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A suspected Chinese surveillance balloon seen over Billings, Montana. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via the AP)

TGIF: 99 Spy Balloons

Trump pretends he’s always hated vaccines. Tom Brady retires (for real). Gawker shuts down (again). And much more.

Welcome back. We have gathered here today to look at the week’s news. TGIF. 

→ Trump distances himself from the best thing he did: Whatever you think of Donald J. Trump (few really have strong opinions, but if you had to force yourself…), the man oversaw the incredibly fast development of the Covid vaccine. Operation Warp Speed, which cut through bureaucratic red tape, was a huge accomplishment. That, and the Diet Coke button. But the Republican base has turned on the vax. The vax has been coded lib. It’s basically the Latinx of healthcare. And so now we see likely presidential contender Ron DeSantis and Trump sparring over who cared less about the pandemic. Here’s Trump:

Remember when Trump was booed for saying he was proudly boosted? 

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, two-term governor of South Carolina, is about to announce that she’s running for president. (When I asked my editor what we think of Nikki Haley, his response: “Oh. She’s not gonna win, though.” Whatever, I like her.)

→ Speaking of Covid, it ends in May: The emergency era may have passed for most Americans who had to do crazy things like attend to their families and jobs, but it remained for the Biden administration, who loved governing under a state of emergency. Covid was too good to let go. It allowed for a smooth wealth transfer from taxpayers directly into scams and to the already wealthy through all the various relief plans. It facilitated the largest fraud in a generation—$80 billion missing from PPP, a few hundred billion scammed from unemployment relief, and $80 billion disappeared from a disaster relief program. Before you say that’s a right-wing conspiracy, all those numbers come from NBC reporting

But the party couldn’t last. Under pressure from a Republican-led Congress, the White House realized it had to say goodbye to the best friend it ever had, and the state of emergency will end in May. The conclusion comes just as a new study shows that masks never really worked at all. 

But don’t worry, a few fire hoses of money will continue to gush . . . like the pause on student debt repayments. That doesn’t change. Our most vulnerable—college graduates—remain protected. 

→ Speaking of the House GOP: They’re going to spend the next few years investigating Biden and his family, gain-of-function research, and various China-related issues (TikTok!). A smart summary from Politico here.

→ Chinese spy balloon: China has reportedly gotten themselves a spy balloon floating at one point above Billings, Montana. “Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” said Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. They acted immediately but did not… shoot down the balloon. Maybe they acted immediately by pulling some tarps over our Montana secrets. 

The Pentagon is holding off on shooting it out of the sky, citing “safety risks.” Risks that Chinese militants might miss out on some gorgeous winter weekend drone shots? Is this thing some CCP piñata? 

→ Poor Paul Pelosi: The poor guy was attacked at home one night by a lunatic. Then his wife’s enemies started spreading rumors. It was actually a drug deal gone wrong. Or it was that Paul Pelosi was drunk, arguing with his male escort. Elon Musk joined in to spread that second one (he’s since apologized). Now there’s newly released bodycam video showing the reality: Of course Paul was attacked by a lunatic. 

My only interaction with Paul Pelosi happened one day when I joined a protest against the Iraq War outside his house. Paul walked through and was very polite. That’s all I’ve got. The guy deserves better. 

Gawker ends with a whimper: Gawker, the blog that defined media snark, shut down this week for the second time. The first time Gawker shut down was when an irate Peter Thiel sued it into oblivion, but the blog re-emerged under new owners. Their mission in this second iteration appeared to be ruthlessly mocking writers viewed as heterodox—basically my friends and me. And I looked forward to their close reads of TGIF. They were devoted to me in their rage, and I appreciated that. 

Gawker is kind of the id of the New York media world; they’re the team who does the dirty work that the crew wants done, and they did a valiant job. They once published a whole story about the great Thomas Chatterton Williams partying with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. But, fine, it was totally fake: Williams hadn’t even been in the same city. Gawker had to begrudgingly issue a correction. They hated that he protested the slander at all. Even now, even unemployed and locked out of her company emails, Gawker’s former editor is tweeting to make fun of Chatterton Williams, bringing up details she apparently couldn’t share before. How funny that he hired a lawyer lol. Can you believe he wanted us to post a correction and make sure people saw it? 

Apparently, new Gawker shut down for normal reasons: They ran out of money. The financial headwinds, the lack of a business strategy beyond, I don’t know, selling Gawker vapes. Last time it ended with a bang! Hulk Hogan was involved! There was a sex tape! Now, it ends with a sad whimper. But the real problem with their business model was . . . me, their subject. 

You might think I’m happy that Gawker is shutting down. But here’s the truth: If a whole blog can’t be sustained by mocking me and Thomas Chatterton Williams, that means we are not famous enough. Taylor Swift creates economies around her, and I couldn’t keep ten people employed in Dimes Square. Pathetic. 

→ Department of horrible ideas: State Democrats in Massachusetts want to offer prisoners reduced sentences for donating organs. Yes, I’m serious. In the new bill: If you, a prisoner, go under the knife to give up a kidney or some bone marrow, you could get up to a year of your prison sentence reduced. The lawmakers say the bill would “restore bodily autonomy.“ 

What in the free-market hell is this? 

→ Hispanic Democrats want to ban Latinx from state docs: A bunch of racist, transphobic fascists (Hispanic Democrats) are trying to take the most important word in the progressive lexicon and ban it. Yes, elected officials in Connecticut are pushing for a law that would ban Latinx from state documents. “I’m of Puerto Rican descent and I find it offensive,” said state representative Geraldo Reyes Jr., who I’m guessing also doesn’t share his pronouns in his email signature. Hispanic leaders need to sit this one out. Latinx is what white progressives want to call you, and that’s a conversation that happened internally in the white community led by white lived experience. That should be respected. Geraldo should read his Robin DiAngelo. 

→ Speaking of Robin: The AP test in African American History has been the center of the latest education skirmish, and conservatives successfully cut a lot of the critical race theory texts and content about modern black life, about queer social movements and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Meanwhile, Chris Rufo continues his revolution at New College in Florida, firing the school president this week. The videos of their takeover are essentially if Twitter had a Real Housewives franchise. 

My main take: The left and the mainstream media are clutching their pearls, shocked—just shocked!—by this politicization of education. But: 1) What’s taught in publicly funded schools is always political, and 2) in the last decade, progressives overplayed their hand, hoping no one would notice the quiet revolution and odd new philosophies, the turn away from skills and reading, the turn toward curricula that are more fun for teachers than productive for students. (There’s a brilliant new American Public Media series on how trendy reading philosophies have left kids illiterate.) Anyway, conservatives noticed all of this. 

There’s a backlash now. I’m hoping it stops just before we get to the Mike Pence Kindergarten Curriculum, featuring classics like God hid those dinosaur bones to test our faith. 

→ President of Heritage calling to cut military spending? What world am I in? This week, Kevin Roberts, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote about how America needs to cut defense spending. “For too long, Republicans considered it a victory to increase defense and non-defense spending by equal dollar amounts, without cutting a dime from the deficit.” And: “Congress needs to put away its kid gloves and put the Department of Defense and other agencies alike under the knife to excise wasteful spending.” 

Getting riled up about military budgets is an age-old progressive hobby, and I still get mad looking at charts that compare U.S. military spending to every other country in the world. That Republican Heritage Foundation leaders are now saying we need to cut defense spending—and Democrats are pushing for more military spending—is amazing. The military and Big Pharma are somehow becoming pet projects of the left. Soon they’ll be advocating on behalf of Big Corn. 

→ Kitara, my love: New York Republican congressman George Santos—a.k.a. Brazilian drag queen and serial fabulist Kitara Ravanche—has resigned from his House committees. He’s chosen for himself a lawyer who did time for a gang execution. My sense is the political end is nigh for George Santos, who I am convinced uses lip filler, potentially breaking an underreported glass ceiling among Republican congressmen. Still unknown is who secretly funded the Santos campaign and why. Truly why. Of all the square-jawed jocks and tough Italians who would happily be your corrupt congressman from Queens, why pick Kitara? I genuinely need to know. 

→ The French had a funny response to being told their name is racist: After the AP said that the term the French is dehumanizing, much fun was had about what to call people experiencing Frenchness. The French had a great response: 

For what it’s worth, I prefer to be identified as a “woman experiencing beauty” and “an heiress experiencing Substack.”

→ Hamilton 68: A key tool for reporters tracking “Russian disinformation” turns out to be a total fraud. This dashboard supposedly showed what Russian lies were being pushed on Twitter, and mainstream reporters used it for years to confidently declare various narratives (mostly conservative ones, of course) as foreign propaganda. Turns out the whole thing was bogus, and Twitter knew it but didn’t want to stop a good thing for the Dems. 

I’m going to just give you Matt Taibbi, since it’s his scoop from the Twitter Files:

The accounts Hamilton 68 claimed were linked to “Russian influence activities online” were not only overwhelmingly English-language (86%), but mostly “legitimate people,” largely in the U.S., Canada, and Britain. Grasping right away that Twitter might be implicated in a moral outrage, they wrote that these account-holders “need to know they’ve been unilaterally labeled Russian stooges without evidence or recourse.” 

“The selection of accounts is… bizarre and seemingly quite arbitrary,” wrote [former Twitter Head of Trust and Safety Yoel] Roth. “They appear to strongly preference [sic] pro-Trump accounts (which they use to assert that Russia is expressing a preference for Trump… even though there’s not good evidence any of them are Russian).”

→ More Russiagate fallout: The Columbia Journalism Review came out this week with something astonishing: a critique of Trump-era media coverage. Now, this being CJR, they had to hide all the interesting stuff in so many words—they call it “an encyclopedic look.” It’s a godforsaken four-part series. But some real gems are hidden away. Like journalist elder statesman Bob Woodward’s quotes. Woodward says the media around Russiagate “wasn’t handled well,” that readers were “cheated,” that newsrooms need to “walk down the painful road of introspection.” He calls the Mueller report a “fizzle,” but that reporters would never admit it was “dry.”

→ Going hard in the opposite direction: The Washington Post this week published an essay about how objectivity in newsgathering is bad: “The standard was dictated over decades by male editors in predominantly White newsrooms,” writes Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of Post. Objectivity is totally out, and newsroom leaders across the country agree. Here’s their quote from the San Francisco Chronicle editor-in-chief: “Objectivity has got to go.” Yes, sir! 

Sweepstakes: In TFP’s quest to grow and defeat our enemies, we’ve brought on various business types, and I guess they got it in their collective business mind that I ought to be given away as a sweepstakes prize. Yes, a one-on-one Zoom with me could be yours, if you enter here. You get to hang out with me in exchange for…following The Free Press on Twitter, which, I feel like that’s a pretty low buy-in, but I’ll save that discussion for my therapist. 

I’m also thinking of just doing more subscriber Zooms in general. It’s really fun to hear your questions. And in the one we did last night, two commenters said I looked good. So ZOOM ME UP!

→ There must be another baker: Remember Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado? The baker, Jack Phillips, didn’t want to make a same-sex wedding cake (I’ve always held firm that all baked goods are at least bisexual), and his case made it to the Supreme Court (he won). Then, an appellate lawyer named Autumn Scardina, who is trans, became obsessed with him and started a harassment campaign. She asked for a cake with Satan and a dildo, then Satan smoking marijuana, and finally she asked for a gender transition anniversary cake (literally just pink with blue frosting), which Phillips originally agreed to make until he found out it was for a transitionversary. The trans cake was the one that went to court, and last week, he lost again. Surely there are other bakers. Let the guy spatula fondant in peace. Let’s be honest, and please don’t yell at me, but that’s already a little gay.

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