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Redford Snoots Norton

by Alexander Cockburn

A reminder of why a Nader vote was a good idea
Now Robert Redford has given Interior Secretary Gail Norton the cold shoulder. Last week Norton sent an invitation to the movie star in his eyrie at Sundance in the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City, asking if he would care to be present at the release of a condor raised in captivity. Norton added, "You and I have never met, but we do have a common interest" in condors, and that she had fond memories of Redford's movie "Three Days of the Condor." Norton added that in such a meeting they could discuss "the best ways to conserve America's unspoilt landscapes and the wild creatures who inhabit them."

Redford sent back a snotty note to Norton saying he was "mystified" by the invite, and that "sadly, since assuming the Interior Secretary post, you have compiled an abysmal record of capitulating to big businesses at the expense of the nation's public health, public lands and wildlife."

Now, when it comes to preserving nature's domain, Norton's nothing much to write home about, but neither is Redford. Indeed, you can forgive the Interior Secretary for thinking there might have been a soft spot in Redford's heart for her, considering what he has been ready to sanction and condone in recent years.

After all, it was Redford who attacked Ralph Nader late last year for the latter's denunciations of the Clinton-Gore environmental record. Redford was a big presence in Oregon in the last week of the presidential campaign, targeting potential Nader voters in recorded phone messages. The gist of Redford's appeal was that Naderites were too purist and that Gore was the man to vote for. In other words, Redford was ready to condone eight years of a Democratic government trashing the national forests, giving the go-ahead to mining companies and even sabotaging the Endangered Species Act, which, among other functions, has helped save the condor from extinction.

It should also be noted that while Redford and others have slammed the Bush administration for rescinding the Clinton team's last-minute booby trap on arsenic regulations in western water, Redford and many other Democrats were silent on this matter for the eight years that the Clinton administration did nothing about this supposed arsenic peril, which is, in fact, a complete scam.

Redford, it should also be recalled, was party to a bid to destroy the Blackfoot River, immortalized in Norman McLean's novella, "A River Runs Through It," later filmed by Redford. In the mid-1990s, he campaigned for Senator Max Baucus of Montana. The Baucus family, which owns one of the largest ranches in the state, was, at that time, standing to rake in millions from their interest in the mining rights to a Baucus property bordering the Blackfoot that was scheduled for gold mining by the so-called "heap leach" cyanide method, lethal to all living things. The plans of this mining company also included the leveling of an adjacent mountain revered by Ted Kaczynski, AKA the Unabomber. Noting the threat, Kaczynski took an increased interest in environmental matters, in whose cause he devised his own drastic strategies.

Redford chides Norton for the Bush administration's failure to intervene in California's energy crisis, which reminds us of Redford's own culpability in this respect. After all, Redford is on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC was a leading player in the drive to deregulate California's electric utilities. Ralph Cavanagh was NRDC's point man in this area, and NRDC provided green cover for PG&E, as well as Socal Edison (run by NRDC cofounder John Bryson), as they set about their deregulatory agenda.

Among Redford's criticisms of Norton was the jibe that the release of the condor was a mere publicity stunt designed to camouflage the overall predatory policies of the Bush administration. We should note that Redford's friend Bruce Babbitt, Norton's predecessor at Interior, was no stranger to publicity stunts, and, in fact, he himself posed with condors as well as wolves. Babbitt released condors in California's coastal range at the very time the Clinton administration was proposing to allow the Navy to practice bombing runs over Big Sur.

Such unpalatable facts about Redford's green record, set against the equally unpalatable facts of the Bush administration's green policies remind us yet again of why many greens did indeed see a vote for the Nader ticket in 2000 as the only possible option. Redford's letter is a useful reminder.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor May 21, 2001 (

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