Friday, October 30, 2009

A few more smiles

A few scattered bits and pieces from the last week that for one reason or another I regarded as good news.

Middle East - Last week, Haaretz (Israel) reported that
Israeli and Iranian representatives spoke directly during a multi-national conference on nuclear disarmament last month in Egypt.

According to the paper, delegates engaged each other for a short time during a meeting of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament which was held in Cairo last month.
The source was
[a] spokeswoman for Israel's Atomic Energy Commission [who] said on Thursday that commission representatives had held several meetings with an Iranian official to discuss nuclear issues in the region,
specifically, the chances of declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

Iranian officials deny the meeting took place, calling the report "a kind of psychological operation designed to affect the constant success of Iran's dynamic diplomacy," and yes in the tangled diplomacy of the region is has to be taken with the proverbial bit of salt, but even a hint of some direct, even if rather informal, contacts can be a hopeful sign. Which from another perspective shows how bad things are, but I will take what I can get.

Uruguay - Former dictator Gregorio Alvarez has been sent to prison for 25 years after being convicted on charges of murder and violation of human rights.

Alvarez became dicator of Uruguay after a 1973 military coup, a position he held until 1985. Because of his age, this is essentially a life sentence.

There is a twist here: A 1989 amnesty law barred prosecution of military officials and police for crimes they committed during the dictatorship. However, an exception written into the law has enabled the prosecution of a few of the criminals, including Alvarez.

As part of Sunday's elections, there was a plebicite on revoking the law, but it got only 48% of the vote when it required an absolute majority of those casting ballots to pass. (That is, not voting on the measure was effectively the same as voting "no.")

It gets more complicated: A few days before the election, Uruguay's Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional - but because of the nature of the country's legal system, that ruling has moral force but is not legally binding on all lower courts.

So there is still some amnesty for the torturers. Nonetheless, Alvarez is in prison.

UK - Nick Griffin, the leader of the racist British National Party (BNP), who has denied the Holocaust, repeatedly expressed anti-immigrant bigotry, and recently said that London is "no longer part of Britain" and has been "ethnically cleansed,"
was booed, jeered and scorned by the studio audience of a popular [BBC] television show after weeks of protests against his appearance erupted Thursday in a large demonstration and six arrests.
One Asian member of the audience of the panel show "Question Time" told Griffin that
You'd be surprised how many people would have a whip-round to buy you a ticket - and your supporters - to go to the South Pole. It's a colourless landscape that will suit you fine.
He was, by general agreement, "slapped around" by the audience and the rest of the panel as he refused to explain or in some cases even acknowledge his own past words.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the show the big, rough, tough, rightwinger ran around sniffling, waving the "You're so mean!" card.
The BNP leader also broke cover to claim he had been unfairly treated, adding he was going to lodge a complaint with the BBC.

'That wasn't Question Time. That was a lynch mob,' he said.
Meanwhile, BNP representative John Walker claimed the show's format had been changed to load it against Griffin.
"Anyone who was opposed to the BNP would probably feel very smug and pleased with themselves this morning," he told BBC radio.
Undoubtedly with his lower lip stuck way out just like the pouting crybabies these buffoons are.

The BBC defended the decision to have Griffin on, saying that as leader of a party with seats in the European Parliament, they could not legally deny him coverage.

The Hague - The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who until his capture last year was "the most wanted man in the world," began before the World Court on Monday. He is charged with
11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, including two counts of genocide, during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
Karadzic has been boycotting the proceedings, but the court has refused to let him dictate the terms and prosecutors have opened their case with recorded evidence of Karadzic speaking in 1991 of Sarajevo, then surrounded by Serb forces, as "a black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die. They will disappear," he said. "That people will disappear from the face of the Earth.” He also referred to the war as "a fight to the finish. It is a battle for living space.”

Or, as it's otherwise known, lebensraum.

Washington - The Justice Department declared earlier this month that there will be no federal prosecutions of people who use medical marijuana and those who distribute it to them so long as they are doing it within state law.

Currently 14 states make some allowance for medical marijuana use. The new policy is a sharp shift from that pursued by the Shrub gang, which raided medical marijuana distributors even in cases where state officials expressed opposition to the move.

However, Peter Gabriel Keyes, writing at the website Medical Marijuana of America, says that the DOJ memo's lack of specific reference to "medical marijuana collectives, cooperatives, dispensaries, or any other lawful infrastructures for the distribution of medical marijuana" leaves open the possibility of the feds going after such groups, leaving "safe access to medical marijuana ... an elusive concept." I suspect he's worrying too much, but considering the history of drug enforcement, caution is surely warranted.

Washington again - No extra explanation required here. On Friday, Obama announced that the administration is going to reverse the 22-year old ban on entry into the US for people with HIV/AIDS. A new rule is to be published next week that should see the ban lifted by the the beginning of next year.

Massachusetts - On Wednesday, the City of Boston and the Bank of America announced a plan to deal with foreclosed homes in a way that will not displace tenants. Under the plan, the city will buy the homes and then resell them to "homebuyers, non-profits, and private developers," all without displacing the current tenants.

The program is needed, according to the press release from the office of Mayor Tom Menino, because
[r]esearch by the City of Boston has indicated that of those households that have been displaced by foreclosure, over 75% are renters that had no direct involvement in the actions that led to the foreclosure.
Federal legislation passed earlier this year says tenants in foreclosed homes can't be evicted without cause for at least 90 days. The new plan aims to "protect tenants all the way through the process until a new owner takes possession of the property.”

Over 1300 renter-occupied units are in foreclosure in Boston - and while there still can be devils waiting to spring from the details, there's at least the attempt by the city to do a good thing.

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