- Our national security laws are allowing whistleblowers to be tried in secret
- Morrison is tied to the sports rorts scandal by 136 emails, catching him in another lie
- Moree: A place of ancient beauty and contemporary ugliness
- WhatsApp glitch leaves 470,000 private groups vulnerable
- Under-funded and under-resourced: Australia’s domestic violence loop
Welcome to the Current Affairs Wrap. This week, a man with a van enabled home-made terror with his home-made bombs, Scott Morrison helped the farmers by any means necessary, and a man named ‘Judge Buzzard’ kicked some serious bee-hind.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve seen domestic terror in the US, a caravan of courage on its way to the US, more of the same from the ScoMo government and a Judge in the US with aspirations beyond the bench.
This morning, violence knocked on the door of one Pittsburgh synagogue, as an individual described as “a heavy-set white male armed with an assault rifle and two pistols” entered the building during the Saturday morning service, and drummed America along the same path of outrageous violence, and indeed, another grim location on the map to remember.
Upon completion of his rampage, 11 lay dead. One, according to reports, was motivated by anti-semitism, as “all Jews must die” was reportedly screamed by the individual prior to pulling the trigger.
While Donald Trump has castigated the actions of the individual, claiming that it was a “terrible, terrible thing”, and mused on how it might have been different if “they had protection inside, maybe it could have been a different situation.”
Many are pointing at him as the motivator of this new brand of this inward turning American hate. Journalist Dan Rather had this to say on Twitter:
Mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A killer targeting African Americans in Kentucky. The bomb maker. The focus should not be only on Trump, but all who excuse, abet, or stand in silence while hate is stoked for political gain.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) October 27, 2018
Pittsburgh leads us to the streets of New York as a collection of US politicians and celebrities have had terror delivered to their doorstep this week in the form of a collection of pipe bombs sent through the US postal system.
Former President Barack Obama received one of the devices as did former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Obama-era Attorney-General Eric Holder and congresswoman Maxine Waters. Former CIA director John Brennan and billionaire George Soros also received packages. Then former US Vice President Joe Biden and veteran actor, Robert De Niro joined the nefarious list.
Soon after, Senator Kamala Harris and key Democratic donor Tom Steyer received devices as well. A package addressed to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was then intercepted in Florida and another addressed to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was sent care of CNN, who were forced to evacuate during a live broadcast.
A clear pattern had emerged – all targets had been either outspoken critics of US President Trump or his political rivals. Every package contained the return address of the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Thankfully none of the devices discovered to date have exploded or caused any injury, however the sheer number and spread has caused serious concern around the country.
The FBI moved quickly and managed to collect a fingerprint from the package sent to Congresswoman Maxine Waters which led them to a man by the name of Cesar Sayoc. He was located via the GPS on his mobile phone and promptly arrested. Sayoc reportedly has a long criminal history which includes previous arrests for domestic violence, theft and traffic offences, as well as making a threat to “throw, place, project or discharge a destructive device.”
Sayoc also appears to be an avid Trump supporter; his van was located and confiscated by the FBI not long after his arrest and was covered in pro-Trump bumper stickers which included slogans such as “drain the swamp”, “CNN sucks” and more alarmingly, images of Hillary Clinton with a target on her face. His social media account also expressed his extreme dislike of Hillary Clinton as well as multiple posted stories related to Islamic terrorism.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Current Affairs Wrap: Kavanaugh beats rap, MP’s internet bill, the 4:20 NY subway ride
- Current Affairs Wrap: Indonesia’s unfortunate earthquake, the banking royal commission, man stops flight to charge phone
- Current Affairs Wrap: America shot up (again), our strawberry needle points, Donald’s mushroom prong
President Trump’s response prior to Sayoc’s identification was widely criticised as he referred to the devices as “bomb stuff” in a tweet and suggested that it was interfering with Republicans voting in the midterm elections; he was also criticised for appearing to avoid the use of the word “terrorist” despite the perpetrator meeting every known definition of the word. Once Sayoc had been identified and arrested, however, Trump appeared to change his tune, tweeting “these terrorising acts are despicable. We must never allow political violence to take root in America.”
Perhaps you could stop inciting it, Don.
Whilst domestic matters may have distracted Trump for a few days, those more international are garnering his attention again. Thousands of Central American migrants are in the process of crossing Mexico in a caravan, heading towards the United States border in an attempt to escape the increasing troubles in the region. The migrants have been walking for around twelve hours per day, carrying only their belongings and their children in a desperate attempt to escape.
Delmer Martinez, a migrant from El Salvador, told the media, “I miss my country. I’m not doing this because I want to. No one wants to leave their home to go to a place they don’t know. But sometimes necessity pushes us to do this, because of what’s happening in our countries.”
The migrants from various Central American nations have indicated that they are fleeing a combination of violent crime, political unrest and poverty in their home countries – and it’s hard to blame them in the circumstances. The UN have indicated that they believe the number of migrants to be approximately 7,000 (primarily from Honduras) however officials in Mexico believe the number is only around 3,600.
President Trump, however, is determined to prevent them from entering the United States. One of his many damning tweets said, “We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!” In true Trump style, he is of course ignoring that there’s nothing illegal about turning up to the border and asking for asylum, and that those who enter illegally don’t tend to do it in large public numbers for obvious reasons.
We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2018
It matters not to the Commander and Chief, however, who has authorised the deployment of soldiers to the US-Mexico border in what he has described as a “national emergency”. The 800 troops would be an addition to the 2,000 National Guardsmen who have already been deployed to assist border operations in the area. Whilst the majority are expected to be active-duty soldiers, the contingent is also expected to include doctors and engineers – although no-one is really expecting that they’ll be there to treat the migrants.
Trump has also threatened to completely close the US southern border as well as cutting aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Given one of the primary motivators for the exodus is poverty, it’s hard to see how it will do anything other than make the situation worse.
What will happen when they arrive at the border is anyone’s guess. But given Trump has previously proven he has no problem locking up legitimate refugees and separating children from families, it’s hard to not fear for the safety of those looking to escape.
Back home, PM Scott Morrison (that still doesn’t sound right to me) has put forward his strategy to provide relief to drought-stricken farmers and has put into place strategies to help drought-proof the agricultural sector in the future. The $5 billion Drought Future Fund sounds like a welcome relief for farmers, until you have a look at how it’s being funded.
The vast majority of the $5 billion fund has been stripped from the National Disability Insurance Scheme – some $3.9 billion. Whilst farmers have reluctantly welcomed the assistance, disability advocates are seething.
Physical Disability Council of NSW chief executive Serena Ovens indicated that the move was like “stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” suggesting that the funds should be used to ensure the long term sustainability of the NDIS to ensure that Aussies with disabilities were given “what is required to have a normal, reasonable life”. Ovens also indicated that while helping farmers was important, it shouldn’t be done “at the cost of an equally important scheme for some very vulnerable people.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insisted that the NDIS “is now fully funded from consolidated revenue on the back of a stronger economy and, because of our successful budget repair efforts, a stronger and improving budget position.” Putting aside the obvious opportunity to remind us that they are fantastic economic managers despite the multitude of evidence to the contrary; Cormann and the Government don’t seem to see the danger in relying exclusively on the current strength of the economy to guarantee the funding of a vital scheme.
The PM indicated that whilst $3.9 billion would be initially committed, it wouldn’t reach the total $5 billion cost until 2020, with only $100 million being allocated each year from 2020. He said, “This funding will support farmers and their local communities when it’s not raining. It guarantees drought support for the men and the women who drive our nation.”
Not to be a wet blanket, and not to criticise those that work in the agricultural industry who are incredibly important to our economy and our cultural identity; suggesting that farmers “drive our nation” in 2018 is not only provably false but it’s a pretty big slap in the face to everyone else. The Ag industry represents around 3.6% of our GDP or around 12% of our GDP if you include other related industries in the food chain. As a matter of comparison, service-based industries represent around 70% of our GDP – this includes areas like communications, transportation, finance, as well as all other private economic activities that don’t produce material goods; industry equates to around 26.1% which includes mining, manufacturing, energy production and construction. In fact, construction and retail alone each represent a higher share of our GDP than the entire agricultural industry – and both individually employ around double the amount of people. Don’t get me wrong – our Agricultural industry and particularly our food production industry are absolutely vital for a host of reasons and should absolutely be helped, but they haven’t driven our nation for a long time.
Regardless, I’m pretty certain we could all find far more worthy areas to take the funds from and help both equally.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Does drought relief actually help our farmers?
- Farmer wants a break: For this drought we need change, not your money
A new report released this week by global firm New Frontier Data could also offer another solution. Following the recent legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in Canada, the discussion over its current status has been on many lips across Australia. The Oceania Cannabis Report found that the combination of legalised recreational and medicinal cannabis in Australia would equate to around a $5.5 billion dollar windfall to the Australian economy annually.
Given that the old Mary Jane is the most widely used drug in Australia (12% of the population have admitted to using it last year), the actual economic upside could be even more significant – once you account for those that didn’t admit using it of course.
Whilst those in law enforcement seem to believe that the decriminalisation of cannabis will lead to an increase in crime, the evidence suggests nothing of the sort. Homicide, robbery and burglary rates in Colorado went down following the decriminalisation of cannabis use; the reduction was in line with movements across the US so they can’t be necessarily attributed to the law change, however they certainly didn’t increase. Interestingly, an unexpected positive flow-on effect occurred in both Colorado and Washington after they decriminalised cannabis – crime clearance rates for both violent crime and burglary crime went up significantly. In other words, law enforcement were no longer wasting their time chasing cannabis users and were able to dedicate their resources to other more important areas.
Others in opposition have claimed that it will encourage kids to take up the drug and create a new generation of addicts. Turns out that isn’t true either – teen drug use in Colorado is at it’s lowest level in a decade, and the downward shift began immediately after the decriminalisation of cannabis.
Let’s not forget that the black market currently enjoys around $4.5 billion each year out of the industry in Australia. Given we’re in such a bad financial state that we have to rip money out of disability support to help our drought-stricken farmers, perhaps we could consider ripping money out of the drug black market instead?
Wacky and wonderful
It’s fair to say that when we think of our judges, images of robes, wigs and serious faces are far more likely to enter our head than the crime-fighting Judge Dredd. It appears, however, that at least one Judge is far more hands-on than others.
During a hearing in a Washington State courtroom, two handcuffed suspects decided it was the perfect opportunity to escape and made a run for it. Before the bailiff or security guards could blink, Judge RW Buzzard threw off his robe, jumped down from his bench and gave chase.
One of the suspects, Kodey Howard, believed he was home free before Judge Buzzard closed in on him and grabbed him just before he made it clear from the courthouse. Tanner Jacobsen, the second suspect, made it out the door but was apprehended a few blocks away.
I am the law!
That’s it from me, TBSers. Have a cracking week!