Category: US politics

Biden and baby formula

Scott Lincicome:

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve ingested a hefty diet of stories on various “crises” that, quite frankly, weren’t really crises at all. I mean, no offense to you gamers out there, but, while limited supplies of PlayStations may very well stink, it ain’t really a “crisis.” (I await your hate mail!) The current situation with infant formula, on the other hand, really does seem quite serious. In particular, a February/March 2022 FDA recall of Abbott Nutrition formula products made at a problematic Michigan facility has pushed an already-stressed U.S. market into full-on panic mode. Not only are supplies desperately short in numerous states, but prices have (as they do when supplies are low) spiked, leaving families—especially ones with low incomes or babies that need special products—in desperate shape.

Retailers are also rationing the stock they do have, in order to deter hoarding by panicked parents. And, while remaining domestic manufacturers are operating flat-out and promising to increase supply as much as possible, they say there’s just so much they can do to quickly solve the problem.

In some ways, the infant formula situation is just another example of the pandemic doing its thing. The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported in January—before the big Abbott recall—that domestic producers were struggling with the same things that almost all U.S. manufacturers are struggling with: labor and materials shortages, transportation and logistics hiccups, and erratic demand. The demand issue may be particularly severe for baby formula:

Laura Modi, co-founder of Bobbie, an online organic baby-formula startup, said even intermittent shortages can lead parents to stockpile. She said her company has seen an influx of demand from parents rattled by the lack of availability of big-name formula brands. “It can take one post in a Facebook moms group to send some into a panic,” she said.

Any parent who’s used formula (including this one) can surely relate. Unlike most other COVID-19 panics, there often aren’t good alternatives for the formula your baby can consume. So when you start seeing those shelves get bare … it’s crisis mode, for sure. And then came the FDA recall, which affected a substantial chunk of domestic supply, to throw even more fuel on the fire.

No wonder parents are stressed.

Unfortunately, the infant formula crisis isn’t simply another case of a one-off event causing pandemic-related supply chain pressures to boil over. Instead, U.S. policy has exacerbated the nation’s infant formula problem by depressing potential supply. First, as my Cato colleague Gabby Beaumont-Smith just documented, the United States maintains high tariff barriers to imports of formula from other nations—all part of our government’s longstanding subsidization and protection of the politically powerful U.S. dairy industry. Imports of formula from most places, such as the European Union, are subject to a complex system of “tariff rate quotas,” under which already-high tariffs (usually 17.5 percent, but it depends on the product) increase even further once a certain quantity threshold is hit.

We even restrict imports of formula from most “free trade” (scare quotes intended!) agreement partners, including major dairy producing nations like Canada. In fact, a key provision of the renegotiated NAFTA—the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)—actually tightened restrictions on Canadian baby formula to ensure that new investments in Ontario production capacity by Chinese company Feihe would never threaten the U.S. market:

Canada agreed that, in the first year after the agreement takes hold, it can export a maximum 13,333 tonnes of formula without penalty. In USMCA’s second year, that threshold rises to 40,000 tonnes, and increases only 1.2 per cent annually after that. Each kilogram of product Canada exports beyond those limits gets hit with an export charge of $4.25, significantly increasing product costs….

Canada wanted to attract investment for a baby formula facility because it uses skim milk from cows as an ingredient. Healthy consumer appetites for butter leave provincial milk marketing boards with a surplus of skim. Baby formula looked like a smart use for it, and Canada didn’t have any significant infant formula production before Feihe arrived.

Expanding this plant, or building a second infant formula plant somewhere else in Canada, look like less attractive business propositions under this new trade deal.

The bolded part is especially important today: Because USMCA effectively capped possible exports of infant formula to the United States, it discouraged investment in new Canadian capacity—capacity that we sure could use right now. The same goes for other potential Canadian suppliers—indeed, that’s the whole point of the USMCA restrictions. As Big Dairy’s trade associations stated in supportive public comments after the agreement’s text was completed:

A particularly critical additional element of USMCA in this area is the export surcharge that is intended to discourage exports of Canadian SMP, MPC and infant formula beyond specified quantities. Properly administered, this provision will be an essential tool in constraining Canada’s ability to dump unlimited quantities of dairy products onto global markets…. Canada must ensure that these surcharges function as intended to discipline the export expansion of these product areas.

Export expansion! Heaven forbid!

If tariffs were the only problem here, then high prices in the United States right now might induce alternative supplies from overseas producers looking for new customers and profits. Unfortunately, however, the United States also imposes significant “non-tariff barriers” on all imports of infant formula. Most notable are strict FDA labeling and nutritional standards that any formula producer wishing to sell here must meet. Aspiring manufacturers also must register with the agency at least 90 days in advance and undergo an initial FDA inspection and then annual inspections thereafter. And the FDA maintains a long “Red List” of non-compliant products that are subject to immediate detention upon arriving on our shores. As a result, the FDA routinely issues notices that it has seized “illegal” (e.g., improperly labeled) infant formula from overseas. …

The FDA has also forced foreign distributors to recall products sold via third party websites:

Following this recall in particular, FDA seizures of this illegal product (sigh) reportedly increased.

Key here is the European Union, which is the world’s largest producer and exporter of infant formula, especially in the Netherlands, France, Ireland, and Germany. (China, it must be noted, produces a lot of formula but sells almost all of that to its domestic market.) European formula also has been found to meet FDA nutritional requirements, and is in high demand by some American consumers. Yet, when parents here have tried to import European formula, it’s been routinely subject to seizure by the FDA. In fact, formula made by two of the most popular European brands—HiPP and Holle—is on the FDA’s red list and thus only arrives here via unofficial, third party channels.

Unless the FDA gets to it first.

These regulatory barriers are probably well-intentioned, but that doesn’t make them any less misguided—especially for places like Europe, Canada, or New Zealand that have large dairy industries and strict food regulations. Indeed, as the New York Times noted about “illegal” European formula in 2019, “food safety standards for products sold in the European Union are stricter than those imposed by the F.D.A.” And, it must be noted, it was an unsanitary American factory that fueled our current crisis, and the FDA may have even ignored a whistleblower’s complaints about the situation “months before infant formula was removed from grocery store shelves.”

So spare me the “unsafe imports” stuff, okay?

Finally, Beaumont-Smith notes that another U.S. regulatory barrier—“marketing orders” for milk products—might also be discouraging imports or stifling American production:

These laws cover multiple classes of milk and establish a system for dairy farmers with price and income supports, and trade barriers. The milkiness (ha) of the system makes it difficult to clearly conclude that these orders impact infant formula but given dry milk is a vital component, it can be inferred that these orders … distort economic activity in the dairy sector that could stymie U.S. producers’ ability to produce more formula to help make up for lost supply. And of course, the import barriers contained within the orders dampen U.S. producers’ demand for foreign classes of milk, including dry milk, thereby reducing options, which are needed most during domestic emergencies.

The combination of trade and regulatory barriers to imported infant formula all but ensures that our almost $2 billion U.S. market is effectively captured by a few domestic producers—despite strong demand for foreign brands. What German company, for example, is willing to spend the time and money meeting all the FDA requirements—registration, clinical trials, labeling and nutritional standards, inspections, etc.—only to then face high import taxes that make its product uncompetitive except during emergencies? The answer: almost none.

Tellingly, the country facing the lowest U.S. trade barriers, Mexico, is also the largest foreign supplier of infant formula, while powerhouse European suppliers barely register. Meanwhile, Abbott is in full-on crisis mode and has turned to flying in formula produced at an FDA-registered Irish affiliate:

Abbott, based in the US, has turned to its staff at Cootehill, Co Cavan, and the 1,000 dairy farms supplying ingredients to the plant.

The company said the plant is registered by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it has increased the volume of Similac Advance powder formula produced in Cootehill, for daily air-shipping into the US. “This year, we’ll more than triple the Similac Advance powder formula we import from our Cootehill, Ireland manufacturing site,” said a spokesperson.

Those (highly tariffed) Irish imports will surely disappear once the U.S. crisis subsides. Nevertheless, both they and Mexico’s volumes are a testament to the potential benefits of broader U.S. liberalization of trade in infant formula.

Maybe somebody could inform Congress.

Compounding issues in the U.S. market is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program (called “WIC”), which provides vouchers for low-income Americans (at or below 185 percent of the poverty line) to buy formula at approved retailers. According to the USDA, which administers WIC, the program served about 1.5 million infants in 2021 (for context, there were about 3.6 million total births that year). Various reports estimate that WIC sales constitute about half of all infant formula sales in the United States.

Giving taxpayer money to poor American babies isn’t objectionable (even to this libertarian!), but WIC’s design raises some serious concerns. Here’s how it works:

Since 1989, State WIC Agencies have been required to enter sole-source contracts for infant formula. Under these contracts, the over 1.2 million infants served by WIC are limited to specific brands of “contract formula” that are eligible for discounted rebates from infant formula manufacturers, reducing overall program costs. Abbott Nutrition contracts with the majority of State WIC Agencies.

As the Wall Street Journal explained a few years ago, the discounts provided are very significant:

Fierce bidding for those state contracts has led the three biggest formula makers to offer steadily deeper discounts—on average 92% below wholesale prices—eroding profits on WIC sales. But winning a state’s contract makes a formula maker the dominant player on a state’s grocery store shelves, where the companies try to make up for their money-losing WIC sales.

Given these steep discounts, WIC is undoubtedly a good deal for U.S. taxpayers and WIC customers—in normal times, at least. Now, however, the program may be contributing to the current crisis in at least three ways. First, as the dominant buyer of infant formula in the United States and by demanding below-market contract prices, WIC may discourage additional investments in U.S. capacity or new market entrants. Put simply, nobody had an incentive to break into the U.S. infant formula market—or to boost existing U.S. production—when half of the market is effectively controlled by a single buyer demanding unprofitable prices and compliance with piles of state and federal regulations. As one expert put it years ago about WIC, the government “is using its monopsony power to extract an involuntary program subsidy from an industry.” That’s not exactly a great way to encourage more domestic investment or supplier diversity, especially when—as National Review’s Dominic Pino documented yesterday—the major producers have alternatives:

The major baby-formula makers do business in many other markets as well, so it’s hard for them to justify continuing to lose money on steeply discounted government-contracted baby formula when they could focus their efforts elsewhere. Reckitt Benckiser, for example, also owns Lysol, Mucinex, and Durex, among many other brands, and it’s currently trying to sell its baby-formula division — or, what’s left of it, since it already sold the Chinese portion of that division last year.

Second, WIC distorts domestic price signals and thus discourages new production from coming online when supply gets tight. Pino again:

In a free market, widespread shortages shouldn’t occur. The price should rise as supply gets low, which encourages more production. The increased production should prevent a prolonged shortage before it has a chance to get started, then bring the price back down as well….

With government responsible for over half of the country’s baby-formula purchases, price signals don’t work like they should. As research firm Datasembly noted, the baby-formula market was beginning to go awry before the Abbott recall. The out-of-stock percentage moved from its normal range into double digits in July of last year. Yet “overall prices didn’t increase when out-of-stock percentages started to increase,” it found.

Such behavior would be very strange in a free market, but it makes perfect sense when you consider that predetermined contracts with state governments are responsible for such a large segment of total purchases. The USDA is fully aware of these problems, noting in a 2015 article that “WIC essentially replaces price-sensitive consumers of infant formula with price-insensitive consumers.” A 2015 USDA report finds that lack of price sensitivity also contributes to the long-term increase in baby-formula prices, as both manufacturers and retailers have steadily raised their prices above the overall rate of inflation for years. We don’t get short-term price increases when they would help prevent shortages, but we do get long-term price increases that slowly make formula less and less affordable — which further encourages WIC expansion.

WIC expansion, yes. But not, unfortunately, the expansion of domestic infant formula production.

Finally, the WIC program’s use of sole supplier contracts has created a problem specific to the current crisis because, as noted above, the big FDA recall just happened to hit the very producer—Abbott—holding most of the WIC contracts. So we have tons of WIC customers forced to find other options and therefore added stress on the U.S. market:

The USDA granted a temporary waiver for WIC clients to obtain alternative brand options of baby formula, further compounding the supply chain issues as a new pool of parents are now vying for what was already a limited supply of products.

Research also shows that the WIC-winning manufacturer ends up getting a major boost in the U.S. market generally:

[T]he manufacturer holding the WIC contract brand accounted for the vast majority–84 percent–of all formula sold by the top three manufacturers. The impact of a switch in the manufacturer that holds the WIC contract was considerable. The market share of the manufacturer of the new WIC contract brand increased by an average 74 percentage points after winning the contract. Most of this increase was a direct effect of WIC recipients switching to the new WIC contract brand. However, manufacturers also realized a spillover effect from winning the WIC contract whereby sales of formula purchased outside of the program also increased.

This means that WIC made the very U.S. manufacturer now in trouble with the FDA, Abbott, the dominant national supplier, with predictable effects for the domestic market when Abbott’s Michigan factory shut down. Abbott and the other U.S. producers will surely try to fill the breach until that facility comes back online, but—given Abbott’s problems and tightness in U.S. labor and materials markets generally, as well as the fact that the other formula companies weren’t expecting demand for their products (in part due to WIC!)—it’s unclear whether quick capacity expansion is possible.

For American families’ sake, let’s hope things clear up soon.

Bad U.S. policy surely didn’t cause the infant formula crisis, but it just as surely made the situation worse than it needed to be. Trade barriers and poorly designed welfare policies helped create a brittle system dominated by a few domestic players—a system that might muddle through in the good times but one that crumbles in the face of a serious shock and struggles to recover thereafter. Meanwhile, American consumers (here, babies and their already frazzled parents) are left in the lurch, and world-class foreign producers can’t help much because they lack the necessary paperwork and financial incentives or because past U.S. policies have discouraged them from setting up official distribution channels or new facilities to serve the American market.

Given market realities, it seems unlikely that U.S. policymakers can flip some policy switch and quickly fix the situation, but they can at least (hopefully) learn a few lessons.

  • First, the infant formula situation is an unfortunate reminder that the trendy economic nationalist policies proposed to make America more “resilient”—tariffs, localization mandates, government contracts, etc.—can actually make us weaker by discouraging global capacity, supplier diversity, and system-wide flexibility. As I’ve said a million times now, reshoring supply chains might insulate us from external supply and demand shocks, but it also can amplify domestic shocks (and reduce overall economic growth and output to boot). We’re seeing that reality play out once again in the highly protected and regulated U.S. dairy market, where domestic production accounts for the vast majority of American consumption.  Indeed, infant formula—with its protectionism, regulations, and heavy dose of government direction—is pretty much the poster child for what nationalist “industrial policy” advocates today propose for all sorts of “strategic” industries.  And, well… here we are.  Lessons abound.
  • Second, the formula crisis points to a better way forward for U.S. policy. Most obviously, the United States should follow the lead of major dairy producing nations Australia and New Zealand and eliminate barriers to imported infant formula and other dairy products—for practical/economic reasons and for moral ones. (Taxing baby formula to enrich Big Dairy?! COME ON.) The United States also should embrace—as we discussed previously for rapid tests—a regulatory system that allows Americans to buy any food approved by the FDA or any other competent regulator. If it’s good enough for consumers in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, etc., it’s good enough for us (and if some folks still want to buy American, nothing’s stopping them). Finally, the WIC program should probably be overhauled to ensure that the system doesn’t short-circuit price signals and supplies. Replacing the convoluted and distortionary sole-supplier bidding/contract approach with a simple cash voucher for qualified parents would be the obvious place to start, especially when paired with pro-consumer trade and regulatory reforms that would lower formula prices generally. (And when we’re done doing that, we should embrace a host of other market-oriented policies that will help American moms.)

These changes won’t put formula on American store shelves tomorrow—and they might not be good for the economic nationalists or Big Dairy—but they’d definitely be better for the rest of us in the longer term. It’s too bad parents had to learn this lesson the hard way.

The most predictable news of the weekend

WISC-TV in Madison:

Madison police and the Fire Department are investigating a fire at an office building on the city’s north side that they said was arson.

Crews were called to the 2800 block of International Lane Sunday just after 6 a.m. and flames could be seen coming from the facility.

Officers and arson investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, but police confirmed a Molotov cocktail, which did not ignite, was thrown at the office during the incident. A separate fire was also started.

Police confirmed that the office of Wisconsin Family Action was damaged in the incident. The group is a PAC that lobbies against abortion rights and gay marriage.

Speaking to News 3 Now, WFA President Julaine Appling said that someone had thrown Molotov cocktails into her office and had burned books. Appling said she did not know the person who would have lit the fire, but said the suspect “left their signature” with graffiti.

“We get veiled and not so veiled threats from time to time,” Appling said. “We’ve never had anything that materialized like this.”

Appling said that she respects people’s right to disagree with her and her organization, but that this incident is taking things too far.

“We can all disagree,” she said. “People disagree with me all the time. I don’t go threaten them.”

Appling said most WFA staff members would be working remotely Monday, though she will need to return to help deal with the insurance company.

The WFA will consider making security-related adjustments going forward, Appling said, but she did not know what those adjustments would be. Right now, the building has now security cameras. She said she was not told to stay away from the office, but felt uncomfortable putting staff members in a tough situation.

“I’m not going to ask my team to be here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a terribly secure environment right now.”

Madison Fire Department officials said in a statement that investigators believe the fire was intentionally set and that the incident was being investigated as arson.

On Sunday, the Madison Police Department issued a statement regarding their investigation.

The Madison Police Department understands members of our community are feeling deep emotions due to the recent news involving the United States Supreme Court.

Early Sunday morning, our team began investigating a suspicious fire inside an office building on the city’s north side.

It appears a specific non-profit that supports anti-abortion measures was targeted.

Our department has and continues to support people being able to speak freely and openly about their beliefs.

But we feel that any acts of violence, including the destruction of property, do not aid in any cause.

We have made our federal partners aware of this incident and are working with them and the Madison Fire Department as we investigate this arson.

We will provide an update on this case Monday at 2 p.m. Specific details regarding the logistics of this update will be sent at a later time.

Rebecca Downs:

As we’ve been covering at Townhall, pro-abortion activists have taken to threatening and even committing violence, as well as protesting at the homes of Supreme Court justices. Catholic Churches and pro-life organizations have also been targeted in the process, though the Biden administration has failed to sufficiently call it out. Such incidents have been planned and carried out after a draft opinion indicating the U.S. Supreme Court is looking to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked last week.

At some point on late Saturday or early Sunday, the headquarters of Wisconsin Family Action, a pro-life organization in Madison, was vandalized, leading “Molotov” to trend on Twitter over Sunday.

Alexander Shur, of Wisconsin State Journal, wrote about the incident, as well as tweeted some footage of the damage. As he explained in his report:

Investigators are calling the fire at the building, on Madison’s North Side near the Dane County Regional Airport, an arson.

Julaine Appling, president of the lobbying and advocacy organization, said she and events coordinator Diane Westphall were getting ready for a Mother’s Day brunch in Watertown when a building staff member informed her of the break-in. A person on the way to the airport before dawn saw smoke rising from the building and called police, Appling said.

Police said flames were seen coming from the building shortly after 6 a.m. Nobody was hurt.

Arriving at the office at 2801 International Lane at the same time as a reporter, two staff persons from the group found shattered glass from a broken window covering a corner office riddled with burned books. The smell of smoke persisted for hours after the fire, which damaged the corner office carpet and the wall beneath the window.

The outside of the building was also sprayed with graffiti depicting an anarchy symbol, a coded anti-police slogan and the phrase, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

“What you’re going to see here is a direct threat against us,” Appling said. The incident comes just days after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion revealed a majority of the high court had agreed to overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country. “Imagine if somebody had been in the office when this happened. They would have been hurt.”

Appling said police found remnants of at least one Molotov cocktail.

Police said a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside the building but did not ignite. It appears a separate fire was started after that, police said.

Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes said in a statement that the department is working on the arson investigation with federal officials and the Madison Fire Department.

Andy Ngô replied to Shur’s thread, pointing out that some of the graffiti is consistent with Antifa symbols.

He also posted from his own Twitter account that we can expect more attacks from Antifa when it comes to targeting pro-life groups and pregnancy resource centers. This is consistent with threats that pro-abortion groups have been making.

Many were quick to reply in the comments with delight about the act of violence, which is consistent with other tweets encouraging or celebrating violence. This is from random Twitter users and verified accounts alike.

Others claimed the pro-life group faked the attack, in part due to the handwriting.

To his credit, Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers, a pro-abortion Democratic, quickly released a statement, condemning the violence.

Other state officials and candidates are cited in Shur’s report, with Republicans and Democrats alike condemning the violence. Democrats still stressed their support for Roe, though, and the city’s mayor couldn’t help herself from engaging in whataboutism.

From Shur’s report:

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she understands that people are afraid and angry in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft but said violence isn’t an acceptable response.

“Madison believes strongly in the right to free speech, but it must be exercised nonviolently by all sides in this increasingly contentious debate,” she said.

Rhodes-Conway also said pro-abortion rights groups have also been targeted, and she called for Congress to pass a bill codifying the protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.

President Joe Biden has yet to address such vandalism, despite repeated calls for him to do so, and this most recent example was no different.

More violence and acts of vandalism is likely to follow. Lila Rose, president and founder of the pro-life group Live Action, tweeted out a call for people to report examples of pro-abortion violence, which her team will track.

The end of Roe v. Wade is not the end of abortion

Jacob Sullum:

Last year, based on a scenario in which 22 states banned abortion, Middlebury College economist Caitlin Knowles Myers projected that the annual number of abortions in the U.S. would fall by about 14 percent. In Texas, which banned the vast majority of abortions last September and avoided early judicial intervention by restricting enforcement to private civil actions, the net impact seems to have been a drop of about 10 percent.

Americans should keep those surprisingly modest estimates in mind as they try to predict what will happen after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as a leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests it will soon do. While many states are expected to respond by imposing severe restrictions on abortion, most probably will not. And even in states that ban elective abortions, workarounds will mitigate the impact of those laws.

Those options, which include traveling to clinics in other states and obtaining pills for self-induced abortions, will entail additional time, effort, cost, and in some cases legal risk. The new burdens will be prohibitive for many women, especially those with low incomes, inflexible work schedules, or pressing family responsibilities. But the net effect will not be nearly as dramatic as pro-life activists might hope or pro-choice activists might fear. “A post-Roe United States isn’t one in which abortion isn’t legal at all,” Myers observed in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s one in which there’s tremendous inequality in abortion access.”

According to a tally by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), “abortion will remain legal” without Roe in 21 states where abortion rights are protected by statute or by judicial interpretations of state constitutions. Bans seem unlikely in another seven states. While the CRR classifies 25 states as “hostile” to abortion rights, that list includes Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which have pro-choice governors.

CRR says “Michigan lawmakers will likely try to prohibit abortion” and “Wisconsin lawmakers may try to prohibit abortion.” But in both cases, they would need a two-thirds majority to overcome a veto. The same is true in Pennsylvania, where the CRR concedes “abortion will likely remain accessible.”

Myers’ projection was based on the assumption that 22 states will quickly move to ban elective abortions. (Her list includes Michigan but omits Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, another state that the CRR classifies as “hostile.”) That would make abortion illegal in large swaths of the South and Midwest, plus several states in the West. Myers calculated that the average distance to an abortion clinic for women of childbearing age affected by the bans would rise from 35 to 279 miles. The upshot, according to her model, would be a nationwide reduction in legal abortions of “at least 14 percent.”

One reason that number is lower than you might expect: The states that are likely to ban abortion already have relatively low abortion rates. But it is also true that increasing the distance to the nearest clinic, even as dramatically as Myers expects, will deter some but not all of the abortions that women would otherwise obtain. As Myers emphasizes, the burden will fall heaviest on women of modest means with the farthest distances to travel.

When Texas banned abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected (which typically happens about six weeks into a pregnancy), the number of abortions performed by clinics in that state fell by half. But many women traveled to clinics in other states or used pills to perform self-induced abortions. The upshot, judging from studies of both workarounds, was that the net reduction in abortions obtained by Texas women was roughly one-fifth the apparent decrease.

That experience may be misleading as an indicator of what will happen even in Texas after the Supreme Court overturns Roe. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma—all of which saw influxes of Texas women seeking abortions—are likely to ban the procedure once they are free to do so. But abortion is expected to remain legal in three other nearby states: Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. Women who live far away from such options—in southeast Texas and Louisiana, for example—will face the biggest obstacles.

The other major workaround is abortion pills. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of mifepristone and misoprostol up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. The method has potentially broad appeal in the United States, where four-fifths of abortions are performed at nine weeks or earlier.

Last December, the FDA permanently lifted a longstanding requirement that abortion pills be dispensed in person, opening the door to prescriptions via telemedicine and home delivery. That decision is apt to accelerate a preexisting trend: Based on preliminary data, the Guttmacher Institute (which supports abortion rights) reports that “medication abortions” accounted for 54 percent of the U.S. total in 2020, up from 39 percent in 2017.

Texas and 18 other states already have restricted the use of abortion pills, requiring clinic visits and banning mail delivery. Texas recently went further, making it a felony to supply the drugs for unsupervised use. But enforcement of such bans will face obstacles even more daunting than the difficulties encountered by the war on drugs, since abortion pills will remain legal in most states.

Aid Access, which enables women to obtain abortion pills from abroad based on prescriptions written by a doctor in Austria, saw a huge increase in requests from Texas after that state’s ban took effect. And Aid Access is by no means the only source of abortion pills, which can be obtained through various websites, purchased over the counter in Mexico, or received in states that allow delivery by mail after an online or phone consultation. Organizations such as Hey Jane and Abortion on Demand facilitate that last option.

There is no question that overturning Roe will reduce access to abortion. The obstacles created by state bans will impose real, sometimes prohibitive hardships on many women. But given the inevitability of those bans, abortion rights supporters who are venting their rage at the Supreme Court’s expected decision would have a bigger impact by focusing their energy and resources on alleviating those hardships.

A constitutional lesson for those who need it

For those who think Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey must not be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because they’re settled law, the National Constitution Center presents a list of Supreme Court decisions that were overturned by the Supreme Court:

In 1992, an opinion from three justices in the Casey decision reinforced the role of stare decisis, or precedent, in the court’s proceedings. “After considering the fundamental constitutional questions resolved by Roe, principles of institutional integrity, and the rule of stare decisis, we are led to conclude this: the essential holding of Roe v. Wade should be retained and once again reaffirmed,” wrote Sandra Day O’Conner, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter.

However, the court doesn’t always follow its precedents. In 1932, Justice Louis Brandeis explained stare decisis in his dissent in Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co.  “Stare decisis is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right,” Brandeis wrote. “But in cases involving the Federal Constitution, where correction through legislative action is practically impossible, this Court has often overruled its earlier decisions.”

The Library of Congress tracks the historic list of overruled Supreme Court cases in its report, The Constitution Annotated. As of 2020, the court had overruled its own precedents in an estimated 232 cases since 1810, says the library. To be sure, that list could be subject to interpretation, since it includes the Korematsu case from 1943, which justices have repudiated but never formally overturned. But among scholars, there are a handful of cases seen as true landmark decisions that overturned other precedents.

Here is a short list of those landmark cases, as reported by the Congressional Research Service and Library of Congress:

West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish(1937). In a 5-4 decision, the Hughes court overturned a decision from the previous year, now stating that the establishment of minimum wages for women was constitutional. The decision was seen as ending the court’s Lochner era.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court overruled Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940). Justice Robert Jackson’s majority opinion affirmed that forcing public school students to salute the American flag was unconstitutional. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein,” Jackson famously wrote.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). A unanimous Warren Court (pictured above) decided that a separate but equal policy of educational facilities for racial minorities, consistent with Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Mapp v. Ohio(1961). Overruling Wolf v. Colorado (1949), the court said in a 6-3 decision that evidence gathered by authorities through searches and seizures that violated the Fourth Amendment could not be presented in a state court—otherwise known as the “exclusionary rule.”

Gideon v. Wainwright(1963). Justice Hugo Black’s unanimous opinion invalidated Betts v. Brady (1942) and required state courts to appoint attorneys for defendants who cannot afford to retain lawyers on their own.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966). In a 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded that police violated Ernesto Miranda’s rights by not informing Miranda that he could remain silent and also ask for an attorney during interrogations. The ruling invalidates two court rulings from 1958: Crooker v. California(1958) and Cicenia v. Lagay(1958).

Katz v. United States (1967). In a 7-1 decision (Justice Thurgood Marshall did not take part in the case), the court determined that a man in a phone booth could not be wiretapped by authorities without a warrant from a judge. The decision overturned two prior Supreme Court decisions: Olmstead v. United States (1928) and Goldman v. United States (1942.)

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). The court decided that Ohio’s criminal syndicalism law, barring public speech calling for illegal activities, was unconstitutional on First and 14th Amendment grounds unless the speech incited “imminent lawless action.” The decision overruled Whitney v. California (1927).

Gregg v. Georgia(1976). In a 7-2 decision from Potter Stewart, the court ruled that Georgia’s capital punishment laws didn’t violate the Eighth and 14th Amendment’s prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment. The court invalidated McGautha v. California(1971), a prior death-penalty case.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Case(1992). A divided court invalidated parts of two prior decisions, Thornburghand Akron I, as inconsistent with Roe v. Wade.

Atkins v. Virginia (2002). The Supreme Court held that executions of intellectually challenged criminals were “cruel and unusual punishments” barred by the Eighth Amendment. The decision overturned Penry v. Lynaugh (1989).

Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in a 6-3 ruling,  cited the Due Process Clause and invalidated a Texas law making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in sexual conduct.  The decision overturns Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).

Citizens United v. FEC (2010). By a 5-to-4 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writes for the majority and says the First Amendment did not permit the government to ban corporate funding of independent political broadcasts during election cycles. The decision overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce(1990) and parts of McConnell v. FEC(2003).

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).  In a 5-4 opinion, Justice Kennedy said the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause guaranteed the right to marry as a fundamental liberty that applied to couples regardless of their sex. The decision overruled a one-sentence ruling in Baker v. Nelson (1972).

South Dakota v. Wayfair (2018). In another 5-4 decision from Justice Kennedy, the court said sellers who engage in significant business within a state may be required to pay taxes, even if the business does not have a physical presence in the taxing state. The ruling overturned Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992).

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (2018). In a 5-4 opinion from Justice Samuel Alito, the court said the state of Illinois violated the First Amendment by extracting agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees. The decision overturned Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education(1977).

Anyone think “separate but equal” is acceptable?

 

Fun with a chart

Steven Hayward:

Last week in our Geek in Pictures, I included a stylized chart that Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist of liberal inclination, created (though I wasn’t sure at the time that he was the creator):

Naturally the left, deeply insecure about their positions (which helps explain their censorious and authoritarian disposition), reacted badly to this chart, as Wright explained in a terrific article in the Wall Street Journal today after the cartoon went massively viral following Elon Musk’s embrace of it:

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called it a “silly chart” that has been “brutally debunked.” His colleague Philip Bump described it as “simply wrong” and an “obvious exaggeration.” Mr. Bump even provided a series of actual silly charts showing “the average ideological score (using a metric called DW-NOMINATE)” and “evaluations of ideology as measured in the biennial General Social Survey (GSS).”

Debunking a cartoon with a chart is like answering a love poem with a syllogism.

I should add that at some point in the last year or so, Wright tweeted that despite being a life-long Democratic voter “who has never voted for a Republican,” he was likely to vote Republican in 2024 for any nominee other than Trump. We’ll see if that extends to DeSantis if it comes to be.

Anyway, to continue with Wright today:

People on the left once viewed free speech as sacrosanct and championed speaking truth to power. Now they disparage open expression as a danger to democracy and minorities. The aspiration of judging individuals by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin has given way to identity politics and “equity” initiatives that prioritize group interests over individual rights. Women’s rights, previously understood as relating to their oppression on the basis of sex, is now viewed by the left through the lens of gender identity, which gives priority to men who declare themselves to be women. Today’s progressive can’t even tell you what a woman is. The right may be inconsistent in its support of free speech, individual rights and women’s rights, but the left is consistent in its opposition to all three.

Boom.

One last excerpt:

[W]hile working as a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State in 2018, I found myself ostracized by scientific colleagues and people I thought were my close friends because I was unwilling to promote scientifically inaccurate claims about biology to avoid offending those who identify as transgender.

Suddenly, simple truths, supported by both science and common sense—such as “male and female are real biological categories defined by reproductive anatomy”—became taboo. For my great sin of stating plain biological facts and advocating for civil discourse, I endured relentless smears as “transphobic,” “far right,” even a “white supremacist.” Similar experiences have played out for millions across the U.S. and abroad.

I hope many on the left will resist the urge to debunk or dismiss my cartoon and instead use it as an opportunity to understand why so many people feel it describes their experience. Something has happened over the past decade to make many liberals feel politically homeless, and a lack of curiosity about why is a recipe for not only political failure but social strife. It contributes to our increasing inability to have reasonable, compassionate discussions on issues of great importance.

The experience of “neoconservatives” in the 1960s and 1970s—liberals “mugged by reality”—is happening again right now, and I think a new generation of thoughtful defectors from leftist dogma is rapidly reaching critical mass.

My favorite political analogy of all time

Facebook Friend Michael Smith:

I tend to think in corny analogies, so be forewarned. Here comes another one.

Those of us of a certain age have a mental image of the Ford Mustang.
Indeed. Here was mine, and it went as fast as my legs could drive it.

What began as a fun little car, a sporty little coupe and convertible, launched an entire landscape of American muscle cars that included the Camaro and Firebird from General Motors, the Challenger from Dodge, and the Javelin from American Motors.

We had a Javelin, though it never looked this nice.

The original Mustang was co-designed by John Najjar, who was a huge fan of the P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Najjar and Robert J. Eggert, Ford Division market research manager (who also bred quarterhorses) suggested the name. Ford management decided the combination of these images, the power, muscle and lethality of the P-51 combined with image of a wild mustang running wild and free across the plains, was the very essence of America.

When I think about the Mustang, I see two cars in my mind — a 1965 maroon convertible that is, to this day, in just about every parade held in my hometown and the ’69 GT 390 Fastback from the Steve McQueen movie “Bullitt”.

What I don’t see is a 4-door, all-electric sedan with child safety seats in the rear.

When you change what makes a Mustang a Mustang, it isn’t a Mustang, I don’t care what the badge and the marketing materials call it.

Ford tried that once already with the Mustang II (second generation) and to some extent, the third and fourth generations. The Mustang didn’t begin to look and drive like a Mustang until the fifth generation was introduced in 2005.

It’s not that there weren’t some iterations that were decent cars, it was just that none of them were real Mustangs.

Ford went back to what worked, what made a Mustang a Mustang.

It is the same with America.

Over the past 60 years, America has had its guts slowly ripped out over and replaced with parts called “not America”. Hopefully, we will follow the Mustang evolution and get back to what makes America America.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

I believe there are far more Democrats than Republicans who hate America for what it is, not what it has been. They have such a jaundiced view of how America has dealt with significant and difficult moral and civilizational issues, that nothing they see satisfies them.

These folks tend to compare America to some theoretical standard of perfection that has never existed outside the Kingdom of Heaven, believing that it is appropriate for their enemies to bear the sins of their ancestors while denying the sins of their own.

There are Republicans who are just like these Democrats, they are just too cowardly to admit it.

The libertarians can’t decide if they are John Birch or Karl Marx, authoritarians or anarchists. There is a lot to like about their ideas of freedom and liberty until you get to the schizophrenic parts.

Look, there is a lot that Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Rogan, Peter Theil, Elon Musk and I will disagree upon. To a lesser extent, I have disagreements with many of our “conservative thought leaders” — Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck — each for different reasons — but where I disagree with Democrats 80% of the time, I agree with the latter folks 80% of the time.

If you love America and believe in Justice Scalia’s perspective of our Constitution — that it says what it says and it doesn’t say what it doesn’t say — we can be members of the same tribe.

If you are ready to get back to basics, to MABA – Make America Bullitt Again — I’m ready to work with you, regardless of your party affiliation.

Education and economic ignorance

Tim Nerenz:

LendEDU lists the 50 states ranked by the number of years is takes to pay off the average student loan in that state. …

Utah’s top rank is an average repayment period of 8.14 years of average monthly payments of $202 to pay off the average loan of $19,742

New Hampshire ranks last with an average repayment period of 14.4 years of $213 monthly payments and an average loan of $36,754.

The median of state averages is 11.68 years with monthly payments of $208.47. This is for a degree that the Department of Education says will increase lifetime earnings by more than $1 million.

WIsconsin ranks 33rd with an average of $30,600 per student borrower and 72 percent of 2019 college graduates graduating with education debt.

Any credit counselor or financial advisor will tell you that doubling up the monthly payment will reduce a 30- year mortgage to an 11-year repayment, and the same is true of car payments and student loans. Doubling the average $200 payment reduces the average payoff period to less than six years.

According to NerdWallet the average new car loan is paid over six years with $684 in monthly payments. The average used car payment is $488 for five years.

That difference alone could provide the money to double up the average student loan payments and cut the repayment time by half or more. It is one of the many ways that responsible degree holders have paid down their debt.

And here is another. The 2017 Tax Reforms reduced taxes on households making $15-50k by 16-20%; for those making $51-100k, taxes were lowered by 15-17%; for those making $100-500k, taxes were reduced by 11-13%; for those making $500k to $1 million, taxes dropped 9%; for those making over $1 million, taxes were reduced by 6%.

The standard deduction was increased by $6k for single filers and $12k for married couples and heads of households. How many student loan payers used that extra money to accelerate their loan payments and retire their debt sooner? Most of the accounting majors, I would guess.

Three rounds of covid stimmy checks provided $3000 per adult with adders for dependents in the household – that is 15 months of average student loan payments for the degree-holding laptop class that largely evaded the income loss imposed by covid lockdowns. Did they use the windfall to bring their accounts current?

This is an election year and Democrats should make student loan forgiveness THE issue of the campaign. All 435 Members of Congress should hold a special town hall in their districts on this one question.

They can explain to their constituents who chose affordable colleges and worth-it degrees or trades, earned scholarships and Pell grants ($2 billion unused each year), worked their way through school, used employer benefits, chose military service, saved for their children’s tuition, and honored their loan contracts are now morally obligated to pay off the debts of those who did not. Use plain English and look your folks in the eye.

If you are curious, the percentage of adults with federal student loans in arrears is 4%. This latest marginalized community is one tenth of the adults with college degrees, which has grown to 37% of the adult population.

The proportion among naturalized citizens is higher (42%) and the percentage of loans in arrears is far lower than native-born Americans. If you come here from somewhere else, your appreciation for our marvelous country is much greater – same as it ever was.

Our tax dollars fund colleges and universities; our tax dollars fund Pell Grants, the GI bill, and education reimbursement benefits for government workers; our tax dollars front the money for students who could otherwise not afford it – those loan proceeds go directly to college administrators each term to spend as they wish.

The argument that we do not do enough to support higher education is absurd; the people who make it are not serious.

The costs of college have increased because government money going to higher education has increased. Financial aid that follows the student provides the obvious incentive for colleges and universities to let in more students. Most colleges and universities are tuition-dependent, meaning their endowments are nowhere near as large as the Harvards and Yales of the world, and that provides another incentive to let in students, and since the feds are paying most of the cost of the student, there is no incentive for a college or university, even one with tight finances, to limit what it charges students.

A comment on Nerenz’s Facebook post passes on this from MoneyWise:

Experts often say a college degree vastly increases lifetime earnings and job prospects. But not necessarily for all majors.

Using earnings and employment information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Bankrate recently ranked 162 majors for career success after graduation. These are the majors on the bottom — counting down to the most worthless.

The list:
10. Library Science.
9. Interdisciplinary studies (“smaller, specialty majors spanning everything from ancient language studies to archaeology to neuroscience”).
8. Drama and theater arts.
7. Educational psychology.
6. Human services and community organization. (As community organizer Baravk Obama could attest, the money is much better in politics.)
5. Visual arts.
4. Cosmetology services and culinary arts.
3. Psychology.
2. Composition and speech. (“This major lends itself to a wide variety of different career tracks. Grads may find work in fields such as journalism, writing, political campaigning, public relations or marketing. Nearly every industry needs writers; the trick to being employed is gaining experience in a specific field.” Average income $44,211; average unemployment 4.9 percent.)
1. Fine arts. (Average income $40,855; average unemployment 9.1 percent.)

The poster then asks:

Why should we have to foot the bill for all of Americas philosophers, journalists, creative artists, general studies, and other nearly useless college degrees as ranked by MoneyWise? Go to tech school, learn a trade, pick up a tool belt and make yourself useful – that is the advice most of these college bums needed to hear.

Working to lose an election

The Wall Street Journal:

Michael Gableman isn’t a secret Democratic double agent, but he’s sure acting like one. Mr. Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, was hired by the GOP Assembly to investigate the 2020 election. Last week he wrangled an extension. At this rate, Wisconsin Republicans might keep trying to undo the 2020 presidential result all the way to Election Day 2022, or 2024.

Their priority ought to be beating Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Six months from November, his GOP challengers should be hammering Covid lockdowns and inflation. “Do I think that the election was rigged from the very beginning against Donald Trump ?” former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told a radio show last week. “Yes, absolutely.” Mr. Gableman has called on lawmakers to “look at the option of decertification of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election.”

What option? Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes for President Biden were counted on Jan. 6, 2021. There is no mechanism to nullify them. A resolution to “decertify” is akin to a voter shouting at the end of the bar at 2 a.m. that his 2020 ballot is hereby rescinded.

***

Mr. Gableman has already issued his report, which includes both points of concern and also red herrings. He cites a handful of examples of residents in nursing homes who cast ballots despite being allegedly incapable. In one case, family “provided copies of that resident’s signature against the signature on the absentee envelope, and they do not match.”

Manipulation of the elderly happens. In February a nursing-home worker in Michigan received 45 days in jail, plus probation. She allegedly forged signatures on ballot applications for residents who hadn’t asked to vote. If that took place in Wisconsin, it should be prosecuted. Yet it’s tricky: Only a judge can strip a Wisconsinite’s franchise. Even people under guardianship can be eligible to vote.

Wisconsin’s approach to this fraught problem is to have Special Voting Deputies (SVDs) who supervise absentee ballots in nursing homes. But when Covid hit in 2020, such facilities barred visitors. The bipartisan state elections commission voted to suspend sending SVDs into nursing homes. Mr. Gableman says this was illegal and enabled abuse. Possibly, though commissioners have defended it as an open public decision to avoid disenfranchising the elderly.

Mr. Gableman’s report claims that at many unnamed nursing homes, including in Milwaukee County, 100% of registered voters cast ballots. Is it true? He doesn’t show his work. The city of Milwaukee’s elections chief says the real figure for her area is 79%, with some facilities as low as 36%. Kenosha says it had 458 registered voters with addresses in residential facilities, and 388 cast ballots.

The Racine sheriff investigated a nursing home with 200 beds and 42 votes, eight from people allegedly incapable. But it doesn’t sound like a coordinated scheme to help Mr. Biden. “If a resident could only point at the ballot,” an investigator said, “that’s what the employee of the facility would mark.” To give a sense of scale, the state election commission says in 2016 there were 17,176 total SVD votes. Mr. Trump lost in 2020 by 20,682.

Mr. Gableman recapitulates GOP complaints about private funds sent to local election offices in 2020 from a nonprofit tied to Mark Zuckerberg. In Wisconsin most of the cash went to five cities. This practice should be banned, because official voter education can easily bleed into get-out-the-vote drives for select constituencies. But courts have said it wasn’t illegal. Mr. Gableman’s assertion that the nonprofit grants constituted “election bribery” is a stretch.

He takes aim at voting equipment from ES&S, which can include wireless modems. “One municipality,” the report alleges, “admitted that these machines had these modems and were connected to the internet on election night. The reason given was to ‘transmit data’ about votes to the county clerks.” In Green Bay, Mr. Gableman claims, ES&S machines “were connected to a secret, hidden Wi-Fi access point.”

ES&S disputes almost every syllable. “Green Bay voting machines have no wireless connection capability,” the company says. Elsewhere in Wisconsin, ES&S scanners use modems to transmit unofficial results on election night. Yet they “do not connect to the public internet, but instead use private network configurations specifically designed for high-security applications.” The final, official tallies later “are physically uploaded at election headquarters.”

***

Republicans have valid gripes about how the 2020 election was run. But it isn’t hard to figure out what flipped Wisconsin. Many voters, Republicans included, didn’t want four more years of Mr. Trump’s antics. In some suburban wards, 10.5% of Mr. Biden’s voters picked the GOP for Congress. This beats the evidence of vote fraud detected by everyone who has looked.

Mr. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020 on his own, and if Republicans keep chasing ghosts, he will also help them lose in 2022.

If Trump didn’t routinely antagonize voters who would otherwise vote for Republicans, vote fraud wouldn’t matter. This is why, regardless of what you think of Trump’s work as president (certainly more positives than negatives, especially compared to the anti-American disaster that is Senile Joe Biden), Trump should not run again. For one thing, by Trump’s own definition he’s a loser, since he lost the 2020 election. For another, in the highly unlikely event Trump were to win in 2024, he would become an instant lame duck, and the 2028 presidential election campaign would start the day after Election Day.

Biden’s speech police

Isaac Schorr:

The Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security is establishing a Disinformation Governance Board and placing Nina Jankowicz at its head, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed earlier this week.

Jankowicz, who will serve as executive director of the new agency, is a fellow at the Wilson Center, where she studies “the intersection of democracy and technology in Central and Eastern Europe,” and the author of two books: How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict and How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back.

In her first book, published in 2020, Jankowicz, who has also served as an adviser to the Ukrainian government, “journeys into the campaigns the Russian operatives run, and shows how we can better understand the motivations behind these attacks and how to beat them.” At stake in this fight, she submits, are “the future of civil discourse and democracy, and the value of truth itself.”

In her second book, published this year, Jankowicz concludes that “all women in politics, journalism and academia now face untold levels of harassment and abuse in online spaces,” and purports to have written “one of the definitive reports on this troubling phenomenon.”

“Drawing on rigorous research into the treatment of Kamala Harris — the first woman vice-president — and other political and public figures, Nina also uses her own experiences to provide a step-by-step plan for dealing with harassment, abuse, doxing and disinformation in online spaces,” reads the Amazon description of How to Be a Woman.

In her introduction to the book, Jankowicz imagines a situation, among other scenarios, in which a stranger on the subway mentions to her that he went to a bachelor party in Ukraine, before offering, “It’s a shame about the civil war, but this is probably the first time a young, pretty thing like you is hearing about it, I guess.”

In the ensuing pages, Jankowicz suggests that, if the aforementioned scenario played out in real life rather than online, the police might have been called and arrests might have been made.

Both Jankowicz’s record and online behavior have come under scrutiny since the announcement of her new post, as she’s made plain both her disbelief in the since-confirmed Hunter Biden laptop story and her affection for Christopher Steele, the author of the discredited dossier on former president Donald Trump that helped launch the Mueller probe into his 2016 campaign.

In a series of 2020 tweets, Jankowicz sought to discredit the emails recovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop, promoting an article that she said cast “doubt on the provenance of the NY Post’s Hunter Biden story” and arguing: “The emails don’t need to be altered to be part of an influence campaign. Voters deserve that context, not a [fairy] tale about a laptop repair shop.” She also referenced the “laptop from hell” during one of the 2020 presidential debates and appeared to endorse an open letter, written by former intelligence officials, making the case that the contents of the laptop were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, despite the fact that the signatories acknowledge they had no evidence to support the claim.

Jankowicz told the Associated Press that the story should have been considered “a Trump campaign product.”

She also tweeted, about a podcast featuring the dossier’s author: “listened to this last night – Chris Steele (yes THAT Chris Steele) provides some great historical context about the evolution of disinfo. Worth a listen.”

On Thursday, the new member of the Biden administration defended her record, arguing that at least one of her tweets was taken out of context.

In one video, Jankowicz takes on the role of “Moaning Myrtle,” a ghost featured in the Harry Potter series, and sings a sexualized song about the titular character:

Went looking for some prefects in the bathroom one day
But instead I found Harry and so I said “hey!”
I helped him solve the mystery of the egg
But I’d like to solve the mystery between his legs!
I hope that Harry drowns tomorrow in the lake
So that our honeymoon we can take
You know that ghosts have working ’natomies
What’s better than that – we don’t get STDs!

Jankowicz has also integrated her day job into her singing hobby.

Asked about Jankowicz on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki professed not to “have any information about this individual.”

Matt Vespa:

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson unloaded on Joe Biden’s plan to create a taxpayer-funded thought police that so happens will be deployed ahead of the 2022 midterms. The timing isn’t lost on anyone. Elon Musk buys Twitter—and now the Department of Homeland Security announced this “disinformation” hit squad that will combat narrative Democrats don’t like. We’re not Oceania. We’re not a banana republic. Liberals are afraid they can’t control the flow of information anymore. The days of Twitter censoring conservatives are over. A simple Google search often torpedoes most woke talking points with simple facts and figures that have existed for years. With the Left losing control of a major social media platform and Joe Biden’s increasing the frequency of his dementia moments, clamping down on the access is key. There is no good news associated with this administration. None. So, deploy DHS. Carlson was having none of it (via Real Clear Politics):

When Elon Musk first announced that he was buying Twitter, it was pretty obvious the Democratic Party would soon become unhinged, not just angry or annoyed in the way you’re very used to, but instead legitimately terrified and hysterical. Imagine how you’d feel if an armed intruder broke into your home at 3 in the morning. You couldn’t exactly know where things were going, but you’d be dead certain that everything was at stake. That’s how Democrats feel right now, because, in fact, everything is at stake.

Joe Biden cannot continue to control this country if you have free access to information. It’s that simple. Biden certainly is not improving your life. He’s not even trying to improve your life. So, the best he can do is lie to you and demand that you believe it, but to do that, he needs to make certain that nobody else can talk because if you were to hear the truth, you might not obey. How is Biden going to pull that off? It’s not easy. Well, one option would be to get men with guns to tell you to shut up. Most Americans probably haven’t thought of that because this isn’t Africa or Eastern Europe. This is America and we don’t do things like that here and never have. More precisely, we haven’t until now, but now Joe Biden is president and everything is different.

So today, to herald the coming of the new Soviet America, the administration announced its own Ministry of Truth. This will be called the Disinformation Governance Board. Laugh if you want, but just to show you, they’re not kidding around here. This board is not part of the State Department or any other agency focused on foreign threats from abroad. No, the Disinformation Governance Board is part of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is a law enforcement agency designed to police the United States and that, by the way, has a famously large stockpile of ammunition. So, it’s not a joke at all. Here’s DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

[…]

So Mayorkas told us that disinformation is a threat to homeland security. Now he’s the head of the Department of Homeland Security, so presumably he would know since assessing threats to Homeland Security is his job, but what he didn’t tell us is how he’s defining disinformation.

So here we have this new and terrifying thing that the Biden administration is so concerned about that it’s created a new agency to fight it, but Mayorkas never said or even hinted as to what it might be. So, the man in charge of the disinformation governing board never defined disinformation.

[…]

…one of our biggest law enforcement agencies has men with guns around the country doing so many things to stop disinformation and false narratives. Those aren’t even lies. They’re just deviations from the approved script. Mayorkas told us again that men with guns planned to “identify individuals who could be descending into violence.” Could be descending. Not people who’ve committed violence or even been accused of any crime at all. DHS is instead using law enforcement powers to identify and punish people who think the wrong things.

We used to joke that the United States didn’t need the SS because the IRS existed. We’ve entered a new and disturbing stage here because it’s no longer a joke. The test run for using these institutions began under Obama. The Department of Justice went after ex-Fox News reporter James Rosen for reporting a story on North Korea that contained classified information. The leak hunt named Rosen as a possible co-conspirator for simply doing his job. The Obama DOJ also obtained phone records of a dozen or so AP reporters. Then, there was the whole Russian collusion hoax. The IRS targeted conservative non-profits. And the FBI doctoring paperwork to obtain FISA spy warrants on Trump campaign officials. They also spied on Trump’s campaign as well. The Left’s long march towards weaponizing the state against its own people can be traced to the man who won the 2008 election. And now, in 2022, they’re going to deputize the DHS to go after conservatives for not thinking the right way. We all know this committee is going to go off the rails. We all know it will be staffed by people who are certifiably insane.

All you need to know about this latest Biden outrage is that Democrats would be screaming bloody murder from the rooftops had the Trump administration come up with this fascist idea.

Journalists – Twitter = ?

Joe Ferullo:

The passionate romance between Twitter and journalism suddenly seems to be on the rocks — and that’s good news for people who care about real news, delivered straight.

The latest sign of a break-up came, naturally, in the form of a tweet from Chris Licht, who’ll soon take over as CEO of CNN. Licht writes that May 2 will be his first official day at the cable channel and his last day on Twitter — which, he says, can “skew what’s really important in the world.”

That was posted less than two weeks after out-going New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet instructed his staff to “tweet less, tweet more thoughtfully and devote more time to reporting.” The paper issued fresh guidelines to “reset” the newsroom’s interactions on Twitter.

These are crucial moves in the news world because social media — Twitter included — stand for many things solid journalism should not. The damage done by the outsized influence of tweets on news judgement is only now being assessed.

Things didn’t start out this badly, of course. At first, Twitter was seen as an efficient way to distribute links to stories, at a time in the mid- to late-2000s when news outlets were desperate to establish a beachhead in the rapidly expanding digital universe. While celebrating Twitter’s ninth anniversary in 2015, founder Jack Dorsey thanked journalists as one of the main reasons “why we grew so quickly.”

But two years later, Twitter doubled the allowable size of tweets to 280 characters — which meant there was now space for the platform to deliver more than just headlines linking to content. It could also provide commentary, opinion and — most importantly — personality.

Twitter, in other words, embraced its true purpose, the one it has in common with all social media: promotion. Specifically, promotion of that phenomenon marketers term “the brand called You.”

On top of that, a lot of these social media personalities soon only appeared to care about and comment on each other. The largest single group of Twitter’s “verified users” — 25 percent — are journalists; according to research, journalists are also the most active people on the platform. One result: more and more stories seemed based on issues that “blew up on Twitter” or “went viral in the Twittersphere” — substituting this new yardstick for the concerns of real people outside the online bubble.

It’s impossible to measure, but it only makes sense that this all plays into the diminished credibility of journalism for large sections of the public. It feeds the belief that reporters are merely one part of an elitist group-think that leaves out particular story angles and points of view.

Some prominent media leaders now seem to recognize this — and have begun tackling the problem. Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter might intensify journalism’s obligation to end the relationship. Still, the break-up battle will be tough. It may be very difficult to give up that “brand called You” world view; a little taste of personal fame can be addictive.

In the end, it could be too late to repair the damage and make everyone forget that awful significant other, but the news profession has to try — for itself, and for a society in dire need of institutions it can trust again.