Proposition 8's defeat in California isn't the only thing making headlines for the gay rights movement as of late. According to the Washington Post, gay Mexican citizens who seek asylum in the United States are facing an increasingly uphill battle. Changes to the general asylum policy and a few rejected cases have resulted in what many fear is the end of a practice that provided safety for dozens since the mid-1990s.
Persecution based on sexuality, in a country where machismo and conservative Catholic ideals run deep, once made a strong enough case for gay Mexicans seeking refuge up north. But liberalized laws on homosexuality and an increase in gay pride efforts have made the case a harder sell. Mexico City now recognizes civil unions, and the city's gay pride parade draws more than a million people each year.
So why should the United States leave open the possibility of asylum? Despite the gains, negative attitudes in Mexico about homosexuality persist, leading to workplace discrimination and brutality against gays. Between 1995 and 2006, more than 1,200 Mexicans were killed because of their sexual orientation. And for all the good they might have done for the country's gay rights movement, liberalized laws have provoked a backlash from homophobic parts of society -- including some members of the Mexican police force.
Another reason to leave the asylum option? Consider the impact these homophobic attitudes and actions have on the spread of HIV/AIDS. Men who have sex with men in Mexico are over 100 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. Says Martin Martinez Sanchez, a Mexico City hospital employee, of gay men in the capital city:
They have sexual encounters in clandestine areas, and in parts of the city that are just horrible and dangerous... Later they go home and have unprotected sex with their wives. Many gays feel they have to have a wife for appearances."
For many, asylum might not just mean escaping discrimination -- it can mean a lifeline to better care. Mexico's routine medication shortages mean inconsistent treatment for the disease, which usually requires daily pill dosages. As long as prevention and treatment measures for AIDS lag, the United States ought to think twice before closing its doors.
Still think the global credit crunch is all about the TED spread and collateralized debt obligations? Think harder. Export-bound grain has started piling up in Canada as sellers have begun refusing to trust the credit lines and financial institutions linked to their foreign buyers.
The problem is that Canada's export cargoes don't get loaded until buyers can prove their ability to pay -- proof that has been increasingly hard to come by in the wake of bank defaults and shrinking credit markets worldwide. Unable to get credit lines, many buyers have left the grain market, generating big losses for Canadian shippers. Add to this the greater costs that shippers now shoulder because of delayed payments, and the picture starts looking pretty bleak.
And Canada isn't the only country suffering from the crunch. U.S. and South American shippers are taking even harder hits. Los Angeles and Long Beach -- home to two of the biggest ports in the United States -- have already seen a 9 percent drop in imports this year. Global shipping rates are down 74 percent from last May.
With 90 percent of the world's trade in goods going by ship, credit access is key to trade's survival. It's also key to investment in product development, which surely will fall as manufacturers face greater declines in profits. Moldy grain looks like small peanuts by comparison, but don't tell that to Canadian shippers. Grain is their country's biggest agricultural export.
Felipe Calderón has finally earned his wings.
This week's trip to New York for the U.N. General Assembly marks the first time the Mexican president has been able to use his presidential jet without getting congressional approval, a task that has proven tough at times for Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who saw planned trips to Canada, the United States, Vietnam, and Australia nixed back when he was in office.
Although Calderón has been able to fly problem-free to more than 25 countries in the past 20 months, his relationship with Mexico's Congress -- where his party is in the minority -- hasn't been rosy. The president's razor-thin victory in 2006 put him at odds with opposition lawmakers from day one, and a recent frenzy of drug-related killings in Mexico hasn't made him the most popular leader around. Things are so bad that, earlier this month, he got approval to give his annual address to Congress as a document rather than having to enter the chambers and give it as a speech.
Perhaps the new jet rules are a conciliatory move on Congress's part to help Calderón boost Mexico's image overseas, which certainly hasn't been improved by the recent crime wave or by falling oil production. Now, at least poor Felipe won't have to feel like a kid asking his parents for permission to play down the street. That's got to be pretty demoralizing for a president.
The drug wars in Mexico have sunk to a new low.
Yesterday, a gang of hooded gunmen shot eight patients to death and wounded six others at a rehab center in Ciudad Juárez in what looks like part of a drug-gang feud in the cartel-ridden city. The gunmen reportedly stormed the center (during a Wednesday night prayer service, no less), then picked out their victims and took them to the back patio to be shot. The gunmen then opened fire inside the rehab center, leaving behind 60 shell casings.
These shootings bring the city's total of drug-related killings to a whopping 40 -- for just this week. A major drug transit point, the border city has always run rampant with cartels and crime. But the recent outbreak of murders and kidnappings is something new. So far this year, Ciudad Juárez's murder toll sits just below 800, most of them drug-related.
Things don't look too good for Felipe Calderon, who vowed to crack down on Mexico's drug traffickers at the beginning of his term. This year's wave of violence might just be a reaction to his stepped-up efforts to combat crime, but the Mexican president has some house-cleaning to do. Just today, six members of the government's top organized crime unit were arrested for supposedly leaking information to drug traffickers.
With Mexico still awaiting some $400 million in U.S. drug-war aid, Calderon better step up his efforts to kick out the bad guys soon.
Protesters just can't win in China these days. Now, even those who have requested official permission to protest in Beijing are being arrested, including a handful of citizens upset about having their homes destroyed in preparation for the big games. One would-be demonstrator, Zhang Wei, was even given a sentence of 30 days after repeatedly applying to protest about her forced home eviction.
Given the nature of the protest application process, it's not surprising that the three city parks "designated" as protest zones (and patrolled daily by police) have remained pretty quiet. Two, in fact -- Shije "World" Park (shown above in June) and Ritan Park -- have reportedly remained 100 percent protest-free since the opening ceremonies.
It all makes the words of Wang Wei, the Beijing Olympic Committee's executive vice president, sound pretty empty. Here are his comments from today's press conference in Beijing on press freedom:
[T]he Olympic Games coming to China will help China to open up further and to reform."
Tell it to Zhang Wei.
It's time to get your (Smart)bike on in D.C.
The long-awaited bike-rental program kicks off this week in Washington, which joins the ranks of Barcelona and Paris as a leader in promoting ecofriendly transportation. Washington's program is less ambitious than its European counterparts -- with just 120 bikes to Paris's 20,000 -- but Jim Sebastian, bike and pedestrian program manager for the D.C. Transportation Department, expects the Smartbikes to be a big hit:
It's really going to be replacing cab rides and car trips for a lot of folks looking to get around the city quickly... Plus they won't have to worry about parking."
An annual fee of $40 gets riders a program membership card and up to three hours' use of a SmartBike. There's no limit on the total number of daily trips, so riders could theoretically tool around all day on the cherry-red cycles.
No matter how long riders use the bikes, though, the city hopes they'll be safe: Each SmartBike member gets a safe-cycling guide, a bike map of the district, and a manual outlining D.C.'s cycling laws. The program doesn't provide helmets, but Sebastian does encourage riders to wear their own.
Riders will also have to provide their own locks, at least for the time being, which might pose potential problems of theft and vandalism (something Paris knows about). Still, the real litmus test will be how much use the program gets in its first few weeks. D.C.'s unseasonably mild August might spur some people to try the bikes. I'm tempted to give it a try this afternoon, if the weather holds.
Beach volleyball isn't the only event giving Russia fits in Beijing.
More than a few Russian Olympians have faltered in competition and come up well short of national medal expectations. In fact, it wasn't until today that Russia captured its first gold medals of these games, with both Nazyr Mankiev and Islam-Beka Albiev taking top honors in Greco-Roman wrestling. Adding those two golds, Russia's medal count now totals 12, which still leaves it far behind China (27) and the United States (29) -- and pretty unlikely to reach its goal of 80 medals by the games' end.
One Russian who failed to medal was 20-year-old weightlifter Svetlana Tsarukaeva (left), who added insult to injury by banging her head on the door frame as she exited the competition. Anastasia Zueva, favored for the silver in the 100m backstroke, came in a distant fifth.
Most surprising, though, are the number of setbacks in sports that are typically Russia's strengths, including gymnastics (the men's team finished a dismal sixth) and tennis (Maria Sharapova dropped out, and third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova lost in an early round).
So what gives, Russia? It could be that the team is still shaken after five of its members -- including a discus champ and former world-record holding hammer thrower -- were suspended for reportedly trying to cheat on their drug tests. A lack of trainers could also be to blame.
Of course, some might attribute the lackluster showing to bad karma from the Georgia conflict. At least the Russian and Georgian (er, Brazilian?) beach volleyball players put the affair aside, embracing before their match.
In any case, it looks like luck is currently on Georgia's side. As of about 30 minutes ago, the country just won its first gold of the Beijing Games, thanks to Greco-Roman wrestler Manuchar Kvirkelia.
As if Georgia didn't have enough to deal with, yesterday the country's cities and transportation routes completely disappeared from Google Maps. Reportedly wanting to keep its cyber territory conflict-neutral, Google removed all of Georgia's details from its maps, making the war-torn nation look like a ghostly white blob flanked by Russia and Turkey. Georgia, though, isn't the only country going blank on Google: neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan--who have their own ongoing terrorital dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region--are coming up empty too.
Some online commenters speculate that the allegiances of Google's Russian-born co-founder Sergey Brin might have something to do with Georgia's disappearance. That's pretty doubtful, but it's possible that Google doesn't want their software used for military purposes.
But Google has helped out Georgia in one major way, providing (albeit "involuntarily") Georgian sites with a "cyber-refuge" from Russian hackers. News service Civil Georgia as well as the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have started using the Google-owned site Blogger to post updates and press releases on the conflict.
Update: Google denies that it has made any changes to the map:
“We do not have local data for those countries and that is why local details such as landmarks and cities do not appear.”
Looks like we may have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves, though as NYT's Miguel Helf notes, Google does seem to have plenty of "local data" about Georgia in its Google Earth program.
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