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.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Antigovernment Figures Rally Behind Arizona Attorney General Horne

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne has been accused by his political opponents of being a “chameleon.” But not even they could predict the company he would one day keep.

Horne, once a Democrat, is a featured guest at tonight’s “Liberty on Tap” monthly social at a Scottsdale brewing company, where he will share the stage with far-right antigovernment “Patriot” movement luminaries including Richard Mack and Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Stephen Lemons at Phoenix New Times reports that Horne’s campaign team is aware of the presence of the other participants.

Ammon Bundy is best known as the Bundy son who was hit by a Taser during 
a skirmish outside the Bundy Ranch, an event that served to animate much of the antigovernment Patriot response that resulted in an armed standoff with federal authorities. He later served as a family spokesman on several national news broadcasts.

Mack, a former Graham County sheriff, is a longtime speaker and organizer in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. In recent years, he has focused his efforts on organizing law enforcement officers behind a banner of Patriot beliefs through his Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Mack was also a major player on the scene at the Bundy Ranch standoff, where he suggested to Fox News that the strategy of the day was to have women in the front of the protest crowd. “If they’re going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers,” Mack said.

Horne, a close ally of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who endorsed Horne again this year), has suffered a number of scandals associated with his office in recent years, including campaign-finance charges and allegations that he left the scene of a fender-bender after a lunchtime sexual tryst.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Arpaio Considered ‘Citizens Grand Jury’ for Obama Birth Certificate Probe, But ‘It’s a Little Tough’

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, recently told a Tea Party gathering in California that he considered resorting to the “sovereign citizens” tactic of calling for a so-called “citizens grand jury” while he was conducting an investigation of the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate.

The subject came up during an Arpaio speech on July 27 to a gathering of Tea Party conservatives in Ramona, Calif. A video taken by an audience member shows Arpaio being questioned about calling for a “sovereign citizens” tactic to be applied in a Maricopa County “fraud” case that “involved not only the perpetrator, Obama, but the senators, and congressmen, and … your secretary of state. Why don’t you form a citizens grand jury to bring indictments against these people, and when you get no response from it, then you can form a citizens trial court — ?”
The sheriff interrupted the man’s question.
ARPAIO: I heard about that. You know what I was looking at? It wasn’t for that. I was looking at it for the birth certificate. If I was gonna do a citizens grand jury, it would be because of that.

It’s a little tough. Legally, it’s a little tough. You know, I am the sheriff, but I still have some restrictions. I gotta use a little common sense.

Now, don’t think I’m chicken. I can take on the president, I think I have a little …
The questioner interrupted Arpaio to inform him that he would move from California to Maricopa County free of charge just so he could head up such a grand jury.

“Citizens grand juries” are an integral part of the “common law court” system devised as part of the often convoluted and complex system of beliefs of the sovereign citizen movement, and references to them often appear when assorted antigovernment “Patriot” movement members (who are closely aligned with the sovereign citizen movement) are involved in legal actions, including criminal cases.

Arpaio grabbed headlines in 2011 when he went “birther” –– that is, he announced that not only did he subscribe to various conspiracy theories claiming that President Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus is not an American citizen, he intended to investigate the matter of the president’s birth certificate, and he announced in 2012 his investigators had determined that it was “definitely fraudulently.”

The investigation, crowd pleasing as it may have been for his arch-conservative audience, went nowhere –– although Arpaio did recently announce that he may have determined who the person was that forged the president’s birth certificate.

Jim Gilchrist Continues Denying Ties to Shawna Forde as He Tries to Revive Minutemen

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

As the Minuteman Project attempts to restore its influence amid what some feel is a new crisis brewing on the border, the project’s co-founder Jim Gilchrist has been barnstorming media outlets in an effort seemingly aimed at saving a public image marred by criminality as he works to rebuild the project.

On VCY America’s “Crosstalk” show Tuesday, for example, Gilchrist felt free to tell his interviewer that hundreds of thousands of Central American children were going to form the “vanguard” of a “Trojan-horse invasion” of the United States, and even sympathized with a caller who suggested gassing the children to death at the border.

But the more difficult realities of the Minutemen came during an interview with Ed Berliner, host of Newsmax’s “MidPoint” program. Rather than serve up softball questions as one might expect from the frequently far-right media outlet, Berliner challenged Gilchrist about the original incarnation of the Minutemen, noting that the movement unraveled amid “criminal charges against some of the people involved, and that includes the former leader, Chris Simcox,” who now faces trial on three counts of child molestation.

Those “criminal charges” Berliner referenced also included the cold-blooded killing of a 9-year-old girl that landed one of Gilchrist’s onetime associates, a Washington state woman named Shawna Forde, on Arizona’s Death Row.

Gilchrist said:
GILCHRIST: Yes, there have been a couple of incidents of some very serious embarrassment, uh –– this conduct was not committed by anyone within the Minuteman Project but in rogue groups that used the Minuteman movement as a veil, essentially, to carry out sinister and criminal activities.
But Berliner was persistent, asking Gilchrist to set the record straight regarding just how closely tied he was to those crimes.
BERLINER: So the people, then, who used the Minutemen effort before, the people then who basically brought disrepute to the Minutemen, were not people that you would have given rise to, that you would have given any sort of legality to, or any sort of notice to. They weren’t part of your group, is what you’re saying.
Gilchrist deflected:
GILCHRIST: No, no, they weren’t card-carrying members of the Minuteman Project. We don’t have card-carrying members. We have anyone who agrees that we should be a nation governed by laws, not mob rule, that mob being 30 million illegal aliens, is an honorary member of the Minuteman Project. That gives me 280 million members. Not all of them agree with me, but I look at the movement itself as having 280 million members out of the 310 million population, who want our immigration laws enforced.
It is at least nominally true that Gilchrist’s operation doesn’t have “members” per se, and by that definition, at least, Shawna Forde was not a member of the Minuteman Project. However, virtually everything else Gilchrist told Berliner was false.

Shawna Forde was an associate of Gilchrist’s beginning in the spring of 2007, culminating in February of 2009, when he named Forde his “director of border operations.” Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project site avidly promoted Forde’s operations –– conducted under the name of her own group, “Minuteman American Defense” –– and he defended her from critics within the nativist anti-immigrant movement.

Their association dates back to June 2007, when Forde organized an “Illegal Immigration Summit” in Everett, Wash., featuring Gilchrist as the keynote speaker. At the time, Forde was no longer a member in good standing with the state detachment of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, operated by Simcox, Gilchrist’s former cohort. Within the month, Forde had formed MAD and cultivated her relationship with Gilchrist, first sponsoring the “summit” in Everett featuring herself and Gilchrist that June. Forde cultivated the relationship further that summer of 2007 by organizing border watches in Arizona, alongside such other nativist leaders as Glenn Spencer. She was photographed that summer with Gilchrist, admiring Spencer’s remote-controlled airplane and scanning the horizon in search of border crossers.

Forde kept in touch with Gilchrist and subsequently arranged for him to make an appearance in February 2008 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, about a hundred-mile drive from Seattle. Gilchrist at the time was embroiled in heated lawsuits and disputes with his former board of directors over ownership of the Minuteman Project, and he no longer had any functioning presence on the borders; Forde offered to step up and take on the job. Gilchrist became so enamored of Forde that, on February 9, he directed his staff to “put Shawna in the website as our border patrol coordinator.”

But Forde’s involvement would become a grave liability in a matter of a few short months.
Shortly after midnight on May 30, 2009, Forde and a group of three men invaded the home of a small-time marijuana smuggler named Raul “Junior” Flores in rural Arivaca, Ariz., and shot its three occupants: Flores, his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, and his wife, Gina Gonzalez. However, Gonzalez was not fatally wounded and, after playing dead, she drove the gang from her home in a hail of gunfire that lightly wounded the chief gunman, a white supremacist serial killer from Washington state named Jason Eugene Bush.

The day after the murders, Forde posted on the Minutemen Project website, boasting of having “boots on the ground” in Arizona, and citing the deaths at the Flores home as part of a fundraising pitch, in Forde’s inimitable semi-literate style: “A American family was murdered 2 days ago including a 9 year old girl. Territory issue’s are now spilling over like fire on the US side and leaving Americans so afraid they will not even allow their names to be printed in any press releases.”

So it was with a hint of irony, in his interview with Berliner, that Gilchrist explained he would continue to rely on his former protocols when it came to making this new iteration of the Minutemen different than the previous one: “It is only by one rule that I would expect people to present themselves and participate, and that one simple rule is: Whatever you do, you stay within the rule of law. And there are no exceptions.”

Gilchrist continued to refer reverently to “the rule of law” when Berliner pressed him on the issue: “How are you going to be able to control everybody and make sure that the people representing the Minutemen and along the border are indeed all within the letter of the law, and aren’t getting in the way of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, or even the National Guard, who’s now there in Texas?”

MAD logo
“I broadcast one message,” Gilchrist replied, again after a long pause. “Like me, you are an independent, American sovereign person. You have the right, the irrevocable right, supposedly, to freely and peaceably assemble on U.S. territory and bring your grievance forward. It’s each man, woman, and child for him- and herself, on their own, under their own recognizance, their own responsibility. If they go beyond the rule of law, they can [to be] expect arrested, cited, and prosecuted, it’s as simple as that. And it’s something we should be doing to the illegal aliens that come into this country, not to innocent American citizens who simply want to present their grievance. “
The irony here is that Shawna Forde, too, regularly preached about “the rule of law,” and how the “illegal alien invasion” was a slap in its face. Indeed, she even placed the words “Rule of Law” at the center of the logo she had designed for her MAD website.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Arsonist Who Attempted to Burn Down Gay Bar Gets Exceptional 10-year Sentence

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Musab Mohammad Masmari, the man who tried to burn down a popular  gay bar in Seattle on a packed New Year’s Eve, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The sentence, handed down on Thursday, was considered exceptionally stiff, after Masmari had agreed to a plea bargain on arson charges only, meaning he would not face the federal hate-crime charges that were considered in the case. According to the Seattle Times, the sentence more than doubled the time agreed to in the plea bargain.

Masmari, a 30-year-old American citizen of Libyan extraction and upbringing, was caught on camera as he carried a container filled with gasoline through Neighbours, a popular bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, on New Year’s Eve. Shortly afterwards, patrons smelled smoke and found the container on the landing to a set of stairs engulfed in flames; their prompt action quickly doused the fire.

An estimated 750 people were in the bar at the time, and the matter quickly became a hate crime investigation. “It was just a great thing that people acted as fast as they did to put out the fire,” a police spokesperson said. “We could have had mass, mass casualties, and we’re very lucky that that didn’t happen.”

Some of the people present at the bar that night were in the courtroom during Masmari’s sentencing hearing on Thursday. Shaun Knittel, a Seattle LGBT-community activist, said he and others in the community were “disgusted” with the plea bargain’s five-year sentence. Neighbours, he said, was packed that night with “people who are irreplaceable to us.”

“This was a blatant attack on our lives,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez told the courtroom he would use his discretion to impose the exceptional sentence because Masmari had clearly targeted his victims because they were gay, and because of the possibility of a huge loss of life.

Masmari, who claimed in a presentencing statement that he had blacked out that night after drinking a bottle of whiskey, did not speak during the hearing. His attorney said the stiff sentence was not entirely a surprise, “due to the political nature of this case.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Secretive Texas Militias Now Patrolling Along Border, Paper Reports

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The San Antonio Express-News published a report this week that listed some of the groups that have been involved in the patrols and included numerous photos of the militiamen.

Strikingly, the patrols are being organized secretively, and all the militiamen involved have insisted on anonymity.

The photos published with the report show dozens of men wearing camouflage gear and carrying a variety of semi-automatic weapons, patrolling areas of the border of southern Texas. In some cases, the men are wearing masks; in others, their faces have been blurred by photo retouching.

The individual who provided the photos insisted on blurring the visible faces of participants, saying they need anonymity to protect against retaliation by “cartel and gang members.” Nonetheless, some of the men in the photos contacted the paper and demanded that it remove the images, blurred or not, from the website.

Kolten Parker, the reporter who handled the story, told the SPLC that he and his editors tried to independently confirm as many details as possible, given that the militias have been secretive about who they are and when and where they are conducting patrols.

“We’ve spoken with ranchers in the area where these patrols are occurring, and we’ve seen plenty of evidence that they are,” Parker said. Judging from the 30 or so photos that the paper ran, he said that so far the patrols are being conducted in a well-organized manner.

Barbie Rogers of the Patriot Information Hotline told the paper that there are 10 “operations on the ground in Texas” this week.

When the militia patrols were first announced last month, the chief spokesman – a 37-year-old truck driver from Von Ormy named Chris Davis – stirred up concerns about potential violence by explaining, in a now-deleted video, how to solve the border problem: “How? You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.’”

Davis shortly disappeared from view, closing down his operation and refusing any further media interviews. It shortly emerged in the Express-News that Davis had been discharged from the Army in 2001 “under other than honorable conditions in lieu of trial by court-martial,” according to a summary of his military service.

Another news report from Texas, from KBMT-TV in Beaumont, Texas, featured an “unorganized militia” in Southeast Texas. The group’s self-described “commander” is a middle-aged man named David Smith.

The news report buys into Smith’s claim that his militia bears no resemblance to militias in other countries and utterly ignores the long association of militias with radical antigovernment “Patriot” movement extremists.

Notably, however, Smith insists that his militia isn’t going to be running around too far from home. “If they can take care of their community along that border, that’s fine,” he said, “but if we leave our communities to just go running down to the border, then we leave our communities unprotected.”