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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

November 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 14, 2008

  • Pajamas TV interviews me on Obama cabinet prospects (RFK Jr., Caroline Kennedy, Schwarzenegger, Gorelick, etc.) (Nov. 13, subscription-only)
  • Federal court in New Orleans hits attorney with five-year practice suspension after “intentionally contemptuous” filing and other misconduct [Times-Picayune, Ashton O'Dwyer]
  • Lawyer sues his straying wife for giving him herpes, but her lawyer says a test proves she doesn’t have the malady in the first place [Above the Law]
  • Doctors (e.g.) being put through hostile depositions are often tempted to talk back sharply to the lawyer. Bad move, says Ronald Miller [Maryland Injury]
  • It’s a shame most of the press remains incurious about that episode a few days ago in which talk of compulsory national service appeared, then vanished from the Obama site [K. Ryan James]
  • Batting cage pitching machine without prompting hits customer in most sensitive part of male anatomy, he collects $1.2 million [The Big Lead]
  • ACLU will defend preacher sent to prison on parole violation charge after writing “God will smite this judge” newspaper article (having earlier been convicted of election misconduct)[AP/FoxNews, western Michigan]
  • On appeal, Long Island attorney beats charges of coaching clients to fake injury and using “steerers” to gain business [NYLJ]

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I’ve got a new opinion column just out at Forbes.com on the reports that president-elect Obama may be considering America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure®, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier this week I posted on the topic here and here (welcome Jonathan Adler/Volokh, Ron Coleman/Likelihood of Success readers).

More: Orac advises writing letters to the Obama transition team urging them to consider the harm to their credibility should a figure such as RFK Jr. get the nod. His comments section includes many good examples of such letters, and Kathleen Seidel, autism blogger extraordinaire, contributes one at her site as well. See also this perhaps unintentionally ironic dispatch by MSNBC’s Alan Boyle on Thursday listing as among president-elect Obama’s “top tasks” “taking the ideology out of scientific issues” and quoting Chris Mooney, author of “The Republican War on Science,” to the effect that “the war has ended, and science has won”. The Center for American Progress’s ScienceProgress site, to which Mooney contributes, doesn’t seem to have weighed in on the RFK Jr. matter.

And: tons of mostly helpful blog reactions. At ScienceBlogs, besides Orac, there are the influential P.Z. Myers/Pharyngula (“another irrational purveyor of woo and fluffy substanceless hysteria”), Chad Orzel, Uncertain Principles (“his highest-profile activity in recent years has been the promotion of nutbar conspiracy theories”), Mike the Mad Biologist (“every bit as ridiculous as creationism”), Around the Clock (“He is the typical paranoid, conspiracy-theorist, hyperbolic quack. A kind of person shunned, ignored and marginalized by the Democratic Party for decades now for two good reasons: such people’s judgment cannot be trusted, and such people give the party a bad name”), James Hrynyshyn (“More worrisome is the fact that Obama on at least one campaign occasion, pandered to the anti-vaccine crowd by describing the science on the subject as “inconclusive” despite loads of studies that show no link”, PalMD, ERV, Science Woman, Effect Measure, SunClipse, and Mark Hoofnagle. Plus: Skepchick, DarkSyde @ DailyKos, Rondi Adamson (“gives me the creeps…The guy’s a complete wingnut”), Wendy Williams, Steven Novella, Neurologica (“This would be an unmitigated disaster for science in government … Putting a known antiscientific crank in this position is inexcusable”), The Amateur Scientist (“an absolutely terrible idea … the guy’s bad news”), Brandon Keim, WiredScience (“America doesn’t need more political officials who skew science to fit personal beliefs.”), Thinking Outside, Science Avenger, Colossus of Rhodey, Politico. Liz Ditz has a great roundup of critical opinions.

Further: Edward John Craig at NRO “Planet Gore” here and here.

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The buzz about a possible seat in the Cabinet for hothead scion and anti-vaccine crank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. continues with a second article in Politico, this time shifting the speculation to the Environmental Protection Agency and citing “Democratic officials” who claim Obama is “strongly considering” RFK, Jr. for that post (Mike Allen, “Obama considers stars for Cabinet”, Nov. 5; earlier). Tim Noah at Slate shouts a timely “don’t”:

Environmental Protection Agency or Interior Department. Do not hire Robert Kennedy Jr. He’s too partisan and kind of a nut when it comes to policy. Check out this dangerously alarmist 2005 Rolling Stone piece about the purported link between autism and childhood vaccines. (To learn why Kennedy’s piece was alarmist, see “Sticking Up for Thimerosal” by Arthur Allen in Slate, August 2005.) Throw in Kennedy’s 1983 heroin bust, and you’ve got yourself an unconfirmable nominee.

(“The Uncabinet”, Nov. 5). Jonathan Adler @ Volokh, frequent vaccine-blogger Orac/Respectful Insolence, Jason Zengerle at the New Republic, and Hans Bader @ CEI are all on the case as well. Even David Roberts at GristMill is very far from enthusiastic, to say the least. I said exactly what I thought of Kennedy’s book Crimes Against Nature in a New York Post review, and our tagged posts here provide a lot of background on the celebrity environmentalist.

More: Orac returns with a lengthy, devastating and link-rich second post; Mike Dunford/Questionable Authority (“The politicization of science is bad no matter who does it. It wasn’t just bad when the Republicans were involved. It will be just as bad if it’s a Democrat doing it.”); Eric Berlin (“hope it’s someone’s idea of a bad joke”). And Michael Moynihan, Reason “Hit and Run” (“nutty” pro-Hugo-Chavez rants).

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RFK, Jr. to Interior?

by Walter Olson on November 3, 2008

Someone in the Obama campaign seems to be floating the name of America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure® as a possible Secretary of the Interior. (Mike Allen, “Dems sketch Obama staff, cabinet”, Politico, Oct. 31). More: Stuttaford, NRO; and a new Politico piece quotes “Democratic officials” as saying the president-Elect is “strongly considering” the wayward scion to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

P.S. And now it seems by running this item I’ve killed the whole election buzz for Orac. Sorry!

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October 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2008

May 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 2, 2008

  • Contriving to give Sheldon Silver the moral high ground: NY judges steamed at lack of raises are retaliating against Albany lawmakers’ law firms [NY Post and editorial. More: Turkewitz.]
  • When strong laws prove weak: Britain’s many layers of land use control seem futile against determined builders of gypsy encampments [Telegraph]
  • “U.S. patent chief: applications up, quality down” [EETimes]
  • Plenty of willing takers for those 4,703 new cars that survived the listing-ship near-disaster, but Mazda destroyed them instead [WSJ]
  • “Prof. Dohrn [for] Attorney General and Rev. Wright [for] Secretary of State”? So hard to tell when left-leaning lawprof Brian Leiter is kidding and when he’s not [Leiter Reports]
  • Yet another hard-disk-capacity class action settlement, $900K to Strange & Carpenter [Creative HDD MP3 Player; earlier. More: Sullum, Reason "Hit and Run".]
  • Filipino ship whistleblowers’ case: judge slashes Texas attorney’s fee, “calling the lawyer’s attempt to bill his clients nearly $300,000 ‘unethically excessive.’” [Boston Globe, earlier]
  • RFK Jr. Watch: America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure® endorses Oklahoma poultry litigation [Legal NewsLine]
  • Just what the budget-strapped state needs: NY lawmakers earmark funds for three (3) new law schools [NY Post editorial; PoL first, second posts, Greenfield]
  • In Indiana, IUPUI administrators back off: it wasn’t racial harassment after all for student-employee to read a historical book on fight against Klan [FIRE; earlier]
  • Fiesta Cornyation in San Antonio just isn’t the same without the flying tortillas [two years ago on Overlawyered]

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May 1 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 1, 2007

  • Jack Thompson, call your office: FBI search turns up no evidence Virginia Tech killer owned or played videogames [Monsters and Critics]

  • How many zeroes was that? Bank of America threatens ABN Amro with $220 billion suit if it reneges on deal to sell Chicago’s LaSalle Bank [Times (U.K.), Consumerist]

  • Chuck Colson will be disappointed, but the rule of law wins: Supreme Court declines to intervene in Miller-Jenkins (Vermont-Virginia lesbian custody) dispute [AP; see Mar. 2 and many earlier posts]

  • Oklahoma legislature passes, but governor vetoes, comprehensive liability-reform bill [Point of Law first, second, third posts]

  • Good primer on California’s much-abused Prop 65 right-to-know toxics law [CalBizLit via Ted @ PoL]

  • “Defensive psychiatry” and the pressure to hospitalize persons who talk of suicide [Intueri]

  • Among the many other reasons not to admire RFK Jr., there’s his wind-farm hypocrisy [Mac Johnson, Energy Tribune]

  • “Screed-O-Matic” simulates nastygrams dashed off by busy Hollywood lawyer Martin Singer [Portfolio]

  • “Liability, health issues” cited as Carmel, Ind. officials plan to eject companion dogs from special-needs program, though no parents have complained [Indpls. Star; similar 1999 story from Ohio]

  • First glimmerings of Sen. John Edwards’s national ambitions [five years ago on Overlawyered]
(Edited Tues. a.m. to cut an entry which was inadvertently repeated after appearing in an earlier roundup)

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April 25 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2007

February 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2007

  • Trucker-friendly Arizona legislature declines to ban naked lady mudflaps [NBC4.com; Houstonist]
  • Crumb of approbation dept.: I’m “[not] as unreasonable as most of the tort-reform crowd” [Petit]
  • Sponsors of large banquets in D.C. must pay to have a paramedic on hand even when the banquet crowd consists of doctors [ShopFloor]
  • Homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover homewrecking: umbrella policy doesn’t create duty to defend lawsuit claiming the insured broke up someone’s marriage (Pins v. State Farm (PDF), S. Dak., Mayerson via Elefant)
  • New York mag on RFK Jr.: Is there some law saying all press profiles of America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure® must be weirdly softball in nature and glide over his embarrassing book and rants, his Osama-pig farm lunacy, his anti-vaccine humbug, his trial-lawyer entanglements and even the wind farm flap?
  • Australia court rules Muslim prison inmate suffered discrimination and deserves money for being served canned halal meat rather than fresh [The Australian]
  • High medical costs and their causes: am I listening? [Coyote]
  • Economists may puzzle their heads over the ultimate incidence of business taxes, but in Wisconsin it’s whatever Gov. Jim Doyle says it is [Krumm via Taranto]
  • Feds may punish Red Sox pitcher Matsuzaka for doing a beer ad in Japan, where it’s perfectly legal for athletes to appear in such [To The People]
  • Guns in company parking lots: still one of the rare issues where the ABA manages to be righter than the NRA [AP/CBSNews.com; see Apr. 6, 2006]
  • Thanks, NYC taxpayers: Brooklyn jury awards $16 million against city in case where drugged-up motorist jumped sidewalk and ran over pedestrians, later blaming the accident on a city sanitation truck [seven years ago on Overlawyered]

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“Mutually assured character destruction”: that’s what Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam says to expect from a trial that started March 7 in Portland, Me. federal court that pits some of the country’s better-known members of the plaintiff’s bar against each other. Among the cast of characters: Jan Schlichtmann, of “A Civil Action” fame, Steve Berman of Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, and Massachusetts tobacco litigator Thomas Sobol of the same firm, and Alabama’s Garve Ivey. At issue is whether lawyers breached legal ethics or sold out the interests of class members in their sharp-elbowed maneuvers to control the process of litigation and reach a lucrative settlement with Poland Spring’s parent company, Nestle. Also testifying is celebrity enviro-pol Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who had signed up a water company he controls as one of the plaintiffs — gee, who knew RFK Jr. was tied in with hotshot plaintiff’s lawyers? (Alex Beam, “An uncivil action in Maine”, Mar. 8; Gregory D. Kesich, “Water bottlers in court to recoup lost settlement”, Portland Press Herald, Mar. 8; “Law firm’s handling of Poland Spring case at issue in trial”, AP/Boston Globe, Mar. 8; Gregory D. Kesich, “Water case puts lawyers’ ethics on trial”, Portland Press Herald, Mar. 10; “Witnesses tell of how Nestle case fell apart”, Mar. 17). The trial is expected to conclude this week. For more on the Poland Spring class actions, see Sept. 10, 2003, Feb. 2, 2004 and Jun. 25, 2004.

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Mark Kleiman, on the alleged link between autism and thimerosal in vaccines (Mar. 6), commenting on the latest from Respectful Insolence (Mar. 6). Orac of Respectful Insolence also takes another whack (Mar. 2) at the emissions of the egregious Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the same controversy, as published (Mar. 1) in the Huffington Post. More: Feb. 21, etc.

P.S. And here’s Kathleen Seidel, who’s been covering the issue in depth at Neurodiversity Weblog (Mar. 1): “It’s time for RFK Jr. to come clean about the fact that he represents the interests of private litigants seeking compensation for supposed vaccine injury when in fact many of those litigants have no evidence that such injury occurred.. …Widespread suspicions are fueled by an aggressive public relations campaign engineered by wealthy PR maven and pioneering ‘mercury mom’ Sally Bernard, early litigant Lyn Redwood, their close associates, faux-journalists David Kirby and Dan Olmsted, and a core of personal injury lawyers who have cultivated this market for years. A lot of money has gone into convincing parents of autistic children that their kids were poisoned.”

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The federal government has established something called a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to collect reports of possible side effects related to immunizations. Sounds like a useful tool for epidemiological study, right? Except that, it seems,

anyone can submit a report to it, and no one actually verifies the accuracy of the report. Indeed, James Laidler once tested the system by submitting a report that the influenza virus had turned him into The Incredible Hulk. The report was accepted and duly entered into the database.

A more serious problem with the self-submitted nature of the data is that it provides a way for vaccine scares to self-amplify: lawyers pressing compensation claims make a point of submitting their clients’ case histories to the VAERS, and before long — what do you know? — the database is showing a worrying rise in reported side effect incidents, which itself feeds the litigation. Now a study in Pediatrics traces the ways in which litigation-driven reporting has distorted the contents of the VAERS database, especially as regards the purported association of the preservative thimerosal with childhood autism. Respectful Insolence explains (Feb. 6 at old site, more recently blogging at ScienceBlogs)(via MedPundit) and also ties the story in to the disgraceful performance last year in Rolling Stone by celebrity demagogue Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (Jun. 20 and Jun. 26, 2005). More: pediatrician Flea also weighs in (Feb. 22).

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RFK Jr. and Katrina

by Walter Olson on August 30, 2005

How low can he go? James Taranto investigates (Aug. 30). More: Jonathan Adler, here and here; more on RFK Jr. here. And the Boston Herald spanks him in an editorial (“Critics fiddle as Gulf Coast drowns”, Sept. 1).

Because for Florida Republican officials, sending one hotshot plaintiff’s lawyer with socially conservative views to the U.S. Senate apparently isn’t enough. (Lesley Conn, Pensacola News-Journal, Aug. 17) (more on Joe Scarborough: Sept. 15, 2003, Jan. 3, 2004)(more on incumbent Sen. Mel Martinez: Dec. 15, 2003, Sept. 3, 2004, PoL Jan. 12 and Jul. 7). Scarborough was the headliner for the Republican Trial Lawyers rally at last year’s ATLA convention (PDF); another headliner at the same convention was perennial bete noire of this site Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose on-air chumminess with Scarborough, sometimes seen as an instance of mutual admiration across ideological lines, appears not quite so strange given that RFK Jr. has collaborated with Scarborough’s firm in the pursuit of big-ticket cases. Update Aug. 21: false alarm this time, though he’s pretty clearly expecting to run for something in future.

Blissful Knowledge is providing extensive coverage (via Megan McArdle)(see Jun. 26, Jun. 20, etc.).

RFK Jr. vs. thimerosal

by Walter Olson on June 20, 2005

One of America’s least credible public figures, celebrity environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., wades into the mercury in vaccines/autism controversy (Dec. 29, 2003, earlier posts) with a “special investigation” for Salon and Rolling Stone rehearsing the contentions of anti-thimerosal activists (“Deadly Immunity”, Jun. 16). Orac at Respectful Insolence, who’s covered the controversy extensively, hits back hard here, here and here. Reactions from Salon’s readers are here, and the online magazine has already been obliged to post several corrections of Kennedy’s errors, including the following remarkably embarrassing one:

The article also misstated the level of ethylmercury received by infants injected with all their shots by the age of six months. It was 187 micrograms — an amount 40 percent, not 187 times, greater than the EPA’s limit for daily exposure to methylmercury.

More: Skeptico (Jun. 20) challenges RFK Jr.’s account of a supposedly hush-hush meeting of vaccine scientists held outside Atlanta (via Adler, the Corner).

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It seems wayward scion Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wants to be Spitzer’s replacement (Jonathan P. Hicks, “Only in New York: Kennedys, Cuomos and Voters, Oh, My”, New York Times, Jan. 18). Well, this should be entertaining, at least.

I’m in Sunday’s New York Post with a review of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s new volume on environmental policy, “Crimes Against Nature”. It’s fair to say I didn’t much care for the book; in fact, I found it staggeringly bad (“the book affords the fun of a pratfall on every page, most of them occasioned by Kennedy’s epic self-righteousness and astounding disregard for conventional accuracy”). (“Crimes of Ego”, Oct. 17). For more on RFK Jr., see Oct. 5, Apr. 19-21, 2002 and links from there (& welcome Instapundit, Volokh Conspiracy readers)(bumped Oct. 18).