3. South America

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Some good news. In South America, politicians have been running and getting re-elected, by making real change in the lives of ordinary people. It’s an inspiration to the rest of the world, and perhaps the only continent where the focus of the politicians is on people more than profits. (Note how when Time magazine looks at South America, their focus narrows to drugs, and avoids any hint of a wider political picture.)

* Chavez and the New South America   Counterpunch

Hugo Chávez was re-elected president of Venezuela on Sunday, by a margin of 11 percentage points.  …Since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent.  College enrolment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time, and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.

So it is not surprising that most Venezuelans would re-elect a president who has improved their living standards. That’s what has happened with all of the left governments that now govern most of South America:  they have been re-elected. This is despite the fact that they, like Chávez, have most of their countries’ media against them, and their opposition also has most of the wealth and income of their respective countries.

The list includes Rafael Correa, re-elected President of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009;  the enormously popular Lula da Silva of Brazil, re-elected in 2006, and successfully campaigned for his former Chief of Staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010;  Evo Morales, Bolvia’s first indigenous president in a majority indigenous country, re-elected in 2009;  José Mujica succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in Uruguay – the Frente Amplio — in 2009;  Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election by a solid margin – also with the largest media against her.

All of these left presidents and their political parties won re-election because, like Chávez, they brought significant, and in some cases huge, improvements in living standards.  

* Chavez wins again!  Purple Library Guy Peace, order and good government, eh?

Hugo Chavez has once again done one of the things he does best: Win. Once again, we have a deeply progressive president of Venezuela. In your face, neoliberal rich dudes!

I was pretty sure when I saw the polls over the last couple of months. But I was damn sure when I saw pictures of the three million people who rallied in Caracas on Thursday. In the pouring rain. Three. Million. People.
Even the French and Italians don’t rack up numbers like that for political events. Here in Canada we could have feverish dreams of something like that….I’ll be all sarcastic and cynical and depressed again tomorrow. But right now, I’m enjoying that rare event: The good guys won, the bad guys lost. Woohoo!

* How Latin America May Lead the World in Decriminalizing Drug Use  Time

While no Latin American nation has legalized drugs yet, several have taken steps to decriminalize narcotics. Argentina introduced a measure in congress this year that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs for personal use. Chile’s congress, meanwhile, is contemplating a bill that would decriminalize the cultivation of marijuana for personal use. And a Colombian court recently upheld a law that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of cocaine. Like Mexico, Colombia has also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But no country has proposed more drastic reform than Uruguay. President José Mujica’s center-left Broad Front party introduced a measure this summer that would not only legalize marijuana consumption, but also place the government at the helm of production and distribution. The bill, which would allow citizens to purchase up to 40 grams of cannabis per month, materialized as the tiny nation of 3.5 million inhabitants scrambles to battle drug-related violence.

Aug 24th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 28

Aug-24-2012 | Comments Off

1. Showdown over Assange: Run–In in London 

Bird’s Eye: Assange matters because Ecuador is standing up for him, with South America behind it. As South America has swung left and the US and UK have swung right, it was always clear a conflict would happen some day – but who would have guessed that an Aussie accused of rape in Sweden would be the touchstone? We have three articles on the hawkish feathers that have been ruffled, followed by a wonderful thought experiment discussing the best way for Assange to get out and escape. But this issue has become much bigger than the relatively minor accusations (while it’s called ‘rape’ in Sweden, it wouldn’t be rape in either Canada or the UK. And even rape doesn’t constitute ‘rape’ among Republicans in the US these days.)

* Assange and Wikileaks: The Basics   Ian Welsh

Assange has not been charged, he is wanted for questioning.  Sweden is refusing to question him in England.  I note that they have questioned a man accused of murder in another country. The way the case has been treated is vastly disproportionate to how people wanted for questioning about such a crime are usually treated.

Ecuador said they would hand over Assange under one condition: Sweden promised not to extradite him to the US.  Sweden refused. Sweden engaged in illegal extraditions on behalf of the US in the past, and handed people over to be tortured.  No one has gone to jail for those crimes.  Since no one was punished, I can’t see why Sweden wouldn’t do it again.  Certainly Assange would be a fool to take the chance, because if he winds up in the US he will be thrown into an isolation cell and treated in a way which amounts to torture.  This isn’t in question, the US has done it in other high profile cases.

Anyone who thinks this is just about sexual misconduct…. Yeah.

As for Assange, his long game is simple.  He will run, in absentia, in the next Australian elections.  He is more than popular enough to be elected.  Once he is an MP, he can’t be touched.

* How South America sees the Julian Assange Case  Atilio Boron   The Guardian

Since the end of the last century, the expression “rogue state” has become increasingly acceptable within international public discourse. Driven by US propaganda, the concept aims to demonise countries opposed by Washington by portraying them as global threats. However, in recent years, this argument has been turned against the White House. An alternative view is gaining traction – namely that the main rogue state of the planet and the greatest terrorist threat to world peace is none other than the United States, and it has the backing of the likes of eminent US intellectuals Noam Chomsky and William Blum, and the film director Oliver Stone.

Viewed from South America, the UK has done more than enough to share that accolade with its US cousins, and the attitude in Britain to Julian Assange is simply the latest example. The Ecuadorean foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, reported that the British government transmitted to Quito an “explicit threat in writing that they may assault our Ecuadorean embassy in London if we do not deliver Julian Assange”.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, later confirmed the threat, thus breaching the Vienna convention, which establishes the immunity of diplomatic headquarters, something that not even the bloodthirsty South American dictators Jorge Videla and Augusto Pinochet dared to do…. Worse still, London extended a welcome to Pinochet, but denies it to Assange. This regrettable moral double standard speaks for itself….It is a discouraging sign that the country which, in the mid-19th century, welcomed Karl Marx is now ready to deliver Assange to a country that administers the infamous Guantánamo prison camp, sends prisoners overseas in secret flights to be tortured elsewhere, and deprives alleged criminals of the most elementary right of self-defence.

* Ayatollah Cameron Threatens to invade Ecuador Embassy Juan Cole Informed Comment

The British government’s menacing of the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday morning, with its threat that its police might well come on to the embassy grounds to arrest wikileaks leader and fugitive Julian Assange, resembles nothing so much as the Iranian regime’s cavalier attitude to the supposed inviolability of embassies. To be sure, Assange does not himself have diplomatic immunity. But the ground on which the Ecuadorian embassy sits is considered in international law to be Ecuadorian territory, and breaching it is tantamount to an invasion.

…The British threats do a great deal to absolve Iran of its bad behavior toward embassies. British Foreign Secretary William Hague fulminated (with some justification) in November, 2011, that the Iranian authorities had “committed a grave breach” of the Vienna convention in neglecting to protect the British embassy in Tehran from being invaded by angry crowds of protesters on November 29.

…What exactly does the [pdf] 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations say? Here is the relevant language: Article 22 1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

* What is the most effective way for Julian Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London and safely travel to Ecuador?   Quora

Hundreds of protestors in black hoodies, slip on Anonymous masks and storm the embassy steps to give Julian a black hoodie and an Anonymous mask.  Everyone then scatters.

5. Drug News

Jun-22-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Moving to higher ground, we have some news on the world of drugs. Uruguay has broken through the grass ceiling and announced they’re legalizing marihuana. Unless the US can halt this, the domino effect is likely to start in South America. In the UK, the inestimable Professor Nutt has a sane book out about drugs (he was fired from his job for the government for speaking truth to power on this very subject.) The New York Times looks at teens today and finds they’re taking drugs to enable higher marks and better concentration on school. Underground study cells everywhere! How could this happen? Fortunately Bill Hicks has a few closing puffs on the subject in a very funny video.

* Uruguay’s Government Will Start Selling Marijuana (via Google Translate)

The government of Uruguay announced today a series of measures from which emphasizes the legalization of marijuana sales by the state, which is responsible for the distribution networks, will have a record of consumers and regulate the price of cigarettes and their taxes.

The measures, as the Executive, aimed at combating public insecurity under the premise “war on coca paste”, which because of many of the crimes committed, caused primarily by minors.

To this, President Jose Mujica worked on a bill intended to make under state marijuana sales as a way to “launder” drug market, removing a significant profit margin of drug dealers, and “run” to a softer drug addicts cocaine base.

* The Most Sensible Book About Drugs You’ll Read This Year   Boing Boing

Cambridge’s UIT Press has established a well-deserved reputation for publishing clear, engaging, evidence-based books on controversial subjects….The latest in this series is Drugs: Without the Hot Air, by David Nutt. If Nutt’s name rings a bell, it’s because he was fired from his job as UK drugs czar because he refused to support the government’s science-free position on the dangers of marijuana, and because he wouldn’t repudiate a paper he wrote that compared the harms of taking Ecstasy to the harms of horseback riding (or “Equastsy”).

Like the other writers in the series, Nutt is both committed to rigorous, evidence-based policy and to clear, no-nonsense prose that makes complex subjects comprehensible. He begins and ends the book with a look at the irrationality of our present drug policy, recounting a call he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who was furious that he’d compared horseback riding harms to the harms from taking MDMA. Smith says that “you can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity.” When Nutt asks why not, she says, “because one is illegal.” When he asks why it is illegal, she says, “Because it is harmful.” So he asks, “Don’t we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?” And Smith reiterates, “you can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity.” Lather, rinse, repeat, and you’ll get our current drugs-policy disaster.

* Seeking Academic Edge, Teenagers Abuse Stimulants New York Times

He steered into the high school parking lot, clicked off the ignition and scanned the scraps of his recent weeks. Crinkled chip bags on the dashboard. Soda cups at his feet. And on the passenger seat, a rumpled SAT practice book whose owner had been told since fourth grade he was headed to the Ivy League. Pencils up in 20 minutes.

The boy exhaled. Before opening the car door, he recalled recently, he twisted open a capsule of orange powder and arranged it in a neat line on the armrest. He leaned over, closed one nostril and snorted it. Throughout the parking lot, he said, eight of his friends did the same thing.

The drug was not cocaine or heroin, but Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that the boy said he and his friends routinely shared to study late into the night, focus during tests and ultimately get the grades worthy of their prestigious high school in an affluent suburb of New York City. The drug did more than just jolt them awake for the 8 a.m. SAT; it gave them a tunnel focus tailor-made for the marathon of tests long known to make or break college applications.

* Drugs and Evolution  Bill Hicks YouTube

5. Drug Wars Update

Mar-16-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: It does seem as though this story gets run in Tikkunista, over and over again. But like the glaciers, the drug prohibitions world wide are slowly melting as it gets clearer and clearer that the war on drugs only benefits those who make and run prisons. We look at a method that does seem to work, and at Latin America. And a useful factoid ends the section on a higher note.

* Drug Market Intervention The Economist

Police watched seven people sell drugs in Marshall Courts and Seven Oaks, two districts in south-eastern Newport News, in Virginia. They built strong cases against them. They shared that information with prosecutors. But then the police did something unusual: they sent the seven letters inviting them to police headquarters for a talk, promising that if they came they would not be arrested. Three came, and when they did they met not only police and prosecutors, but also family members, people from their communities, pastors from local churches and representatives from social-service agencies. Their neighbours and relatives told them that dealing drugs was hurting their families and communities. The police showed them the information they had gathered, and they offered the seven a choice: deal again, and we will prosecute you. Stop, and these people will help you turn your lives around…. This approach is known as drug-market intervention (DMI).

* Is It Time To Decriminalise Drugs?  Al Jazeera English (Thanks, Gabe)

With trafficking-related violence increasing across Latin America, leaders call for policy changes.

As drug cartels expand their operations in Central America, the region is seeing the world’s highest homicide rates. Some Latin American leaders now say they are ready to discuss the decriminalisation of narcotics. We look at how the drug war between the military and the narco-traffickers impacts the people of Latin America. 

* Colombia Set To Officially Decriminalization Drug Possession

The government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is preparing legislation that will set “personal dose” amounts for drugs that will allow for their possession without the possibility of arrest or prosecution, the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo reported Tuesday. The decriminalization legislation could be presented as early this week, the newspaper said in its exclusive report.

Colombia was the first Latin American country to decriminalize drug possession after a ruling by its Constitutional Court in 1994. But during the presidency Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, the government amended the constitution to criminalize drug use, effectively re-criminalizing drug possession.

Last year, the Colombian Supreme Court threw out Uribe’s changes, ruling that the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use was a constitutional right. This pending legislation recognizes last year’s ruling and actualizes it by setting the “personal dose” amounts. The 56-page document seen by El Tiempo sets the “personal dose” amount at five grams for marijuana and one gram for cocaine. It also sets “personal dose” amounts of 200 milligrams, or three pills, for amphetamine-type stimulants, such as methamphetamine and MDMA.

* Useful fact: you would have to consume 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes to overdose 

…Simply stated, researchers have been unable to give animals enough marijuana to induce death.

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