Christian Smalls celebrates following the vote for the unionization of the Amazon Staten Island warehouse. (Andrea Renault via Getty Images)

TGIF: Face Off Edition

Elon Musk v. Twitter. Christian Smalls v. Amazon. Oberlin v. Bakeries. And more.

TGIF! And make sure to read to the very bottom, in which we pilot TGIF! the podcast.

→Today, we root for Elon! Elon Musk has been complaining for a while about Twitter being too censorious and biased. Billionaires: They’re just like us! He wrote a couple weeks ago: “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?” Well, this week Musk answered that question. He went and bought 9.2% of Twitter, becoming its largest shareholder. 

Musk was quickly appointed to Twitter’s board. Jack Dorsey, the former CEO and the man who helmed Twitter when it blocked unflattering reporting about Biden during the 2020 election (he has since said it was a “total mistake”), wrote congratulating Musk, making it sound like the Tesla founder was about to take the helm entirely. Dorsey wrote that Twitter’s current head and Elon Musk “both lead with their hearts, and they will be an incredible team.” 

The same people who praised deplatforming—these are private companies, went their rallying cry!—are suddenly furious that a public company can have its shares acquired and might do free speech they don’t like. Musk being pro-free speech is actually a danger to free speech, according to the Washington Post.

I can’t speak to Elon Musk’s broader moral compass—especially on China—but I can’t help rooting for the guy here:

→Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Biden is doing so fantastic with the economy, unemployment is now so low (which it is! an incredible 3.6%, new jobless claims are at their lowest since 1968), that no one should complain about inflation. Here’s the Washington Post: “If it weren’t for inflation, this president's economic performance would be unmatched.” When people say this, the best response is one I’m stealing from the statistician Nate Silver this week: “Real wages are declining and real disposable income has declined for 7 months in a row.” Inflation at 8% means your paycheck got 8% smaller. 

→More affordable healthcare for families: On the flip side, government spending does some great things. Biden this week brought Obama back to the White House to announce a new family-oriented tweak to the Affordable Care Act that would give about a million more people access to subsidized healthcare. 

→Ketanji Brown Jackson: Officially confirmed to the Supreme Court after a confirmation process that was tough—though mild compared to Brett Kavanaugh’s. She even earned some bipartisan support from Republicans Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski. 

→Wait, New York City toddlers are still masked?! New York City attorney and mother of three Daniela Jampel posed as a reporter to ask Mayor Eric Adams a question only to reveal herself as the mayor’s own employee! Jampel, who is out on maternity leave, demanded he “unmask our toddlers.” The mayor immediately fired her. 

Here’s what Jampel wrote about it: “I am an attorney for the city. I have represented cops who lie in court, teachers who molest children, prison guards who beat inmates. It is a job I have done proudly. Until tonight. Fighting to keep masks on toddlers is shameful. I am ashamed of my office.” She later deleted the statement—no doubt this mom is under a lot of pressure right now. The idea that there is a mask mandate only for toddlers sounds like Babylon Bee satire, not real life. And yet here we are. 

→At least we’re not in Shanghai: The Chinese city of 25 million people is back under strict Covid lockdown again. Reporting is obviously hard to come by in the authoritarian country, but bits of what life is like there have leaked out. People are chanting in the streets: “we want freedom” and “why are you starving us?” A reporter at the Economist posted a video circulating on Chinese social media company Weibo. In it, drones circle over apartment buildings and a voice emanating from the drone commands: “Please comply with Covid restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.”

Control your soul’s desire for freedom is about as perfect a summation of CCP ideology as I’ve ever encountered.

→Chinese organ harvesting: More research came out this week showing that China is engaged in prisoner execution by organ harvesting. As in: removing the hearts of still living prisoners. 

→BLM may be the biggest nonprofit scam of our generation: For a while, the Black Lives Matter organization and its allies were very good at getting people to do their bidding. They could bully journalists into ignoring the organization’s issues (being called racist is terrifying and not worth the scoop). They could convince social media companies to happily block critical commentary and reporting on the organization’s financial improprieties.

Now, slowly, the truth is leaking out.

BLM used funds to buy an $6.3 million party house in Toronto, called Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, which lists no public events. This week, thanks to a dogged freelance investigative reporter named Sean Kevin Campbell, we now know that Black Lives Matter also used nearly $6 million in donated money to buy a Los Angeles mansion.

From the house, they posted a video of the leadership crew having fancy outdoor brunches. One founder, Patrisse Cullors, began a YouTube cooking show in the expansive kitchen. (After the story on their property came out, they took both videos down.) They called the holding company used to buy the house 3726 Laurel Canyon LLC, an address that can be shared since it was bought with tax-deductible charitable dollars.

Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram to slam Sean Kevin Campbell, who is black, and to slam the outlet that published his reporting, New York Magazine, calling the piece a “despicable abuse of a platform.” She added: “Journalism is supposed to mitigate harm and inform our communities.” She said the house, which has a pool and a sound stage, “was purchased to be a safe space for Black people in the community.”

It’s important not to forget how BLM leaders like Cullors raised these tens of millions: It was by chanting the names and showing the photos of dead black children. The donated money came from kind, well-intentioned people who desperately wanted to help.

→When you describe the crazy, you sound crazy: Watch how much everyone on this Bill Maher panel laughs at Dennis Prager for suggesting that the line “men menstruate” is a real one. This was 2019.

→Terror attack in the heart of Tel Aviv: In bustling Dizengoff Street, two shooters opened fire outside a popular bar. The terrorists killed three people as of this writing; at least 15 more were injured, some critically. Meanwhile in New York City, groups march demanding an ethnic cleansing of Jews. “We don’t want no two states. / We don’t want no two states. We want all of it. / We want all of it.”

→Biden and Hunter will be the drumbeat of 2024: More is coming out about how entwined President Biden might have been with his son’s overseas dealings. This week, news broke that Biden wrote a college letter of recommendation for the son of Hunter’s Chinese business partner. Sure seems like a favor in a favor-trading arrangement. Sure seems odd. 

Before the mainstream media is allowed to report further on this, by law they must ignore it for a Hunter-laptop-news and BLM-scam length of time (exactly two years). 

→California’s math wars: In San Francisco, eighth grade Algebra is a Forbidden Course. Separating kids by math ability in eighth grade too often meant that white and Asian students were in the Algebra course, while black and Latino kids were in pre-Algebra. So the thinking was: Slow it all down, keep kids together by keeping them all together in pre-Algebra, and stop making high school calculus the primary goal for any of them. The debate over this practice is heating up as the whole state considers emulating San Francisco.

Meanwhile, eighth grade math scores across the state are now at fifth grade levels. Smart analysis here from Freddie deBoer that points out what’s already happened in San Francisco: “Rich kids can always get Algebra or Calculus.” Their parents just pay for tutors. All that banning 8th grade Algebra does is knee-cap kids from poor Asian families. But here again: That’s the point. 

→A historic labor union for Amazon warehouse workers: One determined former warehouse employee in Long Island, Chris Smalls, has successfully organized the first union of Amazon workers, a group of people who are worked to the bone in a physically demanding job with a higher than average injury rate. Small’s opponent: President Barack Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney, who said Smalls was fired for not properly social distancing during a protest and in internal emails another leader called the organizer “not smart or articulate.” 

Smalls’ team: himself. He was not affiliated with any national labor union; no national labor union has successfully unionized any Amazon warehouse. Smalls raised his funds on GoFundMe and called it the Amazon Labor Union. Progressive celebrity Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New York area congresswoman, flaked on the one rally she was supposed to attend before the vote. When Smalls was asked to talk about whether he has a message for her now that he won, he said: “Hell no. She don’t deserve this moment.” 

Huge congratulations to Smalls and his Long Island warehouse. And hopefully this pressure brings more humane conditions for the estimated one million other Amazon warehouse workers. 

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→I give it a week: Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, issued new guidelines for Twitter usage for the staff, asking reporters to use it less and stop being so mean to each other when they do. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of the Times-on-Twitter bully brigade, a community that roves around looking for colleagues to shame, I can say it’s certainly an odd quirk of the workplace. Still, thoughts and prayers for our favorite account.

One bit of Common Sense crowing here. Apparently the new phrase internally is “Twitter is not our editor.” Which reminds me of what Bar wrote a couple years ago, which was so loudly denied: “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor.” 

→A nice grilling of Mitch McConnell: The great interviewer of my generation is turning out to be Axios’s Jonathan Swan—an Australian!—who gives McConnell a nice spin on the barbie over the supposedly apolitical Justice Clarence Thomas and his extremely political wife Ginni. (A new poll this week shows that a slight majority of Americans think Justice Thomas should recuse himself from 2020 election related cases because of her.)

→Oberlin College still owes that $31 million for smearing local bakers as racist: When a small local bakery, run by one family for five generations, caught a shoplifter in 2016, Oberlin college officials went nuts. The shoplifter was an Oberlin student who had used a fake ID and tried to steal two bottles of wine. The son of the bakery owner chased after the kid and apprehended him before police could arrive. The kid was black. The next day, hundreds of students gathered to protest the bakery. The school cut ties with the bakery. The shoplifter pleaded guilty, but it didn’t matter. 

Among the protestors was the college’s dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, who handed out a stack of flyers accusing the Gibsons of a long history of racial profiling. Even after the student pled guilty, one administrator wrote to Raimondo: “I hope we rain fire and brimstone on that store.” Raimondo wrote about wanting to “unleash the students” on a critic.

Turns out, it’s a good bakery and apparently not racist. A court rejected Oberlin’s appeal and upheld the $31 million judgment against the college. Two of the bakery’s patriarchs died before the final judgment could come, which is a shame, but their names are cleared. Congratulations to Gibson’s Bakery

→Ok. Grooming. This week, the battle over K-3 education in Florida continued its slide into toxicity. For those who haven’t been following: Florida recently passed a law banning public school teachers in K-3 classrooms from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. Progressive America, which has dubbed the law “Don’t Say Gay,” is outraged, while the Right is celebrating stopping “Groomers.” Disney, especially, has gone all out in its fight against the law.

Critics persuasively argue that the law—read it here—is vague enough that it opens the possibility for parents to complain even if a gay teacher mentions his husband in passing. And what happens if a teacher reads a book like “Heather Has Two Mommies”? Can she be sued for doing so? Etc.

K-3 education is a rich battleground. It’s not just because people tend to panic about children, though they do. (See here.) It’s because children of that age are extraordinarily impressionable. Which is exactly why parents are furious about their kids being taught things like “The Genderbread Man.” They want to be setting the tone during those years. That is the overwhelming consensus according to a new poll from Public Opinion Strategies. It found that American parents support the bill 67% to 24%. Even among Democrats, 55% support it and 29% oppose it.

And now the darker turn: The right, which won this round definitively, can’t seem to take the win. They are using the opportunity to give the left a taste of their own medicine. ‘You’ve spent years calling us racists and transphobes. Fine. No problem. If you even criticize the law we’ll call you groomers.’

For days now, that ugly word with a dark history has been everywhere I’ve looked. And it’s being used to refer not just to opponents of the law but increasingly as short-hand for gay people. Gurgling up to join in the fun are QAnon fans, who argue that the American left is hiding a massive pedophilia ring. I suspect this backlash is just beginning. 

Over the years, various people I know in my real life have gotten mad at me as I’ve argued generally for moderation and for the practical over the radical. I’m wary of sudden movements. The BLM protests and the urban burnings were cathartic and thrilling—it probably felt good yelling “abolish!”—but in the end it was pretty useless if the goal was majorly improving policing and prisons. 

So too with the kids and trans issues. Right now, the progressive movement has made it an all-or-nothing conversation. Anyone who might urge caution when it comes to transitioning children, for example, is smeared as a transphobe and has been for years now. It’s 0-60, and you better get on. Women are menstruators, biological males are in the pool crushing your daughter’s race, teenagers know best if they should be sterilized, story hour better as hell be a drag show, fraysexual is part of the rainbow, and if you screw up a they/them conjugation, well, sir, you’re fired.

You would be foolish not to see that once you’ve gutted terms like racist and transphobic of any meaning, you might see horrible racism and horrible transphobia and be left with no words to describe it. You’d be foolish not to see that reasonable people might have qualms or questions about any number of these new Rules of Good Liberalism—Lia Thomas winning in the NCAA, for example.

One of the reasons I and others have been so critical of these alienating moves is not just because they are absurd and funny, though they are. It’s also because it was impossible not to see the backlash that would come. I have skin in the game here as a gay person, and I’d rather not live through a resurgence in homophobia. But if you think moderates are your enemy and Trump conservatism is what fascism looks like, I fear you are in for a very rude awakening. 

→A palette cleanser: A gorgeous, tender profile in the Washington Post of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages

This week on Common Sense:

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Wood offered a fascinating piece about Vladimir Putin’s mother. Wood argues that her resilience—and the resistance of Leningraders under the Nazi siege—should serve as a warning to her tyrannical son. 

Under threat of Russian bombs, our brave friend Maria Avdeeva went to a wedding in Kharkiv. The ceremony was held on the train platform in the underground metro station. It was the safest place in town. 

Suzy Weiss delivered a gut punch in her story of what lockdown did to teenage girls. This is what happens when there's a hole where adolescence should be.

From Jerusalem, reporter Lahav Harkov explains what Zelensky meant when he said his country would emerge from the war as a “Big Israel.” Among other things: He meant that Ukraine would view its neighbors the way Israel has long viewed its own: As enemies waiting to pounce. Deeply insightful and eerily timed: Ukraine Learns the Israel Lesson.

Last but not least, we’ve heard your requests! This week, for the first and maybe the only time ever because I cannot stand the sound of my own voice: TGIF made just for your ears. That’s right, a podcast version of this column brought to you by yours truly and friend of Common Sense Katie Herzog.

Give it a listen and let us know what you think at Seriously, we want to know what works and what doesn’t. And have a great weekend. TGIF.