By The Associated Press
2014-02-06 03:22 AM
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Los Angeles Times on making homophobia legal in Africa:
A disturbing new law in Nigeria establishes sweeping restrictions on homosexuality and has already led to dozens of arrests.
Even before the law went into effect, it was illegal to engage in same-sex relations. But the new law goes further, prohibiting civil unions and same-sex marriages and threatening to slap a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who officiates at such a marriage. The law bans public displays of affection between people of the same sex, outlaws gay support organizations and makes it illegal for gay groups to meet. In a country with the world's third-largest number of people living with HIV or AIDS, the law could put serious obstacles in the way of health groups doing outreach to gay populations and possibly even outlaw programs providing education on HIV prevention.
As U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, rarely has there been legislation "that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights."
Africa is notoriously homophobic; 38 countries on the continent ban same-sex relations. Many of those bans are based on colonial-era sodomy laws, while others derive their authority from Islamic law or other religious and socially conservative ideologies. The initial version of Uganda's infamous anti-gay bill -- which was not ultimately enacted -- would have authorized the death penalty for some repeat offenders.
But Africa is not alone. Less draconian but still unjustifiable is the Russian ban on giving "propaganda" (otherwise known as information) about gay relationships to minors. In advance of the Olympics, President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure gays and lesbians that they were welcome in the country by saying they had nothing to fear as long as they left children alone -- as if being gay meant being a predator.
Such laws violate human rights. But it is worth noting that state sodomy laws were still enforceable in the U.S. as recently as 2003, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Lawrence vs. Texas. And only in the last decade has U.S. public opinion shifted from disapproving of gay marriage to supporting it. Ironically -- and shamefully -- some conservative evangelical Christians who lost ground with their anti-gay gospel here have exported it to African countries, including Uganda.
No one has the moral high ground. Every country must work harder to create tolerant societies that respect the rights of all.
Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on the U.S. and Europe have an opportunity to mitigate the Kremlin's bullying of Ukraine:
Russian President Vladimir Putin must be understandably tense about now. The Winter Olympics, on which he has staked his government's prestige and $51 billion of its money, are about to begin in a locale notable for its proximity to an area infested by terrorists who have vowed to disrupt the games.
Longer term, his plans to haul Ukraine back into the Russian orbit show signs of unraveling. Last fall, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was on the verge of signing a political and economic deal with the European Union, one that had considerable popular support. At the last second, he reneged after Russia threatened economic reprisals if Yanukovych signed. Yanukovych caved, and his countrymen took to the streets in their thousands. A heavy-handed attempt at a crackdown only riled the protesters, further causing them to up their demands. Putin's Kremlin postponed indefinitely the next installment of a $15 billion aid package, slowed Ukraine's exports to Russia, its largest trading partner, to a crawl and threatened to cut off its natural gas supplies.
The European Union has an opportunity here, but only if it acts fast and acts big with the United States promising monetary and moral support while staying in the background. Secretary of State John Kerry did meet over the weekend with protest leaders. Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign policy chief, has promised financial aid to Ukraine that "won't be small." The European Union, with U.S. help, must make good on its promise of aid and commit to make up for any trade sanctions the Russians impose. The West has a rare opportunity to be of genuine help to a country that has been treated badly by history and even worse by the Kremlin.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Philip Seymour Hoffman:
When the curtain finally fell on the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the American actor whose talent outshone his sleepy looks, tousled hair and rumpled clothes, it was a matter of sorrow but not surprise.
The Academy Award winner had said as far back as in 2006 that he had gone to rehab when he was just 22, after persistent drug and alcohol abuse as a college student. In that candid interview, Hoffman, then 38, had admitted that he used to abuse anything he could get his hands on, liking it all.
So on Sunday when he was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment and investigators discovered 70 caches of heroin as well as prescription drugs, the conclusion was inevitable that he had died of a drug overdose.
Hoffman was known for his stellar performance in films like Capote, which won him the Oscar for best actor, Charlie Wilson's War, and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. With his death, the 46-year-old joins the list of stars like Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson whose personal demons proved stronger than all the fame, riches and adulation they had attained.
Hoffman's exit once again triggers the wonder that all such deaths do. What drives men and women, who have everything the average man and woman would die to possess, to self-destruction? Some, when they chase the slippery and fiercely competitive path to showbiz success, seek help in substance abuse for courage, stamina, wish fulfillment, or whatever it is that they search for in the early stages of their career. Some do it in a spirit of adventurous experimentation, some because it is regarded as an essential prop for the artistic and performers, from painters to athletes. However once embraced, drugs and alcohol become an indispensable need and few have the will power or ability to let go of them. And the result is inevitably tragedy, a colossal waste of talent and life.
Hoffman's death comes a month after the US state of Colorado legalized the sale of cannabis for recreational use. Though there are restrictions on the sale -- the buyer has to be 21 or above and the drug can't be consumed in public -- there are reservations about the state move. Critics are apprehensive that the drug, freely available, will cause psychiatric problems, especially among the young. The persistent spate of Hoffmans requires greater soul-searching by a society that despite being the largest economy in the world seems to carry an enormous burden of trauma, need and frustration.
Expectations were low for the first round of Syrian peace talks, which convened in Montreaux, Switzerland, last month, and those expectations were met. A week of negotiations began in controversy, preceded in only the most formal of terms, then, after marking some small progress, concluded with a whimper, with a second round uncertain.
It says a great deal that negotiators consider the willingness of both sides to be in the same room at the same time an accomplishment. The danger now is that the Syrian government will use formal negotiations as cover while stepping up its assaults on the rebels. The world must demand that Damascus be held accountable for its actions, even as -- or if -- talks proceed.
An extraordinarily bloody civil war has raged in Syria for more than two years. More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed, and as many as 6 million people -- nearly a third of the population -- have become refugees.
The violence has been indiscriminate with civilians frequently targeted. There is, without question, great indifference to the victims of attacks and the damage that is being done. There is dispute over who was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, as civilians, rebels and government soldiers alike have fallen victim to them. What's indisputable is the fact that the Assad government possessed a large chemical weapons arsenal.
Syrian government intransigence is a large part of the problem. Assad's negotiators insist that the opposition to his regime is a terrorist insurgency and they hope the repetition of that term will win the world over to their position. With Moscow and Tehran in his corner, Assad can hold out indefinitely.
While the rebels have Western international opinion on their side, they are divided and their negotiators unskilled. Worse, they lack the weapons and material support to counter the government's offensive against them. As a result, Damascus has every incentive for dragging out the talks, hoping to create facts on the ground as the rebels demonstrate their diplomatic incompetence.
The world cannot allow the Assad government to stall at the table while it steps up military action. The international community should let him know that its patience has limits.
Anniston (Alabama) Star on Coca-Cola's Super Bowl commercial:
Social media was aflame with conservatives red-hot over a Super Bowl ad by Coca-Cola.
A rendition of "America the Beautiful" sung in multiple languages and featuring a culturally diverse group of Americans inspired anger and threats of a boycott from the right.
A couple of reactions:
-- Coca-Cola is in the business of selling soft drinks to consumers across the globe. It doesn't take its marketing lightly, carefully honing ads to appeal to the widest audience possible. If a Coke ad leaves a viewer unhappy, there's a good chance he or she is on the wrong side of history.
-- This overheated response sheds light on why Republicans have had difficulty creating an immigration policy. Demographics and changing public attitudes lead in one direction while a hard-core conservative wing of the nation that mostly votes with the Republican Party refuses to budge.
-- Health experts tell us increased consumption of sugary drinks is a leading contributor to the U.S. obesity crisis. We note with some irony that a boycott -- as ill-considered and unproductive as it might be -- could make the nation healthier.