WTF Friday, 12/14/2012

The petition for the U.S. government to construct a Death Star hit 25,000 signatures yesterday. According to the current Terms of Participation on the “We the People” site, which enables users to petition the government to “address a problem, support or oppose a proposal, or otherwise change or continue federal government policy or actions,” the Obama administration is now required to respond to the petition. Might be about time to tighten up those guidelines, guys.

And some follow-up to the follow-up to last week’s WTF Friday: The Economist explains its beef with the Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal.

WTF Friday, 9/14/2012

A historical “WTF” to wrap up a rough week:

The National Archives released 1,000 declassified documents on the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre on Monday. In case you’re not up on your mid-century atrocities, Katyn was a mass slaughter of 22,000 Polish military officials and members of the intelligentsia committed by the Soviet secret police.

When the mass graves were discovered in 1943, the Soviets crossed their fingers behind their backs and pinned the blame on the Nazis. (Silver lining to proximity to an aggressive regime committing genocide and crimes against humanity on an unprecedented scale: No one really bats an eye when the odd extra atrocity gets entered on their side of the ledger.) When that went off without a hitch, the Soviets decided shame was for chumps, and attempted to get the Katyn Forest Massacre added to the list of charges at Nuremberg.

Although a number of investigations suggested that the Soviets were the true perpetrators, neither the U.S. nor the U.K. challenged their account, either at the time or in the half century that followed. U.S. government officials maintained that they “did not possess the facts that could clearly refute the Soviets’ allegations that these crimes were committed by the Third Reich” until the 1990 official Russian admission of guilt.

Turns out, they lied.

The newly released documents show clearly that the U.S. government not only had evidence as early as 1943 that the Nazis could not have committed the massacre, but made a deliberate decision to suppress it and continued to do so for fifty years after the wartime rationale of maintaining the Allied alliance disappeared. If that doesn’t earn a resounding “WTF,” I don’t know what does.

 

(Image from the National Archives.)

 

WTF Friday, 9/7/2012

John Kerry gave an uncharacteristically rousing foreign policy speech / audition for Secretary of State at the Democratic National Convention last night. He even told some jokes. One of his biggest laugh lines was the observation that: “Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska. Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.” It got much, much funnier when Sarah Palin decided to respond.

Apparently, she just can’t figure out how John Kerry knows her name. Surely, John Kerry is too much of a “big-wig elite” to know the names of “little people,” like Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican candidate for the Vice-Presidency. Or has she somehow blocked all that out?

Fun with the Wikileaks Cables, Cambodia Edition

The 11 hour New York -> Phnom Penh time difference produces pretty crippling jet lag, so I decided that a fun way to pass the time while waiting for my brain to reboot would be to go through the Cambodia Wikileaks cables. (Sounds like a blast, right?)

The highlight so far: “Cambodia’s Burgeoning Youth Population Increasingly Seduced By The ‘perfect High.’

Yes, that’s right, it’s the Reefer Madness of State Department cables: a 2010 communique decrying the allegedly skyrocketing use of meth among Cambodia’s youth. Drug addiction may indeed be a growing problem here (and there are serious issues with the government’s approach to addicts), but it’s hard to tell from this cable, which bases its conclusions on:

  • The inclusion of frightening crime statistics that have no apparent causal relationship to the phenomenon under discussion.

“Although there is currently no empirical evidence linking it to drug use in Cambodia, local NGO Licadho reports the number of rape cases has been steadily increasing over the past few years, with approximately 60% of last year’s cases involving victims who were minors.”

“Middle class teens regularly buy easily available drugs and are known to rent rooms in guest houses with friends to hold ‘drug parties.'”

  • Reliance on the “if one guy said it, it must be true” school of evidence-gathering.

“A Muslim student from Kampong Cham University told Poloff that approximately ‘65% of students take meth regularly. It is cheap, cool, easy to access, and then they can’t stop.'”

  • And the kicker: blaming society’s problems on women entering the workforce.

“Besides availability, experts believe that the rise in drug use among the middle class youth can be attributed to a change in the culture where both parents now work and have less control over the daily activities of their children.”

Seems like all kinds of governments are down on Khmer ladies leaving the house lately…

WTF Friday, 6/15/2012

The last 48 hrs have been chock full of WTF moments (Egypt’s first democratically-elected Parliament was dissolved, the emergency law was reinstated, and a whole lot of people suddenly started saying the word “coup”; Obama kinda sorta passed the Dream Act; and the ICC demanded the return of its detained staff members without once mentioning the word “immunity”), but my biggest spit-take of the week went to the U.S. government’s brand new amicus brief in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell.

Kiobel is an Alien Tort Claims Act case (see my previous ATCA coverage herecurrently before the Supreme Court. ATCA permits foreign citizens to sue in U.S. federal courts when they have suffered damages as a result of a “violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In Kiobel, Nigerian citizens are suing the Dutch corporation for “aiding and abetting” abuses committed by the Nigerian government against civilians opposed to oil exploration.

The extent of the right to sue under ATCA is a hotly contested area of federal law. There are two big questions in ATCA jurisprudence: (1) what kind of conduct qualifies as a “violation of the law of nations,” and (2) who can be sued? The defendants in Kiobel allege that ATCA does not provide a right of action against corporations, only private individuals. (Bonus points to Royal Dutch Shell’s lawyers for not even blinking at the Citizens United induced irony here!)

The case was argued before the Supreme Court this spring, and the U.S. submitted an amicus brief saying, amongst other things, “Yes, definitely, ATCA applies to corporations the same as individuals and any company that does business in the U.S. can be sued in U.S. courts for its conduct abroad.” But instead of giving a decision, on March 5 the Court issued a surprise order for reargument, asking the parties to address the question of whether ATCA allows “a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States.” (Note: This is already intensely WTF-y on its own. Providing a cause of action for violations that occurred abroad is what ATCA does.)

The U.S. submitted its new brief this week, and lo and behold, the Obama administration now believes that when the connection to the U.S. is attenuated – such as when a foreign corporation is alleged to have aided and abetted a foreign government on foreign territory – ATCA does not apply.

This is an epic disappointment for human rights activists (and probably for U.S.-based corporations, too, who may now be held to a higher standard than their foreign competitors), and a confusing development for everyone else. It’s not clear how or why the reversal happened (although Trey Childress has some convincing guesses here), but the removal of the State Department’s signature between the first and second round of briefing suggests that the decision may have been contentious.

WTF Friday, 4/6/2012

This is kind of the perfect set-up. Nick Cage hasn’t done a prison movie since 1997, and I think we all know how well that went.

“An exhibition of guns as art now in Mexico is making its way from Mexico to the United States, where many of the weapons presumably originated.” I think the ATF just set those guns free because they loved them so much, hoping that they would come back one day, thus reciprocating the love.

I kind of feel like I’m gonna jinx this if I talk about it.

 

WTF Friday, 3/16/2012

This week in first world problems: “‘It’s not cheap like it used to be,’ laments Dale Weathington of Kolcraft, an American firm that uses contract manufacturers to make prams in southern China. Labour costs have surged by 20% a year for the past four years, he grumbles (emphasis mine).” This sounds like the curmudgeonest dude in history. Also I’m pretty sure he makes an imaginary product.

“Sixteen civilians [have] been killed in a shooting spree by a U.S. officer stationed in Afghanistan…The incident is the latest in a series of widely publicized self-inflicted setbacks for U.S. forces in recent months. In February, Qurans were mistakenly burned as garbage at a military base in Afghanistan, which led to deadly riots. In January, a video of U.S. forces urinating on Taliban corpses surfaced on the Internet.” Reaction from Newt Gingrich: “We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough.” Just so everybody has it straight, to Newt Gingrich, massacring civilians and pissing on corpses counts as not ruthless enough.

ICC celebrates its decennial with…a verdict!

WTF Friday, 3/2/2012

Thanks to Shelby Grossman for pointing out some highlights of the Viktor Bout interview for those of us who don’t have a New Yorker subscription. “We learn that Bout researched the FARC before the meeting with undercover DEA agents, and arrived in Thailand with a copy of Lonely Planet: Colombia.” I’ll definitely be hitting the newsstand for this asap.

I don’t mean to go all “domestic” on you guys, but this man is too epic of an asshole to ignore (though I really should). Highlights:

  • “Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. ‘I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,’ he told me.”
  • “He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper.”
  • “Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. ‘So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.'”
  • “He got a tank from the Army, had the howitzer muzzle painted with flames, and “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” emblazoned on the sides, and rode in it, with Ava, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.”
  • “A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.”
  • “He meant a press release. The Sheriff gathered eight or nine aides around a big table in his office. ‘Illegal Immigration Breeds Crime, Disease,’ Arpaio suggested.”
  • “The public-health specialist said gently, ‘Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.’ Arpaio erupted. ‘This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!'”
  • “In 2005, he forced nearly seven hundred prisoners, wearing nothing but pink underwear and flip-flops, to shuffle four blocks through the Arizona heat, pink-handcuffed together, to a new jail. When they arrived, one prisoner was made to cut a pink ribbon for the cameras. This elaborate degradation, which is remembered fondly by Sheriff Joe’s fans, was ostensibly in the name of security—the men were strip-searched both before and after the march. But Arpaio also told reporters, ‘I put them on the street so everybody could see them.'”

WTF Friday, 2/24/2012

No there is one strategy and it is called “freedom.”

“Church officials promote what they call ‘natural’ family planning: women are advised to track their cycle and abstain from sex on all but their least fertile days.” I gotta get in on the ground floor of some fertility mood rings.

“…photographing mosques, eavesdropping on conversations inside shops, and keeping files on Muslims who Americanized their names — amounted to looking around, ‘just to kind of get familiar with what’s going on. We don’t target individuals based on race and religion,’ [Bloomberg] said.” Yea, I mean Muslims going to mosques and Americanizing their names, that’s just stuff that’s “going on” in New York. So I just hope they have a huge file on Jeremy Lin cuz that’s what’s really going on in New York.