What a week. It seemingly was a positive one, with concessions earned and the international pulse lowered somewhat. Thanks, Kim.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had a mixed week from the Commander and Chief in the US, a fantastic local technological breakthrough and the chance to bring one of your favourite video game characters into your car with you. Let’s-a go!
US President Donald Trump has followed through on his “America First” promise this week with the introduction of new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to the United States. He made the move to stem the “assault on our country” by foreign competitors.
In fifteen days time, the tariffs will come into effect with exceptions being given to closest neighbours, Canada and Mexico as “a special case”. Trump’s protectionist strategy has drawn ire around the globe and has experts suggesting that the move could impede economic growth in the US rather than strengthen it. Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois described the move as “like dropping a bomb on a flea,” and could carry “huge unintended consequences for American manufacturers who depend on imported materials”.
One such example is the Novolipetsk Steel PAO mill, a subsidiary of a Russian parent company which currently imports around 2 million tons of steel slabs each year. Those slabs are then rolled into sheets for companies such as Caterpillar, Deere & Co, Harley Davidson and Home Depot and are currently almost impossible to acquire from local producers. The CEO of NLMK’s US operation, Bob Miller, has stated that if customers refuse to accept a 25 percent price hike as a result of the tariffs, the nearly 1,200 workers would eventually lose their jobs. It’s likely there are many other similar stories across the US.
Those against it do have a point. In basic economic terms, whilst the move will result in more domestic jobs (and…well…votes), it could push product prices up in a variety of different areas. Some business leaders have pointed to the tariffs introduced by George W. Bush in 2002 which ended up resulting in the loss of 200,000 US jobs. The European Union have threatened to instigate countermeasures against American products with the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom also suggesting via Twitter that the EU should be excluded from these measures.
Back home, the news wasn’t well received either as Australia’s steel and aluminium industry exports to the US. PM Turnbull who happened to be in the US this week confirmed later in the week that Australia would too be exempt after a “very good and productive” meeting with Trump.
Not everyone lost out of the arrangement, however, with former Trump advisor, Carl Icahn coincidently sold $31.3 million shares in Manitowoc Company, a crane and lifting supplier company which relies heavily on steel import just days before the tariff announcement
Sounds completely above board.
While we’re on the topic of everyone’s favourite Valencia with a hairpiece, a completely unexpected and indeed unprecedented development occurred late this week with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un reportedly reaching out to Trump for a meeting about North Korea’s nuclear program. It was also reported that Jong-un specifically wants to talk about stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing.
So basically exactly what the majority of the world has been hoping for. So much so that it almost seems a little too good to be true.
US VP, Mike Pence, has effectively credited Trump’s strategy for the breakthrough, saying that the request for talks “is evidence that President Trump’s strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working”. Whilst some experts agree that the move has likely been generated by the increasing economic pressure Kim is feeling, others are pointing to the possibility that the move is all part of North Korea’s overarching strategy.
Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank who has engaged North Korean officials at unofficial discussions points to the current weakened diplomatic position of the US with there currently being no US ambassador to South Korea and the surprise resignation of the US State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator last week. DiMaggio believes that this coupled with the unexpectedly rapid progress that North Korea has made in the nuclear arena over the past twelve months could mean that North Korea will be in a very strong negotiating position during the meetings.
Other experts are more cynical, pointing to the real possibility that it could be a carefully laid out trap. Trump, hardly known for his soft diplomacy, is unlikely to be open to a lot of compromises. The result could be a de facto legitimisation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, or worse, “proof” that a diplomatic solution cannot be reached – leaving only one horrible alternative.
Researchers at Melbourne’s RMIT University have developed the world’s first rechargeable proton battery. The breakthrough represents a major step towards cheaper and more environmentally friendly energy, utilising carbon and water instead of lithium as is the case with most rechargeable batteries currently. The prototype is only a small scale device but has the potential to be financially competitive with the lithium-ion batteries currently used.
Professor John Andrews, the lead researcher on the project, pointed to the increasing need for cheap and environmentally sustainable storage technologies to work in conjunction with renewable energy generators like solar and wind. He said,
“Lithium-ion batteries are great but they rely on ultimately scarce and expensive resources. Hydro is also a good technology but suitable sites are limited and the cost may be very high….the advantage is we’re going to be storing protons in a carbon-based material, which is abundant, and we are getting protons from water which is readily available”.
The device produces no carbon emissions and can store electricity from zero-emissions renewable sources. Andrews has indicated he believes it could be commercially available within 5-10 years and would become a competitor to products such as the Tesla Powerwall and eventually large-scale projects like the recently completed huge Tesla battery in South Australia.
Great news all round!
A group of “rowdy mums” in Queensland appear to have been embarking on quite the crime spree across the state. Their MO, according to police, is to go into restaurants and cafes and basically cause enough trouble and damage that the staff let them leave without paying the bill. There was also at least one report of them placing glass inside a meal and demanding a refund.
Reports suggest that at least six businesses in Brisbane’s CBD and nearby Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley have been targeted by the group of mums, reportedly with heavy Irish accents.
It appears this scam may be only one in their bag of tricks with the owner of a grocery store on the Gold Coast reporting that the may have fell victim to the same group. CCTV footage shows a similar group of women filling their bags with items from the aisles rather than into their baskets. When confronted by the owner, they told him they would pay for this separately but still managed to get away with hundreds of dollars worth of products.
A landlord in Brisbane, Clara Carmichael, has since come forward to report that the same women had been former tenants at her brand-new apartments in Brisbane. Carmichael told the media that the women left a trail of destruction in the apartments, including holes in the walls and clogging a toilet with potatoes. She also indicated they had been responsible for terrorising other tenants in the building as well as sending her abusive text messages. She indicated that they fled the properties in the middle of the night. With various images and CCTV footage of the group now circulating in the media, hopefully, their spree will be at an end very soon.
Wacky and Wonderful
In honour of “National Mario Day” – which is apparently a thing now – Google has joined forces with Nintendo to replace the voice guide for Google Maps with none other than everyone’s favourite psychedelic mushroom chomping plumber, Mario!
Mario will only be available for a week from March 10th so get on board while you can – and watch out for banana peels!
That’s it from me TBSers! Have a cracking week!!