People eat at the McDonald's next to the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2022, before all 850 restaurants in Russia temporarily close. (AFP via Getty Images)

TGIF: The Price of War There and Here

The West’s reaction to the Russian invasion. Plus crime, the end of Covid, and ‘Don’t Say Gay.’

TGIF. I’ll try to keep it tighter this week. Here are the headlines we’re watching, plus a summary of this week in the Common Sense newsroom. 

→Ukraine still holding: Another week, another impressive update from the completely out-manned and out-spent Ukrainian army, which continues to hold against the Russians. CNN, which shines in foreign coverage despite how it’s embarrassed itself domestically, is doing great live updates here that can get addictive. Russia is reportedly “surprised” by how strong the resistance is. 

Meanwhile, the Russian army is busy slaughtering civilians as they try to flee, like one mother and her two children who were dragging brightly colored luggage and could not have been mistaken for soldiers. 

→A prisoner of war saying things you like is still a prisoner of war: For some reason, the American intelligentsia this week decided to share and applaud a Ukrainian-made prisoner of war video. “This Russian POW has the heart of a lion,” says a woman who worked for the Biden-Harris campaign, as she shares the video (103k retweets!). In it, a captured Russian soldier is decrying the state of his homeland and describing all the bad anti-Ukraine propaganda he’d been fed. American journalists and political figures shared this as though it was touching and earnest, and offered meaningful insight into the Russian psyche. 

The Ukrainians have become adept at sharing POW videos and setting up propaganda panels for local and Western journalists to “interview” the hostages, as though everyone were having a normal afternoon. Here’s a piece by the Washington Post, which covers one such event and asks the open-ended question: “It’s a powerful propaganda tool, but is it a violation of POW rights?” Yes, it absolutely is. 

It would behoove people to remember: When a tousled, bruised American at Al Qaeda’s gunpoint offers up some (maybe accurate!) spiel about American foreign policy debacles, we see that clearly as a hostage video. That’s what these videos are. 

The American hard left has been much savvier on this topic. They’ve been fiercely skeptical of war propaganda from the start. 

→Israel trying to put out fires: In a curious twist, Israel has become a key player in trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Putin in Moscow on Saturday and has been negotiating between Putin, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, France and Germany. The tiny nation has played a careful role in this war: They condemned Putin, but won’t send military aid to Ukraine.

This is one-part demographic: There are tons of Jews from Russia and Ukraine living in Israel. (And there are about to be many more.) But mostly it represents Israel’s shift away from its historic reliance on the United States—a shift that began during the Obama administration and will only deepen under the Biden administration’s proposed new Iran Deal. The Israeli politician and former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky lays this all out brilliantly in The Wall Street Journal.

→Boycott of all things Russian picks up pace: To paraphrase a joke, all the people who decried the lab leak theory as SO RACIST! are now doing something actually xenophobic: Boycotting anything and everything Russian they can find. They are boycotting Russian music and restaurants, never mind that these spots are often owned by Ukrainians, or that most of the musicians now banned from stage have decried the war. All Russians have to suffer for the sins of Putin. “Russian society is to blame” is an actual argument made quite often

Some headlines for you:

Montreal Symphony Orchestra drops Russian piano prodigy from concerts amid backlash

Cardiff Philharmonic removes Tchaikovsky from programme in light of Russian invasion of Ukraine

War in Ukraine: Netflix shelves Tolstoy adaptation after criticism

Collective guilt is bad, un-American and it simply doesn’t help the cause of Ukraine to boycott Russian cats. Yes, the International Cat Federation actually did this.

→Rules for my enemies, exemptions for my friends: Facebook and Instagram, which were so quick to kick off anyone who questioned cloth masks and, of course, the American president, are now suspending their High Moral rules altogether because . . . well because they can and they’d like to. Reuters tells us: “Facebook will temporarily allow posts calling for violence against Russians, calls for Putin’s death.

If you appreciated our coverage of Ukraine and Russia this week, please consider becoming a subscriber today.

→The price of everything is up: And up. Inflation in America just hit a 40-year-record of 7.9%. And the numbers for consumer goods are alarming, which I really don’t need to tell anyone who’s living in this country. But in case you needed a reminder, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, here are some more stats (measured year over year): Used Cars +41%. Gasoline +38%. Hotels +29%. Furniture +17%. Chicken +13%. New cars and trucks: +12%. Baby food +8%.

Gas prices hit a record $4.17 a gallon (which in California, with all our taxes and various laws, means you’re seeing numbers over $7 a gallon at the pump).

Stephen Colbert, whose contract pays him a reported $15 million a year at CBS, tried to make a joke mocking his own wealth. But it came across as a little too real. 

“Today, the average gas price in America hit an all-time record high of over $4 per gallon. Okay, that stings, but a clear conscience is worth a buck or two. I’m willing to pay. I’m willing to pay $4 a gallon. Hell, I’ll pay $15 a gallon because I drive a Tesla.”

Or there is Harvard’s Larry Summers, who, God help me, I usually like, saying this: “I would not be surprised if we saw $5 gasoline . . . if you think about the sacrifices that are being made by the people of Ukraine, if you think about our stake in stopping a tyrant who is trying to expand, that is a price that is very much worth paying.”

→City crime keeps rising (even I’m getting sick of this item): Many who would like to suggest that the rise in crime is just a figment of some hypersensitive people’s imagination sound a lot like those insisting that inflation is really just a spike in greed. Often, it’s the same people making those spurious arguments. But the statistics speak for themselves. In New York, the stats from this week mirror what’s happening across the country and they are appalling. Rape in New York is up 31% from a year ago. Robbery is up nearly 45%. Grand larceny auto is up 94%. It would be great for solutions to start and fast.

Here’s a little slice of life (h/t Emily Yoffe): Harvey Marcelin murdered a girlfriend years ago. While out on parole, Marcelin murdered another girlfriend. While out on parole for that murder, our killer, now 83, dismembered a woman, according to police who this week arrested Marcelin, who seemed to be in possession of the murdered woman’s head. (Oh, and the murderer now identifies as transgender. Welcome to women’s prison!) 

→Everyone’s done with Covid except toddlers: The mask-forever-ers have finally lost their grip on the rest of us who can march naked-faced through our great cities, but there is one group they remain devoted to wrapping up: Toddlers! The CDC still recommends indoor masking exclusively for toddlers, and the mask-forever-community is here for it. 

If you think toddler masking is not being enforced, you’re wrong. In California, state authorities have raided three preschools this week and taken very naughty toddlers aside for questioning. Parents are horrified to find out their 2-year-olds were isolated and interrogated by law enforcement and have written complaints to the agency.

Never mind the science—a new study from Spain puts it plainly: “face mask mandates in schools are not associated with lower SARS-CoV-2 incidence or transmission, suggesting this intervention is not effective”—or that toddlers are at next to no risk. 

What’s abundantly clear: Pandemic policies like shutting down public schools caused children to suffer enormously. Those children are now catastrophically behind in literacy, which the mainstream media is finally admitting this week. The impact of these policies—and the literacy divide between those in private school, who went back to classrooms right away, and those in public school, who stayed home for over a year—will be felt for a generation or more. As politicians try to move on from that whole Covid thing (what was it again?), some rightly furious public school moms are calling this week for public apologies.

→Sex, kids, and Florida: Rage continues to grow against what the left is calling Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This week, it passed the Florida senate. The right has fully lost the messaging battle here. The thing does not, in fact, ban people from saying “gay.” What it does ban is elementary school teachers in kindergarten through third grade discussing gender identity and sexual orientation during class. 

The chyrons on Fox News that insist liberals are somehow trying to “groom” children are offensive and harken back to the homophobia of decades ago that insisted all gay people were pedophiles. At the same time, it is understandable that parents would want to teach their very young children about sexuality and gender in ways that work for them. The left does itself no favors by introducing five-year-olds to the idea that they can be any gender they feel and then being shocked that some parents might be a little upset over this. 

→Ectopic: While it’s easy for a reasonable person to see both sides of the Florida bill, a new abortion bill in Missouri beggars belief. The bill makes it illegal for a woman to get an abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that is growing in the Fallopian tube. A pregnancy cannot survive in the Fallopian tube. The only thing an ectopic pregnancy can do is kill the mother. It is a miracle of modern science that we can detect and stop these from doing just that, and it’s a miracle that falling pregnant is no longer a high-risk, potentially life-threatening situation.

The text is clear as day in the Missouri bill put out this week, though I couldn’t help myself from reading the lines a few times to be sure: “The offense of trafficking abortion-inducing devices or drugs is a class A felony if: The abortion was performed or induced or was attempted to be performed or induced on a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy.”

→Some good and cool news: The Endurance, which sank more than a century ago, was found this week—10,000 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea, near the South Pole. Explorers with the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust discovered the ship, which was beautifully preserved in that icy water. It’s worth reading about the amazing captain Ernest Shackleton and his crew, who all escaped the wreck, eventually sailing across rough dark waters to safety. And read more about the incredible effort to find the Endurance here

→Update from our friends: Common Sense friends over at Tablet have launched a great new program to “connect people with spiritual questions to people who can answer them.” It’s called The Tent, and there’s a slew of upcoming events

This week on Common Sense:

Bari trended nationally on Twitter this week because of an op-ed that appeared in The New York Times that she did not write, commission, edit, conceive of, or otherwise know about. The story was by a young woman at the University of Virginia who pointed out that maybe, sometimes, there is a tendency among students to self-censor their opinions for fear of social backlash.    

Unsurprisingly, the piece was met with social backlash. “I have to wonder what world a person lives in where everyone is interested in debating everything,” wrote New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie. 

Meantime: we published six voices out of Ukraine, including the writer Vladislav Davidzon, in Odessa; the beer-maker Taras Maselko, in Lviv; and a member of Ukraine’s parliament who’s scared that his parents, in Mariupol, may not make it.

Peter Savodnik gave us a meditation on his years in Russia, and Ukraine, and the neoliberal dream that we’re undoubtedly waking up from. And Suzy Weiss wrote about the birth of slacktivism, ten years after the Kony 2012 campaign broke the internet.

This week’s podcast was about the big decision facing the United States and NATO: whether or not to impose a “no-fly zone,” which President Zelensky has been begging for, over Ukrainian airspace. The conversation featured Eli Lake and Damir Marusic, with Peter as our guest host. You can listen to it here:

As for Emma Camp, she’s expected to start writing for our friends at Reason Magazine after graduation. We can’t wait to see what she contributes.  


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