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FOR FREE PEOPLE

Sam Bankman-Fried testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Digital Assets and the Future of Finance. (Tom Williams via Getty Images)

TGIF: SBF. FTX. WTF!

Sam Bankman-Fried goes for the scam. Russia nearly goes nuclear. Arizona goes for Hobbs. Mitt goes for the gays. All that and much more.

Welcome to T.G.I.F, your weekly roundup of all the news you may have missed while you were out working or gardening or whatever it is you people do all week while I mainline the headlines. 

The baby is learning to smile and I think wants to babble at me. But I know she’ll understand why mommy needs to read about Sam Bankman-Fried’s polycule right now. 

We had a banner week here at Common Sense. The story none of us could keep our eyes off of was, of course, the collapse of FTX and the fall from grace of its nerd-king, Sam Bankman-Fried. Michael Green, who used to run Peter Thiel’s portfolio, took us inside the implosion of the crypto exchange. FTX may have collapsed, but TikTok, the Chinese-controlled social media app, has taken over the world—or at least the brains of America’s kids. China reporter Geoffrey Cain explains why that is very bad, and why the U.S. should take steps to ban the platform. Could World War III be around the corner?  Elliot Ackerman and Adm. James Stavridis lay out four scenarios that might light the spark. On Honestly, Lt. Gen. HR McMaster weighed in on the war in Ukraine—and how it might come to an end. For a lighter note, check out Freddie deBoer’s review of the new #MeToo movie starring Cate Blanchett, Tár

We arrive again at the week’s end. TGIF. See you in the comments. 

→ Trump announces the return no one wants: Donald J. Trump gathered a crowd at Mar-a-Lago to announce the inevitable: He would be running again in 2024. Clocking in at over an hour, the speech was a classic Trump ramble. In Biden, we have a president kept hidden away, so I’d forgotten what Trump is like on a tear, and to the mainstream media it was manna from heaven: “The 51 most outlandish lines from Donald Trump’s announcement speech,” roared a jubilant CNN. You don’t need me to tell you that every New York Times op-ed writer heard the bat call, spinning a thousand takes within hours. The media wants Trump to run. The media needs it. 

All the smart Republicans are trying really, really hard to stop Trump this time. The National Review put out a big anti-Trump editorial headlined simply: “No.” (Not that their 2016 cover accomplished much.) The New York Post has made the full turn, covering Trump’s run with the unbeatable headline “Florida Man Makes Announcement.” But this time does feel different. His own daughter, Ivanka, was a no-show at the announcement, instead releasing a statement: “I love my father very much. This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children and the private life we are creating as a family.” I don’t blame her. And conservatives are quickly spinning away from him: Voters prefer Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump, according to a new YouGov survey

As Trump’s announcement wore on, some in the audience wanted to leave the gold-plated room. They began moving toward the exits, but security guards kept them in, an unwinnable MAGA Escape Room challenge. They had to hear the whole megillah (or Magna Carta—pick your reference). May you never be trapped in a Mar-a-Lago ballroom with Trump at the podium.

→ Can Dems handle investigating FTX? The crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried seems like he’d be in a lot of trouble right now. It sure looks like he was running one of the largest financial scams in history, with his cryptocurrency “bank” at one point valued at $32 billion and Bankman-Fried on his way to being “the world’s first trillionaire,” according to the investment firm Sequoia Capital. But Bankman-Fried was also one of the largest donors to the Democratic party, second only to George Soros this past cycle. And so the touch from media and regulatory bodies has been extraordinarily, hilariously soft. SEC chair Gary Gensler, a former campaign finance chair for Hillary Clinton, has long been cozy with Bankman-Fried, helping his business grow (when you give that much money, it’s only fair to get a little something back). From Fortune magazine: “Cop-on-the-beat Gensler not only failed to spot the crime—he appeared set to go along with a legislative strategy that would have given SBF a regulatory moat and made him king of the U.S. crypto market.” 

It’s a family operation. Bankman-Fried’s parents are Stanford Law School professors and deeply involved with Democratic party leadership. His mother, Barbara Fried, has helped raise tens of millions for Democrats through her PAC, Mind the Gap. His father, Joseph Bankman, helped draft tax legislation for Elizabeth Warren. 

So the media has decided for now that the young Bankman-Fried was just a goofy overextended do-gooder. As the NYT put it this week: “His ambitions exceeded his grasp” and he was just super “overextended.” Same thing happens when I make too many work commitments—I end up in the Bahamas with a billion dollars. SBF is still on the line-up to speak at an upcoming NYT event with Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury. 

The man who cleaned up Enron—John Ray III—has been dragged back in now to clean up FTX. And here’s what he said in bankruptcy filings: “Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here. From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented.”

(Enron lost its shareholders $74 billion.)

For his part, Bankman-Fried is being pretty honest about who he is, which is a con artist. A Vox reporter had this exchange with the crypto mogul

Never trust a grown man who writes “hehe.” 

You’d think after saying something like that, the gloves would come off. Nope! The Vox reporter goes with the same old line that Bankman-Fried was just in over his head: “Why didn’t Bankman-Fried realize what was happening until it was too late?” she asks. That’s a question I’m sure his defense lawyer will use a lot. The poor child had no idea what was happening, your honor. This gentle, credulous treatment is 100% unrelated to the fact that Bankman-Fried has funded that very Vox vertical, a collaboration the company says is “on pause.” Ok.

Just in case, though, Vox is being sure to distance Democrats from Bankman-Fried with another article, headlined: “The impact of Sam Bankman-Fried’s support for Democrats is massively overstated.” See, it’s not such a big deal to be the party’s second largest donor who just spent $36 million supporting Dems in the midterms. 

Last note on this is to point out that his mom, Barbara, is a major ethicist at Stanford who doesn’t believe in free will, personal responsibility, or blame, which is very much the mom you want in this situation. “The philosophy of personal responsibility has ruined criminal justice and economic policy. It’s time to move past blame,” Barbara wrote in the Boston Review

Anyway, once you know this man is a complete scammer, this video interview is so much funnier: 

→ Mormons for gay marriage: The Senate is getting ready to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which will enshrine same-sex marriage into federal law. It already passed the House with support from 47 Republicans. Some conservatives say this new bill is an unnecessary provocation since gay marriage is already the law of the land. But that’s a hard argument to make after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested marriage rested on the same shaky grounds as Roe. The new law, which repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, will allow states to decide for themselves whether to grant same-sex marriages—but every state will be bound to recognize marriages done and valid in other states. A clever work-around and a nice way to increase Alabama to California tourism. 

What’s amazing is how mild the opposition is. Here’s Utah Sen. Mitt Romney: “While I believe in traditional marriage, Obergefell is and has been the law of the land upon which LGBTQ individuals have relied. This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress—and I—esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally.” Even more incredible is the Mormon Church came out in favor of the bill, writing: “much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.” 

Progressives don’t think the bill goes far enough (every state should have to grant same-sex marriages, they argue), but no one is paying much attention to that. Because this all already is an unfathomable social shift from even a few years ago.

→ Speaking of Roe fallout: Pro-life strategists are telling politicians to wait a year or two before going after IVF and contraception. And every week there are more headlines like this one in the Daily Mail: “Former Ms. South Carolina, 35, reveals she was forced to carry unviable fetus for seven weeks and fly 500 miles to D.C. for an abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned.” The backlash to horror stories like these is rightly severe. Thanks to overturning Roe, Republicans lost the midterms and, soon, gay marriage will be enshrined into federal law. 

→ The FBI was involved in January 6: It used to be considered a conspiracy theory to say that the FBI might have infiltrated conservative groups and joined the January 6th riot. It was considered crazy to suggest that they were hoping to catch some right-wing crimes and so potentially encouraged those protestors to go just a little bit further. Lately, that’s not looking so crazy. Two of the major Capitol storming clans—the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers—were choc-a-bloc with FBI informants, according to new court documents. As many as eight were working in the Proud Boys. And the No. 2 leader of the Oath Keepers was reporting to the FBI. 

→ Here comes the Hunter Biden investigation: Yesterday morning, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and James Comer (Kentucky) announced the news that conservatives and the entire staff of the New York Post have been waiting years to hear: an official investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings, which is weird because all that was supposed to be Russian disinfo and also where are those pee tapes? 

“As part of our investigation, we have evidence that the finances, credit cards, and bank accounts of Hunter and Joe Biden were co-mingled, if not shared. And on some accounts at least, red flags were raised by banks to the account owner or owners indicating suspicious or illegal activity,” said Comer.

Emma-Jo Morris, take your bow. 

→ Ukraine almost starts World War III: For a moment, it seemed like Russia was beginning to bomb Poland, which would have been the start of a World War. Thankfully (?) it was just Ukraine’s military accidentally sending an air defense missile, killing two Polish farm workers. The Associated Press issued a big correction. Zelensky is still denying that Ukraine could be responsible, saying: “This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”  

And NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, is still blaming Russia for the missiles, even though they were technically fired by Ukraine. "Let me be clear: This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine," he said in a press conference. 

→ Pelosi bows out: Nancy Pelosi, who led House Democrats for two decades, is stepping down from party leadership at 82. Whatever I thought about her politics day-to-day, I’ve always been impressed by the woman, an iron fist in a Gucci glove, a mother of five who’s managed to keep her party’s charismatic fringe in check. 

→ Speaking of charismatic fringes: Kari Lake, a fascinating right-wing candidate for Arizona governor who spent her campaign talking about election denial and bashing John McCain, lost to the moderate liberal Katie Hobbs. Hobbs got two-thirds of independent voters and 11% of Republicans. Axios put together a great run-down of all the purist candidates who lost on both sides. It turns out that yelling about RINOs and Dan Crenshaw and John McCain is fun on Fox News. It’s fun on Twitter. And it’s probably a hit at Claremont Institute parties (I imagine they have parties?). But it is not great for creating a coalition and winning elections. 

→ Very scary if the Asian population gets “out of proportion:” I missed this when it came out, but here’s the New Yorker on what might happen if Harvard’s not allowed to discriminate against Asians anymore: “If the Court prohibits the use of race, so that race-neutral methods become the only permissible means to achieve diversity, schools will likely play with formulas to produce a diverse class in which Asian admissions don't get unacceptably out of proportion.” (Hat tip to Zaid Jilani for the find.)

→ Dismal test results: For an update from America’s public schools, let’s look at Schenectady, New York. And how’s it going? Only 4 percent of black students passed the state’s math test this year. Can’t imagine why anyone would question the smooth, well-functioning system that leads to those numbers. An education that bad is unforgivable. 

→ Over at Twitter: Elon Musk continues to terrorize his employees, this time telling them that if they don’t want to work really hard they should quit. “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore,” he wrote to the staff, offering anyone who isn’t hardcore to take a quick easy severance package. Apparently last night, every single Twitter employee was locked out of the buildings, while Elon and Co. figured out who they wanted to fire and to make sure no one brought the whole place down. 

Amid layoffs across the tech industry, many of the well-to-do young professionals will tuck in to business schools or get MFAs or find an organic farm to wait these hard times out. Northwestern’s business school has waived any testing requirements for newly unemployed tech employees. Tuition at the business school is a reasonable $108,016 per year. Twitter workers of the world unite! In Evanston! Over coffee!

→ Choosing death over homelessness: Canada’s assisted suicide program continues to go about as you would expect. Here’s a devastating piece about one older man who is choosing suicide rather than poverty. He explicitly does not want to die. But he’s on the path now toward it. 

The nonprofit Dying with Dignity Canada (catchphrase: “It’s your life. It’s your choice.”) has been lobbying to lower the age limit to 12 years old. “DWDC asks that Parliament amend the existing age requirement of 18 years of age to extend it to persons ‘at least 12 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health.’ As with adults, there should be a presumption of capacity for these minors.”

As Boston University theology associate professor David Decosimo put it: “Only a heartless bigot would oppose trauma-informed, harm-reductive, affirmative care for children.” For those blessedly outside these debates, he’s using the argument the trans rights movement deploys for why adolescents can consent to double mastectomies. Speaking of, how is that going?

→ It doesn’t look like puberty blockers are great for your bones: The NYT had a thorough piece this week on puberty blockers and some of their side effects. Specifically: Extremely low bone density. One 15-year-old who had been on blockers for more than a year “showed spinal bone density so low that it was below the first percentile for the teen’s age and weight, indicating osteoporosis.” 

A lot of the data is anecdotal, but there actually is a big, long term study about puberty blockers in the U.S. being led by some of the country’s top pediatric gender doctors. These are doctors at Harvard Medical School, UCSF and Northwestern who constantly handle medical interventions for gender non-conforming kids. This puberty blocker study started seven years ago. And guess what? The doctors haven’t released any of their findings. (In other words: The findings must be really bad.) 

Relatedly: This past week in New York, a group of old-school feminists held a small rally called Let Women Speak, which was protested by some extremely vocal trans women who tried to climb over protective gates, shouting that they would beat the biological women and showing off their breast buds

→ Another Waukesha: In Los Angeles County this week, a large group of police recruits were running in formation when a driver plowed into them. The driver, 22-year-old Nicholas Gutierrez, was arrested on attempted murder charges. He injured 25 of the young police recruits, five of them critically. The video is harrowing, and the sheriff said it was “a deliberate act.” 

→ Swifties break Ticketmaster: Taylor Swift fans were left cold and ticketless (and heartbroken, but being Swifties that was probably the case before) when a run on pre-sale tickets for her upcoming tour created mass chaos and confusion on the Ticketmaster site. Wait times were through the roof, prices skyrocketed to the tens of thousands, and AOC started going on about how Ticketmaster is a monopoly that should be broken up. This, as they say, is why we can’t have nice things. Eventually Ticketmaster said okay we aren’t doing this, take your tickets back, and canceled the sale altogether.

TGIF, everyone.


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