Issue 1161

Australia

In an astounding display of bureaucratic arrogance, the chief of the company building the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway complex described the reintroduction of tolls on the widened M4 motorway as "exciting", while dismissing concerns about the health impacts of exhaust ventilation stacks planned for the route of the WestConnex tunnels.

The future of Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin has become intertwined with the Queensland state elections called for November 25, with the mega coalmine confronting serious problems in obtaining finance for the project.

Over the past year, Adani has been increasingly unable to secure the $5 billion it needs from private sources, as various financial institutions have begun shifting investments away from coal and towards renewables.

Under pressure from grassroots campaigns, Australia’s Big Four banks have ruled out financing the project.

A seminar to discuss the challenges, achievements and lessons of the Kurdish-led feminist revolution in northern Syria, in Victoria University on November 4, attracted more than 80 people. It was the second seminar to be organised this year by solidarity activists and the Victorian Kurdish community in Melbourne.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) has reported a huge disparity in the superannuation that women retire on compared with men.

Last year, the mean superannuation balance for women across all age groups – from workers just starting out to retirees – was $68,000, compared with $112,000 for men.

Women who retired in 2016 had an average super balance of $157,000, while men had an average balance of $271,000.

Staff at Victoria University (VU) are bearing the brunt of the latest attack in what is an industry-wide push by university managements to wind back conditions in the sector.

Hundreds of refugee activists gave a voice to the men in the abandoned Manus Island detention centre at a rally in Perth on November 5 organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network WA.

The 600 men remaining on Manus Island have been deprived food, water and medical aid since the centre’s closure on October 30.

They read out messages from six of the men using a ‘human microphone’, when one person reads a sentence and the crowd repeats it. Below are the messages they read out.

Members of the family of David Dungay, who was killed by prison officers in Long Bay jail almost two years ago, gathered outside the Coroners Court on November 8 to demand justice and that action be taken against those officers involved in his death.

Speaking to the media, David's mother Leetona said: "After two years, this process has taken too long. We are going to fight this to the end. My son has been cruelly taken away from us, and I am demanding that justice is finally done for him."

World

Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink has just spent a year with Kurdish forces in northern Syria observing the democratic and feminist revolution unfolding in the region. During her recent visit to Australia, she spoke to Green Left Radio about her experience. Below is an edited and abridged transcript of the interview.

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Two years of the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen has caused a disastrous humanitarian situation in the poorest Arab country. The conflict is increasingly stoking anti-American sentiment among Yemenis, many of whom see the U.S. government as a killer using Saudi hands. 

The conflict began in 2015, when President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi resigned and went into exile, and Saudi Arabia led an armed coalition allegedly to restore Hadi’s legitimacy. Hadi now leads a government-in-exile while the rebel Houthi movement surges in Yemen.

Venezuela’s Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance (ASGDRe) was set up in 2009 as a collective to fight for gender diversity rights and against discrimination based on sexuality.

What separated ASGDRe from other similar groups was that they openly supported the revolutionary process taking place in Venezuela.

Speaking with members of ASGDRe, as part of the international solidarity delegation organised by Venezuela Analysis in August, they told us that the group began with about 10 members, mainly friends.

The 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the first socialist revolution in world history, was marked on October 25 — the date the Bolsheviks led the revolutionary seizure of power by the soviets (elected councils of workers, peasants and soldiers).

The waving of the rainbow pride flag at a concert on the outskirts of Cairo has triggered a backlash of state repression against the LGBTI community.

Several flags were raised at a performance to 35,000 people by the Lebanese indie-rock band Mashrou’ Leila on 22 September. Mashrou’ Leila is fronted by lead singer Hamed Sinno, one of few openly gay musicians in the Middle East. Sinno paid tribute at the concert to the late gay icon Freddie Mercury.

A high profile member of the ultra right-wing Popular Will (VP) party, Yon Goicoechea, was freed by Venezuelan authorities on November 4 after more than a year behind bars.

Goicoechea was arrested last August by national security forces for the alleged possession of explosive devices, just two days before an opposition march. 

Since being granted conditional release, Goicoechea has confirmed his candidacy for the mayoralty of the wealthy municipality of El Hatillo, despite his party calling for a boycott of upcoming elections. 

I have a question about offshore tax havens that no one has ever been able to answer. Can you name one legitimate reason to keep your money in a tax haven? 

The media keeps implying that there must be one. They keep pointing out (mostly to avoid the libel laws) that using a tax haven does not necessarily involve illegality or “wrongdoing”.

But what form of activity that isn’t wrong could possibly involve stashing your cash offshore? And why should we shy away from saying that starving the public purse of money is itself wrongdoing?

Three Tamil political prisoners, who had been on hunger strike for 38 days, ended it on November 4.

The decision came after a delegation of Jaffna University Student Union leaders promised to build a grassroots campaign for the freedom of all political prisoners.

Tamilnet said the students and their supporters pledged to organise a “village to village information campaign”. By “mobilising the masses”, they aim to pressure Tamil members of parliament to make freedom for political prisoners a condition of support for the Sri Lankan government’s budget.

Road and rail blockades organised by the Committees in Defence of the Republic (CDR) paralysed traffic movement across Catalonia on November 8.

The blockades were part of a day of protest action aimed against the Spanish government’s takeover of the Catalan government and parliament, and the detention of eight Catalan government ministers.

Democrat Danica Roem beat Republican Bob Marshall in elections for Virginia’s general assembly in Virginia, The Intercept reported on November 8, to become the state’s first-ever elected transgender official.

Climate activists awarded Australia the very first “Fossil of the Day” at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, being held from November 6-17. This award is given daily to the country judged to be doing the best to block effective progress on climate change.

Australia got the award for actively supporting the development of coal mining in the Galilee Basin, particularly the Adani project. Fittingly, Australia was presented the award by Pacific Islanders, who are very vulnerable to climate change impacts.

It’s that time of year again when countries get together to discuss taking action on climate change. Progress is painfully slow at these United Nations Climate Change Conferences (known as COPs). We are up to number 23 — hence it is called COP23.

COP23, held in Bonn, Germany from November 6-17, is not as significant as COP21 in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated. Much of this year’s conference is concerned with fleshing out details of the Paris Agreement, the so called rulebook, for adoption in 2018.

Analysis

Tony Abbott was elected in 2013 on the “promise” that the Coalition’s proposed industrial relations legislation, Work Choices, was “dead, buried and cremated”.

Of course, few workers genuinely believed that an incoming Coalition government would keep its word. Certainly, construction workers knew it was only a matter of time before they were in the firing line.

The results of the non-binding voluntary survey on same-sex marriage will be announced on November 15.

Irrespective of the outcome, we will need to continue to fight not only to achieve marriage equality but to combat the right's bigotry.

The following speech was given by Socialist Alliance Sydney branch organiser Peter Boyle to the 100 years since the Balfour Declaration symposium organised by the Palestine National Corporation in Australia, in Lakemba on November 3.

The Australian operations of mining giant Glencore have been implicated in the Paradise Papers revelations – the largest leak of documents in history.

The Paradise Papers show that Glencore was involved in currency swaps of up to $25 billion between the Bermuda-based and Australian-based arms of its company.

While theoretically "legal”, these types of swaps are being investigated by the Australian Tax Office under suspicion they may be used to avoid tax by shuttling interest payments from high-tax nations to low-tax jurisdictions.

Seven facts about the crisis in the Manus Island detention centre that the media refuse to report.

I had considered the racist abuse hurled at Labor Senator Sam Dastyari to be a deliberate publicity stunt by a group of neo-Nazis, enabled by a climate of rising bigotry and white nationalism, on the grounds that they deliberately sought out the senator, filmed their racist abuse and posted it on Facebook.

That was before Pauline Hanson explained otherwise. The senator, campaigning in Queensland, pointed out that Dastyari was just using abuse he faced in a pub on November 8 to sell his book.

The crisis is deepening on Manus Island. The 600 men remaining at the former regional processing centre compound are being starved out, deprived of medical aid and having fences taken down around them as Green Left Weekly goes to print. Notices have been posted at the centre saying that if the men do not vacate, they will be removed by force.

Multinational corporations are using tax havens to avoid paying tax and the filthy rich are getting richer. Paradise Papers, Panama Papers, billionaire capers – what’s new? This stuff has been going on for yonks.

One hundred years ago this month, workers, peasants and soldiers in Russia overthrew the corrupt government that had led the country into a disastrous war and established the Soviet Socialist Republic. 

It seemed that, for once, the people had won. Socialism had gone from theoretical possibility to practical reality.

Culture

Of Mice & Men
By John Steinbeck
First published 1937

This year marks the 80th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s great mythic novel of alienation under US capitalism, Of Mice and Men.

On Google Earth, you can see where the Salinas River “drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green”, a few miles “south of Soledad”, the novella’s opening lines.  Clearly, John Steinbeck knew this area intimately to be able to describe it so strikingly.

The renowned artist has died aged 78. A beloved singer-songwriter, Viglietti led a generation of great Uruguayan musicians and performers who emerged in the 1960s in creating a unique sound for the era. 

Along with musicians such as Alfredo Zitarrosa and Los Olimarenos, he introduced what became known as the “popular Uruguayan song”. This was linked to the widely popular “Nueva Cancion” — both a genre and a movement. 

Throughout his life, Viglietti remained committed to several causes. In 1972, the singer was jailed for opposing military rule in Uruguay.

Malign Velocities: Accelerationism & Capitalism
Benjamin Noys
Zero Books, 117 pages

Benjamin Noys’ Malign Velocities is an attempt to catalogue and describe an intellectual movement within capitalism that’s gaining a new and disturbing influence lately.