Saturday, September 05, 2015

Act I, Scene 5 - Nuggets among the Sludge
I begin with my new hobby/obsession:  the website  It allows one to "make predictions" (i.e., bet), with real money, as the site maintains "markets" on a variety of election outcomes, which range from the next month's  poll results on the favorability rating for President Obama, to the outcomes of the major contests in the 2016 elections, to specific primary results, and even to outcomes outside the US ("will Greece exit the Euro in 2015", "will the next U.N. Secretary-General be a woman").

The site seeks to fill the niche of, which was shut down by the government (and is now in a court case with it) because it was too much a gambling site and not enough a free market for free speech prediction. assures the website visitor it that it has been reviewed by the US government, is legal for Americans to participate, and enforces a strict limit on positions in a given market ($850).  Which is considerably more of my own money than I am willing to stake on a single hunch or prediction.  I am following the approach I use with casinos:  purchase a nominal amount of chips, don't bet too much on any one outcome, and try to maximize the entertainment value.

One motive I have for mentioning this is that I would like to get more participants.  Quite a lot of the markets are dead or close to it, though that does not prevent some rapid whipsaw moves, such as the question "Will Carly Fiorina be included in the next debate?"  That one was settling in at about a 10% probability for a Yes outcome (despite the fact that it was almost mathematically impossible with the rules CNN had in effect), until the news came that CNN was changing the rules--it flipped from 10% to 95% overnight.  Right now the market that is very sensitive to daily news updates is the question of whether Obama will veto a bill from Congress to express its disapproval of the Iran nuclear deal.  It all revolves on whether the White House and opponents of the bill can muster 41 votes to filibuster the bill until September 17, and the count of votes is coming down to the wire.

One area that seems to be easy money, though I am stepping into it cautiously, is the bidding on the Republican who will get the nomination. There are 20 possible candidates listed--all the announced ones, except Jim Gilmore, plus Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and Susana Martinez.  What caught my curiosity is that the current market prices for the Yes propositions for all 20 add up to 220%; therefore, there must be money to be made betting against them.  One has to take into account the 10% of profits the website keeps, and the fact that one of them, presumably, will win it, but the "Just Bet No" strategy seems--unlike the Republican poll leader--not to be a likely loser.

Speaking of the Wherever Man, the market is struggling with the question whether to take his chances seriously or not--from the comments and the various bids, there are two schools of thought, which makes a market--I'm on the No side.  Right now, Trump is in second, just ahead of Marco Rubio, but a fair distance behind the betting favorite, Jeb Bush.  The rest of the top 11 correspond to those who will be in the CNN debate, in the following order, after Rubio:  Carson, Kasich, Walker, Cruz, Fiorina, Paul, Christie, Huckabee.  I can't argue with the rank order too much (once one accepts the argument for Bush on top and Trump second), but the point estimates are all too high.  Except one of them, the one that will prove to be the winner, and while I have my opinion which that is, so do all the other participants have their betting favorites, and that's what seems to be keeping the bids so high.

Preview of Upcoming Scenes
I am now ready to predict the course of the first phase of the Republican primaries (they should be one of the main topics for Act II, Scenes 1 and 2).    I sometimes try to calm my fellow Americans who are freaking about The National Embarrassment Which Is Trump's Candidacy, pointing out that no real damage has been done yet; he doesn't have a single vote.  Nevertheless, I anticipate that Trump will probably win both of the whiter-than-white, entitled (with an outsized sense of their own importance) electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire with 25-30% of the vote.  He will start to get some bad news in South Carolina and Nevada, as his spiel starts to get stale, and the voters get turned off.  The so-called "SEC primary" on March 1 will bring a couple of others up to his level or above, which will set up the race for a decisive confrontation in the winner-take-all primary in Florida March 15:  Bush, Trump, and Rubio.  The winner in that one will be the front-runner for the busy final phase of primaries, though it does not mean, this time around when there may still be so many candidates (due to the dynamics driven by the variety of big-money sponsorships) and so much uncertainty, that the front-runner will win this time (that will be Act II, Scenes 2 and 3).

Though I am far from convinced that anything of world-historical importance has happened or will happen in the Republican nomination race, I have to admit that its entertainment value is high.  CNN made a smart move to change its rules and weight more heavily the more recent polls, thus bringing Fiorina into the next debate (but somehow not excluding anyone).  Everyone saluted the increased interest; nobody seemed to have a problem with it.  Fiorina will add some variety to the debate pool, but I think she should be fairly easy to make look bad, with her somewhat unsuccessful track record.
By contrast to her, and to Trump, is the very successful political neophyte Ben Carson, the new Flavor of the Month.  I will avoid patronizing or politically incorrect comment on Carson except to say I am amazed at how much support he has gotten with very little publicity.  His comments on the Fox debate stage suggest he has a lot of smarts, a dose of good manners, and common sense,  until he gets onto the topic of political ideology, when he says idiotic things.  It will be a good test whether he can hold his own in the foreign-affairs-focused CNN debate format, though if he is a quick study, he might make provincial lightweights like Walker (and Trump) look silly.  The foreign-affairs topic will be tricky for these Republicans, who have to mix sufficient macho (or macha) aggressiveness without scaring people--even Republicans are war-weary.   The phrase we should expect to hear most will be " keep Americans at home safe".

The Other Race
At the end of the day, the safe bet is that the Democratic race will provide Hillary Clinton with a sufficient, but not excessive, level of difficulty, which will require her to pay attention, develop her arguments and refurbish her debating skills. I don't really agree with Martin O'Malley, who is hungry for free media, that more than six debates should be needed.  At this point I see nothing which should derail her from winning the nomination and, ultimately, handing the exhausted nominee of a weakened Republican party a sharp defeat in the general election.  For that reason, I anticipate giving her my full endorsement.

But not just yet.  It's not Bernie Sanders that is holding me back--I thoroughly appreciate his Jesse-Jackson-in-1988-like run; he is producing the political planks for the party, the forward-thinking arguments which are likely to be debated for the next 10-20 years before they are finally enacted.  I would be glad to give Bernie a grassroots-style donation or two in a couple of months (though I am trying to keep from giving any contributions to any individual candidates until 2016) if it will be useful at that point to keep him going, but let's admit it--he is not electable in a general election (unless in that long-shot three-way with Trump running as an independent, in spite of his phony pledge), and therefore, should never be nominated.

It's not Joe Biden--I mean, not really.  Again, I like Joe Biden, always have, though sometimes he has disappointed me (for example, he really bought into that law 'n order fad in the late '80's with the mandatory sentencing and all, from which we are still suffering, both in real life and in network TV programming).  Still, he has been a persistent, steady warrior, mostly for good, and is generally trustworthy (though he needs to watch his overly tactile inclinations).  His age doesn't really bother me, either, if he is able to take on the rigors of a Presidential campaign.  He's drawing out his deliberations, waiting to see if Hillary's campaign will self-destruct, and while he can afford to wait awhile yet, passing up final dates maybe for a couple of early primaries he would be unlikely to win anway, the whole thing is resolving itself extremely slowly, and he will have to either risk it or give it up by end of October.

He's a-biding his time (while Clinton's abiding the hours, with Huma Abedin keeping Clinton's watch for her), waiting to see if Hillary can handle this email kerfuffle, a somewhat silly Something to Torture Hillary About topic that she hasn't been able to put away. There seems to be no criminal intent, no real harm done, a lot of flaws in our government's information security regime exposed, but it's a dripping kind of torture that seems to be preventing her campaign from getting into gear.  It's still up to (or down to) HRC; is she up to the job of running effectively for it?

But it's still very early; I still say nothing has happened yet--in either race.  As dramas go, this one is slow to build, but there's a lot of colorful costumes and snappy dialogue.

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