Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

This morning I was privileged to hear Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speak at the Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College. This series brings some amazing speakers to town and this morning was incredible.

Kennedy is a well known environmental lawyer and his speech was exceptionally well crafted. He spoke without notes, but with incredible passion.

He has supported both democrats and republicans in his 22 years as a champion of environmental concerns. He says he has always disciplined himself to be non-partisan. His cause is the environment. Unfortunately, he says the Bush administration has been the worst environmental administration we've had in history, with more than 400 environmental roll backs supported by the Bush administration.

He spoke at length about the media, which I was very interested in. He said, "The biggest lie in America is that we have a liberal press." He said 33% of Americans list their main source of news as talk radio, and 90% of that is right wing.

He talked about the loss of the Fairness Doctrine. When Reagan did this in 1988 I was horrified. I got journalism and telecommunications degrees when the Rule of 7 was gospel and I never imagined it would change. Only five years later, Reagan was butchering it.

The Fairness Doctrine concept was that the airwaves belong to the people, and that radio and TV stations can only use them for things that are good for the people. They looked at things like Hitler, who came to power by controlling the media and didn't ever want that to happen in the US.

So, the Fairness Doctrine said that there could be no corporate consolidation - one entity could own a max of seven news entities so they could not control what was published/aired. Also, it maintained that "news of public import" had to be aired. News shows were always a loss for networks, but they had to have them and they had to tell both sides of the story.

Well, I knew things were bad since Reagan gutted the Fairness Doctrine, but I didn't know it was this bad. There are now SIX corporate entities that own:
14,000 radio stations
6,000 TV stations
80% of newspapers
all billboards
and many of the internet news sources

What that means is that ONE entity can be controlling every news source in your town. You can not hear/see anything they don't want you to see. And the real upshot of this is that commercial broadcasting is only about profit.

So, what do we have? Less news and more entertainment, because that's profitable. Kennedy said, "We are the best entertained and the least informed people on the face of the Earth."

He talked about how Bush did something no other president has done. The Clinton administration was prosecuting 75 of the worst environmental offenders, and investigating another 100. They have 48 million dollars to the Bush campaign. When he got into office he dropped the suits. Kennedy said it's the only time a president has accepted money from a criminal under indictment and then dropped the suits.

He said in 19 states it's unsafe to eat any fish caught in the fresh water because of mercury poisoning. Wyoming and Alaska haven't tested theirs. One out of six women of child bearing age have so much mercury in their wombs their children are at risk for permanent IQ loss, kidney and liver damage, blindness, autism and other brain disorders. He said it could be as much as 7 IQ points. If a woman is thinking about having a child, she should not eat any fish for six months.

The real problem is that people don't connect that the fact that they can't fish or even eat fish is a direct result of the policies of the people they elect. He said this lack of regard for the things owned by the people - from the airwaves to the waterways - is "not just an attack on the environment but a subversion of our democracy."

The point he kept returning to was, "We're not doing this for the fish and the birds. We're doing it for us." He said, "I've never met a republican child or a democratic child."

He had so many wonderful things to say that I think I'll just share a few of the quotes I jotted down:

"Good environmental policy is good economic policy."
"We treat the environment like a business in liquidation."
"Environmental injury is deficit spending."

His whole concept is that we need to be doing things that sustain the environment. He says,we can enjoy the benefits of the environment,but the way we're living now, we're using it up. He used the analogy of draining the pond to get the fish. He pointed out this is not fair to future generations. "We can live off the interest, but the capital belongs to our children," meaning we need to leave something in good shape for future generations.

The idea of fish, waterways, the air and such being owned by the people goes back to Roman times. It's a concept of the magna carta that those shared assets are owned by everyone, not any one corporation.

He said, "We're living in a science fiction nightmare where corporations are stealing air from my children's lungs."

He said using the environment poorly imposes costs on the rest of us, and that's what corporations that are polluting are doing. They're passing their costs of production on to us, by using up our natural resources without having to pay for their production.

He pointed out many administration officials that are former polluters. Now they're supposedly policing the very industries that they once worked in.

He said, "Corporations should not be running our government. They don't share our values. They don't want democracy. They want profit."

Along the lines of profit, 63% of corporations paid no taxes last year. Mull that over when you get your W-2. As he said, "They should not be running our government." He said, "Big government is a threat to our democracy but it is dwarfed by the threat of corporate power."

He said we are close to fascism in this country. His definition was simple and great. Fascism is domination of government by business. Communism is domination of business by government. Our goal is to be somewhere inbetween and walk that fine line. A critical part of that equation is a press that speaks truth to power.

Kennedy also spoke about religion and the connection to nature. He made it clear he is not a nature worshipper, but he said, "We know our creator best by immersing ourselves in creation."

He went on to talk about how so many religious figures had a central epiphany when they went to the wilderness. He talked about Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha and John the Baptist specifically. He also talked about how Christ's parables come from nature - that he referred to himself as a fisherman, vineyard keeper and farmer. He also talked about how, "Christ rebuked the fundamentalists of his time."

He talked about how many in the administration and their supporters talk about their values and that love is central to their platform. Yet, they have violated every mandate of Christianity. I often think about this with regard to taking care of the poor - a central theme in most world religions, and certainly in Christianity - which is something this administration refuses to do.

He said this administration sold themselves as one of values and yet the "only value they have is corporate profits."

He closed with the Lakota proverb used often: "We do not inherit this planet from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children."

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