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If We Can Bet on Sports, Why Not Politics?

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On Tuesday evening, I logged on to PredictIt, America’s favorite political-betting site, to watch the Election Night chaos ensue. People were betting on control of the Senate. People were betting on who’d be elected mayor of San José, California. People were betting on whether Donald Trump would file for another run at the presidency this year. The markets soared and plunged with roller-coaster volatility: User-generated odds on the Georgia Senate race flipped from 55 percent in favor of Herschel Walker to 62 percent in favor of Raphael Warnock in a matter of minutes. Odds of Democrats maintaining control of the Senate were 69 percent at 10:53 p.m., down 10 percentage points five minutes later, and back up 10 percentage points 15 minutes after that. But such is to be expected when you’re betting on assets whose value can plummet to zero or multiply threefold with a wave of Steve Kornacki’s hand.

PredictIt launched in 2014 with a simple premise: For any given political event—an election, voting on a bill, politicians tweeting—traders can buy shares in possible outcomes, priced from one cent to one dollar, with prices corresponding to the probability of that outcome. You can think of this as a hybrid between sports betting and investing in the stock market. As with the former, you’re wagering on an event that will definitively resolve in one of two ways, but as with the latter, you can withdraw your money and either cut your losses or claim your profits at any point prior to that resolution.

Although commercial gambling on politics was and is illegal, PredictIt is not commercial: It is an academic venture launched by economists at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand, and run by the software company Aristotle Industries. No profits, no problem. But this election cycle is likely the last rodeo for PredictIt, which now handles tens of millions of dollars in trades every year. In August, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, without clear explanation, revoked PredictIt’s permission to operate, ordering that it shut down by mid-February. (The CFTC did not respond to a request for comment.)

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Meanwhile, in the eight years since PredictIt began, online sports gambling went from being outlawed nearly everywhere in the country to a booming industry. Together with a group of traders and academics, PredictIt is suing the CFTC for its right to continue doing business. But unless something changes, the site is going to go dark just as online betting goes truly mainstream.

Scrolling through the discussion forums that PredictIt hosts for each market, you will find the same unhinged trolling and rampant disinformation and culture-war battle cries that you will find most everywhere else online. MAGAs are racist morons! Libs are baby-killing pedos! You will find bettors engaging in psychological warfare in an effort to tilt the markets in their favor (“pumps”), and you will find bettors engaging in magical thinking because markets are not tilting in their favor (“copium”). You will find some of the most extreme megalomania observable anywhere on the internet—which is saying something. As outcomes start to become clear, you will find gloating, endless gloating (“Are those Maga tears I am tasting again?” Cowboy_roy asked on Election Night). And if you look hard enough, sprinkled in here and there, you will find a bit of genuinely astute analysis.

For all the inanity, though, the prediction markets are generally quite accurate. The theory is that, with a little skin in the game, laymen will forecast the outcomes of events—elections or otherwise—as well as or maybe even better than experts. And at least a few recent elections have borne this out. In 2016, 2018, and 2020, polls consistently underestimated Republican support; PredictIt outperformed them in a number of big elections in large part by correcting for that skew.

Over the years, these results have given PredictIt’s forecasts an outsize reputation. They have been cited in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Political junkies monitor the markets religiously. According to John Phillips, the CEO of Aristotle, more than 100 academics have used PredictIt in their work. Beyond their entertainment value or academic utility, he told me, betting markets benefit the general public by distilling informed opinion into easily comprehensible predictions for how things will turn out. They may even serve to counter disinformation: If you bet on the basis of falsehoods, you’ll lose your money.

Sensible as it seems, that logic did not translate into accuracy this year. Up until results started rolling in on Tuesday, the markets favored the Republican Senate candidates in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Democrats won all three races. On Election Day, PredictIt gave Republicans a roughly 75 percent chance to take control of the Senate. On the whole, the 2022 elections were a “loss for prediction markets,” the NYU finance professor Arpit Gupta wrote in his newsletter.

Polls predicted a historically good night for Democrats, and that is exactly what transpired. Betting markets predicted another bad night for polls, and exactly the opposite transpired.

“Betting markets this cycle were really bought in on the idea that polls were flawed at best and outright fake in some circumstances,” Alex Keeney, a co-host of a political-betting podcast, told me. “That was a supposition that was baked into betting markets that turned out to be untrue.”

Despite this cycle’s miss, experts still see PredictIt as a valuable resource. Since August, when the future of the site was thrown into limbo, academics and amateur enthusiasts have rushed to PredictIt’s defense, arguing that its markets have genuine utility, whether as a barometer of general vibes, a more accurate forecaster than polling, or just another predictive data point. “I think it’s a real pity,” Eric Zitzewitz, a Dartmouth economist who studies prediction markets, told me. “The information that comes out of election-prediction markets is really useful. Out of all the so-called gambling markets that exist, honestly I think this is the first one that should be allowed, not the only one that should be banned.”

The irony of PredictIt’s imminent demise is made all the sharper by the fact that political betting seems to follow logically from other recent trends in American politics and culture. In recent years, academics and commentators have observed that American politics have become more and more like sports. Voters have taken on the tribal character of die-hard fans, and some media outlets deliberately modeled their coverage on ESPN talk shows.

At the same time, sports are being eaten alive by the rapidly growing sports-betting industry. Just a few years ago, commentators were forbidden from talking odds on air; now gambling is inescapable. Every other advertisement seemingly is for a sportsbook. Channels devote whole shows to betting. Flagship talk shows devote whole segments to betting. You can watch some games themselves on a special broadcast, where the commentators, rather than commenting on the action, talk about gambling. If politics is becoming like sports, and sports is becoming all about betting, it would seem to follow that politics would become more about betting.

In this context, the crackdown on political betting seems somewhat silly. The amount of money changing hands in the world of sports betting absolutely dwarfs the amount spent on political betting (PredictIt traders cannot wager more than $850 in any one market). Why shut it down and let sports betting proceed?

Whatever happens to PredictIt, though, political betting likely is not going anywhere. In the long run, Phillips doesn’t see why prediction markets shouldn’t expand beyond politics to accommodate a far wider range of events. Some are already trying to do so: Kalshi, a new prediction market, allows bettors to wager on a wide variety of events, including inflation rates, COVID waves, and the weather. As it turns out, on another site, Insight Prediction, you can bet on PredictIt’s survival. The price of Yes, as of this writing, is 10 cents. Even if the CFTC follows through on its initial decision to shut the site down, it’s hard not to feel that PredictIt has, in some more meaningful way, already won.

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Trump 2024 is locked and loaded, analyst says

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More than two months after his presidential announcement, Donald Trump now has the key tools he will need to make his entry into the race complete: access to social media.

Recently, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced reinstatement of Trump’s social media accounts following a two-year suspension.

The suspension was levied in the aftermath of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

This was certainly good news for the Trump campaign and his legion of loyal and dedicated supporters.

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However, as the wreckage inflicted on that cold January day still lingers, political opponents, real and perceived, are bracing for the potential dangers that could lie ahead.

In 2016, Trump used social media to great effect in his bid to win the U.S. presidency. During his tenure in the White House, he often made news and kept the entire media landscape on edge with a robust social media presence. His posts ran the gambit from inflammatory to bewildering.

CLAIMS SHATTERED NORMS OF PRESIDENTIAL ETIQUETTE

The unceasing and outlandish claims made by the former reality television star shattered the norms of presidential etiquette. Even accusing former president Barack Obama of spying on him! Like a maestro leading an orchestra, his cadre of henchmen and followers soon began to play along as if on cue.

Donald Trump, over the years, enlisted a powerful chorus of voices from Congress, the media, state capitals and beyond all belting out conspiracy theories, laced with violent undertones, on one note; one accord; in unison.

The twice-impeached ex-president has access to all the social media tools that not only fuelled his political rise but also served as a catalyst to the growing political violence playing out across the nation.

With 34 million followers on Facebook; 23 million on Instagram; and 87 million on Twitter; Trump has built a formidable and engaged audience that hangs on his every word.

AN ALREADY FRAGILE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

Showing no remorse and characterizing the suspension as an injustice, the ex-president said on Truth Social, his own social media platform: Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting president, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!

Trump has continued his penchant for perceived grievances and victimization exacerbating an already fragile and unstable political landscape. Now, with the ability to enact a mob in 280 characters or less, Donald Trump wields these accounts like a loaded weapon.

Political onlookers are bracing for the onslaught as the ex-president ramps up his presidential campaign. Laura Murphy, an attorney who led a two-year audit of Facebook stated: I worry about Facebook’s capacity to understand the real world harm that Trump poses…

This “real world harm” Murphy describes is already a stark reality. Recently released video footage of the violent attack on the husband of former U.S. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is sending a collective shiver through the political class.

The assailant, David DePape, 42, claimed: “I’m sick of the insane f——— level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C.” He is charged with attempted murder, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening a public official. Some on the right, including Donald Trump Jr., made fun of the attack, sharing an image of a Paul Pelosi Halloween costume that included a hammer, as it was a hammer that was in the assault.

In the aftermath of the recent 2022 midterm elections, the nation breathed a sigh of relief as the results came and went with no acts of violence and the results reported largely without incident. Unfortunately, that moment of euphoria was only fleeting.

Failed GOP candidate, Solomon Peña, was arrested by Albuquerque police accused of paying and conspiring to shoot candidates that won. Prior to the attacks, Peña (like Trump) alleged the election results were fraudulent. An arrest warrant affidavit obtained from police says the suspect “intended to (cause) serious injury or cause death to the occupants inside their homes.”

Trump’s proclivity for subjecting maximum cruelty on others has been a mainstay since he entered politics. His affinity for tyrannical government; fascist and dictatorial leaders; combined with an ambivalence for democratic institutions makes his return to the political arena fraught with peril.

TRUMP FIRMLY BACK IN CONTROL OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

In a recent article, columnist Charlie Sykes described Trump’s penchant for violence as: Brutality is an ideology, not just an impulse. Many of the MAGA crowd eagerly subscribe to this ideology. Close confidante and fellow MAGA conservative, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene, said recently at a Republican event in New York, if she had organized the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “we would have won” and “it would’ve been armed.”

Donald Trump’s inner circle continues to push the big lie and foment violence. Now that Trump is firmly back in control of his social media accounts, nothing stands in his way of once again eschewing political safeguards and standards in favor of amplifying sharp, abrasive, and yes, violent rhetoric aimed at perceived enemies and institutions.

Trump’s hold on rank-and-file Republicans remains just as strong today as it did the day he descended that gold-plated escalator in 2015. His loyal lieutenants continue to engage in violent and inflammatory language and some have even escalated to full-scale physical attacks on their opponents as evidenced by recent events in New Mexico and San Francisco.

Trump 2024 is locked and loaded and many would-be targets are in the crosshairs. By allowing Trump back on social media, companies such as Meta and Twitter might think they are lowering the political temperature. However, Trump’s truculence knows no bounds and could certainly end up backfiring. That fire nearly consumed the nation on January 6. Now, with a second chance, Trump gets to finish what he started.

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Canada politics: NDP to talk health care with Trudeau – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he would sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to discuss private health care ahead of next week’s summit with premiers.

Trudeau is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa next Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal.

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“The deal will be a failure if it doesn’t include major commitments to hire more health-care workers,” Singh said Monday, adding that the funding should be kept within the public system.

The last time Trudeau and Singh met one-on-one, as outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, was in December.

Singh said now is the time for the Liberal government to make clear that funding private health-care facilities will not improve the shortage of health-care workers Canada is facing.

On Monday, legislators’ first day back at the House of Commons after a winter break, the NDP requested an emergency debate on the privatization of health care. The request was denied.

During the first question period of the year, Trudeau said his government will continue to ensure the provinces and territories abide by the Canada Health Act.

“We know that even as we negotiate with the provinces to ensure that we’re delivering more family doctors, better mental-health supports, moving forward on backlogs, supporting Canadians who need emergency care, we will ensure the Canada Health Act is fully respected,” Trudeau said.

“In the past, this government has pulled back money from provinces that haven’t respected it. We will continue to do that.”

Singh said that while health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, he believes the federal government could be using the Canada Health Act more aggressively to challenge for-profit care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.

“We think the federal government should be making it very clear that the solution to the current health-care crisis will not come from a privatization, for-profit delivery of care. It’ll only come by making sure we hire, recruit, retain and respect health care,” Singh said.

“Health care is already dramatically understaffed, and for-profit facilities will poach doctors and nurses — cannibalizing hospitals, forcing people to wait longer in pain and racked with anxiety.”

The New Democrats say they’re also concerned that private facilities will upsell patients for brands and services not covered by the province, and tack on extra fees and services.

Singh spent some of Parliament’s winter break holding roundtable discussions on health care in British Columbia to discuss emergency room overcrowding and worker shortages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.  

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Prime Minister stands behind newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia – The Globe and Mail

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Amira Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence from a 2019 article co-authored that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood by his newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia as the country marked the sixth anniversary of the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting, while the Quebec government and federal Conservatives called for Amira Elghawaby to step aside.

Outcry over her appointment dominated headlines in Quebec. The backlash stemmed from a 2019 article co-authored by Ms. Elghawaby – a particular line of which was perceived as showing anti-Quebec sentiment. The piece opposed Bill 21, the Quebec law that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.

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After criticism was raised last week, Mr. Trudeau said he expected Ms. Elghawaby to clarify her remarks, which she did, saying she does not believe Quebeckers are Islamophobic. Mr. Trudeau said Monday he is satisfied and wants to move forward.

Ms. Elghawaby’s mandate – to support the federal government in rooting out Islamophobia and highlight the diverse experiences of Canadian Muslims – has grown increasingly urgent. In recent years, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed. And, over the past five years, Canada has taken the dark title of the Group of Seven nation with the highest number of Islamophobic killings, advocates note.

“There are anti-Muslim sentiments across Canada,” Ms. Elghawaby said. “This is not a Quebec issue. This is a Canadian issue.”

Amid the fracas, Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment is being celebrated by Muslim and non-Muslim advocates alike.

Stephen Brown, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, or NCCM, said they are very happy to see Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment, noting she has a long history of advocating for Muslims, is bilingual and very dedicated.

He said the recommendation for the role came out of the National Summit on Islamophobia, in 2021, after the killing of four members of one Muslim family – the Afzaals – in London, Ont., which police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Six Muslim men were killed and another 19 injured in the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017.

Born in Egypt, Ms. Elghawaby was a baby when her family immigrated to Canada, where her father worked for decades as an engineer with the federal government and her mother raised her and her siblings in an east-end Ottawa suburb.

When Ms. Elghawaby decided to start wearing a head scarf – while studying journalism at Carleton University in the early 2000s – she recalled her father warning her against it. He worried about the barriers that a visible marker of faith could pose, she said.

“I remember telling him, ‘I really believe that Canada is a place where I can put on the head scarf and I can still contribute and I can still succeed,’” she said.

Despite the realities of Islamophobia – ones that cause her to be on guard while at mosque – Ms. Elghawaby said she has always had immense hope for Canada.

Over a career spanning two decades, Ms. Elghawaby has written for CBC News and held forth as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star; been a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network; and worked with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and, most recently, for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

In interviews, several people said Ms. Elghawaby is known for her work building connections across communities.

Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, described Ms. Elghawaby as very concerned with how Islamophobia ties into women’s rights and to anti-Black racism, as well as issues of antisemitism.

She pays attention to “the need for real bridge-building and conversations,” Ms. Douglas noted. “You often found her where there’s lots of cross-cultural communications happening.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, called Ms. Elghawaby the “perfect appointment.”

“We are living in very dark times,” he said. “Most people allow the darkness to envelop us. Amira is quite the opposite. She insists that there is light.”

He said Ms. Elghawaby has been instrumental in bringing Jewish and Muslim leadership together for difficult conversations. He also described doing trainings – he on antisemitism and she on Islamophobia – for police agencies.

And together, the pair authored the 2019 column that elicited criticism from some.

The pair wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment. A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebeckers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”

Ms. Elghawaby said the pair had seen Montreal Gazette reporting on the poll, which stated that “anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be the main motivation for those who support a ban on religious symbols,” and that the poll found most Quebeckers supported Bill 21.

Mr. Brown, of the NCCM, said no one felt that Léger was “Quebec bashing” when it put those numbers out.

Sarah Mushtaq, a community advocate in Windsor, Ont., who writes columns for the Windsor Star, said Ms. Elghawaby’s kindness and wisdom – and ability to navigate tense issues – have made an impact on her.

Part of being a Muslim in the public sphere means that, sometimes, “no one is ever happy with what you said,” she said.

“You never know how certain comments are going to get dug up and misconstrued,” she added.

She said the role of a federal representative dedicated to combatting Islamophobia is “long overdue” and it’s important that a visibly Muslim woman is filling it.

“Despite the naysayers, there’s a lot of people who are grateful that this role exists,” she said. “We are behind her.”

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