Friday, January 14, 2005

Kennedy's book explores crimes against nature

Robert F. Kennedy Jr was at Chapter One in late December signing his new book "Crimes Against Nature." Photo by Willy Cook


In 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy toured the states of Appalachia and returned home appalled by the devastation brought by the strip-mining activities of Peabody Coal Corporation, which took the tops off mountains and filled rivers with toxic sludge. His son Robert Jr. was listening closely as he explained that these corporations were permanently impoverishing the region, perhaps undermining the very foundations of democracy.

Nearly 40 years later, Robert Kennedy Jr. is a professor of environmental law at Pace University Law School and senior attorney of The Natural Resources Defense Council. He flew over the Appalachians recently and found that strip-mining continues as briskly as ever.

His latest book, "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy," is an alarming investigation into the byzantine efforts made by major corporate polluters. According to the book, General Electric, Westinghouse, Exxon and Peabody Energy buy favor in the current White House, stack regulatory offices with corporate insiders, and roll back decades of environmental legislation. Beginning with Reagan era Secretary of the Interior James Watt, Kennedy points out that many of the nefarious "polluters" he reports on follow the "heretical" creed of dominion Christianity and are banking not only on public ignorance, but the apocalypse as well.

According to Kennedy, the Bush White House is in the process of intimidating scientists and bureaucrats in an effort to plunder our nation's natural resources. They employ an Orwellian doublespeak such as the "Clear Skies" initiative to supplant the Clean Air Act, and "Healthy Forests," which signifies the cutting of old growth trees while diverting attention to a dubious War on Terror.

The genuine threats to national security, according to Kennedy, are vulnerable nuclear facilities like Indian Point on the Hudson River, which could kill 15 million and render Manhattan uninhabitable. He also maintains that the sensible alternative to war in Iraq and drilling in the Arctic Wild Life Refuge would be to reduce subsidies for gas guzzling automobiles.

Many of the facts and ideas in this book were first published in an article under the same title on Dec. 11, 2003, by Rolling Stone magazine. The book develops many of the original article's ideas, with an extensive bibliography of sources, including a play-by-play account of the inner workings on Capitol Hill during the congressional vote on Dick Cheney's energy bill. Kennedy describes the latter as "a $20 billion dollar subsidy to the oil, coal, and nuclear industries, which are already swimming in record revenues." The filibustered bill was defeated by only two votes in the Senate.

By keeping track of legislation, clandestine meetings, internal memos, and the careers of big players in the energy legislation business, Kennedy and his staff have drawn a picture of wide-scale conflicts of interest within the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House. The many names include Gale Norton, J. Steve Giles, Ann Gorsuch, Karl Rove and "the dark soothsayer in the occult art of cost-benefit analysis," John Graham. Graham is the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget. According to Kennedy, Graham rose to power after presenting himself as a scholar and becoming head of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, measuring environmental destruction against short-term corporate profitability. Graham received funding as an academic from General Motors, Alcoa, Dow Chemical and others.

In case you are wondering why we don't know all of this, Kennedy points to a collusion between the media and big corporate polluters in a chapter titled "What Liberal Media?" As a spokesman for the NRDC, he went on a speaking tour in advance of the vote on Cheney's pork-barrel energy bill, only to find himself bumped from televised interviews by stories about Michael Jackson and other cultural "pornography." In researching the "Fairness Doctrine," which once required local public service information from broadcasters, Kennedy found that ABC and CBS networks are owned by General Electric and Westinghouse, two of America's biggest sources of industrial pollution. The Fairness Doctrine was dropped during the Reagan administration.

Besides doing his job bringing litigation against Big Energy, Hog Factories and corrupt politicians, Kennedy succeeds in crafting a bedrock manifesto for the floundering Democratic Party. He cites the Puritan John Winthrop's 1630 "City on the Hill" sermon calling on citizens to "steer away from the greed and power politics that had corrupted old-world culture."

"Crimes Against Nature" takes both church and state to the fight for the environment, connecting the survival of "the commons" with the survival of democracy itself.

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