Showing posts with label US Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label US Government. Show all posts

September 10, 2016

Agreement Reached with US-Russia to Reduce Violence


 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that the U.S. and Russia have finalized a plan to reduce violence in war-torn Syria and allow humanitarian access.

Kerry called it a possible "turning point" in the five-year civil war.

The deal calls for a nationwide ceasefire to begin at sunset on Sept. 12. If the ceasefire holds for 7 days, it could lead to Russian and U.S. military coordination, Kerry said.

"If this arrangement holds, then we will see a significant reduction in violence across Syria," Kerry said in an address in Geneva.

The agreement also pullbacks from both sides in a major road in the war-torn city of Aleppo and the creation of a demilitarized zone, and unhindered humanitarian access.

Under the agreement the U.S. would work with opposition groups and the Russians with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad to make sure the cease fire holds.

"I want to emphasize: These measures can only be implemented effectively if all the parties live up to their obligations," Kerry said.
 
Kerry said that if "legitimate opposition groups" want to be considered legitimate parties they "need to distance themselves in every way possible" from the terror groups al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

"And we expect that Russia will ensure that the Syrian government will adhere to all of its requirements about its air activities and about the access for humanitarian deliverance," Kerry said.

The agreement would involve a joint center to share initial information and delineate territories controlled by opposition groups as part of the broader peace effort, Kerry said.

Eventually, U.S. and Russian experts would work together to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra in the country, he said.

The deal looked like it might not occur earlier Friday. ussian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was considering "calling it a day" and blamed Washington for an impasse.

Shortly before midnight Geneva time (7 p.m. ET), Lavrov appeared with several boxes of pizza, saying: "This is from the U.S. delegation." A few minutes later he returned with two bottles of vodka, adding: "This is from the Russian delegation."

Kerry and Lavrov said two weeks ago that the two countries were "close" to a deal but that technical details remained and there was more work to do.

A nationwide ceasefire was declared in February, but it collapsed after frequent violations.

PHIL HELSEL

March 14, 2016

US foreign Aide Allocation-How much do they Get


                                                                   

Just over half the public think the U.S. gives too much away in foreign aid, and Democrats and Republicans disagree over who should receive aid

In absolute terms the United States has the world's largest development aid budget of over $31 billion in 2013. Relative to the size of America's economy, however, the United States is actually one of the least generous wealthy countries, with an aid budget almost three-quarters smaller than the UK's. Like most wealthy countries the United States aspires to give 0.7% of national income in aid each year, a goal that will come closer as John Kerry seeks to win congressional approval for a $50 billion foreign aid budget.
Research from YouGov indicates, however, that Americans either aren't aware or aren't convinced that, relatively speaking, America's foreign aid contribution is smaller than in many other countries. Most Americans (52%) say that the U.S. gives more in foreign aid than other countries relative to the size of the American economy, while only 11% say that the U.S. gives less. Almost exactly the same percentage (51%) believe that the U.S. gives too much in foreign aid, while only 9% think that the U.S. should give more to developing countries. 
Republicans (68%) are more likely than other to think the U.S. gives to much in aid, but even Democrats (42%) tend to agree that Uncle Sam is too generous internationally. 
Democrats and Republicans do differ quite significantly, however, on what the focus of American foreign aid should be. Half of Democrats (49%) say that foreign aid should be focused on the world’s poorest countries, while most Republicans (59%) believe that American aid should be used to reward countries which support American foreign policy.

March 3, 2016

US Ambassador to UN Takes Russian Counterpart to Gay Play


  
Image result for Tony Award-winning play “Fun Home”















Over 70 countries have anti-gay laws which is one reason why Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, decided to take 17 U.N. ambassadors to the theater Tuesday night to see the Tony Award-winning play “Fun Home” whose main character is a lesbian with a closeted gay dad.


Power, a strong advocate for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, got a standing ovation at the end of the play, led by Tony nominee Beth Malone who thanked her and President Barack Obama for doing “so much for LGBT rights.”

Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” centers on growing up in a family-owned funeral home in a small Pennsylvania town where the daughter realizes she’s attracted to women and the father has secretly had affairs with men.
Power said she invited a diverse group of ambassadors to see the stories of real lives to bring home “the challenges that LGBT people face every day around the world.”

According to a report last June by the U.N. human rights chief, at least 76 countries have laws used to criminalize and harass people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, including laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships among adults.

The 17 ambassadors spanned the globe from Australia, Vietnam and Namibia to Norway, Mexico, Uruguay and Russia, which was strongly criticized for its anti-gay laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Several ambassadors said after the play that they arrived not knowing what it was about.

Power said the play dramatizes the LGBT issue “in a way that (U.N.) resolutions and statements never can.”
“This is the way we are going to break through,” she said. “It’s about imagining oneself. It’s about imagining one’s child. It’s about imagining one’s father.”

But Power stressed that “it takes time to change the DNA of the U.N. just as it’s taken a lot of time to change the DNA of the United States.”

Actress Cynthia Nixon from the TV series “Sex and the City” moderated an after-theater panel with the writers and cast, followed by comments from several ambassadors.
“Too often our work is about abstracts,” Switzerland’s Ambassador Jurg Lauber said. “Once in a while it’s important to tell us it’s about people.”

Joao Vale de Almeida, the European Union’s ambassador to the U.N. who is from Portugal, said his younger brother told him that he was gay on a long car ride – similar to one in the play – and they organized the way that he would tell their parents.

“It could have gone wrong but they went pretty well,” he said. “It’s a good story in my case. I know (for) other people, the stories were not so good.”
Vale de Almeida said the performance was “great” and told the cast “it’s crucial that you shared (the story) with everybody.”

July 10, 2015

US Provides Straight Marriage Benefits to Same Sex Marriages





                                                                        


Same-sex married couples can start applying for Social Security and veterans benefits for spouses in all 50 states, but there are still issues to resolve as the federal government works to implement the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay couples to marry nationwide.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Thursday the federal government is making marriage benefits available to same-sex couples in every state.
The vast majority of federal marriage benefits were already available to same-sex couples, following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal ban on gay marriage. However, some Social Security and veterans benefits for spouses were still denied to these couples if they lived in states that did not recognize their marriages.
"I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide," Lynch said in a statement. "The agencies are currently working towards providing guidance to implement this change in law."
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision last month that the Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage. Before the ruling, there were 13 states that did not recognize same-sex marriages.
In her statement, Lynch said the government will strive to "fulfill our commitment to equal treatment for all Americans."
But there are still unresolved questions about how the federal government will implement the ruling, said Vickie Henry, a senior staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a legal advocacy group.
For example, Social Security had been denying spousal benefits to same-sex married couples if — at the time they applied for benefits — they were living in a state that did not recognize their marriage. Also, they were denied survivor's benefits if their same-sex spouse died while living in a state that did not recognize their marriage.
Will same-sex spouses who were denied benefits now be able to go back to Social Security and re-apply?
Likewise, the Department of Veterans Affairs had been denying spousal benefits if — at the time they applied for benefits — couples were living in a state that did not recognize their marriage.
Will spouses be able to reapply if the VA denied their applications for pensions, home loans, education benefits, medical services or burial benefits?
Stay tuned, says the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both agencies said Thursday they are still working to implement the ruling.
"With this terrific statement from the attorney general, the devil is in the details," Henry said. "Marriage benefits are available to same-sex couples nationwide, and that's as it should be. I think that is what the Supreme Court ruling requires. But what does that mean?"
In a statement, Social Security said same-sex couples should apply for benefits right away, if they believe they qualify.
"Applying now will preserve your filing date, which will protect you against the loss of any potential benefits," the agency said.
The VA said in a statement that it will work quickly to issue new guidance. In the meantime, the agency says it will temporarily wait to rule on claims that were not covered before the Supreme Court ruling.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article26853736.html#storylink=cpy

May 22, 2015

Pres.Obama Sends Gay Envoy to Homophobic Uganda through Homophobic Jamaica




Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
 submitted on buzzfeed.com the following story about this welcome decision by President Obama. Imagine sending a gay emboy to make the case to one of the most homophobes countries in the World.
 The U.S. State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy for LGBT rights, Randy Berry, is planning a visit to Uganda in July, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
The State Department could not immediately provide further details of the trip or what Berry hoped to accomplish in a visit to the country at the center of one of the longest running international confrontations over LGBT rights. Ugandan and American LGBT activists have previously criticized the U.S. response to the passage of a sweeping anti-LGBT law in 2014 for being slow and sending missed messages, but the law was struck down in August of that year. Attempts to restore the law have so far failed to gain traction in the face of apparent opposition from President Yoweri Museveni.
Berry, who was selected for the post in February and began work in April, will first be doing swings through Latin America and Europe in the coming weeks, said the State Department spokesperson. Berry told attendees at an event at the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday that he planned to visit more than 15 countries in the next month, according to a source in the room. 
On Tuesday, the State Department announced that Berry will fly to Jamaica on Thursday, which has some of the highest rates of anti-LGBT violence in the region.

March 3, 2015

LGBT Rights Are Finally Recognized as Human Rights by the U.S. Government



                                                                  

  

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Feb. 23 that Randy Berry, current U.S. consul general in the Netherlands, would begin serving as the United States’ first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.   
In his new role, Berry, an openly gay senior diplomat, is expected to advocate for LGBT rights worldwide, focusing on the more than 75 countries in which same-sex relationships remain illegal, according to a Feb. 23 statement from the U.S. Department of State. Berry will be responsible for making efforts to decrease instances of discrimination and violence against LGBT people across the world in addition to promoting international equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 
“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally—the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” Kerry said in the statement.
Berry’s new appointment comes at a time when the nation’s LGBT community has seen progress in its ongoing fight for equality. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but much of the United States population and its lawmakers have become more accepting of LGBT people and their rights since President Barack Obama publicly advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2012. 
Previously, Obama was open about his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act—which allowed states to ignore same-sex marriages legally granted by other states—as well as his determination to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The president’s statements in support of marriage equality as well as general equality for LGBT people inspired a sweeping change in attitude from the long-standing mindset of politicians in considering LGBT rights separate from human rights. 
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said in the 2012 interview.
Despite the government’s apparent interest in pushing progress for the LGBT community, a massive oversight on the part of news organizations including Time, came with several media outlets reported Berry’s new title as “envoy for LGBT rights,” though the statement from the U.S. Department of State clearly labeled the position as “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT persons.” 
Referring to Berry’s title in its entirety may be a mouthful, and as a reporter and editor, I find it understandable why some news outlets might think it is acceptable to shorten the official name of Berry’s position. However, what those news outlets seem to have overlooked is that the U.S. Department of State made a calculated choice to use that specific phrasing in Berry’s title in an effort to make clear the distinction that his position is intended to promote human rights for LGBT people and to spread what appears to be the United States government’s newfound recognition of LGBT rights as human rights. 
As a nation that loves to tout itself as one that leads—or attempts to lead—its fellow nations, this new position is symbolic of more than just a change in Berry’s employment, but of a deeper societal transition in the United States and other nations. The position is symbolic of the United States’ continuing progress toward recognizing human rights for all its citizens. Advocating for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT people is an admirable goal for 
the government. 
A large part of the nation is still populated with individuals who strongly disagree with marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives, but the U.S. government and its politicians should take pride in the decision to implement this international initiative if they want to consider the United States a leading nation. 
All people are entitled to their own religious and spiritual beliefs, and many Americans still oppose same-sex relationships, but they should not interfere with the safety and rights of LGBT people. The United States government is well overdue in recognizing this in a serious and productive way. 
The United States continues to take pride in being a leading, progressive nation, but often those terms have been used in ways that are simply inaccurate. However, acknowledging the rights of the country’s and the world’s LGBT people as human rights is a step in the right direction and is definitely an initiative a leading nation should pursue. 

October 27, 2014

The Federal Government Adds 6 More States for Gay Marriage Benefits








The federal government will recognize same-sex marriage in six new states, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Holder’s announcement follows the Supreme Court’s decision this month to decline to hear appeals from several states that sought to maintain their marriage bans. 
The government will also extend federal benefits to same-sex couples in those six states.
Holder made a similar announcement about seven other states last week, including Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. With Saturday’s announcement, same-sex couples will be recognized by the federal government in 32 states, plus the District of Columbia.
“With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans,” Holder said in a statement Saturday. “We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex married couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law.”

August 26, 2014

The Fed Gov. can only offer Gay Married Couples Ice Cream in Jersey and Chicken Soup in NY


                                                                       

  

More than a year after the Supreme Court ruling that allowed federal benefits for same-sex married couples, gays are still struggling for equality with three agencies.
Federal laws prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the obscure Railroad Retirement Board from providing full benefits to gay couples who reside in states that don’t recognize their marriages.
                                                                                               
After the Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, many federal agencies pledged to treat all couples equally, but the justices had already anticipated potential conflicts because of state laws.
In Windsor, the court struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman for federal benefits purposes, but it did not address whether states have to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of their own jurisdictions.                                          
Justice Antonin Scalia said in his dissent that the decision could lead to practical problems: “Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama, which does not ‘recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex.’ . . . When the couple files their next federal tax return, may it be a joint one?”
That’s the type of situation playing out now with Air Force Capt. Carlos Wilkinson, who married his same-sex partner on July 27, 2013, a month and a day after the Windsor ruling. The couple married in California but now lives in Nevada, where gay marriage is not legal.
When Wilkinson and his husband, Wray, applied for a VAbacked home loan in 2013, the VA said it could guaranty only half the funds, due to Nevada’s marriage laws. If Wilkinson had filed as a single applicant or was ina heterosexual marriage, the VA would have backed the entire loan.
“They claim everything is still so new that they didn’t have correct guidance,” Wilkinson said. “I feel we deserve [full benefits], just like any other service members do.”
A section of U.S. code known as Title 38 requires the VA rely on a couple’s state of residence when making benefits decisions. Similar federal statutes apply to the Social Security Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board. 
“These people are being discriminated against based on geography,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who proposed legislation this year that would require equal treatment for all veterans and their spouses, regardless of their sexual orientation or where they live. “The veterans didn’t fight for a state, they fought for the United States. To be treated differently when it comes to benefits is nonsensical.”
                                                                                

            The American Military Partners Association, an advocate for gay troops, filed a lawsuit against the VA this month over its interpretation of Title 38
“We simply cannot allow our nation’s veterans to continue to be denied the benefits they’ve earned simply because of the gender of their spouses,” said Stephen Peters, the group’s president.
Beyond the VA lawsuit, gay-rights advocates are using the Windsor case as a road map for overturning same-sex marriage bans across the country. Their efforts have been successful, with federal and state courts this year ruling that same-sex marriage bans in 15 states are unconstitutional.
Some of those rulings have been challenged, but New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania have accepted the outcomes, and they now recognize same-sex marriage. (New Mexico never banned same-sex marriage, but the state had allowed counties to prohibit the unions until its supreme court decided all counties had to allow them.) 
As for appeals, the Supreme Court could consider whether to accept cases from Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma for review as early as September, but there is no deadline for a decision. The high court in recent months has ordered holds on lower court decisions that required Virginia and Utah to begin issuing licenses for same-sex marriages.
                                                              
As the appeals continue, same-sex couples throughout the nation are in limbo. In North Carolina, for example, Richard Jernigan is hoping for a spousal supplement through his retired husband’s Social Security benefits.
Jernigan inherited his mother’s house, but he said the home needs constant repairs and maintenance. He earns about $150 a month auditing customer service through a mystery shopper program. Social Security adds another $600 to the couple’s monthly income, but the amount could be about 25 percent higher with a spousal supplement.
“That money would be a tremendous help,” Jernigan said. “We are literally in a state of poverty, and yet we don’t qualify for any of the other assistance because they don’t count us as married.”
Several Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation to prevent agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples, but none of the measures have moved out of committee.
In addition to Titus’s bill, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Ron Kind (Wisc.) have introduced legislation that would require the Social Security Administration to recognize same-sex marriages for benefits purposes. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), on the day of the Windsor decision, pitched a measure to repeal DOMA altogether. 
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Congress must “press forward and pass the [Feinstein bill] in order to fully repeal this discriminatory law and ensure all married LGBT couples have equal rights regardless of where they live.”
Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has backed the Titus bill, saying simply that “family is family.”
Congress has little chance of passing the Democratic bills in its current polarized state, leaving couples such as Wilkinson and Jernigan hoping for Democrats to win control of both chambers, or for the Supreme Court to consider an appeal and rule in their favor — perhaps their best chance at this juncture.


Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.    Pics: adamfoxie

March 15, 2014

US Will Relinquish Remaining Control of The Internet



 U.S. officials announced plans Friday to relinquish federal government control over the administration of the Internet, a move that pleased international critics but alarmed some business leaders and others who rely on the smooth functioning of the Web.
Pressure to let go of the final vestiges of U.S. authority over the system of Web addresses and domain names that organize the Internet has been building for more than a decade and was supercharged by the backlash last year to revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.

 The change would end the long-running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group. That contract is set to expire next year but could be extended if the transition plan is not complete.
“We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan,” Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said in a statement.
The announcement set off a passionate response, with some groups quickly embracing the change and others blasting it.
In a statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WVa.) called the move “consistent with other efforts the U.S. and our allies are making to promote a free and open Internet, and to preserve and advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance.”
But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted, “What is the global internet community that Obama wants to turn the internet over to? This risks foreign dictatorships defining the internet.”
The practical consequences of the decision were harder to immediately discern, especially with the details of the transition not yet clear. Politically, the move could alleviate rising global concerns that the United States essentially controls the Web and takes advantage of its oversight role to help spy on the rest of the world.
U.S. officials set several conditions and an indeterminate timeline for the transition from federal government authority, saying that a new oversight system must be developed and win the trust of crucial stakeholders around the world. An international meeting to discuss the future of Internet is scheduled to start on March 23 in Singapore.
The move’s critics called the decision hasty and politically tinged, while voicing significant doubts about the fitness of ICANN to operate without U.S. oversight and beyond the bounds of U.S. law.
“This is a purely political bone that the U.S. is throwing,” said Garth Bruen, a security fellow at the Digital Citizens Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group that combats online crime. “ICANN has made a lot of mistakes, and ICANN has not really been a good steward.”
Business groups and some others have long complained that ICANN’s decision-making was dominated by the interests of the industry that sells domain names and whose fees provide the vast majority of ICANN’s revenue. The U.S. government contract was a modest check against such abuses, critics said.
“It’s inconceivable that ICANN can be accountable to the whole world. That’s the equivalent of being accountable to no one,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing major Internet commerce businesses.
U.S. officials said their decision had nothing to do with the NSA spying revelations and the worldwide controversy they sparked, saying there had been plans since ICANN’s creation in 1998 to eventually migrate it to international control.
“The timing is now right to start this transition both because ICANN as an organization has matured, and international support continues to grow for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance,” Strickling said in a statement.
Although ICANN is based in Southern California, governments worldwide have a say in the group’s decisions through an oversight body. ICANN also in 2009 made an “Affirmation of Commitments” to the Commerce Department that covers several key issues.
Fadi Chehade, president of ICANN, disputed many of the complaints about the transition plan and promised an open, inclusive process to find a new international oversight structure for the group.
“Nothing will be done in any way to jeopardize the security and stability of the Internet,” he said.
The United States has long maintained authority over elements of the Internet, which grew from a Defense Department program that started in the 1960s. The relationship between the United States and ICANN has drawn wider international criticism in recent years, in part because big American companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft play such a central role in the Internet’s worldwide functioning. The NSA revelations exacerbated those concerns.
“This is a step in the right direction to resolve important international disputes about how the Internet is governed,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, a group that promotes open access to the Internet.
Verizon, one of the world’s biggest Internet providers, issued a statement saying, “A successful transition in the stewardship of these important functions to the global multi-stakeholder community would be a timely and positive step in the evolution of Internet governance.”
ICANN’s most important function is to oversee the assigning of Internet domains — such as dot-com, dot-edu and dot-gov — and ensure that the various companies and universities involved in directing digital traffic do so safely.
Concern about ICANN’s stewardship has spiked in recent years amid a massive and controversial expansion that is adding hundreds of new domains, such as dot-book, dot-gay and dot-sucks, to the Internet’s infrastructure. More 1,000 new domains are slated to be made available, pumping far more fee revenue into ICANN.

Major corporations have complained, however, that con artists already swarm the Internet with phony Web sites designed to look like the authentic offerings of respected brands.
“To set ICANN so-called free is a very major step that should done with careful oversight,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. “We would be very concerned about that step.”

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