Civil Liberties Roundup

Recently in Cairo:

An Egyptian court on Saturday [May 16] sentenced to death the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with more than 100 others, for fleeing prison during the 2011 revolt against President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Morsi’s conviction is the latest sign of the undoing of the uprising that overthrew Mr. Mubarak. Mr. Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader, now faces the death penalty for escaping extralegal detention — a form of detention that many Egyptians hoped would be eliminated by the revolution.

The past few years in Egypt have been painful to watch. The 2011 revolution that seemed to give many moderate Egyptians hope for a more democratic future was snuffed out after a 2013 coup against their first ever elected leader. Morsi was clearly unpopular and his religious extremism arguably rendered him unfit for the office. But it should be clear now that Egypt would be much better off had they democratically replaced him rather than the extreme response from al-Sisi and the Egyptian military.

At the time of the coup, I chatted a lot with a former co-worker from Microsoft who’d gone back to Alexandria (and who Dana and I visited in Cairo in 2007). He was torn between his fear of greater Islamic control of the country and his desire to trust the democratic process. It’s hard for most Americans to put themselves in his shoes. He supported the coup, but hoped it would still lead to more democratic reforms. It hasn’t (and he’s since moved out of the country again).

Ebrahim Deen, a researcher based in South Africa, wrote about Morsi’s death sentence (which he believes won’t actually be carried out) at Informed Comment:

The trial verdicts –Mursi was sentenced to life in prison on the espionage charge as well– were procedurally flawed, defendant’s had irregular access to legal representation, and evidence gathering and cross examination procedures were severely compromised. The glaring fact that the initial arrests were carried out by the former Mubarak regime in early 2011 under emergency law and without detention orders was not considered and so to [sic] was the communication between Mursi and an Aljazeera journalist the day of the ‘breakout’ wherein he provided the name, and street address of the prison, asserting that they were not escaping and would remain at the location awaiting government officials responses. The prosecutorial process had been extremely and even laughably shoddy. Of the around seventy Palestinians sentenced, two (Hossam Sanie and Raed El-Attar) had already died –Sanie as far ago as 2008 and Attar, during Israel’s operation ‘pillar of defence’ in 2014, which caused the deaths of over 2000, mostly civilian, Gazans. Another, Hassan Salama, has purportedly been in detention in Israel since 1996 and could not have possibly committed the alleged crimes from inside an Israeli cell. Further in the espionage case, which saw Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Mohamed El-Beltagy and Mohamed Khairet El-Shater receive death sentences, Emad Shahin, a political science professor now based at Georgetown University, who has no real links with the Brotherhood was handed the same censure, and so to was Sondos Assem, a media liaison official employed by Mursi.

This is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. Morsi is being sentenced for breaking out of a prison that shouldn’t have had the authority to hold him in the first place. Al-Sisi has taken Egypt back to the pre-2011 authoritarian regime where illegal detentions are commonplace, torture is routine, and members of religious parties like the Muslim Brotherhood are presumed to be terrorists, regardless of what those individuals have actually done. Deen continues:

These sentences are the latest in a string of actions adopted by the Sisi regime to crackdown on opposition and descent. Following the 2013 ouster, thousands have been killed, and over 16000 political prisoners currently languish in Egyptian detention facilities. A protest law, which has banned sit-ins and severely curtailed other protest rights, was adopted in November 2013, while in April, the Cairo Administrative Court criminalised worker strikes. Liberals and secular activists have not escaped this purge, in December 2014 Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma, three influential members of the April 6 youth movement were sentenced to three years for organizing protests in contravention of the protest law, while in February Douma was amongst over two hundred who received life sentences for inciting violence and destroying a science facility housing precious artefacts. Shahin’s farcical conviction falls into this milieu. Being opposed to the military ouster, publically vocalising this through writings and interviews, and being somewhat more ‘reputable’ internationally were the main reasons informing his death sentence. In 2014 alone, over 1400 individuals were sentenced to death in mass trials, which usually took only a few days to complete, and lacked even basic prosecutorial and judicial impartiality. It is noteworthy that the judiciary was a key cog in the political structure which allowed and maintained Mubarak’s regime and that following Mursi’s ouster, Sisi has sought a similar role for the institution –Adli Mansour (head of the Supreme Constitutional Court) was even installed caretaker president following the coup.

At least it’s not a theocracy, I guess.

News items from the last two weeks…

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Hailing A Cab

I hope I’m not back-in-my-daying this too much with this post but I’m writing it anyway:

The bus from Drinking Liberally to my apartment has been rerouted so now the best stop is like 10 blocks away from my apartment. It hasn’t been a bad walk the last few times I’ve taken it, but a few nights ago I was already dragging a bit. I had walked to Drinking Liberally when it was still pretty hot out, and I was out too late. 10 blocks was sort of that middle distance where it’s too short to call a cab or an get an Uber but I thought to m’self “if I see a cab, I’ll hail one.”

I didn’t see a cab until I was a block away from my apartment. I feel like even 5 years ago there were enough cabs out downtown — even at 11:30 on a weekday — that I would have caught one. Maybe this is me misremembering things, maybe it’s the route I took home, maybe it was just coincidence and I would have caught a cab most times.

Certainly, this personal story of one night isn’t data in any sense. But it does feel like now that Uber and Lyft are out there there are fewer cabs to be hailed. Maybe from a consumer’s point of view that’s a fine tradeoff for the advantages of ride sharing, but it is an issue. I’m not sure what the solution is.

A Republican Worth Listening To

Bill Finkbeiner, the former Republican state senate majority leader, has an op-ed in the Seattle Times urging lawmakers to give Sound Transit the full $15 billion taxing authority it needs to extend light rail to Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, West Seattle and Ballard.

Today, when we wonder how we are going to get from here to there in the future, the light-rail system, with all of its critics and detractors, looks like our best hope.

Somewhat fortuitously, our new growth seems to be centering in our urban cores. This is a sharp contrast to the last growth cycles, which saw new homes expand to ever distant exurbs. This new density increases the number of people who can realistically be moved in their daily lives by light-rail infrastructure and makes an even stronger case for the transportation solutions being offered by Sound Transit.

The Sound Transit board has asked the Legislature for the authority to present a $15 billion mass-transit funding package to voters in 2016, and the Legislature needs to give them that full authority, now.

Interestingly, the Seattle Times merely describes Finkbeiner as “a former state legislator,” rather than the Republican majority leader that he was (you know, back before the Republican Party went totally tea-bagger crazy). Not sure why they would want to hide this biographical detail from readers, as for all the cogent arguments that he makes, it’s Finkbeiner’s Republican pedigree that is the hook here.

A Republican enthusiastically endorses expanding light rail. That’s the story here.

That it is a story, well, that’s a whole nother story.

Open Thread 5/26

- Saying this early: Bryant v. Inslee is not Jobs vs. Environment

The underrepresentation of women and people of color in media extends all the way to the cartoons tucked into the New Yorker, according to an analysis of every cartoon published in the magazine last year.

– If this is how the Patriot Act goes, well, OK, I guess.

But it’s worth noting that amidst all the hue and cry turning cake bakers into martyrs in the name of religious freedom, here is an actual ordained minister who was jailed and fined for seeking to practice her faith and support same-sex marriage.

Byron Calhoun and the Phantom Fetal Skull

The Bad Intelligence

King County Unemployment Rate Plummets to 3.3 Percent! $15 Minimum Wage to Blame?

$15 Now

Socialist council member Kshama Sawant, ruining it for the rest of us.

If Seattle businesses are closing up shop in response to our $15 minimum wage, you wouldn’t know it from our falling unemployment rate:

King County’s unemployment rate reach[ed] a low not seen since April 2008, data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department show.

King County’s unemployment rate in April was 3.3 percent, compared to 4 percent in March and 4.1 percent in April 2014.

Okay, monthly unemployment data is not seasonally adjusted, so the rate will surely rise in May and June as college and high school graduates join the workforce (like it does every year). And of course, it will take years—maybe even a couple decades—to fully suss out the employment effect (if any) of Seattle’s phased-in $15 minimum wage.

But again, if employers are cutting back on hiring in anticipation of rising labor costs—like $15 critics insist a rationally self-interested employer would—you wouldn’t know it from our falling unemployment rate.

But, you know, one crappy chain pizza place closed, so screw the data.

[Cross-posted to Civic Skunkworks]

Drinking Liberally — Seattle


Okay…so it’s back to work on Tuesday, which is a pretty good excuse to swing by the Seattle Chapter of Drinking liberally for an evening of conversations over a cocktail.

We meet tonight and every Tuesday at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. Our starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks stop by earlier for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle tonight? Check out one of the other DL meetings happening this week. Tonight the Tri-Cities chapter also meets. On Wednesday, the Bellingham and Burien chapters meet. The Spokane, Woodinville and Kent chapters meet on Thursday. And next Monday, the Yakima and South Bellevue chapters meet.

There are 190 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, four in Oregon and two in Idaho. Chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

HA Bible Study: Leviticus 11:20-22

Leviticus 11:20-22
All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean by you. There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.


Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza!

Michelle Obama works out.

Thom: G.O.P. calls out Faux News as propaganda.

Texas-style Crazy:

The many accomplishments of Vladimir Putin.

Mental Floss: Misconceptions about Disney.

White House: West Wing Week.

MinutePhysics: Why rain drops are mathematically impossible.

Thom: Debt slavery is the new norm for college students.

The 2016 Klown Kar:

Thom: The Good, the Bad and the Very, Very Epicenely Ugly!

Kimmel: This week in unnecessary censorship.

Sen. Franken (D-MN): End NSA bulk phone surveillance.

Pap: GOP voter base is dying off.

Unsolicited advice for Bristol Palin.

Boy Scout President calls for end to gay ban.

Fifteen Now:

Ann Telnaes: Spinning the Iraq War.

Thom: End the Bankster’s “get out of jail free” card!

SNL: Hillary Clinton’s summer.

Slate: Inside the Hubble telescope’s strangest image.

President Twitterer:

Mental Floss: 23 weird celebrity businesses.

Sam Seder: Did Bill O’Reilly beat his wife?

Congressional hits and misses of the week:

Maddow: Outrageous news.

America’s nicest men’s rights activist (MRA) explains the cause.

Pap: The public HATES the Supreme Court.

Iraq Intelligence:

Young Turks: Ireland may vote to legalize same sex marriage.

Sam Seder: Nutjob Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), I trust the Ayatollah more than Obama.

Last week’s Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza can be found here.

The City Is the New Suburbs

I’ll sure miss the rhetorical utility of describing Seattle as “the fastest growing big city in America” now that Austin has seized back that mantle, though we’re still one of the fastest growing big cities in America—tied with Ft. Worth for third—so, whatever. But if you ask me, the Seattle Times piece on the new census numbers kinda buries the lede:

Also in the new data: Seattle grew 77 percent faster than surrounding King County in 2014. This marks the third consecutive year that Seattle has outpaced its suburbs.

This trend is not just remarkable, it is historic. The surrounding areas of King County had been adding population at a faster clip than Seattle for more than 100 years, and it’s not just in Seattle where this trend has reversed: for the first time in many decades, the majority of big American cities are growing faster than their suburbs. And there’s absolutely no reason to expect this trend won’t continue for the near future.

Whatever the reasons for this demographic shift, it is a mixed blessing. Obviously, we want and need our cities to grow more dense. Dense cities are more walkable, sustainable, and energy efficient than suburban sprawl. So we want to encourage urban density. But the flood of newcomers is forcing housing costs up, and shutting many middle and lower income residents out.

Seattle added nearly 15,000 new residents in 2014, nearly 18,000 the year before that, and new construction is not keeping pace with demand. While this imbalance is not the only cause of our growing affordable housing crisis, we obviously need to build more housing—some of it outside the market. And to do this, we’re going to have to deny our NIMBYist instincts that welcome growth everywhere but in our own neighborhoods.

Homeowners love it when their own property values rise. They’ll just have to learn to accept the change that comes with it. And that change must include a taller, denser, and more in-filled Seattle.

O.P.E.N. T.Hr.E.A.D.

- Emmett’s piece on how different people see Downtown Olympia probably scales to other downtowns.

– You need to know how to parallel park before you get on the road, Maryland drivers.

– The only Republican answer on Iraq that would make any sense is that it was the wrong decision. It’s surprising how few can do that.

Top 5 Irritating Agency Operations Habits

The diverse crowd of advocates, business owners and community leaders shows that the tide has turned overwhelmingly in favor of taking bold action to make Rainier Ave safer. This is a street where safe streets advocates have long felt resistance. It takes a big shift in mindset for communities to realize busy, scary streets can and should be made safer for everyone. It’s beautiful to realize that shift has happened, and this dangerous street’s days are numbered.

It’s sad that one only need replace “back then” with “nowadays” and Assata could be describing life in 2015, not the 1960s of her youth.

Still Some Work

I found the state’s compliance checks on marijuana businesses interesting.

The stores — two in Everett and two in Tacoma — could be hit with a $2,500 fine and a suspension. The person who did the actual selling could be charged by a local prosecutor.

The four stores were among 22 tested in checks between May 15 and 18. Brian Smith, a spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board which licenses recreational marijuana stores, said that compliance rate of 82 percent is lower than the 85 percent rate for all retail stores that sell some alcohol product and the 92 percent rate for stores that sell spirits.

I hope they get those numbers up, because obviously they shouldn’t sell marijuana to children. If it takes suspending some licenses, that’s fine. We’ve had more time to weed out* people selling alcohol (I don’t know how much it changed with privatization and deregulation a few years ago, but it at least had a bit of a head start).

It’s also pretty small numbers so one less bust would be better than 86%. Not that any selling to minors is OK, but we’ll probably want more numbers in the future.

Also, I’m guessing that’s a much better number than street dealers. So while legalization has had some hiccups, it’s a lot better than the old way people got their marijuana in the state.

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Open Thread

It’s another one of everyone’s favorite type of thread: The Carl forget his computer at home, so he’s writing from his phone. Enjoy!

How Long Have You Been Illegally Not Funding Education?

Hey, is anyone surprised Sen. Michael Baumgartner (or an intern in his office) is writing press releases in support a bill to dock teacher’s pay during strikes? No, nobody? I’m going to make fun of it anyway.

OLYMPIA… On the same day that teachers in the Seattle School District are planning to walk off the job, the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would dock their pay.

On the same day that Michael Baumgartner is violating his oath by not supporting the paramount duty of the state — AKA, any day — he still managed to find time to complain about the people who actually educate children. Yes, he has helped make sure that teacher pay has been frozen for years. Not for nothing, but he’s literally using a special session where he’s supposed to find ways to fund education to try his hand at cutting teacher pay.

The work session and public hearing on Senate Bill 6116 is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Senate Hearing Room 4. Officials of the Washington Education Association and other education groups have been invited.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, would for the first time impose a financial penalty on teachers who choose to break the law by going on strike. The proposal is especially timely this year, said committee chair Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. Teachers affiliated with the WEA have voted to stage one-day walkouts in 55 school districts.

It’s like he isn’t aware that it’s the middle of a special session to fund education, and failing super hard. The most timely thing about this bill is a strike? Is he even trying? He’s aware that we can read, right?

“Let’s leave aside the political arguments for a moment,” Baumgartner said.

Seems unlikely, but let’s see what “leave aside the political arguments” looks like:

“The fact is that these strikes use our children as a political football. The teachers walk out and the parents have to stay home. The union is hoping parents will take out their anger on the Legislature. It’s a nasty game they play.”

So leaving aside the political argument is blaming someone else for your own shortcomings. Great. Again, if the legislature did their job, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Teachers are protesting a Senate budget proposal that gives them their first cost-of-living increase since the Great Recession. The problem is the Democrats in the state House are offering them more. At the same time, both parties balk at paying for Initiative 1351, a class-size reduction measure backed by the teacher’s union that narrowly passed last year. The measure would require that 25,000 additional teachers and school employees be hired, costing $3.8 billion every two years when fully implemented.

Oh right. You’ve not passed teacher raises despite inflation still being a thing for the better part of a decade. Now you’ve decided that instead of fully making up that gap and paying for the other things you haven’t funded for a long time, not to mention what people just voted for, just dock teacher pay for a one day strike that will be made up at the end of the year anyway.

Sheldon noted that state law has always prohibited teacher strikes. In addition, most local schoolteachers’ unions have agreed to no-strike clauses in their contracts. Those rules are rarely enforced. When teachers walk off the job, strike days are generally made up at the end of the school year in the same manner as snow days, with full pay and benefits. Sheldon’s bill stipulates that no state money shall be used to compensate teachers when they go on strike. The intention is that teachers shall not be compensated when they make up strike days, he said.

In the previous paragraph he said he wouldn’t fund I-1351, despite it being state law. Throughout the entire press release, there’s no way to meet the Constitutional requirements spelled out in McCleary. Yet somehow, he’s super concerned with obeying the law? Also, is he saying strike days shouldn’t be made up, or just that the state shouldn’t pay for it? Either way, the bill is seeking to harm school districts to prove some sort of nebulous point. And have I mentioned how they’re failing their paramount duty?

“This is really a bipartisan concern,” Sheldon said. “I know of no other profession in which you get paid to go on strike. I’m glad we’re holding this hearing the same day the Seattle teachers are protesting the Legislature. Some of them may actually come down here and do it. That will give me a chance to ask why they think taxpayers should pay them to play hooky.”

Can whoever wrote this press release ask Tim Sheldon if he still gets paid by Mason County while he’s playing hooky in the legislature?

Shorter Seattle Times Editorial Board: “We Hate Teachers” (Also, “We’re Fucking Idiots”)

Teachers protest outside Franklin High School

Teachers protest outside Seattle’s Franklin High School

In case you’re wondering, the Seattle Times editorial board isn’t too pleased with today’s one-day teacher walkout in the Seattle, Mercer Island, and Issaquah school districts, because the children!

The only clear consequence of Tuesday’s walkout by Seattle teachers is that students will lose one precious day of instruction.

Oh no! The children are going to lose one precious day of school!

This one-day protest extends the last day of school from Monday, June 15 — ending on a Monday is a strange decision itself — to Tuesday, June 16.

Wait. Um, doesn’t the second sentence in their editorial totally contradict their first? (Not to mention their entire thesis?)

I know, I know… their argument is that moving the day from now to then makes the school year functionally one day shorter, but that’s just plain stupid. Their lede is factually wrong. Jesus. What a bunch of fucking morons.

I was going to fisk their entire editorial, but if they’re not going to take their work seriously then neither am I.

Christopher Hitchens on Islam

When if comes to critique of religion, folks on the left have a nasty habit of tying themselves in ecumenical knots. For example, if you want to see these knots tied in front of you, simply criticize Islam in mixed conversation. Eyes will flicker, and someone in the group will say, “well, Christians have been just as bad.” Even the president gets in on the act. It’s an understandable habit.

Christopher Hitchens didn’t care much for this predilection. This video is an example of this. Hitch was supposed to appear on stage at Town Hall in June of 2010. This appearance was canceled due to his cancer diagnosis, which killed him about a year and a half later. In honor of that missed appearance, here’s Hitch in action: