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New polls: FL OH PA
Dem pickups: OH
GOP pickups: (None)

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:

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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