Civil Liberties Roundup

Recently, the Obama Administration announced that it was applying sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials. Few people deny that Venezuela’s government has committed human rights violations, as I’ve documented some of them in these roundups, but the main outrage over this move comes because of the hyperbole and the hypocrisy that went along with this move:

But the main object of South American ire may be the language leading off Obama’s order. It describes the situation in Venezuela as constituting an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The U.S. government hasn’t typically described Venezuela as a major security threat. The 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released last month by the director of national intelligence, devotes two paragraphs to Venezuela, neither of which describe the country as a threat to the United States.

But a senior U.S. administration official told reporters last week that the use of “national security” language is standard when issuing an executive order to impose sanctions. “Most of the sanctions programs that we have, from Iran to Syria, Burma, across the board, rely on these same types of national emergency declarations,” the official said.

Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the human rights nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, explained that under U.S. law, the executive has to declare a national emergency that threatens national security in order to freeze a foreigner’s assets by executive order.

“It has to look like a big, special thing, if you’re going to do it,” Isacson told The Huffington Post. “That’s why it has that stupid language at the beginning. I think the sanctions themselves are pretty legitimate. The United States has the right to decide who gets to do business and own property here in our country, and we should be limiting the number of human rights abusers who get to do that.”

Isacson also suggested that more people were worthy of sanctions. “Just look at New York and all the condos that are owned by Russian oligarchs,” he said. He noted as well the prevalence of human rights abuses in Mexico and Colombia, countries with which the United States enjoys good diplomatic relations.

So why is Venezuela being singled out here? Why are we so willing to damage relations with the region over a country whose record on human rights isn’t any worse than many other countries we remain strongly allied with?

I think part of the answer comes from a phenomenon that’s really well explained in Lawrence Lessig’s recent book “Republic, Lost”. One of the central insights of that book is about understanding the true nature of corruption in this country. It’s not simply a matter of the wealthy writing big checks in order to get what they want out of our lawmakers and other leaders. It’s about a system that relies on campaign funding and essentially forces lawmakers and others running for office to focus their attention and their efforts on the interests of those who can reciprocate.

The end result is that politicians end up in a bubble where they only hear and understand the issues and concerns of those wealthy enough to gain access to the bubble. This is not a phenomenon limited to either party. Democrats can become as captive to their wealthy interests as Republicans.

But the unique thing about Venezuela is that, unlike many other rights-abusing nations in the world, the victims of Maduro’s left-wing regime are often businessmen. Within the bubble of wealthy interests that politicians reside, this becomes seen as a more serious threat than when a regime targets activists or minorities or the press. In this context, the wealthy view themselves and their interests as the interests of the nation – and politicians follow suit. In reality, Venezuela is no more of a threat to U.S. interests than Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Egypt, but gets treated as if it’s far more threatening.

More stories from the past two weeks…
[Read more…]

Sure! Where Do We Store The Waste?

Senator Sharon Brown has a brand-new idea for power generation. Nuclear something something!

In an era when carbon emissions are becoming a major concern and clean energy is a popular cause, Washington is poised to become a center for the development of one of the greenest technologies around. Clean, safe, abundant, all it needs is a bit of encouragement from the state and a willingness to understand that today’s nuclear power is like nothing before.

First off, I’m glad to see some Republican is acknowledging that carbon emissions are a problem. We may disagree on many things, but at least we can agree that humans are causing global warming. Oh? What? She voted with all but one of her GOP colleagues that we aren’t sure if humans cause global warming.

Also, unless you have some uranium lying around, you’re going to have to mine it. And that isn’t exactly a zero emissions proposition.

Yes, nuclear power. We’ve come a long way since the days of tie-dyed T-shirts and no-nukes concerts and the reactor technology of the 1960s and ‘70s. The new generation of reactor design is safer, simpler and potentially cheaper than anything we have seen to date. Export potential is enormous, to a Third World now electrifying with coal. Washington is uniquely suited to become a center for the development, design and export of this small modular nuclear-reactor technology, and we have a small window of opportunity to establish leadership and make this industry our own.

Export potential? I feel like that’s something to explore a bit. But no. Instead we have more discussion of the fashion sense of the 1960’s than of how that would happen.

Anyway, you could get me on board with one minor amendment. I propose we store the waste in her district. Since it’s so clean or whatever, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. Or maybe just ask the Feds to deal with it and everything will be fine.

I have sponsored a series of bills in the Legislature this year that demonstrate our interest in this most promising industry. Senate Bill 5113 would require the state Department of Commerce to coordinate and advance the siting and manufacturing of small modular reactors. SB 5093 would establish a nuclear-education program in our high schools. SB 5091 would declare nuclear power a form of alternative energy that qualifies under the state‘s voluntary Green Power program. For those concerned about storage of spent nuclear fuel, we have passed a memorial asking the federal government to develop a nuclear-waste repository, once and for all. These measures all cleared the Senate — some with broad bipartisan support.

Oh cool. The Federal Government through Democratic and Republican governments, for decades and decades hasn’t been able to come up with a good solution. But now we’re asking them to develop a repository and so that’s that solved. PS, can the repository be in Richland?

Small modular nuclear reactors are quite a bit different from the big-reactor designs of the ‘70s. Instead of using a single built-in-place reactor core, they utilize a series of interchangeable and replaceable small reactors. A dozen together might be half the size of one of the big reactors of old. These small reactors use a more modern design with fewer moving parts, reducing risk of failure. And when one reactor goes offline for regular maintenance or repair, other modular reactors at the same facility can take its place and keep up the flow of power.

OK, great. We haven’t exactly solved the waste issue yet.

There are many exciting technologies being proposed. Planning is under way for a first-of-its-kind modular reactor in Idaho that will begin serving the Utah power market within a decade — most likely at the Idaho National Laboratory, with support from Washington’s Energy Northwest. Technology isn’t the holdup — federal and state permitting procedures must be developed, and there is ramp-up time involved in developing facilities capable of producing the required components.

Look, we’ve literally asked the Federal government to do something about nuclear waste, so now we have to hurry.

Now imagine if those manufacturing facilities were located here. Imagine if the next reactor were located at Hanford – Washington’s own nuclear industrial site, adjacent to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the talent base in the Tri-Cities. It could power Hanford’s new glassification plant, where legacy high-level defense waste will be converted to solid-glass form – and that by itself could spare us the need to consume 45,000 gallons of diesel fuel every day.

Hanford: Where nuclear waste was never a problem.

On a national level the states of Oregon, Idaho and Utah are becoming players. Nowhere in that conversation is our state, yet we have the intellectual capital and the resources. It is easy to see the possibilities. Successful companies plan for how to get from point A to point B — Washington should do the same for energy. Nuclear power is poised for a resurgence for economic and environmental reasons, and the question is whether we will seize the opportunity or let it slip away for lack of vision. It is better to lead, instead of looking back 10 years from now saying “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

Couldawouldashoulda had all that nuclear waste of our very own.

Open Thread (Some Joke)

- I say let bikes and motorcycles run reds all the time.

– The first step of Seattle’s minimum wage hike is going into effect.

Six things to know about Shell’s plan to base its Arctic fleet at the Port of Seattle

In the real world moms carry their newborns around with them. It’s as natural as it gets. And it was charming.

– You guys, stop what you’re doing. They found Cervantes’ tomb! This is not a drill.

– Am I the only person here excited about Overthinking It’s Eurovision coverage? I am? Cool.

Yearly Yeats

So, it’s St. Pat’s again. Here’s Easter 1916. Maybe read it to your friends instead of getting too drunk and yelling outside my building like you do most years no matter if I have to get up or not.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Dori Monson on Restaurant Closures: Lying or Illiterate?

Gotta hand it to my former KIRO radio colleague Dori Monson—he’s never so sure of himself as when he’s absolutely wrong:

Seattle restaurants are closing because of the coming of $15 an hour. … Seattle Magazine had a story about this. Queen Anne’s Grub restaurant closed Feb. 14. Pioneer Square’s Little Uncle shut down Feb. 25. The Boat Street Cafe will close May 30.

The restaurant owners said certainly there are a lot of reasons, but they said that $15 an hour is a major factor in all of this.

Uh-huh. Except, if Dori had actually read the Seattle Magazine piece, he’d know that not a single one of these owners mentioned the minimum wage as a contributing factor toward their restaurant’s closure. Grub’s owner sold out to pursue “future opportunities in this wonderful industry;” a new restaurant will open in its place. Boat Street Cafe’s owner is closing to focus on her three other restaurants and the two new ones she’s opening, while the neighboring Boat Street Kitchen expands into the cafe’s space. And Little Uncle’s owners say they closed because their “Pioneer Square location ultimately does not fit into the goals of our professional life and personal life,”—and are planning to reopen in a new location.

We did not close our Pioneer Square location due to the new minimum wage,” Little Uncle’s Poncharee Kounpungchart told PubliCola.

That’s weird, ha. No, that’s not why I’m closing Boat Street,” owner Renee Erickson told the Seattle Times when asked if her closure had anything to do with the minimum wage. (Yay, Bethany!)

So why isn’t Seattle’s $15 minimum wage a factor? It could be because it hasn’t happened yet! Also, the first step of the phase-in will have very little impact on these restaurants’ bottom line.

Starting April 1, small businesses (and these are all small businesses) will be required to pay tipped workers a minimum wage of $10 an hour. But Washington State’s minimum wage is already $9.47 an hour, so that’s not much of a raise. The ordinance requires a “minimum compensation” of $11 an hour—wage plus tips plus benefits—but most back of house staff at full service restaurants in Seattle already earn more than that. Maybe a few dishwashers will get a small raise. This isn’t restaurant armageddon.

In fact, restaurants close all the time—about 17 percent a year in Washington State, according to the article Dori cited, but obviously didn’t bother to read. And there is no evidence that Seattle restaurants are closing any faster than they normally do.

In any case, correlation doesn’t equal causation. So why Dori, who denies climate science, would find a handful of restaurant closures to be irrefutable proof of the “real world consequences” of a higher minimum wage, seems strange. Unless, of course, Dori couldn’t actually give a shit about the truth.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottlePlease join us this evening for a St. Patrick’s Day party peppered with political prognostication at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally.

We meet every Tuesday evening 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, Vancouver, WA, and Shelton chapters also meet. The Lakewood chapter meets on Wednesday. And on Thursday, the Tacoma chapter meets.

There are 189 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.

Boeing Courageously Defends Workers from Predatory Unions. Or Something.

Because if there’s any company that is dedicated to protecting the best interests of its workers, it’s Boeing:

The Machinists union on Monday asked for an election so about 2,400 Boeing production workers in South Carolina can decide whether they want union representation.

The aeronautics giant immediately responded that a union is not in the best interests of the company, the workers or the state.

Also not in the best interests of Boeing workers, apparently, is keeping their jobs here in Washington State. Or something. But we should trust Boeing management to always do what’s best for their workers.

Republican Presidential Candidate Roundup: Wait, They Said What?

Spring has sprung, birds are singing, and Republican presidential candidates are slinging bullshit all over Iowa and New Hampshire. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the dumbest things that have been said over the last three days or so:

Mike Huckabee: The perennial presidential candidate does not use the diabetes snake oil  “miracle cure” that he’s paid to shill, reports the New York Times. This man is about as unserious as they come, but for some reason he’s treated like a real live human being wherever he goes. How is that?

Scott Walker: The Little Governor That Could got caught spinning a King Arthur-like fable about himself. Walker told a story in which Reagan’s family bible basically flew into his hands, as though he was the chosen successor to Reagan. The curator of the Reagan Library politely begged to differ with Walker’s fabulist take.

Ted Cruz: Speaking in New Hampshire this weekend, Ted Cruz’s toddler-like grasp of politics managed to terrify an actual toddler (starting at 0:34 in the below video):

Cruz’s response to the child makes absolutely no sense. He tells her that her world specifically is on fire, but then he says Republicans will make it “even better.” Even better than totally on fire? Does that mean burned to a cinder or not on fire anymore?

Rand Paul: The youngest living Ron Paul clone did some brand maintenance this weekend . He’s supposed to be the hippest presidential candidate in the game, so he made multiple appearances at Austin’s insufferably hip South By Southwest festival. And, in case you’re not already in awe of Paul’s hipness, he also held a live Twitter Q&A with his adoring public, using the hashtag #RANDSXSW. Here’s one exchange:

Okay, this analogy makes even less sense than Ted Cruz’s attempt to soothe a child by invoking the apocalypse. Using Paul’s own logic, wealthy people would be able to ensure that their packages arrive sooner than yours. Delivery companies would be able to hold your packages ransom until you agreed to pay a last-second delivery fee. The internet is and has always been a utility. If Paul could make an analogy using electricity, I might be willing to listen to him. But he can’t, so he’s going to tie the internet to that classic Republican target, the United States Postal Service. A whole lot of people will buy this dumb analogy on its surface, which is precisely why it’s so dangerous.

Bonus Rand Paul Round: Paul also claimed that he signed the traitorous letter to Iran because he wanted President Obama “to negotiate from a position of strength.” Uh-huh. Meanwhile, Deroy Murdock at National Review‘s Corner blog says nobody should be upset about that Iran letter because it wasn’t actually sent anywhere. It was just published on the internet where anyone can read and re-post it. Or does Iran already suffer from the socialist plague of postal neutrality? No wonder Senator Paul signed the letter!

Jeb Bush: The presumptive next Republican presidential candidate made his first royal tour of New Hampshire over the weekend, and the media loves him, presumably because Bush is granting them access. The press is swooning over Bush, calling him an “anti-Romney” and a “centrist.” Never mind the fact that Bush, who supposedly really cares about income inequality at the moment, claims that he sees “no need for a national increase in the minimum wage,” which should be the first step of any real plan to combat income inequality. Bush is totally a centrist man of the people, because he acts all chummy with the reporters who are assigned to his campaign. He’s the anti-Romney, okay? He just is. Shut up.

Open Thread March 16

- Are Seattle Restaurants Closing in “Record Numbers”? (Spoiler: No.)

– Continuing on the theme of Carl Ballard loves it when the New York Times realizes that Seattle exists, here’s a nice run-down of the Royal Dutch Shell lease.

– The Washington Alliance For Gun Responsibility wants you to sign a petition asking the gun lobby to knock off their lawsuit.

– Good for SPD for firing a creepy officer, and being open about why. Boo for some of the reaction to it on Facebook.

Why #BlackOutDay matters

– The M/V Sally Fox is looking pretty good.

Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza!

Mental Floss: 23 bad business moves.

David Pakman: When did right-wing anti-intellectualism begin?

Pap: GOP is scamming its donors.

Young Turks: Megyn Kelly drops some reality sauce on Mike Huckabee’s head.

#47Traitors

If Susan B. Anthony had a Vlog.

David Pakman: A President Lindsey Graham would deploy military against congress to reverse military cuts.

Sam Seder: The mainstream press fails Wisconsin Workers

SNL Weekend Update girl at a party on ISIS and Boko Haram.

Kerry spars with Rubio over ISIS

Anti-Vax Fever (with chills and light sneezing):

Jon mocks CNN’s Selma coverage of… a drone.

Thom: Why unions are the seeds of democracy.

Mental Floss: Misconceptions about your lawn.

John Oliver: U.S. Territories.

Wrong-email-address-ghazi!!!!!11!1!11!!!!

Amazon Prime for Women (because you deserve 78% satisfaction).

Jon questions Christie’s loyalty to NJ.

Thom: The Good, The Bad, and The Very Very Ecdemicly Ugly.

Mental Floss: Why do we get dark circles under our eyes.

Rep. Donna Edwards launches Senate bid.

Congressional hits and misses of the week.

Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter: Scott Walker butchers Wisconsin workers.

Racism in America:

Kimmel: Obama reads mean tweets:

Sam Seder: The legacy of Paul Wellstone.

White House: West Wing Week.

Thom: The Good, The Bad, and The Very Very Jubately Ugly.

David Pakman: The Obama economy.

Sen. Patty Murray and other Democratic leaders cry foul over abortion language shamefully put into anti-human trafficking bill:

Vsauce: Human extinction.

ONN: Should unpaid interns be paid for fighting for their boss’ amusement?

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

Open Thread 3/13

- Remembering Trailblazing Abortion Provider Mildred ‘Millie’ Hanson

– Since the state Senate isn’t sure that humans caused global warming, I’m just going to go ahead and blame it on the bears who want to end their hibernation early.

One of the purposes of this blog has always been to, as I said, back in 2009, “present a way of life.” I hoped that it would encourage people to think differently and give them a window into a way of doing things they perhaps hadn’t considered. But these days, encouraging people to depend on transit seems naïve, even irresponsible.

– It’s interesting to think of downtown sub-components and hopefully how to better serve them with transit.

– As a former fetus myself, that guy is a jerk.

Election Endorsements Have Consequences

If the Seattle Times editorial board is so “depressed” about Republican science denial, perhaps they might want to stop endorsing Republicans?

THE state Senate this week had a brief but telling debate about climate change. It ended, depressingly, with a mostly party-line vote that very well could have taken place years earlier, with Republicans resisting the science on humankind’s clear role in reshaping our global climate.

Seriously… how many of these idiots has the Seattle Times endorsed?