Hidden Facts, Apocryphal Tales



We’ve learned the hard way over the past seven years that George W. lives in his own world-a place in which reality is whatever he wants it to be and facts aren’t allowed to intrude.

We should have known this from the start of his White House tenure, for he practically painted a picture for us. More accurately, he showed his predilection for delusion by hanging his favorite painting in the Oval Office. It’s a 1916 cowboy scene by W.H.D. Koerner titled “A Charge to Keep,” and it depicts, in Bush’s words, “a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail.”

In Bush’s head, that rider epitomizes George’s own courageous political journey, dashing ahead against steep odds. Indeed, many visitors who’ve been shown the painting have commented that the hard-charging character bears a remarkable resemblance to George himself.

Over the years, Bush has added a Christian morality tale to the painting’s narrative, declaring that the artist based it on a Methodist hymn, and that the indomitable horseman is really a circuit-riding minister rushing passionately ahead to spread the religion of Methodism (which happens to be George’s chosen faith).

It’s all very inspiring, except for one small detail: It’s not true. It turns out that Koerner painted the work to illustrate a Saturday Evening Post short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue.” The story is about a slick-tongued horse thief, and Koerner’s painting-far from illustrating bold moral leadership-depicts the horse thief fleeing a lynch mob.

So when Bush says that he sees himself in the painting, he might inadvertently be revealing the truth.


If you live near a factory or chemical plant, you might have noticed curious smells. What is that stuff?

Thanks to a guy named Tony Mazzocchi, we have a legal right to know. The Environmental Protection Agency’s national right-to-know program, which dates from 1984, provides precise data on toxic releases, information that’s invaluable to firefighters, health specialists, environmental monitors, community advocacy groups, and others.

It wasn’t Congress-and it certainly wasn’t the polluting corporations-that provided the impetus for such an essential public tool. The spark plug was Mazzocchi. A wiry, savvy, spirited labor leader (one of the best ever), he even coined the phrase “right to know.” Around 1970, he began receiving hundreds of complaints from chemical workers about plants that were shrouded in what the corporate bosses dismissively called “dust.” Mazzocchi barnstormed across America, publicizing, organizing, negotiating, and lobbying. He helped form grassroots coalitions that gained approval of dozens of state and local right-to-know laws, and finally passage of the federal law that has forced cleanups and saved thousands of lives.

In 2001, George W. began to undo Mazzocchi’s work. At the behest of corporate executives who hate the pesky public, Bush’s regulators have exempted some 3,500 toxic spewers from the right-to-know law.

This is one of the first bits of regulatory monkey-wrenching that Congress and a new president must reverse. If they need inspiration to do the right thing, they should read the book on Mazzocchi’s extraordinary life (he died in 2002). It’s titled The Man Who Loved Labor and Hated Work.


It’s time for another trip into the far-out frontiers of free enterprise.

Today Spaceship Hightower takes you on a perilous journey into the dark hole of commerce known as “The Fine Print.” Our intergalactic guide is Consumer Reports magazine, which always reads the fine print and reports on it monthly.

Take a squint at an ad for an exercise device, for example. It depicts before-and-after photos of a guy who has gone from chubby to svelte. It’s obvious, however, that they simply superimposed the “before” guy’s head on the “after” guy’s body. Still, the ad copy tells potential buyers that the two photos are “genuine” and “unretouched.” How can that be? A little footnote explains it: “Reader understands that by ‘unretouched,’ we may mean slightly altered.”

Let’s move on to a bright star of consumer brand names, Crest toothpaste. The label proudly proclaims, “This Crest is specially formulated to help prevent staining.” Excellent, you might say-until you read the tiny type, which informs you that the active ingredient in the tooth goo “may produce surface staining of teeth.” Still, the company asserts that this product has a “unique whitening ingredient” to remove stains-apparently including stains the toothpaste causes!

Here’s another fine-print twist to cause consumer alarm. Nips candy changed its packaging last year to include a bold box on the front proclaiming “Value Pack!” Always beware when corporations claim to give you a good deal. Sure enough, the new package of Nips contains only 4 ounces of candy-27 percent less than the old package. The price, however, didn’t drop by even a penny.

Then there’s the coupon offering “10 percent off” on a service call. Except the fine print reads, “Not valid on service calls.” Be careful out there.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. His newest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.