Monthly Archives: November 2008

Op-Ed: JFK Anniversary Tainted By Poor News Reporting


President Kennedy rides through the streets of Dallas. Nov. 22, 1963

President Kennedy rides through the streets of Dallas. Nov. 22, 1963

While browsing through the various and sundry news reports marking the 45th anniversary of the JFK Assassination yesterday, I was struck by one strange but nonetheless glaring error which was reported by several major news organizations around the globe. From a curiously uncited wire service report:

It was 45 years ago today that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as he rode in an open limousine in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.

The gunshots rang out shortly before noon as crowds lining the street watched in horror as the president slumped over in the backseat of his limousine, with fatal wounds to his head and neck.

Okay , now take a closer look at the second paragraph. Anything jump out at you? (OK, besides the fact that the entire paragraph is one big sloppy run-on sentence.)

The wire copy reports that shots rang out “just before noon.” As anyone who has ever read a history book knows, President Kennedy was shot at 12:30 p.m. central time.

This wire story was picked up by local, national, and international news outlets around the world yesterday. All of them ran the erroneous text exactly as it appears above. Obviously, not a single copy editor at any of these media organizations who ran the article noticed or corrected the error. Even more troubling is that none of their readers or viewers did, either. (Or, if they did notice and complain, their comments and letters to the editor were censored.)

Even when I tuned in to hear Dan Rather talk about covering the assassination on Mike Huckabee’s primetime weekend FoxNews program, I was appalled to hear this exact same error repeated again during Fox’s top-of-the-hour news break at 8 p.m. eastern. This time from the lacquered lips of weekend newsbunny, Emerson College grad and Emmy-award winning anchor Julie Banderas:

“And on this day in 1963, the people of Dallas, Texas, lined the downtown streets for a glimpse of their young president as his motorcade drove past. President John F. Kennedy rode in the back of an open limousine, waving and smiling to the throng. Then, just before noon, the smiles in Dealey Plaza turned to horror as shots rang out…”

So…let me get this straight: a bullet, fired “just before noon” hovers in midair for 30 minutes before hitting its’ target at 12:30 p.m.? Wow, that really IS one hell of a magic bullet! (And you thought all that zigging and zagging it could do was impressive!)

In any murder case — certainly in the most hotly-debated murder case of the 20th century — 30 minutes makes a huge difference.  Had shots rang out “just before noon” as erroneously reported, the president would have been assassinated while deplaning Air Force One. (Kennedy’s plane touched down at Dallas Love Field just before noon.) The only motorcade in Dallas that day would have been the one rushing him immediately to the nearest hospital. He would have been pronounced dead by 12:30 p.m., and history would have been written very differently.

Yeah, in a parallel universe. The one inhabited by lazy wire service writers who make up alternate versions of history out of thin air. (Because there is not an encyclopedia in the world which reports JFK’s murder as having taken place before noon.) The fantasy world populated by copy editors at mainstream media outlets worldwide who are apparently too stupid (or at the least mentally-challenged) to fact-check a story. The universe filled with attractive talking heads (“anchor” is too complimentary a word for them) who are too dense and self-absorbed to know or even care if the story they are reading to millions of viewers is accurate.

The Way It SHOULD Have Happened on 11-22-63. Since were making up our own versions of history now, why not try this scenario on for size?

In my parallel universe: The Way It SHOULD Have Happened on 11-22-63. Since we're making up our own versions of history now, why not try this scenario on for size?


The first thing an aspiring reporter learns in journalism school is that every story must answer five questions: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, AND WHY? (Also known as “the five W’s”) The questions must be addressed in the first two paragraphs of the story (known as the “lede”), and the information must be accurate, based on information provided by at least two reliable sources.

In the case of President Kennedy’s assassination, accurate information which answers the first four questions is readily available from any library, history book, encyclopedia, newspaper archive, or a basic web search. This stuff ain’t rocket science. Any ten year-old taking a history exam could gather the following:

WHO? — President John F. Kennedy

WHAT? — Assassination

WHEN? — November 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m.

WHERE? — In a motorcade traveling down Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas.

Now, as for that tricky fifth question — WHY? — that’s the rest of your story.

WHY is the question the American people still want answered, even after 45 years.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to count on our press to find the answer to that one (a notion that certainly wouldn’t surprise longtime JFK conspiracy researchers). After all, if they can’t even give us an accurate account of WHEN the president was killed (a fact of the case which has never been in dispute), how could we expect them to do any serious investigation into WHY the president was killed?


This blog is always critical of the media any time they report bad information about the Kennedy family. We’re quick to point out their easily avoidable errors, outrageous mistakes and boneheaded bloopers.

Unfortunately, they’ve been keeping us awfully busy this past year, as the quality of reporting continues to slide rapidly downhill and somebody’s got to call `em out on it. So we do. But this particular one really hit home for me. If they can’t even get the basic facts straight about JFK’s assassination on the 45th anniversary, this does not bode well for what the coverage is going to look like on the 50th anniversary. Or the 150th.

Heaven help us, God Bless President Kennedy, and Goddamn the lazy, coddled infants of our fourth estate who can’t be bothered to Google the initials “JFK” before running a story about him. Shame, shame, shame!

(And if you think my choice of words might be just a tad harsh, take a listen to this profanity-laden tirade JFK unleashed upon Gen. Godfrey McHugh after the president read a news report he didn’t like:)

(Kennedy, an avid reader, experienced reporter, and tough-as-nails media critic, then called up Arthur Sylvester, his old friend and former newspaperman who now served as Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, to let off some more steam over the “fuck-up”.  This phone call is absolutely hilarious!)


Whoops, They Did It Again

(yes, even the Boston Globe, the Kennedys’ hometown newspaper)

ABC News Can’t Keep Their Kennedys Straight

(apparently, NBC News can’t either. See story below.)

Say WHAT? Matt Lauer to RFK Jr.: “How’s Your Dad?”

(you absolutely, positively can’t make this stuff up, folks!)



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45 Years Later, JFK’s Words Still Resonate



"We must use time as a tool, not a crutch." -- JFK

Today marks 45 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

It is a time when all Americans (even those who were not yet born in 1963) stop to reflect on what our country lost that day for we lost so much more than more than just a man — and we ponder what role that tragic event played in shaping the world we now find ourselves living in.

While it is important that we pause to remember the past, and to ask these questions about America’s future (he would want us to), let’s not allow ourselves to forget the man Jack Kennedy was. Because it seems that far too often, we focus our attention on his death and the many questions that still remain unanswered. Shouldn’t we instead remember his life?

Sitting atop the perch where Abraham Zapruder shot his film of the assassination, a young boy tries to make sense of it all. Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX. June 1, 2008

Sitting atop the perch where Abraham Zapruder shot his film of the assassination, a young boy tries to make sense of it all. Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX. June 1, 2008

Since this somber anniversary happens to fall around Thanksgiving, it just doesn’t seem appropriate somehow to be mournful. Rather, let us give thanks for all of the good things he brought to this world as a catalyst for change. Let us recall the way he inspired people around the globe; the hope and optimism he brought to the presidency. Let’s celebrate his vision, his strength, his courage, his razor-sharp mind, his gracecharm, and of course, that delightful, sometimes wicked wit.

This would be a perfect time to reach for one of your favorite books on the shelf and immerse yourself in some of his words. Listen to some of his best speeches. Because these things are the legacy he left us. His words will live in history forever and cannot be erased.

A single red rose, left by an unknown admirer on the Grassy Knoll in front of the former Texas School Book Depository (now the 6th Floor Museum).

A single red rose, left by an unknown admirer on the Grassy Knoll in front of the former Texas School Book Depository (now the 6th Floor Museum).

Naturally, we all have our own favorite books and speeches of JFK’s; I’ve certainly got a long list of works I find deeply moving and inspiring, but I’ll refrain from making any recommendations here because I feel that how each of us remembers him today should be a strictly personal choice.

But there is one little tidbit I want to share:

On November 19, 1963, just three days before his death, President Kennedy wrote this message for the rededication ceremonies of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

“The goals of liberty and freedom, the obligations of keeping ours a government of and for the people are never-ending.”

Just one sentence, but this says it all. Written exactly 45 years ago, these words serve to remind us all that there is still so much work to do. Lest we forget.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

May 29, 1917- November 22, 1963 

Notes and flowers left for President Kennedy on the Grassy Knoll Fence. Dallas, June 2008

Notes and flowers left for President Kennedy on the Grassy Knoll Fence. Dallas, June 2008


President and Mrs. Kennedy (holding red roses) at Love Field, Dallas. Nov. 22, 1963

President and Mrs. Kennedy (holding red roses) at Love Field, Dallas. Nov. 22, 1963


“Midnight in the Plaza of Good and Evil”

“Happy Birthday, Mr. President” 

“A Word From JFK on Independence Day”

“Former JFK Secret Service Agent Speaks Out in New Book: The Echo From Dealey Plaza”

“Op-Ed: Whoops, They Did It Again”

“Op-Ed: Who Will Carry The Torch Now?”

“JFK on Presidential Leadership”

The “Fearless” Kennedy

Op-Ed: We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself

Dallas D.A. Releases Secret Stash of JFK Assassination Files


Filed under JFK, John F. Kennedy, president kennedy, texas, the kennedys, Uncategorized

RFK Jr. Considers His Political Future

RFK Jr. speaks to reporters after the Triborough Bridge was renamed for his father. Nov. 19, 2008

RFK Jr. speaks to reporters after the Triborough Bridge was renamed for his father. Nov. 19, 2008


After a ceremony in Astoria Wednesday morning to rename the Triborough Bridge after Robert F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy Jr. said that he’d consider joining the Obama administration, and would “look at” replacing Hillary Clinton in the Senate if she leaves for a secretary of state position.

“You know what? I will be of service anywhere I can, inside or out,” Kennedy, an environmental activist, told reporters when asked about joining the Obama administration. “Whatever happens happens. I’ll be working with him in or out, you know, to try to transition off of oil and coal and restore the economy with renewables.”

When I asked him about the possibility of replacing Clinton if she vacated her Senate seat, Kennedy tapped my arm several times, and said, “I got off the plane last night from two weeks climbing in the Himalayas with my wife. So, I haven’t read a paper and I didn’t even know Hillary was being considered for secretary of state.”

When I plowed on, asking him if he’d like the seat, he said, “I don’t know. I would have to look at it. I would have to see if it would work for me and my family. I’ve got six kids, all in school, so I’ve got a lot of considerations other than my own career.”


Story from the New York Observer.


Filed under barack obama, climate change, election 2008, environment, global warming, hillary clinton, media, politics, RFK, RFK Jr., robert f. kennedy, robert kennedy jr., senator robert kennedy, the kennedys, Uncategorized

Bobby’s Bridge


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the dedication ceremony for the new RFK Bridge, Nov. 19th, 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the dedication ceremony for the new RFK Bridge, Nov. 19th, 2008

The Triborough Bridge — Robert Moses’s three spans connecting Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — was formally renamed on Wednesday for Robert F. Kennedy, just one day before what would have been his 83rd birthday. (Kennedy was born November 20, 1925)

At a ceremony in Astoria, Queens, Gov. David A. Paterson, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton, other dignitaries and members of the Kennedy family paid tribute to Kennedy, the New York senator and United States attorney general in his brother’s administration who was assassinated 40 years ago [pdf] during his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The move to rename the bridge had the support of the Kennedy family and was championed by Mr. Paterson’s predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in March. But doubts remain about whether drivers will use the new name, and some have questioned the use of $4 million in state funds to make new signs at a time when New York faces steep deficits. (Just check out some of the comments posted by irate New Yorkers on the Times story page here. Obviously, this symbolic gesture isn’t setting well with everyone.)

Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria, said in a statement on Wednesday:

Robert Kennedy was a great man, but this isn’t the time. While one agency that gets money from the state is raising fares and cutting service to the neighborhood at the foot of the bridge, another has somehow found a way to spend millions of dollars on changing the signage of it.

None of that criticism, however, was evident at the ceremony itself, which was attended by members of the Kennedy family.

The Kennedys and their friends boarded buses to the event outside the Waldorf-Astoria on Wednesday morning. The caravan proceeded with a police escort to the bridge.

Upon arrival, family members were given gold apple pins for their lapels to distinguish them from other guests. Among those in attendance were William J. vanden Heuvel, who was an aide to Kennedy at the Justice Department, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, former Mayors Edward I. Koch and David N. Dinkins and Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney who was one of Kennedy’s boyhood friends.

Ethel Kennedy, seated in the front row next to Mayor Bloomberg, stepped to the podium to receive the signed bill renaming the bridge from Gov. David A. Paterson. She also helped unveil the new green road sign, designating the bridge, at the end of the ceremony.

During his remarks, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of naming family members on the stage who had not yet been mentioned — “so I don’t get into trouble later” — among them Max Kennedy, Rory Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II, Caroline Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith.

Mr. Clinton, in his remarks, made one noteworthy mistake: He discussed the importance of the bridge in linking Harlem, Queens and the Bronx — where Kennedy had done important work in “Bed-Stuy.” Mr. Clinton — who prides himself on being an adopted New Yorker with an office in Harlem and a wife who represents the state in the United States Senate — should probably know that Bedford-Stuyvesant is actually in Brooklyn.

Robert F. KennedyThe Triborough Bridge has been renamed for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. (Photo: John F. Kennedy Library)

Mr. Paterson, who signed the bill renaming the bridge over the summer, called the renaming “a fitting tribute to the man and his legacy.” He added, “Robert F. Kennedy was a champion of social justice and human rights and his spirit is kept alive by his family’s continued commitment to those causes.”

Mr. Bloomberg cited Robert Caro, Moses’s biographer, and Jack Newfield, the journalist, and mentioned that Tony Bennett, the singer, helped entertain the gathering when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia dedicated the Triborough Bridge in 1936. Mr. Bloomberg added:

I think it’s only fitting that the name of such an incredible bridge reflect both the grandeur of its scale and the significance of its purpose.

Robert F. Kennedy is a perfect match in both regards. He climbed mountains — literally. In fact, there’s one in Canada named for him. But he also scaled plenty of mountains in his political career, cracking down on organized crime, helping his brother resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, and fighting for equal opportunity for all Americans — from Bed-Stuy to Birmingham.

As United States attorney general, a U.S. senator from New York, and later, as a candidate for president, Robert F. Kennedy thought on a grand scale and achieved what many thought impossible.

He stood at the summit and saw the true soul of America. And like the great bridge that stretches above us, he tied us together: people of every color, every class, every creed. He united us — as New Yorkers and Americans — in the common cause of social justice. He devoted his life to the belief that America should be a place where any child — regardless of race or religion — has an equal shot at realizing the American dream of getting a good education, and of being elected to our nation’s highest office. He knew that day would come. And it has.

(Wikipedia has already responded, redirecting its Internet visitors to the old Triborough Bridge page to the new page for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge.)

After the ceremony, streets were closed to allow the convoy of Kennedy relatives to return to Manhattan. A party to celebrate the renaming is scheduled for Wednesday night at Chelsea Piers.


Story from the New York Times.

* For a special remembrance of Robert F. Kennedy, we also encourage you to check out the article we posted on this date last year (“Happy Birthday, Bob”) for some very revealing firsthand reflections of the people who knew him best.

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Filed under hillary clinton, media, politics, RFK, RFK Jr., robert f. kennedy, robert kennedy jr., senator robert kennedy, the kennedys, Uncategorized

What Kind of EPA Head Would RFK Jr. Be?



* With all this rumor and speculation flying about regarding Robert F. Kennedy Jr. possibly serving as EPA head in President Obama’s administration, we thought our readers might find this interview from the archives of particular interest right now.

Four years ago, Outside Magazine published a lengthy and fascinating piece featuring Kennedy and former EPA Director Christine Todd-Whitman in which they debate the most pressing environmental issues.

Although this interview took place in 2004, it is still very useful to anyone who wants to know where Kennedy stands — his policy positions on most, if not all, of these important issues has not changed since then.

If you’re curious what kind of EPA Head Kennedy would actually be, this interview gives more than a hint of what his priorities are and a glimpse into his ideas about governing the agency. Had Christine Todd-Whitman realized four years ago that she might possibly be talking to her future successor here, one wonders if she would have consented to the interview at all. It’s certainly a revealing, spirited, and at times heated discussion.

Looking back now and surveying the eight years of environmental destruction brought upon us by the Bush administration (two of those years under Whitman’s watch at EPA), this interview is especially poignant when we see how many of Kennedy’s warnings four years ago went unheeded…until the world energy crisis of 2008 forced us to finally listen.

Now it seems that President-elect Obama is seriously listening to what RFK Jr. has to say — and we hope that his Transition Team reads this article carefully. Please forward it to them!

The Environment: A Debate

What happens when you take two people with passionately opposing views, put them on a river in the middle of nowhere, and tell them to go at it? Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Christine Todd Whitman debate the issue that no one’s talking about.

Robert F. Kennedy, JR. & Christine Todd Whitman
(Andy Anderson)

WITH ALL THE SHOUTING over military records, terrorism, and wartime leadership during this year’s presidential campaign, it’s easy to forget that there are issues besides defense. National security is obviously a major concern right now, but many domestic agendas—including health care, education, and one we’re especially fervent about, the environment—have gotten less attention than the fine print on a rental-car contract.

Regardless of who wins in November, it’s time to put green issues back on the front burner. Over the past three and a half years, the Bush administration has, for better or worse, executed the most dramatic shift in environmental policy in nearly a quarter-century. The White House has radically reshaped the Clean Air Act, ramped up logging in national forests, opened potential wilderness lands to oil and gas drilling, and walked away from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which has been ratified by more than 100 countries. These changes affect the air we breathe, the water in our rivers, and the land on which we hike, ride, and climb.

So, this past summer, we invited Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Christine Todd Whitman, environmental advocates from opposing sides of the political aisle, to meet over a campfire in Idaho’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness for a no-holds-barred debate about the state of America’s natural resources. As chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Kennedy has emerged as the most strident green critic of the Bush administration. His new book, Crimes Against Nature (HarperCollins), is a comprehensive indictment of this White House, charging Bush with eviscerating the landscape to pay back his big industrial campaign contributors. After serving as governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, Whitman became Bush’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator and was the White House’s most visible environmental official until her resignation in May 2003. Many political observers have claimed that she was frustrated with the administration’s environmental policy, but Whitman has always maintained that she left for personal reasons. Though she defends Bush’s record, she’s also writing a book—It’s My Party Too, to be published by the Penguin Press early next year—that advocates a Republican return to more moderate values, including the party’s spirit of Teddy Roosevelt–style conservation.

For three days in July, Kennedy, Whitman, and their families joined Outside editors Hal Espen, Elizabeth Hightower, and Bruce Barcott, along with river guides from top western outfitter Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (OARS), for a float down Idaho’s Salmon River. Every evening, we led the two adversaries to a quiet spot along the riverbank, turned on the tape recorder, and invited them to sound off. The result was a frank, impassioned discussion. There were pointed fingers and raised voices, harsh accusations and angry rebuttals. And there were also—surprisingly—some major points of agreement.

Wilderness has a way of pushing the essentials to the foreground. Without aides, cell phones, or 24-hour cable news, public figures are forced to knock off the posturing and talk more like ordinary human beings. That, at least, was our hope. The Whitman-Kennedy wilderness summit is our contribution to this fateful political season—a shadow debate about how we use our land, air, and water.

Tangled Up In Green



Robert F. Kennedy, JR. & Christine Todd Whitman
Outdoor Leadership School: Whitman and Kennedy square off at Shepp Ranch, on the Salmon River, July 19, 2004. (Andy Anderson)

OUTSIDE: On Election Day, how important will the environment be to voters?
WHITMAN: If you ask voters to name their top issues and don’t specifically mention the environment, it may not even make the list. It might be 20th. If you give them a specific list, the environment still barely makes the top ten. The war, the economy, and people’s jobs are going to be at the top.

WHITMAN: A lot of reasons. Everyone assumes they’re going to have clean air, clean water, and better protection. Other things become more important: making your payments, giving your kids the things you’d like to give them. There’s both a feeling of helplessness about the environment and a feeling that it isn’t all that bad—that there aren’t that many ozone-alert days anymore. People care about it, but they’re getting on with their daily lives. Also, it’s not the kind of thing newspapers want to write about, because there’s a feeling that this stuff is too complicated. And it is complicated.

In my office at the EPA, I kept two books on global warming side by side. One was Bjørn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist, and the other was Laboratory Earth, by Stephen Schneider. Both were written by Ph.D.’s with good credentials. Both of them worked with the same amount of data. Yet they came to opposite conclusions. No wonder people are confused!

KENNEDY: I have a different view of it. The polling data shows consistently that the American public—more than 75 percent of both Republicans and Democrats—cares deeply about the environment. They want stricter environmental laws, and they want them enforced. An overwhelming majority of people in this country want air, water, and wildlife protected. Only 7 percent think those laws ought to be weaker. If you get beyond the newspapers and the partisan politics, Americans share the same values.

People tend to have faith that government is generally taking care of the environment and that the disputes are over incremental fine-tuning at the margins. Very few people understand that fundamental rights and values are in jeopardy.

Republicans and Democrats alike are furious when they understand the magnitude of the Bush administration’s anti-environmental rollbacks. The problem is that the White House has masked its radical agenda with Orwellian rhetoric and stealth tactics that have left the public in the dark.

OUTSIDE: Christie, what’s the environmental argument for reelecting President Bush?
WHITMAN: Neither Bush nor Kerry is going to run on the environment. Bush will run on the economy, on education, on delivering on his promise to make drug benefits part of Medicare. On the environment, Bush will have his people out talking about the good things that this administration has done. The new diesel rule we put out last year will drastically reduce the air pollution from construction and farm equipment. The president is spending up to $250 million a year to clean up brownfields, those abandoned industrial sites blighting our cities. He’s kept his pledge of “no net loss” of wetlands and wants to move it to a net increase.

I’ll be one of those people out there talking about those gains. I’ll admit that there are some things that have happened that I’m not happy with; for example, I thought the administration could have gone further in regulating mountaintop mining. But I really object to the false perception, the distortion put out by environmental groups, that there hasn’t been anything good done in the past three years.

OUTSIDE: Bobby, what’s the case for John Kerry?
KENNEDY: John Kerry’s got a 96 percent approval rating by the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks the environmental voting record of members of Congress. By comparison, Al Gore’s lifetime rating was 73 percent. Kerry’s great on these issues. We’d be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR] if it weren’t for John Kerry. He’s the one who promised to filibuster against opening up the refuge; he’s the one who lined up the Senate votes against it. But this isn’t about Republican versus Democrat. This is about this president. There have been a lot of Republicans out there who are great environmentalists. But everywhere you look, the traditional values of the Republican Party—the ones that Christie’s father, former New Jersey Republican party chairman Webster Todd, stood for, and that she came into power standing for—have been eroded and attacked by this administration.

The Bush White House has the worst environmental record of any administration in our history. Anybody who doubts that should go to the Web site of the group I work for, the Natural Resources Defense Council, where we’ve tracked more than 430 major environmental rollbacks by the EPA and other agencies that oversee our environmental assets.

Five years ago, if you had asked the top 20 environmental leaders in the country, “What’s the gravest threat to the global environment?” they would have given you a range of answers: global warming, overpopulation, habitat destruction. Today, they’ll all give you one answer: George W. Bush.

This administration has simply stopped enforcing the law—or rewritten the laws to accommodate polluters. They’re letting corporate criminals steal our public lands, the air from our children’s lungs, the health of our infants by putting mercury in the water and particulates and ozone in the air. To me, that’s criminal—that those things could be stolen so that somebody can make a buck.

People need to understand that environmental crime is real crime with real victims. I have three children with asthma, including my son who’s with me on this trip. I watch him gasp for breath on bad-air days. One in four children in Harlem now has asthma. We know that asthma attacks are triggered primarily by ozone and particulates, substances coming largely from coal-burning power plants that have been discharging illegal pollutants for more than 15 years. Seventy-five of those offenders were being prosecuted by the EPA when the Bush administration came into office. But this is an industry—energy and utilities—that gave $48 million to the 2000 Republican election campaign. And one of the first things this administration did was drop those lawsuits.

WHITMAN: Oh, please. We did not stop enforcing the law. When I left last year, we had just recorded the largest single settlement in EPA history. Dominion Resources agreed to spend $1.2 billion to reduce air pollution at its power plants in Virginia and West Virginia. The problem was, it took 15 years to reach that settlement. And that’s the difficulty I have with relying purely on enforcement as a strategy to clean up the environment. Enforcement is important, but we shouldn’t judge the effectiveness of our policies by the number of fines and penalties we’re handing out. Is the air cleaner? Is the water purer? Is the land better protected? Are people living healthy lives? Those are the things that’ll tell you. And under this administration, you saw the environment get a lot cleaner—

KENNEDY: No. No. No. You didn’t see the environment get a lot cleaner. The Dominion case was filed by the Clinton administration. And what has happened here is unprecedented in our history—for a corporate criminal to contribute to a presidential campaign and then have cases dropped. Roughly 5,500 people die every year because of the substances coming from those plants.

WHITMAN: We did not stop enforcing the law.

KENNEDY: All you have to do is look at the people who work for the EPA. The three major heads for enforcement—Eric Schaeffer, Sylvia Lowrance, and Bruce Buckheit—resigned their posts, saying this administration was not serious about enforcing environmental law. For anyone to argue that this administration is seriously enforcing law is just a joke.

WHITMAN: The idea that we stopped enforcement is ridiculous. Enforcement has to be a part of it. We brought cases. Sylvia Lowrance retired. Eric Schaeffer had his job lined up way before he left. Bruce Buckheit was frustrated, no question about it. But at times we were all frustrated—these things don’t happen overnight. Many cases are years in the works.

We need to recognize that, while enforcement is important, we’re beginning to get an environmental ethic in this country now. People are expecting good environmental behavior from the major companies. Voluntary programs aren’t going to solve the problem by themselves. But we shouldn’t ignore what they’re doing.

KENNEDY: That’s like saying we can get bank robbers to stop robbing banks by figuring out why they rob the banks and then somehow persuading them not to do it. You can make a lot of money by polluting. And as long as it’s more profitable to pollute than to comply with the law, then you are going to have pollution. Besides, the idea that enforcement cases take too long is nonsense. I do enforcement all the time. Most cases settle overnight. I can take you, Governor Whitman, out any day of the week—and I offer to do this—and show you hundreds of polluters in the coalfields of West Virginia. Mountaintop mining is illegal out there, but the Bush administration has never prosecuted any of the companies doing it. The hog industry is destroying rivers and polluting air all across North America, but you dropped the cases against the hog—

WHITMAN: I have to respectfully disagree on a couple of things. Certainly, the hog industry is going to be subject to regulation, which we extended, and we actually included, for the first time, a lot of the chicken industry—

KENNEDY: Oh, Christie.

WHITMAN: —which is a huge industry. It’s true.

KENNEDY: You’re killing me with this. We had strong regulations for the hog industry before you weakened them to nothing. I read the regulations, which were written by industry lawyers to eviscerate the existing regulations. I’m suing you on your regulations.

WHITMAN: I’m sure you are. You sue us on everything. Everybody sues us. But suing is not always the answer.

KENNEDY: It’s true that litigation ought to be the tool of last resort, but it’s critical nonetheless.

WHITMAN: Look, it seems clear that you’re going to say the only way forward is to throw out Bush. Fine. I’m going to say there’s a lot more to it than that.

Broken Promises

Robert F. Kennedy, JR.
Kennedy hammered relentlessly on Bush (Andy Anderson)

OUTSIDE: It often seems like the two sides are talking past one another. How can we have a healthy debate when officeholders have to balance conflicting agendas, and environmental leaders feel they must never compromise?
WHITMAN: Environmental groups often act as if there’s only one right way to get things done. That’s not reality. But they’ve skewed things so much that you can’t even use the word balance now when talking about the environment. The minute you say “balance,” whichever group you’re talking to assumes they’ve already lost.

KENNEDY: The reason environmentalists get nervous is because balance to us means date rape. The environmental regulations that exist today—the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act—are already the product of balance. Industry had its say when we passed these regulations. The statutes themselves were a compromise. If anything, a lot of them are already weighted more toward industry than the public. Then we get public officials who come into office, stop enforcing the laws, and say, “Well, we have to balance it again.”

Every time we go to the table to get “balanced,” we lose something, because industry controls the debate. The idea that you can say there is a debate about whether or not industrial emissions cause global warming is ludicrous—and yet industry is able to persuade even our highest public officials that the jury’s still out.

WHITMAN: Global warming is one of those issues where the way it was delivered to the public was not handled well. The president reevaluated the issue and decided that, given the California energy crisis and other things going on at the time, mandating reductions

WHITMAN: Environmentalists have skewed things so much, you can’t even use the word balance anymore. The minute you say it, the group you’re talking to assumes they’ve lost.
KENNEDY: Environmentalists get nervous because balance to us means date rape.

in carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, would lead to higher electricity costs and throw our energy supply out of balance. The Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty to regulate those gases, was dead long before President Bush came to office. When Kyoto was negotiated in 1997, the Senate voted down the resolution 95 to zero. And every subsequent year, the Senate has put a rider on the appropriations bill to stop any department or agency from implementing anything that looks like Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol has problems. It requires industrial powers to restrict our carbon dioxide emissions but places no restrictions on developing countries—and the protocol considers China and India, two of the world’s biggest polluters, “developing countries.” The U.S. clearly has the biggest role to play, because we produce more greenhouse gases per individual than any other country, but Kyoto wasn’t going to pass. That was the reality.

When the president decided to get out of it in the spring of 2001, it was handled poorly. It looked like he was saying to the rest of the world, “Sorry, we’re not interested.” And that wasn’t what was really going on. Bush is spending $4.2 billion in tax incentives to develop climate-change technology. He’s not denying that climate change is occurring.

KENNEDY: It is integral to the agreement that the industrialized nations that produce 80 percent of the greenhouse gases take the first step in limiting them. Furthermore, everything we need to do to comply with Kyoto is something that we ought to be doing anyway, for the sake of prosperity and national security. Far from raising costs over the long term, Kyoto will make us a more efficient nation, able to compete abroad and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

OUTSIDE: President Bush defended his actions on the grounds that regulating carbon dioxide emissions would drive up energy prices and hurt the economy. But you’ve each said that there’s no essential conflict between healthy environmental policy and healthy economic policy. Can we really have both?
KENNEDY: One hundred percent of the time, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy, if you measure the economy based upon how it produces jobs and how it preserves the value of our community assets. Environmental injury, on the other hand, is deficit spending—it’s a way to load one generation’s prosperity onto the backs of the next.

In a true free-market economy, you can’t make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich. But what polluters do is make themselves rich by making everyone else poor. You show me a polluter, and I’ll show you a subsidy—a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and forcing the public to pay his production costs. Instead of spending his own money to clean up his own pollution, he’s making the rest of us pay by breathing smog and swimming in polluted water. Corporations are externalizing machines. They’re constantly looking for ways to load their costs onto the public. Our federal environmental laws were all designed to force polluters to internalize their costs the same way they internalize their profits. So I want to ask Christie: How do you persuade them to internalize their costs if you’re not enforcing the law?

Christine Todd Whitman
Whitman emphasized using the carrot as well as the stick. (Andy Anderson)

WHITMAN: You can do it two ways. One, you do enforce the law. Bobby, you and I have this basic disagreement about how much enforcement is getting done. There’s a lot more than you think.

Two, you offer incentives. We don’t need to retire the stick, but we do need to use more carrots. In 1990, the first President Bush created the acid-rain cap-and-trade program. We set a standard that was enforced, but we also provided an economic incentive. And because of that, we lowered the level of sulfur dioxide in the air much faster. Those levels went lower than anyone anticipated.

The problem I have with just relying on enforcement is that the federal government does not manufacture things. The private sector does. We have to tell those companies that we know what’s right for public health, we know what’s right for the environment. And we should set strict standards, but we should give them a choice as to how they reach those standards. We tell them, “Here’s the standard—you figure out how to get there.” Most of them will be smart about it and figure out ways to do it in which they reduce their costs.

OUTSIDE: Bobby, you consistently focus on the sins of industry. It doesn’t seem as though the behavior of 280 million ordinary Americans matters much. But somebody’s buying all those SUVs.
KENNEDY: It’s a distraction to focus on individual behavior, because industry would love to blame this on the people. It’s important for people to incorporate an environmental ethic into their lives, but an individual’s choice to buy a fuel-efficient car is not going to change the planet. What changes the planet is if we have a law in this country that says you can’t build a car that gets less than 40 miles per gallon.

Industry loves those books titled 20 Things You Can Do to Save the Environment, because they distract the American public from putting their energy into changing national policy. Take recycling: The government ought to tell industry, “The onus and the cost is on you. You’re producing the package and making a profit from producing the packaging. You retrieve the packaging.”

The law is this: There is no right to pollute. There’s no right to put any pollution into the Salmon River. The regulations are there, however, because Congress recognized that most economic activity causes some type of pollution. So we have to find ways to allow industry—when it’s important to the public—to pollute. Small amounts of pollution. But outlawing pollution is ancient law. It goes back to Roman times. It goes back to the Code of Justinian. It’s in the Magna Carta. They put people to death in 14th-century England for polluting the air.

WHITMAN: That’s enforcement.

OUTSIDE: We’re here in one of the biggest wilderness areas in the West, the Frank Church–River of No Return. The leading public-lands controversy right now is over ramped-up oil and gas extraction on lands just like this. The administration argues that increased domestic production is of the utmost strategic importance. Meanwhile, environmentalists scream about wilderness being ravaged. What’s your feeling about that back-and-forth?
WHITMAN: Energy is a quandary. All the scientists I’ve talked to tell me that the best we can expect is to meet about 25 percent of our energy needs with renewable resources and conservation. Right now, 53 percent of our energy comes from coal. But coal is a relatively dirty fossil fuel. Nuclear isn’t on the table—people don’t even want to talk about it. People don’t want to drill for oil. Natural gas is much cleaner, but nobody wants a gas pipeline near them for fear of explosions. They’re working with wind power off the coast of Maine, but the best wind farms tend to be in major flyways, and birds get turned into chopped liver when they hit a wind farm. Hydropower is great where it can work, but folks in the West know hydro takes water out of the river, which means salmon can’t get upriver to spawn.

So where does that leave us? We can’t say we’re not going to do anything—we need power. But what we need is a mix of sources, and we need to be more creative about balancing that mix. At some point we’re going to have to allow some kind of exploration. Should that happen on public lands? Maybe, where it’s appropriate. They’re public lands; we need to protect them. But if there’s a resource buried there that would serve the greater public good, it might be all right to allow energy exploration, if we use the minimum footprint and the most environmentally conservative techniques possible.

KENNEDY: One of the things that frustrates environmentalists is this argument that we’ve got to go into sacred places like ANWR to fulfill our energy needs. We’re not saying you can never go into them. We’re saying: Let’s try to get the cheapest, most accessible forms of energy first. Let’s start making investments in conservation before we exploit areas that impose a huge cost on future generations.

Here’s how you do it. If we raise fuel-efficiency standards by just one mile per gallon, we save two ANWRs full of

WHITMAN: We should have much higher gas-mileage requirements. The reality is, the 40-mpg car exists. We have to figure out how fast we can force Detroit to move its whole fleet there in a way that will keep cars affordable. We can do it. We just have to be smart.

oil over the projected 50-year life of the fields. If we raise them 2.7 mpg, that’s more than all the oil we import from Iraq and Kuwait combined. If we raise standards by 8 mpg, we don’t have to import one drop of Persian Gulf oil into this country. Fuel efficiency is an untapped resource. It’s cheap oil.

Christie is right. Our energy portfolio is going to have to include diverse sources. But right now the playing field is not level enough to allow any kind of diversity. The first thing we ought to do is eliminate the lopsided subsidies to the fossil-fuel and nuclear industries. These include hundreds of billions of dollars in direct subsidies and similar sums in indirect subsidies, in which they are allowed to externalize their costs by polluting. If we eliminated those subsidies, it would give solar, wind power, ethanol—those renewable, clean energy sources—a beachhead to compete with the fossil-fuel industries.

WHITMAN: You can’t overemphasize the importance of gas mileage. But I don’t think it’s a question of one presidential administration versus another. Last year the Department of Transportation raised fuel-economy requirements for light trucks and SUVs to 22.2 mpg, the first time that’s happened since the mid-1990s. The question is, how do we get further increases past Congress? The Michigan delegation won’t stand for it.

KENNEDY: That 1.5-mpg increase is a drop in the bucket, and the only way it got past Congress was by cutting a deal that offered a $100,000 tax break for Hummers and killing the tax break for hybrids, which—

WHITMAN AND KENNEDY: —makes no sense at all.

OUTSIDE: The Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight—these are the greenest and hottest cars on the market. They’re both made by Japanese companies. Why isn’t America the world’s leading environmental innovator?
KENNEDY: In this case, $65 billion in annual subsidies to the petroleum industry has allowed oil companies to lower the price of gas. Were we paying the true cost at the pump—about $5.50 per gallon—consumers would be begging Detroit to build fuel-efficient cars. And guess what? Detroit would be building SUVs with the same size and performance of today’s models. Only they’d be getting 40 miles per gallon!

We should be developing the best technology and selling it to Europe, China, Africa, and Latin America. Instead we’re falling behind. If that continues, our whole automobile industry is likely to collapse over the next 20 years. You may see the end of Detroit, because they are so shortsighted.

WHITMAN: When industries get subsidies and the market is distorted, that affects behavior. There’s no two ways about it. I think we should have much higher gas-mileage requirements, and I think Detroit can meet them.

The reality is, the 40-mpg car exists. What we need to do is figure out how fast we can force Detroit to move its whole fleet there in a way that will keep cars affordable, so people will be able to buy the 40-mpg car. We can do it; we just have to be smart about setting the goal and the time frame.

KENNEDY: The irony is that the SUV, the most fuel-inefficient car, is also the most dangerous vehicle on the road.

WHITMAN: But everybody wants them. They all want their SUVs.

KENNEDY: That’s the whole thing. Demand for SUVs is artificially created by an onslaught of advertising that brainwashes people into buying Detroit’s most expensive and profitable product. An SUV yields ten times the profit of a sedan.

Industry can create the demand for its products—even those that harm the public—and that’s why government must play a role. If Detroit keeps building cars that burn too much fuel, that make us dependent on petty Middle Eastern dictators, that drive up our national debt, government has the responsibility to say, “You are using a public resource; you have to use it responsibly.”

People have to understand that these are not esoteric issues. These are issues that go to the heart of everything we consider important in America. If Ronald Reagan had not rolled back gas-mileage standards in 1986, we could have eliminated the need to import Persian Gulf oil by the early 1990s. We might have avoided the current Iraq entanglement.

OUTSIDE: So are we just spoiled?
KENNEDY: I think it’s wrong to say the American people are spoiled. The American people trust their government. They trust that dangerous products are not going to be allowed in the marketplace. Detroit, on the other hand, wants to satisfy shareholders, and the way to do that is to sell lots of SUVs. To sell lots of SUVs, they’ve got to persuade Americans to buy a lot of SUVs, and they have to persuade Congress not to limit their capacity to construct SUVs.

The total ad budgets of all the environmental groups in America, combined, is probably less than $5 million. Detroit spends $15 billion a year in advertising. How do you compete with that?

WHITMAN: But why wouldn’t you be able to compete with that message? We’re trying to solve problems here—OK, let’s solve this one. Why couldn’t you put aside the litigation, understanding that it’s an important tool, and have the environmental movement work with the automotive unions?

KENNEDY: The unions are already on our side on fuel efficiency.

WHITMAN: They say that, but why don’t they pressure their own companies?

KENNEDY: But why doesn’t the federal government do its job?

WHITMAN: Well, why don’t they do it together?

Sharp Dialogue

Robert F. Kennedy, JR.
RFK Jr. cooling off in the Salmon near camp on Lower Rhett Creek (Andy Anderson)

OUTSIDE: Christie, one of the strategies that has seemed to unfold in this administration is that, rather than changing environmental laws through Congress, they make changes quietly, through administrative rules.
WHITMAN: That’s been an accusation and a feeling for some time now. But keep in mind that getting a law through Congress now takes a monumental effort. Bobby will tell you everything we did was just godawful, with a secret agenda to undo everything. There are those on my side of the aisle who think that everything that happened in the Clinton administration involved a secret agenda by the environmentalists. I was told by a lot of Republicans that I was going to walk into the EPA and find a bunch of tree huggers who think the sky is falling. What I found was a bunch of very professional people who really knew what they were doing.

OUTSIDE: And for the purpose of argument, let’s also mention that the Clinton-Gore administration did not enact the environmental Marshall Plan that Al Gore wrote about in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance.
KENNEDY: Well, for six of their eight years, Clinton and Gore were distracted fighting a rear-guard action against Newt Gingrich’s anti-environmental rollbacks. But you’re not going to get me defending the Clinton administration or Democrats on Capitol Hill. A lot of Democrats on the Hill are as crooked as the Republicans. They’re taking industry money, and they’re doing industry bidding.

This is why campaign-finance reform is the most critical piece of environmental legislation that can be passed. If you want to run for Senate in a state like New York, you have to raise $25 million. That means you’re raising $10,000 contributions from people. Do you know anybody who can accept $10,000 from somebody and not feel indebted? That’s legalized bribery.

If you look at all the major environmental issues here in the West—water, mining, grazing, lumber—it’s all about subsidies. We’re giving huge subsidies to the richest people in our country, and these welfare cowboys have got their indentured servants on Capitol Hill demanding capitalism for the poor while they’re protecting this system of socialism for the rich.

WHITMAN: You’re right. When you have to raise a lot of money from a group, you certainly take their phone calls. I don’t believe that everybody gets bought and paid for. But it’s a problem. The framers of the Constitution never imagined that serving in Congress would become a way of life. If it is your way of life, you get to a point where all you care about is keeping that job. So you aren’t that aggressive and you don’t act as freely.

KENNEDY: I’ll say this: I believe there’s no difference between rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats regarding their concern for the environment. Democratic leaders are not paragons. But this administration is as bad as it gets.

Today you have a situation where virtually all the principal environmental agencies are being operated by lobbyists from the very businesses they’re supposed to regulate. The head of public lands, Deputy Interior Secretary Steve Griles, is a mining-industry lobbyist who believes public lands are unconstitutional. You have Mark Rey as the head of the Forest Service—a timber-industry lobbyist who’s spent his career trying to destroy environmental rules. In Christie’s agency, the EPA’s second in command, Linda Fisher, is a former lobbyist for Monsanto, the world’s largest developer of genetically modified crops. The head of Superfund, Marianne Horinko, was a consultant for petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the worst offenders in the country. The head of the air division, Jeffrey Holmstead, was a lobbyist for the filthiest polluters in the electric industry.

I have nothing against businesspeople entering government, but across this administration, individuals have entered government service not to promote the public interest but to subvert the very laws they are charged with enforcing.

WHITMAN: Can I just say something? Linda Fisher, who was my assistant administrator, and Marianne Horinko, the head of solid waste and emergency response, were absolutely dead-on working as hard as they could on Superfund. Not all the budgetary decisions were in our hands.

KENNEDY: Do you defend Holmstead?

WHITMAN: We’re talking about Linda Fisher.

KENNEDY: And Jeffrey Holmstead, who also worked for you.

WHITMAN: Yes, he did.

KENNEDY: Try to make a case that Jeffrey Holmstead is working in the public interest.

WHITMAN: Jeffrey Holmstead has done a lot of hard work in air quality.

KENNEDY: I know you can’t feel that way. Why didn’t you fire Holmstead?

WHITMAN: Over what?

KENNEDY: Clearly, his agenda was to serve his former bosses.

WHITMAN: That’s your opinion. It’s such a broad brush to say that anybody who has ever worked with industry is therefore bad and has an agenda. That’s too simplistic.

OUTSIDE: The Bush administration does seem reluctant to engage in a dialogue on environmental issues.
WHITMAN: They are reluctant. But they’re not reluctant to address the issues; they’re reluctant to engage in the dialogue.

One of the best things the Bush administration has done, and we did it while I was at EPA, was institute a new rule to clean up nonroad diesel emissions. The average backhoe produces 800 pounds of pollutants a year. So we came up with a rule that brought that down to 80 pounds per year—that’s a 90 percent reduction. After the rule came out, the NRDC wrote me a letter saying this was the best thing for human health since we took lead out of gasoline. Within three days there were stories in the papers about how NRDC was getting jumped on by other environmental groups. Within a week I got another letter from the NRDC saying, “Well, we’ve looked at some other things in the Clean Air Act and we’re not entirely happy with the new rule, so could you please not use our letter…”

It gets very discouraging when things like that happen. There’s a feeling of “What’s the point? Why bother?”

OUTSIDE: Those phrases are interesting. Before the 1972 election, President Nixon pushed through landmark environmental legislation—from creating the EPA to the Clean Air Act—with an eye toward shoring up support among centrist voters. But he got nothing but grief from the environmental community, and finally he said, “Screw it,” and nothing more was passed.
WHITMAN: Let me make a distinction. This administration’s attitude regarding environmental issues isn’t “Why bother?” That work continues to go on. It’s more an attitude about promoting it, wondering how much to talk about what you’re doing. It’s also true that, for some in the administration, part of it is a feeling that we’re not going to get any credit from the environmental groups anyway, so maybe we can do some of these things quietly and not enrage the conservative political base.

But I have to tell you, I met with the environmental groups every quarter, and those were never pleasant meetings. Never. And you get to the point where you think, Why am I going through this?

OUTSIDE: Bobby, has the environmental movement gotten caught up in a hectoring mode?
KENNEDY: Any hectoring is unique to this administration. You’ll always have groups on the fringe asking for more. You’ve got Greenpeace, whose view is extremely weighted toward sustainability. Then there are groups solidly in the mainstream, like Environmental Defense, NRDC, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society.

The problem is that, right now, there’s nobody—fringe or mainstream—who can deal with this administration. Because nobody believes them. They’ve used well-intentioned moderates like Christie and Colin Powell to put a face of reasonableness on an agenda that is all about plunder.

It’s frustrating dealing with someone who is so attractive and charming and articulate as Christie, to see her represent this administration, because I know that in her heart she does not believe in the things they’re up to. Their agenda is about rapacious self-interest, and there’s no talking to them. If they throw us a crumb, it’s like pirates who have sunk your ship, murdered your family, and burned your village giving you a lifeboat to sail away on. And they wonder why we don’t thank them.

WHITMAN: This was the attitude we got from the environmental community from the very get-go. I went to the Environmental Ball at the presidential inauguration in January 2001, and the comments I got from environmental leaders told me loud and clear that it was going to take a Herculean effort to gain their trust.

KENNEDY: Well, that’s because we knew what Bush did in Texas. And look what they did to you, Christie. Right at the outset, they totally double-crossed you on carbon dioxide. President Bush made a campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide, you publicly assured the world that his word was good, and then after two months in office Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney pulled an about-face and left you hanging. They destroyed your prestige, and in doing that they told us what they thought about the whole issue—that they’re willing to take the cabinet official who represents the human face of the environmental movement and publicly double-cross and humiliate that person. They were expressing their level of contempt for our entire movement.

WHITMAN: I get very damn tired when you come out and say I’ve been used. As if I’m some kind of idiot. I was governor of a very big state with a lot of complex stuff for seven years. I know what deceit is. I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong. And I know there are two sides to that issue.

You’ve been talking about how I was used and humiliated on the carbon issue. You know what? I have to agree that the president did a very bad job communicating why he went back on the Kyoto Protocol, but I also happen to know what was behind that decision. It wasn’t a deal that was cut ahead of time. I honestly don’t believe that.

You know, New Jersey is not really the nicest state for politics, so I do know when I’m being had from time to time. And I don’t believe that the president’s Kyoto reversal was a concerted, premeditated position. Whether you agree or not, it’s just unfair to leap over context all the time.

Is Compromise Possible?

Robert F. Kennedy, JR. & Christine Todd Whitman
Well played: Kennedy and Whitman wrapping it up at Shepp Ranch (Andy Anderson)

OUTSIDE: Part of why we brought you together was to talk about a third way, about what healthy environmental politics might look and sound like. So how do we get there?
WHITMAN: It has to start with the people. The people have to put pressure on their elected officials at all levels and say, “This is what matters to me. I don’t care about Britney Spears. I care about the health of my children.” The public has to demand it.

KENNEDY: I think there’s a big deficit in the public understanding of the environment. I would not blame it on the environmental community. Seventeen years ago, in 1987, the Reagan administration abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to air conflicting views on important issues. That change also allowed huge corporate consolidation of America’s airwaves. Six giant multinationals now control virtually all of America’s newspapers and television and radio stations. They’ve liquidated their foreign news bureaus and fired investigative reporters. Recently I asked Fox News chairman Roger Ailes why the networks won’t cover the environment. And he said it’s not fast-breaking; it’s not entertaining. Networks know what our evolutionary triggers are. We’re interested in gossip; we’re interested in pornography. And those are the buttons they press. They give us Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson, and very little about the real news that affects our lives.

But we also have a higher part of our intellect. Even though a typical American may pick up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue when they go into a supermarket, they’re interested in other things as well.

Unfortunately, environmentalists have to do stunts or bring in celebrities to get our stuff on television. We can’t get news bureaus to come to a press conference if we can’t get a celebrity there. So it’s your industry, the media, that’s the failure.

WHITMAN: I don’t disagree that the public debate has suffered. What used to be a 30-second sound bite is now an eight-second sound bite. How can you have an intelligent discussion about any issue of real importance in eight seconds? You can’t.

KENNEDY: Four years ago, we experienced one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in our history, and nobody covered it.

OUTSIDE: Which was—?
KENNEDY: The coal-slurry dam spill in

KENNEDY: Good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy. I defy you to show me an instance where it isn’t. The problem is, polluters treat the planet as if it were a business in liquidation. And our children are going to pay for our joyride.

Inez, Kentucky. They spilled almost half a billion gallons of toxic sludge, destroyed 50 miles of river system, buried 35 communities, destroyed the water supply for probably 50 communities. The EPA said it was one of the worst environmental catastrophes in U.S. history.

WHITMAN: What catches people’s attention are catastrophic stories like that. But telling the other side is also important—showing where and how things work. People need to know that they can make a positive difference for the environment, so they don’t feel that it all rests with Congress or the White House.

KENNEDY: The stories are out there, and they’re just as compelling as the ones that drove the environmental movement in the first place: Three Mile Island and the Cuyahoga River catching fire. My children can no longer participate in the primal activity of American youth, which is to go fishing with their father and eat the fish. In 17 states, you can’t do that anymore, because the fish are so contaminated with mercury. That’s a science-fiction nightmare.

OUTSIDE: Christie, are you at all hopeful about these issues?
WHITMAN: Absolutely. First of all, I don’t see the Bush administration as the cataclysmic machine of evil that Bobby does. I’ve known and served with people in this administration. They’re people with a different agenda than Bobby, but most of them are good, solid people who try to do the public good.

The problem is in finding balance—that horrible word. This is a struggle that’s been going on for a long time. It didn’t just start four years ago. There are a lot of people who are absolutely outraged and feel that this administration is giving everything away. There are others who say, “No, we’re correcting the excesses of the Clinton years. It’s just the pendulum swinging back.” What we need to do is stop the pendulum.

OUTSIDE: One person you both seem to like is Governor Schwarzenegger in California, who has turned out to be surprisingly green. What’s going on?
WHITMAN: So far he’s doing a lot of really good, creative environmental work: He’s got a bold initiative on smart growth, he’s backing tough auto-emissions standards, he’s showing terrific leadership. But Schwarzenegger has to fight with his legislature. He’s got hurdles. It remains to be seen how far he’ll take all this. So far, however, he’s being very progressive.

OUTSIDE: How much of what Schwarzenegger is doing can be attributed to the fact that, since he financed much of his own campaign, he doesn’t have the baggage of other politicians in terms of having to please a political base?
WHITMAN: He didn’t have to survive the kind of primary that so often sets up expectations. And that has given him a great ability to flip the bird to people who might expect something from him.

OUTSIDE: Can his example change the Republican party’s approach to environmental issues?
KENNEDY: I hope some of what he’s doing starts to infiltrate the Republican party. Republicans may start to see that, politically and economically, it’s a good thing. I’d like them to find their way back to the party’s Teddy Roosevelt roots, to bring conserve back to conservatism. That’s my greatest hope—that this issue will no longer be a partisan issue.

OUTSIDE: Can both of you name a couple of areas where real progress has been made?
WHITMAN: Most people, if you ask them, will tell you they think things are getting worse. Actually, they’re not. They’re getting better. But with the environment, you’re never home-free. Our waters are cleaner, but 40 percent of them still don’t meet the fishable/swimmable/drinkable standard. That’s not acceptable. The number of ozone-alert days is down, but that’s still not acceptable. We’re not where we need to be, clearly.

KENNEDY: Between 1970 and 1981, we passed 28 major environmental laws. They’ve been a resounding success. We got rid of leaded gasoline, and now children have less lead in their blood and therefore higher IQs. We passed the Endangered Species Act, and the bald eagle, the timber wolf, the Florida alligator, and other species have rebounded. Our waterways used to be sewers; the Clean Water Act cleaned that up.

I agree with Christie: Good environmental policy is always good economic policy. I defy you to show me an instance where it isn’t. The problem is, the White House and the big polluters are treating the planet as if it were a business in liquidation. And our children are going to pay for our joyride.

The role of the environmental community is not to protect nature for its own sake but to be advocates for the future generations of America. Politicians seldom look beyond the next election, or industrialists beyond the next board meeting. The future whispers, the present shouts. Our leaders serve the shouting present. The role that environmental advocates play is to inject the long view. To say, Wait a second. We have a trustee obligation to take care of the next generation.

WHITMAN: That, we can agree upon. We don’t take from our forebears. We borrow from our children.

Copyright 2004 Outside Magazine.



Filed under barack obama, climate change, election 2008, environment, global warming, politics, RFK Jr., robert kennedy jr., the kennedys, Uncategorized

Hillary’s Senate Seat Might Be Up For Grabs After All

Kennedy with Sen. Clinton on the campaign trail in New Hampshire earlier this year

Kennedy with Sen. Clinton on the campaign trail in New Hampshire earlier this year



Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has certainly made no secret of the fact that he would one day love to occupy his late father’s former U.S. Senate seat — and if Hillary Clinton should become President-elect Obama’s secretary of state, RFK Jr. just might see that wish come true.

Kennedy’s name has recently been circulated as a potential cabinet appointee, either as head of the Environmental Protection Agency or Secretary of the Interior in an Obama administration. So the man’s got options, that’s for sure…but at this point, Kennedy’s political future is up to the fates. What happens next is all going to depend on who the Obama Transition Team chooses for these key cabinet positions — and on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Despite the rumors swirling around about her private meeting with Obama in Chicago this week, Sen. Clinton on Friday declined to address reports that she was being considered by President-elect Barack Obama for secretary of state.

New York Gov. David Paterson, who would have to name her replacement, said late Friday that he hasn’t had discussions about Clinton leaving.

Paterson would appoint Clinton’s successor until the next federal election in November 2010.

Clinton, speaking at the state Public Transit Industry fall conference in Albany, opened her remarks by saying that she would not discuss Obama’s potential administration.

Clinton reportedly met with Obama on Thursday in Chicago. On Friday, Obama reportedly met with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as he weighed the job of secretary of state.

Democratic strategists were already talking about possible Clinton successors, including Reps. Nita Lowey of Westchester County, Kirsten Gillibrand of the Albany area or Brian Higgins of Buffalo; state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father held the seat from 1964 until his assassination in 1968 while seeking the presidency.

Many of our readers will recall that RFK Jr. supported Hillary Clinton in her bid for that senate seat eight years ago, and campaigned heavily for Clinton during the presidential election primary contests this year. Once Clinton lost the Democratic party nomination, Kennedy gave his full support to Senator Obama.


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Say “Yes” to RFK Jr. at the EPA!



As many of this blog’s readers already know, President-elect Barack Obama is reported to be seriously considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for a cabinet position, either as head of the EPA or Interior Secretary.

Our team is thrilled by this news — we’ve wanted to see Kennedy play a more active role in our government for some time, and now it looks like he might just have that chance. Imagine an Environmental Protection Agency that is actually run by…an environmentalist! Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? We think so.

We encourage our readers to contact the President-elect’s transition team and them know you want Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in an Obama administration.

Do it here:

Let your voices be heard — NOW is the time to show the President-elect your support for RFK Jr.!

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Filed under barack obama, climate change, election 2008, environment, global warming, media, politics, RFK Jr., robert kennedy jr., the kennedys, Uncategorized