WTF Friday, 11/20/2015

What a week.

The internet had to collectively suspend Godwin’s Law with regard to the Syrian refugee crisis, as U.S. politicians approvingly cited the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and proposed a national Muslim registry. (I have personally used the word “shameful” more times in the last four days than in the previous 10 years put together.) And the people and agencies working to provide safe harbor to families being resettled can’t do their jobs because of death threats.

It’s a lot to absorb. So let’s take a quick look on the bright side, shall we?

Here’s Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, promising that his state will continue to welcome refugees:

I have always believed that the United States is a place of refuge for those escaping persecution, starvation or other horrors that thankfully most in America will never experience.

And this is Connecticut governor, Dannel P. Malloy, explaining why he welcomed a family of Syrian refugees into his state, after they were refused by Indiana:

It is the right thing, the humane thing to do.

Meanwhile, faith groups and local communities are organizing to show solidarity and educate the public.

And finally, George Takei is ON IT.

Syrian Refugees Are Not Coming to Live in Your Craft Room

Look, America, I get it. Terrorism is scary. We all love Paris. An attack on the home of existentialism, the Musée d’Orsay, and perfect flaky croissants is hard to process.

But your reaction is a little… unhinged. Despite the fact that all the attackers who’ve been identified are European citizens, we’ve seen a shameful rush by U.S. governors to bar Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states. Talking heads are screeching about the threat these desperate people pose to our safety. And a candidate for this country’s highest office just proposed a federal Muslim-banning bill.

Which makes me wonder: Do you not know what a refugee is, America?

It’s okay if you don’t, but maybe tone down the rhetoric until you’re up to speed. Here are the basics:

Refugees are not blood-sucking monsters from outer space. Under U.S. law, a refugee is anyone who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”. The word “persecution” in this context doesn’t just mean harassment or general unpleasantness. It means serious harm or suffering inflicted on the basis of identity. These are not people leaving their country because they can’t find a job or think they might like the weather better somewhere else. They are victims of serious human rights abuses running for their lives.

Refugees don’t come here on a whim. Nobody wants to leave their family and livelihood behind, fleeing to dubious safety abroad. I represented asylum seekers (people who satisfied the legal requirements for refugee status but were already physically present in the U.S.) for several years and never met one who was happy to be a refugee. They were relieved to be safe, and profoundly grateful to America for taking them in, but heartbroken at being unable to go home. They wouldn’t have left if they’d had any choice about it.

Refugees can’t just walk into the U.S. It’s not easy to get refugee status here. The federal government doesn’t just take your word for it that you’re the target of the kind of actual or threatened persecution required to qualify as a refugee. You have to prove it. For many, this means providing doctor’s assessments attesting to torture, witness statements, and media or NGO reports of the abuses they’ve suffered. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers comb through this evidence and screen applicants in person. For those in refugee camps abroad, who have been registered with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and referred to the U.S. government for vetting, the process can take years. Then, they undergo multiple background checks and a medical screening before they are approved to come to the U.S. for resettlement.

Refugees aren’t housed in American homes. This should go without saying, but two days of tweets asking me how many Syrians I’ll be hosting suggest that it doesn’t: Refugees who are admitted to the U.S. from overseas get their own homes. They’re not quartered in citizens’ houses like unwelcome troops. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services work together with a variety of non-governmental organizations to coordinate the placement of refugees. They place new arrivals in one of 190 local U.S. communities, provide short-term financial assistance, and help them to navigate the transition to a self-sufficient life in America.

Refugees need our help. Only a very small fraction of refugees (less than 1%) are ever resettled in a new country. But half of those who are come to the U.S., which has resettled more than three million refugees since 1975. Together, the U.S. refugee agencies and the private citizens who donate their time and money provide a safe haven and a welcome mat to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the violence of ISIS are exactly who this program was intended to help. But now Congress is considering blocking them entirely from resettlement in the U.S.

If you want to help, tell your representatives not to abandon the Syrian refugees. If you’re not sure what to say, Oxfam’s got your back:

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 8.41.56 AM

For more ways to help, check out Refugee Council USA’s “How You Can Help Syrian Refugees“.




On Being the Absolute Worst, Revisited

Picture, if you will, an alternate reality where you are the governor of a U.S. state. Not one of those fancy states where a lot of celebrities live. Maybe one of the ones with an absurdly high maternal mortality rate, or a ton of meth labs.

You watched the news coming out of Paris this weekend with horror, feeling genuine empathy for the distraught victims of Friday’s terrible attacks. But then you wondered, how can I exploit this for my own tawdry political ends?

You didn’t have to wait long. Initial, still unconfirmed, reports suggested that one of the attackers might have come to Europe as a refugee from Syria. Never mind that the only definitively-identified attackers are French and Belgian nationals. And never mind that the vast majority of the refugees are fleeing exactly the sort of violence that Paris experienced on Friday. And especially never mind that refugees entering the United States undergo a far more rigorous screening process than those entering through Greece’s overwhelmed ports.

“Aha,” you thought. “I’ve never gone wrong betting on my constituents’ worse natures before.” And so, instead of exhibiting a single iota of leadership capability or moral fortitude, you chose to exploit your voters’ most racist, anti-immigrant, and misinformed tendencies.

You announced that your state absolutely, categorically would not accept any more Syrian refugees for resettlement. You didn’t mention that, far from the unstoppable tide conjured by your histrionic rhetoric, your state has so far only resettled a handful of Syrians. (Say, 14.) You also didn’t mention that really, this isn’t your call. Immigration policy is explicitly a matter of federal authority, and refusing to process refugees will put you on the wrong side of the law. And you certainly didn’t mention that instituting anti-Muslim policies is exactly what the terrorists want.

So, congratulations, governors of the states highlighted below. You have displaced Australia as the absolute worst.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 8.11.10 AM

As of 11/16/15, 3:00pm PST 11/17.15, 8:00am PST: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. (Nevada not included, as the governor has so far only requested “a review” of the refugee resettlement process.)

WTF Friday, 11/13/2015

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!

Here’s some nonsense you might have missed this week:

A society of British Christians have been inundating Serbian soldiers with Bibles “to promote moral transformation in the ranks and prevent future war crimes”. I suspect the fact that Serbia isn’t currently at war with anyone will do more to cut down on war crimes, but hey, I guess 4000 New Testaments can’t hurt.

H&M launched a campaign in South Africa featuring only white models and then promptly made matters SO MUCH worse by tweeting that the models were selected to “convey a positive image“. #Fail

And if artisanal mayonnaise, bindles, and dog biscuits weren’t enough, Brooklynites can now pay $40 an hour for artisanal parenting.

And in other news, I seriously cannot adapt to these Twitter hearts. Can someone please make them go away?

Betrayers of Women, Parliamentary Edition

There are so many tried and true ways to discredit and disempower rape survivors – call them sluts or liars, question their wardrobe choices, ask why they didn’t fight back harder. But I believe ejecting them from Parliament is a truly novel approach.

Earlier today in New Zealand, two female MPs were thrown out after identifying themselves as survivors of sexual assault. Several others were told to sit down and be quiet.

The context was a debate over Australian detention and deportation of New Zealanders with criminal records. In response to opposition MPs’ concerns about this policy, NZ Prime Minister John Key melted down and accused them of “backing the rapists”. Several women in the room rose to demand an apology, some of them identifying themselves publicly as victims of sexual violence for the very first time.

Instead, Speaker David Carter, who later stated that he hadn’t heard what Key said, told them they were “flouting the rules”. He ejected two of them, leading to a walkout by several other MPs, including four men.

So: Even an elected office won’t get your rape allegations taken seriously, ladies. (But on the bright side, New Zealand has some kickass female MPs pushing for change.)


H/T: Golriz Ghahraman, my source for all things Antipodean.

WTF Friday, 11/6/2015

A few weeks back, Gawker ran a piece reporting that the U.S. State Department ignored a letter from Joseph Kony, in which the LRA leader “express[ed] interest in a ‘peace process'”.

At the time, many of us thought “hmm, that sounds… incorrect.” Well, Ledio Cakaj has the story on just how incorrect it was. Basically, Gawker got pranked hard, and probably should have spotted the hoax. If only because Kony would almost certainly spell the name of his rebel movement correctly…

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 11.43.12 AM

*Image screengrabbed from the Gawker post in question.

WTF Friday, 10/30/2015

You know how most flagrant violators of human rights try to cover up their abuses? Well, not this guy. Rodrigo Duterte, mayor of the city of Davao in the Philippines, is happy to take responsibility, on camera, for the extrajudicial killings of more than 700 people. He says he’s got no regrets about his use of vigilante death squads to crack down on crime. Brace yourself to hear more about him, because he may be running for president. (h/t Julien. Thanks, Julien!)

Speaking of people running for president against all reason, Rwanda’s Parliament just voted to allow Paul Kagame to seek a third term. And then three more after that. But once 2034 rolls around, he’s definitely got to move on.

And finally, another heartbreaker from the internet’s foremost supplier of Upsetting News About Ladies; Jina Moore reports that Germany has no system in place to deal with domestic violence in the refugee camps. Jina herself called several shelters to try to secure a spot for a woman in urgent need of protection from her abusive husband. Some incorrectly informed her that refugees were not eligible for shelter space (in fact, German law guarantees them access). Others told her to try calling back later – not a great option in a life-threatening situation.



WTF Friday, 10/23/2015

Here are this week’s highlights:

Robert Mugabe, 3,112 year old dictator of Zimbabwe, just won the Confucius Peace Prize, a.k.a. “China’s Nobel Peace Prize”, for his contributions to “African peace”. Because “peace” is definitely the thing you get from 28 years of systematic repression, political violence, and torture. (h/t: Milli. Thanks Milli!)

Jina Moore, a.k.a. “Lady Issues Reporter Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary”, found clear evidence that refugee women and children are being sexually assaulted and exploited as they journey across Europe, despite official denials. (Today the UN High Commission for Refugees changed its tune, admitting that refugee children face “heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence”.)

And the New York Times, a.k.a. “Somehow Still the Paper of Record”, decided to survey its readers on whether they would go back in time and murder baby Hitler. (42% said yes.)

So it’s pretty much been business as usual.

Panel Discussion on Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

Are you in the Bay Area and interested in hearing about recent developments in Sri Lanka?

If so, good news!

I’ll be speaking on a panel at Stanford next Thursday (10/29) along with Bhavani Fonseka and Beth Van Schaack. We’ll be discussing the prospects for transitional justice, and I have it on good authority there’ll be chocolate chip cookies…

Sri Lanka panel 10.29

Fighting the Patriarchy with Math

How many times have you walked into what sounded like an interesting panel on international security, or African politics, or even women’s rights only to be confronted with a row of white dudes in basically-identical suit jackets? (If your day-to-day doesn’t involve attending a lot of panel discussions, you’ve clearly made better life choices than I have. Please don’t rub it in.)

It’s not that white men can’t have opinions worth hearing on these subjects; it just seems unlikely that they would have ALL of the opinions worth hearing. Or that a random draw of folks-with-worthwhile-opinions would yield a homogenous panel.

A recent analysis by a Genuine Math Person reveals just how unlikely it is.

Mathematician Greg Martin ran some probability calculations for his own field, based on the (likely conservative) estimate that women make up 24% of research mathematicians. He found that the odds that a 20 person speakers’ list would have one or fewer women are just over 3%, while the odds that it would have five or more women (i.e. over-representing their population share) are about 54%.

In other words, it is approximately 18 times more likely that women would be over-represented than absent (or virtually absent). For fields with greater female participation than mathematics, the odds are even starker. And, as Martin explains in this Atlantic interview, the obvious conclusion is that homogenous panels cannot be the result of random chance.

In his own words: “any such conference without any female speakers must have come into being in a system that does not treat gender fairly.”