FOR FREE PEOPLE

FOR FREE PEOPLE

Joe Biden reveals a sock with the Philadelphia Phillies logo. (Mark Makela via Getty Images)

TGIF: Matches Made in Hell Edition

The CDC and the teachers union. The Department of Homeland Security and Facebook. AOC and Elon. And other unholy unions.

First off, Common Sense is hiring. And we love to see that our job listings are causing huge drama among at least one Facebook moms group. (Apply here!)

Second, I’m at Stanford’s Academic Freedom Conference (an amazing lineup), so I brought in the big guns to punch up my jokes (Suzy) and the even bigger guns to take the baby for a day (grandma!). I’m told the plan is to look at ducks. 

Don’t tell the Facebook moms how good a week it was on Common Sense. We kicked it off with horror king Jason Blum’s rundown of his favorite scary movies. Then came Leighton Woodhouse’s report from Portland, Oregon, where fed-up Democrats are considering electing Republican Christine Drazan for governor. Walter Kirn tackled Twitter and Elon with his usual panache. Peter Savodnik caught up with Hollywood power brokers—like Bryan Lourd and Nicole Avant—to hear why they’re all in for Rick Caruso, the former-Republican now moderate Democrat running for mayor of LA. And on the podcast, Bari hosted a pre-midterms roundtable with Mary Katharine Ham, Josh Kraushaar, and Batya Ungar-Sargon on whether or not we should be expecting a red wave come Tuesday. 

Anyway, you might imagine that I’m tired. And oh, I am. Weary, glazed-eyed, confused hour-by-hour about where I am exactly, what my role is, and so I find myself feeling real sympathy for a comrade, Joseph R. Biden. 

→ The gaffes are getting worse: I don’t know if you can call them gaffes anymore. Here was Biden this week speaking about the state of the economy:

“Inflation is a worldwide problem right now because of a war in Iraq and the impact on oil, and what Russia is doing. I mean, excuse me, the war in Ukraine. I'm thinking of Iraq because that's where my son died. The because he died.” Beau Biden died of brain cancer in Bethesda, Maryland.

He then claimed to have met the man who “invented” insulin. 

“How many of you know somebody with diabetes who needs insulin? You know how much it costs to make that insulin drug for diabetes? . . . It was invented by a man who did not patent it because he wanted it available for everyone. I spoke to him, OK?”

But Frederick Banting, the man who co-discovered insulin, died in 1941, the year before Biden was born. 

I’m not here to judge. When I was nine months pregnant, I opened the trash can and saw I’d apparently thrown out the dogs’ leashes. The people around our president certainly know what’s going on. They can’t deny it anymore. The thing is: They just don’t care. Biden—and soon, perhaps, John Fetterman, given that Oprah just endorsed him—may be somewhere between here and out to lunch, but that’s not a problem. For staffers and lobbyists, it’s actually ideal. As long as a politician-shaped person can read the cue cards well enough, that’ll do just fine.

→ Cash for votes: The Biden administration is unleashing $13 billion to help low- and moderate-income Americans pay their soaring energy bills. Pouring more gas on the inflation fire doesn’t make sense until you realize we’re days away from an election.

He is also ragging on oil companies to be drilling more in the U.S. Here’s Biden this week: “If oil companies were investing their profits in their operations at historic rates, America would be producing more oil today and prices would be down even further.”

Here’s Biden in 2020

As an almost-suburban mom swing voter, I actually agree with both conflicting Bidens. I want to Protect Our National Parks and I want a break at the pump. Not my job to figure that out!

→ Polls show red wave coming: Taking the House of Representatives has looked like a sure bet for Republicans for a while. But until recently it seemed as though Dems could hold the Senate, especially with Roe’s repeal and most Americans balking at the Republicans’ hardline response. As the election nears, this is shifting, and the Senate looks like a real toss-up. The data folks at 538 are saying it’s a dead heat, with odds slightly toward the Senate going red. Just yesterday a poll came out favoring Oz over Fetterman in PA. Let the finger pointing commence. 

National Dems are blaming local Dems for dragging them down. Misinformation is gumming everything up. Obsessing over Trump just isn’t going to cut it this time around. This election is about the economy, crime and the Covid hangover, and there is no way for the Democrats to wiggle out of it.

→ Elon’s rollicking first week with Twitter: Musk has brought together a personal Seal Team 6 of sorts to rehaul the social media giant. Dozens of Tesla engineers are in Twitter’s back-end plowing through the code. Old PayPal Mafia buddies are in the building. Musk is laying off half of Twitter’s staff (about 3,700 people), and for the survivors he is making them . . . it’s almost too terrible to say . . . go back to the office. Remote work is over. Someone bring me a garment to rend. 

One change we’re already seeing is in the tone of fact-checking on tweets, where readers are able to add “context” if they smell a skunk, sort of like on Wikipedia. Suddenly the fact-checks are balanced: read here for summary and screenshots that show a remarkable shift. Did a dissident sneak into the building or has there been one there all along? 

But the biggest Musk-Twitter change is that he’s taking away the most important status symbol for good liberal American intellectuals: The blue check. The blue check was something given out by Twitter employees to people the company deemed “notable.” Like me, notable, basically knighted. The verification team was a capricious god, sometimes taking away someone’s blue check if that person started getting annoying to them. Or denying it to notable people just to make a little statement. It was a small power, but it was theirs. Now, Musk is destroying it all. He’s going to charge for the check and give it actual privileges, rather than symbolic ones. For $8 a month. 

Paying for a check ruins it all. Where is the dignity in that? Some real celebs, like Shonda Rhimes and Sara Bareilles are leaving Twitter altogether. Alex Winter, the guy who played Bill in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is also out, which is sad since he’s how I got most of my news. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted sarcastic jokes negging the change, and she and Elon resumed their online flirtation, all of which should be done in their DMs.

→ Someone please protect Paul: Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old investment banker husband of Nancy, was brutally attacked in his home late last week. A lot of theories sprang from that assault. On the right, the alleged attacker, David DePape, was Paul Pelosi’s gay lover. On the left, the attacker was a totally sane Fox News MAGA-inspired soldier on a mission from Tucker. Both of these are wrong. The suspect seems to be a mentally ill psychotic on drugs. And whenever we talk about psychotic people on drugs, I think of Michael Shellenberger (in a good way!). He delivers this week with a piece that includes interviews with the suspect’s ex and neighbors who say the guy’s insane. He’s a familiar character out west. 

One sticking point for the right-wingers: Why would the alleged attacker let Paul Pelosi make a phone call to 911? Doesn’t that seem a little odd? To me, no. You tell a crazy man the phone is a banana and you’re making a call to the moon, and it might work. Why were they both in their underwear? I see semi-naked men in psychotic states wandering the sidewalks all the time, and I try to count how many blocks they are from my house (fewer than four blocks, and I don’t love it). It sounds to me like Paul Pelosi managed to talk his way out of being beaten to death. 

Stepping back, though: Between driving himself around Napa after dinner parties (pleading guilty to a DUI with injury) and the fact that he seems to have little to no private security when Nancy is out of town, it’s clear no one is taking care of Paul Pelosi. TGIF worries about Paul. 

→ Do not abolish the IRS: Ted Cruz this week shouted his new rallying cry: “Abolish the IRS!” Abolishing the financial police is just as silly as any of these cries, but viscerally, emotionally, personally, of course I agree. At least only when I think of myself. When I think about anyone with even one single dollar more than me? Fund the IRS. Fund it big. 

→Kyrie a river: Joining Kanye in antisemitic conspiracies is basketball star Kyrie Irving who’s recently promoted the 2018 movie “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America.” This movie claims that the Holocaust didn’t happen, that many Jews worship Satan, and that Africans are the real Jewish people. Cool. 

The NBA released a statement condemning hate speech (remember when sports organizations didn’t have to do that every week?), but a little over a half hour later Kyrie was asked by a reporter if he had antisemitic beliefs and couldn’t give a straight answer. "I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from," he said, repeating: “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.” Now, I’ve only been a Member of the Tribe for a year or so, but that doesn’t seem quite accurate. 

Kyrie called some of the points made in the “Hebrews to Negroes” movie “unfortunate” and considering it borrows heavily from the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” I’d say “unfortunate” is one word for it. 

In antisemitic fantasies over the pond, an English theater announced they’d be putting on Romeo & Juliet, but reimagined with Romeo as a member of Hitler Youth and Juliet as a Jew during the Holocaust and also somehow being nonbinary is a factor here. Seems a little odd but then here’s their casting call: "For many roles we are cross-casting and specifically looking for non-binary artists, and/or those of Global Majority, black or Asian heritage.”

Three guesses which group is missing from the ad for the Holocaust play. 

(11th hour TGIF update: The play was canceled in the backlash. And the Nets announced that Kyrie would be suspended for at least five games with no pay.)

→ Do we even need a lab leak item: This week, a Senate interim report on the origin of Covid showed that the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2019 was in crisis and had been for a while. There’s evidence of various safety breaches at the lab. But there was specifically one biosafety incident at that Wuhan lab in November 2019, and that mysterious incident was especially unusual and dire. China also started developing a vaccine a full month before the U.S. did, leading one to think maybe they had a bit of a head start. The Senate report’s conclusion: “Based on the analysis of the publicly available information, it appears reasonable to conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.” 

Most outlets covering this report emphasized that it was made by Republicans, it was a Senate GOP report. IE: Not to be trusted! Here’s the Times: “G.O.P. Senator’s Report on Covid Origins Suggests Lab Leak, but Offers Little New Evidence.” Little new evidence?

ProPublica and Vanity Fair broke from the pack, partnered together, and took the new evidence very seriously. What they produced is one of the best deep dives into evidence for a lab leak, which I gotta say, always felt a little less racist than “someone ate a bat.”

Still, NPR said that anyone who thought the lab leak seemed credible was QAnon, so I guess Vanity Fair has gone full WWG1WGA. 

→ Amnesty for Covid-obsessives? Lockdown fanatics are hoping for everyone to forgive and forget what happened back there. Those in favor are calling it Pandemic Amnesty, and the Atlantic this week published a coherent argument for it: “Let’s focus on the future, and fix the problems we still need to solve,” the author Emily Oster writes. (Oster herself was actually a reasonable voice during that whole Covid thing).

Here’s the problem: None of the fanatics ever admitted wrongdoing. There have been no apologies for keeping schools shut for so long or closing beaches and parks when it was clear those were safe places for everyone. There’s been no reckoning on the brutal realities of keeping seniors and children in little hermetic boxes for several years, nor the damage to small businesses. 

The Covid fanatics had a very good run. Anytime they spoke it was phrased as “experts say.” No matter if it was a PhD in critical pottery theory, they were doctors of something. The virus allowed for America’s hall monitors to dominate, and they did it with ferocious glee. Now, ousted from power first by the vaccine and then by reasonable Covid moderates, the lockdown fanatics would like to move on and for you to forget the fact that your kid can’t do math or that your dad died alone. 

Two great responses to Emily Oster’s piece: This, from another Emily. And Liel Leibovitz’s piece from eight months ago, which anticipated this moment.

Oster notwithstanding, it’s unclear how Americans are meant to mend and move forward given—oh god, Randi Weingarten, not now. 

→ A match made in hell: According to emails provided to the New York Post, the American Federation of Teachers, one of two main teachers unions in the country, was influencing the CDC’s reopening plans. 

“Thank you again for Friday’s rich discussion about forthcoming CDC guidance and for your openness to the suggestions made by our president, Randi Weingarten, and the AFT,” wrote a teacher’s union official. 

The suggestions included for teachers to be able to keep working remotely if they or a member of their household was at high risk for Covid and that schools could decide to forgo IRL learning if they happened to be in a Covid “red zone” which when the guidelines came out included some 99% of all schoolchildren. Apparently White House officials were looped in too.

Look, I don't blame a union for trying to get a plush deal for its members, but maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to pressure the government to parrot their wish list? Anyway I have this hen house and I’m thinking of hiring a fox to guard it. 

→ Hillary, please, we’re begging you to stop: It brings me no pleasure to report that Hillary Clinton is making the rounds on cable. She went on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show to say that voters who are disenchanted with Democrats are just confused. They don’t “really understand” what would happen under Republicans. Full quote: “I think that with all of the noise that we’ve gotten in this election season, I don’t think that people are really able to grasp that. But more importantly, I’m not sure they really understand the threats to their way of life.” (Joy Reid went on a tear about how the dismal midterm polls are fake, concocted by right-wing pollsters, and being pushed to dishearten the left.) 

Clinton is putting out missives about how if Republicans win, democracy ends: “They're looking to impose one-party rule with zero accountability to voters.” Let’s all just pinky swear that no matter what happens next week we can all make our points without screaming that democracy is over? No? Okay. 

I’m not sure who the audience for a Clinton revival is. But I can’t imagine the moderate mom concerned about crime loves being told she’s simply lost her mind. 

→ Affirmative action likely to fall: On Monday the Supreme Court heard opening arguments for Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, twin cases that may well spell the end of affirmative action in America. 

There were over five hours of arguments and apparently Amy Coney Barrett used the term “slicing the salami pretty finely” when discussing if essays about one’s racial experience counts as affirmative action. With a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench, most everyone agrees that affirmative action is about to be majorly curtailed, if not outright banned, and universities will have to find workarounds or else refocus their recruitment strategies on metrics other than race. 

Students for Fair Admissions is an organization headed by Edward Blum and representing Asian-American students who say they are discriminated against in admission in the name of diversity. 

This week Columbia University tweeted out that, actually, Asian-American students are unfairly advantaged when it comes to admissions. Not to slice the salami too thin or anything but imagine being an Asian-American student paying $85,967 and reading this. 

→ Scoop of the week: A well earned tip of the hat to Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang at The Intercept for their bombshell investigation into the way-too-cozy relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and America’s tech giants. One text that a Microsoft exec wrote to a DHS official: “Platforms have got to get comfortable with gov’t.”  

Included in the report is evidence showing that the government, through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, worked in concert with Facebook and Twitter to suppress or censor online content they didn’t like (information in flavors mis-, dis-, and mal-). No-no content included information relating to the pandemic, or that might undermine trust in banks and courts. 

Of note: even though the report should have landed Lee and Ken on primetime on every network, Lee only seems to have been invited on Tucker Carlson’s show

→ Netanyahu is back in the driver’s seat: Okay, sure, the electoral college has some drawbacks. But let’s think about the alternatives. Israeli elections happen every single day and yet I still can’t tell who runs the place. I’ve read that two-time PM Benjamin Netanyahu has secured a right-wing coalition and is poised to take back power, but I'll believe it when I see it.

If you want a run-down of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Iraqi-lawyer Kahanist who was key to Bibi’s return to power, check out Armin Rosen’s profile in Tablet

→ We’re all getting grounded: Yesterday the head of the FCC Brendan Carr teased that he might be putting the kibosh on TikTok very soon. "I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban," Carr said, per Axios. But dad!

Considering the CCP has control of all of the data gathered by TikTok’s parent company, Byte Dance, it's probably a good idea to treat it like a national security threat. And besides the Beijing of it all, the platform seems to facilitate really creepy phenomena, like teens self-diagnosing with niche mental health disorders and whatever goblincore is. 

→ Some nice news: 

Congrats to Mrses. Argentina and Puerto Rico who got married late last month in San Juan. I had to do a double take since I could’ve sworn these were pics of Bari and me: 

A post shared by Fabiola Valentín 🌙 (@fabiolavalentinpr)

Remember, red wave or blue wave or purple trickle, it’s not the midterm results that matter but the malinformation you believed along the way. T.G.I.F.

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