Well, it’s fair to say the lizard brain controlled the week, as we lost our minds over toilet paper, clamped down on empathy and attempted to justify hideous violence.

 

 

Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had some big shifts in the US Presidential race, an investigation into war crimes at The Hague, and the great TP crisis of 2020 back home. 

 

International

All eyes were on the US this week as the Democratic Primary votes continues, including Super Tuesday, in order to determine who will face Donald Trump in the upcoming Presidential election. 

Bernie Sanders began the week as an unstoppable force. With a number of big primary wins under his belt already and a determination to take on the establishment (including his own party), many thought that Sanders couldn’t be caught. Then it all changed. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden had a disappointingly lacklustre start to the primaries. It could have been some of the controversy sticking related to President Trump’s recent attempts to solicit foreign interference against his potential rival. Or it could be the number of personal controversies Biden has faced in recent times including numerous allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women.

Regardless of the reason behind the slow start, this week saw Biden surge from nowhere to become the frontrunner in the Democratic race. 

How did he pull it off? Well, there are a number of factors involved – most of which had very little to do with him. On the eve of Super Tuesday, three other contenders that had withdrawn their campaigns all threw their support behind Biden – Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rouke. The result was a surge in support for Biden the following day – especially in Minnesota (Klobuchar’s home state) and Texas (O’Rourke’s home state). 

Just prior, Biden also took out the South Carolina primary which became the catalyst for a rampage that saw him win eleven primaries in four days. The win in South Carolina showed the party that he wasn’t down and out and was capable of winning important battlegrounds. That victory gave the party something they were desperate for – a viable alternative to Sanders and they rallied to him. 

In the days following, Bloomberg pulled out as well and threw his support behind Biden. Then Elizabeth Warren however so far she hasn’t thrown her endorsement behind Biden or Sanders – she’s probably trying to work out how to sell someone with a history of alleged inappropriate conduct with female staffers to her very large female supporter base.  

There was another big factor involved in Biden’s unbelievable comeback – former Prez, Barack Obama. Biden served for eight years under Obama as Vice President and their close meme-worthy relationship was no secret. Obama has resisted all calls to publicly endorse Biden (or anyone for that matter); but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been exerting his influence behind the scenes.

Biden’s significant popularity with the African-American community (support that played a major part in his South Carolina win in particular) is a direct result of Obama – even if it’s only by association. But many people, myself included, believe that Obama has been quietly campaigning behind the scenes for Biden and it’s paid huge dividends for the former VP. 

But Obama has made it clear he won’t endorse anyone until the primaries are over. If Biden wins, he’ll undoubtedly become a very public advocate for him. If Sanders wins, Obama could represent the bridge between Bernie and the “establishment” within the party. Like everyone outside of Trump’s own supporters, Obama has one goal in mind – getting Trump voted out and he knows he needs to be careful about how he wields his significant influence in order to make that happen.

 Then again, a suggestion from Whoopi Goldberg on The View this week put a completely left-field suggestion into the mix – what if Obama was announced as Biden’s running mateFrom a legal perspective, the most accurate answer is “maybe”.

The 22nd amendment to the US Constitution stipulates a two-term limit for US Presidents which would theoretically disqualify Obama because the VP automatically becomes President if the President is incapacitated, dies or is otherwise removed from office.

However, the wording of the 22nd amendment clearly states that no-one is allowed to be “elected” more than twice – stepping up to the top job if Biden wasn’t able to continue wouldn’t be considered being “elected” to the position. Then there’s the 12th amendment which states that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States” – one side of the legal argument is that Obama would be “constitutionally ineligible” due to having previously been the President. The flipside of that argument, again, suggests that his ineligibility to be “elected” doesn’t make him “constitutionally ineligible”.

Bottom line – if it was to eventuate, it would be something for the courts to decide

Whoopi is right – it won’t happen. But if the goal is to remove Trump, it’s exactly the type of move that could achieve it. We can only dream. 

***

An investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the Taliban, the Afghan military and US military is going to proceed despite protests from the US Government. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court will now proceed with a full investigation to ascertain whether there is a case to answer.

A preliminary examination undertaken in 2017 found that reasonable grounds existed to believe that war crimes were committed in Afghanistan according to the ICC. Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski told the court, “The appeal chamber considers it appropriate to authorise the investigation”

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, immediately took aim at the ICC, calling the decision “a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body” (doesn’t sound like the current state of affairs in the US whatsoever).

Pompeo continued, “It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historical peace deal on Afghanistan – the best chance for peace in a generation. The United States will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, the so-called court”

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is focusing on possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014 which include alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities as well as US forces and the CIA. Bensouda said, “The many victims of atrocities committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to have justice…today they are one step closer.”

The initial examination concluded there was a “reasonable basis to believe” that US forces had committed “crimes of torture, outrages upon personal dignity and rape and other forms of sexual violence”.

Of course, they did. We’ve seen them doing it before. We’ve seen the US relentlessly pursue whistleblowers trying to shine a light on the truth. We’ve seen the US Secretary of State effectively argue that they are answerable to no-one. Obviously the odds of the US being held to account if found guilty are slim to none – but anything that shines more of a light on the horrific things that many innocent people have been subjected to is still worth pursuing. 

 

 

Domestic

It’s fair to say that a large portion of the population back home have lost their minds in the wake of the COVID-19. 

Media driven mass panic has seen almost every roll of toilet paper in the country quickly snatched off supermarket shelves. The hysteria has even turned to violence with a 50-year-old Tamworth man arrested for assaulting a Big W worker and a female customer before attacking and resisting police. Police allege that the man became aggressive when the store ran out of toilet paper. 


Woolies and Coles have both had to instigate toilet paper rationing in place with buying limits now in place. Other staples such as rice and pasta are also being bought in bulk with empty shelves appearing across the country. 

 

 

So it’s official. We’re a bunch of morons. The responsibility for the initial panic lies with a number of media outlets with overtly-sensational headlines that all but suggested a quarantine apocalypse was imminent. But far too many people bought the panic, hook line and sinker. 

That’s not to suggest that the COVID-19 situation isn’t serious – it is and we need to take it seriously. Our share market has been pummelled finishing the week on a 10-month low and experiencing record-breaking daily drops. The RBA are clearly concerned about the economic impact, dropping interest rates to another historic low of 0.5% earlier in the week

South Korea has joined China with a travel ban to Australia with the Morrison Government announcing late in the week that South Korean citizens will be temporarily banned from entering Australia to mitigate the spread of the virus – a decision the South Korean government called “regrettable”

The number of cases in Australia, too, continues to rise with at least 64 cases confirmed across the country with the number expected to continue to rise. Worldwide confirmed cases are now in excess of 100,000 with over 3400 dead from the virus as well. 

But don’t worry, as long as you have six weeks of toilet paper and rice squirreled away in your cupboard, you’ll be just fine!

***

A parliamentary committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has put forward a recommendation to put mandatory age verification on pornography and some forms of online gaming

Committee chair, LNP MP Andrew Wallace, said in a statement, “The evidence was clear that exposure to online pornography is associated with terrible harms to young people’s health, education, relationships, and well-being”. 

Fair enough – that’s pretty difficult to argue with. 

The question now becomes, how to provide such a verification service without seriously impeding the privacy of every citizen of our fair nation. The Department of Home Affairs and it’s illustrious leader, Peter Dutton, suggested earlier in the year that it could be achieved via facial recognition software.

So basically the government would have data matched against your driver’s license or passport every time you access porn. That’s definitely the information I want in Dutton’s hands

A number of age verification options were explored by the committee including checks against government-issued ID or options involving consumer information like credit databases or biometric data. However, the committee did not propose or recommend a specific method but did indicate that whichever method is used should minimise the retention of personal data to avoid creating a “honeypot of sensitive data”

I’m sure we’ve all got nothing but faith in the government to design, develop and implement a robust and effective tool that protects our personal information  – just like they did with the NBN, My Health Record, Centrelink Debt Robo Calls, et cetera.

Unsurprisingly, the idea has been tried before in the UK and was quickly dropped due to privacy concerns and once they realised that any kid under 18 with a modicum of tech-savvy could circumvent the requirement quickly and easily through the use of a VPN. 

Hopefully when this fails (which it will), the government will listen to people like Tim Singleton Norton, a board member at Digital Rights Watch who believes that age verification is a distraction from the conversations we need to have to help ensure our kid’s safety online, “The UK example has shown how useless an age verification regime can be – it’s easily circumvented and just drives access underground…..If we’re genuine about wanting to protect children from dangerous content (including porn), then we already know the answer…opem communication, investment in sex education and funding for programs that break down social stigma and allow parents and children to be skilled in navigating such situations.”

Or, you know, programs like Safe Schools that are designed to create open communication and remove some of the taboo from things related to both sex and sexuality. But we don’t want to corrupt the children so let’s just send them to government-funded school chaplains instead. 

That’s it from me TBSers, have a cracking week!



 

 

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