Good Friday Morning, except to the Biden administration, who seems content to sit by and do nothing while the decision to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccination is severely curtailing the US vaccination rollout. The 7-day averages on vaccines topped out at nearly 3.5 million a day. We were getting some single-day highs of almost 5 million doses administered a day. Now, our 7-day average is below 3 million a day and trending down.
Any story or hot-take on vaccines that begins with vaccine hesitancy needs to center directly on the decision to pause Johnson & Johnson for no discernable reason. Everyone knows they’re going to re-authorize it again. And everyone knows the statistical risks they’ve identified are far outweighed by the benefits the vaccines are delivering. The FDA and CDC have exacerbated vaccine hesitancy at one of the most critical junctures of what was an excellent vaccination rollout. Biden was riding the Trump wave on that front, and now he’s crippled it. And he’s doing nothing.
The Biden White House has no answers. They aren’t doing anything to interact with the CDC or FDA, and they’re dithering in the middle of a pandemic. This ineptitude is costing lives and delaying a post-COVID world. I know I’ve gone on and on about this, but it continues to be the truth. The data is clear: the vaccine rollout is slowing and reversing, and it’s not because we’re running out of arms or hitting natural vaccine hesitancy walls. This situation is an example where it’d be far preferable to have a Trump in the White House, who would not accept this kind of decision-making. He’d be willing to be brash, which is precisely what we need right now.
Instead, we get incompetence. Speaking of, my apologies for no podcast this past weekend. I planned poorly over the weekend and couldn’t get to it. That will be remedied. I’m also working on some special episodes, so keep your eyes and ears open for that. This week, I will start with a brief discussion of the Chauvin trial and police reform before going into why Republicans are shifting on BigTech and antitrust. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter and become a subscriber at The Dispatch, where I’m a contributor.
Russian bounties story was a hoax from Democratic government officials – The Conservative Institute.
Prince Phillip, the Prince of nowhere and man for all-time – The Conservative Institute.
The Republican Party’s Shift on Antitrust…
…but first some words on the Chauvin trial.
The news that’s dominated just about everything this week was the Derek Chauvin trial. A jury found him guilty of Second Degree Murder, Third Degree Murder, and Second Degree Manslaughter. I’ve cited the Minnesota statutes in question if you’re curious to dive into them. I know I have some lawyer readers who enjoy that kind of thing. I don’t have a ton to add to that story other than believing the jury got it right. We’ll have to wait to see what happens on sentencing and any appeals. But on the merits, I think the jury got it correct.
The problem with verdicts and the reactions afterward from everyone involved is that I don’t fully get the elation. Justice was done in that specific instance, but the odds any serious reform on policing gets done in the coming days is virtually nill. That’s an issue that Democrats talk a lot about but do very little on. Democrats filibustered Sen. Tim Scott’s legislation from last year, which he put together with Sen. Cory Booker, notably a police reform bill put together by the only two black male Senators (one Republican and one Democrat). For a party intent on calling the filibuster a Jim Crow relic and a racist tool, Democrats seem intent on proving that with their recent actions.
Would you believe that one of the leading Governors on criminal justice reform is a Republican? How about Tennessee Governor Bill Lee? Former Texas Governor Rick Perry called Bill Lee just that this past week as Tennessee is set to pass some sweeping measures to aid former prisoners re-entering society and more. And it was Republicans under Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell who passed the First Step Act, which has helped countless people.
In short, I don’t have a ton to add to these stories because the only party actually doing things about criminal justice is the Republicans. And they’re the only party open to ideas on that front. Democrats are bizarrely enchanted with notions of Defund or End policing, which is something only the most online morons believe. It’s an albatross in polling and reality. There’s a reason the internet memes are about Kamala being a cop (don’t skip that link — it’s a far-left Mother Jones article putting then-Senator Kamala Harris on FULL BLAST in 2019 for throwing blacks in jail as CA AG). All the while, Republicans are quietly the more involved and responsible party on this front (just not on rhetoric, which is equally weird).
There’s another area where Republicans are growing more willing to act: antitrust.
Google’s algorithm hides information
That’s a hard pivot, I know. And I’ll explain how we’re getting to that point. On Thursdays, I write two things, a column for the Conservative Institute and then this “news”letter. Over the last year, I’ve written a TON about the pandemic, COVID-19, vaccines, and more. That one topic has consumed my mind at some points. My job as a lawyer requires me to be able to make forecasts and projections based on data to keep cases streamlined. That experience translated naturally into understanding COVID-19 case numbers and trends because the data points aren’t different.
In doing that, I’ve worked hard to find excellent sources for data and innovative sources that understand things I do not. And the longer the pandemic has gone, the worse my relationship has gotten with Google’s Search function. I’ve always agreed with the conservative critique that Google’s algorithm slanted coverage. But even with that, I’ve been able to get what I needed out of it with creative searching. Usually, I know what I want to find when searching; I’m not blind searching for things.
But with the pandemic, what’s changed is that Google’s algorithm is now hiding things that I know exist and are reputable sources. No matter how creative I’ve gotten, the searching is near impossible. For instance, I know there’s a study that describes masks as marginal help in reducing the spread of the virus. Of course, when you’re in a pandemic, you’ll take any help you can get, marginal or not. But masks are not an entirely preventative thing; they help at the margins.
I can’t find that study with Google. I could with DuckDuckGo. It’s a CDC link too:
During March 1–December 31, 2020, state-issued mask mandates applied in 2,313 (73.6%) of the 3,142 U.S. counties. Mask mandates were associated with a 0.5 percentage point decrease (p = 0.02) in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, and 1.8 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all) (Table 1) (Figure). Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all). Daily case and death growth rates before implementation of mask mandates were not statistically different from the reference period.
(For a more extended study-like discussion of masks, start here) Again, these are statistically significant numbers. And with hundreds of millions of people, the slightest of ticks in containment’s direction is a good thing — but this is a marginal impact. You also have to counter that information with what’s happened in Texas and the South in general, who have gotten rid of mask mandates and watched their case numbers precipitously drop while vaccinations rise. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that vaccines are FAR more critical than masks, but you wouldn’t grasp that by the public messaging campaign.
Google makes it harder to find this information. Instead, it’s like reading a thousand glowing reviews of all the same thing. All slanted in the same direction.
This searching behavior I’ve observed gets combined with things like YouTube yanking a video of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis discussing whether young children need to wear masks. He had a roundtable discussion with well-credentialed doctors and experts, and YouTube pulled it for misinformation. But how is it misinformation? Masking school-aged children is an open medical debate. If you run a survey of European countries right now, like Reuters did, masking policies are all over the place. Some countries have them as mandatory for schoolchildren, and other countries do the exact opposite. The scientific literature isn’t clear either. There’s nothing there worth yanking.
Tech Companies are changing the GOP regarding antitrust
The stories go on. And the issues I’ve had with Google came to a head with that article, and I switched all my automatic browser searches to DuckDuckGo. When you’re looking for an executive order, another thing I was doing, and all you get in your searches are glowing reviews of Biden’s executive order instead of the actual text of the order — the search function is broken.
That small story on my front is also what is happening in the larger GOP. The actions of several companies like YouTube are breaking down old orthodoxies, specifically on the antitrust front. National Journal had a story on how Utah Senator Mike Lee is shifting his tone on antitrust.
At Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, which was ostensibly about the anticompetitive effects stemming from Apple’s and Google’s management of their app stores, Lee lit into representatives from both companies for their decision to remove the right-wing microblogging app Parler from their platforms in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
“Parler’s deplatforming was itself not, as far as I can tell, an antitrust violation,” Lee said. “But it might be symptomatic of the immense market power held by a handful of tech companies. … When we see this kind of market power being used in harmful—if legal—ways, it’s only fair to ask if it’s also being used in illegal ways that might harm competition.”
“If big tech is going to take a side in the culture wars or in political conversations, big tech should be prepared for the greater scrutiny that should come with that unfortunate choice, and with that harmful choice,” the Utah Republican later said.
Lee’s explicit threat wasn’t out of step with most of his Republican colleagues, who’ve made a pastime of bashing big tech. But many observers saw it as a major shift for the ranking member on the Senate antitrust panel.
The focus on Lee is interesting because he’s one of the more principled defenders of traditional conservative legal thinking. He was on Trump’s SCOTUS shortlist for that exact reason.
Antitrust is generally built around busting anti-competitive behavior and advantages specific companies have in a given industry. The goal is to prevent a traditional monopoly from occurring, where one company dominates a space. Traditionally, these are your big oil companies or once-massive phone companies like AT&T. What has changed in the intervening years is that companies have focused on growing into other competitive spaces instead of dominating the ones they’re in. This allows them to claim they have direct competition. It’s better to think of companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and more as big conglomerates, not “BigTech.”
They wield so much influence because they buy companies across the board in any industry. The Washington Post had a story showing these companies gobbling up hundreds of smaller companies. There’s a whole startup economy built around creating an idea, getting it big enough to get bought by one of these behemoths.
Antitrust > Section 230
The issue for Republicans is the decision of these companies to start weighing in and tilting the culture or political debate in whatever direction they deem fit. This behavior is allowed under the First Amendment. The question is, do you redesign antitrust laws to pop these companies to bring them down to size? The Tucker Carlson’s of the world want Republicans to mess with Section 230, and that’s a bad idea. The short reason why is this: if we did what Tucker and his friends claim, the rules would get turned back on conservatives in ways they can’t imagine.
Antitrust is different. It’s an imperfect solution, but it gets at the real issue here: the consolidation of power in a few companies. Having multiple super-massive companies has pros and cons. Still, the con right now for conservatives is that these companies have decided to use their power on the internet to start pushing the country’s direction. The only direct way to impact that power is to break it up.
Antitrust is the only tool available to do that. We’re not talking about true economic antitrust; this is more of a cultural antitrust. You’re breaking up the major cultural powers here. A historical example would be shrinking the power of the Catholic church in various nations. When England broke from the Catholic church, giving the world Anglicans, that action introduced a lot more cultural freedom for the UK and the world.
I tend to view antitrust as the best avenue to deal with these companies’ problems simply because it’s the least bad option. Introducing regulations on these companies would only entrench them further. Section 230 meddling empowers those companies even more. Antitrust allows Republicans to return to their Teddy Roosevelt past and retake that mantle; he was known as the Trust Buster.
I’d look for some politicians to start taking on that mantle because Senators like Mike Lee are trending in this same direction. Everyone understands Section 230 or new regulations are bad ideas, which leaves antitrust. Who takes on the mantle of Trust Buster? We’ll see in the coming years, but the more tech companies push the envelope, the more likely it is Republicans act on strengthening antitrust laws and trying to go after these corporations.
Links of the week
Politico forbids ‘crisis’ when describing border surge, despite Biden’s own use – The Washington Examiner
Yup, That Maskless Texan Apocalypse Still Hasn’t Arrived – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Did a 2-Year-Old Die After Receiving a Dose of the Pfizer Vaccine? No. It’s possible to file false VAERS reports, and neither Pfizer nor Moderna had begun clinical trials on children at the time of the alleged vaccination. – Dispatch Fact Check
Could the mRNA Vaccines Permanently Alter DNA? No. – Dispatch Fact Check
Support for Stricter Gun Control Drops – The Reload
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
NOT the Onion or Babylon Bee: “Italian hospital employee accused of skipping work for 15 years” – BBC
Thanks for reading!