Friday, January 30, 2015

Propaganda Aside, Keiko's Rescue Was NOT A Failure

Keiko in his Oregon pool in 1996

One of the abiding problems that the people organizing to end the captivity of killer whales face is the reality that our mainstream national media -- being mostly corporate entities themselves -- are eager to lap up the falsehood-laden propaganda put out by the marine parks. Even the supposedly non-corporate "independent" media lap it right up.

The marine-park industry's favorite retort whenever anyone wants to talk about returning wild-born captive orcas to their homes -- as many people are now doing about Lolita -- is to claim that the effort to return Keiko, the star of 'Free Willy', to the wild, only resulted in his death.

In fact, you can see Robert Rose, the curator of the Miami Seaquarium and the man responsible for the continued incarceration of Lolita, repeatedly making that claim to gullible TV reporters who were reporting on last week's "Miracle March for Lolita" in Miami:

And sure enough, when PBS reporters covered the story, the same sort of retort was brought up repeatedly by the marine-park defenders -- and yet no one from the anti-captivity side was given any airtime to explain that this was fundamentally false, a gross distortion of the Keiko story.

Instead, what we got was the marine park industry's side ONLY:

ROBERT ROSE: I mean, she’s gonna die, without question. They are going to take her out there and do exactly the same thing they did to Keiko which is to kill him.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Keiko was the iconic killer whale that starred in the movie “Free Willy”.

Keiko was released into the waters off Norway in 2002 but died alone a year later of pneumonia.
ROBERT ROSE: Unfortunately this didn’t have the Hollywood happy ending where Free Willy jumped over the wall and lives happily ever after.

And then, when viewers protested, the PBS ombudsman's office issued the following lame response:

It is also true Keiko, the iconic killer whale that starred in the movie “Free Willy,” also had time to acclimate to the wild.  A year after Keiko was fully released into the wild, Keiko died.  We understand there is a passionate debate around Keiko’s death and whether she was properly prepared for returning to the wild or if she died simply of natural causes.  In the future PBS NewsHour may have the opportunity to do an in-depth story about this important debate.

This is aggravating. PBS and its spokesperson betray their hapless ignorance in small ways and big.

Small: The spokeswoman here refers to Keiko as a "she."

Big: If the marine-park industry had had its way, Keiko never would have been moved out of Reino Aventura and almost certainly would have died there by 1996, perhaps 1997 at the latest. Period.

If you go back to 1994 and '95, when the "Free Keiko" campaign was just getting underway, it had been made painfully clear by the entire marine-park industry that Keiko was not going to be leaving Reino Aventura, the tiny, cramped Mexico City pool where he had been held since 1985, anytime soon. None of the other parks wanted him because of his papiloma-virus infection and his rapidly declining health. And they actively sabotaged an agreement between activists and Reino Aventura to place him in a seapen in Iceland.

Instead, the campaign successfully built a new pool for him in Oregon, bought him from Reino Aventura, and moved him there in January 1996. He was moved a little more than a year after that to the Iceland seapen.

And he wound up living a good life up until late 2003. So the campaign to free Keiko bought him more than seven more years of life.

And they were pretty damned good years, especially for a large male captive orca whose previous life had mainly been stuck inside tiny concrete pools. His pool in Oregon was the nicest orca pool in the world, and he regained his health there, losing the papiloma virus and gaining large amounts of weight. His Icelandic seapen was even better; he grew healthy and strong there, and relearned how to hunt on his own quite efficiently.

Keiko was functionally free beginning in the summer of 1999, allowed to roam at will out of his seapen, but returning voluntarily until that day in August 2002 when he hooked up with a pod of wild orcas and never came back, showing up in Norway instead and reestablishing contact with humans.

The Keiko experiment was not a failure except in reaching a final goal that the industry had a direct hand in ensuring was never reached -- namely, a positive identification of his familial pod so he could be reunited with them. What we learned from Keiko is that such identification is vital to a complete reintegration.

But in every other regard, this was a successful reintroduction to the wild. He learned to feed himself. He was independent. He clearly appeared to be healthy and happy, right up until just before he died. And the lung infection he died from may well have been contracted in captivity anyway.

I quote Paul Spong on this subject in my forthcoming book, Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us. Here's what he says:

“My belief is that Keiko would have needed direct contact with members of his immediate family and community in order to fully integrate back into a life in the wild,” says Paul Spong. “That did not happen in Iceland, and it is very unlikely that it would have happened in Norway. However, this does not mean that it could not happen, given the appropriate circumstances. Had more been known about Keiko’s social background, it would have been far easier to put him in contact with members of his family. I do not believe he met his mother or any siblings or close cousins while he was swimming freely in Icelandic waters. He did meet and interact with other orcas, but they were not his kin, so he did not join them permanently. That said, Keiko did get to experience the feel and sounds of the ocean once again, after being surrounded by barren concrete walls for most of his life, and that, I believe, must have come as a profound relief to him. For me, the simple fact that Keiko died as a free whale spells success for the grand project that brought him home. Deniers will deny, spinners will spin, but they cannot erase or alter this truth.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Washington ‘Liberty Speaker’ Arrested for Attempting to Intervene in Traffic Violation Case

Wenatchee World photo
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Gavin Seim, the self-described “liberty speaker” who organized last month’s “We Will Not Comply” rally in Olympia to protest a recently approved gun-control law in Washington state, was arrested earlier this month for disrupting court proceedings.

Seim, 29, an ardent proponent of far-right “Patriot” movement theories on constitutional law and a frequent critic of police behavior, was taken into custody along with his 59-year-old father, Grant, by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies on Jan. 15 after a group of about ten protesters disrupted the courtroom of Judge Judith L. McCauley in East Wenatchee.

The protesters were there to observe the proceedings in a traffic case involving Tavis Shasteen, 19, who had been cited in October after being briefly arrested for refusing to give his license information to a deputy who had pulled him over for speeding. Since, Seim had turned the case into an antigovernment cause celebre.

According to the Omak Chronicle, Seim attempted to represent Shasteen in the court proceeding, even though he is not a licensed attorney. Seim also protested loudly when McCauley told the spectators they would not be permitted to broadcast the proceedings online.

“Seim began yelling at the judge and walking toward her bench,” Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said. McCauley “ordered him removed from the courtroom.”

Seim posted a couple of accounts of the arrest at his website. One, written by his brother Nathan, claimed he was “kidnapped from a courtroom” by the deputies. It also described how various fellow “patriots” in the courtroom stood up and attempted to block the deputies as they carried Gavin Seim out.

In the second account, a day after the arrest, Seim recounted his ordeal in jail, complaining about his treatment there. “Everyone locked in these walls is treated as subhuman, regardless of crime or guilt.
Understand that nothing about these halls had anything to do with justice. It’s a dark reflection of the tyrannical system we have allowed outside. It was quite an experience, being in there with my father and that part was a great comfort.”

He concluded: “This battle is the same one as the fight for our guns and our liberty.”

A month before the hearing, Seim had gone to the Douglas County Courthouse to assess the situation. While there, he encountered a court marshal who informed him he’d be required to abide by court rules while in McCauley’s court. This irked Seim a great deal, and he posted a video about it on YouTube two days before the hearing.

“There you go, folks, that is what you call contempt of the citizenry from a public servant,” he said to the camera as he departed. “He deserves no respect whatsoever. We need to stop giving respect to people who think that they are little rulers and kings over the people. They serve us, and it’s time to stop tolerating this foolishness from our servants.”

In the meantime, since being freed on bail, Seim has continued to harass state troopers using unmarked patrol cars, a cause he has frequently posted videos on YouTube about.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Onetime Antiwar, Environmental Protester Veers Into the Seamy World of Anti-Semitism

Ken O'Keefe

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

While most American-born activists who become involved in defending Palestinian rights avoid becoming overt anti-Semites even while steadfastly criticizing Israel, Kenneth O’Keefe is not one of them.

O’Keefe, a former Marine-turned-antiwar and anti-environmental activist who specializes in what he calls “direct action,” has morphed in recent years into a raving, David Duke-endorsing anti-Semite, particularly in the speeches he gives to well-known white-supremacist groups.

The most noteworthy of these was O’Keefe’s speech to the IONA London Forum, a gathering of academically oriented white supremacists and anti-Semites held last August. The speech was noteworthy for its crude ugliness: the 50-plus-minute-talk by O’Keefe revolved around the repeated phrase “fucking Jews.”

You know, I remember as a kid, the worst insult you could say to somebody — which I didn’t even know the origin of it, but we used to all use it — and it was no basis of any kind of discrimination, it was just this term — and it was Jew. In the worst way, fucking Jew. You know, you’re a fucking Jew, or something like that.

And you know, I never really thought about it. I didn’t have any Jewish friends as far as I knew, and yet I look back at it now and I realize it must be that there is some truth behind this, that it would be the ultimate insult, that’s somehow there’s this awareness without even being aware of the historical reality of Jewish impact on human history.”
That’s only the start of what was an epic emission of hate speech from O’Keefe at the forum. In the past, he has specialized in “straight talking” appearances before various groups, but now he has shaped them in the mold of a profane David Duke, the neo-Nazi and former Klan leader.

As his mainstream-seeming bio at Veterans Today explains, O’Keefe was a Gulf War veteran who first garnered attention in the 1990s by exposing the use of depleted uranium in that war.
O'Keefe (right) with Watson in 2000

O’Keefe also was involved for many years in fairly radical environmental causes, having hooked up in 1998 with Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, where he eventually became the organization’s regional director in Hawaii and led the group as it rescued sea turtles and spoke out against Navy sonar activities.

A turn in O’Keefe’s career occurred in May 2001, when he was aboard the Turkish ship M.V. Mavi Marmara when it attempted to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and was subsequently boarded by Israeli commandos, resulting in the deaths of nine activists. Then, in 2003, he began leading delegations of peace activists who attempted to act as “human shields” to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In 2004, he burned his U.S. passport in an attempt to renounce his American citizenship — he was replacing his old documents with a “world passport,” he explained, and called himself a “Citizen of the World” with “ultimate allegiance to my entire human family and to planet Earth.” However, as O’Keefe’s Wikipedia page explains, the State Department has never recognized this renunciation, even though O’Keefe describes himself at his website now as the holder of “Irish, Hawaiian and Palestinian citizenship.”

O’Keefe became closely identified with the Palestinian cause, and even appeared as the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund in 2012.

As it happened, that was the same year that O’Keefe began forming a close association with David Duke. The first signs of this came in August 2012 when O’Keefe defended Duke on his Facebook page, saying: “I had a lovely 2 hour conversation with David yesterday and as per usual, the slander and lies made about anyone who is truth telling is obvious.” A little later, in the comments on his Facebook page, he claimed that Duke no longer was a white supremacist (a false claim that Duke himself is fond of making).

Then, O’Keefe appeared on Duke’s radio show in February 2013, where the pair discussed, according to Duke’s description, “the Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran, Iran. It exposes the Zio control of Hollywood which not only promotes lies about the enemies of Jewish extremism, but literally poisons the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in West and all over the world.”

Later that year, Duke’s website featured an exchange between O’Keefe and anti-Semitic saxophonist/“scholar” Gilad Atzmon, a self-described “self-hating ex-Jew” whose writings and pronouncements are rich in conspiracy theories, Holocaust trivialization and distortion, and open support of anti-Israeli terrorist groups.

O’Keefe also made an appearance on a Russia Today interview program in October 2013, where he declared that President Obama should be tried for treason and added that “this man is a dictator who has assigned himself the right to execute anyone.”

When he was introduced at the London gathering in August 2014, his host boasted that O’Keefe was “a friend of David Duke.” But even that couldn’t have prepared the audience for the profanity-laced rant against “the fucking Jews” that followed.

Notably, O’Keefe savagely disavowed his onetime involvement in the peace movement:
The mantra that I’ve gone by for many years now is TJP: truth, justice, peace. It’s pissed me off, the peace movement – what do you mean, “peace”? Fuck peace in this world. Fuck that shit, I’d rather die. I’d rather kill some of these bastards that are trying to destroy this world and take control of everything. Fuck you. I’d rather die. Peace without justice is not worth having, bottom line. Peace at the barrel of a gun is not fucking peace.
And he predicted that eventually the scenario would play out in mob violence and retribution:
I really feel that as long as we know the truth, the truth, an honest truth about what these people have done, then justice will play itself out quite naturally. We won’t really need to even manipulate it or set it up. It’ll happen. But we need to know the truth. And a lot of people are going to be hanging from lampposts or worse, I’m sure. I don’t doubt that for a second. All these people — they’ve got hell to pay.
O’Keefe described former Rep. Ron Paul, a frequent candidate for the presidency with a penchant for attracting extremists to his cause, as “an incredible exception” to the corruption of American politics, which he described as “a servile, disgusting, treasonous body of assholes who actually have sold the American nation down the river.”

“The rest of ‘em, almost without exception, are a bunch of fucking puppets, and they’re a disgrace. And they should be rounded up and arrested for fucking treason — forthwith.”

For adopting such extremist beliefs and espousing such hateful nonsense, O’Keefe and Atzmon have been heavily marginalized within the larger Palestinian-rights and antiwar communities.

Even before O’Keefe made his presence known on the extremist scene, a group of pro-Palestinian activists and writers published a letter denouncing the kind of anti-Semitism being peddled by Atzmon and his cohorts:
We reaffirm that there is no room in this historic and foundational analysis of our struggle for any attacks on our Jewish allies, Jews, or Judaism; nor denying the Holocaust; nor allying in any way shape or form with any conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities. Challenging Zionism, including the illegitimate power of institutions that support the oppression of Palestinians, and the illegitimate use of Jewish identities to protect and legitimize oppression, must never become an attack on Jewish identities, nor the demeaning and denial of Jewish histories in all their diversity.

Indeed, we regard any attempt to link and adopt antisemitic or racist language, even if it is within a self-described anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist politics, as reaffirming and legitimizing Zionism. In addition to its immorality, this language obscures the fundamental role of imperialism and colonialism in destroying our homeland, expelling its people, and sustaining the systems and ideologies of oppression, apartheid and occupation. It leaves one squarely outside true solidarity with Palestine and its people.
A similar group of Palestinian intellectuals and activists co-signed a lengthy statement denouncing Atzmon and his supporters, concluding: “At this historic junction — when the need to struggle for the liberation of Palestine is more vital than ever and the fault lines of capitalist empire are becoming more widely exposed — no anti-oppressive revolution can be built with ultra-right allies or upon foundations friendly to creeping fascism.”

For his part, O’Keefe dismisses these critics by labeling them “cultural Marxists” – a far-right concept regarding the sources of liberal politics that inspired Anders Behring Breivik to kill 77 people in Norway in July 2011.