Warning about the “milestones of tyranny,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. warned over the weekend that crony capitalism can undermine democracy and lead corporations to see U.S. workers and the environment as mere commodities.
Speaking at a “Forging a Sustainable Future” conference Saturday at San Diego State University, Kennedy cited mining activities in West Virginia: “You can’t even say there is democracy in that state anymore. It’s a company town.”
He said 95 percent of the mines are “owned by Wall Street interests” and have “manipulated the political process to liquidate the state of cash.”
Kennedy, a New York environmental attorney, made the remarks to more than 200 participants at a conference about conserving the environment through alternatives.
The event—sponsored by Heartland Coalition and United Green with help from Mount Helix resident Miriam Raftery—featured panel discussions about energy and natural resources by local political figures and specialists.
Kennedy, 58, is the second-oldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles during his bid for the presidency.
He spoke without notes or prompter for about 80 minutes about his vision for a national electrical grid, solar energy, wind energy and electric cars and the obstacles in the path—polluters and corporations that he said circumvented the free-market system and sought to dominate the government.
Kennedy, who has worked in environmental causes for more than 30 years, is the chief prosecuting attorney for Hudson Riverkeepers and for the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a partner in VantagePoint Ventures.
“Whenever you see large-scale destruction of the environment, you also see the subversion of democracy,” the activist said, adding that destruction takes place at local levels where regulations are subverted and transparency disappears.
“Corporations are great things,” Kennedy said, “because they encourage people to accumulate, to assemble money, take risks and create jobs in the process.”
But he asserted that business shouldn’t run government because businessmen “don’t want the same thing for America that the American people want.
“They want profits. They don’t want democracy and don’t want free market capitalism. They hate those things.”
Instead, he said, they seek profits, control and a competitive edge.
As a counterbalance, Kennedy said, America needs an independent press and an informed citizenry that recognizes “all the milestones of tyranny.”
“The first thing that happens in any tyranny is for the powerful entities of society to privatize public trust and turn a profit for themselves,” he said.
He lamented the United States as the “best entertained and least informed civilization on the face of the earth.”
Kennedy described what he said was the huge difference between free market capitalism and “the kind of crony capitalism which we have now embraced through the crooked, corporatist Supreme Court which is antithetical to efficiency, prosperity and democracy in America.”
The high court’s Citizens United case allowing unrestricted political spending by corporations and unions is the “death knell of democracy,” he said.
Since that decision, corporations use their surplus money to invest in the political campaign process, Kennedy said.
“They get their hooks into a public official and use that official to dismantle the marketplace and get rid of democracy, so they don’t have to obey the rules and regulations, capture the agencies that are supposed to regulate them and then steal from us the public trust resources—our Treasury, our air and water—things that our children own.”
He recalled a conversation about West Virginia with his father when he was 14.
Kennedy said his father, a senator from New York, told him that in addition to polluting the environment, the coal companies permanently impoverish a community by making its land unusable in the future.
Kennedy said his father concluded they were out to break the unions. In fact, his father said there were 149,000 union workers in West Virginia. Today there are only 14,000.
“Nine out of 10 jobs were eliminated not by environmental rules but by a ruthless, deliberate and systematic strategy by the coal industry to eliminate jobs and replace them with machines and explosives,” he said.
Kennedy warned that corporations want to spread this “colonial model of the economy” across the country.
He denounced polluters as companies that “raise the standard of living for themselves while lowering the quality of life for everyone else.”
Coal companies in West Virginia have cut off the tops of 500 of the tallest mountains in the Appalachians by means of detonating 2,500 tons of ammonia nitrate explosives every day—equivalent to weekly blasts of a Hiroshima bomb, he asserted.
Dangerous levels of mercury has been found in all fresh fish sampled in this country, he said, quoting a National Academy of Science study, adding that the Centers for Disease Control links autism with mercury in fish.
That study indicated that one in six American women have dangerous levels of mercury in their wombs and 640,00 babies are born with high levels in their systems, he said in a lecture room in the Excercise and Nutritional Sciences Building.
Kennedy said the Environmental Protection Agency pins the problem on ozone particulates from coal burning plants.
“Right now,” he said, “we have a marketplace that is governed by rules that were written by the incumbents to reward the dirtiest, filthiest, most poisonous, most addicting, most destructive fuel from hell—rather than the cheap, clean, green, wholesome and patriotic fuels from heaven.”
To that end, he advocated a national electrical grid, which could be put into effect the same way the Internet has been brought into almost every home.
Kennedy also spoke of promising technology he is involved in including light bulbs that last for 30 years, Tesla Motors electric cars, wind farms in the Midwest and solar power stations.
North Dakota is the windiest place on Earth at sea level, he said, citing a Scientific American study claiming there is “enough harnessable wind in North Dakota, Montana and Texas to provide 100 percent of the energy need for the entire U.S. energy grid.”
Despite Obama administration efforts toward renewable energy, Kennedy said the major obstacles are government subsidies for the oil industry and the lack of a grid that could carry alternative forms of energy across the country.
Yet he pointed to Iceland, Brazil, Sweden and Costa Rica as nations that have decarbonized their energy economy and have prospered.
Kennedy estimated that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created through alternative energy efforts such as creating an electrical grid, weatherproofing homes, installing solar energy and insulation.
While China plans to invest $750 billion on wind and solar technology over the next five years, he said, he encouraged America to take the lead in electric energy.
China sees this as the “arms race of the 21st century,” he said. “They want to dominate and will if we don’t get off our butts.”