Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Manic Street Preachers: "One last shot at mass communication"

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man (Sony, 2010) 
From its opening strains, the Manic Street Preachers’ latest – and tenth – album, Postcards From A Young Man, is clearly the successor not only to 2007’s Send Away The Tigers, but also to their critically acclaimed 1996 success Everything Must Go.

It seems sometimes obligatory (although perhaps not useful) to divide the Manics’ work into the chart-friendly “pop” of Everything Must Go and of their successful 1998 follow-up This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, and the darker, more political and introspective music of 1994’s The Holy Bible and 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers.

Certainly there is a difference – not least the darker lyrics of former guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared, now presumed dead, in 1995. While Journal saw the Manics use up the last of Richey’s frequently disturbing lyrics and imagery, the band’s major commercial success has come largely off the back of the more anthemic music which characterised Everything.

Postcards is cut largely from that lighter cloth – it is the Dr Jekyll to Journal’s Mr Hyde.
The album opens with the roaring string crescendos of "(It’s not War) Just the End of Love" and the title-track, "Postcards from a Young Man", followed by a glorious choir-backed duet with Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, "Some Kind of Nothingness".

As a tenth album, coming after more than two decades of tribulation and glamour, of rage and disillusionment, some might have expected Postcards to sound at times tired and dispirited. On the contrary, even the saddest songs on the album are packed full of the same righteous anger and intelligence that have sustained the Manics – and their fans – for all this time.

This is in fact the Manics at their best – anthemic pop songs with dark moments and more political and cultural critique than a university bookshop, performing a subtle unwinding of the chains of alienation that keep us alone and cold.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Germany's ‘hot autumn’ of protests

Germany’s centre-right government is facing what many have dubbed a “hot autumn” of protests, as conflict over a range of social, political and environmental issues come to a head across the country.

As the governments of Europe attempt to offload the costs of the financial crisis onto working people, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has initiated a series of “austerity” measures aimed to undermine Germany’s social welfare system.

About 100,000 trade unionists took to the streets on November 13 to protest cuts to social welfare, including government plans to raise the pension age from 65 to 67.

On November 15, Merkel was successfully re-elected leader of her party - the right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - with the support of over 90 percent of the party conference.

Facing criticism from the party's influential right-wing, Merkel has shifted her rhetoric rightwards, claiming that multiculturalism had "utterly failed", and calling on Germans to return to their "Judeo-Christian values".

The day before the CDU conference began, tens of thousands of protesters in Stuttgart, Dortmund, Nürnberg and Erfurt came out to oppose her government’s cuts.

Minister for labour Ursula von der Leyen has tried to defend the attack on pensions. Claiming it was necessary because of Germany’s low birth rate and high life expectancy, Von der Leyen described the move as “a question of fairness”.

Protesters, led by Germany’s largest union IG Metall, rejected the claim. They condemned the changes as an attack on working people designed to maximise corporate profits during the German economy’s current upswing.

Berthold Huber, head of IG Metall, told demonstrators in Stuttgart: “We don’t want a republic in which powerful interest groups decide the guidelines of politics with their money, their power and their influence.”

German activists blockade nuclear train

More than 50,000 German anti-nuclear protesters defied 17,000 police over the weekend of November 6 and 7 to blockade a train carrying spent nuclear fuel rods from France to Germany.

On November 8, the fuel rods finally reached the small north German village of Dannenberg. From there, they were trucked a further 20 kilometres to an interim nuclear storage facility in the town of Gorleben.

Anti-nuclear activists drove more than 600 tractors, blockading roads and the railway in the largest ever demonstration over the transportation of spent nuclear fuel rods in Germany.

The nuclear train was stopped for several hours as local residents, unions, politicians, environmental groups, football clubs, farmers and protesters from across Germany occupied the railway tracks.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

FFA Cup? A modest proposal indeed...

The recent announcement that the FFA would be introducing a Cup competition from the 2011-12 season hit me with no small sense of bemusement, as it's something that I (as well as countless voices in the footballing community) have been advocating for years. These are some of my first reactions to the announcement.
Based on past form, of course, there is every chance that the FFA will stuff it up spectacularly, unless the new “FFA Cup” is genuinely pitched at building football in Australia – at all levels. For it to work, it must link the different levels of the game, not just act as a tokenistic add-on to the A-League season.

The obvious advantage of such a competition is that it allows for the inclusion of what in my mind is the “real” heart of football in Australia – the State Leagues. I would, however, advocate that once established the competition should be further expanded, getting not only the state leagues involved, but also the best of the regional leagues.

A competition that not only allows South Melbourne to play Melbourne Victory, but that also gives a team from rural NSW, South Australia or Queensland the chance to pit itself against the best of Adelaide FC or the Brisbane Roar, would finally give football the level of permeation and community support to make it a challenger to the title of Australia’s main code.

Of course, how such a cup should work is still open to discussion and debate. The most convincing proposal I have seen so far is one that pitches the top one, two or three teams from the state leagues into a form of elimination round (or rounds) with A-League teams.

The cup-winner should also be given an automatic place in Asia, alongside the winner of the A-League.
But an FFA Cup alone is not enough to fix the fatal flaws in the FFA world-view, and which will continue to kill the game unless they are addressed.

Some more modest proposals...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Germany: Two party system unraveling

Coasting on the back of environmental protests and a hemorrhaging two-party system, the German Greens have sent shock waves through German politics, surging into the position of main opposition party for the first time.

The Greens, who were part of a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1998-2005 at the expense of many of the party’s principles, are benefiting from the unraveling of Germany’s tradition two-party system.

Nevertheless, the two major parties - the centre-right Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union coalition (CDU/ CSU) and the centre-left SPD - retain a monopoly over government in Europe’s biggest economy.

But the facade appears to be truly falling apart at last. Opinion polls in early October put the Greens on 24%, one point ahead of the SPD.

At the 2009 federal elections, the Greens scored 10% of the vote. The far-left Die Linke won 11.9%.

In recent polls, the governing CDU were at 32%, while their neoliberal fundamentalist Free Democratic Party (FDP) allies only reached 6%. Die Linke remained steady on 11%.

The Greens’ poll surge comes amid a rise in environmental and community protests.

Ecuador: Correa vows to ‘radicalise revolution’

In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on September 30, left-wing Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has vowed to deepen his “citizen’s revolution” in the small Andean country.
After the coup attempt by sections of the police and armed forces failed amid pro-government protests, Correa’s approval rate has surged as high as 75% in some polls.

In response, Correa, stating his government had not done enough to implement its pro-people program and would radicalise its project to build a “socialism of the 21st century”.

This call was echoed by Ecuador’s National Secretary of Planning and Development Rene Ramirez, who said after the coup: “We want to have a much more progressive government, more turned to the left.”

Correa, addressing the Fifth Congress of the Latin American Coalition of Rural Organisations in Quito on October 13, said Ecuador needed an “agrarian revolution” rather than small reforms in land ownership.

Addressing hundreds of peasant leaders from across Latin America, Correa said his government would either directly expropriate unused and unproductive agricultural land, or raise taxes on those properties to force its owners to sell.

Other measures proposed to deepen agricultural reform include allotting state-owned fallow land to poor farmers and a program of selective import substitution and incentives to increase local production.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Behind the coup attempt in Ecuador

The attempted coup d’etat in Ecuador on September 30 against the left-wing government of Rafael Correa, which was defeated by loyal troops and mass mobilisation of Correa’s supporters, underscores the turbulent history of that small Andean nation.

It also exposes the weaknesses of Ecuador’s revolutionary movement, which is part of a broader Latin American movement against US domination and for regional unity and social justice.

The coup attempt was led by small core of police and soldiers, whose rebellion was triggered by a public service law that cut some of their immediate benefits. This has led some commentators to assert that recent events were simply a wage dispute, rather than a coup attempt.

Correa’s 2006 election victory - supported by the country’s powerful social and indigenous movements - came after almost two decades of political turmoil. Government after government dragged the country deeper into debt and greater poverty.

Between 1998 and 2005, three elected presidents were overthrown by mass uprisings, led in large part by the main representative of the country’s 40% indigenous population, the indigenous federation CONAIE.

Correa - a former finance minister - won the 2006 poll on a platform of radical social change.

He promised to lead a “citizens’ revolution”, using Ecuador’s oil wealth to eradicate poverty, deepen grassroots democracy and build a “socialism of the 21st Century”. These promises echoed similar process under way in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ecuador: Right-wing coup attempt defeated

On September 30, Ecuador descended into chaos as a protest by sections of the police force and army turned into a potentially bloody coup against left-wing President Rafael Correa.

At about 8am, sections of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces and the national police went on strike, occupying police stations and barracks in the capital Quito, in Guayaquil and in at least four other cities. They set up road blocks with burning tyres, cutting off access to the capital.

They also stormed and occupied the National Assembly building and took over the runway at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport.

Schools and many businesses in Quito shut down early, as opposition protesters attempted to take over and sabotage broadcasts from television station Gama TV.

The protests were in response to the new Public Service Law designed to harmonise income and benefits across the Ecuadorian civil service. Many police and troops, however, believed the law would remove their benefits and bonuses, as well as delay promotions.

In an attempt to end the strike, Correa went in person to the main police garrison in Quito to convince the police there was a misunderstanding - and that their benefits were safe and their wages would in fact increase.

The situation spiralled out of control when a number of rebel police pointed their guns at Correa and threatened to shoot him. A tear gas canister was thrown, exploding only centimetres from the president’s head.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Serie A - Italian footballers to go on strike

On September 10, the players of the Serie A - Italy's top-flight football league - declared they would go on strike on September 25-6.

AC Milan defender Massimo Oddo - speaking on behalf of the Italian Players' Association (AIC) - made the declaration as part of an ongoing dispute over the renewal of the collective contract for the game's top players.

The statement - signed by the captains and union representatives of all 20 Serie A clubs - read:

"The association, in perfect symphony with the players of Serie A, has decided not to go on the field for the fifth round of matches of the Serie A championship in protest against requests to impose new contractual rules,"

The football league, Lega Serie A, is attempting to introduce a new collective contract that would strip players of their existing transfer rights and bring larger profits to football clubs and their owners, at the players' expense.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Newtown residents rally to defend homes

On August 14, over 400 people marched in protest against plans to demolish residences in the heritage-listed Pines Estate Heritage Conservation Area in Newtown.
Angry local residents and supporters marched from Redfern to Leamington Avenue, which was decked out in red balloons and reverberated with the sound of the MC Hammer song “Can’t Touch This”.

RailCorp is currently considering a proposal to compulsorily resume and demolish all the houses on Leamington Avenue, and more on Holdsworth and Pine Streets, as part of a plan to build a railway tunnel to relieve extra traffic expected on the western rail line.

As well as destroying heritage homes built in 1887, the plan would see the destruction of the iconic "Three Proud People" mural depicting the “black power salute” at the Mexico 1968 Olympics, painted on the side of 39 Pine Street.

Marrickville Deputy Mayor and Greens candidate for the seat of Marrickville in next year’s State election, Fiona Byrne addressed the crowd, saying the planned changes were unnecessary, and wouldn’t work anyway. Instead she argued that trains speeds and timetables should be improved. 

Trains are currently slower than they were in the 1940s, she added.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ekuador beläßt Erdöl im Boden

Yasuni Nationalpark
Am 3. August 2010 hat die ekuadorianische Regierung ein richtungsweisendes Dokument unterzeichnet, um Ölbohrungen in den ökologisch einzigartigen Gebieten Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini des Yasuni Nationalparks (Yasuni-ITT) zu verhindern.

Das Abkommen, unterzeichnet von der Regierung des linken Präsidenten Rafael Correa und dem United Nations Development Program (UNDP), garantiert, dass die geschätzten 900 Millionen Barrel Erdöl, die unter der noch unberührten Amazonas-Region liegen, nicht angerührt werden, so wenig wie der Wald darüber.

Im Austausch erhält Ekuador 3.6 Mrd. $ als Kompensation für die Einnahmen, die es ansonsten durch das Öl gehabt hätte – etwa die Hälfte des geschätzten Wertes.

Der Yasuni Nationalpark ist einer der artenreichsten Plätze der Welt und besteht aus 982 000 ha Regenwald am Fuße der Anden. Er enthält mehr Baumarten auf einem Hektar als es in den ganzen USA und Kanada zusammen gibt.

Er beherbergt mindestens 28 höchst gefährdete Säugetiere, wie Jaguar, Weißstirnklammeraffe, Riesenotter und Rundschwanzseekühe sowie hunderte Arten, die es sonst nirgends auf der Erde gibt.

Yasuni ist auch die Urheimat der Huaorani und zwei weiterer indigener Völker, die in freiwilliger Isolation leben, die Tagaeri und die Taromenane.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ecuador signs historic deal to "leave the oil in the soil"

On August 3, the Ecuadorian government signed a landmark deal to prevent drilling for oil in the ecologically unique Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini areas of the Yasuni National Park (Yasuni-ITT).
The agreement, signed by the government of left-wing president Rafael Correa and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), guarantees that the estimated 900 million barrels of oil that lie beneath the pristine Amazonian region will remain untouched, as will the forest above.

In exchange, Ecuador will receive US $3.6 billion as compensation for the revenue it would otherwise have made from the oil – about half its estimated value.

The Yasuni National Park is an area of world-significant biological diversity, covering 982,000 hectares in the Amazonian rainforest and Andean foothills. It is considered one of the most biodiverse sites on Earth, containing more tree species in one hectare than in the entire United States and Canada combined.

It shelters at least 28 highly endangered vertebrates including jaguars, the white-bellied spider monkey, the giant otter and the Amazonian manatee, and hundreds of species found nowhere else on Earth.

Yasuni is also the ancestral territory of the Huaorani people, as well as two other indigenous tribes who live in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

German court approves spying on Die Linke

Germany’s Federal Administrative Court ruled on July 21 that the Verfassungsschutz — Germany’s domestic spy agency — had a right to spy on the left-wing party Die Linke.
Bodo Ramelow, Die Linke’s leader in the eastern state of Thuringia and others were appealing against the agency spying on them. The justification for the spying are claims Die Linke contained “anti-constitutional” elements because of its origins in the former East German state.

Die Linke was formed after 2005 by a merger between disaffected western Social Democratic Party members, left-wing academics and trade unionists, and the eastern-based Party of Democratic Socialism. The PDS was made up of members of the former East German ruling party. 

Die Linke won almost 12% in the last national election, making it the fourth largest party in parliament. It has won seats in almost every state parliament. Polls consistently show it is the most popular party in eastern Germany and its social justice policies are making it increasingly popular in the west.

Die Linke is the only party with parliamentary representation to support the view of a large majority of the population by callings for German soldiers to leave Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Merkel embarrassed in presidential election

On June 30, the German parliament met to elect the country’s largely symbolic president. What should have been a fairly straightforward affair, however, may spell the beginning of the end for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The new election was made necessary by the resignation of Horst Köhler on May 31, after his comments suggesting German military deployments were commercially motivated caused a public outcry.
Köhler’s resignation came at a particularly bad time for Merkel, whose governing rightwing coalition has been struggling in recent opinion polls.

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has dropped to just 32 percent, while their free-marketeer coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP) – who had surged around 15 percent support at the federal election in September last year – have dropped to barely 4 percent, the July 4 Angus Reid Global Monitor reported.

Popular opposition and protests continue to build against Merkel’s austerity measures, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the economic bail-out of Greece as German standards of living continue to decline.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Memperjuangkan Sepakbola: Apakah `permainan sedunia' ini permainan rakyat?

Oleh Duroyan Fertl
5 Juli 2010 -- Berdikari -- Piala Dunia FIFA 2010 di Afrika Selatan telah memulai putaran final 16 besarnya pada 26 Juni. Ia hadir di tengah dengungan terompet vuvuzela yang tak pernah surut, kekalahan tim-tim besar seperti Italia dan Perancis, dan aksi-aksi protes di jalanan oleh warga setempat yang marah atas dana 40 miliar rand yang dibelanjakan pemerintah untuk membiayai acara yang dikelola swasta ini. Sementara itu, kaum miskin Afrika Selatan menderita karena perumahan dan akses layanan mendasar yang di bawah standar.

Sepakbola adalah “permainan dunia” yang dimainkan oleh jutaan orang di seluruh dunia dan ditonton oleh ratusan juta lainnya. Tapi benarkah itu “permainan rakyat”?

Sepakbola itu sendiri seringkali merupakan suatu pertunjukan menegangkan yang menampilkan kepiawaian manusia. Suatu pertandingan sepakbola yang bermutu tinggi dapat dibandingkan dengan seni. Maka tak heran ia begitu populer di seluruh dunia.

Namun permainan itu, tak dapat dipungkiri, disertai serangkaian aspek buruk. Persoalan hooliganisme sepakbola, terutama di Eropa, sudah dikenal baik. Banyak kelab-kelab dan kelompok penggemarnya menjadi lahan subur bagi perkembangan kelompok neo-Nazi dan ekstrim sayap-kanan, seperti English Defence League.

Di tingkat interasional, dukungan terhadap tim nasional mudah sekali diekspresikan menjadi rasisme terang-terangan.

Sebuah “kostum pendukung” Belanda yang dirancang untuk Piala Dunia di Afrika Selatan menggambarkan seorang pendukung Belanda menduduki pundak seorang warga Afrika Selatan berkulit hitam. Iklan yang menyertainya memberikan instruksi untuk “menyetir” kaum “Afrika” dengan menarik-narik kupingnya. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The fight for football: Is the ’world game’ the people’s game?

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa began its final round of 16 on June 26. it came amid the unrelenting drone of vuvuzela horns, the knockout of big teams such as Italy and France, and street protests by local residents angry at the 40 billion rand the government has spent on the corporatised event.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s poor continue to suffer substandard housing and access to basic services.

Football, or “soccer” in Australia, is the “world game”, played by millions of people around the world and watched by hundreds of millions more. But is it truly the “people’s game”?
On its own terms, football is an often thrilling exhibition of human skill. A high quality football match commands comparisons with theatre, poetry, and - all too often - opera.

It's also excitingly unpredictable - more so than other art forms. Where else could you see Macbeth get away with fouling Duncan, eke out a nil-all draw with Malcolm, and cheat Banquo of his dreams of the crown on goal differences?

Little wonder, then, that it is so popular worldwide.

However, the game is accompanied by a series of undeniably ugly aspects. The issue of football hooliganism, especially in Europe, is well-known. Many clubs, with their tight-knit fan groups, provide a fertile breeding ground for neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups, such as the English Defence League. 

On an international level, support for national teams all too easily finds expression in crude racism. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Germany in turmoil as president quits

The government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in crisis, following the resignation of Germany’s President Horst Koehler on May 31.

Koehler – a former head of the IMF, and German president since 2004 – resigned after public backlash against comments he made connecting the German economy with increased military deployments.

On a May 22 visit to the German military mission in Afghanistan – something which eighty percent of the German population are opposed to – Koehler told German radio that further military deployments were necessary “to protect our interests, for instance trade routes … or preventing regional instabilities that could negatively impact our trade, jobs and incomes."

Constitutional lawyer Ulrich Preuss called it a “discernably imperialist choice of words”, while Klaus Ernst, co-leader of the antiwar leftwing party Die Linke claimed that Koehler had “openly said what cannot be denied”. Ernst asserted that Afghanistan is a “war about influence and commodities” and defending the export interests of large corporations.

Facing enormous public outcry, Koehler resigned as President, citing a “lack of the necessary respect” for his position. A new president must be appointed within 30 days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Germany: Left party conference renews leadership, steadies course

On May 15, the far-left German party Die Linke held its national congress in the eastern city of Rostock, electing a new national leadership and debating a new draft program. 

At the conference, charismatic and popular left-wing firebrand – and renegade Social Democrat – Oskar Lafontaine, 66, stepped down as the party’s co-leader due to health reasons after a cancer operation.

Lafontaine helped co-found Die Linke, formed in 2007 from a merger of the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG – an amalgam of disgruntled Social Democrats, militant unionists and various left groups and individuals) and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS – the successor to the old East German ruling party). Party co-leader and East German moderate Lothar Bisky, 68, a former leader of the PDS, also stepped aside.

While both men were instrumental in the merger that created Die Linke, they represent widely differing views in the new party.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hidden Stories of Football in Africa

Former prisoner, Thulani Mabaso, on Robben Island football field
Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football
Ian Hawkey, Anova Books, 2009.
More Than Just A Game: Football v Apartheid, The most important football story ever toldChuck Korr and Marvin Close, Harper Collins, 2008.

The world is in the final stages of counting down to the biggest show on earth – the football world cup in South Africa – the first time it has ever been held on the African continent. 

While billions of people prepare for the spectacle, it seems time to review a couple of recent publications that put the role of the “world game” in Africa into perspective.

The first and most recent of these is Ian Hawkey’s Feet of the Chameleon, which tracks the emergence of the game in Africa, its ongoing exploitation by the old colonial European powers hungry for talent to improve their leagues, and the role football has played in African nations winning their independence and democracy.

Through thirteen themed essays, Hawkey tracks the history of such football greats as Larbi Ben Barek – Africa’s first football superstar – and of Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, who moved from Mozambique to Portugal to become the greatest – and most fought-over – football player of his time, on a par with the Brazilian legend Pelé.

Hawkey also uncovers the role of football in African politics (and vice versa), and exposes the process of economic migration that has seen such modern greats as Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto-o playing in Europe, and has seen thousands more forsake friends, family and home, dreaming of emulating them.

Germany: State election defeat hamstrings federal government

Germany’s ruling centre-right coalition suffered a double defeat on May 9, when it lost its ruling majority in an important state election in North-Rhine Westphalia. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) scored its lowest ever vote in the state, dropping 14 points to only 34.6 percent, on a par with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) who slipped to 34.5 percent. 

Support for the arch-neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) – the CDU’s coalition partners on both a state and federal level – stagnated at 6.8 percent, while the Greens emerged as the big winners, doubling their vote to 12.1 percent.

The far-left party Die Linke also entered state parliament for the first time, winning 5.6 percent – an impressive achievement for what is possibly their most left-wing state branch, which has called for nationalising banks and other utilities and the legalising of cannabis.

North-Rhine Westphalia - Germany’s traditional industrial heartland and most populous state with 18 million inhabitants - is widely regarded as indicative of politics on a national level and currently has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Requiem for a River System

A review of The River: A Journey through the Murray-Darling Basin, Chris Hammer ($34.99 Melb University Press (Paperback))
 Canberra journalist Chris Hammer has spent over a decade reporting on the crisis facing the Murray-Darling river system, and the communities that rely on it for their livelihoods.

To write The River, however, Hammer actually traveled from tail to tip of the river system – from Cunnamulla to Dubbo and Echuca, from Bourke to Menindee and the Murray Mouth – and witnessed first-hand a river system in terminal decline.

What has happened to the once-great Murray-Darling? As Hammer writes, “Australia's major river system is collapsing. Parts of it are dying; parts of it are already dead. Australia's most significant river no longer reaches the sea . . . I look out into the dim autumn light and wonder once again how it has come to this . . .

The Murray-Darling basin, Australia’s breadbasket and mythical heartland, has suffered from years of competing economic and social needs, agricultural and municipal misuse, from a decade-long drought, and from the increasing effects of climate change.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Political repression alive and well in Germany

Sixty-five years after the Second World War, political repression is alive and well in the new united Germany.

Of course, that conclusion is basically redundant to anyone with a Marxist analysis of the state, but it is still worth tracking the changing nature of that repression.

I don’t know, for example, if it as blatant in Germany today as it was in the 60s and 70s, when some of my friends had their mail regularly opened before it reached their mail box, or who lived with the constant companionship of secret service vans on their street, but recent event suggest that this is certainly the direction it is heading.

In some ways, you really have to admire the German method. Not for us the sly, secretive repressed reports (well, I’m sure they do exist – I just haven’t seen them yet). The main German secret police agency – the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (“Office for the Protection of the Constitution”) – releases its yearly report into “activity that endangers the Constitution” to the public eye.While the reports are largely concerned with “muslim terrorism” and the activities of the bonehead far-right, it also has an entire chapter dedicated to "linksextremismus" (leftist extremism).

The most recent reports are available for download (in German) here:2006,
2007, 2008

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Germany: Protesters stop neo-Nazi march

On February 13, a neo-Nazi march through the German city of Dresden was prevented when more than 15,000 locals braved freezing temperatures to oppose them.

The fascists intended to march through the centre of Dresden to mark the 65-year anniversary of the allied firebombing of the city in 1945.

In recent years, this has become a regular event. Last year, 6000 neo-Nazis accompanied by 5000 police paraded through the city — the largest fascist march in Europe in recent history.

This year, however, about 5000 neo-Nazis were vastly outnumbered by a broad alliance of trade unions, political parties and civil society groups who formed a 12,000-strong human chain around the city centre, making Dresden, in the words of Mayor Helma Orosz, "a bastion against intolerance and stupidity".

Thousands of left-wing protesters blockaded the fascists at Neustadt railway station, stopping the march. The victory was marred, however, when police attacked the anti-fascist protesters with tear gas.

The lead-up to this year's march was full of controversy. 

The Dresden Council failed in a legal bid to prevent the march. In January, secret police raided the offices of the protest organising group Dresden Nazifrei ("Nazi-free Dresden") and the left-wing party Die Linke — confiscating leaflets, posters and computers. The Dresden Nazifrei website was closed down.

The Lower Saxony state government is also preparing laws to ban protests that are deemed "inflammatory". While supposedly aimed at preventing future Nazi parades, the wording of the new laws is broad enough to include left-wing and even union protests in its scope.

Similar laws passed by the right-wing government in Bavaria are currently facing a legal challenge.

First published in Green Left Weekly, 20 February, 2010.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vale - Alistair Hulett

Alistair Hulett – arguably one of the more impressive socialist folk musicians of our time – died on Thursday evening, January 28, 2010 (approximately 5:30am on Friday morning, 29 January 2010, Sydney time), in Ward 26a of Southern General Hospital, Glasgow.
Alistair had been critically ill and in hospital since the New Year, but it was largely kept quiet from friends and fans alike as he waited for a liver transplant for what was mistakenly diagnosed to be liver failure.  

It eventually became clear he was actually suffering from an aggressive metastic cancer that had already spread to his lungs and stomach. Unfortunately for Alistair, and all of us, he didn’t make it, dying only days after the cancer was discovered.

Friday, January 22, 2010

From Tortuga to Somalia - Piracy and Anti-Imperialism

There is a delicious irony in the recent news - reported by - that the Somali "pirates" have offered to donate a significant proportion of their booty to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Claiming to have connections all over the world, the Somalis promise to deliver the money undetected by Western "enemy" governments.

But why have they made this offer? The first connection that springs to mind is, perhaps, the piracy itself.

While the Somali youth based out of Eyl and other small towns in coastal Somalia are the modern face of seafaring piracy, Haiti is the traditional stomping ground of the swaggering buccaneers of legend (if we ignore, of course, the tame pets of the major capitalist powers such as Sir Francis Drake).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Political police raid German anti-Nazis

On January 19, German political police raided the Berlin and Dresden offices of several anti-Nazi groups, including the Dresden Nazi-Free Alliance, "No Pasaran", "Red Stuff", and the left-wing party Die Linke.
Thousands of posters, stickers and leaflets for an anti-Nazi protest on February 13 were confiscated, and a number of computers were seized.

The raids provoked immediate protest from the Die Linke, the Greens, the Social Democratic Party, the anti-globalisation group ATTAC and several trade unions.

The protest – organised by the Dresden Nazi-Free Alliance, a broad alliance of over 230 organisations and 800 high profile individuals – plans a peaceful blockade to prevent a fascist parade on February 13, the 65th anniversary of the WWII Allied fire-bombing of Dresden.