An expanded version of an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
that appeared in The Progressive, November 2006.
I met up with Robert Kennedy Jr. on the first day of summer 2006 at San Francisco State University, where he was attending the Eighth Annual Waterkeeper Alliance Conference, a meeting of more than 150 Waterkeeper Allianceleaders. They collectively represent watersheds holding more than 150 million people, had come from six continents, and were there to be inspired and energized by one other. To be a Waterkeeper you have to be litigious with polluters, and Kennedy is President of the organization.
Three weeks prior, Kennedy’s story, written after a four-month investigation, of vote-rigging in Ohio – “Was The 2004 Election Stolen?” – broke when Rolling Stone magazine published it and placed it upon their web site. Much as he did with his piece in RS in June 2005 on the connections between childhood inoculations, mercury poisoning, and autism, Kennedys participatory-activist-journalist efforts made immediate waves. While the national news media was slow to recognize and validate his thesis, in recent months, a national debate has been burning.
Son of the late former Attorney General and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and Nephew of JFK, RFK jr. has been around politics all his life. Likewise, as a lifelong environmentalist, from a young age he has had a love affair with the earth, whether sailing or hunting or birding; he is a Master Falconer who used to be president of the New York State Falconer’s Association. He is credited with leading the fight to protect New York City’s water supply and has won many lawsuits against companies and governments guilty of polluting the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and elsewhere.
Kennedy currently co-hosts Ring of Fire on Air America Radio with Mike Papantonio. He also is a clinical professor and supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law, which has a partnership between the Hudson Riverkeeper that he helped to create. It is at Pace that he earned a LLM after acquiring a political science degree from Harvard and and a Jurist Doctor from the University of Virginia Law School.
In 1983, then 29-year-old RFK Jr. was arrested for possession of heroin. During his subsequent 800 community service hours spent with the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, the young lawyer bonded with the organization. Upon completion of his community service, he was hired on as the group’s chief prosecuting attorney in 1984. Using the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1888, Kennedy and the Hudson Riverkeepers were able to secure a bounty for successfully reporting and prosecuting environmental polluters along the river. They used the money to buy a boat, dubbed “The Riverkeeper,” which continues to patrol the Hudson searching for polluters.
In 1997, He authored with John Cronin a book about the Riverkeepers and in 2004, wrote “Crimes Against Nature,” detailing how President Bush has rewritten the nations environmental laws in favor of industry and filled his administration with former lobbyists and corporate executives who now oversee the regulation of their former industries. He is also the senior attorney and national spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Speaking not just as a concerned father of six children, but as an eco-warrior, he may well be the most articulate member of his generation when it comes to the environment.
On July 13, his Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, Levin Papantonio, with backup from powerful lawyers from tobacco litigation, filed a “qui tam” lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Diebold and other electronic voting machine (EVM) companies fraudulently represented to state election boards and the federal government that their products were “unhackable.”
Kennedy has witnesses “centrally located, deep within the corporations,” who will confirm that company officials withheld their knowledge of problems with accuracy, reliability and security of EVMs in order to procure government contracts. Since going into service, many of these machines have been linked to allegations of election fraud. Though filed under a court seal for sixty days, Kennedy related to me that “when the details of the caliber of the fraud come to light, it will wake Americans up and make them feel like they are living in a Banana Republic.”
He filed the lawsuit with Mike Papantonio, partner in the law firm and his co-host on his weekly show Ring of Fire on Air America Radio.
Prior to our meeting, Kennedy had just come from a vigorous gym workout on campus with his Godson, David & Whiteside, who is a cofounder and Executive Director of Black Warrior River Waterkeeper in Birmingham, Alabama. We sat in the sun next to a redwood grove on an unseasonable hot day with record breaking heat in the City. In a relaxed mode as we enjoyed some ocean breezes, for much of our discussion he lay shirtless on the lawn, flat on his back, eyes closed in a post workout kick back, sitting up only to make a point with direct eye contact.
dk: Just how dysfunctional is the federal (American) government now?
Robert Kennedy Jr.: There’s two reforms that we need to restore our democracy, the first is campaign finance system. we need to the corporate money out of the election process. Corporate responsibility and journalistic ethics which have been in decline since Ronald Reagan abolished the in ` fairness doctrine reform act in 1988. It is no longer journalists who are deciding and what is on the news. Most Americans get their information from broadcast media. It is now no longer journalists who deciding what is on the news they are entertaining us. As a result, we are the best entertained and least informed people on the face of the earth. You cannot have an informed democracy without an informed public, and since most Americans get their information from broadcast media, and it is no longer journalists who decide what is on the news, it is now the bean counters in the offices of giant corporations. Rather then informing There is dysfunction in the environment we have the environmental agencies now the looters are running agencies that are supposed to be protecting us from pollution. The head of the forest service is a timber industry lobbyist. The head of the public lands is a mining industry lobbyist who believes who believes public lands are unconstitutional. The chief environmental advisor to the President is a lobbyist 4 the American petroleum institute. This is a picture of dysfunction.
But you can’t fix those problems without first fixing our democracy the campaign finance reform. We need election reform nowadays because our elections are being stolen, that again is also the result of corporate control of these huge powerful voting machine vending companies who have privatized the election process in our country.
dk: You believe the 2004 election was stolen?
RFK: Yes, I have written about that in Rolling Stone as to the reasons, and whether you believe it or not, that they actually succeeded in stealing it, I believe that any intelligent person who reads the evidence will come to the same conclusion, but one will never be able to prove it to a certitude because the votes were never counted in Ohio as the result of an illegal effort by public officials to derail the recount. So even if you do not believe that the election was stolen, there is no dispute that the Republicans made a deliberate concerted effort to derail the results in their favor.
dk: And you believe that Bush stole the popular vote in the 2004 election as well?
RFK: I think that there is strong evidence that Kerry won the popular vote. It was reported something like 59 million to 56.5. According to the Bush tally he won by 3 million vote, but if you look at what was happening across the country, there were easily three million votes that were shifted. Let me put it this way there were 3 million mostly democratic voters in foreign countries that didn’t get a chance to vote because the Pentagon shut down the web site by which those voters were meant to register.
dk: These were not military personnel?
RFK: It was not, there is seven million americans living abroad one million are military and the military, interestingly, is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. but the other six million are by most estimations 90% Democrat because people that live in foreign countries have a much different perspective as to what is happening in our country and they are strongly Democratic. they were very well organized to vote this time and the Pentagon under the Help America Vote Act had set up a web site that would streamline the registration process…
dk: Not the State Department?
RFK: No! It was put under control of the Pentagon, and the Pentagon then independently distributed absentee ballots to all its bases and deluged them with absentee ballots, but they simultaneously shut down the web site by which all other foreign living American voters were supposed to register. There were three million Americans living abroad who wanted to vote and could not vote. The Pentagon has given a series of contradictions as to why they did that, none of them make sense. And that alone would have been enough to shift the popular vote to Kerry. But the best indications in Ohio is that there were over half a million votes that were stolen. There were 357,000 mainly democratic voters in the cities, mainly Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus, who either were not allowed to vote, registered Democrats not allowed to vote, or their votes were not counted. In addition to that, there were 80,000 democratic voters in 12 Western Ohio rural counties that cast a vote for Kerry and had their votes shifted to Bush. That is a switch of 160,000 votes. Plus in six other counties there were tens of thousands of Kerry voters who had their votes shifted to Bush.
dk: What is the status of litigation to remedy this dilemma?
RFK: I will be filing lawsuits against some of the manufacturers of the voting machines.
dk: Are there any safeguards will not pull off this voter fraud again this fall, or in 2008?
RFK: There are no safeguards and the Democratic party has been abysmal in terms of making this a national issue. The Democrats are enablers, theyve been sissified, and are being led around by a nose ring pulled by Karl Rove. They’re letting the Republicans do this. There is nothing to prevent the Republicans from engaging in the same shenanigans, in fact they have made it easier for themselves through the passage of bills in Ohio, Florida, and other places that make it much more difficult for black people to vote, make it much more difficult to register. The other big League of Womens Voters voter drives have shut down now in Florida and Ohio because of new restrictive regulations and legislation that attach criminal penalties to some common registration practices.
dk: So can we say we truly live in a Democracy in terms of the federal government?
RFK: American Democracy is supposed to be the paradigm for the rest of the world and it no longer is. Citizens cannot be guaranteed that they can walk into a voting booth with any assurance that their vote will be counted.
dk: How much damage have the corporate capitalists done to bankrupt our nation?
RFK: There is nothing wrong with corporations. Corporations are a good thing. But corporations should not be running our government. Corporations are good because they drive our economy, they encourage people to assemble wealth and to risk it and then create jobs. They have driven the American economy since its founding and the prosperity of our country is largely dependent on the free operation of corporations. But some corporations don’t want free markets and they don’t want democracy. They want profits. And the best time for them to get profits, often times, is to use our campaign finance system to use our commons, to steal from the public, our treasury, and the other shared resources of our community, the air, the water, the public lands, the wildlife, the things that belong to all of us that are held in trust for future generations. Corporations can not act legally, philanthropically in America. It is against the law. They cannot act altruistically. They have to have, always, the profit motive in mind. When Walmart brings water down to the Katrina victims, they are not doing that to be nice, they are doing it to make larger profits and to increase the value of their shares. If their actions are not accomplishing those objectives, their shareholders can sue them, and sue them successfully, because it is illegal for them to act on behalf of any other reason than increasing the value of their shares. There is nothing wrong with that. That is the way that they were created and the way we want them to function to increase prosperity in the market. But wed be crazy to let them anywhere near our government. The only reason they want to influence government is to plunder. To steal from children.
dk: But this is not free market capitalism you are speaking of, is it?
RFK: We do not have free market capitalism in America, we have crony capitalism. There is a huge difference between free market capitalism which democratizes a country and makes us more efficient and prosperous then the sort of crony capitalism which ha •s been embraced.
dk: So the looting of the commons continues.
RFK: Yes. That’s what all pollution is, it is just the theft of the commons, its a way of shifting costs, of creating subsidies for corporations by shifting their costs to the public. These are facts that would make every American upset because their birthright is being stolen, the legacy of our country and the values of our nation. The future whispers and the present shouts. What we do is we do at Waterkeepers is amplify the voices of those future generations so that they can have a place in the political dialogue of today.
dk: What would a true free market economy look like?
RFK: In a true free market economy, we would properly value our natural resources. In a true free market economy you can’t make yourself rich without enriching your community. What polluters do, is they raise the standards of the living for themselves, while lowering the quality of living for everybody else, and they do that by escaping the disciplines of the free market. You show me a polluter, I’ll show you subsidy, I’ll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay his production cost. What all Waterkeepers do is work to restore a free market, make polluters pay the true cost. We are free marketeers, we go out into the marketplace, we catch the polluters, the cheaters, and we say to them, we are going to force you to internalize your costs, the same way you internalized your profits, because as long as someone is cheating the free market, it distorts the whole market, and none of us get the advantages of the efficiency and the democracy and the prosperity that the free market otherwise promises our country. What we have to understand in America is there is a huge difference between free market capitalism and corporate crony capitalism.
dk: How do we overcome the inherent limitations of short term profits?
RFK: You need to do it by restoring democracy and a key element of that is through media. The broadcasters are just entertaining us, no longer informing us, giving us information. There was a requirement for 60 years, a legal requirement that the broadcasters give us news of public import, that is why there is the six o’clock news, and if they were going to editorialize they had to present both sides. In 1988 right after the Fairness Act was abolished and you could have Fox News. The third requirement that was abolished was that they avoid corporate consolidation and at that time there were 50 organizations that were controlling all media outlets. Now there are five companies that control all 14,000 radio stations, all 5,000 television stations, the large internet providers. Those guys their job is to maximize profits. The way you do that is not by telling us the hard news about global warming or social security or the Middle East rather Lacy Peterson and Michael Jackson and going from one rape trial to another. It’s just selling pornography. It appeals to the the desire that all of us have in reptilian core of our brain for sex and celebrity gossip.
dk: How serious of a hit has the EPA taken in terms of numbers of enforcement officers let go?
It has lost half of its enforcement staff and enforcement has come to a halt. At Waterkeepers, we’ve been debating what to do about this for now the Bush working for corporate America, not the public.
dk: You have concerns for the USDA watering down standards organic industry standards and enforcing pollution laws?
RFK: The USDA is a captive agency. They are reps for Monsanto and big agribusiness. The USDA should be shut down and start all over because the institutional culture within the USDA is so ingrained. You just cant get rid of that, so those people so they should all be retired and we should get the farmers union to set an agenda that would actually get the USDA to do what it was supposed to do help the American family farmer, the original intent of that agency.
dk: But Waterkeepers was sucessful in suing the pork producers to abide by federal law and end their polluting manner with manure?
RFK: I think we’ve made that system as good as it possibly can get under the present adminstration. What we really need is to illegalize the laguna spray system, you shouldn’t be able to make liquefy manure. Once you liquify it, something bad is going to happen to it, its going to go into the air or the groundwater or the water.
dk: How resolved is the scientific community about the connection linking child inoculations with autism you’ve written of?
RFK: There is not just strong science supporting the connection but also is There’s anecdotal evidence from tens of thousands of mothers who’ve watched their healthy kids get inoculations and then get sick from autism and every one of them knows what made their kid sick. There were five scientific studies that were created by the pharmaceutical industry and CDC to mask the relationship between autism and thiomersal, and all of those studies are badly flawed. They are fraudulent, its the worst kind of tobacco science and that’s all they’ve got. Meanwhile there are hundreds of studies that show if you inject mercury into animals, into pigs, into dogs, into mice, into cadavers, that it destroys brain tissue, and that it creates neurological disorders. There are many studies demonstrating the link between mercury and autism. There is strong institutional denial by the people who made this happen, the CDC and the pharmaceutical industry, but anyone else who has looked at this has made the obvious conclusion that thiomersal is primarily linked to this. The CDC has shut off all studies that would demonstrate that connection. We’ve said to CDC, okay, why don’t you study the Amish? Why dont you find out why there is no autism among the Amish? Why don’t you study home schooled children, a group that doesn’t get the inoculations, and why is there no autism among those children. The CDC has refused to do this.
dk: You think our President should be impeached?
RFK: I think there is a lot more basis to impeach him. I wish he would be impeached. He has made such errors in judgment and has such a confidence and honesty problem.
dk: Is it true that your students at Pace School of Law get to prosecute Hudson River polluters as part of their coursework?
RFK: Yes, we give them each four to sue polluters at the beginning of the semester.
dk: What’s your view of Congress recent rejection of a minimum wage increase?
RFK: It is an emblem of the dysfunction in Washington. Since it was last raised, Congress has granted themselves a 35,000. in pay raise. I don’t understand it. The minimum wage is equal to 40 bucks a day. How can they think anyone can support a family on 40 dollars a day?