Annual Fundraising Appeal

Here’s an important message to CounterPunch readers from Chris Hedges….

Hedges2

Chris Hedges calls CounterPunch “the most fearless, intellectually rigorous and important publication in the United States.” Who are we to argue? But the only way we can continue to “dissect the evils of empire” and the “psychosis of permanent war” is with your financial support. Please donate.

Day5

Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.

Unlike other outfits, we don’t hit you up for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it.

CounterPunch’s website is supported almost entirely by subscribers to the print edition of our magazine. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads.

The continued existence of CounterPunch depends solely on the support and dedication of our readers. We know there are a lot of you. We get thousands of emails from you every day. Our website receives millions of hits and nearly 100,000 readers each day. And we don’t charge you a dime.

Please, use our brand new secure shopping cart to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch today or purchase a subscription our monthly magazine and a gift sub for someone or one of our explosive  books, including the ground-breaking Killing Trayvons. Show a little affection for subversion: consider an automated monthly donation. (We accept checks, credit cards, PayPal and cold-hard cash….)

paypal-donate-21

To contribute by phone you can call Becky or Deva toll free at: 1-800-840-3683

Thank you for your support,

Jeffrey, Joshua, Becky, Deva, and Nathaniel

CounterPunch
 PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558

Florida's Double Standard on Violent Offenders

Habeas Porpoise

by KIEKO MATTESON

In the wake of the February drowning of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in the jaws of Tilikum, a six-ton, 30-year old, three-peat killer whale, public sentiment has largely favored letting the massive marine mammal go – this, despite the orca’s involvement in two earlier human fatalities in 1991 and 1998. “They deserve their freedom just like anybody else,” noted a typical response in one online forum. Another commenter implored SeaWorld “to not euthanize Tilikum the Killer Whale” while also exclaiming “God bless Dawn Brancheau."

Though a handful of voices have called for Tilikum to be put down – one of them, a blogger for the right-wing American Family Association, cited Exodus 21:29 on punishing beasts by stoning them to death — for the most part, calls for reprisals have been minimal. Rather, the majority of observers — animal ethicists, marine biologists, and the mediatized masses alike — have highlighted the cruelty of spending one’s lifetime in a cramped pen and suggested that in light of its incarceration, the cetacean’s actions were “only natural.” “I’m sure it was a high stress situation,” speculated one biologist, underscoring the impact of Tilikum’s capture as a young calf, decades in confinement, and sexual subjection as a lucrative and prolific stud animal. (Of Tilikum’s 17 offspring, at least one of them, Ky, has attempted a similar attack on its trainer in a San Antonio SeaWorld.) Venturing the notion that the orca was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, another marine researcher lamented, “He’s been trying to communicate, and nobody’s been listening.”

An Elephant Strikes Back

These reactions –from psychoanalytical and sentimental to environmentally outraged – are a far cry from the response shown nearly a century ago to another notorious entertainment-animal -turned-killer, Mary the Elephant. Said to have snatched up her handler and stomped on his head in a fit of rage, Mary — until that moment a beloved Tennessee circus performer — was dead within the week, executed in a grisly and protracted public hanging via reinforced chain from the top of a crane. Despite her prior popularity, public clamor revolved mainly around how she should be killed, not her mental state or the conditions of her captivity. We’ve come a long way, it would seem, from the days when the can-do, by-Jingo spirit of the lynch-happy South extended not only to African-Americans in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also to an irate Asian elephant striking back against her slaver.

Or have we?

Nobody’s listening

Strikingly absent in the outpouring of public compassion for Tilikum, who was taken from the wild in 1983 and has been captive to adoring Orlando audiences since age eleven (following his role in a previous trainer’s death), is acknowledgement of the comparable effects of lifelong incarceration for Florida’s unfree human denizens. According to a 2009 report by the Sentencing Project, more than 140,000 people in the U.S. are serving life sentences without parole. Over 6,000 of them are in Florida. And, perhaps most striking of all for the state that serves as home to some of the nation’s most widely revered family-friendly attractions– the land of Disney World, Epcot Center and, yes, SeaWorld — the Sunshine State leads the country in the number of juveniles serving life without parole(LWOP) for crimes in which no one was killed. Like Tilikum, these young offenders — 77 in all, out of the 100 LWOP juveniles serving time nationwide — live in cramped, stressful conditions, are regularly subject to pressure for unconsensual sex, and face the likelihood of permanently severed ties from their families.

To be sure, their actions, including rape and armed robbery, were reprehensible. But neither were they murderous. In contrast to the benefit of the doubt shown Tilikum — Florida’s orneriest orca, wiliest Willy, most-flipped out Flipper — who was given second and third chances to interact with humans long after even his corporate managers recognized him as dangerous, the state’s non–lethal juvenile offenders are imprisoned without hope of release on the basis of their potential threat to society. “We have to create an environment where our children are safe and our elderly are safe,” State Representative William Snyder, chairman of the House’s Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council, has noted.

Swimming upstream

Regardless of their proclivities for violence, proven or perceived, one thing’s for certain: neither Tilikum nor the nation’s life-without-parole inmates are likely to be swimming the open seas any time soon. Leaving aside the pathogenic and cetaceae-social issues associated with captive orcas’ release, Tilikum’s status as a “valuable asset from a breeding standpoint” suggests that his existence will remain pool-bound for as long as SeaWorld’s Shamu shows continue to turn a profit. As for Florida’s juvenile lifers, their primary value is measured in negatives: the total number of years they can spend removed from society, at the lowest cost to taxpayers. Tilikum’s fate, it seems, is sealed. The appeal of two of Florida’s LWOP juvenile offenders currently remains before the Supreme Court.

KIEKO MATTESON is an environmental historian at the University of Hawai’i.

WORDS THAT STICK