How to Vet the Syrian Refugees

Domestic, International, Political Cartoons

Vetting Syrian Refugees

 Political leaders in the U.S., particularly on the far right, have used the attacks in Paris to galvanize support for their anti-immigrant platforms. Based on evidence that one of the attackers may have posed as a refugee to gain access to Europe, the House recently passed a bill to halt settling any refugees in the U.S. that originated from Syria or Iraq. Over two dozen governors have also, without any legal authority, refused refugees. This behavior, while not without precedent, is both baseless and repugnant to the fundamental character of this country.

There are over 4.3 million U.N-registered refugees who have fled Syria. Lebanon, which had a population of 4.5 million, absorbed 1.2 million Syrian refugees. Turkey, with a population of 75 million, is housing 2 million refugees.

And it’s not just countries in the Middle East accepting refugees from Syria. Germany (80 million) has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees. France (population: 66 million) announced, days after the attack in Paris, that it would accept 30,000 refugees. Canada, (population: 35 million), has taken in 36,300 Syrian refugees since 2013.

The U.S., a country of 319 million people,  so far, has accepted 1,682 refugees – about half of which are children, according to the State Department. The process currently takes about 18-24 months, and includes interviews with officials from the Department of Homeland Security. Syrian refugees, in particular, have their documents placed under extra scrutiny. For all the panic, this doesn’t seem like a very convenient way for a would-be terrorist to gain access to the U.S.

In terms of moral responsibility, it should be noted that ISIS emerged largely as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and particularly the decision to disband the Iraqi army. Yet France and Germany, two countries which sternly opposed the Iraq war, and bearing much more of the burden of accepting families fleeing the region.

The Obama administration has pledged to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria. The U.S. can and should accept significantly more. There was also opposition to accepting refugees from Southeast Asia during the last decades of the 20th century – but the U.S. accepted more than a million without significant issue. Welcoming Syrian refugees is important for humanitarian reasons, and also for our character as a country. If some of the Republican candidates truly want to “make America great again,” they could start by returning America to a country that welcomes, rather than repels, immigrants and refugees yearning to breath free.

American Democracy! The Reality Show

Domestic, Political Cartoons

American Democracy Reality Show P1

 

American Democracy Reality Show p2

 

American Democracy Reality Show p3

 

American Democracy Reality Show p4

 

American Democracy Reality Show p5

American Democracy Reality Show p6

Last year I thought about using a reality TV show metaphor to highlight the similarities with the way we carry out elections. When I went back to the idea, it turned out that I wasn’t even working with a metaphor anymore. The huge field of Republican candidates, led by the former star of NBC’s reality hit “The Apprentice,” combined with the unspeakable laziness of broadcast media has led to an elimination game show style of campaign strategy and media coverage. All we can hope is that whoever wins is prepared for the challenges they face when they go from being a contestant in a reality show to President of the United States.

Don’t Say “Political Correctness”

Domestic, Political Cartoons

Political Correctness Cartoon

I’m not the first one to have this idea — check out an awesome Chrome extension by Byron Clark that will swap out each instance of “Political Correctness” with a more appropriate phrase. Clark based that off a blog post by Neil Gaiman on the same topic. For a good breakdown of the word check out this post by Mark McCutcheon and Amanda Taub’s response toJonathan Chait’s problematic article on political correctness.

Criminal Behavior

illustration, Political Cartoons, Writing

Baltimore Riots

The arrest and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore by the hands of the police outraged the country, and mobilized thousands of citizens to protest against police brutality. The majority of the protests were peaceful and unnoticed, until some individuals became violent and damaged property. The media swarmed into Baltimore, though the direct and indirect causes of the rioting were neglected. Instead, the media pointed their cameras at the fires, and characterized a movement of citizens mobilizing to address serious grievances in their communities as looters and thugs. While the national attention could have been an directed to illuminate the economic and political context in the American city in general, the coverage provided little but rubbernecking and thinly-veiled racism. When the fires were put out the coverage stopped, but the problems in Baltimore remain.

Would A Police Body Camera Have Held Officer Slager Accountable For Killing Walter Scott?

Domestic, Political Cartoons, Writing

Police Cams.tif

A cellphone video of a South Carolina police officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back prompted national outrage and criminal charges against the officer. The event has increased the calls for police to wear body cameras in their interactions with the public.

But would a police-worn body camera have held Officer Michael Slager accountable for killing Walter Scott?

There is a growing movement to outfit police officers with body cameras that can record their interactions with the public. Calls have been made for the cameras by the parents of Michael Brown, and by many police chiefs across the nation. President Obama proposed getting 50,000 body cameras to police stations nationwide.

The White House quotes a study conducted in Rialto, California, that found a 60 percent drop in use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers after the introduction of body cameras. In San Diego, according to a report released by the city, complaints and use of personal body force incidents decreased by about 40 percent and 45 percent.

However, a recent Fusion investigation found that in two of the five cities studied, the introduction of police-worn body cameras showed little effect. Fusion also found that the footage is generally used for the benefit of the police officer, rather than citizens issuing complaints.

This surprised me at first, but then I took at a look at the companies that make these cameras. Benefiting cops is certainly how the body cameras are marketed.

The companies that make the cameras pitch them as tools to protect police officers against erroneous claims. In marketing materials for body cameras made by Taser, the company writes, “When your honor is on the line, don’t let a 3-second cell phone clip define you.”

With the cameras and the rules that govern their use in control of the police, you see many of the problems that you might expect. Officers almost always control the record button, so there is no guarantee that any incident will even be caught on footage. If it is recorded, problems often still arise. Radley Balko, a journalist who covers civil liberties and criminal justice, highlighted how San Diego Police Department will not release any footage it considers to be part of an investigation. And too often, the footage is claimed to be unavailable.

Balko wrote in August: “There have been too many examples in which an officer has “forgotten” to turn on a camera, a camera has coincidentally malfunctioned at a critical time, or video has gone missing.”

For these reasons, a body camera video of the killing of Walter Scott would likely have been kept out of the public’s eye. Body cameras have definite potential to create a record of critical interactions between police and citizens. But until there are strict rules governing their use and impartial oversight of the recorded footage, using cell phone cameras might still be necessary for citizens to hold police accountable.

Further Reading:

Cops Hate Being Filmed. So Why Are They OK With Body Cameras? – The Nation

Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All – ACLU

How to Achieve Peace in the Middle East (Some good news and some bad news)

International, Political Cartoons, Writing

Peace in the Middle East

Will the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal be good for the region?

Most events are at once good news and bad news. Every action that takes place in such a complex environment invariably causes a chain reaction of mostly unpredictable consequences. The only choice that leaders have is to set in motion a plan that seems like it has the best chance at not becoming a total catastrophe.

The Iran-U.S. nuclear deal, if it goes through, will have far-reaching and ambiguous effects on the region. A well-executed deal could suspend Iran’s nuclear weapons program, deescalate a decades-old cold war between U.S. and Iran, and provide relief to millions of Iranians struggling with a crippled economy. A deal could also allow the Iranian government to double down on its support for the Assad regime in Syria, which is currently dropping barrel-bombs on its citizens. The deal could strain ties between the U.S. and its longtime allies in the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia. A deal could have effects on the price of oil, as well as Russia’s economy and its government’s behavior.

While the sum of the effects will be incalculable, engaging with Iran does create more opportunities to effectively deal with the very pressing problems that exist in the region — not to mention the ones that will inevitably come up.  For now, it’s impossible to say if the framework for the U.S.-Iran deal is good news or bad news, but I’d risk that as a guess for moving forward, it’s as good as any.