Archive for July, 2011

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.

Green groups accuse EPA of apathy monitoring L.A. ozone levels

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

* Over the years, environmental lawsuits have frequently sought to force pollution authorities to invoke regulatiions more intensely, explain their actions, audit their programs or put the heat to polluters. Sometimes they succeed, often they do not, because courts often prove a poor method of guarding the environment and the people who depend on it. Either way, the lawyers are back again, this time with acccsations that Washington hasn’t adequately determined whether ozone limits are being met.

- From the L.A. Times blog:

“Environmental and public health groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, saying the agency has failed to force officials to crack down on smog in the Los Angeles Basin. The suit contends the EPA missed a May deadline to, in effect, determine whether the ozone level in the region is hazardous to public health. Such a determination could trigger tougher limits on pollution from cars, trucks, ships and refineries. The EPA did not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among other groups. A similar suit challenging whether San Joaquin Valley had met the ozone standard was filed Monday on behalf of the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. The Los Angeles area has a long history of elevated ozone levels, and the American Lung Assn., in its annual State of the Air report, recently determined that the region has the highest ozone level in the nation. “Angelenos continue to breathe smoggy air that makes people sick, forcing mothers to question whether to allow children to play outside on dirty air days,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for the NRDC. “These are choices mothers should not have to make.” Under the federal Clean Air Act, Congress established a one-hour standard for ozone pollution, a principal contributor to smog, and the EPA was to certify no later than May whether air districts had met the standard. If the EPA were to determine that the region does not meet the national standard, then the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the basin’s regulatory agency, would have one year to submit a clean-up plan …”

Stay tuned for the dockets. And read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles for a smokestack more context and stories.

Cap and delay; the chromium tide. A mid-summer Smogtown roundup

Monday, July 18th, 2011

* California/West Coast greenhouse gas cap and trade on hold until 2013. Big surprise, here. The idea is controversial, poorly understood, largely unproven and being implemented during a historic election. Got juice?

- L.A. Times coverage:

“Facing continued litigation, California officials will delay enforcement of the state’s carbon-trading program until 2013, state Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced Wednesday. The delay in the cap-and-trade program, slated to take effect in January, is proposed because of the “need for all necessary elements to be in place and fully functional,” she said. But in testimony before a state Senate committee,Nichols said the postponement would not affect the stringency of the program or the amount of greenhouse gases that industries will be forced to cut by the end of the decade. Carbon-market executives mostly shrugged at the news. The air board “has given firms a breather, not a pass,” said Josh Margolis, chief executive of CantorCO2e, an emissions-trading company. “Companies will need to make the same reductions, but they will face a steeper slope.” The cap-and-trade program, championed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a centerpiece of the state’s landmark effort to cut planet-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020. It accounts for a fifth of the planned cuts under the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would cap their emissions in 2012, with that limit gradually decreasing over eight years. Several neighborhood organizations and environmental justice groups that focus on local pollution are fighting the program in court, saying it would allow industrial plants to avoid installing the strictest pollution controls. A San Francisco judge ruled in March that the air board had not sufficiently analyzed alternatives to the trading program, as required under California’s Environmental Quality Act. The agency appealed the decision, and an appeals court ruled last week that officials could continue working on the regulation pending the court decision. The board is drafting an analysis of alternatives, which is to be considered for adoption Aug. 24, Nichols said … In the wake of the failure of national climate legislation in Congress last year, California’s program would be North America’s biggest carbon market, three times larger than a utility-only system in the northeastern U.S. By 2016, about $10 billion in carbon allowances are expected to be traded through the California market, which is slated to link to similar markets in several Canadian provinces …”

* Chromium-six polluting L.A. County’s wells in addition to local cities. No cause for panic, but one for focused alarm.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“The tap water in at least four Los Angeles County facilities, including two in Lancaster, has levels of contaminants such as arsenic and lead that exceed federal and state recommendations, according to a new county report released Thursday. The study by the county Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures looked at the drinking water in 765 county facilities, including county jails, fire stations and wells. While it found that several hundred facilities had detectable levels of contaminants such as chromium 6, arsenic and lead, four of them were above the “maximum contaminant level” set by state and federal agencies. Those sites included Challenger Memorial Youth Center and a county-owned well at a trailer park, both in Lancaster. The report was the first time in 10 years that such an evaluation of water quality at county facilities was undertaken. County officials said that while they take the findings seriously, they urged the public not to panic … Of the 765 county facilities that were tested, about 43 percent exceeded the state’s “public health goal” for hexavalent chromium, 84 percent exceeded the PHG for arsenic, while 31 percent exceeded the PHG for lead. But officials said that public health goal is a very conservative target and failing to meet it does not necessarily mean the water is dangerous. Of greater concern are the facilities that exceeded the “maximum contaminant level” for certain pollutants. The study detected concentrations of arsenic at 70.4 parts per billion – seven times the federal and state maximum contaminant level – in samples from a restroom faucet at Challenger. It also found that Challenger, and several other facilities, had high levels of hexavalent chromium — aka chromium 6 — a heavy metal that gained notoriety in the film “Erin Brockovich.” The juvenile facility was found to have 12.2 ppb of hexavalent chromium. State officials have yet to set a maximum contaminant level for that particular chemical, but they said the “public health goal” is 0.2 ppb … ”

* Speaking of pollution victims, few place can lay claim like Kettleman, California. Looks like the natives are taking matters into their own hands now, and there’s real parallels to anguished mother in the early days of L.A.’s smog fight.

- From the L.A. Times story:

“Central and Southern California community groups filed a complaint about toxic waste dumps with the Environmental Protection Agency 17 years ago and never received a response. Tired of waiting, they have filed a federal lawsuit … Kettleman City, Buttonwillow and rural areas of Imperial County are home to the only toxic waste dumps in the state. Grassroots community groups say that locating the dumps only in low-income and predominantly Latino areas violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any recipient of federal money from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin …”

MISC.

* Don’t even get us going on how disingenuous until now the state’s efforts at popularizing solar power has been with homeowners. Progress now, or perhaps the truth bubble emerging of people’s hunger to do more than themselves? You decide.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“Due to public demand, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power canceled a single public meeting about its solar energy programs and replaced it with four workshops, the utility announced today …”

- The big boys are already reaping the savings, though. Thank God for Google. It just created a $280 pocket change fund. Link

* Some things never change: a conservative group trying to undercut hard-won environmental rules, state by state. They have fans, too. Link