WTF Friday, 1/8/2016

Welcome to 2016, everyone. Here’s how the first week of the new year has gone:

North Korea says that it tested a hydrogen bomb, a technology that it totally, definitely, absolutely has. Other things North Korea claims to have include: a cure for Ebola, unicorns, and a functioning economy.

Ben Carson, who is somehow still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, despite his militant ignorance of policy, politics, and interior design, humiliated a small child at a campaign event yesterday. If you don’t know that when you ask a roomful of 5th graders who the dumbest kid in the class is, they’re all going to point to the same kid, you’re probably not equipped to govern.

And in Gambia, perennial spouter-of-ridiculous-nonsense (and president) Yahya Jammeh has ordered all female civil servants to cover up their hair. The directive is presumably pursuant to his unilateral announcement last month that Gambia is now an Islamic republic. Because I guess that’s a thing the president can do.

 

‘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

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:

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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.)

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?