July 19, 2024

An anti-Israel protest at Harvard Law School in October 2023. The U.S. government now says, without casting any aspersion on any individual protester including those pictured here, that “In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza.”

The director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, says the U.S. intelligence community has “observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters.”

Haines made the disclosure in a July 9, 2024 press release. She said it was for the purpose of “informing the public of foreign efforts to influence our democratic processes.”

“In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza,” Haines said. “Americans who are being targeted by this Iranian campaign may not be aware that they are interacting with or receiving support from a foreign government.”

The U.S. intelligence community typically functions separately from law enforcement, but in the past, some federal prosecutors have brought cases about attempted Iranian influence on American public opinion. President Biden pardoned one such figure in 2023 as part of a deal to obtain the release of American hostages held by Iran.  

Haines, a Biden appointee who was deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration, took care not to portray all anti-Israel protesters as Iranian dupes. “I want to be clear that I know Americans who participate in protests are, in good faith, expressing their views on the conflict in Gaza – this intelligence does not indicate otherwise. Moreover, the freedom to express diverse views, when done peacefully, is essential to our democracy,” she wrote, “but it is also important to warn of foreign actors who seek to exploit our debate for their own purposes.”

Haines said she’d be offering more updates on foreign influence efforts as the 2024 campaign season progresses. 

Absent from the statement was any explanation about what the U.S. government is doing to try to stop the Iranian meddling. Has it tried to shut down the bank accounts or social media accounts that the Iranians are using? Has it conveyed a diplomatic message through the Embassy of Switzerland or through other channels to Iran to cut it out?

A foreign policy official who served in the Reagan, George W. Bush, and Trump administrations, Elliott Abrams, has a post up on his Council on Foreign Relations blog calling out the ineptitude of the Biden administration in Middle East diplomacy, writing, “As I have watched U.S. diplomacy since October 7, the phrase that has kept on coming back to me is Casey Stengel’s after his 1962 Mets racked up a modern record of 120 losses: ‘Can’t anybody here play this game?’”

“Isn’t it obvious that as between Iran and the world’s greatest superpower, Iran and not the United States should be afraid of escalation?” Abrams writes. “The record is clear that the Iranian leadership shies away from confrontation with the United States, so why are our diplomats expressing the greater fear of escalation?”

Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election spawned endless investigations and news articles and accusations. It’d be strange if the disclosure of Iranian activity in the U.S. in the midst of the 2024 campaign fails to arouse similar levels of concern.

The Little Tech Agenda:

and Ben Horowitz of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz have a post up headlined “The Little Tech Agenda.” 

By “little tech” they mean startups as opposed to the Big Tech giants that have “the ability to wire the government against startup competitors.”. 

“We believe bad government policies are now the #1 threat to Little Tech,” they write. “We believe American technology supremacy, and the critical role that Little Tech startups play in ensuring that supremacy, is a first class political issue on par with any other.”

One of their big complaints is about over-regulation:

Regulatory agencies have been green lit to use brute force investigations, prosecutions, intimidation, and threats to hobble new industries, such as Blockchain.

Regulatory agencies are being green lit in real time to do the same to Artificial Intelligence.

Regulatory agencies are applying direct pressure to banks to cut off disfavored startups and founders from the financial system.

Regulatory agencies are punitively blocking startups from being acquired by the same big companies the government is preferencing in so many other ways.…

There’s also a tax piece:

And, the government is currently proposing a tax on unrealized capital gains, which would absolutely kill both startups and the venture capital industry that funds them.

They see an opportunity: “Regulatory reform in important industries like health care, education, and housing, to strip incumbents of their current regulatory capture and drive higher quality at lower prices.”

Meanwhile, speaking of housing, the New York Times has a smart piece by Stephen Smith, executive director of the Center for Building in North America, explaining how regulation makes American elevators more costly than those in Europe, making housing more expensive. “A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium,” he writes. There’s also a union angle. 

Deregulation has bipartisan roots going back to President Carter, Stephen Breyer, Edward Kennedy, and airline deregulation.

Sure, Andreessen and Horowitz are promoting policies that would help them and their venture capital firm make more money. Yet they make a strong case on the merits, as does Smith and as did Carter and Kennedy, that excessive regulation hurts consumers, contributes to inflation, and slows growth, while reduced regulation promotes competition, innovation, and growth while giving consumers lower costs and better choices.

Donald Trump talks about this at almost every campaign rally, recounting how he goes into meetings with business executives and asks them which is worse, the taxes or the regulations, and the near-unanimous answer is the regulations. 

Federal Election Commission records analyzed by The Editors show that Andreessen and Horowitz are putting significant money behind their message. Together, the two have contributed a total of $44 million—not so “little”—in the 2023-2024 election cycle to a superpac called Fairshake. To the extent it’s getting any attention it’s being described as a “crypto industry superpac.” It’s hard to parse how much is just narrowly self-interested cryptocurrency political spending and how much is the broader startup/opportunity/growth/deregulation agenda. To the extent that it’s the second one, and the money is going to both Republicans and Democrats, it’s an interesting and encouraging political development.