All Commentary
Tuesday, October 1, 1991

Perspective: Double Standard


In October 1990, the Anchorage Daily News and the Anchorage Times, two of Exxon’s most strident critics since the 1989 Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, reported that Federally funded researchers killed hundreds of birds and animals in an attempt to bolster the government’s case against the oil producer. The issue has received limited coverage in the national press, and little or no comment from animal rights and environmental special interest groups. . . .

A review of the reported facts surrounding this startling, and possibly illegal, use of taxpayers’ money:

•       The Justice Department determined that, to get higher damages, it needed a reliable scientific model to prove that the Valdez accident killed over 100,000-300,000 unrecovered birds that they believe floated out to sea.

•       Justice ordered the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conduct Bird Study No. 1. The study consisted of killing birds, dunking them in oil, planting them with transmitters, and depositing them in the water. Once recovered, the scientists could supposedly [estimate] how many birds drifted away and sunk after the spill.

•       FWS approved a $600,000 contract with a Portland, Oregon, research company, Ecological Consulting Inc., to kill up to 350 birds.

•       The hired killers shot 250-350 murres, scoters, cormorants, and ancient murrelets on remote Alaskan islands, many of them protected national wildlife refuges, and returned them for use in the study.

•       The Alaska Department of Fish and Game killed an equal number of ducks for the same purpose, along with 32 deer, 28 harbor seals, three sea otters and minks, and 17 Stellar’s sea lions recently listed as a threatened species, to further their case against Exxon . . . .

By way of contrast, the killing of birds by private landowners has been taken quite seriously by Justice. In one case, a Springfield, Illinois, resident was ordered by local officials to “get rid of” unruly pigeons that congregated in his trees. The resident, Mr. Harvey Von Fossan, laid out poison for the birds, which was unwittingly eaten by two common grackles and a mourning dove, killing them instead. An outraged neighbor informed the U.S. Attorney’s office, which prosecuted Mr. Von Fossan under the Migratory Bird Treaty. The action, one government attorney stated, was “one of the most important cases” in his office. In another case, the government vigorously prosecuted the owner of a million-dollar goldfish farm for killing birds that were devouring his crop. Both landowners were found guilty, with Mr. Von Fossan receiving a suspended sentence and a fine, and the goldfish farmer a fine and a jail sentence.

—Glenn G. Lammi

Washington Legal Foundation

Affirmative Action

I hold that we blacks ought not to allow ourselves to become ever-ready doomsayers, always alert to exploit black suffering by offering it up to more or less sympathetic whites as a justification for incremental monetary transfers. Such a posture seems to show a fundamental lack of confidence in the ability of blacks to make it in America, as so many millions of immigrants have done and continue to do. Even if this method were to succeed in gaining the money, it is impossible that true equality of status in American society could lie at the end of such a road.

Much of the current, quite heated debate over affirmative action reveals a similar lack of confidence in the capabilities of blacks to compete in American society. My concern is with the inconsistency between the broad reliance on quotas by blacks, and the attainment of “true equality.” There is a sense in which the demand for quotas, which many see as the only path to equality for blacks, concedes at the outset the impossibility that blacks could ever be truly equal citizens.

—       Glenn Loury, speaking at the Heritage Foundation,

quoted in the Spring 1991 issue of Issues & Views

Don’t Judge Motives

By judging our motives rather than our actions, we can assuage all guilt over any action or inaction. Everybody thinks his motives are pure and good. And on a conscious level, they probably are.

That’s why motives just aren’t the issue. What we do, not what we intend, is what counts.

On the global level, assessing motives rather than actions has led to serious moral distortions. A particularly important example concerns assessments of capitalism and Communism.

Communism has resulted in the loss of freedom by more nations and the deaths of more individuals than has any other doctrine in human history. Yet because it is perceived as emanating from good motives—abolition of poverty, greater equality—many people refuse to accord it the antipathy that its deeds deserve.

Capitalism, on the other hand, has led to greater freedom and to less poverty than perhaps any other political-economic doctrine in history. Presumably, it ought to be widely admired. Yet it is often vilified and even its supporters rarely consider capitalism to be a particularly moral system. The reason? It is based on selfish motives.

Defense of Communism and opposition to capitalism emanate from the same flaw—assessing motives, not results.

—Dennis Prager, writing in his quarterly

journal, Ultimate Issues (6020 Washington

Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232)

Managed Trade

Over the long run, managed trade has proved a disaster. Lacking both competition and access to modern technology, Eastern Europe was never disciplined for delivering computers that were instant museum pieces or cars that belched rotten-egg fumes. When the Kremlin announced last year that the colonies must make their own way in a global market, hundreds of seemingly productive factories became obsolete overnight.

—Peter Passell, writing in the

February 13,1991, New York Times