What a week it was. Brett Kavanaugh rose above criticism, a local MP exceeded his bandwidth and one NY subway ride got real chill, man.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve seen the US continue to divide, a draconian law introduction from an unexpected source, the Internet crisis in Australia make it all the way to the Assistant Treasurer’s office and tragedy in Wollongong.
The US continued to be gripped this week with the potential appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. If you haven’t been watching the news, here’s a quick recap.
President Trump nominated Judge Kavanaugh back in July to take the vacant place on the Supreme Court following the retirement of long-standing judge, Anthony Kennedy.
Everyone apart from Trump and staunch Republicans were immediately concerned due to Kavanaugh’s strong conservative leanings which would likely see ultra conservative views holding the majority on the bench. Among other things, it has been widely tipped that this could result in an overturning of the landmark 1973 “Roe v Wade” case which saw the Supreme Court effectively protect a woman’s right to abortion in the US.
As has been the case with everything Trump has had his hands on, the plan went awry. Allegations were made public by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at Stanford University, which suggested that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her twice in the early ’80s. As Kavanaugh and Trump furiously issued denials, Deborah Ramirez came forward and accused Kavanagh of exposing himself and thrusting his penis in her face when they attended Yale University together.
A third woman, now known to be Julie Swetnick, also came forward via her lawyer to suggest that she had “credible information” regarding Kavanaugh’s previous misdeeds and that she would be willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Dr Ford flew to Washington and gave evidence against Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing. Whilst much of Dr Ford’s allegations couldn’t be corroborated (which is all too common in sexual assault cases), her testimony still appeared to have an effect on both the committee and the public at large.
President Trump, however, thought it would be appropriate to straight out accuse her of lying whilst publicly mocking Dr Ford. This resulted in at least three Republican Senators, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, publicly slamming Trump for the move. The Republicans currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate; should one or two Senators decide not to vote the party line with respect to Kavanagh’s appointment, then it won’t happen.
At the behest of Trump and the committee, the FBI were called in to investigate the various accusations made against Kavanaugh and to then report on them to the committee. Trump directed them to ensure that the investigation was “limited in scope” and “completed in less than one week”. It appears that both directions were followed to the letter, with the report being provided to the committee late this week and effectively clearing Kavanaugh of any wrongdoing. Democratic Senators have slammed the report as a “whitewash”, and rightly so; it was rushed and completed within a week and the FBI didn’t interview Kavanaugh or Ford.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court to protest Kavanaugh’s potential appointment on Thursday, including a group of approximately 300 who staged a sit-in on the atrium floor of a Senate office building. After the majority refused to move, police forcibly removed them and it’s believed they arrested a number of them including comedian Amy Schumer and model Emily Ratajkowski. Kavanagh’s appointment will likely proceed, however what happens next is anyone’s guess as the US continues to become more and more divided.
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The introduction of a new, rather draconian law has caused outrage and left many promising to never visit the country involved. You could be forgiven for assuming I’m still talking about the US – unfortunately, I’m talking about our friends from across the Tasman, New Zealand.
In what is believed to be a world-first, travellers entering New Zealand will now be required to disclose their passwords for their phones, tablets and computers if requested by border officials. Failure to comply could see visitors prosecuted and receive fines of more than $4,000 AUD.
Terry Brown, a NZ Customs spokesman, told the media, “We’re not aware of any other country that has legislated for the potential of a penalty to be applied if people do not divulge their passwords.” He also indicated that border officials believe the fine is an “appropriate remedy”.
Customs officers already had the right to search mobile phones and digital devices and to then potentially seize devices for forensic examination if there was cause to believe they might contain evidence of criminal activity. However the law previously did not require people to provide access to the devices by way of passwords of biometric data.
The move is likely to encourage our own Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, who appears to be on a crusade to degrade what’s left of personal privacy or the presumption of innocence back home. Slippery, slippery slope…
Assistant Treasurer, Stuart Robert, has found himself in hot water this week following the revelation that he has been charging taxpayers exorbitant amounts for Internet access at his Gold Coast home, including multiple months attracting a bill of over $2,000.
The two thousand dollar charge represents 20 times the average spend for Internet data by other parliamentarians, who as a rule of thumb, don’t try to be particularly frugal with respect to what they oncharge to us.
Robert defended the spend, telling the media that due to the normal and more cost-effective options like ADSL, ISDN and NBN not being available to his house, he had no choice but to utilise a home wireless service which attracted high data charges. His May usage bill, which came to a whopping $2,832, was apparently brought about by him using 300 gigabytes of data when his plan only included 50 gigabytes; the excess then being charged one gigabyte at a time.
If that wasn’t damning enough, it turns out that Mr Robert’s previous job was in IT and that he holds a Masters Degree in the field.
First and foremost, just a wonderful example of one of the major problems we have in this country with respect to access to telecommunications – problems that the Lib’s version of the NBN will not fix. After all, Mr Robert lives on the Gold Coast, not in the Simpson Desert. Secondly, whilst countless Australian’s face exactly the same problem every day due to reliable service not being available in their area at a reasonable cost, they either find a way around it or go without. Given that 4G speeds are faster than most existing technology, his problem could have been easily solved utilising an unlimited data plan on his phone and tethering. Telstra have one for around $200 per month – around 10% of what the Assistant Treasurer has charged us.
But most importantly, what the hell is he doing that requires 300 gigabytes per month? He presumably has an office locally and obviously also spends the majority of his time in Canberra. Yet somehow, during the rare times that he’s home, he manages to use more than most heavy Netflix watching users could download in a month. Or to quantify it a little for you, 300 gigabytes is the equivalent of 100 hours of HD streaming on Netflix, or 3,000 hours of Fortnite, or 2,600 hours of music streaming. I do all three of those things on a very regular basis and don’t get close to 300 gigabytes.
Is it any wonder that we have a Government that has proven how inept and out of touch it is with respect to information technology and telecommunications when these are the people we are appointing to our top jobs?
PM Scott Morrison has ordered an investigation into the matter, asking his Special Minister of State, Alex Hawke, to look into it and report back his findings…not that we will be given the resignation we deserve.
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Police were called to a home in Wollongong this week following the discovery of a badly battered body. The victim, 39-year-old Kristie Powell, was discovered by a friend at around 1:10am on Friday outside her bedroom but inside her house. Her 5-month-old son was sleeping just metres away and was found unharmed.
NSW Police told the media that Ms Powell suffered extensive injuries from a sharp object to the head and upper body and that her death is being treated as a homicide.
Whilst authorities haven’t given any indication yet as to whether they have a suspect, the media have uncovered some interesting history on Ms Powell’s social media accounts that may point in the direction of a suspect and/or motive. Powell was reportedly well known as a volunteer and dog foster carer for the Wollongong Animal Rescue Network, and it seems her work led to a number of complaints from neighbours and council.
In February 2015, Ms Powell complained on social media about the various complaints she had received regarding the dogs under her care, saying: “If you have an issue with me come and see me and speak to me directly and that way I can fix the issue instead of dobbing on me and trying to get me into trouble, you little coward.”
It was a series of messages and posts on her Facebook page over the past few months, however, that have garnered the most attention. Back in May of this year, Ms Powell told friends in private messages that they shouldn’t call her on a private number anymore as she would no longer answer the calls. Her reason? She was allegedly being harassed by a man who left messages saying “Die Kristie Die”.
She wrote at the time, “He is mentally unwell & I have contacted the police about him on a few occasions but there is nothing that they can really do as he is considered nonthreatening!…Even tho most of his messages say ‘Die Kristie Die’ he doesn’t approach me or my house, he just calls me or sends me msgs (sometimes I get over 100 a day!)…But none of them make any sense! He calls himself the Reaper & thinks that he is way more important than he is. Most of the time is is highly amusing & entertaining really. He needs serious help but the mental health system just keep releasing him.”
Ms Powell’s 5-month-old son was taken to hospital before being released into the care of his grandparents. Police have indicated they are yet to speak to the boy’s father.
Shocking, tragic and possibly preventable.
Wacky and wonderful
If you’ve ever travelled on the New York subway system, you’d know that it can be a veritable people-watching extravaganza. People of all genders (or non-genders), races, religions, cultures and varying degrees of mental wellness co-exist as they go about their days. With that many variables, the obscure and the strange are often present with respect to the behaviour of passengers, and this week saw a story come out that is unbelievable.
At the start of the evening rush on Friday, a couple reportedly boarded the southbound 2 train at 233rd Street in the Bronx. Once inside, witnesses report that they pitched a tent in the middle of the carriage and proceeded to crawl inside. Then, witnesses allege, they began brazenly smoking drugs.
One of the passengers on the same carriage immediately tweeted NTC Transit advising, “They have the car train door open, exposing passengers to drugs. Please alert the conductor or police.”
Before long, the subway car had filled with smoke which saw several passengers move to other cars with a little more oxygen. Within minutes, the same passenger tweeted, “They just walked away with the police. Thank you officer!”
Only in New York.
That’s it from me, TBSers. Have a cracking week!