Monday Reads


Good Morning!

Nate Silver continues to be the best source of poll analysis during this endless presidential campaign season.  The Romney path to electoral victory is still pretty nonexistent even if he did give them the old razzle dazzle in Denver last week. I guess the Romney Lie Fest got less of a bump than the usual challenger victory in the first debate.

A 3-point gain for Mr. Romney would be consistent with what candidates received following some of the stronger debate performances in the past. It would also make the national race very close. The FiveThirtyEight “now-cast” had Mr. Obama ahead by an average of about 4.5 percentage points between the conventions and the debate. (This is higher than the average result from the national tracking polls alone, which have been a pinch less favorable to Mr. Obama on balance than the broader consensus of surveys.) A 3-point gain for Mr. Romney would imply that Mr. Obama’s advantage is now only 1 or 2 points, putting Mr. Romney well within striking distance depending on how well the rest of the campaign goes for him and how accurate the polls turn out to be.

However, the fact that Mr. Romney did not make further gains in the polls on Sunday can be read as mildly disappointing for him. The way tracking polls work is to replace the oldest day of interviews with fresh interviews conducted the previous day. In the Sunday release of the polls, this meant that interviews from Saturday were replacing a day of interviewing from before the debate. The fact that the Saturday interviews that entered the polls were roughly as strong for Mr. Obama as the predebate day of interviews that they displaced is an encouraging sign for Mr. Obama — at least as compared with most of the polling news that he has received since the debate.

There’s an interesting article on voter fraud in Washington Monthly.  Interestingly enough, the focus is on mail-in ballots which weren’t a focus in any of the voter restriction laws that were passed this year primarily because they frequently favor republicans. There’s actual research now that shows that voter ID laws are likely to increase fraud.

What do forged absentee ballots and vote-buying have in common? They occur more often than in-person impersonation (which is virtually non-existent) and are unaffected by voter ID laws. What’s more, states like Florida and Texas, which recently enacted legislation making it harder to vote in most respects (laws currently being challenged by the courts and the DOJ) feature no-excuse absentee voting, making it easier to commit fraud that way. As Liptak explains, that’s probably no coincidence: “Republicans are in fact more likely than Democrats to vote absentee. In the 2008 general election in Florida, 47 percent of absentee voters were Republicans and 36 percent were Democrats.” (Liptak adds: “Voters in nursing homes can be subjected to subtle pressure, outright intimidation or fraud.”)

The moral of Liptak and Fahrenthold’s stories is this: people just aren’t willing to commit a felony to vote in someone’s place—the only kind of fraud ID laws target. Rather, politicians themselves usually commit the fraud, by forging absentee ballots or paying people to vote for them. In addition, when states enact restrictive voter ID laws, it only encourages them to vote by mail, where errors and corruption is more rife.

I haven’t had any references to good graphs recently so I thought I’d link you to this Chart Book that shows you how serious the Great Recession actually was from CBPP.  It also shows how much worse the economy would have been without stimulus.  Can you image how much better we could be by now if the Republicans hadn’t gotten in and blocked more efforts to improve the economy?

The Recovery Act was designed to boost the demand for goods and services above what it otherwise would be in order to preserve jobs in the recession and create them in the recovery. The Congressional Budget Office finds that GDP has been higher each year since 2009 than it would have been without the Recovery Act (with the largest impact in 2010 when GDP was between 0.7 and 4.1 percent higher than it otherwise would have been). The economy is still benefiting from the Recovery Act in 2012, although as expected that effect is diminishing as the economy grows; CBO estimates that GDP in the third quarter of 2012 will be between 0.1 and 0.7 percent larger than it would have been without the Recovery Act.

Again, congress appeared absolutely unconcerned about this devastating economic event.  WAPO indicates there’s a good reason.  Most of them actually got richer or were immune from its impact.

The wealthiest one-third of lawmakers were largely immune from the Great Recession, taking the fewest financial hits and watching their investments quickly recover and rise to new heights. But more than 20 percent of the members of the curren tCongress — 121 lawmakers — appeared to be worse off in 2010 than they had been six years earlier, and 24 saw their reported wealth slide into negative territory.

Those findings emerge from an ongoing examination of congressional finances by The Washington Post, which analyzed thousands of financial disclosure forms and public records for all members of Congress.

Most members weathered the financial crisis better than the average American, who saw median household net worth drop 39 percent from 2007 to 2010. The median estimated wealth of members of the current Congress rose 5 percent during the same period, according to their reported assets and liabilities. The wealthiest one-third of Congress gained 14 percent.

In one last piece of news, Chavez has won re-election in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez won re-election in on Sunday, quashing the opposition’s best bet at unseating him in 14 years and cementing himself as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history.

The 58-year-old Chavez took 54.42 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of the ballots counted, to 44.97 percent for young opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, official results showed.

Chavez’s victory would extend his rule of the OPEC member state to two decades, though he is recovering from cancer and the possibility of a recurrence hangs over his political future.

Jubilant supporters poured onto the streets of Caracas to celebrate the victory of a man who has near-Messianic status among Venezuela’s poor, and there was relief too among leftist allies around the region – from Cubato Bolivia – who rely on his oil-financed generosity.

“I’m celebrating with a big heart,” said Mary Reina, a 62-year-old Chavez supporter who lives in the hillside slum where the president cast his vote. “Chavez is the hope of the people and of Latin America.”

So, it looks like US conservatives have one more bogey man still standing.  Meanwhile, Citizens United has opened up a whole new dimension in corporate donations to candidates.  Is this really legal?

A million-dollar donation by a foreign-owned corporation to a Republican super-PAC has raised legal concerns and opened up the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision to new criticism.
Restore Our Future, the super-PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney’s run for president, received a $1 million donation in mid-August from reinsurance company OdysseyRe of Connecticut, a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of Canadian insurance and investment management giant Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited.

Fairfax Financial’s founder is Indian-born V. Prem Watsa. Watsa serves as CEO and chairman and owns or controls 45 percent of the company’s shares. He is also the chairman of the board of OdysseyRe, the American subsidiary.

The law says that any foreign national is prohibited from “directly or indirectly” contributing money to influence US elections. That means no campaign donations, no donations to super-PACs, and no funding of political advertisements.

But campaign finance law is not as clear for US subsidiaries of foreign companies as it is for individuals.

Most of the regulations on political spending by subsidiaries of foreign companies were written before corporations were legally allowed to fund political advertisements or donate to super-PACs. And Republican members of the Federal Election Commission have thwarted the implementation of new rules regarding the practice.

With that, I will turn it over to you.   What’s on your reading and blogging list today?