FOR FREE PEOPLE

FOR FREE PEOPLE

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is led away handcuffed by officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force on December 13, 2022. (Mario Duncanson via Getty Images)

TGIF: Just Another Week in the U.S.A

Trump's NFTs. SBF's vegan jail food. Plus: 'dragphobia,' nuclear fusion and, yes, more Twitter.

You may have heard of our re-launch. Assigned Common Sense at birth, we now go by The Free Press. But TGIF? TGIF is forever. 

For our new readers, hi, hello! I’m Nellie and this is where I send-up the happenings of the past week. Originally conceived as a way to monetize my mental illness (addiction to news, hour-long rants at dinner), it is a regular Friday feature. You may be asking: How did I get this job? 

Had I distinguished myself as a newshound back at the New York Times? I hadn’t. But I happened to marry Bari, and I am a trophy wife who demanded a column. 

To my longtime readers, I just want you to know that even though we relaunched and had major Twitter scoops – our company email was full of you asking why TGIF took the week off. And I liked that. 

Ok, let’s get into it:

→ Twitter files: Elon Musk decided to open up Twitter’s archives for a small group of reporters to trawl this week and last. Whenever a source wants to dump documents in your hands, they have an agenda, and Musk is no exception. What was his? The archives show well-intentioned, power-high and pretty random progressives with unimaginable power—and they wielded it. 

Those former Twitter execs could and did alter the American public discourse to fit their whims, limiting conversation about topics that weren’t helpful for their political cause of the moment, propping censorship up by citing rules they made up on the fly. Responding to the documents, Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey wrote a mea culpa this week. “The biggest mistake I made was continuing to invest in building tools for us to manage the public conversation, versus building tools for the people using Twitter to easily manage it for themselves. This burdened the company with too much power...”

If too much power was in the hands of a few people then, now it is in the hands of just one man, Elon Musk. And he is being driven by some of the same whims, just with new targets.

Earlier this week, he banned an account called @ElonJet, which tracked his private jet’s location. Musk announced his own new anti-doxxing rule to justify it, saying tracking real-time locations is dangerous.

As of Thursday night, Musk has suspended the accounts of several reporters who have been critical of him; Musk says they violated his doxxing rule. That new list of suspended accounts includes Ryan Mac at the New York Times and Drew Harwell at the Washington Post. It includes Keith Olbermann. It also includes the account of a Twitter competitor Mastodon. The argument Clarence Thomas once posited—that social media platforms should be regulated like common carriers (airlines, postal services)—seems more reasonable by the day. 

Musk’s Twitter reign (of terror?!) is a developing story. I’m working on something longer. And we accept all document dumps from all agendas. 

→ Sam Bankman-Fried is finally arrested: Our favorite high-flying crypto mogul and Democratic mega-donor has finally been arrested and jailed. The charges: mail and wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to avoid campaign finance regulations, and more. Bankman-Fried claimed he needed to get out on bail because he was depressed and also a vegan. (Why does one always come with the other?) 

SBF has hired the lawyer who defended Ghislaine Maxwell, which is a little too on-the-nose.

His parents, Stanford Law School professors who teach on philosophy and taxes, were there in the Bahamas as their son was booked. From the CoinDesk reporter who was in the courtroom with them all: “Bankman-Fried’s mother audibly laughed several times when her son was referred to as a ‘fugitive’ and his father occasionally put his fingers in his ears as if to drown out the sound of the proceedings.” The fugitive’s father, Joseph Bankman, who was paid by and worked with his son, will not be teaching his usual tax-policy course this year. Stanford Law students are there to learn how to cheat the tax code successfully—not to learn how to get caught! 

In other Stanford chaos notes, the school’s president is under his own scrutiny. Stanford has had to hire an investigator to look into allegations that its president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a celebrated neuroscientist, fabricated the results that got him so celebrated. The allegations look pretty legit. Stanford University produces America’s finest scammers, including the artiste Elizabeth Holmes, so we should celebrate that the school may be led by the best scammer type there is: the green-juice-drinking fake-the-results scientist. 

→ Iran continues to crack down on protestors: The brutal regime that Biden desperately wants to cut a nuclear deal with continues to torture and kill its own people, who have been protesting for basic freedoms. The 23-year-old Iranian protestor Majidreza Rahnavard’s last words before his execution: “​​Be joyful. Play happy music.” An Iranian soccer player who campaigned for women’s rights has been sentenced to execution.  

They are heroes. 

→ Trump announced trading cards: Trump said he would have “a major announcement.” Doesn’t he always. This week it is that he’s selling Trump-branded trading cards for $99 for an individual card (which is shocking to me; an earlier edition of this newsletter said that was the price for a set). The card images are various hyper-butch, fanfic Trump drawings, where he has rippling muscles and wears capes. There’s a Tom of Finland quality to the whole thing, but I’ll leave that for someone else to parse. Amazingly, the Trump trading cards are actually NFTs. Yes, they don’t even print these things. It’s just a JPEG. A single JPEG!

But it doesn’t appear that Trump’s antics are working as well as they used to. According to a new USA Today/Suffolk University Poll, Republican voters prefer DeSantis over Trump by a lot. The numbers: 56% would go DeSantis to 33% who’d go for Trump. But can Trump be stopped from running as a spoiler for DeSantis? I doubt it. 

→ Speaking of Republicans who need to bow out: After running and losing for governor of Arizona, television personality Kari Lake appears to be unable to let go. She’s filed a lawsuit to overturn the election, and she’s actively gunning to be Trump’s VP in 2024. 

Over at American Greatness, a paleoconservative publication, they have a piece headlined “Hard Truths and Radical Possibilities,” where a writer argues that: “Even if conducted legitimately, elections no longer reflect the will of the people.” To correct the course, it “would require an alliance in a quasi-political street fight, probably leading to a constitutional crisis, to bring the bureaucracy to heel.” 

Ummm, excuse me? 

Deciding that all elections are fake and that voting isn’t doing anything is a fun argument to make over some weed gummies, but not a great way to galvanize voters and win an election in the still very much functioning America. Maybe I’m wrong and the right-wing revolution is coming, but given the drubbing those kind of candidates just took in the midterms, it looks unlikely. There’s a smart take from Commentary’s Noah Rothman on chaos inside the RNC: “This is what a losing party looks like.”

→ Long Covid is a disease of the white and anxious: More research is coming out about long Covid, and the findings are fascinating. Nearly 80% of the deaths attributed to it are among white Americans, according to the CDC. And the only medical factor that seems to predict a long Covid diagnosis is pre-existing anxiety

Now, I think long Covid is very real. I do not question the genius of that lab in Wuhan: This virus ravages people. But it also seems like people with other issues are latching onto the diagnosis, in similar ways the very real Lyme disease gets hanger-oners. (Here’s a gorgeous New Republic piece on why that’s happening around long Covid and also why it shouldn’t be dismissed.) 

To admit that some virus is in your mind is not to say it’s fake. In fact, in certain ways, it’s much more real, much harder to treat. For context around what might be happening, the National Center for Education Statistics has found a spike in mental health crisis among adolescents under Covid lockdowns of 2021. According to the numbers the CDC released recently, 1 in 5 adolescents had seriously considered suicide and 9% of those surveyed tried to take their lives in the previous 12 months. 

→ Kyrsten Sinema, showing bisexual pride, will not choose a party: The senator from Arizona, America’s first out bisexual in those hallowed halls, is taking that historic role very seriously. She announced that she no longer identifies as a Democrat. She’s not a Republican! But she’s not a Democrat either. She wrote: “I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington and formally registering as an Arizona Independent.” 

Ok Kyrsten, we’re all happy for you. Let’s check back in after college.  

→ Well that antisemitism came out quickly: All it took was one Kanye West breakdown for the very popular right-wing YouTube host Steven Crowder to go on an openly antisemitic tear and just ask questions about why there are so many Jewish bankers. Steven Crowder, silly though he may seem, is a bellwether. I think it’s useful to actually read or watch what was said: “I don’t think he hates Jewish people,” Crowder said of Kanye. “He’s not wrong about everything. Look, is there a conversation to be had about secular humanists with Jewish last names in Hollywood exploiting people in positions of the performance arts, talent? . . . Is there a disproportionate number of people with Jewish last names in higher banking? That’s an argument that can be made.” Didn’t take much to get Crowder sounding a little like Farrakhan.  

→ Surely Trump wouldn’t be also talking about Jewish people too? Trump last week chimed in to remind American Jews that they should be “ashamed” for not supporting him more. “Jewish Leaders forgot that I was the best, by far, President for Israel. They should be ashamed of themselves,” the former president said

As a new-ish Jew I do understand that guilt is an important element of being a member of the tribe, but I tend to think that is meant to apply to calling my mom. 

The Wall Street Journal has a harrowing piece about the antisemitism Jewish students are facing on college campus. This is the kind that presents itself in leftists who bill themselves as anti-Zionists and just have some issues with every Jewish organization and speaker but never mind it’s just about criticism of Israel, you see. 

→ GLAAD warns “dragphobia” is on the rise: The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has done amazing work calling out nasty portrayals of gay people over the decades. Now they are a hammer looking for nails in a surprisingly gay-friendly America. The new warning is: “dragphobia.” Guys, guys. Obviously insane people are latching onto these Drag Queen Story Hours, and anyone threatening violence should be promptly jailed. 

But thinking that drag shows are vaguely an adult activity is not a phobia, it’s a normal response from anyone who has seen and enjoyed a drag show. That said, if a school is hosting a drag show, and they’re not giving the children tequila shots and cash to slip into belts and bra straps for tips, it is by law a hate crime. 

→ An indictment in Loudoun County: In a Virginia school district, a male high school student who wore female clothes allegedly went into the girls’ bathroom and sexually assaulted a young woman. When school officials found out, they hid the truth and simply transferred the student to another school where—surprise!—that student did it again. Why was it all so clandestine? Well, trans activists want to do away with female-only bathrooms, so it’s a real problem if a male is wearing a dress, going into the women’s bathroom and sexually assaulting females. So the left had to slam it as fake-ish. “The Right’s Big Lie About a Sexual Assault in Virginia,” reads a New York Times headline. But it wasn’t a lie. Now a grand jury has indicted that superintendent with three misdemeanors and the school’s public information officer has been charged with felony perjury. 

Consequences, have you met my friend, actions? 

→ The euthanasia debate has weird politics: If you told me there was a movement to encourage the elderly and the poor to commit suicide rather than drain state resources, I would pretty safely assume that was a heartless right-wing argument. I’d write something like: They have free-marketed too far this time! 

But it’s the opposite. Being pro-assisted suicide is today a progressive argument. We’ve covered this movement extensively, but a few updates from the last two weeks:

In Canada, when a woman complained that the wheelchair ramp that the state was supposed to provide was taking too long to arrive, the Department of Veterans Affairs offered her euthanasia. In writing! Yes, we’re late on the ramp, pipe down, how about some euthanasia? That woman, former paralympian and retired corporal Christine Gauthier, testified to the Canadian parliament about it late last month. 

Starting in March, anyone with a mental health diagnosis can apply for and be granted a medical suicide. And now people under 18 (“mature minors”) will be able to as well. Watch this Canadian news segment on it. Or watch this dystopian commercial for a Canadian fashion retailer called La Maison Simons, which highlights a woman wanting soft clothes for her final days. Text runs over images of a woman draped in soft fabrics, waves rolling: “The most beautiful exit.” 

Or how about this note to a caseworker:

For the best progressive pro-assisted suicide argument, read Jill Filipovic (non-paywalled Twitter version here). She writes that the anti-assisted suicide movement is part of the pro-life movement. “The hope, I think, is that this movement will eventually give you no choice, in birth or in death,” Filipovic writes. And she argues that people ought to have choices. Die and let die, as it were. 

→ Rough weeks for bad cops: Readers likely remember the horrifying video of Daniel Shaver, crawling down a hotel hallway in Mesa, Arizona, trying his best to comply with a series of confusing demands from a police officer. When Shaver, who was drunk, crying, and on his stomach, reached to pull his pants up, the officer shot and killed him. Now, Mesa, Arizona, has to pay Shaver’s widow $8 million. Good. 

Over in Uvalde, TX, the school shooting survivors (parents, school staff, teachers) filed a class action lawsuit against the city, school district, and several of the law enforcement groups who were there, fiddling with gadgetry in the hallways for 77 minutes, as children were shot. 

And in crime-ridden Philadelphia, some small businesses are sick of being held up and waiting for police who never seem to show up. The owners of one gas station have taken things into their own hands and are hiring large men with large guns: 

→ Not the best hostage exchange deal I’ve ever seen: I don’t want WNBA star Brittney Griner stuck in a Russian penal colony for smuggling a tiny bit of cannabis oil into Moscow, but I also don’t love that the "Merchant of Death" Viktor Bout had to be released from our prison to get her out. Meantime, former (discharged) Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in a Russian prison since 2018, remains there. Biden couldn’t get him too? 

Miraculously, upon reaching freedom, the first thing the Merchant of Death did was to complain about how many genders there are in America (he said we have 72 genders). Were they keeping him at Wellesley? 

You gotta love the current culture wars are interesting enough to occupy this man’s mind after 15 years in prison. 

→ Governments giving cash only to certain races is still illegal: In the Bay Area, cities are funding various new universal basic income schemes only for black residents. This means that some residents are being given no-strings-attached checks every month but only if they are black. Check out these programs: there’s a bunch including the Abundant Birth Project and Guaranteed Income for Transgender People. Doling out government money based on race is still super illegal. Go figure! (Read Aaron Sibarium for more.)

→ Layoffs at the Washington Post: Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan was shouted down after he announced to his staff that there would be layoffs. He said he wouldn’t “turn the town hall into a grievance session” before he walked out to a chorus of jeers from reporters. Here’s video:

 

The Post is in trouble: It has lost more than 500,000 subscribers since January 2021. And the paper’s owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, doesn’t seem to want to humor his children with more cash to burn. Now, I’m not entirely surprised that the Washington Post is hemorrhaging readers. Sports fans might have trouble connecting with a story like this week’s: “Why doesn't Argentina have more Black players in the World Cup?” (The article’s answer is that it is racism. The real answer is that Argentina is less than 1% black.) And TV watchers may be confused by last week’s critique of Shark Week:

Here’s a take: Just replace all the male Discovery hosts with literal sharks. It will go a long way in healing the generational trauma we’re seeing here. Take it or leave it WaPo.

A major leap in nuclear fusion: We end with the actual biggest news of the week which is that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California reached a nuclear fusion breakthrough. They achieved fusion ignition. It happened just after 1 a.m. last Monday. Nuclear fusion is the Holy Grail of clean energy, since it doesn’t produce toxic waste, and to get one big step closer is a very big deal. “This experiment has demonstrated for the first time this can be done in a laboratory setting, rather than in a star,” said Robbie Scott, a senior plasma physicist at a laser research center in England. This is potentially the start of a climate miracle, nearly limitless clean energy. 

Climate activists (aka babysitters club for Greenwich, Connecticut’s 23-year-olds) are busy gluing themselves to roads and spraying paint on museum pieces, making sure our straws are paper. That’s actually a really nice activity for them because otherwise they’ll get in the way. 

See you in the comments. TGIF.

This post is for paying subscribers only

Subscribe

Already have an account? Log in

Latest