By Doug Porter
Starting off with the admission that Americans’ attitudes about orcas have changed dramatically, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby has announced –via an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times— the end of the company’s controversial breeding programs and the phasing out theatrical killer whale shows at all its locations.
SeaWorld has been the target of nationwide protests over its treatment of captive orcas in recent years. Revenues and attendance began a steady decline following the release of the documentary “Blackfish,” which spotlighted the animals’ living conditions and the dangers posed to their handlers.
The company currently has 29 orcas listed in its care — seven in Orlando, five in San Antonio, eleven in San Diego and six in Loro Parque, Spain.
Breeding restrictions tied to a California Coastal Commission ruling allowing an expansion of the killer whale habitat and the declining health of Tilikum, SeaWorld’s most prolific breeder, likely also contributed to the company’s decision.
SeaWorld’s treatment of its killer whales, or orcas, was put in the spotlight three years ago by Blackfish, a documentary that examined the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca named Tilikum. Since then, in a steady campaign on social media, critics have demanded SeaWorld end its orca breeding program.
In an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld says it now will do so. In a news release, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Today’s announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end.”
SeaWorld President and CEO Joel Manby said in the same news release, “As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations — so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go.”
The director of Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, called it “a defining moment. The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change.”
From the Washington Post:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Thursday that the SeaWorld should “open the tanks to the oceans” to give the orcas “some semblance of a life outside their prison tanks.”
SeaWorld has made several recent announcements about changing long-standing procedures.
Just last month, SeaWorld said that its employees have posed as animal rights activists and vowed to stop the practice, following accusations that the company sent a worker to infiltrate a prominent animal welfare organization and incite violence among protesters.
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby drew the line at the suggestion by some groups that orcas should be released back into the wild.
Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from “Free Willy,” Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.
Years of weekend and holiday protests, letter writing campaigns and social media outreach led up to SeaWorld’s decision.
Mayor candidate Lori Saldaña has been active in protests at SeaWorld. Her campaign issued the following statement:
I welcome SeaWorld Entertainment’s announcement that they will no longer breed orcas in captivity, and over time, will phase out “theatrical” shows with these marine mammals. Likewise, congratulations on developing a stronger partnership with the Humane Society, to raise awareness of threats to orcas and other ocean species around the world.
In this era of ocean plastic, dwindling habitat and threatened and disappearing marine species, SeaWorld Entertainment could help create a new model of enjoying and understanding marine animals – and the threats they face- in the natural world.
To that end- as the company transitions into a more educational format, I propose that SeaWorld partner with the City of San Diego, and develop eco-tourism and educational displays for our coastal parks, to reinforce this conservation message, and also reconsider their opposition to the coastal sanctuary proposals.
Corporate Overlords Declare War on California
It doesn’t get much more evil than Big Tobacco and Big Pharma to my way of thinking. And these twin purveyors of social and economic suffering have big, nasty plans for the upcoming elections in California.
Six anti-tobacco bills passed by the California Legislature last week have prompted tobacco industry lobbyists to say they’ll fight back via referendum. That threat is accompanied with a potential poison pill affecting other measures seeking signatures for the November ballot.
From Capital Public Radio:
What’s noteworthy is the tactic the tobacco industry says it would use once the referenda are cleared for signature gathering: paying $10 for every voter signature.
That would drive up the cost to qualify every other ballot measure gathering signatures – including the tobacco tax increase, and Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed overhaul of California’s criminal justice sentencing system. The signature-gathering market is already quite expensive and has forced backers of at least one initiative to abandon their campaign. The proponent of a second initiative announced on Monday that he’s pulling the plug.
The Capital Public Radio story interviewed several experts who said the industry’s threat was legal. It also noted that the legislature has yet to actually send the bills to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.
The longer this drags on, the longer it’ll be before the tobacco industry can start paying for signatures – presuming, of course, that Brown signs the bills – which is not guaranteed.
Over at Southern California Public Radio, they’ve revealed the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s has already gathered $49 million to oppose a measure on the November ballot.
Under the term of the California Drug Price Relief Act the state would pay no more than the lowest price the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is charged for a particular prescription. This would amount to a 40% savings in Medi-Cal fee-for-service plans, CalPERS, prison health programs and government-backed AIDS drug programs.
Backers say the initiative would affect drug prices for programs serving some 5 million people and save taxpayers approximately $5.7 billion over a decade.
Get ready for some Orwellian logic, via SCPR:
With the two sides having raised a combined $53.3 million almost eight months before the election, the initiative is already among the top 20 most expensive state ballot measures in the past 15 years.
Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical industry’s campaign committee, declined to say whether it plans to raise more money. She did note that competing for voters’ attention and airtime is expensive.
Fairbanks said the pharmaceutical industry is fighting the initiative because it believes it would lead to increased health costs for veterans and higher prescription drug costs in the state.
News of The Donald: California Here He Comes
Several news organizations are now predicting that Donald Trump’s quest for enough delegates to garner the GOP nomination will hinge on California’s June primary.
From the Union-Tribune:
California Republicans are about to experience an event many of them have never seen – a primary that could determine a presidential nomination.
Because Donald Trump lost Ohio’s primary on Tuesday night, ceding the state’s 66 delegates to its governor, John Kasich, the race to get the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination seems unlikely to be settled before California votes on June 7.
Barring another big shift in the race, such as a decision by one of the three remaining candidates to drop out, the contest for California will be critical to the outcome.
Latinos Making a Move Against Trump
KPBS has a story featuring 75-year-old Concepción Álvarez about immigrants eligible for citizenship in San Diego rushing to complete the requirements so they can vote against Donald Trump.
Not all Hispanic immigrants feel the same way, as evidenced by Facebook groups with names like “Latinos/Hispanics for Trump.” But out of dozens of those surveyed across San Diego County, those seeking naturalization this year said they were doing so to vote against Trump, not for him.
Nationwide citizenship applications totaled more than 202,000 during the fourth quarter of last year, up 14 percent for the same quarter in 2014, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In San Diego County, the effect is most pronounced in certain neighborhoods. In Chula Vista, where more than half of the population is Hispanic, citizenship applications jumped 40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, compared to the same period the previous year. About 8.8 million U.S. residents are eligible for citizenship.
Know Your White Power Tattoos, PBS
PBS should be red-faced about a story on first-time voters working for Donald Trump focused on the Tilly family of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Reporters with Gawker watched the broadcast and noticed some rather peculiar tattoos:
…this is a small but almost heartwarming story of a family choosing to engage with democracy. That’s also if you can put aside the fact that Grace, one of the central characters in the story, has large white power tattoos on each of her hands.
Above, you see Grace phone banking for Donald Trump, with the Celtic Cross tattoo on her right hand. Despite the tattoo being in plain view of PBS’ cameras, the story never acknowledges that it is interviewing a walking white power billboard. The Anti-Defamation League explains that the Celtic Cross is one of the most “commonly used white supremacist symbols.”
On her left hand, they spotted the symbol “88:”
Per the ADL’s website, “88 is a white supremacist numerical code for ‘Heil Hitler.’”
Warnings About Trump
The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes, Episcopal Bishop of San Diego, has sent parishioners a letter, concluding:
My Christian faith requires that I reject what Mr. Trump espouses. This moment, however, is an opportunity for us to ask, as a nation, what our core values are. In the words of the first Republican president, we are invited to discover the “better angels of our nature.” As a nation of immigrants that is increasingly coming to terms with our complex history around racism, sexism, and homophobia, we can claim a generosity of spirit that transcends our individual religious identities. It begins and ends with the premise that we are indeed created equal, as scripture says, “in the likeness of God.” All carry the potential of the divine. All are to be respected. Each person is neighbor to every other person. Black lives matter and all lives matter, and we are going to do something about all lives. In the end, unity is stronger than division; hope is stronger than fear. And always, love wins out over hate. It is up to each of us to change this political campaign, this country and this world. We do it by how we treat the least in our midst; we do it by how we vote.
Finally, the well-respected (and conservative) Economist Intelligence Unit is warning investors that a Donald Trump presidency is a top-10 risk event capable of disrupting the global economy.
Trump’s controversial remarks on Muslims would be a gift to “potential recruiters who have long been trying to paint the U.S. as an anti-Muslim country. His rhetoric will certainly help that recruiting effort,” said Robert Powell, global risk briefing manager at EIU.
Until Trump, the firm had never rated a pending election of a candidate to be a geopolitical risk to the U.S. and the world. The firm has no plans to include Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or John Kasich on future risk lists.
“It’s highly unusual, and I don’t think we ever have done it where we’ve had a single politician be the center of our risk items,” Powell said in an interview, but noted that the firm has once included the transition at the top of the Chinese Communist Party as a top-ten risk as well.
On This Day: 1884 – In Otay, California, John Joseph Montgomery made the first manned, controlled, heavier-than-air glider flight in the United States. 1968 – Staffers at San Francisco progressive rock station KMPX-FM went on strike, citing corporate control over what music is played and harassment over hair and clothing styles, among other things. The Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and other musicians requested that the station not play their music as long as the station was run by strikebreakers. 1972 – President Nixon asked Congress to halt busing aimed at achieving desegregation.
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