Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
interviewed by David Kupfer
The Progressive magazine November
Son of the late Attorney General and Presidential
candidate Robert Kennedy and nephew of JFK, Robert F. Kennedy
Jr. has been around politics all his life. From a young age, he
has also had a love affair with the Earth, whether sailing or
hunting or birding. He helped lead the fight to protect New York
City's water supply and has won many lawsuits against companies
guilty of polluting the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and other
bodies of water.
I met up with Robert Kennedy Jr. on the
second day of summer at San Francisco State University, where
he was attending the Eighth Annual Waterkeeper Alliance Conference.
It brings together environmentalists from six continents who sue
polluters, and Kennedy is president of the organization.
Three weeks prior, Kennedy had made a
big splash with a story in Rolling Stone about vote rigging in
Ohio. "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" made immediate
waves. While the news media was slow to recognize and validate
his thesis, in recent months, a national debate has been burning.
On July 13, the law firm of Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner
& Proctor, which Kennedy is a member of, filed a federal lawsuit
against Diebold and other electronic voting machine companies
alleging that they misrepresented their products as "unhackable."
He currently co-hosts Ring of Fire on
Air America Radio with Mike Papantonio. Kennedy is also a clinical
professor and supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation
Clinic at Pace University School of Law, which has a partnership
with Hudson Riverkeeper, an organization that he helped create.
It was at Pace that he earned a master's degree in law after acquiring
a political science degree from Harvard and a law degree from
the University of Virginia. He is also the senior attorney and
national spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In 1983, then-twenty-nine-year-old RFK
Jr. was arrested for possession of heroin. During his subsequent
800 community service hours spent with the Hudson River Foundation,
the young lawyer bonded with the organization. Upon completion
of his community service, he was hired as the group's chief prosecuting
attorney in 1984. After one successful case, the group used the
money to buy a boat, dubbed The Riverkeeper, which continues to
patrol the Hudson searching for polluters.
In 2004, he wrote Crimes Against Nature,
detailing how President Bush has rewritten the nation's environmental
laws in favor of industry. Kennedy recounted how Bush has filled
his Administration with former lobbyists and corporate executives
who now oversee the regulation of their old industries.
Prior to our meeting, Kennedy had just
come from a vigorous gym workout on campus. We sat in the sun
next to a redwood grove on a day of record-breaking heat. 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.
Question: Do you believe the 2004 election
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Yes, 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
an absolute certainty because the votes were never counted in
Ohio as the result of an illegal effort by public officials to
derail the recount. Even if you do not believe that the election
was stolen, there is no dispute that the Republicans made a deliberate,
concerted effort to tilt the results in their favor.
There is strong evidence that Kerry won
the popular vote. It was reported that there was something like
a three million vote difference. But if you look at what was happening
across the country, there were easily three million votes that
were shifted. There were three million mostly Democratic voters
in foreign countries that didn't get a chance to vote because
the Pentagon shut down the website by which those voters were
meant to register.
Q: These were not military personnel?
Kennedy: Of the seven million Americans
living abroad, one million are military, and not all of them are
Republicans. The other six million are overwhelmingly Democrat
because people who live in foreign countries have a much different
perspective as to what is happening in our country. They were
very well organized to vote this time, and the Pentagon, under
the Help America Vote Act, had set up a website that would streamline
the registration process.
Q: Not the State Department?
Kennedy: No! It was put under control
of the Pentagon, and the Pentagon then independently distributed
absentee ballots to all its bases. But it simultaneously shut
down the website by which all other American voters living abroad
were supposed to register. The Pentagon has given a series of
contradictory answers as to why it did that; none of them make
The best indications in Ohio are that
over half a million votes were stolen. There were 357,000 mainly
Democratic voters in the cities, such as Cleveland, Dayton, and
Columbus, who either were not allowed to vote or their votes were
not counted. In addition to that, 80,000 Democratic voters in
twelve western Ohio rural counties who cast a vote for Kerry 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.
Q: Are there any safeguards to prevent
voter fraud again this fall, or in 2008?
Kennedy: There are no safeguards, and
the Democratic Party has been abysmal in terms of making this
a national issue. The Democrats are enablers, they've been sissified,
and they are being led around by a nose ring by Karl Rove. 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 and
make it much more difficult for citizens to register.
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.
Q: Just how dysfunctional is the federal
Kennedy: There are two reforms that we
need to restore our democracy. The first is campaign finance.
We need to get the corporate money out of the election process.
And second, we need to resolve the dysfunction in the environment.
Looters are running agencies that are supposed to be protecting
us from pollution. The person who supervises the head of the Forest
Service has been a timber industry lobbyist. The person in charge
of public lands till last year was a mining industry lobbyist
who believed public lands are unconstitutional. The chief environmental
adviser to the President was a lobbyist for the Chemical Manufacturers
Association, as well as for Alcoa and General Electric. This is
a picture of dysfunction.
But you can't fix it without first fixing
our democracy. We need election reform because our elections are
being stolen. And these huge powerful voting machine vending companies
have privatized the election process in our country.
Q: How much damage have the corporate
capitalists done to bankrupt our nation?
Kennedy: 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 they use our campaign finance system to loot our
commons, to steal from 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 cannot act philanthropically
in America. It is against the law. They cannot act altruistically.
They have to have, always, the profit motive in mind. When Wal-Mart
brings water down to the Katrina victims, it's not doing that
to be nice; it's doing it to make larger profits and to increase
the value of its shares. If its actions are not accomplishing
those objectives, the shareholders can sue the executives, 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 we'd be crazy to let them anywhere
near our government. The only reason they want to influence government
is to plunder. To steal from children.
Q: But this is not free market capitalism
you are speaking of, is it?
Kennedy: We do not have free market capitalism
in America; we have crony capitalism. There is a huge difference
between free market capitalism that democratizes a country and
makes us more efficient and prosperous and corporate crony capitalism.
Q: What would a true free market economy
Kennedy: 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
What polluters do is raise the standards
of 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 a 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
These are facts that would make every
American upset. Our birthright is being stolen, the legacy of
our country is at stake, and the values of our nation are in peril.
The future whispers, and the present shouts.
David Kupfer is a longtime Progressive
contributor who lives in Northern California, where he is an organic
grower, environmental educator, and producer of the soon to be
released San Francisco Green Map/Northern California Green Access
Reforming the Electoral Process