Archive for the 'Donald Trump' Category


Trump’s hardline policy on immigrant children has become a testing time for the White House

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Maintaining Republican party support looks challenging

The polling is not good for the President. According to a CNN poll two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the practice of taking undocumented immigrant children from their families and putting them in government facilities on US borders, Only 28% approve.

Among Republican voters 54% support the policy but 34% don’t.

This all comes in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.

Mike Smithson


The polling that should give great succour to Trump

Monday, June 11th, 2018

The above chart I found really interesting. Trump is retaining his support that is unmatched bar by George W Bush, by the hopefully unique set of circumstances that was 9/11.

Despite the general hostility directed towards Trump this is quite an achievement by Trump. His supporters are very loyal and shifting him from the White House in 2020 will be difficult, as it usually is with incumbent Presidents.

Of those eight Presidents who first became President after being elected in their own right and retained 74% and over of their support after 500 days only two didn’t win re-election. George Bush Senior, lost his re-election campaign and JFK, tragically, didn’t live long enough to fight a re-election campaign.



Going nuclear

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

When Peter the Great died in 1725, the Russian empire covered an extent unimagined when he came to power.  From his deathbed, he commanded his successors to follow his example.  His will provided:

“My successors will make [Russia] a great sea destined to fertilise impoverished Europe, and if my descendants know how to direct the waters, her waves will break through any opposing banks.  It is just for these reasons that I leave the following instructions, and I recommend them to the attention and constant observation of my descendants… IX To approach as near as possible to Constantinople and India.  Whoever governs there will be the true sovereign of the world.  Consequently excite continual wars, not only in Turkey, but in Persia… And in the decadence of Persia, penetrate as far as the Persian Gulf.”

For most of the period since, it was Persia’s fate to be contended over by great powers, a proxy for other battles, picked over for its spoils.  It was a pawn in the nineteenth century great game between Britain and Russia.  By 1907 it was formally partitioned into zones of influence, an arrangement that was superseded only after the Communists took over in Moscow. 

Russia (and then the USSR) invaded Persia/Iran four times in the twentieth century.  On the fourth occasion, in 1941, the USSR and Britain acted in concert occupying Iran as one of the anti-German manoeuvres in the Second World War, the USSR holding the north and the British taking the oilfields in the southwest (a revival of those zones of influence).  The Russians needed some intense pressure from the USA before they were winkled out of northwest Iran after the end of the Second World War: the USA then stepped into the void.  In 1953, the CIA sponsored a coup after the Iranian government nationalised British oil interests, and replaced it with a friendlier one.

In 1979, Iran had a revolution in more than one way.  A secular shah was replaced with an Islamic republic and Iran, for so long a pawn, decisively broke with all foreign would-be patrons, becoming a regional power.  This was made possible by the vastly increased oil revenues Iran benefited from in the wake of the oil shock of the early 1970s.

This unhappy history explains why Iran is now so determined to secure its independence of action.   Its nuclear programme was a part of that.  Ironically, given subsequent events, Iran’s nuclear programme was started with American help in the 1950s and 1960s.

Which brings onto the US interest in Iran.  This historically has twofold: first, the oil itself.  And secondly, the stability of the wider region, which historically has been very important to the US partly because of oil, partly, historically, because it could help check Russian ambitions in the region and partly because of Israel.

So when Iran seemed to be upping its nuclear ambitions in the last decade, the USA (along with much of the rest of international opinion) became seriously worried.  On the one hand, it did not want another nuclear power, especially one as hostile and so heavily driven by an ideology with a worrying emphasis on the merits of the afterlife. 

On the other hand, it had an interest in keeping oil supplies as undisrupted as possible (and oil prices as low as possible), which the sanctions regime against Iran worked strongly against.  This meant that it was keen to reach a deal with Iran, even an imperfect deal.  And so, eventually, it did: after a decade of tightening sanctions, the P5+1 (the permanent security council members and Germany) reached a deal with Iran in 2015 over its nuclear programme.

This deal was always controversial with the US right and was never ratified in the USA.  Donald Trump made it a campaign pledge that he was going to walk away from the deal, a pledge he made good on last week.

Was this Donald Trump being crazy, belligerent and short-sighted?  Belligerent, yes.  But not particularly crazy or short-sighted, at least not from a US perspective.  Look at the chart at the top of this piece.  When UN sanctions began in 2006, the USA was just about at its peak of net petroleum imports.  Any rises in oil prices or disruption to supplies really hurt it.

Now, the position is transformed.  The USA is heading fast for needing no net petroleum imports.  Moreover, this is in part a function of high oil prices: US producers need high oil prices to be economic.  This trend has accelerated sharply even since 2015.

So the USA simply does not have the same pressing need to reach an imperfect deal.  Its strategic interest in the Middle East is becoming, for the while at least, much less about oil and much more about supporting Israel. 

The calculation has changed.  The USA can therefore seek a much more favourable deal or consider using force to curb Iran’s ambitions, if it thinks the existing deal is inadequate, without particular fear of economic blowback.  That is what it has done.

The same considerations do not apply to the EU.  It is a heavy net petroleum importer (Britain is now a net importer too).  Rises in prices or disruption to supply are far more worrying for European countries.  So it is unsurprising to see EU countries, including Britain, working hard to salvage the deal.  Everyone is acting in accordance with their rational interests.

So this development is bad news for the EU, including Britain.  It is also bad news for the Middle East.  If the USA no longer has a particular interest in maintaining the peace on a compromise basis and those in power in the USA are no longer compromisers by temperament, we can expect to see more conflict.  Brace yourselves.

Alastair Meeks


Looking ahead to the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

Why I think the Nobel Committee will blow an ill wind for Trump

Following this week’s events on the Korean peninsula you can see why Kim and Moon are the favourites to win the award. I’m going to avoid this market from Ladbrokes as I’m not keen as betting on someone like Kim Jong-Un who has a history of volatility.

Effectively this is a bet on Kim Jong-Un remaining on his best behaviour between now and October when the winner(s) are announced.

He might do something to do something rash, particularly after being goaded by someone as similarly volatile as Donald Trump, although in Trump’s defence he’s never had his uncle executed nor has he had someone executed by death by anti-aircraft gun for dozing off during a meeting.

Given the general worldwide disdain for Trump, I can’t see him winning the prize on his own either, as we can see in the tweet below, Trump’s nearest and dearest don’t think he’ll win it either. Though many Korean experts seem to be of the opinion that the recent events in Korea had nothing to do with President Trump. 

Paddy Power have a market up if Trump will win a Nobel Peace Prize before the end of his first term, regretfully they don’t offer the option of backing the no option. Unless Trump delivers peace in the Middle East I can’t see him winning the prize for all the reasons I think he won’t win it in 2018.

As noted above the result will be announced in October and you can find out how the process works by clicking here.



Fake news and how to deal with it

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

DNA is perplexingly long. Almost 98% of the human genome is non-coding: that is, it does not make protein in the cell. Some of that definitely does have some practical aspect but at present large parts of human DNA has no known function. Scientists are still trying to work out why. It is sometimes disparagingly known as junk DNA.

The internet, like DNA, is a mechanism for passing on information. Like DNA, large parts of the internet have no outwardly-obvious function. Perhaps there are scientists earnestly scrutinising cat videos trying to work out why they are there (perhaps junk DNA encodes cat videos).

In each case, the really dangerous part isn’t the junk, it’s the corruption of the important information. The nature of lying online has changed the way in which untruths have affected public debate. It’s well past time that we took stock.

Lying wasn’t invented on the internet. In the past, however, the ability to tell a narrative-changing lie was severely restricted. In the early part of the twentieth century, mass communication was in the hands of those who owned newspapers. The barriers to entry were high and newspaper audiences were large. The influence of the owners was enormous. Not for nothing were they called press barons.

We should have no false nostalgia for the age of the fourth estate. At least one British election was hugely influenced by press lies – the Zinoviev letter remains notorious. Journalism was seen as a byword for venality and unfairness. Moreover, much information that was of huge public interest was kept from the masses because the political classes could effectively control the small group responsible for public information. Edward VIII’s assignations with Wallis Simpson were not publicly known in Britain for many months (though covered in detail in other countries).

The internet destroyed the barriers to setting up information provision. Suddenly anyone with a computer and an internet connection, a readable writing style and with some information to offer could open for business.

Initially, this seemed like an unqualified positive. Want to know about opposition politics in Hong Kong? Developments in bee-keeping? The technical changes to Formula 1 constructor requirements? The internet could fulfil your needs more quickly and more comprehensively than any newspaper or magazine could ever hope to.

Some of this has been truly transformative. There are now more than 5.5 million articles on the English version of Wikipedia, a single repository of knowledge unlike anything ever previously seen in any previous encyclopaedia.

The worm in the apple took some time to break cover. It had long since been appreciated that online information that had not been peer-reviewed might be wrong or misleading through inadvertence or might present a highly tendentious view of the truth from the writer’s personal viewpoint. Readers were well-aware that some might present deliberate lies defensively. All of these problems were familiar from past experience with the media.

The idea of someone presenting deliberately untrue information as an active policy was something new. It had not previously been practical because of the gatekeepers at the top of the media who could bar access to the public. With that control gone, the way was open for anyone who wanted to launch a campaign of misinformation.

It started relatively innocently, with mischief-makers on Wikipedia tinkering for kicks. Some saw the business opportunity in heart-warming clickbait, whether or not the inspirational story was in fact true (see Daisy the Dog for more details).

Then the political implications began to sink in. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”, Winston Churchill advised. It is apparent that many fighting wars online feel exactly that way.

Why are internet lies so successful? First, people want to believe stories that are congenial to their worldview. Corbynites, Leavers and those on the Trump train are obvious examples of this phenomenon, but those on the opposing side of each of these groups can be just as guilty of wishful thinking. Why scrutinise carefully a story that confirms your prejudices?

Secondly, debunking a lie takes time as the facts are established. Previously, journalists would have done the job. But the media’s response to the pressure on costs that the internet has driven was to cut those costs. Among the most expensive costs were the salaries of the journalists who did the fact-finding. So the people who used to do this just aren’t doing this job any more.

I’ve already quoted Winston Churchill so I’d better quote Oscar Wilde as well: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Truth is fractal – the more closely you look at it, the more qualifications you need to put on the assertion. This leaves plenty of scope for argument and the original claim can get lost in an argument over an essentially trivial point. Moreover, the truth is usually quite humdrum. But (this is my thirdly) a lie is subject to no such need for restraint. It needs no nuance and can be as exciting as its creator wishes it to be. And who doesn’t like lurid excitement?

Fourthly, it’s human to want to lead the pack. Once CNN exhorted us to “Be the first to know”. Now we want to be the first to tell. Why check when you can be claiming kudos points?

So, in a news version of Gresham’s Law, bad information drives out good. We hoard the quality stuff and pass on the rubbish.

What can we do to combat this? In short, be sceptical. If you’re told something eyebrow-raising, look for a primary source to back it up. Try to get context.

Be especially sceptical of information that produces a strong emotional response from you. Ask yourself who wants to produce that response.

Don’t be part of the problem. If you are retweeting without first checking your information, you are a vector.

At the moment, fake news is achieving its proponents’ ends spectacularly. In the long run, it will subside as the internet public become more wary of their source material. For now, trust no one.

Alastair Meeks


The betting edges a notch away from Trump completing his first term

Monday, April 16th, 2018

With Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen due to appear in court at 1900 BST in New York there’s been some movement on the “Will Trump complete a full first term” betting on Betfair.

The whole atmosphere has changed since the surprise raid on Cohen’s offices last week and there’s a lot of speculation about what might have been found.

It is reported that Stormy Daniels will be at the hearing. It is also being said that the President is much more concerned about these developments than with the Russia probe.

Although this is a popular betting market it is not one that I have been tempted to enter so far. Trump appears totally determined to remain in post and that stubbornness, surely, will mean that he’ll have to be forced out if he’s to go early.

Mike Smithson


Betfair punters now make it a 66% chance that Trump will survive his first term

Friday, April 13th, 2018

After a quite dramatic week in US politics during which there has been a raid on the law firm that advises the President there has been a slight decline on the betting markets on whether Trump will serve a full first term.

The latest development with strong echoes of Watergate in the early 1970s is that Trump’s lawyer is known to have kept extensive sound recordings of those he had been in conversation with and the President’s allies are concerned that the recordings might have been taken.

Clearly there’s a worry that the Federal investigators might have something that could be highly compromising.

Those of my generation who followed the Watergate investigation in the early 70s that eventually led to the fall of Richard Nixon will recall how secret recordings made in his office became a huge point of contention over which there were big legal battles.

My view is that Trump will make it but who knows. Raiding his personal attorney is quite a development.

Mike Smithson


Trump ups the ante in Pennsylvania 18 staking a lot on his man winning tomorrow’s special election

Monday, March 12th, 2018

A Republican hold would be big boost to the President

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, UK time, I expect to be glued to CNN coverage of the results in the Pennsylvania 18th District special election. This is proving to be a massive battle and the outcome looks set to frame the narrative of how the November midterms are seen.

The President is very aware of this and at the weekend made another highly publicised big visit to the district with a packed rally.

What makes this election, which is on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, particularly interesting is that this is natural Trump territory and at WH2016 the President won there by a margin of 20%. A win by the Democrats would be a sensation. It also might encourage wavering Republican congressman in similar areas not to fight in the November elections.

The Democratic aim of taking the House will be a whole lot easier if they are facing fewer incumbents in key targets. A GOP hold tomorrow could have the opposite effect.

This is from James Arkin of EealCRear Politics

..“The election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District has become a flash point for both parties eight months before this year’s midterms. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by nearly 20 points, but the Democratic candidate is running neck and neck with state Rep. Rick Saccone in the final days of the campaign, a potential sign of both Democratic enthusiasm and apathy among GOP voters.

Trump’s visit was an attempt to reverse those trends and help put Saccone over the top in a district that many Republicans concede should not be so competitive. But it was carries risk for Trump, who could face questions about his ability to generate support for down-ballot candidates if Saccone loses despite campaigning alongside the president…

..Trump did everything he could to tie himself to Saccone on Saturday night. He invited him on stage at the end of the rally, calling him a “good person” and a “very hard worker.” Trump didn’t downplay the significance of the race, saying the whole world was watching, but added that he didn’t want to put pressure on the candidate..”

Clearly Trump was there to motivate his supporters to turnout tomorrow. It might be that it encourages more marginal anti-Trump voters as well.

This hasn’t set off much UK betting interest and, as I write, the Republican is the odds on favourite on Betfair at about 60% with the Democratic contender on 40%. Given the polling it looks like a 50-50 chance so the longest price option is the value bet.

Mike Smithson