Crimes Against Nature
by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
I bought this book on a whim to accompany Heat by George Monbiot. It has the tag line 'Standing up to Bush and the Kyoto Killers who are cashing in on our world.' so I knew it would be covering an area I am passionately concerned about. I read it in 4 days, in the evenings and at rest breaks at work. The writing is clear although the plots that it uncovers are convoluted and nightmarishly labyrinthine. The paperback edition has an added chapter that dissects the 2004 election result.
The author is an environmental lawyer and Washington political insider, able to use his famous name to speak to almost anyone in the heirarchy and obtain frank opinions and information. He is also intensely aware of the changes that have devastated the US environment and environmental movement over the past 6 years (and more). Until Dick Cheney or George W Bush has a road to damascus revelation and confesses all, I can think of few people better qualified to reveal the evil that he and his cronies have done. Moreover, as a lawyer, he knows exactly how to marshall facts and arguments to back up his claims. And many of them need to be backed up, because they are, in effect, an accusation of conspiracy to commit genocide and treason.
The introduction details how the author is busy on a lecture circuit, telling staunch Republicans how their party and country has been usurped by anti-environmentalists bent on exploiting the common resources of all Americans (the book is heavily ameri-centric, which might be a fault, but for the subject matter) for their own enrichment at enormous cost. At every lecture he gives, he claims, an initially deeply sceptical audience becomes by turns amazed, horrified, and enraged by what has been done under their very noses. And each and every one applauds the messenger, determined to put things right. This, in its way, is the message of hope that runs through the book.
The book starts with GWB's environmental record in Texas (appaling) and his tendency to pander to corporate interests (uninterrupted). It covers the history of environmental legislation - how the clean air and clean water acts restored the commons to the people and how governments have always, back to Roman times, been responsible for ensuring that individual property rights are not honoured ahead of the right of neighbouring property to be unaffected. This is the core principle of sustainable development - do what you like with your own property, but if it has any adverse impact at all on your neighbours, expect to be stopped.
The formation of the Wise Use coalition - a corporate axis designed to oppose and destroy environmentalism - in the 70's is covered, and how it developed into a deep rooted and widespread conspiracy to buy up the federal government with the object of hobbling its 'interference' in business. The movement evolved into a variety of right-wing think tanks, and the harnessing of a (rather gullible) Christian evangelical movement to give the corporate rape of the land, sea and air moral respectability. Their final victory was in 2004, when Clinton was paralysed and embarrassed by trivial transgressions and Kerry's campaign undermined by unchallenged lies in the largely right-wing media.
Then the fun really begins. With no regard for his mandate, democratic accountability, or reason, Bush proceeded to appoint an endless line of corporate shills to key positions in the administration and, orchestrated by Dick Cheney as Bush has never been much more than a puppet, every environmental protection, law rule and regulation was subverted, undermined and destroyed. The catalogue of blatant or covert corruption just seems to go on and on - and the reader's mood swings from amazement at their audacity and stupidity (which regularly made me laught out loud) and horror at the consequences for all of us.
How was all this possible? Kennedy gets to the root of the matter near the end of the book. The media in America used to be operated under FCC rules to preserve balance in the news and diversity of ownership. Both of these principles have been eroded and abandoned, with the vast majority of radio, tv and newspaper outlets in the hands of just 5 immense corporations. These corporations kill stories that might harm their advertisers, promulgate the 'official' stories of the right-wing think tanks without any kind of critical analysis, and select news stories for their entertainment value rather than their inherent importance.
During the 2004 election a poll was taken asking what the voters believed to be the case about a variety of issues, from the Iraq war to the environment. In every case those who got their information from the right wing media (rather than the few remaining liberal or independant sources) believed the official stories and lies. For example, 75% of Bush supporters believed that there was evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 and supporting Al Qaeda. This was a lie supported by the media and never denied or corrected by the government. Anyone attempting to repudiate the lies simply did not get a platform to speak. The poll went further. They asked these Bush supporters if, on the assumption that Iraq did not have WMDs and was not supporting Al Qaeda, the war was acceptable. A majority said that it was not. The conclusion - Bush won in 2004 simply because his voters had been told a pack of lies and never had the chance to hear opposing facts.
The phrase 'damning indictment' is often over-used. But I believe this book should be read by every politician, journalist, pundit and activist in the world. We have seen, in 2006, the start of the backlash against Bush. We must hope that, in 2008, the US will reform itself and become once more, a democracy. As Kennedy points out, it currently resembles most closely the fascist regimes of 30's Europe.