12/17/2020 - The Almost Holiday Episode but Not

Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown's Watson Institute, and political scientist Carrie Nordlund share their take on the news.

On this episode: The beginning of the coronavirus vaccine rollout; Mitch McConnell, a profile in courage; diversity in Biden's cabinet and the 'Kamala Conundrum'; what the media (and Mark and Carrie) are going to talk about after Trump leaves office; how to break up Facebook and the rest of big tech; Brexit comes to and end, or not; Russian hacking cont'd.

You can learn more about Watson’s other podcasts here.


DAN: Hey there. This is Dan, the producer for Mark & Carrie. If you like this show, we highly recommend you check out Watson's other podcast, Trending Globally. You'll hear more in-depth conversations about politics and policy from some of the world's leading experts, including occasionally Mark and Carrie. You can find us by subscribing to Trending Globally on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Again, that's Trending Globally. All right, on with the show. Thanks.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Hello and welcome to Mark & Carrie post-election and/or maybe post post-election episode. But actually, this is also our 50th podcast episode. So happy 50th episode, Dr. Blyth.

MARK BLYTH: I had no idea.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I'm using your full title.

MARK BLYTH: Well, that's actually my abbreviated title, but let's not go into that. Hang on. It's 50? Really? You didn't tell me. You kept that as a surprise.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, there has to be something, something to keep you on your toes.

MARK BLYTH: Well, I guess that's the case. Also post-election, I know it's post-election but he still hasn't left. He still hasn't conceded.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, officially he doesn't have to leave yet, but yes, he has yet to concede, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: All right, before we get into that nonsense again, let's start with the positive. Since the last time we spoke, vaccines have become a reality. Tell me about vaccines, Carrie. Tell me.


MARK BLYTH: Should I take it? Yes. When am I going to get one? That's the question.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, you should definitely take it. The one that's rolled out is the Pfizer. And that's the one that has to be called at like minus a billion degrees or something like that. And it's two doses. That's the one where all health care, front line health care workers are getting right now. And then states have their various rollouts in terms of the various phases.

There's so many numbers about doses right now running around, so it's not really clear to me how many doses are actually available. But it sounds like at least the health care workers in the hospitals will get it. And then, I mean, for a regular person like me that is healthy, I probably will get it like in the next 10 years, but that's fine with me. And let those that are the most vulnerable get it.

Of course, the cynic inside of me says that we'll screw it up in some way. Like, we won't take both doses or something along those lines. Or we won't take it. But at least for right now it's here.

MARK BLYTH: Right. So here's an interesting couple of observations, perhaps. So the first one was, I remember about two months ago seeing something. I think it was Moderna, the other company, that had said that four states would be the place where they would roll it out first.

So yes, you'll go for old people and health care workers, whatever. It's gonna be four states. One of them was Rhode Island.


MARK BLYTH: The interesting-- I don't know if they're still doing this or not, but there's not that many people in Rhode Island. So simply by the law of numbers, I'm going to have to get one at some point. So that's that. Second one is, yes, we can screw it up. But amazing factoid-- I may have mentioned this to you before. The United States, despite vaxxers and all the stuff that goes around, the United States is not the most vaccine skeptical place around. It's actually France.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Go figure. Like, nearly half the French population are like "non!" Right? So what they've started to do already in Europe is just wheel out the celebrities. So some women from the Great British Bake Off has already been lobbed into a chair and Injected so I think what's going to happen is a really interesting experiment for vaxxers versus anti-vaxxers.

So basically we're going to do all the world's celebrities. And then if it turns out the vaccine's this terrible, terrible mistake that causes mutations, everyone dies, the upside is, we get to kill all the world's celebrities. Which is, I mean, you know? There's an upside to the downside. That's all I'm saying.

But the serious point is, all the celebrities are going first. Now, of course, you can say that this is public service. "We're showing you that you shouldn't be afraid." But also what you're doing is queue jumping.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, it was just wondering this in my own head. Michael Bloomberg not waiting for this in phase four of New York or wherever he lives. I mean, did he get it like six weeks ago?

MARK BLYTH: Well, he is also 105.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's true. So maybe he's just immune from everything. I mean--

MARK BLYTH: It's like the whole American political class, right? I mean, basically at this point in time, I'm like how old is politician X, right? If it's not David Cicilline, the answer is 100. I mean, like everybody's ancient.

CARRIE NORDLUND: On the celebrity track for a second, I saw that the Queen said that she would let everybody know when she had received it. Why? So two questions-- one, why won't we see the Queen actually get the injection? And two, do you think we'll see President Trump get the vaccination?

MARK BLYTH: I literally have no idea why they wouldn't show her getting it, other than the fact that perhaps it's sort of the mystique of the royal patronage and body and all that sort of stuff and privacy or whatever. So there's got to be some reason for it. As for Trump getting it, no, he's never going to get it. He's absolutely not getting it. He's had it, so he's basically immune on his own mind. So he's not going to get it. It's as simple as that. I don't think that one's ever going to happen.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Well, thinking about old politicians, Mitch McConnell finally acknowledged that there was a President-elect Biden. And so that's a real profile in courage for Mitch McConnell.

MARK BLYTH: Well, All. Of them. I mean, what about this whole sort of all of those ages AGs go to the Supreme Court with complete nonsense, and actually putting their names behind it? I mean, that just basically says you're terrified of your base. You've sold your base this big conspiracy theory of junk. And now you have to go along with it. Otherwise, you'll be primaried. It's crazy.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And that the only thing you care about is being re-elected, or your place in the party, or whatever. That's the only thing that matters to you, and you would sell your family for that. In fact, maybe you did. But yesterday-- no, today is Wednesday. Monday, the electoral college verified the numbers, and it reflected what the actual vote was. So 306 to 232. And there are no faithless electors. I don't know. Which was somewhat of a surprise, because there was some speculation that there might be one or two.

And then the next possible total crazy clown car could be January 4th, when Vice President Pence actually has to publicly acknowledge that there's a new president as well in his certification of the results as president of the Senate. So that'll be a fun--

MARK BLYTH: But you got to wonder what's going on in Pence's head at this point. On the one hand, is it sort of like stand by the boss, and we're going to go down like this, and we rule the party now, so we have this power base. So we keep it going because we control the party, because we control this narrative.

Or is it really, I am so sick of this job, and I just want the hell out.


MARK BLYTH: Which Michael Pence are you banking on showing up?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I bet on the limp dirty dishrag that will just stand behind Donald Trump no matter what. But there's also-- to the second point, there is a part of him that actually wants to be president. But he's got to play nice of course with Trump, but how can he also plot his own way forward? So I mean, he's beyond--

MARK BLYTH: I mean, come on. He's such a--

CARRIE NORDLUND: He's got such a blank face.

MARK BLYTH: He's such a personality bypass. There is absolutely no chance that the gop in its current populist renegade form is going to get behind Pence. I mean, he's got to know that that one's just not going to happen. But speaking of vice presidents, though, how come we're not talking more about Kamala?

CARRIE NORDLUND: You know, it's funny. After our last podcast, I made a note to myself, we didn't even bring up that we just elected the first woman and the first woman of color as vice president of the United States.

MARK BLYTH: Right. It's been completely drowned out. Right.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, yes. And I think-- I mean, which is funny. Because in contrast to that, I mean, there's the identity part of Kamala, right? But then in contrast to that, all the cabinet picks have been so clearly associated with identity in terms of the first gay Transportation Secretary in Pete Buttigieg from last night, the first African-American to lead the Defense Department, if the general gets it. I mean, so it's just a funny contrast between highlighting identity stuff, which of course Republicans hate, and then just not at all anything on Kamala.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, so it's an interesting one there. I mean, it's also related to the longevity of the Biden presidency. I mean, just statistically, a man of his age and class over the next 40 years, never mind being in the most stressful job in the world, does have about a 24% chance of flipping the mortal coil. At which point, you will have not just your first woman of color or vice president, you might have your first woman of color president.

And that's going to be a huge lightning rod for the currently mobilized, energized, and over the borderline racist elements of the gop. So maybe this is part of the strategy of keeping the whole thing going and keeping everybody angry and energized and on the front lines, and keeping Republican identity politics up there. Because they are basically waiting for Kamala to take the big job. And then that's when they really go for it. That's when you see the real culture war starting. What do you think?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, yeah. No, it's totally true on the culture war. And the other thing that's really important to this conversation is, it keeps the money coming in. I mean, Trump has, I think, netted close to $200 million in letters to help him reverse the election results. Of course, part of that is exactly what you describe. But the left also can raise a ton of money from that as well to keep--

I mean, as much as the culture war is tearing the country apart, it's a huge moneymaker as well. I mean, that's particularly cynical, but it also does. It fills the bank accounts of both parties.

MARK BLYTH: No, absolutely. I mean, so you've got-- let's turn to the Democrats for a minute. You have that AOC and others on the left basically screaming about the fact that the cabinet is nothing but warmed over Obama administration people and then a few token people of color. And none of the left are in there, and you're not in a position to do anything about Green New Deal, or student loans, or anything dramatic that they actually care about. And that is a totally fair critique. But it's also totally fair that until you win Georgia, you can't do much of anything.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Agree. Until you win the Senate, which leads to the rural states. I mean, this is the real fear I have, is that we're just moving the deck chairs around on whatever boat you choose to put in there. Of course things will be different. We won't have crazy policies like the Muslim ban. But on big policies like a Green New Deal, is Biden going to move on that? Not in a Republican Senate.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And I don't even think with a Democratic Senate.

MARK BLYTH: Even if he wanted to. Exactly. I mean, huge parts of the Biden plan for climate are based upon basically untested and unproven carbon capture and storage. And I'm all in favor of moving that way. I mean, if you talk to mining companies or whatever, they're like, yeah, we've got tons of carbon absorbing material that we've hacked out of the ground over the past 100 years. Happily we will mix it with CO2 and bury it back in the ground. But you still need to make that happen. And we're not even close to that point. So that is definitely a worry.

Another worry, particularly if you're CNN, is what the hell are you going to report on once Trump goes? Their whole business model is literally what Trump did in the last five minutes. I remember transiting through a few airports and looking at the CNN screen, and every single time I looked up it was somebody on CNN going "Bah, Trump. Bah, Trump. Bah, Trump." Like, what are they going to do when he's gone?

CARRIE NORDLUND: And this is a real question. And I thought about it even for us. I mean, our top topics that we've talked about, it feels like the last 50 episodes have been COVID, Trump, Brexit, and then fill in the blank on something else. But the media companies are hugely worried about this.

I mean, The Washington Post and the big newspapers have more clicks than ever, especially leading up to the election. CNN, MSNBC. I mean, Fox. I mean, this is all. And they're now panicked about what's going to happen.

It's interesting at Fox, because of course, now they're getting outright flanked by OANN and the other crazy--

MARK BLYTH: Newsmax.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Newsmax. Which is now saying that Trump-- that Fox is too mainstream. So I mean, that's-- but just on the ratings, what are we going to talk about? What is the lamestream media going to focus on when there's no Twitter bomb starting at 8:00 AM for them to report on?

MARK BLYTH: Well, it could be interesting, because then they might actually have to go back to journalism. They might actually have to report on things that matter to real people in the country and in the world. Whether they've got the skill set to do that after four years of having their brains rotted, I'm not entirely sure, but that's what they're going to have to do.

Other things that actually have been along though, let's talk about Facebook.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, Facebook. Yes. So they have to be broken up. They've got to sell off WhatsApp and Instagram. It seems to me that the government can tell them to do this, but how does that actually-- how is that actually implemented? It's a big question in my head. And I guess what the bigger implications for this are, and where is Google? Where are the other tech companies, I guess? And is it just trying to send the fear, and then other companies will get in line? I mean, it's hard for me to see the strategy.

MARK BLYTH: Well, I mean, the strategy is, you have poisoned elections and brought the country to the brink of civil conflict. So you don't get to do this anymore. I mean, that's essentially what the subtext on this is. They could have started with Amazon, but they didn't. They could have started with Google, but they didn't. They went for Facebook for a reason.

So the question you raise, how do you actually regulate this, how do you do a Sherman Act on this, if you think about the historic cases, think about power utilities. So imagine you had the big power company. It's easy. You break them up into regional ones. You make them compete against each other.

How do you do that with Facebook? What the Northeast Facebook look like? How would it compete with Midwest Facebook? So then it becomes much more about regulation of what they can and cannot do. Make them a media company. Make them responsible for content.


MARK BLYTH: And their main thing is, ultimately they're kind of a shopping mall. Where you get in for free, and you can go to all these different stores in the mall, and they're collecting rents from the stores, and they're also showing you adverts. That's basically the business model. They're like a virtual shopping mall.

And essentially the real thing you need to do is make people pay to go to the shopping mall. And that massively reduces their footprint. And then it leads to competition, because you will get free versions. They just won't be as dangerous, and other such things.

And you already see this in the search engine space. There's a company out there called Duck, Duck, Go, which basically allows you to do all the searches you do on Google and all the rest of it. But basically says, we don't harvest your data. Promise, we don't. We don't sell it. Promise. That's not our gig.

So I think there's a space opening up within this move, but Facebook is really just the first move there. The EU, maybe they're serious. Maybe they're not. They've got two pieces of legislation coming down now. One of them basically says, if you violate the prescriptions of this act, we will fine you 10% of your global revenues. If you do it three times, we'll break you up.

Now, that sounds impressive, but again, I mean, what do you mean by "break it up?" What does it mean to break up Facebook in Italy? So there's a bit of thinking to be done on this. And some people are doing the hard thinking on this. There are some good work out there. But it's interesting. I think this is the beginning of the end of the Obama administration's love affair with Google in particular. I think that's over.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, that's right. Well, it's also intriguing to me that the first step is just making people pay for it. I mean, that then sends all of the different ripples across. And even whatever the subscription is, I mean, Americans will pay for stuff. You pay for Hulu or whatever. Netflix. I mean, so it's not that this is now a new-- this is not a new thing.

MARK BLYTH: In comparison to Europe, we pay through the neck to use-- a polite version of saying it-- for this stuff. We pay twice as much, if not three times as much, for comparable plans as Europeans do. Because we heavily regulate the sector. We just choose not to do this. We just need to do the same thing. People pay for their mobile phones. What the hell do they not pay for Facebook?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. There's an interesting thing in Australia right now. It's called the News Media Bargaining Code, and it's set to be voted on by parliament. And essentially they want to make Google and Facebook pay for news that they put on their site. To your point about the shipping mall part, so the big news-- sorry. The big companies would pay for the news that they circulate on their websites.

So that seems like an interesting thing to me as well. Of course, it would really benefit the wallet of our buddy Rupert Murdoch, because everything--

MARK BLYTH: Because he controls almost 70% of Australian media. Absolutely.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, exactly.

MARK BLYTH: But in principle, it's the right way to go. I mean, I don't know if you do this, but if you have an iPhone, you're bored, you're standing around. You flick left, and then you get to the Apple News. And what it used to be was just like loads of different stuff. And the algorithm notices that I will click on stuff from Popular Mechanics. And I will put on stuff from, let's say, The Atlantic. So you get that on your feed.

And then one day you're trying, it says, "this requires a subscription to Apple News Plus." And it's like, no. No, no, no, no. You don't get to do that. No, no, no, no. You don't get to do that.

CARRIE NORDLUND: This is my one protest against Apple is, I don't look at Apple News. But I mean, they get me somehow anyway. But that's interesting about the subscription. Jeez.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, everybody, basically the whole business model of this is rentierism. Again, this is my new kick about the world. Nobody innovates. Nobody tries to do new stuff. What you want to do is capture a known technology and become king of the castle and make everybody pay a fee. That's really all it is, for everybody's business model.

If you think about all the different platforms that are out there for watching movies and all the rest of it. I mean, why is Apple getting into making movies? It's totally ridiculous. There's so much content already just on Netflix. Well, it's king of the castle. It's the subscription. It's the fee. You want that one thing, you're going to have to join. We'll give you three months free, but then we'll make it impossible to unsubscribe. The usual.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, it was interesting in this thing about Australia, because I hadn't thought about it in this way, that news is a public good, and that Facebook and Google are free riders on this. And so I mean, it's basic econ. And anyway, it made so much sense to me to think about that. Thinking about free riders, Blyth, what's happening with Brexit? I mean, yet another perennial topic for us.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, God. It eventually comes to an end. Or does it? I think the latest news now is that they could work out a way where they actually have a hard Brexit. But it's not hard, because they don't [INAUDIBLE] in state tariffs, which you have to when you default to WTO rules. But you can write some kind of back of the envelope memorandum of understanding that says these are in abeyance pending further negotiations. So it just goes on.

I mean, the entire purpose of the British government two generations from now will still be renegotiating Brexit. I mean, it's completely ridiculous. My favorite example of "global Britain! And how this is going to massively benefit Britain, it's marvelous" is this thing about changing the tonnage tax. Now, hold on to your seats for this.


MARK BLYTH: Well, here's our new growth strategy. We're going to have more ships around the world flying the British flag. So in other words, you're going to basically do a big tax cut, so you can get some of those Greek ship owners to put a British flag on the boat. Yes, it will raise 3 billion pounds a year. OK, 3 billion pounds a year in an economy the size of the United Kingdom. This is your growth strategy? Really? You spend 10 times that on road repair. So yeah, this is the level that we're at. It's truly pathetic.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, there's talk. I mean, this is on my podcast, that there will be a leadership change within the Tory Party, and Boris will be out, and then the new person will be left to deal with this. And then the next, next, next person. Is that on your horizon, that you think that there'll be a leadership change?

MARK BLYTH: Well, you know how they always said that George Bush's assassination insurance was Dan Quayle.


MARK BLYTH: So that's why he was around. Well, in a sense, Boris has managed to perfect this, because he has his own assassination insurance. Because who's worse than Boris? Well, just look at the bench. I mean, if you think Boris is mental, just have a look at the rest of that bench. There's no leadership there that's going to take this to a better place because there's no better place to go to.

As we've said multiple times, they had the best deal ever. They decided to make that an object of political competition. And they've been trying to get a better deal than the best deal ever for the past six years. You can't do it.

It's a bit like me wishing myself taller. I can wish myself taller. I can be very serious about it. But it's just not going to happen. And they just haven't accepted this.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, and you're at your optimal height right now.

MARK BLYTH: Well, I don't know if it's optimal, but it's the one I'm stuck with.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, right, but I mean, you're not-- yeah, you're not negotiating anything better. I'm just there thinking about the hacking and negotiating anything better. I mean, that Russia has just totally infiltrated essentially everything that-- all the government entities. And I don't know that-- I guess I'm not surprised, but I don't-- I mean, what do they want? They just want to infiltrate and get stuff? I mean, can they get the good stuff? I don't know. I mean, this is where I feel totally out of my depth in terms of what it is that they're looking for and getting at.

MARK BLYTH: And we all are, because they're not going to turn around and say, well, they really screwed us this time. So you get into Treasury. What do you find in Treasury? I honestly don't know what you find that's strategically sensitive in Treasury. I mean, maybe you can basically just allocate yourself a couple of trillion dollars. Maybe you can just put a line item in the Treasury that says "Vlad's fund" and it's out.


MARK BLYTH: And we're never going to admit that that happened. There's actually a very interesting story from 20, 30 years ago, about how the East Germans-- actually 40 years ago. How East Germans managed to get their hands on a couple of $20 bill plates, like the actual printing plates. And they gave them to the Iranians, which is how the Iranians were able to basically bust through sanctions for a decade and a half. And it's also why we had the currency reform that reprinted the $20 bill at the beginning of the two thousands. So there's a--


MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Alex Cooley, the political scientist, his dad had a manuscript on that. And he'd done all the research on it. He was an incredible investigative journalist, and somebody broke into his house and stole the manuscript.


MARK BLYTH: Go figure, right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: That is a story. That is awesome. That is quite a story.

MARK BLYTH: So these types of things, they've been going on forever. It's just that they happen in a digital space, and we just don't know the consequences of this. I mean, I can't imagine what nicking stuff from the Commerce Department is going to do for you, but Treasury and who knows where else they went.


MARK BLYTH: But the key thing is, at which point, if you know this is Fancy Bears or like Bear Enigma415 or who it is, what do you do? I mean, do you start hitting back? I mean, do you actually get into basically, we're not at war with this country but we are now at cyber war with this country? And how do you control that? What do you do about escalations?

I mean, let's say that we go in and nick their stuff. And then they come back and shut down some power plants close to our vaccine storage facilities. What do you do? Do you then hit back and shut down their power plants? Tit for tat? Where does all that go?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and we don't know, of course, what we've been doing. Because I'm sure we're doing-- the US is doing the same thing. So what are we getting, and is it some escalation of what you just described? But Putin, just back to Biden for one second, did congratulate Biden. I think that was right after the electoral college--

MARK BLYTH: I would have loved to have been on that phone call. Can you just imagine? Here's the phone call right. "Khello, khello, Joe. Yeah. It's Vlad. Congratulations. I believe you won. Congratulations. Goodbye."

That's what's going on. There's nothing there. There's no-- there's no warm congratulations.

CARRIE NORDLUND: No, or let's get together in the new year. Something like that.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But speaking of the new year, we are going to do, because there's been so much going on that we wanted to do an end of the year podcast. So we'll come back with some lighter stuff, and then an update on--

MARK BLYTH: If we can find any.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, on all the other stuff that we've been talking about this year, but also just to look ahead, which I think will be nice as--

MARK BLYTH: And we're also going to bring our engineers into it. We're going to basically do a Howard Stern on this one and bring the gang in as well. So you'll finally get to see, if you watch the YouTube version, what Dan and John look like. And it's not a pretty sight, I can assure you.


CARRIE NORDLUND: I disagree on that point, but yeah. No, and they're political and politically astute, just way more than me. The one thing I did want to end on, and this is just thinking about one of our topics of what is the news going to talk about, we have some real competition coming up in the new year of life in terms of podcasting.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Harry and Meghan, they just inked a big deal with Netflix and are starting their own podcast.

MARK BLYTH: I am so listening to that, because either it's going to be unexpectedly brilliant or the most vacuous thing in human history. And I just want to know what it is. So they're going to get 20 million listeners just to find out.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. And I mean, does Harry want to do this? I mean, this is the other thing, just to think about the internal stuff, the internal politics. But I'm with you. I will listen just to see whether it's a comedy show or whether it's something serious.

So this actually isn't going to be our last episode. We are going to be back in two weeks to look back at Twenty-Twenty and talk maybe about a few New Year's resolutions.

MARK BLYTH: Yes. Call this one the penultimate almost Christmas episode, but not the special.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Perfect title.

MARK BLYTH: All right, until then.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Thank you, everybody.



About the Podcast

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Mark and Carrie
Mark Blyth, political economist at The Watson Ins…

About your hosts

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Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast
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Carrie Nordlund

Co-Host, Mark and Carrie