Monday, November 02, 2020

Europe plunges back into lockdown

A rapid surge in Covid-19 cases is prompting a host of European countries to return to lockdown this week, as Australia marks its first 24-hour period without community transmission since early June. After France began enforcement of a month-long hard lockdown on Friday, a number of nations this week will join them with their own suite of restrictions, including England, Germany, Portugal, Austria, and Greece. Slovakia, meanwhile, tested nearly half of its residents on Saturday, as it aims to test its entire 5.4-million-strong population over two days. Large groups of protesters violently clashed with police in Spain and Italy, where authorities are considering tightening existing restrictions. After taking almost nine months to record its first 5 million COVID-19 cases, Europe took only five weeks to register its next 5 million cases. The situation stands in stark contrast to Australia, where no community transmission of Covid-19 was recorded in a 24-hour period. NSW detected one locally transmitted case at the weekend but it was excluded from the Saturday tally after being detected after the 8pm deadline.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor did nothing to correct the record for about a month after using false figures on travel expenditure to launch an attack on Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore. Taylor was told almost immediately after his office disseminated doctored figures about Moore’s spending on travel last year that the numbers were wrong, but let the numbers stand. The revelation comes from documents released by Taylor in settlement of a case The Guardian brought in the administrative appeals tribunal under the Freedom of Information Act. They include a series of WhatsApp messages between Taylor and his staff. “Boss, just a heads up for tomorrow,” a staff member tells Taylor says via WhatsApp on September 29, 2019. “The City of Sydney Council has altered their annual report numbers online since we originally accessed them. So we know Clover Moore will dispute that she has spent so much on travel.” Taylor’s office reports that the two other staff referred to in the documents have left the minister’s employment.

The Australian economy will lose more than $3 trillion and 900,000 jobs over the next 50 years if climate change is not addressed, according to a new report from Deloitte Access Economics. The report found Australia is primed for an economic contraction of 6 per cent and $3.4 trillion in lost GDP by 2070 due to climate change. Queensland would contribute more than half those losses (470,000, or 7 per cent of the state’s workforce) and endure a 14 per cent dip in gross state product due to its exposure to high temperatures and export sectors.  A “new growth recovery” – including a net-zero emissions target by 2050, upgrading electricity infrastructure and renewables innovation boosted by government and private investment – would create a $680 billion economic dividend.

A shipment of live Australian rock lobster is stranded awaiting customs clearance in China, prompting fears that seafood is the latest casualty in the trade dispute between Australia and China that has already engulfed wine, barley, and coal. A rejection of the fresh lobsters or a further delay of more than 48 hours, beyond which the crustaceans are unlikely to survive, would send a message that it is another trade strike after a year of rising tensions. The lobster delays come on the eve of a major international export expo in Shanghai.

Australia’s new convict age
In recent years Australia has seen an acceleration in law and order style electioneering, and it’s led to a record high incarceration rate. Today, Mike Seccombe, on who gets jailed in Australia and what needs to change.

“At first glance, there was nothing especially remarkable about the decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States on Monday, which rejected attempts to provide a Covid-19 buffer for the tallying of votes in the state of Wisconsin … But there is nothing ordinary about this Supreme Court, this election, or the powerful forces that seek to shape it to their ends.”

“The spooked, tentative quality of Albanese and his party originates with a betrayal. Bill Shorten, a union man, was repudiated by heavy industry workers ... These are only small, distinct episodes in a story that is international in its scope, and generations-long in its timescale. Albanese’s tale – a lion of the left, now tamed – is a microcosm of the same narrative trajectory. It is the story of the decline of social democratic parties in the developed world, and the breakup and rearrangement of those once-reliable voting blocs that decided their fortunes.”

“Besides the United States under Donald Trump, and Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, Australia is the only major economy that does not take the need for action on climate change seriously – and does not recognise the economic opportunities that come with taking action. This is not the sort of international company we should be keeping: we should be ashamed of it.”

“By providing free snacks, water, and hot meals at polling places with extensive lines — Chefs for the Polls, which is operated by José Andrés’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen, has used social media to document early voting waits as long as 12 hours — the organizations say they hope to use sustenance as a way to address food insecurity, improve upon a frustrating voting experience, and celebrate civic engagement and the democratic process … There is evidence that events like free food near polling places can get more people in line to begin with, and thus help increase voter turnout.”

“Texas Republicans have asked a federal judge to throw out at least 117,000 ballots cast in Harris County, a heavily Democratic area that has experienced an unprecedented surge in early voting this month. The brazen effort to undo legally cast ballots in a diverse, populous county is an eleventh-hour attempt to diminish Joe Biden’s chances of carrying the swing state on Nov. 3. Republicans claim that Harris County’s use of drive-thru voting violates the U.S. Constitution, requiring the judge to throw out every ballot cast this way.”

“So you've seen examples like the then member, Tony Abbott's seat of Warringah, where the Mosman Rowing Club got the biggest possible grant, half a million dollars and a yacht club in Health Minister Greg Hunt's electorate got $30,000. So there's an argument about whether every grant was deserving of approval and whether some grants that were rated very highly by Sport Australia were overlooked in favor of some that were ranked much lower that the minister wanted to approve.”

“Literally translating to platform cedar, daisugi is a 14th- or 15th-century technique that offers an efficient, sustainable, and visually stunning approach to forestry. The method originated in Kyoto and involves pruning the branches of Kitayama cedar so that the remaining shoots grow straight upward from a platform. Rather than harvesting the entire tree for lumber, loggers can fell just the upper portions, leaving the base and root structure intact.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.