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By: Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Attorneys general from 50 States, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico released a letter Thursday to urge "swift passage" on a opioid bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

The bill is called the SOFA Act and is aimed at cracking down on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be be used safely as a painkiller under proper medical care.

But recreational use can be deadly, especially with the creation of slight variations known as analogues, which fall into a legal loophole.The Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues bill toughens enforcement.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, a Democrat, spearheaded the bipartisan letter from the National Association of Attorneys General to Congressional leadership.

The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Lauri Badura, of Oconomowoc, whose son Archie died of an overdose in 2014. She founded Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.

“Heart-wrenching stories like Archie Badura’s are far too common today," Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, said in a statement. "The opioid epidemic impacts everyone in some way — it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, socioeconomic status, or location."

Sensenbrenner called on House Speaker Paul Ryan of and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the bill up when Congress reconvenes.

Schimel said passing the act "is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day.”

Johnson said the SOFA Act "will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law."

In their letter to Congress, the attorneys general write: "The SOFA Act will eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce these fentanyl analogues into the opioid supply.

"In short, the SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to proactively schedule all newly modified fentanyl analogues and thus will assist law enforcement’s efforts on the front end. The SOFA Act unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance by making fentanyl analogues illegal as soon as they are manufactured, which occurs most often abroad in countries without adequate controls."

By: Katie Delong of FOX 6

MADISON — Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has joined 52 other attorneys general, submitting a letter to Congress, urging the passage of legislation aimed at closing a loophole that has allowed those who traffic deadly fentanyl to stay a step ahead of law enforcement.

The legislation is called the “Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.”

“A small amount of fentanyl has the ability to cause great harm, even to unsuspecting people like children and first responders at overdose scenes. Attorneys general in all 50 states agree — passing the SOFA Act in Congress is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day,” said Schimel in a news release.

Led Schimel and George Jepsen of Connecticut, the attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico sent the letter to Congress on Thursday, Aug. 23.

The SOFA legislation was authored by Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

“The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own. The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law. I appreciate the support of Attorney General Schimel and such a broad bipartisan collection of attorneys general for this important bill. I join them in urging Congressional leadership to pass the SOFA Act as soon as possible,” said Senator Johnson in the release.

“Combating the newest front in the opioid crisis — fentanyl and its analogues — will require an all-hands-on-deck effort and passing the SOFA Act is an essential piece of the puzzle. I’m extremely grateful to Attorney General Schimel for his leadership on this effort,” said Sensenbrenner in the release.

Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance, and when used as prescribed by a doctor, can be a safe painkiller. However, outside of careful supervision, fentanyl and any analogues that are manufactured illicitly, can be lethal.

According to the release, the SOFA Act would eliminate the loophole that keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce them into the opioid supply. The SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the DEA to proactively schedule all newly-modified fentanyl analogues.

CLICK HERE to view the letter submitted to Congress.

Brookfield, WI—Today, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen (D) led the National Association of Attorneys General in sending a bipartisan letter to Congressional Leadership urging the “swift passage” of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-05) has sponsored the SOFA Act in the House and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has sponsored the Senate companion.

Background on the SOFA Act:

Fentanyl is currently a Schedule II controlled substance and, when prescribed by a doctor, can be safely used as a painkiller for cancer patients and other individuals experiencing excruciating pain. However, outside of careful supervision, fentanyl can be lethal and, along with other synthetic opioids, is now the leading cause of opioid overdoses.

In addition, street drug manufacturers create slight variations of fentanyl known as “analogues,” which fall into a legal loophole and are frequently becoming the cause of opioid-related deaths.

To combat this new trend, Congressman Sensenbrenner and Senator Johnson have introduced versions of the SOFA Act in the House and Senate. The SOFA Act immediately adds more than a dozen known fentanyl analogues to the Schedule I list and gives the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the authority to immediately schedule new fentanyl analogues as they are discovered.

The bill shares the acronym of an organization started by Oconomowoc, WI resident Lauri Badura, who lost her son, Archie, to an overdose in 2014. Shortly after, she founded the faith-based non-profit Saving Others for Archie, Inc. to raise awareness and fight the opioid epidemic.

During a May House Judiciary Committee hearing, the DEA Administrator testified on the need for legislation to help law enforcement combat fentanyl analogues. Dr. Timothy Westlake, a Wisconsin based emergency medical physician, also testified in support of the SOFA Act, which he later called in an op-ed the “One bill that will stop the spread of deadly fentanyl.”

Representative Sensenbrenner: “Heart-wrenching stories like Archie Badura’s are far too common today. The opioid epidemic impacts everyone in some way — it doesn’t discriminate by age, race, socioeconomic status, or location.

Combating the newest front in the crisis — fentanyl and its analogues — will require an all-hands-on-deck effort and passing the SOFA Act is an essential piece of the puzzle. I’m extremely grateful to AGs Schimel and Jepsen for leading this bipartisan letter and to Senator Johnson for his efforts in the Senate. It’s imperative that Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell bring the SOFA Act up for consideration when Congress reconvenes.”

Attorney General Schimel: “A small amount of fentanyl has the ability to cause great harm, even to unsuspecting people like children and first responders at overdose scenes. Attorneys general in all 50 states agree - passing Rep. Sensenbrenner’s and Sen. Johnson’s SOFA Act in Congress is vital to the front line law enforcement fighting the opioid epidemic every day.”

Senator Johnson: “The scourge of addiction and overdose deaths has devastated thousands of American families, including my own. The widespread introduction of fentanyl and its analogues into illicit drug markets has resulted in skyrocketing overdose rates throughout the country. The SOFA Act will give law enforcement important new tools to curb the supply of illicit fentanyl and close legal loopholes that have allowed criminal drug manufacturers and traffickers to stay one step ahead of the law. I appreciate the support of Attorney General Schimel and such a broad bipartisan collection of Attorneys General for this important bill. I join them in urging Congressional leadership to pass the SOFA Act as soon as possible.”


You can read more about the SOFA Act here.

You can read the text of H.R. 4922 here.

You can find a list of cosponsors here.

You can read the full text of the National Association of Attorneys General letter below:


August 23, 2018

Dear Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Minority Leader Schumer:

We, the undersigned Attorneys General, write to express our support for swift passage of the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act.

There is little doubt that the nation’s ongoing battle against heroin and opiates is unlike any other public health emergency. It touches all corners of our society. States and localities are on the front line of this crisis and are a large part of winning the battle from both a law enforcement and public health perspective. We are grateful for the steps that Congress has taken to assist our states, including passing the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act earlier this year.

Unfortunately, as states have taken measures on a local level to solve this crisis, a new front has emerged in the form of trafficking in fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. As you are probably aware, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat late-stage cancer patients. Sadly, fentanyl and its analogues have made their way onto our streets with alarming regularity and overdose deaths related to fentanyl now surpass deaths related to heroin. These troubling facts were expressed in detail recently in a May 8, 2018, hearing in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee entitled, “Challenges and Solutions in the Opioid Abuse Crisis.”

The SOFA Act will eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogues and then introduce these fentanyl analogues into the opioid supply. In short, the SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to proactively schedule all newly modified fentanyl analogues and thus will assist law enforcement’s efforts on the front end. The SOFA Act unplugs the entire fentanyl machine in the first instance by making fentanyl analogues illegal as soon as they are manufactured, which occurs most often abroad in countries without adequate controls.

While there remains much work to be done on all levels of government to address the opioid crisis, we urge Congress to act expeditiously and pass this important piece of legislation.

Very truly yours,

George Jepsen
Connecticut Attorney General 

Brad D. Schimel 
Wisconsin Attorney General 

Steve Marshall
Alabama Attorney General 

Jahna Lindemuth 
Alaska Attorney General

Mark Brnovich
Arizona Attorney General 

Leslie Rutledge 
Arkansas Attorney General 

Xavier Becerra
California Attorney General 

Cynthia H. Coffman 
Colorado Attorney General 

Matthew P. Denn
Delaware Attorney General 

Karl A. Racine 
District of Columbia Attorney General 

Pamela Jo Bondi
Florida Attorney General 

Christopher M. Carr 
Georgia Attorney General 

Russell A. Suzuki
Hawaii Attorney General 

Lawrence Wasden 
Idaho Attorney General

Lisa Madigan
Illinois Attorney General 

Curtis T. Hill, Jr. 
Indiana Attorney General 

Tom Miller
Iowa Attorney General 

Derek Schmidt 
Kansas Attorney General 

Andy Beshear
Kentucky Attorney General 

Jeff Landry 
Louisiana Attorney General 

Janet Mills
Maine Attorney General 

Brian Frosh 
Maryland Attorney General 

Maura Healey
Massachusetts Attorney General 

Bill Schuette 
Michigan Attorney General 

Lori Swanson
Minnesota Attorney General 

Jim Hood 
Mississippi Attorney General 

Josh Hawley
Missouri Attorney General 

Tim Fox 
Montana Attorney General 

Douglas Peterson
Nebraska Attorney General 

Adam Paul Laxalt 
Nevada Attorney General 

Gordon MacDonald
New Hampshire Attorney General 

Gurbir S. Grewa
New Jersey Attorney General 

Hector Balderas
New Mexico Attorney General 

Barbara D. Underwood 
New York Attorney General 

Josh Stein
North Carolina Attorney General  

Wayne Stenehjem 
North Dakota Attorney General

Mike DeWine
Ohio Attorney General

Mike Hunter 
Oklahoma Attorney General 

Ellen F. Rosenblum
Oregon Attorney General 

Josh Shapiro 
Pennsylvania Attorney General 

Wanda Vàzquez Garced
Puerto Rico Attorney General 

Peter F. Kilmartin 
Rhode Island Attorney General 

Alan Wilson
South Carolina Attorney General

Marty J. Jackley 
South Dakota Attorney General 

Herbert H. Slatery III
Tennessee Attorney General 

Ken Paxton 
Texas Attorney General 

Sean Reyes T.J. Donovan 
Utah Attorney General 

T.J. Donovan 
Vermont Attorney General 

Mark R. Herring
Virginia Attorney General 

Robert W. Ferguson 
Washington Attorney General 

Patrick Morrisey
West Virginia Attorney General 

Peter K. Michael 
Wyoming Attorney General

By: Catherine Boudreau of Politico

Fiscal conservatives and liberal environmentalists alike thought they had a good chance this year to trim billions in farm subsidies that flow to wealthy commodity growers.

Despite years of methodical planning and lobbying, their efforts during the 2018 farm bill were thwarted by some of the very lawmakers who were thought to be aligned with their interests.

“This wasn’t a matter of being beaten. We were blocked,” Nan Swift, director of federal affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, told POLITICO. “Let’s have the fight.”

“I’m fine with losing on the floor. But to not even have a discussion is selling taxpayers short,” she added.

The coalition pushing to rein in farm subsidies is a disparate bunch: It includes libertarians seeking spending cuts, environmentalists wanting to improve water quality and free-marketers like the Heritage Foundation.

Although these strange bedfellows have long tried to limit farm payments, the coalition thought this farm bill cycle could be their moment. Not only is Congress controlled by Republicans, many of whom express a distaste for big government, but President Donald Trump also included proposals in his budgets that would cut off subsidies for farmers with high incomes.

But except for a failed vote in the House to limit government’s role in sugar policy and a Hail Mary proposal to phase out all farm subsidies, almost no public debate on subsidies took place in either chamber.

In the House, a bitter partisan divide over the GOP’s plan to impose stricter work requirements on millions of food-stamp recipients inadvertently created an environment in which both Republican and Democratic leaders helped fend off attempts to target farm subsidies.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tight control of the floor, coupled with Agriculture Committee leaders’ bipartisan effort to thwart controversial proposals, ultimately stymied the push to overhaul subsidies, according to interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbying groups engaged in the farm bill fight.

It didn’t help their cause that agricultural producers’ net farm income has been cut in half in recent years because of low commodity prices. Producers are also feeling the pain from the Trump administration’s chaotic trade relationships.

Several members of the farm lobby — a powerful force representing farmers, bankers, agrochemical companies and private crop insurers — said the economic slump made lawmakers more aware of the need to maintain support in this farm bill.

Still, the coalition of subsidy reformers had high hopes for scoring some wins during the amendment process, particularly in the House, where many lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus, Republican Study Committee and environmental caucuses shared their beliefs.

Strategy to cap payments

Shortly after the House Agriculture Committee in April unveiled its farm bill, the staff of Democratic Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.) as well as Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), who represents one of the most liberal districts in the nation, joined forces with Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a fiscal conservative and fierce gun rights advocate. They organized strategy sessions in the Capitol that included more than a dozen staff from lawmakers’ offices and outside interest groups, according to several people involved.

What emerged were at least 10 amendments narrowly targeting farm policies, the majority of which were bipartisan. Blumenauer and Texas Republican Michael Burgess co-sponsored a provision that would cap two commodity support programs — known as Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage — at 110 percent of their projected cost. The proposal passed the House during the last farm bill but was eventually stripped from the version conferenced with the Senate.

GOP Reps. Keith Rothfus (Pa.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) joined forces with Democrats Kind and Jared Polis (Colo.) on a proposal that would prohibit farmers with an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more from being eligible for crop insurance premiums partially covered by the taxpayer. And Kind and Rothfus proposed the same means test for commodity and conservation assistance. Under current law, farmers earning more than $900,000 in income are disqualified for commodity and conservation payments, while crop insurance has no such eligibility tests.

Alignment of Republican and Democratic leadership

But the dispute over SNAP unintentionally aligned House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson in way the coalition didn’t foresee: All four helped defend the farm policy status quo.

For many House Republicans, pushing stricter work requirements for SNAP was too important an issue, said Caroline Kitchens, federal affairs manager and a policy analyst with the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. As a result, they were willing to let slide provisions in the legislation that would make it easier for some farm operations to receive greater commodity subsidies, she said.

Ryan, who in the past has advocated for billions in cuts to farm subsidies, regularly praised the House bill for including workforce development reforms in SNAP to help close the skills gap at a time of U.S. economic growth. He barely addressed farm policy in public statements. AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said the Speaker is proud to have followed through on a promise made in Republicans’ “Better Way” agenda, which they campaigned on in 2016.

Meanwhile, Pelosi and Peterson pushed Democrats to unanimously oppose the farm bill over the proposed changes to SNAP, which would involve stricter work requirements for about 5 to 7 million able-bodied adults and tightened eligibility.

Blumenauer — who spent several years crafting an alternative farm bill — said in an interview that Pelosi and Peterson did not want him to offer amendments to the GOP-led farm bill.

“I never got a good reason for why [we should not offer] a sugar policy reform amendment,” Blumenauer said. “What the passage of something like that could possibly do to threaten Democrat's ability to hold the line against draconian cuts to nutrition programs?”

An aide to Pelosi told POLITICO that the minority leader and Peterson wanted an overall strategy to unify Democrats by not offering amendments to the farm bill because “no amendment could improve the underlying bill that failed” on both nutrition programs and farm policy.

In the end, the House Rules Committee heeded the counsel of the Agriculture Committee by blocking nearly every farm subsidy amendment on deck, according to several congressional aides, though in total about 50 other proposals were made in order — ranging from forest restoration to rural broadband. Many described the move as surprising, though acknowledged that Rules has often deferred to the chairman responsible for the piece of legislation being considered.

The House Agriculture Committee, in a statement to POLITICO, said that it is proud of the farm bill and “the open process by which it was developed and successfully approved.”

“While some are Monday morning quarterbacking how we got the farm bill this far, the committee is laser focused on ensuring a successful conference committee and an on-time enactment of a strong, new farm bill. That’s what matters to farmers, ranchers, and rural America,” the committee said.

The one chance on the floor came after Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) offered an amendment to unravel parts the 1930s era sugar program — a complex system of price supports, production controls and import limits designed to keep the commodity price high. The votes on the issue demonstrated the complicated political interests at play when it comes to taking on the farm lobby.

Peterson — whose support of U.S. sugar policy over the years has helped him get re-elected in a Minnesota district where the sugar beet industry generates billions in economic activity — told lawmakers that he would have to resign if Foxx’s amendment passed because he couldn’t face his constituents. Conaway threatened to whip against the entire farm bill if Foxx’s proposal prevailed.

In the end, the House defeated Foxx’s amendment by a vote of 137 to 278.

Stalled in Senate

The vote to sink sugar reform in the House took the wind out of the sails of a similar push in the Senate.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) didn’t bring their sugar amendment to the floor, and members of the coalition seeking changes said there was skepticism that the legislation could clear a 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

Only two amendments were brought up for consideration in the Senate, and they didn’t target farm subsidies.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) worked overtime and in lock step to fend off amendments that could potentially undermine support for the farm bill.

Stabenow persuaded Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to renege on a proposal that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies by 15 percent for farmers earning more than $1.4 million a year. Instead, language bolstering rural emergency medical services was included.

“He made the decision that he wasn't going to push on the crop insurance amendment, given other things that he cared deeply about that we were able to address,” Stabenow told reporters at the time.

Emily Hampsten, a spokeswoman for Durbin, said the senator was pursuing both proposals. “One had an objection to a vote and one ultimately did not,” she said.

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have emphasized that more than 170 mostly uncontroversial proposals from Republicans and Democrats were incorporated into the legislation via various, unanimously approved managers’ packages.

That included a provision from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would limit farms to having just one manager eligible for commodity subsidies, which are currently capped at $125,000 a year per person — and double for couples. Agriculture Committee leaders also agreed to lower the income test for receiving commodity subsidies to $700,000.

“At a time of challenge in the ag economy, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders need predictability and certainty,” Meghan Cline, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Committee, said. “Chairman Roberts continues to work with his House and Senate colleagues to ensure we can get a farm bill across the finish line to help provide that predictability and certainty.”

The frustration over a lack of open debate on amendments also had been simmering long before the farm bill came to the floor. During this two-year Congress, McConnell has exerted a tight grip on the Senate floor, although some blame Democratic leaders for shielding vulnerable members from tough votes.

The coalition of those looking to limit subsidies still has a chance, albeit a slim one, to press their case in conference. By the next cycle, the groups say they learned what needs to be done to get their message across.

“Conservative groups played a more sophisticated game than ever before,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, and key member of the subsidy reform coalition, told POLITICO. “They put forth thoughtful, well-crafted amendments that if made in order, likely would have prevailed.”

“Still, they aren’t yet a match for the ag lobby,” he added.

Tom Sell, co-founder and principal at Combest, Sell & Associates, a lobbying firm that primarily represents ag groups, including the American Sugar Alliance, cast doubt on such efforts.

“They‘ve been pretty well organized the last four farm bills,” Sell said. “They haven’t been able to win because they don’t represent real farmers.”

By: Ryan Prete of Bloomberg Tax

Don’t expect anything from Congress—for now.

That’s what state and local tax practitioners are saying in terms of federal online sales tax legislation after the U.S. Supreme Court removed a major obstacle to when states could tax online sales.

“Congress has had decades to act in this space, and hasn’t, so I don’t expect anything different for the remainder of the 115th Congress,” Brian Kirkell, a Washington-based principal at RSM US LLP, told Bloomberg Tax.

Still, four pending tax bills are still active—three that were introduced before the high court’s June 21 ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., which tossed outQuill Corp. v. North Dakota, the court’s 1992 physical presence threshold for when states could tax remote sales. And the lawmakers behind them aren’t letting their feet off the gas.

“Montanans don’t pay sales taxes and we shouldn’t be in the business of collecting sales taxes. That’s why the Supreme Court’s recent decision has created a crisis for Montana-based businesses that rely on the internet to get by,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Bloomberg Tax in an email.

Tester is the sponsor of the Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act (S. 3180), a bill that would undo Wayfair and prevent a state from imposing tax collection or information reporting obligations on sellers with no physical presence in a state. The STOP bill hasn’t moved or been considered in the Senate after its post-Wayfair introduction.

“The Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act will reverse this decision and defend small businesses against the crushing weight of paperwork and red tape required to collect and remit sales taxes on behalf of thousands of different tax jurisdictions,” Tester said. “Congress should have addressed this issue long before today, but I hope the Court’s decision creates a new sense of urgency that forces Congress to finally do its job and pass this law.”

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who for several sessions of Congress has introduced a version of the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017 (S. 976) (MFA)—which would abrogate the Quill physical presence rule and allow states to require out-of-state sellers and online vendors to collect tax on in-state sales—is also still pushing for federal action. The MFA overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013, but hasn’t seen action since.

“Since the ruling, Senator Enzi has been gathering additional feedback from states, businesses, and others impacted” by Wayfair, Max D’Onofrio, Enzi’s press secretary, told Bloomberg Tax.

The other two pending bills are the Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2193) (RTPA), which would abrogate the physical presence standard and allow states to require out-of-state sellers and online vendors to collect tax on in-state sales, and the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2887) (NRRA), which would, in part, seek to codify Quill’s physical presence standard.

The NRRA was the focus of a July 2017 House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, and the RTPA has received no congressional action at all.

‘Good As Dead’

Kirkell isn’t convinced that any of these bills are still active.

“The MFA and RTPA, regardless of the nuances, are as good as dead, because the whole point of these was to allow the taxation of remote sellers in a post-Quill world, which the high court has now allowed,” Kirkell said. “I think the STOP and NRRA bills will continually get introduced year after year, but we will see these fade away, too, as compliance software becomes more readily available and we adjust to post-Wayfair world.”

Alongside Enzi, co-sponsors of the MFA Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) urged Congress in a July statement not to pass legislation concerning the Wayfair ruling until feedback could be collected from states and businesses.

“We are mindful that any new sales and use tax collection requirements may present new and unanticipated challenges, especially for small businesses,” the senators said. “However, Congress should not take any legislative action until we better understand the issues facing those impacted by this ruling.”

The House Judiciary Committee heard a litany of online seller concerns during a July 24 hearing on the post-Wayfair world of state sales taxation, but it didn’t result in a clear road map for what’s ahead.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is often considered the main roadblock behind the lack of consideration for the MFA and RTPA, but he will retire at the close of 115th Congress in January.

Future Legislation

Kirkell said he expects a new wave of legislation to be introduced once the 116th Congress comes to session in January.

“I think new legislation will be focused on forcing all states to codify the recommendations of Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Wayfair decision,” Kirkell said. “But, as soon as there is federal legislation, the states will have more limited power. This is something states obviously want to avoid.”

In the Wayfair opinion, Justice Kennedy suggested a state’s law could pass constitutional muster if:

  • the state installed a threshold that recognizes a “substantial nexus,”
  • the state didn’t push for retroactive taxes, and
  • the state is a member of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA)—a program under which sellers collect tax voluntarily and remit it to the 24 state participants, which cover the filing costs and other fees.
Amazon, eBay, Etsy Staying Quiet

E-retail giants like Inc, Etsy Inc, and eBay Inc. haven’t been shy with their opinions about the Wayfair ruling.

Jill Kerr, public relations manager at Amazon told Bloomberg Tax Aug. 14 the company had no further comment after Dave Fildes, director of investor relations at Amazon said the company continued to believe the sales tax issue needed to be resolved at the federal level and that the company was working with states, retailers, and Congress to get federal legislation passed, during an April 26 earnings call.

Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a June 21 statement that “By vacating Quill, we believe there is now a call to action for Congress to create a simple, fair federal solution for microbusinesses.”

Also on June 21, eBay released a statement urging “Congress to step in and provide clear tax rules, with a strong small business exemption, to help small businesses take advantage of the Internet to grow and create local jobs.”

Neither Etsy or eBay immediately responded to requests for comment.

What Would It Take?

With the November midterm elections looming, state and local tax practitioners argue that Congress just doesn’t have the bandwidth to take on online sales tax legislation, which takes a seat behind the debate over a national border wall, immigration reform, and balancing the national budget.

However, Craig Johnson, executive director of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board Inc.—a group that oversees a program under which sellers collect tax voluntarily and remit it to the 24 state participants—said if states become overly aggressive with collection enforcement implementation, Congress could be triggered to act.

“Right now we are at a point where states are being very deliberately careful when enforcing their economic nexus models,” Johnson told Bloomberg Tax.

The majority in Wayfair suggested strongly that South Dakota’s economic nexus law would pass constitutional muster; the state’s model imposes the tax collection threshold at 200 separate transactions or $100,000 in in-state sales. But the court stopped short of formally declaring that South Dakota’s law, which dozens of states have mimicked already, was valid in the absence of Quill. The court just made clear that Quill was no longer part of any commerce clause test for when states may impose taxes.

The South Dakota Supreme Court on Aug. 9 sent the groundbreaking case back to the state Circuit Court, which may now conduct additional legal proceedings. One possibility is that the court will dissolve the injunction it put in place barring South Dakota from enforcing its economic nexus thresholds for remote sellers to collect and remit taxes on transactions. The Circuit Court is expected to bless the economic nexus model soon, if the state doesn’t first reach a settlement with companies in the case—Wayfair, Newegg Inc., and Inc.

Retroactivity as a Trigger

Johnson said that if multiple states pursue retroactive tax collection, Congress could be triggered to intervene.

“It’s hard to say just how many states would have to push for retroactivity for Congress to act, but I’m hopeful no state goes down that path,” Johnson said. “I think states are really taking notice of the recommendations of the Supreme Court.”

Kirkell agreed with Johnson and said that if states want to do everything they can to keep Congress out of the online sales tax space, then they will avoid retroactivity at all costs.

While many states are avoiding the retroactivity issue and issuing statements intended to assuage those fears, Florida is taking a different tack.

The Florida attorney general recently asserted that state attorneys can apply the result in Wayfair retroactively to defend against refund claims or otherwise win litigation challenging taxes assessed in prior years.

Wayfair controls the outcome of this matter, and there is no reason that case should not be applied retrospectively as well as prospectively,” according to an Aug. 9 state court filing signed by Attorney General Pamela Bondi and William H. Stafford III, a senior assistant attorney general.

The filing came in a case involving a refund of tobacco excise taxes and in which the tobacco distributor is arguing it never had a physical presence in the state.

Florida is the latest state to step into the retroactivity spotlight. Others have come close to pursuing the back taxes, such as Hawaii, but have backtracked pursuits after attention from state organizations and media.

Many states potentially leave the door open for retroactivity. In fact, only two of the 25 states that have enacted economic sales tax nexus models—South Dakota and Maine—include language that exclusively bars the imposition of retroactive back taxes.

Standardize Physical Presence?

The most recent bill to hit either chamber, the Stop Taxing Our Potential (STOP) Act (S. 3180), introduced by Tester after the Wayfair ruling, says a state may not impose an obligation on a seller to collect and remit sales tax unless a physical presence is established by a person’s business activities.

The STOP act nearly mirrors the language of the No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2887) (NRRA), introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). The NRRA only differs in that it defines the word “regulate” and “tax” in relation to the law.

The bill says the term “regulate” means to impose a standard or requirement on the production, manufacture or post-sale disposal of any product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce as a condition of sale in a state when:

MFA/RTPA: Understanding Differences

Both the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017 (S. 976) (MFA) and the Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2193) (RTPA) sought to kill Quill, but the bills are uniquely different.

The MFA requires that states must simplify their sales tax laws and presents them with two options for doing so.

Option one: A state must join the SSUTA.

Option two: States must meet the five following simplification mandates:

  • notify retailers in advance of any rate changes within the state;
  • designate a single state organization to handle sales tax registrations, filings, and audits;
  • establish a uniform sales tax base for use throughout the state;
  • use destination sourcing to determine sales tax rates for out-of-state purchases (example: a purchase made by a consumer in California from a retailer in Ohio is taxed at the California rate, and the sales tax collected is remitted to California to fund projects and services there); and
  • provide free software for managing sales tax compliance and hold retailers harmless for any errors that result from relying on state-provided systems and data.

The RTPA, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), aligns with the MFA at first glance, but includes several additional protections for sellers, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. These additions include but are not limited to: audit protection—so that sellers can’t be audited by states where they don’t have physical presence—and small seller phase-in—an exception that starts at $10 million and is phased over three years.

By: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

NEILLSVILLE - Like a lot of farmers in this Republican patch of northern Wisconsin, Mark McGuire is feeling some pain from the Trump tariffs and the trade war they’ve fueled.

But he’s also a supporter of President Donald Trump, so he’s hoping the trade fight leads to a better deal for the U.S. in the long run.  

“It’s hurting,” said McGuire, interviewed at the county fair in rural Clark County, which voted for Trump by 32 points in 2016. “But I’m still for (Trump). He knows how to wheel and deal. I am hoping, in the end, we come out on top … (but) it’s going to hurt in between.”

In farm-and-factory states such as Wisconsin, tariffs are a midterm election wild-card, complicated by confounding political crosscurrents and the economic impact on Wisconsin products such as motorcycles, cranberries and cheese.

Wisconsin registered voters weigh in on tariffs and free trade
Republican voters used to be more supportive of free trade than Democrats, but now the reverse is true in Wisconsin and elsewhere. That trend has been boosted by President Donald Trump’s criticism of trade deals. On the Trump tariffs, Democrats in Wisconsin are overwhelmingly negative while Republicans, especially pro-Trump voters, tend to view them positively.

Do you think raising tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. will help the U.S. economy or hurt the U.S. economy?

RepublicansDemocratsIndependentsPro-Trump votersAnti-Trump voters0102030405060708090100453223127810245422502524108011
Don't know/NA
Notes: The results on the tariff question are based on polling by Marquette Law School in June and July 2018. Some percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

In general, do you think that free trade agreements between the 
U.S. and other countries have been a good thing or a bad thing for the United States?

RepublicansDemocratsIndependentsPro-Trump votersAnti-Trump votersCity of MilwaukeeMilwaukee TV market(minus city)Madison TV marketGreen Bay TV marketNorthern and westernWisconsinPublic employee, unionhouseholdPublic employee,non-union householdPrivate employee, unionhouseholdPrivate employee,non-union household0102030405060708090100364716523216393822355214503217483418453916463619404216414216433918433720345215463816
Don't know/NA

Many of those feeling the fallout are Trump voters. Will tariffs cut into the GOP base or will these voters stand by the president and his party?

Meanwhile, politicians on both sides are offering voters mixed messages on trade.

Up for re-election, U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin supports tariffs against China but not against the European Union, Canada and Mexico.  

“I’m not against tariffs. (But) these have been haphazard. They haven’t been smart,” Baldwin said in an interview while visiting a paper mill in Combined Locks Friday.

Her potential GOP opponents, Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson, say they want a world with no tariffs. But they are backing the Trump tariffs as a bargaining chip.

The result is that the Senate candidate who is philosophically “pro-tariff” argues the Trump tariffs go too far. And the ones who want a world “without tariffs” support the president’s tariffs.

Muddying the waters even more, voters in the two parties are experiencing a long-term inversion on trade. Republicans were once more supportive of free trade. Now they are more skeptical. The reverse is true of Democrats.

Almost 80% of Democratic voters in Wisconsin think the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum will hurt the U.S. economy in polling this year by the Marquette Law School; only 12% think they will help.

GOP voters are far more divided, but their views are more positive than negative: 45% say the tariffs will help the economy and 32% say they will hurt.

Overall, there is little question the tariffs are unpopular in Wisconsin right now: only 28% of registered voters say they’ll help while 56% say they will hurt.

And there is little question that many people are feeling some pain.

In town meetings in his very Republican southeastern Wisconsin district, GOP Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner has heard business people vent. A maker of kitchenware told him in June the tariffs had cost him $150,000 so far and “real families are being crushed.” Another manufacturer complained in Brookfield last month that the tariffs were going to cost him $500,000.

“If I can’t get my customers to accept a 7% to 8% price increase for absolutely no reason at all, and lose that much money … I will have to start letting (employees) go,” said John Perdue, whose company makes electronic industrial controls in Menomonee Falls.

In an interview, Sensenbrenner said, “people are unhappy” and “an awful lot of manufacturers are suffering.” He has joined in letters of protest to the White House and has co-sponsored legislation by GOP Congressman Mike Gallagher of Green Bay (and opposed by the Trump administration) to limit the president’s authority to set certain tariffs.

Democratic Congressman Ron Kind of La Crosse is a co-sponsor of the same bill. He has been holding trade forums in his rural western Wisconsin district to highlight the costs of the tariff policy.

“The impact is real. No one likes it and everyone is hoping for a quick resolution,” Kind said of the falling prices that many farmers are seeing because of retaliatory tariffs.  

"I always thought the administration was underestimating the overall consequences of what they're doing with this trade war," Kind said. 

But on both sides, politicians are being pulled in competing directions.

GOP Gov. Scott Walker, up for re-election, has long been a conventionally pro-trade Republican, which typically carries with it huge skepticism toward tariffs. But like many in his party, he is averse to openly clashing with Trump. Asked several times in an interview Saturday if he thought the Trump tariffs were bad policy or harmful to Wisconsin, Walker’s only criticism was indirect.

“I think tariffs in general are not a good policy,” said Walker. 

Democrat Baldwin has a much different history on trade. She has criticized past trade deals with other countries and defends tariffs as a legitimate tool against unfair trade practices by other countries.

But her rhetoric on the Trump tariffs is also mixed.

“I think that tariffs and countervailing duties are very important tools in going after cheating,” she said in an interview, calling China the “main culprit” in cheating.  

But she said, “I cannot understand why this president has decided to include Canada, Mexico and the European Union in the steel and aluminum tariffs. I don’t see the evidence that they are playing the same way that China is.”

When Trump ripped Harley-Davidson again in a tweet Sunday, Baldwin responded on Twitter that Wisconsin businesses “need better trade deals, not tweets and trade wars.”

But for the most part, Baldwin’s openness to tariffs has made her a less vocal critic of Trump’s trade policies than the state’s Republican U.S. senator, the free-market conservative Ron Johnson.  

Johnson backs legislation to limit Trump’s tariff powers and told reporters in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol recently that the Trump policy of setting tariffs and then offering federal aid to compensate farmers hurt in the trade war smacked of a “Soviet-type of economy.”

“Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits,” said Johnson in comments quoted by Politico. “I’m very exasperated.”

The irony is that voters in Johnson’s party are now more pro-tariff and more negative about trade than voters in Baldwin’s party. 

That shift has been fueled by a Democratic president (Barack Obama) who backed trade deals and a GOP president (Trump) who now attacks them.

“The support (among Democratic voters) for trade agreements went up under the Obama administration when we had a Democratic administration promoting that. And for now, it’s continuing to rise because Trump is viewed as anti-trade,” said Kind, a “pro-trade” Democrat who has historically clashed with labor unions in his own party over his support for expanded trade.

“The real civil war (on trade) that’s going on right now is in the Republican Party. Where do they go?” said Kind.

The turnout Saturday for a GOP campaign event for Walker in Plover included Anthony J. Kizewski, a potato and soy bean farmer wearing a Trump T-shirt and a “Make America Great Again” cap. Kizewski predicted the tariffs would lead to improved trade in the long run despite short-term pain.

“We’re willing to accept it for the betterment of the country,” he said of the fallout. “It’s about time we had someone fighting for us.”

In Republican Clark County in north central Wisconsin, several farmers at the county fair said they are giving Trump the benefit of the doubt right now on his tariff policy.

Some noted that the problems facing dairy farmers — including an over-supply of milk — predate the tariffs. 

Others said they are hoping the trade wars lead to a better deal for U.S. farmers — soon.

“I don’t know how it comes out, like everybody,” said Brian Begert, who has a dairy farm with 500 cows and said farmers in the upper Midwest were being targeted by China for retaliatory tariffs because they’re seen as part of Trump’s support base.

“I don’t like everything that (Trump) does, but I do think that he loves the country and (the system) does need fixing,” he said.

“He’s a lot smarter than I am,” said Begert. “I just hope he knows what he’s doing.”

Listening to those whom I represent has always been a top priority. I have made great efforts to be responsive to constituent mail and phone calls, and have held over 100 in-person town hall meetings every year. I also enjoy traveling around the district participating in community events when I’m not in Washington voting. These are the best ways in which I can keep in touch and learn about the concerns of the people I represent.  

Another tool I utilize to hear what’s on the minds of my constituents is my annual survey that is mailed to households in the Fifth District. This year, I heard from over 3,000 respondents from Dodge, Jefferson, Milwaukee, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties. Here are some highlighted results, along with updated information about progress we are making.

The survey results indicate a vast majority rate the economy as excellent, good, or fair. Nearly 60 percent are supportive of the administration’s efforts to roll back federal government regulation. When asked about the greatest challenge facing families, more than half said, “rising prices of consumer goods.” The House of Representatives shared these sentiments this Congress when Republicans passed the largest tax cuts in over thirty years, allowing taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money. In fact, more than half of respondents indeed support the tax cuts, and when we return to Washington in a few weeks, we will continue our efforts to make these tax cuts permanent.

Turning to the opioid epidemic, we surveyed the favored approach to curbing this crisis. Over 40 percent specifically chose a combination of investing in treatment and recovery programs and increasing criminal penalties for those who break the law.  I have been a leader on both of these approaches. I authored the landmark 2015 House version of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) that passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by then President Obama. Seeing it fully funded is at the top of my priority list when Congress reconvenes. 

In addition, with the input from residents of the Fifth Congressional District who have firsthand knowledge of the heartbreak of opioid addiction, I have introduced the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act, which will give law enforcement better tools to fight one of the new leading causes of opioid-related deaths – fentanyl and its analogues. These analogues are compounds that have been slightly altered on a chemical level, but are still lethal and fall into a legal loophole.

Over half of the respondents support building a physical barrier along our southern border and utilizing other forms of technology, such as drones and lasers, where a wall is not practical. My bill, the BUILD WALL Act, would do just this by using funds seized from drug cartels to secure the border.

Regarding gun safety, 80 percent support increased funding for the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). I have consistently fought to strengthen NICS throughout my career, including last year when I threw my support behind the Fix NICS Act. NICS is one important tool for keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and those deemed by a court to be a threat to society.

Other interesting results worth noting are that 72 percent believe we should renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 80 percent support funding re-entry programs for prisoners, and 46 percent support fixing our labor shortage by focusing on career and technical education in K-12 schools.

Thank you to all who took the time to send in their surveys. Please continue communicating your concerns and letting me know what’s on your mind.

The Week

August 9, 2018

By: National Review Editors

• Poor Barack Obama — even his presidential library wasn’t shovel-ready.

• “Medicare for all,” Bernie Sanders’s plan to nationalize the American health-care system, would cost at least $32.6 trillion over ten years, according to a study by Charles Blahous at the libertarian Mercatus Center. A few points of comparison are in order for that humongous figure. In the 2018 fiscal year, federal expenditures will be $4.1 trillion. Federal revenue will be $3.6 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office projects the federal deficit to total $12.4 trillion over the next ten years. Adding $3.26 trillion per year in health-care spending to the federal budget, then, would swell government spending by almost 80 percent, require massive increases in individual and corporate tax rates, and probably still add trillions of dollars to our already unsustainable national debt. And this is with a charitable estimate: The Mercatus study granted Sanders’s highly dubious assumptions regarding provider and pharmaceutical costs. Under more realistic assumptions, Blahous estimated that the plan would cost an additional $5 trillion over ten years. When Sanders rolled out the proposal months ago, he ignored the question of cost. Now we know why.

• Michael Cohen has reportedly alleged that Don Jr. told his father about his infamous meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. never should have taken the meeting, and the White House never should have issued, at Trump’s direction, a dishonest statement obscuring what it was really about. But, as far as we know, the meeting came to nothing. The problem now is that Don Jr. told Congress he didn’t inform his father about the meeting, and if that’s provably false (of course, Cohen is not exactly a reliable witness himself), he faces legal jeopardy. Special-counsel investigations usually end up focused on process crimes, and the best rule for people ensnared in them is to tell the truth, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing it may seem at the time.

• An effort spearheaded by members of the House Freedom Caucus to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been put on hold (Representative Mark Meadows, R., N.C., was the prime mover; Representative Jim Jordan, R., Ohio, who wants to be speaker, was among the co-sponsors). The articles of impeachment accused Rosenstein of withholding documents from Congress and of appointing Robert Mueller special counsel. Calling for impeachment was a stunt: Speaker Paul Ryan and Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposed the move; there was no way two-thirds of the Senate would have convicted; and Trump has the power to fire Rosenstein at any time. Trump and his admirers would ideally like to see the Mueller investigation end. But second-best, in their minds, is using it as a punching bag. The blows will continue, in other forms.

• A crowd at a Trump rally heckled CNN reporter Jim Acosta during one of his live shots. This is uncivil and untoward, and Trump should stop talking about the press (“enemy of the people”) as if he were about to liquidate the kulaks. The abuse of Acosta is largely for show — other reporters note that when the cameras are off, rallygoers shake his hand and ask for autographs — but the president shouldn’t be raising the temperature when emotions are already so high. That said, the media have earned the contempt Republicans have for them. Acosta is a particular offender, a performer whose journalism largely consists of asking argumentative questions to get attention for himself and score points. Don’t heckle him — and don’t take him seriously.

• When Donald Trump was reported to have declared the FBI headquarters in Washington — a brutalist, exposed-concrete-slab monstrosity on Pennsylvania Avenue — “one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” he was most certainly correct. Brutalism, the Frankensteinesque architectural fad of the ’60s and ’70s, famous for its modernist, fortress-like style, has marred American cities for half a century, vomiting forth public-housing projects that look more like cell blocks and government office buildings that seem intentionally designed to dwarf and kill the surrounding neighborhoods. But since Trump hates brutalism, the Left must love it. “For liberals, buildings like Marcel Breuer’s headquarters for the De­partment of Housing and Urban Development in Washington are period pieces that represent an idealistic vision of what government can and should take responsibility for,” Slate’s Henry Grabar writes in what may be the worst hot take of the year. While Trump’s faux–Louis XV aesthetic isn’t quite to our taste either, the president is right: Brutalism is a stain on American cities that should be excised as soon as is feasible.

• Our economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual rate during the latest quarter, the highest since 2014. Republicans crowed, and it would have been political malpractice for them not to. Democrats, meanwhile, seized on an estimate that wages had dropped sharply. That estimate is probably wrong. The growth number, while subject to revision, is more solid. But both sides are wrong to use these statistics to render a verdict on the tax cut. The main component of the tax cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate that is supposed to boost investment and thus, over time, boost wages. It’s too early to say how large this effect will be, as inconvenient as that may be for candidates in the midterms.

• President Trump and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced a trade-war truce. The PR surrounding the event was overblown. They agreed to have talks on reducing trade barriers, which is hardly the “breakthrough” Trump calls it: The European Union and the U.S. were working on an agreement before Trump took office, and Trump killed it. Juncker said that Europe would import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas, both of which are safe predictions more than commitments. Reacting positively to the news that further tariffs are on hold, markets on both sides of the Atlantic provided the real fanfare.

 Charles Koch, the libertarian businessman and philanthropist, criticized President Trump’s trade policies. His network will not be supporting Republican Senate candidate Kevin Cramer in North Dakota because of policy disagreements. Trump responded on Twitter, saying that Koch and his retired brother David are “nice guys” but also “overrated,” a “total joke,” and pursuing their business interests. Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel went further, saying that they thought “their business interests are more important than those of the country.” Our verdict: The Kochs have far and away the better argument on trade; Trump makes more sense than they do on immigration; disagreement is healthy; and Trump’s immediate personalization of it is unsurprising.

 Elizabeth Heng, a young Asian American running for Congress as a Republican in California’s 16th district, has had a campaign advertisement blocked on Facebook. According to the social-media site, the video was flagged for containing “shocking, disrespectful or sensational content.” The advertisement opens with footage about the Cambodian genocide, because Heng’s parents immigrated to the United States from Cambodia as a result of the suffering that the Communist Khmer Rouge had inflicted. This is just the latest instance of a tech company’s censoring conservatives. Candidates such as Heng should be free to advertise on social-media platforms without fear of being blocked, whether or not Facebook’s executives — or algorithms — agree with what they have to say.

 Two historians have quit their roles at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, a think tank focused on presidential history and public policy, to protest the one-year fellowship the institution has granted to Marc Short, a former legislative-affairs director for President Trump. Good riddance: The professors and other critics are attacking Short not for anything he actually did but merely for being in the Trump administration — especially during the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, when the president failed to condemn white supremacists promptly. The simple fact is that Short, with his decades of work in politics and policy, is a fantastic fit for the Miller Center, which seeks to understand the presidency and routinely hires “practitioners” with experience in partisan politics. Short has also embraced the Miller Center’s strong statement on the violence in Charlottesville and said that the administration “could have done a better job expressing sympathy for the victims and outrage at those who perpetrated this evil.” Fortunately, the center’s director has shown admirable backbone in the face of these baseless attacks. We wish both him and Short the best of luck weathering this absurd storm.

 We used to speak of Q&A (question and answer). But now the A is Q. What is this gibberish? You haven’t been paying attention. Q claims to be a figure in the Trump administration; his (their?) online venue,, gets 7 million hits a month. Followers include Roseanne Barr. Q ruminates on the deep state, predicts a coming “storm” in which Democrats and John McCain will be arrested, frets about pedophile sex rings in Hollywood — the usual nutright division. Deceit is the inescapable bastard sibling of journalism, as credulity is of democracy. The election of 1800 was enlivened by tales that the Masons were behind the French Revolution and that President John Adams would marry his son to a European royal. Welcome the latest iteration.

 In its last days, the Obama administration imposed new restrictions on short-term health-insurance policies. The Trump administration is now lifting those restrictions. Insurers will again be able to sell policies lasting a year, and to offer guaranteed renewability. Because these policies are free from various Obamacare regulations, they are cheap and liberals call them “junk insurance.” We think consumers ought to be able to arbitrate the trade-off between the extent of coverage and cost. Liberals also predict that these policies will further destabilize Obamacare’s exchanges by siphoning off some of their healthy and young customers. But policies on the exchanges are heavily subsidized, while short-term plans aren’t. So this effect may not materialize; and it is not a good reason in any case to foreclose people’s options. This isn’t a replacement for Obamacare, but it is a positive step.

 The Trump administration has proposed two major changes to federal vehicle regulations. First, it seeks to abandon its predecessor’s 2012 plan to nearly double cars’ fuel economy by 2025, to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon; instead, the standard would stop rising after 2020, at 37 miles per gallon. And second, the administration wants to eliminate a waiver that gives California the right to create state-level emission rules that are stricter than federal law. We wish that Congress, not the executive branch, would make such decisions, but Trump’s call is the right one under current law: Obama’s standards demanded an unreasonably fast improvement in fuel economy, which was guaranteed to drive up prices and keep families driving older, less safe cars. And while California’s waiver has a faint whiff of federalism, in reality it serves to give a single state an outsized role in federal policy. (Unlike any other jurisdiction, California can threaten to create a separate regulatory regime if nationwide rules don’t track its own prerogatives.) Full speed ahead, whatever the mileage.

 In a unanimous vote on July 23, the House of Representatives passed a bill that withholds federal development funding from any state or local government that uses the power of eminent domain to seize property from its owner and give it to someone else in the name of economic development. The bill also prohibits federal use of eminent domain for the same purpose. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) introduced the bill in 2017 as a revised version of a bill he had originally proposed in 2005 after the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London. The Court had held that governments can use their eminent-domain powers to transfer property from one private owner to another in order to further a revitalization or redevelopment, since the surrounding community theoretically reaps the benefits of such efforts. The federal government may not be able to stop this abuse, but it should at least not facilitate it.

 Rent is increasingly unaffordable for lower-income Ameri­cans in cities along the coasts. California senator Kamala Harris’s Rent Relief Act provides an instructive example of how not to solve the problem. Her proposal would create a refundable tax credit for families that pay more than 30 percent of income in rent. Were the plan implemented, however, landlords would simply raise rents, so the proposal would in practice represent a subsidy for landlords. A better solution would be for local governments to relax zoning regulations, allowing more houses to be built and bringing down rents over time.

 In what may be the best news of the year, the 2014 Flint, Mich., lead-contamination water crisis, which was thought to have poisoned the city’s children, was found to be medically insignificant. According to toxicology and environmental-health experts Hernán Gómez and Kim Dietrich, writing in the New York Times, research shows that based on a “comprehensive view of the data, we are forced to admit that the furor over this issue seems way out of proportion to the actual dangers to the children from lead exposure.” Indeed, the increased lead content in the children’s blood was statistical noise: 0.11 micrograms per deciliter. “A similar increase of 0.12 micrograms per deciliter occurred randomly in 2010–11,” Gómez and Kietrich write. “It is not possible, statistically speaking, to distinguish the increase that occurred at the height of the contamination crisis from other random variations over the previous decade.” A full accounting for the errors, mistakes, and incompetence involved in the municipal water-supply changeover from the Detroit River to the cheaper Flint River should be ongoing. But the children of Flint dodged a bullet. And for that we may thank God.

 After his ill-conceived summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, President Trump declared that the country was “no longer a Nuclear Threat” on Twitter. But a steady stream of reports indicate that the DPRK has not reformed itself. The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence services have detected activity at a missile-research facility outside the country’s capital of Pyongyang. The evidence, intelligence officials told the Post, shows construction under way on at least one and possibly two new intercontinental ballistic missiles. This comes on the heels of reports that North Korea is continuing to produce enriched uranium and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation of those reports to a Senate panel. The pomp of the Trump–Kim summit does not change the fact that continued pressure, not credulity, is the right approach to the despotic Kim regime. North Korea is an unscrupulous enemy, and continues to act like it.

 It is a testament to the Kim regime’s dark nature that Pyongyang has only now handed over to the United States what it says are the remains of some 55 American soldiers who died in the Korean War. Researchers have begun the painstaking work of identifying who the men were who once may have animated the collections of fragments of bones. Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist with the Defense Department, tells The New York Times Magazine that he expects his team to have no “trouble getting DNA” and that “success rates” should be “very high, I think near 90 percent.” Here utilitarian calculations lose the argument to what the Romans called pietas, which Michelangelo illustrated in his sculpture bearing that approximate title. Even Achilles in all his wrath and vengeance honored Priam’s wish to honor Hector’s corpse. Let us hope that North Korea has allowed itself to recognize that universal human sentiment with regard to the dead. Requiescat in pace.

 The Chinese dictatorship has announced a new “patriotic struggle” against intellectuals, also described as an “unremitting struggle.” State officials will hold “struggle sessions,” the purpose of which is to “enhance the ideological identity, emotional identity, and value identification” of intellectuals. As Jerome A. Cohen, the veteran American scholar of China, says, Xi Jinping is presiding over the “tightest period” — the most oppressive period — in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, Google is planning to reintroduce a censored search engine to China. This is an engine that will meet the dictatorship’s wants and needs, blocking information about democracy and human rights, for example. Once more, people in free countries help dictatorships keep other people unfree.

 The Oslo Freedom Forum is an annual human-rights gathering, held in the Norwegian capital, as the name tells you. But, in between annual gatherings, they take their show on the road, and this coming November they will be in Taipei. That is an inspired choice. Taiwan shows that a country can move from dictatorship and autocracy to democracy and freedom. It also shows the utter compatibility between Chinese culture and liberal democracy — which is a big reason that Taiwan makes the dictatorship in Beijing angry and bitter.

 The Cambodian People’s Party says that it won all 125 seats in the parliamentary elections on July 29. That would cement the one-party rule under Prime Minister Hun Sen, a veteran of the Khmer Rouge. Official results will be announced later this month. Last year, Cambodia’s supreme court dissolved the main opposition party and banned 118 of its members from politics. Its leader was jailed in September on charges of conspiring with the United States to overthrow the government. Not wanting to dignify the sham, U.S., European, and Japanese monitors declined to observe the elections. They were “neither free nor fair,” in the words of the White House press office, and “represent the most significant setback yet to the democratic system enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution.” That Hun Sen bothers to pretend that his regime is legitimated by certain features of liberal democracy is a reflection on his cynicism, of course, but also on the stubborn, universal appeal of the institutions he mocks.

 The Saudi dictatorship has arrested at least 15 women’s-rights activists, including Samar Badawi. She is the sister of Raif Badawi, the most prominent political prisoner in Saudi Arabia. His wife and children fled to Canada, where they are now citizens. Following the latest arrests, the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, issued a tweet: “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi . . . has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.” The Saudi dictatorship reacted furiously, expelling the Canadian ambassador, recalling its ambassador to Ottawa, and forswearing all new trade with Canada. The Canadians are sticking to their guns, and standing for something important in the world.

 Matteo Salvini is the head of the League, which is a partner in the Italian government, along with the Five Star Movement. Salvini is the deputy prime minister and the interior minister. He is a great admirer and ally of Vladimir Putin, with whose party he, as head of the League, signed a friendship-and-cooperation agreement last year. Salvini pronounced it a “historic deal.” He went as far as to wear a Putin T-shirt in Moscow. This year, on July 29, he issued an interesting tweet. It was Mussolini’s birthday — and he echoed a Mussolini slogan, “Many enemies, much honor.” Remember: Mussolini banned Jews from schools and public office, and stole their money. He was Hitler’s enthusiastic partner in a world war. Salvini has brought himself no honor, and deserves more enemies.

 Swedes are finding that Muslim migrants now in the country do things differently, and child marriage is one of those things. It’s especially bothersome because the elderly Prophet Mohammed is recorded marrying Aisha when she was nine. A report by the Swedish Migration Agency in 2016 gave the figure of 132 child marriages. Another official body put out a brochure saying that it is “improper” to live with a child under the age of 15, an approach so feeble that the brochure had to be withdrawn. Elections will be held in September, and when the leftist coalition now in government proposed to recognize child marriages that had been carried out abroad, a campaign issue was launched. Jimmie Akesson, leader of the oppositional Swedish Democrats, has his eye on the populist vote: “It is, frankly, totally sick that one can’t just simply say no to something as bizarre as grown men having the right to marry children.”

 Pope Francis has stripped Theodore McCarrick of his title and place in the College of Cardinals after reports that he groomed and molested a minor. This is the same Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Newark, who made himself the face of the American bishops’ response to the child-sex-abuse crisis nearly two decades ago. Notably, the policy the bishops formulated in 2002 in Dallas required accountability from priests but not from the bishops themselves. Since the credible report of pederasty emerged, numerous men have come forward to allege what was already widely known about McCarrick: that he regularly preyed upon seminarians, asking them to sleep with him, sometimes asking them to wear sailor suits, and always asking them to call him “Uncle Ted.” The nickname and his proclivities were an open secret among clergy and informed laymen on the East Coast. His colleagues in the College of Cardinals are now ducking straightforward questions, such as “What did you know and when did you know it?” They are promising to create new panels, to launch new inquiries, and to formulate new policies. All those might have their place. But what is first needed in the American Catholic Church is something closer to regime change.

 The Nation, which has a long history of publishing poetry, recently ran “How-To,” a verse by Anders Carlson-Wee: ironic advice to society’s outcasts on how to wring favors from the better-off. “How-To” proved that poetry can indeed move hearts and minds in the modern world. Readers denounced it for its assumed black dialect, forcing the author and The Nation’s poetry editors to apologize for their un-wokeness. “We are sorry,” wrote editor Stephanie Burt, “for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back.” We have long disagreed with our left-wing sister publication, but we never thought it had lost its mind. If writers cannot use ventriloquism, there goes half of literature, starting with all plays, and all dialogue in all fiction.

 The “Me Too” movement continues apace, with Ronan Farrow still in the lead. As our Rob Long has said, “The three most terrifying words in Hollywood are ‘Ronan Farrow called.’” They strike a nerve beyond Hollywood too. In The New Yorker, Farrow exposed Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS. Six women accused him of sexual misconduct. CBS has arranged for an outside investigation. If the charges are true, Moonves has behaved like a pig and a brute. He can join the club, ever burgeoning. Me Too has its excesses, like most movements, but America is now experiencing a kind of reckoning, and victims feel less alone, ignored, and helpless.

 Cities in Texas have been removing memorials to Confederate leaders and to other historical figures associated with slavery, one of which presents a special problem for Austin: Austin. The Texas capital is named for Stephen F. Austin, celebrated as the Father of Texas, the impresario who led the first 300 families from the United States to settle in what was at the time a Mexican territory. He also oversaw the introduction of slavery into Texas. The city’s Equity Office (of course Austin has institutionalized its lefty identity politics in a city agency) has suggested changing the name of the city as part of its campaign to cleanse Austin (or whatever they’re going to call it) of its actual history. But that won’t do: Austin is in Travis County, named for Alamo hero William B. Travis, a slave owner. That’ll have to change, too. Texas locales from Lubbock (after Confederate colonel Thomas Saltus Lubbock) to Jeff Davis County are named for Confederate figures. (Reagan County wasn’t named for the Gipper, but for the Confederate postmaster general.) Houston will escape: Sam Houston was a Union man, removed from office for refusing an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. This is silly stuff, but Austin is a silly place. The locals boast of their desire to “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s not even clear they’ll keep Austin Austin.

 And a little child shall lead them . . . astray. Over the last few years, municipalities from Seattle to Miami Beach have been rushing to outlaw plastic straws, based on a researcher’s finding that Americans throw away 500 million of them a day, many of which end up in the sea. The researcher turns out to have been a nine-year-old boy, who admits that he made the figure up — but that hasn’t stopped the straw-ban movement, whose adherents speak vaguely of “raising awareness” and “highlighting issues” and “taking first steps.” As with many purportedly earth-saving practices, true believers accept a mild inconvenience because it makes them feel good and then make others accept it because that makes them feel even better. Or as a member of the Santa Barbara city council explained: “Unfortunately, common sense is just not common. We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.” We couldn’t have summed up the progressive mindset any better ourselves.

 A proposed city ordinance in San Francisco would ban employee cafeterias in new office buildings. The aim is to increase traffic at business-district restaurants by making workers leave their offices to eat. The law’s target is generally understood to be San Francisco’s technology firms, which are famous for the elaborate meals they offer employees. But one of the bill’s sponsors told a reporter that “it’s not about targeting a particular industry . . . but rather about spurring a conversation about how companies can engage with local businesses.” We can remember when people started conversations by simply saying something, and when businesses went where the customers were instead of expecting government to engineer the reverse. Meanwhile, just wait until the city government finds out about home kitchens.

 Word comes from Egypt that a Cairo zoo has painted black and white stripes on a donkey and is exhibiting it as a zebra. It’s not the first time that this has been tried; a decade ago, a Gaza zoo used black hair dye and masking tape to zebra-ize a pair of donkeys, and none of the visiting children noticed anything wrong (pro tip: look for long ears and paint smudges). The Cairo zookeeper stubbornly insists that his black-and-white beast actually is a zebra, and news sources have roundly scoffed at the claim, but he may in fact have a point. Applying modern intersectionality theory to animal rights and gender studies yields the indisputable conclusion that if a donkey decides that it’s a zebra, it’s a zebra.

 Thirty years ago, Rush Limbaugh debuted his national radio show. It was something that, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine (which Ronald Reagan had only recently eliminated) and the stultifying faux-objectivity of network news, no one had heard in broadcast journalism before: a program that brought conservative ideas to the masses through a mix of news coverage, thoughtful lectures, and of course large heapings of parody and edgy humor. Limbaugh quickly rocketed to the front of the talk-radio pack and has stayed there ever since, weathering the occasional controversy but always bouncing back to provide three hours a day of witty conservative commentary. Happy 30th, Rush.

 As a senator in the 1970s, Paul Laxalt fought and lost the battle for the United States to keep sole possession of the Panama Canal. He departed from some of his allies by refusing to badmouth Panama or its people, citing his French Basque heritage — his parents were immigrants — and natural sympathy for the small nation caught up in a dispute with its bigger neighbor. After serving as a medic in the Pacific theater during World War II, he finished college and law school and launched a career in Nevada and Republican-party politics. In the 1960s he helped to purge the state party of the John Birch Society. His governorship (1967–71) coincided with that of Ronald Reagan in California, Nevada’s western neighbor, and the friendship between the two men endured. Reagan chose him to head his campaign against President Ford in 1976. After Reagan moved into the White House in the 1980s, Laxalt, the junior and then senior senator from the Silver State, was dubbed by the press “the first friend.” His eventful life came to its graceful close four days after his 96th birthday. His grandson continues his conservative legacy as the Republican nominee for governor. R.I.P.

 Ron Dellums was the congressman from Berkeley for more than 27 years: 1971 to 1998. He was the leftmost member of Congress. He may have been the leftmost congressman ever, along with Vito Marcantonio, the New York red who sat in the House from the 1930s to the 1950s. Dellums supported Fidel Castro and similar brutes the world over. He was for freedom and democracy in South Africa, but not where the Fidels, big and little, ruled. Yet Republican congressmen found him an affable colleague, which is not nothing. Dellums has died at 82. R.I.P.

 The southern girl from Johnson City, Tenn., graduated from the University of Alabama and moved to New York, where she got a job in show business, answering fan mail for cartoon characters at CBS. Andrea Millen’s later stints in TV included work with Sid Caesar and NBC News. Meanwhile, she joined the Libertarian party and was appointed its chairwoman in the 1970s, when the vice chairman was Howard S. Rich. They wasted no time in getting married. In 1982 they bought Laissez-Faire Books in Greenwich Village and transformed it into a full-service mail-order publishing service for libertarians, bringing neglected classics back into print. Andrea Rich had a hand in the Center for Independent Thought, the Center for Independent Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Atlas Network, and was the longest-serving board member of the Cato Institute. Her contributions to the intellectual formation of the libertarian movement in America were deep and vast. She spent her last two decades, a long time, holding back cancer. Dead at 79. R.I.P.

By: the Gazette Xtra

The U.S. Department of Commerce decision last week to reduce tariffs on Canadian newsprint—from as high as 32 percent to 20 percent—is welcome but doesn’t go far enough. We’re holding out hope the U.S. International Trade Commission will completely overturn the tariffs when it meets Wednesday, Aug. 29.

Regardless of what happens, we’re heartened to see lawmakers from both parties making a last-minute push against the tariffs. We applaud, in particular, five members of the Wisconsin delegation—Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Reps. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeluah; Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; and Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay—for voicing their opposition in a July 31 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer.

The letter describes the “permanent damage being done to Wisconsin’s newspaper industry,” noting newspaper industry costs have risen by about 30 percent.

“Notwithstanding the many other tariff decisions this administration has made or threatened, this particular decision not only is adding insurmountable financial pressures on these owners and operators of our state’s small towns and weekly newspapers, but it’s leading many of them to rethink the viability of their entire operations,” the letter reads.

It’s disappointing the entire delegation didn’t sign the letter, though missing signatures don’t necessarily indicate a representative’s support for the tariffs. In a July 25 phone call with Ross and other commerce department representatives, House Speaker Paul Ryan “expressed his concerns about the negative impact” of the tariffs, according to a July 26 memo obtained by The Gazette.

While Congress hasn’t taken action to thwart tariffs, Ryan has at least spoken against them.

Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district extends into Rock County, also didn’t sign the letter, but a spokesman for Pocan’s office said the Democrat “opposes the administration’s newsprint tariffs and is concerned about the negative impacts ... on local newspapers, which are so important to communities throughout Wisconsin.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been noncommittal on the issue, sending to the International Trade Commission on July 17 a cryptic letter that seems to neither oppose nor support the tariff. A spokesperson for her office confirmed Baldwin “has not taken a position” on these tariffs.

In case Baldwin or any other legislator requires reminding about the importance of community journalism, newspapers are the watchdogs of government—the fourth estate. These tariffs undermine newspapers’ ability to gather and report the news. They act as a tax on not only readers but on democracy itself.

On June 17, our very own state representative, Robin Vos, was quoted in The Journal Times saying he is opposed to the Village of Mount Pleasant using eminent domain to take private property for purposes of giving it to Foxconn. The next day, Jonathan Delagrave, in a county listening session, agreed it would be wrong.

Still, Mount Pleasant continues to threaten to take homes using eminent domain so it can literally hand the property over to Foxconn for economic development.

Is the Mount Pleasant Village Board so arrogant that it will ignore the opinions of 380 members of Congress, our state representative and county executive and continue to blindly follow the advice of counsel which clearly violates the private property rights of its own residents, at the expense of all residents of Mount Pleasant, and to the benefit of Attorney Marcuvitz and his firm?

Kimberly Mahoney

Mount Pleasant