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Mark Pincus: Biden Is Even Riskier Than Trump

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Caman Denysenko calms his spooked cat as he joins hundreds of people seeking shelter in the subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

TGIF: War Is Interested in You

Your weekly news roundup, starting with what matters most.

We’re back. It’s Friday. And the war we were warned about has begun.

→ Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday: This was not some small, symbolic operation. More than 190,000 Russian troops streamed into the country by foot and by tank. Airstrikes were reported in dozens of cities. Ukraine says Russian forces have captured Chernobyl. Many expect Kiev to fall within days.

The scenes across Ukraine were shocking:

From the right, we were told that this was absolutely not going to happen. And now that it very much is happening, the argument from Steven Bannon and Co. is that the West deserves it because we are weak and decadent and unserious. More: American conservatives ought to support Russia, since that’s a country that doesn’t put up with LGBTCRT nonsense, he and his pal, the military contractor Erik Prince, said recently. “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use,” Prince said. (So do the Ukrainians, for what it’s worth.) Tucker Carlson asked Americans to consider why they hate Putin, anyway: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

To the small but meaningful movement of the ethnonationalist right, Russia is the last great white, Christian nation with solid gender-norms and 19th-century race relations. If your vision of owning the libs means embracing authoritarian regimes that hate America and its people, you’ve lost the plot. 

On the left, we’re just AmeriKKKa. A terrible country that shouldn’t help anyone anywhere until we’ve routed out all the enemies within. A white supremacy state founded in 1619 on slavery, a nation full of monsters, who are we do judge Russia? And we ought to let nations full of Indigenous People of Color like China and Iran do the colonialism now anyway. 

As Biden sleepily oversees the retreat of the West, a very awake Chinese Communist Party sees that Taiwan’s independent hours are numbered

Zoe Strimpel’s excellent essay, published early yesterday as the war began, makes sense of what we are seeing—and explains the ascendance of America’s isolationists.

Say a prayer for our friends in Ukraine today. 


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→ UN Human Rights Commission thanks Russia: How’s the UN handling Russia’s invasion of a sovereign democracy? On Thursday, as tanks were rolling into Ukraine, the Human Rights Commission thanked Russia. “@mission_russian has donated $2M to support our Office's #humanrights work. You can donate too.” I used to think John Bolton was a little extreme. Now I think he’s a squish. 

→ Give nuclear a chance: Thanks to green activist efforts to shut down all domestic energy production, the West is more reliant than ever on Russia. We’re all about to feel that in a big way

Until yesterday, Biden was against sanctioning the company building the Russians’ Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas to Europe through Germany. That pipeline—which would deliver some 50% of Germany’s annual gas consumption—would have made Europe even more reliant on Moscow and less likely to stand up the next time Russia invades one of their neighbors. Good that Biden has finally announced sanctions.

In America, activists have shut down fracking and drilling and even nuclear power in the name of climate. California is shutting down its last nuclear power plant. As energy prices rise and Russia threatens to cut off Germany’s natural gas supply, a modest proposal: How about bringing back nuclear power? 

→ Courage in the face of evil: In a country where journalists are murdered for the crime of dissenting from the state line, huge crowds are protesting in St. Petersburg against the war. 

Russian intelligence is taking names and police are making arrests, but Russian citizens think it’s worth doing anyway. This is courage. A lot of us have forgotten what it looks like.

→ Independent media showing what humility looks like: Matt Taibbi and Breaking Points host Saagar Enjeti both issued apologies today for being wrong about Russia. They had both seriously downplayed the possibility that Russia could invade—and they admitted their foolishness. Taibbi wrote of his “faceplant”: “My mistake was more like reverse chauvinism, being so fixated on Western misbehavior that I didn’t bother to take this possibility seriously enough.” Saagar wrote: “Given the track record of US intelligence I did not believe their maximalist claims and did not believe that Putin would so flagrantly break the world order with this crime of an invasion. I was wrong.”

These apologies—so forthright and total—make me trust both these voices more going forward. 

How incredible would it be if legacy media was similar? I’m not talking about corrections over spelling errors, which they do plenty. I’m talking about really admitting that whole narrative arcs were simply wrong. Russiagate rings a bell. I don’t see it happening.

→ America’s mass transit becomes apocalyptic: New York City subways are a mess. “A Clockwork Orange / Fury Road mashup,” as one tech worker put it. Since the mayor announced his subway safety plan, at least six people have been stabbed in the subway. Ridership is down, and even the MTA does not expect it to come back up to pre-pandemic levels. The homeless population in a number of the city’s subway stations is booming, up about 50% since before the pandemic

Now if this were a city in my beloved California, the mayor would just announce that certain subway stations are going to be permanently defunct and turned into fentanyl-use arenas. All the good people would nod politely and get back in their Teslas (does anyone actually need the subway?). 

New York’s Mayor Eric Adams is not having it. First, he announced plans to relocate the homeless population.

“There’s one case where a woman has been living under a stairway in the system for months. This is not acceptable,” Adams said in a recent speech. “That is not dignity. That is disgusting. And that’s not who we are as a city.” (The city council, of course, pushed back and wants more and more “mental health” resources servicing those in the subway.)

Now, the city is finally installing barriers in a few busy subway stations so, at least, it’s a little harder to murder people trying to commute.

→ Meanwhile in Los Angeles: To house the homeless, the city is now spending $837,000 for each housing unit in a new 21-unit development, according to the city’s own audit. The mayor defended the program as actually under budget

How could they possibly spend that much on a single unit and think it’s good? Easy. California uses its homeless budget as a cash firehose, lining the pockets of untold numbers of contractors and employing every drama major who thinks nonprofits seem cool. It’s the Homeless Industrial Complex. The actual people sleeping on the streets—some 41,000 souls in Los Angeles—are beside the point. 

→ Another Jeffrey Epstein-related “suicide:” Jean-Luc Brunel, Epstein’s close friend who helped him procure models, apparently died by suicide in his French jail cell this week. Days after Prince Andrew agreed to settle with his accuser, Brunel hung himself. There were no cameras around, of course. When Epstein hung himself, suddenly jail CCTV was erased thanks to “technical errors.” The whole thing is a farce and one the press would be much more obsessed with if it weren’t likely to indict so, so many good old boy Democrats. 

A dark joke I heard this week: Every morning, Ghislaine Maxwell wakes up surprised and relieved to find she didn’t commit suicide the night before. 

→ More smart consensus on the lab leak: The British government now considers the idea that Covid originated in a lab to be the most likely explanation, according to a new report from The Telegraph: “On Monday, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the UK biosecurity strategy would be refreshed to protect against ‘natural zoonosis and laboratory leaks,’ in a public acknowledgement of the threat from insecure research facilities.”

The denial of the lab leak has been one of the most persistent bits of illogic from some quarters on the American left. For those now willing to admit it might have been an accident in a Chinese lab, the retort is usually: Ok but why does it matter? Look to the U.K. for the answer. 

There, scientists are talking about revamping and significantly strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, a treaty ratified by 22 countries in 1975 but left relatively toothless. And they are talking about installing a “Biosurveillance system,” to detect new airborne pathogens faster. Both are great ideas that might go a long way in stopping future pandemics before they happen. This is why Covid’s origin matters. 

→ What’s the age of consent? The Texas Governor and Attorney General have this week called any medical gender-transition treatment for minors “child abuse” and asked for people to report suspected cases. 

“The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has now confirmed in the enclosed opinion that a number of so-called ‘sex change’ procedures constitute child abuse under existing Texas law.” Gov. Greg Abbott writes. “It is already against the law to subject Texas children to a wide variety of elective procedures for gender transitioning, including reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilization, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs.”

The reality here is going to be horrible: Texas parents being turned in by their neighbors. Vulnerable teenagers now made even more fearful, scared now that their parents or doctors will go to jail. And Texas is treating extreme medical interventions the same as more moderate ones, like puberty blockers. 

The bigger question, though, is interesting and worth a vigorous debate (a debate that activists have all but banned). What is the age of consent for a double mastectomy? How old should a child be when he or she is sterilized by doctors to honor a gender-transition request? Are parents and doctors legally liable if that child later sues them? 

The government litigating parenting more heavily may well backfire. But it’s not transphobic to take these issues seriously or to conclude that the age of consent for these surgeries should be 18. Clinically depressed or anxious teen girls getting mastectomies and regretting them is not a good thing for the trans rights movement. 

→ Teachers to stop focusing on kids’ sex lives—good! A Florida amendment that would have required teachers to quickly inform parents if a student is any sexual orientation other than straight has been withdrawn. It would be really nice if America’s schools in both red and blue states focused on teaching children things like math and writing—and focused a lot less on closely tracking those kids’ sex lives. 

→ Some heartening global news: The Abraham Accords continue to seed stability across the Middle East. This week, Israel signed a trade deal with Morocco. This is a big deal, and it's another powerful indictment of decades of dour establishment-think. 

→ And props where they are due: A team of Times reporters went to Ottawa, and they did some superb reporting on the trucker protest. Their report showed that police were arresting protestors at gunpoint and were using horses to trample protestors, which the Ottawa police declared to be (what else?) “misinformation!” Ottawa police accused the press of doctoring photos showing mounted cops knocking down protestors, including a woman in a walker. What Ottawa police didn’t realize is that they were not dealing with a normal group of reporters. No. Among that group was a woman with a very particular set of skills, skills that make her a nightmare for Canadian police lying about their horse maneuvers. In that group was a horse girl. 

Author of the memoir “Horse Crazy,” Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir shut those Mounties down. There’s no misinformation here, Maslin Nir countered. She wrote: “I know a lot more about police horse training and crowd control than your average journo because when I was a teenager I was a mounted auxiliary park ranger in Central Park.” Common Sense salutes Maslin Nir. Never underestimate a horse girl. 


Just for fun:

New York Magazine’s Sarah Jones has an article this week on the disturbing role of American parents, called “Household Tyrants.” The thesis: America’s parents have more than enough control over their children as is, and the parent rights movement is just about right-wing politics. It’s pegged to the school opening battles and the anti-CRT movement and argues that those advocating against CRT-inspired activities (like, let’s say, having their kindergarteners separated by race for special race awareness activities) are part of an anti-democracy cabal. 

“The GOP is the party of parental rights because it is increasingly anti-democratic. It has become the party of ruthless, cynical power, and children aren’t exempt from its schemes. In fact, they’re key.” 

Parents, you see, are like tiny Trumps in every home, no matter if they voted Biden. Mom in the living room demanding the video games be turned off? She might as well be chanting “Build the wall!” Dad is doing more MAGA in the kitchen demanding dishes be washed. Big MAGA energy at school asking for the schools to maybe open at some point. 

“Conservatives imagine the parent as a household tyrant; their rights both supersede and are in conflict with the rights of the child. Key to this is the parent’s role as a local enforcer of the GOP’s national agenda,” Jones writes. Another prominent writer chimes in: “The patriarchal household is the seed of all authoritarianism.” 

Sixteen-year-old me agrees COMPLETELY. My dad was literally fascism. 


This week on Common Sense:

Condoleezza Rice, Coleman Hughes, Eli Steele, Ronald Sullivan, Sheena Mason, Noah Harris, Daryl Davis and Brittany Talissa King tackled the question: What should Black History Month mean to America?  

Hughes thinks the February tradition should stay where it is; a living memorial to Black excellence. Mason says that in a true post-racial world, it will be seen as a “relic of the past”. Davis points out, “It’s no coincidence that it was also the shortest month of the year.”

Former Secretary of State Rice, who grew up in the Jim Crow south told Bari, on the subject of white privilege and systemic racism; “Do you think I am so incapable and so helpless that I have to have your permission to succeed?"

They also touched on Trump, immigration, globalization, interventionism, the rise of China, and Russia, her speciality, in this week’s episode of Honestly.

On the ground at the Ivy League Championships, Suzy Weiss reported on what it was like watching Lia Thomas—the transgender Penn swimmer who was middling as a man and now crushing it as a woman—win some more. 

And David Sacks has a piece on the darkest twist in Canada’s response to the Trucker Convoy protests: The creation of a kind of social credit system. How can we stop this dystopian policy from taking hold in America? This piece is a must-read.

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