Interviews with Ralph Nader and Judi Bari, KPFA, 8/28/96 (Sep. 4, 1996)

Cris Welch: We’re joined on the telephone by Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and presidential candidate, who took out an ad in the papers last week and wrote a letter to the president of the United States complaining about a potential plan to bail out, he says, Charles Hurwitz, the gentleman who purchased Headwaters Forest, which is the largest and last remaining old-growth forest, largest stand of ancient redwood trees in private hands when he took over the Pacific Lumber Company in 1986. Mr. Nader, good morning.

Ralph Nader: Good morning.

CW: What is it you are complaining about in this potential deal to save Headwaters Forest and save Mr. Hurwitz?

RN: Well, Mr. Hurwitz, who’s been in trouble in the savings and loan situations in the southwest, as well as not being very friendly to the neighbors in Northern California and the venerable redwood groves, he wants to trade off with the US Department of the Interior, giving up 4,500 acres or so of redwoods in return for some valuable federally owned land like Treasure Island and other segments yet to be specified. And in my letter to President Clinton and in the ad in the New York Times with David Brower and Dan Hamburg, former Congressman, we suggested that the Clinton Administration work with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations and the Office of Thrift Supervision, who are involved in litigation to make Charles Hurwitz, his companies, pay for the collapse of the savings and loan. There are hundreds of millions of dollars being claimed by the federal government against Mr. Hurwitz’ corporate structure here. So we called his a debt-for-nature swap so that the public and future generations of Americans will enjoy this virgin redwood grove — as you say, a very rare one — and in return instead of giving other valuable land to Mr. Hurwitz, who’s not known for his environmental sensitivity, the amount that Mr. Hurwitz owes would be reduced. Now I spoke with Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Garamendi yesterday and he stated that that would be inappropriate for the Department of Interior to tell the FDIC and the OTS this. I said that’s not what we’re suggesting, Mr. Garamendi. We’re suggesting that you cooperate with these independent agencies. He kept going around and around with me, and then he had a press conference over the telephone from the Democratic Convention in Chicago and told the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers that it would be inappropriate and wrong and illegal for the Department of Interior to tell the banking agencies to do this debt-for-nature swap. That isn’t what we’re suggesting. We’re suggesting a cooperation between the two. The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the Clinton administration, the Federal Trade Commission is an independent agency: they cooperate. Garamendi is trying to say that an administration department like the Department of Interior can not order an independent agency to do this and that. And that’s correct. But they can certainly get together with them and work something out in terms of a debt-for-nature swap. I told them that in January 1994 the acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation wrote Congressman Ron Dellums and said, quote, “We are mindful of the possibility that if Pacific Lumber’s parent company can be held liable for these savings and loan losses, issues involving the redwood forest might be brought into play. You may be assured we are following this issue closely.” So I’m very upset with Mr. Garamendi for distorting what I told him yesterday and then going to the press and repeating his misimpression, to put it mildly, that I corrected in my conversation with him.

Philip Moldary: Mr. Nader, I’m certainly on your side on this thing and certainly would like to see Mr. Charles Hurwitz lose control of this forest given what he’s been doing to other forests. In the mean time, I don’t know if the parent company, Maxxam, is going to be held liable for the collapse of the United Savings Association of Texas, which collapsed in 1988 with a cost to the taxpayer of $1.6 billion. Now this makes Whitewater and all of that look like very small change by comparison. Now we paid $1.6 billion to compensate depositors in Charles Hurwitz’s savings and loan when that institution collapsed. Charles Hurwitz of course claims that he was just a paid executive at this savings and loan. He didn’t own this savings and loan, it wasn’t his. He owned just a small portion — I think it’s around 25% — of the stock in United Savings Association. So to hold him personally responsible for the collapse of a savings and loan which he was just an employee of is totally unfair. That’s Charles Hurwitz.

RN: Well, that’s being challenged by the federal government, that Pacific Lumber’s parent company can possibly be held liable for the United Savings and Loan losses. I mean he has a multi-tier corporate structure in order to evade responsibility, personally, but the point is that the parent company is what may be required to pay up in a debt-for-nature swap.

CW: That still remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a federal court has said that, OK, well this Headwaters is his property and he can start cutting down trees on the 16th of September and he says he plans to do exactly that.

RN: Well, first of all he can’t. He’s restricted by the terms of that order in terms of what he can salvage. He’s not going to be able to cut down 2,000-year-old redwoods. Second, why hasn’t the Department of the Interior under Clinton called up the banking agencies who are suing his parent company in the S&L scandals and sit down and see whether some arrangement can be worked out? Already the FDIC has stated that this is something that could be possible, in a letter to Congressman Dellums 30 months ago.

CW: Well, Mr. Hurwitz… It still hasn’t been proven that he is personally responsible, or that his parent company is responsible.

RN: Well, they’re into… the lawsuits have been filed and they’re into settlement negotiations. Why the delay? Maybe he’s delaying. Maybe the banking agency’s delaying. It’s time to come to a conclusion. If they can’t come to a conclusion on a debt-for-nature swap then they have to look at other alternatives. My complaint with Mr. Garamendi and President Clinton is that they’re trying to say that these agencies are independent agencies of the Clinton Administration and they cannot work with them. That is totally false.

PM: Well, Garamendi is quoted in the paper as saying neither he as an executive in the Department of the Interior or Clinton can consider a debt-for-nature swap unless banking regulators first win a judgment against Hurwitz or he agrees to settle the charges…

RN: Or a settlement before a judgment. I’m saying let’s sit down and cooperate with the banking agencies. Say, what’s the deal here? Tell us how far along you are — you know, these are all public litigation materials — and what did you mean in your letter to Congressman Dellums?

CW: OK, now your complaint with Mr. Clinton — made very public not only by the ad you’ve got in the paper, but also by Mr. Garamendi’s response, which you’re saying was inappropriate and misleading, to say the least — his response obviously is coming out of a very real fear of your presidential candidacy, that you could very substantially or at least hurt Mr. Clinton, you could cutinto his voter base here in California among other places. Is this one of the issues that you plan to use in your campaign against Mr. Clinton much less against Mr. Dole.

RN: It’s separate from the campaign. We’ve been working on timber issues for many years, whether it’s the Tongass Forest or forests in California or elsewhere. This happens to come to the forefront now and we would like this issue to be settled by a forceful defense not only of the taxpayer, who’s been looted by these savings and loans, but also by the responsibility of the department regarding those redwoods. Let’s keep it on that basis. When I talk to Mr. Garamendi there’s no mention of any presidential campaign. What I fault them for is that after I made it very clear in responding to them that independent agencies like banking agencies can cooperate with administrative departments like the Department of Interior where he’s working, he turns around  and completely ignores what I told him and tells the press that it would be illegal and inappropriate for the Clinton Administration to do that. You know, he’s completely wrong, but he was playing politics and I’m very sorry about that.

Judi Bari

CW: Judi Bari is on the telephone with us, a long time activist with Earth First! and other organizations. Judi, you actually live up in the neck of the woods where Headwaters is to be found…

Judi Bari: Actually, I live halfway between you and Headwaters. These things are farther apart than you think. But I do live in the redwood ecosystem.

CW: We’re closer together than many people seem to think as well. The effects on Headwaters will have effects on the rest of us as well. There are folks going up there to campout to stop Charles Hurwitz from doing what he says he is going to do, namely start hauling out wood on September 16. That’s a couple of weeks from now.

JB: Yeah, it’s coming right up. You know, I wanted to comment on what Ralph Nader said. Of course I agree with every word, except that I really don’t have any other expectations than that. I don’t expect Clinton or Garamendi to go in a back room and come up with anything talking with Hurwitz that’s going to save the forest. Clinton and Hurwitz, two savings and loans bandits, dividing up the spoils, are not going to settle this issue. The only reason Headwaters is a national issue, the only reason that we’re even this close to saving any part of the forest is because of the power of the people. It’s because of the movement that we have stuck with over the years no matter what they’ve done. That’s what we’re planning on doing. They can go in the back room and do all the sell-out deals they want, but we’re still going to be out there defending the forest.

PM: Judi, the savings and loan back in Texas went belly-up back in 1988 and cost the taxpayers $1.6 billion. There’s been nothing done to Charles Hurwitz since then. He hasn’t lost a dime of his own money. What makes you think that now this is suddenly going to turn around?

JB: Absolutely. Meanwhile, they’re cutting welfare for poor people and here they’re going to give more welfare for this  very rich man when they say, “Oh, we can’t do anything about it.” Well, I don’t believe it for a minute. If they had the will they certainly can. This man should be in jail. It’s not just a question of whether he should have his land confiscated, he should be in jail. He is guilty of the identical crimes of Michael Milken; in fact, he worked with Michael Milken to do all the deals that let him takeover this forest. So I think it’s more a question of the will of the system to prosecute him, rather than the ability of the system. And it really comes down to the fact that all these rich men are on the same side.

CW: Now there was the part of the article in yesterday’s paper that mentioned the image problem that Mr. Hurwitz is going to have should he go through with this. The implication was that Mr. Hurwitz was concerned with his image.

JB: Well, that’s news to me. I’ve never known Mr. Hurwitz to be concerned with his image in any way, shape or form. All he’s concerned with is his pocketbook. he doesn’t care about his image. He doesn’t care about the forest. He doesn’t care about the economy that he leaves devastated and the effects that he has. All he wants is more and more money.

CW: Now, you’ve mentioned the movement, and as a very prominent member of Earth First! you’ve been part of that movement for many years. What exactly is going to be happening this time on this battle front?

JB: We actually have a three-pronged strategy, and this strategy is independent of anything that Clinton and Hurwitz do because a settlement that would actually save the forest is not even on the table. It doesn’t matter what they come up with. If they come up with a settlement to save just taht one little grove — there’s six groves in Headwaters Forest. Headwaters Forest is 60,000 acres, not 6,000 acres, and we’re going to be out there defending it. On September 15, which falls on a Sunday this year, we are calling for a mass demonstration similar to what we did last year. And we’re going to have this on the eve of the day they are allowed to cut. So we’re going to have a mass demonstration, and it’s going to be followed by a Ghandian-style civil disobedience in which people will cross a property line to symbolically take back the property from Charles Hurwitz and to make a political statement. Last year, 2,000 people came to the rally and 264 were arrested. It was the largest civil disobedience… it sounds like nothing to you people I’m sure, but up here in the country that is a huge number of people. But at any rate it was the largest civil disobedience in the history of the United States forest protection movement and it has had a profound effect. That’s what put this issue on the table for Clinton and Hurwitz. So we’re planning a repeat of that scenario, a large demonstration open to everyone: elders, children, people from all walks of life to show the breadth of support for this issue. The civil disobedience this year will be led — last year I led it, as I was the first one to walk over the line. This year I am hoping not to have to personally get arrested, because people like Cecelia Lanman of EPIC; Tracy Katelman, registered professional forester of Trees Foundation; and ex-Congressman Dan Hamburg, who introduced the Headwaters bill, are going to be the first to step over the line this year.

CW: Judi, is there a hotline that people can call for dates, directions, times, etc.?

JB: Absolutely. I’ve just got one more thing and I’ll really keep it short, then I’ll give you the number at the end. So that’s going to be on Sunday, September 15. But on September 16, the day they’re allowed to start cutting, we will be in the forest and meet them, and Earth First! will be out there. Our base camp will be opening on Friday the 13th. We’ll have an ongoing base camp as long as it takes. Last year we were out there for two months. We’ll be out there until the end of the logging season and battle them for every tree that they think they’re going to take. So we have this three-prong strategy: a rally, a Ghandian-style civil disobedience and the third one is direct action at the point of production for as long as it takes. The hotline is: 707/468-1660. We’re not counting on Clinton, Garamendi or anyone. There are many things going on to try to save this whole forest, not just the one grove. One of the things is that there’s been a proposal at the Board of Forestry for emergency rules to prevent salvage logging in old growth areas. There’s a public hearing on that on September 9th in Sacramento.

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