Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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New polls: FL OH PA
Dem pickups vs. 2020 Senate: OH
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Can Ways and Means Finally Have Trump's Taxes?

You may have heard this story before, but a court has ruled that Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is allowed to see Donald Trump's tax returns.

Readers will recall that 26 U.S. Code Sec. 6103, which was adopted in 1924 in response to the unsavory behavior of the Warren Harding years, allows certain people in Congress to see the tax returns of any American. The four people who are granted this privilege are the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (i.e., Neal), the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance (currently Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR), the chair of the Joint Committee on Taxation (currently Wyden), and the Chief of Staff of Joint Committee on Taxation (currently Thomas A. Barthold). This law was affirmed by Congress in 1976 when, in response to the unsavory behavior of the Richard Nixon years, legislation was adopted that said that tax returns are confidential unless the filer waives that right. In that update to the tax code, the legislature included a provision stating that the 1924 law was still in effect, and that the right to confidentiality did not extend to the various folks who had been granted special privileges.

The latest court to take a look at the relevant laws, and to decide that they are pretty clear and are entirely constitutional, is the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Back in August, a three-judge panel from that circuit ruled unanimously that Trump had no leg to stand on, and that Neal was within his rights to ask the IRS for the returns. Yesterday's ruling was the entire D.C. circuit declining to hear Trump's appeal. That means that since Neal filed suit in 2019, Trump has lost three times in court. In addition, the Department of Justice and the Congressional Research Service have also sided with Neal.

Trump has one last lifeline, and that, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court. The D.C. Circuit gave him a week to appeal, and it would be a shocker if the former president did not avail himself of the opportunity. Assuming SCOTUS does get it, they could dispense with it pretty quickly by deciding not to take the case. Given the clarity of the statute, and the unanimity of everyone who's looked at the matter, there do not seem to be any great questions of law that demand the Supremes' attention. So they should, and probably will, decline the appeal. Although, with this Court, you never know. If Trump does manage to snag an appeal, and if the Democrats do lose control of the House, then the case would still be resolved. But the new Ways and Means chair (likely Kevin Brady, R-TX) would presumably decline to exercise his newly affirmed authority, and the tax returns would remain secret. So, the former president still might come out on top in this thing. (Z)

A Grift Wrapped in a Con Job inside a Racket

Our apologies to Winston Churchill for that headline, though we actually think he would approve. We already had one item about Donald Trump, and money, and dishonesty. So why not go for two? Politico has a very interesting story about the "joint" fundraising effort between the former president and Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters (R).

To start with, any Trump fundraising is inherently kinda grifty, since he's not a candidate for office, and since he doesn't use very much of his PAC money for its implied purpose of advancing the MAGA agenda. On top of that, however, while the e-mail pitches that Masters is sending to Trump's mailing list make clear that the money will be split between the Masters campaign and the Trump PAC, would-be donors have to dig deep into the fine print to discover what the exact split is, and to change the percentages, if they wish to do so.

So, what's the split, then? Well, it's 99% for Trump and 1% for Masters' campaign. No, you didn't misread that. And remember, these e-mails are coming from Masters, and are framed as an opportunity to help him get elected. It is doubtful that most donors (or any donors?) realize how little of their donation is actually going to the would-be senator. That said, Masters took the deal because some money is better than none. Further, once he knows who donated, he can hit them up again on his own, without having to share with the former president.

We pass this along because it's a pretty stark reminder of two things: (1) Trump still has certain elements of the Republican Party, particularly the grassroots base, wrapped around his finger, and (2) Trump is squeezing that for all it's worth, financially. (Z)

Biden and Harris to Campaign Jointly for Fetterman

It is not common for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to appear together at a campaign event. In part, that's an awful lot of firepower (and an awful lot of security) all at one time. Usually, a political party likes to spread things around. On top of that, there are not a lot of places where both Biden and Harris are a net positive.

Pennsylvania, however, is one of the places where both Biden and Harris apparently are an asset. And the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat is a must-have for Democrats, while Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) could use some assistance as he tries to dispatch Mehmet Oz (R). So, it's all-hands-on-deck time, and the nation's top two Democrats will head to the Keystone State next week. This will mark their first joint appearance outside Washington since January. Said one Democratic operative: "it sends a powerful message in a really important race."

This also affords us an opportunity to share some of the responses we got to our item on Wednesday. As a reminder, the latest Susquehanna poll reports that Biden's net approval is 4 points underwater and Harris' is 19 points under. And yet, against Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, Biden wins by 4 points while Harris wins by a staggering 15 points. This did not make much sense to us, so we threw it open to readers to try to explain the apparent discrepancy:

  • J.H. in El Segundo, CA: I think it makes sense in a weird way. I think that generally, people are approving more of Joe's performance in the current job than Kamala's right now. For the presidential question, though, I think the big issue is Biden's age. I think there are a lot of people who although are supportive of Biden right now, they maybe just want one term out of him and that's why you see higher marks for Harris against Trump. In that question they are visualizing an older Biden running for another term and they believe that a younger woman of color is a more appealing matchup against Trump (I personally think that incumbency is a very strong reason to stick with Biden).

  • G.W. in Framingham, MA: I've had a few conversations with my (now-71-year-old) mother about various Democrats who might or might not be presidential candidates. She voted for Biden, of course, because he was the Democratic nominee, but she didn't support him in the 2020 primary—she thinks he's too old. As an older person herself, and married for 50 years, she has no illusions about the difficulties and impairments that come with being a septuagenarian, and she wanted someone younger, fresher, and more "energetic."

  • D.H. in Richmond, VA: This is my train of thought: Even though Joe is gaffe-prone and often shows signs of senility, he is actually not doing too bad of a job delivering decent policy changes, likely because he has a good team around him. But it's cringeworthy every time he's in front of a camera and he appears as though he's barely going to make it through this presidency, let alone another. Thus, OK ratings on policy, but only marginally better than Donald as a 2024 presidential candidate. Kamala is not winning any popularity contests, and like most VPs, she's relegated to token roles, so not scoring well vs. Joe. However, being a Democrat and given her age and experience as VP, she's a better presidential candidate than Joe.

    In short, Joe barely has this presidency in him and Donald should not be president again and therefore Kamala is the best choice for 2024, (given the choices in the poll).

  • F.R. in Berlin, Germany: I would try to answer this question from the assumption that voters are often low-informed without being intellectually challenged. It is reasonable to believe that Harris is underperforming as VP, if only because she has few tangible accomplishments that would receive positive coverage, and to believe at the same time that she would be a better choice for President: sheer life expectancy is one thing, the different generational background is another, both are concerns for some hypothetical voters.

  • D.C. in Portland, OR: Thankfully, when considering qualifications for Presidency of the United States, one's ability to handle a warm bucket of pi** is of little consequence.

    However there is a sizable portion of the electorate who would prefer a female person of color for President than a doddering old white male octogenarian.

  • D.C. in Pampa, TX: I am frankly stunned by the poll result. That much of a swing is virtually unbelievable. Especially given that virtually no one in my orbit approves of Harris, or they simply do not talk about her, and when she's in the news it's never once been good that I can recall. And she seems to keep being given these impossible tasks... She's the Jared Kushner of the Biden administration: Go solve the border, go solve the Middle East, etc. So, obviously, the headlines are going to have her painted as a failure, being as these tasks are no-win scenarios no matter what happens.

    All that said... If this poll is accurate, and even if it isn't, totally (could they have manipulated the data?)... All I can say in all-caps-and-bold is: AGEISM! People are really not digging the folks of advanced age running the show. It makes people nervous for all sorts of reasons. They could die, or go senile. They're also overwhelmingly set in some old ways and have old ideas that make younger folks distressed, and often cause them to just not vote (is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT the only real notable exception?). Of the folks in my orbit, who are overwhelmingly young progressives, the ones who bothered to vote did so for Biden, but were not enthusiastic. Nay, they were angry that they had to do it. Most of them simply did not vote. For a group who rallies against privilege (be it white, straight, male, religious, or whatever else), it sure shows with the vote abstentions just because there's not a "pure enough" candidate. But I digress... I can't recall a single person, of any position in the political spectrum, who has not brought up his age as cause for concern. And most voters of all stripes were unhappy the only choices were in their 70s-going-on-80s.

    Let's also remember this: Republicans vote when they're angry... and they're always angry. Democrats vote when they are inspired... and they generally are a rather nonplussed group. And let's just say an old white guy talking about the good ol' days is less than inspiring. Meanwhile, voters may be inclined to overlook Kamala's track record in favor of her story, which is at least somewhat inspiring to most people. And substantially so to those who relate to her... e.g., the coveted minority racial and cultural groups, and those allies in the majorities who feel inspired by supporting them.

    When I think of it that way... and considering the stunning 16-point conversion of voters in Michigan over a young and inspiring versus an old and uninspiring candidate, perhaps an 11-point swing to a seemingly dismal potential candidate, but one with a somewhat inspiring story, who is younger and openly feisty for what she believes, isn't so far-fetched.

  • J.M. in Sewickley, PA: Some people might not approve of or like Kamala Harris, but would like to see a woman president.

  • D.R. in Unalakleet, AK: I would venture the following explanation for the odd polling results. While women and Black voters may support Biden over Trump, those groups would support Harris over Trump even more enthusiastically.

  • M.C. in Friendship, ME: Jewish space lasers.

How embarrassing that we overlooked the Jewish space lasers angle.

In any case, there would seem to be three pretty clear lessons here: (1) The Republicans should not run Donald Trump in 2024; (2) If Joe Biden really does stand for a second term, his age is going to be a huge issue, and (3) the time for the Democrats to move on from the pre-Baby Boomer and Baby Boomer politicians may be nigh, and the party machinery might want to start cultivating some younger candidates, particularly if they check at least one or two "diversity" boxes. (Z)

Time to Outlaw Slavery?

The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. You might be under the impression that, once that happened, slavery was outlawed in the United States. And if you are under that impression, you are wrong.

While it's not a secret, exactly, it's not widely known that the text of the Amendment contains one exception to the general prohibition on slave labor:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

The purpose of this exception was to allow for the work-as-rehabilitation programs that have been used in U.S. prisons for centuries. When the amendment was passed in the 19th century, that meant things like chain gangs. Now it means things like making license plates and picking litter up off of freeways.

There are some clear downsides to this approach, however. To start with, either slavery is bad or it isn't. And it would seem that, thanks to that little kerfuffle that took place between 1861 and 1865, the nation has decided that it is. This being the case, the institution should be 100% gone, not 98.5% gone. Further, the work-for-little-or-no-pay bit serves to dehumanize prisoners, and to encourage prison guards to mistreat their charges. This does not help when it comes to rehabilitation and to eventual release.

Three states have already amended their constitutions to prohibit slavery in all situations, including prisons. They are Colorado, Nebraska and Utah. And this year, voters in five states will have a chance to join that list: Vermont, Oregon, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee. It's not terribly surprising to see a Vermont or an Oregon at the forefront of something like this. An Alabama or a Tennessee? That's a little more unexpected, we must admit.

In the end, if it's important to make prisoners work in order to rehabilitate them, then they should be paid for their labor, even if it's only minimum wage. That's not only the decent thing to do, but it might allow them to build up a little capital for use upon release. More broadly, the U.S. has a bad habit of cutting corners when it comes to spending on prisons. This is counterproductive, and if state legislatures aren't willing to spend the amount of money that it actually takes to incarcerate people safely and humanely, then they should look into reducing the amount of people who are imprisoned. As a reminder, the U.S. is far and away the leader in per capita imprisonment; its 715 prisoners per 100,000 residents is considerably higher than the 584 per 100,000 residents in #2 Russia. (Z)

Brazilians Head to the Polls

We're keeping an eye on foreign elections because, as we've explained previously, we are persuaded that some of the forces that are affecting, and in some cases remaking, American politics are global in nature. Some of those global forces, like worldwide inflation, are obvious. Others, like a backlash against increased globalization, are a little more amorphous, and it may be generations before we are able to achieve something approaching full clarity.

This weekend, the people of Brazil will choose their leader for the next four years. The incumbent, who is running for reelection, is Jair Bolsonaro. There may be no world leader who is more Trump-like than the right-wing populist Bolsonaro, who used many of the same tricks as Trump to secure election (e.g., appeals to xenophobia) and who has been very Trump-like while in office (e.g., tax cuts for the wealthy, pandemic denial). Consequently, those Brazilians who love Bolsonaro really love him, and those who hate him, really hate him. Trump has endorsed the Brazilian president, of course.

The challenger is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is popularly known as Lula. Lula already served two terms as president of Brazil, during which time he effectively reinvented the country's main left-wing party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Worker's Party). He was very popular, in part due to his personal charisma and in part due to the economic boom he oversaw. However, his reputation has suffered some since he left office, due to revelations of corruption and other problematic behavior. Lula is now 77.

In short, if we want to put this in American terms, Brazil has got itself a contest between their version of Donald Trump and their version of Bill Clinton. In the first round of voting, Lula came out on top with 48.4% of the vote as compared to 43.2% for Bolsonaro. However, 48.4% is not 50%, which meant that a runoff was called for under the terms of Brazilian law. The runoff is what will take place this weekend.

There are seven different entities who are currently aggregating polls for the second round of voting:

Aggregator Bolsonaro Avg. Lula Avg. Net
The Economist 48% 52% Lula +4
Veja 43.5% 48.6% Lula +5.1
Estadão 44% 48% Lula +4
CNN Brasil 47.9% 52.1% Lula +4.2
PollingData 44% 48% Lula +4
El Electoral 44% 49% Lula +5
Pollstergraph 44.5% 48.3% Lula +3.8

As you can see, Lula is a pretty clear favorite. As a result—and you may want to make sure you're sitting down before you read this next part, so you can cope with the shock—Bolsonaro insiders, with his son Flávio being the loudest, are already claiming that the election is rigged and that a Bolsonaro defeat would be illegitimate and fraudulent. Hmmm, where have we heard this before?

Oh, and right-wing types in the U.S. are picking up on, and repeating, the claims that the Brazilian election is rigged. After all, if one election was rigged (U.S., 2020), then that's an outlier. But if two were rigged (U.S., 2020 and Brazil, 2022), then that's a pattern, and one that speaks to a nefarious global agenda on the part of... someone or something. Maybe the Jewish space lasers. It would seem that we're not the only ones, then, who see a bigger picture here. Albeit our version isn't bat**it crazy. At least, that's our hope. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: All Trussed Up with Nowhere to Go

We are not a close follower of the British media, but we have it on pretty good authority that Harry Cole, the politics editor at The Sun, is kind of a sleazeball. He was, and is, a staunch Brexiter, and one who based his position—at least in part—on xenophobia. He's also not the world's most honest person, and has been caught fudging facts on more than one occasion. Oh, and he's a culture warrior and a gossip.

Anyhow, very recently, Cole decided to partner up with James Heale of The Spectator and to write a book. This was not the sort of book that is a labor of love, or is the culmination of a lifetime's worth of writing and thinking, or is an attempt to add something to the marketplace of ideas. No, it was the sort of book written to make a quick buck while the window of opportunity was still open, and hadn't been seized by some other buck-seeking author.

So, what's the book? Well, its title, until this week, was Out of the Blue: The Inside Story of Liz Truss and Her Astonishing Rise to Power. It was due to be released in early December, just in time for the holidays. Unfortunately for Cole and Heale, although they slapped the book together in a couple of weeks, it just wasn't quick enough. Truss resigned on October 20, of course, meaning that despite the authors' rapid response, they just didn't get to market before the window of opportunity closed.

The publisher of the book, HarperCollins, is trying to salvage the project as best it can. The authors threw together an additional chapter to be inserted at the end of the book. And the volume now has a new title: Out of the Blue: The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss. The book will also be available in electronic form on Tuesday, and will be released in paper form on Nov. 24.

We think this is pretty damn funny on a number of levels, and is certainly a worthy choice for schadenfreude moment of the week. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: The Decline of Fossil Fuels

Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say. And if the planet is going to be rescued from global warming, the change isn't going to come all at once. It's going to be incremental, and we probably won't know for several decades whether a crisis will be avoided, or at least partly avoided.

We note this as prelude to a a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), entitled "World Energy Outlook 2022." The IEA has decided to produce annual, big-picture assessments of where humanity stands when it comes to global warming, thinking that information equals power. And this is the first entry in the series.

The big finding of the report, or at least the one that is getting all the attention, is that fossil fuels are on the way out, albeit slowly. The IEA estimates that human consumption of these fuels will peak in the 2030s, and then will trend steadily downward thereafter, to be (slowly) replaced by renewable and less-eco-unfriendly energy sources.

This is not to say that everything IEA has to say is rosy. Far from it; the whole point of these things is to inspire people a little (we're making progress!) and to scare them a lot (we still have a lot of work to do!). And so, the IEA estimates that fossil fuels will still be a significant part of the energy economy for a while; roughly 60% as late as 2050.

When it comes to the biggest picture, global warming, IEA writes that the world is still on the path to big trouble, with an expected increase in average temperatures of 2.5 degrees Celsius. That's way above the 1.5 degrees that various activist groups have been working for, in hopes of minimizing the worst of the damage. However, even here, the IEA has a sliver of good news, observing that if various nations follow through on the promises they've made, the rise in temperatures will be something like 1.7 degrees Celsius, which is in shouting distance of the goal.

Again, the IEA report is not sunshine and rainbows—that's just not how these things work. But it is clear that at least some progress is being made. And if humanity is going to turn the corner on this literally life-and-death matter, then this is what the first, tentative steps will look like. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Tim Ryan might just pull this thing out. Of course, so might Mehmet Oz. Note that the poll where the New Jerseyan is leading was conducted entirely after Tuesday's debate. Note that in the two Pennsylvania polls, Fetterman was -3 in one and +4 in the other. In almost all polls, the margin of error is about 3-4 points for each candidate. That means a difference of 3 or 4 points doesn't mean much, just due to sampling error, not taking into account methodological errors or nonresponse bias. We are afraid that come Nov. 7, all we are going to be able to say is: "We don't know which party will control the Senate." The country is still on knife edge and will probably continue that way for years unless something very unexpected happens. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Val Demings 45% Marco Rubio* 52% Oct 16 Oct 20 Stetson U.
Ohio Tim Ryan 50% J.D. Vance 46% Oct 20 Oct 23 Baldwin Wallace U.
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 45% Mehmet Oz 48% Oct 26 Oct 26 InsiderAdvantage
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 49% Mehmet Oz 45% Oct 14 Oct 23 Franklin + Marshall Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct27 Trump Ending the DeTente?
Oct27 Trump Is Officially Subpoenaed
Oct27 Democrats on the Upswing
Oct27 Pennsylvania Senate Race: The Day After
Oct27 Georgia Senate Race: Do I Hear Three?
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Oct27 I Am Not a Crook... Unless I Am
Oct27 Today's Senate Polls
Oct26 Fetterman Flops
Oct26 House Progressives Screw Up
Oct26 Congressional Republicans Have Drama, Too
Oct26 Alaska Soap Opera Just Keeps Going
Oct26 The Strangest Poll of this Cycle
Oct26 California Uber Alles
Oct26 Today's Senate Polls
Oct25 Prime Minister Gerald Ford
Oct25 DeSantis, Crist Debate
Oct25 All Eyes on Fetterman
Oct25 Alaska Gone Wild
Oct25 Graham Gets a (Brief?) Reprieve
Oct25 This Isn't Going to End Well
Oct25 Today's Senate Polls
Oct24 Trump Organization Trial to Commence Today
Oct24 Trump Subpoena Chess Game Begins
Oct24 Trump-Greene 2024?
Oct24 Republicans Ride to the Rescue of Stitt
Oct24 It's Chili in Alaska
Oct24 No Go for BoJo...
Oct24 ...But Xi Is Eternal
Oct24 Today's Senate Polls
Oct23 Sunday Mailbag
Oct22 Legal Setbacks All Around
Oct22 Saturday Q&A
Oct22 Today's Senate Polls
Oct21 Another One Bites the Dust
Oct21 Not a Good Day for Debt Forgiveness Opponents...
Oct21 ...Or for Lindsey Graham
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Oct21 This Week in Schadenfreude: Bad Company
Oct21 This Week in Freudenfreude: Doing Right by Wong
Oct21 Today's Senate Polls
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Oct20 What Will Trump Do with Gauntlet Thrown Down by 1/6 Committee?
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Oct20 Democrats Get Bad, Good News When it Comes to the Big Picture
Oct20 Uygur Predicts Democratic Disaster
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Oct20 Question of the Day: The Business of America Is Business
Oct19 Biden Is Pulling Out All the Stops
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