Well, it’s been a messy week. Donald Trump lost his mojo, we sparred with China and one flight got particularly visceral.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve seen Trump’s negotiation skills on display in the US, tragedy for the international football community, a tense diplomatic situation back home and the most horrific and disgusting in-flight story I’ve ever heard.
US President Donald Trump is getting his first taste of life with the Democrats in charge of the House…and it’s safe to say he isn’t enjoying it.
As the US Government shutdown continues on, the question over the planned State of the Union address that Trump was expected to give on January 29 reared its head. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi advised Trump that due to the shutdown, there were security concerns over the planned speech and subsequently invited him to work with her to find an alternative date after the shutdown had finished.
Trump replied indicating he would be proceeding with the speech and that he had spoken with the Secret Service who allegedly indicated that they had no security concerns over the speech. Trump wrote, “Therefore, I will be honouring your invitation, and fulfilling my Constitutional duty, to deliver important information to the people and Congress of the United States of America regarding the State of our Union… It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!”
Pelosi’s response was swift and direct, indicating that she would not pass the resolution authorising him to address Congress until after the shutdown. Without the resolution, Trump has no authority to address Congress. Trump proceeded to tell the media that he would press on with the State of the Union address at an alternative location.
In a late twist, Trump took to twitter that night, indicating that he would delay the speech until after the shut down: “I will do the address when the shutdown is over. I am not looking for an alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber.”
As Trump returned to his dark corner to lick his wounds, the news got worse. A democrat-backed proposal hit the floor of the senate which would hopefully see the end of the shutdown. With the Republicans controlling the senate, it wasn’t expected to pass—and it didn’t—however, six Republican senators crossed the floor and voted in favour of it with the final count being 52 in favour and 44 against (60 votes are required for it to pass).
To add insult to injury, a Trump-backed bill which included $US5.7 billion for his controversial border wall also hit the Senate floor and was also defeated, with 51 in favour and 47 against. For those keeping score, Trump’s bill received one less vote than the Democrat bill in a Republican-controlled Senate.
With his back to the wall, Trump did something we haven’t seen much of during his Presidency: he rolled over. Late in the week, Trump took to Twitter to announce that a temporary deal that would see the shutdown end had been reached. “I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government,” he said. “In a short while, I will sign a bill to open our government for three weeks, until February 15.” Trump also indicated that he could still shut down the government again if he doesn’t get his way after the three weeks, or use his “very powerful alternative”: declaring a national emergency and using emergency funds to build his wall.
Also on The Big Smoke
Tragedy has struck the international football community this week with Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala declared missing and presumed dead after an ill-fated flight from France to England this week.
Sala had recently signed for English Premier League team Cardiff in a club-record $27 million deal. After a successful four years at French Ligue 1 team FC Nantes, he had spent the week farewelling teammates before boarding a single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft to join his teammates in the Welsh capital.
Whilst on board the flight, Sala allegedly sent a message to his family saying he was on a plane that “looks like it’s going to fall apart”. Further media reports have also suggested he sent a WhatsApp voice recording to loved ones saying he was “really scared”.
The plane disappeared from radar around 20km north of Guernsey and wasn’t heard from again.
Search and rescue teams from the Channel Islands, the UK and France have spent days this week searching, covering around 4,400 square metres. They only managed to find some debris but no indication that it’s linked to the missing aircraft.
In tragic news for his family and friends, police ended the search late in the week. Guernsey police issued a statement saying “We reviewed all the information available to us, as well as knowing what emergency equipment was on board, and have taken the difficult decision to end the search. The chances of survival at this stage are extremely remote.”
Sala’s sister released an emotional plea to rescuers, begging them to continue the search. “I know that they’re alive and they’re well, and they’re looking for us,” she said. “Please, please, I’m asking you, don’t stop searching. They’re alive. Emiliano is a fighter. I know he has not given up. We don’t have any certainty of anything. Nothing has been found.”
Police have indicated that whilst teams were no longer “actively searching, the incident remains open and we will be broadcasting to all vessels and aircraft in the area to keep a lookout for any trace of the aircraft.”
Diplomatic tensions between China and Australia are on the rise this week following the detention of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun.
Dr Yang had been living in New York and working as a visiting scholar at the prestigious Columbia University with his wife before taking a trip to Shanghai on January 18. Upon landing in Guangzhou, he was prevented from boarding his connecting flight to Shanghai and was detained by the Chinese Government.
He has since been charged with espionage for “endangering China’s national security” and engaging in “criminal activities”, but no further information has been released by the Chinese government at this stage.
Australian Minister for the Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, raised the matter with Chinese Defence General Wei Fenghe later in the week, asking that Dr Yang be treated fairly and transparently, and have immediate access to consular assistance. A spokesperson for Pyne said, “General Wei assured that, while he was not personally aware of the case, Mr Yang would be treated well and that the general would seek further information.”
Pyne also intends to raise a potential breach of the Australia-China consular agreement which requires either government be notified within three days if one of their citizens is detained; Chinese authorities in this case did not notify Canberra for four days.
Whilst Pyne and Defence Minister Marise Payne have been diplomatic in their public comments, Liberal backbencher and chair of Parliament’s intelligence committee, Andrew Hastie, has been more forthcoming with his comments, accusing Beijing of coercion.
“This action generates uncertainty in our friendship with China. Beijing’s aggressive and vengeful behaviour with Canadian and now Australian citizens is alarming,” Hastie said. “The arrest of Australian citizen Yung Hengjun should be of concern to all Australians.”
Hastie continued, saying, “It is possible that his arbitrary detention was designed to deter members of the Australian Chinese diaspora from talking openly and honestly about political questions near to their hearts. It is also possible that this is an act of Chinese statecraft designed to serve Chinese interests in a larger geopolitical landscape.”
Hastie and others, including former government advisor Stephen Joske, have suggested that mainland China is no longer safe to visit. “I would not go there full stop,” Joske said. “The risk of something going wrong is extremely high.”
Certainly not high on my “must visit” list at the moment.
Also on The Big Smoke
The heroic Aussie divers who were pivotal in the successful rescue of twelve children from a cave in Thailand have been named the joint Australian of the Year this week. Richard Harris and Craig Challen, who are an anaesthetist and a retired vet respectively, were presented with their award by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a ceremony at the National Arboretum on Friday night.
The pair of mates were each nominated by their home states of WA and SA and were given the award for showing “unwavering and selfless bravery” during the famous rescue mission; their involvement also earned them the Star of Courage. The statement released with the announcement also said, “The pair have remained humble about their role in the rescue but have been embraced proudly by Australians as quiet heroes whose efforts are admired and applauded.”
Definitely worthy winners!
Wacky and wonderful
As someone that has travelled a lot, I have significant respect and sympathy for flight attendants. They are expected to deal with rude and unruly passengers in a confined and inescapable space, whilst also being expected to be our waiters, keep us safe and clean up after us.
So this experience of a flight attendant for Taiwanese airline EVA Air this week absolutely takes the cake.
A wheelchair-confined passenger travelling between Los Angeles and Taipai this week asked for assistance in using the lavatory partway through the flight.
Fair enough, probably not an overly unusual request; I have enough trouble using toilets onboard a packed flight without the added complication of a wheelchair. Things took a quick turn for the worse, however, when the passenger insisted that the flight attendant remove his underwear for him.
The flight attendant refused, telling the media later: “I felt that as a flight attendant, removing a passenger’s underwear was beyond the scope of my responsibilities.” Umm…yeah it is.
The unruly passenger began yelling, repeating his demands, and refused to take no for an answer. After threatening to relieve himself on the floor, the flight attendant decided to assist for the sake of everyone else on board. She attempted to cover his now exposed genitals with a blanket but had her hand slapped away. The passenger also insisted that the door remained open because otherwise “he couldn’t breathe”.
Thankfully for the rest of the passengers, the flight attendant managed to keep the door closed, however the worst was yet to come. The 199kg passenger then refused to leave the lavatory until the attendant cleaned and wiped his backside for him. The flight attendants refused, however changed their mind as it became obvious that the man would not leave the lavatory until it was done.
The chief attendant put on three pairs of latex gloves and began performing a task that they definitely don’t prepare you for in training. Her reward? The passenger moaning with pleasure, saying “Oh…mmm…deeper, deeper,” before admonishing her work and insisting that she do it again.
Umm…nah, I’ve got absolutely nothing.
That’s it from me, TBSers—have a cracking week!