Beast of the Month - October 1998
Charles Hurwitz, Financial Swindler & Ecological Terrorist
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
The stock market gyrates up and down in a frenzy, international currencies in places like Russia collapse, and there is tension in the air for investors as, on the heels of Y2K, whispers begin of an upcoming global recession - or worse. In such an economic environment, is there any way, short of smacking 70 home runs in a season, to guarantee business success?
Apparently, Charles Hurwitz has a good plan.
For those not aware, Charles Hurwitz is a Texas korporate raider and the CEO of the Maxxam Corporation, a Houston-based conglomerate currently under federal investigation. Among the Board of Directors that Maxxam once had includes the late John Connally, former Texas governor and JFK's fellow traveler when he was snuffed in Dallas. (During Connally's 1980 presidential campaign, noted S&L charlatan Charles Keating worked as his West Coast fundraiser.) In 1984, Maxxam acquired the S&L United Savings Association of Texas at the peak of the Reagan-Bush era, with the assistance of Drexel Burnham and Lambert. After a predictably reckless operation in which USAT more closely resembled a money laundering operation than a bank, USAT became the fifth largest failed S&L in the country in November 1988, costing taxpayers an astounding $1.6 billion. Among the people heavily involved with the whole USAT fiasco are junk-bond dealer Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky and the lesser known Boyd Jeffries. All three have gone to prison for actions involving the swindle of Hurwitz's S&L, but Hurwitz has served no time for his actions. (Hurwitz is still involved in a lawsuit filed against him by the FDIC for his obscene looting.)
Among the more notorious misdeeds Hurwitz is associated with: he plead "no contest" before the Securities Exchange Commission for illegal stock market dealing and later admitted to looting $400,000 from Summit Insurance of New York; between 1982-84, he raided Simplicity Pattern, and reduced pension fund allocation to retirees from $10,000 to $6,000 a year; since 1983, involved in a land swindle in Rancho Mirage, California; the destruction of the Arizona Desert water system in Pima County; and the takeover of Kaiser Aluminum in 1988, putting Maxxam among the top ten toxic polluters, according to Mother Jones magazine. Many of these events would be worthy of a Beastly prize alone, but it is his involvement with what was formerly a large but sustainable family operation that truly takes the cake.
In 1985, with money funneled from USAT, Hurwitz engaged in a hostile takeover of the Pacific Lumber Company. (Ivan Boesky made $3 million off the deal.) He immediately raided Pacific Lumber's worker pension fund (much like he had with Simplicity Pattern), looting $55 million from it. Pacific Lumber soon commenced in rabid clearcutting, tripling the rate of logging on the world's largest privately-held ancient redwood forests. He violated the Endangered Species Act with the logging of Owl Creek's marbled murrelet observation stations before a court-ordered survey was complete, and later lost a lawsuit in federal court and was ordered to pay $1.2 million. In fact, Hurwitz has lost seven environmental lawsuits over his logging practices. These practices have caused mudslides and wiped out homes in Stafford, California. Residents of Elk Creek are suing Hurwitz because of flooding caused by his logging that is threatening to wash away theirs.
Part of the redwood forests owned by Hurwitz and Maxxam are the Headwaters, a 60,000-acre area in the middle of Humboldt County. Headwaters has been so undisturbed and is so ecologically healthy that animals and plants which survive nowhere else thrive here. Despite being an environmental treasure, Pacific Lumber president John Campbell vowed to cut every redwood in Headwaters by the year 2010, a pace that PL is currently exceeding by six years in meeting. In whole, 75 percent of the Headwaters forest have been subjected to over-cutting.
The reason for the environmental destruction is money. Simply put, Hurwitz and Maxxam have been on a crusade to extort funds from the federal and state government in exchange for the land they are recklessly destroying. Clearly, the extortion ploy is working: under a "deal" recently struck by the California Legislature, Pacific Lumber gets paid up to $480 million for roughly 9,500 of forest, only half of it old-growth. In addition to the sweetheart deal, the Pacific Lumber Habitat Conservation Plan would give Maxxam almost unlimited rights to cut down another 200,000 acres of forests in the area, and would also arrange a purchase between the feds and another timber baron, which would turn over another 8,000 acres of Humboldt forest to Hurwitz. As the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) notes, the plan amounts to a permit to kill endangered species and destroy their habitat, allowing Hurwitz and Maxxam to destroy a potential marbled murrelet habitat, up to 4,000 acres of ancient Douglas fir, radically increased herbicide usage in conjunction with the rampant clearcutting, and little protection for areas at high risk of landsliding. Kevin Bundy of EPIC observed, "This is why endangered species are in so much trouble."
The excuse for the deal is that Hurwitz and Maxxam have to be compensated for the confiscation of their property. This claim is laughable on multiple counts:
1) Since their so-called "property" is a precious natural resource, restrictions on such usage are quite legitimate and should be expected;
2) Hurwitz and Maxxam were full aware of the ecological value of their land before they obtained it, so they can't claim ignorance or a surprise of being oppressed by supposed "unfair" environmental laws;
3) The logging practices on the "property" has destroyed the homes of others, which makes the actions infringing on the legitimate property rights of others;
4) Hurwitz and Maxxam has already profited handsomely from the purchase, extracting over $1.5 billion dollars from the forests since buying Pacific Lumber for $850 million;
5) The purchase price for land is $50,000-an-acre, the same land the company bought for $3,000 an acre, far beyond a fair compensation to the point of outrage; and, most important:
6) Since Hurwitz and Maxxam obtained the property through fraud and swindle of a S&L that the American people had to cover the tab for, rather than having any "rights" over the property, it should be taken back as payment for theft, and rather than compensating Hurwitz, he should be put in prison.
There are some examples of environmental restrictions gone amuck, where bureaucratic laws and regulations defy logic and punish hard-working, honest people on unjust technicalities. This is not one of them. Many of these examples are broadcast on korporate media "news" shows and are shouted about by "conservatives", who use them as advertisement for laws loosening environmental restrictions, supposedly to "get big government off our backs." The odd thing is these laws never seem to protect the little guys at all, but do allow huge korporations like Maxxam to profit even greater from their anti-ecological policies.
With this in mind, it certainly should come as no surprise that it was the supposed Republican Newtoid "revolutionary" class of '94 in Congress that pushed for paying obscene amounts of korporate welfare to big business for restricting their "right" to destroy the environment, a concept now being taken to its worst extreme yet with Pacific Lumber. It should also be no surprise that perhaps the most cynically unprincipled politician going, outgoing California Governor Pete Wilson, worked tirelessly to get the Headwaters money allocated in the state's general budget with no strings attached. Throughout the last-minute negotiation process, Hurwitz was on the phone with Pete Wilson's office. Of course, the fact that Hurwitz gave Wilson a $20,000 campaign contribution in 1994 may have something to do with this, making Green Party governor candidate Dan Hamburg quip, "Wilson sold himself cheap. It's pathetic."
Still, Republican's aren't the only whores for Hurwitz and his dollars: Democrats prove that big money over the environment is a bipartisan deal, perhaps more appalling in the Democrat's case because they at least feign concern about ecological issues. Among the greatest supporters of the Headwaters deal has been California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who brought federal money to the deal, morphing then-Democratic Congressman Hamburg's original plan of swapping debt for land into a cashout to Hurwitz. (Hamburg bolted the party out of protest of this issue and the perversion of the party by money.) Then there is Barbara Boxer, whose limousine liberalism is the worst Rush Limbaugh-esque caricature, and, like Feinstein, remained silent as Hamburg's original plan died out. Another big supporter of the deal is Klinton and his Deputy Secretary John Garamendi (also a former Californian.) Given the wretched history Klinton has in choosing Greenback over Green, Garamendi's support seems to fit right in with the "New Democrat" philosophy: in fact, Vernon Jordan, among Slick Willie's closest advisers and key player in Peckergate, has received paychecks from Hurwitz as a lobbyist.
Even while Sacramento lawmakers were finalizing the Headwaters Agreement, PL loggers continued to cut ancient trees in areas that were officially off-limits according to the terms of the preliminary agreement. After the pact was sealed, they were at it again. From the Sonoma County Independent:
Other crews spread pesticides like 2-4-D and Roundup on already cut-over areas to prevent anything but commercial timber from growing in the area. To help the chemicals stick to the vegetation, the crews laced them with diesel fuel. Tens of thousands of gallons of this poisonous concoction have been smeared over thousands of acres in the Headwaters region since May -- an apparent violation of state water quality regulations.
Nothing new here: since Pacific Lumber first entered into Headwaters negotiations in 1996, the company has been found guilty of violating logging regulations more than 250 times.
About the only group that has taken a dedicated and passionate stand against the Hurwitz land pillage is Earth First!, an environmental group that engages in daring acts of civil disobedience. The most famous of these is by Julia "Butterfly" Hill, whose sit-in of the Redwood known as Luna the Stafford Giant began in December of 1997 and continues today.
The reward for the actions of the Earth First! protesters has been demonization in the korporate media as environmental "terrorists", an ironic charge considering the psychopathic behavior of Hurwitz and Pacific Lumber more fits the bill. To promote the label of Earth First! as dangerous "radicals", the FBI and the Oakland Police Department charged EF activist Judi Bari as being the culprit in a 1990 car bomb explosion that almost killed her, claiming that the bomb was hers for a supposed terrorist attack. The smear was without foundation, and considering the suspicious activity of the FBI in its harassment of Earth First!, it is widely believed that the feds are the culprits in the murder attempt themselves. (There is currently a lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland PD over their actions that has yet to go to trial.)
The distorted treatment of Earth First! in the press and by the feds is quite comparable to the harassment of the Patriot Militia groups, which also have been demonized by media propaganda, faced attacks by FBI, and are regularly faced with the danger of provocateurs infiltrating their groups to create situations blamed on the organizations themselves. Though some Earth First! members and Patriots may not like being lumped together, they have a common bond: both take a stand against how multi-national korporations and the federal government are joining forces to steal the land, money, and freedom of the American people. It is because of this trait that both, like the Black Panthers and the 60's radicals before them, have become labeled as dangerous enemies of the state.
That being the case, Earth First! has a new martyr for their cause: David "Gypsy" Chain. Considering the almost cartoonish Lex Luther-esque quality of Hurwitz' behavior, a line like "and he kicked a puppy too" would seem fitting, but instead, we have to settle for the death of a human being. In the first fatality in a decade of anti-logging tactics, Chain was killed on September 17th by a falling redwood while trying to disrupt operations at a Pacific Lumber logging site. PL has claimed it was an "accident", and certainly to some degree it was. However, a video taken by Earth First! proves false Pacific Lumber's original claim that the company "had no knowledge" that Chain and others were nearby in Grizzly Creek. In fact, the logger who cut the tree that killed Chain can be heard shouting obscenities and vowing to get his "pistol," and further states to the protesters, "I'll make sure I got a tree comin' this way!" Several other Earth First! activists were just six feet away from Chain when he died. As Earth First! states in a press release:
David Chain's death was the inevitable result of the timber company's deliberate campaign of violence toward environmental activists. In the last year, Earth First! protesters have been hog-tied and lowered from tree top perches and had their tree sit safety lines cut by PL climbers. Loggers have cut trees in the direction of tree sitters, and have threatened lives by cutting trees with activists in them. Logging helicopters have been used to harass and endanger treesitters, such as Julia Butterfly, flying within feet of their platforms and whipping up forceful winds. Recently, activists encountered a "goon squad" of PL employees in the Mattole watershed who chased, threatened and assaulted community members who were trying to stop illegal logging in their home. The escalating use of violence by Pacific Lumber has been ignored by Humboldt County law enforcement .
Don't expect any real investigation, however, by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, which previously has violated Headwaters protesters civil rights last year, using pepper spray on non-violent protesters. And certainly don't expect Attorney General Dan Lungren, the oily Republican nominee for California governor, to start an investigation of the same business interest he's been lax in keeping in line with the law during his stint in office (which, unsurprisingly, has resulted in much money to his political campaign.)
Sean Walsh, spokesman for Governor Wilson, while stating the governor "feels badly for the victim's family," was quick instead to blame the protesters themselves despite the evidence of manslaughter by a PL worker, calling the protests the "height of irresponsibility" and "supremely stupid." Meanwhile, John Campbell admitted (with great understatement) that the tape of the lawyer "doesn't present a pretty picture," then added, "But given the circumstances, I think the logger's frustration is understandable." Campbell then ended his statements with a plea: "This has been such a long struggle, and it has been marked by extremism and unfortunate events far too long, more than 10 years now... It is time to put an end to this type of activity."
For once, Mr. Campbell, shill for Charles Hurwitz, is correct. The struggle HAS gone on too long, and has been marked by extremism and unfortunate events. It is indeed time for Pacific Lumber to stop, and for there to be justice against Charles Hurwitz and his Beastly practices.
In any case, we salute you, Charles Hurwitz, as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Chuck!!!
Sector Air Raid Warden at /RENEGADE/
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