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Dem Voters Flip Off Party Leaders And Their Big Donors

If politics lately has seemed a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, then Tuesday night’s stunning elections have offered an unexpected jolt of that Return of The Jedi feeling — at exactly the moment when progressives most needed a boost.

Heading into pivotal congressional primaries in Pennsylvania and Oregon, Democratic elites and their corporate donors were likely feeling confident that their huge super PAC spending would successfully buy yet more primary victories for corporate-aligned candidates. Indeed, House Democratic leaders planned to spend Wednesday honoring the anniversary of the New Democrat Coalition, which is the official arm of the party’s corporate faction.

But those football-spiking celebrations now seem premature.

If projected election results hold, underdog progressive candidates will end up winning most of the big primary contests of the night, despite being vilified by oligarch-bankrolled super PACs linked to the Democratic Party machine.

Notably, in at least two of the races, the progressive candidates framed their primary contest as a referendum on the politics of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The progressive candidates’ success follows new polling data showing Democratic voters are frustrated with their party’s leadership’s incrementalism.

Pennsylvania Back Progressive Over Union Avoidance Lawyer

In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s anti-establishment campaign easily withstood attacks from a health insurance-aligned super PAC, as he won every county in the state to secure its Democratic U.S Senate nomination. Fetterman explicitly slammed Manchin, who represents neighboring West Virginia. It is not yet clear which Republican candidate will win the GOP Senate nomination.

Even more shocking, progressive Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee is narrowly ahead of corporate union-avoidance lawyer Steve Irwin, despite nearly $3.4 million being spent against her by organizations affiliated with the powerful pro-Israel advocacy group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The spirited campaigns by Fetterman and Lee follow a series of progressive wins in the Keystone State, which is seen as a national bellwether. There, progressive candidates have recently defeated Democratic machine-backed candidates to win major city council, judicial, district attorney, mayoral and state legislative races.

Tuesday’s results are the culmination of more than five years of deep electoral organizing in the state. The elections could bode well for progressives in Philadelphia’s upcoming mayoral race, where city Councilwoman Helen Gym (D) is expected to run.

Pennsylvania’s 2022 Democratic ticket will be topped by gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, who as attorney general prosecuted a major pipeline conglomerate, a student debt giant, and the Catholic Church – and also defend the state’s voting system from Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the presidential election. Shapiro will face Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano, an election denier who attended the January 6th insurrection.

Oregon Dems Confront “The Joe Manchin Of The House”

Oregon saw millions of dollars of outside spending for corporate-aligned Democrats in two House primaries – and in both cases, the corporate candidates struggled.

In the state’s 5th district, Rep. Kurt Schrader appears to be on the verge of losing his primary reelection bid against progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

Schrader cast a key vote to block Democrats’ promised drug pricing legislation and worked to water the measure down, before playing a pivotal role helping Republicans kill President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill. He was nonetheless endorsed by Biden, who insisted “when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me.”

A super PAC bankrolled by a Big Pharma front group spent $1.1 million to boost Schrader, who also benefited from $800,000 in spending by one of a pro-Israel super PAC called Mainstream Democrats PAC.

While being outspent, McLeod-Skinner campaigned across the district calling Schrader “the Joe Manchin of the House.”

Meanwhile, in Oregon’s 6th district, state Rep. Andrea Salinas appears to have won the Democratic House primary over Carrick Flynn despite a whopping $13 million of spending by super PACs.

One of those groups, Protect Our Future PAC, was bankrolled by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. The other was House Majority PAC, a group closely aligned with the Democratic House leadership and run by Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.

Polling Shows A Restive Democratic Base

Outside groups intervening in Democratic primaries did notch two victories in North Carolina’s first and fourth congressional districts — but overall, Tuesday’s outcomes were not the return on millions of dollars of investment for which they were hoping.

The election results come as survey data show an increasingly restive Democratic voter base.

According to a new NBC News poll, nearly two thirds of the party’s voters said they want to vote for a candidate “who proposes larger scale policies that cost more and might be harder to pass into law, but could bring major change” on the issues of health care, climate change, the cost of college, and economic opportunity.

Just 33 percent said they prefer a candidate “who propose smaller scale policies that cost less and might be easier to pass into law, but will bring less change on these issues.”

In 2019, a Democratic operative mocked progressives, telling a reporter: “No one is afraid of those nerds. They don’t have the ability to primary anyone.”

Three years later, Democratic Party leaders and their big donors saw this week’s primaries as the chance to deliver a critical death blow to the weakened progressive movement.

Instead, the results signal that many rank-and-file Democratic may be disgusted with oligarchs’ attempts to buy candidates — and sick of their party’s Washington leaders trying to dictate the results of local elections.

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The man who could rig the 2024 election

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks during a campaign rally on May 14, 2022 in Warminster, Pennsylvania (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania Republicans have nominated State Senator Doug Mastriano to be the next governor. Mastriano is one of the most radical gubernatorial candidates ever to receive a major party nomination. 

Many Republicans have indulged Trump’s claims that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. But few have gone as far as Mastriano has to try to justify Trump’s fever dream.

On November 25, Mastriano “staged a faux legal hearing in Gettysburg, in which Giuliani played prosecutor before a panel of Republican state senators and representatives.” Mastriano introduced a number of “poll watchers” who told unsubstantiated stories of “phantom ballots, hacked machines, and dead voters, which they claimed had all led to an election stolen from Trump.”

Five days later, after all of Trump’s legal challenges had failed and the Pennsylvania Secretary of State had formally certified Biden the winner, Mastriano introduced a resolution urging Congress to ignore the official results. His plan was for the Pennsylvania legislature to ignore millions of votes and directly appoint electors pledged to Trump. 

Ultimately, Mastriano’s resolution didn’t go anywhere in the Republican-controlled state legislature because Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) did not yield to demands to call a special session. But Mastriano was not deterred. On December 10, 2020, Mastriano signed onto an amicus brief supporting Texas’ effort to convince the Supreme Court to throw out the results in Pennsylvania and several other states. That effort also failed. 

In the lead up to January 6, 2021, Mastriano was reportedly “in regular communication with Donald Trump.” On January 6, Mastriano was at the U.S. Capitol and was captured on video “walking through police lines with a crowd of people.”

In a statement, Mastriano said that “police lines did shift throughout the course of the day” and he “followed those lines as they existed.” (In February 2022, Mastriano was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee. It is unclear if he complied.)

In July 2021, Mastriano sent a letter “to several counties requesting information and materials needed to conduct a forensic investigation of the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary.” Mastriano’s conduct, however, was so extreme that he was removed from the process by the Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania Senate. Senate President Jake Corman said that Mastriano was “only ever interested in politics and showmanship and not actually getting things done.”

During his candidacy for governor, Mastriano has been clear that he will use his power — including his authority to appoint the Pennsylvania Secretary of State — to influence the administration of future elections. He said the following on March 30, 2022:

I’m Doug Mastriano, and I get to appoint the Secretary of State who’s delegated from me the power to make the corrections to elections, the voting logs and everything. I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen via the Secretary of State. I already had the Secretary of State picked out. It’s a world class person that knows voting integrity better than anyone else in the nation, I think, and I already have a team that’s gonna be built around that individual.

Yesterday, with Trump’s endorsement, Pennsylvania Republicans put him one step closer to the Pennsylvania Governor’s mansion. 

Mastriano attends QAnon conference 

In April 2022, Mastriano spoke at a far-right Christian conference, “Patriots Arise for God and Country,” which was organized by “Francine and Allen Fodsick, self-described prophets who have long promoted QAnon.” At the outset of the event, organizers played a video “claiming the world is experiencing a ‘great awakening’ that will expose ‘ritual child sacrifice’ and a ‘global satanic blood cult.'” The QAnon conspiracy alleges that top Democratic officials and celebrities are Satan-worshipers running a secret child sex trafficking ring. The video also featured allegations that 9/11 was a false flag, vaccines are “genocide therapy,” and Hitler faked his death. 

Last year, the Fodsicks promoted Mastriano on promotional material for the event, but Mastriano said he would not attend. At the time, a spokesman said Mastriano “strongly condemns the ‘Q anon’ conspiracy theory” and “never committed to speak at this event but sadly was used to help promote it with his picture on the invite.” 

Last month, Mastriano attended as a featured speaker, using his remarks to complain about the the “persecution and oppression” he was subjected to for contesting the 2020 presidential election. The Fodsicks auctioned a portrait of Trump for $4,000 during the event, with the proceeds going to Mastriano’s campaign. This year, his campaign did not respond to a request for comment by the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Mastriano supports banning abortion from moment of conception, with no exceptions 

In a March 31 appearance at the PA Pro Life Coalition, Mastriano said supporters of abortion rights wanted to “wipe out” Black and Latino communities. He said he believed “that’s a baby from Day 1 — at conception.” Mastriano said “my objective, of course, is to save life at conception and not play games.”

In an April 27 debate, Mastriano said opposition to abortion is his “number one issue.” The first bill he introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate was a “heartbeat” bill — which would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. But Mastriano said that, as Pennsylvania’s governor, he would “work our way” toward a total abortion ban from conception. Mastriano made clear that he doesn’t support any “exceptions” to abortion bans for rape, incest or life of the mother. 

The Christian nationalist candidate

Mastriano’s position on abortion reflect his Christian nationalist worldview. Christian nationalism, the New Yorker reports, is rooted in “the idea that God intended America to be a Christian nation.” During his time as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan he “developed a dim view of Islam.” He has frequently “spread Islamophobic memes online,” including “a conspiracy theory that Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, directed fellow-Muslims to throw a five-year-old over a balcony.” 

After retiring from the military and successfully running for office in 2019, Mastriano “began attending events held by a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation.” Members of the New Apostolic Reformation believe “that God speaks to them directly, and that they have been tasked with battling real-world demons who control global leaders.” (Mastriano says he has not “worked directly” with the group.)

In the legislature, Mastriano has supported bill that “would have mandated teaching the Bible in public schools and would have made it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

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Supreme Court greenlights corruption

There are few meaningful limits remaining on money in politics. As a result, politics has become increasingly dominated by the wealthy. The average U.S. Senator is a multi-millionaire. On Monday, the Supreme Court made the situation a little bit worse. 

For the last 20 years, there has been a modest restriction on wealthy candidates that loan their campaigns money. Candidates are free to loan their campaign an unlimited amount of money. And, during the campaign, they can pay themselves back however much they want. But, after the campaign is over, any outstanding debt to the candidate over $250,000 is considered a contribution and cannot be repaid. 

The rationale is, after the conclusion of the election, contributions cannot possibly benefit the campaign. This money is going directly into the pocket of the candidate. So there is a threat of real and perceived corruption. 

The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, has now decided that this provision, which has been law since the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, is unconstitutional. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, says wealthy candidates loaning their campaigns large amounts of cash is an essential part of the democratic process. He describes loans in excess of $250,000 as a key tool “to jumpstart a fledgling campaign or finish strong in a tight race.” Massive personal loans can be “a useful tool to signal that the political outsider is confident enough in his campaign to have skin in the game, attracting the attention of donors and voters alike.” Not allowing these loans to be paid back in full with money raised after the election, Roberts argues, risks “inhibiting candidates from making such loans in the first place.”

This, according to Roberts and the five other conservative Justices, is a violation of the First Amendment. Roberts notes a candidate has a constitutional right “to speak without legislative limit on behalf of his own candidacy.” This includes candidates spending unlimited amounts of their own money. The restriction on repayment, Roberts writes, “burdens candidates who wish to make expenditures on behalf of their own candidacy through personal loans.” 

Writing in dissent, Justice Kagan lays out a scenario which, as of today, is now legal:

A candidate for public office extends a $500,000 loan to his campaign organization, hoping to recoup the amount from benefactors’ post-election contributions. Once elected, he devotes himself assiduously to recovering the money; his personal bank account, after all, now has a gaping half-million-dollar hole. The politician solicits donations from wealthy individuals and corporate lobbyists, making clear that the money they give will go straight from the campaign to him, as repayment for his loan. He is deeply grateful to those who help, as they know he will be—more grateful than for ordinary campaign contributions (which do not increase his personal wealth). And as they paid him, so he will pay them. In the coming months and years, they receive government benefits—maybe favorable legislation, maybe prized appointments, maybe lucrative contracts. The politician is happy; the donors are happy. The only loser is the public. It inevitably suffers from government corruption.

Kagan notes that the supposed interference with First Amendment rights is largely illusory. Even with the restriction in place, a “candidate can in fact self-fund all he likes.” Rather, like other campaign finance rules, the restriction on post-election repayment limits a candidate’s “ability to use other people’s money to finance his campaign.”

Kagan says that by greenlighting, in the aggregate, unlimited donations that will go directly into the pocket of the candidate, the majority’s “decision can only bring this country’s political system into further disrepute.” 

While Roberts claims loan repayments have no provable corrupting influence, Kagan notes that the majority has no “reason to second-guess Congress’s experience-based judgment about the specially corrupting effects of post-election donations to repay candidate loans.” She also provides several examples of the corrupting influence of post-election loan repayment in states where the restriction is not in place:

In Ohio, various law firms donated almost $200,000 to help the newly elected attorney general recoup his personal loans. Those donors later received more than 200 state contracts worth nearly $10 million in legal fees.

In Alaska, a lobbyist collected almost $100,000 for post-election repayment of the Governor’s personal loans. A business in which he held an interest later received a $9 million state contract.

In Kentucky, two Governors loaned their campaigns millions of dollars, “only to be repaid after the election by contributors seeking no-bid contracts.”

In the majority opinion, Roberts dismisses these examples as “media reports.” Roberts acknowledges that a donor that personally enriches a candidate by repaying a loan may gain influence and access. But Roberts writes that “influence and access” are “a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

From campaign debt to profit

Now that there are no limits on loan repayment, creative members of Congress will be able to profit from campaign loans. In 1998, before the restriction went into effect, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) loaned her campaign $150,000. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that Napolitano “collected tens of thousands of dollars in personal income by charging double-digit interest on money she lent her campaign…and soliciting donations from Washington lobbyists at ‘debt retirement’ fundraisers.” 

Napolitano initially charged her campaign an interest rate of 18%. She reduced the rate to 10% in 2006. Between 1998 and 2009 “the congresswoman had paid herself $221,780 in interest.” The money was repaid, in part, through fundraisers “hosted by 21st Century Group Inc., a Capitol Hill lobbying firm whose clients include several transportation interests.” Napolitano is a member of the House Transportation Committee.

While Napolitano received special permission from the FEC to charge a high interest rate, her use of lobbying firms to repay her loans illustrates the corrupting influence of post-election repayment. 

A fake case

The further erosion of the flimsy guardrails around political corruption was purposely engineered by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). On the final day of his 2018 Senate race, he loaned his campaign $260,000 even though he had millions in the bank. He then repaid himself $250,000 but left $10,000 outstanding as a pretext to challenge the restriction. 

The government argued that Cruz should not have been permitted to sue because his injury, if any, was “self-inflicted.” Roberts rejected that argument. 

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The right's embrace of a deadly racist conspiracy theory

People gathered outside of Tops market embrace on May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The “great replacement theory” can be traced back at least to Theodore G. Bilbo (D-MS), the brazenly racist U.S. Senator who held office from 1935 to 1947. Bilbo, an antisemite who acknowledged being a member of the Ku Klux Klan during an appearance on “Meet the Press,” warned that at “the present rate of interbreeding and miscegenation and intermarriage between the [n-words] and the Whites… there’ll be no Whites, there’ll be no Blacks in this country. We’ll all be yellow [or brown].”

In 1947, Bilbo published a book Separation or Mongrelization: Take Your Choice. In the book, Bilbo argued that “great civilizations of the ages have been produce[d] by the Caucasian race” and the “mongrel not only lacks the ability to create a civilization, but he cannot maintain a culture that he finds around him.” He asserted that the nation must choose between a “White America and a mongrel America.” 

75 years ago, Bilbo’s arguments were seen as extreme. The Saturday Evening Post, an influential conservative publication, called him “America’s Worst Demagogue.” In 1946, Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) described Bilbo as “a disgrace to the Senate.” There were several efforts to remove him from office prior to his death from cancer in August 1947. 

Bilbo’s beliefs, however, were refreshed and repopularized by The Camp of the Saints, the 1973 novel by French author Jean Raspail. The novel is “an apocalyptic tale that attempts to depict the destruction of white, Western society at the hands of mass immigration from the Global South.” The book gained popularity “among American white supremacist and anti-immigrant groups in the 1980s and 1990s.” 

In 2012, Renaud Camus, a French white nationalist and conspiracy theorist who was influenced by Raspail, wrote The Great Replacement. Camus argued white Europeans “are being reverse colonized by Black and Brown immigrants, who are flooding the Continent in what amounts to an extinction-level event.”

The philosophical underpinnings of European white nationalism became increasingly popular among American racists. The white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville in 2017 chanted “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” Even though that gathering resulted in deadly violence, the racist conspiracy theory only became more popular. 

It was embraced first by fringe members of Congress like former Representative Steve King (R-IA), who tweeted “[w]e can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” in 2017. But it was mainstreamed and popularized by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, the nation’s most-watched political pundit. In 2021, despite heavy criticism for promoting racist conspiracy theories, Carlson described the great replacement theory as “true” and “what’s happening, actually.”  

A December poll found that “about 1 in 3 U.S. adults believes an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants.” 

On Saturday, 18-year-old Payton Gendron allegedly drove more than 200 miles to a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo and, dressed in tactical gear, opened fire at Tops Friendly Market. 13 people were shot and 10 died. Gendron, who has been charged with murder in connection with the shooting, reportedly left behind a 180-page manifesto that “repeatedly cited” the great replacement theory. 

The role of Tucker Carlson in mainstreaming the great replacement theory is well-documented. But the mass shooting in Buffalo raises serious questions about many prominent Republican officials and right-wing advocates who have adopted the great replacement theory in recent years, even as the racist conspiracy was cited as motivation by previous mass shooters in Pittsburgh and El Paso

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

Johnson promoted the ideas undergirding the great replacement theory during an April 15, 2022 appearance on Fox Business:

This administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why? Is it [that] really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?

Senate candidate J.D. Vance

Vance, who recently won the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, referenced concepts associated with the great replacement theory in an April 2022 townhall. He claimed Democrats were plotting to let in 15 million additional immigrants because they were confident that 70% would vote Democratic. 

So you’re talking about a shift in the democratic makeup of this country that would mean we never win, meaning Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again.

Vance made a similar claim in a campaign advertisement. The ad claims that Biden was deliberately keeping the border “open” to keep “more Democrat voters pouring into this country.” In the ad Vance, echoing Carlson, insists he is not “racist” for telling “the truth.”

Senate candidate Blake Masters

Masters, a Republican campaigning for the Senate in Arizona, has advanced variants of the great replacement theory on multiple podcasts and videos. He tweeted the claim on Saturday, shortly after the shooting in Buffalo:

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

Stefanik, a member of the Republican House leadership, ran a Facebook ad with a variation of the great replacement theory. It claimed that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi were plotting to “flood our voter roles [sic] with 11 MILLION NEW VOTERS by giving illegal immigrants amnesty.” 

The Albany Times-Union, Stefanik’s hometown paper, said the “despicable” 

ads “repackaged” the great replacement theory.

Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA)

Perry promoted the great replacement theory during a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on immigration from Central America in April 2021:

For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Gaetz supported Carlson on the great replacement theory and said the Anti-Defamation League was “racist” for calling for Carlson’s ouster:

Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R)

In a September 2021 appearance on Fox News, Patrick said Democrats were “trying to take over our country without firing a shot” by inviting millions of immigrants into the country. Patrick said each of those immigrants would have “two or three children” who will support Democrats to thank “Biden for bringing them here.” 

Laura, when I say a revolution has begun, they are allowing this year, probably 2 million, that’s who we apprehended – maybe another million into this country. At least in 18 years, even if they all don’t become citizens before they can vote – in 18 years, if every one of them has two or three children, you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters. And they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they’re going to vote for?

So this is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham

In October 2018, Ingraham warned Fox News viewers that Democrats “want to replace you”:

Of this my friends you can be sure: Your views on immigration will have zero impact and zero influence on a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever increasing number of chain migrants

Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro

In October 2019, Pirro said that Democrats were involved in “a plot to remake America—to replace American citizens with illegals who will vote for the Democrats.”

Daily Wire host Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh, who hosts a podcast on the Daily Wire, one of the most popular right-wing websites, promoted the great replacement theory on August 13, 2021. Walsh acknowledged that many people believes the great replacement is racist but, like Carlson, argued that it is a fact:

Now, we are told that if you speculate that the powers that be in this culture want to replace white people, we’re told this is the great replacement theory and it is a white supremacist conspiracy theory and it’s, pretty much, the worse thing you can ever say… I’m just trying to work through this in my head here, help me out – so we’re bringing in a flood of immigrants across the southern border, non-white. We’re putting policies in place with the express purpose of having fewer white people in universities and positions of power. And we’re celebrating the reduction in the white population. I mean, it sounds like you want to replace white people.

Trump advisor and political operative Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon, the former top aide to President Trump who now hosts a podcast popular with Republican candidates, was at the vanguard of popularizing the great replacement theory with MAGA Republicans. Bannon repeatedly referenced The Camp of the Saints as an explanation for immigration in Europe and elsewhere. “It’s not a migration,” Bannon said in January 2016, “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.” 

A few months later, in a June 2016 interview with then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Bannon described a “war” against liberals in the United States who were attempting to change the nature of the country through immigration. “Do you believe the elites in this country have the backbone, have the belief in the underlying principles of the Judeo-Christian West to actually win this war?” Bannon asked. At the time, Bannon was editor of Breitbart, a far-right media outlet. A BuzzFeed exposé found that, in the runup to the 2016 election, Breitbart collaborated with white nationalists

In the White House, Bannon was the driving force behind Trump’s ban on immigration from several Muslim countries. 

Trump advisor Stephen Miller

During the 2016 campaign, Stephen Miller, then an aide to Sessions, was in close communication with editorial staff at Breitbart. In one email, Miller encourages former Breitbart  editors Katie McHugh and Julia Hahn to incorporate The Camp of Saints in their immigration coverage. 

Miller, Sept. 6, 2015, 3:41 p.m. ET: “[Y]ou see the Pope saying west must, in effect, get rid of borders. Someone should point out the parallels to Camp of the Saints.”

A couple of weeks later, Hahn did just that:

In the emails, Miller also “pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage.”

After Trump became president, Miller joined the White House, where he championed hardline immigration positions. Miller currently runs America First Legal, which accused the Biden administration of “aiding, abetting, and accelerating the worst invasion of America’s southern border in history.”

President Donald Trump

Trump won the presidency fear-mongering about immigrants. In a July 2017 speech in Poland, Trump deployed the language of the great replacement theory. He described immigration as an issue of “survival” for “the West.” Migrants were part of a plot to “subvert and destroy” our “civilization.”

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

The speech was reportedly written by Miller

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LEVER WEEKLY: The Dems’ Sleepy Climate Politics

LEVER WEEKLY: The Dems’ Sleepy Climate Politics

May 15, 2022

Aditi Ramaswami

Democrats’ inaction on climate change will likely be reflected in midterm results — and future environmental catastrophes.

Amid fatal heat waves, worsening droughts, and severe famines, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the gall to take the stage this week at the Aspen Ideas’ climate conference and declare that climate action is “for the children” — as if the crisis is not unfolding before our eyes.

Along with recapping all our reporting from the last week, this edition of Lever Weekly highlights an Atlantic report about Pelosi’s remarks. As the author notes, such statements are emblematic of a much larger problem: Democrats are so out of touch that they can’t realize the critical opportunity they have to address the climate crisis right now.

Read all about it in this week’s Lever Weekly (formerly Weekend Reader), exclusively for supporting subscribers below.

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YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: A Mayor Takes On Housing Profiteers

Good things are happening! All over the country and beyond, ordinary people are organizing in their communities and workplaces, holding politicians accountable, and winning.

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka (D) has unveiled an aggressive housing plan to take on big investors scooping up properties. Workers at Target in Virginia, meanwhile, have filed for a union election, and the EPA has proposed an important new asbestos disclosure rule. On top of that, friend of The Lever Matt Bruenig has put together some awesome new Starbucks union organizing data.

All this and much more in this week’s edition of You Love To See It, exclusively for supporting subscribers below.

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Psaki Joins The Dems’ Corporate Career Pipeline

Today is Jen Psaki’s last day on the job as President Joe Biden’s press secretary before she joins the ranks of MSNBC punditry, taking a job hosting a show on the Peacock streaming service and appearing on the network’s shows as a guest.

The skills required to act as a press secretary in corporate Democratic presidencies — saying little of substance, committing to nothing, dispensing snark and scoffs, and never even accidentally challenging power — appear to carry over well to playing pundit on MSNBC, the corporate network that serves as the Democratic Party’s de-facto propaganda outfit.

Psaki’s Democratic predecessors have taken similar paths, leaving their press secretary posts to defend corporate Democrats and big business on cable news spots. In fact, every single press secretary of the Clinton and Obama administrations eventually cut out the middleman and went to work directly in corporate PR — ranging from managing crisis communications for the scandal-plagued NFL to setting up Amazon’s vast lobbying and public relations shop.

This ongoing history of Democratic presidential flacks becoming corporate lackeys and mouthpieces is proof that when the Jen Psakis of the world are standing behind the dais in the West Wing and dodging questions about campaign promises to cancel student debt or institute a $15 minimum wage, they aren’t just speaking for the president. They are also auditioning for their future corporate employers.

Psaki, who recently said she joined President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign after binge-watching every episode of the TV show West Wing, may have the perfect resume for her new job.

Like many cable pundits, Psaki has deep corporate ties. She previously worked at the  Democratic political and corporate communications firm Global Strategy Group, which was recently revealed to have helped attempt to bust a union at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse.

More recently, she was a senior partner at the consulting firm WestExec Advisors, run by former government national security officials, where her client rolodex included rideshare company Lyft and the Israeli surveillance firm AnyVision.

Psaki isn’t the first Biden official to leave the administration for MSNBC. Last year, Symone Sanders resigned her role as a senior advisor and spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris to launch her own show on MSNBC. She recently insisted, “I am not a spokesperson for the Biden administration” in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “If I still wanted to be a spokesperson, I would have stayed in the job.”

The show’s debut episode last Sunday — in which Sanders interviewed first lady Jill Biden — saw poor ratings.

From Lewinsky To Zuckerberg

Apparently, serving as press secretary to a Democratic president is great training to run interference for corporations. All three press secretaries from the Clinton administration eventually took jobs in corporate communications.

The first, Dee Dee Myers, is a woman after Psaki’s own heart. She served as a consultant on the West Wing, and inspired the show’s C.J. Cregg character. She also became the co-host of a CNBC talk show after leaving the Clinton administration, and later joined a corporate communications firm. Between 2014 and 2020, she was in charge of corporate communications at Warner Bros., where she guided the company through the Time Warner/ AT&T merger as it faced intense regulatory scrutiny, as well as a sex scandal involving the company’s CEO.

Michael McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s second press secretary, is now working at the communications firm Public Strategies. At the company, McCurry made a name for himself by working for large internet companies to fight net neutrality regulations, designed to prevent internet service providers from charging different rates for different websites or content.

McCurry was co-chair of the “Hands Off The Internet” group, an astroturf organization backed by AT&T and other telecom providers to fight the net neutrality rules. When asked about his work on behalf of big telecom companies in 2006, McCurry told the Los Angeles Times, “There are millions and millions of good Democrats who get paid by corporations, and I think every time we bash corporations, we just turn off people who are in the middle of the political spectrum.”

McCurry was succeeded in the administration by Joe Lockhart — who later parlayed his experience running media for Clinton during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal into one corporate communications gig after another.

After leaving the Clinton administration, Lockhart and fellow Democratic administration and campaign alumni — including Myers — founded The Glover Park Group, a lobbying and public relations firm whose clients included Pfizer, Visa, Microsoft, and the NFL.

Following his stint there, he took a job at Facebook. “He is the type of hire that makes sense for the company,” political consultant Chris Lehane told Politico at the time. “The company has the potential to tell incredible, good stories about its importance to democracy. Someone like Joe will get how to package why this company is important both for individual members of Congress and agencies but also for its larger brand.”

Later, Lockhart took a job at the NFL where he helped lead the response to revelations that the league had covered up its own concussion research.

Lockhart said his days in the White House prepared him for the job: “As I’ve shared with some of you, the two years in this role feels a lot like my two years as White House press secretary,” he wrote in a memo announcing his departure from the NFL in 2018. “Given that dynamic, I knew we had to get more aggressive about getting our message out and more agile in promoting and protecting the game and the league.”

Now, while running his own corporate communications shop, Lockhart is also a political analyst at CNN, where he comments on topics including the media’s treatment of Biden. Meanwhile, he’s trying to sell his $10.5 million Brooklyn townhouse. (He previously sold his D.C townhouse to the Obamas for $8.1 million in 2017.)

The Obama White House To Fortune 500 Pipeline

The spokesperson-to-business-flack trend continued in the Obama White House, where press secretaries even more shamelessly joined the communications divisions of corporations after leaving the administration.

Obama’s ’s first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, once said that the Bush administration “probably needed a stronger communications strategy” to help that administration justify the idea of pass bank bailouts. He also infamously told reporters that a 16-year-old killed by a U.S. drone strike “should [have] had a more responsible father.”

Gibbs, like Psaki, took a pundit job at MSNBC after leaving the White House. He then went on to set up his own corporate communications shop before taking over as chief communications officer for McDonald’s, just as the company was facing flack from the Obama administration over its labor practices, as well as facing public pressure to raise its wages.

Now, Gibbs is a senior counsel at the Democratic consulting firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. He also hosts a podcast, “Hacks on Tap,” with former Obama strategist David Axelrod and GOP consultant Mike Murphy, where they discuss topics like gas prices and political messaging.

After Gibbs left the White House, Jay Carney took over, and helped implement a new strategy of massively limiting press access to the administration.

In 2013, major news outlets wrote to Carney regarding these restrictions: “We write to protest the limits on access currently barring photographers who cover the White House,” read a letter signed by 38 news organizations. “Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties. As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government.”

Carney, after meeting with representatives from some of the media organizations, responded, “There are some things we wish we had done differently and now look with fresh eyes at upcoming opportunities with renewed focus.”

But media watchdog groups continued to raise the alarm about the Obama administration limiting access for the press, including for photojournalists.

Following his work for Obama, Carney joined CNN as a political commentator, and then took the job he is now best known for: running Amazon’s communications division. According to reporting by Reuters in 2020, “Carney reported to founder Jeff Bezos and built a lobbying and public-policy juggernaut that has grown from two dozen employees to about 250.”

“Carney made his mark early when he persuaded a reluctant Bezos to let him publicly excoriate a New York Times story on Amazon’s work culture,” a former Amazon executive told Reuters.

And last but not least, there was Obama’s final press secretary, Josh Earnest.

His time in the White House set him up to take a top PR position at United Airlines at the end of the Obama administration — a job he was prepared for, the company noted, after “more than two decades of strategic communications expertise from the highest levels of politics and government.” He also worked a short stint at NBC as a political analyst after leaving the White House in 2017.

A Troubling Revolving Door

Of course, it’s not just Democrats who have toggled between presidential spokesperson jobs and stints as their  party’s cable news mouthpiece.

Former Trump White House flacks Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany took pundit gigs at Fox News, while Sean Spicer hosts a show on Newsmax.

But the Democrats purport to be looking out for the interests of working people, and are oftentimes torn between policies that are popular among their base but would upset corporate donors.

This contradiction has only become more visible in recent months. For while Biden depicts himself as the most pro-union president in American history and invites Starbucks and Amazon labor organizers to the White House, corporations fighting tooth and nail against those unionizing efforts still maintain close links to the Democratic party.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is dragging its feet on a policy that would ban its own consultants from helping corporations engage in union-busting.

The revolving door between the press secretary job and corporate jobs is more evidence of the depth of the Democratic Party’s corporatism.

But there may be reason for cautious optimism about Psaki’s successor, Karine Jean-Pierre, formerly the administration’s deputy press secretary. In 2019, Jean-Pierre penned an op-ed for Newsweek encouraging the Democratic Party to cut its ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Jean-Pierre’s criticism of AIPAC — which has deep ties to Democratic Majority for Israel, a super PAC that has been spending millions of dollars to tank progressives in Democratic primaries — is rare among establishment Democrats.

“You cannot call yourself a progressive while continuing to associate yourself with an organization like AIPAC that has often been the antithesis of what it means to be progressive,” she wrote in the op-ed.

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McCarthy-Era Law Aimed At Pro-Choice Protesters

Even as the Democrats’ feeble legislative attempt to codify federal protections for abortion rights goes down in flames, many Washington elites are directing their attention and anger towards the same target: no, not right-wing judges reaching their ideological hands into millions of people’s bodies, but instead the protesters peacefully demonstrating outside the homes of Supreme Court justices who are about to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Prominent Republican lawmakers, conservative operatives, and Beltway pundits are demanding the government arrest demonstrators — and to do so, they are citing a McCarthy-era statute passed to stop people from protesting the prosecutions of alleged communists. Ignored in the discourse is a past ruling from the Supreme Court effectively blessing conservative protests at the homes of abortion clinic workers.

The largely manufactured outrage is the latest distraction designed to shift attention away from the issue at hand: The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority is about to deny basic reproductive rights to tens of millions of people in roughly half the country.

Conservative operatives want Washington reporters focused on inane questions like who leaked the court’s draft opinion, and they want journalists and Democrats to criticize protesters who are outraged by the court’s overriding lack of respect for people’s bodily autonomy. It is part of a larger right-wing movement in recent years to cancel, criminalize, and literally crush dissent throughout the country, even as the conservative political noise machine continues to blare Braveheart-esque screams of “freedom!” against so-called “cancel culture.”

Corporate news outlets are taking the bait, fretting about the leak and calling for arrests over peaceful demonstrations. Like usual, they are focused on narrow flashpoints of anger and upheaval that will likely prove temporary, rather than the far more sweeping and ominous impact of the court’s looming ruling to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to force people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Even as the nation is poised to enact an injustice of historic proportions, those in power and their chosen mouthpieces only appear to care about one thing: upholding the rights and privileges of the ruling class, and ensuring they remain safely ensconced in the Washington bubble.

To his credit, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer issued the most rational statement of all, saying, “My house — there’s protests three, four times a week outside my house. The American way to peacefully protest is OK.”

But he has been drowned out by the voices demanding a crackdown.

The hypocrisy is particularly powerful among liberals like Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. He purports to support the pro-choice movement but he has spent his decades atop the Washington power structure failing to secure reproductive rights, and this week he has spent his time using his platform to deride the court protesters, calling them “reprehensible.” Durbin’s behavior — emblematic of so many liberals and media elites — evokes the warning of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” King wrote in 1963 amid the civil rights struggle of his era. “The white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.’”

The Ghost Of McCarthy

Justice Samuel Alito authored the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that was leaked to Politico last week. In the opinion, Alito writes the Roe decision “was egregiously wrong from the start” and finds that the Constitution “does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion.”

The opinion adds that “​​we cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work,” as if to hammer home the conservatives justices’ contempt for the people whose lives they are seeking to upend.

Despite the court’s supposed lack of concern about what the public thinks, tall fences were quickly erected around the Supreme Court building. In recent days, protesters have gathered outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Alito to register their opposition.

There’s no evidence that the protests have been violent, and Congress is already fast-tracking legislation to allow the Supreme Court’s police force to provide security for justices’ families. Notably, the bipartisan bill includes no additional security protections for people who go to abortion facilities amid credible threats of violence.

But still, conservatives and elite pundits are calling for a major crackdown against dissent, pitting themselves against a First Amendment that explicitly states the government may not pass any law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right’s weapon of choice is a law passed during the Red Scare hysteria of the 1950s.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday demanding the Justice Department “vigorously investigate and prosecute” those protesting at Supreme Court justices’ homes.

“Federal law makes it a crime for a person, ‘with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty,’ to ‘picket[] or parade[] … in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge,’” Hawley wrote, adding: “The First Amendment is no shield to this illegal conduct.”

The Washington Post editorial board agreed with this premise, writing a column on Monday arguing that it is crucial to “protect robust demonstrations of political dissent while preventing them from turning into harassment or intimidation.”

To do so, argued the Post, the nation should look to an old law. “A federal law — 18 U.S.C. Section 1507 — prohibits ‘pickets or parades’ at any judge’s residence, ‘with the intent of influencing’ a jurist ‘in the discharge of his duty,” noted the editorial. “These are limited and justifiable restraints on where and how people exercise the right to assembly. Citizens should voluntarily abide by them, in letter and spirit. If not, the relevant governments should take appropriate action.”

On Tuesday, Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who worked as the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush at the time that Roberts and Alito were confirmed to the court, amplified this argument, writing an opinion piece calling on the Biden administration to “enforce federal law barring harassment of the justices and their families in their homes.”

The supposedly “limited and justifiable” anti-picketing statute being cited by all these people — 18 U.S.C. § 1507 — was enacted as part of the Internal Security Act of 1950, a law requiring communist organizations to register with the government. This particular statute was specifically written to respond to reports of protests outside federal courts during U.S. prosecutions of alleged communist party leaders.

One of the statute’s proponents, segregationist Sen. Allen Ellender (D-La.), explained at the time: “The practice of picketing courts is of recent origin, and apparently has been employed almost solely in connection with proceedings involving alleged Communist Party members and sympathizers… If we are to keep our national judiciary on the high plane it has enjoyed since the founding of this country, we must restrain these disgraceful practices, adopted by persons and groups who would undermine our country by first undermining our judiciary.”

The Supreme Court has subsequently struck down portions of the broader Internal Security Act. Furthermore, in 1983, the court limited the government’s prohibition on protests outside the Supreme Court, finding that the First Amendment protects picketing on sidewalks surrounding the court.

While the Post’s Aaron Blake wrote a story Wednesday headlined, “Yes, experts say protests at SCOTUS justices’ homes appear to be illegal,” one of conservatives’ go-to constitutional law scholars has said that relying on the Internal Security Act statute to quash protests could have troubling Constitutional implications.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who has criticized the protests at justices’ houses, wrote a column in The Hill on Tuesday arguing that using the anti-picketing statute “to arrest protesters would be a serious blow to free speech and would be difficult to defend in the courts.”

He similarly told the Wall Street Journal: “As a free speech advocate, I would be very concerned about the use of that statute. I think that what these protesters are doing is reprehensible. I think it’s equally reprehensible for President [Joe] Biden not to denounce this. But when we start to charge protesters with crimes because they’re appearing at the homes of figures, including Supreme Court justices, you really do raise some first amendment concerns.”

Turley added, “I do think that if you brought a prosecution, it would raise some serious constitutional questions. And I would not bet on that being upheld on appeal.”

Selective Outrage

Beyond the troubling historical legacy of the statute they are referencing, there is another problem with conservatives calling for the detention of these protestors: They only seem to worry about such demonstrations when they’re being done by the left.

Hawley, for example, didn’t call for anyone to “vigorously investigate and prosecute” the insurrectionists who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol last year. In fact, he cheered on those protesters shortly before the insurrection and since then, his campaign has been selling merchandise sporting pictures of him raising a fist to those insurrectionists.

Similarly, while the Post’s editorial board noted that it is important to prevent political dissent “from turning into harassment or intimidation,” the anti-abortion movement has been known to picket the homes of people who work at abortion clinics — and worse. Violence against abortion clinics has been on the rise, and clinics around the country are worried that attacks will spike after the Supreme Court issues its abortion decision.

What’s more, the Supreme Court has in the past approved efforts by protesters to picket private residences — and specifically did so in a case involving protests by the anti-abortion movement outside the homes of abortion clinic workers.

In 1994, the Supreme Court found that a Florida court’s content-neutral injunction creating a 300-foot protest-free buffer zone around the residences of abortion clinic workers’ homes was unconstitutional and overbroad. The court found “a limitation on the time, duration of picketing, and number of pickets outside a smaller zone could have accomplished the desired result.”

Finally, by selectively boosting outrage over public protests, corporate media is only making matters worse. After the George Floyd protests in 2020, major outlets appeared far more concerned about the specter of looters and rioters than they were about the actual grave injustice of a police officer murdering an unarmed Black man for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.

News outlets have also been deeply perturbed by activists’ calls to “defund” the police in the wake of Floyd’s murder. While no cities have actually slashed police budgets, it’s become incredibly common for pundits and conservative Democrats to say that the “defund” movement is weighing down the party.

Thanks to such selective hullabaloo, new legislative attempts to curtail public protests will likely be forthcoming — and unlike Democratic lawmakers’ doomed attempt to protect abortion rights on Wednesday, these efforts could be successful.

On Monday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a measure offered by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) to extend Supreme Court Police protection to justices’ families.

A previous version of the legislation offered by Cornyn would have allowed the Supreme Court Police to arrest anyone who “knowingly and willfully obstructs, resists, or interferes with a member of the Supreme Court Police” busy protecting justices or their families. Coons noted in a press release, “Sections from an earlier draft of this bill were removed prior to introduction, citing free speech concerns.”

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The baby formula shortage and the twisted priorities of the American economy

A nearly empty baby formula display shelf is seen at a Target store in Orlando. (Photo by Paul Hennessy via Getty Images)

Throughout the country, there is an acute shortage of baby formula that millions of families rely on to feed their children. According to research from Datasembly, “the national out-of-stock rate for baby formula reached 43 percent” last week. That’s up from 31% last month, 11% in November, and the low single digits in the first seven months of 2021.

The result is that many parents are struggling to keep their children fed. Some are driving hours to find a place with formula in stock. Others are paying exorbitant prices from resellers seeking to exploit the crisis. Many have been forced to ration their supply, watering down the formula and potentially leaving their children undernourished. 

There are a variety of reasons why baby formula is in short supply. For months, the industry has struggled with supply chain challenges related to the pandemic. Then in February, Abbott Nutrition — one of a handful of major manufacturers — recalled three popular varieties of formula. Four babies were hospitalized with bacterial infections after drinking the formula and two died. The Michigan plant where the formula was manufactured remains closed. 

This agonizing situation is the function of the American economy, which provides little support or protection to new parents. In the best of times, millions of American families are hanging on by a thread. 

In San Antonio, where supplies of baby formula are particularly scarce, “doctors are encouraging new mothers to increase the amount of milk they pump and breastfeed as much as possible.” But this is a personal decision and not an option for many parents due to allergies, medical conditions, and other factors beyond their control. 

Moreover, many mothers are unable to breastfeed because America is the only developed country that has no guaranteed paid family leave. In 2018, the average guaranteed paid maternity leave benefit among the 38 OECD countries, a group that includes the European Union, Japan, and Australia, was 51 weeks. 

Working mothers are guaranteed breaks to pump milk. But this requires expensive equipment and there is no requirement that workers are paid while they are pumping. And even unpaid time for pumping might require confronting management. For many women in low-wage industries like retail and fast food, pumping milk is not affordable or practical. 

Biden’s Build Back Better proposal included a modest paid family leave benefit of 12 weeks. But it was defeated in part due to multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns by corporate trade groups like The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These campaigns argued that providing a paid family leave benefit was not worth modestly increasing corporate tax rates, described as “harmful tax increases on job creators.”

The failure of Build Back Better protected corporate profit margins but also meant the expiration of the expanded Child Tax Credit. As a result of the decision to let the expanded child tax credit expire in December, 3.7 million children fell into poverty, according to a study by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy. The child poverty rate increased from “12.1 percent in December 2021 to 17 percent in January 2022” — a 41% increase. 

Millions more children live in families with reduced purchasing power. And these families — if they are lucky enough to find baby formula — are facing increased prices. Over the last 12 months, the “average cost of the most popular baby formula products is up as much as 18%.”

Even before the price increase, baby formula was a large expense for many families. Brand name formula costs between $130 and $428 per month. These costs are hard to justify for a product that “consists mostly of dehydrated cow’s milk, vitamins, and a ton of sugar.” But the baby formula industry is highly concentrated, with four companies (including Abbott) controlling about 89% of the market, as of 2018. This kind of market is excellent for corporate profits but leaves consumers vulnerable if a single supplier faces disruptions. 

The American economy prioritizes the profit maximization of major corporations over families, especially new parents. And now, in the wealthiest country in the world, parents are having a difficult time finding food for their babies. 

Abbott’s safety issues

In February, Abbott announced that it was “voluntarily recalling three types of infant formula,” including Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare, following reports of four babies contracting infections of Cronobacter sakazakii and one case of Salmonella. While the bacteria “wasn’t found in the sample [the babies] drank,” Abbott recalled the product as a “precaution.” 

According to the FDA, an inspection of the factory in Sturgis, Michigan “detected cronobacter in test samples,” but Abbott insisted that the results were from “non product contact areas.” Abbott said it found no “traces of either bacteria” in the finished products. 

“[W]e know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging situation of a global supply shortage,” Abbott said in a statement. “We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.” 

In October 2021, a whistleblower raised concerns about Abbott’s manufacturing plant in Michigan, alleging that “Abbott falsified records, failed to maintain proper records and released untested baby formula.” The whistleblower also criticized Abbott for allegedly “hid[ing] information during a 2019 audit by the FDA” and making products that are “unable to be properly traced.” According to a report by Food Safety News, the complaint alleged that “some of the equipment associated with the drying process at the Sturgis site was failing and in need of repair,” resulting in a “number of product flow pipes” having holes, allowing “bacteria to enter the system” and be picked up by the product flowing through the pipes. 

Abbott said that it would “thoroughly investigate” the allegations. The company also claimed that the report came from an employee who was “dismissed due to serious violations of Abbott’s food safety policies.” Abbott can afford to update its Michigan factory. In the first three months of 2022, Abbott had $2.9 billion in profits. 

The FDA delay

In February, the FDA “warned consumers not to use certain powdered infant formula products” from Abbott’s Michigan facility and said it was investigating “consumer complaints” of bacteria contamination. The agency found that Abbott “did not establish a system of process controls covering all stages of processing” to prevent products from being contaminated, according to an investigation conducted between January 31 and March 18. 

Still, the agency did not take action until four months after they received the whistleblower’s statement. “I am…concerned that the FDA reacted far too slowly to this report,” Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said in a statement. “Why did the FDA not spring into action? Why did it take four months to pull this formula off store shelves?”

Now, as supply of baby formula continues to dwindle, the federal agency is scrambling to address the shortage. 

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D said in a statement. “Ensuring the availability of safe, sole-source nutrition products like infant formula is of the utmost importance to the FDA.”

Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was permitting Abbott to release some of the baby formula produced at its shuttered facility in Michigan “on a case-by-case basis”— a reversal of its initial guidance.

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How Wall Street Is Taking Over Medicare

The Biden administration’s recent entrenchment and expansion of the Trump administration’s efforts to privatize Medicare is helping a shadowy set of big-business beneficiaries: private equity firms and major health care companies, including one that previously employed the government official overseeing the privatization plan, a Lever analysis shows.

In April last year, the Biden administration contracted with 53 third-party companies to mandate privatized health care plans through Medicare. The resulting health care options are effectively Medicare Advantage plans, or private coverage offered through the national health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities — but with one wrinkle: Patients are being assigned to these new plans without their consent.

The 53 participating companies — called “direct contracting entities,” or DCEs — are allowed to offer benefits beyond traditional Medicare, like gym membership coverage. But as for-profit businesses that receive a set payment from Medicare no matter how much care they approve, these DCEs are incentivized to limit the care that patients receive, especially when they are very sick. The first DCEs were launched by President Donald Trump in 2019, and so far, at least 350,000 seniors have already been moved onto these privatized Medicare plans.

Now, a new Lever analysis of the 53 DCEs found additional cause for concern: 15 of these entities, or slightly more than a quarter, are backed by private equity firms, which are known for extracting profits at the expense of workers, the environment, and even their own pension fund investors. The firms include big-name firms like the Carlyle Group, General Atlantic, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Benchmark Capital, and Warburg Pincus. What’s more, another 15 DCEs are linked to big health care companies — including one with a direct connection to the Biden appointee in charge of the new privatized Medicare scheme.

Wall Street’s encroachment into Medicare is the latest example of private equity’s aggressive expansion into health care, which has ranged from hospitals to ER doctor groups. In 2021, private equity managers deployed $172 billion in capital in the health care sector — nearly four times the total budget of the National Institutes of Health.

Biden himself has lambasted the for-profit industry’s takeover of elder care services, noting during his State of the Union address in March: “As Wall Street firms take over more nursing homes, quality in those homes has gone down and costs have gone up. That ends on my watch.”

Biden apparently doesn’t have the same concerns about Wall Street’s growing role in Medicare — a development that could lead to higher medical bills for patients. The financial industry has already demonstrated its willingness to take a forceful approach to generating health care profits; private equity waged an aggressive campaign to derail legislation designed to stop so-called “surprise” medical bills, which formed a significant part of their hospital staffing firms’ bottom line.

Now, as private equity muscles into privatized Medicare, industry lobbyists are likely to push for more generous payment structures that benefit for-profit firms at the expense of Medicare patients. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent body that advises Congress on Medicare, hinted at this scenario while discussing private equity’s role in the Medicare Advantage space at an April 2021 hearing.

“The end result might or might not be better for consumers, but I think that it does have an impact on Medicare payment policy,” said commissioner Pat Wang.

Experts fear that the Medicare space could be especially vulnerable to Wall Street’s predatory approach.

“We have lots of evidence from many other situations in which private equity puts profits before patients,” said Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author of Private Equity At Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street. “They are looking for a place where it’s easy to make money — and it’s easy to make money when it’s the taxpayer footing the bill.”

Big Players, Big Profits, And A Big Conflict

While the DCE program was launched under President Trump, Biden expanded the effort in February under a new name: the Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health program, or “ACO REACH.” Now, hospital-backed for-profit health benefit programs are also allowed to automatically enroll Medicare patients into their health care plans.

Like providers of Medicare Advantage plans, these new firms receive a set payment from Medicare for their offerings, supposedly to incentivize more holistic and better care. In exchange, these firms acquire Medicare patients in their plans — often  without the patients realizing what is happening.

In March, The Lever reported on how one Medicare beneficiary who was quietly assigned to a DCE initially misinterpreted a message she received about the shift as a health-related communication from her doctor — despite being an experienced health policy expert.

Along with the 15 private equity-backed companies, the list of approved DCEs the Biden administration released in April 2021 includes 15 operations owned by health care giants, such as insurers Humana, UnitedHealth, and Anthem, the pharmacy chain Walgreens, and the dialysis provider DaVita.

Experts say these connections raise serious questions about conflicts of interest. For example, the DCE program is being led by a little-known federal entity, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Innovation Center, headed by Liz Fowler — the former vice president of public policy for the insurer WellPoint, now known as Anthem.

In response to a request for comment from The Lever, a CMS spokesperson said that Fowler was not involved in the approval process for DCEs. They additionally asserted that many of the entities identified by The Lever are not private equity-backed because they are public companies.

But several of these public companies have received substantial investments from private equity firms, also known as “private investment in public equity.” For example, while 1LifeHealthcare — a primary care provider that owns one of the DCEs, One Medical’s Iora Health — is publicly traded, the major private equity firm Carlyle Group owns more than 7 percent of its shares.

Critics say Fowler has a history of crafting policy to help her private-sector contacts.

“Honestly this just seems to add to the pattern we’ve observed with Liz Fowler,” said Fatou Ndiaye, a research assistant with the Revolving Door Project, which monitors the revolving door between the public and private sector.

Ndiaye pointed out that before she lobbied for WellPoint, Fowler worked for Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), where she helped draft Medicare Part D, a program critics said was a huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry because it created massive new drug benefits without controlling prices.

After working for Wellpoint from 2006 to 2008, Fowler rejoined Baucus’ staff, where she helped draft a version of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that excluded the public health insurance option promised by Democrats, resulting in huge profits and no public-sector competition for private insurers.

“A year after [ACA’s] passage, Wellpoint’s profits increased by 91 percent to $2.3 billion,” said Ndiaye.

Private Equity Muscles In

The fact that private equity now backs more than a quarter of all companies in the DCE space stands in stark contrast to the fact that private equity owns just two percent of all for-profit Medicare Advantage programs.

While Medicare Advantage options have been criticized by health advocates because of their extremely high costs, the fact that private equity is focusing its attention on this new kind of non-voluntary privatized Medicare scheme suggests that Fowler and the Biden administration could be setting the stage for substantially larger private equity involvement in the national health insurance program.

Examples abound of problems arising when private equity takes over health care operations. Just last month, Buzzfeed News reported that BrightSpring, a group home operator acquired by private equity mega-firm KKR in 2019, has since been plagued by serious problems at its group homes for people with disabilities, leading to residents being seriously injured and in some cases dying.

The Carlyle Group, which has an ownership stake inOneMedical, the parent company of Iora Health, has a particularly disturbing history in health care. After Carlyle acquired HCR Manorcare, a nursing home chain, the company was plagued by serious lapses in standards of care until it went bankrupt 11 years later.

Other private equity-backed operations approved for the new DCE program have major connections to the Democratic Party establishment. The private equity firm Warburg Pincus, which backs a DCE called Excelera, was co-founded by the father of current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and boasts former Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as its president.

Laura Katz Olson, a professor at Lehigh University and author of the recently published Ethically Challenged: Private Equity Storms U.S. Health Care, said that private equity’s role in Medicare privatization raises significant concerns.

“If you understand the private equity playbook, the dangers are fairly obvious,” said Katz Olson. “They’re borrowing money so they have to pay off debt. They’re taking money into their pockets through fees. You would have to be a magician to keep up quality of care doing all of these things.”

She added, “Private equity is bad for health care, period, so I can’t imagine that it would be good for Medicare Advantage. I’m actually in a state of surprise that they’re even thinking about it.”

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