Well, it’s been a week punctuated by gunshot, a local voyeur peeking at Jupiter and ‘freedom gas’, whatever that happens to be.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had another tragic mass shooting in the US, a big achievement for an amateur astronomer in Queensland, full steam ahead for Adani and the most ridiculous PR and branding that we’ve ever seen come out of the US government.
Twelve people have been gunned down in a mass shooting in the US State of Virginia late this week. The shooting occurred at a local government building in Virginia Beach with reports confirming the carnage was unleashed by a disgruntled former employee.
Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera spoke with the media and indicated that the motive was unclear at this stage. Local media, however, has suggested that the man in question had been fired just hours before returning to the building and opening fire.
Eyewitnesses have told the media that the gunman moved from floor to floor through the three-storey building, shooting “indiscriminately” at anyone he saw. Once police had secured as many victims as they could, they engaged the shooter which ultimately resulted in his death.
In addition to the twelve dead, six others were wounded, including a police officer, however, according to Cervera, he was “basically saved by his bulletproof vest”.
The name of the gunman and the victims have not yet been released; the building where it occurred houses public utilities offices and a permits facility. The Virginia Police Department headquarters and the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office are next door to the building.
Also on The Big Smoke
US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was tasked with completing the investigation into possible Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election, has addressed the media for the first time since the release of his report.
The report’s release earlier this year—or more importantly, the summary of the report prepared by Attorney-General William Barr—was claimed as a victory by Trump. Barr’s summary indicated that the report wasn’t conclusive as to whether Trump had committed a crime, but made it clear that he didn’t believe that Trump obstructed justice based on his reading of the full report.
Trump took that summary as a full exoneration and used it to try and push the biggest threat to his Presidency to the side. According to Mueller, there was much more than meets the eye. Mueller didn’t point to Trump’s guilt specifically, but instead handed us a colour by numbers book that most children could follow.
“If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.”
So you can’t say either way but you want to make it very clear that if he wasn’t guilty, you would have said so.
Mueller then went on to talk about US Justice Department policy that not all may be aware of, but may well be relevant, saying that “under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office… That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited. It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge.”
So even if you believed you had enough evidence to accuse or convict Trump of a crime during your investigation, you would be unable to do either.
Trump and some Republicans immediately tried to spin Mueller’s comments into a presumption of innocence situation. Trump tweeted the following graphic in response:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
The Democrats interpreted Mueller’s comments a little differently: as encouragement to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. For those playing at home, in very simple terms, the reason that the Justice Department refuses to charge a sitting President is because it’s generally understood that the onus is on Congress to take action.
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives, said, “Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump, and we will do so.”
Democratic Senator Kamala Harris was even more direct, tweeting, “What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral.”
That’s what it sounded like to me too. Watch this space.
An amateur backyard astronomer from Queensland has shocked the professional world with a series of incredible photos he managed to take of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
The Great Red Spot is a ferocious storm that’s been raging above Jupiter for at least 200 years—one that experts believe may be almost finished after being attacked by other weather events circling Jupiter since last April.
Anthony Wesley and his wife Leisa made the “tree-change” move from Canberra to the remote Queensland town of Rubyvale in 2017. They made the move for two reasons: the weather, and because Rubyvale happens to have weather particularly conducive to stargazing.
There are only 640 people living in Rubyvale, but Wesley said that he knows of at least six other astronomy enthusiasts in the area. He had worked as a computer programmer for the government when living in Canberra but now works for a photo company during the day in Rubyvale. At night, and early morning, however, he can be found in his backyard with his homemade telescope. The telescope was put together from mirrors and metal framing and is described by Wesley as a “system that tracks the sky”.
Wesley’s Jupiter fascination paid off as he captured images of the Red Spot in a state that has never been seen before.
“It’s been quite dramatic,” he said. “(The images have been) showing the spot in a state that nobody’s ever seen before… It’s suddenly, in the last two months or so, started to undergo these massive peeling, or flaking, events… Large, enormous pieces of storm are being shredded off by other storms nearby and Jupiter’s Red Spot is shrinking—shrinking much more rapidly than it has been.”
Jonti Horner, a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland, has praised Wesley’s latest photos as some of the best he has ever seen, saying, “While he’s an amateur photographer, in that it’s not his day job, he’s essentially a professional; he does such an incredible job of his imaging. He’s got a long and storied history of getting incredible images of Jupiter and has been on a significant number of scientific papers.”
David Reneke, editor of Australia’s Astro Space News, also lauded Wesley’s work, saying, “Because we use the term ‘amateur’, people think they’re second rate, third rate. Well they’re not. What Anthony has been doing here is produce photos that I’ve not seen even with the giant telescopes.”
Hat’s off, Anthony—keep watching the skies!
Also on The Big Smoke
- Only policies (not posturing) will save Albo’s Labor Party
- Julian Assange is in ill health, so why is no-one discussing it?
- Homeless lives matter: It’s time our government focuses on our problem
The controversial Adani mine project in Queensland is almost ready to proceed with another environmental approval signed off this week.
The Queensland Government this week approved an environmental plan to protect the endangered black-throated finch which has its habitat on the Adani site. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), however, condemned the decision, saying that the approved plan doesn’t change the fact that the habitat of an endangered species was being destroyed.
The ACF’s Christian Slattery said, “This process is the result of Adani and their mates in the mining industry pressuring the State Government, and rather than stand up to these corporate bullies, the Queensland Government has rolled out the red carpet for them… Frankly, the whole process of approvals for this mine stinks… All of the monitoring and surveying in the world doesn’t avoid the fact that the bird habitat is being destroyed—extinction is forever.”
The Environment Department defended the decision in a statement, saying, “Assessment of this plan has been a rigorous process, informed by the best available science… (The Department) has met regularly with Adani to ensure that the plan is robust and is well-placed to deliver the best outcomes for the protection of the black-throated finch… The Department said it had asked Adani to ensure additional protections for the bird, including population studies and limited grazing on the site… (The Department) is also satisfied that Adani will engage appropriately qualified ecologists to undertake the company’s survey and monitoring work in relation to the black-throated finch.”
They would say that, wouldn’t they? Let us just hope that the “appropriately qualified ecologists” are a little more accurate with their modelling than those that reported largely inflated job numbers and the economic benefits expected to be realised by the Adani project.
Wacky and wonderful
We all know that the Trump White House is a propaganda machine. Their skills in twisting truths, spinning facts and tapping into the deeply held sense of patriotism that most Americans have is what got them elected, and what has seemingly prevented any mud sticking to them.
So the latest announcement by the US Department of Energy this week should come as no surprise. It will, but it shouldn’t.
The press release is rather run of the mill, until you reach this quote from DOE Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Steven Winberg:
With the US in another year of record-setting natural gas production, I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world.
They actually referred to fossil fuels as “molecules of US freedom”. Why, Carbon Dioxide couldn’t be causing climate change—they’re our molecules of freedom. Don’t you dare take my guns of my f***ing molecules of freedom!!
They didn’t stop there. In the same press release, US Under Secretary of Energy Mark W Menezes said:
Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.
The real question is where will it stop? Surely under the Trump administration, “freedom assault” is a likely candidate to replace sexual assault. Our President doesn’t sexually assault women by “grabbing them in the pussy”, no, no… he’s committing acts of freedom assault. He’s a hero!!
Sorry Prez, you may have your molecules of US Freedom or your Freedom Gas but I’ve got a democracy sausage and I know exactly where you can put it.
That’s it from me, TBSers—have a cracking week!