Archive for the 'America' Category


Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, faces a second accuser

Monday, September 24th, 2018

By far the biggest political battle in US politics at the moment is the effort by the Republicans to ensure that Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, Brett Kavanaugh, gets approved.

Because of the power of the court and the fact that members are appointed for life this has the potential of having an impact in the US that could last decades. The Democrats are doing everything to try to stall the process while the White House is pushing to get this through as quickly as possible.

Things have been made more complicated by accusations against Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct nearly forty years ago. The person involved is due to appear later in the week and now another woman has come forward.

From what I can see the only betting market on whether Kavanaugh gets approved is from PaddyPower which has it at 5/6 with way.

The Republicans have 51 of the 100 seats in the Senate so the approval requires all to back him. It is being suggested that one or two GOP Senators might not go with the White House.

Mike Smithson


The biggest US midterms battle: Beto O’Rourke’s Texas effort to unseat Ted Cruz

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The Senate race that could deprive the Republicans of their majority

Of all the elections that are taking place across the US in November the one that’s attracting the most attention is the effort by Beto O’Rourke to take the Texas Senate seat held by Ted Cruz. Overnight there was the first TC debate as featured in the video clip above.

What looked like a certain hold by the Republican is now being rated as a toss-up following an energetic and focused campaign by the Democrat who is raising a huge amount of money. The outcome could be crucial to US politics during the second half of Trump’s tenancy at the White House. Currently 51 of the 100 US Senators are Republicans and Texas could well be the state that determines the outcome.

The polls are now sending out mixed messages and while Cruz still remains the strong odd-on favourite it’s not going to be as simple for him as it first appeared.

Like in all elections the critical factor is going to be turnout and the excellent fundraising figures are a guide to the broad support that the Democratic contender is getting.

Because of the way the Betfair Senate majority market is defined the best bet, I’d argue,is to “lay” (bet that it won’t happen) a Republican hold.

Mike Smithson

Follow @MSmithsonPB


Ashcroft US poll finds 53% saying there are grounds to believe that Trump committed crimes that would warrant impeachment

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Nearly a half believe Trump campaign colluded with Russia & he was aware

A 6k sample poll of US voters has just been published by Lord Ashcroft and sets the scene for the important midterm elections that take place in the first week in November.

Currently the Democratic party is enjoying reasonable leads in generic Congressional polls and the betting is on the party re-taking control of the House.

But a much tighter battle is taking place for control of the Senate where about a third of the seats are up for election this year. Currently the Republicans have 51 of the 100 seats and the betting is that they will continue to have a majority.

What’s very likely to dominate US politics if the Democrats do as well in the House of Representatives as projected will be the ongoing rumbles and investigation into whether the Trump colluded with the Russians in his victory in November 2016.

The view is that if the Democrats do end up holding the House then impeachment proceedings could start and the Ashcroft polling seeks to test opinion on what American voters believe happened in that election.

As can be seen voters’ views are very much determined by whether or not they are Trump supporters.

Mike Smithson


My 66/1 longshot for WH2020 now favourite for the Democratic nomination and 2nd favourite for the Presidency

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

While I was on holiday I was grateful that TSE Tweeted my post from January 18th 2017, two days before Trump was inaugurated, on my long-shot bet for WH2020 – Senator Kamala Harris of California.

On Betfair Harris is currently a 16% chance for the nomination and 10% to become next president. In November 2016 she became the second black woman and first Indian American elected to serve in the Senate. She’s a former Attorney-General for California and is the daughter of an Indian-American mother and Jamaican-American father.

Since then she has gained huge prominence in the US following her grillings of Trump’s nominees for high office. The clip above is from the hearing last week on the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court. This is what I wrote about her in January 2017 –

“My reading of the Democratic party 2020 race is that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will simply be too old to contemplate running. Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren (15/2) is currently favourite and she’s likely to play a big part in her party’s opposition to the incoming president. She was strongly tipped to run last year but didn’t. Maybe 2016 was her best chance.

Michelle Obama (8/1) is also being tipped but somehow I can’t see her taking the plunge.

For bets that won’t mature for nearly four years I like long-shots and have 53 year old Harris at 66/1 for the Presidency and 40/1 for the nomination. As I write these odds are still available and might be worth a punt.”

My other longshot bets for WH2016 are on the current Governor of Colorado, John Hickenhooper. My longest price is 270/1. After looking at some TV interviews I love his laid back-self-deprecation and he has already started to indicate that he’s thinking of a run. I think that he would be appealing to primary voters and Trump would find him difficult to deal with.

What the Democrats want more than anything is to get the current incumbent of the White House out.

Mike Smithson


Richard Nabavi on the US Senate elections

Friday, September 14th, 2018

On the 6th November, 33 of the 100 seats in the US Senate come up for election. The Democrats currently hold 47 seats and two independents caucus with them, so they need a net gain of two for them to get control1. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the starting position is rather difficult; of the 35 seats up for election, only 9 are Republican-held, and of those 4 are solid and 3 are fairly safe. On the other side, of the 26 seats the Democrats are defending, several are potential Republican gains.

The table shows the 13 main battlegrounds, approximately in increasing order of difficulty for the Democrats. Not shown in the table are the 41 Democrat-caucus seats, and the 46 Republican seats, which are either not up for election, or are considered safe. The second column shows the number of seats the Democrats would have (including the two independents who caucus with them) if they won that seat and every one above it in the table (plus their safe seats). The third column shows the probability of a Democrat win as calculated by Nate Silver’s ‘Classic’ model2 – this is broadly compatible with the qualitative assessments of Larry Sabato and the Cook Report. The last two columns show the best odds3 available at time of writing from Ladbrokes or Betfair Sportsbook on the two parties.

State Cumulative count 538 Dem prob. Cook Sabato Best odds Dem Best odds Rep
New Jersey 42 92.9% Likely D Likely D 1.2 6
Minnesota (Special) 43 91.9% Lean D Likely D
Montana 44 90.3% Likely D Lean D 1.36 9.5
West Virginia 45 88.8% Tossup Lean D 1.36 4.0
Indiana 46 76.7% Tossup Tossup 1.66 2.1
Missouri 47 71.3% Tossup Tossup 1.66 2.1
Arizona 48 66.6% Tossup Tossup 1.53 2.8
North Dakota 49 60.1% Tossup Tossup 2.5 1.9
Nevada 50 59.4% Tossup Tossup 1.5 2.5
Florida 51 55.8% Tossup Tossup 2.0 2.2
Texas 52 34.8% Lean R Lean R 3.75 1.44
Tennessee 53 30.3% Tossup Lean R 3.1 1.44
Mississippi (Special) 54 17.2% Likely R Likely R

As you can see, the Democrats are favourites in 10 of these contests, according to the 538 model. If they win all of those, they will just make the 51 seats needed, down to and including FL. However, that assumes they don’t mislay any along the way, which is very far from certain – Florida, Nevada, North Dakota and Arizona could each easily go either way, and it won’t be much of a surprise if the Republicans win Missouri and/or Indiana.

If national sentiment moves firmly towards the Democrats between now and the election, that might be sufficient to carry them over the line. However, Senate elections are subject to significant state-specific and candidate-specific variation. As things stand, to win control, the Dems need to stay lucky in all of the first 10 listed states, or perhaps stay lucky in 9 and pull off a surprise in Texas or Tennessee.

Note that a Democratic majority as defined by the Betfair market, where the two independents who caucus with the Democrats aren’t counted, corresponds to 53 seats or more in the table. That means winning at least 12 of the 13 contests shown – a very tough challenge.

My betting strategy on this is to take advantage of the uncertainty by betting on the Democrats in individual states where the odds look (relatively) favourable, but betting against them winning 53 seats or more (including the two independents) by laying Dem majority in the Betfair market, currently at around 8.0. That way, I hope to make some money on individual contests, but also on them tripping up in at least one or two.

Richard Nabavi

1. If it’s a dead heat, the Vice President has the casting vote, so the Republicans retain control.
2. As at Sept 13th
3. You might get better odds on the Betfair exchange, subject to charges


The power and politics of pardon

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Under the US constitution, an American president has a virtually untrammelled power to pardon, or commute the sentence of, anyone convicted of a Federal offence (but not offences under State law). It is a power completely personal to the president, who can exercise it for any reason, or for no good reason, and it has been used surprisingly often: 1,927 times by Barack Obama, for example. Although there is a government department, the Office of the Pardon Attorney, through which applications for presidential clemency are usually routed, there is no obligation on the president to follow that process.

In many cases, the power is used to redress obvious injustices or excessive sentences in the US criminal law system. For example, few people would quarrel with Trump’s order to release Alice Marie Johnson (who was convicted to life imprisonment in 1996 for drug dealing offences), even if it required celebrity intervention to get the president’s attention. Sometimes the power is used to help heal national divisions, as in Carter’s pardon of all Vietnam draft dodgers. Some examples are purely symbolic, the most recent being Trump’s posthumous pardon of boxer Jack Johnson for the quaintly American (but racially supercharged) 1912 crime of “transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes”.

However, there is nothing to prevent a president from exercising the power of clemency capriciously, for political reasons, or as a favour to cronies or family. When controversial Sherriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to stop racial profiling, Trump pardoned him before he was even sentenced. An outrageous example of partisan meddling in the justice system? Perhaps, but not obviously more so than Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, coincidentally after Rich’s ex-wife made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Foundation.

Various of Trump’s staff and associates have already been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes, although so far these nearly all relate to matters unrelated to the Trump campaign. Criminal investigations continue, but Trump has made it clear that he regards them as politically motivated. Whatever the outcome of those investigations, Trump can if he wishes simply pardon anyone convicted. The mere existence of this power of pardon blunts the leverage of investigators to coerce potential witnesses into testifying in exchange for immunity or plea-bargaining.

All this means that those looking to the criminal justice system to bring down the Trump administration, via his associates, are probably going to be disappointed, irrespective of who else, if anyone, ends up being indicted; legally, he holds the Trump* card. He can even pardon in advance anyone who might in future be charged with any offence arising from the Mueller investigation.

Of course, it would be shameless to exercise that power for his cronies or his family, but no-one ever accused Donald Trump of insufficient shamelessness. His supporters already think that the investigations are politically motivated so the political cost would be minimal. In any case, since President Clinton used his power to pardon his own brother, and to pardon Susan McDougal (the Clintons’ business partner in the Whitewater land deal), the moral high ground has already been vacated.

Short of impeachment – which looks numerically near-impossible, given the need for a two-thirds majority in the Senate – Trump’s opponents will have to think of something else. How about selecting a compelling candidate for the 2020 presidential election, and mounting a strong campaign? It might just work.

* Beat that pun, TSE!

Richard Nabavi


Trump’s tantrums won’t cost him the presidency – yet

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

But the NYT article will drive him deeper into the bunker

Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe the White House. The high level of turnover among staff, the erratic decision-making, the presidential public streams-of-consciousness made with zero empathy for their subjects, the failure to actually deliver on key policies like The Wall: we knew all this and have done pretty much since Day 1, if not before. What we didn’t know before the sensational New York Times article[1] was the extent to which members of his own administration don’t trust him and are resorting to extraordinary measures to thwart his worst inclinations.

These revelations have, unsurprisingly, gone down explosively badly in the Oval Office for two reasons above all.

Firstly, Trump does not really run a presidential administration. The best way to think of him is not as a politician but as a paranoid mafia boss. Results matter, because results bring respect and a failure to deliver results brings contempt, and it’s all about respect with him (which we’ll come back to); but at an even higher level, it’s all about loyalty to him. Not to the constitution; not to the law; not to the office; not to the United States; not to Republican Party – certainly not to the Republican Party. To him, personally. So the sense of betrayal at such a personal level is a deadly breach of the omerta he expects and demands of his underlings irrespective of his actions (which are, in any case, by definition right because they’re his).

The second reason is his internal psychology, which is a toxic mix of an inferiority complex – the prompt to both his absurd boastfulness and his constant desire to demean any perceived rival – and a craving for approval and respect from the very people he hates. For the world to be told that he needs child-minding by the “adults” in the administration is the ultimate insult, on so many levels. And the article uses that very word – adults – with all it implies. No wonder he’s throwing a tantrum.

Despite that, and despite the ever-more closed-off bunker it will drive him into, his position might just have got stronger, for now.

The most dramatic claim in the article was that members of the cabinet discussed invoking the 25th amendment, which enables a president to be removed from office on grounds of health – but these thoughts were put aside.

Removing a president who doesn’t want to go is a difficult task. It requires the approval of the Vice President, a majority of the cabinet and two-thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress. Unlike impeachment though, whereas those proceedings are almost certain to start with the president’s opponents in the House, an invocation of the 25th amendment would start with his own party colleagues in the Executive. For that reason, despite the congressional bar being even higher than for impeachment (which only requires a simple majority in the House), Congress would be more likely to ratify the removal due to the lead that the Vice President and cabinet had already given. It would not be a partisan action.

However, if you come for the king, you best not miss, as the saying goes. In this case, even though the claim is that discussions were set aside at an early stage, the fact that they’ve still been made public makes it harder to act later.

Also, despite the brutal analysis and comment, there’s precious little by way of evidence in the article. It’s easy to write of “meetings that veer off topic and off the rails”, or of a “leadership style which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” but these are not grounds for considering the president ‘incapacitated’. While the removal (or non-removal) of a president is always a political act, the US is not a parliamentary democracy and there does need to be at some strong legal or medical hook to hang a case on. The NYT article conspicuously fails to provide one. For that reason, Trump’s position in office has actually been marginally strengthened.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that he could throw that fractional gain away by doing something stupid – and if he does retreat further into the bunker and if the NYT claims are true, then it’ll be harder for his staff to stop him. But that would be a political loss, not one that represents an existential threat to his presidency. On that level, I think we should put aside talk of the constitutional coup that the 25th amendment represents (the risk of impeachment is another matter but will need not just a smoking gun but a bullet and a body if it’s going to persuade Republicans). Trump is erratic, impulsive and unorthodox but these were known character traits when he was elected. As such, they’re not grounds to go over the electorate’s head.

David Herdson

p.s. The 25th Amendment devolves significant power on the Vice President, should the president be incapable of carrying out his duties. In doing so, it assumes that there is a Vice President: there is no provision for what should happen if there is a vacancy in the Vice Presidency and then then President becomes incapacitated. Equally, there is no timeframe on how long a president might take to nominate a replacement (which Congress might reject anyway). One reason why I don’t think that the NYT article came from Pence’s office is because if it had, Pence would be almost obliged to resign if his authorship became known, as would be likely. If a Vice President held such views, he should either act or, if action was likely to be futile, say nothing, or quit.


PB Video Analysis: Will Donald Trump be Re-Elected in 2020?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

So, after many economics and finance related posts, I thought why not do a politics one?

It’s a simple question: will President Trump be re-elected in 2020? But while the answer will – Schrodinger’s cat-like – resolve itself when the box is opened in two years time, for now the answer is unknowable.

Which is the stronger force: an improving economy or the drip, drip of scandals? What matters more: who the Democrats choose or whether inflation returns?

And I suppose, as it’s obligatory, I’ll end the video with a prediction. Although – as Marvin said – I don’t suppose you’ll like it.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’