Saturday, August 16, 2014

SeaWorld and Its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Boy, did SeaWorld have a week it would like to forget.
Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment plunged 33% Wednesday after the company's earnings missed Wall Street expectations.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company also conceded for the first time that attendance at its theme parks has been hurt by negative publicity concerning accusations by animal-rights activists that SeaWorld mistreats killer whales.
It was almost funny, watching the stock analysts like Jim Cramer scratching their heads.

"This is just an aberration. I've never seen a just, a complete collapse in EBITDA," Cramer said on "Squawk on the Street." "And they've got to do something. I don't know what they're going to do."

Cramer and his cohost both acknowledged what we call "The Blackfish Effect" -- the devastating power of Gabriella Cowperthwaite's documentary on orca captivity. "The documentary have to had played a big role," Cramer finally concluded.

Immediately SeaWorld responded with a PR move that had clearly been months in the making already -- it was going to expand the orcas' pools:
The company plans to upgrade the killer whale tanks at three of its theme parks, beginning with the San Diego location. The new enclosure in San Diego will be almost double the size of the current one, holding about 10 million gallons of water and extending to a depth of 50 feet. The company wouldn't specify the cost of the upgrades, only saying it would be several hundred million dollars.         
And ooooh!!! They'll also add some new exercise equipment:
The San Diego facility will include a "water treadmill" system letting the whales swim against a stream of moving water, allowing them more exercise but also opening the door to new research into how the animals burn energy. The system will be the first of its kind in the world, the company says.
And the whales will never use it, of course, unless coerced.

This is just plain old LAME. This just means these killer whales will have a larger acoustically sterile space to occupy.

These are the most acoustically sophisticated animals on the planet; their echiolocation, in the wild, is their primary sense. Sticking them in these pools is like putting a human in a plain white room. Making it larger doesn't help.

Naomi Rose, as usual, has the best insight:
Atchison and his execs also seem completely unaware of (or deliberately blind to) the fact that the plan to build larger tanks is a de facto admission that the current enclosures are inadequate. Saying otherwise makes the entire gesture insulting to anyone’s intelligence – it turns what could have been perceived as a better-late-than-never acknowledgment that they need to do better for these animals into a cynical waste of money. If the current enclosures are enough to allow the whales to thrive (as SW insists), then how can the company possibly justify the millions of dollars this expansion will cost, when it just admitted that 2014 has so far seen, and will continue to see, poor financial returns? On Wednesday SW said it would start a cost-cutting program to increase dividends for its shareholders and then on Friday it announced an extraordinarily expensive expansion program that will be paid for…how? How can this proposal possibly be justified except by an open, honest admission that Shamu Stadium is not adequate to safeguard the orcas’ welfare?

Rose has been saying all along that SeaWorld eventually is going to have to rethink its business model. It can't get away anymore with being a kid-friendly orca-circus theme park with a faux-educational front. It will need to become a genuine agent for conservation and education, and it will have to begin by rehabilitating its wild-born orcas and figuring out adequate living arrangements for its captive-born orcas. It will have to stop breeding. And it will need to assess its handling of all marine mammals, especially other dolphins.

 These corporate folks always express reverence for the market and say they listen when it speaks. Well, the market is speaking loud and clear: SeaWorld's old way of making millions off the exploitation of animals unsuited to captivity are over.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Santilli and His ‘Border Convoy’ Stir Resentment, Fail to Close Border

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Pete Santilli keeps trying –– and failing –– to organize protests that will shut down border crossings between the United States and Mexico. What’s more, he hasn’t been completely honest about it.

The latest effort by the extremist right-wing radio host was a multi-state “Border Convoy” campaign that featured protests at various stops along the multi-day route. Participants signed a petition declaring that they “oppose Barack Obama’s foreign invasion of our country” and demanding that authorities “secure our border.” 

And while at least this time there were no problems with his vehicle’s license plates (unlike Santilli’s previous border-shutdown effort, which collapsed into a small heap of frustrated protesters), the campaign was once again notable for failing to achieve anything.

But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to Santilli.The idea was for a string of vehicles, beginning on Aug. 1, to travel from Murrieta, Calif., and follow the border through Arizona and Texas, ending at the border crossing in Brownsville, Texas, on Aug. 9. Murrieta was the point of departure for Santilli’s earlier botched attempt to shut down the border, largely because the town has been the focal point of anti-immigrant protests directed at the influx of child refugees from Central America. A recent report from the Center for New Community details how these protests were orchestrated by a coalition of white nationalists and various nativist extremists.

But along the way, the protest was largely ignored until the convoy began encountering resistance from counter-protesters at their stops.

After departing California, the convoy headed for Phoenix, Ariz., and descended on the offices of Republican Sen. John McCain, whose moderate stances on immigration have drawn the ire of the nativist extremists. While at McCain’s offices, Santilli led the crowd in chanting against legislation McCain has cosponsored to end the crisis with Central American refugees, apparently because it makes it illegal to identify where the refugees are being transported. However, McCain was not at the office that day, and the gathering quickly broke up.

Then the convoy headed for Texas, where it began encountering stiffer resistance. In El Paso, someone driving a black pickup truck joined the convoy and began slowing the group’s progress. When police intervened and pulled the convoy over, the people in the pickup complained to police that someone in the convoy had pointed a rifle at them.

The El Paso Times reported that El Paso activist Miguel Juarez was among the counter-protesters, and he filed a claim that someone in the convoy had pointed a rifle at them. The convoy later filed a police report accusing Juarez of filing a false claim, as well as another claim that the protesters had tried to force them off the road.

“I told him I was not lying that the rifle episode had occurred and that we had witnesses,” Juarez said. “We felt threatened by the convoy member with his rifle and felt a duty to report it to police,” Juarez said in a written statement.

And what would a right-wing border protest be without the concocted claims that drug cartels had targeted their activities? There was plenty of paranoia and phony claims of persecution.

In Van Horn, Texas, according to reports, convoy members were forced to evacuate a hotel at 4:30 a.m. by members of the “Operation Secure Our Border” militia, who informed members that they were being watched over by militia. Those same militiamen, according to accounts, had determined that drug-cartel operatives had surrounded the Comfort Inn hotel where the convoy members were staying and were preparing to ambush them.

“Militia immediately acted to evacuate the property of convoy vehicles and raced the convoy to an undisclosed location some 45 miles away,” explained the convoy’s press release. “While convoy members were initially rattled and concerned by the sudden move, the gravity of the threat was later realized and Militia involvement was met with widespread appreciation.”

The account also claimed that “county law enforcement” had confirmed the presence of the threat. However, Culberson County Sheriff Oscar Carrillo ridiculed the report as “fake.”

“Nothing of that nature happened here,” Carrillo said.

According to the El Paso Times, Carillo’s detectives interviewed several hotel owners in the area and could find no witnesses that the event had even occurred.

“There is no Comfort Inn in Van Horn,” Carrillo said. “We did follow up with most of the motels here in town and none of the property owners, who do reside on the property (of the motels), can validate they (convoy members) even stayed in Van Horn, Texas.”

Finally, the convoy reached a kind of climax on Aug. 8 in McAllen, Texas, where Santilli led a protest against the supposed dumping of “illegal aliens” at the local bus station. There they encountered an even larger group of counter-protesters who outnumbered them.

“It’s fine that they are here, but their message of hate and ignorance is not welcome in the valley and they shouldn’t bring it with them,” said John Michael Torres of La Union del Pueblo Entero, a pro-immigrant advocacy group.

The next day, led by a contingent of bikers affiliated with the convoy calling themselves the “U.S. Defenders,” Santilli’s convoy intended to conclude while “shutting down” the border crossing in nearby Brownsville, Texas, where the object of the protest in  was ostensibly the arrest of U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, whose continued detention in a Mexico jail has become the latest cause celebre of the extremist right.

The protest managed to disrupt traffic briefly (for about 20 minutes) at the crossing, and the Border Convoy’s Facebook page boasted: “We fully shut down the main lane of traffic coming through the entry port into Brownsville, TX this am. Thanks to the Brownsville group and Border Convoy travelers for demanding our Marine be allowed to come home!”

Again, the convoy encountered a contentious and large number of counter-protesters. “These people are coming out an disrupting our communities, and that’s what we don’t want,” one counter-protester told a KGBT-TV reporter. A number of commenters at the convoy’s Facebook page also claimed that even the attempt to stop traffic was a failure: “Didn’t shut anything down, liars,” said one. “You simply stood in the way as folks drove around you.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

‘Sovereign Citizen’ Shoots at Dallas Cops, Arrested After Standoff

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A man who called Dallas police to inform them he was part of the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement even as he was engaging officers in an armed standoff was eventually arrested after taking shots at officers and locking down an upscale North Dallas neighborhood.

According to the Dallas Police Department blog, the man –– a 60-year-old Corinth resident named Douglas Lee Leguin –– began taking shots at Dallas firefighters on Monday as they arrived near the scene of a reported Dumpster fire in the well-to-do neighborhood. The firefighters were not hit and put out a call for assistance.

In short order, the Dallas SWAT team and a host of police officers descended upon the scene, and the man continued to fire shots. However, no officers were injured in the incident. Eventually, negotiators persuaded the man to surrender.

Leguin was charged with seven counts of aggravated assault. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, he had placed a number of explosive devices around the property where he engaged police in the standoff. Those devices were defused or detonated. Reportedly, the same man had encountered a babysitter in the neighborhood with an 8-year-old girl and had threatened both of them before starting his rampage.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Leguin had called police during the standoff to tell them that he belonged to the antigovernment “sovereign citizens” movement, which believes that most government institutions are illegitimate, as are the laws they enforce.