Nuclear subs and a diplomatic blowup: The US-France clash, explained

“lays the groundwork for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines with support from the US and the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it also marks the “first major initiative” of a tripartite new security agreement among the countries under the acronym AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us, according to the AP).

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability — the most modern capabilities we need — to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” President Joe Biden said in Wednesday’s joint announcement with Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The AUKUS submarine deal replaces a previous agreement between France and Australia for France to deliver 12 non-nuclear submarines.”

“In public remarks..French officials, including Le Drian, have not held back their shock at Australia’s decision to turn to the US and the UK. “We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said on Thursday, according to Politico.”

“French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to withdraw his country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia in response to the pact marks a surprising breakdown in France’s historically close relationship with the US — but Australia’s decision to look to the US for its submarine fleet is less surprising.

Specifically, China’s military buildup, and its quest for dominance in the South China Sea — a major trade route for Australia — made the French submarines obsolete before they were even delivered. Because the US-made submarines rely on nuclear power, they have a far greater range than conventional submarines, don’t require refueling, and have better stealth capabilities — meaning they can stay underwater for months at a time without being detected, Australian National University researcher AJ Mitchell explained in the Conversation this week.”

“In addition to the advantages of nuclear submarines, Australia’s previous deal with France — a $66 billion submarine contract, finalized in 2016, that would have provided Australia with 12 conventional, diesel-powered Barracuda submarines — has been rife with difficulties.”

“On top of cost overruns and delays, there were other issues as well. Shortly after Australia and France reached the agreement in 2016, the French shipbuilder, then called DCNS, revealed it had been hacked and documents related to a separate Indian submarine project exposed. And while France’s submarine technology — conventional, diesel-powered attack vessels that could be switched to nuclear power — may have made sense when Australia’s relationship with China was less contentious, that relationship has soured recently due to China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

“Australia and the US reportedly conspired to keep the developing deal from France, even as officials from both countries met with their French counterparts. Biden discussed the future of their alliance with Macron in June, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made no mention of the pact when he met with Le Drian that same month in Paris.

Australia also hid its plans from France when Morrison and Macron met in June, although Morrison says he did raise concerns about the viability of diesel-powered vessels, according to the Hill. Australia’s defense and foreign ministers even met with their French counterparts late last month and issued a joint statement about furthering their defense cooperation, specifically citing the submarine program.”

Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters

“Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.

The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.

The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.”

“The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.

The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.

Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to remove potentially defamatory content the moment it appears before anybody else could see it. Nevertheless, the justices concluded that this is enough control over the comments for media outlets to be considered publishers. Two of the justices were very blunt that simply participating on Facebook made Fairfax Media Publications a publisher of the comments”

“It is easy to assume, as these other justices apparently have, that such a decision could not possibly cause a disastrous amount of online censorship because media outlets should know when a controversial story might lead to defamatory comments. The judges actually note this in the ruling. They seem to think that this is only an issue with certain types of stories and that the appearance of defamatory comments can be predicted in advance.

This is complete rubbish, and anybody with any experience on social media already knows this. Trolls, scammers, and spammers range far and wide (that’s the point of them), and it’s incredibly naive to think that a story that has no controversial elements can’t end up with third parties posting defamatory nonsense under them.”

“it’s why Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which generally protects websites and social media platforms (and you) from liability for comments published by others, is so important. It’s not just to protect media outlets from being held liable for comments from trolls. It’s to allow social media participation to even happen at all. Some large media outlets or companies might be able to afford around-the-clock moderation to attempt to catch problems. But even if they could, let’s be clear that they’re going to avoid as much risk as possible and delete any comment that has a whiff of controversy. Why would they allow it to stand if it could get them sued?

But smaller companies and outlets—and there’s no reason to think this ruling applies only to media outlets—will either have to hope Facebook gives them better tools to control who posts on their page or just not have social media presences at all.”

Everybody’s Wrong About the Facebook/Murdoch Standoff in Australia

“According to data from Australia collected over the past two decades, advertising revenue for newspapers has plunged 32 percent over that time, while circulation has remained largely the same. The overall advertising market has actually grown. Almost the entirety of the revenue loss for Australian newspapers has been the loss of classified advertising. It’s been almost completely eliminated in the Australian print media because the technological efficiencies of internet searches make online classified systems much for useful for consumers. There’s no reason for classified advertising in newspapers to exist any longer. Online is better. If you need proof, watch Saturday Night Live’s recent parody advertisement about the nearly pornographic fascination some people have with searching for houses on Zillow.

This is all about the historically common disruption that new technologies cause in the marketplace. Newspapers are no longer the best at serving up advertising to consumers, so that market went elsewhere. After engines were invented, horses stopped being the most efficient way to travel. After electricity was invented, candles stopped being the most efficient artificial source of light.

Newspapers and media outlets have no moral right to claim this money for themselves. The advertising industry money should go to where it’s most effective. But because media outlets have been unable to replace the lost advertising, they’ve resorted to lobbying the government with claims that preserving newspapers is pivotal to the survival of democracy, riding on the current populist criticism of the size of tech companies.”

China and Australia are in a nasty diplomatic spat over a fake tweet — and real war crimes

“Last month, Australia released the Brereton report, the result of a four-year inquiry into war crimes committed by the nation’s elite Special Air Services while fighting in Afghanistan.

Among the report’s shocking allegations was that soldiers were involved in the murder of 39 Afghan civilians, none of which occurred during battle. Senior commanders allegedly prompted junior officers to kill prisoners in a process called “blooding,” and weapons were planted on the dead captives to justify their executions.”

How Melbourne eradicated Covid-19

“Australia enjoyed plenty of advantages over the United States in containing Covid-19. It has no land borders to speak of. Its population density is very low (though the population is concentrated on the coasts). Its outbreak never got nearly as bad as the US’s did. On its worst days, Victoria saw about 700 new cases; Missouri, with (very roughly) a similar population and landmass, is currently averaging more than 3,000. Some of the Australian states also closed their borders to the others, which lowered the risk somebody might bring Covid-19 from one part of the country to another.

But the Australian epidemic has also mirrored America’s in important ways. Once the coronavirus arrived in the spring, the country went into lockdown. When cases abated, some of those restrictions were eased — and, before too long, Covid-19 cases were spiking again. Each state was responsible for its own response, with the federal government playing an advisory role outside of obviously national issues like foreign travel.

In the second wave, Victoria was by far the hardest-hit state. Its case numbers were dwarfing those in every other state including New South Wales, home to the country’s other great metropolis, Sydney.”

“The state had gone into a stage 4 lockdown — most businesses closed, there was a nightly curfew, and residents were ordered to stay within five kilometers of their home — in August, and it was then extended in September, with the explicit goal of eventually reaching zero new cases.”

“They treated the threats to public health and the economy as intertwined, which most experts agree they are. The Australian states that contained Covid-19 best also saw the strongest economic recoveries. Victoria, with the worst outbreak among the states, was lagging behind in consumer spending and business revenue.”

““Without elimination, the third, fourth, or fifth wave is an inevitability. This will either involve more lockdowns or the government will lose the social license to do lockdowns and the virus will spread indiscriminately,” Duckett told me over email, perhaps unwittingly describing the very challenge before the United States during this winter surge. “A hard lockdown in the early stages of the virus gives a chance for elimination, and that gives the chance for business certainty and a full recovery.”

Melburnians are now enjoying the benefits of their sacrifices. Duckett said he had just gone to lunch with a few friends before responding to my email.

The US probably cannot achieve zero Covid-19 cases anytime soon. But it could embrace the spirit of the Victorian model: a clear goal, support for the proven mitigation strategies, and a commitment from the public.”

“They expanded testing, including random pooled testing and testing for workers in essential industries and of people attending schools or other indoor events. They achieved 24-hour turnarounds for test results, so if a person tested positive, they could quickly isolate. Once cases reached zero, the state was planning to start testing sewage for Covid-19 to get a head start on any resurgence.”

““A system that relies on self-isolation in which people are unable or refuse to self-isolate cannot succeed,” Duckett and Mackey wrote.

That probably sounds draconian to Americans. Certainly, the harshest lockdown measures taken in Victoria — requiring people to stay within a few miles of their house and stay inside completely at night — would be politically challenging in the US.

But Australians took it in stride because they knew the goal they were working toward.”

“The government there made it easier for businesses and workers by providing subsidies to businesses to keep people employed and by increasing their unemployment benefits — the same policies that the US has let lapse and is now struggling to reinstitute even during this devastating winter wave.

As cases dwindled, the lockdown measures were relaxed in a clear, tiered fashion. The extreme travel restrictions were the first to go. Schools and businesses could reopen with spacing. Masks continued to be required indoors and on public transportation. Eventually, all restrictions except for international quarantine could be lifted.

Things could still go wrong for Victoria and the rest of Australia. The state has started prioritizing having “normal” conditions for the Christmas shopping season over maintaining zero new cases. But it is easier to focus on reopening when community spread is eliminated — rather than pushing forward with reopening in spite of sustained spread, as the US has done.”

“I don’t believe it was impossible for America to execute a similar strategy to the one that has succeeded in Victoria. Polls showed most Americans did support wearing masks and other mitigation measures, even if there was some divide among partisans. They worried that social distancing would be relaxed too quickly, not too slowly, much like the Australians did.

The problem, or one of them, is that the US just never set a clear goal for Covid-19 suppression. It was understandably hard to ask people in Wisconsin to abide by social distancing restrictions back when they thought the coronavirus was just a New York City problem — and when they didn’t know what the plan was.

Today, of course, the pandemic is a very real problem for every American. So as we try to bring the winter wave under control, we might benefit from taking a lesson from the Aussies and coming up with a specific objective that all of us, together, can work toward.”

Australia’s hellish heat wave and wildfires, explained

“The fires have now killed at least 20 people, torched more than 14.8 million acres, and destroyed more than 900 homes since September. The blazes turned skies orange and made breathing the air in Sydney as bad as smoking 37 cigarettes. The bushfires have also killed 480 million animals, environmental officials told the Times in the United Kingdom, including nearly one-third of the koalas in one of Australia’s most populated koala habitats, an area 240 miles north of Sydney.”

“The extreme heat in Australia this week is not just a fluke. There were unique patterns in rain, temperature, and wind that converged to scorch the continent, factors that scientists were able to detect in advance. But Australia is also deep in the throes of the accelerating climate crisis, facing not just extreme heat but changes in rainfall patterns. These shifts in turn stand to worsen other problems like drought and wildfires.”

“However, the links between fire risk and climate change are more complicated than the links between extreme heat and climate change.”