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New video reveals what Brittney Griner endured inside Russian penal colony
02:57 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Sign up to get this weekly column as a newsletter. We’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.

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In Arthur Miller’s play, “The Price,” two brothers recount the sacrifices they made for work and family.

To succeed, says Walter, a surgeon, “you do need a certain fanaticism; there’s so much to know and so little time.” Years later, he finally understands the cost: “of course the time comes when you realize that you haven’t merely been specializing in something – something has been specializing in you. You become a kind of instrument, an instrument that cuts money out of people, or fame out of the world. And it finally makes you stupid. Power can do that.”

Miller would later say he wrote the drama in 1967 partly as a reaction to the willful misreading of history that gave rise to America’s disastrous war in Vietnam. But reckoning with “the price” being paid feels utterly contemporary today, after a week in which the US agreed to swap a notorious arms dealer to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison camp, Republicans measured the cost of their allegiance to former President Donald Trump and the world continued to confront the awful toll of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“While properly deemed a victory for the Biden administration after a critical final midterm win in Georgia on Tuesday, and Griner’s freedom a joyous outcome worth its cost, the return of (Viktor) Bout also gives Vladimir Putin, who for months had been called noncommittal regarding a swap for Griner, a victory in a week when he likely felt he really needed one,” wrote Amy Bass, noting that it came just after TIME named Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky its 2022 Person of the Year.

Bass noted, “As Griner saw a wedding anniversary, a birthday and a WNBA season from behind the bars of a holding cell that could barely contain her towering figure, it became clear that much of the public knew of Griner only as a political pawn, rather than the generational athlete that she is — the owner of the dunking record in the WNBA.”

The price of freeing Americans held by hostile governments “is quite high,” observed Peter Bergen. “Griner was released in exchange for Bout, who is arguably not only the world’s most infamous arms dealer, but who no doubt will be quite useful to Russian President Vladimir Putin in acquiring weapons on the international arms market for Russia’s war in Ukraine…”

“We used to think primarily of American hostages being taken by terrorist groups like ISIS or al Qaeda, but in the past few years we have seen an increase in governments taking Americans as de facto hostages…”

“My own view,” Bergen added, “is that getting wrongfully detained Americans home from countries like Russia is generally worth the price. And hopefully the Griner prisoner swap will help set the stage for a similar deal for (Paul) Whelan.”

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Sinema surprise

Just when Democrats were celebrating winning their 51st seat in the Senate, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema handed them an unwelcome surprise – she is leaving the party to become an independent.

“But if Sinema’s decision rained on the Democrat’s parade, it seems more a drizzle than a downpour,” wrote David Axelrod. “The practical effect in the next Congress is likely to be slight. She told CNN that she hopes to keep her committee assignments and continue business as usual…With the exception of some notable dissents, she has backed President Joe Biden’s positions 93% of the time during his first two years in office.”

Georgia on our minds

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After the results were tallied in Georgia’s runoff election on Tuesday, a lot of attention was paid to the weaknesses of Herschel Walker’s campaign. But the strengths revealed by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory are particularly notable, wrote Fredrick Hicks, a political strategist in Georgia. His “name has been on the ballot five times in two years, and he was the leading vote recipient each time – including two runoff elections.” One of them was “against arguably the most famous football player in state history in a state where football is king.” Warnock’s vote-getting and fund-raising ability should make him a potential candidate for the presidency, wrote Hicks.

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    Georgia Republican Edward Lindsey noted that “Warnock was widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators seeking re-election. Trump urged his long-time friend Walker to run and strongly backed him with Mar-a-Lago fundraising and in-state campaign rallies last spring.” But Warnock showcased his ability to work with senators across the aisle, including Ted Cruz, and “Walker, like some other GOP senate candidates around the nation this year, was widely perceived by voters as deeply flawed.”

    “Republicans seem to have been hampered in their efforts over the last two election cycles by Trump’s denigration of early in-person voting and absentee mail-in voting,” Lindsey observed. “While GOP operatives and other elected officials have tried to counter Trump’s claims and urge their supporters to view each of these methods as reliable, there is still resistance from many activists and voters in the GOP base to early vote,” he noted.

    Peniel E. Joseph wrote, “As a Black man, I found the US Senate race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker a particularly painful one to watch, observe and analyze. The assumption that a Black football player whose celebrated symbolism in Georgia would be enough to split the Black vote thankfully went unrealized, but the reality that a number of White Georgians were willing to support Walker underscores the troubling questions ahead for a country mired in division and bracing for former President Donald Trump’s bid for his old office in 2024.”

    For more:

    SE Cupp: Fox News won’t face the truth in Georgia

    The food weapon

    “After long days working in offices dotting Kyiv’s downtown,” wrote Oleksandra Gaidai and Kristina Hook, “a small group of women head to their kitchens. Their evening job is just beginning.”

    “Before the night is over, platters of meatballs, fish, traditional salads, cabbage rolls, homemade apple cakes and poppy seed pastries will overflow from countertops.”

    “As Christmas approaches, seasonal treats like “kutia,” a sweet wheat-based porridge, will appear…”

    The mission isn’t preparing special dishes for the family table. Instead, “they are being lovingly prepared for wounded soldiers in Kyiv’s military hospitals.” Food is a crucial factor in the war.

    “Russian forces have used spoiled food to punish resisters, and prisoners of war have returned from Russian captivity malnourished. Vast amounts of grain and equipment have been stolen. Russian landmines will disrupt Ukrainian agriculture for years.”

    “It’s an old playbook for a new era. Stamped in the collective memory of Ukraine’s long struggle for independence from Moscow is oppression through food, including stories once thought to belong only to the darkest pages of 20th-century European history.”

    For more:

    Howard G. Buffett: From the US to Ukraine, farmer solidarity is universal

    ‘Harry & Meghan’

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    Netflix dropped the first three episodes of a new documentary series starring the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan. In the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman noted that the “broad strokes” of their story were told before, in their interview with Oprah Winfrey. “The biggest additions are visual: the never-before-seen ‘archival images’ touted in the trailer.”

    The documentary is “awfully long and sometimes tiresome,” Friedman wrote. “But those pictures, promising intimacy of the most stage-managed kind, are everywhere. That’s not to say they aren’t authentic, or don’t convey real emotion. They do. But they convey an agenda all their own.”

    Peggy Drexler wrote that “what we learn from ‘Harry & Meghan’ is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are less interested in staying out of the spotlight than in staying in complete control of how that spotlight makes them look. But, well, that’s just not how celebrity works.”

    “Which is just one reason ‘Harry & Meghan’ is a royal disappointment. The couple quit the family because they didn’t want the attention. But, very clearly, what they didn’t want was the negative attention, or any criticism whatsoever—a very primitive (and, ironically, very royal) attitude. In life—in real life—there is no good without the bad.”

    The price of Trump

    As historian Julian Zelizer noted, “the price of supporting Donald Trump to the Republican Party keeps getting higher. The former president has gone through one of the most tumultuous weeks possible, with fresh evidence of why the party’s connection to him – and his potential nomination in 2024 – could be extraordinarily damaging.”

    “A Manhattan jury found two of the companies in the Trump Organization guilty of criminal tax fraud and falsifying tax business records on Tuesday, though Trump and his family were not charged in the case.” On the day his “handpicked candidate,” Herschel Walker lost, “Trump posed for photos with a prominent QAnon conspiracy theorist at Mar-a-Lago.”

    Trump will have a much harder road ahead if Republicans conclude that by not fighting his nomination tooth and nail, they might end up handing Democrats a united government two years down the road.”

    Writing for National Review, Conor Quinn wrote, “In a lot of places, Georgia very much included, Trump is not an electoral boon but a drag…. Brian Kemp and Republicans like him have proven that it is possible to succeed in Georgia without Trump. By rejecting Trump’s whims and foibles but continuing to advance conservative policy in a manner that appeals not just to Republicans but also persuadable independents (recall the Kemp-Warnock voters), Kemp has shown the way forward.”

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    Flashing the badge

    Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor was riding in a golf cart driven by her husband last month when a county sheriff’s deputy pulled them over for lacking a license plate. She flashed her badge and said, in a bodycam video that went viral, “I’m hoping you’ll just let us go tonight.” O’Connor resigned amid the controversy last week.

    “It’s not uncommon for an officer stopped for a traffic violation to be sent on their way with nothing but a friendly wave,” wrote Sonia Pruitt, a retired police captain. “It’s an act of grace by the officer initiating the traffic stop – the same sort of kindness officers frequently extend to members of the public.”

    “But when a member of law enforcement pulls rank to gain that leniency – that is an ethical breach… In this time of persistent calls for police reform and accountability, I have just one piece of advice for law enforcement finding themselves in a similar situation: Just take the ticket.”

    Kari Lake’s failing post-campaign gambit

    Former news anchor Kari Lake lost her run for governor of Arizona to Katie Hobbs by 17,117 votes, a difference of only 0.6%, as Jon Gabriel wrote. Lake has refused to concede.

    “Yet conspiracy theories, which made a big impact in 2020 in Arizona and elsewhere, are barely making a ripple today,” noted Gabriel. “Losing candidates can allege fraud if they want, but Arizona Republicans now demand proof. Two years of Trumpian ‘stop the steal’ nonsense wore everyone down – even many of the true believers.”

    “To date, Lake has offered angry claims, intense assertions and vague theories. She hasn’t demonstrated that more than 17,000 votes were somehow flipped from R to D. Unless she’s carefully hiding some silver-bullet evidence (and why would she?), few Arizonans are buying her story. Her Trump-style campaign failed, and her Trump-style post-election complaints are failing as well. That’s a relief.”

    For more:

    Mallory McMorrow: If you thought election denialism was over, think again

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    Don’t miss

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    Khaled A. Beydoun: The day the football gods reversed the tide of history

    Peter Bergen: How MBS went from pariah to ‘comeback prince’

    David M. Perry: This is a problem that is bigger than Stanford or Yale

    Jill Filipovic: Why Justice Alito’s ‘jokes’ are so stunning

    Kara Alaimo: Holiday sparkle doesn’t magically happen – this is who does the work

    Dean Obeidallah: Elon Musk’s Twitter is helping to normalize a neo-Nazi

    Laura Bellin: How the Democrats’ Iowa caucuses self-destructed


    Good news for iPhone users

    It’s a “hallelujah moment” for iPhone users, wrote Jeff Yang. The European Union is mandating that phones use a single standard charging cable beginning in 2024: “the relatively cheap and simple USB-C cord.”

    “The new rules mean that in two years, a whole range of electronic devices — from phones to tablets and headphones — will finally use the same juice-dongles (excuse the technical term),” Yang observed.

    “So what does this mean for gadget enthusiasts going forward? Well, the arrival of One Cord to Charge Them All will make it easier to keep devices powered up when caught short-handed, reducing the likelihood of being exposed to that fibrillation-inducing ’10% of battery remaining’ popup. Replacing lost or broken cords will be cheap and simple, without the fear that a questionable petrol-station-purchased Lightning cable might cause your phone to detonate like a hand grenade.”

    And Yang wrote, “It might even dilute some of the tribal tension between iPhone and Android users, assuming the latter don’t lord over us the fact that most of them have already been charging with C for half a decade. (We still have our blue message bubbles, greenies!)”