Latin America weighs odds of claiming the next pope

Feb 11, 2013 21:26 UTC

If the Vatican chose the next pope based on demographics, there would be a clear regional frontrunner. Forty-two percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday could be an opportunity for the Holy See to elect its first non-European pope.

Media organizations in several Latin American countries are focusing their attention on possible home-grown candidates. Yet, as this article by my colleagues at Reuters notes, the most likely candidates for the papacy from Latin America are from Brazil and Argentina:

“If the next conclave really is Latin America’s turn, the leading candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of São Paolo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.”

Here’s what the local media in Brazil and Argentina are saying about Scherer and Sandri.

Sergio Rubin, religion editor for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, points out that Catholicism in Europe is “practically retreating” while it flourishes in Latin America and Africa (translation mine). Rubin suggests Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Sandri as possible candidates from Argentina, but notes that 76-year-old Bergoglio has physical limitations that could interfere with his work.  Sandri was “the voice of Pope John Paul II when he passed away,” Rubin writes. Rubin also thinks he’s physically up to snuff: “He’s in good health and an ideal age: 70 years old.” (Translations mine).

In North Carolina, fracking rights rise to surface

Feb 8, 2013 17:12 UTC

A natural gas pipeline is seen under construction near East Smithfield in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Les Stone

Three years ago, Vince and Jeanne Rhea found the house of their dreams in Shirley, Arkansas. They couldn’t believe the deal: 40 acres complete with a separate workshop that Jeanne could use as an art studio and two nearby lakes. It was also thousands of dollars cheaper than a property of that quality should have been. They booked a plane ticket from Raleigh, North Carolina that day to fly down and buy it.

When they got to Arkansas, they found out why it was so cheap.

The owner of the house had recently sold the mineral rights under the property to a natural gas company for use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that is opening new areas across the country for energy exploration. The front page of the local newspaper that day had a story about problems in the water supply and was advising residents not to bathe, Jeanne recalled. “There was no way we were making an offer after that,” she said.

Amid Syrian refugee flood, aid workers grapple with a new set of problems

Feb 7, 2013 18:57 UTC

A recent report on Syria’s growing refugee crisis showed the extent to which fears of sexual violence are driving women out of the warn-torn country.

But the trail of gender-based violence and abuse also follows women out of Syria to camps, where they are also vulnerable, even under the watch of aid organizations.

As the crisis continues, more women are taking refuge in towns and villages, where they are difficult to account for, aid workers say, making it particularly challenging to provide care and protection.

Attacking obesity, one can at a time

Feb 6, 2013 21:34 UTC

 ”For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together. Today, we’d like people to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity.”

REUTERS/Mike Blake

So opens a new commercial from Coca-Cola, which goes on to tout the company’s 180 low and no-calorie beverage options (roughly 27% of Coke’s 650+ beverage portfolio) and claims an overall reduction of 22% in the average number of calories per serving for Coca-Cola’s U.S. beverage products since 1997.

Unconvinced by the soda maker’s claims to nutritional progress, health advocates took Coke to task.

Brennan’s confirmation and where CIA drones go from here

Feb 6, 2013 19:09 UTC

If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA’s future role.

Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.

The effectiveness of the targeted killings remains unknown, and critics say the drone program serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda because it embitters local populations whose neighbors have been killed by drones.

Russia’s press freedom score back down after crackdown

Jan 31, 2013 15:36 UTC

Russia has had a busy year clamping down on dissent, and now the Kremlin’s got something to show for it. The international non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on Wednesday, knocking six points from Russia’s 2012 score and ranking the country 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting media freedom.

According to the report, an “unprecedented” number of protests following Vladimir Putin’s return to a third term as president prompted Russia to respond by introducing more repressive measures. Let’s take a quick look at where Russia lost points. The report first provides context for the government’s response:

“Opposition protests on an unprecedented scale showed civil society to be more vocal than ever.”

Motor City poster boy Lutz touts horsepower — and hybrids

Paul Lienert
Jan 18, 2013 20:11 UTC

DETROIT – Is Bob Lutz the poster boy for the 2013 Detroit auto show?

This year’s event, like Lutz, seems like a throwback to an earlier era. And, like Lutz, is rife with contradiction.

Where Detroit shows in recent years have exhibited a heavy green theme, electric and hybrid vehicles seem almost like an afterthought at this year’s event – a reflection perhaps of the public’s ambivalence toward green cars.

In an abrupt departure, this year’s event instead showcases a clutch of new luxury and performance models that appear to fly in the face of energy and environmental conservation.

Mali and the Afghanistan comparison

Jan 17, 2013 18:31 UTC
A Malian soldie

A Malian soldier stands guard as Mali’s President Dioncounda Traore visits French troops at an air base in Bamako, Mali January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

The French intervention in Mali this week raises the specter of another first-world nation’s rather recent mission to weed out Islamic militants. As France’s jets pummel the desert and its troops face ground battles against al Qaeda-linked rebels, a troubling analogy has presented itself in media reports and analyses: Will Mali become France’s Afghanistan?

France’s mission in Mali is to prevent the Sahel region from becoming a terrorist planning and training ground, particularly for al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM. The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera explains the situation in terms of the conditions in Afghanistan before the U.S. intervention in 2001.

Newtown’s community struggles to understand one of its own

Dec 17, 2012 14:08 UTC

This column was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT – The word “community” is overused. It is even the title of a television sitcom. But in the context of Newtown – the Connecticut town of 27,000 that I’ve known as home since 1969 – it is authentic. Yet from within our midst came Adam Lanza, now a murderer of 20 innocent local children, six of their dedicated teachers, and his own mother.

Today the world is focused on our heretofore-bucolic slice of America. As the international media’s satellite dishes sprout and their choppers descend to dissect the shooting and the shooter, Newtown is mostly presented as either an affluent suburb of New York or a picture-perfect New England hamlet with old-timey colonial houses, horse farms and a historic Main Street.

Neither characterization does it justice. To live here is to know why, after two decades of global wandering, I returned eight years ago to raise my family.

Why Chavez keeps his cancer under wraps

Dec 14, 2012 21:56 UTC

Military personnel attend a mass to pray for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Six presidents from five different countries in Latin America have been diagnosed with cancer over the past few years. Yet Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez stands apart from the others, keeping details about his health shrouded in secrecy. His neighbors in the region have announced their diagnoses and treatments, stamping out speculation and allowing media coverage to get on with it. Both critics and supporters of Chavez, whose idea of medical updates has included declaring himself “completely cured” twice, claim his illness has been used for political gain. However, Chavez’s reluctance to share information about his cancer is hardly unique for a leader poor in both health and transparency.

Presidents from Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Colombia reconciled their illnesses with public concern by disclosing details about their cancers. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff battled lymphoma while campaigning for president, while former Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva allowed journalists to photograph him shaving his head and beard before chemotherapy for throat cancer. Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo kept the public updated after the he was diagnosed with lymphoma while president, ultimately declaring the cancer to be in remission a year later. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez announced the date of her surgery to remove her thyroid gland in early 2012, offering details of her treatment (which turned out to be for naught when a post-operative examination revealed she did not have cancer in the first place). Most recently, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced he had prostate cancer halfway through his presidential term and ahead of politically-sensitive peace talks with the FARC. As with the other leaders, Santos openly discussed his recovery with reporters. These leaders kept voters abreast of developments in their treatment despite the possibility of casting doubt on their political careers.