Good morning, this is Eleanor Ainge Roy bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 4 January.
Donald Trump has lashed out at his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, accusing him of having “lost his mind” after Bannon made explosive accusations against the president and his family in a new book. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” In the book Bannon is quoted as describing the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
Bannon, speaking to author and political journalist Michael Wolff, is particularly scathing about the June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers,” Wolff reports Bannon saying. “They didn’t have any lawyers … even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.” Bannon warns that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin would focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
The Greens will oppose the government’s bill to ban foreign donations because it will disadvantage smaller political parties and community groups, Lee Rhiannon has told the Guardian. She said the Greens supported banning foreign donations in principle, but the bill was “deeply flawed” and the proposed changes to electoral funding would put pressure on smaller parties to chase large political donations, which has a “corrupting influence”. She argued the bill also “severely restricts community groups’ activities while not touching big Australian corporate political donations”, echoing the claim that the bill is an attempt to shackle the progressive campaign organisation GetUp.
Google, which has been accused of systematically underpaying female workers, now faces allegations that it discriminated against women who taught employees’ children at the company’s childcare centre. Former employee Heidi Lamar alleges female teachers were paid lower salaries than men with fewer qualifications doing the same job. Lamar has joined a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, which alleges Google “segregated” women into lower-paying jobs and includes accounts from a former engineer, manager and sales worker. “I didn’t want to work for a company that I can’t trust, that makes me feel like my values of gender equality are being compromised,” Lamar, 31, told the Guardian in this exclusive story.
Thousands of pro-government counter-protesters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities after nearly a week of unrest. State television aired a rally from Ahwaz, the capital of Khouzesan province, which showed thousands of people marching on a long bridge connecting two parts of the city, holding up pro-regime placards and chanting in support of the establishment. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards said it had deployed forces to three provinces where most of the casualties have occurred, but claimed the anti-government protests were over. Mohammad, a protester from Karaj, called the uprising a “leaderless movement”. “People are fed up with unemployment and being poor,” he said. “There is no job security … I call it the movement of the hungry, the starved people.”
The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle may have to be solved by hand, as technology struggles to piece together millions of Stasi files ripped to shreds in the dying days of the East German regime. The government-funded Stasi records agency has been forced to halt a multimillion dollar project to digitally reassemble the contents of 23 bags stuffed with torn-up documents because the scanning hardware – known as the ePuzzler – is failing to process the remaining snippets, especially handwritten notes, some as small as a fingernail. Since the early 1990s workers employed by the agency have managed to piece together more than 1.5m pages of destroyed files by hand, a method they have returned to while engineers work to advance the skills of the ePuzzler.
The fifth and final Ashes Test gets under way in Sydney this morning, with England giving a debut to 20-year-old leg spinner Mason Crane, and Australia welcoming back Mitchell Starc from injury. Andy Bull looks at the extraordinary rise of Steve Smith, which has even led some commentators to compare him to to Don Bradman.
At the midway point of the A-Leage season, Ante Jukic provides his verdict on each side, arguing that only two have performed encouragingly. Sydney FC’s dominance puts them in a rosy light, but suggests almost every other team is coming up short.
The pace and scale of apartment building is changing the face of Sydney, writes Mike Ticher. On the face of it, creating more densely populated neighbourhoods along existing transport corridors makes perfect sense – Sydney has one of the lowest densities of any city in the world – but a growing backlash shows many residents are far from supportive. “It’s not that people are saying they’re against density,” says Hazel Easthope of the City Futures Research Centre. “It’s that they don’t believe that all the things they’ve been told are going to come with it are actually going to come with it.
In the latest instalment of Guardian Australia’s Cultural Revelation series, the American composer and musician Rhys Chatham writes about the first rock concert he went to, seeing the the Ramones at CBGB’s in 1976, and the impact it had on his work. “What I heard that night changed my life,” he writes. “Their music was more complex than mine – they were working with three chords and I had only been working with one. I realised that, as a minimalist, I had more in common with this music than I thought. I was attracted by the sheer energy and raw power of the sound”. Chatham will be conducting his piece A Crimson Grail (100 Guitar Orchestra) at the Sydney festival on 12 and 13 January.
It’s extremely rare for people to drown swimming between the flags, but it can happen, as it did on Monday at Woolamai beach in Victoria when a man was swept into a rip. Swimming between the flags is still the safest place to be on an Australian beach, writes Rob Brander, but it is not enough on its own to maintain beach safety. “We absolutely need to keep pushing the message, but we need to do more. We need a combination of more flags, more lifeguards and more beach safety education for school kids, adults and international tourists.”
What’s he done now?
Donald Trump has started tweeting about … his success at being Donald Trump. “President Trump has something now he didn’t have a year ago, that is a set of accomplishments that nobody can deny,” Trump tweeted overnight, quoting Fox News. “The accomplishments are there, look at his record, he has had a very significant first year.”
The West Australian splashes with the backpacker mass drug overdose in a share house in Perth, under the headline “Night of the the Zombies”. One of the backpackers who took the mystery drug said he was “trying to scream for help” but his mouth wouldn’t move, and he felt his face was “melting off”, the paper reports. The Australian reveals Liberal backbencher Andrew Laming charged the taxpayer more than $13,500 for his wife and daughters to accompany him on a week-long trip to the Top End, including business-class flights from Kununurra to Brisbane via Perth. And the ABC has an interesting read on the engineers who work on keeping the internet “cool” over summer, with the temperature in some data centres soaring above 44C in WA.
The Bureau of Meteorology is due to release its annual climate statement for 2017, wrapping up Australia’s weather during the year.
Police will carry out an operation to recover the wreckage of the seaplane that crashed in the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, on New Year’s Eve, killing five Britons and the plane’s pilot.
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