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FOR FREE PEOPLE

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TGIF: CNN+ Goes Belly Up. Libs of TikTok Soars.

Plus: Obama on disinformation. Jared Kushner’s suspicious Saudi deal. Testicle tanning. And more.

TGIF. Let’s get right to the news.

→ White House fights to keep the federal mask mandate: After a Trump-appointed judge struck down the federal mask mandate, there were shrieks of celebration. Videos of flight attendants singing down aisles and merrymaking, collecting masks in trash bags, went viral. Normal people smiled and cheered along with them—it’s hard to think of a group that has seen fewer human faces in the past few years than flight attendants. But The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan called these cheers “whoops of selfish delight.” 

It remains very important to America’s pundits that people wear masks in the vicinity of planes—not while eating or drinking during the flight—but during other times. 

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman predicted widespread violence against the masked: “soon we'll be seeing many incidents in which those who choose to protect themselves with KN95s etc face harassment, even violence. Because this was never about freedom.” And former senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett seemed to think masks had been made illegal: “Wearing my mask no matter what non-scientists tell me I can do.”

And lo, the Justice Department on Wednesday night announced it filed an appeal to reinstate the mask mandate on planes and other public transportation. Cover yourselves right back up, flight attendants.

→ Obama comes out to get mad about disinformation: Yesterday at Stanford, President Obama gave a sweeping speech about disinformation, my favorite thing to complain about people complaining about. He called for more government regulation of platforms (they should be “be required to have a higher standard of care when it comes to advertising on their site”) and criticized big tech’s business model (“inflammatory content attracts engagement”).

“These companies need to have some other north star other than just making money and increasing market share,” the former president said.

We have an idea of what that North Star can be: how about the constitution? There’s a First Amendment in there that seems like a pretty great articulation of what the values of a social media company ought to be. 

→ CNN+ shuts down: A reported $300 million was spent on CNN+ and it lasted less than a month. (And we thought Quibi’s demise was epic.) It turns out Americans just aren’t interested in paying for content from Don Lemon and Rex Chapman. Brian Stelter, who also had a show on the short-lived service, quoted the new CNN CEO who called it “an incredibly successful launch.” We’re not cable TV experts, but we know that we have more daily visitors than CNN+ did. RIP.

Meanwhile on Apple TV+, “The Problem with Jon Stewart”—a mush of lefty rants from a couple years ago warmed up and served again—is a ratings disaster dropping by the fifth episode to just 40,000 viewers. And on Spotify, The Obamas’ deal with the company has fallen apart and they will seek a new podcast home.

→ Netflix stumbles: Netflix stock dropped 35% after the company divulged that it lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter. It projected losses of 2 million subscribers between April and June. The ever-opinionated Elon Musk’s take on it: “the woke mind virus made Netflix unwatchable.” Maybe. A lot of the content they churn out is really boring and Morally Correct. But also there’s just a lot more competition out there. Netflix used to be the only game in town. 

→ Speaking of Musk: On Thursday morning he filed new documents in his quest to buy Twitter. He’s put together a $46.5 billion funding package with some impressive backers. But to make it work, he still needs to get past the poison pill the board put in, which would dilute shares if anyone acquires more than 15% of the company. Musk is, in theory, trying to make an end-run around the board by going straight to Twitter’s shareholders with his offer. They, in turn, could pressure the board to drop the poison pill. But, at this point, this financing deal appears to be more of a forcing mechanism to make Twitter’s board—which has yet to respond to his original offer to purchase the company—take him seriously.

→ Everyone say “Putin Price Hike”: That’s apparently going to be the official line from Washington. Biden could say something about inflation resulting from hard choices made during a terrible time, a recession staved off during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but the president is instead opting to go for a classic Democrat standby: Russia did it. “I’m doing everything I can to bring down prices and address the Putin Price Hike,” Biden said this week. CNN White House correspondent John Harwood came out with a strong defense: “Biden confronts a host of problems he can’t do much to solve.” Harwood lists: Inflation, Covid, and immigration. 

→ An Easter bunny save and a shadow handshake: When President Biden started talking to an Easter party bystander about Afghanistan, someone on his staff wearing a bunny costume physically intervened. The bunny waved its arms, directing the confused-looking president away. The video went viral. It’s unnerving to watch the president of the United States look a little confused at times (did he handshake thin air after a speech?). 

→Why we need a fully present commander in chief: Some 100,000 people are trapped in the destroyed Ukrainian city of Mariupol as Russia closes in on the city. Russian forces have shown themselves ready and willing to brutalize and kill civilians, which Putin then celebrates

→ Jared Kushner’s kushy Saudi deal: Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, received a $2 billion investment from the Saudis just months after Trump left office. Senator Elizabeth Warren last week called for a Department of Justice investigation into it, since it sure looks like a quid-pro-quo. As with all potentially back-dealing political offspring: the answer is yes to an investigation, please do. 

→ And in other Trumpy news: Last Friday, the 45th president endorsed Ohio senate candidate J.D. Vance, who in 2016 identified himself as a Never Trumper and called Trump “an idiot.” That’s all ancient history now: “I think Trump was a great president,” he said at a town hall this week. “When the facts change, you gotta change your mind.”

And it turns out that Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy—stalwart Trump booster—told Liz Cheney he’d call the president and ask him to resign. McCarthy denies it. But, and I hate to admit it, Rachel Maddow has the tape:

→ More polls show Americans moving right: University of Virginia’s Center for Politics changed their ratings on 11 house races across the country—all in the direction of Republicans. Meanwhile Cook Political changed eight ratings on house races also toward the right. In-the-bag Democratic races changed to likely wins. And likely wins changed to toss-ups. 

→Young black Americans turn against Biden: In 2014, there were 6,095 black Americans murdered. In 2020, that number rose to 9,941. That’s almost 4,000 more deaths. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a new poll from Pew asking people to identify the number one problem in communities in which they live finds that, yet again, black Americans choose the issue of crime/violence as their No. 1 concern, far above Covid, racism, and even housing. 

And while a broad swath of young Americans have turned against Biden, with 18-34 year olds showing a 20 point drop in job approval since Jan 2021, according to a Civiqs poll, and the drop is even higher among young black Americans. Biden has seen a 30 point drop among that group. (The sharp Derek Thompson pointed that out.)

→ Google Docs is our sensitivity reader now: A new update rolling out to Google docs–which we couldn’t live without—is prompting people to use more inclusive language in their writing. The software wants kinder, gentler words used for derided minorities like landlords. May Google Docs suggest proprietor instead? The word mother is of course verboten. When a reporter for the tech news site Motherboard wrote the word Motherboard, Google docs underlined it and alerted the reporter: “Inclusive warning. Some of these words may not be inclusive to all readers. Consider using different words.” The site, which I will now call Parentboard lest my Google yell at me, called the update “very broken.”

→ Who is banning all these books: There’s an odd game going on right now where both the left and right really want to say the other side is doing book banning, which these days just means removing titles from school reading lists. And, well, it’s both sides. One Florida county is pulling 58 books from the school library. The list was posted by Attorney General candidate Daniel Uhlfelder and books on it range from reasonable-to-remove (“50 Shades of Gray” was in the school library???) to totally unreasonable (“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison). Meanwhile, a new survey from the School Library Journal shows the top books teachers wanted to remove from summer reading lists, and here’s that list: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” all of Shakespeare, and “The Great Gatsby.”  

→ My favorite influencer: Hasan Piker, the handsome socialist media star, went to Coachella wearing an $1,100 Gucci shirt. The man who got really rich raging against the rich is seeing his audience turn on him (first for his mansion and his Porsche, then for the private jet and the Gucci). But Piker seems to be having a great time making fun of the “haters.” We continue to salute this brilliant champagne socialist who makes a reported $210,000 a month on Twitch. We are all fools for not having done this first. 

→ Billionaires want plebes to stop doing capitalism: “Capitalism as we have known it is dead and the obsession that we have with maximizing profits for shareholders alone has led to incredible inequality and a planetary emergency,” says Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, reported net worth $7.8 billion. I met Benioff a couple times when I was covering tech—he’s pretty fun and way smarter than this strange interview suggests. But the rich saying they shouldn’t exist– heiress Abigail Disney is an expert at the form, recently calling for more “billionaire bashing”—is a savvy strategy.  

→ Testicle tanning is good! Hear me out: Somehow—and I’m not exactly sure when this began—the favored hobbies of the hippies and California health nuts like myself have become totems of conservative culture. Among them: radical healthy eating (avoiding seed oils, let’s say); skepticism of big pharmaceutical companies; animal rights (only eating grass-fed beef). And apparently: sunning one’s testicles.

Tucker Carlson this week released a long trailer for his upcoming special called “The End of Men” that features an expert talking about “bromeopathic therapy” and “testicle tanning” (with, yes, a video showing it). Guys talked about falling testosterone levels, which is legitimately alarming. Chemicals from plastics and personal care products—in particular a group called phthalates (FAL-ATES)—are likely in part to blame

It was easy to mock. But here’s the thing: If your goal is for as many people as possible to be alarmed about all the crap and chemicals in our environment, and if some of those people happened to be drawn to the cause because they’re worried about penis size, why alienate them? Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and there’s no reason the conservative environmental movement can’t be revived. A big tent environmentalist movement means embracing sunscreen-chemical-skeptical moms, old lefties, swayable Republicans, and ball-tanners of every size.

→ Someone who knows about big tents: Christian Smalls, who in Staten Island organized the first union of Amazon factory workers, went on Tucker Carlson this week and compellingly sold his vision for the labor movement. He was promptly criticized by Andrew Lawrence, a deputy director at Media Matters, the progressive watchdog group that monitors conservative media. Again: If you really believe in a cause, how could you not want to spread the word, especially to skeptics? The answer: Most people don’t actually care about this or that cause. They just care about in-group signaling. Christian Smalls might be making strides to improve working conditions at Amazon, but the leaders of progressive nonprofits are trying to get his eyes right back on the prize: partisan dunking. 

→ Libs of TikTok: Washington Post tech reporter Taylor Lorenz, who is quickly becoming the most famous reporter in the country, got a scoop: the identity behind the anonymous Libs of TikTok account on Twitter and Instagram. Turns out she lives in Brooklyn and works in real estate.

Libs of TikTok has a simple premise: the woman who runs it finds crazy TikTok videos featuring someone on the left looking bad or unhinged and she re-posts them on her own social media feed. Classic Libs of TikTok fare would be a forever-masker going on some kind of tirade, someone who’s mentally unstable listing their “neopronouns” or a teacher talking about how he tells students that he’ll be their parent now. In a way, she’s giving the left a taste of its own medicine: A lot of mainstream news reporters earn their keep by finding the wackiest small town Republican saying some racist garble at a diner and shoving it on the front page. Ten maniacs at a QAnon rally will find ten reporters surrounding them asking for quotes. The Libs of TikTok’s founder is doing basically the same thing. It’s a cruel game, but it’s politically effective.

The specific critique against Libs of TikTok’s creator is that by highlighting the wackiest content, she’s stirring up transphobia and homophobia. The creator is definitely a social conservative who seems to be against the whole gay rainbow. But the reason she’s so effective is that a lot of the content she highlights is legitimately disturbing and makes your average gay person cringe. Everyone now talks about LGBTQ+, though in truth the LGB is a very, very different culture from the TQ+.

Last note: I was shocked by how Lorenz reached out for a comment to someone she wrongly suspected to be behind Libs of TikTok: “Is that your account? Please let me know ASAP because you’re being implicated as starting a hate campaign against LGBTQ people.” Imagine being a random woman and getting this threat from a Washington Post reporter: You’re being implicated in hate. 

Anyway, it’s all looking good for the Libs of TikTok creator who has been riding the controversy and promoted her Substack. Read Matt Taibbi for one great take and Batya Ungar-Sargon for another. 

→ A note of thanks: We here at TGIF have complained a lot about inflation. But enough complaining, it’s time for a thank you. Thank you to one Joe Manchin III and to Kyrsten Sinema. These two maligned moderate Dems stopped the behemoth Build Back Better, a $1.75 trillion bill that would have cost $4.6 trillion dollars over ten years if its programs became permanent. Who knows what it would have done to our inflation problem right now, but safe to say it wouldn’t have helped. Remember when protestors followed Sinema and staged a protest outside her friend’s daughter’s wedding? The mother of the bride came out to beg them to stop (“Just let her get married”), which of course did nothing. There was a lot of pressure. We salute these fine Americans.

→ A great read on Sweden and Covid: A good way to feel really crazy is to read this Washington Monthly magazine piece on how Sweden didn’t lock down and yet fared far better than we did. In Sweden, kids under 16 stayed in school. Restaurants stayed open. And yet: “Researchers found that among 11 wealthy peer nations, Sweden was the only one with no excess mortality among individuals under 75. None, zero, zip.” I’m obsessed with how well-run those Nordic governments are—and Sweden’s beautifully sensible Covid response has me saying Hej!

→ Another great read: Someone at Vanity Fair is smuggling a few good things into the magazine. This week, the writer James Pogue brings us a brilliant (and fair) romp through the New Right, featuring Peter Thiel, JD Vance, Curtis Yarvin and the women of Red Scare. (If you don’t know any of those names, good for you.)


Comedy break:


This week on Common Sense: 

Our Easter Sunday essay came from Tim DeRoche, who wrote about the “the God-shaped hole” in his heart, and the growing community of nonbelievers that recognize the wisdom of Christianity—even if they don’t believe Jesus literally rose from the dead.

Andreessen Horowitz partner Katherine Boyle made The Case for American Seriousness. This is a signal piece for anyone who wants to get beyond the nihilism and cynicism of our moment and figure out how to build things that matter.

Suzy’s powerful piece, The Testosterone Hangover, told the story of six detranistioners (formerly transgender men who went back to being female). One girl, Chloe, described waking up from a double mastectomy at 15. And here’s a great follow up to that must-read story from Lisa Selin Davis.

On Honestly, Bari brought back the economist Tyler Cowen to explain how we found ourselves in an economy with 8.5% inflation.

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