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Published: 11/27/2004

Environmentalist blasts Bush & pals

BY JACK LESSENBERRY

Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy. By Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. HarperCollins. 203 pages. $21.95.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has, in many ways, evolved into the most distinguished member of his generation of his famous family. For most of his adult life he has been a passionate environmental lawyer and activist.

He has mostly shunned the headlines for himself, spending his time raising six children in upstate New York, suing polluters who threaten his beloved Hudson River, and helping promote environmental organizations.

Now, however, he has written a scathing indictment of the Bush Administration's environmental policies which is far harsher and damning than anything I heard any Democrat say during the just-concluded campaign.

"You simply can't talk honestly about the environment today without criticizing this President. George W. Bush will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation's history," he begins.

With that, he launches a well-researched, well-reported indictment of the current administration, which he sees as devoted to no value except the one that calls for maximizing corporate profits, and revering only "its headlong pursuit of private profit and personal power," and "the altar of corporate greed."

In other words, to say that Kennedy sees the Bush Administration as being without any redeeming qualities is an understatement. Beyond that, he appears to think that the "crony capitalism" so much in vogue today might actually lead, if unchecked, to something very like fascism, or as Kennedy puts it, "the control of government by business ... sound familiar?"

Yet you don't have to be a liberal or even a Democrat to be disturbed by some of the information he presents, particularly in the case of what now seems to be unmistakable global warming. Kennedy raises some compelling questions about administration policies and appointments, as well as how we regard what used to be called our stewardship of the Earth.

Nor does he stop there. He gives it to the media, charging that most reporters and editors, particularly in the broadcast arena, are "simply unwilling to cover environmental issues." This is true, Kennedy believes, partly due to laziness and a preference for trash tabloid forms of journalism, but also because he sees the networks as having become little more than mouthpieces for the corporate conglomerates who control most of the nation's media outlets.

"Environmental stories often challenge a network's ideology or corporate self-interest," he notes, blaming the 1988 abolition of the fairness doctrine (requiring stations to air both sides of major issues) for much of the decline of broadcast journalism.

Though Kennedy does a thorough job researching and cataloging a series of environmental horrors, he is least convincing when he argues that "this book is not about a Democrat attacking a Republican administration."

Could have fooled me. Though Crimes Against Nature did not appear until late in the election cycle, one senses it was meant partly as a campaign document. Ironically, President Bush's re-election probably gives this book added shelf life, and raises the question whether Kennedy may be himself thinking of entering the political arena, something I asked him about last week.

"I've been struggling to avoid doing that my entire life. And I don't know what I'm going to do now. But if there is a way for me to continue being effective without running for politics, I'd do that," he said, noting that it isn't an easy lifestyle for a man with six children.

He seemed perfectly sincere. But I wouldn't be surprised if he reconsidered, nor shocked if he was found to be a compelling and attractive candidate, a combination of new excitement with a famous name.

Yet he genuinely cares most of all about the environment, and apart from the polemics, this extremely well-written little book does make us see that we all should, regardless of our politics. "If we want to provide our children with the same opportunities for dignity and enrichment as those our parents gave us, we've got to start by protecting the air, water, wildlife, and landscapes that connect us to our national values and character," he sums up.

Hard not to say amen to that.

Jack Lessenberry is The Blade's ombudsman.



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