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I BELIEVE that reviewers generally should disclose when they have a vested interest in the thing they're reviewing, so full disclosure: Barring another Jar Jar Binks fiasco, there was about as much chance of me--a geek hurtling toward middle age at light speed--hating J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII--The Force Awakens as there is of the Millennium Falcon successfully navigating an asteroid field.
This past year there was no shortage of people who tried to leverage the sports world to boldly speak out on issues beyond the field of play. In the United States, Missouri football players went on strike against racism; the remarkable activists in Boston — led in many neighbourhoods by people of colour and women — kept out the rapacious Olympics; the continuing fight ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics is taking on both the International Olympic Committee and the Brazilian government.
Police violently crack down on protests in Bahrain against al-Nimr's execution. The West's response to public beheadings carried out by the Saudi state is extremely muted, especially in comparison with the way public beheadings by ISIS are highlighted in Western propaganda.
Malaysian human rights group SUARAM says that several members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) and other human rights activists were subjected to arbitrary arrests simply for attending a peaceful candlelight vigil in the city of Johor Baru on January 10. The vigil was called to protest the second-time arrest on remand of PSM Central Committee member Khairul Nizam (also known as Aduka Taruna).

The most recent examples of sexism by two Coalition front bench MPs reminds us that sexism and misogyny is alive and thriving 32 years after the landmark law that made such discrimination a crime. From the outrageous sexist attacks on former PM Julia Gillard — largely from the same Coalition MPs — to MP Peter Dutton's “mad fucking witch” (MFW) text, the view that women are second-class citizens and sexual objects — and can be treated as such — remains strong especially among those with the means to shape public opinion.

The dramatic declines on financial markets at the start of the new year have revived fears that another economic slump could be in the cards for 2016 — even though working people around the world are still suffering the effects of the Great Recession the last time around.
“Everybody is talking about it — the dangers presented by climate change,” Canadian Marxist Michael Lebowitz says. “Adding significantly, though, to the emphasis upon the need to take dramatic action now has been Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Laudati Si, ‘On Care for our Common Home’.”
Protests against police killings in Chicago, November 25. Across the country, police murders of Black people continue apace — as do prosecutors' failure to charge the killers, getting hung juries at best.
Women from the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN) organised a "Mad F**king Witches" action to highlight the intolerable levels of sexual assault in Australian immigration detention centres and to call for freedom for refugees and the sacking of minister Peter Dutton. "Silence on Nauru rapes makes us ‪‬," says RRAN activist Michelle Bui.
Facing possible austerity and a return to neoliberalism at the hands of a right-wing parliament, will the millions involved in Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution that has cut poverty and empowered the poor radicalise further and protect their 15 years of gains? Or will this be the blow that finally dampens their revolutionary joy and collective ambition?
Happy New Year for a few weeks ago or coming up in a couple of weeks, depending on whether you rely on a calendar or the moon for such things. I hope you had some time off and got to spend it relaxing with people you love, or if you were working, that you got plenty of time and a ... WATCH OUT FOR YOUR PENALTY RATES!!! Yes, that's right, while most of us were working or preparing for the strange rituals of the season, those busy little elves at the Productivity Commission had been slavishly working, day and night, to deliver a lovely big present to business and the government.
Prominent Mexican left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador demanded on January 10 to know how the authorities could catch an escaped gangster, but were unable to find the 43 students kidnapped in Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state in September 2014. The National Regeneration Movement (Morena) leader and twice presidential candidate hit out at the government following the arrest of Sinaloa Cartel drug kingpin Joachin “El Chapo” Guzman on January 8. The student teachers from Ayotzinapa, meanwhile, are feared dead at the hands of a gang. Their remains have not been found.
On December 16, Victoria's highest court threw out a protracted legal bid by a group of Bendigo residents to stop a mosque being built. Led by local woman Julie Hoskin, the group has battled against the mosque, which the City of Bendigo approved in June 2014 and which VCAT approved last August.
In the aftermath of Venezuela's right-wing US-backed opposition securing its electoral win over President Nicolas Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the December 6 National Assembly elections, the South American country is heading for two confrontations, each reinforcing the other — a political and an economic one. The future is very uncertain.
The Perth Freight Link (PFL) project ground to a halt on December 16 when Supreme Court Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruled environmental approvals for the Roe 8 freeway through the Beeliar Wetlands were invalid. Incredibly, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had argued it was not bound by its own policy when assessing and granting approval. This result comes on top of a 2013 decision that the EPA had bungled approvals for the James Price Point gas processing facility.
Five crew members aboard Alcoa ship the MV Portland were woken at 1am on January 13 by up to 30 security guards, handed their passports and forcibly removed from the vessel. The guards then escorted aboard a replacement crew, believed to be foreign seafarers, who immediately began sailing the ship towards Singapore.

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