The 'Malefactors of Great Wealth' and the Rise of American Fascism
May 4, 2014
Robert F. Kennedy Jr
Commentary: "Big Government is a threat to American Democracy. But the much bigger threat is excessive corporate power. And if you look throughout (applause) our nation's history, our most visionary political leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have been warning the American people against the domination of corporate power."
Special to Environmentalists Against War
Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the heirs of the Levi Strauss Family, had the foresight to create the Goldman Environmental Prize whereby every year eight environmentalists from around the world are honored for their environmental work. They each receive $125,000 and are flown to San Francisco for an awards ceremony. At the 25th anniversary of the Prize, an audience of 3,200 packed the SF Opera House to the ceiling. The keynote speaker turned out to be Robert Kennedy, Jr. RFK Jr.'s speech blew the roof off!
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Keynote Speech
At the Goldman Prize Awards
Transcribed and posted by Ruthie Sakheim
SAN FRANCISCO (April 28, 2014) -- I have to start by apologizing because I've knocked out my voice. . . (He had laryngitis.) I was disappointed because I can't pay proper tribute to these extraordinary heroes. . . and to the Goldman family, who I love. I spoke at the Goldman Awards the first time. . .
Richard and Rhoda were very, very rare people: They understood the connection between the environment and democracy and poverty, (applause) and they understood that these issues had to be solved from the grass roots. And here in our country, where the Environmental Movement really began (after Rachel Carson but in 1970 before Earth Day). . .
And I remember what it was like before Earth Day. . . I remember the Cuyahoga River burning; it went for a week, and nobody being able to put it out, with flames that are eight stories high; I remember Lake Eerie being declared dead; I remember that I couldn't swim in the Hudson, or the Charles, or the Potomac growing up; I remember the Eastern Peregrine Falcon going extinct in 1963, the same year that my uncle was killed from DDT poisoning. . .
And this accumulation of insults, in 1970, drove 20 million Americans out into the street: the largest public demonstration in American history: 10% of our population demanding that our political leaders (applause) -- I have no idea if you can understand anything I'm saying! -- (Building applause, laughter, cheers and shouts!) -- Do I sound like I'm yodeling?! (Crowd laughs.)
Anyway, 10% of the population: and it frightened the leadership, the political leadership of this country, this vast democratic outpouring, Republicans, Democrats, (Nixon was president then), created over the next ten years, created the EPA, twenty-eight major environmental laws: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, RCRA, (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act re: hazardous waste disposal), CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act known as Superfund), The Safe Drinking Water Act. . .
The mechanism that those acts had in common was their effort to restore democracy; to protecting the allocation of the Public Commons -- the shared resources of our society: the air, the water, the wildlife, the fisheries, the public lands -- those things that couldn't be reduced to private property ownership but by their nature are the property, the assets of all of our community. . . (applause.).
And the industry, the polluters were caught off guard: they let us do this but they regrouped, and they mounted a campaign to crush us and to crush these laws, and to crush democracy, and to crush the transparency. . . and anywhere you see large scale environmental destruction, you will see the subversion of democracy (applause). . . You'll see the capture of the agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution (the people, from pollution) -- those agencies become sock-puppets of the industries they're supposed to regulate.
You'll see the corruption of public officials. You'll see the disappearance of transparency, the subversion of the press that's supposed to inform us and preserve democracy. . . You'll see the destruction of democracy at the local level: the end of planning laws and zoning laws, and the capacity of the public -- and hearings, and permit hearings -- to participate in the political process and the allocation of their commons.
And these industries, people like the Koch brothers, and Enron, and Exxon, and all these other energy companies, the "carbon cronies", in an effort to create a corporate kleptocracy in this country, and change this from a democracy to an oligarchy of the wealthy and of the few, attacked wholesale our environmental laws. . . And they did it in a number of ways that you know about: campaign finance laws and all of these laws that injure our environment. . . And they created hundreds of think-tanks on Capitol Hill -- these phony think tanks, that they claim are free-market think tanks. . .
But they don't want free-market capitalism! They hate free market capitalism! What they want is a ruthless, merciless, savage capitalism for the poor, and socialism for the rich, for them (applause builds to cheers). And they want a ticket to steal what belongs to us -- the air, the water, the rivers, the shorelines. . .
You know, these are ancient laws that protect them: The Code of Justinian, The Magna Carta -- all the way back through our history the law was that everybody has the right to use the commons; nobody has a right to use it in a way that will diminish or injure its use and enjoyment by others; and they mounted a wholesale attack on those things. . .
And today they're continuing that attack. They see the biggest threat to them is solar energy, wind energy, renewables, which are now at Grid parity (?) (Applause.) We can beat them in the marketplace, but they won't let us. They are preserving these huge subsidies of hundreds of billions of dollars a year that go to the carbon industry and to the incumbents. . .
And the New York Times reported this week something that I've been seeing because I'm in these industries (?), that the Koch brothers are using these phony think tanks to go around, like the ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, to go state by state and put taxes, excise taxes, on solar panels when they put them on their home. . .
They went to New Jersey and made it illegal to sell Teslas and other electric cars in the state of New Jersey. They made it almost impossible to build transmission lines, and very easy to build pipelines.
There's been 16,000 miles of pipeline built in this country over the last twelve years and only 600 miles of transmission. Because they're trying to destroy this industry because they know that we can beat them on a level playing field. We're cheaper than them and we can beat them. But this is a democratic industry.
The political system of a country reflects its economic organization. And when you have a few people like the Koch brothers and Rex Tillerson (CEO Exxon Mobil) controlling all the oil, and all the coal, the political system will begin to resemble an oligarchy.
And when you spread that out, and let millions of people participate in the process of generating energy, we will become more and more like a democracy; the kind of democracy that we're supposed to be in this country. . . (Applause).
I'm going to say one last thing. You hear from the tea party -- you hear that "The big enemy of democracy is Big Government!" -- and I agree with that: Big Government is a threat to democracy: when there's drones spying on us, and when they're opening our mail, and when they're listening to our phone calls, and reading our text messages and torturing people and putting them in jail without trial, and suspending habeas corpus, and telling the American people that the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution are luxuries we can no longer afford in this country. So Big Government is a threat!
But that's not what the Tea Party cares about. They don't care about any of those issues. They just don't want to pay their taxes. And they don't want a black person to be president of the United States! (Applause). And I'm just telling the truth.
You know, Cliven Bundy ("Were Negroes better off as slaves?") did not surprise me. I knew that this whole Tea Party Movement came out of the nostalgia for a plantation economy. Why is it that they all came out of those dozen Southern states that were part of the confederacy: this is the resurgence of the confederacy (applause). . . well, I'm not going to go on! I gotta shut up!
I'll just say this: So Big Government is a threat to American Democracy. But the much bigger threat is excessive corporate power. And if you look throughout (applause) our nation's history, our most visionary political leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have been warning the American people against the domination of corporate power:
Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, he warned the American people, he said this country would never be destroyed by a foreign enemy (like Osama Bin Laden), but he warned us that our beloved democratic institutions would be subverted by "malefactors of great wealth" who would rob them from within.
Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, in his most famous speech ever, warned the American People against domination by the "military industrial complex" (he meant the Oil Companies as well).
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican and the greatest in our history, in 1863, at the height of the Civil War said, "I have the South in front of me and I have the Bankers behind me, and for my Country, I fear the Bankers more. . .
And Franklin Roosevelt, in 1942, he said the domination of government by corporate power is (quote) "the essence of fascism."
And Mussolini, Benito Mussolini, echoed that -- he had an insider's view of that whole system -- he complained that fascism should not be called "Fascism," it should be called "Corporatism." Because it was the merger of State and Corporate power.
What we have to understand, and it is what the nominees understand completely, is that the domination of business by government is called Communism; the domination of government by business is called Fascism, and what our job is to walk a narrow lane in-between, which is free market capitalism and democracy.
And in order to do that we need to keep Big Government at bay with our left hand, and Big Business at bay with our right, and we need a strong, independent press that is willing to speak truth to power (applause), and we need an educated and informed public that is able to recognize all the milestones of tyranny.
And that's what these honorees have spent their lives doing: reminding us what democracy is, and reminding us that we cannot let it go.
Thanks you all very much for having me.
Celebrating 25 Years of Environmental Activism at the 2014 Goldman Prize Ceremony
By Goldman Staff
SAN FRANCISCO (April 29, 2014) -- The 25th annual Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony took place on Monday, April 28, 2014 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, followed by a reception at City Hall.
Nearly 4,000 guests were inspired and motivated by the courageous stories of the 2014 Goldman Prize recipients: Desmond D’Sa from South Africa; Ramesh Agrawal from India; Suren Gazaryan from Russia; Rudi Putra from Indonesia; Helen Slottje from USA; and Ruth Buendia from Peru. To find out more about this year’s recipients, click HERE.
The standing-room only event was full of surprises and specials guests, including Bonnie Raitt and Graham Nash who delivered knock-out musical performances. Graham Nash also performed at the very first Goldman Prize ceremony in 1990. Master of Ceremonies Soledad O’Brien, Goldman Prize President John Goldman and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave moving speeches that energized and excited the crowd.
Even the stage design got a refresh for the anniversary, with a huge living wall of greenery complete with "25" spelled out in red flowers, courtesy of David Brenner and Habitat Horticulture.
After the ceremony, guests moved to City Hall where they were treated to a menu of local and organic food and drink provided by McCalls catering and Bonterra Organic Vineyards.
Just when the evening appeared to be winding down, a flash mob choreographed by Heath Hunter, accompanied by a pair of African drummers, delighted the crowd with a surprise dance performance to "Revolution in Paradise" on the marble staircase in City Hall.
Congratulations to the awe-inspiring 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients, and thank you to everyone who helped make our 25th anniversary truly spectacular.