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In this edition: debt ceiling deals, debt downgrades and recall elections.


It’s been pretty busy here at FiveThirtyEight, and it’s been a while since we last wandered around the Web to get a sense of how FiveThirtyEight has fit into the larger conversation. So, first let’s take a stroll all the way back to the debt ceiling fracas.

After the deal was struck, and Democratic supporters came close to mutiny, FiveThirtyEight highlighted some details in the deal that may make it somewhat more palatable to the left. For instance, a chunk of the spending cuts may come from defense.

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait agreed with this analysis. Mr. Chait also pointed out that Democrats’ biggest disappointment with the deal – the lack of new revenues – should be mollified by the fact that taxes are scheduled to go up anyway. The Hill’s Sam Youngman also had a good rundown of the White House’s view of the deal.

The Atlantic’s Joshua Green, however, threw some cold water on the expectation that significant cuts in defense spending will ever really materialize. And in a helpful roundup of reactions to the defense-trimming parts of the deal, our colleague James Dao found even more skeptics.

After the debt ceiling was raised, the next big story was Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the country’s credit rating, indicating that the rating agency felt it was less safe to invest in U.S. debt. FiveThirtyEight pointed out that Standard & Poor’s track record in predicting such things isn’t exactly stellar.

In an illuminating article that explains why it was S. & P. that pulled the trigger on the downgrade and not Moody’s, Reuters’s Felix Salmon disagreed with some of FiveThirtyEight’s criticisms of S. & P. Mr. Salmon writes:

“Silver’s main thesis seems to be that the markets are a better guide to the markets than the credit rating agencies are. Which is true as far as it goes, but misses what it is that the ratings agencies in general, and S&P in particular, actually do. They’re a datapoint, not a financial advisor: ratings are more of a constant, in contrast to bond prices, which are highly variable. If you want a guide to bond prices, look at bond prices. If you want a guide to default probabilities, however, then the ratings agencies are still a good place to start.”

The blog Modeled Behavior published an interview Adam Ozimek did with David Levey, the former director of sovereign ratings for Moody’s. In that interview, Mr. Levey disagreed with Mr. Salmon’s characterization of Standard & Poor’s. The interview gets fairly technical, but is worth a read.

After the downgrade came the recall elections in Wisconsin, where Democrats won two of the six seats they contested and came up one seat short of taking over the majority in Wisconsin’s State Senate. FiveThirtyEight tried to game out what the recall results portend if Democrats there try to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Nate’s conclusion: a gubernatorial recall election would probably be very close.

Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post looked at how the Democrats’ failure to take the Wisconsin Senate affects the labor movement, which was one of the main groups pushing the recall effort.

And finally, our comment-of-the-half-month award (which hasn’t been given out in far longer than a half month) goes to Larry Eisenberg from New York City for his poetic contribution to FiveThirtyEight. My favorite of Mr. Eisenberg’s collected works (almost 10 limericks on this blog alone and a few volumes worth of verse elsewhere at was in response to “What the White House Left on the Table,” FiveThirtyEight’s post suggesting that President Obama could have gotten a better deal in the debt ceiling debate. Here’s Mr. Eisenberg:

O set up a Maginot line,
Unbreachable by his design,
But it did not withstand
The Tea Party demand,
For it lacked a provision for spine.

More of Mr. Eisenberg’s limericks can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.


* Keith T. Poole, of the DW-Nominate system, plotted the ideologies of the select committee charged with recommending ways to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

* Michael Linden, from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, plugs some revised G.D.P. figures into a chart that the conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin used to show the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 failed. The results are interesting.

* Our colleagues (Evan Carmi, Matthew Ericson, David Nolen, Kevin Quealy, Michael Strickland, Jeremy White and Derek Willis) put together an easy-to-use interactive graphic to compare the early fund-raising numbers in the 2012 presidential race.

* Lastly, don’t kids these days have it easy? Check out these graphs documenting the inflation of grades at American colleges (courtesy of John Sides at The Monkey Cage).

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.