“She is a tough little bird and we’re happy to see her back in her natural habitat.” No, that’s not PM Scott Morrison commenting on Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release from prison in Iran… Rocky, the stowaway owl who found herself in the Big Apple after hitching a ride with the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree, has been returned to the wild. There’s gotta be a Disney movie in that…
‘Tis the season for presidential pardons with outgoing US President Donald Trump yesterday making the first of what pundits expect could be many acts of clemency before he leaves office on 20 January. General Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, lasted just 23 days in the position after it emerged he’d discussed lifting sanctions on Russia with Moscow’s ambassador to the US before Trump took office. Flynn initially pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about it, but then tried to have that reversed. Much complicated legal wrangling later, Trump’s pardon clears Flynn of the whole case.
DOES THIS SORT OF THING HAPPEN A LOT?
For context, President Barack Obama granted 212 pardons (which wipe out or prevents a criminal conviction) and 1,715 commutations (which ends a punishment but the conviction remains) during his time in office. To date, Trump has given 29 pardons and 16 commutations – the least of any modern president. But it’s expected that Trump will issue “as many as hundreds of commutations for offenders now in jail for crimes ranging from nonviolent drug convictions to mail fraud and money laundering,” says the New York Times. Then there are those in his inner circle to think about. And there’s also a question about Trump issuing preemptive pardons for himself and his family…
CAN HE DO THAT?
The jury’s out. It hasn’t been done before, so it hasn’t been tested in the courts. There are many issues with the approach, but two major ones are: 1) a self-pardon could violate the principle that nobody can be their own judge. And 2) a pardon is usually issued after someone’s charged with a crime. Another thing to note: a pardon would only apply to federal crimes and wouldn’t extend to probes into Trump’s business dealings by prosecutors in New York. But presidents issuing family members a pardon isn’t a new concept. Former President Bill Clinton pardoned his brother Roger who had been convicted for cocaine possession in their home state of Arkansas.
SQUIZ THE REST
DEFENCE RAMPS UP OPERATION CULTURE CHANGE
‘Administrative action’ against at least 10 serving members of Australia’s elite SAS Regiment has commenced. The Defence Department has issued ‘show cause’ notices to the soldiers, and they face expulsion, reports say. The group are accused of being “accessories” or “witnesses” to the crimes identified in the Inspector-General’s inquiry – ie they are not the 19 soldiers accused of the murders of 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians, and the cruel treatment of 2 others. ANU senior fellow John Blaxland said it showed efforts have started to move on “the elements that are having a negative effect” as senior commanders address the Regiment’s “toxic culture”. Veterans’ Minister Darren Chester yesterday said there’s been a spike in requests for help from support services in the wake of the release of the report last week.
TIME RUNS OUT IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed has declared the launch of the “final phase” of a government forces operation in the northern city of Mekelle in the province of Tigray. On Sunday, Abiy gave the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) 72 hours to surrender peacefully to the national government, or see the city of 500,000 people subject to artillery fire. The United Nations human rights boss Michele Bachelet said the city’s inhabitants were in “deep peril”, and there are fears an attack could lead to severe civilian casualties and a full-blown civil war. Hundreds of people have already died in horrendous circumstances during the 4 weeks of fighting, and 42,000 refugees have fled over the border to Sudan. Getting information from the region is difficult with the government cutting phone and internet connections.
TELSTRA FINED FOR EXPLOITING INDIGENOUS CUSTOMERS
Australia’s biggest telco will likely be fined up to $50 million by the Federal Court after it admitted to ‘unconscionable conduct’ in selling mobile phone products and plans to vulnerable consumers who didn’t understand the T&Cs, and couldn’t afford them. It follows an 18-month inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which found Telstra targeted Indigenous customers living in regional and remote communities. There were 108 Indigenous customers hit with bills averaging $7,400. “This is exploiting vulnerabilities in the most extreme sense,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said. Telstra has admitted it breached the consumer law and yesterday boss Andrew Penn apologised and said customers would have their debts refunded or waived.
HENRI’S ARMCHAIR CRACKS THE RECORD
The Brett Whiteley artwork smashed the record for an Australian painting at auction when it sold for $6.136 million last night. The artwork, which shows the interior of Whiteley’s home in Lavender Bay with Sydney Harbour glittering beyond, was sold in 4 minutes with all bids coming in over the phone. And the result: a private buyer from Sydney became the first to pay more than $6 million at auction for an Aussie work. The painting had remained in the hands of one family after lawyer Chris Evatt bought it directly from Whiteley with cash from the races loaded in his car boot. ‘Henri’s Armchair’ beat Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly pic ‘First-Class Marksman’ which sold in 2010 for $5.4 million to claim the record.
After a record-breaking debut on 24 September, naturalist David Attenborough has mothballed his Instagram account. In his last post, the 94yo warned of the dangers of climate change and said he was “encouraged by the huge amount of ideas and passion” shared on the platform. Which is a nice way of describing the swamp that can be social media… Beating out actor Jennifer Aniston, who gained 1 million followers in 5 hours and 16 minutes after making an Instagram account in 2019, Attenborough hit the one million mark in just 4 hours and 44 minutes.
FRIDAY LITES - THREE THINGS WE LIKED THIS WEEK
If you have just a passing interest in soccer legend Diego Maradona – or if you just want to be across the major figures of our time – this is the doco for you. Made by Oscar winner Asif Kapadia (who also made incredible films on F1 driver Ayrton Senna and tragic singer Amy Winehouse), it looks at the player some consider to be the best ever. You can stream it on Amazon Prime or rent it on Apple TV.
She Married The Priest. They met at the Vatican… Because sometimes love is complicated.
A chorizo panzanella? What the what? 1) It’s a salad with bread. Genius. And 2) it gives you licence to drop ‘panzanella’ into as many conversations as you can… This recipe was only published on Tuesday, and we’re lining up for a second go at it for Saturday lunch. For all our paddling around the kitchen, it’s the first time we’ve pickled anything – and it was quick as well as yum.