Archive for the ‘American history’ Category

Save the EPA from Republican bomb-throwers with a Smogtown Op-Ed in the NY Times, and other green news

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

* A snippet from my editorial in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” online roudtable about whether Republican presidential candidates calling for the EPA’s dissolution have a point or are just giving red-meat to a fatigued, job-hungry people:

” … In national politics, California may be seen as Exhibit A for over-regulating the environment. But anyone making that argument must ignore what the state was like before the Environmental Protection Agency. Its rules and enforcement have made California a livable, thriving state. Now, if you’re a Republican presidential candidate irate about America’s wheezy economy, it’s easy to go Red Queen and call for guillotining the E.P.A. Scapegoating regulators as job-killing obstructionists can pump up the faithful, but it doesn’t reflect well on America’s environmental maturity. None of the White House hopefuls mention the expected $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits from the Clean Air Act by 2020. Few of the greenhouse skeptics, in fact, even broach fresh air at all, perhaps because they hail from states where it was never toxic …”

Read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, and you’ll see just how instrumental California’s smog epidemic was in galvanizing an environmental ethos that led to creation of the EPA itself. The effects of those untamed, brown-exhaust-blowing tailpipes spawned a bureaucracy.

And now for something completely greener, we think.

* San Joaquin Valley toxic dump agrees to spend $1 million to better manage hazardous waste. From the L.A. Times:

“A toxic waste dump near a San Joaquin Valley community plagued by birth defects has agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and spend $600,000 on laboratory upgrades needed to properly manage hazardous materials at the facility, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. The penalties were part of a consent decree that capped an 18-month investigation by the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control into the Chemical Waste Management landfill about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community of 1,500 mostly low-income Latino farmworkers. Company records revealed at least 18 instances over the last six years in which toxic waste had to be excavated from the landfill after it was learned that the laboratory had mistakenly concluded the material met treatment standards, EPA officials said …”

* The California-led greenhosue gas cap-and-trade was supposed to be a shiney achievement of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. It’s turned out to be something much more complicated, divisive and legally perilious than anyone believed. Still, the state Air Resources Board remains behind it through the court challenges and liberal backlash. Having covered the Anne Sholtz caper with the smog cap and trade here in Southern California, color me skeptical about how much a green market will achieve. Then again, this is the West Coast where we build the future day by day. From the L.A. Times:

“The California Air Resources Board voted to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan Wednesday, a decision that puts the nation’s first-ever state carbon trading program back on track, for now. The on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009. A San Francisco judge in March ordered the air board to more comprehensively analyze alternatives to the market-based trading system, such as a carbon tax or fee. In a unanimous vote in Sacramento on Wednesday, the board adopted the revised environmental analysis while still affirming its original decision. But the board’s vote may not forestall another legal challenge. The original plaintiffs argued in Wednesday’s hearing that the revised analysis still failed to adequately consider other options. UCLA law professor Cara Horowitz said “most assuredly” the matter would be back before the court. Board chief Mary Nichols said she has not always supported cap and trade in part because it would be difficult to administer. “I had my doubts,” she said, adding that many details remain to be hashed out. “It is a form of California leadership that involves some risk. This is still the most viable of the alternatives to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Originally scheduled for implementation next year, industry compliance with the cap-and-trade program will now take effect in 2013 …”

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

The scar that unlocked the timing of my brother’s intersection with history, Kennedy style

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

On what would prove to be the last full day of his life, Robert Francis Kennedy saw his son drowning in the California surf. It was June 4, 1968, and the windswept Pacific Ocean was chilly, the summer sky gray. Kennedy and his family were spending primary day here on the coast with a friend, Hollywood director John Frankenheimer. By night-fall (or early morning in the pre-Internet age), America would probably know whether Kennedy or Hubert Humprhey would be the Democratic nominee in the upcoming presidential election. Richard Nixon would be the Republican challenger in a few months.

Then, electoral votes no longer mattered. Breathing did.

According to numerous accounts, a crashing breaker knocked Kennedy’s 12-year-old boy, David, off his feet and a severe undertow yanked him down, trapping him beneath the water-line. Robert Kennedy, who’d been swiming with his kids, dove under the waves to save his child. Both were scuffed up during the rescue, RFK bearing a scar and bruise close to where he parted his hair afterwards. Supposedly, David promised his father he’d return the favor when he had his chance. Frankenheimer, meanwhile, applied theatrical makeup to his guest’s forehead, because Kennedy would be speaking that night in the crowded ballroom of Mid-Wilshire’s Ambassador Hotel. He couldn’t go on stage looking as though he’d already taken a hard object off the noggin.

This account is told here, here and here, among other places.

So why am I dredging up what is now forty-three-year-old history? Because of the caldendar, actually.

This spring, I posted two candid photographs that my older brother, Paul, snapped of RFK near the Biltmore Hotel downtown. Paul then was a a 21-year-old USC senior and part-time county statistician. Robert Kennedy, 42, was a former U.S. Senator from New York, ex-U.S. Attorney General in the cabinet of his assassinated older brother, John Kennedy, and, now, leading man of the Kennedy political royalty. He was also without Secret Service protection, which, prior to his murder in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen just after midnight on June 5, was only given to presidents and not candidates.

When the photos fanned around the web, some disputed my brother’s belief that he took them on June 4, Kennedy’s last day. One former Kennedy confidante, former labor leader Paul Schrade, insisted the photos could not have been taken on that date because everybody knows RFK was in Malibu relaxing before heading off to his fateful encounter at the Ambassador. The timing issue of an amateur shutterbug’s intersection with history four decades ago was enough of an attention-getter that an L.A. Times blogger tried pinpointing it by comparing RFK’s tie in the car where Paul saw him and other pictures of RFK that day. Nothing conclusive stood out. What came across was RFK was in the backseat of a sedan, fist-pumping well-wishers with some media watching, on an excursion into downtown with aides no one can accurately identify.

Now, examine the photographs carefully. Zoom in on them, espeically this closer shot . Get a magnifying glass out. When you do, you’ll see the narrow, mishapen, maybe inch-long mark that RFK had evidently just sustained from rescuing his son against the ocean’s hard bottom. I have searched through pre-June pictures of him and never saw the blemish before. If that scar was fresh, that means my brother’s photographs really were taken when he believed they were: hours before Sirhan Sirhan assassinated the man who might’ve ended Vietnam, healed the nation’s cultural wounds and avoided Watergate.

The credit for connecting RFK’s forehead scar with the date of the mystery photos goes not to me, or Kennedy historians or anyone in his inner circle or public eye. The observation and conclusion goes to a music publisher named Dave Loughlin from North Carolina. A longtime Kennedy believer and political-watcher, he found the shots on the web and did some sleuthing. To him I say “bravo.” If there are others with thoughts and comments, please contact me. I’m so gratified that the man from North Carolina took the time to put two and two together and contacted me. It equalled the scar, a time stamp if you will, from June 4, 1968.

Life, not unexpectedly, sunk for David after that day at the beach.

” … At just after Midnight on June 5, David watched on TV as his father claimed victory in the California presidential primary election, then the 12-year-old listened in horror as the same broadcast reported the Senator’s assassination moments later. The event left an emotional scar on David. He began recreational drug use shortly thereafter. David tried to combat his addictions many times. He completed a month-long stint at St. Mary’s Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis just before Easter 1984. He flew down to Palm Beach, Florida on April 19, 1984 for Easter, where several members of the Kennedy family had gathered. David checked into room 107 of the Brazilian Court hotel and spent the next few days partying. At the insistence of concerned family members, staff went to check on his welfare and found David dead on the floor of his suite from an overdose of cocaine, Demerol and Mellaril on April 25, 1984. David Kennedy was interred in the family plot at Holyhood Cemetery, in Brookline, Massachusetts.”

For posterity, here’s RFK at the Ambassador before darkness fell.

Now, this is a big deal – California cementing its commitment to green energy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

– From the L.A. Times story: “A mandate that California utilities increase their use of renewable energy sailed through the state Assembly on Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. Environmental groups say the legislation is the most ambitious of its kind in the country. It would require the state’s electricity companies to provide 33% of power from renewable resources by the year 2020. State law now sets a 20% goal. Supporters made their case by invoking the nuclear plant problems in Japan and conflict in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the struggling California economy: Environmentalists have said the mandate could create 100,000 jobs. The bill aims to lessen dependence on coal and natural gas in favor of wind, solar and geothermal energy. It would also protect ratepayers from large new costs, and “provides flexibility to utilities,” argued Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).”

Very heartening news. Too bad it didn’t come a generation earlier.

– More on California and energy.

* It looks like California’s under-reported and provocative bid to run a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade will go forward after all once officials conduct further studies about alternative plans. Color us skeptical about market-based approaches after covering the Anne Sholtz case involving the AQMD, EPA, DOJ, and, yes, even the CIA, and hearing about Europe’s rampant cap-and-trade scandals. We’ll see.

* From the L.A. Times: “California’s effort to curb global warming, which was put on hold by a court decision, will be able to proceed on schedule once officials conduct a new environmental review, according to attorneys analyzing the case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly evaluate alternatives to the so-called cap-and-trade program, which would allow industries to purchase pollution allowances rather than cut their own carbon emissions. The court said that measures such as a carbon tax or direct regulation of greenhouse gases were not given enough consideration. Air board officials said Tuesday that they would meet with environmentalists who filed the lawsuit in an effort to narrow the scope of the court injunction, which is expected to be issued in about a week …”

* Wave energy and the future: a truly untapped source to meet our insatiable needs or a quick path to disrupt the marine ecosystem we need to live? Read it here. :”The waves off San Onofre have for generations beckoned surfers and sport fishermen to a wild stretch of coastline in the shadow of domed nuclear reactors. Now, an Orange County entrepreneur wants to tap the power of that legendary surf in a novel but highly controversial plan to build one of the nation’s first hydrokinetic wave farms …”

– For those convinced it’s no big deal to shave provisions of the Clean Air Act to shore up the wobbly recovery, take a read through these EPA-generated public health statistics from the Environment News Service. “Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday … By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.”

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 130,000 heart attacks
  • 13 million lost work days
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks

For more about the landlmark Clean Air Act, click here.

– Will the prolonged and alarming Japanese nuclear-plant crisis mean fresh opportunities for more exotic alternative energy ideas? Geothermal: get ready for your close up. LA Times Greenspace Link. Here’s my L.A. Times’ story on this general subject. And here’s my New York Times online Op-Ed that underscores how few Californians in supposedly America’s greenest state have largely eschewed solar power and our governmental hypocrisy.

– More about those Robert F. Kennedy photographs that my older brother took not long before RFK was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel nearly 43 years ago. L.A. Times Daily Mirror blog (note to self: type slower when commenting) and L.A. Observed, which produced a hysterical headline.

* For the record, my brother a couple of years ago emailed me these photographs and told me I could do with them what I pleased, as long as nobody stole the images. They sat idly on my hard-drive until I did a little file organizing recently and decided to post them. Both of us had completely forgotten about them, and so the idea we were seeking our 15 minutes — or 15 seconds in the blogosphere — of fame out of such a gruesome tragedy makes me want to laugh for about 15 hours. These were just a couple of poignant and significant photos taken by a then-21-year-old USC undergrad who stumbled upon one of his heroes. In broken record cadence, I believe the timing of the images pales next to the fact that Paul could get so close to a presidential candidate whose brother was assassinated in Dallas less than five years earlier!

The RFK photo mystery lives on

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert K. Kennedy in downtown L.A. shortly before he was killed. This picture is owned and copywritten by Paul Jacobs, and any use of it without express written permission is forbidden.

Why this matters.

Since posting my big brother’s heretofore-unseen photographs of Robert F. Kennedy in the “hours” before he was tragically assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel last week, I’ve learned some facets about the half-life of history.

1. Even mildly dipping one’s toe into the Kennedy world can bring a cold splash of notoriety and controversy that proves we never quite got over losing two of our best and brightest, to coin a phrase from their era.

2. Presenting photographs of incredibly public people can evoke and re-ignite enormously intense emotions and private opinions about events that took place a generation ago, when the Internet was somebody’s fantasy and the Kremlin was our Al Queda. Memory is a prism.

3. Comprehension that the world has a pretty absymal learning curve when it comes to safeguarding leaders from mad-men who aim to derail the world. You’d have thought after the events of Dallas we would’ve learned that. But we didn’t. By the early 1980s, then-President Reagan had taken an assassin’s bullet and nearly died. The Pope was shot. John Lennon was killed in cold blood outside the Dakota. And so forth and so on.

A former RFK adviser, ex-union leader Paul Schrade, contacted me and Kevin Roderick at LA Observed last week, disputing my brother’s contention that the photographs were taken the afternoon preceding Kennedy’s murder. Schrade, who was one of numerous people shot and injured by Sirhan Sirhan, noted that Kennedy spent most of the day of the California primary (June 4, 1968) relaxing at the Malibu home of a Hollywood producer (one of the people behind the “Manchurian Candidate,” if you can believe it) before heading off to Los Angeles for his speech. It’d been a grueling campaign and John Kennedy’s little brother needed to catch his breath as the odds-on favorite to take on Republican Richard Nixon in the November general election. Schrade attached this clip to corroborate his point. It’s worth viewing.

Here’s a description from a book about the assassination that jibes with Schrade’s account.

“Kennedy spent the day swimming, sitting in the sun, talking to friends, playing with his children, and sleeping.  He became so relaxed that he considered not attending his own election night party, suggesting that he and his family and friends watch the primary results on television.  He wanted to invite the media to join them at (director John) Frankenheimer’s home.  Because the television networks refused to haul their equipment out to Malibu, Kennedy reluctantly decided to go into Los Angeles to await the election returns. At 7:15 PM, Senator Kennedy, accompanied by Frankenheimer and other members of the campaign staff, left Malibu and sped downtown in Frankenheimer’s Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III to the Ambassador Hotel for the election night party. At the hotel, Kennedy and several key staffers had reserved suites on the fifth floor. With the election still in doubt and Kennedy running behind, he went to his suite and remained there, hoping for the tide to turn.”

Again, Schrade was vehement that RFK was not at the Bilmore the day of his speech at the Ambassador. “This has been confirmed by the Frankenheimers and campaign manager Fred Dutton,” Schrade emailed. “There was no election rally at the Biltmore or any other location. The car in the photo is not Frankenheimer’s car.”

I’ve asked Mr. Schrade if he could elaborate and so far he hasn’t responded back. He did not volunteer before when and where he thought the candid shots were taken, and others have come up blank as well about the details. Nobody knows whose car RFK was in or the identities of those with them. Speculation it might’ve been a young John Kerry or future Colorado Gov. Timothy Wirth, who evidently both worked on the Kennedy campaign, have been generally debunked by surviving confidantes and former journalists. (I was 6 at the time.)

But I have questions and lots of them in the battle of the memories of the two Pauls.

My brother, a USC undergrad then, is sure he took those photographs of RFK just outside the Biltmore Hotel, probably looking north on Grand Avenue, VERY shortly before Sirhan Sirhan’s  reprehensible bullets flew. Paul had just wrapped up work at his part-time job at the L.A. County Dept. of Probation when he ran smack into the car-bound presidential candidate as he fist-pumped supporters, dealt with some media and conversed with aides (or in one shot, appear to fix something on a staffer’s jacket.) I re-intereviewed him after Schrade contacted me, and my brother was certain that if the photograph wasn’t snapped on the afternoon of June 4, it was the day before (and thus about 31 hours before the killing) and no later than that. Paul said in his heart that he still believes he clicked the shutter button on June 4 because he remembered being so emotionally obliterated the next morning learning about RFK’s death so close to when he captured him through his lens. It hadn’t been days, that’s for sure, no matter what the chatter today claims.

For those who believe my brother, over the passage and vicous haze of time, conflated June 1968 with April 1968, when RFK gave a well-known speech at the Bitlmore (here’s a Q&A with him following that speech.) Paul, a RFK supporter and a photo-bug, was 100 percent positive he took his picture in June!

So who was in the car? What time of day was it? Where was RFK going? Why were the media around him? Why hasn’t this cleared up? Are there secrets still out there? What is to say that after leaving Malibu, but before going to the Ambassador, RFK swung by the Biltmore? Was he there the day before? It’s not that long a distance from the Biltmore downtown to the Ambassador on Mid-Wilshire.

History changed dramatically after the events at the Ambassador far beyond the political ramifications of Nixon taking the White House. The Secret Service began providing protection to presidential candidates after this murder of a second Kennedy. Mind-boggling, preposterous and dangerous as it was not to give them security before, no one questioned it later. To read up about this after-the-fact policy, click for this NPR story. Excerpt:

“… Kennedy had several bodyguards with him, including football star Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, as he addressed a crowd gathered to support his bid for the White House. But there were no Secret Service agents present because before 1968, their services weren’t afforded to presidential candidates … ’We only had 547 agents at that time,” (Special Agent Edwin) Donovan says. “We already had the president and the vice president and their families to protect, so that made it even a smaller number of agents to draw from.’”

So who is right here, Paul Jacobs or Paul Schrade? I’m putting my faith with my brother, but neither of us are being doctrinaire on whether it was June 3 or June 4 when the pictures were taken. Paul Jacobs just thinks it was June 4, closer to the killing, that he captured the face of the man that might’ve helped us build an America without horrid ties to Laos, Cambodia, Watergate plumbers and perpetual partisanship.

If anybody has thoughts or can answer my questions or might be able to interpret the photos better than amateur me, please contact me at chip@chipjacobs.com

Way off the enviro trail: Robert Kennedy on the campaign hustings in downtown L.A. in a heretofore unpublished photograph taken hours before he was murdered.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

You never know in this life when you’re about to become a witness to tragic history before it occurs.

Such was the circumstance for my older brother, Paul Jacobs, who found himself face to face with American political royalty– a man who might’ve spared us from the last phase of Vietnam and the enduring cynicism of Watergate — had he not been in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel roughly seven hours later on June 5, 1968 by Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan.

Senator Robert Kennedy (D-New York) was running for president of the United States and in L.A. on a campaign stop at the time. We all know how that election turned out after RFK was killed. Nixon trounced Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey 301 electoral votes to 191.

My big brother was a twenty-one-year-old USC undergrad and Robert Kennedy supporter when this picture of the fist-pumping senator and former U.S. Attorney General was taken on election day. I was six, less concerned with White House occupants and sixties culture wars than playing “Army” with my plastic soldiers whose heads my dog liked to gnaw.

Paul was working part-time then as a statistician for the Los Angeles County Probation Dept. A photo bug, he had his trusty Nikkormat 35 mm SLR with him when he went outside just west of the Biltmore Hotel around 5 P.M. and saw Robert Kennedy’s motorcade idling after Kennedy emerged from the Bilmore. Paul got close enough, maybe 15 feet away, for this poignant picture, which in a sense is disturbing considering the way his older brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot in Dallas and the events awaiting RFK less than half a day away on Wilshire Boulevard.

At any rate, the world — which has thousands of thousands, if not millions of Kennedy photographs circulating — has never seen this candid picture nor its companion one that will run soon. Just by chance, Paul had a front row seat to history before yet another assassination, another flash of a bullet, destroyed what might’ve been.

In studying every detail of this magnificent and depressing picture, which may have been taken on sloping Grand Avenue, I still marvel at Robert Kennedy’s determined expression that seemed to say to believers, “I got your back.” I can only wonder what the man who appears to be a Secret Service agent in front of the car is hollering.

<strong>This picture is owned and copy-written by Paul G. Jacobs and any use of it in any way without express written permission is prohibited! </strong>

It’s now only seeing the light of day 42 years later.

* L.A Observed post on this photograph.