Republicans are trumpeting their big gains in the November 2 midterm elections as a mandate to turn the country sharply to the right. Don’t buy it. Mainstream media commentary on the election was largely set before a single vote was cast. Voters would correct President Barack Obama’s supposed leftward course in his first two years in office by sending a cabal of right-wingers to Congress. The scale of the Republican victories — especially in House of Representative races, where the party now holds a comfortable majority — cemented the media’s impressions.
The Conservative Party, or Tories, has never really forgiven the British working class for demanding and winning the creation of the “welfare state”. Gains won included such things as free health care, council homes at affordable rents, and care for the elderly and vulnerable. From the Tories’ point of view, these are all things individuals should sort out for themselves. The modern state should provide the same level of social protection as was available to Queen Victoria’s subjects in the 19th century.
Whistleblower website Wikileaks released its “Iraq War Log” on October 22. This featured almost 400,000 classified US military documents that provide a detailed, if incomplete, record of the US occupation of Iraq from 2004 (a year after the invasion) until January 2010. The log revealed high level US military documentation of serious war crimes the US and its allies have committed in Iraq, including massacres of civilians and systematic torture.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks was under a control order that prevented him from speaking about his ordeal for a year after his release. In an attempt to further silence him, on October 27 shadow attorney-general George Brandis called on the government to charge Hicks with profiting from crime for writing a book. The book about his experiences, Guantanamo: My Journey hit number four in the non-fiction bestseller category.
Hunter Valley activist Pete Gray gained notoriety on October 25 for throwing shoes at former prime minister John Howard on ABC’s political talk show, Q&A. Gray is a long-time activist committed to non-violent direct action. He is a member of climate action group Rising Tide and has also been involved in a variety of social justice campaigns. Gray’s decision to throw his shoes at Howard was a homage to Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at former US president George Bush during a press conference in December 2008.
Six fighters from the private army of Afghan warlord, drug trafficker and highway robber Matiullah Khan were recently in Australia for training with the Australian Defence Forces, the October 29 Sydney Morning Herald said. Khan’s power base is in Oruzgan province, where most Australian forces in Afghanistan are stationed. Such is Khan’s reputation for criminality and violence that Dutch forces, who before their withdrawal in August were the largest foreign contingent in Oruzgan, refused to work with him.
Greens federal parliamentary leader Senator Bob Brown spoke in the parliamentary debate on the Australian military intervention in Afghanistan on October 25. His speech came amidst reports of growing unease in the Australian Labor Party ranks over the conservative line being implemented by the Gillard Labor minority federal government and an associated rise in support for the Greens to a record 14%.
Malalai Joya, now 32, was the youngest woman elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2005. A feminist activist who has defied the Taliban, Joya is also an outspoken opponent of the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Joya says the war is a crime against her people that is propping up corrupt warlords and fundamentalists no better than the Taliban.
On October 20, Wollongong Students Against War occupied the University of Wollongong’s Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), bringing its operations to a halt for a few hours. SAW is waging a campaign against military research on campus, such as the DMTC’s work on the Joint Strike Fighter project with the US. SAW also organises opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan. For more information visit studentsagainstwar.wordpress.com.
During UN Disarmament Week (October 24-31), a bill to enact the UN Convention banning Cluster Munitions is to be tabled in the House of Representatives. However, it is unlikely to contain a provision prohibiting financial institutions from funding manufacturers of cluster bombs. It has been found that the ANZ bank has provided loans of $136.5 million to producers of cluster bombs.