Saturday, 21 July 2018

Political Cartoon of the Week


@BrookesTimes July 2018

Quote of the Week



“There’s also a profound lack of class or dignity. Trump’s narcissism diminishes the presidency and America’s prestige around the world.” 
[Former Australian high commissioner to the UK Mike Rann, The Age, 14 July 2018]

Friday, 20 July 2018

Trump-Putin Helsinki 16 July 2018 Press Conference: the matter of a curious admission and omission


The mainstream media carried transcripts of the 16 July 2018 US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin joint press conference held in Helsinki, Finland.

Video of this press conference is available online.

There is one specific exchange between President Putin and an American reporter.

It went thus:

REPORTER: Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

PUTIN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal.

The White House also posted a transcript of the joint press conference.

This is how that exchange between Putin and the American reporter is presented on the White House website:
Snapshot captured on 19 July 2018

The Kremlin English version transcript omits this question and answer in their entirety.

The Atlantic spoke with the reporter in question, Reuters' Jeff Mason:

But recordings of the exchange were muddled for two reasons. First, the English translation of Putin’s previous response was concluding as Mason began to speak. Second, the microphone seemed to pick up Mason’s question halfway through—making the latter half of it easier to hear. (Mason told me that he had held on to the microphone even though an official had tried to pull it away so that he could ask Putin a follow-up question. “I don’t know if they turned the sound off during the time when each of the presidents were speaking, or if it got flipped on and off. I certainly didn’t touch anything.”)

That the question could be heard clearly at the press conference is demonstrated at 6:10 mins in on this MSNBS The Last Word video.

So why the differing editing of the press conference video and transcripts by the White House, the Kremlin and media outlets. 

It is possible that many news outlets took their video and transcripts directly from the White House press office and presumed that any discrepancy was an instance of lost in translation.

The possibility also exists that the 'reshaping' of this question and answer was deliberate on the part of both the Oval Office and the Kremlin because it was realised that, albeit unintentionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin has just publicly admitted that not only did he want Donald Trump to win the 2016 US presidential campaign, he had directed Russian officials to help Trump win.

Too warm, too dry as Winter draws closer to Spring in Australia 2018



Warmer days and nights favoured for August–October

August to October days and nights are likely to be warmer than average for most of the country, with high chances (greater than 80%) in eastern Victoria and NSW, and southern Tasmania.

Days and nights in August are likely to be warmer than average for most of Australia, with high chances (greater than 80%) of warmer days in the southeast.

Historical accuracy for August–October maximum temperatures is moderate for eastern and northern parts of Australia, as well as southern WA. Elsewhere, accuracy is low to very low. Historical accuracy for minimum temperatures is moderate for the northern half of Australia, SA, and Tasmania, but low to very low elsewhere.

Temperature - The chance of above median maximum temperature for August to October



Drier than average August–October likely in northeast and southeast mainland
August to October is likely to be drier than average in Victoria, NSW, southeast SA and northeast Queensland

The August outlook shows most of Victoria, NSW and Queensland are likely to be drier than average.

Historical outlook accuracy for August to October is moderate over most of the country, except for interior WA, where accuracy is low to very low.

Rainfall - Totals that have a 75% chance of occurring for August to October

Drought

June rainfall was below average for most of Australia, and very much below average for parts of the east coast

The start of the southern wet season has been drier than average

Rainfall deficiencies persist in both the east and west of the country, increasing in the east at the 6- and 15-month timescales, and along the west coast at the 15-month timescale

Lower-layer soil moisture was below average for June across most of New South Wales, the southern half of Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Kimberley and the south of Western Australia

Soil Moisture

Soil moisture in the lower layer (from 10 cm to 100 cm deep) for June decreased over eastern Australia, and increased over parts of northwest Western Australia following above average rainfall for June.

Lower-layer soil moisture was below average for the Kimberley and southern Western Australia away from the west coast, most of South Australia and the Northern Territory, New South Wales and eastern Victoria, southern and eastern Queensland south of a line between Birdsville and Townsville, and along the coastal fringe of eastern Cape York Peninsula.

Map of lower level soil moisture for the previous month

NSW Dept. of Primary Industries, NSW State Seasonal Update - June 2018. Click on map to enlarge:



Tweed, Richmond, Kyogle, Lismore, Byron Bay, Ballina, Clarence Valley local government areas, as at 15 July 2018 according to Combined Drought Indicator:


The entire Northern Rivers region is considered drought affected. 

Slowly but surely Russian connections between the UK Brexit referendum campaign and the US presidential campaign are beginning to emerge


“We have concluded that there are risks in relation to the processing of personal data by many political parties. Particular concerns include: the purchasing of marketing lists and lifestyle information from data brokers without sufficient due diligence, a lack of fair processing, and use of third party data analytics companies with insufficient checks around consent….We have looked closely at the role of those who buy and sell personal data-sets in the UK. Our existing investigation of the privacy issues raised by their work has been expanded to include their activities in political processes….The investigation has identified a total of 172 organisations of interest that required engagement, of which around 30 organisations have formed the main focus of our enquiries, including political parties, data analytics companies and major social media platforms…..Similarly, we have identified a total of 285 individuals relating to our investigation.” [UK Information Commissioner’s Office, Investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns: Investigation update, July 2018]

Slowly but surely the Russian connections between the UK Brexit referendum campaign and the US presidential campaign are beginning to emerge.

The Guardian, 15 July 2018:

A source familiar with the FBI investigation revealed that the commissioner and her deputy spent last week with law enforcement agencies in the US including the FBI. And Denham’s deputy, James Dipple-Johnstone, confirmed to the Observer that “some of the systems linked to the investigation were accessed from IP addresses that resolve to Russia and other areas of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]”.

It was also reported that Senator Mark Warner, vice chair of US Senate Intel Committee and Damian Collins MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee inquiry into “fake news”, met in Washington on or about 16 July 2018 to discuss Russian interference in both British and American democratic processes during an Atlantic Council meeting.

UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), media release, 10 July 2018:

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has today published a detailed update of her office’s investigation into the use of data analytics in political campaigns.
In March 2017, the ICO began looking into whether personal data had been misused by campaigns on both sides of the referendum on membership of the EU.

In May it launched an investigation that included political parties, data analytics companies and major social media platforms.

Today’s progress report gives details of some of the organisations and individuals under investigation, as well as enforcement actions so far.

This includes the ICO’s intention to fine Facebook a maximum £500,000 for two breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Facebook, with Cambridge Analytica, has been the focus of the investigation since February when evidence emerged that an app had been used to harvest the data of 50 million Facebook users across the world. This is now estimated at 87 million.
The ICO’s investigation concluded that Facebook contravened the law by failing to safeguard people’s information. It also found that the company failed to be transparent about how people’s data was harvested by others.
Facebook has a chance to respond to the Commissioner’s Notice of Intent, after which a final decision will be made.

Other regulatory action set out in the report comprises:

warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree to audits of their data protection practices;

an Enforcement Notice for SCL Elections Ltd to compel it to deal properly with a subject access request from Professor David Carroll;

a criminal prosecution for SCL Elections Ltd for failing to properly deal with the ICO’s Enforcement Notice;

an Enforcement Notice for Aggregate IQ to stop processing retained data belonging to UK citizens;

a Notice of Intent to take regulatory action against data broker Emma’s Diary (Lifecycle Marketing (Mother and Baby) Ltd); and
audits of the main credit reference companies and Cambridge University Psychometric Centre.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said:
“We are at a crossroads. Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes.

“New technologies that use data analytics to micro-target people give campaign groups the ability to connect with individual voters. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.

She added:
“Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

A second, partner report, titled Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence, sets out findings and recommendations arising out of the 14-month investigation.

Among the ten recommendations is a call for the Government to introduce a statutory Code of Practice for the use of personal data in political campaigns.

Ms Denham has also called for an ethical pause to allow Government, Parliament, regulators, political parties, online platforms and the public to reflect on their responsibilities in the era of big data before there is a greater expansion in the use of new technologies.

She said:
“People cannot have control over their own data if they don’t know or understand how it is being used. That’s why greater and genuine transparency about the use of data analytics is vital.”

In addition, the ICO commissioned research from the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the independent thinktank DEMOS. Its report, also published today, examines current and emerging trends in how data is used in political campaigns, how use of technology is changing and how it may evolve in the next two to five years. 

The investigation, one of the largest of its kind by a Data Protection Authority, remains ongoing. The 40-strong investigation team is pursuing active lines of enquiry and reviewing a considerable amount of material retrieved from servers and equipment.

The interim progress report has been produced to inform the work of the DCMS’s Select Committee into Fake News.

The next phase of the ICO’s work is expected to be concluded by the end of October 2018.

The Washington Post, 28 June 2018:

BRISTOL, England — On Aug. 19, 2016, Arron Banks, a wealthy British businessman, sat down at the palatial residence of the Russian ambassador to London for a lunch of wild halibut and Belevskaya pastila apple sweets accompanied by Russian white wine.

Banks had just scored a huge win. From relative obscurity, he had become the largest political donor in British history by pouring millions into Brexit, the campaign to disentangle the United Kingdom from the European Union that had earned a jaw-dropping victory at the polls two months earlier.

Now he had something else that bolstered his standing as he sat down with his new Russian friend, Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko: his team’s deepening ties to Donald Trump’s insurgent presidential bid in the United States. A major Brexit supporter, Stephen K. Bannon, had just been installed as chief executive of Trump’s campaign. And Banks and his fellow Brexiteers had been invited to attend a fundraiser with Trump in Mississippi.

Less than a week after the meeting with the Russian envoy, Banks and firebrand Brexit politician Nigel Farage — by then a cult hero among some anti-establishment Trump supporters — were huddling privately with the Republican nominee in Jackson, Miss., where Farage wowed a foot-stomping crowd at a Trump rally.
Banks’s journey from a lavish meal with a Russian diplomat in London to the raucous heart of Trump country was part of an unusual intercontinental charm offensive by the wealthy British donor and his associates, a hard-partying lot who dubbed themselves the “Bad Boys of Brexit.” Their efforts to simultaneously cultivate ties to Russian officials and Trump’s campaign have captured the interest of investigators in the United Kingdom and the United States, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Vice News, 11 June 2018:

Yakovenko is already on the radar of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, after he was named in the indictment of ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos….

Banks, along with close friend and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, was among the very first overseas political figures to meet Trump after his surprise victory in November 2016.

It also emerged over the weekend that Banks passed contact information for Trump’s transition team to the Russians.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Is Philip Gaetjens the consummate public servant or in 2018 has he devolved into a right-wing ideological warrior?



On 31 July 2018 Philip Gaetjens will become Secretary to the Australian Treasury reporting to the Australian Treasurer.

Now from 2011 to 2015 he was head of the NSW Treasury under a Baird Coalition Government and before that did a stint at the SA Treasury in 1995 to 1997 spanning the terms of two Liberal premiers, so he will bring some experience to the position.

However, he has also been both chief of staff to former federal treasurer and Liberal MP Peter Costello during the Howard Coalition Government and chief of staff to current federal treasurer and Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison in the Turnbull Coalition Government.

There is a question this curriculum vitae raises – “Is Philip Gaetjens the consummate public servant or in 2018 has he devolved into a right-wing ideological warrior?”

Will treasury advice still be seen as authoritative during his tenure?

With Treasury already gaining a reputation as an enabler of Scott Morrison’s worst partisan public pronouncements in election years will Gaetjens make the situation even more difficult for ordinary voters trying to decipher truth in the midst of relentless political spin?

In August Gaetjens will be joined in Treasury by Liberal Senator and Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann's chief of staff Simon Atkinson as Deputy Secretary of the Fiscal Group.

It's business as usual as Trump appointees dismantle US environmental law and regulations



5 July 2018:

Scott Pruitt, whose tenure at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was tarred by corruption scandals and hostility to environmental regulation, offered his resignation today, effective July 6.

The EPA’s new interim administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist, 
profiled by DeSmog.

DeSmog's prior profile of Wheeler reports:

Wheeler is the latest former staffer of climate change denier James Inhofe to join the EPA. Prior to joining FaegreBD Consulting, Wheeler worked as majority staff director, minority staff director and chief counsel at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for Inhofe. He worked in a similar vein at the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, Wetlands and Nuclear Safety under the chairmanship of Inhofe and also that of George Voinovich. Before that, he worked as Inhofe's chief counsel from 1995 to 1997.

Under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Wheeler spent four years as a staffer at the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics before moving on to his position at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Until mid-2017, Wheeler lobbied on behalf of Murray Energy, the nation's largest privately owned coal company. Run by vocal climate change denier Robert Murray, the energy company has fought against industry regulation and climate change mitigation efforts. According to EcoWatch, Wheeler brought in at least $3 million in income for his firm from Murray Energy.

Murray Energy, while Wheeler's client, produced an “Action Plan” for the Trump Administration including complete elimination of the Clean Power Plan, overturning the endangerment finding for greenhouse gases, and eliminating tax credits for wind and solar energy. In his confirmation hearing, Wheeler admitted to having seen the plan.

According to his profile at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, Wheeler “worked on every major piece of environmental and energy-related legislation over the last decade, including greenhouse gas emissions legislation, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the Clear Skies Act and the Clean Air Interstate Rule.” The consulting firm also notes that Wheeler has worked on 1998 and 2005 Highway Bill reauthorizations, the Diesel Emissions Reduction SEP Bill, and Renewable Fuel Standards. His regulatory work includes “all major fuel related issues including Refinery MACT, Gasoline sulfur, and the NSPS program.”

“Andrew Wheeler’s nomination is very much in keeping with the Trump administration’s agenda of fossil fuel exploitation and climate inaction,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University told HuffPost.

Read the full article here.