Books — Political Cage Rattling

More ways to rattle your political cage

Greg Palast - Weapon of Mass Instruction

(Lecture recorded in 2003)

By Amy Diaz 

You think NPR is liberal, check out what Greg Palast would put on there if he were in charge.

In addition to The Joker’s Wild, the political card deck, Palast (rhymes with avast, as in “avast, mateys!”) has released a CD called Weapon of Mass Instruction, recorded live in April 2003 at Flatiron Theater in Boulder, Colorado. It’s an hour’s worth of his recent journalistic investigations. Sort of like if he were interviewed and someone asked him, “What have you been working on lately?”

Like a bloodhound, Palast follows “the money contamination of our democracy” wherever it leads. You can almost imagine he’s a rebel in a tricorn hat regaling the colonists in a local pub. Things are brewing around Greg Palast; the man doesn’t stop asking questions.

Here he recalls tracking down the story of Florida’s voting lists being purged of black voters who were not, in fact, criminals but who happened to have names remotely similar to those of criminals. Reading this in black and white would never be as much fun as hearing Palast tell how the story came together: “…And then I began to show him the document marked secret and confidential, and suddenly he rips off his microphone, does a 20-yard-dash across the camera wires, locks himself in his office!”

Deeply concerned, deadly serious in places, Palast is truly an investigative reporter but he adds a wry sense of humor. “He has said, our president, no one should get their position except through merit,” he says with perfectly timed dramatic pauses, to laughs.

The joy and the drawback to the CD is its off-the-cuff earnestness. You feel like a pal kibitzing with Palast over lunch about your jobs. He’s exasperated, he sighs, he searches for words until he lasers in on his point. This seat-of-his-pants-ness is engrossing and illuminating, but sometimes allows the listener’s mind to wander while Palast’s does.

Much of what he has to say is not widely talked about—unmarked money trails and shady deals, for instance—but it’s beyond clear what Palast thinks of it. He recalls President Bush speaking to the Iraqi people. “I thought he would say, well, maybe, um, y’know, our kids are coming to liberate you, don’t shoot at them. But instead he said this. He said, do not destroy oil wells.’” Palast’s delivery can go from energetic to ominous (and back) in one beat. It can be both simultaneously.

One listen to this and you’ll realize how restrained NPR really is.

—Lisa Parsons

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America, By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Vintage Books, 2004, 347 pages

Molly Ivins has just never cottoned to Shrub.

Her nickname for our 43rd president comes from his years as Texas governor, when the Austin-based columnist was unimpressed with his performance in what is really kind of a low-pressure office, as elective executive positions go. He ran up deficits, rolled back protections for workers and regulations on industry and made social programs—everything from health care to education—harder to get and less effective once you got it, she says.

And that was just in Texas. At least the Lone Star State never went to war with Mexico.

In Bushwhacked, Ivins describes in her typical folksy, feisty style how he has taken what she feels are bad (at best) and deadly (at worst) policies from Texas to the nation as a whole. She talks about the extremely diminished government response to communities that report problems of pollution and Superfund levels of contamination. She talks about No Child Left Behind and how, coupled with a Bush-created state deficit, it made failure almost a guarantee for poor schools and their students. She talks about the war in Iraq and its spurring action to the anti-Bushies (including some cute examples of protestor signs: “Frodo has failed. Bush has the ring.” “Mainstream White Guys for Peace.” “More candy, less war”)

Ivins’ spunky book is both an indictment of Bush and a firing up of her crowd. It doesn’t just preach to the choir, it sings with them. But, with Texas cadence and that smirky sassy humor in every sentence, my what a lovely voice.

—Amy Diaz

The Official Handbook of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: The Arguments You Need to Defeat the Loony Left, by Mark W. Smith, Regnery Publishing, 2004, 245 pages. 

Ever get bored at a cocktail or dinner party?

Sure, some of them are fun, but most have you watching the clock with the intensity of an anesthesiologist. Because, like those surgery-side providers of drugs, you know that every moment increases the possibility of severe pain.

So, I say, jump the gun. Bring up politics and get the uncomfortable looks, the awkward silences and the red faces going. Quickly, you should have an explosion of shakily-constructed philosophies, irrational views, stereotype-driven beliefs and factually incorrect conclusions, all aired at loud decibels.

Now that’s a party!

And you can get that party started with The Official Handbook of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Here is a book that can get you foaming at the mouth, no matter which side of the aisle has your loyalty, and provide you with plenty of fodder to get others to do the same.

Want to rile a room full of Democrats? Explain in exasperated tones all the documentation of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which Smith lays out with near-audible huffs and “duh”s.

Want to muss the hair of a couple of GOPers? Use Smith’s examples, which point out a history of WMDs but no specific evidence of any in the last, say, seven or so years.

That ought to break some ice.

Smith’s book is full of talking points and position statements, though very little on why to support these views. He takes a bit of “liberal lunacy,” a lefty talking point, and answers it with a good right-winger response.

An example: “Liberal Lunacy—‘Occupying Iraq will create more terrorists.’ They said the same thing about invading Iraq remember.”

Now, some might argue that the invasion, justified by some shaky evidence, is what’s made the occupation such a pickle. Smith’s response “By fighting crime, do we encourage crime? Did killing Nazis create more Nazis?...Heck, did fighting Native Americans create more Native Americans (or just more casinos)?”

Smith applies this technique to abortion, feminism, affirmative action, immigration, terrorism, the War on Terrorism, Bush, health care, gun control, education and the death penalty. Fun!

Like I said, stuff this good deserves a roll through the parlor of a lackluster gathering. Just don’t expect to be asked back.

-Amy Diaz

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH