Category: US politics

Something for Congressional Republicans to run on

Megan Henney and Kelly Lee:

Sen. Rand Paul on Monday unveiled a new bill that includes trillions in budget cuts over the next five years in order to bring about a balanced budget.

The Kentucky Republican’s proposal, a copy of which was first obtained by FOX Business, would yield a $65.8 billion surplus by fiscal year 2027. Collectively, the plan spends about $4.2 trillion less than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated during that time period, a person familiar with the matter said.

“Five years ago, we could balance our budget with a freeze in spending. Not cut anything. Since then, our debt has skyrocketed to $30 trillion with $2 trillion just from this past year,” Paul said in a statement. “We cannot keep ignoring this problem at the expense of taxpayers, and my budget will put our nation on track to solve this crisis that Congress created.”

The plan calls for cuts across the budget, excluding Social Security, which is racing toward insolvency. What is cut will be determined at a later time through the normal spending process. The goal is to set a parameter that Congress must fit its spending agenda within, rather than identifying specific cuts now.

Under the legislation, federal spending would freeze in fiscal year 2023 at the CBO’s projected baseline level of $5.874 trillion. From there, it would steadily decline each year; in fiscal year 2024, Paul proposed slashing federal spending by $298.3 billion.

Still, the success odds for the bill – dubbed the Six Penny Plan – are slim. Paul has introduced near-identical versions of the bill in the past, all of which have died in the Senate as the result of bipartisan opposition. Democrats previously opposed cuts to many domestic programs, while Republicans resisted any efforts to slash military spending.

The gap between what the nation collects and what it spends has started to substantially decline following last year’s $2.8 trillion deficit, with the government expected to post a deficit of $1 trillion in fiscal 2022.

But the CBO, in its latest budget and economic outlook released at the end of May, projected the shortfall will begin climbing again in 2024, eventually hitting more than 6% of GDP a decade from now. The U.S. has only recorded greater deficits than that six times since 1946.

“This is no time to break out the champagne glasses – deficits will remain extremely high and debt is on course to reach a new record as a share of the economy by 2031,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement after the report was released.

The nation’s debt level is currently at a historic high of $30 trillion following unprecedented levels of spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s political circus, instead of what is actually important

David N. Bossie:

If the Jan. 6 House select committee’s infamous track record is any indication, it would have already leaked new smoking-gun evidence in their possession heading into Thursday’s prime time hearings. But there was no leak because there is no smoking gun.

Instead, last Friday, the illegitimate Jan. 6 committee — choking from a lack of relevancy — was handed a lifeline as the politicized Biden Justice Department indicted former Trump adviser Peter Navarro for allegedly being in contempt of Congress. It was unbelievably fortunate and coincidental timing for a committee desperate to come up with something new.

That narrative continued this week with the committee’s controversial hiring of former ABC News President James Goldston to choreograph their hearings. In Washington, this is code for a committee that’s come up empty and needs to bring someone in to put lipstick on a pig. The last time Mr. Goldston was involved with Congress was in November 2019 when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote him a letter demanding information about ABC News’ apparent cover-up of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. People still want answers.

The Jan. 6 committee has a huge image problem and this decision makes it worse. The panel already lacks legitimacy because it doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Of its nine members — all handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — seven are Trump-hating Democrats and the other two are Trump-hating RINOs. This committee disregards House rules and precedent for political purposes, has no minority members or staff and is running an anti-Trump taxpayer-funded campaign operation in plain sight and everyone knows it. Now, bringing in an executive from the biased mainstream media is only making this perception problem worse. I guess if you need to run some fake hearings, who better than someone from the fake news to help orchestrate it?

The Pelosi-created select committee has wasted an untold amount of taxpayer dollars, conducted 1,000 depositions, reviewed hundreds of thousands of records and has come up with absolutely nothing useful for the American people. As evidence, the “big” reveal to start the week was more of the same. The committee let it be known that it has White House photographs from Jan. 6 that haven’t been seen publicly, more surveillance video from inside the Capitol Building of the riot and that it would be showing clips of their videotaped inquisitions — er, depositions — at the hearings. Well, at least now the world can see with their own eyes that there were no minority members or counsel present at these illegal proceedings, which is required.

When far-left Democrat committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin boasted recently that “the hearings will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House,” he committed a deadly political sin. Mr. Raskin raised expectations to an unrealistic level and set his committee up for failure. Not even their allies in the liberal press corps can rescue a partisan sideshow that will be dominated by repackaged old news.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, and RINO Committee Co-Chair Liz Cheney are guilty of obsessing over the events of Jan. 6, 2021, for political gain instead of focusing on fixing the actual disasters that President Joe Biden’s policies are creating on a daily basis.

Even the anti-Trump Associated Press couldn’t help but include this lapse in judgment in a recent report on the upcoming hearings.

“‘In quieter times, the hearings would have a stronger hold on public attention,’ said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. … ‘But, as is, they will be competing for attention with topics with greater immediate relevance in our lives.’”

These topics of course are the inflation crisis, the gas price crisis, the baby formula crisis, the food price crisis, the violent crime crisis and the border crisis, to name just a few. The American people might tune into a prime-time hearing if the topic was “What Congress Can Do To Lower Gas Prices,” but another Trump witch hunt 18 months after his presidency is a complete waste of time and money that amounts to a dereliction of duty.

The mainstream media will surely fall in line in their hearing coverage this week because Ms. Cheney’s high-profile role in helping Democrats keep control of Congress by trying to destroy former President Donald Trump is an intriguing storyline for their shrinking audiences.

However, overcoming the committee’s credibility problem may be a bridge too far. Former Democrat House Committee Chair Henry Waxman, an expert on congressional oversight, may have said it best when he wrote, “successful congressional investigations have always been conducted on a fair and bipartisan basis. The best investigations have gone to great lengths to involve the minority and protect the rights of minority members.”

By contrast, the Jan. 6 committee doesn’t even have a minority side and because of this has continuously abused their subpoena power, deposition power and contempt power — with no end in sight.

When Republicans take over Congress next year, the House Committee on Administration should conduct a thorough internal investigation into the operations of the Jan. 6 committee to ensure something like this never happens again. Document preservation notices should be issued without delay.

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Anthony Farris:

Maybe President Joe Biden was listening to Kanye West while devouring (spilling?) his most recent ice cream cone.

There’s likely no other reason why Biden would borrow a phrase from the hip-hop mogul when discussing surging gas prices and insinuating that what doesn’t kill us, will only make us stronger.

We’d love to ask him, but he probably wouldn’t remember.

“[When] it comes to the gas prices, we’re going through an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over,” Biden said during a Monday press conference in Japan.

Biden’s head-scratching comments came less than a week after his presidency oversaw a historic rise in gas prices across the United States. Last Tuesday, all 50 states saw the average price of a gallon of gas top $4 for the first time ever.

Who said President Biden never accomplished anything?

As of Tuesday morning, the average price for a gallon of gas (per AAA) in the United States is $4.59. That’s an increase of more than $1.50 year-to-year. Additionally, multiple states have average prices of more than $5 per gallon and California is over $6.

Before admitting that the continuous surge of gas prices is “affecting a lot of families,” Biden said: “The price of gas at the pump is something that I told you — you heard me say before — it would be a matter of great discussion at my kitchen table when I was a kid growing up.”

Well, if that doesn’t ease your mind, I don’t know what will.

Since we’re borrowing Kanye lyrics to get our point across, allow me to channel Mr. West and speak in the direction of November 2024: “I need you to hurry up now, cause I can’t wait much longer.”

Since there was no energy crisis and no unusual jump in oil prices before 1973, Biden’s kitchen table statement is, as usual from his addled brain, garbage, along with his belief that we will all be better off by becoming dependent on the sun (which doesn’t always shine unobscured by clouds), the wind (which doesn’t always blow) and batteries (which are highly toxic) for energy. If there will be improved renewable technology in the future, it’s not here now, and we are using energy now and paying for energy now.

Disinformation on the disinformation board

Robby Soave:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed a “pause” on the newly-minted Disinformation Governance Board; its first executive director, Nina Jankowicz, has resigned.

The board’s existence, which was announced just three weeks ago, prompted serious concerns from many civil libertarians and inspired Ministry of Truth comparisons. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tried—and largely failed—to address these concerns by noting that the board would serve in merely an advisory capacity and not have any actual power to police speech. That the Disinformation Governance Board did a bad job of communicating information about itself did not exactly instill confidence, and evidently DHS has now realized that the entire project is a bad idea.

It’s unclear whether plans for the board will be un-paused in the future; Jankowicz had initially decided to resign, reconsidered when she was told the pause might be temporary, and then ultimately left anyway.

This news comes from an exclusive report by The Washington Post‘s Taylor Lorenz, whose scoop is buried underneath layers of pro-government verbiage. Lorenz’s story excessively flatters Jankowicz—she is glamorized as “well-known” in the field, having “extensive experience,” and “well-regarded” in just the first two paragraphs—while ignoring legitimate criticism of this so-called expert’s track record. Indeed, there is zero mention, none whatsoever, of the fact that Jankowicz was flagrantly wrong about the pivotal “disinformation” episode of the 2020 election cycle: the Hunter Biden laptop story.

For WaPo, the story is not that DHS shuttered the Disinformation Governance Board—the real story is that right-wing “coordinated online attacks” achieved this outcome after subjecting Jankowicz to an “unrelenting barrage of harassment.”

“Within hours of news of her appointment, Jankowicz was thrust into the spotlight by the very forces she dedicated her career to combating,” writes Lorenz.

She concedes that the board’s name was “ominous” and details about its specific mission were “scant.” But most of the article focuses on the tenor of the criticism of Jankowicz.

“Jankowicz was on the receiving end of the harshest attacks, with her role mischaracterized as she became a primary target on the right-wing Internet,” writes Lorenz. “She has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral.”

That’s not even close to all of it:

Jankowicz’s experience is a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates, where far-right influencers attempt to identify a target, present a narrative and then repeat mischaracterizations across social media and websites with the aim of discrediting and attacking anyone who seeks to challenge them. It also shows what happens when institutions, when confronted with these attacks, don’t respond effectively.

More:

“These smears leveled by bad-faith, right-wing actors against a deeply qualified expert and against efforts to better combat human smuggling and domestic terrorism are disgusting,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates told The Post on Tuesday.

Even more:

DHS staffers have also grown frustrated. With the department’s suspension of intra-departmental working groups focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information, some officials said it was an overreaction that gave too much credence to bad-faith actors. A 15-year veteran of the department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, called the DHS response to the controversy “mind-boggling.” “I’ve never seen the department react like this before,” he said.

Yet more still:

Experts say that right-wing disinformation and smear campaigns regularly follow the same playbook and that it’s crucial that the public and leaders of institutions, especially in the government, the media and educational bodies, understand more fully how these cycles operate.

The campaigns invariably start with identifying a person to characterize as a villain. Attacking faceless institutions is difficult, so a figurehead (almost always a woman or person of color) is found to serve as its face. Whether that person has actual power within that institution is often immaterial. By discrediting those made to represent institutions they seek to bring down, they discredit the institution itself.

Harassment and reputational harm is core to the attack strategy. Institutions often treat reputational harm and online attacks as a personnel matter, one that unlucky employees should simply endure quietly.

Jankowicz’s case is a perfect example of this system at work, said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “They try to define people by these single, decontextualized moments,” Brooking said. “In Nina’s case it’s a few TikTok videos, or one or two comments out of thousands of public appearances. They fixate on these small instances and they define this villain.”

That’s the explicit message of the article, and it’s hammered home over and over again: expressing concerns about Jankowicz and the Disinformation Governance Board is an act of sabotage by bad-faith right-wing harassers against a noble public servant. The Washington Post does not grapple with legitimate criticisms of Jankowicz. The article doesn’t even acknowledge that any exist. Bad people oppose Jankowicz, in the Post‘s framing, and if you oppose Jankowicz, you’re probably one of them.

Yet there is good reason to be skeptical of both the Disinformation Governance Board and Jankowicz’s fitness to run it. Informal efforts to police disinformation on social media are beset with serious challenges, as moderators and fact-checkers routinely make odious mistakes: Just today, Facebook dubiously censored a recipe for homemade baby formula. The social media site’s fact-checkers have previously flagged Reason articles as spreading false information, only to later admit the articles in question were accurate. John Stossel, host of Stossel TV and a contributor to Reason, is currently suing Facebook for characterizing his videos as misleading, even though fact-checkers eventually conceded he was right.

Government disinformation cops are no better; time and time again, public health officials circulated false information about COVID-19, and suppressed perfectly legitimate discussion of the theory that the virus originated from a lab leak. And when The New York Post reported on the salacious contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop just weeks before the election, the story was widely dismissed by so-called disinformation experts and government security experts on grounds that they presumed it to be Russian malfeasance. “Hunter Biden Story Is Russian Disinfo, Dozens of Former Intel Officials Say,” reported Politico back in October 2020.

Jankowicz repeatedly made public statements indicating that she held this view, too. She shared national security officials’ “high confidence” that the Hunter Biden story was part of a Russian influence campaign. She described the idea that the laptop had been left behind at a repair shop as “a fairy tale.” This was a critical test of whether disinformation experts could check their innate tendency to ascribe everything unfavorable to the Democratic Party as Russian nefariousness, and they utterly failed. Jankowicz failed as well.

Somewhere in Lorenz’s article, amid the repetitive praising of Jankowicz’s qualifications, anonymously sourced lamentations that DHS will no longer be able to recruit effectively, and broad characterization of criticism as nothing more than sexist harassment, perhaps that failure deserved a mention. The article reads like it was ghostwritten by Jankowicz herself, which makes the underlying scoop less impressive: It’s easy to get a government official to cooperate for a news article when the news article takes the form of PR.

Bidenomics vs. how the economy really works

National Review:

Lowering the price of consumer goods by raising the cost of producing them — President Biden can be, to put it charitably, counterintuitive.

The Biden administration is in an entertaining public spat with what we might as well call the “Bezos administration” (Amazon’s annual revenue exceeds the GDP of most European countries), and, while our faith in the man who publishes the Washington Post is something quite a bit less than total, in this case Jeff Bezos is unquestionably in the right — and not just because the Biden administration has an uncanny knack for being wrong on every economic question at every possible opportunity.

Biden has proposed to fight inflation by raising corporate taxes. As Bezos was quick to acknowledge, there is a case to be made for raising corporate taxes (we are not persuaded by that case, but there is a good-faith argument there), and certainly there is a crying need for an anti-inflation policy — but to pretend that these are the same thing is economic illiteracy.

The Biden administration has an inflation problem — because America has an inflation problem — but the administration is by and large unwilling to do the things that are in its power to actually address that problem, because such measures are likely to be politically difficult for a White House in which the reflexive response to any problem is to throw money at it. Inflation is a problem that is famous for getting worse when you throw money at it, and for getting better when you stop.

As Bezos points out, Biden and many of his congressional allies tried to throw even more money at our already-overheated economy and were saved from their own worst inclinations only by the relative sobriety of Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat whose willingness to buck his party has made him, for the moment, the most powerful man in Washington. “They failed,” Bezos wrote, “but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today, and inflation today is at a 40-year high.”

Indeed, in the near term, putting new cost burdens on the firms that produce consumer goods and services would be a pretty good way to ensure higher prices for those consumer goods and services — the economics of “tax incidence” (how the economic burden of a tax actually gets distributed in the real world) can be pretty complex, but powerful firms reliably are inclined to pass along their expenses to consumers as well as to their vendors and employees. Everybody who has ever paid $10.81 after sales tax for a $9.99 bottle of bleach knows how that works — it is the consumer, not the producer or the seller, who pays the tax.

The United States already has a relatively high corporate tax rate, one that is a bit higher than the rates in high-tax Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, and significantly higher than the rates in such competitive European countries as Ireland and Switzerland. We lay a second tax on dividends, which are paid out of corporate income that already has been taxed once at the corporate rate.

The administration’s suggestion that Bezos’s criticism is only a cover for his disinclination to pay taxes is cheap demagoguery and deserves to be regarded with contempt. It is only the latest in a long line of contemptible inflation dodges: First it was “transitory,” until it wasn’t, and then it was the “Putin price hike,” even though the inflation started long before the war in Ukraine, and now it is Republicans or Jeff Bezos or — give it a couple of days — systemic racism. Anything other than the obvious: flooding the economy with money during a worldwide supply-chain disruption and keeping Covid-era emergency economic policies in place long after the economic emergency has passed.

Biden and other critics sometimes complain about “loopholes” in the tax code, which is strictly boob bait — in reality, the Biden administration loves special handouts written into the tax code: These are called “tax incentives,” and the administration proposes to create many more of them to reward politically connected businessesThe Obama administration couldn’t get enough of them, either.

Biden and other Democrats, notably Elizabeth Warren, have charged that this is an issue of “price gouging.” But big retailers are hurt by inflation as much as anybody — because they are buyers as well as sellers of goods. Walmart, for example, just announced that it missed its first-quarter earnings estimates because of higher prices for fuel, inventory, and labor. It is not the only firm facing such difficulties. Raising Walmart’s taxes at such a time is not the most obvious way to achieve consumer price stability.

Indeed, the Biden administration has no idea how that would work. When asked about how raising corporate taxes would combat inflation, the new White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, did an excellent imitation of a high-school student who hasn’t done the reading and gets called on to expound on Chapter 32 in Moby-DickIt is hilariously painful to watch. The president himself often appears to be as lost as last year’s Easter eggs, but Jean-Pierre is if anything even more incoherent — the real world isn’t MSNBC, as it turns out.

But, back in the real world, the fact is that the prices of baby formula and gasoline are not going through the roof because billionaires are buying those commodities by the ton and need to be reined in. (We trust the yacht market will see to itself.) Taxing Elon Musk into penury is not going to affect the price of a pound of 93 percent lean hamburger at Trader Joe’s — and that price is the sort of thing that the Biden administration should be worrying about for both substantive and political reasons.

We do not have high hopes for the Biden administration and never have. But, ceteris paribus, we would prefer a Democratic administration that is wrong and serious to one that is wrong and preposterous. And the Biden administration’s approach to inflation has, so far, been nothing short of preposterous. The intellectual laziness and moral cowardice of this administration are extraordinary, and Americans are paying a very high price for them.

Carter and Biden

The U.S. is now plagued with the highest inflation rate since Jimmy Carter was president, which corresponded with this country’s second energy crisis.

But those aren’t the only similarities between Carter and Biden, as Jonah Goldberg notes:

In his remarks on inflation, the president laid out a series of concrete measures he was undertaking to curb inflation. But, he cautioned, “it is a myth that the government itself can stop inflation. Success or failure in this overall effort will be largely determined by the actions of the private sector of our economy.” A bit further on he proclaimed:

“No act of Congress, no program of our government, no order of mine as president can bring out the quality that we need: to change from the preoccupation with self that can cripple our national will, to a willingness to acknowledge and to sacrifice for the common good.”

In other words, inflation and our other economic woes were downstream of deeper cultural problems with the country.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for missing these remarks or angry at the media for not reporting on them, because the current president didn’t say any of this. These remarks were delivered 44 years ago by President Jimmy Carter to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In fairness to Carter, he did offer a number of serious proposals—whether they were all wise or adequate is a debate for another time. He imposed a cap on government worker wages and asked the private sector to do likewise. He sensibly ordered a review of regulations that had the effect of driving up prices. “I’m determined to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to ensure that future regulations do not impose unnecessary costs to the American economy,” he said.

But this idea that inflation was the product of selfishness and widespread moral failings of the American people is what really sticks out. Carter, who famously admonished Americans a year earlier to treat the energy crisis as “the moral equivalent of war,” was a consummate moralist who liked to reduce technical problems to moral failures. He told the newspaper editors, “The problems of this generation are, in a way, more difficult than those of a generation before. We face no sharply focused crisis or threat which might make us forget our differences and rally to the defense of the common good.” A year later, in his even more famous “malaise speech” (which never used the word “malaise”), Carter said, “all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. What is lacking is confidence and a sense of community.”

There are a lot of similarities between the Carter presidency and the Biden presidency. Both—so far—have been rocked by any number of crises, many of which were not entirely of their own making, but were nonetheless beyond their ability to get control of. Both Biden and Carter won the presidency in large part because voters wanted to rebuke a previous Republican president. (Yes, Gerald Ford was Nixon’s immediate replacement. But were it not for Nixon’s abuse of his office, Ford wouldn’t have been a placeholder and Carter wouldn’t have won.) And both shared the belief that America’s problems were the result of a breakdown in team spirit and selfishness.

The biggest difference between their approach to leadership lay in style. Despite his conviction that America’s problems boiled down to a lack of esprit de corps, Carter was no cheerleader. He was more like an exhausted youth pastor who didn’t know how to talk to young people but thought he knew exactly what was wrong with these damn kids. Biden, meanwhile, often sounds like a high school yearbook editor fighting the lazy senioritis of his staff—“Come on, everybody, if we all work our hardest and come together, we can make this the greatest yearbook ever!” I’ve lost count of how many times he’s said some version of, “If we come together there’s nothing we cannot do,” or, “We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together.”

Now, longtime readers will not be shocked to learn I think is profoundly wrong. Unity is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or for ill. Lots of terrible things are done under the flag of unity, including war, genocide, lynching, and repression generally. To use a contemporary example, let’s say you passionately believe in a constitutional right to abortion. Do you think that right should evaporate if a large majority of Americans are united in their belief that no such right exists? Even in a democracy, unity alone isn’t always a persuasive argument.

But that’s a familiar refrain of mine. More basically, tools are only good for solving problems they are suited to solve. Screwdrivers are pretty useless for chopping wood and the best scalpels are worse than the crudest rock for pounding nails. And sometimes, the wrong tool is worse than no tool at all.

“We’ve got to amputate his arm!”

“All we’ve got is a mallet!”

“I’ll make it work!”

In Biden’s remarks this week he said:

“My plan is to lower … everyday costs for hardworking families and lower the deficit by asking large corporations and the wealthiest Americans to not engage in price gouging and to pay their fair share in taxes.

The Republican plan is to increase taxes on the middle-class families and let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise profit and — raise prices and reap profits at record number — record amounts.

And it’s really that simple.”

Now, I have the pundit’s obligation to note that this is not “the Republican plan.” It’s Sen. Rick Scott’s politically barmy trial balloon that crashed like so much blue ice accidentally jettisoned from a commercial jet. Mitch McConnell’s “plan” is very similar to Michael Corleone’s offer to Sen. Geary: “Nothing.” Like it or not, McConnell’s well-developed attitude is that when your political opponent is smashing himself in the groin, the last thing you want to do is say, “Can I borrow your hammer?”

But the interesting part is that Biden thinks inflation is being driven by corporate greed and “price gouging.” He’s not alone. Elizabeth Warren has introduced economically illiterate legislation to empower the Federal Trade Commission to punish companies guilty of charging “unconscionably excessive” prices. What are “unconscionably excessive” prices? The legislation doesn’t say. She simply trusts that her emissaries on the FTC will know them when they see them. Firms will be “presumed to be in violation” if they use “the effects or circumstances related to the exceptional market shock as a pretext to increase prices.”

“What’s an ‘exceptional market shock?’” you ask. “Any change or imminently threatened (as determined under guidance issued by the Commission) change in the market for a good or service resulting from a natural disaster, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, public health emergency, or any other cause of an atypical disruption in such market.”

With a precise definition like that, what could possibly go wrong?

In short, the FTC would be the economic conscience of the nation and its commissioners would have free rein to let their conscience be their guide. In effect, obscene profits would be determined by Potter Stewart’s standard for obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” The problem is a market system that punishes companies when their investments pay off but doesn’t compensate them when they don’t (or vice versa) isn’t a market system. It’s a form of bureaucratic autocracy.

Now, it’s absolutely true that, say, oil companies are making big profits right now. But in 2020, they suffered what some might call unconscionable losses. ExxonMobil lost $22 billion in 2020 alone. And yet, the people now denouncing Big Oil’s greed didn’t congratulate Big Oil’s “generosity” when it was losing money.

As I’ve written a bunch, the concept of “institutional racism” was invented to explain how undesirable racial outcomes could manifest themselves even when no human actors had racist intent. I think this is a perfectly fine intellectual endeavor so long as those engaging in it hold fast to the part about intent. The problem is that humans aren’t wired that way. The crusaders against “institutional racism” usually can’t help but accuse those who dissent from their analysis as racist. I think it’s because the same part of the brain that drives us toward conspiracy theories needs to assign agency to bad things. For instance, I have no idea whether J.D. Vance is a conspiracy theorist or just plays one for electoral advantage. But the suggestion that Biden is intentionally inviting fentanyl into our country to kill “MAGA voters” is dangerous nonsense.

Similarly, Marxism is mostly garbage as economic theory, but it’s really useful as an illustration of how people can talk a good game about systemic problems—class structure, misallocation of capital, etc.—but invariably get seduced into morality tales about villains and victims. Marx’s labor theory of value was, again, garbage as economic analysis, but man was it awesome for demonizing money-lenders, industrialists, and the bourgeoisie under the rubric of “science.”

We see a version of this kind of thinking all over the place. According to Warren, Kroger, which has very low profit margins, is a monopoly-like malefactor responsible for soaring food prices that must be punished.

There’s this weird irony in progressive rhetoric about corporations. They despise the idea that “corporations are people” but they are the first to anthropomorphize corporations, assigning sinister motives to them. Multifactorial dynamics are reduced to voluntary evil choices.

I don’t want to be accused of perpetuating the naturalistic fallacy, in part because I don’t think the free market is particularly natural. But we all understand that when wolves eat deer, they’re just playing their part in the ecosystem. We don’t denounce “lupine greed” or the depredations of Big Wolf. And when wolves starve because the supply of prey is inadequate for their population, we don’t decry the selfishness of ungulates who run away from the hungry canines. But when it comes to the market system, we routinely assign moral intent and corrupt agency to complicated systemic phenomena.

The baby formula shortage, for instance, is very bad, but it’s not an evil scheme. Scott Lincicome is of course correct that protectionism and certain regulations are partly to blame for this crisis and other supply chain woes. But even Scott, who hates protectionism with the same intensity my old basset hound Norman had for that gray poodle, doesn’t insinuate that protectionists want babies to go hungry.

The projection of simplistic moral categories onto the complicated workings of markets is not always absurd, but it usually is. It’s best understood as our tribal brains rebelling against what we don’t understand.

I know I’m running longer than a Steve Schmidt Twitter vendetta, but I want to make one last point. Last year, Rick Perlstein wrote a much discussed—and mockedessay arguing that contemporary concerns over inflation are silly. Concern about the possible inflationary effect of Biden’s massive spending proposals, Perlstein wrote last fall, “makes no sense, and no liberal should take it seriously — let alone be seduced by it into balking over Biden’s spending plans.”

But that wasn’t the controversial part (most liberals, including at the White House, were saying similar stuff). Perlstein also argued that the inflation of the 1970s really had little to nothing to do with, well, inflation. He wrote:

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that this was a form of moral panic. The 1970s was when the social transformations of the 1960s worked their way into the mainstream. “Inflation spiraling out of control” was a way of talking about how more permissiveness, more profligacy, more individual freedom, more sexualfreedom had sent society spiraling out of control. ‘Discipline’ from the top down was a fantasy about how to make all the madness stop.

I thought that was ridiculous at the time, and I still think it’s substantially wrong. Americans justifiably cared a lot about inflation and the cost of living, and it’s just very weird that a historian would deny that. Here’s a passage from Robert Samuelson, writing in 2009:

“Since 1935, the Gallup Poll has regularly asked respondents, ‘What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?’ In the nine years from 1973 to 1981, ‘the high cost of living’ ranked No. 1 every year. In some surveys, an astounding 70 percent of the respondents cited it as the major problem. In 1971 it was second behind Vietnam; in 1972 it faded only because wage and price controls artificially and temporarily kept prices in check. In 1982 and 1983, it was second behind unemployment (and not coincidentally: the high joblessness stemmed from a savage recession caused by inflation).”

For Perlstein’s thesis to be correct, not only was Ronald Reagan’s and Paul Volker’s heroic (and politically risky) effort to wrench inflation out of the economy a mere sideshow, but America’s “moral panic” over progressive change just happened to end around the same time they succeeded. That’s hardly how progressives described Reagan’s America at the time.

That said, I think there’s a point to Perlstein’s argument, just not the one he intended. He got the causality backward. Inflation is panic inducing. It makes people feel like things are out of control, that their leaders are in over their heads, and that their economic future is imperiled. And when you’re all jangly with fear and the sense that powerful forces are buffeting you, you’re more likely to be freaked out by other stuff, too. In other words, the economic panic of the 1970s made moral panics generally feel more justified. The inflation of Weimar Germany (far worse than our current predicament, I should note) made Germans susceptible to other forms of panic. When droughts or other calamities afflicted our ancestors, all sorts of moral panics followed.

Obviously, in politics nothing happens in a vacuum. In the 1970s the very legitimate fear of crime was unsettling, too. The unease caused by skyrocketing crime surely fueled unease about the cost of living and vice versa, particularly among those who felt trapped in neighborhoods they couldn’t afford to move out of. And in that context, it’s surely plausible that middle class anxieties about everything from feminism, to Vietnam, to racial discord, to those damn hippies were made worse by inflation—and vice versa. But that doesn’t change the fact that inflation was a real thing, not some metaphorical catchall for conservative bourgeoise reaction.

The polarization and hysteria of the last decade no doubt makes inflation feel even worse. The fact that Biden seems not just inadequate for the job but incapable of describing the problems he faces undoubtedly makes people more anxious about inflation. Similarly, Donald Trump’s inability to talk about the pandemic as something other than a conspiracy against him, a hoax, or a boffo ratings opportunity made people even more anxious about COVID. Leadership—and the lack of it—matters. And we’ve had crappy leadership for quite a while now.

Ronald Reagan said in 1980 that a recession (toward which we are now halfway) is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and recovery is when Carter loses his job. Replace “Carter” with “Biden” and everyone with a D after their names, and the same applies.

 

How to make Bidenflation worse

James Freeman:

There are too many dollars chasing too few goods and services in the United States. Until the Federal Reserve effectuates a meaningful reduction in the amount of dollars, countering inflation requires either increasing the supply of goods and services or reducing the demand. The latter option inflicts economic pain and tends to be nearly impossible for policy makers to engineer without also depressing supply, but unfortunately it seems to be President Joe Biden’s preferred course.

On Friday the president tweeted:

You want to bring down inflation?

Let’s make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who always seems more sensible than the newspaper he owns, responds:

The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead. Raising corp taxes is fine to discuss. Taming inflation is critical to discuss. Mushing them together is just misdirection.

Mr. Bezos is right to suggest that inflation is not caused by competitive corporate tax rates. In fact pro-growth tax policy acts as a crucial incentive for businesses to supply more goods and services and to create disinflationary innovations.

But Mr. Bezos may be giving Mr. Biden too much credit in dismissing the President’s tweet as mere irrelevant disinformation. It’s possible that the president is not confusedly combining two economic concepts. The chilling possibility here is that Mr. Biden understands exactly what he’s saying and that he intends to use confiscatory taxation to depress economic activity in a misguided belief that he can reduce demand and end inflation by crushing business. The president ought to remember the 1970s but apparently doesn’t.

Annie Palmer at CNBC notes:

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded in a statement that “it doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why” Bezos, the world’s second-wealthiest man, would oppose Biden’s proposal to hike taxes on the ultra-wealthy and corporations.

“It’s also unsurprising that this tweet comes after the President met with labor organizers, including Amazon employees,” Bates said in a statement.

Bezos’ venture capital firm, Bezos Expeditions, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the White House goal is to discourage supply by attacking business, it’s doing a marvelous job. Now unfortunately even one of the critics who tried to dissuade Mr. Biden from his inflationary spending agenda in early 2021 is endorsing the emerging Biden policy. Former Obama and Clinton economic adviser Larry Summers tweets:

I think @JeffBezos is mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin. It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible.

Investors have lately been tortured by a fear that the Fed cannot slay inflation without triggering a recession. Now along comes the disturbing prospect that slowing the economy may be official White House policy.

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.

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