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Greenwald: Meet The Consortium Imposing The Growing Censorship Regime

Greenwald: Meet The Consortium Imposing The Growing Censorship Regime

Authored by Glenn Greenwald via Substack,

The rapid escalation of online…

Published

on

Greenwald: Meet The Consortium Imposing The Growing Censorship Regime

Authored by Glenn Greenwald via Substack,

The rapid escalation of online censorship, and increasingly offline censorship, cannot be overstated. The silencing tactic that has most commonly provoked attention and debate is the banning of particular posts or individuals by specific social media platforms. But the censorship regime that has been developed, and which is now rapidly escalating, extends far beyond those relatively limited punishments.

Clockwise from top left: UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology speaks during the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Forum in Dubai, on March 28, 2022 (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images); U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images); Google headquarters (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images); The Comcast/NBC Universal building in Los Angeles, CA (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images);

The Consortium of State and Corporate Power

There has been some reporting — by me and others — on the new and utterly fraudulent “disinformation” industry. This newly minted, self-proclaimed expertise, grounded in little more than crude political ideology, claims the right to officially decree what is “true” and "false” for purposes of, among other things, justifying state and corporate censorship of what its “experts” decree to be "disinformation.” The industry is funded by a consortium of a small handful of neoliberal billionaires (George Soros and Pierre Omidyar) along with U.S., British and EU intelligence agencies. These government-and-billionaire-funded “anti-disinformation” groups often masquerade under benign-sounding names: The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab, Bellingcat, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They are designed to cast the appearance of apolitical scholarship, but their only real purpose is to provide a justifying framework to stigmatize, repress and censor any thoughts, views and ideas that dissent from neoliberal establishment orthodoxy. It exists, in order words, to make censorship and other forms of repression appear scientific rather than ideological.

That these groups are funded by the West's security state, Big Tech, and other assorted politically active billionaires is not speculation or some fevered conspiracy theory. For various legal reasons, they are required to disclose their funders, and these facts about who finances them are therefore based on their own public admissions. So often the financing is funneled through well-established front groups for CIA, the State Department and the U.S. National Security State, such as “National Endowment for Democracy.”

As has always happened with censor-happy tyrants throughout history, the more centers of power inject themselves with the intoxicating rush of silencing their adversaries, the more intense the next hit has to be. Every movement that has wielded censorship as a political weapon tells itself the same story to justify it. In ordinary times, they will casually recite, free speech is a vital value. But these are no ordinary times in which we are living. Our enemies and their ideas are different. They are uniquely hateful, false, inflammatory, and dangerous. The ideas they espouse will destabilize society, cause direct harm to others, deceive people, and incite violence against institutions of authority and their followers. Thus, they reason, we are actually not censoring at all. We are simply preventing evil people from doing harm to society, the government, and to citizens.

Look to any government or society in which censorship prevailed — either today or throughout history. This narrative about why censorship is not just justified but morally necessary is always present. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a censorship supporter. They need to be supplied with a story about why they are something different, or at least why the censorship they are led to support is uniquely justified.

And it works because, in the most warped sense possible, it appeals to reason. If one really believes, as millions of American liberals do, that the U.S. faces two and only two choices — either (1) elect Democrats and ensure they rule or (2) live under a white nationalist fascist dictatorship — then of course such people will believe that media disinformation campaigns, censorship, and other forms of authoritarianism are necessary to ensure Democrats win and their opponents are vanquished. Once that self-glorifying rationale is embraced — our adversaries do not merely disagree with us but cause harm with the expression of their views — then the more suppression, the better. And that is exactly what is happening now.


Banishment From the Financial System

One of the latest, and perhaps most disturbing, new frontiers of censorship is the escalating means of excluding citizens from the financial system as extra-judicial punishment for expressing views or engaging in political activism disapproved of by establishment power. In one sense, this is not new.

In 2012, I co-founded the group Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) — along with the Oscar-winning CitizenFour director Laura Poitras, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others. The creation of that group was in response to the 2010 demands made by then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, along with other war hawks in both parties, that financial services companies such as the online payment processor PayPal, credit card companies MasterCard and Visa, and the Bank of America all terminated the accounts of WikiLeaks as punishment for the group's publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs: a trove of documents which proved systemic war crimes and lying by the U.S. Security State and its allies. Watching U.S. national security state officials pressure and coerce private companies over which they exert regulatory control to destroy their journalistic critics is exactly what is done in the tyrannies we are all conditioned to despise.

All of those corporations obeyed, thus preventing WikiLeaks from collecting donations from the public even though the group had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes. Amazon then booted WikiLeaks off of its hosting platform, removing the group from the internet for weeks. This was nothing less than extra-legal banishment of WikiLeaks from the financial system. We created FPF in order to circumvent that ban by collecting donations for WikiLeaks and then passing those funds to the group. When I announced the group's creation in a 2012 Guardian article, and while reporting on these pressure campaigns against WikiLeaks in a separate Guardian article, I explained how dangerous it would be if the U.S. Government could simply prohibit any journalistic groups it dislikes from participating in the financial system without even charging them with a crime:

So this was a case where the US government - through affirmative steps and/or approving acquiescence to criminal, sophisticated cyber-attacks - all but destroyed the ability of an adversarial group, convicted of no crime, to function on the internet. Who would possibly consider that power anything other than extremely disturbing? What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the US government, outside the confines of law, is empowered - as it did here - to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing?. . . In sum, [by forming FPF], will render impotent the government's efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

Last week — in response to numerous reports this year of PayPal's expanding use of expulsion from the financial system as punishment for what it deems “extremist” political views and activities — the tech investor Stephen Cole recalled this then-unprecedented 2010 silencing campaign against WikiLeaks that was led by PayPal. Cole wrote: “I was an engineer at eBay/PayPal when PayPal censored donations to Wikileaks in 2010. That’s the first time I remember wondering… are we sure we’re the good guys?”

Back in 2010, this ominous tactic was depicted as just a one-time exception, an isolated case for a particularly threatening group (WikiLeaks). But in the last year, there is no question that exclusion from the financial system is becoming the tool of choice for Western censors in both the public and private sector, who work together — just as Big Tech and the U.S. Security State do — to identify and punish dissidents too dangerous to be permitted to speak.

The most alarming harbinger of this tactic came in February of this year when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an emergency decree granting himself the power to freeze the bank accounts of any Canadian citizen who he determined, in his sole discretion, was participating in or otherwise supporting the truckers’ protest against vaccine mandates and passports. As a result of Trudeau's extraordinary seizure of unchecked power, “Canadian banks froze about $7.8 million (US $6.1 million) in just over 200 accounts under emergency powers meant to end protests in Ottawa and at key border crossings.” The BBC called this tactic “unprecedented,” as it empowers the Prime Minister to freeze the personal bank accounts of anyone “linked with the protests …. with no need for court orders.” If it is not considered "despotic” for a political leader to wield the power to unilaterally seize the personal funds of citizens as punishment for peaceful protests against the government's policies, then nothing is.

But this tactic worked to end the peaceful protest which Trudeau opposed — people cannot survive if they cannot access their funds or participate in the financial system — and it is thus now being aggressively expanded. Perhaps the leading weaponizer is PayPal. Last year, PayPal announced a new partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a once-respected group that battled anti-Semitism and defended universal civil liberties, before becoming yet another standard liberal Democratic Party activist group devoted to censoring adversaries of neoliberal orthodoxy (the ADL has, just as one example, repeatedly demanded the firing of America's most-watched host on cable news, Fox News's Tucker Carlson). The stated purpose of this PayPal/ADL partnership was “to investigate how extremist and hate movements in the United States take advantage of financial platforms to fund their criminal activities,” with the ultimate goal of “uncovering and disrupting the financial flows supporting [what the ADL claims are] white supremacist and anti-government organizations.”

But predictably — indeed, by design — this “partnership” was nothing more than an ennobling disguise to enable PayPal to begin terminating all sorts of accounts of people and businesses who expressed political views disliked by its executives. Over the past year, a wide range of individuals have had their PayPal accounts canceled due solely to disapproved political views and activism.

The lesbian activist Jaimee Michell was notified by PayPal last month that the account of her activist group, Gays Against Groomers, was being immediately canceled due to unspecified rules violations. Moments later, the group — created by gay men and lesbians to oppose attempts by trans activists to teach trans dogma and highly controversial gender ideology to young schoolchildren — was notified that their account with PayPal's subsidiary, Venmo, was also canceled immediately, leaving them with few options to continue to collect donations. Around the same time, the British anti-woke and right-wing commentator Toby Young, who had created a group called the Free Speech Union to oppose speech-based cancellations of accounts, was notified by PayPal that the group's account, used to accept donations, was also being cancelled; though PayPal refused to notify Young of the reason for the cancellation, it told The Daily Mail "it was trying to balance ‘protecting the ideals of tolerance, diversity and respect’ with the values of free expression.”

At the time of his PayPal expulsion, Young had become a vocal opponent of the U.K. Government's escalating involvement in the war in Ukraine. Two of the sites on which this long-time right-wing figure relied for his opposition to NATO involvement in Ukraine were MintPress and Consortium News, two populist left-wing sites long devoted to anti-war and anti-imperialism policies. Several months earlier, those two anti-establishment left-wing sites were notified by PayPal that their accounts were being immediately closed, and that the balances in their account would be seized and may never be returned. PayPal refused to tell either news site, or Coinbase, which reported on the account closures, what its reasons were. It was just an arbitrary decree by unseen authorities who not only closed their accounts but threatened to seize their donations without bothering to provide a reason. Now that is real tyrannical power. MintPress writer Alan MacLeod said that “this is a warning shot fired at anyone even remotely antiestablishment,” adding that “alternative media operations run on shoestring budgets and rely on enormous corporations like PayPal to operate correctly. If they can do this to us, they can do it to you.”

Earlier this month, PayPal announced that it would fine account holders $2,500 if, in PayPal's sole discretion, it was determined that those users were guilty of “promoting misinformation.” In other words, PayPal would just steal their own users’ funds from their account as extra-judicial punishment for the expression of views that PayPal — presumably working in conjunction with liberal activists groups such as ADL and billionaire-funded “disinformation experts” — decrees to be false or otherwise unacceptable. When this new policy provoked far more anger than PayPal evidently anticipated, they claimed it was all just a big mistake — as if some PayPal computer on its own accidentally manufactured a policy advising users about this seizure of funds. Regardless of whether PayPal returns to this policy — and there are, as Forbes noted, some unconfirmed reports that it is starting to do so — the intent is clear, because it is so consistent with so many other new frameworks: fortifying a multi-faceted regime of state and corporate power to silence and punish dissent.


Union of Big Tech, U.S. Security State and Corporate Media Giants

In May, the Department of Homeland Security's attempted appointment of a clearly deranged partisan fanatic, Nina Jankowicz, to effectively serve as “disinformation czar” sparked intense backlash. But liberal media corporations — always the first to jump to the defense of the U.S. Security State — in unison maligned the resulting anger over this audacious appointment as “itself disinformation,” without ever identifying anything false that was alleged about Jankowicz or the DHS program.

Though anger over this classically Orwellian program was obviously merited — it was, after all, an attempt to assign to the U.S. National Security State the power to issue official decrees about truth and falsity — that anger sometimes obscured the real purpose of the creation of this government program. This was not some aberrational attempt by the Biden administration to arrogate unto itself a wholly new and unprecedented power. It instead was just the latest puzzle piece in the multi-pronged scheme — created by a union of U.S. Security State agencies, Democratic Party politicians, liberal billionaires, and liberal media corporations — to construct and implement a permanent and enduring system to control the flow of information to Western populations. As importantly, these tools will empower them to forcibly silence and otherwise punish anyone who expresses dissent to their orthodoxies or meaningful opposition to their institutional interests.

That these state and corporate entities collaborate to control the internet is now so well-established that it barely requires proof. One of the first and most consequential revelations from the Snowden reporting was that the leading Big Tech companies — including Google, Apple and Facebook — were turning over massive amounts of data about their users to the National Security Agency (NSA) without so much as a warrant under the state/corporate program called PRISM. A newly obtained document by Revolver News’ Darren Beattie reveals that Jankowicz has worked since 2015 on programs to control “disinformation” on the internet in conjunction with a horde of national security state officials, billionaire-funded NGOs, and the nation's largest media corporations. Ample reporting, including here, has revealed that many of Big Tech's most controversial censorship policies were implemented at the behest of the U.S. Government and the Democratic-controlled Congress that openly threatens regulatory and legal reprisals for failure to comply.

Wall Street Journal Editorial, Sept. 9, 2022

Every newly declared crisis — genuine or contrived — is immediately seized upon to justify all new levels and types of online censorship, and increasingly more and more offline punishment. One of the core precepts of the Russiagate hysteria was that Trump won with the help of Russia because there were insufficient controls in place over what kind of information could be heard by the public, leading to new groups devoted to "monitoring” what they deem disinformation and new policies from media outlets to censor reporting of the type that WikiLeaks provided about the DNC and Clinton campaign in 2016. This censorship frenzy culminated in the still-shocking decision by Twitter and Facebook to censor The New York Post's reporting on Joe Biden's activities in China and Ukraine based on documents from Hunter Biden's laptop that most media outlets now acknowledge were entirely authentic — all justified by a CIA lie, ratified by media outlets, that these documents were “Russian disinformation.”

The riot at the Capitol on January 6 was used in similar ways, though this time not merely to un-person dissidents from the internet but also to use Big Tech's monopoly power to destroy the then-most-popular app in the country (Parler) followed by the banning of the sitting elected President himself, an act so ominous that even governments hostile to Trump — in France, Germany, Mexico and beyond — warned of how threatening it was to democracy to allow private monopolies to ban even elected leaders from the internet. Liberal outlets such as The New Yorker began openly advocating for internet censorship under headlines such as “The National-Security Case for Fixing Social Media.”

The COVID pandemic ushered in still greater amounts of censorship. Anyone who urged people to use masks at the start of the pandemic was accused of spreading dangerous disinformation because Dr. Anthony Fauci and the WHO insisted at the time that masks were useless or worse. When Fauci and WHO decided masks were an imperative, anyone questioning that decree by insisting that cloth masks were ineffective — the exact view of Fauci and WHO just weeks earlier — was banned from Big Tech platforms for spreading disinformation; such bans by Google included sitting U.S. Senators who themselves are medical doctors. From the start of the pandemic, it was prohibited to question whether the COVID virus may have leaked from a lab in Wuhan — until the Biden administration itself asked that question and ordered an investigation to find out, at which point Facebook and other platforms reversed themselves and announced that it was now permissible to ask this question since the U.S. Government itself was doing so.

In sum, government agencies and Big Tech monopolies exploited the two-year COVID pandemic to train Western populations to accept as normal the rule that the only views permitted to be heard were those which fully aligned with the views expressed by institutions of state authority. Conversely, anyone dissenting from or even questioning such institutional decrees stood accused of spreading "disinformation” and was deemed unfit to be heard on the internet. As a result, blatant errors and clear lies stood unchallenged for months because people were conditioned that any challenging of official views would result in punishment.

We are now at the point where every crisis is seized upon to usher in all-new forms of censorship. The war in Ukraine has resulted in escalations of censorship tactics that would have been unimaginable even a year or two ago. The EU enacted legislation legally prohibiting any European company or individual from broadcasting Russian state-owned broadcasters (including RT and Sputnik). While such legal coercion would (for now) almost certainly be banned in the U.S. as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and free press rights, non-EU companies that decided in the name of open debate to allow RT to be heard — such as Rumble — have faced a torrent of threats, pressure campaigns, media attacks and various forms of retribution.

One of the easiest and surest ways to be banned these days from Big Tech platforms is to reject the core pieties of the CIA/NATO/EU view of the war in Ukraine, even if that dissent entails simply affirming the very views which Western media outlets spent a decade itself endorsing, until completely changing course at the start of the war — such as the fact that the Ukrainian military is dominated by neo-Nazi battalions such as Azov, especially in the Eastern part of the country. Regardless of one's views on the Biden administration's involvement in this war, surely it requires little effort to see how dangerous it is to try to impose a full-scale blackout on challenges to U.S. war policy, especially given the warning by Biden himself that this war has brought the world closer to nuclear armageddon than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

It cannot be overstated how closely aligned Big Tech censorship is with the agenda of the U.S. Security State. And it is not hard to understand why. Google and Amazon receive billions in contracts from the CIA, NSA and Pentagon, and, as we reported here in April, the most vocal lobbyists working to preserve Big Tech monopoly power are former Security State operatives. Illustrating this alignment, Facebook — at the start of the war in Ukraine — implemented an exception to its rule banning praise for Nazi groups by exempting the Azov Battalion and other neo-Nazi Ukrainian militias.

This regime of censorship is anything but arbitrary. Its core function is to shield propaganda that emanates from ruling class centers of power from critique, challenge and opposition. It is designed to ensure that Western populations hear only the assertions and proclamations of state and corporate elites, while their adversaries and critics are at best marginalized (with warnings labels and other indicia of discredit) or banned outright.


Pro-Censorship Corporate “Journalists”

No discussion of this growing and limitlessly dangerous censorship regime would be complete without noting that central role played by the West's largest media corporations and their largely-millennial, censorship-obsessed liberal employees who bear the deceitful corporate Human Resources job title of “journalist.” The most beloved journalists of modern-day American liberalism are not those who divulge the secret crimes of CIA, or the chronic lies that emanate from the Pentagon and other arms of the U.S.'s endless war machine, or monopolistic abuses of Big Tech. Indeed, journalists who do that work — challenging and exposing the secrets of actual power centers — are the ones most hated by liberals in light of their adoration for those institutions. That is what explains their support for Julian Assange's ongoing imprisonment and Edward Snowden's ongoing exile as the only way to avoid the same fate as Assange is suffering.

Today's journalistic icons of American liberalism are not those who confront establishment power but rather serve it: by relentlessly attacking ordinary citizens as punishment for expressing views declared off-limits by these journalists' establishment masters. As I have previously reported, there is a horde of corporate employees at media behemoths with the classic mindset of servants of petty tyrants, whose only function — and passion — is to troll the internet searching for upsetting dissent, and then agitate for its removal by centers of corporate powers: NBC News’ disinformation unit employees Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny; The Washington Post's “online culture” columnist Taylor Lorenz; and the New York Times’ tech reporters (Mike Isaac, Ryan Mac and countless others). At the time I first reported on what they are assigned to do, I dubbed this “tattletale journalism": the fixation with demanding the immediate cessation of “unfettered conversations” and the constant attempt to confront and expose ordinary citizens for the crime of expressing prohibited views

Clockwise from top left: censorship advocates Brandy Zadrozny (NBC News’ "disinformation unit”); Taylor Lorenz (The Washington Post); Ben Collins (NBC News’ "disinformation unit”); and Ryan Mac (The New York Times tech unit)

In September, Matthew Price, CEO of Cloudflare — a major tech company that provides services constituting the backbone of the internet, including security protections — refused to capitulate to the pressure campaign to cancel the site called KiwiFarms. The cancellation demands were based in the claim that the forum was allowing "harassment” and doxing of a Twitch streamer named "Keffals,” whom Lorenz in The Washington Post — under the headline “The trans Twitch star delivering news to a legion of LGBTQ teens” — had months earlier christened the Patron Saint of Trans Victimhood. Price, the CEO, warned that because Cloudflare is a security company and a hosting service, not a social media site, it would be extremely dangerous for them to start closing accounts based on public dislike of the content that appears on those sites. This is how he explains the company's steadfast refusal to capitulate to censorship demands — such cancellations, he explained, would be akin to demanding that AT&T refuse telephone service to right-wing commentators by arguing that they use their telephones to spread harmful views:

Some argue that we should terminate these services to content we find reprehensible so that others can launch attacks to knock it offline. That is the equivalent argument in the physical world that the fire department shouldn't respond to fires in the homes of people who do not possess sufficient moral character. Both in the physical world and online, that is a dangerous precedent, and one that is over the long term most likely to disproportionately harm vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Today, more than 20 percent of the web uses Cloudflare's security services. When considering our policies we need to be mindful of the impact we have and precedent we set for the Internet as a whole. Terminating security services for content that our team personally feels is disgusting and immoral would be the popular choice. But, in the long term, such choices make it more difficult to protect content that supports oppressed and marginalized voices against attacks.

But Cloudflare's refusal to capitulate to censorship advocates infuriated NBC News’ Ben Collins — whose primary purpose in life is to agitate for greater and more repressive control over the intent to stifle views that deviate from establishment liberalism — and, along with his NBC colleague and fellow censorship advocate Kat Tenbarge, used the massive corporate platform of NBC News to pressure Cloudflare to obey, claiming Cloudflare's refusal to censor on command endangers trans people. Within less than 24 hours of the publication of Collins’ article — blasted to millions of people across the various platforms owned by NBC and Collins’ corporate owner, the Comcast Corp. — the CEO of this powerful company reversed himself, groveling before the media's censorship advocates and vowing that this would be a one-time exception. “This is an extraordinary decision for us to make and, given Cloudflare's role as an Internet infrastructure provider, a dangerous one that we are not comfortable with,” he wrote, as he announced that he would do it anyway (it will, needless to say, be the opposite of a one-time exception, since any millennial censor at The Huffington Post or Vox can now easily force Cloudflare to keep censoring by exploiting this new precedent with new articles about their censorship target using the “worse-than-Kiwifarms” formulation).

And thus did this corporate "journalist” once again usher in a brand new escalation in the strengthening censorship regime: tinkering with the infrastructure of the internet to expel sites and people anathema to liberal pieties. As usual, not just liberals but also the left cheered this forced capitulation, as they are somehow convinced that the world will be a better place when the power to silence voices and ideas is in the collective hands of the U.S. Security State, their oligarchical partners who own Big Tech, and their servants who masquerade as "journalists” deep within the bowels of the West's largest media corporations. Polls leave no doubt that Democrats are vastly more supportive of internet censorship not only by large corporations but also by the state, and that is the mindset that asserts itself over and over to cheer these censorship schemes by the West's most powerful institutional actors.

This is the regime of censorship whose tentacles grow each month and whose power expands inexorably. Like all censors, the consortium that controls and funds this regime recognizes that whoever controls the flow of information will wield unchallenged power, and that few powers are more potent and tyrannical than the ability to relegate one's critics to the most distant fringes or to silence them altogether.


Our New Nightly Live Program on Rumble

Any article that simply reports on these vital developments with free speech and systemic censorship is, by itself, journalistically worthwhile, even necessary. With so many Western corporate journalists supportive of or (at best) indifferent to the grave dangers this system imposes, the truth behind this censorship regime — who is constructing it and for what purposes — is far too rarely revealed. Any news article reporting on the component parts of this escalating regime would be inherently valuable.

But when it comes to this sinister regime of information control, I long ago ceased believing it sufficient merely to report on it. I regard the need to fight against this regime of censorship, to destabilize and subvert it, and ultimately to defeat it as a paramount cause, the journalistic and political cause I prioritize above all others. Little is possible, including meaningful journalism, if we are prevented from being heard, if our discourse is strictly controlled and policed by the very power centers our rights allow and encourage us to challenge. Few other values can be defended, and few other injustices exposed and combated, if ruling class elites continue to acquire the defining tyrannical power of information control and silencing of dissent.

Action, not just words, is required. That is why I have been devoting myself to supporting only those sites and companies genuinely determined to resist pressures and other forms of coercion to censor on behalf of Western establishment institutions, and instead to preserve and fortify spaces for free speech and free inquiry online, with the ability to reach large numbers of people. It does nobody any good — other than one's adversaries — if one willingly ghettoizes oneself into fringe and marginalized precincts. What is required is a cause-driven commitment to free speech along with the strategic ability to attract large audiences — and that, to me, means doing my journalism only on platforms with a demonstrated commitment to these values and an demonstrated ability to reach large numbers of people.

For this reason, the platforms with which I have worked over the past two years are ones that have proven not just a willingness but an eagerness to express defiant contempt for these censorship pressures and an impressive commitment to ensuring free expression: Substack for written journalism, Callin for podcasts, and Rumble for video journalism. Each has been the target of pressure campaigns of the type that caused the Cloudflare CEO so pathetically to reverse his own refusal to obey censorship orders after less than a day. Each of these platforms has refused to accede to these demands in the way that Cloudflare and so many others before it have done. That is precisely what is needed to subvert the growing censorship regime: people and companies that simply refuse to obey.

Rumble in particular has been the target of intense attacks — in part because it agreed to allow RT to broadcast on its platform in order to protest the EU's outlawing of that network and thus incurred the wrath of the Russia-obsessed corporate media, but also because it has experienced massive growth largely as the result of growing anger toward Big Tech censorship. Rumble has begun attracting not only political commentators banished in unison by Big Tech — such as the recent banning Andrew Tate, who promptly moved his large audience to Rumble — but also cultural commentators and Gen Z personalities increasingly angry at the repressive climate imposed by Google on its YouTube platform. This is driving more and more growth to the platform, which in turn is causing establishment media corporations to devote more and more energy to disparaging it.

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Tyler Durden Fri, 10/28/2022 - 16:20

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EY Eyes Comeback for Biopharma M&A

EY noted that the total value of biopharma M&A in 2022 was $88 billion, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021. The $88 billion accounted for most of the…

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A recent trickle of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) announcements in the billion-dollar-and-up range suggests that biopharma may be ready to resume dealmaking this year—although the value and number of deals isn’t expected to return to the highs seen just before the pandemic.

2022 ended with a handful of 10- and 11-figure M&A deals, led by Amgen’s $27.8 billion buyout of Horizon Therapeutics, announced December 13. The dealmaking continued into January with three buyouts announced on the first day of the recent J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference: AstraZeneca agreed to acquire CinCor Pharma for up to $1.8 billion, while Chiesi Farmaceutici agreed to shell out up to $1.48 billion cash for Amryt, and Ipsen Group said it will purchase Albireo Pharma for $952 million-plus.

Biopharmas generated about $88 billion in M&A deals in 2022, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021. The $88 billion accounted for most of the $135 billion in 124 deals in the life sciences. The number of biopharma deals fell 17%, to 75 deals from 90. The other 49 deals totaling $47 million consisted of transactions in “medtech,” which includes diagnostics developers and companies specializing in “virtual health” such as telemedicine. [EY]
EY—the professional services firm originally known as Ernst & Young—recently noted that the total value of biopharma M&A in 2022 was $88 billion, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021 [See Chart]. The $88 billion accounted for most of the $135 billion in 124 deals in the life sciences. That $135 billion figure is less than half the record-high $313 billion recorded in 2019, including $261 billion in 70 biopharma deals.

The number of biopharma deals fell 17% to 75 deals from 90. EY’s numbers include only deals greater than $100 million. The other 49 deals totaling $47 million consisted of transactions in “medtech,” which includes diagnostics developers and companies specializing in “virtual health” such as telemedicine.

We expect this to be a more active year as the sentiment starts to normalize a little bit,” Subin Baral, EY Global Life Sciences Deals Leader, told GEN Edge.

Baral is not alone in foreseeing a comeback for biopharma M&A.

John Newman, PhD, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity, predicted last week in a research note that biopharma companies will pursue a growing number of smaller cash deals in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion this year. He said rising interest rates are discouraging companies from taking on larger blockbuster deals that require buyers to take on larger sums of debt.

“We look for narrowing credit spreads and lower interest rates to encourage larger M&A ($50 billion and more) deals. We do not anticipate many $50B+ deals that could move the XBI +5%,” Newman said. (XBI is the SPDR S&P Biotech Electronic Transfer Fund, one of several large ETFs whose fluctuations reflect investor enthusiasm for biopharma stock.)

Newman added: “We continue to expect a biotech swell in 2023 that may become an M&A wave if credit conditions improve.”

Foreseeing larger deals than Newman and Canaccord Genuity is PwC, which in a commentary this month predicted: “Biotech deals in the $5–15 billion range will be prevalent and will require a different set of strategies and market-leading capabilities across the M&A cycle.”

Those capabilities include leadership within a specific therapeutic category, for which companies will have to buy and sell assets: “Prepared management teams that divest businesses that are subscale while doubling down on areas where leadership position and the right to win is tangible, may be positioned to deliver superior returns,” Glenn Hunzinger, PwC’s U.S. Pharma & Life Science Leader, and colleagues asserted.

The Right deals

Rising interest and narrowing credit partially explain the drop-off in deals during 2022, EY’s Baral said. Another reason was sellers adjusting to the drop in deal valuations that resulted from the decline of the markets which started late in 2021.

Subin Baral, EY Global Life Sciences Deals Leader

“It took a little bit longer to realize the reality of the market conditions on the seller side. But on the buyer side, the deals that they were looking at were not just simply a valuation issue. They were looking at the quality of the assets. And you can see that the quality deals—the right deals, as we call them—are still getting done,” Baral said.

The right deals, according to Baral, are those in which buyers have found takeover targets with a strong, credible management team, solid clinical data, and a clear therapeutic focus.

“Rare disease and oncology assets are still dominating the deal making, particularly oncology because your addressable market continues to grow,” Baral said. “Unfortunately, what that means is the patient population is growing too, so there’s this increased unmet need for that portfolio of assets.”

Several of 2022’s largest M&A deals fit into that “right” category, Baral said—including Amgen-Horizon, Pfizer’s $11.6-billion purchase of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals and the $6.7-billion purchase of Arena Pharmaceuticals (completed in March 2022); and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $4.1-billion buyout of Turning Point Therapeutics.

“Quality companies are still getting funded one way or the other. So, while the valuation dropped, people were all expecting a flurry of deals because they are still companies with a shorter runway of cash that will be running to do deals. But that really didn’t happen from a buyer perspective,” Baral said. “The market moved a little bit from what was a seller’s market for a long time, to what we would like to think of as the pendulum swinging towards a buyers’ market.”

Most biopharma M&A deals, he said, will be “bolt-on” acquisitions in which a buyer aims to fill a gap in its clinical pipeline or portfolio of marketed drugs through purchases that account for less than 25% of a buyer’s market capitalization.

Baral noted that a growing number of biopharma buyers are acquiring companies with which they have partnered for several years on drug discovery and/or development collaborations. Pfizer acquired BioHaven six months after agreeing to pay the company up to $1.24 billion to commercialize rimegepant outside the U.S., where the migraine drug is marketed as Nurtec® ODT.

“There were already some kind of relationships there before these deals actually happened. But that also gives an indication that there are some insights to these targets ahead of time for these companies to feel increasingly comfortable, and pay the valuation that they’re paying for them,” Baral said.

$1.4 Trillion available

Baral sees several reasons for increased M&A activity in 2023. First, the 25 biopharma giants analyzed by EY had $1.427 trillion available as of November 30, 2022, for M&A in “firepower”—which EY defines as a company’s capacity to carry out M&A deals based on the strength of its balance sheet, specifically the amount of capital available for M&A deals from sources that include cash and equivalents, existing debt, and market cap.

That firepower is up 11% from 2021, and surpasses the previous record of $1.22 trillion in 2014, the first year that EY measured the available M&A capital of large biopharmas.

Unlike recent years, Baral said, biopharma giants are more likely to deploy that capital on M&A this year to close the “growth gap” expected to occur over the next five years as numerous blockbuster drugs lose patent exclusivity and face new competition from lower-cost generic drugs and biosimilars.

“There is not enough R&D in their pipeline to replenish a lot of their revenue. And this growth gap is coming between 2024 and 2026. So, they don’t have a long runway to watch and stay on the sidelines,” Baral said.

This explains buyers’ interest in replenishing pipelines with new and innovative treatments from smaller biopharmas, he continued. Many smaller biopharmas are open to being acquired because declining valuations and limited cash runways have increased investor pressure on them to exit via M&A. The decline of the capital markets has touched off dramatic slowdowns in two avenues through which biopharmas have gone public in recent years—initial public offerings (IPOs) and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).

EY recorded just 17 IPOs being priced in the U.S. and Europe, down 89% from 158 a year earlier. The largest IPO of 2022 was Prime Medicine’s initial offering, which raised $180.3 million in net proceeds for the developer of a “search and replace” gene editing platform.

Another 12 biopharmas agreed to SPAC mergers with blank-check companies, according to EY, with the largest announced transaction (yet to close at deadline) being the planned $899 million merger of cancer drug developer Apollomics with Maxpro Capital Acquisition.

“For the smaller players, the target biotech companies, their alternate source of access to capital pathways such as IPOs and SPACs is shutting down on them. So how would the biotech companies continue to fund themselves? Those with quality assets are still getting funded through venture capital or other forms of capital,” Baral said. “But in general, there is not a lot of appetite for the biotech that is taking that risk.

Figures from EY show a 37% year-to-year decline in the total value of U.S. and European VC deals, to $16.88 billion in 2022 from $26.62 billion in 2021. Late-stage financing rounds accounted for just 31% of last year’s VC deals, down from 34% in 2021 and 58% in 2012. The number of VC deals in the U.S. and Europe fell 18%, to 761 last year from 930 in 2021.

The decline in VC financing helps explain why many smaller biopharmas are operating with cash “runways” of less than 12 months. “Depending on the robustness of their data, their therapeutic area, and their management, there will be a natural attrition. Some of these companies will just have to wind down,” Baral added.

M&A headwinds

Baral also acknowledged some headwinds that are likely to dampen the pace of M&A activity. In addition to rising interest rates and inflation increasing the cost of capital, valuations remain high for the most sought-after drugs, platforms, and other assets—a result of growing and continuing innovation.

Another headwind is growing regulatory scrutiny of the largest deals. Illumina’s $8 billion purchase of cancer blood test developer Grail has faced more than two years of challenges from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and especially the European Commission—while Congress acted last year to begin curbing the price of prescription drugs and insulin through the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Those headwinds may prompt many companies to place greater strategic priority on collaborations and partnerships instead of M&A, Baral predicted, since they offer buyers early access to newer technologies before deciding whether to invest more capital through a merger or acquisition.

“Early-stage collaboration, early minority-stake investment becomes increasingly important, and it has been a cornerstone for early access to these technologies for the industry for a long, long time, and that is not changing any time soon,” Baral said. “On the other hand, even on the therapeutic area side, early-stage development is still expensive to do in-house for the large biopharma companies because of their cost structure.

“So, it is efficient cost-wise and speed-wise to buy these assets when they reach a certain point, which is probably at Phase II onward, and then you can pull the trigger on acquisitions if needed,” he added.

The post EY Eyes Comeback for Biopharma M&A appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

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Pfizer’s Albert Bourla spells out ‘transition year’ for Covid products, with sales expected to reach a low point

On the heels of a record sales year, Pfizer is bracing for impact as it expects Covid-19 revenue to bottom out in 2023.
That’s due to lower compliance…

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On the heels of a record sales year, Pfizer is bracing for impact as it expects Covid-19 revenue to bottom out in 2023.

That’s due to lower compliance with vaccine recommendations, fewer primary vaccines being administered, and a “significant” government supply that’s expected to last throughout early this year, execs said Tuesday on the company’s Q4 earnings call.

CEO Albert Bourla anticipates $13.5 billion in Comirnaty sales this year, down 64% from 2022, and just $8 billion in Paxlovid revenue, down 58% from 2022.

“We expect 2023 to be a transition year in the US,” he said on the call, adding that the company sold more vaccine and treatment doses this year than were actually used. “This resulted in a government inventory build that we expect to be absorbed sometime in 2023 — probably the second half of the year. Around that time, we expect to start selling Comirnaty through commercial channels at commercial prices.”

Just 15.5% of eligible Americans have received bivalent booster doses, compared to 69.2% who completed their primary series, according to the CDC’s latest data. Last week, the FDA’s vaccines advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all new vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent shot, regardless of whether they’ve received the primary series.

Even so, only 31% of people in the US received a Covid vaccine this year, and Pfizer expects that number to dip to about 24% in 2023.

David Denton

Bourla’s expecting a similar slump in Paxlovid sales, due to existing unused government supply. According to data from ASPR updated last week, states have about 4 million unused Paxlovid courses.

The antiviral significantly underperformed this year, missing Bourla’s prior full-year projections by just over $3 billion. Comirnaty seemed to pick up the slack, however, raking in roughly $37.8 billion in global sales, or about $3.8 billion more than Bourla predicted at the end of the third quarter.

“While patient demand for our Covid products is expected to remain strong throughout 2023, much of that demand is expected to be fulfilled by products that were delivered to governments in 2022 and recorded as revenues last year,” CFO David Denton said on the call.

Angela Hwang

Commercial pricing for both Comirnaty and Paxlovid will likely kick in around the second half of this year, according to Bourla. While the pharma giant previously said it expects to charge between $110 and $130 for the BioNTech-partnered shot (almost quadrupling the price), chief commercial officer Angela Hwang said the team is still “preparing what those pricing scenarios could look like” for Paxlovid and will “share more at the right time.”

The Pfizer team is expecting Covid sales to pick back up in the next couple years — and if all goes according to plan, a successful combination shot for flu and Covid-19 would “bring the percentage of Americans receiving the Covid-19 vaccine closer to the portion of people getting flu shots, which is currently about 50%,” Bourla said. The company launched a Phase I study for an mRNA-based combo vaccine back in November.

Lower projected Covid sales led Bourla to set his full-year sales expectations in 2023 at $67 billion to $71 billion, down roughly 30% from 2022, which let down some analysts.

“PFE guidance for 2023 provided with 4Q22 results was disappointing despite the company talking down financial prospects in recent weeks,” SVB Securities analysts wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday.

However, when it comes to R&D investment, Bourla’s keeping his foot on the gas. As the CEO said back in November, “It’s all about what’s next.”

That’s why he’s earmarking around $12.4 billion to $13.4 billion for R&D this year, up nearly 9% from last year. It’s all part of his effort to make up for an expected $17 billion loss due to patent expiries between 2025 and 2030.

Last quarter, he spelled out ambitious plans to bring 19 new products or indications to market over the next year and a half. The chief executive highlighted a few of those programs on Tuesday, including potential combo shots for flu, Covid-19 and RSV, an oral GLP-1 candidate for diabetes and obesity, and potential vaccines for Lyme disease and shingles.

Other programs, however, didn’t make the cut. Pfizer also disclosed on Tuesday that it cut eight programs, including recifercept, an achondroplasia drug that was the centerpiece of Pfizer’s Therachon buyout in 2019, and two Paxlovid indications that failed their respective Phase III trials.

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IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

The International Monetary Fund published its latest World Economic Outlook on Monday,…

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IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

The International Monetary Fund published its latest World Economic Outlook on Monday, painting a slightly less gloomy picture than three and a half months ago, as inflation appears to have peaked in 2022, consumer spending remains robust and the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been less severe than initially feared.

But, as Statista's Felix Richter notes, that’s not to say the outlook is rosy, as the global economy still faces major headwinds.

However, the IMF predicts the slowdown to be less pronounced than previously anticipated.

Global growth is now expected to fall from 3.4 percent in 2022 to 2.9 percent this year, before rebounding to 3.1 percent in 2024.

The 2023 growth projection is up from an October estimate of 2.7 percent, as the IMF sees far fewer countries facing recession this year and does no longer anticipates a global downturn.

Infographic: IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast as Inflation Cools | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

One of the reasons behind the cautiously optimistic outlook is the latest downward trend in inflation, which suggests that inflation may have peaked in 2022.

The IMF predicts global inflation to cool to 6.6 percent in 2023 and 4.3 percent in 2024, which is still above pre-pandemic levels of about 3.5 percent, but significantly lower than the 8.8 percent observed in 2022.

“Economic growth proved surprisingly resilient in the third quarter of last year, with strong labor markets, robust household consumption and business investment, and better-than-expected adaptation to the energy crisis in Europe,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the IMF’s chief economist, wrote in a blog post released along with the report.

“Inflation, too, showed improvement, with overall measures now decreasing in most countries—even if core inflation, which excludes more volatile energy and food prices, has yet to peak in many countries.”

The risks to the latest outlook remain tilted to the downside, the IMF notes, as the war in Ukraine could further escalate, inflation continues to require tight monetary policies and China’s recovery from Covid-19 disruptions remains fragile. On the plus side, strong labor markets and solid wage growth could bolster consumer demand, while easing supply chain disruptions could help cool inflation and limit the need for more monetary tightening.

In conclusion, Gourinchas calls for multilateral cooperation to counter “the forces of geoeconomic fragmentation”.

“This time around, the global economic outlook hasn’t worsened,” he writes. “That’s good news, but not enough. The road back to a full recovery, with sustainable growth, stable prices, and progress for all, is only starting.”

However, just because the 'trend' has shifted doesn't mean it's mission accomplished...

That looks an awful lot like Central Bankers' nemesis remains - global stagflation curb stomps the dovish hopes.

Tyler Durden Tue, 01/31/2023 - 14:45

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