The Most Interesting People I Know
31 - Alexander Zaitchik on How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines

31 - Alexander Zaitchik on How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines

May 10, 2021

Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance journalist and author with work in The New Republic, The Nation, The Guardian, and elsewhere. Zaitchik has written two books, one about Glenn Beck and another exploring Trump’s America. He’s working on a third, out in January 2022, called Owning the Sun: A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine, from Aspirin to Covid-19

This episode is about one of the most important stories in the world right now: global vaccine production and distribution. Alex wrote a long-form investigation in the New Republic called “How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines”, which goes deep into the global intellectual property paradigm that is limiting vaccine production and the people who defend it.  

We recorded this episode before the US announced support for some kind of waiver on vaccine patents. It’s important to note that the US did not back the TRIPS waiver proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020. The US is also reportedly concerned that sharing information would undermine American competitiveness with China and Russia in biopharmaceuticals. The idea that it would be bad if more countries developed the ability to make advanced vaccines is emblematic of the harms of prioritizing profit-making in an industry so essential to human wellbeing. A source in the Biden administration also said the negotiations are expected to take months. 

Last Thursday, the Gates Foundation reversed course and supported a temporary suspension of IP rights on Covid vaccines. The Foundation’s statement cites the number of cases in Brazil and India as a reason to support the suspension. But Bill Gates was pushing against any efforts to suspend IP protections right until the US supported some kind of waiver. Gates’ firm position for over a year has been that IP protections play zero role in limiting vaccine supply, but now his foundation supports suspending those protections because we need to increase vaccine supply so badly. Either Gates recently came across some really persuasive evidence, or public opinion actually can still matter.

As I record this, India is being ravaged by Covid. Yesterday, nearly 400,000 new cases were reported, a number which almost certainly represents a small fraction of true cases. Less than 10 percent of the country has received even one dose of vaccine. Hospitals and crematoria alike are overwhelmed and there is an acute shortage of wood due to the sheer number of deaths. Domestic policy failures of the Modi government play a big role in this story, but so too do the choices of pharmaceutical firms and their client governments like the United States and other rich countries.

We cover a lot of ground and dispel a lot of myths propagated by the pharmaceutical industry. 

We specifically discuss: 

  • Gates’ heavily managed perception as a do-gooder
  • His approach to public health and what opportunities it forecloses
  • How Gates' ideological investments run deeper than his financial ones
  • The affirmative case for IP protections in drug development 
  • The problems with that case
  • Alternative models of incentivizing drug development
  • The incentives the current system creates 
  • A brief history of drug development in the US
  • How the US military developed a majority of successful vaccines made in the 20th century
  • The story of South Africa and AIDS drugs
  • The TRIPS waiver proposal
  • Whether it's true that IP is the reason we aren't maximizing vaccine production 
  • Moderna’s empty promise to not enforce their patents
  • The argument that profit motives haven’t been strong enough 
  • The PR boon vaccines have been for big pharma
  • What a fully public response could have looked like
  • A response to Gates’ argument that IP is necessary for quality control 
  • How a tech billionaire became the de facto global public health czar
  • The role he really plays in the public health space 

I think this is one of the most important episodes of the show so far. So much rides on whether governments make decisions that prioritize global public health, even if they come at the expense of the profits of one industry. 

Buy Alex's book in January 2022. 

 

Alex’s writing:

How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines

No Vaccine in Sight

Moderna’s Pledge Not to Enforce the Patents on Their COVID-19 Vaccine Is Worthless

 

Links:

They Pledged to Donate Rights to Their COVID Vaccine, Then Sold Them to Pharma

Goldman Sachs asks in biotech research report: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’

TRIPS waiver: there’s more to the story than vaccine patents

Myths of Vaccine Manufacturing

Views from a vaccine manufacturer: Q&A - Abdul Muktadir, Incepta Pharmaceuticals; Pandemic Treaty Action

Video of Gates responding to criticism of his push to close-source the Oxford vaccine

30 - Tobias Leenaert on the Pragmatic Path to a Vegan World

30 - Tobias Leenaert on the Pragmatic Path to a Vegan World

March 3, 2021

Tobias Leenaert is the author of How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach, which has been translated into five languages. He is the cofounder of ProVeg International, which aims to reduce the consumption of animal products by 50% by 2040. Tobias also writes the Vegan Strategist blog, where he shares strategies for convincing people to reduce their animal product consumption. 

 

We discuss: 

  • the difference between pragmatism and idealism in animal advocacy
  • why intentions matter less than we think
  • “vegalomania” and whether a vegan diet is really the healthiest
  • when behavior change leads belief change
  • how vegetarians reduce almost as much harm as vegans
  • how reducetarian do more for animals than vegans
  • how much easier it's gotten to be vegan
  • veganism's bad brand and why so many people hate on vegans
  • a thought experiment for vegans
  • why strict veganism can be counterproductive
  • how you can help animals without being a vegan or vegetarian
  • where analogies between animal agriculture and other crimes break down
  • how to be an effective animal advocate
  • what he’s most looking forward to

I think this episode is useful for both vegetarians and vegan activists and people who are interested in consuming less animal products but aren’t sure how.

 

Links:

29 - Conor Oberst on Bright Eyes, the Iraq War, protest music, and the music industry under socialism

29 - Conor Oberst on Bright Eyes, the Iraq War, protest music, and the music industry under socialism

February 24, 2021

Conor Oberst is one of the most prolific singer-songwriters of the last twenty years. Best known for his work with Bright Eyes, Oberst has also collaborated with Flea, Jim James, Alt-J, and Phoebe Bridgers. His most recent song, “Miracle of Life”, featuring Bridgers, raised money for Planned Parenthood and opposed Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. 

Oberst sat for an interview with me this fall as the first in a series for Jacobin. An edited and condensed transcript can be found here. We talked a bit about politics (Oberst made public stances against the Iraq War and supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020) and a lot about music. 

I’ve been a big fan of Bright Eyes and Conor’s solo work for years now, so it was a real treat to get to chat with him. 

Be sure to check out Bright Eyes's first album in 9 years, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.

As always, you can find me on Twitter @GarrisonLovely 

28 - David Shor on Why Bernie Would Have Won in 2016- But Not in 2020

28 - David Shor on Why Bernie Would Have Won in 2016- But Not in 2020

January 3, 2021

David Shor is a data scientist and the former head of political data science for Civis Analytics, a Democratic think tank. In 2012, he developed the Obama campaign’s in-house election forecasting system, which accurately predicted the outcome to within a point in every state. David was the subject of some controversy this summer when he was fired following his tweeting of an academic paper. The paper argued that violent protests decreased Democratic presidential vote share while nonviolent protests increased vote share. Unfortunately, David is not at liberty to discuss the details of this incident, which is an excellent example of what happens when employment protections don’t exist. 

I want to state up front that the focus of this episode is on how to improve the electoral prospects of Democrats, which is David’s expertise. I have many disagreements with the Democratic party and its leaders, and there are many pathways to power beyond electoral politics. But America’s political institutions are extremely powerful, and ensuring that they are controlled by the non-death cult party is important. 

 

We discuss:

  • What happened in the 2020 election 
  • Why the electoral college is biased towards Republicans 
  • Efforts to combat structural bias against the Democratic party
  • Why the polls were wrong again and why they’ll be very hard to fix
  • Why Bernie would have won in 2016 but may not have in 2020
  • How Democratic staffers and left wing activists are massively unrepresentative of the American public
  • The electoral obstacles to passing Medicare for All and how to make the policy more politically popular 
  • Policies that combat inequality without raising taxes
  • Whether Democrats actually want to win
  • Why Democrats need the working class to win power 
  • Why good politicians stay relentlessly on message
  • How we can move voters towards policy positions we think are just
  • Why Democrats should talk more about issues and less about values
  • What we can learn from the growth in support for same sex marriage
  • The importance of getting the media on your side

Links:

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Matt Grossman on Twitter

David Shor on Twitter

27 -Trevor Beaulieu on Champagne Sharks and Why Killmonger Was Right

27 -Trevor Beaulieu on Champagne Sharks and Why Killmonger Was Right

October 19, 2020

Trevor Beaulieu is the host of the podcast Champagne Sharks, a “podcast about race, politics, and pop culture, through the lenses of humor and psychology.” The show has released over 300 episodes on a huge range of topics, from Afro-pessimism and social justice, to Marvel movies and Tumblr. I’ve only scratched the surface of the show, but have really enjoyed the episodes I’ve listened to so far. Check out the show notes for a few of my favorites. Trevor’s many appearances on Chapo Trap House are also well worth a listen. 

You can find Trevor on Twitter: @rickyrawls and Champagne Sharks: @champagnesharks. I’m on Twitter @garrisonlovely.

You can check out Champagne Sharks wherever you find podcasts, and you can subscribe at  https://www.patreon.com/champagnesharks 

 

On today’s episode we discuss: 

  • Our experience with the pandemic so far
  • The insanity that is the US stock market during covid
  • Why Trevor thinks black people can’t afford to be totally anti-capitalist
  • The distinctions between social democracy and socialism
  • Trevor’s firsthand experience with racism in scandinavia 
  • How fragile any kind of liberal democracy is
  • How Trevor started Champagne Sharks
  • How Chapo Trap House is like the Daily Show for new left podcasts
  • The willingness to look into the political abyss
  • How the right prioritizes property over people’s lives
  • The recent uprisings over police violence against black people
  • Whether nonviolent protests are more effective
  • Why Killmonger from Black Panther was right

 

A few of my favorite Champagne Sharks episodes:

CS 238: Is The Whole Internet Becoming 4Chan? Pt. 1 feat. Dale Beran (01/23/2020)

CS 186: Tumblr Brain feat. Jaya Sundaresh (@shutupjaya) (06/20/2019)`

CS 272: Karens (Hard-R) With Attitude feat. Nashwa Khan pt. 1

CS 276: The Futureless Now feat. Matt Christman pt. 1

CS 274: After the Bern feat. Felix Biederman pt. 1

CS 282: Live, Love, Work and Catastrophe feat. Rob Delaney

CS 284: Clarence Thomas and The Reactionary Mind Pt. 1 feat. Corey Robin

CS 280: Afropessimism feat. Frank Wilderson III *DOUBLE EPISODE*

 

Show notes:

Why the stock market is divorced from the pain of a pandemic economy

What if ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Closer Than Scientists Thought?

Video showed police thank (Kyle Rittenhouse) & give him water prior to the killings

Wage Theft vs. Other Forms of Theft in the U.S.

The 1968 Kerner Commission Got It Right, But Nobody Listened

The Protesting of a Protest Paper

26 - Ross Barkan on Running for Office and the Return of Socialism to New York

26 - Ross Barkan on Running for Office and the Return of Socialism to New York

September 10, 2020

Ross Barkan is an award-winning journalist and former political candidate. Ross ran for state senate in Brooklyn in 2018 (where he was endorsed by AOC). He is back to full-time journalism, with a column in the Guardian and frequent contributions to the Nation and Gothamist. He also has work in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, New York Magazine, and the Columbia Journalism Review. In both 2017 and 2019, he was the recipient of the New York Press Club’s award for distinguished newspaper commentary. He now teaches journalism at NYU and St. Joseph’s College. He also created a popular newsletter, Political Currents, on New York and national affairs. 

As always, links to his work will be found in the show notes. Ross’s Substack newsletter, Political Currents, is an amazing font of information on New York City politics. 

In today’s episode, we discuss: 

His experience running for state senate, the curse of fundraising, and how running for office destroys your social life, how small dollar digital fundraising is fueling left wing candidates, what a DSA endorsement means and why Ross thinks he didn’t get it, why he thinks he didn't win, what you should consider when deciding whether to run for office, how De Blasio and Cuomo bungled New York’s COVID response, how Cuomo refuses to raise taxes on the wealthy, the lack of any meaningful action to reduce the power of the NYPD, why Ross doesn’t support police abolition and why we think the case for prison abolition is stronger, Bernie’s loss and the progress the left has made in recent years, and the very exciting election of five DSA-endorsed candidates to statewide political office in New York

More about Ross:

Links:

 

25 - Charlie Bresler on the Lives You Can Save

25 - Charlie Bresler on the Lives You Can Save

August 10, 2020

Charlie Bresler is the Executive Director of the Life You Can Save, a nonprofit founded by Peter Singer that inspires and empowers people to take action in the fight against extreme poverty. 

Charlie was previously the president of the Men’s Warehouse and a professor of clinical psychology. Later in the episode, we dig into Charlie’s path from psychology, to men’s fashion, to fighting global poverty. The inspiration for this episode is the release of the 10th anniversary edition of the book The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. The book offers an overview of the intensity of global poverty and the related human suffering and makes a compelling case to donate more to more effective charities. Contrary to popular belief, there are charities that have proven track records of delivering effective interventions, some of which can save a child’s life for less than two thousand dollars. The new edition of the Life You Can Save is available for free in e-book and audiobook format. The audiobook is read by a number of celebrities, including Kristen Bell, Paul Simon, and Stephen Fry. In addition to the book, we discuss:

Where The Life You Can Save is now, the shallow pond thought experiment, the myth that we don't know what works in global poverty and health, why an "empathy fund" may be more sustainable, framing effective giving as an opportunity vs. an obligation, why being a doctor doesn't do as much good as we think, how Charlie's democratic socialism informs his life, why EAs aren't as radical you might expect them to be. 

If you’re familiar with Effective Altruism, I’d recommend skipping to about 35 and a half minutes in. Most of the ideas we discuss for the bulk of the episode are probably familiar to you, but you may be interested in our conversation on the intersection of EA and radical politics. 

 

Show notes:

Famine, Affluence, and Morality

Over 5M children die before they turn 5 each year

The Moral Imperative toward Cost-Effectiveness in Global Health

The Limits of Power 

The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945

The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation

Woman, Culture, and Society

American Power and the New Mandarins

Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky

Dystopia in Fiction and in Fact: How “Nineteen Eighty-Four” teaches us the wrong lessons about dictatorship…

Hozier’s new protest song Jackboot Jump

Homage to Catalonia

Politics and the English Language

 

You can reach out to Charlie directly at:

Charlie@thelifeyoucansave.org

24 - Edgar Villanueva on Decolonizing Wealth

24 - Edgar Villanueva on Decolonizing Wealth

May 3, 2020

Edgar Villanueva is a globally-recognized expert on social justice philanthropy. He serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy. Edgar currently serves as Senior Vice President at the Schott Foundation for Public Education where he oversees grant investment and capacity building for education justice campaigns across the United States.

He is also the award-winning author of Decolonizing Wealth, a bestselling book offering hopeful and compelling alternatives to the dynamics of colonization in the philanthropic and social finance sectors. 

In addition to working in philanthropy for many years, Edgar has consulted with numerous nonprofit organizations and national and global philanthropies on advancing racial equity inside of their institutions and through their investment strategies.

We spend most of our conversation on Edgar’s book, specifically: 

How he became disillusioned with the philanthropy sector, America's refusal to engage with its history of colonialism and racism, the coloniser's mindset and how it ties to contemporary philanthropy, how people of color are left out of philanthropic spending, the 5% foundation payout requirement and why most foundation money is parked in investment accounts, a call to transfer capital back to impoverished communities, poverty in precolonial times, the potlatch ceremony, a challenge to the thesis of Decolonizing Wealth from an effective altruism perspective, the problem with the term altruism, the problems that are solved by just giving people money with no strings attached, shifting the power and choice from donors to the people they're trying to help, the ties between capitalism and white supremacy, and how to learn more and join the Decolonizing Wealth giving circle

Near the end of the episode we had some audio drop out, did what I could to piece things back together and didn't end up losing too much, but there are some awkward cuts. 

If you’d like to learn more about the book visit decolonizingwealth.com. You can find Edgar on Twitter at @VillanuevaEdgar and me at @GarrisonLovely. If you’d like to get in touch directly, you can email me at mostinterestingpeople27 [at] gmail [dot] com.

 

Show notes:

Report: 72% of Americans rarely encounter or receive information about Native Americans

Decolonizingwealth.com

23 - Akash Mehta on why Andrew Cuomo is Not Your Friend

23 - Akash Mehta on why Andrew Cuomo is Not Your Friend

March 30, 2020

Akash Mehta is a writer and organizer from New York. He is a member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America and helped organize UChicago for Bernie. Akash recently wrote a great article for Jacobin called Even in a Pandemic, Andrew Cuomo Is Not Your Friend. Governor Cuomo has received a lot of good press for his handling of the coronavirus crisis in New York, but his past and present decisions have made the state less prepared for this ongoing calamity. We discuss those decisions in great detail as well as:

Why Cuomo is popular and trusted right now, how his "get things done" brand obscures real ideological differences between him and the Left, why ideology does influence the response to the coronavirus, Milton Friedman's keen understanding of the politics of crises, the links between Biden and Cuomo, how Cuomo empowered Republicans in New York to kneecap progressives in his own party, his plan to cut Medicaid by billions due to his unwillingness to increase taxes on the wealthy, how he blames private hospitals for not having enough ICU beds, even though he played a substantial role in cutting 20k beds in the state, why we should provide free healthcare for all conditions, not just the coronavirus, Cuomo's prioritization of homeowners over renters, the choice we face between prioritizing the needs of the market over the needs of people, a call to join political membership groups like the DSA or the Sunrise movement, what you can do to influence the New York State budget, a plan for a left news site devoted to New York City politics, and my thoughts on the intersection between Effective Altruism and the Left.

As we discuss near the end of the episode, the changes Cuomo is pushing are part of a state budget that is due on March 31st. Cuomo has responded to public pressure by releasing people incarcerated for technical parole violations and may cave to pressure to reject these cuts. You can contact his office using this form and/or calling at 1-518-474-8390.

If you live in New York, you can find your state senator and assembly member here: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

Calls to their offices opposing these cuts and supporting the proposals in #makebillionairespay could help influence billions of dollars in funding to people in great need. The site for #makebillionairespay also has guidance on how to effectively pressure your representatives: https://makebillionairespay.info/take-virtual-action

You can reach out to Akash at akvmehta [at] gmail [dot] com. As always, you can find me on Twitter @GarrisonLovely and reach out to the show at mostinterestingpeople27 [at] gmail [dot] com

Show notes

22 - Zach Roberts on Bloomberg’s NYPD and Antifascist Journalism

22 - Zach Roberts on Bloomberg’s NYPD and Antifascist Journalism

February 26, 2020

CONTENT WARNING: This episode includes descriptions of racially-motivated violence. 

Zach Roberts is a photo and video journalist whose work has been published on the cover of the New York Daily News, The Observer, The Guardian and on the inside of the New York Times, TheNation.com, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, Buzzfeed and Newsweek, among others.  

For the past 10 years, Zach's been on the trail covering social movements, investigating election theft and corporate crime, and most recently tracking white extremism. 

Some notable events and stories he's covered are Ferguson, Occupy Wall Street, the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, and over a dozen different Trump rallies. Zach has been beaten and trampled at Occupy, arrested, and had guns pointed at him in Ferguson and Charlottesville. 

During our conversation we cover:

His experience with Bloomberg's NYPD during Occupy Wall Street, the legacy of that movement, how the media fails to cover protests correctly, Zach's breakup with Ralph Nader, his experience documenting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, his photos of a brutal beating committed by white extremists, which contributed to a number of convictions, how the police completely failed to protect and serve in Charlottesville, the experience of covering white extremist groups, how the police have changed since Trump took office, how the media ignores stories that actually matter, the almost massacre in Richmond Virginia, white nationalist killings that aren't classified as such, and how you can be an effective anti-fascist.

You can find Zach on Twitter: @ZDRoberts and support his Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/zdroberts. His portfolio can be found on his website: https://www.zdroberts.com/

You can find me on Twitter: @GarrisonLovely and email the show at mostinterestingpeople27 [at] gmail [dot] com

 

Show notes:

Greg Palast’s work

15 Years Ago, Protesters Took Over NYC During 2004 Republican National Convention

The Problem with “Broken Windows” Policing

Bloomberg’s disgraceful eviction of Occupy Wall Street

Video: NYPD Uses Pepper Spray, Force On Wall Street Occupiers

Occupy Wall Street’s Legacy Runs Deeper Than You Think

Hunting Season on Voters Opens with Georgia & Wisconsin Purges Mass Registration Cancellations ordered by Courts

Larry Summers and the Secret “End-Game” Memo

Obama’s Lost Army

Why Is the U.S. Green Party So Irrelevant?

Zach’s coverage of Unite the Right at Charlottesville

The Significance of J20

A New Face of White Supremacy: Plots Expose Danger of the ‘Base’

https://first-vigil.com/ 

How Stephen Miller Manipulates Donald Trump to Further His Immigration Obsession

The Making of a YouTube Radical

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