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Two weeks ago, Politico obtained a leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old ruling that acknowledged the constitutional right to abortion. Although this is the most egregious attack on reproductive rights, it only follows the anti-abortion momentum that has been building for years around the country. This week on Intercepted, Intercept investigative reporter Jordan Smith discusses the aggressive, irrational, and dangerous Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Smith is joined by Melissa Murray, the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at New York University and co-host of “Strict Scrutiny,” a podcast about the Supreme Court. Smith and Murray talk through the draft decision, its implications, and the future of reproductive rights.
Transcript coming soon.
The post Overturning Roe v. Wade: “Irrational, Aggressive, and Extremely Dangerous” appeared first on The Intercept.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called the deadly supermarket shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. an act of terror and excoriated the white supremacist ideology that inspired the alleged gunman, but he stopped short of announcing a political agenda in the massacre’s aftermath.
“What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism,” Biden said during a visit to Buffalo. “Terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate, and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.”
In an emotional speech before the victims’ families, local officials, and community leaders, Biden assumed a familiar role of grief counselor and empathizer-in-chief; his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972, and his son Beau died of cancer in 2015. “The day’s going to come where the loved one will bring a smile as you remember him or her, a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” the President told the families gathered at the Delavan-Grider Community Center on Buffalo’s East Side.
The setting was minutes away from the Jefferson Avenue Tops where the suspected assailant, Payton Gendron, killed 10 people on Saturday. Gendron, 18, allegedly drove more than 200 miles from Conklin, N.Y. to carry out the attack in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Officials said he scoped out the grocery store a day earlier, with the deliberate intent of killing as many Black people as possible. He said as much in a 180-page manifesto he posted on the internet hours before the carnage, espousing what is known as “replacement theory”—the belief that a cabal of elites is systematically replacing white people with ethnic minorities.
The President took aim not only at Gendron’s warped worldview, but also alluded to right-wing media personalities and politicians who have amplified versions of “replacement theory.” Biden didn’t call anyone out by name, but suggested prominent figures bore moral responsibility for the movement they were helping to grow. “I call on all Americans to reject the lie, and I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain, and for profit,” he said.
“White supremacy is a poison,” Biden said. “It’s been allowed to fester and grow before our eyes. No more.”
Biden didn’t use the occasion to push for any policy prescriptions, whether by calling for more restrictions on guns or a crackdown on social media platforms that become havens for hate speech. He told reporters before boarding Air Force One on Tuesday that he has “to convince Congress to go back to what I passed years ago,” referring to an assault weapons ban he helped pass as a Delaware Senator in the 1990s that expired in 2004. “It is going to be very difficult, but I am not going to give up.” In an evenly split Senate, Democrats almost certainly don’t have the votes to pass such a measure.
Several people who attended Biden’s speech appreciated his focus on the community’s grief instead of on Washington gridlock. “I don’t think he wanted to politicize the visit,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told TIME shortly after Biden’s speech. “He met with 10 families of loved ones who were taken from them by a racist, domestic terroristic attack on this community. I think he wanted to show his concern and his empathy and his compassion for the families.”
The family members of victims agreed. “It was a heartfelt, beautiful speech, man,” said Wayne Jones, whose mother Celestine Chaney was killed in Saturday’s attack. “He hit it right on the nose.”
Chaney’s grandson, Phillip Bell, also said he valued the President’s remarks. “You can tell it was genuine, and it was really touching to know that he took time out of his busy schedule,” Bell told TIME in the bleachers, minutes after Biden left the auditorium. “There’s a lot of people hurting now.”
Both Jones and Bell met with Biden backstage with the rest of their extended family before his address. There, they say, Biden was more forthcoming about his policy goals; Jones says the President told them he would push for an assault weapons ban.
For now, though, any looming policy fight isn’t at the forefront of Jones’s mind. He’s still waiting for authorities to release his mother’s body, and he’s planning her funeral in the coming days. “I just wish I had her back,” Johnson said. “All of this is nice and fine, but I’d rather have my mom.”
As parents across the country frantically search for baby formula amid a nationwide shortage, many have heard that the source of the problem is in Sturgis, Mich. That’s where Abbott, the multinational healthcare giant that sells formula under the Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare brands and controls 40% of the U.S. infant formula market, shut down its largest baby food plant in February after a type of bacteria linked to the hospitalization and death of several babies was found in the plant. (Abbott maintains there is not conclusive evidence its formulas harmed children.)
But the reason one plant shutting down has had such an outsized impact on the nation’s baby food supply can be traced to Washington, specifically decisions made in the 1980s in Congressional hallways and beleaguered bureaucratic agencies.
Like most issues in Washington, the baby food shortage is a multifaceted one, but it comes down to a simple mismatch between supply and demand. Millions of families use baby formula, and too few brands supply it, leading to catastrophic shortages when just one of the major brands has a lapse in production.
By six months of age, roughly three-quarters of babies born in the U.S. are given at least some formula, according to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But lower-income moms are more likely than higher-earning ones to use formula over breastfeeding and start their babies on it earlier in life, due, in part, to the absence of national paid parental leave policies and less flexibility for mothers in service-industry jobs to breastfeed.
Many of those mothers end up taking part in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children, also known as WIC, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through state agencies, WIC gives families earning at or below 185% the federal poverty line vouchers and electronic cards to purchase baby formula on the government’s dime. In 1989, Congress, hoping to keep WIC’s costs down, passed legislation requiring states to use competitive bidding to select one manufacturer of infant formula to be covered by WIC.
Roughly half to two-thirds of formula purchased in the U.S. is bought through WIC, according to government estimates. With so many low-income parents relying on formula, the move by Congress led to the bid winners in each state dominating the formula market there. That spurred the kind of intense consolidation in the U.S. formula industry that has not been seen in many other parts of the world.
Since the single-contract rule was established more than 30 years ago, only three companies–Abbott, Gerber, and Mead Johnson—have received those WIC contracts. Their control over the market has disincentivized the creation of new brands, which is why the recent loss of Abbott’s products from store shelves has left many parents with few alternatives.
As of May 8, 43% of the top-selling infant formula products were out of stock across the country, according to software platform Datasembly, with the range of standard shortages falling between 2% and 8%.
“The extremely high levels of concentration in the infant formula market creates a serious risk to infant health if there is any disruption to a major manufacturer’s supply,” Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and five other Democratic Senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week, calling for an “immediate antitrust review.”
“This is yet another example of how alarming levels of consolidation hurts American families and can no longer be ignored,” they added.
‘Infant formula is the most regulated food that exists’
In Michigan, mother Elyssa Schmier is among those flummoxed by the empty baby formula shelves at her local grocery stores. She had hoped to exclusively breastfeed her son, who is eight months old, but her body wasn’t producing enough milk—even when she woke up every three hours to pump. Her doctor advised her to supplement with formula, which now makes up approximately 60% of her son’s bottles when she can find it in stores.
Schmier, a vice president with MomsRising, which advocates for issues facing mothers and families, expressed frustration with seeing people use the moment to guilt moms for using formula when exclusively breastfeeding a child isn’t feasible for many, especially after they have begun tapering. “The best way to feed a child,” she says, “is to feed a child.”
In Washington, many of the proposed solutions to Schmier’s dilemma are focused on the immediate crisis.
The Biden Administration has urged states to temporarily loosen regulations around what brands and sizes of formula parents are able to purchase with WIC. A White House official told reporters on Monday that the Administration was also working with the four largest formula brands to identify hurdles to increasing supply domestically; the Administration also announced it would expedite the application and approval process for the importation of non-domestic formulas.
That process normally moves at a snail’s pace due to strict safety regulations governing baby formula. “Infant formula is the most regulated food that exists, by far,” says Dr. Steven A. Abrams, a professor at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition. “The reason being that if you leave a component out, the baby can have severe brain damage and die.”
But international brands are also disincentivized from exporting their baby formula to the U.S. by tariffs as high as 17.5%. Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, is working on a bill that would temporarily waive such tariffs on baby formula products.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, agrees that there needs to be some form of tariff reduction. “The fastest way to get more formula onto the shelves, at least in the short term, is going to be tariff relief,” she told TIME Monday.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Spanberger, have also urged the Biden Administration to consider invoking the Defense Production Act, a law originally passed amid the Korean War that gives presidents broad powers to control domestic industries during emergency situations. Both Biden and former President Donald Trump invoked the DPA to speed up production of supplies needed to combat the pandemic. “There is ample precedent for using the DPA to address a crisis in peacetime,” Rubio said in a statement last week.
But after the current crisis is over, and grocery stores are back to being fully stocked with formula, the underlying consolidation issue will remain, as well as the potential for similar shortages in the future. Addressing that problem would require a major overhaul of WIC, the kind that some experts who follow the issue are skeptical will happen any time soon.
“There’s still not an awareness that one of the government’s key roles is to structure markets, so that you don’t have fragile supply chains,” says Matt Stoller, the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust advocacy group, and the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.
Spanberger says there also needs to be more transparency about possible shortages. She and a Republican colleague have drafted a bill that would require baby food manufacturers to inform the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if they anticipate shortages moving forward, like manufacturers of other products do already. “There are certain requirements on various different types of industries that if they are anticipating supply chain disruptions or shortages, that they are to make that known to FDA,” she says, while acknowledging that the proposal wouldn’t solve the current shortages. “This legislation, unfortunately, won’t help us in the here and now,” she says.
In the more immediate future, Abbott announced on Monday that it had reached a deal with the FDA to resume operations at its plant in Sturgis as soon as within the next two weeks after the plant addresses safety concerns.
This won’t solve Schmier’s problems overnight, though. Abbott has previously said that once that plant was running again, it would take six to eight weeks for baby formula from there to return to store shelves.
—with reporting by Alana Semuels in New York
The Tops supermarket on Buffalo’s Jefferson Avenue is surrounded by streets lined with dilapidated houses. Around the corner is a small strip with two barbershops, a nail salon, and a heavily guarded M&T Bank. On most days, this part of town sees little foot traffic. But on Monday, it was filled with television news crews and local church groups offering free food to a community that had just experienced a massacre.
The gunman accused of killing 10 people here over the weekend made no secret about his motive. He came to Tops “to take as many Black lives as possible,” as Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. And the suspect, Payton Gendron, did not arrive there by accident.
Gendron allegedly posted a racist manifesto online before the massacre. He wrote the N-word on the gun he used in the attack, according to The Buffalo News. And law enforcement officials confirmed that the 18-year-old from Broome County, N.Y.—more than a three-hour drive from the Queen City—had conducted reconnaissance on the Tops location, with the intent of capitalizing on the neighborhood’s concentration of Black people.
In deliberately targeting a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s Black community, the accused assailant took advantage of the fact that Buffalo is one of the most racially segregated cities in America. Roughly 85% of the city’s Black residents live in the economically devastated East Side.
This too is no accident. It’s a legacy that dates to World War I, when Buffalo was a major steel city producing much of the machinery American forces were using in Europe. That led to an abundance of jobs in the Western New York city, where Black Americans soon came in search of economic opportunity.
It didn’t take long, however, for racial tension and violence to erupt in the 1910s. The city’s public officials quickly responded by restricting Blacks from living in white neighborhoods. Buffalo’s City Hall and New York state government enacted racist zoning laws, while white property owners began to use restrictive covenants to prevent their homes from later being sold to Black families, according to research by the Partnership for Public Good, a Buffalo think tank.
Restrictive covenants were outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948, but racist federal policy housing continued. Black people were denied FHA mortgage loans through redlining, which made it harder for them to buy homes at all, let alone in middle-class neighborhoods.
“The history of segregation is the history of institutionalized racism in our governments, in our banks, in the extension of credit and opportunity to white people that was intentionally not made available to Black people,” says Miles Gresham, a policy fellow at the Partnership for Public Good.
The problem got worse in Buffalo after World War II, when the construction of a highway in the 1950s and ’60s split the city in half. The Kensington Expressway, just a few blocks from the Tops store, destroyed a growing Black neighborhood and cut the city into an East and West Side.
“The Kensington Expressway made it easier for white people who had engaged in white flight and moved out into the suburbs to still travel to the economic centers of the area,” Gresham says. It also created a new reality in which everything east of the highway—a portion of Buffalo that was already heavily Black—fell into poverty and economic disrepair. The rest of the town fared much better. Today, more than one-third of the city’s 255,000 residents live below the poverty line. Most of them reside on the East Side.
For this part of Buffalo, the opening of the Jefferson Avenue Tops was a big deal. In 2003, then-Senator Hillary Clinton came for the ribbon cutting. Until Tops arrived, the neighborhood was an infamous food desert, without a grocery store in walking distance. It was an acute problem for the community, particularly since many of its impoverished residents didn’t have access to a car.
Betty Jean Grant, a longtime Buffalo politician who pushed for public funding for the Tops when she was on the Buffalo Common Council, says the area was blighted then. “In the 1990s, to have a white person walking east of the Humboldt Expressway or the 33, would have been like a ghost,” Grant says. “They’d be like somebody from Mars, because people did not walk on the East Side of Buffalo.”
Buffalo as a whole has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the past decade, from the building of Canalside—a redeveloped district that has revived the town’s Lake Erie waterfront—to the expansion of commercial strips and a new medical campus downtown. Yet the working-class Black neighborhoods on East Side have remained neglected, leaving Buffalo one of the poorest large cities in America.
“The fact that there’s only one grocery store on the East Side that serves Black communities is a choice,” says India Walton, an activist and former Democratic candidate for mayor. “This is not something that’s, like, accidental. No one cares about Black people on the East Side of Buffalo.”
It’s why activists like Walton, now a senior adviser for the Working Families Party, are pushing not only for policy action to combat racism and extremist violence but also for the city’s leaders to address the legacy of segregation and inequality that has plagued Buffalo for a century.
“People are tired,” Walton says. “I’m personally ready to burn this sh-t down. You can put that on the record. We’re not taking this anymore.”
This article is part of our America’s Issues series.
In 1935, Gallup first asked Americans what they thought was the most important problem facing the United States. In the midst of the Great Depression, about 3 in 5 Americans mentioned concerns related to the economy.
Fast forward nearly 90 years, and countless pollsters regularly ask Americans what’s top of mind for them. But on their own, answers to this question don’t really tell us that much. Issues like “the economy” or “political polarization” are often too broad to define. Moreover, two voters might both say something like “crime” is important to them, but for very different reasons. It’s why understanding how these issues factor into how Americans vote is so challenging.
But understanding how the most important issues facing the country factor into voters’ lives — including what they really know about the issues — is exactly what FiveThirtyEight aims to do. In partnership with Ipsos, FiveThirtyEight will conduct six polls between now and Election Day, interviewing the same group of around 2,000 Americans about the biggest issues facing the country. By interviewing the same people each month, using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we’ll get a better sense of whether Americans’ concerns are changing and the extent to which those worries will influence the country’s political environment as we move closer to the 2022 midterm elections. We’ll do deep dives into what Americans name as their most pressing concerns and also conduct one FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll after the election to see where things stand after the country has voted.
At this point, the answer to what Americans are most worried about is pretty straightforward: inflation. In the first FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll,5 52 percent of Americans said the most important issue facing the country was inflation. We asked Americans this question in a variety of ways,6 but regardless of how we asked it, the top answer was always the same: inflation.
It’s true that a larger percentage of Republicans than Democrats or independents in our poll said they were concerned about inflation. But inflation still led the way regardless of party identification: About two-thirds of Republicans selected it as a top issue, as did about half of all independents and slightly more than 40 percent of Democrats. Inflation was the top issue for respondents of all age groups and for both men and women, too. Now, some Americans did find other issues more important, though. For instance, 43 percent of Black Americans listed “race and racism” as a top concern, while 37 percent named inflation.
But inflation in particular is casting a pall over the lives of Americans of all stripes. “At the end of the month, it’s harder to buy food and pay bills and keep the kids with clothes and sneakers on them,” a Hispanic 48-year old Democratic woman from New York told us. “No matter how much they raise wages, costs exceed them,” said a white 60-year old Republican woman from Pennsylvania. And as a 36-year old man of color from Arizona who identified as independent put it: “It is impacting my spending power and the future wealth of myself and generations that come after me, including my own children.” Moreover, with prices continuing to rise — inflation was 8.3 percent in April — these concerns aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.
And most Americans don’t feel like things have improved for them financially, either. Overall, 32 percent said their personal financial circumstances had worsened over the past year, 52 percent said things were about the same, and just 12 percent said they were doing better. Tellingly, 41 percent said they had made a major change to how they live, including a majority (56 percent) of households making less than $50,000 per year.
Many in our survey said they were driving less, taking fewer vacations or just being more cost-conscious at the grocery store. Put more simply, many Americans are watching what they spend. “I just noticed that I'm really checking my bill a lot more. I actually maintain a spreadsheet just to track how my costs have gone up,” said James Bassett, a 48-year old white man from South Carolina. “It's definitely made me a lot more mindful and taken a little bit more time to process what I need and what I don't need.”
For the most part, though, Americans have a decent understanding of what inflation and the broader economic situation looks like in the U.S. For instance, a plurality of Americans knew that unemployment is currently at its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. Similarly, slightly more Americans knew that wages were increasing faster over the last year than they had at any point over the previous two decades — even though a plurality said they didn’t know. That said, there were a couple points where a majority of Americans were wrong. Most notably, 51 percent said that inflation was higher now than at any time since World War II, even though inflation was actually higher at some points in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Both younger and older Americans, including those who lived through the high inflation periods of the 1970s and ’80s, were likely to say that inflation was higher now. Some recency bias is probably at play here, but older Americans may also feel a greater pinch from inflation today than they did in earlier decades because they are more likely now to live on a fixed income from a pension or social security. “Once you fall behind, there's no catching up until they give you an increase the following year,” said Jarvis White, a 65-year old Black man from Florida. In his view, the situation in the 1970s and ’80s, even during the 1970s oil embargo, “pales in comparison” to today’s circumstances.
Similarly, a plurality of respondents said U.S. gas prices rank among the highest in the world — they don’t. But it’s easy to understand why many Americans think they do. For starters, compared to food, clothing or electricity, gas prices have seen the largest percentage increase over the past year, which a majority of respondents answered correctly in a separate question in our poll. Moreover, a lot of Americans drive and have to visit the pump often, especially compared to other countries, so it’s no wonder many thought gas prices were relatively high by global standards. “I work in sales, so I drive a lot. Gas is killing me right now,” said Jeni Johnson, a 53-year old white woman from Michigan.
There were some differences in how Americans answered these questions based on party. For instance, a much smaller share of Democrats than Republicans (48 percent vs. 86 percent) correctly said inflation wasn’t higher when Donald Trump was president, and a smaller share of Republicans than Democrats (40 percent vs. 57 percent) correctly said that unemployment is at its lowest point since the start of the pandemic, which reflects how partisanship can color economic views. But broadly speaking, Americans were on the same page, including in some cases for what they thought was responsible for driving inflation. A sizable majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents said that supply chain breakdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic and foreign conflicts had all had a “major” or “significant” impact. From there, though, there was much less agreement, as the chart below shows.
Most divides fell along somewhat predictable political lines. For instance, Democrats were more likely to blame businesses, with 70 percent saying that businesses trying to make more profits had made a major or significant impact on price increases and 60 percent saying the same of a lack of competition among businesses, compared with only 45 percent and 39 percent of Republicans, respectively. Conversely, Republicans were more likely to blame government COVID-19 spending programs, with two-thirds saying that it was a major or significant reason for inflation, while only 37 percent of Democrats said the same. Of course, neither side is fully correct in its assessment of what’s causing inflation, but it does underscore once again how partisanship can influence how Americans interpret economic conditions.
Regardless of partisan differences, though, half of the respondents in the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll named inflation as a top concern — both for them personally and for the country. And there’s good reason to think that this issue could be a major boon to Republicans’ hopes of taking control of the House and Senate. That’s because independents, about half of whom named inflation as a major worry, aren’t happy with the status quo — only 30 percent had a favorable view of Biden in the poll, compared with 55 percent who had an unfavorable opinion of the president. Independents are less likely to vote than Republicans or Democrats, and our survey suggests that about half of all likely voters who are independent haven’t yet decided which major party they’ll support or have decided they will not support either in November. Yet given Biden’s poor numbers among independents and that inflation looks like a long-term problem, Republicans appear to have an easy way to appeal to dissatisfied, less partisan voters who will be more open to a message of change come November.
In other words, inflation could very well be the issue that tips the scales this year sharply to the Republicans’ advantage.
Additional reporting by Santul Nerkar and Jean Yi. Art direction by Emily Scherer. Copy editing by Santul Nerkar. Graphics by Ryan Best. Story editing by Sarah Frostenson.
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