War On Generic Drugs Only Makes Drug Prices Higher

by John Fund

Everybody complains about the high cost of prescription drugs.  Even President Trump said recently that the pharma industry “is getting away with murder” with its high prices.

One way that the  cost of many older drugs has been held down is the use of generic drugs, which are chemically no different from brand-name versions but sell at an average 80% discount. Today, generics make up 89% of all prescriptions that are written, but only 27% of all spending on medicine.  One reason generics aren’t even more able to hold down drug prices is the regulatory web that has been holding their growth back. First the Feds, and now states like Maryland, are getting into the regulatory act.

One of the biggest factors fueling the angst over drug prices in the U.S. is that some older medicines that should be sold cheaply as generics are still priced very high, often owing to a dwindling number of generic competitors and the rising cost of making them.

Yet in recent years the Food and Drug Administration has imposed on generic firms many of the same costly requirements that the agency applies to branded-drug makers. Infrequently used generics—such as clomipramine for major depression—may now have only one competitor and cost as much as branded drugs.

The key to the generic-drug economic model is to keep entry prices low enough to attract multiple competitors. The FDA’s own study estimated that consumers pay 94% of the branded drug’s price for a generic if there is only one generic competitort. But the price falls to about 40% if there are four competitors, and 20% when there are eight.

The lack of competition matters. Of the over 1,300 branded drugs on the market, about 10% have seen patents expire but still face not even one generic competition.  That situation may get worse now that state officials are trying to add to the burden of federal regulations that sifle competion.

Take Maryland. That state’s activist attorney general, Brian Frosh, is backing passage of a bill in the legislature that introduces burdensome reporting requirements for generic manufacturers and establishes nonsensical price thresholds for these medicines. His belief is that a number of generic companies have inadequate transparency and safety requirements.  But in formulating a solution he is going to raise prices for many Maryland residents and damage the market for many innocent generic drug makers.  Frost’s concerns would better be met by working witht the FDA to improve quality controls and improving that agendcy’s inspection resources.

ObamaCare’s political supporters blame its high costs on the rising price of prescription drugs. Yet the biggest drug-price increases come from a small number of very old medicines that would be much cheaper for consumers if only federal and state regulators didn’t stand in the way.

 

What Just Happened on NAFTA?

by Rich Lowry

Yesterday was truly a bizarre day on NAFTA. We had credible reports that the administration was preparing an executive order to begin the process of withdrawing from the agreement, which would have been the administration’s first truly significant anti-trade action. Alarm bells went off on Capitol Hill and in the business community, and markets were roiled. Then, by the end of the day, it was all patched over with Trump deciding merely to re-negotiate it as originally planned after talking to Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. I can see using a threat of withdrawal as a negotiating tactic, but a threat of withdrawal that lasts only a few hours? In the rush to create a sense of movement before the (stupid and artificial) 100-day marker, it’s almost as if the administration set out to jeopardize and save NAFTA all on Day 97. 

A Shameful Spectacle

by Kevin D. Williamson

What’s going on on the college campuses, we learn from the New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters, is that conservatives are “eagerly putting themselves into volatile situations on campus.” When challenged by critics who pointed out that he was essentially arguing that conservatives’ skirts are too short (and what did they expect?) he replied on Twitter: “What’s happening on college campuses has a lot to do with how Trump fans flames over excessive political correctness.” Left-wing mobs are committing acts of literal political terrorism on college campuses, but the problem is how Trump criticizes them. He also wrote, sarcastically: “I’m sure Milo [Yiannopoulos] and Ann [Coulter] just chose Berkeley by throwing a dart at a map.”

“Well, ma’am, I’m sorry about what happened to you, but what were you doing in that neighborhood at that time of day wearing that dress, anyway?”

This man is a reporter for the New York Times, which ought to be embarrassed by this but which may not have sufficient power of introspection to be embarrassed.

It is of course precisely the places where disagreement is to be found that advocates and activists must make their case. There’s a reason those civil-rights workers went to the South and not to the 92nd Street Y.

It is not Ann Coulter making college campuses volatile. It is left-wing terrorists, the administrations that coddle them, and the police who abdicate their duty in deference to them.

And it is, at least in part, institutions such as the New York Times, which make their livings in the free-speech business but do not quite have the full courage of their convictions.

This is a shameful spectacle, and if Peters is not the most shameful player in it, he isn’t exactly offering up a profile in courage, either.

Democrats Out of Step with Popular Opinion on Abortion

by Michael J. New

Controversy is brewing among Democrats about their party’s official stance on abortion and “reproductive rights.” Last week, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — who has never officially been a Democrat at all — was criticized by liberal activists for having endorsed Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a Democrat who in the past has supported legislation deemed “anti-abortion” by the radical Left. In response, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez asserted that all Democratic political candidates must be 100 percent pro-abortion, or, as he put it, “pro-choice.”

Last month, the New York Times ran an editorial on the subject, written by Boston College professor Thomas Groome, followed by a Q&A forum. Then, on Monday, the Washington Post contributed to this debate with a piece by Philip Bump entitled “How Americans Feel About Abortion.” The article relies heavily on data from the General Social Survey (GSS), which is frequently used by social scientists and public-opinion scholars and is considered to be the best source of data on long-term opinion trends. Since 1971, the GSS has asked the same six questions about abortion and collected an impressive amount of demographic data as a result.

This data allows Bump to make two important points. First, that men and women have fairly similar attitudes on abortion. This is well known to public-opinion scholars, but many pundits and political professionals wrongly assume that women are more far likely to support legal abortion than men. Second, that during the 1970s, registered Republicans and registered Democrats had, on average, similar views on abortion. It was only over time that the two parties have polarized on this issue. Today, registered Republicans are likely to be pro-life and registered Democrats have are likely to espouse pro-choice views. Bump concludes by stating that few people vote solely on the issue of abortion. He seems to suggest that Perez’s pro-choice litmus test isn’t a bad idea, noting that supporters of legal abortion are a vocal, active, and organized part of the Democratic party. As a result, he seems to think that Perez has little to gain by reaching out to pro-life voters.

Though this might sound convincing, Bump’s analysis is faulty. He fails to note that the GSS questions on abortion ask whether abortion should be legal option in certain circumstances, reflecting policy debates on abortion that took place prior to Roe v. Wade rather than modern points of contention. After the Roe v. Wade decision, the most important policy debates have concerned public funding for abortion, parental-involvement laws, and bans on late-term abortions. These incremental pro-life measures all tend to poll well, and have been supported by Democrats in previous years.

Between the 1970s and early 2000s, many Democrats were able to succeed in local elections in moderate and conservative parts of the country while still supporting these types of pro-life laws. Previous Democratic presidents, for example, accepted the Hyde amendment, which theoretically limits federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortion and which has always enjoyed substantial bi-partisan support. Additionally, many Democrats have supported parental-involvement laws and other limits on taxpayer funding for abortion. Furthermore, as recently as 2003, 62 House Democrats and 17 Senate Democrats voted in favor of the federal partial-birth abortion ban.

Over time, though, Democratic elected officials have become more extreme and are now less likely to support incremental laws such as these, which tend to enjoy broad public support. In 2016, for the first time, the Democratic-party platform called for the repeal of the Hyde amendment. Similarly, when a 20-week abortion ban came up for a vote in Congress in 2015, it received the votes of only four Democratic congressmen and three Democratic senators. Democrats today would do well to learn to learn from their predecessors.

Patrick Colbeck’s Michigan Campus Free Speech Bills

by Stanley Kurtz

Michigan State Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-7th) has just announced that he is introducing two bills designed to protect freedom of speech on the campuses of Michigan’s community colleges and public universities. Colbeck’s bills are based on the model campus free speech legislation I co-authored along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute.

Upon introducing the bill, Colbeck said that, “our college campuses are becoming more like the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s book 1984” than like institutions that pursue the “truth that can only be found through free discourse.” The result, says Colbeck, is that Orwellian “Newspeak” is “becoming the language not only of our universities but of our communities at large. We need to reverse this trend and restore an appreciation for the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

With Michigan serving as home to one of our greatest public university systems, the battle over Colbeck’s campus free speech bills should be of real interest. I hope to report on further developments soon.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at [email protected]

Forthcoming Book of Justice Scalia’s Speeches

by Ed Whelan

I am delighted to pass along news of a wonderful book project that I am undertaking. At the invitation of the Scalia family, Christopher J. Scalia (son of Justice and Mrs. Scalia) and I are compiling and editing Justice Scalia’s best speeches for publication in a single-volume collection.

I knew that Justice Scalia had delivered brilliant speeches on various aspects of the law and the judicial role, and I was also familiar with two of his outstanding speeches on faith and religion. But I have been dazzled to discover the broad range of topics—including even hunting, sports, and opera—that he addressed in hundreds of speeches across the country and around the world, all with his characteristic wit and wisdom. It has been a delight to read through the speeches, and I am honored to have the opportunity to help present them to a general audience.

Chris Scalia and I, with the expert assistance of legendary attorney Bob Barnett, are now in the process of talking with publishers.

Will Slow Staffing Cause Trump and Sessions to Side with Obama against the Little Sisters of the Poor?

by Dan McLaughlin

One of the ongoing failures of the Trump administration has been the glacial pace at which the administration has filled the policymaking jobs reserved for presidential appointees, a staffing crisis due mostly (though not entirely) to the failure to nominate people for most of the open sub-Cabinet-level positions. As Byron York elaborates:

Out of 553 important positions that require Senate confirmation — and that is by no means all the political appointments Trump has to make — only 22 Trump nominees have been confirmed, while another 53 have either been formally nominated or are awaiting formal announcement of their nominations. That leaves 478 jobs with no nominee at all. To give a few examples, there are 113,000 employees in the Department of Justice, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the only Senate-confirmed Trump appointee there. There are 742,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and Defense Secretary James Mattis is the only Senate-confirmed Trump appointee there. There are 105,000 employees in the Agriculture Department, and there are no Senate-confirmed Trump appointees there.

The staffing crisis comes just as the volume of such jobs has been exploding; as James Pfiffner of Foreign Affairs observes, “From 1964 to 1984, 48 percent of presidential nominees were confirmed within two months. From 1984 to 1999, only 15 percent were confirmed within the same timespan.”

York identifies two reasons for this. One, as a political amateur who only recently entered politics in any serious way, Trump had little time to generate a crowd of staffers, supporters, or allies who had built up mutual trust and loyalty with Trump from prolonged service together on campaigns and common causes — what York calls Trump’s lack of a “Long March”. (Such loyalists have always been a key feature of successful White Houses, going back to George Washington staffing key positions with old Continental Army aides like Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox). And two, in Trump’s business career, he was accustomed to relying on a small circle of people, mainly family, so he’s more accustomed to just asking Jared Kushner and Ivanka to handle one issue after another than he is in hiring large numbers of people he doesn’t know. Trump has made more good hires than bad so far — including Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court — but he simply can’t personally interview and size up everyone he needs to fill the open positions. Pfiffner notes a third reason: The transition team, under the direction of Chris Christie, didn’t seriously prepare to staff an incoming administration before Election Day because nobody really expected Trump to win.

That leads to a fourth reason why Trump is having trouble hiring: his relationship with the Republican party remains badly strained behind its facade of unity. Many qualified people, especially in the national-security and legal communities, are either unwilling to work for Trump or disqualified from doing so because they took strong “Never Trump” stands during the campaign (Pfiffner notes that “fifty former national security professionals who had served in Republican administrations from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush signed a letter stating that Trump was “not qualified to be Commander-in-Chief,” and that he “lacks the character, values and experience to be President.” Signers of that document, despite their valuable experience, were not likely to be welcomed”). More than a few prospective hires have seen their names floated before being shot down due to internecine fights among the administration’s factions. A lot of people recognize a toxic work environment when they see one, and want no part of it. There’s a fifth, mostly unspoken, issue as well: Trump’s terrible approval ratings leave Republicans a lot less confident that he’ll get reelected in 2020, and it’s harder to get people to give up jobs (particularly lawyers) for short-term employment for an administration that could end up as a black mark on one’s resume. The short-term issue is, in fact, one reason why most administrations have trouble finding good people to hire in their second terms. (I’m more skeptical of Pfiffner’s claim that Trump’s hiring is hampered by his desire to cut the budgets or reduce the powers of key agencies).

One inevitable consequence of failing to fill key jobs is that the administration not only fails to make new policy, it ends up defaulting to allow career staffers and bureaucrats and Obama-administration holdovers to continue to push Obama-administration policies that are anathema to Trump’s own voter base. A dramatic example has arisen in the litigation over the HHS contraception mandate, as career DOJ lawyers have explicitly cited the lack of Trump appointees at DOJ and HHS as grounds for continuing to fight East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and other resisters of the mandate in court:

East Texas Baptist University and other plaintiffs represented by the nonprofit law firm Becket are now asking the Justice Department to drop its appeal of a district-court ruling in their favor, allowing them permanent relief from the mandate. “This litigation has gone on long enough,” the plaintiffs wrote in a petition last week to the Fifth Circuit. “It is time for the Department of Justice to move on, and to allow the court, the universities and other religious ministries to move on as well.” But Justice argued in its petition to the Fifth Circuit that it needs more time to litigate the case because numerous Cabinet and subcabinet positions in several federal agencies involved remain unfilled several months into the new administration. “The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex,” the Justice Department wrote…[M]any had expected the Department of Health and Human Services…to change the Obama administration’s underlying rule to fully exempt religious colleges, schools and charities from covering birth control. But HHS has not proposed any rule changes and didn’t respond to a request Monday about whether there are plans to do so.

Jeff Sessions and Tom Price should prioritize changing the HHS mandate, and ask the Trump White House for all the support they need to do so; shame on all of them if they let the slow pace of staffing continue the Obama administration’s war on religious liberty. But this won’t be the last battle that conservatives and Republicans could lose for want of soldiers willing and able to serve in the ranks of this administration.

The Absurdly Inaccurate Stereotype That Will Not Die

by Jim Geraghty

ATLANTA, Ga. — It’s something of a tradition with the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting – some local journalist or activist claims that bringing roughly 80,000 gun owners and Second Amendment advocates to a city for a convention increases the risk of a shooting.

This year the cry from an anti-gun activist was, “Scores of angry, anti-government gun addicts will converge in Atlanta this weekend! Secret Service, remain vigilant!”

Not only has there never been a shooting at an NRA Annual Meeting, crime in the city usually goes down during that weekend. (If you were a mugger, would you try robbing NRA Convention attendees?)

In 2010, Captain Jeff Estes, commander of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Central Division, said “crime for the week was 45 percent lower than the same week a year ago.”

In 2014, Indianapolis Police reported the city had the significantly fewer problems with teen violence on the Saturday the convention was in town compared to the previous three weekends. Last year in Louisville, crime downtown declined, although it’s worth mentioning that the most of the NRA events were held at the convention center some distance from downtown. (A considerable number of NRA meeting attendees stayed in hotels downtown.)

Some reporters keep being surprised when they meet a gun owner who doesn’t remind them of Yosemite Sam, leading to coverage that is both kinder than expected and more than a little condescending. A correspondent for Louisville’s alternative weekly, attending last year’s convention and describing his encounter with a helpful representative of a gun sight manufacturer: “Jon was friendly and warm, not someone you’d immediately assume to be packing heat. And all signs pointed toward him being, ya know, a good guy.”

Wonderful! Don’t be so surprised! 

Yet nothing seems to be enough dispel the preconceived notion that gun owners are aspiring mass murderers.

George Kennedy, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, wrote a few days ago:

Which organization is more dangerous to Americans — ISIS or the NRA?

What makes ISIS so feared is its willingness to kill in pursuit of its goal of creating a fundamentalist caliphate.

What makes the NRA so feared is its willingness to spend heavily and campaign aggressively in pursuit of its goal of removing all restrictions on the possession and use of firearms just about anywhere by just about anyone.

In our country, the NRA is a lot closer to meeting its goal.

America’s gun owners: worse than ISIS!

Then again, perhaps he’s just emulating the contempt he’s seen from other high-profile figures, who describe America’s gun owners as just itching for the chance to use deadly force to resolve mundane disputes:

“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to have so many people with guns everywhere, fully licensed, fully validated, in settings where [one] could be in a movie theater, and they don’t like someone chewing gum loudly or talking on their cell phone and decide they have the perfect right to defend themselves against the gum chewer or cell phone user by shooting.”

That was Hillary Clinton in May 2014.

‘Ann Coulter the Liberal’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote for Politico today about Berkeley:

We have entered a new, much less metaphorical phase of the campus-speech wars. We’re beyond hissing, or disinviting. We’re no longer talking about the heckler’s veto, but the masked-thugs-who-will-burn-trash-cans-and-assault-you-and-your-entourage veto.

Coulter is a rhetorical bomb-thrower, which is an entirely different thing than being a real bomb-thrower. Coulter has never tried to shout down a speaker she doesn’t like. She hasn’t thrown rocks at cops. She isn’t an arsonist. She offers up provocations that she gamely defends in almost any setting with arguments that people are free to accept, or reject, or attempt to correct.

In other words, in the Berkeley context, she’s the liberal. She believes in the efficacy of reason and in the free exchanges of ideas. Her enemies do not.

The MacArthur Amendment

by Yuval Levin

This week is witnessing what must count as at least the third round of the House GOP’s peculiar, staccato legislative process on health care. In some ways, it resembles the prior rounds: An idea has emerged that seems like it could address the daunting political problems that bedevil any significant Republican health reform advanced through reconciliation, and so it is being held up as the end-all proposal. There is a rush to vote. The overall bill remains unfinished in key respects. And a great deal of incoherence and dysfunction has been driven by the House Republican moderates yet blamed on the conservatives. 

All of that we have seen for two or three months. But this round does feel different, and to me at least it seems reasonably likely to end in the passage of a bill through the House. 

For one thing, the substantive idea itself—embodied in the MacArthur Amendment—is a real step in the right direction. As I suggested around here a few weeks ago, state waivers from federal insurance regulations are (unlike much of what Republicans have tried so far this year) an idea native to the actual circumstances Republicans now face: the uneven (at best) commitment of some Republican members to actually doing anything about Obamacare, the constraints of the budget reconciliation process, and the sheer multiplicity of problems now confronting the individual insurance market in different parts of the country. 

It is also responsive to what House Republicans have learned about the priorities of different factions within their coalition in the course of the prior rounds of this internal debate. The Freedom Caucus prioritizes deregulation of the individual insurance market to lower costs and constrain the federal role. The moderates prioritize coverage levels and protection for people with pre-existing conditions. These are both very worthwhile sets of causes to prioritize, and they are in some important respects compatible. But rather than try to arrive at a single overall balance between them, the approach House Republicans are now pursuing says to state governments that they can have relief from the rules that drive up costs and make their insurance markets unsustainable if they themselves propose alternative rules that would still protect people with pre-existing conditions and make coverage accessible. This course recognizes that different states will approach the tense balance between these priorities differently, and allows them to do that—thereby perhaps also enabling congressional Republicans to achieve the precarious political balance they require. 

The extent of the waivers is constrained, in light of the political pressures involved, though it would allow for some meaningful variation and experimentation with insurance rules. If they show that their proposed alternative rules would reduce premiums, increase coverage, or otherwise strengthen insurance markets, states can request to waive the age bands on premiums starting next year. They can set their own essential health benefits (and therefore can recover the right to define insurance coverage in their jurisdictions to a significant degree) starting in 2020. And, if a state has established a high-risk pool or similar mechanism for covering people with pre-existing conditions, it can allow insurers to consider health status when pricing coverage for people who have not been continuously insured. 

The waivers approach may also help the bill survive the reconciliation process in the Senate. Because it explicitly connects state regulatory waivers to effects on premiums and other factors that would influence the cost of a federal insurance subsidy, it creates a link between insurance-rule changes and federal spending that might not otherwise be clear. This at least is the theory behind the argument that this approach could make it through reconciliation in the Senate. I see no reason to consider that any more than a theory, but it’s probably a better theory than Republicans have had so far.

The practical implications of this amendment would depend heavily on how many states actually seek waivers, and of what sort. It’s possible that few states will want to play ball. But given the very real problems states are seeing in their individual insurance markets, there is reason to think that different states—both red and blue—would seek and find different ways to maximize their options under the waiver regime given their particular circumstances. They could well be under pressure from insurers and providers to find such ways, and they would have help too: I’d expect that a fair amount of model waiver language would be out there next year if something like this passes—language from insurers, providers, and activists on the left and right intended to help states pick up the pieces of their individual markets and put them back together in different arrangements to suit different needs, interests, and preferences. This would be a good thing. And the political pressures involved would likely drive states to prioritize coverage—even in the reddest states, the constituencies governors face are much more diverse and complicated than those of most Republican House members.  

There are certainly some peculiarities in the amendment. For instance, allowing some waivers to take effect in the 2018 plan year seems to introduce some needless complications into an already horribly complicated transitional challenge for insurers. It also seems to me (as it has to others) that on its face section (a)(5)(A)(ii) of the amendment exempts members of Congress from the amendment’s effects, which would be truly just insane and inexcusable. Word is that this provision will now be removed (through a separate amendment), but that it was ever there is pretty staggering. 

There is also no question that this bill, even with the MacArthur Amendment, is no one’s idea of an ideal solution. It retains Obamacare’s regulatory architecture as a default from which states can opt out, and only in restricted ways. But as a compromise that takes account of the fact that a full replacement is beyond Republicans’ reach given their numbers and the rules of the Senate, it does look like a meaningful step. 

This would be an amendment to the broader AHCA that has, and would still have, some significant further problems. But with this amendment, the bill would reach the Senate in a form that could be made into a workable partial repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and might be reasonably close to the most that congressional Republicans can do about Obamacare at this point that would also be worth doing. 

There would be some significant work for the Senate to do if this passes the House, and we should hope there is a real legislative process in the Senate and not a rushed vote on the House product as it is. The premium tax credit in the bill will need to be rethought so as to be more useful to more of the uninsured, and this could be done in ways that also make the bill more likely to survive reconciliation rules. That could involve something like Avik Roy’s very constructive proposals or it might even involve a move away from a tax credit toward a benefit more suitable for a state-waiver approach (which might also assuage concerns about reconciliation and the Hyde Amendment that otherwise could easily still kill the whole process in the Senate). Some ideas on how to proceed are out there, and Senators and staff are already chewing them over. And of course some fundamental questions about spending levels will need to be resolved, and ought to be resolved in ways that prioritize protecting the vulnerable. Essentially punting these questions to the Senate offers some hope that this could happen, but it will not be a simple matter. 

Still, it does now look as though the rough, frustrating, unruly process House Republicans have been going through, with its multiple near-death experiences, has actually enabled some learning about their own priorities, the nature of the substantive policy challenges they face, and the difficulties involved with bringing their conference together. In the end, if this is the end of this stage of the process, what has worked best on the latter front has been direct negotiation between the different factions of the House Republicans, rather than leadership efforts at preventive mediation to assuage them all while keeping their substantive differences below the surface. There is surely a lesson in that for everything else Republicans imagine they can achieve this year. Republicans are divided, this president is not likely to play the role presidents usually play in overcoming internal divisions in their parties, and that means differences will need to get worked out through frank bargaining. Face to face discussions between different flavors of Republicans—not finished products from above, let alone “now or never” dictates and cheap twitter bravado from down the street—is how reconciliation bills might work in this Congress. And for other bills, some frank bargaining with actual human Democrats might be required too. 

Even if the House does pass this amended bill, much work and time will remain before they get near any final product on health care. That is as it should be. It makes no sense to rush this effort, especially now that Republicans are exploring a relatively novel set of approaches—rooted in federalism and responsive to the distinct political and substantive constraints they face. There are lots of needles left to thread. But progress is something, and this looks like progress. 

What Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale Prefer To Ignore

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

What Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale Prefer To Ignore

Heather Wilheim:

According to a rash of earnest think pieces from dozens of news outlets, The Handmaid’s Tale is “timely” (the Washington Post), feels “chillingly real” (the San Francisco Chronicle), and has “an unexpected relevance in Trump’s America” (the New York Times). Atwood’s dystopia, writes Rebecca Nicholson in the Guardian, “has reignited the interest of readers, who have been drawing fresh parallels between Gilead and Trump’s America, and the novel topped the Amazon bestsellers list around the same time that signs at the global Women’s Marches asked to ‘Make Margaret Atwood fiction again.’”

Never one to miss a good marketing opportunity, Atwood affirmed our apparent unfolding national horror show on April 19, speaking to the Los Angeles Times about the Hulu series: “The election happened, and the cast woke up in the morning and thought, we’re no longer making fiction — we’re making a documentary.” According to a recent article in The New Republic, lo, have mercy, for great woes have apparently befallen me, a wide-eyed, unsuspecting resident of the Lone Star State: “Texas is Gilead and Indiana is Gilead and now that Mike Pence is our vice president, the entire country will look more like Gilead, too.”

We heard a bit of “We’re turning into The Handmaid’s Tale!” panic-hysteria-accusation during the Bush administration, too. I’ll dust off my argument from then: To picture a near-future United States that is a Christian theocracy with open, systematic and brutal oppression of women, you have to picture some unbelievable changes occurring very quickly: repealing women’s right to vote; a re-acceptance of slavery; widespread Christian acceptance of government-mandated extramarital sexual intercourse; total repeal of the First Amendment; total bans on any other religious beliefs (there are references to “Baptist rebels”). Perhaps most absurdly, almost all men have accepted a regime where the only sexual outlet of any kind is government-monitored breeding with the fertile “handmaids,” reserved for the most powerful.

Do you picture lots of American men signing on for a system that denies them the freedom to have sex with women? You really have to have your “all men have fascist impulses just under their skin” blinders on to hear that and nod, “oh, yeah, that could totally happen.”

But Margaret Atwood could have set her tale in other places and made it practically a modern-day documentary: Say, Saudi Arabia. Or any corner of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

How about Yemen, where there is no legal minimum age for marriage, 52 percent of girls marry before 18, and there’s a tradition of “honor killings” for disobedient women?

Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where one estimate calculates two million rapes have occurred as part of that country’s continued violent instability, and armed gangs commit rapes with horrifying frequency.

Or Egypt, where more than 125 million women and girls have endured the barbaric practice of “female genital mutilation” and the practice is the norm.

Sudan’s penal code legalized flogging women for inappropriate dress, and girls can be married at age 10.

Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Pakistan:

In Pakistan, with 21 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18. In January 2016, a proposal submitted to parliament by WHOM aimed to raise the legal minimum age to 18 for females and introduce harsher penalties for those who arrange child marriage. However, on January 14, 2016, the proposal was withdrawn following strong pressure from the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body that advises the parliament on Islamic law. The council criticized the proposal as “anti-Islamic” and “blasphemous.”

Violence against women and girls—including rape, murder through so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remained routine. Pakistani human rights NGOs estimate that there are about 1,000 “honor killings” every year.

Or Iran:

Women face discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age and cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign-born spouse or their children. Married women may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of their husbands.

The UN Children’s Rights Committee reported in March that the age of marriage for girls is 13, that sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years was not criminalized, and that judges had discretion to release some perpetrators of so-called honor killings without any punishment. Child marriage—though not the norm—continues, as the law allows girls to marry at 13 and boys at age 15, as well as at younger ages if authorized by a judge.

Authorities continue to prevent girls and women from attending certain sporting events, including men’s soccer and volleyball matches.

And the United Arab Emirates:

UAE’s penal code allows the imposition of “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Sharia, or Islamic law.

A 2010 decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court ruled that hitting a wife or child was legal up until the point where it leaves marks.

Horrific, brutal regimes that systematically deny basic rights to women and girls based upon religious beliefs are not hard to find. They’re just rarely Christian. (Worth noting about the above list, the most common religion in the Democratic Republic of Congo is Christianity.) The world has plenty of awful places that can be  fairly compared to Atwood’s fictional dystopian regime of Gilead. They’re just mostly Muslim.

But Margaret Atwood wasn’t angry at Islamists back in 1985. She was angry at the trends she saw in the United States, and in particular, American Christian conservatives. Both then and now, American Christian conservatives are a very safe target for criticism and mockery. No priest or nun is going to strap on a suicide bomber’s vest and blow up the offices of Atwood’s publisher or Hulu, which is making the miniseries.

Thus you periodically hear some not-so-quiet scoffing at the priorities of Western feminists. They’re upset about how far some American women have to travel to an abortion clinic, while the world has plenty of girls who risk being scarred with acid for trying to go to school.

Krauthammer’s Take: Reforming Tax Deductions Would Be a Triumph

by NR Staff

Charles Krauthammer argued that Republicans would do well to reform the tax code of its many loopholes and deductions, which benefit the wealthy:

The most important element of this is the stripping away of deductions. In 1986, that was the great triumph of the tax reform, which stripped away all these loopholes and paybacks and cutouts — essentially a form of corruption. And I think the appeal that a Republican can make to Democrats is: This meets the fairness argument. Because it is only the rich, it is the only the powerful, who have the lawyers and accountants who can exploit these cutouts, and anybody else can’t use them. And I think by doing that, you allow the lower rates — that was the genius of the Reagan tax reform.

Except for the mortgage-interest-rate deduction, which you can hardly touch (although you can probably cap it) because so many people depend on it, and charity, which is very useful, because it is actually the only time that the government weakens itself and strengthens civil society, essentially it subsidizes your charitable giving to independent organizations, which is very healthy for the country — except for those two exceptions, it seems as if they want to strip away everything else. The problem with tax reform is whenever you do that, as we did in ‘86, over the next three decades, the barnacles accumulate when all the powerful end up with their new cutouts and deductions and you’ve got to clean it away. If it can do that, if this tax reform can do that, that will be a triumph.

America’s College

by Jay Nordlinger

It’s convenient to have an old friend who’s an expert on the Electoral College. In my case, it’s Tara Ross, author of several books. One is Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. That was published in 2012. Another is a children’s book: We Elect a President: The Story of Our Electoral College. That was published in 2016. In September.

What timing!

Tara will have yet another book this fall: The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule.

As you can tell, Tara is a great admirer of the Electoral College. The more she studies it, the more she admires it. The Framers certainly knew what they were doing in this case (as in so many others).

Usually, you like the Electoral College if it breaks your way and don’t like it if it doesn’t. Take Donald J. Trump.

On Election Day 2012, he was mightily upset with the Electoral College. He thought that President Obama might lose the popular vote but win in the Electoral College. He tweeted, “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”

Four years later, of course, he was singing a different tune. “Genius,” he pronounced the Electoral College.

There is a song, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” sung by Ernestine Anderson among others. Four years, or a presidential election, can make a big difference too.

Tara Ross is my guest on Q&A. I ask her, How did it begin, this peculiar college? Is it fair? Can it be improved on? Etc. Tara is a superb teacher. Clear as a bell. I learned from her, and commend her to others as well.

Keep (Some of) the Deductions

by Andrew Stuttaford

An iron rule of politics is never to legislate in a way that implies that your side will always be in power.

As Veronique points out, there’s plenty to praise in President Trump’s tax package, but there are, as  she observes, criticisms  to be made  too, including the failure to extend the territorial tax principle to individuals, a failure which (because of what it says about the relationship between the citizen and the state) is morally questionable as  well as being objectionable on practical grounds. Like Veronique I am also “not a fan of carving the tax code with family giveaways”.

I would, however, add a criticism with which Veronique would not agree, specifically of the idea that tax deductibility should be ended for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. 

And yes, I do understand the argument for removing the tax deductibility of mortgage interest, although, to follow the logic through, if interest paid is not a taxable expense, interest received should not be taxable income. I’m not holding my breath waiting for that point to be conceded. More broadly speaking, we may not want to see what this move could do to real estate prices. House prices may be “too high” at the moment, but a  change of this magnitude could well have consequences for prices (and consequences  of those  consequences) that no one should want to see, particularly in a  climate when interest rates seem set to creep up. That might suggest that, at the very least, such a change should be phased in (that’s effectively what happened in the UK three or four decades ago: A much less generous deduction was whittled away in stages).

But there’s a broader point. Purists may not like it, but this is a popular deduction that would be difficult for the left to dismantle. The Trump team’s argument is that removing it will help pay for their tax cuts elsewhere, but when those tax cuts are reversed—and most of them will be by some future Democratic administration—the elimination of the mortgage deduction will not be restored. The taxpayer will have lost another shield—for good.

Similar arguments apply to the removal of the deduction for state and local taxes. Again, I understand the case for this, although the argument that it will encourage blue states to rein in their taxing and spending is unconvincing, especially as more and more people are taken off the federal tax rolls (like Veronique I am wary of that: everyone should have a financial stake, even if only very modest, in the federal income tax debate) leaving local leftists free to continue doing their worst.

As with mortgage interest deduction, the state and local deduction is politically popular and  difficult for the left to touch. To eliminate it is to do their work for them and, if it is in exchange for easily reversible tax cuts, there’s no art in that deal.

Is Everywhere to Be Protested Now?

by Paul Crookston

Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation’s Capitol Hill headquarters was overrun by anti-Trump protesters from the group People’s Action. Heritage made the most of the free publicity by livestreaming the event and having their Daily Signal reporters cover a story that had just entered their lobby. (And the organization likely welcomed the extra attention on their budget document “Blueprint for Balance,” from which the Trump administration has drawn.)

In taking their stand People’s Action practically eliminated the bar for what merits a protest. Busing demonstrators to Heritage over a budget document reflects a drive to protest that can employ practically anything as its impetus.

People’s Action refrained from informing its conference attendees about the protest beforehand, provided them with premade and pre-approved signs, and instructed them not to speak to the media. Organizers even prevented the Daily Signal’s Melissa Quinn from having a conversation with any of the people waving signs in opposition to Heritage’s ideas.

Such a meticulously controlled horde constitutes the exact opposite of “grassroots” organizing. Is this going to be the new normal?

Audit: University of California President Hid $175 Million

by Austin Yack

In an interview last January with UCLA’s campus newspaper The Daily Bruin, University of California president Janet Napolitano was clear that there would be a 2.5 percent tuition hike this fall across the ten UC campuses. It is “a last resort,” she said, but it’s necessary to “maintain quality” across the statewide public-university system.

But according to an audit released on Tuesday by California’s state auditor Elaine Howle, the UC Office of the President has plenty of money to “maintain quality” across UC campuses; it just wants more. Howle found that Napolitano and her colleagues accumulated $175 million in reserve funds, all of which were concealed from the public, the California state legislature, and even the UC’s governing board, the UC Board of Regents.

“Why did we need to increase tuition if the Office of the President has $175 million in reserve that nobody knew about?” Howle asked.

Even California’s Democratic lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, who is also a member of the the UC Board of Regents, decried Napolitano’s opaqueness. “It’s outrageous and unjust,” he said, “to force tuition hikes on students while the UC hides secret funds.” Newsom called on the UC Board of Regents to reconsider the tuition hike.

The UC Office of the President collected a surplus of $175 million quite easily, and it did so while paying its staff extravagant salaries. In fiscal year 2014-2015, Howle discovered that ten of Napolitano’s colleagues were paid a total of $3.7 million — “over $700,000 more than the combined salaries of their highest paid state employee counterparts.” The UC chief financial officer makes $412,000, for example, while the California State University’s chief financial officer — its counterpart — makes $341,000.

The Sacramento Bee nicely summarized Napolitano’s method behind the lucrative fund:

The Office of the President amassed $175 million in reserves by June 2016 by annually requesting approval from the university’s governing Board of Regents for budgets that significantly exceeded how much it was likely to spend. Those surpluses were carried over into funds that the president’s office subsequently spent on projects of its choice, without including them in the annual budgets it disclosed to the public and the regents.

Napolitano contends that Howle’s numbers are inflated and that she did no wrongdoing. Her office certainly had a surplus of funds, but it was only $38 million – “a prudent and reasonable amount,” she said, “for unexpected expenses such as cybersecurity threat response and emerging issues like increased support for undocumented students and efforts to prevent sexual violence and sexual harassment.”

If Napolitano had truly sought to use the surplus of funds to help students, it would have only made sense to halt the UC Office of the President’s annual charge to every UC campus — $32 million in total — that could have directly benefited students on campus. And she certainly wouldn’t have had to increase tuition.

No money will ever be enough for government bureaucrats, even when they are taking other people’s money faster than they can spend it.

A 15 Percent Corporate Tax Rate Would Be Great

by Veronique de Rugy

The Trump administration has released its guidelines for major tax reform. My quick sound-bite opinion of the plan may go something like this: The president’s tax reform is more supply-side and less protectionist than I thought it would be. Also, the president is serious about his commitment to grow the economy but oh so silent on spending cuts.

Jason Fichtner, Adam Michel, and I have recently published a short paper about getting to true tax reform in 2017. With that in the background, here are a few thoughts on the few details we have:

Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent is a good move, which was long over due. While the rest of the world has been cutting its corporate tax rate, the U.S. has fallen asleep at the switch and is now widely out of sync with international competition at the detriment of economic growth and jobs.

The move to corporate territorial tax system is great. Japan and the United Kingdom have done the same thing successfully and recently — as have most of our competitors in the past. It is about time we do the same. It will reduce the incentives for corporate inversions and many other forms of tax avoidance. In addition, companies will have an incentive to bring their outside income back to the U.S. if they wish to.

I am glad that the administration has decided not to adopt the destructive border-adjustment tax provision included in the House Republican Blueprint. The proposal was divisive and was getting in the way of tax reform in the name of revenue neutrality. The best way to address concerns about the debt and the deficit is through economic growth, the end of special-interest deductions, and spending cuts. That being said, we should stay vigilant because bad ideas never die.

I don’t like the repatriation tax because that income earned abroad has already been taxed but I understand the political value of such a move. It won’t, however, go very far in addressing deficit-neutrality concerns.

Good for the president that he wants to get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax and the Death Tax. 

I like the idea of simplifying the individual tax code by moving away from seven tax brackets. The president would like to have three: Thirty-five percent, 25 percent, and 10 percent.

I am wary of kicking more people off the tax rolls by doubling the standard deduction even if it makes filing taxes easier for a lot of people.

The end of the Obamacare’s 3.8 percent investment tax is a good move and so is the call for getting rid of deductions like the state and local tax deduction.

I am not fan of carving the tax code with family giveaways. They create distortions and do not grow the economy.

I wished the president would also move to a territorial tax system for individuals. Cross-border taxation is the source of many bad tax rules like the idiotic FATCA.

Finally, I am not concerned about the loss of revenue from the corporate tax cuts (Chris Edwards has written about this). However, I am concerned about the fact that the president has given repeated signs that he is not serious about reducing spending — entitlement spending in particular. In addition, President Trump has a long list of stuff he would like to spend money on such as a border wall, infrastructure, and defense. That’s too bad.

The Editors: The First 100 Days

by NR Staff

Check out the latest episode of The Editors, in which Rich Lowry, Charles Cooke, Reihan Salam, and Ian Tuttle discuss Trump’s first one hundred days, the ousting of Bill O’Reilly, and more!  

Baltimore’s Dwindling Police Force

by Peter Kirsanow

In a previous post, I noted that the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement (Gail Heriot and Kirsanow dissenting) expressing alarm over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s directive that the Justice Department review its investigations of, and consent decrees with, various police departments to ensure such investigations and decrees appropriately support local law enforcement. The Commission majority maintains that such decrees result in “better policing.”

It’s unlikely the Commission intended “better policing” to mean “fewer police,” but that’s precisely the result in Baltimore, where cops came under fire from both the Obama DOJ and local officials after the Freddie Gray incident. The local CBS affiliate now reports that there’s a dramatic shortage of cops in the city. Whereas since 2000, the number of Baltimore police officers has never fallen below 2,900, now there are only 2,500. The force is beset by turnover and an inability to recruit new officers. It’s estimated that it may cost the city $5-10 million a year to comply with the terms of the consent decree. This, on top of $1 million more in additional overtime costs incurred as a result of manpower shortages. Murders have increased 30 percent over last year, shootings are up 80 percent.

Not all of this may be attributable to the consequences of the investigations and consent decree, but it’s consistent with the Ferguson effect — a withdrawal of robust police presence due to constraints placed on the force by officials who conflate racial bean counting with public safety.

Keep reviewing those decrees General Sessions.

Radiant Kate

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was with some resignation that I handed off today’s symposium in tribute to the life of my beloved friend Kate O’Beirne for copy-editing. It’s 17,000 words. It could be ten times that length. I had to stop asking people or we could have filled a museum with tributes. There are many other people who loved Kate, many I could have asked, but we had to get posting! To family and friends and co-workers and other acquaintances, please do not feel bad or deprived of a chance. All, please understand this is but a taste for the gratitude in the world for Kate O’Beirne.

Read what we have from Raymond Arroyo, Fred Barnes, Leonard Leo, Dana Perino, Rick Santorum, and so many more here. That’s in addition to what Ramesh and John O’Sullivan and others have written.

I add my own additional thoughts here, to reach another audience with gratitude.