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.


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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Syria war is everybody's problem






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • NEW: United States will give food and medical aid to rebel fighters for the first time

  • NEW: It's not clear how much that aid is worth, but $60 million will go to opposition council

  • NEW: "Behave as a human being," opposition leader urges Syrian president

  • U.S. officials are considering more nonlethal military 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 nearly two-year conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives and laid waste to large portions of the country.


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.


"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 it's being used properly, the senior State Department official said.


Additional aid possible


In addition to the decision to give rebel fighters food and medical supplies, 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 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 Elise Labott also contributed to this report.






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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."


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


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






Read More..

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."


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


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






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Iran plans own response to 'Argo'




(File photo) Argo tells the story of a rescue of U.S. diplomats from revolutionary Iran.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Ben Affleck's "Argo" tells the story of a dramatic rescue of U.S. diplomats from revolutionary Iran

  • Iranian state media criticize the movie as "replete with historical inaccuracies and distortions"

  • Iran's Art Bureau says it will fund its own film about the handing over of 20 U.S. hostages




(CNN) -- Ben Affleck has more than just a couple of Golden Globes to add to his resume.


His movie "Argo," about the suspenseful rescue of U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis, has also achieved the unusual honor of prompting Tehran to produce its own cinematic response.


Opinion: Latino should have played lead in 'Argo'


"Argo" was named best drama movie during the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night in Los Angeles, and Affleck won the award for best director, a category for which he was passed over in the recent Oscar nominations.










But his efforts to recreate on screen the drama of the secret operation by the CIA and Canada to extract six U.S. embassy workers from revolutionary Iran in 1980 haven't been overlooked by Tehran's Art Bureau.


'Argo' recognizes forgotten heroes of Iran hostage saga


It plans to fund a movie entitled "The General Staff," about 20 American hostages who were handed over to the United States by Iranian revolutionaries, according to a report last week by Mehr News, the official Iranian agency.


"This film, which will be a big production, should be an appropriate response to the ahistoric film 'Argo,'" said Ataollah Salmanian, the director of the Iranian film, according to Mehr.


"Argo" claims to be based on a true story rather than to constitute a scrupulous retelling of exactly what took place, and its deviations from reality have been documented.


But Iranian authorities have taken offense at the film's portrayal of the country and its people. "Argo" was officially viewed as "anti-Iranian" following its U.S. release last year, Mehr reported.


Iran's state-run broadcaster Press TV detailed its objections to the film in an online article on Sunday.


"The Iranophobic American movie attempts to describe Iranians as overemotional, irrational, insane, and diabolical while at the same, the CIA agents are represented as heroically patriotic," it complained.


In the movie, in which Affleck plays the lead role, the CIA operation is shown outwitting Iranian authorities through an elaborate plan based on pretending that the U.S. diplomats fleeing the country were part of team scouting locations for an outlandish science-fiction film.


But according to Press TV, the film is "a far cry from a balanced narration" and is "replete with historical inaccuracies and distortions."


On the other hand, "The General Staff," set to begin shooting next year, will be based on eyewitness accounts, Salmanian said.


The Art Bureau, which is to provide the financing, is affiliated with the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, according to Mehr.


Press TV cited Salmanian as saying that his film would depict "the historical event unlike the American version which lacks a proper view of the story."


CNN's Samira Said contributed to this report.






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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."


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


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






Read More..

Can Bersani-Monti work for Italy?











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


  • Bersani wins he may be forced to form a coalition with incumbent PM Mario Monti

  • Center-left leader Bersani says he plans to make the property tax "more progressive"

  • Berlusconi is using his showman charm to mount a comeback for his PDL party




London (CNN) -- Italy's electoral run-off between an ex-communist and a former cruise ship singer threatens to throw the country back into the spotlight of the European debt crisis.


The enigmatic leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, goes head-to-head with scandal-laden former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- back from the political grave following his resignation in November 2011.


Incumbent technocrat premier and eurozone darling Mario Monti, meanwhile, is lagging behind in the polls.


The cigar-chomping Bersani is favorite for Italy's top job and proposes to steer the country's battered economy through a debt crisis that is still plaguing the eurozone three years on.


Following six consecutive quarters of recession and with unemployment at 11.2%, Bersani is pursuing the euro area's latest fad to revive Italy's ailing economy; a pro-growth agenda.








Read more: Can the anti-Berlusconi pull Italy out of the mire?


Such policies are a stark contrast to Monti's cocktail of cuts and taxes served up to woo policymakers in Brussels and Frankfurt.


Read more: Berlusconi renaissance would be 'disaster' for Italian economy


Growth will be the "golden rule" to attract foreign investment, according to Democratic Party number two Enrico Letta. A similar sentiment was key in sweeping socialist French President Francois Hollande into the Elysee Palace in 2012.


But Letta stresses that Bersani will not follow Hollande's lead by proposing a 75% income tax for the country's wealthiest residents.


Read more: Beppe Grillo: Clown prince of Italian politics


Speaking to CNN, Letta said: "It will be different, we already have a very high level of taxation...the main point is not to increase taxes."


Bersani -- who promises to stick to the outgoing government's plans for pension and labor market reform -- will also keep Monti's reviled property tax, known as IMU. It's a policy that Berlusconi pledges to scrap if elected.


In an interview with CNN, Bersani says he plans to make the tax "more progressive" and focus on the owners of large properties if his party wins.


But for all Bersani's talk of change, bond strategist Nicholas Spiro dismisses the 71-year-old as no reformer and says he is "not up to the task" of hauling the Italian economy out of a "knee deep" recession.


Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, says "Bersani could very well go for taxes on the rich, but Italy has a massive tax evasion and compliance problem, that could be difficult."


Can a political marriage survive?


Politics in Italy is complicated and outright victory for any party is unlikely. If Bersani wins he may be forced to form a coalition.


An alliance with the flamboyant center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi is unthinkable -- which leaves Monti the most likely candidate to support a Bersani-lead government.


But Monti is viewed with suspicion Bersani's far-left partners, Left Ecology Freedom, who believe the technocrat would pull a left government too far to the economic right.


If the parties can strike a deal Monti would be offered "an important role" to be discussed "Monday afternoon," Letta told CNN. He refused to say if the technocrat would be appointed finance minister.


Monti, a former European Commissioner in financial services, wields the power to reassure European leaders that Italy is on the right track and can act as a counterbalance to a leftist government.


Bersani, by contrast, is a mystery on the international stage, according to Paola Subacchi, an economist at London-based think tank Chatham House.


"He is not known abroad and he doesn't speak English... But his whole agenda is pro-Europe and pro-euro."


A Bersani-Monti marriage is unlikely to be smooth. The two could clash over unpopular austerity measures implemented by Monti as part of a European agreement.


Filippo Cavazzuti, former Italian senator and economist at the University of Bologna, believes Bersani will be forced to maintain Monti's policies under the European fiscal compact.


He said: "Otherwise Monti leaves [the coalition], the spread [on bond yields] rises and the credibility with the eurozone will immediately disappear."


A coalition agreement is crucial to stifling a power-grab by Italy's political bad boy, Berlusconi, is gaining on Bersani's seemingly unassailable lead in the polls.


Berlusconi is using his showman charm to mount a comeback for his People of Freedom party and holds key regions in Veneto and Lombardy that could prove crucial, particularly in the battle for the Senate.


The election will hand down a "damning verdict" to the policymakers of northern Europe that Italians are fed up with austerity, according to Spiro.


The electoral campaign, Spiro added, has been: "Very ugly, devoid of substance and purely based on personalities."







Read More..

Obama can't kick his legacy down road











By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst


February 20, 2013 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)







President Obama has a small window of opportunity to get Congress to act on his priorities, Gloria Borger says.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Gloria Borger: Prospect of deep budget cuts was designed to compel compromise

  • She says the "unthinkable" cuts now have many supporters

  • The likelihood that cuts may happen shows new level of D.C. dysfunction, she says

  • Borger: President may want a 2014 House victory, but action needed now




(CNN) -- So let's try to recount why we are where we are. In August 2011, Washington was trying to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling -- so the US might continue to pay its bills -- when a stunt was hatched: Kick the can down the road.


And not only kick it down the road, but do it in a way that would eventually force Washington to do its job: Invent a punishment.



Gloria Borger

Gloria Borger



If the politicians failed to come up with some kind of budget deal, the blunt instrument of across-the-board cuts in every area would await.


Unthinkable! Untenable!


Until now.


In fact, something designed to be worse than any conceivable agreement is now completely acceptable to many.



And not only are these forced budget cuts considered acceptable, they're even applauded. Some Republicans figure they'll never find a way to get 5% across-the-board domestic spending cuts like this again, so go for it. And some liberal Democrats likewise say 8% cuts in military spending are better than anything we might get on our own, so go for it.


Opinion: Forced budget cuts a disaster for military


The result: A draconian plan designed to force the two sides to get together has now turned out to be too weak to do that.


And what does that tell us? More about the collapse of the political process than it does about the merits of any budget cuts. Official Washington has completely abdicated responsibility, taking its dysfunction to a new level -- which is really saying something.


We've learned since the election that the second-term president is feeling chipper. With re-election came the power to force Republicans to raise taxes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff negotiations, and good for him. Americans voted, and said that's what they wanted, and so it happened. Even the most sullen Republicans knew that tax fight had been lost.


Points on the board for the White House.






Now the evil "sequester" -- the forced budget cuts -- looms. And the president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.


Politics: Obama more emotional on spending cuts


Here's the problem: The election is over. Obama won, and he doesn't really have to keep telling us -- or showing us, via staged campaign-style events like the one Tuesday in which he used police officers as props while he opposed the forced spending cuts.


What we're waiting for is the plan to translate victory into effective governance.


Sure, there's no doubt the president has the upper hand. He's right to believe that GOP calls for austerity do not constitute a cohesive party platform. He knows that the GOP has no singular, effective leader, and that its message is unformed. And he's probably hoping that the next two years can be used effectively to further undermine the GOP and win back a Democratic majority in the House.


Slight problem: There's plenty of real work to be done, on the budget, on tax reform, on immigration, climate change and guns. A second-term president has a small window of opportunity. And a presidential legacy is not something that can be kicked down the road.


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.











Part of complete coverage on







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Read More..

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.


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Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion


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






Read More..

Borneo tension linked to rebel deal




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.







Read More..

Model: Getting what I don't deserve






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Model Cameron Russell's TED Talk has been viewed more than a million times

  • She says, as winner of "genetic lottery," she has been able to have a modeling career

  • Her looks fit a narrow definition of beauty, she says

  • Russell: I work hard but my modeling career gives my views undeserved attention




Editor's note: Cameron Russell has been a model for brands such as Victoria's Secret, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Benetton and has appeared in the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and W. She spoke at TEDx MidAtlantic in October. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading" which it makes available through talks posted on its website.


(CNN) -- Last month the TEDx talk I gave was posted online. Now it has been viewed over a million times. The talk itself is nothing groundbreaking. It's a couple of stories and observations about working as a model for the last decade.


I gave the talk because I wanted to tell an honest personal narrative of what privilege means.


I wanted to answer questions like how did I become a model. I always just say, " I was scouted," but that means nothing.


The real way that I became a model is that I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy. What do I mean by legacy? Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we're biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it's a legacy that I've been cashing in on.


Some fashionistas may think, "Wait. Naomi. Tyra. Joan Smalls. Liu Wen." But the truth is that in 2007 when an inspired NYU Ph.D. student counted all the models on the runway, of the 677 models hired, only 27, or less than four percent, were non-white.


Usually TED only invites the most accomplished and famous people in the world to give talks. I hoped telling a simple story -- where my only qualification was life experience (not a degree, award, successful business or book) -- could encourage those of us who make media to elevate other personal narratives: the stories of someone like Trayvon Martin, the undocumented worker, the candidate without money for press.



Instead my talk reinforced the observations I highlighted in it: that beauty and femininity and race have made me the candy of mass media, the "once you pop you just can't stop" of news.


In particular it is the barrage of media requests I've had that confirm that how I look and what I do for a living attracts enormous undeserved attention.


Do I want a TV show? Do I want to write a book? Do I want to appear in a movie? Do I want to speak to CNN, NBC, NPR, the Times of India, Cosmo, this blogger and that journal? Do I want to speak at this high school, at that college, at Harvard Law School or at other conferences?


TED.com: A teen just trying to figure it out



I am not a uniquely accomplished 25-year-old. I've modeled for 10 years and I took six years to finish my undergraduate degree part-time, graduating this past June with honors from Columbia University. If I ever had needed to put together a CV it would be quite short. Like many young people I'd highlight my desire to work hard.


But hard work is not why I have been successful as a model. I'm not saying I'm lazy. But the most important part of my job is to show up with a 23-inch waist, looking young, feminine and white. This shouldn't really shock anyone. Models are chosen solely based on looks. But what was shocking to me is that when I spoke, the way I look catapulted what I had to say on to the front page.


Even if I did give a good talk, is what I have to say more important and interesting than what Colin Powell said? (He spoke at the same event and his talk has about a quarter of the view count.)




TED.com: Isaac Mizrahi on fashion and creativity


Like many young people I believe I have potential to make a positive impact in the world. But if I speak from a platform that relies on how I look, I worry that I will not have made room for anyone else to come after me. I will have reinforced that beauty and race and privilege get you a news story. The schoolteacher without adequate support, the domestic worker without rights, they won't be up there with me.


So what do I do? I am being handed press when good press for important issues is hard to come by. These outlets are the same outlets that spent two years not reporting a new drone base in Saudi Arabia while press in the UK covered it.


They are the same organizations that have forgotten New Orleans and forgotten to follow up on contractors who aren't fulfilling their responsibilities there -- important not only for the people of NOLA, but also for setting a precedent for the victims of Sandy, and of the many storms to come whose frequency and severity will rise as our climate changes.


TED. com: Amy Tan on where creativity hides


Should I tell stories like these instead of my own? I don't feel like I have the authority or experience to do so.


How can we change this cycle? The rise of the Internet and the camera phone have started to change what stories are accessible. And we now have the ability to build more participatory media structures. The Internet often comes up with good answers to difficult questions. So I ask: How can we build media platforms accessible to a diversity of content creators?


On a personal note, what should I talk about? Do I refuse these offers outright because of my lack of experience, because I'm not the right person to tell the stories that are missing from the media? Can I figure out a way to leverage my access to bring new voices into the conversation? Right now I'm cautiously accepting a few requests and figuring out what it all means.


I'm listening, tweet me @cameroncrussell


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Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cameron Russell.






Read More..

Pope's resignation 'shows leadership'











By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor


February 16, 2013 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)




















Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes


Longest-reigning popes








STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Pope Benedict stuns world by announcing he will resign

  • Roland Martin says it's a wise decision for a leader to step down when his powers fail

  • He says a mark of a good leader is the care he takes about the institution he is leaving

  • Martin: Too many in power try to hang on after they are no longer capable




Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."


(CNN) -- When Thurgood Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1991, a reporter asked him what were the medical reasons that contributed to his leaving the bench -- and its lifetime appointment -- after serving for nearly 25 years. He was his usual blunt self.



"What's wrong with me?" Marshall said at the packed news conference. "I'm old. I'm getting old and falling apart."



When the news broke this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics because of his concerns about being able to do the job, many began to speculate that there were other reasons for the decision.




Roland Martin

Roland Martin



We have become accustomed to a pope dying in office. That's not a surprise. It has been nearly 600 years since the last pope, Gregory XII, quit in 1415.



Even though the job of pope is a lifetime appointment, frankly, it is selfish of any individual to hold on to the job for dear life, knowing full well they don't have the capacity to do the job.




"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," according to a statement from Pope Benedict released by the Vatican.



Whether we want to be honest or not, it was sad to watch the decline of Pope John Paul II. He was a vibrant figure when he became pope in 1978, traveling the world and spreading the gospel to anyone who would listen. But toward the end of his life in 2005, he was barely able to move or talk, clearly worn down by significant health challenges.



Any leader who respects the organization they serve should have the common sense to know when it's time to say goodbye. We've seen countless examples of CEOs, pastors, politicians and others hang on and on to a position of power, hurting the very people they were elected or chosen to serve.



It takes considerable courage for anyone to step away from the power bestowed upon them by a position, as well as the trappings that come with it.



I'll leave it to others to try to figure out other reasons behind the resignation. But we should at least acknowledge the value of an ego-less decision that reflects humility and concern about the very institution the pope pledged his life to.



All leaders should be concerned about their institution continuing to grow and thrive once their days are no more. That's why a proper succession plan is vitally important.


Too often we have assessed great leaders by what they did in their positions. But their final legacy really is defined by how they left a place.



Pope Benedict XVI knows full well the Catholic Church cannot grow and prosper if its leader is limited in traveling and attending to his flock. There comes a time when one chapter must end and another begins. He has more days behind him than in front of him. He should enjoy his last years in peace and tranquility, without having to worry about trying to do the work designed for a younger man.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.











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