Today’s Edition (May 6, 2021)

Hot potato.

         The most consequential development on Wednesday was Joe Biden’s decision to waive international protections for the intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies manufacturing coronavirus vaccines. WaPo, “Biden administration to waive vaccine patent protection.” Biden’s decision does not mean that generic coronavirus vaccines will immediately become available in countries such as India and South Africa. The legal, logistical, and scientific dimensions of manufacturing an mRNA vaccine are daunting. Moreover, for the waiver to take effect, every country that is a party to the TRIPS agreement must agree to the waiver. The European Union and the United Kingdom currently oppose the waiver. Nonetheless, Biden made the right decision. More importantly, Biden acted from a position of moral leadership—another step in restoring America’s credibility in the community of nations.

          There were no easy solutions to the scarcity of coronavirus vaccines in the rest of the world. Biden’s decision was the second-best answer; the first would have been a decision by pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily waive the restrictions. Biden’s decision poses significant challenges to the business model of pharmaceutical companies, who have a reasonable basis to complain that Biden’s decision will remove future incentives to quickly develop vaccines against novel viruses. But it is also true that the pharmaceutical companies are the beneficiaries of billions of dollars of federal grants to universities and research centers that performed the basic research in mRNA over the last two decades. The practical effect of Biden’s decision may be to pressure the pharmaceutical companies to seize control of their destinies and make deals to accelerate the production of generic versions of the vaccines.

          Biden’s decision is not risk-free for the United States. Generic manufacturers will compete with the U.S. for raw materials. U.S. pharma companies will lose control over quality control in manufacturing. Poor manufacturing practices could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine or result in recalls that undermine public confidence in the vaccines. Any misstep by foreign manufacturers will be used by vaccine opponents in the U.S. to sow doubt and confusion. Still, it was the right decision. If foreign manufacturers can fill the vaccine gap in the rest of the world, the U.S. will be better protected against future outbreaks. People can reasonably disagree with the merits of Biden’s decision. No one can disagree that Biden is acting boldly. During a pandemic, fortune favors the bold.

Facebook maintains ban on Trump—for now.

          I was delighted to be wrong in my prediction that Facebook’s Advisory Board would lift the ban on Trump. Instead, the Advisory Board maintained the ban for six months and tossed the hot potato back to Facebook’s management. See Talking Points Memo, “Facebook Oversight Board OKs Trump Ban But Says It Should Be Reviewed Within 6 Months.” Mark Zuckerberg created the Advisory Board in hopes of avoiding the difficult issues arising from a business that has bestowed a $115 billion fortune on Zuckerberg. For that kind of money, it seems only fair that Zuckerberg should confront the thorny questions raised by the political, social, and national security damage caused by Facebook’s laissez-faire approach to misconduct on the platform. See CNBC, “Zuckerberg can no longer deflect blame for Trump's Facebook suspension.”

          After Trump incited the January 6th Insurrection, Twitter imposed a permanent ban on Trump. In contrast (and as usual), Zuckerberg temporized and dodged, imposing an “indefinite suspension” on Trump and asking the Advisory Board to review the decision. The Advisory Board was not amused with Zuckerberg’s attempt to pass the buck and took the opportunity to tell Facebook management to “Do your job.” The Advisory Board’s opinion is here: Facebook Oversight Board, Case 2021-00. The Board said, in part,

          It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored. In applying this penalty, Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure. ‘Indefinite’ suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.

          Trump’s response to the Advisory Board’s ruling demonstrates why Zuckerberg should make the ban permanent. Trump wrote, in part, “Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth.” Did you catch that? Trump still describes himself as “the President of the United States”—the root of the lie that led to the Capitol Insurrection.

          Facebook’s efforts to remove hate speech, calls to violence, white nationalism, and dangerous lies have been offensively inadequate. Russia has used Facebook to stir racial animus and spread disinformation during U.S. elections. See Global Security Review, “How Russia Used Facebook to Influence U.S. Voters and Interfere in the Election.” Zuckerberg famously defended his policy of allowing politicians to lie in political ads on Facebook. Business Insider, “Facebook refuses to fact-check political ads, and it's infuriating employees and lawmakers.”  I am pessimistic that Zuckerberg will suddenly find his spine and impose a permanent ban on Trump. I hope I am wrong (again).

Texas considers voter suppression bill.

          Texas is advancing two voter suppression bills through its legislature—S.B. 6 and S.B. 7. A detailed description of the bills can be found in Texas Tribune, “Texas voting restrictions faces opposition from major corporations.” The Texas bills incorporate many of the provisions of the bill recently passed in Georgia. The good news is that many Texas corporations are speaking out against the bills; the bad news is that Republicans don’t care. Relations between American Airlines and senior Texas Republicans have entered a state of open hostility in the last few weeks. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said of American Airlines, “Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy.” Apparently, the Lt. Governor is fine with corporations dictating public policy if they share “our” values (read: GOP values).

          The Kafkaesque nature of the bills is highlighted in a story in Axios, which notes that Texas experienced its highest voter turnout in more than three decades in 2020 but still managed to rank 44th in the U.S. in turnout. See Axios, Voting groups fear Texas about to exceed Georgia's limits.” It is clear that Republicans in Texas have maintained power for decades by suppressing voter turnout. They are about to do more of the same unless the pressure campaign by big businesses can stop them. After researching which voter groups are resisting the Texas legislation, I could not identify a significant grassroots effort. If you know of any such efforts, let me know and I will publicize them.

Another important election to fill a vacant House seat.

          Rep. Debra Haaland was appointed as Secretary of Interior. The special election to fill her seat will be held on June 1st, 2021 but early voting has already started! The New Mexico Democratic Party nominated Melanie Stansbury at a statewide convention in March. For details on the race, check out Political Charge, “How To Help Keep Deb Haaland’s NM Seat Blue,” or Stansbury’s campaign site, “Melanie for New Mexico.”

          The good news about the New Mexico race is that there is an official Democratic candidate. The bad news is that time is short. The universal truth is that turnout will decide the election. Read the Political Charge article, above, for ways you can help to keep Debra Haaland’s district blue.

          I obtained the information about the race to replace Deb Haaland from a daily newsletter, Chop Wood, Carry Water. The newsletter focuses on “Daily action for a better tomorrow,” and highlights concrete action steps you can take on a daily basis to help preserve our democracy. Check it out if you are looking for ways to volunteer or make your voice heard.

Concluding Thoughts.

          I heard from many readers who are sympathetic to Rep. Liz Cheney. A few wanted to donate to her campaign fund. Rep. Cheney will undoubtedly endear herself to more Democrats with her op-ed in The Washington Post, Liz Cheney op-ed: The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us.” I urge you to read the entire essay, but among notable statements, Rep. Cheney says that there is reason to believe that Trump will provoke violence again and that he is “seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure.” But Cheney reserves her harshest words for her colleagues in the House, saying that Kevin McCarthy has “changed his story” on the January 6th Insurrection. She addresses her colleagues directly, saying,

          [W]e Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.

          It is good that Rep. Cheney is finally speaking out, but her words would have had equal merit and greater force if she had said the same thing about Trump’s effort to delegitimize the 2016 election. As you can see, I am having a hard time feeling sympathy for Cheney’s predicament. But I do take comfort and hope from her words. I believe that Cheney’s sentiments mirror the feelings of a large enough portion of the Republican Party to make a difference in 2022 and 2024. Trump and the GOP are lurching so far to the right that they are leaving the pale of democracy. In doing so, they are alienating the educated, suburban, establishment Republicans who are part of the shrinking core of the GOP.  

          As difficult as it is to watch the GOP devolve into delusion and hate, we must recognize that decline for what it is: a death spiral, not a populist uprising. Liz Cheney was among the most conservative Republicans in the House; the fact that Trump finally pushed her to the breaking point surely means that millions of other Republicans have left the party in disgust. The best way to capture those alienated Republicans is to continue focusing on rebuilding America, at home and abroad—which is exactly what Joe Biden is doing. We couldn’t have planned it any better.

          Talk to you tomorrow!