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    Covid-19 Drugmakers Pressured Twitter to Censor Activists Pushing for Generic Vaccine / TheIntercept · Monday, 16 January - 15:30 · 8 minutes

In mid-December 2020, Nina Morschhaeuser, a lobbyist for Twitter in Europe, emailed colleagues with a dire warning. The drugmaker BioNTech, along with the German government, had contacted her with news of an imminent “campaign targeting the pharmaceutical companies developing the COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote.

“The authorities are warning about ‘serious consequences’ of the action, i.e. posts and a flood of comments ‘that may violate TOS’ as well as the ‘takeover of user accounts’ are to be expected,” wrote Morschhaeuser. “Especially the personal accounts of the management of the vaccine manufacturers are said to be targeted. Accordingly, fake accounts could also be set up.”

The campaign they were concerned about was the launch of an international push to force the drug industry to share the intellectual property and patents associated with coronavirus vaccine development. Making the patents available, in turn, would allow countries across the world to swiftly manufacture generic vaccines and other low-cost therapeutics to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

Morschhaeuser, while alerting several site integrity and safety teams at Twitter, forwarded on an email from BioNTech spokesperson Jasmina Alatovic, who asked Twitter to “hide” activist tweets targeting her company’s account over a period of two days.

Morschhaeuser flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists. Morschhaeuser also asked colleagues to monitor the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, a program promoted by developing countries to accelerate the development of vaccines through the equitable sharing of research and manufacturing capacity. She noted that the group Global Justice Now was spearheading the action with an online sign-up form .

It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech’s request. In response to Morschhaeuser’s inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company’s safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company’s terms of service, and asked for more examples to “get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies.”

But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combatting the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.

The Intercept accessed Twitter’s emails after the company’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, granted access to several reporters in December. This is the second story I have reported through access to these files. The first centered on the Pentagon’s network of fake Twitter accounts used to spread U.S. narratives in the Middle East.

In reporting this story, as with the last, Twitter did not provide unfettered access to company information; rather, they allowed me to make requests without restriction that were then fulfilled on my behalf by an attorney, meaning that the search results may not have been exhaustive. I did not agree to any conditions governing the use of the documents, and I made efforts to authenticate and contextualize the documents through further reporting. The redactions in the embedded documents in this story were done by The Intercept to protect privacy, not Twitter.

Twitter and the German Federal Office for Information Security, the cybersecurity agency that Morschhaeuser said contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, did not respond to a request for comment. BioNTech’s Alatovic, in response to a request for comment, stressed that the firm “takes its societal responsibility seriously and is investing in solutions to improve the health of people regardless of their income.”

In November, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published a lengthy report showing that pharmaceutical companies went to great lengths to stifle efforts to share pandemic-related patents and IP, including threats to the leadership of Belgium, Colombia, and Indonesia. The Intercept has also detailed the domestic lobbying push to block support for a special World Trade Organization waiver necessary for the rapid creation of generic pandemic medicine. German media has similarly reported on the aggressive effort by BioNTech to build support from the German government in opposing the waiver at the WTO.

In May 2021, the Biden administration reversed its earlier position and that of the Trump administration and voiced support for the WTO waiver, making the U.S. one of the largest wealthy countries to support the idea, backed by a coalition led by India and South Africa. But infighting at the international trade body, along with staunch opposition from other wealthy countries, prevented any effective progress on the issue.

The largely successful assault against the creation of generic vaccines resulted in an unprecedented explosion in profit for a few select biopharmaceutical drug interests. Pfizer and BioNTech generated a staggering $37 billion in revenue from its shared mRNA vaccine in 2021 alone, making it one of the most lucrative drug products of all time.

Moderna, which made $17.7 billion from vaccine sales in 2021, recently announced its plan to hike the price of its Covid shot by about 400 percent.

The high cost of vaccines and concentrated ownership meant supplies in 2021 were hoarded in the European Union, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Japan, and other wealthy countries, while much of the developing world was forced to wait for excess vaccines the following year.

“To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister.”

“For more than two years, a global movement has been speaking out against pharmaceutical greed and demanding that everyone, everywhere has the tools to combat pandemics,” said Maaza Seyoum, a campaigner for the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

“Whatever nasty tricks companies and governments pull,” she added, “we cannot and will not be silenced.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, noted that at the time of BioNTech’s censorship request, much of the world was under various lockdown orders, making digital forms of protest all the more vital for influencing public policy.

“To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister,” he said.

The headquarter of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech, September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

The headquarter of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech, September 18, 2020 in Mainz, Germany.

Photo: Yann Schreiber/Getty Images

The BioNTech request was not the only channel through which vaccine-makers sought to shape content moderation actions at Twitter.

Stronger, a campaign run by Public Good Projects, a public health nonprofit specializing in large-scale media monitoring programs, regularly communicated with Twitter on regulating content related to the pandemic. The firm worked closely with the San Francisco social media giant to help develop bots to censor vaccine misinformation and, at times, sent direct requests to Twitter with lists of accounts to censor and verify.

Internal Twitter emails show regular correspondence between an account manager at Public Good Projects, and various Twitter officials, including Todd O’Boyle, lobbyist with the company who served as a point of contact with the Biden administration. The content moderation requests were sent throughout 2021 and early 2022.

The entire campaign, newly available tax documents and other disclosures show, was entirely funded by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a vaccine industry lobbying group. BIO, which is financed by companies such as Moderna and Pfizer, provided Stronger with $1,275,000 in funding for the effort, which included tools for the public to flag content on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for moderation.

Many of the tweets flagged by Stronger contained absolute falsehoods, including claims that vaccines contained microchips and were designed to intentionally kill people. But others hinged on a gray area of vaccine policy through which there is reasonable debate, such as requests to label or take down content critical of vaccine passports and government mandates to require vaccination.

One tweet flagged by the BIO-backed moderation effort read, “if a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have roughly the same capacity to carry, shed and transmit the virus, particularly in its Delta form, what difference does implementing a vaccination passport actually make to the spread of the virus?”

Public health experts and civil libertarians strongly debated the constitutionality of such passports , an idea that was eventually discarded by U.S. policymakers.

Joe Smyser, the chief executive of Public Good Projects in charge of the Stronger campaign, said his organization’s work was a good-faith effort to battle disinformation. “BIO contributed money and said, ‘You guys are planning on running a pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine misinformation effort and we will give you $500,000 [per year] no questions asked,’” said Smyser.

Many pharmaceutical lobby groups made exaggerated claims about the danger of sharing vaccine technology. PhRMA, another drug industry lobby group, falsely claimed on Twitter that any effort to allow the creation of a generic Covid vaccine would result in placing all 4.4 million jobs supported by the entire American drug industry at risk.

I asked Smyser whether his group ever flagged any content distributed by the pharmaceutical lobby as “misinformation.”

Smyser agreed that policy debate was important, and if misinformation was spread by pharmaceutical companies, any global citizen “should be aware of it,” but that his organization never flagged or focused on any drug industry content.

“I understand why someone would be skeptical, because as a researcher, it matters where your money comes from,” Smyser said. But, he argued, “my job is, how do people figure out where to go get vaccinated? And how do I encourage them to get the vaccine? That was it.”

In a December 2020 email thread further discussing how to monitor BioNTech and respond to the vaccine equity campaign engaging in “spammy behavior” potentially in violation of the social media company’s policies, Holger Kersting, a Twitter spokesperson in Germany, offered several links to tweets in potential violation of the policy.

Two of the tweets were from an account owned by Terry Brough, a retired bricklayer in a small town outside of Liverpool. The messages called on the chief executives of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca to share vaccine technology with “poor countries.”

Reached for comment, Brough reacted with surprise that his messages were being monitored for possible fake content.

“I’m actually 74 and still living,” said Brough with a chuckle. “I was a bricklayer all my life just like my dad. I’m no Che Guevara, but I’ve been an activist, a trade unionist, and a socialist. And all I did was sign a tweet. I wish I could’ve done more, really.”

The post Covid-19 Drugmakers Pressured Twitter to Censor Activists Pushing for Generic Vaccine appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Party Drugs for PTSD: Study Moves Therapeutic Use of MDMA Toward Approval / TheIntercept · Saturday, 14 January - 11:00 · 2 minutes

The party drug MDMA earned positive results for treating people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new government study that confirmed other findings.

The new study for the MDMA clinical trial program was completed in November and sponsored by a group called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The trial is part of an ongoing effort to obtain federal approval for use of MDMA in therapy as the number of people suffering from PTSD, mental illness, and opioid addiction continues to climb.

Prior to federal criminalization of the use and possession of MDMA in 1985, the substance had been legally used in therapy treatments for at least a decade. As part of its decision to criminalize MDMA, the Drug Enforcement Administration said abuse of the substance had “become a nationwide problem” and posed “a serious health threat.”

MDMA is only one of a handful of drugs, especially psychedelic drugs, that the federal government considered to be largely for recreational purposes — and therefore illegal — that are now slowly progressing toward government approval for legal uses. The drugs, among them psilocybin, which is found in “magic mushrooms,” are being studied for therapeutic uses.

The Biden administration has signaled willingness to explore the potential to use criminalized substances to address a growing national mental health crisis, and officials in Congress have undertaken bipartisan efforts to ease access to federally banned substances for therapeutic uses. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ latest clinical research on MDMA is a phase three study aimed at eventually winning Food and Drug Administration approval.

The stigma against psychedelic and psychoactive drugs and the residual effects of the “war on drugs” kicked off by President Richard Nixon have stalled progress in one of the few areas of drug policy on which there is substantial bipartisan consensus.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services said it anticipated that the FDA would approve both MDMA and psilocybin for treatment of PTSD and depression, respectively, within the next two years. President Joe Biden’s administration has supported the creation of a federal task force to explore potential issues with psychedelic and entactogenic medicines. The White House did not immediately provide comment on the status of the task force or efforts to obtain FDA approval for either substance.

In July, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a bill that would let people with terminal illnesses access drugs classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act that have undergone a phase one clinical trial but have not yet received FDA approval. The bill was supported by the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, which includes several organizations that work to prevent suicide and deaths of despair among veterans and and nonveterans alike. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 20. (Spokespersons for Booker and Paul did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Last summer, the House also moved to expand research into psychedelic therapy. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, offered amendments to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would relax federal restrictions on the use of psychedelic treatments for veterans and active-duty service members struggling with mental illness.

The post Party Drugs for PTSD: Study Moves Therapeutic Use of MDMA Toward Approval appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Kevin McCarthy Wants to Hold China Accountable. His Top Aide Lobbied for Alibaba. / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 19:31 · 2 minutes

Immediately after being elected House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy vowed to hold Beijing accountable. “We will create a bipartisan select committee on China to investigate how to bring back the hundreds of thousands of jobs that went to China, and then we will win this economic competition,” the California Republican said early Saturday morning after a dramatic 15-vote series that elected him to lead the GOP majority in the lower chamber.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives made good on McCarthy’s promise, voting 365 to 65 to establish the House Select Committee on China, which will be chaired by foreign policy hawk Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. “Here’s the good news: There is bipartisan consensus that the era of trusting Communist China is over,” gloated McCarthy from the House floor.

McCarthy and Gallagher wrote an op-ed for Fox News last month declaring “a new cold war” between China in the United States. “Our goal will be to promote overwhelming economic superiority,” wrote the GOP duo, “by developing policies to prohibit state and local pension funds—the same entities evangelizing for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments—from investing in China.”

That could spell trouble for McCarthy’s chief of staff Daniel P. Meyer, who owns somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of shares in Alibaba Group Holdings Limited — one of the largest companies in China, with close ties to the Chinese government. Before joining McCarthy’s office, Meyer was president of the Duberstein Group, a firm that earned millions lobbying on behalf of Alibaba in the U.S.

Meyer’s Alibaba investment is the largest by far of the 132 entries listed under assets and “unearned income,” according to his 2021 financial disclosure statement — the most recent available — obtained by The Intercept from the House Office of the Clerk.

In 2021, Alibaba spent over $3 million to hire 34 lobbyists to push the company’s agenda on trade, telecommunications, copyright, and other areas, according to Open Secrets . Duberstein Group collected the largest fees by far from Alibaba.

Meyer worked as a lobbyist for Alibaba during his time as a top executive at Duberstein in the decade before joining McCarthy’s team. Between 2011 and 2021, Duberstein Group collected $3.7 million in lobbying fees from Alibaba, with Meyer listed as the registered lobbyist for the Chinese multinational company from 2012 to 2019.

A 2018 report by Lee Fang and Nick Surgey for The Intercept found that Alibaba had joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a controversial group that ghostwrites legislation for corporations and other special interest groups.

“We are probably the world’s largest e-commerce company you have never heard about. We have business-to-business marketplace solutions. We have VC marketplace solutions. And we have over 500 million active buyers on our marketplaces,” said Alibaba lobbyist Bill Anaya at an ALEC summit in Nashville in 2017.

Meyer is a former senior aide to ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich and also served as a legislative aide to President George W. Bush. “Dan Meyer played a key role in developing the Contract with America [a set of 10 bills undermining the social safety net and cutting government spending in 1994] and in helping lead the House Republicans out of 40 years in the minority wilderness. He went on to be a superb legislative liaison for President George W. Bush,” Gingrich told Politico when Meyer joined McCarthy’s staff in 2019.

Neither Meyer nor McCarthy’s office replied to email requests from The Intercept for comment on his significant Alibaba investment.

The post Kevin McCarthy Wants to Hold China Accountable. His Top Aide Lobbied for Alibaba. appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Biden Used Classified Documents Accusation Against Carter CIA Nominee / TheIntercept · Friday, 13 January - 19:29 · 5 minutes

President Joe Biden and his supporters have sought to downplay the significance of the improperly handled and stored classified documents discovered at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a think tank where Biden maintained an office. The documents are believed to relate to his time as vice president under Barack Obama. But then it emerged that another batch of classified documents was recovered from Biden’s personal garage at his home in Delaware. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate the matter.

Former President Donald Trump and his supporters have defended his transfer of classified materials to his resort at Mar-a-Lago, claiming that the president had authority to declassify the materials. That case is also the subject of a federal investigation.

It is a barely concealed secret in Washington, D.C., that for decades, elite politicians have engaged in some form of bending or breaking the rules on classified documents — in some cases for plausibly benign uses as writing memoirs. Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser Sandy Berger stole documents from the National Archives in 2003 by stuffing them inside his clothing and then destroyed some classified materials. He claimed he wanted to review the documents to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 commission. Gen. David Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA director in 2012 after it was revealed he had improperly handled classified materials, including taking some to his home and sharing them with his biographer with whom he was having an affair.

While there have been cases where criminal charges have been brought — Berger was fined $50,000 by a federal judge and lost his security clearance, and Petraeus got two years probation and a $100,000 fine — it is rare for a high profile figure to face any meaningful criminal consequences for such actions. That, of course, is not the case with whistleblowers — including Reality Winner, Jeffrey Sterling, Terry Albury, and Daniel Hale — who have been aggressively prosecuted under the Espionage Act and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The revelation that Biden illicitly stored classified materials, including in his garage, is a grave embarrassment to the president, particularly in light of the fact that Democrats have hammered away at Donald Trump for months over the classified documents he retained at Mar-a-Lago. But there is also a relevant story from Biden’s past that bears mentioning.

The events took place during the administration of Jimmy Carter, when Biden was a rising star in the U.S. Senate and was an inaugural member of the Intelligence Committee, which was established in response to the lawlessness of the Nixon administration. Biden colluded with Republicans on the Intelligence Committee to kill the nomination of a CIA critic to be director of the agency. Among the reasons was that the nominee, Ted Sorensen, had admitted to taking classified documents for a biography of his longtime friend John F. Kennedy and had spoken out in defense of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. In fact, Biden went so far as to suggest Sorensen might be subject to prosecution under the Espionage Act.

As The Intercept reported in its special series “ Empire Politician: A Half-Century of Joe Biden’s Stances on War, Militarism, and the CIA ,” Sen. Joe Biden campaigned aggressively for President Jimmy Carter, but he later made clear that he was never a big fan of the famously liberal president. When Carter nominated Sorensen as CIA director, the national security establishment in Washington was apoplectic. Sorensen had no foreign policy experience and was out of place in the world of covert ops. Carter had said that he wanted an outsider for the CIA post as part of his pledge to reduce the agency’s power and budget.

Sorensen’s nomination came after a campaign in which Carter promised to wage war against the agency’s “excessive secrecy” and to expose and punish CIA officers who broke the law. “We must never again keep secret the evolution of our foreign policy from the Congress and the American people,” Carter declared . “They should never again be misled.” Carter ultimately failed to achieve many of his promises regarding the CIA, but the mere fact that he made such statements caused grave concern within the agency and among many Republican lawmakers. This conflict broke out into the open during Sorensen’s confirmation process.

Biden assured Sorensen that he would help guide him through the process. As Sorensen recalled, Biden had led him to believe that he had the senator’s “enthusiastic” support, telling him that he was “the best appointment Carter has made.”

When Sorensen came under attack from Republicans, though, Biden shifted his position and went out of his way to dig up an episode from Sorenson’s past that would serve as a red flag against his confirmation. Sorensen had given an affidavit in Ellsberg’s case, in which Sorensen acknowledged that many officials in Washington, including himself, would take classified documents home to review and that officials often leaked far more sensitive documents to the press without facing prosecutions.

Biden said he learned of the affidavit, which was never filed in court, from a Republican colleague and assessed that the Republicans on the committee would seek to use it to discredit Sorensen. Biden had his staff scour documents and Sorensen’s books to find the unfiled affidavit, and an aide who was involved with the Pentagon Papers case eventually located it. This, combined with other concerns, including allegations that Sorensen was a pacifist who dodged the Korean War draft, put the nomination in peril. “It was like being blindsided by a truck,” Sorensen said , describing the campaign against him as an effort where “many little dirty streams flowed together to make one large one.”

In a phone call with Carter after confirming the document, Biden said , “I think we’re in trouble. I think it is going to be tough.” As it became clear that the nomination was doomed, Carter offered an uninspired defense of Sorensen’s comments on classified documents with a public statement, “saying it would be ‘most unfortunate’ if frank acknowledgement of common practice should ‘deprive the administration and the country of his talents and services,’” according to a press report.

At Sorensen’s confirmation hearing, Biden laid into the nominee. “Quite honestly, I’m not sure whether or not Mr. Sorensen could be indicted or convicted under the espionage statutes,” Biden said, questioning “whether Mr. Sorensen intentionally took advantage of the ambiguities in the law or carelessly ignored the law.” Biden biographer Jules Witcover later wrote: “As a result of these and other complaints against Sorensen, and behind-the-scenes pressure from Carter, the old JFK speechwriter agreed to have his nomination withdrawn.” Sorensen later said Biden should be awarded the “prize for political hypocrisy in a town noted for political hypocrisy.”

The post Biden Used Classified Documents Accusation Against Carter CIA Nominee appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Jim Jordan Is No Frank Church / TheIntercept · Thursday, 12 January - 20:00 · 7 minutes

(Original Caption) Washington, D. C.: Close up of Senator Frank Church during a session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA and deadly toxin stocks.

Sen. Frank Church during a session of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA in 1975.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

In one of their very first steps since taking over the House of Representatives, House Republicans have created a special new panel to launch wide-ranging investigations into what they allege are the ways in which the federal government has abused the rights of conservatives.

But Republicans and right-wing pundits have already given up on its clumsy formal title — “ the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government ” — and are now simply calling it the new “Church Committee.” By doing so, they are explicitly comparing it to the historic Church Committee of the mid-1970s, which conducted landmark investigations of the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community, none of which had previously been subject to real oversight.

The new “weaponization” subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, a right-wing ally of former President Donald Trump, and has a much different objective than the original Church Committee: The panel is widely expected to become a pro-Trump star chamber, investigating the officials and organizations that have previously investigated Trump, including the FBI and the Justice Department.

The Jordan subcommittee also seems likely to investigate the House January 6 committee, which operated when the Democrats controlled the chamber — and referred Jordan to the House Ethics Committee for his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Jordan, who stuck by Rep. Kevin McCarthy during McCarthy’s marathon bid to become House speaker last week, is now being rewarded with the mandate and resources to conduct investigations into almost any corner of the government he chooses; those probes have the potential to make the Biden administration look bad or Trump look good. McCarthy has even authorized the subcommittee to examine ongoing criminal investigations, which the Justice Department will certainly oppose.

By calling their panel the new Church Committee, Jordan and the Republicans are trying to assume the mantle of one of the most iconic investigative committees in congressional history. (I’ve spent the last several years researching and writing a book about Sen. Frank Church and his eponymous panel, which will be published in May.)

“When you reach back in history and bring a phrase from the past to the present, you get to carry a meaning into contemporary time,” observed Stephanie Martin, the Frank and Bethine Church Endowed Chair of Public Affairs at Boise State University in Idaho, the native state of Sen. Church, the Democrat who chaired the original Church Committee. “By calling it the Church Committee,” she added, Republicans are appropriating the image “of effective change and effective oversight.”

But the differences between the Church Committee and Jordan’s new subcommittee are stark, observes Loch Johnson, who served as an aide to Church on the committee and later wrote a firsthand account of the committee’s work. “The Church Committee was strongly oriented toward following the documentary evidence that we were able to uncover,” says Johnson. “The inquiry was driven not by ideology, revenge, or anything else but the facts.” Today’s Republicans, he added, seem “motivated by ideology and a sense of grievance, starting with the ‘stolen election’ of 2020.”

Johnson and others argue that what the Republicans are creating is unlikely to be anything like the Church Committee, especially if, as seems almost certain, it descends into conspiracy theories about a mythical “deep state” that is out to get Trump and conservatives.

The existence of an anti-Trump “deep state” has become one of the most persistent conspiracy theories on the right and feeds into the anger and resentment against the government held by pro-Trump forces, including Jordan. Like all powerful and lasting conspiracy theories, it relies on some basic facts — but then turns reality on its head to reach a fantastical conclusion.

It is true that America is burdened with a sprawling and ever-growing military-industrial complex built on a network of relationships linking the Pentagon; the CIA; Homeland Security; defense, intelligence, and counterterrorism contractors; and many others in a powerful and partially hidden web that, over the past few decades, has pushed the nation into a period of nearly endless war. The traditional post-World War II military-industrial complex grew steadily for decades despite President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning about its rising power in his 1961 farewell address : “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Its power expanded exponentially after the September 11 attacks as counterterrorism and homeland security became big businesses, making it far more difficult for the United States to ever reduce its paranoia over the threat of terrorism.

But today’s combined military, intelligence, and counterterrorism complex is a capitalistic, pro-military center of gravity in American society. It is not anti-Trump or anti-conservative, and it is definitely not a secret political organization bent on imposing “woke” views on Americans.

In fact, it was the work of the Church Committee that helped ensure that the “deep state” is nothing more than a right-wing conspiracy theory today. In the first three decades after World War II, the U.S. intelligence community faced no real oversight or outside scrutiny, and as a result, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA grew beyond presidents’ ability to control and became increasingly lawless. The reforms created as a result of the Church Committee helped to bring the intelligence community fully under the rule of law for the first time. By disclosing a series of shocking abuses of power, Frank Church and his committee created rules of the road for the intelligence community that largely remain in place today.

The Church Committee’s work represented a watershed moment in American history — which is why Republican are now so eager to co-opt its name. But there is no evidence that Jordan plans to follow the earlier panel’s serious and comprehensive approach. In fact, the involvement of Jordan and other House Republicans in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election already constitutes an obvious conflict of interest. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is now House minority leader, tweeted that “extreme MAGA Republicans have established a Select Committee on Insurrection Protection.”

Rather than being a true heir to the Church Committee, Jordan’s subcommittee seems destined to follow the pattern of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. Jordan and today’s Republicans are employing the same kind of resentment and grievances against “elites” that fueled Joseph McCarthy, and Jordan also seems destined to use some of McCarthy’s tactics, targeting individual officials to claim they are “woke” or part of the “deep state” — updated versions of McCarthy’s phraseology about “Communist subversion.” It’s no coincidence that Roy Cohn, who worked as chief counsel to McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, later became a key mentor to Trump in the work of launching vicious political attacks.

Previously an obscure back-bench Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy surged to fame in 1950, when he falsely claimed in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, to have a list of Communists in the State Department, triggering a period of intense paranoia and witch hunting that is now known as the McCarthy era. After he became a committee chair in 1953, McCarthy switched his focus to the Army, with Cohn by his side.

By going after the State Department and then the Army, McCarthy took on two of the most important and tradition-bound institutions in the United States at the time. The State Department had not fought back successfully against McCarthy, but the Army did. After McCarthy charged Army leaders with ignoring evidence of Communist subversion at a military facility in New Jersey, the Army went on the attack, accusing McCarthy of seeking special treatment for David Schine, a McCarthy consultant and friend of Cohn’s. The charges and counter-charges ultimately led to a long-running series of nationally televised hearings that garnered huge audiences, pitting McCarthy and Cohn against Joseph Welch, an urbane outside lawyer brought in to represent the Army.

In a televised hearing on June 9, 1954, McCarthy and Welch engaged in a historic showdown, with Cohn looking on. Bitter at Welch, McCarthy publicly raised questions about the loyalty of Fred Fisher, a lawyer at Welch’s law firm. Welch’s devastating response — “Have you no sense of decency?” — has gone down in history as the moment McCarthy’s power was broken.

In December 1954, the Senate finally voted to censure McCarthy; by 1957, he was dead.

Does the shame that finally brought down McCarthy still have the power to curb Republican excesses? Johnson, Frank Church’s former aide, isn’t so sure.

“We’re headed for something that combines a witch hunt with a circus,” Johnson said, noting that the so-called new Church Committee “is likely to make the 1950s McCarthy hearings appear, in retrospect, rather benign.”

The post Jim Jordan Is No Frank Church appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Inflation Is Slowing — Without the Higher Unemployment Larry Summers Said Was Necessary / TheIntercept · Thursday, 12 January - 19:00 · 4 minutes

Last week, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers — speaking in front of a picturesque tropical backdrop — delivered somber news for workers: Millions of people would have to lose their jobs to hold inflation at bay. Summers has called for 5 percent unemployment for five years or 10 percent for 1 year to tame inflation. (The current unemployment rate stands at far less than that: 3.5 percent.)

Summers had been hailed as a prophet for warning back in 2020 that pandemic-driven inflation was long term rather than temporary, necessitating, in his opinion, an engineered slowdown in the economy — a tough-love approach he was credited with having the courage to voice.

But the new consumer price index released today flies in the face of Summers’s analysis, showing a decline in inflation far more rapid than the yearslong battle he has repeatedly insisted would be necessary. The CPI shows that overall prices actually declined slightly in December and that annualized inflation is the lowest it’s been in 15 months . Since the CPI report in June, which showed inflation running at 9.1 percent year over year, this is the sixth consecutive month reporting lower year-over-year inflation. The good news is raising questions from many economists and even some Federal Reserve officials about whether it is necessary for the Fed to continue its bitter war on inflation going forward, and could settle the simmering debate about whether current inflation is temporary or chronic.

Summers’s Twitter account has so far been silent on the most recent numbers. Summers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The CPI report follows months of the Fed’s most aggressive interest rate hikes in years in an attempt to tamp down inflation. Though at times necessary, rate hikes are a tool widely recognized as a “blunt instrument” solution to inflation and are something of a Faustian bargain: While it can decrease inflation, it also increases unemployment. And that’s exactly what’s happening, with news last week of employment growth slowing — a development met with cheers by the finance elite. The Fed’s own research has warned of the risk of a “severe recession” if the steep rate hikes persist.

Patrick Harker, the head of the Fed’s Philadelphia branch, said in a recent speech that “I expect that we will raise rates a few more times this year, though, to my mind, the days of us raising them 75 basis points at a time have surely passed. … In my view, hikes of 25 basis points will be appropriate going forward.” Harker is an alternate member of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed body that determines its interest rate policy, but not one of its 12 current voting members.

So good is the inflation picture painted by the new CPI that Dean Baker, an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writes that there could even be some deflation in 2023 in an area especially important to lower-income Americans: the cost of rent. “It is likely that we will see more good news on food prices going forward,” Baker writes. “Time for the Fed to declare victory and stop rate hikes!”

Despite signs that the Fed is loosening up with smaller rate hikes, it is not yet clear if its approach will continue to moderate. Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently made clear that he is aiming for a 2 percent inflation rate — still significantly less than the current 6.5 percent rate.

As the Wall Street Journal has reported , wage inequality has diminished during the three years since the 2020 start of the Covid-19 pandemic — the only time this has happened since the Reagan administration. For decades, the wages of college graduates rose more quickly than those of non-graduates. In the past few years, the wages of non-graduates are going up faster.

Meanwhile, many at the top of U.S. society are expressing anger at what they see as a lessening of ambition among American workers — many of whom, they believe, now prefer to spend time with their families than on the job, and have the leverage in the labor market to do so. Bernie Marcus, the 93-year-old billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, recently proclaimed that “nobody works, nobody gives a damn,” and that employees are taking the attitude “just give it to me. Send me money. I don’t want to work — I’m too lazy, I’m too fat, I’m too stupid.” This, said Marcus, is making him “worried about capitalism.”

As another Journal article asked , “What could prompt a widespread return of professional ambition? A severe economic downturn that sends unemployment soaring might make workers feel they need to work harder to show their value.” With inflation coming down, the question now is whether the Federal Reserve — always highly attuned to the desires of employers — will go ahead and create such an economic downturn anyway.

The post Inflation Is Slowing — Without the Higher Unemployment Larry Summers Said Was Necessary appeared first on The Intercept .

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    House Rules Package Gives Democrats a Path to Averting a Debt Ceiling Crisis / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 10 January - 01:06 · 5 minutes

House Republicans enacted new rules for the 118th Congress on Monday that preserve the traditional right of rank-and-file members of Congress to bypass House leadership and put legislation on the floor directly if they obtain the signatures of a majority of the chamber. This opens a handful of legislative opportunities for Democrats, despite Republican ideological cohesion.

The maneuver, known as a discharge petition, was famously deployed by President Lyndon Johnson and his House allies to pressure reluctant opponents of civil rights to allow a vote for the Civil Rights Act on the floor. Under standard rules, the majority leader sets the floor schedule, in collaboration with the House Rules Committee, but a discharge petition can automatically pull a bill from committee and move it to the floor. Once the logjam was broken, it passed with significant support.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., deployed a discharge petition in the last Congress to pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move forward with a ban on congressional stock trading . Pelosi smothered the move by publicly agreeing to hold a vote, but then sabotaged negotiations .

With Democrats holding 213 seats in the 118th Congress, that leaves them five votes short of the number needed to bring a bill to the floor. For most legislation, five votes is far too high a hurdle to clear. It is exceedingly unlikely, for instance, that Democrats could find five Republicans to sign on to a discharge petition that created a vote on codifying Roe v. Wade, though there may be a small number of Republicans put in a difficult spot at home if they resisted signing.

A discharge petition to raise or eliminate the debt ceiling, on the other hand, could avert a financial crisis threatened by Freedom Caucus members who opposed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership. In exchange for their votes, Freedom Caucus members won a commitment that McCarthy would hold U.S. debt payments hostage in exchange for significant spending cuts across the board. But if Democrats could find five Republicans unwilling to risk default, which would spark a global financial crisis, a discharge petition would give those Republicans a route around their own leadership.

First-term Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Pa., said that he saw real opportunities for bipartisanship when it comes to antitrust policy, and a discharge petition could get around McCarthy’s support for concentrated corporate power. “I think there’s some interest on their side in doing some of this. There certainly is on ours. If we can get the numbers, fine, we’ll do it, I’ll be part of that,” he said.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said that a similar dynamic might be at play when it comes to immigration — “the desperation on the border,” as he put it — and the fentanyl crisis, if a handful of Republicans in blue districts feel pressure to get something done. “How can you not hear that and give it a fair opportunity,” he said. “If there’s common-sense, middle-ground, enforcement-slash-humanitarian, how can you turn that one down?”

And, of course, the fate of Republican Rep. George Santos of Long Island remains unclear. Santos is currently one of 18 Republicans serving in a district that voted for Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election. If Santos resigns or is booted from office, the question of codifying Roe in the resulting special election would be more salient with an active discharge petition underway, as it would move Democrats one vote closer to a majority.

In November, following the midterm elections, Ocasio-Cortez backed the idea of a discharge petition on abortion rights, though was concerned that Republicans might strip the discharge petition from the rules in the upcoming term. Their opportunity to do so quietly came and went on Monday. Any effort to change the rules in the middle of the term in response to a petition with momentum would at minimum attract national attention.

“Discharge petition is an excellent vehicle,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the interview . “Using rules is going to be quite important. I know that that’s going to be subject to negotiation within the Republican caucus as well. This is something that they’ve already started to use as a lever. … They are in a much weaker position as a party, which means they have more to concede — not us. And we can stand in that confidence, in that power a little bit more.”

David Segal, head of the group Demand Progress, which often works with both Democrats and Republicans on populist issues, said the motion to discharge opened up opportunities to push legislation opposed by party leadership. “Discharge petitions can be used to a variety of useful aims — from forcing members to take stances on popular issues, to potentially forcing votes on matters of important substance where there’s cross-partisan esteem, like antimonopoly policy, that could actually pass,” he said.

Democrats would have to move fairly quickly, however, to avert a financial crisis. First, a bill would have to be introduced and referred to committee, according to House rules and precedents . Then 30 legislative days would need to expire. Once 218 signatures are collected, another seven legislative days need to pass, at which point the motion would come to the floor on the second or fourth Monday after those seven legislative days are up. A legislative day is one in which the House is in session and then adjourns . A motion to discharge filed in February or March ought to be ripe by summer. The Treasury Department has not put a precise date at which default will occur, but the estimate is summer.

Using a discharge petition to avert default could, however, become a moot issue. Constitutional scholars have argued that the debt ceiling itself is unconstitutional : If Congress appropriates money, the executive is required to spend that money, not default because of a lack of borrowing authority when other avenues to fulfill the appropriations exist.

The post House Rules Package Gives Democrats a Path to Averting a Debt Ceiling Crisis appeared first on The Intercept .

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    What Matt Gaetz and AOC Talked About During Kevin McCarthy’s Speaker Vote / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 3 January - 21:06 · 2 minutes

Opponents of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the House speakership are digging in after a tense discussion on the House floor between Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The pair’s conspicuous exchange in the back of the chamber on the first day of the 118th Congress was caught on C-SPAN — and noted by many members in the building. Thanks to Gaetz and his far-right allies, McCarthy, a California Republican, failed to win the speakership on the first round of voting.

Gaetz told Ocasio-Cortez that McCarthy has been telling Republicans that he’ll be able to cut a deal with Democrats to vote present, enabling him to win a majority of those present and voting, according to Ocasio-Cortez. She told Gaetz that wasn’t happening, and also double-checked with Democratic party leadership, confirming there’d be no side deal.

“McCarthy was suggesting he could get Dems to walk away to lower his threshold,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept of her conversation with Gaetz on McCarthy’s failed ploy. “And I fact checked and said absolutely not.”

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York won all 212 of his party’s votes, a show of unity that, if it holds, requires McCarthy to win over all but four of his colleagues.

Gaetz, who has shown a willingness to break with the GOP establishment, said that his crew of McCarthy opponents was dug in and would continue to resist him, adding that McCarthy has been threatening opponents with loss of committee assignments. A private gathering of Republicans ahead of the vote had been heated, multiple sources said. (Gaetz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

McCarthy and Gaetz presented their positions in dueling press conferences Tuesday morning. McCarthy said that Gaetz and his allies had requested plum committee assignments in exchange for supporting his speaker bid. McCarthy also accused Gaetz of telling Republican members that he was willing to elect Jeffries as speaker rather than accede to McCarthy. Gaetz told reporters that he and his allies didn’t trust McCarthy.

Ahead of the second round of voting, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who won six votes for speaker in the first round, nominated McCarthy again. Then Gaetz rose and nominated Jordan. All 19 McCarthy opponents voted for Jordan in the second round, leaving McCarthy again at 203 votes — 15 short of what he needed.

Rep. Paul Gosar , R-Ariz. another McCarthy opponent, also huddled with Ocasio-Cortez in the chamber, inquiring about the possibility of adjourning the House. (Gosar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

In the first round, McCarthy won just 203 votes, losing 19 of his colleagues. McCarthy has been insistent on remaining in session, as have his opponents. Adjourning without choosing a speaker would be embarrassing to Republicans but might also give time for McCarthy to break the opposition one by one.

Ocasio-Cortez was noncommittal on the tack, as an adjournment strategy would require party leadership.

The post What Matt Gaetz and AOC Talked About During Kevin McCarthy’s Speaker Vote appeared first on The Intercept .