Archive for the ‘Intrade’ Tag

Ahmadinejad ally impeached in Iran

The Majlis, Iran’s 290-seat parliament, has impeached the country’s Interior Minister, Ali Kordan, on a vote of 188-45.  Kordan, an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was impeached for, among other things, flasely claiming a degree from Oxford University.  He was questioned about his qualifications during his confirmation hearings three months ago; there had been concerned that he was unqualified, but he was narrowly confirmed after he produced an English-language certificate that purported to be from Oxford, despite numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes.

The Flag of Iran includes the phrase Allahu Akbar ("God is Great") is repeated 22 times

The Flag of Iran includes the phrase Allahu Akbar ("God is great") repeated 22 times in stylized script.

During his impeachment trial, Kordan’s defended himself by claiming that his impeachment was a conspiracy including–who else?–the United States and Israel.  President Ahmadinejad said that degrees are just “torn paper” and not really necessary.

Kordan’s removal from office is seen as a blow to President Ahmadinejad, who is not perceived as having delivered on promises to improve the country’s economy; Iranians often accuse him of spending too much time denouncing the United States and not enough time running Iran.  He recently said that oil prices would not fall below $100 per barrel; oil is currently selling for $60 per barrel, which makes improving Iran’s economy, whose chief export is petroleum, more difficult.

Ahmadinejad is up for re-election next year; if the United States isn’t an issue in the campaign, it’s likely he’ll lose.  Hopefully the Obama administration can avoid antagonizing the people of Iran or doing anything to make them rally around their leader.  Since October 29th, the chances of his re-election, as assessed by Intrade speculators, has fallen from 70% to just 32.5%.

News and thoughts on California’s Proposition 8

MSNBC reports that the contest to pass or defeat California’s Proposition 8 is the second most expensive political battle in the country this year, trailing only the bajillions of dollars being spent by McCain and Obama—but mostly Obama—in their battle for the White House.  Proposition 8, which I previously blogged about here, would amend the California Constitution to remove the right of same-sex couples to marry.  This blog opposes the measure and hopes that Californians will defeat it at the ballot box on Tuesday.

Flag of California

It may be the best state flag with writing on it... but it's still got writing on it! Grrr.

The latest polls indicate that 49% of respondents intend to vote no (and support protecting the rights of same-sex couples) and 44% intend to vote yes (and remove the marriage rights of same-sex couples); the remainder are undecided.  Apparently, most people who are undecided in the final days of such campaigns on controversial social issues tend to vote no.  So, the smarter money would be on the measure not passing, though it is sure to be close.  Incidentally, Intrade speculators are indeed putting their money on it not passing; current market consensus is that it has about a 25% chance of success.

I am disappointed and distraught that Proposition 8’s main supporters are, with no exceptions that I know of, all part of my own religious tradition, Christianity.  Formerly, Christians like William Wilburforce—who successfully lobbied against the slave trade—and Martin Luther King, Jr.—who championed civil rights—were all about expanding human freedom; it’s unfortunate that that’s not the case in the present instance.  It is furthermore unfortunate that Prop 8 supporters and others similarly minded people—when they address the issue at all—make such flimsy arguments about why the parts of the Mosaic Code that they want to impose on other people must still be followed but the parts that they don’t want to be held to don’t apply any more.  I think they also damage their standing with their claims about the alleged harms of permitting same-sex marriage, which, at best, are all out of proportion to the evidence and, more commonly, are in direct contradiction to it.

Andrew Sullivan has interesting blog posts here and here on the enourmous amount of money that Later Day Saints (Mormons) are donating to the pro-8 cause.  Though they’re only about 1.5-1.8% of the state’s population, apparently about 30-40% of all pro-8 money is coming from Mormons (not all of them in-state).  The second Sullivan piece indicates that the total might be as high as 77%, but that figure seems insufficiently sourced and is pretty unbelievable to me.  He writes that LDS efforts are “about consolidating the Mormon church into the wider Christianist movement. If the Mormons can prove their anti-gay mettle, they will be less subject to suspicion from evanglicals.”  He quotes another gentleman who says that “For whatever reason, [Mormons are] trying to get some respect from other religions. … They’ve always been looked down upon by the Christians, the Catholics, and evangelicals” but would gain credibility if the marriage succeeds.  An interesting analysis.

The LDS Church is by no means monolithic, however (few religions are).  Mormons for Marriage have an excellent website explaining why they respectfully oppose Proposition 8 and are actively working to promote marriage rights.  (It strikes me as Orwellian how so many groups that are against marriage rights for certain people get themselves considered the “pro marriage” side.)  Check out their site; it’s very well organized and contains lots of information.

I feel that it’s very likely that by 2030 same-sex marriage will be legally available to most, if not all, Americans.  This current opposition is another one of those things some Christians think is a really good idea (and others think is really bad) that the church is going to have to come to terms with  and eventually apologize for.  Sort of like slavery, the inquisition, and the crusades.  Though I will say that taking away a person’s right to marry is nowhere near as bad as taking away his or her life or freedom.  Society is making progress; we’ve decided that it’s not okay to kill or enslave people and now are discussing if it’s okay to let them marry.

Anyway, here are some No On Prop 8 ads that imitate Apple’s “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” ads.  Even if you disagree with the points raised, you may find them amusing.  I especially like the second one which features the Constitution of California, who’s a lot more attractive than I thought she’d be, given that she’s one of the longest state constitutions in the country, albeit nowhere near as long as the monstrosity that Alabama uses.

California polls close at 8:00 pm local time, 11:00 pm eastern time.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this initiative.

Obama targetting Arizona

Arizona's flag is quite good.  But don't worry, I'm sure there'll soon be news from a state with a sucky flag.

Arizona has a good flag. But don't worry, I'm sure there'll be news from a state with a lame one soon.

CNN indicates that Barack Obama is going to air ads in John McCain’s home state of Arizona.  They say that Arizona would be a key swing state if not for the fact that McCain is from there; the Republican only leads 49–45 with 6 percent undecided.  McCain’s residency and his long representation of the state in the Congress is probably worth at least 4 points; the state would probably be looking bluish, like neighboring New Mexico and Colorado if the GOP had nominated someone else.

Intrade speculators think it is 4.35 times more likely that McCain will win Arizona than that Obama will do so.  However, they may not have had time to factor in Obama’s latest decision into the pricing.  In any event, Obama’s only goal probably isn’t to win Arizona’s 10 electoral votes, though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind them.  He’ll probably consider the expenditure worth it if it simply creates the impression that McCain is embattled and struggling even to win his home turf.  Hmm.  It seems to be working.

Readers may recall that Democrat Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000; had he won it, he’d have been president.

Obama’s stock rises after final debate

In the hour or so since the third and final presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, expectations of an Obama victory have increased.  At least according to Intrade speculators.

Prior to the debate, investors thought there was about an 80% chance of an Obama victory and about a 21% chance that McCain would win.  Following the debate, Obama is now running at 84.1% and McCain has fallen to 16%.

Recent poll numbers indicate that Obama would win if the election were held today.  If those numbers remain unchanged as the next three weeks pass, we should expect to see the value of an Obama contract to rise further, as the time for McCain to mount a comeback slips away.

My thoughts on Biden-Palin debate

The Vice Presidential Seal.  Who will get to use it post January 20th, Biden or Palin?

The Vice Presidential Seal. Who will get to use it starting on January 20th, Biden or Palin?

Like many Americans, I was very eager to see Joe Biden and Sarah Palin go head-to-head in the first and only Vice Presidential debate. Though the two are the Number Twos on their respective tickets, I have found the veep debate has been very much worth watching in both of the past two election cycles (I thought Cheney scored clear victories in both 2000 and 2004).

This time, to use a boxing analogy, there clearly wasn’t a knockout, nor even a knockdown; but I think that there were several solid blows landed, all of them by Biden, who I’d say won on points. He didn’t commit any gaffes, nor did Palin say anything really dumb. Without repeating things that the pundits have already gone over to death, here are some disparate observations of mine that haven’t been talked about (much) in the media. Please forgive the meandering format.

The first thing that struck me during the debate came when the candidates came out and shook hands. Palin asked her Democratic counterpart “Can I call you Joe?”, a request to which he apparently assented, though his mike didn’t pick up his response. I guarantee you that this was carefully planned and done for the audience at home, to play up the governor’s friendliness and make her seem down to earth. Do I have evidence? Yes: the transcript. The word “Joe” crossed Palin’s lips exactly two (2) times: once a reference to the average American “Joe Six Pack” and the other at the end of “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” which was probably her best line of the night.

Palin tried to paint Obama as a big tax hiker, a claim that I think Biden countered effectively, stressing that 95% of taxpayers will get a tax cut and that no taxpayer making under $250,000 would see an increase under Obama’s plan. He stressed the importance of helping the middle class and their importance to our economy and painted McCain’s tax plan as simply tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. He repeated the point—effectively, I think—and parried the Palin attempt to paint the Democratic ticket as big tax hikers. His line that McCain’s health plan is “the ultimate bridge to nowhere” was pretty lifeless, though I guess he had to get that in there somehow to remind voters of Palin’s flip-flop on the bridge.

I think that Biden also effectively defended his ticket from the charges that they want to cut-and-run from Iraq or, as Palin put it, hoist “the white flag of surrender.” Delaware’s sernior senator pointed out that Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq is pretty much the same as that of its Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and will draw down U.S. troops over about a year and a half. Biden’s best line of the night came after Palin talked about McCain’s exit strategy, or, as Biden put it, the lack thereof: “With all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.” Personally, I think the plan is just to keep repeating the words “victory,” “Iraq,” and “McCain” together in the same sentence a whole bunch of times until voters simply feel that McCain will win the war while Obama will surrender somehow.

Throughout the night, Biden tried to tie McCain’s positions to those of George W. Bush, on both domestic issues and foreign policy and; he wanted to show that there was no difference between them the nominee and the, very unpopular, incumbent. One effective moment for Biden was when he brought up each of the globe’s current hot spots seriatim and asked how McCain’s views differ from Bush’s, with the clear implication that they don’t. [Note: FireFox’s spell checker doesn’t recognize “seriatim” as a word.]

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that we spend as much every three weeks on combat operations in Iraq as we have in the past 7.5 years in rebuilding Afghanistan. If this is true, that’s almost a good sign: it won’t cost that much to significantly increase our efforts to get that poor country on it’s feet. C’mon, guys, cough up the dough.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag?  Too bad it's nothing special.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag? Too bad it's nothing special.

On climate change, an area where there is some disagreement between McCain and his running mate, Palin admitted that it’s real and that there’s “something to be said for man’s activity” in causing it, but she didn’t want to argue about the causes, just the solutions. Biden voiced what I was thinking at that point: without knowing the causes you can’t solve the problem! He pointed out that McCain has voted against alternative energy frequently and tried to make Obama look friendlier to renewables, though I don’t think he was as effective on the point as he could have been. “Drill we must,” he said, but it’ll take 10 years for that oil to hit the markets. Unfortunately, Obama’s plans—and any plans—for new technology will also probably have a time horizon of about a decade.

Joe Biden went toe-to-toe with Palin over how their family lives put them in touch with regular Americans, a possible strength for the truly and obviously middle class Governor of Alaska. Biden got genuinely choked up when talking about the death of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident that also critically injured his two sons. For a guy who has spent over a third of a century in the United States Senate, he doesn’t do too bad on the “seems like a normal guy” test.

Anyway, Palin beat expectations in the debate, but I don’t think by enough to make any real difference; vice presidential debates rarely do. To the surprise of no one, Biden’s answers on foreign policy were much more nuanced and contained more specifics and details. I didn’t get the impression that Palin’s on foreign policy questions had any depth to them, though she seems to have done a good job of studying her briefing books. I think she’s fortunate that the debate format didn’t allow for questions from the other candidate or for serious follow up questions from the moderator, either of which I think would have exposed her shallow grasp of the various issues.

She came off as being on message and my assesment of her political skills has accordingly gone up; she avoided a possible disaster and a bad performance from her in this debate could have been a mortal blow to McCain’s chances. But I still don’t think that Sarah Palin will make a good vice president at this point in time—she should have been groomed for higher office longer before being thrust onto the national stage. One thing they definitely should have worked on is her pronunciation of nuclear; she says noo-cu-lar, like George W. Bush does. That’s not a good sign.

The political futures markets have given a good sign to Barack Obama and his supporters, however. Following the debate, Intrade contracts on an Obama victory have risen to 67.0 and those for a McCain victory have fallen to 33.0, movement of about 4 points or so up and down, respectively. The chances that Palin will be withdrawn as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee fell in post-debate trading from 10.5% to just 4.1%. The chances that Biden will be withdrawn from his ticket only fell from 5.7% to 4.9%.

Anyway, the race goes on. The next presidential debate, which will be town hall format, will be held Tuesday night starting at 9:00 pm EST. The election itself will be held one month from today, on November 4th.

Presidential polling possibly problamatic

CNN’s newest poll of polls puts Democrat Barack Obama up over Republican John McCain, 48-43, which is where they stood prior to the first presidential debate.  Polls can be big news at this point in an election cycle, and while all the usual caveats apply, this year’s contest may involve some factors which makes the data less reliable than we’d expect.

The first variable could be the so-called Bradley effect, named for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley.  An African American, Bradley lost the 1982 gubernatorial election in California by 1.2% despite leading in pre-election polling.  Some suspect that many poll respondents who said they intended to vote for him only dis so because they didn’t want to appear racist.  If the Bradley effect is in effect, then Barack Obama’s actual support may be lower than polls indicate; some people who are actually leaning McCain or who really are totally undecided may be saying they’ll support the Democrat just so they don’t feel like the pollster is judging them as a racist.  In the anonymity of the voting booth, this pressure wouldn’t be there.  Helps: McCain

People who exclusively use cell phones may also be influencing polls by not influencing them.  Voters who don’t have a land line are much more likely to be young, minorities, and lower income, all demographics among which Obama has more support, but they are less likely to be questioned by a pollster.  (Younger people are also less likely to be married and to own a home, factors which correlate with somewhat more conservative political views.)  However, pollsters can attempt to correct for this bias; they usually ask demographics questions of their respondents and can tell if a particular demographic is significantly underrepresented in their samples.  If a demographic is underrepresented they can then weigh the responses of those people more heavily to try to approximate their numbers in the general population.  But research indicates that even correcting for age, people who exclusively use cell phones tend to support Obama more heavily than McCain.  Some polling experts, however, believe the difference is negligible or non-existent, given their ability to correct for sampling bias.  Helps: Obama

Then, even if the polls are accurate about current voter intent, one must still try to figure out which of those voters will actually go to vote on November 4th. Obama’s supporters are significantly more likely than McCain supporters to be “very enthusiastic” about their candidate.  Obviously, higher enthusiasm correlates with greater likelihood of actually voting for the guy you say you like.  Helps: Obama

But not so fast.  Older voters, who tend to support McCain, are historically more likely to vote than younger citizens, among whom Obama has such a big lead.  Will the youth vote disappoint again, as usual?  Helps: McCain

What does it all mean?  Who knows.  It’s impossible to tell even how much any one of this factors will come into play, let alone what the aggregate effect will be. Maybe we should pay less attention to polls and more attention to the political futures markets? Intrade speculators are moving towards Obama; market prices indicate that speculators think there is about a 64% chance that Obama will win.  They also favor him in all of the battleground states, predicting that he has a 53.5% chance to win Ohio, 54.5% chance to win Virginia, and 54.5% chance to win Florida, which is virtually must-win for McCain.  Obama is also up big in Colorado (68% chance to win) and has pulled close in North Carolina (48% chance to win).

Intrade markets predict Obama victory

Following last night’s first presidential debate, speculators playing the Intrade prediction markets still anticipate an Obama victory on November 4th.  Intrade is a gambling site where you can bet real money that a certain event will or won’t happen, and the presidential election is just one such event; you buy shares that will pay a fixed amount, I believe $10, if the event happens and nothing if it doesn’t; the value of the shares varies as people buy and sell them as their perception of the likelihood of the event occurring rises and falls.

At this moment, shares that will pay $10 if Obama wins (and nothing if he doesn’t) are trading at $5.60 and shares that will pay $10 if McCain wins (and nothing if he doesn’t) are trading at $4.36.  This means that gamblers—or investors, if you prefer—think there is about a 56% chance Obama will win and about a 43.6% chance that McCain will win; this is a slight move in Obama’s favor since last night’s debate.  They also sell shares for the contests in each of the 50 states plus the district of Columbia.  Currently, speculators think that Obama will win 311 electoral votes and McCain will gain 227, this is with the Democrat winning Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and, by the thinnest margins, Ohio.

These predictions markets are somewhat like polls in how they attempt to gauge support and predict the ultimate outcome.  However, unlike polls, they anticipate future moves: investors knew that Obama’s poll numbers would rise during the Democratic convention and McCain’s during the Republican convention and share prices took this into account and didn’t move when the expected bumps came.

People interested in the outcome of the election, which is hopefully everyone, may find it interesting to watch the political futures markets.  By putting real money at stake, they attempt to harness the wisdom of crowds, which is often better at predicting the future than even what experts say.

I recently saw the wisdom of crowds at work, though in a considerably different context.  One gentleman, a fireman, had shared an anecdote about the aluminum siding on a house melting in the course of one conflagration he witnessed.  This got me to asking what the melting point of Aluminum is; I didn’t know, and neither did anyone else.  Eventually, I took guesses from everyone to see who could come the closest, promising a prize to the winner.  There were ten guesses, ranging from 162.5° F all the way up to 3200° F.  The actual melting point of Aluminum is 1220.6° F; the two closes guesses were 550° and 1800°.  However, if we’d taken the average of all the guesses (omitting the guess of 8° by the two year old son of one attendee) we’d have 1031.95°—which would have been, by far, the most accurate and would have won the prize: a nickel.

In any event, if you find poll numbers interesting, check out the Intrade prediction market, it just may prove more accurate than Gallup.