International: Cambridge Analytica Suspends Alexander Nix following Election Staging Brags

Data mining company Cambridge Analytica has suspended its chief executive Alexander Nix after he was caught bragging about manipulating elections in a tape.

In a hidden camera footage set by UK’s Channel 4 News, the firm’s executives were seen pitching tactics to entrap political opponents and boasting about running election campaigns across the world, including in Kenya in 2013 and 2017.

To a reporter who posed as a fixer for candidates in Sri Lanka, the executives talked about the way the company operated, including offering bribes, spreading false information about the opponents, and sending “some girls around to the candidate’s house”.

Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, also spoke about the firm’s role in Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign in the last two of Kenya’s elections, including providing research, rebranding the party and writing manifesto and speeches.

“We’d stage the whole thing,” Turnbull said in the video.

Cambridge Analytica continues to receive heavy scrutiny, following the revelation by whistleblower Chris Wylie this week that the firm tapped personal information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts without permission for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The firm, which is partly owned by conservative hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, said Channel 4’s report “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.”

However, the company’s board said Nix will still be suspended effective immediately pending a full independent investigation.

“In the view of the board, Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the statement read.

“We have asked Julian Malins QC to lead this investigation, the findings of which the Board will share publicly in due course.”

Nix’s suspension came as a British parliamentary summoned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to testify about how the social media giant allowed the company to access user data. More US politicians also call for Zuckerberg to testify before the congress.

International: Trump’s Pick for CIA Chief Takes Heat for Alleged Links to Torture

President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA chief, Gina Haspel, reportedly oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where terrorist suspects were tortured by waterboarding.

If approved by the US Senate, Haspel will become the first woman to lead the intelligence agency, replacing Mike Pompeo, who is reassigned as the secretary of state.

Haspel has spent more than 30 years working for CIA with extensive overseas experience, and is widely respected across the intelligence circles. However, she started receiving heavy scrutiny on her links to the secret prison after her appointment as Pompeo’s deputy in February 2017.

Associated Press reported that according to anonymous officials, Haspel briefly ran the black site prison in 2002, where two terrorism suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri allegedly underwent waterboarding and slamming. Three years later, Haspel ordered the destruction of the 92 videos of the interrogation.

Haspel’s nomination has been widely criticised by politicians from both parties. Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured in the Vietnam war, said, “Ms Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”

Fellow Republican Susan Collins, who is a part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is undecided on whether to support the nomination. “[Haspel] certainly has the expertise and experience as a 30-year employee of the agency,” said Collins. “But I’m sure there are going to be some questions raised.”

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who served in the Iraq War, said Haspel’s nomination was “even worse” than that of Pompeo’s. “Not only did she directly supervise the torture of detainees, but she also participated in covering it up by helping to destroy the video evidence,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Her reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently this president believes they merit a promotion. I could not disagree more.”

Haspel has not addressed these concerns. “I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Haspel said in a statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office.”

National: Negative Gearing Should Favor Lower Income Property Investors, Says Report

Excluding richer property investors from negative gearing can help improve housing affordability, according to a report coming out today.

In a research released today, the Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute (AHURI) said negative gearing reforms that prioritise ordinary “mum and dad investors” could save the federal government $1.7 billion.

A proposed model suggests denying the top quarter of income earners any deductions from rental losses, while the bottom half could continue receiving 100 per cent deductions.

The researchers also propose a reduction of capital gains tax discount to limit negative gearing activities and reduce inequities between higher and lower income investors.

Another option the report models is capping negative gearing deductions to up to $40,000.

“Current negative gearing policies are heavily skewed towards high-income earners, raising concerns about the extent to which these policies exacerbate income and wealth inequality in Australia,” said Alan Duncan, Curtin University economics professor and co-writer of the report.

The negative gearing tax breaks policy has been blamed for the surge in housing prices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Labor party has advocated for limitation of negative gearing to only new properties and reduction of CGT discount to 25 per cent, but the Turnbull government said the opposition’s proposals would jeopardise the property market.

The report follows Grattan Institute’s review released on Sunday, which found that housing affordability can be improved by cutting CGT discount, getting rid of negative gearing, and building extra 50,000 homes per year.

National: Rare Thomas Edison Cables Unearthed in Brisbane

Excavators in Brisbane have found 134-year-old rare electrical cables with links to light bulb inventor Thomas Edison.

The cables, which were laid under William Street to provide electricity to the parliamentary precinct, were removed on Tuesday to allow the new Queen’s Wharf casino complex development to go ahead.

The “Edison tubes” were designed by the late inventor and built by his American company. Brisbane was the third city to have the technology after London and New York.

“We were the first place in the southern hemisphere to have this technology, and just the third in the world,” said supervising archaeologist Tina King.

“It’s a milestone for Brisbane’s development as a city and we’re making sure to take the utmost care in the conservation of these important artefacts.”

The tubes were made of cast iron casing, asphaltum-based pitches, and two to three copper cores.

Parts of the cables will be housed in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Brisbane’s Commissariat Store Museum in Brisbane, the Highfields Pioneer Village in Toowoomba, and Parliament House as well as the Science Centre in London and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, US.

International: The Queen’s Baton Visits Sydney for 2018 Commonwealth Games

The Queen’s Baton is visiting Sydney today as a part of its Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games journey.

Swimmer Ian Thorpe, cricketer Glenn McGrath and Australian rugby union player Shannon Parry are among the baton’s bearer in the city. The relay will begin at Government House from 3pm to go through the Opera House, CBD, King’s Wharf and the Australian Maritime Museum.

The baton will continue its journey to other NSW cities for the next three days, including Penrith, Wollongong, Kiama and Batemans Bay.

Since leaving the Buckingham Palace in March last year, the baton has travelled through about 70 Commonwealth countries and territories.

The baton will reach its final destination on the Gold Coast on April 4, where the Queen or a representative will read the message within to officially open the Games.

International: New Excavation Begins in Buddha’s Nepal Hometown

A new excavation mission has been started in Buddha’s hometown, Tilaurakot, to uncover more evidence of its heritage significance.

Nepal’s Department of Archaeology begun the excavation earlier this month to identify important sections of King Suddhodan’s Royal Palace in Tilaurakot, where Gautam Buddha spent 29 years of his life. The excavation, which is the fourth one that the state has managed since 2014, is expected to take 55 days.

The current excavation project also involves experts from UK’s Durham University, Lumbini Development Trust, and students of Tribhuvan University and Lumbini University.

The department’s officer Ram Bahadur Kunwar said the project will be carried out in two spots within the central complex of Tilaurakot Palace, and beside Samayamai Temple.

In 1996, the Nepalese government proposed for Tilaurakot to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for its cultural significance.

National: Apartment Boom Drives Residential Building Growth

Approval rate for apartments continues to rise, boosting the Australian residential building growth beyond expectation.

Latest reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that apartment approvals rose by 30.6 per cent in November, while house approvals dipped 2 per cent. The gain was the largest since November 2016.

Victoria contributed the most to this increase, with an 80 per cent surge since October to 6,359 approvals for private-sector dwelling excluding houses while NSW and Queensland experienced month-on-month declines.

Overall dwelling building approvals rose by 11.7 per cent for the month, beating forecasts of 1 per cent fall by Reuters.

International: 3,500-Year-Old Mummy Found in Luxor, Egypt

Two ancient tombs dating back 3,500 years have been discovered in Luxor, Egypt.

The two tombs – containing linen-wrapped mummy, paintings, masks and figurines among others – were originally discovered in the 1990s by German archaeologist Frederica Kampp, but the Egyptian archaeological mission only began its excavations recently.

The first tomb, designated Kampp 161, was a single-shaft burial containing a mural as well as artefacts honouring the Egyptian god Osiris. It was estimated to date to the era between the reign of King Amenhotep II and the one of King Thutmose IV (1427-1388 BC).

The other tomb, Kampp 150, contained a mummified person with unknown identity which was estimated to date back to the 17th-18th Dynasty (1580-1292 BC).

The discovery of the tombs is hoped to revive the country’s declining tourism industry following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, according to AP News.

National: Amazon Launches in Australia

US retail giant Amazon has finally launched its Australian operations, threatening local retailers with tougher competition.

Amazon’s Australian marketplace now offers items from 23 categories including electronics, toys, clothing, accessories, beauty and household goods.

“Focusing on customers and the long-term are key principles in Amazon’s approach to retailing,” Amazon Australia country manager Rocco Braeuniger said in a statement.

“By concentrating on providing a great shopping experience and by constantly innovating on behalf of customers, we hope to earn the trust and the custom of Australian shoppers in the years to come.”

In the lead-up to Christmas holiday season, Amazon is also offering free shipping for orders over $49 and one-day delivery for select cities. The goods will be sent from the company’s fulfillment centre at Dandenong South, Melbourne.

“Over time, we will create thousands of new jobs and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Australia,” said Braeuniger.

“The result will be an ever-improving customer experience driven by the regular introduction of new products and services that we hope customers will love.”

Politics: Jacqui Lambie to Resign from Senate Over Dual Citizenship

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has announced that she will resign from the Federal Parliament following confirmation that she was a UK citizen.

Lambie’s father was born in Scotland, which means that she holds a dual citizenship with the UK and Australia. The UK Home Office clarified Lambie’s status this morning.

“I will be resigning from the Senate, it’s been made quite clear that because of my father I am also Scottish,” Lambie told Grant Broadcasters radio.

The senator indicated that while she would not participate in the upcoming state election, she is interested in running at the next federal election.

“I have got candidates running out there for the state election — I’m going to put on my Jacqui Lambie Network jacket and I’ll be right beside them,” said Lambie. “[But] you can’t keep a Lambie down.”

The former Palmer United Party member also said the first thing she would do after resigning was “renounce my [British] citizenship”.

Lambie has become the latest parliamentarian who fell victim to the section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, which rules that people who hold dual citizenship are disqualified from federal political office.

Lambie is set to table her resignation today.