Thursday, April 15, 2021

US sets date to leave Afghanistan

United States President Joe Biden has announced he will withdraw remaining American troops from the “forever war” in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. The US will begin to wind down its 2500-strong military presence on May 1, a plan which fails to honour an agreement the US struck with the Taliban last year for a full withdrawal by that date. Soon after Biden’s announcement NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels said the alliance had agreed to withdraw its roughly 7000 forces from Afghanistan. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday confirmed his government had been discussing plans with allies to withdraw Australia’s remaining 80 troops. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he “respects the US decision”. The withdrawal confirmation has been welcomed by US progressives as long overdue, but sparked criticism from some Republicans. An assessment from the US intelligence community released this week concluded, “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support”. 

The Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney confirmed at a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday that a fresh investigation has been launched into allegations made by Nine newspapers that Ben Roberts-Smith allegedly buried sensitive military files in his backyard and attempted to intimidate a witness in an investigation into war crimes. McCartney said it was determined to be a “sensitive” investigation on March 29, which means the probe will be overseen by the Sensitive Investigations Oversight Board, and new Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews may also be briefed on the matter. Roberts-Smith on Wednesday denied the claims made in the media reporting. However, he apologised to employees at Channel Seven, where he works as an executive, for leaked recordings in which he expressed disdain for colleagues, saying he took “full responsibility” for describing the company as dysfunctional.

A new report from the Climate Council urges Australian governments and industry to get carbon emissions to net zero by 2035. The report authors warn that failure to do so could see Australia become increasingly economically isolated from trading partners and at greater risk of climate-related disasters. “The EU and others may slap import tariffs [on our exports]," said Will Steffen from the ANU's Climate Change Institute, and the report's lead author. He said there would be increasing pressure on Australia to take tougher emissions reduction targets to COP26, the UN climate conference to be held in Glasgow in November, where many countries are expected to do the same.

Bernie Madoff, a Wall Street financier responsible for committing one of the biggest frauds in US financial history, has died in prison while serving a 150-year sentence. Associated Press reports that his death was due to natural causes. He was 82. Maddoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to running a Ponzi scheme that paid investors with money from new clients rather than actual profits, which subsequently collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis. Court-appointed trustees labouring to unwind the scheme have recovered more than $14 billion of an estimated $17.5 billion investors put into Madoff’s business.

The fight to end Indigenous deaths in custody
Thirty years ago Australia held a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, but most of its recommendations still haven’t been implemented and hundreds more Indigenous people have died in custody.

“Berry McSherry ran her own business, a training company for the long-term unemployed, until changes in government policy led to less funding for the kinds of services she provided. Soon enough, her company went under. She was 55 at the time. McSherry, who was a single parent and then a widowed mother of two, had struggled financially before. She didn’t have much super – super didn’t even exist at the start of her career – and life events had undermined her ability to save for a rainy day. Eventually the crisis saw her hand over her home – her only asset – to the bank, to cover her business debts.” 

“Steve Bracks sees it as a change that will reshape Australia. The former Victorian premier notes the projection that Melbourne’s population could overtake Sydney’s in as few as five years, and says it will redefine how power is distributed. Bracks points to an earlier period of rapid population growth in south-east Queensland, which led to more federal seats being created in the region and in turn helped the Coalition win elections ... ‘Now you’re likely to see new seats on the outskirts of Melbourne,’ he says ... ‘Melbourne is clearly the most progressive part of the nation, and greater population growth means that influence will be felt across the country.’”

“Is the Coalition genuinely at risk of not being returned for a fourth term? Implied in the opinion poll trends – assuming they remain credible enough to talk about – is that the electorate is preparing to replace Morrison’s government with a Labor Party led by Anthony Albanese. Does anyone really believe that? Incumbency is powerful inertia, especially when the incumbent has blue stripes and the support of News Corp. The election of a Labor Opposition to the government benches requires more than mere Coalition scandal and incompetence.”

“New Zealand will cease the export of livestock by sea following a transition period of up to two years, agriculture minister Damien O’Connor has said. ‘At the heart of our decision is upholding New Zealand’s reputation for high standards of animal welfare. We must stay ahead of the curve in a world where animal welfare is under increasing scrutiny,’ O’Connor said on Wednesday. This decision will affect some farmers, exporters and importers, and a transition period will enable the sector to adapt, he added.”

“The Australian Government says it has no plans to ban livestock exports and New Zealand's move is expected to help Australian farmers win lucrative trade deals with China, which had been spending big on dairy breeding heifers … industry analyst Emma Higgins said the decision to ban exports from New Zealand left Australian dairy producers ‘in the box seat’ to take up the trade of dairy heifers into Asia.”

“If Australia handles the challenge well, we can build an economy that takes advantage of the transition. If we cling to the past, we will miss opportunities that the rest of the world will seize. The last thing we want is to be cave dwellers, watching the future march back and forth outside the cave opening. The scale of the job is vast and it will take decades. But we must be part of the revolution rather than left behind. As the Borg said in Star Trek: The Next Generation: ‘Resistance is futile.’”

“One recent incident that caused annoyance inside federal government ranks was Navy's decision last weekend to invite a local group of scantily clad dancers to perform a routine that included twerking. ‘The dancers are beside the point — we’re meant to be a fighting force,’ one government frontbencher told the ABC, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ‘A question worth pondering: what would Horatio Nelson think of this shitshow?’

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