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Killer whales perform in Shamu Stadium at the SeaWorld Orlando theme park in Florida. SeaWorld says it will not appeal a citation that prohibits trainers from performing with the whales. (AP)

SeaWorld Won't Appeal Ban On Trainers Performing With Orcas

by Dana Farrington
Aug 20, 2014

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Dana Farrington

SeaWorld has decided not to appeal a court ruling that prohibits its trainers from performing with killer whales, the Orlando Sentinel reports, citing a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The legal battle has lasted for years, beginning with the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum in 2010.

As we reported after the incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined SeaWorld $75,000 and kept trainers from performing alongside the killer whales. At the time, SeaWorld contested OSHA's conclusion.

This past April, a U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld that citation.

SeaWorld has taken a lot of heat for its use of the whales for entertainment, particularly after the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which featured Tilikum.

Since Brancheau's death in 2010, SeaWorld has taken steps to improve safety for trainers. As NBC 6 in South Florida reports, it "has implemented new safety protocols and equipment for trainers, including an investment of $70 million in lifting floors in the pools that could quickly isolate whales."

SeaWorld announced Aug. 15 that it would be creating bigger "living spaces" for the whales, the first of which will be at SeaWorld San Diego and is scheduled to open in 2018. The facility will be "nearly double" that of the existing one, with 10 million gallons of water — 50 feet deep and more than 350 feet long. It also said it would be investing $10 million for research on killer whales in the wild.

The animal-rights group PETA denounced the move to build "bigger concrete boxes," and its director of animal law said it was a "desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time."

While trainers won't be part of the show any longer, they will still be training with the whales to get them acclimated to humans, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

"The idea is that if someone were to fall or jump in the water, it wouldn't alarm or excite the whale and cause it to act aggressively," the paper says.

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Hojotoho! How much Metropolitan Opera trivia do you know? (Metropolitan Opera)

Masters And Disasters: The Met Opera Quiz

Aug 20, 2014

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Now that the embattled Metropolitan Opera has surmounted most of its labor squabbles, it's time to take a break from reading about the rancorous negotiations. See how many of these nerdworthy Met questions you can answer. Score high and bellow out your best Wagnerian "Hojotoho!" Score low and start learning the "Simpleton's aria" from Boris Godunov.

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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad carry their weapons as they walk along a street in Mleiha, near the Damascus airport, during a tour organized by the Syrian government on Aug. 15. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters/Landov)

In Syria, The U.S. Weighs A Range Of Unpalatable Options

Aug 20, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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President Obama said Wednesday that the Islamic State is a cancer that threatens all governments in the Middle East. But that raises the question of what the U.S. could or should do.

Two former U.S. ambassadors to Syria, Robert Ford and Ryan Crocker, have advocated different approaches to a conflict where there are many different options. But none is appealing and there's no guarantee, or even a likelihood that U.S. action would ultimately determine the outcome.

Ford, who stepped down from the post in Febrary of this year, has wanted the U.S. to do more to arm moderate rebels, who are battling both President Bashar Assad's regime and Islamic State militants.

Crocker, on the other hand, has long argued that the Assad regime may be bad, but it doesn't pose nearly the same threat compared to the Islamic State, which previously called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

"I'm no apologist for the Assad regime. I was there under father (Hafez Assad) and son (Bashar Assad)," said Crocker, who served as ambassador to Syria from 1998-2001. "They are brutal bunch of bastards, without question. But in terms of our security, ISIS is by far the larger threat.

A Call To Strike In Syria And Iraq

Crocker also thinks the U.S. needs to launch airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria as well as Iraq — even if that means some coordination with Assad.

The Islamic State controls large swathes of territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq and has declared a caliphate, or a single Muslim empire that does not recognize existing borders.

"Since they erased the Iraq-Syria border, we should take them up on it," Crocker says. "And go after them both in Iraq and in Syria. They don't respect the border but neither should we."

Crocker, now the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, says there is no need to form an open alliance with Assad, who the U.S. accuses of carrying out mass atrocities.

Meanwhile, Joshua Landis, a Syria analyst, notes that any action the U.S. might take could play into Assad's hands.

"It means helping his government because any attempt to destroy ISIS, which owns a third of the country, is going to rebound to his benefit unless the other militias take that territory," said Landis, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma who runs the blog Syria Comment.

There are other analysts and former State Department officials who argue that the U.S. should be doing much more to help moderate militias that are battling both the Islamic State and the Assad regime.

But Landis is skeptical.

"We don't have allies that are strong enough to replace the Syrian state and stabilize the country," he says.

So that poses a big dilemma for the U.S.

"If you work with Assad, you damage your reputation, but you might be able to help the Syrian people not die as much," Landis says. "If you destroy the Syrian state, what's left of it, you are going to get more chaos, and more ISIS."

Andrew Tabler, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes this debate and the Syrian conflict will play out for some time to come. He argues there are moral and practical reasons to avoid dealing with Assad.

"The biggest issue standing in the way of working with the Assad regime, even tacitly, is the real operational limitations of the Assad regime's forces," he says. "They are not heavily present in the eastern part of the country where ISIS is dominant. And when they fight ISIS directly, and they do sometimes, they are not very good at retaking and holding territory."

The U.S. is also concerned that the Syrian government has allowed the Islamic State to flourish, perhaps to show the world that those opposing the regime are terrorists.

Tabler says Obama has no good choices, but should at least be asking: "What can dislodge ISIS forces from that area? And the answer is, I think, working with moderates, including tribes in that area, very much like we are doing in Iraq."

But Obama has been far more cautious about getting involved in Syria since the war erupted there three years ago. And so far, he's given no indication that he's considering a major move in Syria.

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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad carry their weapons as they walk along a street in Mleiha, near the Damascus airport, during a tour organized by the Syrian government on Aug. 15. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters/Landov)

EPA Wades Into Water Fight With Farmers

by Frank Morris
Aug 20, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad carry their weapons as they walk along a street in Mleiha, near the Damascus airport, during a tour organized by the Syrian government on Aug. 15. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters/Landov)

Parsing The Rulebook To A Police Officer's Use Of Force

Aug 20, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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More than a week now from the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., it's worth asking: Ideally, what should happen with a police officer stops someone in the street? To find out about police best practices, Robert Siegel speaks with Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia's police commissioner.

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