Showing posts with label Lifestyle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lifestyle. Show all posts

U.S. evolves on same-sex marriage






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The president and the nation have shifted perspectives on same-sex marriage

  • Supreme Court ruling on California's same-sex marriage ban a critical test

  • Growing public support for gay marriage give proponents hope for change




Washington (CNN) -- The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has happened in slow and painstaking moves, eventually building into a momentum that is sweeping even the most unlikely of converts.


Even though he said in 2008 that he could only support civil unions for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama nonetheless enjoyed strong support among the gay community. He disappointed many with his conspicuously subdued first-term response to the same-sex marriage debate.


Last year, after Vice President Joe Biden announced his support, the president then said his position had evolved and he, too, supported same-sex marriage.


So it was no small matter when on Thursday the Obama administration formally expressed its support of same-sex marriage in a court brief weighing in on California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex weddings. The administration's effort was matched by at least 100 high-profile Republicans — some of whom in elections past depended on gay marriage as a wedge issue guaranteed to rally the base — who signed onto a brief supporting gay couples to legally wed.


Obama on same-sex marriage: Everyone is equal


Then there are the polls that show that an increasing number of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These polls show that nearly half of the nation's Catholics and white, mainstream Protestants and more than half of the nation's women, liberals and political moderates all support same-sex marriage.


According to Pew Research Center polling, 48% of Americans support same-sex marriage with 43% opposed. Back in 2001, 57% opposed same-sex marriage while 35% supported it.


In last year's presidential election, same-sex marriage scarcely raised a ripple. That sea change is not lost on the president.


"The same evolution I've gone through is the same evolution the country as a whole has gone through," Obama told reporters on Friday.


Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy and political science at Hobart and William Smith colleges says there is history at work here and the administration is wise to get on the right side.


"There is no doubt that President Obama's shifting position on Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage more broadly is due to his desire to situate himself on the right side of history with respect to the fight over same-sex marriage," said Rimmerman, author of "From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States."


"I also think that broader changes in public opinion showing greater support for same-sex marriage, especially among young people, but in the country at large as well, has created a cultural context for Obama to alter his views."


For years, Obama had frustrated many in the gay community by not offering full-throated support of same-sex marriage. However, the president's revelation last year that conversations with his daughters and friends led him to change his mind gave many in that community hope.










Last year, the Obama administration criticized a measure in North Carolina that banned same-sex marriage and made civil unions illegal. The president took the same position on a similar Minnesota proposal.


Obama administration officials point to what they see as the administration's biggest accomplishment in the gay rights cause: repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian members serving in the forces.


Then there was the president's inaugural address which placed the gay community's struggle for equality alongside similar civil rights fights by women and African-Americans.


"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 his address after being sworn in.


In offering its support and asserting in the brief that "prejudice may not be the basis for differential treatment under the law," the Obama administration is setting up a high stakes political and constitutional showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court over a fast-evolving and contentious issue.


The justices will hear California's Proposition 8 case in March. That case and another appeal over the federal Defense of Marriage Act will produce blockbuster rulings from the justices in coming months.


Beyond the legal wranglings there is a strong social and historic component, one that has helped open the way for the administration to push what could prove to be a social issue that defines Obama's second term legacy, Rimmerman said.


The nation is redefining itself on this issue, as well.


Pew survey: Changing attitudes on gay marriage


The changes are due, in part, to generational shifts. Younger people show a higher level of support than their older peers, according to Pew polling "Millennials are almost twice as likely as the Silent Generation to support same-sex marriage."


"As people have grown up with people having the right to marry the generational momentum has been very, very strong," said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights organization.


That is not to say that there isn't still opposition.


Pew polling found that most Republicans and conservatives remain opposed to same-sex marriage. In 2001, 21% of Republicans were supportive; in 2012 that number nudged slightly to 25%.


Conservative groups expressed dismay at the administration's same-sex marriage support.


"President Obama, who was against same-sex 'marriage' before he was for it, and his administration, which said the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional before they said it was unconstitutional, has now flip-flopped again on the issue of same-sex 'marriage,' putting allegiance to extreme liberal social policies ahead of constitutional principle," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.


But there are signs of movement even among some high profile Republican leaders


Top Republicans sign brief supporting same-sex marriage


The Republican-penned friend of the court brief, which is designed to influence conservative justices on the high court, includes a number of top officials from the George W. Bush administration, Mitt Romney's former campaign manager and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.


It is also at odds with the Republican Party's platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


Still, with White House and high-profile Republican support, legal and legislative victories in a number of states and polls that show an increasing number of Americans support same sex-marriage, proponents feel that the winds of history are with them.


"What we've seen is accelerating and irrefutable momentum as Americans have come to understand who gay people are and why marriage matters," Wolfson said. "We now have a solid national majority and growing support across every demographic. We have leaders across the spectrum, including Republicans, all saying it's time to end marriage discrimination."


CNN's Peter Hamby, Ashley Killough and Bill Mears contributed to this report.






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Syria war is everybody's problem




Syrians search for survivors and bodies after the Syrian regime attacked the city of Aleppo with missiles on February 23.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Frida Ghitis: We are standing by as Syria rips itself apart, thinking it's not our problem

  • Beyond the tragedy in human terms, she says, the war damages global stability

  • Ghitis: Syria getting more and more radical, jeopardizing forces of democracy

  • Ghitis: Peace counts on moderates, whom we must back with diplomacy, training arms




Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns


(CNN) -- Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren. Each side in the Syrian civil war blamed the other.


In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people -- 36 of them children -- died in a missile attack last week. Washington condemned the regime of Bashar al-Assad; the world looked at the awful images and moved on.


Syria is ripping itself to pieces. The extent of human suffering is beyond comprehension. That alone should be reason enough to encourage a determined effort to bring this conflict to a quick resolution. But if humanitarian reasons were not enough, the international community -- including the U.S. and its allies -- should weigh the potential implications of allowing this calamity to continue.



Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis



We've all heard the argument: It's not our problem. We're not the world's policeman. We would only make it worse.



This is not a plea to send American or European troops to fight in this conflict. Nobody wants that.


But before we allow this mostly hands-off approach to continue, we would do well to consider the potential toll of continuing with a failed policy, one that has focused in vain over the past two years searching for a diplomatic solution.


U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to the opposition. He has hinted that President Obama, after rejecting suggestions from the CIA and previous Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm Syrian rebels, might be ready to change course. And not a day too soon.


The war is taking longer than anyone expected. The longer it lasts, the more Syria is radicalized and the region is destabilized.


If you think the Syrian war is the concern of Syrians alone, think about other countries that have torn themselves apart over a long time. Consider Lebanon, Afghanistan or Somalia; each with unique circumstances, but with one thing in common: Their wars created enormous suffering at home, and the destructiveness eventually spilled beyond their borders. All of those wars triggered lengthy, costly refugee crises. They all spawned international terrorism and eventually direct international -- including U.S. -- intervention.


The uprising against al-Assad started two years ago in the spirit of what was then referred to -- without a hint of irony -- as the Arab Spring. Young Syrians marched, chanting for freedom and democracy. The ideals of equality, rule of law and human rights wafted in the air.


Al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. Syrians started dying by the hundreds each day. Gradually the nonviolent protesters started fighting back. Members of the Syrian army started defecting.


The opposition's Free Syrian Army came together. Factions within the Syrian opposition took up arms and the political contest became a brutal civil war. The death toll has climbed to as many as 90,000, according to Kerry. About 2 million people have left their homes, and the killing continues with no end in sight.








In fairness to Washington, Europe and the rest of the international community, there were never easy choices in this war. Opposition leaders bickered, and their clashing views scared away would-be supporters. Western nations rejected the idea of arming the opposition, saying Syria already has too many weapons. They were also concerned about who would control the weaponry, including an existing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, after al-Assad's fall.


These are all legitimate concerns. But inaction is producing the worst possible outcome.


The moderates, whose views most closely align with the West, are losing out to the better-armed Islamists and, especially, to the extremists. Moderates are losing the ideological debate and the battle for the future character of a Syria after al-Assad.


Radical Islamist groups have taken the lead. Young people are losing faith in moderation, lured by disciplined, devout extremists. Reporters on the ground have seen young democracy advocates turn into fervent supporters of dangerous groups such as the Nusra Front, which has scored impressive victories.


The U.S. State Department recently listed the Nusra Front, which has close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq and a strong anti-Western ideology, as a terrorist organization.


Meantime, countries bordering Syria are experiencing repercussions. And these are likely to become more dangerous.


Jordan, an important American ally, is struggling with a flood of refugees, as many as 10,000 each week since the start of the year. The government estimates 380,000 Syrians are in Jordan, a country whose government is under pressure from its own restive population and still dealing with huge refugee populations from other wars.


Turkey is also burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees and occasional Syrian fire. Israel has warned about chemical weapons transfers from al-Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon and may have already fired on a Syrian convoy attempting the move.


Lebanon, always perched precariously on the edge of crisis, lives with growing fears that Syria's war will enter its borders. Despite denials, there is evidence that Lebanon's Hezbollah, a close ally of al-Assad and of Iran, has joined the fighting on the side of the Syrian president. The Free Syrian Army has threatened to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if it doesn't leave Syria.


The possible outcomes in Syria include the emergence of a failed state, stirring unrest throughout the region. If al-Assad wins, Syria will become an even more repressive country.


Al-Assad's survival would fortify Iran and Hezbollah and other anti-Western forces. If the extremists inside the opposition win, Syria could see factional fighting for many years, followed by anti-democratic, anti-Western policies.


The only good outcome is victory for the opposition's moderate forces. They may not be easy to identify with complete certainty. But to the extent that it is possible, these forces need Western support.


They need training, funding, careful arming and strong political and diplomatic backing. The people of Syria should know that support for human rights, democracy and pluralism will lead toward a peaceful, prosperous future.


Democratic nations should not avert their eyes from the killings in Syria which are, after all, a warning to the world.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.






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Syria war is everybody's problem






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • NEW: France considers sending Syrian rebels night-vision gear and body armor, a source says

  • Britain's foreign secretary says the UK will announce new aid soon

  • The statements after European Union loosens restrictions to allow nonlethal aid to rebels

  • The U.S. will also send non-lethal aid to rebels for first time, plus $60 million in administrative aid




Rome (CNN) -- The United States stepped further into Syria's civil war Thursday, promising rebel fighters food and medical supplies -- but not weapons -- for the first time in the two-year conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives and laid waste to large portions of the country.


Meanwhile, European nations began to explore ways to strengthen rebel fighters that stop short of arming them after a European Council decision allowing such aid to flow to Syria.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the aid would help fighters in the high-stakes effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has already spawned an enormous humanitarian crisis as refugees flee the fighting.


The ongoing fighting also poses the persistent threat of widening into a destabilizing regional crisis, including concerns that Hezbollah, Iran or others could gain control in Damascus after al-Assad's government falls.


"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," Kerry said after meeting opposition leaders in Rome.


Kerry didn't say how much that aid would be worth, but did announce that the United States would separately give $60 million to local groups working with the Syrian National Council to provide political administration and basic services in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.








READ: U.S. weighing nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition


That's on top of $50 million in similar aid the United States has previously pledged to the council, as well as $385 million in humanitarian assistance, Kerry said.


"This funding will allow the opposition to reach out and help the local councils to be able to rebuild in their liberated areas of Syria so that they can provide basic services to people who so often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation," he said.


Islamist Influence


That aid is partly an effort to hem in radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria after the fall of al-Assad, a senior State Department official told CNN.


"If the Syrian opposition coalition can't touch, improve and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it," the official said.


Sheikh Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Council, said concerns about Islamist influence had been overstated.


"We stand against every radical belief that aims to target Syria's diverse social and religious fabric," he said.


READ: Inside Syria: Exclusive look at pro-Assad Christian militia


U.S. officials hope the aid will help the coalition show what it can do and encourage al-Assad supporters to "peel away from him" and help end the fighting, the official said.


The opposition council will decide where the money goes, Kerry said.


But the United States will send technical advisers through its partners to the group's Cairo headquarters to make sure the aid is being used properly, the senior State Department official said.


Additional aid possible


The European Council carved out an exception in its sanctions against Syria on Thursday to allow for the transfer of nonlethal equipment and technical assistance for civilian protection only.


The council didn't specify what kind of equipment could be involved.


British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday on Twitter that his country would be pledging new aid because "we cannot stand still while the crisis worsens and thousands of lives are at stake."


A diplomatic official at the French Foreign Ministry told CNN that France is studying the possibility of supplying night-vision equipment or body armor.


"It is in the scope of the amendment," the official said.


In the United States, President Barack Obama is thinking about training rebels and equipping them with defensive gear such as night-vision goggles, body armor and military vehicles, according to sources familiar with the discussions.


The training would help rebels decide how to use their resources, strategize and maybe train a police force to take over after al-Assad's fall, one of the sources said.


READ: Syrian army in Homs is showing strains of war


Kerry did not announce that sort of aid Thursday, but said the United States and other countries backing the rebels would "continue to consult with each other on an urgent basis."


An official who briefed reporters said the opposition has raised a lot of needs in the Rome meetings and the administration will continue to "keep those under review."


"We will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so it has to be done carefully and appropriately," the official said.


Humanitarian crisis


The conflict began with demands for political reform after the Arab Spring movement that swept the Middle East and Africa, but descended into a brutal civil war when the al-Assad regime began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators.


At least 60,000 people have died since the fighting began in March 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in early January.


Another 940,000 had fled the country as of Tuesday, while more than one in 10 of Syria's 20 million residents have been forced to move elsewhere inside the country because of the fighting, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.


The situation is nearing crisis proportions, with the dramatic influx of refugees threatening to break the ability of host nations to provide for their needs, Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday


"The host states, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and the North African countries, have been exemplary in their different ways, but we fear the pressure will start to overwhelm their capacities," she told the council, according to a text of her remarks posted on the United Nations website.


Al-Khatib said it's time for the fighting to stop.


"I ask Bashar al-Assad for once, just once, to behave as a human being," he said. "Enough massacres, enough killings. Enough of your bloodshed and enough torture. I urge you to make a rational decision once in your life and end the killings."


READ: Syrian war is everybody's problem


Jill Dougherty reported from Rome, and Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Elise Labott also contributed to this report.






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Italy left on financial high-wire




Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Rome on January 25, 2013.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Brilliant minds are still trying to figure out the financial impact of Italy's election

  • The lack of certainty is seen as a negative for Italy -- and the eurozone

  • Instability could reignite the eurozone crisis

  • But it depends on what deal will be done, and how the markets will respond




Editor's note: Louise Cooper is a financial blogger and commentator who regularly appears on television, radio and in print. She started her career at Goldman Sachs as a European equity institutional sales person and then become a financial and business journalist. She now writes CooperCity.


London (CNN) -- Brilliant minds across the financial world are still trying to work out the implications of the Italian election result.


For the time being, the best answer is that it is probably too soon to tell. After Tuesday's falls, a little stability has returned to markets, possibly because everyone is still trying to work out what to think.


Credit ratings agency Moody's has warned the election result is negative for Italy -- and also negative for other indebted eurozone states. It fears political uncertainty will continue and warns of a "deterioration in the country's economic prospects or difficulties in implementing reform," the agency said.


For the rest of the eurozone, the result risks "reigniting the euro debt crisis." Madrid must be looking to Italy with trepidation. If investors decide that Italy is looking risky again and back off from buying its debt, then Spain will be drawn into the firing line too.


Can the anti-Berlusconi save Italy?



Louise Cooper, of Cooper City

Louise Cooper, of Cooper City



Standard & Poor's stated that Italy's rating was not immediately affected by the election but I think the key part of that sentence is "not immediately."


At the same time Herman Van Rompuy's tweets give an indication of the view from Brussels: "We must respect the outcome of democratic elections in Italy," his feed noted.


Really? That's a first. The democratically elected Silvio Berlusconi was forced out when he failed to follow through with austerity after the European Central Bank helped Italy by buying its debt in autumn 2011.




"It is now up to Italian political leaders to assume responsibility, compromise and form a stable government," Van Rompuy tweeted.




Did he see the results? The newcomer and anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo refuses to do a deal and yet he is the natural kingmaker, polling at 25%.




"Nor for Italy is there a real alternative to continuing fiscal consolidations and reforms," he continued.


Economically yes, but the Italian electorate disagree. And for the time being, Italy has a democracy (of sorts).


Finally: "I am confident that Italy will remain a stable member of the eurozone."


He hopes...


The key to whether the crisis reignites is whether investors begin to back away from lending to Italy. If so, this will be the big test of the ECB's resolve to save the euro.


Read more: Euro crisis coverage


The key thing to look at is Italian bonds, because if borrowing costs rise from 4.8% for 10-year money currently to nearer 6%, then Italy will start to find it too expensive to borrow.


The trillion euro question is if the ECB will step in to help even if it cannot get the reforms and austerity it demands (because of the political situation). That is the crux of the matter. And there will be many in the city today pondering that question.


Clearly in financial markets, taking on a central bank is a dangerous thing to do. Soros may have broken the Bank of England on Black Wednesday 1992, making billions by forcing sterling out of the EMU, but that was a long time ago.


Italy avoids panic at bond auction


What we have learnt from this crisis is not to "fight the Fed" (or the ECB). Last summer, the ECB's chief Mario Draghi put a line in the sand with his "whatever it takes" (to save the euro) speech.


But as part of that commitment he stressed time and time again that any new help from the ECB comes with conditions attached. And those conditions are what have proven so unpalatable to the Italians -- austerity and reform.


So we have two implacable objects hurtling towards each other. The political mess of Italy and the electorate's dislike of austerity and reform (incumbent technocrat Mario Monti only polled 10%).


So what happens next? The status quo can continue if Italian borrowing costs do not rise from here and therefore Italy does not need ECB help.


If markets continue to believe in Draghi and Brussels that the euro is "irreversible," then investors will continue to lend to Italy. Yes, markets will be jittery and fearful, but Italy will eventually sort itself out politically.


The big advantage for Italy is although it has a lot of debt, it is not creating debt quickly (like Greece, Spain or even the UK). And as I said yesterday on my CooperCity blog, the positive outcome from all this could be that Brussels backs off from austerity, which would be a good thing.


However, the basic rule of finance is that high risk comes with high return. Soros took a huge gamble against the British central bank but it reportedly made him a billionaire overnight.


There must be a few hedge funders looking at the Italian situation with similar greed in their eyes. If he wants to save the euro, it is time for Mario Draghi to put the fear of God back into such hearts.







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Benedict: Pope aware of his flaws?




Pope Benedict XVI delivers his last Angelus Blessing to thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square on February 24.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh: Pope Benedict acknowledged that he made mistakes

  • Walsh: In firestorm over scholarly quotes about Islam, he went to great lengths to atone

  • Walsh: Similarly, he quickly reversed a decision that had angered Jews and repaired ties

  • Even his stepping down is a nod to his humanity and his love of the church, she says




Editor's note: Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Regional Community. She is a former foreign correspondent at Catholic News Service (CNS) in Rome and the editor of "John Paul II: A Light for the World," "Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on his Papacy," and "From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI."


(CNN) -- One of the Bible's paradoxical statements comes from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


The poetic statement proclaims that when we are weak, we are strong. Pope Benedict XVI's stepping down from what many consider one of the most powerful positions in the world proves it. In a position associated with infallibility -- though that refers to formal proclamations on faith and morals -- the pope declares his weakness.



Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh



His acceptance of frailty speaks realistically about humanity: We grow old, weaken, and eventually die. A job, even one guided by the Holy Spirit, as we Roman Catholics believe, can become too much for us.


Acceptance of human frailty has marked this papacy. We all make mistakes, but the pope makes them on a huge stage.


He was barely into his papacy, for example, when he visited Regensburg, Germany, where he once taught theology. Like many a professor, he offered a provocative statement to get the conversation going. To introduce the theme of his lecture, the pope quoted from an account of a dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar, sometime near the end of the 14th century -- a quote that was misinterpreted by some as a condemnation of Mohammed and Islam.


Opinion: 'Gay lobby' behind pope's resignation? Not likely


Twice, the pope emphasized that he was quoting someone else's words. Unfortunately, the statement about Islam was taken as insult, not a discussion opener, and sparked rage throughout the Muslim world.


The startled pope had to explain himself. He apologized and traveled two months later to Istanbul's Blue Mosque, where he stood shoeless in prayer beside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. Later he hosted Muslim leaders at the Vatican at the start of a Catholic-Muslim forum for dialogue. It was a human moment -- a mistake, an apology and atonement -- all round.










A similar controversy erupted when he tried to bring the schismatic Society of St. Pius X back into the Roman Catholic fold.


In a grand gesture toward reconciliation, he lifted the excommunication of four of its bishops, unaware that one, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier. This outraged many Jews. Subsequently the Vatican said the bishop had not been vetted, and in a bow to modernity said officials at least should have looked him up on the Internet.


In humble response, Benedict reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism and told Williamson that he must recant his Holocaust views to be fully reinstated. Again, his admission of a mistake and an effort to mend fences.


News: Scandal threatens to overshadow pope's final days


Pope Benedict XVI came from a Catholic Bavarian town. Childhood family jaunts included trips to the shrine of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Altotting. He entered the seminary at the age of 13. He became a priest, scholar and theologian. He lived his life in service to the church. Even in resigning from the papacy, he embraces the monastic life to pray for a church he has ever loved.


With hindsight, his visit to the tomb of 13th century Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine monk who resigned from the papacy eight centuries before, becomes poignant.


In 2009, on a visit to Aquila, Italy, Benedict left at Celestine's tomb the pallium, a stole-like vestment that signifies episcopal authority, that Benedict had worn for his installation as pope. The gesture takes on more meaning as the monkish Benedict steps down.


We expect the pope to be perfect. Catholics hold him to be the vicar of Christ on earth. He stands as a spiritual leader for much of the world. Statesmen visit him from around the globe. He lives among splendid architecture, in the shadow of the domed St. Peter's Basilica. All testify to an almost surreal omnipotence.


Complete coverage of the pope's resignation


In this world, however, walked a vulnerable, human person. And in a paradox of life, his most human moment -- giving up the power of office -- may prove to be his most potent, delivering a message that, as St. Paul noted many centuries ago, "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mary Ann Walsh.






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Vatican 'Gay lobby'? Probably not






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Benedict XVI not stepping down under pressure from 'gay lobby,' Allen says

  • Allen: Benedict is a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government

  • However, he says, much of the pope's time has been spent putting out fires




Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN's senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.


(CNN) -- Suffice it to say that of all possible storylines to emerge, heading into the election of a new pope, sensational charges of a shadowy "gay lobby" (possibly linked to blackmail), whose occult influence may have been behind the resignation of Benedict XVI, would be right at the bottom of the Vatican's wish list.


Proof of the Vatican's irritation came with a blistering statement Saturday complaining of "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories," even suggesting the media is trying to influence the papal election.


Two basic questions have to be asked about all this. First, is there really a secret dossier about a network of people inside the Vatican who are linked by their sexual orientation, as Italian newspaper reports have alleged? Second, is this really why Benedict XVI quit?



John L. Allen Jr.

John L. Allen Jr.



The best answers, respectively, are "maybe" and "probably not."


It's a matter of record that at the peak of last year's massive Vatican leaks crisis, Benedict XVI created a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks. They submitted an eyes-only report to the pope in mid-December, which has not been made public.


It's impossible to confirm whether that report looked into the possibility that people protecting secrets about their sex lives were involved with the leaks, but frankly, it would be surprising if it didn't.


There are certainly compelling reasons to consider the hypothesis. In 2007, a Vatican official was caught by an Italian TV network on hidden camera arranging a date through a gay-oriented chat room, and then taking the young man back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a papal ceremonial officer was caught on a wiretap arranging liaisons through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes played out in full public view, and gave the Vatican a black eye.









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In that context, it would be a little odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that insiders leading a double life might be vulnerable to pressure to betray the pope's confidence. That would apply not just to sex, but also potential conflicts of other sorts too, such as financial interests.


Vatican officials have said Benedict may authorize giving the report to the 116 cardinals who will elect his successor, so they can factor it into their deliberations. The most immediate fallout is that the affair is likely to strengthen the conviction among many cardinals that the next pope has to lead a serious house-cleaning inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.


It seems a stretch, however, to suggest this is the real reason Benedict is leaving. For the most part, one should probably take the pope at his word, that old age and fatigue are the motives for his decision.


That said, it's hard not to suspect that the meltdowns and controversies that have dogged Benedict XVI for the last eight years are in the background of why he's so tired. In 2009, at the height of another frenzy surrounding the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop, Benedict dispatched a plaintive letter to the bishops of the world, voicing hurt for the way he'd been attacked and apologizing for the Vatican's mishandling of the situation.


Even if Benedict didn't resign because of any specific crisis, including this latest one, such anguish must have taken its toll. Benedict is a teaching pope, a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government, yet an enormous share of his time and energy has been consumed trying to put out internal fires.


It's hard to know why Benedict XVI is stepping off the stage, but I doubt it is because of a "gay lobby."


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John L. Allen Jr.






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Analysis: Italian election explained











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances




(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.


Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.


But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.


Why have the elections been called now?


Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.






Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.


MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma


He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.


Who are the candidates?


The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.


READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?


The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.


Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.


The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.


He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."


Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.


At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.


Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.


In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.


Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.


Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.


He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.


Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.


"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."


Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.


As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.


In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.


How will the election be conducted?


Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.


Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.


Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.


Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.


The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.


The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.


Who is likely to be the next prime minister?


On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.


Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.


If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.


Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.


Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."


What are the main issues?


There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.


The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.


Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.


Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."


He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.


But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.


What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?


Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.


Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.


Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?


Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.


Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.


Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.


READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)







Read More..

Analysis: Italian election explained











Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader


Austerity-hit Italy chooses new leader








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back for the fourth time

  • The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11%

  • Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party is expected to narrowly win

  • Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances




(CNN) -- Little more than a year after he resigned in disgrace as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is campaigning to win his old job back -- for the fourth time.


Berlusconi, the septuagenarian playboy billionaire nicknamed "Il Cavaliere," has been trailing in polls behind his center-left rival, Per Luigi Bersani.


But the controversial media tycoon's rise in the polls in recent weeks, combined with widespread public disillusionment and the quirks of Italy's complex electoral system, means that nothing about the race is a foregone conclusion.


Why have the elections been called now?


Italian parliamentarians are elected for five-year terms, with the current one due to end in April. However in December, Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) withdrew its support from the reformist government led by Mario Monti, saying it was pursuing policies that "were too German-centric." Monti subsequently resigned and the parliament was dissolved.






Berlusconi -- the country's longest serving post-war leader -- had resigned the prime ministerial office himself amidst a parliamentary revolt in November 2011. He left at a time of personal and national crisis, as Italy grappled with sovereign debt problems and Berlusconi faced criminal charges of tax fraud, for which he was subsequently convicted. He remains free pending an appeal. He was also embroiled in a scandal involving a young nightclub dancer - which led him to be charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.


MORE: From Venice to bunga bunga: Italy in coma


He was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, who was invited by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to lead a cabinet of unelected technocrats. Monti's government implemented a program of tax rises and austerity measures in an attempt to resolve Italy's economic crisis.


Who are the candidates?


The election is a four-horse race between political coalitions led by Bersani, Berlusconi, Monti, and the anti-establishment movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo. Polls are banned within two weeks of election day, but the most recent ones had Bersani holding onto a slender lead over Berlusconi, followed by Grillo in distant third.


READ MORE: Will Monte Paschi banking scandal throw open Italy's election race?


The center-left alliance is dominated by the Democratic Party, led by Bersani. He is a former Minister of Economic Development in Romano Prodi's government from 2006-8 -- and has held a comfortable lead in polls, but that appears to be gradually being eroded by Berlusconi.


Italy's political system encourages the forming of alliances, and the Democratic Party has teamed with the more left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party.


The 61-year-old Bersani comes across as "bluff and homespun, and that's part of his appeal -- or not, depending on your point of view," said political analyst James Walston, department chair of international relations at the American University of Rome.


He described Bersani, a former communist, as a "revised apparatchik," saying the reform-minded socialist was paradoxically "far more of a free marketeer than even people on the right."


Bersani has vowed to continue with Monti's austerity measures and reforms, albeit with some adjustments, if he wins.


At second place in the polls is the center-right alliance led by Berlusconi's PdL, in coalition with the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League.


Berlusconi has given conflicting signals as to whether he is running for the premiership, indicating that he would seek the job if his coalition won, but contradicting that on other occasions.


In a recent speech, he proposed himself as Economy and Industry Minister, and the PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister.


Roberto Maroni, leader of the Northern League, has said the possibility of Berlusconi becoming prime minister is explicitly ruled out by the electoral pact between the parties, but the former premier has repeatedly said he plays to win, and observers believe he is unlikely to pass up the chance to lead the country again if the opportunity presents itself.


Berlusconi has been campaigning as a Milan court weighs his appeal against a tax fraud conviction, for which he was sentenced to four years in jail last year. The verdict will be delivered after the elections; however, under the Italian legal system, he is entitled to a further appeal in a higher court. Because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire this year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.


He is also facing charges in the prostitution case (and that he tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft) -- and in a third case stands accused of revealing confidential court information relating to an investigation into a bank scandal in 2005.


Despite all this, he retains strong political support from his base.


"Italy is a very forgiving society, it's partly to do with Roman Catholicism," said Walston. "There's sort of a 'live and let live' idea."


Monti, the country's 69-year-old technocrat prime minister, who had never been a politician before he was appointed to lead the government, has entered the fray to lead a centrist coalition committed to continuing his reforms. The alliance includes Monti's Civic Choice for Monti, the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy.


As a "senator for life," Monti is guaranteed a seat in the senate and does not need to run for election himself, but he is hitting the hustings on behalf of his party.


In a climate of widespread public disillusionment with politics, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo is also making gains by capturing the protest vote with his Five Star Movement. Grillo has railed against big business and the corruption of Italy's political establishment, and holds broadly euro-skeptical and pro-environmental positions.


How will the election be conducted?


Italy has a bicameral legislature and a voting system which even many Italians say they find confusing.


Voters will be electing 315 members of the Senate, and 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Both houses hold the same powers, although the Senate is referred to as the upper house.


Under the country's closed-list proportional representation system, each party submits ranked lists of its candidates, and is awarded seats according to the proportion of votes won -- provided it passes a minimum threshold of support.


Seats in the Chamber of Deputies are on a national basis, while seats in the senate are allocated on a regional one.


The party with the most votes are awarded a premium of bonus seats to give them a working majority.


The prime minister needs the support of both houses to govern.


Who is likely to be the next prime minister?


On current polling, Bersani's bloc looks the likely victor in the Chamber of Deputies. But even if he maintains his lead in polls, he could fall short of winning the Senate, because of the rules distributing seats in that house on a regional basis.


Crucial to victory in the Senate is winning the region of Lombardy, the industrial powerhouse of the north of Italy which generates a fifth of the country's wealth and is a traditional support base for Berlusconi. Often compared to the U.S. state of Ohio for the "kingmaker" role it plays in elections, Lombardy has more Senate seats than any other region.


If no bloc succeeds in controlling both houses, the horse-trading begins in search of a broader coalition.


Walston said that a coalition government between the blocs led by Bersani and Monti seemed "almost inevitable," barring something "peculiar" happening in the final stages of the election campaign.


Berlusconi, he predicted, would "get enough votes to cause trouble."


What are the main issues?


There's only really one issue on the agenda at this election.


The eurozone's third largest economy is hurting, with unemployment surpassing 11% -- and hitting 37% for young people.


Voters are weighing the question of whether to continue taking Monti's bitter medicine of higher taxation and austerity measures, while a contentious property tax is also proving a subject of vexed debate.


Walston said the dilemma facing Italians was deciding between "who's going to look after the country better, or who's going to look after my pocket better."


He said it appeared voters held far greater confidence in the ability of Monti and Bersani to fix the economy, while those swayed by appeals to their own finances may be more likely to support Berlusconi.


But he said it appeared that few undecided voters had any faith in Berlusconi's ability to follow through on his pledges, including a recent promise to reverse the property tax.


What are the ramifications of the election for Europe and the wider world?


Improving the fortunes of the world's eighth largest economy is in the interests of Europe, and in turn the global economy.


Italy's woes have alarmed foreign investors. However, financial commentator Nicholas Spiro, managing director of consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says the European Central Bank's bond-buying program has gone a long way to mitigating investors' concerns about the instability of Italian politics.


Why is political instability so endemic to Italy?


Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II -- in large part as a by-product of a system designed to prevent the rise of another dictator.


Parties can be formed and make their way on to the political main stage with relative ease -- as witnessed by the rise of Grillo's Five Star Movement, the protest party which was formed in 2009 but in local and regional elections has even outshone Berlusoni's party at times.


Others point to enduringly strong regional identities as part of the recipe for the country's political fluidity.


READ MORE: Italian Elections 2013: Fame di sapere (hunger for knowledge)







Read More..

What legacy for Hillary on gay rights?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Frida Ghitis: As secretary of state, Clinton made equality for gays a foreign policy value

  • She says treatment of LGBT citizens is a microcosm of a nation's human rights approach

  • She says Clinton used U.S. sway to advance LGBT rights as global standard

  • Ghitis: Clinton gave a boost to human rights for all and nudge to process of freedom




Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns


(CNN) -- As Hillary Clinton makes a whirlwind round of appearances in her last days as secretary of state, one groundbreaking aspect of her work deserves a moment in the spotlight: In a bold departure with tradition, Clinton made the promotion of equality for gay people a core value of U.S. foreign policy.


That is a transformative change, one that advances the cause of human rights around the world -- not just for gays and lesbians, but for everyone.



Frida Ghitis

Frida Ghitis



The way governments treat their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens can tell us much about their overall approach to human rights and democracy. Mistreatment of sexual minorities is a microcosm of greater repression.


Take a look at the gruesome spectacle of young gay men executed by the government of Iran in the streets, for all to see. Or, look at the new anti-gay laws coming into effect in Russia's increasingly authoritarian regime. It is no accident that the growing repression of LGBT Russians coincides with a dramatic deterioration of political freedom and what the nonpartisan Freedom House called "the return of the iron fist in Russia."


It is clear that gays and lesbians are the canaries in the coal mine of human rights. When gays live under pressure, everyone should worry.



That, however, is not how Clinton explained it 14 months ago, when she stood before the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in front of an audience filled with representatives from Arab and African countries, from places where homosexuality is a crime, even one punishable by death, and declared that gay rights and human rights "are one and the same." Gay people, she explained, deserve equality simply because everyone does.


It was Human Rights Day, the commemoration of the signing of the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, and she used the occasion to send a message to the world on behalf of the United States. She declared unequivocally that there is no exception for gay people when it comes to human rights.


Opinion: President Hillary Clinton? If she wants it


She admitted that the U.S. record on human rights for gays and lesbians "is far from perfect." But by proclaiming, without caveat or qualification, the American stance on the issue, she sent a signal to the rest of the world that, while equality for gay people is far from reached, the rightness of the goal is beyond debate, much like it is with equal rights for women or for racial minorities.


In doing this, she announced it was now the official policy of the U.S. government to promote the rights of LGBT people everywhere. Clinton has always been a couple of steps ahead of President Barack Obama when it comes to gay rights. It's a safe bet she persuaded him to jump on board and put the full force of the administration behind this new policy.


In Geneva that day, she announced that the president had instructed all U.S. government agencies working in other countries to "combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct" to help protect vulnerable LGBT, helping refugees and asylum seekers and responding to abuses.






Today, American diplomats, as part of their official mandate and as an explicit tenet of U.S. values, must speak up for the rights of individuals experiencing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, as when a couple were sentenced in Cameroon for "looking" gay.


News: Hillary Clinton talks future 'adventures'


America may be not as influential as it once was, but no country carries more weight; there's not even a close second. America's opinion matters if you want foreign aid or political assistance.


But it matters even more to people on the ground, eager, perhaps desperate to make their case before the authorities, their boss or their family. In the latter case, that it was the popular and respected Hillary Clinton making the argument undoubtedly made a difference on a personal level, even if dictators did not relent.


Clinton also noted that "being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality," and noted nations that have enacted protections for their gay citizens, including South Africa, Colombia and Argentina.


It was a rebuke to that tragicomic moment in 2007, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an audience in New York, "In Iran, we do not have homosexuals like you do in your country," prompting an explosion of laughter from the crowd. Of course, gay people live in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.


America's stance, promoted so passionately by Clinton, is gradually becoming the global standard for human rights.


Under intense lobbying from America, the usually feckless and frequently counterproductive U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a measured entitled "Ending Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," and another supporting equality, important symbols that this is a standard for the entire world.


Clinton moved the issue of equality for members of the LGBT community to the front of America's diplomatic agenda; in the process, she gave a boost to human rights for all and a considerable nudge to the inexorable progress of freedom. Let's hope her successor doesn't let up.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.






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How can U.S. deal with cyber war?




Michael Hayden says lack of domestic agreement is driving U.S. to take the offense on cyber attacks.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Obama administration beefing up effort to counter cyberattacks

  • Michael Hayden says emphasis is on striking first, as the U.S. does with drone attacks

  • Ex-CIA director says drone policy reflects lack of consensus on handling prisoners

  • Hayden: Is killing terrorists preferred because of division over how to try them?




Editor's note: Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was appointed by President George W. Bush as CIA director in 2006 and served until February 2009, is a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm. He serves on the boards of several defense firms and is a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University.


(CNN) -- Human decisions have complex roots: history, circumstance, personality, even chance.


So it's a dangerous game to oversimplify reality, isolate causation and attribute any particular course of action to one or another singular motive.


But let me tempt fate, since some recent government decisions suggest important issues for public discussion.



Michael Hayden

Michael Hayden




Over the past several weeks, press accounts have outlined a series of Obama administration moves dealing with the cyberdefense of the United States.


According to one report, the Department of Defense will add some 4,000 personnel to U.S. Cyber Command, on top of a current base of fewer than a thousand. The command will also pick up a "national defense" mission to protect critical infrastructure by disabling would-be aggressors.


A second report reveals another administration decision, very reminiscent of the Bush Doctrine of preemption, to strike first when there is imminent danger of serious cyberattack against the United States.


Both of these represent dramatic and largely welcome moves.


But they also suggest the failure of a deeper national policy process and, more importantly, the failure to develop national consensus on some very difficult issues.


Chinese military leading cyber attacks


Let me reason by analogy, and in this case the analogy is the program of targeted killings supported and indeed expanded by the Obama administration. Again, I have no legal or moral objections to killing those who threaten us. We are, as the administration rightly holds, in a global state of war with al Qaeda and its affiliates.








But at the level of policy, killing terrorists rather than capturing them seems to be the default option, and part of that dynamic is fairly attributable to our inability to decide where to put a detainee once we have decided to detain him.


Congress won't let him into the United States unless he is going before a criminal court, and the administration will not send him to Guantanamo despite the legitimate claim that a nation at war has the right to detain enemy combatants without trial.


Failing to come to agreement on the implications of the "we are at war" position, we have made it so legally difficult and so politically dangerous to detain anyone that we seem to default to killing those who would do us harm.


Clearly, it's an easier path: no debates over the location or conditions of confinement. Frequently such action can be kept covert. Decision-making is confined to one branch of government. Congress is "notified." Courts are not involved.


Besides, we are powerful. We have technology at our fingertips. We know that we can be precise, and the professionalism of our combatants allows them to easily meet the standards of proportionality and distinction (between combatants and noncombatants) in such strikes, despite claims to the contrary.


And we also believe that we can live with the second and third order effects of targeted killings. We believe that the care we show will set high standards for the use of such weapons by others who will inevitably follow us. We also believe that any long-term blowback (akin to what Gen. Stanley McChrystal calls the image of "arrogance" such strikes create) is more than offset by the immediate effects on America's safety.


I agree with much of the above. But I also fear that the lack of political consensus at home can drive us to routinely exercise an option whose long-term effects are hard to discern. Which brings us back to last week's stories on American cyberdefense.


In the last Congress, there were two prominent bills introduced to strengthen America's cyberdefenses. Neither came close to passing.


In the Senate, the Collins-Lieberman Bill created a near perfect storm with the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Chamber of Commerce weighing in strongly against the legislation. That two such disparate bodies had issues with the legislation should suggest how far we are from a national consensus.


In the House, a modest proposal from the Intelligence Committee to enhance cybersharing between the private sector and the National Security Agency was met with a presidential veto threat over alleged privacy concerns and was never even considered by the Senate.


Indeed, my preferred option -- a more active and well-regulated role for NSA and Cyber Command on and for American networks -- is almost a third rail in the debate over U.S. cybersecurity. The cybertalent and firepower at Fort Meade, where both are headquartered, are on a short leash because few dare to even address what we would ask them to do or what we would permit them to do on domestic networks.


And hence, last week's "decisions." Rather than settle the roles of these institutions by dealing with the tough issues of security and privacy domestically, we have opted for a policy not unlike targeted killing. Rather than opt for the painful process of building consensus at home, we are opting for "killing" threats abroad in their "safe haven."


We appear more willing to preempt perceived threats "over there" than spill the domestic political blood that would be needed to settle questions about standards for the defense of critical infrastructure, the role of government surveillance or even questions of information sharing. And we seem willing to live with the consequences, not unlike those of targeted killings, of the precedent we set with a policy to shoot on warning.


I understand the advantage that accrues to the offense in dealing with terrorists or cyberthreats. I also accept the underlying legality and morality of preemptive drone or cyberstrikes.


I just hope that we don't do either merely because we don't have the courage to face ourselves and make some hard decisions at home.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Hayden.






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Borneo tension linked to rebel deal




A Malaysian policemen mans a security check in the areas where suspected Philippine militants are located in Borneo on Monday.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • More than 100 Filipinos arrived by boat on the Malaysian coast last week

  • They say they represent a sultanate that once ruled the area

  • The move seems to be a response to a recent peace deal in the Philippines

  • The leaders of the sultanate appear to have felt left out of the accord, an expert says




(CNN) -- The peculiar standoff on Borneo between Malaysian security forces and a group of men from the southern Philippines has its roots in a recent landmark peace deal between Manila and Muslim rebels, according to an expert on the region.


More than 100 men from the mainly Muslim southern Philippines came ashore in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo early last week demanding to be recognized as representatives of a sultanate that has historical claims on the area.


Their claims touch on an unresolved territorial question between the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Manila's efforts to improve relations with Islamic insurgents in the country's south after decades of violence.


Malaysian police and armed forces soon surrounded the village in the eastern Sabah district of Lahad Datu where the men had gathered. Police officials said they were negotiating with the group in an effort to persuade its members to return to their homes in the Philippines peacefully.


The Philippine government also urged them to come back to the country, saying it hadn't authorized their voyage. There was no indication of a resolution to the standoff on Monday.


The men claim to be the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu, which once encompassed Sabah, and say they don't want their people to be sent away from the area, Malaysian authorities said. There are conflicting claims about to what extent the men are armed.


Eroded power


Over the weekend, comments appeared in the news media from representatives of the sultanate, whose power is now largely symbolic, saying that their followers who had gone to Sabah planned to stay where they were.


"Nobody will be sent to the Philippines. Sabah is our home," Jamalul Kiram, a member of the sultanate's ruling family, told reporters in Manila on Sunday, according to Agence France-Presse.


The sultanate's claim to Sabah plays a long-standing and important role in the Philippine government's relationship with the country's Muslim minority and with neighboring Malaysia, said Julkipli Wadi, the dean of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines.


Established in the 15th century, the Sultanate of Sulu became an Islamic power center in Southeast Asia that at one point ruled Sabah.


But the encroachment of Western colonial powers, followed by the emergence of the Philippines and Malaysia as independent nation states, steadily eroded the sultanate's power, according to Wadi.


It became "a sultanate without a kingdom" to rule over, he said. Sulu is now a province within the Republic of the Philippines.


But the sultanate has nonetheless retained influence over some people in the southern Philippines and Sabah who still identify themselves with it, according to Wadi.


Excluded from a peace deal


The members of the sultanate's royal family, although riven by internal disputes over who the rightful sultan is today, appear to have felt isolated by the provisional accord signed in October by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has fought for decades to establish an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines.


Malaysia, a mainly Muslim country, helped facilitate the agreement.


Kiram was cited by AFP as saying that the sultanate's exclusion from the deal, which aims to set up a new autonomous region to be administered by Muslims, prompted the decision to send the men to Sabah this month.


Dispatching the boat loads of followers to Lahad Datu served to make the sultanate's presence felt, according to Wadi.


"The whole aim is not to create conflict or initiate war, it is just to position themselves and make governments like Malaysia and the Philippines recognize them," he said.


Historical ties


The economic, cultural and historical links between Sabah and the nearby Philippines islands, as well as the porous nature of the border between the two, means that many of the Filipino men have friends and relatives in Lahad Datu.


But the historical connection still fuels tensions between Malaysia and the Philippines, with Manila retaining a "dormant claim" to Sabah through the Sultanate of Sulu, according to the CIA World Factbook.


According to the official Philippine News Agency, Manila still claims much of the eastern part of Sabah, which was leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878 by the Sultanate of Sulu. In 1963, Britain transferred Sabah to Malaysia, a move that the sultanate claimed was a breach of the 1878 deal.


Malaysia still pays a token rent to the sultanate for the lease of Sabah, according to Wadi.







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