Well, some weeks pass without note. This one gave us the decriminalisation of abortion, the potential impeachment of Donald Trump and a good-old-fashioned Photoshop bungle.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had a huge escalation in political drama in the US, a lucky escape for a group of kids in Canberra, a historic bill passing in NSW and a Photoshop fail in Canada.
Strap yourselves in TBSers, it’s been a big week in the old US of A and there’s a bit to cover!
If you’ve managed to avoid any news at all this week, you may not be aware that the Democrats are starting Impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump. The dreaded “I” word has been bandied about since Trump took office but it’s now official.
I suppose the best place to start is to explain what Impeachment is and the process that is associated with it. The US system of government is structured quite differently to ours in that it has three branches of Government (Lower House, Senate and Executive) and also due to the fact that our head of state Queen Lizzy and theirs is the US President. So the founding fathers in their wisdom wanted to ensure that there was a process in place that would allow for the President to be removed specifically if he or she was guilty of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours”.
That process is what we know as Impeachment. It starts with a vote for impeachment in the House of Representatives, which if approved by way of a majority vote, see’s it bumped to the Senate. Once in the Senate, a trial is held which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A guilty verdict is issued if two-thirds of the Senate vote guilty.
Most of us have heard the word before; back when Bill Clinton was President. Clinton was impeached by the lower house for perjuring himself and obstructing justice related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was acquitted by the Senate as both votes fell short of the two-thirds majority requirement. Contrary to popular belief, Clinton wasn’t removed as a result of impeachment due to the Senate not convicting him and served out his term. In fact, no President has ever actually been removed as a direct result of Impeachment – Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and Andrew Jackson was also acquitted by the Senate.
Back to Trump. This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry of Trump alleging that he had sought foreign intervention into the upcoming US Presidential Election, described as having “seriously violated the constitution”.
A phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s alleged that Trump asked Zelensky to launch a corruption investigation into Joe Biden’s and his son hunter. For those playing at home, former VP Biden is one of Trump’s potential opponents in the 2020 Presidential Election. The Democrat’s are alleging that the conversation was tantamount to asking a foreign leader to interfere in a US Election. Pelosi said,
“This week, the President admitted to asking the President of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonourable fact of the President’s betrayal of the oath of Office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections…..The President must be held accountable. No-one is above the law. The law is unequivocal”.
Trump, of course, responded to the announcement on Twitter almost immediately, “such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news With Hunt garbage. So bad for our Country!”
To complicate matters further, Trump had just ordered the US Government to freeze around $391 million in American aid to Ukraine just before the phone call; a phone call in which he called the request to investigate Biden “a favour”. It’s hard not to postulate that there might be a bit of quid pro quo going on.
Trump, in what appeared to be a show of confidence initially, authorised the White House to release the transcript of the second phone call between the paid with promises that the first would be released later. The strange part is, the transcript that was relief effectively confirmed exactly what we knew already, and it certainly suggests that Trump may have something to answer for.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for Trump. The call-in question formed part of a complaint from an internal whistleblower and appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. The complaint summary has since been released with some minor redactions and paints an even worse picture of the situation for Trump. It alleges that the whistleblower, and other officials, including White House officials were “deeply disturbed by what transpired in the phone call”.
It also suggests that White House Lawyers were quickly instructed to lock down all records of the call on a separate secure system that’s used for highly sensitive political documents.
We don’t know who the whistleblower is but we do know that they work in the Intelligence community with many suggesting the person works for the CIA. It’s expected that the person in question will testify for Congress imminently (with full immunity, transparency and privacy if they choose)which is likely all the Democrats are waiting for to initiate the impeachment vote. As it stands, with the Democrats holding the majority in the Lower House and only a handful of Democrats that may vote against impeachment, it’s all but certain to pass the first hurdle.
But Trump’s not going to go down without a fight. His next move was to basically throw his Vice President, Mike Pence, under the bus, saying “I think you should ask for Vice President Pence’s conversation because he had a couple of conversations also”.
On the surface, a pretty stupid move given that Pence will replace Trump as President if he is found guilty; and Pence then becomes the only person that can pardon him also. But it’s possibly a masterstroke by Trump as a Vice President can also be impeached; and under the rules of succession, should both Trump and Pence be implicated and removed, then the Presidency will transfer to none other than Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. An outcome that absolutely no one within the Republican party wants which may be enough to discourage them from voting against Trump in a potential Senate trial.
Grab your popcorn…..this is going to get really interesting.
Twenty-eight people were injured in a bus crash on Friday morning in Harden, near Canberra.
Reports indicate that the bus blew a tyre which caused the driver to lose control and careen off the road. NSW Police have also confirmed that the bus had been hired by a local church group and was filled with members travelling to Sydney.
All passengers sustained injuries of some description but the worst was an eight-year-old boy who had his legs seriously crushed and an elderly woman who suffered a serious head injury. Of the twenty-eight passengers, twenty-five were transferred to nearby Harden hospital to treat a variety of minor injuries. The 65-year-old woman who sustained head injuries was immediately flown to Canberra Hospital where she remains in critical condition. The eight-year-old boy who had his legs crashed was also transported to Canberra Hospital where he is being treated for leg fractures; he is in a serious but stable condition.
Seven ambulance crews arrived on the scene and had to move quickly across a paddock where the bus had finally stopped, a fair distance from the road. A doctor from nearby Young Hospital also rushed to the scene to assist with triage on the scene.
NSW Ambulance Superintendent, Mark Gibbs, described the scene as “confronting”, saying “Having to assess and triage a large number of patients like this is extremely challenging, paramedics had to work quickly under difficult circumstances….Turning up to a job like this is really difficult, often you don’t know what to expect, especially when children are involved. Our paramedics worked tirelessly with all emergency services”
It seems like this incident could have had a far worse result if it hadn’t been for the great work of Paramedics, Emergency Services and locals. Well done guys.
A historic vote in the NSW Lower House this week saw Abortion decriminalised in the state. The bill had been the source of fierce debate from all sectors of the community and politics, even creating divisions within the party.
I, like many, wasn’t aware that it hadn’t already been decriminalised in all areas of Australia. However, it turns out that NSW was the last holdout. Prior to this bill (which isn’t quite in law yet), abortion had actually been listed as a crime under the sections 82-84 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) since 1900.
However, a number of legal precedents existed that largely stopped it from being enforced or prosecuted. Although a doctor, Suman Sood, was convicted of two counts of performing an illegal abortion in 2006 because she failed to “enquire as to whether a lawful reason for performing the abortion existed”. Whilst all other States had previously legalised abortion, the conditions on which it would be considered legal vary from state to state and the new NSW law will become one of the most unrestricted in line with Victoria and Queensland.
Despite the bill dragging NSW into line with the rest of the country, and the majority public opinion, it wasn’t without controversy. In addition to the removal of Abortion from the Crimes Act, it also explicitly allowed for abortions to be performed up to 22 weeks gestation with no restrictions (in line with most other states) but also introduced a provision for abortions to be performed after 22 weeks gestation but requiring approval of two “specialist medical practitioners”.
Any abortions after 22-week gestation will also need to be performed in a public hospital to ensure compliance, and it’s also now a crime (punishable by up to two years jail) to coerce a person to either prevent or force them to have an abortion.
Those in the anti-abortion camp have focussed heavily on the provisions after 22 weeks gestation which understandably has been a source of controversy. Anti-abortion advocates have continued to argue that the provision will result in an increase in post-22-week abortions and they point to Victoria as an example where a similar bill was passed back in 2008.
A few weeks ago, Associate Professor Joanna Howe and Professor Suzanne Le Mire in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, argued, “Since abortion was decriminalised in Victoria in 2008, post-20-week abortions have increased by 39 per cent”.
The only issue with that argument is that it’s probably false. In the five years after the legislation passed in Victoria, the number of post-20-week abortions did indeed increase – but given that they were effectively criminal before that, it’s hardly a surprise. But the larger picture tells a different story – since 2014, the number of post-20-week abortions in Victoria has remained lower than they were before decriminalisation. A more detailed analysis from the Statistical Society of Australia actually indicates that there was a 14 per cent decrease in post 20 week abortions between 2008 and 2017 – 2008 being the last year before decriminalisation and 2017 being the last data currently available.
Prominent conservative pollies and ex-pollies had been fiercely opposed to the bill including Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce. Joyce described it as the “slavery debate of our time”. Abbott had described it as “infanticide on-demand”. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said “The new abortion law is a defeat for humanity”.
Without wanting to editorialise too much…..lets just highlight a couple of things here. The conservative side of politics (and the church) definitely shouldn’t be using the “slavery debate” to argue their case here as we’d likely still have slavery if they’d had their way. As for the Catholic Church, or Tony Abbott who has been an outspoken supporter of convicted paedophile, Cardinal George Pell – well, lets just diplomatically say that your credibility with respect to the protection of children is non-existent and you really don’t have a right to a voice in this discussion. White men at the head of religious organisations have had a little bit too much of a say over what a woman does with her body for far too long.
Wacky and Wonderful
As someone who has spent way too much time diving down the various rabbit holes on the Internet, I can tell you that Photoshop fails are quite often the source of great entertainment. Social media photos, even marketing photos for big-budget brands being outed as being photoshopped to accentuate a feature or hide a flaw definitely taps into my (usually unhealthy) appetite for schadenfreude.
But let’s be fair; it’s so much better when it happens to a politician. Which is exactly what happened to Elizabeth May, leader of The Green Party in Canada.
The photo in question is a seemingly innocuous photo of May at the Sidney Street Market in Sidney, British Columbia. May is in the centre of the shot, looking relaxed holding a (non-alcoholic) drink. So what’s the big deal?
Well, it seems there are two versions of the photo floating around. The second, now confirmed as being altered by the marketing department of the Green Party, has the disposable cup being held by May in the first photo suspiciously replaced by a reusable cup with The Green Party logo and a metal reusable straw. The funny thing is, the first photo didn’t even have a straw.
In May’s defence, she says she didn’t know it had been done and was “completely shocked” that the party had altered the image. The official line from the party was that they were simply trying to brand the photo with the logo…but I think it’s safe to say that no-one believes that. The photo has since been cropped on their website, with the section including May’s hands removed altogether.
That’s it from me TBSers, have a cracking week!