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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa


Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 11:03 AM PDT

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain't good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

"The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights," Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. "This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country."

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging "particular attention" at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

"We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures," they wrote. "The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets."

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. "There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws," Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. "A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It's too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it's a trend we should watch and support."

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

GOP Conference Bids Eric Cantor Farewell With Video Tribute

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 11:01 AM PDT

In what will likely be former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s last conference meeting before he’s expected to resign, House Republicans paid tribute on Tuesday to Cantor’s legacy.

“While it's impossible to fully capture your leadership on behalf of House Republicans, I wanted to remind everyone of a few of your many highlights," said House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rogers introducing the above video.

The video emphasizes Cantor’s work with children and, set to hopeful music, America’s bright next generation. It ends with the Virginia Republican’s own words from a recent speech on children’s issues: “Each setback is an opportunity and that there's always optimism for the future.”

Cantor’s next steps are largely unknown. Many have speculated he’ll take a lucrative lobbying or government relations or consulting job. Though his dreams of becoming speaker were dashed when he lost his GOP primary last month, Cantor’s future is certainly not looking too shabby with what are surely many multi-million dollar options on the table.

The Man Who Haunts Israel

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:59 AM PDT

Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader's life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu… Read the full story

The Story Behind President Obama’s Custom Golf Balls

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Golfing at the tony Congressional Country Club this weekend, President Barack Obama shanked a ball off the first tee into the woods, providing a similarly unlucky player with a keepsake souvenir—a personalized presidential golf ball.

Dallas resident Pace Doherty found the president’s ball on Sunday, a day after the duffer-in-chief hit the links with aide Marvin Nicholson and ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. The Titleist balls were personalized with Obama’s official nicknames, with the word “POTUS” on one side and the number “44” on the other. (Obama is the 44th President of the United States, and POTUS is the quasi-official acronym for his job title.)

A source familiar with the president’s golfing confirmed that Obama personally pays for the golf balls, which retail for $57.99 a dozen, or about $10 more than a non-customized set.

Doherty posted a photo of the custom golf ball on Instagram.

Titleist spokesman Eric Soderstrom identified the ball as from the company’s signature Pro V1 line, currently played by 2013 Green Jacket winner Adam Scott. “We have been supplying golf balls to golfing presidents for many years,” he said Monday. “It is harder than you think to stamp perfectly on a round sphere with dimples in it.”

In his definitive tome on presidential golfing, First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush, ESPN reporter Don Van Natta, Jr. records former President Richard Nixon playing with custom golf balls featuring his signature and the presidential seal. Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all had golf balls featuring their signatures as well.

Presidential golf balls and boxes, 1970-92.
Presidential golf balls and boxes signed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Sarah Fabian-Baddiel—Heritage Images/Getty Images

The golf ball in question differs slightly in design from Obama’s first presidential model, also a Pro V1. The initial version featured the “44” with the presidential seal on the opposite side. Titleist sold Obama those balls in a custom half-dozen box emblazoned with the presidential seal.

As recently as 2010, double-digit play numbers were reserved for the commander in chief alone, requiring the company to make special modifications to its processing line. But no longer. The company upgraded its manufacturing systems to allow anyone to print double-digit play numbers. Custom Pro V1 golf balls monogrammed with a “44” and “POTUS” like Obama’s retail for $57.99 on the website Golfsmith.com.

Amazon.com sells the monogram-free stock dozen Pro V1 golf balls for $47.95.

 

 

 

Poll: Most Americans Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:45 AM PDT

Roughly seven in 10 Americans would prefer to see unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. treated as refugees rather than illegal immigrants who should face immediate deportation, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The findings, released by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that only one-quarter of Americans expressed support for immediate deportation of the migrant children, while 70% preferred temporary shelter along with the option of permanent residency for any child whose safety is threatened back home.

Support for temporary shelter and possible refugee status crossed party lines somewhat, with 80% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favoring the option over immediate deportation.

The results come as the White House promised last week to stanch the flow of unaccompanied children across the southern border, while bills to address the issue are working their way through Congress. The Obama administration estimates some 90,000 migrant children from Central America will attempt to cross the U.S. border this year. Some 57,000 unaccompanied minors, meanwhile, have been picked up by law enforcement at the United States’ southern border since October.

How Can I Get What I Want in Life?

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:43 AM PDT

Answer by Oliver Emberton, founder of Silktide, for Quora

There are just two reasons why you haven’t done the stuff you ‘want’ to do.

  1. You can't because of something external
  2. You won't because of something internal

Here's the thing: nearly everyone who succeeds, will always assume number #2. By default, the reason they have failed is themselves. It is, without fail, their own fault. Always.

If this sounds like willful bunk, consider the flipside: those who fail always assume it's not their fault. With that attitude, your ego is forever letting itself off the hook. You can't learn from your experiences, except maybe that you shouldn't have even tried, because – well – that big bad world was just super-mean to you again.

Try listening to a lot of normal conversation: it's just ego repair.

"I've been here 6 years in the same job and they still haven't promoted me!"
"I know, me too! It's so unfair…"

As Don Draper would say: I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.

Whenever "it" or "they", "he" or "she" is to blame, you're just diverting the blame. Because the only thing that matters is what you can control: what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it?

There are always situations when you really can't have something that you don't control. Maybe you dream of being a championship triathlete, but you were born without legs. Well of course.

Except that kind of reductio ad absurdum doesn't excuse 99.99% of the identical, fundamental bullcrap that most people lament about: their health, jobs and relationships. For this trinity, the principles are well known and within the capability of everyone. Assuming, of course, you accept responsibility for that.

Why do we make excuses?

Making excuses can make us feel better. Excuses are like painkillers for our self-respect.

Surely they evolved with this purpose. For not everyone can succeed all the time, and if you can't, it's better that you don't become too depressed about it.

But the chances are the things that you want – that you want the most – are not fast cars, Angelina Jolie's chest or a giant catapult to the moon. Most of us crave fundamentally simple things: love, respect, security, health, significance. These things don't require that we're born to wealthy parents, or with perfect genes.

If you're reading this, the chances are you have access to education, sanitation, medicine, freedom of speech, shelter and the sum of the world's knowledge (The Google), and that you take them for granted. For over 150,000 years human life would have utterly sucked compared to now, and you've been born in the last 70 or so, in the blessed minority, when it doesn't. You're so lucky you can't imagine.

You are the problem

Whenever you hit a wall: find what you can do about it, do it, and forget anything else. All the other stuff just consumes your attention and accomplishes nothing.

The solutions to all your problems are probably so obvious, you likely already know them. The trick is simply acknowledging it's your responsibility alone to make it happen.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Life: How can I get what I want? More questions:

John Kerry Hopes for Warmer Welcome in India After Israel Fiasco

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:32 AM PDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to New Delhi on Wednesday in a bid to improve Washington’s relationship with India. He is undoubtedly hoping the visit will go well. Kerry, after all, has not had the best week.

On Friday, the Secretary of State left Egypt with his tail between his legs having failed to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Things got worse for him Monday after the cease-fire framework he helped draft was leaked to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which called it a “prize for terror.” Haaretz, which is normally considered left-leaning, claimed the former Democratic senator was like “an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”

This was hardly the reaction Kerry and his team expected from one of the U.S.’s staunchest allies. On Monday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We sent them a clearly labeled confidential draft of ideas… This draft… of ideas was based on the Egyptian proposal that they had supported from just weeks … just a couple of weeks before that.”

Luckily for Kerry, experts say he’s likely to receive a friendlier welcome when he arrives in India this week. “The Indians would like a good relationship with the U.S.,” says Ronald Granieri, executive director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of America and the West. “The U.S.-India relationship is fundamentally a very important one,”adds Xenia Wickett, project director of Chatham House’s U.S. Program. “There’s a recognition on both sides that this could be a very positive and strategic relationship.”

That’s not to say the ground is completely smooth ahead of Kerry’s India trip. In recent days, the Indian media has highlighted the December arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was accused of falsifying her housekeeper’s papers and underpaying her. Media outlets have claimed that this has soured relations with India, impeding Kerry’s visit.

Then there’s India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for failing to halt the 2002 Hindu-led riots which occurred when he was governor of Gujarat. The mobs killed 1,000 people, the majority of which were Muslims.

Wickett, who has just returned from India, is unconvinced that either of these events will hurt Kerry’s visit. “Within the new government… there is a much more rational sense of what’s important. This will not affect bilateral relations.” Modi, after all, was first denied a visa by the Bush administration. Khobragade was arrested during the former Indian administration.

But what about trade relations? The waters of U.S.-India relations were muddied at the ongoing World Trade Organization talks in Geneva, when member states had agreed to a reform of custom rules but India demanded that a deal on stockpiling, scheduled for 2017, be reached now.

That demand threatens to derail the anticipated reform, and has been met with criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to India, Michael Punke, who said he was “extremely discouraged” by Indian negotiators’ intransigence.

These tensions can easily be put aside in favor of pursuing mutually beneficial relations, says Milan Vaishnav, associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The new government in India recognizes that if they were elected on a platform of getting the economy back on track, they need the U.S,” he says. “This is a relationship that has been gathering speed for the past decade.”

“If the Indian economy grows, the U.S. will do well and [any future] trade disputes will fade into the background,” he adds.

Strategically too, both sides need each other. If the U.S. and India can forge greater economic ties, it reduces the reliance that both countries have on the Chinese economy. “The U.S. would like a better relationship with India as they start to see China as a strategic rival,” comments Granieri.

All of that said, Kerry’s visit to New Delhi is unlikely to make great waves. Modi is due to visit the U.S. in September to meet with President Barack Obama and it is then, according to Granieri that any new initiatives would be announced. “Modi wouldn’t want to devalue the importance of his September visit,” he says.

Nevertheless Kerry is likely to be greeted with open arms when he disembarks from his spaceship on Wednesday. His job too, will be far easier than it was in Egypt. “It’s not a heavy lift [this time],” notes Vaishnav. “I think that it’s going to go pretty well, the trip is largely symbolic rather than substantive.” Surely that’s a welcome alternative to brokering peace in the Middle East.

What People Learn About You From Your Selfies

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 10:31 AM PDT

According to new research, there are scientific reasons why you judged that girl who posted a selfie on Instagram last night.

It’s no secret that people make snap judgments about each other, but the study, conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York, was able to accurately predict what those judgments would be based on facial measurements such as “eye height” and “eyebrow width.”

Previous studies have shown that first impressions often fall into three categories: approachability, dominance, and attractiveness. The researchers at the University of York took 1,000 photographs from the Internet, analyzed the facial features of the subjects (who were all Caucasian), and studied how people reacted to each photograph. They were then able to develop a statistical model that predicted what the viewer’s impression of the face would be based on the measured facial features.

The findings of this study help illuminate the importance of these impressions in an age of social media, in which pictures of faces proliferate and people meet, talk, and even date online. According to the researchers‘ report, curating the perfect photo for these websites isn’t as trivial as it seems. “Some of the features that are associated with first impressions are linked to changeable properties of the face or setting that are specific to a given image,” they wrote. “So things like expression, pose, camera position, lighting can all in principle contribute alongside the structure of our faces themselves.”

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that snap judgments based on a photo could shape the way we respond to a person even after we’ve met them in person. The researchers explain it this way in the introduction to their report: “Although first impressions are formed rapidly to faces, they are by no means fleeting in their consequences. Instead… facial appearance can affect behavior, changing the way we interpret social encounters and influencing their outcomes.”

Less surprisingly, the research showed that “masculine” faces, determined by factors such as cheekbone structure, eyebrow height and skin texture, were seen as dominant, whereas more feminine faces were perceived as more attractive and youthful.

But the researchers also found that the shape and size of a person’s mouth directly affected his or her perceived approachability, and that larger eyes tend to predict higher levels of attractiveness.

So it’s time to stop making fun of people who obsess over choosing their profile picture. Richard Vernon, a PhD student who worked on the study, said, “Showing that even supposedly arbitrary features in a face can influence people’s perceptions suggests that careful choice of a photo could make (or break) others’ first impressions of you.”

How Hamas Wields Gaza’s Casualties as Propaganda

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 09:44 AM PDT

An informational battle of competing messages directed at international audiences parallels the military fighting between Israel and Hamas. Accompanying a barrage of wrenching images are Palestinian fatality statistics alleging disproportionate numbers of non-combatants. These figures are crucial because they form the basis of accusations that Israel uses excessive and indiscriminate force.

Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza, endeavors to turn Israel’s military superiority to its own advantage by portraying the Israeli response to intense rocket and mortar fire as disproportionate and indiscriminate. In doing so, it hopes to turn public opinion against the Jewish state, as well as bolster its own standing at the expense of the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank.

Fatality figures provided by Hamas and other groups should be viewed with suspicion. Not only do Israeli figures cast doubt on claims that the vast majority of fatalities are non-combatants, but a careful review of Palestinian sources also raises doubts.

Analyses of the casualties listed in the daily reports published by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based organization operating under Hamas rule, indicate that young males ages 17 to 30 make up a large portion of the fatalities, and a particularly noticeable spike occurs between males ages 21 to 27, a pattern consistent with the age distribution typically found among combatants and military conscripts. Palestinian sources attempt to conceal this discrepancy with their public message by labeling most of these young men as civilians. Only a minority is identified as members of armed groups. As a result, the PCHR calculates civilian fatalities at 82% as of July 26. PCHR provides the most detailed casualty reports of the various Palestinian agencies from Gaza that provide figures to the media and to international organizations like the UN. Its figures closely match those of the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry and other groups.

We have seen this before. A similar dispute over casualty figures occurred during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. The Israelis contended that the majority of the fatalities were combatants; the Palestinians claimed they were civilians. The media and international organizations tended to side with the Palestinians. The UN's own investigatory commission headed by Richard Goldstone, which produced the Goldstone Report, cited PCHR's figures along with other Palestinian groups providing similar figures. Over a year later, after the news media had moved on, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad enumerated Hamas fatalities at 600 to 700, a figure close to the Israeli estimate of 709 and about three times higher than the figure of 236 combatants provided by PCHR in 2009 and cited in the Goldstone Report. Initially, playing to the international audience, it was important for Hamas to reinforce the image of Israel's military action as indiscriminate and disproportionate by emphasizing the high number of civilians and low number of Hamas combatants among the fatalities. However, later on, Hamas had to deal with the flip side of the issue: that Hamas's own constituency, the Gazan population, felt they had been abandoned by the Hamas government, which had made no effort to shelter them.

Scrutiny of Palestinian figures in the current conflict reveals a spike in fatalities among males ages 21 to 27 and an over-representation from ages 17 to 30. Data gleaned from the daily reports of the PCHR show that from July 8, the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” through July 26, 404 out of 915 fatalities tallied from daily reports in which the ages were identified occurred among males ages 17 to 30, comprising 44% of all fatalities among a group representing about 10% of Gazans.

Expanding the age range from 17 to 39 and including those identified as combatants whose ages were not given increases that number to 551 fatalities, or 57% of all fatalities, even though this group represents less than one-sixth of Gazans. By contrast, adult female fatalities were less than 10% of total fatalities for a group that comprises a quarter of the total population.

Children, here defined as those under age 17, represented 194 of fatalities, 20% of the total. Any child fatality is a tragedy, but it is important to note that children make up over half the population of Gaza.

Despite the discrepancies noted, the substantial number of civilian fatalities leaves room for further scrutiny. In seeking an alternate explanation for the excess of young male fatalities, it might be posited that this reflects some behavioral feature of this group separate from combat-related activities. However, the shape of the fatality demographic makes this unlikely. What feature would explain the sharp increase from age 17, peaking at ages 22 to 25 and then declining rapidly after age 30?

A more plausible explanation is that the age demographic of the fatalities reflects the relative involvement of different age bands in hostilities. Of course, some of those in the most represented age-bands aren't combatants. However, balancing that, Palestinian and Israeli sources confirm that a portion of the fatalities over age 40 were senior Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives targeted by Israel.

Furthermore, this overall breakdown of the number of fatalities doesn't address important issues like the portion of female and children casualties who were family members of targeted combatants who failed to heed Israeli evacuation warnings or were perhaps intimidated into remaining as “human shields.”

The demographic analysis of the fatalities in the Gaza conflict has limitations. It can't identify who is or isn't a combatant. But the spike in fatalities among males starting in their late teens and peaking in their early to mid-twenties, and the divergence of the pattern of fatalities from the demographic pattern of the population, raises considerable doubt about claims that as many as 75% or more of the fatalities are non-combatants. In light of evidence—provided by groups that monitor Arabic language media (like the Middle East Media Research Institute)—that Hamas has instructed Gazans to describe anyone killed as a civilian, journalists have a responsibility to convey this uncertainty to their audiences and not present figures provided by Hamas and Hamas-affiliated sources as unqualified fact.

Steven Stotsky is a senior analyst with The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a U.S.-based group that monitors the news media for what it considers to be anti-Israel bias.

Kerry Says Not ‘a Shred’ of Evidence Russia Wants to Ease Ukraine Fighting

Posted: 29 Jul 2014 09:43 AM PDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to impose wider sanctions on Russia in a Tuesday press conference, arguing that Russian officials had “not shown a shred of evidence” that they want to de-escalate the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Kerry accused Russia of continuing to ship arms, funds and personnel into eastern Ukraine even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. If Russia failed to reign in its separatist allies, “we and our European partners will take additional measures and impose wider sanctions on key sections of the Russian economy,” Kerry said during a Washington, D.C. appearance alongside Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

The announcement echoed a warning from the White House on Monday that the United States and European Union were prepared to tighten sanctions over key sectors of the Russian economy.

Kerry also blasted separatists militias for blocking international investigators’ access to the MH17 crash site and failing to return victims’ remains and belongings to their families. Kerry urged Russia to intervene, calling the behavior “an appalling disregard for human decency.”

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