Thursday, January 21, 2021

Biden inauguration like no other

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, delivering an inaugural address to an empty National Mall cleared of observers due to the threat of violence and Covid-19. Also absent was former president Donald Trump, the first chief executive in modern US history to skip his successor's inauguration, as he left for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Outgoing vice-president Mike Pence opted to attend the inauguration rather than Trump’s farewell ceremony. Biden preached national unity as the answer to the threats of Covid-19, racial injustice, climate change and right-wing terrorism. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war,” he said. His running mate, Kamala Harris, was also sworn in as the first woman and person of colour to become vice-president. 

Biden plans to take 17 executive actions during his first hours in office, including the halt of construction of Trump’s border wall and travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries. Biden also plans to rejoin the Paris climate accord, cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, halt the United States’ departure from the World Health Organization, and impose a mask mandate on federal property.

Twenty-six asylum seekers detained in a hotel in Melbourne have been released into the community on six-month bridging visas, according to SBS News. They had been detained in hotels for more than a year, after being brought to Australia under the now-repealed medevac legislation from offshore detention centres. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said it had heard from those still held at the Park Hotel that 34 more detainees had been told they will also receive visas and be released today, leaving a further 140 asylum seekers transferred to Australia under the medevac legislation still in detention. A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said the bridging visa “allows individuals to temporarily reside in the Australian community while they finalise their arrangements to leave Australia”.

The Catholic Church has made its biggest payout to a victim of sexual abuse in Australia, reports WA Today. Peter* will receive $2.45 million plus legal costs to compensate for abuse by teacher and priest Bertram Adderley, who groomed and raped him between 1977 and 1980 when he was aged 10 to 12. The settlement was offered on January 13, just hours after the victim entered the witness box at his District Court civil trial in Perth and told how Adderley, who died in 1983, abused him over several years. The acts included forcing him to perform oral sex inside a Perth church where he was an altar boy.

The Australian government should try to recover unpaid student loans from people who have died, the Productivity Commission has suggested in its review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. The review also recommended a minimum upfront student contribution for government-funded courses at certificate III level and above, with exemptions for disadvantaged students, and more competition between the TAFE training system and private providers. 

Climate change will kill you, part one: heat
In this new series, journalist Paddy Manning investigates the link between climate change and human health, and tells the stories of those who have become some of the first casualties of the climate crisis.

“The Covid-19 crisis and stimulus funding have so far muted the domestic impacts of the shift in Australia’s relations with China. But in time, the sudden interruption of resources, food and wine exports to their biggest and fastest-growing market will hit rural and regional communities disproportionately hard. The ripple effects through these communities will be devastating and go well beyond the effects of a normal recession – because despite efforts at market diversification, there is no alternative to the scale and dynamism of Chinese demand.”

“For NewSpace companies that stand to prosper from first-mover advantage, it’s useful to encourage the public to believe that anything done in space is good for all of us. The more public support for the principle of space exploitation – for private profit, and with very lax regulation – the quicker these start-ups will amass the power and resources to do whatever they like in space. Let us go there first, their founders say. Trust us – we won’t do anything wrong. And we’re doing it for you – so that one day, anyone can experience the overview effect and be changed forever!



“It’s been fascinating to watch how different organisations have responded to Covid-19. Some – such as Melbourne Fringe, which in the teeth of one of the longest and hardest lockdowns in the world produced an innovative festival with 250 events – focused on how best to help artists make new work. The tiny Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney dug into reserve funds to honour the contracts of cancelled shows and to keep its ancillary staff. On the other hand, Opera Australia – by far the wealthiest arts company in the country – sacked 25 per cent of its permanent staff in September, despite significant government assistance through JobKeeper.”

“A highly successful international campaign in the early 2000s saw AIDS treatments distributed in poorer countries. Pharmaceutical companies that owned the patented drugs were forced to supply them at cost or for free, not at market prices set in the rich countries. This was achieved through public pressure and the willingness of governments to support the required policies. A temporary withdrawal of the patenting rights to the successful Covid-19 vaccines, with or without compensation for the developers, seems a small price to pay for an exit strategy from this global and incredibly costly crisis.”

“As states across the US struggle to administer enough coronavirus vaccines, Washington has picked an unusual partner to help speed up the process … ‘Starbucks is not a healthcare company, but we do operate 33,000 stores at scale, serving 100 million customers per week,’ said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson at a press conference. ‘And we have a world-class team of human-centered design engineers who are working under the direction of the state and healthcare providers, like Swedish, Kaiser Permanente and others, with Microsoft and many other businesses to help support the creation of vaccination centers that can scale.’”

“‘Appalling as he's been, it's a kind of trap to think that when he's gone, the problem will be over to the United States, because the very fact of his existence is proof of the underlying problems. And how they can be resolved is pretty hard to see since they've been there really from the beginning.”

“The project, which allowed children on both sides of the US-Mexico border wall to play together via pink seesaws, has been awarded the Design of the Year prize 2020, on the last day of Trump’s presidency.”

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