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Facebook's Oversight Board Upholds the Trump Ban

Yesterday, Facebook's newly created Oversight Board threw the hot potato of whether to allow presidents to blatantly lie on the site and foment violence back at Mark Zuckerberg. Donald Trump will be banned for the next 6 months during which time the Board wants Facebook to come up with clear rules. Then it will look again. It argued that Facebook doesn't have clear rules for suspending people indefinitely.

In effect, the decision was more about process than about content. Social media platforms are notoriously inconsistent and non-transparent when it comes to their rules and how they are enforced. They really don't want to be in the business of policing content at all, because that costs money and potentially alienates users, so they tend to punish the occasional miscreant to send the message "hey, you can't just do anything you want!" but they let lots of other things go, even if those things are clearly problematic and are reported by other users. It's kind of like the enforcement of traffic laws (only a fraction of speeders, to take one example, are actually punished), except if the cutoff for too much speed was "the officer's best guess," and then the officer had no responsibility to explain or document what speed they actually nailed the motorist for. If Facebook had a clear rule stating: "Posting a lie that leads to violence is grounds for permanently terminating an account," then this would be all over. But they don't, and that lack of clarity is as much the problem here as Trump's actions. Nick Clegg, a Facebook VP, said that he would examine the Board's ruling. However, in the meantime, Trump will remain suspended.

Many Republicans are enraged. Sources close to Trump say that he is likely to run again in 2024, and not being on Facebook would be a huge hindrance, especially if the Democrats have full access. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows threatened to break up Facebook, not that he has any power to do that. That said, many Democrats, who do theoretically have that power, would be happy to go along with Meadows. Probably not enough of them to do something, though, especially as long as Trump is banned and they aren't.

This decision, if it sticks, could have far reaching implications. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) suggested that Congress could pass a law requiring social media companies with a certain number of daily visitors to have an independent board to oversee the site and make binding decisions. Of course, if the company could stock the board with obedient lackeys, it wouldn't mean much. But if the board members were legally liable for lies and disinformation campaigns posted on the site, it might put the fear of God in them. Please don't suggest Senate confirmation for board members, though. Please. (And see below.) Anyhow, now that the seed of oversight has been planted, it could grow. Congress could also update the antitrust laws for the digital age.

The board's decision is a huge hit to Trump. Facebook was a far more powerful way to enrage and incite people, and to raise money, than Twitter or other websites and now he is off it for many months. As we noted yesterday, he has recently launched his own blog as an alternative. He calls it a "social media platform" but it has the format that many blogs use: a series of short postings throughout the day ordered by the time of posting. The format is basically the same as Political Wire, for example. One thing that is missing that social media sites often have is...postings by users. If Twitter had only postings by Jack Dorsey or Facebook had only postings by Mark Zuckerberg, it would change the nature of the beast a bit.

The blog has a couple of interesting features. First, if you go to Trump's main website, donaldjtrump.com you don't get the blog. You get a request to text "Truth" to Trump's number. This gives him your phone number so he can spam you 10 times a day asking for money for the rest of you life. It's always about the grift. Second, if you click away the ad, you see a menu at the top with six items:

Menu on Trump's blog, it offers the
options 'about,' 'desk,' 'news,' 'contact,' 'shop,' and 'contribute,' with the latter two rendered in capital letters

The most prominent items are SHOP and CONTRIBUTE (in red, no less). The others are kind of secondary, because it's always about the grift. The first menu item is "About," about Trump that is. Surprised? Meanwhile, "Desk" takes you to the actual blog. We wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars Trump paid to some marketing genius to design a front page that basically hides the thing he wants to draw attention to. Anyhow, when you click on "Desk," you get the blog. It looked like this when we made a screen shot:

Trump's blog

The first thing that hits you, other than the name "Donald J. Trump" plastered all over it, is the "Save America" box in the upper left corner. We're curious and we want to save America, so we clicked on it. It's that ad again. So to save America, all you have to do is give Trump your phone number. Have we mentioned anything about grift, recently?

Beyond the expected rant against Facebook's decision, Trump's new blog also had a couple of vicious attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). If she weren't a very public figure, she might be able to win a libel suit against him for what he said, but the bar for a public figure to win a libel suit is so high, she couldn't. All in all, the blog is poorly designed, largely hidden, and has no possibility for users to post anything. We really doubt that this will become a big winner.

One thing we wonder about is what would happen if Trump opened a comments section. On Political Wire, and many other blogs, you can click on item and then post and read comments from readers. We didn't allow that here because we were warned about the troll problem. That's why we have a curated Q&A on Saturdays and mailbag on Sundays. If Trump were to allow comments on each of his posts, it is very likely that Democrats would post anti-Trump screeds in large numbers and the whole thing would turn into a cesspool of hate within seconds of comments being turned on, even if users needed an account to do so. It's not hard to create an extra account on Gmail or Yahoo that you never look at and Trump can spam all he wants without affecting you. So our best guess is that people will tire of Trump posting the Big Lie hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and readership will never approach what he had on Twitter or Facebook. (Z)

Trump Endorses Elise Stefanik to Replace Cheney in House Leadership

In case you thought Donald Trump wasn't going to get involved in day-to-day politics, guess what? He is. Yesterday, he endorsed replacing Liz Cheney as the #3 House Republican with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a solid Trumpist who recently hitched her wagon to his star. Trump said: "Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!" Stefanik is a very telegenic (that's punditspeak for "good-looking") Harvard graduate who, at 30, was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the time of her first run. Until Trump came along, she was quite bipartisan and even voted with the Democrats against the 2017 tax cut bill. Since then, she has gone all in for Trump. It may well pay off in the short term if she can jump from being a backbencher in a rural district in upstate New York to the House leadership. She definitely wants the promotion and is working hard to win over House Republicans.

Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is also working hard to get rid of Cheney and replace her with Stefanik. So is minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). But while Scalise may be doing what is best for the Republican Party, McCarthy is playing a different game. Earlier this week there was a "leak" from McCarthy that Cheney had to go. McCarthy himself was almost certainly the leaker. McCarthy expects that Republicans will take over the House next year and plans on becoming speaker. The biggest obstacle to that plan is Cheney, who also wants the job. By dumping Cheney from the leadership, McCarthy cements his chances of becoming speaker if there is a Republican takeover next year.

On the other hand, as a member of the leadership, Cheney has been somewhat constrained about criticizing Trump. If she is booted out, she might become a loose cannon. Lyndon Johnson famously refused to fire FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, saying "It's better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." Might hold here, too.

And how about this for how McCarthy's plan could backfire spectacularly? Suppose the Republicans get a bare majority in 2022 and Cheney decides to run against McCarthy for speaker. Remember that the speaker is elected by the entire House, not by the majority caucus. Now suppose Cheney makes a deal with Nancy Pelosi: The Democrats vote for her in return for something or other. There might be just enough Republicans who are disgusted with McCarthy to support for her so that she could win. If the margin is close, finding say, 5-10 Republicans to support Cheney—who is, after all, a conservative Republican—might be doable. Especially if she promises each one the chairmanship of some important committee. From the Democrats' point of view, at least she supports democracy, something McCarthy doesn't.

Not every Republican likes the idea of dumping Cheney, though. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) defended Cheney, calling for GOP unity. Meghan McCain tweeted: "The message that's being sent by the highest member of Republicans in Congress is that women like me and Liz Cheney, who refuse to bend the knee to President Trump but still remain loyal Republicans—we don't have a place in this party."

The big donors also have a role here. Cheney's top donors are sticking with her. Some have even said they will withhold donations from House members who want to can her. This battle could lead to a rift between pro-Trump and anti-Trump donors. Needless to say, Republicans don't want that.

While the short-term battle is about whether people who do not worship at Trump's feet are welcome in the Republican Party, there is also another issue at stake here: Will the loser of any future election accept the results? Will a future Republican-controlled House be willing to certify a Democratic victory in 2024 and beyond? If not, will the Army intervene? Will America become just another banana republic?

The essence of democracy is that losers accept their loss and don't keep insisting that they won. Trump has fundamentally broken with that. Once that is out the window, what's next? Suppose Trump runs in 2024 and Republican secretaries of state in enough states "find" enough votes to give him victory. Don't think it could happen? Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) is running for Georgia secretary of state on a platform of "finding" enough votes to make sure Republicans win future elections in Georgia. If he wins, do you think he will be the last one to try this? Now suppose Trump runs again in 2028 and Sec. Hice and his Republican counterparts in other states allow Trump's name to be placed on the ballot in 2028 since the 22nd Amendment doesn't specifically address ballot access. And suppose he wins 270 electoral votes. The Supreme Court could say that on the one hand, he wasn't supposed to run, but on the other hand, he did get 270 electoral votes and the Republican-controlled House and Senate certified them. It could go either way.

One thing Democrats could do now is update the Electoral Count Act to make it clear that no, state legislatures cannot send slates of electors to the Capitol just because they don't like the election results. This would require limiting the filibuster somehow, though.

Now back to Stefanik. Here is her district, NY-21:

NY-21

The R+8 district is huge, covering all of 10 counties north of Albany and parts of two others. It occupies 15,000 square miles, more than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, or Maryland. It is primarily rural and reasonably compact. The biggest city is Watertown, which has a population of 27,000. Second biggest is Plattsburgh, with a population of 20,000. The significance of these facts is that New York State is going to lose one House seat in 2022 and the Democrats control the redistricting process. The idea of eliminating the district of a House Republican leader is probably already being discussed quietly in Albany. However, a district that covers (parts of) 12 large counties can't be eliminated. Besides, the focus will probably be on eliminating the district of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is running for governor. That district covers eastern Long Island and is far from Stefanik's district. Also, there is no easy way to redraw the NY-21 lines to make it significantly less Republican except maybe to remove some of the westernmost counties and extend the district south to pick up some of the northern Albany suburbs. If her district were made, say, R+3 instead of R+8, Stefanik might still be reelected in 2022, but she would be much more sensitive to Democrats' wishes. (V)

Trump Rips Pence

In addition to his blistering attack on Liz Cheney yesterday, Donald Trump also lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Mike Pence. Trump has never liked McConnell, but had to put up with him when he was majority leader. Pence, on the other hand, was as loyal as any toady could be for 4 years. He always praised Trump and never, ever spoke an ill word of him. What Pence didn't do, however, is somehow cancel the counting of the electoral votes and just appoint Trump as president again. Of course, he had no power to do that, but Trump will never forgive him for that.

Trump's attack on his former VP is going to be a millstone around Pence's neck if he is foolish enough to run for president in 2024. He can hardly run in the Trump lane since Trump bears grudges forever and will continue to attack him until one of them dies (and possibly beyond, depending on who goes first). But given Pence's 4 years of licking Trump's boots with great enthusiasm, he is hardly plausible in the not-Trump lane, even if Trump falls from grace and is in prison in 2024. We don't see any plausible path forward for Pence in politics. The number of potential Trumpish candidates in 2024 is large, including governors (e.g, Ron DeSantis, R-FL) and senators (e.g., Josh Hawley, R-MO) so we can't see how Pence could have a chance with Trump still attacking him. There is a national shortage of lawn gnomes right now, however, so perhaps Pence can find an opportunity there. (V)

Republicans Dump on Big Business

In the past few weeks, we have had a series of items entitled "whither the Republican Party." Part of this relates to demographic change that it's members don't want but can't stop (but see next item). Part of it relates to Donald Trump, which the Party can control about as well as it can control demographic change (which is to say, basically not at all). But part of it depends on that the Party actually wants to be. That is more up in the air then you might expect.

In the past, the GOP who knew it served: rich people, affluent (but not truly rich) suburbanites, and big business. The goal was to play reverse Robin Hood and steal from the poor and give to the rich. To get the rubes to vote against their own economic interest, Republicans acted like Jesus Christ himself devoted his entire life solely to opposing abortion, hating LGBTQ+ people, and possibly maintaining his cache of high-powered assault rifles. Our staff theologian says that it was not quite the case, but with the help of compliant pastors, it has worked for 20+ years.

Now that model seems to be coming apart. The suburbanites are fleeing the Party in droves. They are being replaced by blue-collar working-class men with chips on their shoulders (and not the kind made in China and currently in short supply, possibly because try to stuff a 5-mm chip into a 0.1-mm needle for injecting along with the COVID-19 vaccine results in a lot of wastage.

The GOP's problem is that the new blue-collar voters are not terribly friendly to big business. Showering tax breaks and other goodies on automobile manufacturers, oil companies, and tech companies doesn't play well with them. Consequently, some of the most opportunist Republican politicians are starting to change their tune, at least verbally. Leading the charge of the Hypocrite Brigade are Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Cruz recently told a reporter: "If you look at the CEOs of the Fortune 100, there are very, very few who you could even plausibly characterize as right of center. They are almost uniformly Democrat. And they have made the decision to enlist their companies in the political agenda of today's Democratic Party, which is controlled right now by the radical left." We doubt that Cruz has done a survey of the top 100 CEOs to see whether they are left or right of center (whatever that means). Are wealthy, college-educated CEOs rabidly opposed to abortion and do they hate LGBTQ+ people? Probably not most of them (with a few exceptions). But we suspect that most of them supported the 2017 tax cuts for big corporations, which the Democrats strongly opposed. They are also not thrilled with some of the ideas that the blue team is bandying about right now, like a tax on stock transactions. If we had to generalize, we'd say that the average corporate executive leans liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues. Certainly, very few of them are wild and woolly left wingers.

Now Cruz has found the ultimate way to punish thes pinko CEOs: He won't take money from corporate PACs any more, just direct donations from executives and bundlers. That will teach them! (Note: Cruz gets more direct money from oil, gas, legal, and real-estate companies than from PACs, so his sacrifice for the national interest is not as great as it might seem.) Also, this kind of PR tends to drive up small-donor contributions, which may be what Cruz had in mind to start with. The technique is called "fundraging."

What triggered Cruz are statements from two CEOs. Coca-Cola's James Quincey said he "opposes any law that would diminish or deter access to voting." Merck's Ken Frazier (who is Black) said: "Georgia is the leading edge of a movement all around this country to restrict voting access." Suddenly Cruz has forgotten years of calling big companies "job creators."

Rubio was slightly more subtle. In an e-mail, he wrote: "For the past several years, I have been making the case that far too many American companies were prioritizing short-term financial windfalls at the expense of America's families, communities and national security." There is certainly some truth in that, but his statement is more a criticism of capitalism as a system, than it is of the CEOs. In an op-ed a week ago in The New York Post, Rubio called for a "rebalancing" between corporations and the national interest. He makes the point that the GOP did its part of the social contract by cutting corporate tax rates, but then Corporate America responded by pulling baseball games out of states that pass laws that make it harder to vote and "dump[ing] woke, toxic nonsense into our culture" (his words). What ingrates!

Sen Josh Hawley (R-MO) also got into the act. He has introduced legislation to break up big tech companies. Not big oil companies or big coal companies, mind you, but only big tech companies.

It is far from clear that any of these senators mean a word of what they are saying. Almost certainly, what they really mean is: "We don't mind you being very public about supporting tax cuts and opposing environmental laws, but we don't want you even occasionally and weakly supporting things the Democrats want."

There are three tectonic plates slowly moving below the surface here that probably account for the Republicans' newfound "distaste" for corporations:

  • Trumpism: Donald Trump frequently attacked companies he didn't like, for one reason or other. Once a president legitimized attacking companies by name, it became acceptable, something it wasn't before. Trump also maintained that rich elites were screwing ordinary Americans, so the new criticisms are just following in his footsteps. In short, Trump lifted the taboo on Republicans criticizing corporations. That's a big deal.

  • Culture war: To the extent that Republicans can now blame corporations for killing babies or "canceling"...whatever or treating LGBTQ Americans as equals, it opens a new front in the culture wars. The story is the same, it's just the perpetrators who are different.

  • Realignment: There may be a genuine realignment going on here and we are just seeing the start of it. We have written a number of times about what happened to the Democratic-Republicans, the Whigs, and other parties in the past. Realignments do happen in American politics. This time it won't be about slavery, but it might be slavery adjacent: about race and racism, with one party (quietly) for it and one (loudly) against it. But it is too early to tell, since the Republicans deeds do not match their words quite yet.

What Republicans are learning is that while CEOs love their tax cuts, they also need to keep their customers happy. And when quite a few of the customers think that trying to stop people from voting is a very bad thing, the CEOs may decide that coming out in support of what most of their customers want is worth the flak. (V)

Demographic Change May Not Help the Democrats As Much As They Expected

The other Nate (Nate Cohn of the New York Times) has examined some of the newly released census data and come to a conclusion that is at odds with the conventional wisdom. Many pundits have said that demographic changes are going to make the Republican Party obsolete before too long. Cohn's analysis says that the trend is real, but it may not help the Democrats as much as they hoped, or hurt the Republicans as much as they feared.

The good news for the Democrats is that Latinos, Asian Americans, and multiracial voters are becoming an ever-larger part of the electorate. The bad news is that these groups are not as Democratic as, say, Black voters are. Among the growing groups, the Democrats get something like 65% of the vote, vs. 90% of the Black vote. Demographics helps the Democrats, but it is not a miracle cure.

Cohn's analysis is that the Republicans' problem isn't with these groups, but with white voters. In Georgia, for example, Joe Biden did better with white voters than did Hillary Clinton in 2016, and that difference was bigger than 30 years of demographic change.

Another example is Virginia, a former deep-red state that is now a deep-blue state. It didn't flip due to a huge influx of Latinos, but due to a huge influx of liberal white voters in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties in Northern Virginia. In fact, Cohn couldn't find a single state in which demographic change among minority voters flipped the state. Arizona is another state that went blue in 2020, but again because Biden did better with the many white seniors there than Clinton did.

Another issue is that Latinos, Asian Americans, and multiracial people tend to flock to states that are already blue. Republicans can't win statewide in California or New York as it is, and adding a few hundred thousand people from these groups isn't going to change anything. If somebody would kindly tell Latino immigrants to forget California and make a beeline for Wisconsin, that would matter. But the swing states in the Midwest are seeing very little demographic change of any sort.

Latinos are growing as a fraction of the population in two important states, Florida and Texas, but the Latinos in those places are far less pro-Democratic Party than Latinos in New York. There are a lot of Cubans in Florida, and a fair number of Tejanos in Texas, and those groups skew Republican. If Florida Latinos voted like New York Latinos, Florida would be a blue state. But they don't and it is not.

According to the data, Joe Biden won seven states (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) while losing the white vote there. But only in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada did the increase in diversity in the past 30 or 40 years make much of a difference. That said, he could have lost all three and still won the presidency. In the other four states, the predominant nonwhite population is Black and has been stable for decades.

Still, being popular with the fastest growing ethnic groups is better than being unpopular with them. Nevertheless, if the Democrats can peel off 3-5% of white Republican voters (for example, by actually improving their lives in a way they notice) that may cement their hold on power much better than waiting another 20 years until the demographic change is so much that it dominates everything.

Incidentally, those who read the items in our "whither the Republicans" series will recall that we did not include an item in there about demographic change. That is because we are inclined to agree with Cohn about the effect of new, minority voters. If 50,000 Latinos register to vote in a state for the first time, and the Democrats get 60% of those votes, that's a net gain of 10,000 votes, which isn't going to change very many statewide results. Our focus was largely on things that are likely to hurt the Republican Party more broadly, like the loss of corporate support, an anti-science posture, and having their wagon hitched to an uncontrollable right-wing media establishment and a bunch of nutty, conspiratorial officeholders. These are things that could cost the Party with many demographics—new and existing minority voters, yes, but also suburban women, the remaining moderates in the GOP, independent voters, and, perhaps most importantly, younger voters. A political party has a lot of moving parts, and if the Republicans end up condemning themselves to a decade or two or three in the wilderness, there will be many different causes, not just one. (V)

Biden in Favor of Waiving Patent Protection on COVID Vaccine

The companies that have produced the COVID vaccine have patented it (naturally) and are having a great time selling it as fast as they can make it. Some health activists have called on governments to invalidate those patents to let any company produce the vaccines. Needless to say, Pfizer and Moderna will not be happy if that happens. Yesterday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai chimed in and said that the administration favors invalidating the patents, at least temporarily. Of course, once the cat is out of the bag, activists will be demanding many other medical patents be invalidated as well. Why not invalidate patents on insulin or cancer drugs? But if drugs can't be patented, will the pharmaceutical industry continue to look for new drugs?

The cases of Pfizer and Moderna are very different from one another. Moderna got over $1 billion from the government to produce the vaccine. The government should have put a clause in the contract giving it the right to authorize third parties to manufacture any vaccines produced with government money. Trying to put in that clause retroactively is not a clean legal maneuver, but that won't necessarily stop the White House from trying it. If so, Moderna would argue that they would not have sunk the resources into the project if they had known there was no profit in it for them. That might or might not impress a judge.

Pfizer, by contrast, didn't accept any government money. It paid for the entire research, development, manufacturing, and distribution out of its own bank account. It could try to argue that invalidating the patent amounts to the taking of private property without due process. Normally in eminent domain cases, the government has the power to seize private property for public use, but it has to pay the owner the market value of the property seized. Lawsuits over this could take years.

A related problem is that overturning the patent is only step one. Manufacturing the vaccine is very complicated. The administration would also want to force Pfizer to turn over all its technique and methods for producing the vaccine. This would involve spilling trade secrets and much more. Pflizer will fight to the death to prevent that. And if they are forced to, can anyone be sure the techniques they turn over aren't for v1.0 of the vaccine, which didn't work so well, vs. v28.4 of vaccine, which they figured out after a lot of expensive experimentation?

What would probably go more smoothly is for Biden to give the CEO of Pfizer a call and strongly urge him to license multiple other companies to produce the vaccine. Basically, blackmail him into issuing licenses to multiple other companies, accompanied by the necessary information needed to actually produce them.

There could also be some value here for the corporations, if they think the writing is on the wall anyhow, to go along and basically play nice. Ultimately, there is an upper limit to how many shots Pfizer or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson can sell (people are going to get immunized once, or maybe twice; by contrast, something like a Saxenda shot, which is for weight loss, or Ozempic, which is for diabetes, is administered over and over). And as the wealthiest countries have their needs filled, the profit-per-shot administered is going to go down, too. In other words, Big Pharma isn't going to get U.S. prices in Chile or Cameroon or Thailand.

Anyhow, there would be a fair bit of PR in consenting to share the patents, and that might also put the corporations in a position to ask for favors from the government in the future. To give a historical example, consider the R.M.S. Titanic. Well, not exactly the Titanic; that situation did not end well, as you may have heard. However, Titanic had two sister ships, one of which was the R.M.S. Britannic. At least, it was supposed to be the R.M.S. Britannic when it was constructed (R.M.S. stands for "royal mail ship;" many private carriers back then also hauled mail to add to their profits).

As chance would have it, Britannic was completed in Dec. 1915, a bit more than three years after her more famous sister ship met her fate on the ocean floor. And by then, the U.K. was enmeshed in a little squabble with the Germans that you might have heard about, and had a need to transport vast numbers of troops and treat vast numbers of casualties. So, after a bit of arm-twisting from the British authorities, White Star Line (the owner of Titanic and Britannic) consented to allow their brand-new world-class luxury liner to be rechristened as H.M.H.S. Britannic (H.M.H.S. stands for "His Majesty's Hospital Ship"). This allowed White Star Line to be a team player in the war effort, and got them some good publicity, helping to partly displace the bad memories associated with the Titanic disaster.

Britannic performed good service for about a year, until it struck...no, not an iceberg; an underwater mine. She joined Titanic in Davy Jones' Locker as a result, albeit with considerably less loss of life (50, as opposed to more than 1,500). In gratitude for this contribution, and to make up for the loss to the company, the British government gifted the S.S. Bismarck to White Star Line at the end of the war; it entered services as R.M.S. Majestic. (In case you're wondering, Titanic's and Britannic's other sister ship, Olympic, was also pressed into service during the war, but she survived and had a long career as an ocean liner).

It is improbable that Pfizer or Moderna will be awarded a battleship in exchange for sharing their patents, but the U.S. government is certainly in a position to grant all sorts of other goodies that might be of interest, from R&D funds, to Medicare contracts, to priority access to FDA regulators. So, maybe the White House and the pharmaceutical companies can get together and make medicine here. (V & Z)

Yankees and Mets Will Offer Free Tickets with a Vaccination

Getting 70% of the country to be vaccinated will be relatively easy. Something like 70% of adults want the vaccine and now there is enough supply for all of them. Getting the rest will be trickier. Some states are starting to offer a cash bounty, or other incentives, for getting vaccinated. However, and somewhat consistent with what we wrote in the previous item, private organizations are also starting to play a role here. Yesterday, the two New York baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, agreed to give a free ticket to anyone who shows up and gets vaccinated before game time. For sports fans, getting free tickets to games could be a bigger draw than getting cash. Theoretically, getting more cash than you need to buy a ticket should be an even bigger incentive, but people aren't always rational. Consequently, sports teams and possibly other organizations could play a role in encouraging people who are not ideologically opposed to vaccinations, but find it too much trouble to get a shot.

It almost goes without saying that the Yankees and Mets will use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, since it requires only one dose. Giving sports fans a shot of Pfizer or Moderna and asking them to go get the second dose is asking much too much, and it would be hard to guarantee follow-through. Fortunately, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is reasonably effective, particularly against severe cases, and having it be one and done is a huge plus with people who haven't bothered to get it elsewhere.

Outdoor events held in large stadiums are ideal for this kind of campaign. The vaccine doesn't take effect for 2 weeks, so people who get one before the game will have to sit in the "unvaccinated section," but baseball stadiums are huge, so the risk of infection there is low as long as there are empty seats in between people. Soccer teams could also give free tickets to people willing to be vaccinated on the spot. Outdoor concerts are another potential vaccination venue. With some ingenuity, the country might even achieve herd immunity eventually. "E pluribus unum" move over and make way for "vaccinations through sports."

One health issue that is bound to come up is people who like the free tickets and come back again and again for them, ending up with 5 or 10 or 20 shots. Is that safe? To prevent that, the teams will have to ask for ID and enter that in a (shared?) database to check each fan for previous shots. That would raise privacy issues and might deter people from taking part in the program. (V)

The Score: 44 Down, 1,156 to Go

Joe Biden is moving fast. By his 100th day in office, he had gotten 44 appointees approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate. At this torrid rate, he will get the remaining 1,156 appointments that need Senate confirmation some time in 2028, close to the end of his second term, if there is one. What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that 1,200 appointees need Senate confirmation at all. No other country in the world has as nutty a system as this. In every other democracy, when a president or prime minister wins office, it is because the people put him or her there and the people are happy to let the new leader pick his or her own team. The U.S. motto is: "We may have elected the president, but we don't trust them for a nanosecond to appoint competent people to top positions." And indeed, due to the need for Senate confirmation, Donald Trump was forced to populate his administration with honest and competent people dedicated to the public good. The process really worked well, didn't it?

In reality, if the president's party controls the Senate, 99% of the nominees will get confirmed. And the ones who don't get confirmed will be rejected because they offended one or more senators along the way, and generally not because they are incompetent or corrupt. If the president's party does not control the Senate, some of the more visible appointees may sink, but only because some opposing senators want to make a point of grandstanding.

It does make some sense for the top people—say, cabinet officers and agency heads (CIA, FBI, FDA, Fed, SBA, SEC, NASA, etc.) to get Senate approval, maybe along with their deputies, but 1,200 people is absurd and merely serves to make it nearly impossible for the president to carry out the program they were elected to carry out. Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, which advocates for policies that will improve the public workforce, said: "It's just a broken system." Stiers noted that the average tenure of confirmed appointees is only 2 years, so in practice, not 1,200, but more like 2,400 people need Senate confirmation.

A rational system would have a much larger number of the 1,200 political jobs be carried out by civil service employees at the direction of cabinet and agency heads and their deputies. Among other advantages would be the retention of institutional memory across administrations. This is important, as many of the problems confronting government are very complex. New appointees can take years to even understand the problems. If a new cabinet secretary could call upon the director general (or whatever the top civil servant in each department is called) to explain the issues facing the department, he or she could move a lot faster dealing with them. It is hard to see how that could be worse than the current system, with 1,000 positions left vacant for months, if not years. (V)


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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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