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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Category: Uncategorized
June 11, 2014 at 6:15 AM

Install more toilets in India to end sexual violence against women

Some things should never be taken for granted. Clean toilets is one of them.

I never gave much thought to loos as a symbol of dignity and privacy, even though UNICEF has launched numerous efforts such as the #Toilets4All campaign to explain how a lack of toilets around the world endangers public health by causing intestinal worms and diarrhea.

Two weeks ago, it took reports of a gang-rape and lynching of two teenage sisters in an Indian village for many to understand how a shortage of toilets also puts some women at higher risk of sexual violence. Like so many others, the girls had walked together into an open field to relieve themselves. With half of India’s population lacking a private toilet, public defecation is common. So is the likelihood that girls and women will be abused walking to and from these sites, according to a May 30 BBC report.

On Monday, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a memorable story about efforts to bring toilets to more Indian families. Correspondent Julie McCarthy highlighted the work of social activist Bindeshwar Pathak and his organization, Sulhabh International, which has built more than 1 million toilets throughout the populous country over the last four decades. The Associated Press reports the country still needs 120 million more latrines. Here’s an excerpted quote from Vijay Laxmi, 35, whose village has experienced a cultural shift:

“There has been a huge change in our lives. Before, the men would follow us, wait for us to sit in the field and watch. Now, thanks to Mr. Pathak, we have a lavatory at home… We don’t need to step out, and we feel better. Our dignity which is an ornament for us — is now safe.”

McCarthy’s report also mentioned a project by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reinvent the toilet for developing countries. Cal Tech won the foundation’s challenge in 2012. Efforts are underway to test the school’s prototype in India.

Here’s how it works:

What now? India’s new president should keep his promise to “build toilets first, temples later.”


Comments | Topics: clean toilets, gates foundation, India

June 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

The troubling loss of press freedom in China, Thailand

Session on press freedom in Asia at New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong on June 7, 2014. (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

Session on press freedom at New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong on June 7, 2014. (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

HONG KONG – In February, Hong Kong journalist Kevin Lau was stabbed by two men as he was getting out of his car. The trial of two suspects is about to begin and many believe Lau was targeted because of his work as editor of the Ming Pao daily newspaper.

Lau’s attack raised the alarm on restrictions to press freedom in Asia. Freedom of the press is a proxy for individual liberty. If a government cannot tolerate media criticism, it’s unlikely to stomach citizen protests, criticism from individuals or even an individual’s right to meet with others and discuss government problems.

Lau, who is now learning how to walk again, spoke in a videotaped interview that aired Sunday at the New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong, organized by the Asian American Journalists Association Asia chapter and Hong Kong University’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre. Lau called on police to continue investigating who ordered the attack. Here is a video of Lau’s interview, produced by Hong Kong University’s journalism center.

His attack shook many in Hong Kong, where press freedoms are protected, unlike China. In the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 4, Chinese government imprisoned dozens of dissidents, according to an AP news story. China does not allow public discussion of the 1989 protests, when soldiers killed hundreds of democracy protesters. Imagine if the U.S. government imposed a blackout of media coverage on Sept. 11 anniversary coverage. (Hong Kong media, which is protected by freedom of the press provisions, covered the anniversary extensively.)


Comments | Topics: asia, China, journalism

June 10, 2014 at 6:45 AM

Stars in the Pacific Northwest Ballet firmament

As the tearful story of unrequited love drew to a close at the Saturday matinee of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Giselle, there was barely a dry eye in McCaw Hall. Broken hearts indeed. PNB principal dancer Kaori Nakamura gave her final performance. She was Giselle. Five curtain calls offered Nakamura a warm embrace and bid her a fond farewell into retirement. Giselle…



June 9, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Tim Eyman’s intriguing counterattack to Seattle’s $15 minimum wage

Tim Eyman drops off signatures in 2012 for his successful two-thirds-for-taxes measure, I-1185.

Tim Eyman drops off signatures in 2012 for his successful two-thirds-for-taxes measure, I-1185.

Ever since the Seattle City Council voted Monday for a first-of-its-kind $15 minimum wage, we’ve been hearing about real and potential court challenges, referenda and amendments to the city charter – local counterattacks for a measure of national significance. Not that anyone thought the fight was over. But Tim Eyman seems to have hit on an idea that takes the issue to an entirely different battlefield, the statewide ballot, where it might more easily be defeated.

The tireless Mukilteo initiative promoter last week filed an initiative to the Legislature that reflects an important insight. Seattle can be beaten when the rest of the state votes against it. His initiative would declare that minimum wages must be uniform across the state — in other words, any wage hike would have to pass muster at the Capitol and not at Seattle City Hall. So Seattle’s increase likely would be doomed by statehouse politics and an economy that simply won’t support high wages in every hamlet and hollow.

Eyman isn’t the only one thinking about a statewide preemption initiative. The same thing would be accomplished by I-1358, a late-starting measure for this year’s ballot filed by Rick Forschler, former councilman in the city of SeaTac. Forschler’s campaign faces a tough July deadline for signatures and so far reports no fund-raising; Eyman’s seems the stronger contender because it aims for the 2015 ballot and faces a January deadline.

Maybe neither will be the ultimate vehicle for a statewide counterattack. But the tactic seems such a strong bet it would be a surprise if no one tries it.



June 9, 2014 at 6:25 AM

How to prevent the next SPU shooting

The picture emerging of Aaron Rey Ybarra is crushingly familiar.YbarraCourt

A young man with documented mental health problems (he was twice evaluated for involuntary psychiatric hospitalization) who’d said he “wanted to hurt himself and others“; who hadn’t seen a mental health provider for months and appeared to be taking his medications sporadically; yet was striving for stability, with a new job and sessions at Alcoholics Anonymous.

The picture still needs to be filled out, and the policies to spin out of this tragedy should include a review of state gun laws. But I read Ybarra’s story as a call for an important mental health reform, largely neglected here in Washington.

Ybarra may have been a good candidate for what’s known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment. It involves court-ordered outpatient therapy, with intensive supervision of a treatment plan that can include housing and other help. Patients have to have a serious illness, including hospitalizations, and often have a history of noncompliance with treatment.

New York has a program, known as “Kendra’s Law,” with about 2,500 people, at a cost of $32 million, according to a New York Times story, but it is estimated by Duke University researchers to save about 50 percent per-patient off state Medicaid costs because patients didn’t go to expensive hospitals nearly as often.

From the Duke study, which included New York and surrounding counties:


Comments | Topics: assisted outpatient treatment, gun culture, legislature

June 5, 2014 at 12:10 PM

What was your first minimum wage job? These were ours.

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Seattle has made history with this week’s approval of a $15 minimum wage schedule, phased in over a few years with different schedules for different sized businesses. The world, judging from from this editorial in the Oregonian and this blog in The Guardian,  is either marveling or criticizing the audacity of the action.

The interesting thing about the Seattle minimum-wage debate is that it became a debate about a livable wage. The value underpinning the proposal is that a worker should be able to support themselves independently on the minimum wage.

That prompted an interesting conversation among our Opinion department staff members about our first jobs. None of us stayed in those jobs, using education to advance our careers, but all were useful helping to pay for college or educational travel. Here are our first jobs. What was yours? Please tell us in the comment section.

Frank Blethen, publisher: Grocery bag boy at Bashas Family Grocery  in Arizona for 95 cents an hour. We had to endure


Comments | Topics: Erik Smith, first jobs, Frank Blethen

June 5, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Withhold judgment on Bowe Bergdahl

President Obama would have been better off avoiding the hero narrative when he announced last weekend that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been handed over to members of the U.S. Special Forces. He could have just said we got our guy back. Let him recover and we’ll figure out what happened. It’s better to have Bergdahl…


Comments | Topics: Afghanistan, bowe bergdahl, idaho

June 4, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Consider alternatives to locking up immigrants in ICE detention centers

Wednesday’s editorial in The Seattle Times pushes for increased oversight of U.S. Immigration and Enforcement’s Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats.

Under the status quo system — which includes an odd mandate that 34,000 detention beds are filled every night at a cost of nearly $2 billion to taxpayers (The Center for American Progress has produced several informative graphics, including the two below.)  — private prison contractors are guaranteed business.

Infographic by Center for American Progress

Infographic by Center for American Progress

Infographic by Center for American Progress

Infographic by Center for American Progress

As The Atlantic and many other news organizations have reported in recent years, private contractors such as The GEO Group are making a killing at taxpayers’ expense. Not only are they profiting off crowded federal detention centers (which have doubled in occupancy over the last several years), numerous stories suggest they are protecting their profit margins by spending big bucks on lobbying.

As of June 2, local ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz reported that 1,315 detainees are in the Northwest Detention Center. Those inside who await possible deportation are not current criminal offenders. These are people who might have overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally and got caught during one of ICE’s random enforcements. See the graphic below to get a sense of how long detainees are held.

Infographic by the Center for American Progress

Infographic by the Center for American Progress

What’s the cost to taxpayers? Munoz wrote in an email that ICE’s current contract guarantees GEO is paid a daily minimum of $100.65 to operate at least 1,181 beds. Each additional bed is provided at a discounted rate of $62.52. There’s not much incentive to keep the numbers down.


Comments | Topics: adam smith, cout, detention center

June 3, 2014 at 6:05 AM

HBO’s John Oliver to Internet commenters: ‘Channel your anger’

Comedian and host John Oliver delivered an epic diatribe Sunday night on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight”  against cable companies seeking to create a “fast track” at a premium price for popular websites.

If you haven’t tracked this issue or are looking for a good laugh, watch the segment below. (WARNING: Oliver uses some strong language throughout the commentary. The video contains several “beep” sounds, but viewers will notice it’s still obvious what he’s saying. So — listen with headphones on if you’re at work or around kids.)

The gist of Oliver’s argument is this: If cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner (which are trying to merge into one mega-company) can make net neutrality sound as mundane as possible, no one will care about their effort to fundamentally change the Internet, where all information is available at the same speed.

“The cable companies have figured out if you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring,” he says. 


Comments | Topics: fcc, hbo, john oliver

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