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Italy Sees an LGBTQ Hate Crime Up Close. Will It Help Change the Law?

Emanuele Cremaschi/GettyROME—The week the Vatican announced it could not bless same-sex unions because they were “sinful,” 24-year-old Jean Pierre Moreno was feeling disheartened. The activist and member of the advocacy group Gaynet Roma had come to Italy from his native Nicaragua two years earlier in part because, as a gay man, he was discriminated against there. As a Catholic, he said the Vatican news disappointed him, but at least in Italy he says he felt safe.Then, on Feb. 26, all of that changed. Moreno and his companion Alfredo Zenobio were waiting at a Roman subway stop when they shared a warm embrace and a kiss—something anyone who uses Roman public transportation can attest is a regular occurrence among straight couples. Then they heard a man waiting for the train in the other direction yell in Italian, “Non vi vergognate?” (Aren’t you ashamed?”) Morena says he yelled back, “Cosa te ne importa?” (“What do you care?”)Italy’s Gay Rights Showdown with the VaticanA few minutes later, the man illegally traversed the subway tracks and jumped up on the platform where the young men were, then punched Moreno in the face and started kicking and hitting them, yelling obscenities. A friend who was with them filmed the whole thing. They took the film to the police, who eventually checked the subway surveillance camera a week after the attack, but by then the tapes had been recorded over.“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Moreno said on an Italian television program after Gaynet shared the video on their website. “Alfredo and I exchanged a kiss and the man on the other side began to insult us.” The two men tried to defend themselves and the man eventually stopped and skipped back over the tracks and got on the first train in the opposite direction. The 31-year-old man, whose name has not been released, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with assault. “I thought I could live peacefully in Rome, where I also found a job,” Moreno said. “But things like this can happen here too.”The filmed attack, by now viral around the world, has reignited fierce debate in Italy, which is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have legislation against LGBTQ hate crimes, albeit not for a lack of trying. There is currently a bill called the Zan Law that has been stalled in the upper house of parliament—and not even yet scheduled for debate— after passing through the lower house of parliament last November. The bill is wide-ranging, covering hate crimes against LGBTQ people, disabled people, and women. Until now, the leader of the far-right Lega party, Matteo Salvini, has successfully kept it off the calendar. Salvini, when interior minister, ordered birth certificates be reworded to show mother and father after the previous liberal minister changed them from parent 1 and parent 2, and is staunchly anti-immigrant. He said the attack on the young men should “not be exploited for political means.”Alessandro Valera is the founder of Ashoka Italia, a network of social innovators, and a member of Famiglie Arcobaleno (Rainbow Families), the national association of same-sex parents. He told The Daily Beast that it would be sufficient to change the current law that exists against discrimination based on race, creed and gender, to include sexual orientation and sexual identity like most countries did in the early 2000s. “The reason this is not there is because of the enormous power the Catholic Church yields in this country,” he says. “The reason this didn’t happen here is because the Catholic Church is a homophobic institution, so such a law would have put citizens in a position to sue the Catholic Church for discrimination.”Valera believes that the pushback against the law is precisely because such legislation could put the Vatican and the Italian government in the bullseye. The Vatican, which discriminates against women, could be a target, and the Italian government, which does not presently allow same-sex marriage (only civil unions are legal in Italy), step child adoption or surrogacy, could also be sued—which could set a precedent for the rest of Europe. “That’s why if this is passed, we will leap ahead of other places,” he says. “This kind of law will obviously provide legal grounds to challenge the present illegality of gay marriage, you could easily sue the government for that.”His organization Ashoka has been studying whether systemic change is needed for mindset change to happen, which he says would at least make people take a stand. When Italy passed a law legalizing same-sex unions in 2016—the last country in Europe to do so—he said people suddenly formed an opinion about it, and that was ultimately helpful in changing the mindset. “The two are mutually enforced, you don’t need a change of legislation to change peoples’ minds, but there won’t be a change of legislation unless a majority have changed a mindset,” Valera said, adding that Italy is a country where before the same-sex union debate, the public broadcaster RAI cut all the intimate gay-themed scenes out of the movie Brokeback Mountain. “The discussion and legislation massively changed how people thought about same sex unions. Even if one in two changes their opinion, you’ve got millions. For the first time people started thinking about it. That also allows more people to come out and feel safe.”Rosario Coco, the head of Gaynet Rome, which released the video, says that without the new hate crime legislation it is difficult to prosecute crimes like that against Morena and Zenobio. In the last 10 years there have been around 12 similar attacks each month, but in 2020 the number was higher, up to 15 attacks reported a month. “Unfortunately the law enforcement process wasn’t easy,” Coco wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “Police struggled to comprehend the homophobic motive. It took a supplementary complaint to put in a request to retrieve security camera footage, which would prove the facts. We are now awaiting the public prosecutor’s ruling on what happened, hoping that everything possible will be done to identify the attacker and to classify this crime in the best possible way according to the law.”It’s not clear if that will ever happen. But one thing Valera notes is that more people would come forward if these crimes could be punishable. “Often when homophobic or any sort of hate crimes happen, a surge in reported crimes is not necessarily an indication of a surge of the phenomenon, it may just mean that they trust the police more to do something about it,” he told The Daily Beast. “We are the only country in Western Europe not to have marriage equalities or gay families recognized, so the homophobic mentality of the state entitles people to be homophobic. It’s time that changes.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

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Biden offers tax credits for COVID-19 vaccination and paid time off

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By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced tax credits for certain businesses that pay employees who take time off to get COVID-19 shots, a new effort to involve corporate America in his vaccination campaign.

“I’m calling on every employer, large and small, in every state to give employees the time off they need with pay to get vaccinated,” the Democratic president said.

The tax credits will apply to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, he said.

In a speech, Biden also said he expects the United States to reach his 100-day goal of getting 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in arms by the end of the day, even as the nation faces an increase in infections.

“Today we hit 200 million shots,” Biden said. “It’s an incredible achievement for the nation.”

Biden said the vaccine effort is entering a new phase with everyone over age 16 becoming eligible to be vaccinated. Biden said 80% of all seniors have received at least one shot, leading to a dramatic decline in the deaths of elderly Americans.

“If you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer,” Biden said.

Biden administration officials said the government plans to reimburse businesses for the cost of giving workers as many as 80 hours in paid time off to get their shots or recover from any side effects.

The tax credit is for up to $511 per day for each worker, through September. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees employ roughly half of U.S. private-sector workers. The tax credits were authorized under Democratic-backed COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden over Republican opposition.

The administration’s chief problem in its response to the pandemic is now shifting from securing enough vaccine supply to persuading enough Americans to seek out the available shots.

More than half of American adults have had at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A third of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 26% of the population overall.

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll of more than 568,000 leads the world. The coronavirus is still killing hundreds of Americans daily and many Americans have shown a reluctance to get vaccinated.

Countries around the world with less successful vaccination campaigns than the United States are dealing with a spike in infections.

Biden, who has loaned some unused vaccines to Canada and Mexico and donated funds to a multilateral vaccination effort for poor countries, said the White House is still looking at its options for eventually sending vaccines to Canada, Central America and elsewhere. Biden told reporters after his speech that he spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Wednesday.

“We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now, but I expect we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said.

“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

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The Liberal Government rolls out post-pandemic spending plan ahead of likely election

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By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on Monday lined up billions in new spending to provide emergency support during a virulent third wave of COVID-19 and to help launch an economic recovery ahead of an election expected later this year.

The budget, the Liberal government’s first in two years because of the pandemic, is aimed squarely at boosting near-term growth and includes a long-promised national daycare plan.

It also follows through on stimulus promised late last year, outlining a C$101.4 billion ($81 billion) “growth plan” over three years, with nearly half of that spending coming in the first year.

“We have to finish the fight against COVID – and that costs a lot of money,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding that hundreds of thousands of Canadians remain out of work because of the pandemic.

Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year to try to secure a majority in parliament. The Liberals currently need the support of at least one other party to pass legislation, including the budget.

Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the budget. But the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party said he was not prepared to bring down the government over it.

“It is clearly irresponsible to have an election or in any way to trigger an election while we are in the midst of this third wave,” Jagmeet Singh told reporters. “The impact on people would be devastating and we are not going to do that.”

Erin O’Toole, who heads the official opposition Conservatives, said: “This is an election budget and a poor one at that.” His party trailed the Liberals by 37% to 29% in an Abacus Data poll published last week.

Business groups were pleased with the added certainty of finally having a full budget, but remained unsold on the need for a massive stimulus plan with the economy already set to surge later this year as pent-up demand is unleashed.

“There’s a lot of spending in a lot of programs. But the effects of all of those combined together for me is just a bit unsure,” said Robert Asselin, senior vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada.

The deficit for the fiscal year that started on April 1 will be the second largest in recent decades, with the closely watched debt-to-GDP ratio hitting 51.2%, although Freeland promised a return to restraint as the economy gets back to normal.

“I think the key here is the debt-to-GDP (ratio) is expected to peak this year … and it’s expected to come down in the years ahead,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “I think that’s a credible plan if they can stick to it.”

THIRD COVID WAVE

Trudeau’s Liberal government has been buoyed in opinion polls by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a third wave of infections is pounding the country’s largest city, Toronto, and its suburbs – a key Ontario region for securing an electoral majority – and the coronavirus vaccine rollout has trailed other wealthy countries like the United States and Britain.

Of the nearly C$50 billion in new spending this year, C$27 billion is set aside to extend pandemic recovery measures like wage and rent subsidies for businesses and for a new program to help transition companies back to hiring.

The budget also aims to create a national childcare program and to make a more aggressive effort to reduce carbon emissions, both measures that polls show are important to Liberal voters.

While Freeland said historically low interest rates allowed significant investment, she also pledged to unwind deficits and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio over the medium term. A senior government official said, however, that a fiscal anchor should not be seen as a “straitjacket.”

The official also said that the government had run stress tests on the accumulating debt and was confident of its abilities to service that debt even as interest rates rise in the future.

“It’s hard for us to draw a conclusion that we’re out over our skis. We don’t believe we are. We think we’re in very solid terrain,” the official told reporters.

Surging growth should also increase revenues, with 5.8% growth forecast for this year, after a 5.4% contraction in 2020.

The deficit in the current year is projected to hit C$154.7 billion, less than half that of the previous fiscal year, with total national debt soaring to C$1.23 trillion this year, up from C$1.08 trillion in the previous year.

The Canadian dollar steadied at about 1.2530 to the greenback, or 79.81 U.S. cents, after the budget was released. Canada‘s 30-year yield extended its rise, up 7.5 basis points at 2.060%.

($1 = 1.2526 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Steve Scherer, Fergal Smith and Moira Warburton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Beijing huddles with friends, seeks to fracture U.S.-led ‘clique’

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By Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.

Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.

“China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”

After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.

COLD COMFORT

“China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.

Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.

A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.

China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours. Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.

Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.

After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.

BUILDING BLOCS

Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.

At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.

Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’

China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.

China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.

Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.

Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.

Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence”.

But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”

Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.

“China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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