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Mark Zuckerberg Takes a Surprising Stand for Freedom

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg answers questions about the improper use of millions of users’ data by a political consultancy, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, in this still image taken from Reuters TV May 22, 2018. (ReutersTV)

It’s been a rough week, with Washington awash in conflict, anger, lies, betrayals, finger-pointing, implausible denials, and blithe denial of glaring problems. It’s like the whole town has taken on the spirit of the Redskins.

Let’s close out this week with four bits of good news: In an era where a lot of prominent voices are eager to label ideas they disagree with “hateful,” itching to play censor, and chomping at the bit to “de-platform” those who challenge them, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to play ball. The prospect of impeachment means that all of those Democratic senators running for president will have to put their campaigning on hold. For everyone who was waiting for America’s business leaders to stand up to socialists in politics, Seattle’s about to offer a key test case. And finally, a former head of Planned Parenthood is publicly discussing the moral complications of abortion.

Mark Zuckerberg Refuses to Bend the Knee

You may hate Mark Zuckerberg or you may love him — probably more in the former than the latter — but you have to give him credit: At this moment, a whole lot of powerful political, social, and economic entities would like to see him bend the knee and pledge that Facebook will remove statements from politicians that are deemed “misinformation.” Clearly, these powerful forces are most outraged — arguably exclusively outraged — by social media posts from President Trump and his supporters. You never hear that Facebook should take down posts saying Elizabeth Warren’s health care plan will not require tax increases on the middle class, or that Michael Brown was “murdered in Ferguson.” Nobody ever got all that mad about Warren skewing research data from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. No, it’s always Uncle Floyd sharing that WARREN IS AN AGENT OF COMMUNIST CHINA screed from PatriotFreedomEagle.net that is deemed the preeminent threat to democracy.

Zuckerberg’s speech is long, nuanced, and willing to dive into the details of what choices his company has to make and what influenced his decisions. A couple of highlights:

Some people believe giving more people a voice is driving division rather than bringing us together. More people across the spectrum believe that achieving the political outcomes they think matter is more important than every person having a voice. I think that’s dangerous.

I believe we have two responsibilities: to remove content when it could cause real danger as effectively as we can, and to fight to uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible — and not allow the definition of what is considered dangerous to expand beyond what is absolutely necessary. That’s what I’m committed to . . .

Political advertising is more transparent on Facebook than anywhere else — we keep all political and issue ads in an archive so everyone can scrutinize them, and no TV or print does that. We don’t fact-check political ads. We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards. I know many people disagree, but, in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy.

Zuckerberg and Facebook have taken a lot of criticism, much of it deserved. But he’s right to draw distinctions. Organized Russian-government-driven disinformation efforts are not the same as some yokel spouting off, and shouldn’t be treated the same.

This section of Zuckerberg’s speech might be particularly relevant to the National Basketball Association:

It’s one of the reasons we don’t operate Facebook, Instagram or our other services in China. I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world and I thought we might help create a more open society. I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in. And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.

Notice that Zuckerberg’s angriest critics just hand-wave away the concerns about freedom of expression in their denunciations.

“Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company’s bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years,” said Bill Russo, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Right, right. Facebook is taking this position because of that $20 million in ad spending from the Trump campaign, otherwise the company would have to struggle to get by on a mere $55 billion in annual revenue. (Can we just observe that after the Hunter Biden foreign investor stuff, it’s a bad idea for Joe Biden’s campaign to denounce a company that said it refused to work with China because of censorship complaints?)

For Six Senators, the Impeachment Trial Could Come at the Worst Time

No human being can be in two places at once, and BuzzFeed notices that if you’re a Democratic senator, you can’t be sitting in judgment of an impeachment of a president and campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire at the same time. If your name is Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, that’s a problem. No one knows exactly when a Senate impeachment trial would start — talk of November sounds really early, so December or January seems more likely — and how long it would last. But for those six, it’s likely to come at just about the worst possible time:

It’s not as if senators can rely on showy moments during the trial like dressing down a witness during a committee hearing. Because senators are the jurors of an impeachment trial, they must live through every politician’s nightmare of sitting and watching the proceedings without speaking . . .

Sanders and Warren would have to fly out to places like New Hampshire and Iowa for evening events and then back to Washington in time for the next day’s hearings.

You can almost see Joe Biden’s Cheshire cat grin right now. The former vice president is currently in a close second to Warren in Iowa and New Hampshire. Retail politics, shaking hands in diners, showing up for every little event can only move the needle so much, but it can make a difference. (Best example I ever saw was Mark Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch in 2013. He just outhustled her, doing five or so events a day open to everyone, while she was doing one tightly-scripted one with no questions from reporters.) If you’re Biden, while the Senate is tied up in impeachment, you do events all day every day, and perhaps even more importantly, you focus on the future. Impeachment is going to be an angry, ugly slog focused upon the past and for a candidate who wants to win on Election Day 2020, it’s a sideshow.

Amazon Decides It’s Had Enough Socialism in Seattle Politics, Aims to Deliver New City Council

Two interconnected facts of our modern American life: corporate America is bigger, wealthier, and more influential than ever before, and socialism is more accepted, embraced and touted in American life than at any point since the end of the Cold War or even earlier. On paper, America’s biggest corporations and business leaders have the most to lose from socialism. Yet we rarely see a consistent pushback; all too often, America’s big companies push a sort of soft corporatism — which is on paper, the opposite of socialism, although maybe in practice it just means big business and big government teaming up against the little guy — and tout it as progressive or “woke capitalism.” A lot of America’s biggest businessmen think of themselves as forces for progressive change; think of Howard Schultz.

For those of us who believe in free peoples and free markets, this is the worst of both worlds. It was infuriating to watch big health insurance companies, endlessly demonized by Democrats, eagerly jump into bed with them to create the rules for Obamacare. Wall Street and big banks were the perpetual villains in Democratic stories, but they and their employees kept writing big checks to the party. Big corporations love regulations that give them a competitive advantage over newer, smaller companies.

But there’s one under-the-radar sign that one of America’s biggest companies has had enough trying to placate self-proclaimed socialist lawmakers.

On Tuesday, Amazon gave an additional million dollars to support business-friendly members of the City Council like [City Council candidate Egan] Orion. The tech giant has now poured an unprecedented $1.45 million into the local elections, and ballots are being sent to voters this week. (Washington votes by mail.)

[Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant] has long been an outspoken critic of large corporations, and it’s not surprising that she’s ended up in Amazon’s sights. During a contentious City Council meeting last summer, she called Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos the “enemy.”

. . . Amazon has donated huge sums to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce PAC. The Amazon-backed PAC is backing challengers against all but one of the three incumbents running for reelection, which has left many predicting that the City Council is going to look a lot different next year. The Washington Technology Industry Association, the state’s largest tech trade group, which this year endorsed political candidates for the first time, also backed Orion. Top executives at Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft have donated to Orion’s campaign, including Jay Carney, the PR and policy chief for Amazon and former White House press secretary to President Barack Obama; and Sam Whiting, director of Boeing Global Engagement. “It’s clear now to the majority of people that big corporations like Amazon are absolutely going to war against ordinary people in this city, in this election, and are attempting to buy this election,” said Sawant.

When asked if Orion felt comfortable with executives’ donating money to his campaign, he responded with his own question: “Are you referring to my neighbors? There’s a large number of Amazon executives that live in district 3.”

Here’s the perfect irony: for all extents and purposes, this is Seattle, which means there are no Republicans or conservatives in this story. This is a story of people in the private sector who think of themselves as good progressives getting sick and tired of being painted as the bad guy by other people who think of themselves as good progressives.

Socialists, and perhaps even more importantly, the demographic we could characterize as socialism-curious, tell themselves a happy little fairy tale that America can thrive without a private sector that competes in a marketplace to provide the best goods and services. This fairy tale contends that capitalism is just a name for an egregiously unjust system of endless little demonstrations of greed and selfishness, and that we’ve all just been waiting for an enlightened generation to come along and demonstrate that we can all be happier if the government takes over. Never mind that government at all levels regularly demonstrates waste, mismanagement, scandals, unaccountability, over-promising, under-delivering, etcetera. The problem is not the system of government; the problem is that the system is full of human beings and human beings are flawed.

In the socialists’ mind, every success of government is a demonstration of the government’s inherent superiority, and every failure of the government is just an example of a hidden sinister “corporate influence.” Do Amazon executives want to live in a city that’s struggling to deal with runaway real estate prices and rampant homelessness? Socialists frequently insist this is the case because they need a villain in their narrative. But Amazon executives and employees want to live in a thriving city too. They just have different ideas about how to achieve the goal.

Is Amazon above criticism? Hell no. But they comply with existing tax law, pay roughly $250 million in state and local taxes in Washington annually, and pay the single biggest property tax bill in the city. They have a right to argue that they do a lot for the city of Seattle and are tired of being the perpetual scapegoat for the city’s problems.

Another important point: “Labor groups have funneled $2,432,230 toward Seattle elections.”

ADDENDUM: Holy smokes, no wonder Leana Wen didn’t fit in with Planned Parenthood. Speaking at the “TIME 100 Health Summit,” the recently deposed Wen declared, “A lot of us believe that abortion is a complex moral issue. And we may not want to have an abortion ourselves but would never get in the way of somebody else making this deeply personal medical decision for themselves. Or maybe we’re even uncomfortable about abortion but would not want women to die because they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion either.”

Pro-lifers obviously won’t agree with that in full but give Wen credit for recognizing moral complexities and moral discomfort, at a time when the Democratic party and her previous employer are increasingly adamant that the issue isn’t complicated, and that any limitation under any circumstances represents a draconian patriarchal injustice. Wen sounds like the kind of pro-choice advocate that a pro-lifer could have a good conversation with, and in this era, that’s a small miracle.

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