Thursday, June 20, 2013

Look who's closing its doors!

Alex Sundby (CBS News) reports:

A controversial Florida-based Christian ministry that advised gay people "seeking freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction" plans to shut its doors.
Exodus International announced in a statement Wednesday that its board of directors voted unanimously to close down "after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization's place in a changing culture." The Orlando-based ministry says it opened in 1976 and boasts member agencies around the world.
"Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we've ceased to be a living, breathing organism," Exodus President Alan Chambers said in the statement. "For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."
The announcement was posted to the ministry's website after Chambers posted an open apology to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community earlier in the day.

Well thank you, Jesus!

That great news made me think of something in John Kerry said in the Q&A that followed his pride speech yesterday:

 What we need to do is do things like we’re doing here today, where you speak out and where you show people what is appropriate as well as permissible. In a lot of places – I’ve seen it for years. I used to – when I was in the DA’s office, I used to be a prosecutor. I remember going and meeting with kids, young kids, because I wanted to find out why kids were falling into the criminal justice system at age – whatever, 14, 15, 16. And almost invariably, almost ninety-whatever percent it was, I found kids who came from very troubled families, from places where they didn’t have adult input. And like everybody in life, we all learn from people ahead of us.
And so this is going through a huge generational transformation where, in fact, today, we’re kind of learning from a younger generation where the kinds of things that older folks who lived in a different norm are not as in touch with, but where the younger folks coming up are realizing none of this really matters. They’re just growing up with a different sense of what’s important. And as kids have come out in high school or in college or whatever, and their friends are their friends, they realize this person isn’t any different, and it breaks down the barriers. So what you had is a whole transformation taking place that hasn’t taken place in many of these other countries.
I’ve never met any child – two and half, three years old – who hates anybody. They hate their broccoli maybe, or they hate – but they don’t hate people. They haven’t learned it yet. And so the issue is really one of teaching people, of setting up rule of law, of establishing a different norm where people begin to break down the fear and they recognize that they’re not, in fact, threatened. And I think – it doesn’t mean you’re going to change everybody’s minds overnight. There are people who hold a strongly held religious belief or cultural belief, and they may go to their grave believing that, but that doesn’t mean they have to be intolerant.

And now there will be one less organization out there teaching hate.  Yea!  That's how we make progress and move forward.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, June 20, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Anbar and Nineveh Province get to vote,  polling stations are targeted with violence, turnout is high, IHEC finds no irregularities in the vote, Nouri gets out maneuvered with regards to Baghdad's provincial government, today is World Refugee Day with notable remarks from John Kerry (good), Angelina Jolie (good) and Senator Rand Paul (embarrassing).

Proving that War Hawks need lots of (ego) feeding to survive, Andy Bowers of Slate (a War Hawk who got in the faux antiwar club as a result of the circle jerk) gushes today, "George Packer, a New Yorker staff writer known for his brilliant coverage of the Iraq War, turns his attention to problems here at home in his new book The Unwinding. "  No, no one who gave a damn about Iraq would ever note Packer's "brilliant coverage of the Iraq War" because it just wasn't there.  George Packer is a  War Hawk.  Oh, he wrote a (bad) play.  Who the hell cares?  He cheerleaded the Iraq War whined in a book that there wasn't enough military on the ground because, hey, the war's not wrong, it was just fought wrong, we can fight it better next time!  That's what these people sell over and over.  There is no awareness, there is no awakening, there is only attempts to defend war and insist any mistakes must result not from the decision to start a war but from the way it was fought.  In his awful 2006 'book,' he wanted to argue that , even though the Iraq War was a war of choice, "this didn't make the war immoral by definition."

From the classic comedy sketch (about the quiz show scandal) . . .

Mike Nichols: It's a moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes!

Mike Nichols: A moral issue.

Elaine May: Yes! Yes! Yes! It is a moral issue.  

Mike Nichols:  A moral issue.

Elaine May:  And to me that's always so much more interesting than a real issue

Always be skeptical of those who talk 'morality' but ignore the law.

The War Hawks love to conceal their true natures.  Norman Solomon (Huffington Post) calls War Hawk Thomas Friedman out and when Friedman attempts to spin, Norman quotes Friedman.

National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 person was killed by a mortar attack on an Anbar Province polling station and another was left injured. and that, according to the Nineveh Province Police Brigadier General Khaled al-Hamdani, bombings are taking place in various areas of that province in order to prevent voting.

Iraq has 18 provinces.  3 of the 18 are the KRG -- a semi-autonomous region that will hold provincial elections in September.  Being semi-autonomous it votes on its own schedule (and did during the 2009 provincial elections as well).  The exception being the parliamentary elections when all Iraqi provinces that are voting vote at the same time.

So the 3 KRG provinces didn't vote in the April 20th provincial elections.

In addition, Kirkuk (again) did not get to vote.  This is because, long story short, Kirkuk is disputed territory -- claimed by the central government in Baghdad and by the KRG.

The United Nations was pressing the case for allowing Kirkuk to vote.  Even so, that was unlikely to happen.  It's even more unlikely now that the UN Secretary-General Special Representative to Iraq is an empty seat.  Next month, Martin Kobler is placed over the Congo.  No one has been named (still) as Kobler's replacement.

That adds up to four provinces. There are 18.  So 14 should have voted, right?

Only 12 voted.  Nouri decided to penalize the two provinces where he is most unpopular -- Anbar and Nineveh -- by refusing to allow them to vote in April.  Kirk H. Sowell (Foreign Policy) rightly observed, "Iraq's April 20 provincial elections were like two elections in one country.  They included all  provinces outside the Kurdistan region except Kirkuk, due to a long-standing dispute over election law, and the predominately Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninawa, where the cabinet postponed elections under the pretext of security following a series of candidate assassinations."

Today, they were finally allowed to vote.  The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following statement:

The United States congratulates Iraq for conducting successful provincial elections in Anbar and Ninewa today, ensuring that the citizens of these two provinces have the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights at the ballot box. This was an important step toward solidifying Iraq’s democratic future.
We also congratulate Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), which managed and organized the elections in the face of a challenging security environment. Iraqi police and military forces should be commended for their work in securing polling sites and protecting voters as they cast their ballots at over 1,000 polling centers in Anbar and Ninewa.
This day did not pass without violence, however. We condemn the attacks that occurred at polling stations in both provinces that wounded a number of Iraqis.

Wang Yuanyuan (Xinhua) reports, "The state-run television Iraqia showed Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi entered a polling station to cast his vote in his hometown city of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province.  Iraqi security forces spread into the cities of the two provinces, cordoned off polling centers and imposed a traffic ban on vehicles."

AFP notes that the two provinces have nearly 3 million registered voters and that there are at least 1185 politicians competing for 69 seats.  Alsumaria reports that there were over 1107 polling stations in the two provinces.  In the two provinces.  You catch that right?  Apparently there was no concern over refugees who fled the provinces being able to vote. When the 12 provinces were allowed to vote in April, there were polling stations set up in Anbar and Nineveh -- but just for refugees from the 12 provinces who had moved in to Anbar and Nineveh to vote.  The Independent High Electoral Commission announced that there were "special polling centers" set up for displaced persons from Nineveh and Anbar . . . if they were in the KRG.  Only, if they were in the KRG.  Now if you were a member of the armed services and resided in Anbar or Nineveh in your downtime but were deployed to other provinces, IHED had 266 polling stations in 15 of the other provinces for you to vote.  But if you were a resident of Anbar or Nineveh who had been displaced and went to any province other than the three in the KRG, you were out of luck on voting.

As Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi told BBC World Service's Sarah Montague interviewed yesterday,  only 30% of registered voters voted in the April 20th elections.  Safety concerns and disillusionment may be the reason for the low turnout in April.

Today, AFP quotes Mosul college student Fahd Ismail stating, "I have come to the polling centre not to vote, but just to destroy my ballot. I saw that students who graduated before me got nothing from the government, and now we are in the same situation."  Last week, Mustafa Habib (Niqash) quoted voters in the two provinces with reasons why people might not vote. Candidate Imad Zakariya stated, "The hot weather at this time of year will make people reluctant to vote. In spring, when it is cooler, people are more inclined to get out and vote." It was 105 degrees (F) in Ramadi this afternoon and 'dropped' to 100 degrees at nightfall. Ramadi is a major city in Anbar Province. Mosul is a major city in Nineveh Province. The high in Mosul today was 104 degrees (F).  Anbar Province resident Harith al-Ani told Niqash last week, "The changes in the election dates and in voter registration centres has also caused confusion."

The Journal of Turkish Weekly notes, "A vehicle ban was imposed in major cities in the two provinces and thousands of policemen have been deployed" and "The United Nations reported 17 candidates were assassinated ahead of this year's election, more than half of them in Anbar and Nineveh. Adam Schreck and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) also note, "A total of 17 candidates have been assassinated ahead of this year's election, with the bulk of them from Ninevah, according to Jose Maria Aranaz, the chief electoral adviser at the United Nations mission to Iraq."

Despite all of that and much more, it appears the voting in Anbar and Nineveh was successful today.  Alsumaria reports that the Independent High Electoral Commission states 37.5% of registered voters turned out in Nineveh and that 49.5% turned out in Anbar.  Alsumaria notes that UNHCR assisted with the elections and were at polling places.  At five o'clock, when voting was scheduled to end, UNHCR checked to make sure that all voters were out of the polling stations and then locked the doors and, with IHEC, secured the ballot boxes.  All Iraq News notes that IHEC's Electoral Office head Muqdad al-Shiriefi declared in a Baghdad press conference this evening, "There are no violations in the PCs elections of the provinces."  NINA reports that the Mottahidoon Coalition issued a statement declaring the high rate of turnout in the two provinces was an indication that the protesters, who "have suffered various severe conditions in order to get their demands and recover their usurped rights," believe in their democratic rights.

The United Nations notes:

20 June 2013 – The United Nations envoy in Iraq today congratulated the men and women of the Anbar and Ninewa governorates on casting their votes on local elections that were delayed two months ago over mounting concerns about security.
“The people of Anbar and Ninewa overcame threats to cast their vote today, and violence failed to disrupt the democratic process,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler.
Most Iraqi governorates held their local elections two months ago. However, voting was delayed by officials in Anbar and Ninewa because of security concerns.
The past couple of months have been some of the deadliest on record for Iraq, with a series of bombings killing hundreds and injuring many more across the country. Candidates have been regularly targeted, and on Wednesday a suicide bomber reportedly blew himself up as he embraced a political leader in northern Iraq, killing the candidate and four of his relatives.
In addition, a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying five officials from the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in the town of Baiji in Ninewa today, killing one of them.
“Despite the best efforts of the security forces, it is very sad that lives were also lost in this process,” Mr. Kobler said. “Several candidates were targeted in the lead-up to today’s vote, while an IHEC staff member was tragically killed in an attack on a bus today and several IHEC colleagues were wounded.”
Delegations from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) visited a number of polling centres, and Mr. Kobler commended the professionalism and commitment of the IHEC in carrying out the elections. He also welcomed the efforts of Iraqi Security Forces under the command of the High Electoral Security Committee in assuring safe conditions for voting.
Mr. Kobler extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

The violence didn't end when the voting was completed.  Reuters reports, "A[Ramadi] suicide bomber killed seven people at an Iraqi vote counting centre on Thursday evening, police said, hours after polls closed in two Sunni Muslim-dominated provinces." 4 of the 7 "were members of Iraq's electoral commission."   Alsumaria notes the death toll rose to 9 and that twelve people were also injured.  They also explain the bombing occurred directly outside the polling station.  In addition, Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk bombing targeting a military convoy left 1 military officer dead and another injured. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 333 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

 On the topic of the ongoing violence, Rudaw reports:

 An upsurge of violence and deadly car bombs in Iraq in the past few months appear to have served as a wake up call to some Iraqi leaders, among them former Vice President Adil Abd Al-Mahdi.
“Terrorism is clear in its message, but we are not clear in our plans and reactions,” Abd Al-Mahdi wrote last week on his personal Facebook page.
Abd Al-Mahdi is from the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) and is considered one of Iraq’s most influential Shiite leaders.
His party controls many important security and army posts. But Abd Al-Mahdi believes that the government does not quite know how to deal with the problem of terrorist attacks.
“We either react to it on a sectarian basis or only give it more popular support and space, which it doesn’t deserve,” he wrote, “Or we deal with it haphazardly and kill the innocent instead of the culprit.”

Abd Al-Mahdi served from 2006 to 2010 as vice president -- alongside Tareq al-Hashemi -- and was named for a second term in November 2010.  He left the post in the summer of 2011 after Nouri had asked the Iraqi people to give him 100 days to clear up corruption and after Nouri had let the 100 days expire without ever addressing the corruption.

While today was good for the voters, it was also bad for Nouri.  His State of Law had struggled in April to get votes.  The struggles for State of Law continue.    Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Al-Monitor) reports:

Despite the success of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition in obtaining 20 of 58 seats in Baghdad, the Al-Ahrar bloc, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, won 11 seats; the Sunni Mutahidoun block, led by Osama al-Nujaifi, obtained seven seats; the Citizen bloc obtained six seats and around 14 seats were distributed over other blocs and minority quotas. The way the seats were distributed allowed these forces to come together and form a government that excluded the biggest winner in the elections.
At first glance, it seems that this distribution, according to which the local government of Baghdad was formed on Saturday, is wide-ranging, inconsistent and incompatible at key points. It also seems that the State of Law Coalition will overcome its loss by trying to attract small blocs in the Baghdad Council to change the current government, a scenario that may be realized in the coming months. There is, however, another scenario that is more attainable, which involves the new alliance in Baghdad achieving greater harmony and making this experience a prelude to changing the political map in the general elections in 2014.
Not only does Baghdad have the largest population in Iraq (about 8 million), but its local government may have the means to tame the sectarian sensitivities, which are becoming more dangerous in Iraq and the region.

US President Barack Obama has decided to arm the so-called 'rebels' in Syria.  This goes against the wishes of a number of Iraqis. (Not all and maybe not even a majority, but there is a vocal segment in Iraq against the arming or supporting of the so-called rebels.)  Christianity Today speaks with MP Yondadam Kanna who is also Secretary General for the Assyrian Democratic Movement (as in Assyrian Christians):

Q: What do you think about future of Christians in Middle East?

A: Well, it depends upon the political systems or political regimes in the region. If the regimes are fanatic Islamists, extremists or racists, then it's very difficult for us. But if the regime is liberal, if it's recognising civil and human beings rights and looks to a nation's identity rather than to a religious basis, then it can work out.  It's our grandfathers' lands which we love and want to stay in. We want to live in peace with our partners and neighbours, on the same standard, equal for all citizens.
But if they are extremists or fanatics and run the countries on a religious basis, it will be very hard in, for example, Syria. We'll face a huge migration in the future. Same like what's going on with the Copts in Egypt, and same [as] what happened with us in Iraq after the fall of Saddam [Hussein].
The policy that is used today in Syria, under the excuse of getting rid of the regime, is very dangerous. If the state collapses, then the jihadists are in power. If the jihadists are in power, it's a huge risk, not only for Christians, but also Muslims of that region — not only in Syria, but in the rest of Middle East and then Europe, too. They are pushing Syria to be unorganised, the whole region to be unorganised. After Syria, next will be Lebanon, Iraq and so on.

[. . .]

Q: Are you saying the Obama administration's decision to support the Free Syrian Army with weapons is a wrong decision?

A: Unfortunately, the [term] "the Free Syrian Army" is very broad. Who is the Free Syrian Army? Jihadists? Jebhat al Nusra [a Syrian group with links to al Qaeda]? All others? Which one of them is it? So who are they really supporting?

There is a very real fear that the already huge Middle East refugee crisis could grow even larger in number as a result of Barack's decision.  Let's note the 'rebels.'  Back on June 11th, outlets -- such as AFP -- were reporting that al Qaeda in Iraq was out of the so-called rebels, that a split had taken place.  We noted:

The 'damage' has been that Jabhat al-Nusra has had 'funding' issues.  Governments wanting to support them -- the UK, the US -- are faced with questions by their citizens of why is the government supporting people who tried to kill US and UK service members in Iraq?  Kwame Holman (The NewsHour, PBS -- link is text, video and audio) noted yesterday, "The Obama administration could decide this week whether it's time to ship arms to rebels in Syria. Top U.S. officials began meeting today to consider the question. And Secretary of State John Kerry put off a trip to the Middle East to take part in the sessions."
Of course, the 'rebels' aren't really rebels and the main reason for the action be taken to split the two (publicly split, probably not in reality) was that the Iraqi faction outraged many on Sunday when they killed a child.

Probably not in reality?

Today, AFP files their latest, "Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq has defied orders from al-Qaeda senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to break up his self-proclaimed merger with Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), indicating tensions within the organisation, AFP reported."

Back to the topic of the refugees.  Today was World Refugee Day.  UNHCR noted, "World Refugee Day was established by the UN General Assembly in late 2000 and is marked each year on June 20, with the aim of bringing attention to the plight of the world's forcibly displaced."  Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued their "Global Trends Report 2012" which found that the number of refugees worldwide increased.

The report notes that "the top five source countries of refugees at the end of 2012" were: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic and Sudan.  That order is -- from highest to lowest -- the top five refugee producing countries.  When all five countries are combined, they account for 55% of 2012 refugees worldwide.  For Iraq, 2012 saw 746,400 Iraqis become external refugees (refer to Figure Four on page 13 of the report). Table one on page 39 shows that Iraq has 1,131810 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Today, at the US State Dept, Secretary of State John Kerry explained the day and its meaning:

[The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.]
Thank you. Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I apologize for being a moment late. I just came from the Hill, where I was testifying on the subject of Syria, where we obviously have an enormous impact in terms of refugees. I appreciate your allowing me to sneak in and move the box and stand here and talk to you. (Laughter.) I’m delighted to welcome our ambassadors here. Thank you all for joining us this morning. And it’s a privilege for me to be here. And I want to thank our outstanding Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard, who has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. And I think all of you know that the challenges that we’re here to talk about today are monumental, they are humbling, and they remind us of the unbelievable global, moral responsibility that we have to try to deal with people who face some of the toughest circumstances on earth.
I thank the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. I see you on the screen there. Thank you for being with us. Happy for the modern technology, which is bringing us together here. I gather you’re in Jordan, and appreciate your participating from there. And he has, as all of you know, been absolutely relentless in his efforts to try to help us do a better job to respond. It’s an endless job, and nothing more serious than what he is facing today, being in Jordan.
I also want to thank the members of Congress. I just – they beg their apologies here, but they were going to come down here, many of them, to be supportive – and they are – but they’re voting, in the middle of the vote. That’s actually one of the ways I got rescued from my hearing. (Laughter.) So now I’m very much in favor of those votes, folks. (Laughter.)
And I want to thank Wilmot for sharing his story with everybody here today. We appreciate his service in the military and his work with veterans.
Today is just the 12th official World Refugee Day, but I’m proud to say that in United States of America, our country has had a tradition of welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and it runs deep in our roots. I think it’s safe to say it’s part of our DNA as Americans, and we’re proud of that.
Roughly 150 years before the American Revolution took place and 400 years before the Statue of Liberty first stood up in New York Harbor to welcome people, a fellow by the name of John Winthrop came to this land as a Puritan refugee from England with a group of refugees on a sail vessel, the Arbella.
And he crossed the Atlantic. Before he arrived in Boston Harbor, he delivered a very well-known sermon, envisioning the colony they were going to create there as this “City Upon a Hill,” words that have been well quoted now by President Kennedy initially and President Reagan subsequently. He challenged the congregation that came over with him to serve as a model of justice and tolerance because, as he said, “the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Well, I would say to you today that they still are. The eyes of all people are upon us. And opening our docks and our doors to refugees has been part of the great tradition of our country. It defines us. It really is who we are. Most people came to this country at one point or another from another place.
And I think it’s safe to say that as we look at the world today and we consider where the High Commissioner is today, this challenge is as great as ever. Nearly 1.6 million people are now refugees out of Syria, a very significant portion of them in Jordan, where the High Commissioner is now. He will tell you, as I have experienced in my trips to Jordan, the profound impact that these refugees have on a community when they come there.
Many of them are not in the camps; they’re just in the general population and they seek employment, or they rent an apartment, 10 of them to the apartment, all contributing to the rent, which raises rents, which produces pressure on other people within the normal Jordanian course of life. That has an impact on Jordanian citizens; it has an impact on the politics.
In addition to that, they go to work or try to go to work. And because they’re desperate to go to work, they work for less money. In working for less money, they lower wages, and that has a social impact on the rest of the community.
So there are profound impacts from refugees. And obviously we live in a world today where not all refugees are refugees as a consequence of revolution or war and violence. We have refugees because they can’t find water. We have refugees because of climate change. We have refugees who are driven out by drought and the lack of food, who move accordingly because they want to be able to live.
And today we see refugees in so many new parts of the world. We see refugees in Mali, in the mountains of Burma, and in many other places. It’s fair to say that as we gather here for this 12th occasion, the eyes of some 46 million displaced people around the world are upon us. And we need to be able to look back at them with the knowledge that we are doing everything that is possible to try to help.
The challenge is immense. We just put an additional huge amount of money into Syria. And I think it’s safe to say that everybody comes to this table committed to try to do everything in our power to live up to our values and to meet the needs. The State Department, USAID, our partners in the U.S. Government, the United Nations, nonprofits around the world, faith-based groups, humanitarian organizations – all of them try to come together in order to try to live up to our common values.
And we don’t do this just because we’re trying to keep faith with the past; it’s because working to resolve this issue is critical to our future. And I think it’s vital to our nation’s strategic interest. It’s also the right thing to do.
When the stakes are high, you need to up your game, and I’m proud to say that the United States is trying to do that. Today, I announced that we are nearly doubling our contributions this year to the UNHCR. We are giving to the High Commission on Refugees a $415 million commitment that brings our 2013 total to $890 million. And I’m proud to say to you that that makes the United States of America the largest single contributor in the world. We provide more aid to the UNHCR than any other country and more than the next six countries combined. Americans should be proud of that. (Applause.)
What does this provide? This funding provides clean water, provides shelter, provides medicine to families around the globe. It tries to provide them with the ability to be able to survive day to day, from Afghanistan, Ecuador, from Burma to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This funding will advance our efforts on behalf of those who simply cannot defend themselves, including the elderly and the disabled. It will help to continue all of the programs to protect women and girls from abuse and exploitation and to aid the victims of gender-based violence. And we make this investment because it makes a real difference in the lives of fellow human beings. I have seen this with my own eyes, and I think many of you here have seen it also.
The families of two of my predecessors, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, escaped Hitler and Stalin, and they landed on the shores of our county, like so many other American families centuries earlier, all of whom came here yearning and hoping for a brighter future.
Another one of our State Department family, Alex Konick, was born in Romania to parents who instilled in him a passion for geography, a fascination with other cultures. But the Romanian communist regime would not give his father a passport. And so, with nothing but the clothes on his back, Alex cut through a barbed-wire fence on the Yugoslav border and he made it to a refugee camp in Italy. And finally, later, on November 17th of 1982, he arrived in New York City.
Alex calls that day his “freedom birthday,” and he celebrates it every single year. After graduating from Columbia University and getting married, he took the passion that he inherited for travel and geography and culture and he decided to serve his country right here in the State Department. Today he’s proudly serving at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, in what is today a much different region from the one that he escaped. That’s the difference that we can make.
You can take another person, Gai Nyok, who is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who escaped the war there, trekking 500 miles on foot to Ethiopia. He finally arrived at Kakuma, Kenya, a sprawling refugee camp that housed 100,000 refugees, but food and rations there were very meager, and conditions were inadequate. So when the United Nations came, Gai immediately – when the United States came, he immediately signed up.
You fast-forward just a few years. Gai finished high school early, with a 4.0 GPA; he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in economics and international relations. And I’m proud to say that today, Gai is one of our Pickering Fellows here at the State Department, on the path to becoming a diplomat in the Foreign Service.
Tomorrow his story and his photo will be featured on the State Department’s blog and he is a prime example, like so many millions of others, of exactly why it is worth all of us standing up for the world’s most vulnerable, fighting on behalf of refugees, people who are determined to work hard, to give back, to rebuild their lives and to become part of the fabric of this country or whatever country they can find asylum in, people who have started businesses and gone on to win prizes, recognition for literature, for science, for technology, and other great endeavors.
So my friends, as we gather here today, the eyes of all people are still on us. And thanks to the work of people like Anne and Antonio – and so many of you – I believe we have reason to be hopeful. Because of your commitment, our most sacred values and the United States hopes and aspirations still remain a beacon of hope for people all over the world. We have work yet to do, but we recognize that we do it as a land of second chances and as an example for what we can do to help people achieve that second opportunity.
Thank you for the privilege of being here with you today. Thank you. (Applause.)

Others making statements today included UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie:

The Syrian crisis here in Jordan and across the region is the most acute humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world today.
1.6 million people have poured out of Syria with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and more are arriving every minute.
More than half are children.
They have left behind a country in which millions of people are displaced, suffering hunger, deprivation and fear; where countless women and girls have endured rape and sexual violence; where a whole generation of children are out of school; and where at least 93,000 people have been killed: the friends, neighbors, fathers, mothers and children of people in this camp today.
I want to thank the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees in their homes and communities. Their generosity is lifesaving. But they cannot do it alone. Appeals must be met and support given. The over-burdening of these countries' economies is the greatest risk to their stability.
I pray all parties in the Syrian conflict will stop targeting civilians and allow access for humanitarian aid.
And I appeal to the world leaders please, set aside your differences, unite to end the violence, and make diplomacy succeed. The UN Security Council must live up to its responsibilities. Every 14 seconds someone crosses Syria's border and becomes a refugee. And by the end of this year half of Syria's population ten million people will be in desperate need of food, shelter and assistance. The lives of millions of people are in your hands. You must find common ground.
On this day, World Refugee Day, I would like to say a word about the more than 15 million people who live as refugees worldwide.
Refugees are often forgotten, and frequently misunderstood. They are regarded as a burden, as helpless individuals, or as people who wish to move to someone else's country. That is not who they are.
I have met refugees around the world. They are resilient, hardworking and gracious people. They have experienced more violence and faced more fear than we will ever know. They have lost their homes, their belongings and their countries. They have often lost family and friends to horrific deaths. Faced with war and oppression they have chosen not to take up arms, but to try to find safety for their families. They deserve our respect, our acknowledgment and our support not just today but for the duration of their ordeal.
By helping refugees, here in Zaatari camp and across the globe, we are investing in people who will one day rebuild their countries, and a more peaceful world for us all. So on this day, I honor them, and I am privileged to be with them."

Elise Foley (Huffington Post) notes US Senator Rand Paul 'celebrated' early with statements made yesterday slamming refugees.  Foley also reports:

Paul has previously said the U.S. should reexamine its policies toward Iraqi refugees based on concerns about terrorism.
"We've exempted 60,000 Iraqis in the last three years," he said on "The Dennis Miller Show" in April. "My question is, for one, are any of them intending to do us harm? And two, we won the war in Iraq -- why would they be running from a democratic government?"
He said earlier in June that Iraqi refugees should not be allowed to remain in the U.S. unless they could find work.

We're not picking on Rand Paul because he's a Republican.  We're picking on him because he's being stupid.  His father, former US House Rep Ron Paul, is clearly a great deal smarter on the topic of Iraq.  I can't imagine anyone else in the Senate saying anything so stupid as Rand Paul has now with "we won the war in Iraq -- why would they be running from a democratic government?"

Rand Paul takes some brave stands and that's what he usually ends up noted in the snapshots for but that's a really stupid statement to make and hopefully we'll be able to get into just how stupid tomorrow.

However,  yesterday's snapshot included Secretary of State John Kerry's important remarks noting Pride Day, inclusion and progress.  There was also a brief Q&A and I said we'd include that today:

SECRETARY KERRY:  Please sit down. I gather we’re going to do a couple questions, so we’ll – I’ll do that.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great, great. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I loved what you said about where homophobia rears its ugly and frightened head, we’ll be there. I thought that was a really powerful statement, and demonstrates your long-held and heartfelt belief in equality and human rights for everyone. So thank you very much. Thank you as well for your mention of GLIFAA, and it’s great to know that we have your back – or you have our back, and you’ve got our back, and we’ve got your back.

SECRETARY KERRY: You’ve got to have mine too, folks, or I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) I’m counting on you.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: So – and thank you for answering a couple of questions. We asked our GLIFAA post representatives overseas – we’ve got about 100 serving in our embassies and consulates – to send us some questions that maybe we could pose to you. And you’ve got probably time for about two of them, if that’s okay.


MR. KERO-MENTZ: The first question from our GLIFAA post rep in Kyiv, Ukraine, Doug Morrow. He asks, “I’ve noticed a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements made by host country government officials and religious leaders in many countries around the world, including Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, and elsewhere. There seems to be a relationship between this sort of state-sponsored homophobia and increases in hate crimes against LGBT activists and individuals. Many of us have seen it firsthand. I know that the Department in our missions overseas are promoting human rights for everyone, including LGBT persons, but what more could we reasonably do to combat state-sponsored homophobia?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s a great question. What we need to do is do things like we’re doing here today, where you speak out and where you show people what is appropriate as well as permissible. In a lot of places – I’ve seen it for years. I used to – when I was in the DA’s office, I used to be a prosecutor. I remember going and meeting with kids, young kids, because I wanted to find out why kids were falling into the criminal justice system at age – whatever, 14, 15, 16. And almost invariably, almost ninety-whatever percent it was, I found kids who came from very troubled families, from places where they didn’t have adult input. And like everybody in life, we all learn from people ahead of us.
And so this is going through a huge generational transformation where, in fact, today, we’re kind of learning from a younger generation where the kinds of things that older folks who lived in a different norm are not as in touch with, but where the younger folks coming up are realizing none of this really matters. They’re just growing up with a different sense of what’s important. And as kids have come out in high school or in college or whatever, and their friends are their friends, they realize this person isn’t any different, and it breaks down the barriers. So what you had is a whole transformation taking place that hasn’t taken place in many of these other countries.
I’ve never met any child – two and half, three years old – who hates anybody. They hate their broccoli maybe, or they hate – but they don’t hate people. They haven’t learned it yet. And so the issue is really one of teaching people, of setting up rule of law, of establishing a different norm where people begin to break down the fear and they recognize that they’re not, in fact, threatened. And I think – it doesn’t mean you’re going to change everybody’s minds overnight. There are people who hold a strongly held religious belief or cultural belief, and they may go to their grave believing that, but that doesn’t mean they have to be intolerant.
And that’s the key thing that I think America has so much more than almost any other place that I know. We’re not without fault. We’re not without ability to be criticized. But by and large, we are capable of showing more tolerance than almost any other people. Not exclusive; there are people in Europe and people in some other countries who also share that.
But I think what we have to do is help people to feel they are protected in their ability to be able to stand up, as they have in France recently, against very bitter opposition, very divisive, but they won. And it changed things, and it will change things, and the next generation that comes along will see that. And over time – and I mean time, real time – we will break down in some of these more difficult places this notion that you have to actually hate people and punish them for who they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it doesn’t mean you have to adopt that – or whatever, that you can give people space to live and live their life.
Now, interestingly, in a lot of these places where that challenge is particularly difficult, we also face the challenge of just getting them to accept democracy, or getting them to accept reasonable standards of rule of law and the ability of people to speak their mind and a whole bunch of other things that we value enormously as the defining assets of our nationhood and of our citizenship. Those things have to be able to be promoted elsewhere. So I think doing what we’re doing, going out and advocating, standing up against that injustice, speaking out in various countries about human rights as we will continue to everywhere we go, will over time allow the same evolutionary process to take place in some of these places of resistance as it has here and in other parts of the world, in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. And I think ultimately we just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity, and I guarantee you under this Administration we certainly will continue to do that and, I hope, for the long-term future.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, this next question comes from our GLIFAA post rep in Tijuana, Mexico, Victor Garcia-Rivera, who asks, "What preparations has the Department of State made for when DOMA is struck down, particularly with regards to expedited naturalization for our foreign national same-sex spouses? Should the court strike down DOMA, as hoped, can we all – can we expect all things to be equal, including immigration rights?"

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I should probably let Pat Kennedy and Linda tackle this question, because they’re the ones who are working this through, but we’ve talked about it in our meetings. We are planning for the expectation that DOMA will be struck down in some form, and we’re laying the groundwork for all the things that we need to adjust. And I will just tell you, frankly, we are looking forward to the opportunity of doing that, because it will define the road ahead for us much more easily, it’ll be far less complicated, and I think everybody here will breathe a sigh of relief if that ruling comes through the way we hope it will.
So we’re laying all the groundwork necessary so that every law or every practice or every – whatever process is in place by history and precedent here will be evaluated against the notion that that law is no longer the law of the land, and therefore that everybody is indeed fully equal and we have to apply policies accordingly. And you can count on the fact that that will happen. And I think we’ll probably get a decision before too long here. So Pat Kennedy is anxiously awaiting that decision, folks. He’s crunching down further in his seat right now. (Laughter.)
Thank you. Anyway, Happy Pride to all. Thank you for the privilege of being here, and I wish you well. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

the associated press
sameer n. yacoub

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