WTF Friday, 12/18/2015

I can’t even with this thing about Denmark trying to seize asylum seekers’ valuables. So instead, let’s talk about the patriarchy.

This week:

Japan’s highest court ruled that spouses must have the same last name, effectively requiring women to either give up their maiden names, or forgo the legal benefits of marriage.

The UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice paid a visit to the U.S. and did NOT like what they found here. In what may or may not be news to anyone, they concluded that the U.S. is failing to uphold the human rights of women, and that the situation is particularly dire for poor women, ethnic minorities, migrants, LBTQ women, women with disabilities, and the elderly.

And 46 year old millionaire Ehsan Abdulaziz was acquitted of rape charges by a London jury, which apparently accepted his story that he tripped and landed with his penis inside of a sleeping teenage girl. (Seriously, I am not exaggerating this one AT ALL.)

So things are looking pretty good for the ladies.

‘Tis the Season

Who else felt super bummed last night watching the Republican candidates compete over who could be the biggest dick to refugees and war-affected civilians?

A number of people have asked me what they can do to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (and again, the problem is opportunistic and ill-informed bigotry). If, like them, you’re looking to direct your end-of-year charitable giving towards the refugee crisis, consider the following organizations:

Syrian American Medical Society – SAMS is on the ground delivering medical services to people displaced by the conflict, both within Syria and throughout the region. They also report on the situation and lobby for humanitarian aid. Donate here.

Civilians in Conflict – CIVIC operates in conflict zones around the world, talking to civilians in order to tailor their advocacy to what those affected by war actually want and need. (Weirdly, this is kind of an unusual approach.) They’ve been working in Syria since 2012. Donate here.

International Rescue Committee – The IRC are first responders and advocates for civilians affected by conflict and natural disasters. In the U.S., they play a large role in the refugee resettlement process, and, in fact, were recently sued over it by Texas. Donate here.

If you’re interested in working directly with refugees (from Syria and elsewhere), the IRC has offices all over the country where you can pitch in. Or check out Refugee Council USA’s list of other ways to help.

Finally, if you’re looking to get a bit more meta with your donations, check out AidGrade’s new funding call.  (Note: I am on their board.) AidGrade’s mission is figuring out when development aid actually works by performing rigorous meta-analyses of aid interventions. Your tax deductible donation will go towards integrating machine learning into the process, making it faster, more precise, and more futuristic than ever before.

WTF Friday, 12/11/2015

Remember that time we lived in a “post-racial” America?

Me neither.

Because this week a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice suggested that black students belong at “less advanced” schools where the classes won’t be “too fast for them”. (!)

Justice Scalia’s comment was directed to counsel for the University of Texas during oral arguments about the school’s affirmative action policy. The lawyer, more than earning his paycheck by refraining from lighting the Justice on fire, pointed out that (1) the students granted diversity spots in fact outperform minority students admitted through the normal, race-blind procedures, and (2) it might not be such a great idea to “set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools”.

Also this week, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination proposed that we hang a big “No Muslims Allowed” sign on America’s front door. A shocking number of Americans appear to be on board with this plan. And, predictably, some have decided to show their support with hate crimes.

It’s all basically the worst, so let’s just sit quietly and watch this gif of Trump getting pecked by a bald eagle.

via GIPHY

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:

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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.

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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.)

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.

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.”

 

WTF Friday, 7/10/2015

I’m headed out the door on a 2 week vacation, but before I go, here’s what’s up:

Russia predictably vetoed a Security Council resolution recognizing as genocide the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. It did so as a favor to its Serb allies, who felt that the resolution might make them look bad.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has lost its fourth international investigating judge in five years. It’s almost like it’s hard to prosecute international crimes in the face of persistent obstruction by the national government.

The media is trying to make “Grexit” happen. Ugh.

On Being the Absolute Worst

Imagine you are the government of a large developed country. You are a member of a variety of international conventions protecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. But you hate them. You hate them SO much. You want to put them in a sack and toss the sack in a river and hurl the river into space.

And yet, for some reason, asylum seekers keep trying to come to your country.Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.55.31 PM

You put up jerky billboards in their home communities telling them that they are absolutely, positively, definitely not welcome. You send your navy out to intercept the boats of desperate people making their way toward your shores. The ones you catch, you promptly (and illegally) hand over to the abusive governments they were fleeing. You give equipment and money to those same abusive governments to help them make sure no one escapes.

But still they come.

You lock them up in a network of grim camps, insisting that your citizens’ security depends on proper “screening” of these new arrivals. You keep them there indefinitely. Some of them die.

Reports begin to trickle out of horrors – disease and malnutrition, a blind eye turned toward sexual violence and torture among the inmates, a climbing suicide rate. And worse: children separated from their parents and raped by the guards.

Human rights groups have run out of adjectives with which to deplore your treatment of these vulnerable people. Your international reputation is suffering. So you do the only thing you can: You make it a crime for detention center staff to talk about the conditions there, with a penalty of two years in prison.

Because obviously, you’d rather prosecute doctors and humanitarian workers who speak out about abuses than crack down on child rapists or meet your obligations under international law. Let alone reflecting for one goddamn minute about how bad things must be back home for someone to abandon everyone and everything they’ve ever known for the uncertain chance of surviving the perilous ocean voyage, evading the patrol boats you gave to their abusers, and landing in your grotesque excuse for a detention facility.

WTF Friday, 5/29/2015

I tried so hard to ignore this “North Sudan” nonsense, you guys.

Last year when the media first started reporting Jeremiah Heaton’s quest to find somewhere to make his daughter princess of, I resolutely closed my browser window and binge-watched season 3 of Parks & Rec.

Then, in November, when word spread that Heaton’s heartwarming tale of neocolonialism would be turned into a Disney movie called “The Princess of North Sudan”, I remained steadfast, determined not to blog about it.

But now he’s back and I just can’t anymore. So here it is:

Heaton’s argument that he can unilaterally assert a state in the Bir Tawil triangle because it is unclaimed territory (terra nullius) is ludicrous. We’ve long since passed the point where states come into being on the word of one white dude with a flag.

On paper, international law (covered here) says that a state must have (1) a permanent population; (2) a defined territory; (3) a government; and (4) the capacity to enter into relations with the other states. (The handful of embassies and consulates Heaton has set up may be an attempt to satisfy requirement #4.) But in practice, statehood also requires recognition by other states. Which explains why Somaliland, despite embassies, passports, and decades of democratic governance of a stable population, is still part of Somalia.

So far, the nations of the world don’t seem to be lining up to extend recognition to “North Sudan”. And I’m kind of thinking that (1) a white foreigner proclaiming himself king of territory in northern Africa may have some unpleasant resonances for members of the African Union, and (2) the government of Sudan: Original Flavor may object to Heaton’s country name of choice.

And seriously, Disney finally makes a movie about an African princess (lions don’t count) and it’s a Caucasian American from Virginia??