The first charges over Russian involvement in the US election have been laid – are there more to come?

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller (centre) has laid the first charges from his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Reuters/Aaron Bernstein

Sandeep Gopalan, Deakin University

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued an indictment outlining charges against the Internet Research Agency LLC (and two related entities which had “various Russian government contracts”) and 13 Russian individuals. The defendants are charged with:

knowingly and intentionally conspiring with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.

The defendants, posing as activists, allegedly created “false personas” and fake accounts to operate social media accounts and pages on divisive social issues. The indictment does not specifically state that the individual defendants were connected to the Russian government, although at least one of them is known to be close to Putin. Specific to the 2016 election, the defendants’ goal was “supporting” the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton.

Their activities were not merely online. They gathered intelligence, staged rallies posing as Americans (in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida) and “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”

Some of their efforts were effective. For instance, the fake Twitter account “Tennessee GOP”, which falsely claimed to be operated by the Republican Party in that state, attracted 100,000 followers.

Read more:
Explainer: what is a special counsel and what will he investigate in the Trump administration?

The indictment lists political advertisements taken out by the defendants. These included such messages as “Donald wants to defeat terrorism … Hillary wants to sponsor it”, “Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”, and “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”

Their tactics were insidious. They targeted vulnerable groups such as African-Americans and Muslims to sow hate and reduce Clinton’s turnout.

The indictment provides rich detail about the Russian agency: it was incorporated in 2013, based in St Petersburg, employed hundreds of people for its online work, and had a budget of millions. It described its work as “information warfare” against the US and wanted to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general” during the 2016 election. Again, no direct link to the Russian government or Putin is mentioned in relation to these actions.

It is alleged the company and the named individuals conspired to violate the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which stipulates certain informational requirements for agents of foreign principals who attempt to influence US public opinion, policy and legislation. They also violated the Federal Election Campaign Act, which prohibits foreigners from making contributions etc relating to electioneering communications. The indictment also alleges identity theft, bank and wire fraud, and violations of visa laws.

Crucially, the indictment does not state that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. It clearly notes that any contact with the campaign was “unwitting”.

Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein also clarified there was no allegation of collusion in the indictment and he stated that the Russians did not affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Following the indictment, President Trump has tweeted that his campaign “did nothing wrong – no collusion!”


The president has also tweeted:


This marks an important step for Trump. He is now apparently dismissing Russian influence after repeatedly refusing to condemn them, seeking to downplay their involvement in the election, and labelling it a hoax.

He has since pointed out that the indictment shows Russian involvement began in 2014 – before he entered the campaign. Moreover, the evidence shows that the Russians did not support only Trump. They also supported Bernie Sanders (who has blamed the Obama Administration for not doing more to tackle it), although this fact has not been adequately covered in the media. Further, the goal of the Russians was to sow distrust in the political system and undermine the electoral process – not specifically to help Trump.

Read more:
US approach to security is deeply troubling – and it’s not just about Trump

Does the indictment mean that the president and members of his campaign are in the clear? The answer is difficult to determine at this stage. The indictment leaves open the question as to whether other US individuals might have aided the defendants.

Subsequent actions by Mueller might bring forward additional charges against Trump or his team. Further, the indictment does nothing in relation to the potential obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, although the evidence on this is likely to be weak.

The ConversationFinally, from a purely political standpoint, it is hard to see from the evidence outlined that the Russian involvement was decisive. To be sure, they propped up fringe groups and spread discord, which local groups were fully capable of doing and did throughout the election. In addition, the sums of money documented in the indictment are small change in the context of the gargantuan amounts both campaigns spent during the 2016 campaign.

Sandeep Gopalan, Professor of Law, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


US approach to security is deeply troubling – and it’s not just about Trump

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Is Donald Trump really the one setting the direction of US security policy?
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Media coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency has fixated on his outlandish, off-the-cuff tweets, his ill-conceived and inflammatory positions on immigration, race relations and climate change, his “America First” mantra, and his unrelenting attacks on the various inquiries into collusion with Russia.

The image created has been of a man who, though ignorant, vulgar and deeply polarising, struts the political stage. But is Trump really setting the direction of US security policy?

Mounting evidence suggests the theatre around Trump is so mesmerising that we have lost sight of how the US security establishment wields power – and to what end.

The picture is becoming clear

The security establishment is no monolith, nor does it function as a conspiratorial cabal. Personalities and institutional interests compete for attention and resources.

Yet it has a reasonably coherent mindset, which has its origins in the early days of the Cold War. It is a sense of belonging to a club that connects first and foremost the Department of Defence, various arms of the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies, but also significant voices in other key government departments, areas of the judiciary and Congress, and some of America’s most influential think-tanks and corporations – in particular the leading arms manufacturers.

How this security establishment is handling the Trump phenomenon is an intriguing story, highly complex, and still unfolding. However, several pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to fall into place. Three merit special attention:

  • the competition for influence within the Trump administration

  • the Russia investigation

  • the unmistakable shift in US strategic planning.

Taken together these form a picture of a political and military elite intent on maintaining control of US security policy. They feel the need to immunise it from Trump’s erratic behaviour and his supposedly pro-Russian inclinations, and revive a Cold War mindset that views Russia and China as major adversaries.

The battle for influence

Though Trump and the security establishment may be suspicious of one another, there is also common ground. They disagree not about placing “America first”, but about how this should be done.

The security establishment prefers a carefully devised, longer-term strategy and a less confrontational approach toward friends and allies. It sees value in continuing to extol the virtues of free trade and democracy, though it does not necessarily practise what it preaches.

And it is generally suspicious of personal deal-making – especially where this involves Russia – to which Trump is drawn by instinct, and commercial interest and experience.

The security establishment has therefore made it a priority to gain influence within the administration. It took no more than six months for reliable establishment figures to be firmly in the saddle: Jim Mattis as defence secretary, John Kelly as White House chief-of-staff and H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

Key Trump campaign advisers thought to have cultivated links with Russia or be otherwise unreliable – including Michael Flynn (whom Trump initially appointed as national security adviser), George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Stephen Bannon and even Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner – have been gently or not-so-gently eased out of their previously influential roles.

Trump himself is seen at best as an unknown quantity, and at worst prone to dangerous illusions about the prospects of cultivating a fruitful personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Behind the lurid accusations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and more recently behind the claims and counterclaims of obstruction of justice by the Trump administration, we can now discern a far more significant jostling for control of US policy.

The ‘new’ Russian threat

The Russia investigations being conducted by congressional committees and by special counsel Robert Mueller are clearly designed to put Trump on the defensive. Congressional Democrats are doing all they can to prolong these inquiries – in some cases with the support of senior Republican senators close to the intelligence community.

Hundreds of witnesses have already given evidence to these inquiries. Many more are expected to appear. And in public comments and her recently published memoir, Hillary Clinton, well known for her antipathy to Putin and his reassertion of Russian influence, has been at pains to identify Russia’s meddling in the election as a key factor in her defeat.

Yet the hard evidence so far produced to support the charges of Russian interference has been scant to say the least.

Putin and his underlings are no angels. But as journalist Aaron Mate has argued:

In Russiagate, unverified claims are reported with little to no scepticism … developments are cherry-picked and overhyped, while countervailing ones are minimised or ignored. Front-page headlines advertise explosive and incriminating developments, only to often be undermined by the article’s content, or retracted entirely.

Whatever the outcome of these various inquiries, one thing is clear. The security establishment has concluded that a resurgent Russia needs to be contained and that any advocacy of dialogue with it must be nipped in the bud.

Allegations of Russian interference in the politics of the US and other Western countries are part of a larger strategy that aims to magnify the threat Russia poses and to thwart any intention on Trump’s part to reset the relationship.

Donald Trump has been keen to offer a hand of friendship to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Back to the Cold War

The national defence strategy Mattis recently unveiled delivers a stark message. Countering China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence are now at the heart of US policy. The Cold War outlook is back with a vengeance.

To this end, the US military will confront its adversaries across the spectrum of conflicts – mainly in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, but without neglecting the Middle East.

American armed forces will modernise and build its readiness for future conflicts and consolidate military ties with allies and partners around the world. But conspicuously absent is any notion of neo-isolationism or renewed dialogue with Russia – both of which featured prominently during Trump’s presidential campaign.

The national defence strategy should, in any case, be read in conjunction with the national security strategy released in December 2017 and the more recent nuclear posture review released last week.

The shift in US strategic priorities, which is well under way, will affect all aspects of defence budgeting, weapons development and force management. Training is already focused on high-intensity conflict with major adversaries. Heavily armed deployments are stationed continuously in Europe and across East and Central Asia.

The plan is to modernise all three arms of the US nuclear arsenal – land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles – and design low-yield nuclear weapons that make them more readily usable. In other words, the US is boosting its capacity to escalate non-nuclear conflicts into nuclear war, thereby lowering the nuclear threshold.

Trump’s rhetoric of “fire and fury” is at first sight in accord with these developments. Whether he fully understands them is another matter.

The ConversationWe may not much like what Trump says or wants to do. But even more troubling is the US security establishment’s vision of the future. For US allies, not least Australia, it spells danger and much heartache.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and Nunes torch tradition of trust between Congress and FBI

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Trump with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Dec. 15, 2017.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Douglas M. Charles, Pennsylvania State University

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the FBI may have reached a climax.

In an apparent attempt to discredit Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, staff of the House Intelligence Committee on behalf of its chair Republican Devin Nunes of California, wrote and on Feb. 2 released a four-page memo based on confidential information made available to them by the FBI. It outlines alleged improprieties in the FBI’s investigation, specifically the monitoring of Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page.

Nunes in 2017 was forced to step aside from the committee’s Russia investigation because he was seen as taking direction from the Trump White House.

Page was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and a person of interest to the FBI beginning in 2013. He became the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrant in 2016.

As an FBI historian, I find the congressional effort to discredit the FBI’s investigation startling. Trump’s involvement reminds me of Nixon. Between 1972 and 1973, President Richard Nixon attempted to contain the FBI’s Watergate investigation as it zeroed in on top White House figures.

Congressional committees and the FBI

The behavior of congressional Republicans in this matter is unprecedented.

This view is shared even by GOP senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. The FBI has a long history, going back to the J. Edgar Hoover era, of providing congressional committees with sensitive FBI information and assistance – provided they keep that information and relationship confidential.

For example, the FBI provided information to the House Un-American Activities Committee, singling out suspected communists and anti-communist witnesses – like Ronald Reagan. The FBI cooperated with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee between 1951 and 1954. And it even provided Sen. Joe McCarthy with information and advice to keep his anti-communist cause alive until he violated Hoover’s rules in 1953 by revealing his relationship with the FBI.

In the years after Hoover, the FBI behaved more properly in sharing sensitive information with Congress. It began restricting itself to sharing information with its congressional oversight committees to keep them abreast of FBI activity and in line with the Justice Department’s investigative guidelines.

In the current Congress, Nunes’ House Intelligence Committee was provided with sensitive FBI information about its Russia probe based on the understanding that the committee would not publicly reveal any of it without first asking the FBI to advise and redact classified information.

The committee didn’t wait for redactions, however, and instead chose to reveal select nuggets of the FBI’s intelligence in its four-page memo. Trump-nominated FBI Director Christopher Wray publicly spoke out against Trump’s wishes about releasing the memo after he failed to convince the White House to block it. Wray is concerned the Nunes memo contains “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Nixon asks CIA to stop FBI

Nixon and Haldeman at the White House, 1969.
AP Photo/File

While Congress’ behavior in trying to discredit the FBI is unprecedented, President Trump’s interest and efforts in stopping an FBI probe of the White House is not.

In June 1972, Nixon discussed with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, how to use the CIA to stop the FBI’s Watergate probe. The idea was to have the CIA director and deputy director assert that the FBI’s investigation threatened national security. Though he never explained his reasoning, Nixon thought CIA Director Richard Helms owed him and would comply. He also thought it was embarrassing enough to the agency that some of the Watergate burglars were connected to the CIA for Helms to follow through. In the end, the effort failed.

Nixon had selected L. Patrick Gray as FBI director following the death of J. Edgar Hoover, and also hoped that he could maneuver the FBI away from Watergate. He was Nixon’s man at the FBI. Gray provided Watergate-related documents to White House Counsel John Dean, who monitored the FBI in the cover-up. In 1972, Gray destroyed Watergate-related documents that he had kept concealed for the previous six months.

Nixon’s Oval Office tapes confirm his concerns. In June 1972 Chief of Staff Haldeman told Nixon, “The FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them … their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money.”

After his 1972 re-election and as the Watergate investigation closed in, Nixon then said about Gray, “I don’t believe that we oughta have Gray in that job … he’s too close to us.”

Incredibly, Nixon even pondered the idea (listen at 21 minutes into the tape) of naming Associate FBI Director Mark Felt as FBI director because “he’s a good man” and would be, as Haldeman commented to Nixon, “your guy” who would know how to pull the levers at the FBI.

What Nixon and Haldeman didn’t know was that Felt was busy leaking Watergate information to various reporters, including to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “Deep Throat.” He hoped to undermine Gray and eventually take the top FBI job for himself. This effort backfired, and Nixon had no idea that he had briefly contemplated making Deep Throat his FBI director.

In Nixon’s day, interfering with the FBI happened out of view and behind the scenes.

Today, Trump’s concerns with the FBI’s investigations are blatantly public. He has allies in Congress who share his concerns about the FBI. Nixon had no such congressional committee backing him.

Where this ends, we do not yet know. Given FBI Director Wray’s pushback, will Trump seek a more compliant FBI director in the mold of Gray?

Will he fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein?

The ConversationCurrent events have the feel of a pending political and Constitutional crisis perhaps not too dissimilar from Watergate in the 1970s.

Douglas M. Charles, Associate Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Consumers are biggest losers of Trump’s ongoing war on regulations

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Some worry Mick Mulvaney is putting banks before consumers as head of the CFPB.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Jeff Sovern, St. John’s University

President Donald Trump has been waging a war on regulation since he got into office on the ground that government red tape costs the economy billions of dollars a year.

Among the victors in this battle have been energy companies, banks and the president himself, who recently promised he’s “just getting started.” Perhaps the biggest losers, however, have been consumers.

The best illustration of this is the neutering of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which began immediately after Mick Mulvaney stepped in as interim director in November.

So how much harm could he do in two short months? As someone who has written about consumer law for more than 30 years, let me count the ways.

Mick Mulvaney is governing the CFPB very differently than his predecessor.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

‘Pushing the envelope’

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may be best known for levying a US$100 million fine against Wells Fargo in 2016 after the bank opened millions of unauthorized accounts.

But the bureau, originally conceived by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has done so much more since Congress created the independent agency in 2010. Under Mulvaney’s predecessor, Richard Cordray, the bureau moved forcefully when it concluded companies had cheated consumers.

Through last summer, the bureau recovered nearly $12 billion for more than 29 million consumer victims of everything from illegal credit card fees to auto lenders that discriminated against people of color. In 2016 alone, the bureau announced 42 new enforcement actions, or nearly four new cases a month.

Mulvaney, who is also Trump’s budget director, argued his predecessor’s governing philosophy was to “push the envelope” in pursuing the bureau’s mission. Mulvaney, Trump and other Republicans argue that the CFPB director – who can’t be easily removed by the president – has too much power, making the bureau a prime target in their goal to eliminate regulation they believe puts a strain on the economy and small businesses.

While Cordray had previously never used the “push the envelope” language in describing his mission, he reacted to Mulvaney’s charge by embracing it, tweeting that he did “push hard to see that people are treated fairly by big banks, debt collectors and payday lenders.”


It seems unlikely that the bureau would take on a bank like Wells Fargo for similar fraudulent conduct or pursue many of Cordray’s other actions now that Mulvaney is in charge. His boss has even praised a bill passed by the House that would strip the CFPB of the authority to go after banks for doing what Wells Fargo did, while Mulvaney himself has co-sponsored legislation aimed at killing the bureau.

Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, center, embraced the idea that he ‘pushed the envelope’ to protect consumers.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

A new governing mission

While Mulvaney agrees that the bureau’s job includes protecting consumers such as credit card users, he says it also works for credit card issuers – despite the fact that its very name states that it exists to protect consumers, not banks.

One reason Congress wanted an agency to protect consumers was because existing bank regulators in the run-up to the Great Recession had not only failed to prevent predatory lenders from taking advantage of consumers, thus contributing to the subprime fiasco, but at least one even protected them. I believe the U.S. already has enough bank protection agencies, from the Federal Reserve to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, without adding the bureau to the list.

In January, Mulvaney told his staff that the bureau’s actions should be guided by how many complaints it receives on a particular matter.

By that measure, the CFPB wouldn’t have gone after Wells Fargo because few consumers seem to have complained to the bureau about the unauthorized Wells accounts. That may be because consumers often don’t bother to complain when they have suffered only a small loss. And yet collectively the Wells customers had much at stake, as demonstrated by the fact that Wells has agreed to settle the case for $142 million, a number that may yet grow.

Sally Greenberg, with the National Consumers League, is among the groups that have voiced strong opposition to Mulvaney taking over the bureau.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Enforcement – or lack thereof

So what has Mulvaney actually done since taking over?

While he pledged to be vigorous and consistent in enforcement of federal consumer financial law, he has also said that the bureau should bring cases reluctantly. As such, you might wonder how many he is actually filing.

The answer would be none.

The bureau has instead dropped a case, without explanation, against a group of payday lenders that charged consumers as much as 950 percent interest a year.

It also terminated at least one investigation, though we can’t know for sure how many it has ended because the bureau usually doesn’t publicly announce such actions.

That investigation was against a company that had made several campaign donations to Mulvaney. A ProPublica investigation previously reported that the installment lender, World Acceptance Corp., trapped consumers in a cycle of debt with deceptively expensive loans.

We can’t know whether Cordray himself would have eventually ended that investigation anyway and thus determine if its termination was the result of a lack of evidence. But we can be fairly certain that he wouldn’t have done what Mulvaney did around the same time: say, he may reconsider a rule intended to keep payday customers from falling into endless debt traps. That rule took the unremarkable step of requiring lenders, before extending some loans, to verify that borrowers can repay the debt.

Another noteworthy move by Mulvaney concerns the CFPB’s Fair Lending Office. The law that originally set up the bureau tasked this office with enforcing laws prohibiting discriminatory lending. He has revoked that power, suggesting that preventing discrimination on the basis of race and gender will now be less important at the bureau.

For the next five months – or until the Senate confirms a permanent director – the CFPB is led by someone who once called it a “sad, sick” joke.

The ConversationWhat is sad and sick, in my view, is that an agency established to protect consumers may be more eager to protect predatory lenders than consumers. And that is no joke.

Jeff Sovern, Professor of Law, St. John’s University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Why Trump’s infrastructure ambitions are likely to stall

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The White House favors public-private partnerships for widening congested roads and getting other pricey projects done.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Caroline Nowacki, Stanford University and Kate Gasparro, Stanford University

President Donald Trump recently raised the ante with his promise to unleash a wave of new infrastructure spending. During his first State of Union address, he conjured up images of “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land” without getting into the details.

The White House will soon unveil
Trump’s “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” which Trump now says will usher in at least US$1.5 trillion in spending. That’s a 50 percent jump from the $1 trillion he had previously pledged and nearly triple the money he talked up on the campaign trail.

With only $200 billion in federal funding apparently on the table, and ample questions
from the lawmakers who need to approve that money about where even that sum will come from, will the plan deliver?

A draft of his plan indicates it would rely on states, local governments and, most importantly, private investors to contribute the rest of the $1.5 trillion pie. As researchers studying ways to boost private infrastructure spending, we believe that it will fall short because it does not address private investors’ key concerns, and it would not work for many kinds of high-priority projects.


Matching and mismatching

During his address, Trump repeated a message he’s made many times before: that private investment should help pay the nation’s infrastructure bill. “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment – to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” he said.

That makes it sound like he favors “public-private partnerships,” or P3s, the most common way governments attract and leverage private investment.

Here’s how they work. A public sponsor – either the federal government agency or a state or local government agency – contracts out part or all of the financing, construction, maintenance and operation of a project to a group of private companies following a competitive bidding process.

The amount of infrastructure money in new U.S. P3s has waned in recent years. It fell to $710 million between 2011 and 2014 from higher levels seen a few years earlier, the most recent period for which data is available. And P3s only facilitated about 1.5 percent of the $4 trillion all levels of government spent on highways between 1989 and 2013, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

However, the number of pension funds and other institutional investors putting money into infrastructure has doubled.

What’s holding things up?

Investors do not say that a lack of federal subsidies, like the $200 billion Trump reportedly seeks, is a big bottleneck. Instead, to draw much more private investment, the U.S. needs clear, consistent regulations that will help make projects more likely to withstand any shifts in political power – such as when the majority party changes at any level of government.

Establishing a more successful track record for these partnerships, which have often faltered, will also help.

One step the U.S. could take now is to follow the examples set by Australia and Canada, where more infrastructure is being built through these partnerships. Specialized P3 teams in those countries have developed uniform competitive bidding processes, standardized contracts and project pipelines all based on lessons learned from prior partnerships.

Californian precedents

The spotty track record for some U.S. efforts to establish P3s underscores the importance of that kind of coordination.

California, for example, sought in 1989 to harness four of these partnerships as “demonstration” projects. It only completed two of those four.

First, California’s transportation department created a P3 to build express lanes for its busy SR-91 highway to ease Orange County congestion near Los Angeles.

Because the department agreed to not build free roads running parallel to the tolled ones, a public outcry ensued after the 10-mile-long road opened to traffic in 1995.

Orange County then bought out the private-sector partner stake in this project eight years later, cutting its long-term contract short.

Expanding the South Bay Expressway, the other P3 California announced in 1989 that got done, took until 2007 to complete. Three years later, the project’s private partner declared bankruptcy, largely because of years of litigation that delayed the onset of tolls – which then generated less revenue than expected.

These planning errors, which were due to lack of experience, undercut confidence in the partnership approach for investors and the public alike.

But the Trump plan’s leaked preliminary details, such as an “interagency selection committee” administered by the Commerce Department and “federal technical assistance” with “no funding provided,” sound like they will fall short of what’s required.

We believe that unless the Trump administration – despite his disdain for bureaucracy – establishes new government offices to oversee federally backed P3s, it is likely to repeat the errors that hampered California’s pioneering projects.

If they build it

With infrastructure, investors are looking for relatively stable returns and less risk, more akin to bonds than stocks. This makes financing these partnerships attractive for pension funds and other institutional investors.

At the same time, it makes investors more eager to back projects that already exist and are generating revenue through user fees, such as toll roads, airports, ports and some transit projects with nearby land that can be sold or leased.

In the U.S., however, the government mainly needs the private sector’s help meeting other less profitable priorities, such as improving water quality, expanding public transit and building levees.

Although those projects may not be attractive to investors, they can stoke economic growth and productivity while fostering a higher quality of life.

Dwayne Boudreaux Jr., owner of a Circle Food Store in New Orleans, shown dumping dirty water that was vacuumed up after a flood. His city needs more than $11 billion to update key parts of its infrastructure but has only about $2 billion in hand.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

India’s mixed results

Interestingly, Trump’s infrastructure plan may resemble India’s approach, which has had mixed results since its 2004 inception. There, the national government foots about 20 percent of the bill when it enters into public-private partnerships, just as the White House proposes to do.

The Indian policy was intended for toll roads and airports for which the government fixed the user fees. The subsidy closed the gap between this regulated revenue stream and investors’ expectations.

However, India has failed to spend most of the money it budgeted for this initiative, suggesting that it will take more than subsidies to entice private investment.

Between India’s track record and signals about insufficient federal guidance and support for public-private partnerships, we doubt that Trump’s plan, as drafted, would catalyze the $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending he envisions.

The ConversationWhat’s more, we’re concerned that Trump’s proposed plan would primarily aid the kinds of projects that already attract private dollars, leaving many big priorities without a federal assist.

Caroline Nowacki, PhD Candidate, Global Projects Center, Stanford University and Kate Gasparro, Graduate Research Fellow of Sustainable Design and Construction, Stanford University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan

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What to do about Afghanistan will likely be on the agenda when Malcolm Turnbull meets with Donald Trump later this month.
Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When Malcolm Turnbull sits down in the White House later this month for the Australian prime minister’s first substantive discussion with Donald Trump on American soil, Afghanistan will almost certainly be part of the conversation.

Whatever is said – and agreed – about that conflict, neither the Americans nor the Australians have much cause for satisfaction over progress in efforts to stabilise that country.

As 2017 gave way to a new year, the news from Afghanistan for the NATO-led effort to counter the Taliban, and other militant groups, was mostly bad.

Terrorist attacks in Kabul and other cities, which killed more than 100 people and wounded dozens in the first weeks of 2018, underscored the lack of progress in establishing a stable environment. Afghanis are losing confidence in the ability of US-backed Afghan security forces to hold insurgents at bay.

This lessening certainty in an Afghan administration, propped up by America and its allies, including Australia, has serious implications for the future of the country and the conduct of what is now America’s longest war.

Read more:
Where will the global political hotspots be in 2018? (Spoiler alert: it’s not all about Donald Trump)

The Afghan conflict has cost the American taxpayer getting on for a trillion dollars – or a lot more, according to some estimates – with no end in sight. More than 2,000 Americans have been killed.

Australia has spent an estimated A$8 billion on its Afghan engagement, including civil and military assistance. Forty-one service personnel have been killed, and 261 wounded.

All this makes it notable that Trump, in his State of the Union address, devoted just 40 words to the Afghan conflict, in contrast to other foreign and security policy preoccupations, inclduing America’s campaign against Islamic State (IS).

This is what he said about a war that has outstripped by half a decade America’s previous longest war, in Vietnam:

As of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan have their new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

That was it. It was as if Washington had resolved not to talk about a war that shows no sign of an endpoint, although it could be observed Taliban advances are creating what might prove to be an inflection moment.

Whether this will lead to a more concerted push to engage the Taliban in a regional settlement remains moot. However, it is hard to envisage an end to the Afghan nightmare without some sort of Taliban involvement, unpalatable though that may seem.

Robert Malley, newly appointed head of the International Crisis Group, sharply criticised US Afghanistan strategy in an assessment of 2018 trouble spots. He wrote:

The strategy faces serious obstacles. While hitting the Taliban harder might bring tactical gains, it is unlikely to change the war’s course or the incentives of a locally rooted and potent insurgency … Battlefield losses in the past have not impacted Taliban leaders’ willingness to negotiate.

And then this:

As the battlefield tempo increases, the Trump administration should keep lines of communication to the insurgency open and explore the contours of a settlement with Afghanistan’s neighbors and other regional powers, however slim prospects currently appear. US allies in Afghanistan should push for a greater diplomatic political component to the US strategy. As it stands, that strategy sets the stage for more violence while closing avenues for de-escalation. Afghan civilians will pay the price.

All this has been further complicated by growing IS and al-Qaeda involvement in the conflict, with those entities seeking alternative battlefields to Iraq and Syria.

Suspicions Iran and Russia are providing some level of support to the Taliban are adding to concerns. America’s estrangement from Pakistan – Trump has taken Islamabad to task for not doing more to combat the Taliban – is compounding an already fraught environment.

To say that Afghanistan in 2018 is a witch’s brew would be an understatement.

What seems clear is that the Trump administration and its allies are conducting something of a holding operation in the hope that a protracted war plays itself out. This strategy might be placed in the faint hope category, given Afghanistan’s history of resisting foreign involvement going back to the armies of Alexander the Great.

Trump might have escalated the conflict by freeing up local American commanders to fight more aggressively, but it is not clear this is paying dividends, given the level of violence that is manifesting itself.

Under this administration, America dropped three times the number of bombs – 4,361 – on insurgent targets in 2017 compared with the previous year.

American sensitivity about progress – or lack thereof – in the war was exposed recently when the its own ombudsman, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported it had been ordered not to report details of how much territory was under the control of the Afghan government or insurgents.

Information released to CNN by US forces in Afghanistan indicates that 56% of districts were under government control or influence in October. A further 30% is contested, with the balance under the influence of militant groups, including the Taliban.

These figures indicate a significant slippage since 2015, when the government controlled about 72% of the country, and insurgents 7%.

On top of territory yielded to the insurgency, more than 7,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last year. This is an attrition rate that would be demoralising in any circumstances.

In an assessment for Foreign Affairs, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, observed that Taliban “presence and influence are likely at their highest levels since the group lost power in 2001”.

Last August, Trump announced a revamped strategy in Afghanistan, which included a commitment of additional forces. Numbers were not specified at the time, but are in the order of 4,000, taking the American involvement to 16,000.

This compares with 100,000 at the time of Barack Obama’s “surge” in 2009, which was intended to deal a killer blow to the Taliban. This has not materialised. As noted, the Afghan government has been losing ground since the US wound back its commitment in 2011.

Read more:
Trump changes his mind on Afghanistan, but will upping the ante win the war?

In his August address, Trump said this about American strategy:

From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.

This prompted the following observation from analyst Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations:

The Trump administration has concluded that it can live with a situation that even US generals describe as a ‘stalemate’, because the cost of victory – sending hundreds of thousands of additional troops – is too high for the United States to pay and might be impossible to achieve in any case, given that the Taliban continue to enjoy outside support, not only from Pakistan but also from Iran and Russia. In short, a war that started 16 years ago will continue indefinitely with no victory in sight, because from Washington’s perspective there is simply no viable alternative.

In response to the Trump speech, including the president’s unwillingness to set a timeline for an end to America’s involvement, Malcolm Turnbull observed the “coalition commitment to Afghanistan … would be very long-term”.

The ConversationThis might be regarded as an understatement on the eve of Turnbull’s visit to Washington, where the subject of Australian troop levels in a training capacity in Afghanistan will almost certainly arise.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Stakes are high as Turkey, Russia and the US tussle over the future of Syria

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Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters in east Afrin, Syria.
Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

As the Syrian conflict enters its seventh year, the main players are fighting to carve the country into regions of control and influence.

A pivotal turn came in January, when Turkish forces launched the “Olive Branch” military operation targeting Afrin, a 300,000-strong Kurdish city in northeast Syria.

Three key developments in 2017 led to the Turkish operation in Syria.

The first was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gaining the upper hand in the conflict. In a major victory over the resistance, Assad forces backed by Russia and Iran captured the Syrian economic powerhouse of Aleppo – with the tacit agreement of Turkey.

Subsequently, Assad forces, and Russia, continued to expand their control over western Syria. In December 2017, they launched an intense attack on Idlib – a city neighbouring Afrin and the last stronghold of Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by the Nusra Front and supported by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkish government. Even though HTS launched a counteroffensive, the Assad forces continued to make advances in Idlib.

Second was the bold move for Kurdish independence in northern Iraq, which accelerated after the Kurdish and central Iraqi forces recaptured the largest northern Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State. In September 2017, northern Iraq’s Kurdish government staged a referendum for independence, with a whopping 93% of Iraqi Kurds voting “yes”. Although the referendum backfired spectacularly, it sent a clear signal to Turkey and others on Kurdish ambitions for independence.

Read more:
Mosul is taken back, but Islamic State is not finished yet

Third was the rise in the prominence of Syrian Kurds. In October 2017, the US launched a successful military effort to depose IS from its stronghold, the capital Raqqa, ending IS as a political force. The main proxy army on the ground was the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Despite Turkey’s protests, the US supplied SDF with heavy arms, justifying the move as a necessity in deposing the common enemy, IS. Even after the fall of IS, the return of heavy weapons became the focus of a diplomatic crisis between the US and Turkey.

Displaced Syrian children look out from their tents at a refugee camp in Idlib province, Syria.
Reuters/Osman Orsal

The last straw for Turkey was the announcement of a 30,000-strong border security force to protect the Syrian Kurdish enclave. Even though the US soon backtracked, it caused outrage in Turkey. This is because the border in question was the Turkey-Syria border, and implied the security force was aimed at Turkey.

Erdogan called the proposed force a “terror army” and wowed to “nip this terror army in the bud”. Within days, the Turkish military operation had begun.

This move came at the same time as a break-up of the uneasy alliance between Turkey, Russia and the Assad regime, as well as the US, over the future of Syria. Erdogan signalled this in late December, when he accused Assad of “state terrorism”.

What America wants

For the US, Turkey’s presence in Syria complicates things, and harms its plans resting on the territory controlled by Kurdish forces. Just as there was no need for Turkey during the offensive against IS, there is no need for Turkey in the future of Syria.

The US sees the UN-led Geneva talks as the solution to the Syrian crisis and insists that Assad is not part of the solution. This goal is becoming increasingly unlikely. Realising this after Assad’s Aleppo victory, the US has shifted its objectives to eliminating IS and supporting an increased Kurdish prominence in Syria.

Read more:
After Islamic State falls, we should expect aftershocks in Syria

According to Defence Secretary James Mattis, the US will continue its presence in Syria, but as a “stabilising force”. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed this, adding that the continued US presence aimed to prevent Iran and Assad forces regaining territory “liberated with help from the United States”.

This is a major policy shift by the US administration and has infuriated Erdogan. It means US protection for the Kurdish enclave is permanent, and the US will try to neutralise Russian influence by controlling regions lying east of the Euphrates River. It will also use Kurdish forces and populations as a bargaining chip in any discussion of Syria’s future.

What Russia wants

Turkey’s Afrin operation would not have been possible without Russian approval, as Russia controls the air space in northwestern Syria.

Russia has allowed the operation to go ahead so that it can maintain the fragile alliance that President Vladimir Putin formed with Iran and Turkey, and continue the recent talks Russia led with Syrian factions in Sochi. Russia wants to preserve the hard-won influence it garnered over the past two years and avoid tarnishing its world power status. More importantly, Putin does not want anything to overshadow his bid to win the looming presidential elections on March 18.

Putin has seen Erdogan as an important ally in his strategy to divide the NATO alliance from within, and so would prefer he stayed in power. This is why Putin gave Erdogan a political hand in allowing the Turkish operation to go ahead. In a sense, Putin can tolerate the Afrin operation for as long as it is contained to a small region.

What Turkey wants

Erdogan’s main aim with the operation is to thwart any US and Russian plans to carve up Syria after the IS defeat.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erogan’s main aim is to thwart any US or Russian plans to carve up Syria post-IS.
Reuters/Umit Bektas

Turkey insists on being involved in every key negotiation on the future of Syria, to prevent the establishment of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region, which it sees as an existential threat. Having its own 8-10 million Kurdish population in the southeast of the country, Turkey feels it is next on the list of destabilised countries and fears it is only a matter of time before its Kurdish region is excised for a greater Kurdish state.

Turkey wants to establish itself as the third major player after Russia and the US by supporting the Free Syrian Army, the least-powerful Syrian faction composed of Sunni Arab forces. In doing so, it wants to establish a Turkish-controlled corridor north of the Euphrates so that it can move 2.8 million increasingly unpopular Syrian refugees out of Turkey. The speed of the military operation suggests pre-planning rather than a reaction.

Ultimately, Erdogan is playing for internal politics. He needs the support of the nationalist elements in Turkey to win the critical 2019 presidential election, which will give him new powers passed in the 2016 referendum.

Losing the election would mean his political opponent has those powers, and would likely resurrect serious corruption charges against him. While those charges may be forgotten in Turkey for now, they are kept alive in US courts.

This explains Erdogan’s increasing anti-US rhetoric. He is counting on the Syrian operation to increase his bargaining chips in a potential showdown with the US administration.

The ConversationTurkey has made an extremely risky move, which could escalate the conflict in Syria. Over the past three decades, it has launched countless operations across the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Not only has Turkey failed to prevent developments favouring a pathway towards Kurdish independence, it has made matters worse for itself. This time may be no different.

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Why a first strike option on North Korea is a very bad idea

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Unification flags hang on a military fence near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

Andrew O’Neil, Griffith University

The prospect of South Korean and North Korean athletes marching together under a “unification” flag at this month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics signifies a brief respite in tensions rather than being a genuine thawing on the Korean peninsula.

After an initial surge of optimism in response to Pyongyang’s decision to accept Seoul’s offer to march as one Korea, reality has started to bite with the mechanics of implementing the deal.

While welcoming the Pyeongchang initiative, many South Koreans have pushed back against the decision to merge both countries’ women’s ice hockey teams, calling out the sexist nature of the decision (not a single woman was involved in determining the merger).

Meanwhile, citing “insulting” behaviour on the part of South Korean media, the North Koreans have cancelled a joint cultural performance with South Korea, scheduled for next week.

Understandably, the Pyeongchang “thaw” has attracted major headlines. But it obscures the significant possibility that we will witness major conflict on the Korean peninsula in 2018.

The South Korean government has worked hard to engage North Korea in structured dialogue in an effort to defuse the nuclear-armed state’s continued military threats. But there is nonetheless a growing risk that the Trump administration will authorise limited military strikes against the North’s weapons of mass destruction, conceivably within the next few months.

Read more:
The Winter Olympics and the two Koreas: how sport diplomacy could save the world

Despite extracting a commitment from the US that any military action against North Korea is contingent on first gaining South Korea’s endorsement, there is justifiable concern among South Koreans that the Trump administration will act unilaterally if US intelligence assesses Pyongyang is about to deploy an operational nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force.

Given the extent to which we have underestimated the sheer pace of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development over the past decade, this intelligence assessment might happen sooner than we think. Donald Trump would then face a difficult problem: how to avoid being the president who allowed North Korea to achieve the capability to hit the US homeland with nuclear weapons.

Since coming to power, the Trump administration has been deliberating over whether to carry out preventive strikes to degrade Pyongyang’s ability to sprint to the finish line of acquiring a deployable ICBM that can hit the continental US with a nuclear payload.

An increasingly popular assumption is that the price of living with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can destroy prime targets on the US mainland is higher than risking a second Korean War. And this is not just the musings of a few hardheads in the Pentagon: a growing number of Americans believe some form of military action against North Korea is justified if sanctions and diplomacy fail to achieve denuclearisation.

Most worrying of all, a belief seems to be gathering pace that the US can somehow launch “surgical” military strikes while containing a larger conflict, because Kim Jong-un will not respond for fear of triggering an overwhelming retaliatory response.

There are two basic flaws underlying what one expert has termed “the myth of the limited strike”. The first, and most obvious, is that it’s highly unlikely Kim Jong-un will believe the Trump administration’s assurances that “surgical” strikes are not the opening phase of an all-out US assault aimed at overthrowing the regime.

When the US goes to war, it tends to go full throttle – in recent times, this has translated into regime change (think of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya). Why would the leadership in Pyongyang assess that this time around would be any different?

The second major flaw in the argument is that what is portrayed as limited in Washington, and among some armchair strategists supporting this course, will inevitably be seen in Pyongyang as a major assault on North Korean territory and its prized strategic assets.

Even in the scenario that Kim Jong-un actually believed the Trump administration did not intend to implement regime change, as Van Jackson notes, his position as North Korean supreme leader would be untenable domestically if he did not respond with force.

Read more:
Five assumptions we make about North Korea – and why they’re wrong

Pyongyang would have a compelling incentive to retaliate early with any nuclear reserve that survived a US first strike. In this scenario, the North Korean leadership would confront a stark choice of either using these weapons of mass destruction to maximum effect or risk losing them in follow-on US precision munition strikes.

As I have argued elsewhere, like all new nuclear powers, North Korea will place a premium on permissive command and control systems that allow authorities to use nuclear weapons whenever they want. This will be reflected in a hair-trigger launch posture if it perceives an imminent threat.

The ConversationWhichever way you cut it, a US first strike against North Korea would almost certainly trigger major war on the Korean peninsula, with a high risk of escalation to full-scale nuclear conflict. While the appalling humanitarian consequences of this don’t need to be spelt out, the strategic illogic of the arguments advocating a first strike must be continually reinforced.

Andrew O’Neil, Dean and Professor of Political Science, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


USA: Donald Trump – State of the Union


Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days

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Before the government shutdown, Donald Trump exceeded a 40% approval rating for the first time since May 2017.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On January 20, 2018, exactly one year after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, the US government entered a partial shutdown for three days – the first shutdown since 2013. This is the second shutdown that has occurred when the same party controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress; one agency was shut down for one day in 1980.

While Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, it usually takes three-fifths of the Senate (60 votes) to invoke cloture and prevent filibustering of legislation. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a 238-193 majority, and a bill that funded the government passed 230-197.

In the Senate, the same bill won the vote 50-49, but was short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. Five Democrats, all representing states Trump won by at least 18 points in 2016, voted in favour of this bill, and five Republicans voted against, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “no” vote was technical, to allow him to reintroduce the same bill.

The reason Democrats denied supply was a dispute over “Dreamers” – children who came to the US illegally. Under President Barack Obama, the approximately 800,000 Dreamers were eligible for renewable two-year non-deportation periods, and work permits. Trump rescinded this program in September 2017, but Congress was given until March 2018 to legislate an alternative.

Four months since Trump’s rescission, no legislation on Dreamers has been voted on by either chamber. On January 11, Trump reportedly said “shithole countries” in reference to immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. Democrats clearly believe Trump and Republican congressional leaders will do nothing to stop the Dreamers being deported, so they blocked Supply to try to force action.

On 22 January, the shutdown ended with Democratic support after McConnell promised the Senate would vote on action for the Dreamers. However, the government’s funding expires on February 8. If McConnell fails to honour his promise, it is likely there will be another US government shutdown.

The funding bill agreed to also funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years – a key Democratic priority.

Even if a bill that stopped the deportation of Dreamers passed the Senate, the House of Representatives is more difficult, as there is a large bloc of hard-right Republicans who would detest leaders bringing any pro-Dreamer legislation to a vote. Trump can veto legislation, and it requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override his veto.

The strong US economy has improved Trump’s ratings in the last month. According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings were 36.4% approve, 57.5% disapprove on December 16, but they are now at 39.1% approve, 55.9% disapprove.

Before the shutdown, Trump exceeded 40% approval for the first time since May 2017.

The strong US economy also appears to be helping Republicans in the race for Congress. A month ago, Democrats led Republicans by 50-37, but that advantage has shrunk to 46-39 in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate.

Republicans may also be benefiting from a lack of media focus on the controversial bills they had passed or attempted to pass, such as the corporate tax cuts or Obamacare repeal.

The shutdown was not long enough to have a large impact on Trump’s ratings or the race for Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight analyst Harry Enten, the previous two long shutdowns – in 1995-96 and 2013 – had a large negative short-term impact on the Republicans, who were blamed for both. However, once the shutdowns were resolved, voters quickly forgot about the disruption.

Midterm elections will be held this November, in which all 435 House of Representatives members and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election.

Owing to natural clustering of Democrats in cities and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need a high single-figure lead on the popular vote to take control of the House of Representatives. A seven-point lead for Democrats would give Republicans some chance of retaining control.

Commissioned Tasmanian polls stronger for Liberals than December EMRS

The Tasmanian election is expected to be called soon for either March 3 or 17. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system for its lower house, with five five-member electorates. A December EMRS poll gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 34% and the Greens 17%.

There has been no media-commissioned polling since this poll, but the Liberals released a MediaReach poll last week that gave them 41.1%, Labor 34.3%, the Greens 12.8% and the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 6.2%.

A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute in the seat of Bass gave the Liberals 49.4%, Labor 27.6%, the Greens 10.5% and the JLN 10.1%.

MediaReach has previously only taken polls in the Northern Territory, so it does not have a track record. ReachTEL’s Tasmanian polls were biased against Labor at the last two federal elections, but the Liberals performed better than ReachTEL expected at the 2014 state election.

Essential 53-47 to federal Labor

The first federal poll of 2018, an Essential poll, was released last week. Labor led by 53-47, unchanged from the final Essential poll of 2017 five weeks ago.

Primary votes were 38% Labor (steady), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one). This poll was conducted on January 11-15 from a sample of 1,038.

According to the Poll Bludger, Essential will be a fortnightly poll this year. Previously, Essential polled weekly, with a rolling two-week sample used for voting intentions.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net approval was minus seven, down four points since December. Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped to minus 17, down eight points since December.

By 44-29, voters would support Australia becoming a republic with an Australian head of state (44-30 in January 2017). By 53-38, voters would support a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

More than 50% thought all types of crime had increased in the last few years, including 70% who thought youth gang crime had increased, and 76% who thought drug-related crime had increased. 53% and 40% respectively thought drug crime and youth crime had increased a lot.

The ConversationI expect the first Newspoll of 2018 when federal parliament resumes in early February.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.