1043

A second round of talks between US and Cuban diplomats began in Washington on February 27, with the aim of restoring diplomatic relations. US President Barack Obama announced, in what he termed the most significant Cuba policy shift in more than 50 years, that he will pursue diplomatic relations and urge Congress to dismantle the US blockade of Cuba.
The devastating effects of the coal industry on public health in the NSW Hunter Valley were highlighted in a public forum at Glebe Town Hall on February 23. The forum was organised by the Balmain Defenders of Land, Water, Future and Climate Change, and Climate Change Balmain-Rozelle.
Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were jailed for songs criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin, have released a song and video titled "I Can't Breathe". The video shows them being buried alive while wearing Russian riot police uniforms. The Guardian said on February 18 that the song is inspired by their recent trip to New York and the death of African American Eric Garner at the hands of an NYPD officer.
Tasmania bans fracking for five years The Tasmanian Liberal government will extend the ban on gas fracking until 2020 the minister for primary industries Jeremy Rockliff said on February 26. He said the ban was needed to protect the $1 billion a year agriculture industry and “protect Tasmania's reputation for producing fresh, premium and safe produce.” The move has been backed by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers' Association, Dairy Australia and Wine Tasmania as well as the Greens. RADICAL CANDIDATE CHALLENGES CHICAGO MAYOR
The Refugee Action Collective held a public meeting in Melbourne on February 23 to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka after the January 8 presidential election, at which Maithripala Sirisena defeated incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Trevor Grant, the author of Sri Lanka’s Secrets: how the Rajapaksa regime gets away with murder, told the meeting that Sirisena had been a member of Rajapaksa’s cabinet for 10 years. He was acting defence minister in May 2009, in the final days of the war, when the slaughter of Tamils by the Sri Lankan armed forces was at its height.
In the past three years, the Australian government has recovered more than $41 million that had been fraudulently claimed by private employment agencies. These for-profit employment agencies were found to have submitted forged and doctored records and lodged inflated fee claims. One source, a former agency employee, told ABC’s Four Corners that they had seen “thousands” of jobseeker records modified by the agency to support suspicious claims against the taxpayer.
Frack Free Tasmania held a public meeting on February 18 at Sustainable Living Tasmania to warn about possible exploration for shale oil and gas in the island state. The current moratorium on fracking in Tasmania is due to end on March 31. The government put out an issues paper which received 157 submissions, 90% of which were opposed to fracking being allowed in the state. The government responded to the review on February 26 by extending the moratorium until 2020.
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network released this statement on February 27. * * * The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) has called on the government to immediately halt all transfers of asylum seekers to offshore detention centres until the report into allegations of sexual abuse on Nauru has been released. The Moss Inquiry report was provided to the Minister for Immigration and Border protection on February 9, but its findings have not been made public, and there has been no timeframe provided for its release.
Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Amongst Us John Quiggin Black Inc., 2012 265 pages, $26.95 (pb) “Being already dead,” says John Quiggin of zombie ideas in economics, “they can absorb all kinds of damage and keep lumbering on.” And so, despite severe reality checks such as the historical Great Depression and the more recent Global Financial Crisis (GFC), classical free market economics continues to lead its undead life in the neoliberal form Quiggin calls “market liberalism”.
Cartoon by Norrie. Bellicose and racist jingoism is the last refuge of scoundrel Prime Minister Tony Abbott. His February 23 “National Security Statement” was blatant incitement of hatred, bigotry and suspicion against Australia's Muslim minority.
As the federal government lurches from crisis to crisis, the hand-wringing and finger pointing in the mainstream press continues. A piece by Murdoch mouthpiece Janet Albrechtsen published in the Australian on February 18, blames the Australian public. Titled “We, the people, are the threat to fiscal reform”, Albrechtsen continues the conservative mantra that argues that government budget debt is intergenerational theft.
More than 1000 people attended a meeting at the Enmore theatre in Newtown on February 23 to hear from the builders of the $12 billion motorway WestConnex. The WestConnex Delivery Authority organised the meeting as a community consultation to answer what they call “misinformation” about the project. But they faced an overwhelmingly hostile reaction from the crowd. The crowd booed and heckled WestConnex Delivery Authority chief executive Dennis Cliche as he tried to promote the benefits of the motorway.
Workers in Australia are under an unprecedented and multi-fronted attack, designed to strip away hard-fought wages and conditions, including penalty rates and industrial rights. This attack is part of a drive by Australian capital to shore up profits in the context of a global economic slow down.
The impending execution in Indonesia of two Australian drug couriers — Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan – has focused Australian media attention on the horrors of capital punishment. Their lawyers, families and supporters, particularly artist Ben Quilty, have ensured that the two have been humanised.
It seems there is no end to the incredible bias facing the poor, beleaguered Tony Abbott government. If it isn't an ABC journalist daring to ask a government minister a question they don't like, it's the Human Rights Commission releasing a report on the plight of children in immigration detention centres that even the most impartial observer would have to admit shows a distinct and unmistakable bias in favour of respecting human rights.
Greece’s new SYRIZA government submitted its list of proposed economic reforms to the Eurogroup (the finance ministers of eurozone nations) on February 23 as a precondition for its international creditors to approve a four-month loan extension. The deal was signed on February 20. With Greece’s existing loan arrangement expiring on February 28 and bankruptcy looming, a last-minute deal was finally agreed after three weeks of intense negotiations. The talks had been characterised by daily — sometimes hourly — twists and turns, claims and counterclaims, leaks and threats.

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