Category Archives for Politics

Brexit Wins

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For better or for worse, the UK has voted to leave the European Union. Personally, I believe this is the right decision. Time will tell.

Trump Made Out Like A Bandit on Miss Universe

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Donald Trump, left, and Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler, of Venezuela, talk during a news conference, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in Doral, Fla. Three of the last six Miss Universe titles have gone to Venezuelan contestants. This year's Miss Universe competition has a unique undertone: It will take place in South Florida, home to the largest number of Venezuelans in the U.S., the majority strongly against the current Venezuelan government. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Donald Trump just filed a new financial disclosure form with the Federal Elections Commission claiming his net worth has risen to $10 billion over the last year. Forbes rebuts that, claiming his net worth has instead dropped from their previous estimate of $4.1 billion to $4 billion.

For the record, I have no idea what Trump’s net worth actually is. And I don’t care. Trump is almost certainly giving an answer higher than the real one. He wants to be called out on the lie. As Scott Adams has repeatedly pointed out, this keeps the conversation in the news. And most people aren’t even listening. For the average person, the takeaway is simple: Trump is really, really rich. The specifics don’t matter – the only argument they hear is an argument over just how really, really rich he is.

But I think Forbes did make a pretty big error in their calculations. Specifically, I think they factored Miss Universe as a loss for Trump last year.To quote their own words:

In fact, we’ve lowered our valuation of the real estate tycoon from $4.1 billion to $4 billion since his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants during his campaign launch speech, which led to the end of his business deals with NBCUniversal, Univision, Serta Mattresses, and Macy’sM, as well as PVHPVH Corp. and Perfumania, the manufacturers of his menswear line and fragrances, respectively. In the wake of these developments, we have dropped the value of his brand to zero (previously, we pegged it at $125 million).

Like most people, I think they’ve missed what actually happened here. To be fair, you had to be paying really close attention to catch it, as the sales numbers and contractual arrangements for Trump’s Miss Universe stake weren’t public. I only caught it by sheer accident. But I’m pretty sure I’ve pieced together what happened, and it’s sheer genius on Trump’s part.

First of all, I don’t disagree that the value of Miss Universe dropped when Trump made his comments about Mexican immigrants. Those business deals were, indeed, canceled. However, what most people miss is that before then, Trump only owned half of Miss Universe. That changed later. On September 11, 2015 (an ironic date), it was quietly announced that Trump was buying out NBC’s half of Miss Universe. Most people missed that. What they didn’t miss was the second part, that came only days later. On September 14, Trump sold all of Miss Universe.

And therein lies the genius. Trump bought the beauty pageant at a deflated price – it was worth less because of his involvement. It had almost no media contracts, destroying its value. But when he sold it, he automatically became uninvolved with it. Which means that the value of the company was much higher, because all of those contracts could now be reinstated for a Trump-less pageant. Or maybe they’d negotiate better ones. The point is, it doesn’t matter. When he bought it, the company was severely undervalued compared to its potential. But that’s not the company he sold. The company he sold had full value (or near to it) again. Remember, it’s an age old adage of investment: the money isn’t made on the sale, it’s made on the purchase. Trump purchased the company at the right time.

Odds are very good that he planned this out as part of his campaign. But even if he didn’t, it shows a remarkable flexibility and the ability to take advantage of opportunity when it knocks.

Again, the actual numbers aren’t public. I can’t prove that this is how it went down. But look at the timing of it. There’s really no other way it could’ve happened. I only noticed because I happened to see the news that he’d bought NBC’s stake on the day it happened. I was laughing at the time, certain that he’d gotten a fire sale price for it. Then a few days later I saw that he’d sold it, and I was laughing even harder.

Trump Trumped NBC, plain and simple.

Bonus thought: the value of Trump’s brand may be lowered or may be raised by the events of his presidential bid. But Forbes has gone full retard by labeling it as “zero.” The eleven million votes he’s received in the Republican primary definitively proves that it’s not zero.

Data Driven Journalism Fails to Live Up to the Hype

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Data Driven Journalism

Data Driven Journalism

When Nate Silver’s weighted polling average model accurately predicted 49 of 50 states in the electoral college in 2008, he became a household name overnight. A few years later, he launched fivethirtyeight.com, and with it the new trend of “data driven journalism.”

In 2012, his critics charged that his models were wrong because the polls he relied on were skewed in favor of Democrats. The actual election proved that his critics were wrong. But it didn’t necessarily prove that Silver was right. The thing is, there were good reasons for the critics to believe that the polls were skewed. The put forth historical models showing how and why they probably were, and the models made sense. But making sense isn’t the same thing as being right, and when election day dawned, we learned that the model was broken.

The problem for Silver and other data driven journalists is that their models aren’t right, either. I wrote a few months ago that Silver’s modeling method would eventually fail, and fail spectacularly. By any honest measure, it has done so in this election cycle. His “polls plus” model, billed as the newer, better, more accurate model simply wasn’t. It actually performed worse in this cycle than his “polls only” model, worse than general weighted polling averages (such as the RCP average), and even did worse than a fictional pundit.

This destined to eventually happen.

Mr. Silver made three cardinal mistakes.

First, he confused the map for the territory. He built a model of the past. His model fits the past with high accuracy. But the past is not the future, and the model is not reality. He found variables with high correlation. Those variables seemed to have a logical causation effect that made sense. So he made a model out of them. But as we noted above, making sense isn’t enough to be right.

Second, statistical models of his sort simply can’t account for Black Swan events such as Donald Trump’s candidacy. Yet the one thing we can say with certainty about Black Swan events is that they will eventually happen. Donald Trump happened, and Silver’s model couldn’t account for it.

Third, Silver let his own opinions and feelings get in the way. He was accused of this in 2012, but the election results vindicated him. This time, Silver simply couldn’t accept that his own model was actually wrong. It happens to the best of us. But it hit Silver hard in 2016.

To be somewhat fair to Mr. Silver, he has acknowledged that this cycle threw his model off. On the other hand, his model is off by far more than he – or most – understand.

First of all, we have to accept that with good polling data, which we’ve mostly had, predicting an election the night before isn’t actually all that hard. The single exception to this is if the polls show a very close race. There are occasional upsets to this, but Nate Silver’s method (basically an advanced weighted polling average run through a Monte Carlo simulation) wouldn’t catch most of those. Still, Silver has done pretty well with this. His polls-plus method called 50 of 56 primaries this way. But his polls-only method, without his extra factors, still did better – 51 of 56.

But this isn’t even very interesting. You could have done just about as well by simply using the RCP polling average the day before the races and looking at who was ahead. Silver seems to be including a few more polls than RCP and weighting them based on past performance. Both techniques are useful and probably provide him with a small edge over RCP. But in both cases, you’re still essentially just looking at the polls the day before a race.

What about before a race? Predicting the race the day before just isn’t very useful. By then, most anybody can do it if they have good poll data available. How did Nate Silver’s polls do a week before each race? A month before each race?

I don’t have the data right at hand, but the answer is “very poorly.” I spent a lot of time checking his forecasts this cycle – which means I watched an awful lot of his predictions swing from “heavily favors someone who isn’t Trump” to “90%+ chances of Trump winning.” Sometimes these forecasts took a month or more to change. Sometimes it happened over the course of a few weeks.

In other words, his “forecasts” were completely and utterly useless more than a week or so ahead of any given race.

And here is where Silver – and data driven journalism as a whole – breaks down. Psychohistory simply isn’t a real science yet. That far in advance, “data driven journalism” doesn’t give any better answers than experienced pundits. It can’t. The science of data analytics simply isn’t good enough, especially in cases like presidential primaries where past data is sparse. Over time we can actually expect these forecasts to do somewhat worse than experienced pundits. Like their conventional brethren, the data driven journalists can’t help but let their biases step in. We saw this very clearly this cycle with Silver, who was certain that Trump couldn’t win the nomination. This is often worse for “data driven journalists” because they are so convinced that their approach is purely analytical. Furthermore, the data driven journalists, although excelling in statistical techniques, lack the experience with the political system to make intuitive calls. When the data isn’t good, or the model isn’t good, their fallback intuition simply isn’t there the way it can be with a seasoned pundit.

On the other hand, we just sat through an election cycle where all the seasoned pundits called it wrong, too. Because seasoned intuition also has trouble with Black Swan events. Except for one thing: many of the seasoned veterans, although predicting a different outcome, did acknowledge that something seemed to be “different” about this cycle. Experience can give you that feel in a way that data often simply can’t.

Data driven journalism is not useless. It has its place. But it will never be the revolution in news that Silver and others have tried to make it.

Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home

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Screw you guys, I'm going home!

Screw you guys, I’m going home!

The same GOP establishment that went insane trying to force Donald Trump to pledge to support the eventual nominee for president is now refusing to support the eventual nominee for president. Here’s a short list of prominent establishment players who are refusing to support Trump:

  • Mitt Romney
  • Paul Ryan
  • George H.W. Bush
  • George W. Bush

Watching grown men pull an Eric Cartman ploy is embarrassing.

On the other hand, the political establishment is in full retreat. Please, guys, please take your toys and go home. We don’t want you here anyway. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Donald Trump is the 2016 GOP Presidential Nominee

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Donald Trump will be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee.

Donald Trump will be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee.

Ted Cruz should have dropped out last week after he got curb stomped in New England. Still, at least he had the sense to drop out after last night’s schlonging. While he still clearly has more ambition than is good for him, he at least didn’t go full Marco. The most embarrassing week in modern politics has probably killed his chances of ever occupying the oval office. But unlike Rubio he also likely hasn’t completely destroyed his political career altogether.

With Cruz gone, there is no longer any doubt. Barring his sudden death, Donald Trump will be the 2016 presidential nominee for the Republican Party.

The Archduke Ferdinand Moment Will Occur in Saudi Arabia

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

King Salman of Saudi Arabia

As I have been stating for some time now, World War IV is upon us (there’s no logical case for not calling the Cold War World War III; 100 years hence historians will name it such). Many refuse to accept it, in large part because the great powers have yet to fully engage. Many are also under the mistaken impression that the war will ultimately be between the US and Russia, as if the Cold War never happened. It won’t be. It will be – and currently is – between the western world – nay, Christendom – and the Islamic world. Indeed, this is what’s already happening as we speak.

With that in mind, the following question arose on Twitter last night:

To which I immediately replied: Saudi Arabia.

A year ago I wrote about the uneasy situation in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the situation has not improved.

I’ve also already noted that oil has historically been overpriced. Middle eastern dictatorships have long relied on this for stability – Saudi Arabia most especially. Their entire nation essentially runs on a patronage system that begins at the top with the Saudi King. He buys loyalty from those directly beneath him – literally buys it – with oil money. And they buy loyalty from those beneath them with that same oil money. And so on. The entire system depends on the flow of oil money.

The recent plunges in oil prices have put this system in mortal peril. The money flow has slowed tremendously. In the past, Saudi Kings would have lowered output in order to push the price back up. But right now they can’t. The obvious reason that everyone is talking about these days is all the new oil sources coming into the market, specifically from fracking in the US, but also from other sources. On top of that, OPEC has lacked the discipline it’s had in the past. If they agreed to cut output, nobody would actually stick to the agreement.

But the other reason is the Saudis themselves. King Salman is caught in a huge catch-22 right now. On the one hand, if he doesn’t cut production and force prices back up it will bankrupt his country. On the other hand, if he cuts production he’ll run out of money to pay his cronies with in the short term. As I’ve noted previously, unlike his older brother King Abdullah, he has not yet had time to truly consolidate his power. He’s also eighty years old, and by all reports not in the best of mental health. And, as I noted in the piece last year, the succession path in the kingdom is currently shaky. It’s uncertain that his recently appointed heir would actually become the next king.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

The Archduke Ferdinand moment in World War IV will come when King Salman dies. Worse, it will likely happen whether he is assassinated or simply dies peacefully in his sleep. Saudi Arabia itself is very likely to face internal civil war. At best it will have a period of serious instability. Its adversaries in the region will not hesitate to take advantage of it. And when that happens, all pretense of stability in the region will collapse.

Why do you think the US government is so desperate to keep those 28 pages of the September 11 report classified? There are plenty of career folks in the State Department who are well aware of how tenuous the situation in Saudi is right now. But they’re fighting a losing battle. No matter what they do, this powder keg is going off.

The avalanche has already started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.

Donald Trump is Unstoppable

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Donald Trump’s quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is essentially over.

trump_winningThere is no longer any path for the #NeverTrump movement to prevent him from gaining 1237 delegates. He now needs only 236 more. By FiveThirtyEight.com‘s targets, he’s at 101% of where he needs to be right now (they have not yet updated to reflect this, or even to reflect the 996 delegates that Google shows him with). He only needs 41% of the remaining delegates to win.

Assuming the win in New Jersey – and he’s all but certain to do nearly as well there as he did in New York – that means he only needs 186 delegates from other sources. There are 96 delegates remaining in proportional states (Oregon, Washington and New Mexico). Assuming that Trump doesn’t have a total collapse, we can expect him to take at least 20-30 of those delegates. At that point, a strong showing in California – or a moderate showing plus a victory in any other remaining state – carries him to victory even without Indiana.

If when Trump wins Indiana next week, he’ll coast through the rest of the primary with ease.

Ted Cruz is an Aspie

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Vox Day has come around to my theory that Ted Cruz is an Aspie:

I didn’t take seriously the claims that Ted Cruz might be autistic until now. Seriously, on what planet is anyone going to support HP-killer Fiorina, particularly in California?

When I first started telling my wife that he was an aspie last fall, she thought I was crazy. Then she started coming around. When I first started posting it publicly a few weeks ago, nobody took it seriously. But the last few weeks have made it almost blindingly obvious. Only an Aspie would make the mistakes that Cruz is making lately. His campaign is falling faster than a lead balloon. I call zero chance of a contested convention at this point.

Cruz Eliminated

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sadtedAs I predicted nearly a month ago, Ted Cruz is now mathematically eliminated form the first round ballot for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. According to Google this morning, Cruz has 562 delegates with 616 still available. That means Cruz has to win 110% of the remaining delegates in order to secure a victory.

The situation is even bleaker than that for Cruz, however. Google shows Trump with 954 delegates. In reality, his total is almost certainly closer to 1000, perhaps over it. His stomp through Pennsylvania last night means that he won a significant number of delegates who were actually “soft pledged” to him. What’s more, a majority of the remaining Pennsylvania delegates pledged to vote for the statewide winner or the winner of their congressional district (Trump won all districts in all five states last night).

Still to come: New Jersey’s 51 winner-take-all delegates are basically a lock for Trump, West Virginia’s 34 direct elected delegates look good for Trump, and there are 96 proportionally allocated delegates still to come. We can expect Trump to get at least a third of the proportionally allocated delegates, so that gives us around 115 more delegates for Trump, which puts him at 1115. California alone can pretty much push him over the edge at that point.

This race is pretty much over. If Trump wins Indiana’s 57 delegates next week, it’s done. There will basically be no path left for the NeverTrump crowd to stop him.

The Stupidest Thing Nate Silver Has Ever Said

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Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com is a smart man who usually says smart things. That’s why it shocked me so much when he said the following last night on Twitter.

natesilverMr. Silver… have you even been paying attention to this campaign?

Rubio’s downfall wasn’t a “break” for Trump. Trump played out a very deliberate campaign strategy over the course of the winter: first he went after Jeb Bush, hard. Then, once Bush was out, he went after Rubio just as hard.

In this instance, I give Trump no special credit for brilliance. The need to do this should have been obvious. Bush’s war chest and hefty endorsement list made him the obvious front runner early in the game. He painted a giant target on his back. Trump – and the rest of the GOP pack – took aim at that target. Repeatedly, and with heavy artillery. Bush went down.

But Rubio was always the obvious second target. Everybody knew that all of Bush’s funding and endorsements would flock to Rubio after Bush. You don’t need to be a regular reader of alt-right blogs to know that Rubio was the establishment’s second choice. The mainstream media was happy to blast it all over the place for us. And don’t forget all of the polling that showed that Rubio was everybody’s second choice.

So Trump went after him. The only “lucky” thing about it was that all of the other candidates piled on, too. But even that isn’t as lucky as it seems. Rubio was an obvious target to them as well, for all the same reasons that Trump was. And Trump aided their decision to follow him in the Rubio dogpile by making himself seem strong enough to be not yet worth it. Remember, when a rabid bear is chasing you, you don’t have to be faster than the bear. You only have to be faster than the guy next to you. Trump was stronger than Rubio, and his opponents joined him in the dogpile.

For the record, this was a huge strategic mistake on their part. First, Trump was the clear front runner even then. Nobody wanted to believe it, but it was true by every standard that had ever applied to any other GOP presidential primary – save two: the endorsement primary and the fundraising primary. But by then it was already clear that Trump was doing well without those two factors. Second, and far worse, by joining the Rubio dogpile instead of going after the front runner, Trump’s opponents demonstrated their cowardliness. They simply didn’t have the courage to take on the front runner and everyone saw it. No matter what else these candidates offer this late in the race, their timidity earlier has dogged them to the end.

Trump didn’t “get a break.” Trump made his lucky break. It was his strategy from the beginning. The difference between him and the other candidates is that his strategy worked where theirs failed.