I will be taking a break from Blogging for the next 2 to 3 weeks. It has become necessary for me to move home and this will be taking place over this period – so it’s packing, cleaning, transporting, etc, for the next few weeks. I may be able to get back to Blogging before 3 weeks, we’ll see how the move all goes. There is a lot to do though.
New laws enacted in New Zealand this month give border agents the right to demand travellers entering the country hand over passwords for their digital devices. We outline what you should do if it happens to you, in the first part of a series exploring how technology is changing tourism.
Imagine returning home to Australia or New Zealand after a long-haul flight, exhausted and red-eyed. You’ve just reclaimed your baggage after getting through immigration when you’re stopped by a customs officer who demands you hand over your smartphone and the password. Do you know your rights?
Both Australian and New Zealand customs officers are legally allowed to search not only your personal baggage, but also the contents of your smartphone, tablet or laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen or visitor, or whether you’re crossing a border by air, land or sea.
New laws that came into effect in New Zealand on October 1 give border agents:
…the power to make a full search of a stored value instrument (including power to require a user of the instrument to provide access information and other information or assistance that is reasonable and necessary to allow a person to access the instrument).
Those who don’t comply could face prosecution and NZ$5,000 in fines. Border agents have similar powers in Australia and elsewhere. In Canada, for example, hindering or obstructing a border guard could cost you up to C$50,000 or five years in prison.
A growing trend
Australia and New Zealand don’t currently publish data on these kinds of searches, but there is a growing trend of device search and seizure at US borders. There was a more than fivefold increase in the number of electronic device inspections between 2015 and 2016 – bringing the total number to 23,000 per year. In the first six months of 2017, the number of searches was already almost 15,000.
In some of these instances, people have been threatened with arrest if they didn’t hand over passwords. Others have been charged. In cases where they did comply, people have lost sight of their device for a short period, or devices were confiscated and returned days or weeks later.
On top of device searches, there is also canvassing of social media accounts. In 2016, the United States introduced an additional question on online visa application forms, asking people to divulge social media usernames. As this form is usually filled out after the flights have been booked, travellers might feel they have no choice but to part with this information rather than risk being denied a visa, despite the question being optional.
There is little oversight
Border agents may have a legitimate reason to search an incoming passenger – for instance, if a passenger is suspected of carrying illicit goods, banned items, or agricultural products from abroad.
But searching a smartphone is different from searching luggage. Our smartphones carry our innermost thoughts, intimate pictures, sensitive workplace documents, and private messages.
The practice of searching electronic devices at borders could be compared to police having the right to intercept private communications. But in such cases in Australia, police require a warrant to conduct the intercept. That means there is oversight, and a mechanism in place to guard against abuse. And the suspected crime must be proportionate to the action taken by law enforcement.
What to do if it happens to you
If you’re stopped at a border and asked to hand over your devices and passwords, make sure you have educated yourself in advance about your rights in the country you’re entering.
Find out whether what you are being asked is optional or not. Just because someone in a uniform asks you to do something, it does not necessarily mean you have to comply. If you’re not sure about your rights, ask to speak to a lawyer and don’t say anything that might incriminate you. Keep your cool and don’t argue with the customs officer.
You should also be smart about how you manage your data generally. You may wish to switch on two-factor authentication, which requires a password on top of your passcode. And store sensitive information in the cloud on a secure European server while you are travelling, accessing it only on a needs basis. Data protection is taken more seriously in the European Union as a result of the recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation.
Microsoft, Apple and Google all indicate that handing over a password to one of their apps or devices is in breach of their services agreement, privacy management, and safety practices. That doesn’t mean it’s wise to refuse to comply with border force officials, but it does raise questions about the position governments are putting travellers in when they ask for this kind of information.
This article is part of our series of explainers on key moments in the past 100 years of world political history. In it, our authors examine how and why an event unfolded, its impact at the time, and its relevance to politics today.
By orchestrating China’s transition to a market economy, Deng Xiaoping has left a lasting legacy on China and the world.
After becoming the leader of the Communist Party of China in 1978, following Mao Zedong’s death two years earlier, Deng launched a program of reform that ultimately saw China become the world’s largest economy in terms of its purchasing power in 2014.
Last year it accounted for 18.2% of total global purchasing power, compared with 15.3% for the United States.
A major turning point was the 3rd Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which took place in December 1978. For the three decades prior, production in China was structured around a central planning model: collectivised agriculture in rural areas and state-owned industrial firms (SOEs) in urban regions. The prices of goods and services were also fixed by the government rather than determined by supply and demand.
Deng recognised that the outcomes produced by the planned economy were poor, with more than 60% of the population living in poverty. That’s why he launched a series of measures such as opening up the economy to foreign trade and investment.
He summarised his distinctly pragmatic rather than ideological approach to development with the phrase, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”.
Under Deng, the market wasn’t given free rein immediately. There was no reform of the “big bang” variety seen in former centrally-planned economies of Central and Eastern Europe.
Rather, in the words of Barry Naughton, China’s economy was simply allowed to “grow out of the plan”.
For example, state-owned firms were not sold off to private entrepreneurs at the outset. Rather, privately-owned companies were permitted to emerge alongside SOEs. This gave Chinese consumers choices and the competition forced SOEs to become more responsive to market demand and efficient in their production practices.
The impact of the reforms
The outcomes of Deng’s reforms have been without historical peer.
The latest data put the proportion of China’s population living in poverty at less than 1%. Of course, despite hundreds of millions being lifted out of poverty, this does not mean that all Chinese are rich: average incomes are still only around one-third of those in Australia.
The reasons Deng’s reforms proved successful can be traced back to two key factors.
The first is policy logic.
John McMillan and Barry Naughton showed that the newly-emerged private sector played a crucial role in improving the Chinese economy’s overall efficiency.
Another key consideration was that China benefited from its starting point.
Jeffrey Sachs and Wing Thye Woo pointed out that in 1978, most Chinese people were poor and living in rural areas. Compared with other centrally-planned economies such as the former Soviet Union, this made the task of shifting labour from producing low-productivity agricultural output to higher productivity industrial goods easier.
Just how far along the path to a market economy has China come?
That depends on the measure and the part of China’s economy under focus.
Last month, Meixin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in the United States, pointed to China’s state sector as evidence its economic growth would slow. He wrote that China’s economy was “nowhere near as efficient as that of the US”. And the “main reason for this is the enduring clout of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which consume half of the country’s total bank credit, but contribute only 20% of value-added and employment”.
Yet, perhaps unwittingly, Pei makes an important observation. SOEs may account for one-fifth of China’s value-added output and employment. But that means four-fifths now comes from Deng’s private sector.
Careful work by Nicholas Lardy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics has concluded that by 2011, China’s public sector, including SOEs, only employed 11% of China’s labour force. As a comparison, in 2013, Australia’s public sector accounted for 18.4% of total employment. In other words, at an aggregate level and in terms of employment, the private sector is more prominent in China than in Australia.
An OECD study in 2010 found that 87% of China’s 523 industrial sectors were highly competitive. They observed that this compared favourably with international standards, including with the US.
Commentators like Minxin Pei are correct that China’s SOEs do benefit from government policy support, such as cheap loans from state-owned banks.
But the data nonetheless point to China’s private sector being hyper-competitive in the sense that despite such discriminatory policies, the sector as a whole has continued to thrive.
In a 2016 paper for a Reserve Bank of Australia conference, Nicholas Lardy highlighted that in terms of output growth, profitability and indebtedness, private Chinese industrial firms outperform SOEs by a wide margin.
The prominent and vibrant role the private sector plays in China today means that its economic growth may be more sustainable than some of its critics imagine.
That said, the pace of economic reform has slowed under current Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who took over in 2012.
Arguably the slowdown dates back even further. For example, in terms of subjecting Chinese firms to increased competition from overseas firms, China’s trade-weighted average tariff in 2000 stood at 14.7%. After entering the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, this fell dramatically to 4.7% by 2005. Since then, no further progress has been made. In fact, in 2016 the figure was higher at 5.2%.
Similarly, four decades after Deng began to allow foreign investment into the manufacturing sector, other parts of China’s economy, particularly the so-called “commanding heights” of the economy such as energy, telecommunication and finance, remain curtailed or off limits entirely. Overall, China is less open to foreign investment than high-income countries and many emerging markets as well.
This lack of reciprocity is at least partly responsible for much of the international community’s criticisms of China’s economy today. Jason Young, the Director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre wrote last week that the current US-China trade war is really a “dispute over what models of political economy are deemed fair and legitimate economic policy-making in today’s highly-integrated global economy”.
China’s economic growth, and therefore the world’s, will be more assured if Deng’s reform legacy is reclaimed by China’s current crop of leaders. Just announced tariffs cuts and new openings for foreign investment are steps in that direction.
The row over shock jock Alan Jones and what will be displayed on the Sydney Opera House sails about The Everest horse race involves two sets of issues.
One is around whether it is appropriate to use this Sydney icon as an advertising hoarding.
The other is the appalling, but typical, behaviour of Jones and the weak, but probably not surprising, capitulation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to the pressure of the racing industry, which had its arm strengthened by this bullying presenter from 2GB.
The details of the row are now familiar. Racing NSW wanted a full ad for The Everest’s Tuesday barrier draw on the lit-up sails; the Opera House resisted, saying it would only show the jockeys’ colours; Jones abused Opera House CEO Louise Herron on air on Friday; the Premier later that day overrode Herron and gave Racing NSW and Jones most of what was being demanded.
The broad question of ads on the Opera House seems to me less important than Jones’ behaviour and the state government’s abject falling into line with the demands made by Racing NSW.
Some people have no problem with the Opera House being used for advertising. They don’t subscribe to the view that it’s low rent to turn this World Heritage structure to commercial purposes, nor do they comprehend the fuss about having it as part of the promotion of a particular (mega rich) horse race – as distinct, say, from an Australian national team.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on Friday that “people should chill out a bit. The fact is that this race is beamed around the world. People do associate Sydney with the Sydney Opera House”.
On a unity ticket with “Albo”, “ScoMo” doesn’t understand “why people are getting so precious about it”. For the man remembered for the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, this is “just common sense”.
“This is one of the biggest events of the year,” Morrison said on Sunday. “Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has? These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state, for the city.”
There may be room for argument about the promotional issue but not about Jones’ interview.
The full horror of that tirade has to be heard to be believed – with its haranguing, denigration, abuse and threats.
Jones, with close personal connections to the racing industry, injected into it maximum nastiness and minimum civility. Herron probably should have told him to call back when he’d found his manners and hung up. But she didn’t.
It was of course Jones displaying one aspect of his trademark. He and others of his ilk use insult and aggression as part of their “brand”, whether in interviews or in commentary.
Over the years, Jones has got away with an extraordinary amount –
although recently a court caught up with him when he and 2GB lost a
huge defamation case over claims he made about the Wagner family being responsible for deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.
Imre Salusinszky, who was press secretary to former NSW premier Mike Baird, has written about how the shock jocks and the tabloid media wield their power at NSW state level.
The Howard government felt it had to manage Jones as best it could (as does the present NSW government). There was a Howard staffer whose remit included dealing with the Jones demands and complaints.
I recall a minister who’d been in that government later telling me how he’d given in to Jones on a certain matter just to get him off his back (after checking with advisers that to do so wouldn’t create any harm).
Jones insulted Malcolm Turnbull when the latter was communication minister, but Turnbull fought back and then refused to go on air with him. Until the 2016 election campaign, that is – when then prime minister Turnbull felt he had to have a brief rapprochement with his bete noire.
By her action on Friday, Berejiklian reinforced the perception that the politicians are scared of a bully who rages from his studio pulpit.
But according to social researcher Rebecca Huntley, they have less to fear than often thought. “15 years of research and I haven’t found Alan Jones to be that much more influential with voters than ABC radio or the SMH. He is only powerful because politicians think he is, ” she tweeted.
Berejiklian on Sunday defended the outcome, saying it was “at the back end of the decision-making process” – Racing NSW had earlier reportedly wanted to drape banners from the Harbour Bridge – and a “good compromise”.
The NSW government claims that Friday’s decision was not a reaction to Jones’ diatribe but the culmination of negotiations that had been underway for some while.
Nevertheless, it represented the premier’s cave-in to Racing NSW and came across as a victory for Jones’ bullying.
Now that a discussion of “bullying” in various situations is the flavour of public debate, isn’t it time that the media who run Jones’ programs (2GB is majority owned by Fairfax) imposed some standards and the politicians who listen to him grew some spine?
The link below is to an article that reports on persecution news from Iran.
While the Coalition took a hit in its two-party vote after the leadership change, the next few Newspolls will tell whether Scott Morrison – who’s started better than many anticipated – restores the government to the 49-51% position of Malcolm Turnbull’s last days.
That would still leave Labor election favourite, not least because the government has no fat in terms of seats and the redistribution works against it. Plus, of course, the voters’ sour mood.
But the narrowing would put Labor nerves on edge. It would judge that if, come election time, it goes into a campaign against Morrison with a lead around 51-49%, the fight could be tougher than if the margin were similar but the opponent had been Turnbull. Turnbull was a poor campaigner; Morrison shows the signs of a good one.
Labor has had plenty of luck, but it needs to keep up the momentum, to look the positive alternative, not just a fallback for disillusioned voters.
This week again saw Bill Shorten on the move. His proposed funding to extend subsidised pre-schooling to three-year-olds is playing to Labor’s policy strength in education.
His other initiative – roundtables to hear the stories of more victims of the banks and other financial institutions – exploits the potent politics of a scandal that has gripped most people’s attention. Labor’s research tells it the public are red hot with anger about what’s come out at the royal commission.
The government accuses the opposition of disrespecting the commission by launching its own listening tour.
But it’s unlikely too many voters will see it that way. And the sessions, especially those in regional areas, will build on another strength. As leader Shorten has held town hall meetings all over the country. Such grassroots gatherings are useful for establishing Labor’s presence on the ground.
Between now and Christmas Shorten will be rolling out more policy. Meanwhile, the government continues working on removing negatives.
Morrison as treasurer had started on one of these when in July the government announced a new formula for distributing the GST revenue, rectifying Western Australia being disadvantaged under the existing one. To smooth the way, the Commonwealth threw in an extra $9 billion over a decade so no state or territory would be left worse off.
With several WA Liberal seats at risk, getting this sorted was urgent; the government decided not to haggle with the states for an agreement but to legislate the change.
But, despite the assurance there’ll be no losers, state treasurers on Wednesday conjured up possible adverse scenarios and insisted the “no worse off” guarantee must be in the legislation, a demand the federal government is resisting.
The legislation is expected to pass in the end, but only after more argy bargy. It is another example of how messy barnacle-removal can be.
Especially when it involves state governments that have elections pending: Victoria goes to the polls on November 24 and NSW on March 23. NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet was particularly vocal on the GST guarantee.
The Berejiklian government has its elbows out more generally. It recently attacked the Morrison deal to give a pot of money to the Catholic (and other non-government) schools to buy peace. NSW complained this was unfair because it left out government schools and distorted the Gonski-based policy announced by Turnbull.
The Morrison and Berejiklian governments might be of the same stripe but, with both facing elections in the first half of 2019, their interests rub up against each other uncomfortably.
Each is on the nose. The thinking is that whichever goes to the people first could get a double hit, with NSW voters taking out their anger simultaneously against both administrations.
This is a big strike against a March federal poll in the eyes of federal Liberals, apart from the problem of partially overlapping campaigns. The NSW government would dearly like Morrison to run first but all the federal Liberal planning appears to be heading towards May.
“Morrison needs time,” is the mantra. Maybe. But there is a counter argument, even if it is not being run.
Morrison hasn’t received a honeymoon bounce in the two-party vote, but he has had good publicity. He’s been cast as a can-do guy. But will this fade as the months wear on?
By the time the government gets to the weeks before a May election, the arguments about policy will have deepened, and how will Morrison go then?
In particular, will the Coalition’s energy policy uncertainty be difficult to handle as the weather starts to chill and people look to another winter?
It is unlikely there will be serious good news on consumer prices. It’s early days but the new energy minister, Angus Taylor, has not at yet come across strongly or indeed been much in evidence. Will he be convincing when he’s put under pressure?
An election launched at the start of February for early March would come off a non-parliamentary period; one launched in April for May (with, incidentally, Easter falling awkwardly during the campaign) would come after parliamentary sittings, which often are difficult for the government.
One reason for the May timetable is that the government needs to fit in a pre-election economic statement (because there would not be a budget before the poll). But though a squeeze, it wouldn’t be too hard to have that statement early.
A factor in the government’s standing over the summer will be the October 20 Wentworth byelection – the outcome will affect its morale and subsequent media coverage.
The conventional wisdom is that a prime minister (who can choose the date, unlike a premier faced with a fixed date) will go when the evidence suggests they can win. This is trickier if a loss seems more probable than victory, whatever the date.
So the assessment becomes: when will the government be at its peak, whatever that peak might be?
Whether Morrison would be at his strongest in March or May is a moot point.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader and de facto president, is under fire from all sides. Domestically, she is facing growing criticism for stalled economic and political reforms, glacial progress on policy and service improvements, and the suppression of freedom of expression and press freedom.
But it is her international reputation that is most in tatters.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, imprisoned for 15 years over a 21-year period in her struggle for human rights and democracy, has suffered a swift and dramatic fall from grace as a global icon. She is now widely seen as an enabler of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
As the Brussels-based International Crisis Group put it recently:
Rarely has the reputation of a leader fallen so far, so fast.
Failures of Suu Kyi’s government
Suu Kyi has been the subject of much criticism since taking power 2½ years ago, but the most recent and vociferous condemnation has centred on two events: the jailing of two Reuters journalists who exposed a massacre of Rohingya civilians by the military, and her government’s failure to respond to international investigations into allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
It is notable that it was Suu Kyi’s civilian government that prosecuted the journalists, not the military. Suu Kyi could have ordered the charges dropped, as she did for student protesters during her early days in office. Instead, before the trial was over, she commented that the reporters were guilty of violating the Official Secrets Act, and once even allegedly referred to them as “traitors”.
The second great disappointment has been the government’s response to the UN Human Rights Council’s report into the violence that drove almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh last year.
The report, released in full in September, found conclusive evidence that security forces had indeed engaged in mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya, with genocidal intent. It went on to accuse Suu Kyi and her government of contributing to the atrocities through “acts and omissions”.
The HRC recommended the UN Security Council refer the Myanmar commander-in-chief and five generals to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN Human Rights Council also set up a body to prepare evidence for trials.
Rather than pledge to cooperate with the investigation, however, Suu Kyi has consistently defended the military action against the Rohingya and repeatedly pointed to a lack of understanding of the complexities of the situation.
Her only concession to the increasing international condemnation of her government has been this muted statement:
There are, of course, ways in which, with hindsight, we might think that the situation could have been handled better.
Limitations on Suu Kyi’s power
The military remains a very powerful force in Myanmar. It has the power to appoint its own personnel to a quarter of the seats in parliament and oversees the three powerful ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs.
The government has no power to hold the military accountable for actions against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi is therefore in a very weak position.
She has nonetheless gone out of her way to not just defend the military, but praise it. In Singapore last month, she made headlines when she declared that the three generals in her cabinet were “rather sweet”.
Suu Kyi has stressed that her government’s aim of removing the military from politics would eventually be achieved through negotiation, keeping in mind the need for national reconciliation. However, her dream of constitutional reform depends entirely on military approval.
This would appear to inhibit any ability for her to censure the military. She also has no means to compel the military to cooperate with international investigators.
A path to redemption
Suu Kyi still has considerable moral authority within Myanmar, and the military is still widely unpopular. Thus, despite the severe limitations on her power, she does have other options to lead effectively on issues like human rights, the Rohingya and press freedom.
Suu Kyi and her government should start by recommitting themselves to a belief in universal human rights. She should also express empathy with the victims of the atrocities in Rakhine state, which may begin to shift popular opinion against the actions of the military and engender more public sympathy for the Rohingya.
Further, Suu Kyi needs to pledge full cooperation with the ICC investigation into the serious allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and call for a genuinely independent domestic inquiry to pave the way towards true reconciliation.
Suu Kyi may not be able to compel military cooperation with the ICC investigation, or even unfettered access to the country for investigators. But drawing on her moral authority could go a long way to help. She could pave the way for visas and travel approval, for instance, both of which were denied to investigators by her government.
Finally, the government must develop robust, urgent repatriation plans for the Rohingya – in cooperation with Bangladesh and the UN – that guarantee their security, human rights, a pathway to full citizenship and an end to segregation in Rakhine. They need a plan for inclusive development policies in the state, and to restore both media freedoms and humanitarian access to the region.
The opportunity for such moral leadership is quickly evaporating.
Suu Kyi and her government were elected by a landslide in 2015, winning about 80% of seats up for election. Polling released last week showed that only about half those surveyed believe the rights of people have improved in the 2½ years that she has been in power and less than half the population feel there has been any political or economic improvement.
There have also been increasing complaints about the performance of the government.
With her support eroding both home and abroad, Suu Kyi appears to have a limited window to adequately address the Rohingya crisis and regain her moral authority. Otherwise, Myanmar risks slipping back into isolation and again becoming a pariah state.
The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. A ReachTEL poll for independent Licia Heath’s campaign, conducted September 27 from a sample of 727, gave the Liberals’ Dave Sharma 40.6% of the primary vote, Labor’s Tim Murray 19.5%, independent Kerryn Phelps 16.9%, Heath 9.4%, the Greens 6.2%, all Others 1.8% and 5.6% were undecided.
According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 43.0% Sharma, 20.7% Murray, 17.9% Phelps, 10.0% Heath and 6.6% Greens. Compared to a September 17 ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, which you can read about on my personal website, primary vote changes were Sharma up 3.7%, Murray up 3.3%, Phelps down 4.8%, Heath up 5.6% and Greens down 6.0%. Phelps fell from second behind Sharma to third behind Murray and Sharma.
Between the two ReachTEL polls, Phelps announced on September 21 that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor, backflipping on her previous position of putting the Liberals last. It is likely this caused her slump.
While more likely/less likely to vote a certain way questions always overstate the impact of an issue, it is nevertheless bad for Phelps that 50% of her own voters said they were less likely to vote for her as a result of the preference decision.
This ReachTEL poll was released by the Heath campaign as it showed her gaining ground. Heath appears to have gained from the Greens, and the endorsement of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore could further benefit her.
Despite the primary vote gain for Sharma, he led Murray by just 51-49 on a two candidate basis, a one-point gain for Murray since the September 17 ReachTEL. The Poll Bludger estimated Murray would need over three-quarters of all independent and minor party preferences to come this close to Sharma.
At the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull won 62.3% of the primary vote in Wentworth. While the Liberals’ primary vote in this poll is about 19% below Turnbull, it is recovering to a winning position.
Trump, Republicans gain in fight over Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation
On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments.
Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred. Since September 16, three women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was a high school or university student.
On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all 11 Republicans – all men – voting in favour.
However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. The Senate received the FBI’s findings on Thursday, and the investigation did not corroborate Ford. Democrats have labelled the report a “whitewash”, but it appears to have satisfied the doubting Republican senators, and Kavanaugh is very likely to be confirmed.
Since the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh began, Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate have recovered to about a 42% approval rating, from 40% in mid-September. Democrats’ position in the race for Congress has deteriorated to a 7.7 point lead, down from 9.1 points in mid-September.
Midterm elections for all of the US House and 35 of the 100 Senators will be held on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic votes and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to take control.
While the House map is difficult for Democrats, the Senate is far worse. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats and Republicans just nine, Five of the states Democrats are defending voted for Trump in 2016 by at least 18 points. Two polls this week in one of those big Trump states, North Dakota, gave Republicans double digit leads over the Democratic incumbent.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast models give Democrats a 74% chance of gaining control of the House, but just a 22% chance in the Senate.
Republican gains in the polls are likely due to polarisation over Kavanaugh. In a recent Quinnipiac University national poll, voters did not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – by a net six-point margin – but Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh was at -7 net approval. Democrats led Republicans by seven points, and Trump’s overall net approval was -12. Kavanaugh was more unpopular than in the previous Quinnipiac poll, but Trump and Republicans were more popular.
The hope for Democrats is that once the Kavanaugh issue is resolved, they can refocus attention on issues such as healthcare and the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. However, the strong US economy assists Trump and the Republicans.
In brief: contest between left and far right in Brazil, conservative breakthrough win in Quebec, Canada
The Brazil presidential election will be held in two rounds, on October 7 and 28. If no candidate wins over 50% in the October 7 first round, the top two proceed to a runoff.
The left-wing Workers’ Party has won the last four presidential elections from 2002 to 2014, but incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016, and replaced by conservative Vice President Michel Temer.
Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro are virtually certain to advance to the runoff. Bolsonaro has made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Runoff polling shows a close contest.
In the Canadian province of Quebec, a conservative party won an election for the first time since 1966.
You can read more about the Brazil and Quebec elections at my personal website.
As we age, our bodies inevitably deteriorate. Some changes, like grey hair and wrinkles, are easily visible. Others, like high blood pressure, often go unnoticed, but can be deadly.
Just as our body shows signs of ageing, so does our genome. Damage comes from chemical reactions that alter our DNA, and from errors introduced when it is copied. Our cells protect against these ravages, but these mechanisms are not foolproof and cells gradually accumulate DNA damage over a lifetime.
As a consequence of this damage, your genome is not the same in every cell; you are a patchwork of cells with subtle differences in their DNA. When a cell divides it will pass on these changes, and as they accumulate there is more and more likelihood that there will be consequences.
If these changes – we call them mutations – chip away at the systems that govern cell proliferation and survival, this can lead to cancer.
Our latest research, published today in the journal Blood, provides new clues about how our cells protect their genome and guard against cancer.
Guarding the genome
Nearly 10% of cancers have a familial component. Genes like BRCA1 and TP53 are among the best known cancer susceptibility genes, and both are involved in coordinating the cell’s response to DNA damage.
BRCA1 helps to repair a specific type of DNA damage, in which both strands of DNA are broken. Inheriting a defective BRCA1 gene elevates the lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
When DNA repair mechanisms break down, cells can accumulate staggering numbers of mutations, and cancer becomes almost inevitable.
Beyond genetics, a complex mix of environmental and lifestyle factors modify cancer risk.
When we read the genome of a cancer it is possible to attribute mutations to certain types of stress. UV radiation, for example, will fuse certain DNA bases. The UV damage signature is writ large in melanoma, a cancer linked to sun exposure.
Lung cancers from smokers and non-smokers have different mutation patterns because of the action of chemicals in cigarette smoke that attack the DNA.
We can also use this approach to diagnose defective DNA repair, as each defect triggers a characteristic pattern of mutations. In this way, mutation signatures can help us understand why a cancer has developed.
A ticking genetic clock
Smoking, UV radiation and X-rays all damage your DNA, but damage also comes from reactive molecules present within the cell. These molecules are fundamental to the chemistry of life – take water, for example.
Water is a very reactive molecule and can do damage to our DNA. One of the most common mutations, either in cancer or in normal cells, results from water molecules reacting with methylated DNA.
DNA methylation is a small chemical modification that acts as a signpost on top of our genetic code. It helps to control which genes are switched on or off. This fine-tuning is essential for normal development, but methylation also makes DNA more susceptible to damage. Most of these events are quickly repaired, but the damage is unrelenting and some sneak through.
Methylation damage is the most prominent feature of an ageing genome. It’s so pervasive and reliable it has been proposed as a molecular clock that marks ageing. But our new research shows this process occurs more rapidly in some people.
We found and studied three people whose pathways to repair methylation damage had broken down. They all lacked a DNA repair protein called MBD4, which led to a marked accumulation of methylation damage – as though their cells were ageing prematurely.
All three developed an aggressive form of leukaemia in their early 30s, a cancer which usually wouldn’t be seen until the person is in their 60s or 70s.
Methylation damage plays a role in most cancers, but in these cases it was the primary driver of the disease.
While complete inactivation of MDB4 – as occurred in the three participants – is extremely rare, our findings raise the question of how more subtle differences in DNA repair shape cancer risk, particularly in the context of ageing.
Turning back the clock
Ageing contributes to cancer risk in myriad ways. While we’ve focused here on the buildup of DNA damage, our immune system also plays an important role and tends to fade as we get older.
Lifestyle factors – such as obesity, stress and diet – also provide a cumulative risk that builds over a lifetime.
Understanding the interplay between these factors is key to finding strategies that will effectively diffuse the health consequences associated with ageing.
Our research is helping to tease apart the contribution of DNA damage in different disease processes. Our findings suggest that some people accumulate more DNA damage than others – their clocks are ticking a little faster – and measuring these differences may help to spot people at risk of developing cancer, or help match them with more effective treatments.
Ian Majewski, Laboratory Head & Victorian Cancer Agency Fellow, Cancer & Haematology Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Edward Chew, PhD candidate, Cancer and Haematology Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
The government hoped to have the pressure on Labor over planned legislation for a new GST carve up but instead it has found itself on the back foot.
At a meeting of state and territory treasurers on Wednesday, there was a general demand across the political spectrum for the legislation to include a guarantee that no jurisdiction will be worse off.
NSW Liberal Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said after the meeting that “all states and territories put forward the strong view” the bill must include this.
“Unfortunately the Commonwealth indicated it would proceed with legislation without that guarantee,” he said.
He said that under the federal government proposal “there are a number of scenarios where NSW would lose substantial funding.
“That is not an acceptable outcome,” Perrottet said.
“In the weeks ahead I will be making every effort to ensure any Commonwealth legislation includes the guarantee the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have previously given – that our state will not be worse off.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the legislation would be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting week. He reaffirmed that, “based on the Productivity Commission’s data”, the deal “will make every state and territory better off. This will guarantee an extra $9 billion in funding over the next 10 years”.
Frydenberg said the government was not including the guarantee in the legislation because “we don’t want to run two sets of books … the old system and the new system.”
If the government does not give way beforehand, the issue of the guarantee will likely become one for the Senate.
The new distribution for GST revenue is driven by the need to give Western Australia a fairer share. To win the support of the other jurisdictions the government announced the $9 billion in extra funding, to make for winners all round. But the states are concerned that if the guarantee is not in the legislation, unforeseen circumstances could arise that might disadvantage them.
Anxious to bed down the new GST arrangement without the need to get agreement from all jurisdictions, the government resorted to the unusual course of legislation – only to then run into Wednesday’s problems.
Victorian Labor Treasurer, Tim Pallas said the lobbying would continue to have the guarantee “enshrined in legislation”.
Queensland Labor Treasurer, Jackie Trad said that without the legal guarantee there was a “real risk” some jurisdictions could be worse off in certain circumstances. “We cannot prepare or forecast or model every single scenario.”
The South Australian and Tasmanian Liberal treasurers also declared they wanted legislated protection.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “It’s a particularly special day when Josh Frydenberg offers an additional $9 billion in GST top up payments and still manages to get every state and territory Treasurer united against him.”
Bowen said Morrison promised when treasurer that no state would be worse off under the changes. “But he’s been called out this week for the government’s legislation failing to match this guarantee”.
Labor’s position is that it supports legislating the new distribution but wants the guarantee included. Morrison has been challenging Bill Shorten to back the legislation.
While there was a fight over the GST distribution legislation, there was unity over removing the GST on tampons from the start of 2019, ending a battle that began when the tax was introduced.