Bush, Gore, and muzzling
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:
AUSTIN, NEW YORK, WASHINGTON D.C.––Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush is an unabashed friend of wise-use wiseguys, an avid hunter, and was Safari Club International’s 1999 “governor of the year.”
Vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore aided and abetted the 1993 resumption of Norwegian commercial whaling, the May 1999 resumption of Makah whaling after a 72-year hiatus, and the October 1999 resumption of international elephant ivory sales after a 10-year suspension––and is reputedly chief architect of the Invasive Species Council, the cabinet committee named in February 1999 by President Bill Clinton to pursue the extermination of non-native wildlife.
But Bush and Gore have distinctly different levels of tolerance for criticism.
Gore, a former reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, tends to take lumps in stride. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society members in May 1999 said they were ejected from a Seattle reception for Gore, after reportedly chanting outside that “Gore kills whales,” but Gore himself has rarely if ever been accused of trying to silence opponents.
Bush, on the other hand, “keeps stumbling over our Bill of Rights,” former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower charged recently in the Hightower Lowdown, a newsletter distributed by Public Intelligence Inc. of New York City. Last year, Hightower recalled, “Bush had citizens jailed for daring to protest peacefully on the public sidewalk in front of the governor’s mansion,” and was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Editor & Publisher magazine recently ran a cover story called ‘Bushwhacked: Freedom of Speech All Theory and No Practice at Texas A&M’s Bush School,’” Hightower continued. “Aggie Land is home to Daddy Bush’s presidential library and the Bush School of Government and Public Service. In at least four instances, faculty members at the Bush School have been reprimanded for having made less-than-glowing comments in the press about the would-be president. The muzzling has gotten so bad that three political scientists have rejected professorships at the school.”
Hightower went on to detail how Bush has filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission in an attempt to restrain online critic Zack Exley, 29, of Boston.
Bush has not commented on moves by hunting organizations to muzzle the majority of the public by stripping citizens of the right to pass initiatives on wildlife issues, but is believed to favor them.
Safari Club International, based in Tucson, is among the pro-hunting groups behind an Arizona referendum to be on the November ballot, already approved by the state legislature, which if approved by voters would require all future initiatives pertaining to wildlife to pass by a two-thirds majority. Similar legislation passed in 1998 in Utah.
Republican allies of Bush are also behind an Alaskan referendum, likely to be on the November ballot, which if approved by voters would preclude bringing future wildlife issues to a public vote. A similar referendum was passed in 1998 in Michigan.
Raising a voice for the voiceless often brings an attempt by those who benefit by silence to restore quiet––which in turn tends to make securing human rights a part of every political struggle. “
Some of the world’s most dedicated human rights activists have started as campaigners for the environment,” The New York Times editorially observed on April 1. “Ken SaroWiwa’s initial cause, for example, was the devastation that Royal Dutch Shell’s oil spills inflicted on Ogoni tribal land in Nigeria’s delta region. As the dictatorship fought back, he found himself taking on more traditional human rights battles ––for the rights of the Ogoni people, against the military’s burning of delta villages and its shooting of protesters and, finally, against the sham judicial process that led to his execution in 1995. In many countries environmental activists are finding that the line between their causes and human rights has blurred,” The New York Times continued. “To protect the environment, they need both the right to speak out and fair enforcement of the law. Many are enduring the harassment that human rights activists have long experienced.”
Substitute the word “animals” for “environment” and note that “many countries” includes the U.S., and T h e N e w York Times’ observations would still be true––as International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal found in 1984. The Austrian pharmaceutical firm Immuno A.G. sued McGreal and Journal of Medical Primatology editor Jan MoorJankowski for libel because McGreal in a letter-to-the-editor criticized an Immuno plan to do hepatitis research on wildcaught chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. McGreal’s home insurance company settled out of court, over her objections, but Moor-Jankowski fought on, winning New York Court of Appeals verdicts in 1989 and 1991.
SOUNDS OF SILENCE
Waging or at least threatening costly libel suits remains a favorite tactic of animal users accused of abusing either animals or public trust, in a gamble that animal defenders will not have the resources or the will to fight back.
Six Texas cattle firms, for instance, in June 1996 sued television show host Oprah Winfrey and vegetarian advocate Howard Lyman for comments they made on the air two months earlier about “mad cow disease.”
The cattle companies underestimated Winfrey and Lyman, however, who won the case in 1998, and won again on appeal in February 2000.
Yet even big wins can be costly. Ten years after former Las Vegas orangutan trainer Bobby Berosini sued PETA, and four years after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled against Berosini, ordering him to pay the PETA court costs, PETA is still struggling to collect.
Animal activists, in turn, have had little success in using libel suits to defend themselves. The sole noteworthy success came in 1995, when Fund for Animals national director Heidi Prescott won $75,000 from heavy-metal rock-androller and hunting advocate Ted Nugent for remarks he made about her during a radio broadcast. The radio station reportedly paid $125,000. Prescott spent the money on anti-hunting advertisements, including in ANIMAL PEOPLE.
At least two failures, meanwhile, cost a bundle:
• Friends of Animals sued U.S. Surgical Corporation for defamation in 1990, after U.S. Surgical spokespersons linked FoA to a November 1988 incident in which a woman who had once attended an FoA-led protest against U.S. Surgical use of dogs was arrested for placing a bomb in a U.S. Surgical parking lot. The incident was admittedly aided and abetted from inception by two employees of a private security firm hired by U.S. Surgical. Yet FoA ended up fighting a U.S. Surgical countersuit for much longer than it was able to press the original action. The case was settled out of court in 1996.
• Animal Lobby founder Cynthia Schultz, also president of the Society of St. Francis since 1998, in early April 2000 filed for bankruptcy, after circuit judge Francis Wasielewski dismissed in light of new evidence a libel verdict that Schultz previously won against radio show host Charles Sykes, the Journal Broadcast Group, and Journal Sentinel Inc., publisher of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Wasielewski ordered Schultz to pay the defendants’ legal costs of $155,797.
Libel suits are a double-edged sword, since they ask the defendant to prove the truth of an allegation. An alleged libel, if substantiated, may thereby become a legal fact.
Less risky, and often more effective in quieting opponents, are actions against regulators, which may have no direct interest in defending such a case, and may therefore be induced relatively easily to amend policies to suit the plaintiff.
As an apparent example of such a case, the National Milk Producers Federation alleged in February 2000 that the terms “soy milk” and “soymilk” mislead consumers, and asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban both terms.
U.S. milk consumption reportedly fell 24% over the past 30 years, while sales of soy-based substitutes are up 250% just since 1996. But the FDA has little reason to care––except that the dairy industry has a lot more clout in setting federal budget priorities than soy beverage makers.
WORKING TO LAWSUIT
Some regulators all but formally invite lawsuits these days, as a routine aspect of operating, having learned that their budgets are safer when they can contend that politically controversial actions are compelled by court decision.
One example of an agency apparently “working to lawsuit” in a self-serving manner is before the courts in Texas. It started when the Animal Protection Institute and Forest Guardians filed Freedom of Information Act requests with USDA Wildlife Services seeking the identities of ranchers in Texas and New Mexico who are using “livestock protection collars” containing Compound 1080, a deadly poison meant to kill coyotes as they attack the collared animals’ necks.
On November 1, 1999, having apparently been alerted by someone at Wildlife Services, the Texas Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau Federation sued the USDA to prevent the release of the information.
Lawsuits have driven Endangered Species Act priorities for almost as long as the 1973 act has been in place, but activists began pursuing “work to lawsuit” rulings in earnest in 1992, after the Fund for Animals won a case mandating action on behalf of 443 species which were officially recognized as candidates for protection but were not yet actually protected due to failures to complete requisite studies.
Nearly 1,000 species then awaited review. Thirty vertebrate species were known to have gone extinct while waiting. The list of species in limbo is now down to about 260. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity alone has won ESA protection for 19 species since 1992.
But forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to “work to lawsuit” led eventually to an instance in which Gore did seem to move to silence critics––and it occurred in connection with his one prominent stance on behalf of animals.
Since 1995 Gore has led White House efforts to defend the ESA against Republican attempts to dismantle it. But the defense has used figurative scorched-earth tactics, as the White House has allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to sacrifice strict enforcement to reduce anti-ESA sentiment.
Relaxing enforcement predictably brought more lawsuits on behalf of declining species. That, however, threatened to undo the strategy of giving ESA issues a lower profile.
In October 1999 the Interior Department declared that it would no longer accept outside legal petitions on behalf of species nominated for ESA protection, if the Fish and Wildlife Service has already recognized them as candidate species.
In effect this restored the possibility that controversial species––like the blackfooted prairie dog––could linger in limbo forever, while the Fish and Wildlife Service evade political wrath by avoiding having to take protective measures. For the blackfooted prairie dog, this could include halting prairie dog shoots and the poisoning of prairie dog villages by USDA Wildlife Services on behalf of federal grazing lease holders.
Several organizations pledged to challege the new policy in court, but as yet none of the cases have been heard.
Cutting off critics’ access to the courts by bureaucratic decree is a relatively unusual tactic in the U.S., though it is not without precedent. The most common tactic for outraged politicans is to attempt to cut off funding. The most common tactic for appointed officials is to deny access to information. And a standard ploy of government agencies against internal critics is to fire, demote, or simply ignore them.
Educational institutions are especially vulnerable to funding pressure. The University of Wyoming, for instance, gets 39% of its budget from state subsidies. In late 1999, while the university had a request for a 12% budget increase pending before the Wyoming legislature, law professor Debra Donahue published The Western Range Revisited, examining the economics and ecology of Bureau of Land Management grazing leases. She concluded that many leases should be cancelled.
Wyoming senate president Jim Twiford responded by threatening to cut all funding for the College of Law. “I know these professors have academic freedom,” Twiford said, “but we’ve got some unlicensed, unbridled folks over there that ought to be smarter than to bite the hand that feeds them.”
After university president Philip Dubois reassured ranchers that the official position of the university is pro-beef, the legislature reportedly made no budget cuts, but earmarked $250,000 for grazing research with the implication that the findings should refute Donohue.
Both attempted suppression of data and alleged intimidation of critics were involved in the cases of Bureau of Land Management biologist Don Rivard, U.S. Forest Service biologist Jeff Dose, and Umpqua National Forest biologist Cindy Barkhurst, as recounted on February 28 by Hal Bernton of the Portland Oregonian. Senior officials allegedly first dismissed and then tried to hide evidence they compiled of possible harm to cutthroat trout caused by old-growth logging. When the evidence emerged, District Judge Barbara Rothstein in September 1999 voided 24 timber sales.
Rivard, Dose, and Barkhurst still have jobs, despite friction with their bosses. Recently losing their jobs, however, were former Mexican gray wolf reintroduction project chief Dave Parsons, 54; 20-year Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation general counsel Janet Halliburton; and former Arizona State Parks natural areas program coordinator and planner Matt Chew.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service southwest regional director Nancy Kaufman allegedly ushered Parsons into early retirement last October as part of an apparent strategy to appease ranchers. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has indicated intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service on Parsons’ behalf.
Halliburton took early retirement after the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman asserted that her leadership of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting during the current initiative campaign to ban cockfighting was a conflict of interest. Wildlife officials in many states, however, have actively campaigned for pro-hunting and fishing initiatives and referendums. If Halliburton violated an ethical standard, she had precedent.
Chew lost his job after the Boston Globe on February 6 published an op-ed essay he wrote criticising how Arizona State Parks turned Kartchner Caverns––a major bat habitat–– into a tourist attraction.
Funding cuts, withholding information, and cavalier treatment of staff are all allegedly involved in the long struggle over protecting wild Atlantic salmon in Maine. When the state salmon commission recommended regulating fish farms and cranberry bogs to protect spawning and feeding areas, it was crippled by budget cuts. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nominated the salmon runs for ESA protection, antilisting Maine governor Angus King requested the data behind the nomination via the Freedom of Information Act. He got two sets of damaged CD-ROM disks which could not be read, and finally sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to extend the comment period on the listing proposal.
On April 5, meanwhile, senior Maine fisheries biologist Edward Baum, 54, resigned, claiming King had unreasonably ignored his view that seven salmon runs should get ESA protection. Baum also claimed King had unfairly denied him a seat on the salmon commission.
Such incidents are so common in Wisconsin, says PEER, that more than 750 of the 3,000 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff reported them on a recent questionaire. Among the 1,500 respondents, PEER said, 48% believed that scientific evaluations are influenced by politics, and 54% did not trust their superiors to withstand political pressure.
Similar surveys have not yet been done in most other states. But intimidation and harassment of people who stand up for animals and habitat are increasingly evident.
Meat producers seem especially thin-skinned. Almost every year, it seems, some politician somewhere reflexively signs a proclamation endorsing the Farm Animal Reform Movement’s annual “Great American Meatout,” among stacks of other endorsement requests, and is forced to apologize. This year it was Indiana governor Frank O’Bannon.
Those incidents are small potatoes, however, next to the violence often directed at government staff who try to enforce logging and grazing restrictions on behalf of wildlife.
“Reports to law enforcers of threats or attacks against Forest Service employees nearly doubled from 1995 through 1998,” PEER executive director Jeff Ruch wrote recently in The New York Times. “Similar reports from the Bureau of Land Management increased more than fivefold, 1995-1999.”
But the complaints, Ruch alleged, have rarely been properly followed up during years of the Bill Clinton/Albert Gore presidential administration and during the years the Republicans have held majorities in both the House and Senate.
“From 1996 through 1998,” Ruch wrote, “there were 27% fewer prosecutions and 38% fewer convictions for environmental crimes of all kinds than in 1989 through 1991, in the George H. Bush administration. The reason is not a lack of incidents to pursue. There has also been a 26% rise in Justice Department ‘declinations,’ or refusals to prosecute environmental crimes,” including crimes against wildlife and habitat.
Would a George W. Bush administration restore the environmental prosecution record achieved under his father, despite his wise-use wiseguy alliances?
Would an Albert Gore-led White House team take a different direction from that of the past eight years?
A more important question may be whether either one will even want to hear about animals and habitat.