As Scott Morrison heads to Washington, the US-Australia alliance is unlikely to change



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

David Smith, University of Sydney

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s official visit to Washington this week carries some prestige. It is just the second “official visit” (including a state dinner) by a foreign leader during the Trump presidency, and the first by an Australian since John Howard in 2006. Despite a rocky start, relations between Australia and the US have been uniquely smooth in the Trump era.

Many traditional allies have learned to endure constant insults from the president. Trump complains bitterly about allies taking advantage of the United States in trade deals and defence alliances. France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, Canada, Mexico and the whole of NATO have all been on the receiving end of Trump’s scorn.

In contrast, the leaders of a select group of Middle Eastern allies – Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE, and Egypt – have enjoyed extravagant backing from Trump, born of a mutual hostility to Iran and Barack Obama.

Australia seems to be in its own category as a long-standing ally that rarely attracts the attention of the president. In the absence of either tantrums or patronage, business as usual has quietly continued.

Australia’s unique position may be largely because we have a trade deficit with the United States, rather than the other way around. This is an issue of core importance to Trump, and the US gets its fifth-largest trade surplus from Australia at US$7.8 billion.

Australia’s outgoing ambassador, Joe Hockey, has cultivated a genuinely warm personal relationship with Trump that lubricates various bargains. It’s impossible to imagine him suffering the same fate as the UK’s Kim Darroch.

Morrison also understands the usefulness of a close personal relationship with the president and has steadily worked on this. It helps that Trump believes he has some political affinity with him.

But the relationship between the Australian and American governments is much broader than the one between president and prime minister. It is conducted behind the scenes every day by public servants on both sides and reflects decades of cooperation. Earlier this year, pro-Australian forces in the US government successfully defused Trump’s irritation at the volume of Australian aluminium exports to the US. Australia remains the only country with a complete exemption from American steel and aluminium tariffs.

This very stability may limit the scope of what Trump and Morrison can talk about. Most issues are relatively settled. However, the US-China trade war, and Australia’s role in it, will almost certainly be a topic of conversation.

Given the risks to Australia from a trade war, some had hoped Morrison could influence Trump to de-escalate tensions. In June, Morrison warned against the development of a “zero-sum mindset” on trade. He told a London audience that the World Trade Organisation, then under attack from the US, needed support as the US-China trade conflict put prosperity and living standards at risk.




Read more:
Trade war tensions sky high as Trump and Xi prepare to meet at the G20


Back then, there was still hope of an agreement, which now seems more remote than ever. Morrison seems resigned to an enduring conflict between two of our largest trading partners. He has said the world will have to get used to it and that the conflict is all about the need to enforce the rules of global trade on China.

Australia has long shared American concerns that China flouts the rules to the extent that it undermines the whole system. Indeed, Australians have sometimes worried that Trump’s obsession with trade deficits is actually a distraction from this deeper issue.

In February, Hockey warned Trump against making a deal with China that would reduce the deficit while leaving structural issues unaddressed. But none of this means Morrison would accept an invitation from Trump to join the US in the trade war.

Morrison has already committed Australian support to the US effort to guard oil shipments from Iranian seizures in the Strait of Hormuz. This is the kind of invitation Australia rarely refuses. A frigate, surveillance and patrol aircraft and some personnel will go to the Persian Gulf, though it is unclear when.




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Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?


Other US allies, some of whom are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, have declined to make even modest contributions such as these. They see the current crisis, correctly, as Trump’s fault and they fear provoking further conflict with Iran.

Even after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, reimposing sanctions that led to increased hostilities, the Morrison government opted to continue support for the deal, subject to Iranian compliance (which is now evaporating).

Both major parties are framing Australia’s support for the US in terms of our commitment to freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order.

Morrison is likely to reaffirm this commitment in Washington, without getting into discussions about why Trump withdrew from an agreement that his own intelligence agencies said was working. The recent demise of John Bolton as national security adviser will hopefully make it less likely that Australia faces any questions about deeper military involvement in the Gulf.

Morrison is keen to secure Trump’s first visit to Australia, for the President’s Cup golf tournament in December. While he lauds Trump as “a good president for Australia”, Australians are sceptical. A US Studies Centre poll in July found only 19% of Australians want to see Trump re-elected (that includes just 29% of Coalition voters).

In fairness to Trump, polls conducted in 2008 and 2012 found even smaller numbers of Australians wanted John McCain (16%) or Mitt Romney (5%) to win those presidential elections. The Republican Party this century has been well to the right of nearly every other mainstream conservative party in the world, including the Liberal Party.

Trump isn’t the first deeply unpopular president Australia has seen and he won’t be the last. In the 2019 Lowy Institute Poll, 64% of respondents say Australia “should remain close to the United States under President Donald Trump”.

There is no danger of that changing under Morrison.The Conversation

David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director of the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?



She’s sitting third on the list of Democratic nomination contenders, but might Elizabeth Warren ultimately be the person to beat Donald Trump?
EPA/AAP/Craig Lassig

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservative former congressman Joe Walsh recently announced he would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 Presidential nomination.

Challenging an incumbent president is not new: both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter faced very significant challenges when they sought a further term. But Trump’s hold on Republicans suggests that no challenge is likely to succeed.

For the Democrats, however, the race to oppose Trump is now wide open and bitter.

The American political system allows participation through primary elections in ways unknown in our tightly controlled party system.




Read more:
Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


Millions of voters take part in choosing the candidate of their party. This can have strange consequences; some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters were so disaffected by the nomination of Hillary Clinton that perhaps 10% of them voted for Trump.

Candidates must damage their opponents without providing ammunition that can be used against their party in the November elections.

Presidential primaries stretch across the first half of 2020. These include several key contests determined by caucuses, which involve actual attendance for several hours to register one’s choice. Because Iowa traditionally leads off, huge attention is paid to the results there.

Iowa is a state with a population of just over 3 million, and is far whiter than the United States. Its caucuses are followed by three other small states: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which between them start to look like the country as a whole.

Every Democratic candidate is spending time and resources in the early states, with teams of volunteers criss-crossing the small towns of Iowa and New Hampshire and wooing minority communities in Nevada (Hispanic) and South Carolina (African-American).

By the end of February, expect the field to have shrunk from the current dozen or so serious contenders to about half that number. On March 3 comes a slew of votes across 16 states, including California and Texas. The results that day will either produce a clear front runner or a dogged three-way fight lasting three more months.

One of the oddities of the Democratic race so far is that the two leading candidates and the incumbent president are all white men in their seventies, well past the accepted American retirement age.

The two best known Democratic contenders are Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who cover the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party: Sanders on the left and Biden on the right. Both entered the race with considerable money and name recognition, and both have started slipping in the polls as younger candidates have gained attention.

Some current polls now place Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as equalling their support. Warren shares some of Sanders’ radical positions on health care and taxation, but she is careful to not define herself as a socialist, and she has the same grasp of policy as did Hillary Clinton.

Trump would undoubtedly campaign against Warren as another effete east coast liberal, invoking the failure of two previous candidates from Boston, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.

Democrat voters looking for someone younger and different may swing behind Senator Kamala Harris from California, a former Attorney-General who is positioning herself as someone who transcends both racial and gender prejudices.

Kamala Harris is another Democratic runner polling well.
AAP/EPA/Elijah Nouvelage

Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Harris and Pete Buttigieg as the only other candidates who consistently poll over 10%. Buttigieg is the unexpected dark horse: gay, young, ex-military and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is smaller than Geelong. He far outpolls more experienced candidates – one of them, Kirsten Gillibrand, has already withdrawn.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


The candidates are united in their dislike of Donald Trump, but this is a battle of egos and ideologies. Do the Democrats seek to win over Trump supporters in key states by appealing to a mythical “centre”? Do they try to win over Republicans, particularly educated women who made up some of the base for their victories in last year’s House of Representatives election? Or do they concentrate on their potential supporters among the young and minority communities who are less likely to vote?

In a country where fewer than 60% of those eligible bother to vote, the last option would seem the most viable, but that requires candidates who can speak to the disinterested and the disenfranchised.

Both racism and sexism played a role in Trump’s victory, and Biden’s current lead in the polls suggests many Democrats feel an older white man is their safest choice. But if the Democrats are to galvanise young and minority voters to turn out they need a candidate who is clearly very different to Trump.

The electoral college system means that winning the popular vote, as Clinton did, does not guarantee victory. In key mid-western industrial states the vote may well be determined by the consequences of Trump’s current economic policies.

Much can change before Democratic supporters start declaring their choice in six months. Several of the also-rans may surprise us; maybe one of the front-runners will drop out.

Were Bernie Sanders to withdraw and throw his support to Elizabeth Warren, she would become the front-runner; it’s less clear where Biden’s supporters would go, but if he polls poorly in February, he is likely to fade away.

At this point in 2015, pundits were predicting a presidential race between Clinton and Jeb Bush, with Clinton favoured to win. Nothing in politics is predictable.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This is why nuking a hurricane will not work, Mr Trump


Liz Ritchie-Tyo, UNSW

President Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on more than one occasion that the US military explode nuclear bombs inside hurricanes to disrupt them before they reach land.

As reported in National Geographic, this is not the first time a suggestion like this has been made – although Trump now denies having said it.

On the surface, it would seem like a simple solution to the devastation that occurs in the US each year during the hurricane season. However, there are several problems with this idea.




Read more:
The economic cost of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events is even worse than we thought


What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are low-pressure weather systems covering an area of more than 500,000km². They form over warm tropical oceans, which are their primary energy source. The low pressure at the centre of the hurricane – the eye – draws in the surrounding warm, moist air. This air then rises and condenses into deep thunderstorm clouds surrounding the centre – the eyewall – and also in cloud bands spiralling out from the eye called rainbands.

As the air is pulled into the eye, Earth’s rotation causes it to spin cyclonically – anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. The continuous supply of air into the deep thunderstorms surrounding the eye allows the hurricane to intensify until it reaches a steady state of equilibrium with the oceans and the environment.

Would a nuclear bomb put a dent in a hurricane?

The average hurricane can be likened to a very inefficient heat engine. As the warm moist air rises, it releases heat energy through the formation of clouds and rain at a rate of about 5.2 x 10¹⁹ joules per day. Less than 10% of this heat is then converted into the mechanical energy of the wind.

To give some perspective of this energy, the heat released in a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megatonne nuclear bomb exploding every hour. This energy is also on the order of the global energy consumption in 2016, according to the United States Energy Information Agency.

It seems unlikely that exploding a bomb in the hurricane would make much impact on such a powerful weather system, and it is impossible to run controlled experiments to determine whether it would.

Not to mention that there could be shocking effects from the fallout of radioactive material from such an explosion. These materials would be transported widely via the trade winds through the lower levels of the atmosphere, and potentially around the entire planet in the stratosphere – similar to the effects from the volcanic fallout from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

Have people tried to stop hurricanes before?

There have been previous attempts to modify the impacts of hurricanes. Between 1962 and 1983 the US government funded experimental research on hurricane modification known as Project STORMFURY. The fundamental premise was, because the potential of damage from hurricanes increases rapidly with the hurricane’s wind speed, a reduction in wind speed of as little as 10% could make a large difference in the impacts when hurricanes reach land. By seeding the air outside the eyewall with silver iodide, a chemical used to seed clouds, it was thought a new ring of thunderstorms may develop outside the eyewall – robbing it of energy and weakening the hurricane.




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Getting ready for hurricane season: 4 essential reads


Modification was attempted in four hurricanes on eight different days. On four of those days, a 10-30% reduction in wind speed was measured. The lack of response on the other fours days was initially interpreted to be the result of faulty execution of the experiment, but was later attributed to an imperfect understanding of the microphysics of clouds in hurricanes.

Successful cloud seeding using silver iodide requires that supercooled water droplets freeze onto the silver iodide seeds.

Recent observations show hurricanes have too many naturally occurring ice crystals and too few supercooled water droplets for cloud seeding to be effective. So any change in hurricane wind speed observed during the STORMFURY experiments was almost certainly due to the natural behaviour of hurricanes rather than human intervention.

Although Project STORMFURY was abandoned, the hurricane observation program is still run under the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The original aircraft used in Project STORMFURY were replaced in the 1970s by WP-3D aircraft, which still reside under NOAA and are operated by its officers.




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Hurricanes to deliver a bigger punch to coasts


The observations collected by these aircraft continuously over a period of more than 60 years has helped improve hurricane forecasting. Furthermore, these observations have allowed researchers to develop vital insights into the structure, intensity, and physical processes of this most destructive of natural phenomena.The Conversation

Liz Ritchie-Tyo, Associate Professor, School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Greenland isn’t Denmark’s to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism



The coast of Greenland is not for sale.
Shutterstock

Felicity Jensz, University of Münster

Donald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last.

Home of some 56,000 people and around 80% covered by ice, Greenland is culturally connected to Europe – but physiographically it is a part of the continent of North America.

The USA has purchased from the icy northern territories before. In 1867, they bought Alaska for US$7.2 million from Russia, who established settlements there in the late eighteenth century.

Then (as now) no local Indigenous people were consulted in the transaction.

A long history of American colonialism

The history of settler colonialism in North America includes numerous land purchases, including with Indigenous peoples, such as the 1737 Walking Purchase which tricked the Delaware Indians out of more than double the amount of land than they expected, purchased only for “goods”.

America has successfully purchased land from other European countries, including over two million square kilometres of North America from France in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase for US$15 million.

This map from 1903 shows the extent of the Louisiana Purchase.
Wikimedia Commons

The United States has also purchased Danish colonies before. In 1917, Denmark sold the Danish West Indies (US$25 million) to the United States, which the Americans promptly renamed the United States Virgin Islands. This isn’t even the first time a US president has tried to buy Greenland – President Harry Truman offered to buy it from Denmark in 1946 for $US100 million.

America has also gained territory by force of arms, such as when Spain ceded the Philippines to the USA after the Spanish-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. And they have opportunistically annexed territories after they suffered internal political turmoil, such as in the case of the annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 in the years after Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, photographed around 1891.
Wikimedia Commons

A Dano-Norwegian colony

Trump believes he can simply purchase Greenland from Denmark. Put bluntly, this is impossible, although the mistake is perhaps an easy one to make for someone with a colonial era mindset and only a passing familiarity with the region.

For the last two centuries, Greenland has predominately been a Danish colony, and, as the example of Alaska demonstrates, colonies were often sold and exchanged by imperial powers. Truman’s offer in 1946 was when Greenland was a Danish colony.

Leaving aside its Viking past, the colonial period for Greenland began in 1721, when the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede established a mission and began trading near present-day Nuuk, placing Greenland under joint control of the Dano-Norwegian monarchy. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Greenland became a sole colony under Denmark.

It remained a Danish colony until 1953, after a referendum sparked by Danish discomfort with the United Nations’ oversight of the relationship between Denmark and Greenlanders. Greenland was formally incorporated into the Danish Realm as an autonomous territory without consultation with Greenlanders.

The reality was that Greenland was still a colony in all but name.

Striving for recognition

Greenlanders continued striving for political recognition and autonomy from their former colonisers. The Greenland Home Rule Act in 1979 in was a step towards this autonomy, establishing Greenland’s own parliament and further sovereignty.

In 2008, the country hosted a referendum to support or oppose the Greenland Self-Government Act. Passing with 75% of the vote, it declared Greenlanders are a distinct people within the Danish Realm.

Politically, this placed the Greenlandic parliament on an equal basis with the Danish parliament – although this relationship is not always an easy one. Some aspects of Greenland’s politics are still under Danish control, such as foreign policy, security and international agreements.

The Greenlandic and Danish flags flying together.
Pixabay, CC BY

But under the current laws, Greenlanders have the right to self-determination, and any agreement to purchase Greenland – no matter who made it – would have to be agreed upon by Greenlanders.

‘Greenland is Greenlandic’

Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has dismissed Trump’s claims that Denmark essentially owns Greenland, stating that “Greenland is Greenlandic.”

Unlike in the Alaskan purchase of the nineteenth century, the agreement of Greenlanders would be essential for any “large real estate deal” that stripped them of their land and sovereignty.

Kim Kilesen, the Prime Minister of Greenland, has emphatically stated that Greenland is not for sale. And if it was, he would be the one to ask – not Denmark.

Greenland is not Denmark’s to sell.The Conversation

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden still leads US Democratic primaries, Trump’s ratings fall slightly after gun massacres, plus Australian preference flows



Joe Biden remains the favourite to win the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After the first Democratic presidential debate on June 25-26, Joe Biden fell in Democratic national presidential polls, and Kamala Harris surged. In the lead-up to the July 30-31 debate, Biden recovered lost support while Harris lost some of her gains.




Read more:
US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?


Since the debate, the biggest movement is clear gains for Elizabeth Warren, while Harris has continued to fall. In the RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average, Biden currently leads with 30.8%, followed by Warren at 18.0%, Bernie Sanders at 16.8%, Harris at 8.3% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.3%. All other candidates are at 2% or less.

As I wrote previously, four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – hold their primaries or caucuses in February 2020, while all other states need to wait until at least March 2020. So early state polls are important.

In the only poll conducted since the second Democratic debate in Iowa, Biden led with 28%, followed by Warren at 19%, Harris at 11%, Sanders at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. In New Hampshire, there have been two polls since the debate. One has Biden at 21%, Sanders 17%, Warren 14%, Harris 8% and Buttigieg 6%. The other gives Sanders a lead with 21%, followed by Biden at 15%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 8% and Harris 7%.

In general election polling, Biden has a high single-digit lead over Donald Trump, Sanders a mid single-digit lead, and both Warren and Harris have low single-digit leads. Biden’s perceived electability is crucial in explaining his continued strong polling, as this tweet from analyst Nate Silver says.

For the next Democratic presidential debate, on September 12, the threshold for participation has been increased. As a result there are likely to be far fewer candidates than the 20 in each of the first two debates.

Trump’s ratings slightly down after gun massacres

On August 3-4, 31 people were murdered in two separate gun massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are slightly down since these massacres. With all polls, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 53.6% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7%.

Perhaps due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s net ratings have fallen about 1.5 points since my previous article a month ago, and this trend has continued after the massacres.

In the latest US jobs report, the unemployment rate remained at just 3.7% as 164,000 jobs were added in July. These jobs reports have been good news for Trump. I wrote an old but still relevant article on my personal website last year about how the low US participation rate holds down the unemployment rate compared to Australia.

The question that should be asked about Trump is why, given the strong US economic performance, his net approval is well below zero. FiveThirtyEight has historical data from 12 presidents going back to Harry Truman, and Trump’s net approval is only ahead of Jimmy Carter at this point in their presidencies. If there is an economic downturn before the November 2020 general election, Trump is likely to be far more vulnerable.

An economic downturn could occur due to Trump’s trade war with China, or due to a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK. I wrote for The Poll Bludger on August 2 that the UK parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal, which PM Boris Johnson’s hard “Leave” cabinet suggests he will pursue. In my previous Poll Bludger article on July 23, I talked about Johnson’s crushing victory (66.4-33.6) in a Conservative members’ ballot.

Trump can still win the 2020 election, despite his low approval ratings, if he is able to either demonise his eventual Democratic opponent, or win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. However, recent state by state polling has Trump’s net approval below zero in ten states he carried in 2016, and in some of those states his ratings are well below zero.




Read more:
US 2016 election final results: how Trump won


If all the states where Trump’s net approval is currently negative were to go to the Democrat, the Democrat would win the presidency by an emphatic 419-119 votes in the Electoral College.

Australian election preference flows and the first Newspoll

On August 2, the Electoral Commission released data on how every minor party’s preferences flowed between the major parties at the May federal election. The Greens, who won 10.4% of the primary vote, flowed heavily to Labor (82.2%), but Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4% of the vote) flowed at 65.1% to Coalition, and One Nation (3.1% of the vote) was almost identical in its flow (65.2%). Excluding the Greens, UAP and One Nation, Others preferences were 50.7% to Labor.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says there was barely any increase in the Greens preference flow to Labor since 2016. The Greens flow increased in four states, fell slightly in Queensland, and was weaker in SA as more moderate voters returned to the Greens after the collapse of Centre Alliance.

In 2016, One Nation preferences were just 50.4% to the Coalition, so the Coalition’s flow from One Nation increased almost 15%. In 2013, Palmer’s party preferences were 53.7% to the Coalition, so the UAP’s flow to the Coalition improved 11.4%.

Preference shifts advantaged the Coalition by 0.8% on the national two party vote compared to if no preference shifts had occurred. The Coalition’s overall share of minor party preferences (40.4%) was its best since 2001, when the Greens only had 5%.




Read more:
Difficult for Labor to win in 2022 using new pendulum, plus Senate and House preference flows


In the first Newspoll since the election, the Coalition led by 53-47, from primary votes of 44% Coalition, 33% Labor, 11% Greens and 3% One Nation. Scott Morrison’s ratings were 51% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +15, a big improvement from +1 in the final pre-election Newspoll that was biased against the Coalition. Anthony Albanese’s initial ratings were 39% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied. Morrison led by 48-31 as better PM.

This poll was conducted July 25-28 from a sample of 1,600. Bonham says there is no indication in The Australian’s report that anything has changed at Newspoll since the election’s poll failure. As I wrote after the election, there was, and still is, a lack of adequate documentation of Newspoll’s methods.




Read more:
Newspoll probably wrong since Morrison became PM; polling has been less accurate at recent elections


Spain’s Socialists fail to form government

The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website on August 1, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and far-left Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Risk of shooting war with Iran grows after decades of economic warfare by the US



Iranian officials show off the U.S. drone they shot out of the sky.
Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency

David Cortright, University of Notre Dame

Many are worried about the risk of war between the U.S. and Iran. But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting with Iran for decades in an economic war waged via sanctions – which is about to get a lot worse.

Concerns about a war of guns, warplanes and missiles grew after Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone amid already worsening tensions. President Donald Trump says he ordered a retaliatory strike in response – only to reverse course at the last minute.

Whether or not a shooting war does break out, the United States’ economic war has already been intensifying over the past year. On June 24, Trump imposed “hard-hitting” new sanctions on Iran in response to the attack on the drone.

Existing sanctions have already devastated innocent Iranians. Not only that, they’ve undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed, the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. That deal ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only reimposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran.

Protesters hold anti-war signs outside the White House.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Multilateral vs unilateral sanctions

In an increasingly globalized world, unilateral sanctions like these – in which one country goes it alone – are rarely effective at achieving their end result, which in this case is regime change.

Multilateral sanctions involving several or many countries have greater impact and make it more difficult for targeted individuals or regimes to find alternative sources of oil or other goods. And getting authorization through the United Nations or regional organizations provides legal and political cover.

When the U.N. Security Council imposed targeted sanctions on Iran in 2006 over its illicit nuclear activities, for example, members of the European Union were able to join the U.S. and other countries in applying pressures that brought Iran to the bargaining table. That’s what led to the negotiated nuclear deal nine years later.

The U.S. circumvented this voluntary multilateral process when it withdrew from the accord and unilaterally imposed “extraterritorial secondary sanction.” These barred nations or companies that buy Iranian oil or other sanctioned products from doing business in the U.S.

Although most countries disagree with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and some reject such sanctions as an infringement on their own sovereignty, they are powerless. They cannot afford to lose access to dollar financing and the U.S. economy and thus are forced against their will to do Washington’s bidding.

Iranians pay the price

And the Iranian people are paying the price.

Oil exports and national income are dropping, inflation is rising and economic hardships are mounting. The Iranian rial lost more than 60% of its value in the last year, eroding the savings of ordinary Iranians.

Life is becoming increasingly difficult for working families struggling to make ends meet. There are indications that the new sanctions are inhibiting the flow of humanitarian goods and contributing to shortages in specialized medicines to treat ailments such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Cargill and other global food giants have halted shipments to Iran because of the lack of available financing.

Punishment of the Iranian people seems to be a deliberate policy. When asked recently how the administration expects sanctions to change the behavior of the Iranian government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged they won’t be able to do that and instead suggested it’s up to the people to “change the government.”

In other words, the pain of sanctions will force people to rise up and overthrow their leaders. This is as naïve as it is cynical. It reflects the long-discredited theory that sanctioned populations will direct their frustrations and anger at national leaders and demand a change in policy or the regime. Sanctions have never worked for this purpose.

The more likely result is the classic “rally around the flag” effect. Iranians are critical of their government’s economic policies, but they also blame Trump for the hardships resulting from sanctions. Governments subjected to sanctions are adept at blaming economic hardships on their external adversaries, as Iran’s religious and elected leaders are doing now against the United States.

Tehran is likely to respond to tightening sanctions by giving greater authority to companies associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a major branch of the Iranian military, further empowering the very hard-line forces Washington claims to oppose.

The White House is ignoring these realities and adding to the already draconian sanctions, while threatening and making preparations for military strikes, hoping that economic pain and military pressure will make Iran’s leaders cry uncle. There is no sign of surrender yet from Tehran, nor is there likely to be, until the two sides pull back from the brink and agree to negotiate a diplomatic settlement.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 23, 2019.The Conversation

David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mueller testimony does not produce smoking gun, but the issues it raised are far from resolved



Democrats are frustrated that Robert Mueller did not make a clear-cut case for impeaching President Donald Trump.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Daniel Cooper, Griffith University

According to much of the early commentary, Robert Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday before two US congressional committees was a disappointment.

Democrats are frustrated the special counsel did not make a clear-cut case for impeaching President Donald Trump. Mueller answered questions in the most minimalist way possible, often suggesting congresspersons simply read his report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats wanted Mueller to testify in the hope the American public would start paying more attention to his findings on how Trump obstructed justice.

It turned out that Mueller’s testimony was more sophistic than animating. But it did again highlight damning things about the president’s behaviour.

During the hearing, Republicans unimaginatively echoed Trump’s claims of a “witch-hunt” and asserted that the Mueller report turned up no evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election or of obstruction of justice.

Like Attorney-General Bob Barr’s disingenuous summary of the Mueller report, these claims by Republicans this week were not true, but they have created a narrative that Trump is innocent. This claim is given ballast by Republicans’ allegations that FBI agents conducting the Mueller investigations were politically biased because some of them had said negative things about Trump in private correspondence or donated money to the Clinton campaign.




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If saying highly negative things about Trump behind closed doors disqualified bureaucrats and politicians from doing their job, Washington DC would grind to a halt. However, in public Republicans are sticking with Trump, doing his bidding in the Congress and tying their fortunes to him at least for the foreseeable future.

Democrats may initiate impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, but the trial ultimately occurs in the Senate, where the Republicans have a 53-47 majority. As a result of these numbers and the need for a two-thirds majority vote to dismiss a president, removing Trump from office via impeachment proceedings is very unlikely.

Republicans are showing no signs of abandoning Trump. It is worth remembering that no president has ever been removed from office by the Senate, although two – Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson – have been impeached by the House of Representatives.

Given these political rather than legal realities, will Democrats continue to push for Trump’s unlikely impeachment? The answer is yes. Although Democratic house leaders led by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house, are urging caution, the fresh wave of Democratic congresspersons elected in 2018 who rode a strong wave of anti-Trump sentiment in their congressional districts will continue to push hard for impeachment.

However, this divide can be overstated. As Pelosi’s comments following Mueller’s testimony demonstrate, the fact that Republicans control the Senate and are unlikely to convict the president may not factor into future considerations among the house leadership. Pelosi wants a strong case, not an act of political theatre. As she put it:

The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the president off the hook.

Pelosi knows that the case against Trump continues to build. Democrats are pursuing the president in federal courts for a number of alleged financial improprieties, and the House Judiciary Committee is preparing to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn – the former White House Counsel allegedly directed by Trump to fire Mueller during his investigation.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mueller confirmed that Trump pressured McGahn in yet another attempt to obstruct justice. Those who have read the Mueller report would know that there were many such attempts. These include Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI about his conversations with Russians during the transition, the pressuring and eventual firing of FBI director James Comey, and the attempted cover-up of Don junior’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016 to get whatever dirt he could on Hillary Clinton.

The challenge for Democrats, if they go ahead with impeachment in the House of Representatives, is to articulate a clear case about why such drastic action is justified.

In legal terms, the case that Trump obstructed justice is strong, whereas the case for collusion with Russia is weaker.

It is easy to impute guilt by association with Trump and the Russians. First, there are Trump’s business dealings with Trump Soho and the push to have a Trump Moscow hotel. Then there is Paul Manafort’s close associations with Viktor Yanukovych. Finally, there is Steve Bannon’s appreciation of Putin’s support for ultra right-wing populists across Europe.




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However, the Mueller report and his testimony produced no smoking gun. Mueller rightly warned that the Russians have an ongoing campaign to undermine the faith of Americans in democracy. Given the existing levels of frustration and apathy about politics in America, Mueller’s alarm on this issue should be taken seriously. This was one of the few issues that the reluctant witness Mueller became more animated and forceful about.

Many of us are following the vast cast of characters central to the Trump era, the complex details of the Mueller report and Trump’s financial dealings, as well as the congressional hearings into Trump’s behaviour in office.

However, there is a simpler reality to keep in sight. That is that during the Trump presidency, the truth has been more politicised than ever. Increasingly, the truth is presented as a lie and a lie as the truth.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Daniel Cooper, Lecturer, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Being a Trump ‘bestie’ comes with its own challenges for Scott Morrison



It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

“How good is this?” Scott might have said to Jenny, when word came that he’d be the first Australian prime minister since John Howard in 2006 to score a White House state dinner when he visits Washington in September.

It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance, demonstrated by the dinner Trump hosted for Morrison at the G20 and now the planned gold star reception.

Never mind that many Western leaders view with the deepest concern Trump’s erratic foreign policy, leading to caution in their comments.

Morrison last weekend happily praised the president as “a strong leader, who says what he’s going to do and then goes and does it. … I can always rely on President Trump to follow through on what he says.”

Key to this flourishing relationship is Trump’s assessment of Morrison. As Herald Sun columnist Shaun Carney, explaining “Why POTUS loves ScoMo”, wrote this week, “Morrison fits Trump’s requirements pretty much down to a tee. Morrison is a conservative and an election winner. Trump loves winners.”

And of course there is Morrison’s ministerial record on border security.

Even Malcolm Turnbull received some generally favourable rub-off from the government’s tough line on people smuggling. It was one point referenced positively (sort of) by Trump during that excruciating phone conversation in which Turnbull begged the then-new president to honour Barack Obama’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus.

Turnbull and Morrison are very different, but there’s a similarity in their approaches to dealing with this idiosyncratic president. Turnbull sought, and Morrison seeks, to establish a link-in with Trump on a personal basis.

Turnbull made his pitch with the line that “I am a highly transactional businessman like you”. In the Turnbull time, Trump did reluctantly agree to honour the refugee deal, and Australia – aided by a range of US advocates, including members of Congress – won exemptions from Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs. (These days Trump is somewhat irritated that Australian aluminium exports to the US have ballooned, as its position has been strengthened vis-a-vis competitors hit by the tariffs.)

It’s too early for a detailed read of how Morrison will handle foreign policy generally. But the description by a Liberal colleague has Trumpian overtones: “[Morrison] likes to establish relationships and he likes to be a dealmaker. He likes to be able to demonstrate back home the benefits of these international dealings.”

One crucial continuity in Australia’s handling of the Trump administration has been the work of Joe Hockey, Australia’s man in Washington. Hockey is the accidental ambassador, the former treasurer who was a casualty of the coup that took down Tony Abbott.

A hail-fellow-well-met character, Hockey has been the right man for the Trump era. Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says: “Much of what we’re seeing owes a lot to Hockey. He’s been a remarkably effective diplomat for Australia. He’s very tight with the inner [Trump] circle.” Topped by his golf diplomacy with the president himself.

As well as schmoozing, Hockey (to be replaced early next year by former minister and one-time Howard chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos) is also willing to remind the Americans in forceful terms of how solid an ally Australia has been.

That takes us to a key unknown in this evolving Trump-Morrison relationship. Were the US to resort to the use of military force against Iran, would Trump ask Australia for some involvement? Probably. In such circumstances, as we’ve seen previously, Australia’s presence would be for the sake of appearances.

If a request ever came, it’s close to impossible to believe Morrison would say no. Australia never does. But any involvement would likely be limited to joining international patrols and escorts of oil tankers. Morrison recently said that while he was not getting into hypotheticals, “it’s not unheard of to have Australian frigates in that part of the world engaged in maritime operations”.

Jackman detects “growing weariness” in Canberra strategic circles at Australia’s support of US efforts in the Middle East, especially given Australia’s priorities are increasingly with the “step up” in the Pacific.

That “step up” is driven primarily by the push of China deeper into the region.

Morrison has already marked out the Pacific as a priority in his foreign policy – one that fans out into the much broader issue of managing relations with China, on which so much of our prosperity depends.

The perennial talk about Australia facing a choice between the US and China is false. This is because the alliance will always have the stronger overall pull, however vital the China relationship is and however specific issues play out.

Despite the aim of keeping Australia’s dealing with China calm and pragmatic, experience shows that is near impossible. Irritants keep arising, whether it is Chinese interference in Australia via cyber attacks and the like, pressure in the South Pacific, or, as we saw this week, the fallout from an ABC expose about China’s appalling treatment of the Uyghurs.

On the Pacific stage, ANU professor of strategic studies Hugh White is highly sceptical of the effectiveness of trying to stop China’s encroachments.

Writing in the July issue of Australian Foreign Affairs, White argues that China’s “ambitions constitute a far bigger threat to US leadership in Asia than ever before, and a far bigger threat to Australia’s position in the South Pacific than we have ever faced. The costs of us of trying to keep China out of the region might simply prove impossible to bear.”

A cheaper alternative, White suggest, would be to boost our own military capabilities to deal with come what may; he argues we should engage in the region to the maximum but abandon “our traditional ideas about keeping intruders out of the South Pacific”.

Others see the situation in less stark terms, suggesting that while Australia can’t compete with China in dollars in the Pacific, it can give leaders of these countries more choice, allowing them to avoid getting sucked into a net of Chinese influence.

China will be a major item on the talks menu in Morrison’s Washington visit – for which he arrives September 19 – including the US-China trade dispute put on hold at the G20.

One challenge in being feted by Trump is capitalising on the “bestie” status while avoiding the appearance of over-familiarity and identification with a leader Australians don’t much like or trust.

This year’s Lowy Institute poll showed that, despite their strong recognition of the importance of the alliance relationship for Australia’s security (72%), only 25% of Australians had confidence in Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.

Allan Behm, former defence official and former adviser to Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, suggests Morrison take “a long-handled spoon” to Washington. “Both are foreign policy novices. Morrison has to be very careful he doesn’t allow the developing personal relationship with Trump to draw him into decisions he might later regret – especially in relation to Iran.”

Morrison has already invited Trump to Australia for the Presidents Cup golf event in Melbourne in December. If he came, it might be a case of careful what you wish for. Especially when it’s Melbourne.

On his US visit, it will be important the PM be seen as his own man. He will have a significant opportunity when, as anticipated, he takes part in the leaders week at the United Nations in New York. He is expected to address the General Assembly.

However, one notable dilemma could be presented by UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Summit on Monday, September 23. If Morrison attends, there could be some awkward conversations; if he doesn’t, it’s a bad look for Australia.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.