Donald Trump

Australian Super Funds wanting to invest in America’s infrastructure privatisation, is it ethical?

When I recently learned of the push for Australia’s superannuation industry to invest in American infrastructure, alarm bells rang. Neoliberalism is still very much in economical favour so what was this really all about? When I read articles about it from Australia a little closer, I realised that they were missing the meat of the story, all that I was reading was the bare bones.

Firstly there is no $US1.5 trillion infrastructure plan as such in the 2019 budget. The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is basically a finance deal that includes deregulation, and the privatisation of America’s state and local government assets. $US200bn is all that the American government is willing to spend including $US100bn that has been allocated to an Incentives Program. These figures however, do not include $US178bn worth of cuts to be made in the state and local government’s infrastructure budgets. They pretty much cancel each other out. The deep cuts in funding, and the need to fix their infrastructure will leave many of these government’s no choice but to look at private funding and selling off its assets.

No matter where the funding comes from, privatisation requires taking over a government function at a lower cost than the government can provide it, and to make a profit, or it wouldn’t be worth its while.  

America has been undergoing privatisation since the Reagan administration through its neoliberal policies. These policies enabled private to take over energy infrastructure and utilities, but not roads, rails, ports and airports, they have mainly remained as state and local government assets. Privatisation though is not as popular as it once was due to American’s seeing and living with the consequences of privatisation; they know how it affects their lives, wallets, and their communities. In Chicago for example, parking meters were privatised 10-years ago with a 75-year lease that has cost the city $US974m in lost revenue, so far.

Privatisation in Australia under the guise of ‘asset recycling’ has been used to lobby American politicians for the last couple of years. It was introduced to Australia by former Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Hockey in his current role as American Ambassador has led the charge with assistance from others, including former New South Wales Premier Mike Baird. In Australia it involved selling state assets to private to help pay for infrastructure projects, and the federal government paid an incentive payment to add to the funding. There were no big cuts or deregulation involved. The super fund’s think selling it to the American public as “workers capital” rather than private, to pay for public assets will do the trick. The super funds have even re-branded: Public Private Partnerships in America, to Pension Public Partnerships.

You might be asking yourself: ‘Why should I care where or how Australian Super is invested if it’s bringing back returns?’ That’s a good question. America has inflicted neoliberalism policies around the world for the last 40-years, this has led to the global decay of infrastructure. The global race to fix ailing infrastructure (or to gobble up what’s left of public assets), is being touted by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, as the answer to sustaining economic growth. Neoliberal policies are profit driven, whereas things like infrastructure maintenance are not very profitable. Hence the decline. Pretty ironic when you think about it.       

Is it right or ethical for super funds to invest in a country that is also being deregulated within an inch of its life to make it easier for private with their investments? There are grave concerns for the plan to deregulate the country’s water supplies, some water utilities are already struggling to keep their water clean. Did you know that 16 million Americans get sick from dirty tap water each year? Deregulation, especially in regards to environmental restrictions designed to protect communities, will once again add to the monetary burden of cleaning it up onto the states and local governments. Even if super funds just invested in toll roads there like IFM Investors with their Indiana investment, wouldn’t it be better to invest in Australia’s infrastructure? In particular renewable energy, there’s a whole industry waiting to be untapped. Or perhaps the super funds could look to our neighbours in Asia needing infrastructure assistance, including being climate change ready. There is so much more to ethically invest in than road tolls and user charges around the world.

And on a final note, another concern that I have is if investing super into anything that makes a profit becomes the norm and accepted, what other ideas or policies that are unpalatable now, are lurking waiting for the right moment to be introduced? The privatisation of sidewalks in Australia? It’s already happening in Kansas City and Missouri.

There are only public assets (including public land), and services left to invest in or take over. If this were to happen what would the world look like? I don’t even want to imagine.         

 

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US polling firm connected with Cambridge Analytica, working in Australia

I was reading an article by The Guardian yesterday morning, about a company associated with American Republicans polling Australians, for their views about same-sex marriage. The Republican-linked element of the story piqued my interest, bear with me, I will come back to the polling. I looked up the name of the company, WPA Intelligence, there wasn’t much about them, until I happened across a Medium article titled ‘WPA Opinion Research Announces Name Change to WPA Intelligence.’ It was written in April this year by Chris Wilson, he was the director of research and analytics for the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz. He took leave from WPA Opinion Research for the role and worked closely with Cambridge Analytica (CA) throughout the campaign, he received more than US$1 million for his work during the campaign. He is well known as a Republican, political strategist and pollster, and regularly appears on Fox News.

Much has been learned about Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s use of micro-targeting and data, but not so much about the inroads made during the Cruz campaign.

The Cruz campaign hired CA to assist it with data collection, it surveyed 150,000 households across America and scored them on five personality traits, known as OCEAN:

Openness (how open are you to new experiences)

Conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?)

Extroversion (how sociable are you?)

Agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative are you?)

Neuroticism (are you easily upset?)

The Cruz campaign amended the CA template by renaming some psychological categories, and adding subcategories to the list such as ‘stoic traditionalist’ and ‘true believer.’ It also did field surveys in key states to finesse their predictive model. The Cruz algorithm was then applied to an ‘enhanced voter file.’ These files can contain as many as 50,000 data points, collected from voting records, popular websites like Facebook, magazine subscriptions, car ownership and what food and clothing that voters like.  

Another tactic employed by the campaign was geo-fencing, this allows you to send targeted messages to a city block or a building. For example, the Republican Jewish Coalition was meeting at the Ventian Hotel in Las Vegas, so they sent out web-based ads that could only be seen from inside the hotel complex. The ads emphasised Cruz’s faithfulness to Israel. They also had a Cruz Crew mobile app for supporters to download, with points and prizes, once they handed over access to their contact lists.   

CA also made behavioural psychologists readily available for advice, as ads were being scripted and had their staff embedded in the Cruz headquarters. When Cruz dropped out and ceded to Trump, CA joined Trump’s campaign, with a data set they named ‘Alamo’. The campaign not only utilised all of the strategies above and invested millions of dollars into social media. Facebook, Google and YouTube representatives were sent to their headquarters, liaising with CA staff, they were given the VIP treatment and guided as to how to effectively use their platforms. One of the campaign’s digital leaders, Theresa Wong, believes that they couldn’t have won the election without Facebook.  Robert Mercer, who started out backing Cruz, also joined the campaign and was Trump’s biggest donor. He has a US$10 million stake in CA and provided the financial backing for Breitbart news. More details are in the first link at the end of this article.            

CA were in Australia in March this year, and they met with Liberal party officials for a dinner and attended an ADMA (Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising), data analytics conference.

“Senior Liberals will be talking to Mr Nix and the Cambridge Analytica team while they’re out here in Australia, and will be interested to talk with them about their capacities and what they’re offering people in the Australian political system,” said Tony Nutt, party’s federal director.  

The Liberal Party federal director, Tony Nutt resigned from his position in April this year, on the eve of a report that investigated last year’s dismal Liberal party election campaign.

Returning to the push-polling by WPA Intelligence, it asked seven questions. The first question is about whether you have a favourable or unfavourable view of Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The second one asks if you intend to vote in the postal survey and the third one asks whether you support or oppose, don’t plan on voting or are unsure about your vote. It then provides two statements:

“Denying some people the option to marry is discriminatory and creates a second class of citizens”; and

“Legalising same-sex marriage may lead to negative consequences such as radical gay sex education being taught in school, threats to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

After hearing these it asks again if you support or oppose same-sex marriage. The poll finishes with questions about your age and sex for verification purposes. It sounds as though the same-sex postal survey is being used as a message-testing tool, to help gather data about Australians. The data insights from the poll can then be used to better tailor messages to voters, in the future. Should a foreign country be meddling in the democracy of other countries? Is it not akin to Russian meddling in the American elections? And should CA or other foreign companies be profiting from elections in other countries?

How much was WPA Intelligence paid for this work and what is the overall strategy of the federal government, and their foreign partners? I hope that taxpayers aren’t paying to be manipulated by our own government. I’ll finish this with some insights about the recent Kenyan elections that CA and many other players were involved in.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, hired CA to help him win the Kenyan election, he won the election in a landslide, but Kenya’s Supreme Court has since nullified the results due to fraud. I’m not inferring that CA was behind this, they were paid US$6 million for their services, a small drop in the ocean compared with the US$1 billion spent overall on the election. It was the most expensive in Kenya’s history, and now it has to be held again. The court found problems with the transmission and the tallying of votes. Some paper votes weren’t recorded at all. Missing forms were submitted after the election, without watermarks or serial numbers, meaning that they were probably fake.  

GeoPoll found that ninety-percent of Kenyan’s also encountered false news reports on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram. Facebook even had to take out a full page ad in a Kenyan newspaper offering tips to spot fake news. Nobody knows who was behind the fake news, but it’s thought to be a foreign company because it described a Raila Odinga presidency (the opposition leader), as apocalyptic in a sophisticated video ad. Again, I’m not inferring that CA was behind this either, but the modus operandi does sound familiar. The apocalyptic style of messaging is favoured by the likes of Steve Bannon, David Bossie, Robert Mercer and Citizens United. More detail can be found in number four of my series below.              

Below are links that provide much more detail about CA and things such as dark posts on Facebook. These are tailored, micro-targeted posts that only you can see, and much more. I will be coming back to this series, once I finish my piece about income management imposed on Australians.    

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/03/31/cambridge-analytica-arrives-in-australia/

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/04/28/series-what-is-propaganda-in-2017-and-how-did-we-get-here-1/

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/04/30/jared-kushner-facebook-and-hacking-propaganda-in-2017-and-how-we-got-here-2/

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/05/10/us-propaganda-100-years-ago-and-how-the-media-was-influenced-3/

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/05/17/kochtopus-and-getting-to-know-some-more-players-4/

https://melmacpolitics.com/2017/06/13/how-history-communism-and-tax-exempt-foundations-have-led-us-here-5/

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article and in my series.