Book Review: Bushwhacked

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Bushwhacked

Author: Molly Ivins with Lou DuBose

Date: 2005

Publisher: Random House

Length: 305 pages of text, 40 pages of references and index

Quote: “There are countless subjects on which George W. Bush might have pleaded ignorance in 1990, but a failing oil business was not one of them.”

As a Texas columnist, Molly Ivins attracted national attention by writing like everybody’s favorite aunt: outspoken but not mean, a consistent Democrat but willing to commend or criticize people on both sides. She liked Ann Richards—there were obvious temperamental affinities. She ripped Bill Clinton for messing with Texas, and she ripped W Bush for letting him.

When W Bush campaigned for President, Ivins teamed up with Lou DuBose to write the warning biography Shrub. Though unchallenged on important facts, and unsympathetic to W’s campaign, Shrub failed to convince readers who were tired of Clinton tackiness that W was anything worse than rich, Republican, and blond. How pleasant it would have been if his administration were now remembered for nothing worse than that! Shrub didn’t warn us of the real danger of a W Bush administration. I have to admit that, although I had foreseen that W might become a “Walking Target,” I didn’t anticipate the terrorist attacks of 2001 either. Few if any people expected the people who hated W Bush to be quite as nasty as they were. I expected the assassination of W, the medical unfitness of Cheney, and another appointed president.

Anyway, when W was reelected, the two disappointed Democrats wrote this chronicle of the other problems with the Bush administration. Oddly enough their faultfinding ignores what most of us liked least about W’s terms: the war. They managed to find 305 pages of domestic disagreement with W Bush.

Partisan? Ivins was always partisan; even her Clinton-bashing book was titled You Got to Dance with Them That Brung Ya. Readers who want to get a complete set of the facts of any historical period need to read what’s written from all sides.

For instance, another example of Ivins’ and DuBose’s wit, which the publishers liked enough to put on the back jacket, was “Republicans win elections in the ‘red states’ in the center of the country, where cattle and chickens are produced and slaughtered…Republicans use the USDA to pay off their contributors in the red states. The result of that crude electoral calculus is laissez-faire food-safety policy whenever a Republican is in the White House. (If you must eat while the Republicans control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the judiciary, you might want to consider becoming a vegetarian about now.)”

I find this analysis of facts that are true, so far as they go, so clever that I could almost momentarily forget how big food-producing corporations buy Democrats, too. (See Jim Hightower, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates.) One of the minor scandals of Bill Clinton’s years as governor of Arkansas was the cronyism that allowed Don Tyson to go on selling chicken, although the birds were cruelly treated and disease-ridden, their litter was dumped into inadequately filtered drinking water, and Tyson was once prosecuted for trucking out chickens that had had bricks of cocaine jammed up their back ends…while the chickens were still alive. (Don Tyson’s heirs identify as Christians, but complaints of fowl abuse continue to plague this company.) In Bushwhacked Ivins and DuBose can complain only that W Bush, due to cronyism, allowed Lonnie Pilgrim to go on selling meat from disease-ridden turkeys. For those who were aware of the sordid facts behind Tyson chicken, the Pilgrim’s Pride story brings the score to 1-3, advantage still with the Republican administration.

Actually, in the long and ugly history of corporations selling food you wouldn’t want your dog to eat if you knew the facts, both political parties have racked up lists of failures to enforce the rules much longer than this…but we still needed this book, because none of the Republicans who so gleefully exposed Bill Clinton’s failures had any interest in discussing the dangers of eating Pilgrim’s Pride turkey. The more you read about corporate food producers, the better vegan food will look to you.

Bushwhacked is recommended to anyone interested in the history of the turn of the century. If not always complete or balanced, it’s eminently quotable. Ivins and DuBose really tried to make the boring Enron and Halliburton stories a good read, and probably came closer to doing so than any other writer ever did or ever will. They documented examples of pre-recession poverty, the shortcomings of the school system, and similar domestic problems for which Democrats tend to think there ought to be a simple solution involving federal funding.

I doubt that Bushwhacked contributed a great deal to the election of President Obama, but for those who want the history beyond the headline news of the first five years of this century, Bushwhacked is an informative source and an entertaining read.

Molly Ivins unfortunately no longer has any use for the dollar she’d get if any of her books, mentioned here or not, were still Fair Trade Books. However, if you send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, you could squeeze at least one of Jim Hightower’s books, which are still Fair Trade Books, into the package along with Bushwhacked.

 Book review cat…again? Why not the chicken?

Book Review: Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

Author: Jim Hightower

Date: 2004

Publisher: Viking

ISBN: 0-670-03354-5

Length: 227 pages, plus index

Quote: “The Bushites are—let me put this as politely as I can—NUTS!…and it’s time we stopped beating around the bush about it.”

What’s an anti-Republican campaign book like this doing on this web site? Although the Blogspot members and I believe that, currently, Republican presidential and congressional candidates are the less dangerous kind, we are all about fair hearings for all sides. Facts tend to be arranged in slanted ways by biased writers, so it’s good to read both Republicans’ and Democrats’ books.

In this book, Jim Hightower demonstrates his skill at a specific genre of comedy: Pick a successful politician, find some statistics about what he’s done, and exaggerate the bad effects for which the politician can in some way be blamed. Extrapolate from every statistic the most outrageous ramifications: “If Bush is elected, you’ll soon be able to surf in Asheville.” “American will reach that long-sought utopian ideal of a nation based on 100% pure consumerism.” “You’ll soon be able to eat [B]russels sprouts that not only taste like bonbons but also will have your heartburn medicine and erectile dysfunction pills genetically spliced into every bite.”

It was funny but perhaps frightening when it was new. Now that W Bush’s second term has come and gone, and we still have the same coastline, a few of us are still working, and Brussels sprouts still taste like leafy green vegetables, it’s comedy all the way. Any time people try to project today’s facts into the future, they’re likely to come up with things as absurd as Hightower’s fantasy about Brussels sprouts tasting like bonbons. That’s the nature of the game. So people trying to draw attention to today’s facts can be excused for going all the way into comédie noire. What’s inexcusable is ignoring the facts.

The sad part is, the facts in Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush are still true. “Having blasted off the top third or so of a mountain—along with its forests and animals—the coal companies then bulldoze the rubble (which used to be the mountaintop) into the valleys and streams below, burying them hundreds of feet deep with what the companies call ‘spoil.’” This has happened. It’s still happening. And we’re not seeing any efforts on the part of W Bush’s alleged opposition to reverse this process.

Where I live, Republicans have started displaying messages like “If you think coal is ugly, look at poverty.” I am looking at poverty, and I can say that I would literally starve before I’d strip-mine my land…but then I don’t have children. By and large coal miners do not want to poison us all; the ones I’ve met are human beings who want to earn a decent living in their own communities. To Republicans I say: there must be some alternative that is preferable to either strip-mining or poverty.

Possibly as a reward for buying a real book instead of trying to read Hightower on a computer, we’re told, “Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and the other pooh-bahs of high-techery…brag that theirs is a ‘clean industry.’…They might try selling that…[claim] to the people around Guiya, China. This is one of the low-wage hellholes that America’s high-tech executives use as a dumping ground for their electronics waste, which includes some 45 million computers that are discarded annually…Computers are loaded with toxins…Poor Asians are paid a pittance to scavenge various metals and other resalable compounds out of these machines. Indeed, about 100,000 people, including thousands of children, in Guiya toil in the midst of piles of electronic trash, using acid to extract traces of gold, dumping cathode-ray tubs filled with lead, opening toner cartridges by hand…Guiya’s groundwater is now so polluted that the people have to truck in water for human use.”

Think about this the next time you call the repair shop and they say, “It would be cheaper to buy a new computer.” For you, maybe…but think about the human beings stuck with the horrible job of “recycling” your old computer. Maybe secondhand parts will serve your needs until you can move back to a clean, Green, non-electric and fully recyclable metal typewriter, or until the industry invents a less toxic way to build computers, after all.

And let’s hope none of the male readers of this book is still buying herbicides to give his lawn that Astroturf look that went out of style approximately five minutes after Astroturf was invented. “Atrazine is the most commonly used weed killer…Atrazine residue runs off into our waterways, and it’s now found in our drinking water, groundwater, streams, snow runoff, etc.—even rain…Atrazine causes male frog cells to produce an enzyme that converts their testosterone to estrogen, perverting their sexuality and destroying their reproductivity…The Environmental Protection Agency allows three parts per billion of atrazine in our drinking water. Yet the frog mutation is taking place in water with only one tenth of one part per billion.” And some people are still looking for a genetic cause for homosexuality?

Hightower is a full-time professional Democrat who would probably like to be called his party’s answer to Rush Limbaugh. He wrote this book as a campaign document, a bit of Bush-bashing. The facts are, however, bipartisan. The real enemy is selfish greed, which affects Democrats and Republicans in similar ways. “Just when you start to cheer for these Democrats, their leader gets caught…In 2001, on the night of December 20…Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle [was] slipping a little ol’ provision into the ‘miscellaneous’ section of the Pentagon’s appropriation bill. Tom’s amendment had been written…on behalf of Barrick Gold…one of the biggest mining corporations in the world…Barrick owns a massive gold mine in Tom’s state of South Dakota…[T]his mine is in line to become another Superfund site, potentially costing the company $40 million to clean up…Daschle’s little ol’ amendment…exempts Barrick Gold from ‘any and all liability relating to the mine’! It exonerates this corporation for all ‘damages to natural resources or the environment.’”

Facts, Gentle Readers. You could read’em and weep. Or, with Hightower’s help, you can read them with a smile…if only the kind of peculiar twisted grin George H.W. Bush wore while declaring the Gulf War. Why agonize when you can strategize? Satire can be a good source of ideas. Fact-packed satires are the best. Check the facts! Use them! Don’t let them be forgotten, merely because the election’s over and the predictions went the way of last week’s weather forecast. Hightower hands us names, and since you’re reading this review on a computer you can type in the names and use the Internet to update the numbers. Thirteen years after the 2004 election, this book is surprisingly relevant.

Hightower is alive and writing at . So, this and his other vintage books are Fair Trade Books. For $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either address in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, you get a clean secondhand copy and Hightower or a charity of his choice gets $1. If the Postal Service is still using the same packages they used the last time I shipped books, you could throw in at least There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos and possibly If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates for a total of $20 (all three, paperback), and Hightower or his charity would get $3. He’s written another book; as usual, we recommend buying new books from bookstores, book parties, or authors’ web sites, whenever possible, to encourage writers.

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