (i.e., International Telephone and Telegraph) uncovers the history of a multinational that long ago became an autonomous pirate state. In the 1970s, ITT became famous, briefly, for bribing Nixon aides to back off an antitrust action, and to intervene to protect ITT interests in Allende's Chile. Sampson tells us much more -- e.g., spelling out the deals the stateless ITT cut with Hitler. It's an instructive tale. Because despite his critics, free-trader George Bush does have a "vision" -- one of a planet organized by corporations much like ITT, and run by men much like former ITT head Harold Geneen.

The son of a research scientist, Oxford-educated journalist Anthony Sampson writes elegant and exhaustively-researched books about powerful and often secretive elite groups: South Africa's white leadership, Britain's ossified elites, a multinational pirate corporation, the world oil industry, the international arms trade, international bankers. Without truckling, Sampson is able to get far enough inside such circles to show us how the world looks through their eyes -- while also providing a wealth of information that makes independent judgment possible.

-- Steve Badrich

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York: Perennial, 2002. 383 pages.

This book is a highly-readable mixture of muckraking and historical research, and it's all about the fast food industry in America that emerged in the 1950s in California. McDonald's is a big topic, with its low-wage workers. Other topics are what's in the meat, what life is like for meatpacking employees, and how french fries are made.

In 1906 Upton Sinclair wrote that "the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one -- there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit." Theodore Roosevelt ordered an investigation, and the Beef Trust went into action. A mild Meat Inspection Act was passed that year. A hundred years later, the USDA still has a hard time keeping up with the meatpacking executives.

McDonald's is merely the standard-bearer of the fast food industry. There is also Pizza Hut, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Jack in the Box, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and many others. Today they're all over the world through the magic of franchises. A 1981 GAO study found that the Small Business Administration had guaranteed 18,000 franchise loans from 1967-1979, and it was still going on as of 1996. Your tax dollars at work!

Smith, Rebecca and Emshwiller, John R. 24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies That Destroyed Faith in Corporate America. New York: HarperBusiness (HarperCollins), 2003. 400 pages.

Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller worked together out of the Los Angeles bureau of the Wall Street Journal in 2001. They were interested in evidence of price manipulation by Enron and other companies, as the price of California electricity had spiked beginning in May 2000, and supplies continued to be a problem. Then on August 14, 2001, Jeff Skilling announced his resignation from Enron. By October Enron's stock price was plunging, and Andrew Fastow, the man behind the mysterious "Fastow partnerships," was fired. On December 2, 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy.

The title of this book comes from its blow-by-blow description of how these two reporters covered the Enron story through interviews, confidential sources, Internet searches, and even reading the fine print in obtuse and incomprehensible footnotes found in SEC reports filed by Enron. The Fastow partnerships became known as LJM, LJM2, and Chewco. In January, Arthur Andersen announced that its employees had shredded Enron documents, and then John Clifford Baxter, an Enron executive, committed suicide. Everything fell apart very quickly. This book does not try to be the most comprehensive look at Enron, but it does provide some of the Woodward and Bernstein buzz that's been missing from American journalism for too many years.

Soley, Lawrence. Censorship, Inc: The Corporate Threat to Free Speech in the United States. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002. 308 pages.

Lawrence Soley, a journalism professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, takes a detailed look at the history of the First Amendment in the U.S. as society becomes more privatized. From company towns and labor camps during the first decades of the twentieth century, to shopping malls, condos, and gated communities at the end of the century, the right to free speech is increasingly challenged by the private-property claims of big-business oligarchies. Other topics covered are labor blacklisting, deregulation of the major media since the Reagan administration, and SLAPP tactics (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation -- those nuisance suits filed by powerful corporations against critics who disparage their products, and also lack the money to defend themselves).

The last portion of this book studies the influence of advertisers on the content of news stories and magazine journalism. Most editors acknowledge privately that pressures from advertisers are part of daily life on the job. Frequently the station owners and publishers who employ editors, are found schmoozing with their advertisers at the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce. Together they amount to an "old boy" network that leaves little room for journalistic ethics.

Stauber, John C. and Rampton, Sheldon. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. Monroe ME: Common Courage Press, 1995. 236 pages.

As transnationals become more powerful than many governments, they discover that information control is the key to further expansion. Today the shock troops of the New World Order are neither the commandos with U.N. patches, nor the gray men from the CIA, but rather the flacks and hacks in the public relations industry. Some academicians estimate that about forty percent of all "news" is fed from PR firms to newsrooms. Journalists get two versions: a slick final version, and a raw one that they can edit. Most budget-conscious newsrooms simply present the slick version as hard news. PR practitioners in the U.S. now outnumber reporters, and some of the best journalism schools send more than half of their graduates into these firms.

Along with those catchy "video news releases" that newsrooms love so much, some PR firms offer industrial espionage, infiltration of civic and political groups, planted stories, and phony grass-roots campaigns. Their corporate clients call this "integrated communications." The grass-roots campaigns, commonly referred to as "astroturf movements," are disguised as concerned citizens driven by conscience to petition the government. Since big money is available just underneath this facade, many politicians are no doubt grateful for the cover that astroturf provides.

Wall Street Journal. Who's Who and What's What on Wall Street. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. 531 pages.

"As we stand poised on the brink of the next century, Wall Street has never been more turbulent or exciting." So says the front flap of the dust cover. We may also be poised on the brink of global financial meltdown, a situation which many of those named in this book created with nonproductive speculation and profiteering. Once you overlook WSJ's bubbly style sheet ("elite investment bank," "bold bet," "capitalize on advancing technology") and realize that they're merely describing a huge casino, this book becomes a useful depository of information on the Wall Street rogues' gallery of top players. Their ethics are depressingly easy to decipher: the most good is demonstrated by the highest profit -- but if you're caught, you get your sticky fingers slapped, and a one-point penalty.

Included are thumbnail "personality profiles" of over 800 officers, directors, and leading stars of major Wall Street firms. These range from an entire page for some of the CEOs, to as little as a single sentence about previous employment for the lesser lights. The firms are Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Salomon Smith Barney, PaineWebber, Prudential Securities, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston, J.P. Morgan, Bankers Trust New York, New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, and two chapters on the regulators: the SEC and the Federal Reserve.

Willis, Clint and Hardcastle, Nate, eds. The I Hate Corporate America Reader: How Big Companies from McDonald's to Microsoft Are Destroying Our Way of Life. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004. 467 pages.

This anthology is a collection of 33 essays divided into nine chapters: They Lie to Us, They Steal From Us, They Own Our Democracy, They Pollute Our Culture, They Use Our Children, They Think We're Slaves, They Poison Our Food, They Poison Our World, and They Are Inhuman. The authors are prominent investigative journalists in many cases, and most of these essays are reprinted from important books and major magazines. About a half-dozen essays were skipped because the original publication was already indexed in NameBase.

Clint Willis also edited "The I Hate Republicans Reader," "The I Hate George W. Bush Reader," and "We Are the People: Voices from the Other Side of American History." He and Nate Hardcastle both live in Maine. Apart from books, thirteen of the essays originally appeared in The Nation magazine, while others are from Mother Jones, Harper's, The Ecologist, Washington Monthly, Atlantic Monthly, Left Business Observer, PR Watch, and websites such as Alternet and Corpwatch.

Woodmansee, John and others. The World of a Giant Corporation. Seattle: North County Press, 1975. 84 pages.

This report, an in-depth look at General Electric, was produced by a group that came together through the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC's National Action Research on the Military Industrial Complex (NARMIC), along with similar efforts such as the Honeywell Project of Minneapolis, tried to understand the Vietnam war in terms of the role played by major U.S. corporations. For the GE project, this group assembled an extensive collection of the company's publications, such as annual reports, company magazines, advertisements, and reprints of speeches by executives. Then they interviewed some GE officials, and combed the press for articles on GE.

Since GE is so diversified, their report followed the same pattern, in that aspects beyond defense production are also investigated: the labor environment, public relations, who's who in top management, the corporate culture, foreign investment, and GE's dependency on the growth paradigm. Over 300 end notes are included. This is a serious piece of research, and it's utterly distressing that U.S. culture, or counterculture, no longer supports similar research projects. Today you'd have to strip out the end notes along with most of the content, add stereo and video, and present it as multimedia. And you'd still have to convince Generation X that it's worth their time to learn about the folks who are pulling their strings.

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