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The shameful U.S. gay rights vote

As Becky wrote, the fact that Obama picked Rick Warren, America's most popular preacher, to speak at his innauguration shouldn't be all that surprising and probably doesn't say much about his stance on any issues. That said, the anger of gay rights groups at the pick means that Obama is now under more pressure to actually do something meaningful for gay rights as president. One place he could start would be reversing the United States' deplorable decision last week to vote against a historic UN resolution to decriminalize homosexuality.

The resolution was a non-binding declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The Bush administration opposed the measure on the grounds that it could overturn states' decisions on issues like gay marriage. One wonders if they need a refresher on what "non-binding" means.

Joining the United States in opposition were Russia, China, the Vatican, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The latter group claimed that the resolution would lead to the legalization of pedophilia and also tried last week to have sexual orientation removed from a list of unacceptable reasons for summary execution.

The resolution doesn't have the force of law anywhere, but as UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg writes, previous agreements on women's rights show that "in the long run these kinds of resolutions do help to foster the genesis of new legal norms and new human rights."

If Obama wants to do something to assure his gay and lesbian supporters that he doesn't plan to sell them out, this is an easy one.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Belgian government collapses for a new reason

For much of late 2007, Belgium looked like it was on the verge of being split in two as Flemish and Wallonian politicians struggled to form a government that would preserve national unity. At one point, erstwhile Prime Minister Yves Leterme even said that there was nothing holding the country together but "the king, the football team, some beers."

Now, Leterme has been forced to step down, along with his entire government, not because of nationalist sentiment, but because of an old-fashioned banking scandal. Leterme and his ministers are accused of applying undue pressure to push through a bargain-basement sale of Belgium's partially-nationalized bank Fortis to the French bank BNP Paribas, at the expense of Belgian workers and shareholders. King Albert is now struggling to find a prime minister who is both untainted by "Fortisgate" and capable of keeping the fragile Flemish-Walloon coalition intact. No easy task.

The financial crisis and government responses seem to be having interesting effects on nationalist sentiment in Europe. In Scotland, nationalist parties saw their cause set way back by the UK government's massive bailouts of Scottish banks, which made the idea of Scottish self-sufficiency look patently ridiculous. In Belgium, it seems like Flemish nationalists could be emboldened by the central government's failure and will likely continue to make the case that the poorer French-speaking Wallonia is a drag on the national economy. This could make keeping the place intact all the more challenging.