Russia’s Aggressive War Illustrates Importance of US Foreign Policy: Ukrainians Are Latest Victims

“As has been oft detailed in recent days, the U.S. and European states blithely ignored multiple assurances made to both the Soviet Union and Russia that NATO would not be expanded up to their borders. The allies also demonstrated their willingness to ignore Moscow’s expressed security interests with the coercive dismemberment of Serbia, “color revolutions” in Tbilisi and Kyiv, and especially support for the 2014 street putsch against Ukraine’s elected, Russo‐friendly president.

Whether such actions should have bothered Moscow isn’t important. They did, and perceptions are what matter. In this case, perception was reality. Indeed, Washington would never have accepted equivalent behavior by Russia in the Western hemisphere — marching the Warsaw Pact or Collective Security Treaty Organization up to America’s borders, backing a coup in Mexico City or Ontario, and inviting the new government to join the military alliance. The response in Washington would have been explosive hysteria followed by a tsunami of demands and threats. There would have been no sweet talk about the right of other nations to decide their own destinies.

True, this might not be the only factor influencing Putin’s decision on war. He has articulated strong, though distorted, views of Ukrainian nationhood and Kyiv’s proper relations to Russia. However, security concerns have always loomed largest. He and other officials criticized NATO expansion early, when the alliance began its move eastward. Most famously, he raised the issue in his talk to the 2007 Munich Security Conference. His position reflected Russia’s perspective but was serious both in substance and delivery.”

“If allied behavior was not a sufficient cause for Moscow’s invasion, it certainly was a necessary cause. Putin might believe Ukraine should be part of Russia, but for the last 22 years did not attempt to conquer the country. His more limited attacks in 2014 were triggered by the Western‐backed ouster of a friendly government. Whatever Putin’s view of reconstituting the Soviet Union, after two decades all he has managed to do is retake Crimea and extend Russian influence over the Donbass, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. A repeat of Adolf Hitler he certainly is not.

Again, this does not excuse Moscow’s latest conduct, which is grotesque, criminal, and immoral. However, it offers a terrible reminder that U.S. intervention has consequences.”

“the Russo‐Ukraine war adds another example to Uncle Sam’s history of foreign policy malpractice. The conflict is not strictly America’s fault, since Moscow made an independent decision to attack its neighbor. For that, the Putin government bears responsibility.

However, the U.S. and its European allies set the stage for the war, engaging in behavior that clearly yet needlessly antagonized Russia. For contributing to the horror now engulfing Ukraine, Washington should be held responsible and its officials held accountable. Otherwise more people will keep dying because of Uncle Sam’s foolish hubris.”

New York’s restrictive gun laws didn’t stop the Buffalo shooter

“In 2019, New York enacted an extreme risk prevention law, otherwise known as a “red flag law,” that can bar individuals who are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms. New York state police decided not to invoke that law against the Buffalo shooter, who didn’t have a previous criminal record, but had made serious threats of violence. On Wednesday, Hochul issued an executive order requiring police to do so going forward.”

“She also called on the state legislature to pass bills that would require police to report guns associated with crimes within 24 hours and mandate that semiautomatic pistols sold in New York be microstamped so that law enforcement can link cartridges found at crime scenes to the gun that fired them. And she announced the creation of a dedicated domestic terrorism unit within the state police, along with efforts to investigate social media companies that have provided platforms for hate speech.

The goal is to ensure that people like the Buffalo shooter don’t fall through the cracks again. When the shooter was 17, he said that he wanted to commit murder-suicide at his high school. He was required to undergo a psychological evaluation and referred to police, who decided not to take further action for reasons still unknown. So when he turned 18, there was nothing preventing him from legally purchasing a weapon. And he did. The weapon he used in the shooting was purchased from a store in Endicott, New York: a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle that he illegally modified to increase its capacity.

Under New York’s red flag law, that never should have happened.”

A study gave cash and therapy to men at risk of criminal behavior. 10 years later, the results are in.

“What if someone told you that you could dramatically reduce the crime rate without resorting to coercive policing or incarceration? In fact, what if they said you could avert a serious crime — a robbery, say, or maybe even a murder — just by shelling out $1.50?

That’s such an incredibly good deal that it sounds too good to be true. But it’s been borne out by the research of Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel. Their new study provides experimental evidence that offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioral therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even 10 years after the intervention.”

“999 Liberian men were split into four groups. Some received CBT, while others got $200 in cash. Another group got the CBT plus the cash, and finally, there was a control group that got neither.

A month after the intervention, both the therapy group and the therapy-plus-cash group were showing positive results. A year after the intervention, the positive effects on those who got therapy alone had faded a bit, but those who got therapy plus cash were still showing huge impacts: crime and violence were down about 50 percent.”

“10 years later, he tracked down the original men from the study and reevaluated them. Amazingly, crime and violence were still down by about 50 percent in the therapy-plus-cash group.”

“The most plausible hypothesis, according to Blattman, is that the $200 in cash enabled the men to pursue a few months of legitimate business activity — say, shoe shining — after the therapy ended. That meant a few extra months of getting to cement their new non-criminal identity and behavioral changes. “Basically, it gave them time to practice,” Blattman told me.”

How the baby formula shortage links back to a federal nutrition program

“The uproar over infant formula shortages is prompting lawmakers to confront how a federal nutrition program may be helping a small handful of formula manufacturers dominate the U.S. market.

The federal government’s widely-used nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC, is by far the largest purchaser of formula in the U.S., with more than half of infant formula in the U.S. going through the program. And just two companies serve close to 90 percent of the infants who receive benefits through the program, in part because of the way WIC awards its contracts.”

“The Abbott recall and resulting shortages were especially disruptive for WIC recipients. About half of all babies born in the U.S. qualify for WIC, which serves low-income families. Many of these households don’t have the time or resources to drive around looking for alternative formula brands or scour the internet for available stocks. Even if parents and caregivers could find alternative formulas, their WIC benefits might not have covered the specific brand they could find when the shortages first hit.

For the past three decades, WIC has used what’s called sole-source contracting, which is designed to save the program money by allowing the states to buy formula far below retail prices. The National WIC Association estimates that state rebates save about $1.7 billion in costs each year. When a state contracts with a company, all WIC participants in the state use that same manufacturer. Just three companies have been awarded contracts during this time: Abbott Nutrition; Mead Johnson, which makes Enfamil; and Nestle, which makes Gerber.”

““The dirty secret about WIC is these formula companies actually lose money on formula that they sell through WIC,” because the lowest bidder ends up winning the state contracts, explained a former Democratic Senate aide. “But what happens is… if you give birth in a hospital and you request formula, you’re going to get the formula that is whoever has the WIC contract,” allowing the formula makers to reach a massive pool of new customers. Getting a state WIC contract can also mean more favorable shelf space at retailers across the state and more brand loyalty.

Not everyone agrees about the extent to which sole-source contracting has driven consolidation in the formula industry, versus other factors, like overall consolidation across the food sector and high food safety regulatory costs, since infant formula is more highly regulated than most other foods.”

” But the USDA’s Economic Research Service in 2011 found that switching a state WIC contract gave the new manufacturer about a 74 percent bump up in market share in the state. Most of that is the result of WIC participants switching — since they make up more than half the market — but the rest is the result of more preferential treatment at the retail level.”

The Export-Import Bank’s New ‘Made in America’ Corporate Welfare Scheme

“Dating back to its founding in 1934, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has had a pretty specific mission: subsidize the export of American-made products by extending cheap credit to foreign companies looking to buy our stuff.

Whether the bank serves any legitimate purpose is another matter entirely. These days, the Export-Import Bank mostly acts as a slush fund for politically connected American corporations like Boeing and General Electric that would have no trouble doing business abroad but are more than happy to benefit from its largesse, doled out in the form of low-interest loans to potential buyers. Sometimes it also blows American taxpayer money on propping up government-run monopolies in foreign countries.

Still, the mission has always been clear. It’s right there in Executive Order 6581, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed in 1934 to authorize “a banking corporation…with power to aid in financing and to facilitate exports and imports and the exchange of commodities between the United States and other Nations.” The bank’s current mission statement, too, clearly spells out a goal of “supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services.”

Now, quietly, the Ex-Im Bank is taking on a new—and entirely domestic—project.

At a meeting last week, the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve a so-called “Make More in America” initiative. The press release announcing the new program is a gobbledygook of crony capitalist doublespeak virtually devoid of specifics about how the program will operate or what it will cost. The new program “will create new financing opportunities that spur manufacturing in the United States, support American jobs and boost America’s ability to compete with countries like China,” Reta Jo Reyes, the bank’s president and board chair, says in the statement.

This latest development at the Ex-Im Bank is another aspect of the sprawling federal effort that began under President Donald Trump and continues under President Joe Biden to subsidize American manufacturing. The creation of a “domestic financing program” at the Ex-Im Bank was part of a series of supply chain recommendations made by the White House in June. A few days before Christmas, the Ex-Im Bank filed a vague notice in the Federal Register outlining plans to implement the program.

But there has been little clarity about what the program will aim to do, which businesses might stand to benefit from it, or how its results will be judged. In the announcement last week, the Ex-Im Bank only said that the new program will “immediately make available the agency’s existing medium- and long-term loans and loan guarantees for export-oriented domestic manufacturing projects.””

“the government will throw taxpayer dollars at investments that private capital markets have deemed too risky.

But how will the government decide which projects to fund? Toomey also asked the bank to explain what steps will be taken to “ensure that domestic transactions will not be influenced by political pressures.”

The Ex-Im Bank’s response to that query is even more worrying. There don’t appear to be any safeguards in place. “Financing is available to all qualifying applicants based on criteria established by law and agency practice,” Lewis wrote in reply.

Translation: Any company with the resources to hire the attorneys, accountants, and lawyers necessary to decipher the bank’s policies and sufficiently schmooze decision-makers can get paid.

“There is no reason that taxpayers should have to back domestic financing when we live in a highly developed market economy in which promising businesses have access to capital on competitive terms,” says Toomey.”

When Will Democrats Get Serious About Repealing Pot Prohibition?

“Both the MORE Act and the legalization bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) plans to introduce this spring include unnecessarily contentious provisions that are bound to alienate Republicans who might otherwise be inclined to resolve the untenable conflict between federal prohibition and the laws that allow medical or recreational use of cannabis in 37 states.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal, including 83 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans. Even Republicans who are not crazy about the idea should be able to get behind legislation that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

Such legislation can be straightforward. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, sponsored by then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R–Calif.), consisted of a single sentence that said the federal marijuana ban would not apply to conduct authorized by state law. Its 46 cosponsors included 14 Republicans—11 more than voted for the MORE Act last week.

The Common Sense Cannabis Reform Act, which Rep. Dave Joyce (R–Ohio) introduced last May, is 14 pages long. So far it has just eight cosponsors, including four Republicans, but that still means it has more GOP support than Democrats managed to attract for the 92-page MORE Act, which includes new taxes, regulations, and spending programs.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) thinks Congress never should have banned marijuana, because it had no constitutional authority to do so. He nevertheless voted against the MORE Act, objecting to the “new marijuana crimes” its tax and regulatory provisions would create, with each violation punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The 163-page preliminary version of Schumer’s bill doubles down on the MORE Act’s overly prescriptive and burdensome approach. It would levy a 25 percent federal excise tax on top of frequently hefty state and local taxes, impose picayune federal regulations, and create the sort of “social equity” programs that gave pause even to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.), the MORE Act’s lone Republican cosponsor.

GOP support for marijuana federalism is clear from the fact that 106 Republicans voted last April for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect financial institutions that serve state-licensed marijuana businesses from federal prosecution, forfeiture, and regulatory penalties. The SAFE Banking Act would already be law if it had not been blocked by Schumer, who insisted that his own bill take priority.

Instead of building on the Republican appetite for letting states go their own way on this issue, Schumer is effectively telling GOP senators their views don’t matter. That makes sense only if he is more interested in scoring political points than in reversing a morally, scientifically, and constitutionally bankrupt policy that should have been abandoned long ago.”

How to fight the affordable housing and climate crises at once

“The nation’s affordable housing crisis has gotten some semblance of attention — with journalists writing stories on the rising cost of rent, the scarce supply of new housing, the looming threat of eviction — but one aspect of the crisis has gone consistently overlooked. On top of the severe housing shortage that currently exists, nearly 6 million homes nationwide have moderate to serious home health hazards. They require repairs that, if left ignored, will make them uninhabitable, and eventually they’ll disappear from the market altogether.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy group, estimates a shortage of 7 million affordable housing units for low-income renters, but those figures don’t account for all the existing affordable units that stand at risk of demolition.

Issues like lead paint, leaky roofs, and knob-and-tube wiring don’t just leave tenants and homeowners in substandard, unsafe housing. They also leave families — mostly poor families — shut out from energy efficiency programs the federal government already funds to upgrade homes. Due to inflexible program restrictions, homes with outstanding repairs aren’t eligible for existing weatherization subsidies, despite those families arguably needing them the most. Addressing this problem could help solve both the affordable housing and the climate crisis at once.”

Biden’s Plans To Fix the Pay Gap Won’t Actually Help Women

“evidence that this actually helps women is mixed. Meanwhile, such restrictions would have unintended consequences.

“For example, employers who can’t ask about prior salary might assume that a female candidate would accept less money than a man, because women make less on average,” as The New York Times has previously noted. In this scenario, a ban on salary history discussions could lead to women getting lowballed in job offers.

Salary history bans could also cost people—particularly women and younger workers—some job offers. It’s not hard to imagine an employer choosing to hire someone whose salary requirements seem slightly lower than an equally qualified candidate with higher requirements. In this case, prior salary disclosure could mean the difference between getting a job or not.

In other cases, where an employer has a strong preference for a particular candidate, the company may be prepared to offer a higher salary than the baseline in order to recruit them. Without knowing the candidate’s salary history, however, the employer may be lost as to what to offer. They might offer lower than the candidate currently makes, leading the candidate to reject the job that could have otherwise been a good fit.

Which is all to say that surely some women may actually benefit from past salary disclosure—especially now that young women are out-earning their male counterparts.

In general, letting employers and prospective employees exchange more information, not less, seems likely to lead to the best matches and the most satisfaction.”

“Today’s rhetoric about wider disparities in male and female incomes tends to 1) rely on research looking at incomes across professions and positions and 2) ignore explanations other than discrimination that might explain pay disparities—things like gender differences in types of work, work schedules, and years in the workforce. Politicians and media then use this distorted picture to spawn outrage and get kudos for addressing the issue, even if nothing they’re doing can actually “fix” the complicated causes behind disparities.

There may be a broader discussion to have about whether female-heavy industries are undervalued or how choosing to have children may harm women’s salary prospects more than men’s. But the issue is nowhere near the simplistic narrative that many modern progressives often make it out to be, in which sexist bosses and companies simply choose to pay women less than men for the same work and everything can be fixed with federal mandates.”