Plus, a reader question about how we choose guests for events.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Today, we're covering the outbreak of bird flu. Plus, a reader question about how we pick guests for our live events.

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Quick hits.

  1. Former President Trump is leading President Joe Biden in five of six swing states, according to a new batch of polling from The New York Times. (The poll)
  2. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, testified that he met with Trump to review and endorse a plan to reimburse him for paying off adult film star Stormy Daniels just days before Trump’s inauguration. (The testimony)
  3. Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial began yesterday. Menendez is accused of trading his political influence for cash, gold bars, and a Mercedes Benz convertible. (The trial)
  4. President Biden announced new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, advanced batteries, solar cells, steel, aluminum, and medical equipment. (The tariffs)
  5. Over 300,000 Gazans have evacuated Rafah as a larger-scale Israel invasion appears imminent. (The evacuation) Separately, Israel proposed the Palestinian Authority could unofficially operate the Rafah crossing, according to new reports. (The reports

Today's topic.

The bird flu. On Friday, the federal government unveiled a package of financial incentives to dairy farm owners that encourages broader testing of cattle for bird flu (also known as the avian flu or H5N1) and expands security measures to control a potential outbreak of the virus in cows. The package, which totals $98 million, includes up to $28,000 per farm over the next four months. The Department of Agriculture has made the money available to farms where infected cows have been identified. 

In late March, the H5N1 bird flu was detected in cows, alarming agriculture experts as it spread across the country. So far, at least 40 herds in nine states have been infected. In April, federal officials in Texas said a dairy worker was being treated for H5N1, marking just the second human case in the history of the United States. The worker had minor symptoms like eye inflammation and they have since recovered. On Friday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it was monitoring 70 dairy farm workers who were exposed to an infected herd.

While H5N1 is highly contagious and often deadly in wild birds, its impact on poultry and other livestock is less understood. Severe infections can cause death in humans, according to a 2023 study, and tests have found that some laboratory monkeys develop acute respiratory disease and die when exposed to the virus. 

Health officials believe widespread testing of animals and humans will be key to containing the virus so it doesn't spread to the human population, but the stigma associated with bird flu and the costs of controlling it makes ranchers reluctant to take on the financial risk, The Washington Post reported. A positive test in a cow would be costly for farmers, as an infected cow must be isolated from its group and the milk from the rest of its herd may not be sold or consumed.

Until this month, testing for bird flu was voluntary, which has made it difficult to keep count of just how many herds across the U.S. have become infected. Some health experts have compared the recommended response to what was required in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the government needs to coordinate more testing and distribute results faster.

“This virus, like all viruses, is mutating,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said Wednesday. “We need to continue to prepare for the possibility that it might jump to humans.”

FDA officials have also begun testing dairy products sold in grocery stores, which undergo a pasteurization process that kills highly pathogenic strains of the bird flu. Early results have found no live virus in the food supply, confirming the FDA’s assessment that the nation's dairy supply is safe.

Today, we are going to take a look at some arguments about bird flu from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is skeptical about the threat posed by the virus, suggesting the public has reason to question public health experts. 
  • Some say the federal government is ill equipped to address any threat the flu poses.
  • Others criticize U.S. funding of virus experiments with countries like China. 

In The Wall Street Journal, Allysia Finley wrote about “avian flu and the experts who cried wolf.”

“A bird-flu pandemic could ‘be 100 times worse than Covid,’ media outlets warn, citing experts. Readers roll their eyes, and for good reason. The press profits from scaring the public, as does the public-health industry,” Finley said. “Covid-19 spurred governments to spend heavily on public-health systems. Yet should another pandemic occur, the U.S. will be in a far worse position to respond to it than it was four years ago. No amount of spending on vaccines and virus surveillance can compensate for the public trust health experts have squandered.”

“It isn’t impossible that the H5N1 avian flu—which has transmitted from wild birds to chickens and has been found in cattle, mountain lions and raccoons—could mutate and spread among humans. But it isn’t likely,” Finley wrote. “The public-health clerisy accuses conservatives of fomenting distrust in science and vaccines. They might look in the mirror. Next pandemic, officials will have a much harder time convincing the public to believe or do anything they say, and they’ll have themselves to blame.”

In Fox News, Betsy McCaughey said “Biden is dangerously unready” to address the virus.

“There are too many unknowns to predict whether H5N1 will kill people in the U.S. It seems unlikely, but better to be prepared. Here's what needs to change: Don't censure the scientists,” McCaughey wrote. “Like H5N1, COVID-19 was full of unknowns. The federal government's biggest mistake was to aim for an illusion of consensus rather than welcoming debate. The feds silenced anyone, including scientists, who disagreed. The result was a long string of deadly mistakes.”

The government must “create a domestic supply chain for hospital supplies” and “curb dictatorial governors,” McCaughey said. “During COVID-19, state legislatures ceded their authority like sheep to governors, allowing them to shutter schools, churches, businesses and recreational facilities. Fortunately, some states, including New York, came to their senses and undid those grants of authority or time-limited them. Biden and the left-wing media were highly critical of these states — a sure sign more states need to curb emergency health powers before the next health crisis.”

In The Washington Examiner, Anthony Bellotti suggested the “USDA and China are creating deadly new bird flus.”  

“The bird flu outbreak has cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in rising food costs, new government oversight of the food supply, and industry bailout money, too. So why is the Department of Agriculture working with Wuhan-affiliated experimenters in China to create more dangerous bird flu viruses in the lab,” Bellotti asked. “People will be shocked to learn that the USDA, the same agency charged with stemming the current bird flu outbreak, has wasted at least $1 million of taxpayer funds in recent years to soup up bird flu viruses in dangerous laboratory experiments conducted in collaboration with Chinese experimenters.”

“This isn’t the first bird flu outbreak, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. But we shouldn’t be openly inviting even more devastation by using tax dollars to create dangerous new bird flu viruses. Wasn’t one deadly pandemic caused by reckless government animal tests in Wuhan enough? Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund high-risk virus experiments on animals in collaboration with foreign adversaries. The solution is simple: Stop the money.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left notes some troubling signs about the virus’s spread but views the threat as low for the time being. 
  • Some worry that the virus could spread to other mammals before jumping to humans.
  • Others suggest industrial farming practices make these outbreaks more likely.

In The Boston Globe, Shira Doron argued “it’s time to prepare, not panic.” 

“Why is this cattle outbreak a big deal? Over the past two years, an increasing number of mammalian species have been reported to have contracted the virus, and, for the first time, it appears to be spreading from mammal to mammal in a sustained fashion. Since humans are mammals, that phenomenon warrants close attention,” Doron wrote. “Surveillance shows no increases in human influenza cases across the country. In fact, those numbers are still falling, consistent with the expected springtime drop in respiratory viruses. That likely means — and this is not at all surprising — that pasteurization is working as it should to kill all traces of this virus in milk. ”

“Is this my biggest public health concern of the day? At this point, given the numbers, we are far more likely to see cases of measles, which is also orders of magnitude more contagious. Measles cases are far too common in the United States today due to declining vaccination rates in children,” Doron said. “One thing is clear: With this and future public health incidents, officials should learn from the communication mistakes made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic… and avoid panic-driven decision-making.”

In Bloomberg, F.D. Flam said “if pigs get bird flu, we could be in for a real nightmare.”

“Pigs are capable of harboring both human flu and bird flu, allowing the viruses to mix and match parts of their genetic material. A 2009 flu pandemic started with a pig-to-human transmission. That strain, called H1N1, wasn’t deadlier than seasonal flu, but that was just a lucky break,” Flam wrote. “Now is the time to get ahead of 2024’s H5N1 virus with systematic testing of both sick and healthy-looking animals — including pigs.”

“Right now there’s no system to compensate farmers for H5N1 infected cows or pigs, which means they have no incentive to let public health officials do enough testing,” so “it’s up to our political leaders to make further policy changes so that farmers are encouraged to work with scientists,” Flam said. “This must extend to testing of healthy-looking animals… Failing to test asymptomatic animals would be a mistake akin to the insufficient testing for Covid-19 in early 2020. That was one of the most egregious public health mistakes of that pandemic.”

In The New Republic, Melody Schreiber wrote “avian flu is our fault.”

“Experts have been warning the public for decades about how industrial animal farming can make disease more likely, leading to the emergence of old or new viruses. Once bird flu gets into a large-scale poultry or, now, a dairy operation, it can spread quickly in cramped confines, and then spread to other farms before spilling back into wild birds and animals,” Schreiber said. “It’s also possible that people may spread the virus by tracking the virus into and out of farms on their unwashed boots or transportation vehicles.”

“We’re getting the story of bird flu backward. The way that we farm animals in the U.S. and the world is amplifying costly and potentially deadly pathogens,” Schreiber wrote. “Stopping this outbreak and preventing future outbreaks means reckoning with a troubling paradox: Food is essential for our health, but the conditions under which we create our food is making us and the animals around us sick.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I'm not an expert on the bird flu, and I'm not going to pretend to be.
  • I can say that I think this is fully in the government's purview, and I support a robust federal response.
  • Every writer we quoted today made at least one very good point.

Look: I'm not going to pretend I became a bird flu expert overnight.

I'm not an epidemiologist, and I don't know much about zoonotic viruses (although, like everyone else, I learned a lot during the pandemic!). So the last thing I'm going to do is sit here and tell you what's going to happen or what isn't. My very amateurish prediction is that this is going to be a lot more like the monkey pox scare from August of 2022 (remember that?) than the Covid-19 pandemic, but please do not make any health or lifestyle decisions based on what I'm writing here.

That said, I will share some things I do believe strongly: Yes, it actually is the government's responsibility to handle problems like this. A few writers on the right are criticizing the government for throwing money at this problem or the response from the feds or the involvement of government regulators in testing, monitoring, or even creating bird flus; but I don't buy that line of thinking. On the contrary, I’m not sure who else would handle tasks like these. Aside from enforcing the laws and protecting us with a standing army, I struggle to think of anything that falls more clearly in the government purview than this kind of oversight.

Protecting Americans by monitoring our food supplies (along with our water, air, and energy) is a core function of the government. It's something I want dispassionate regulators, not the food industry, taking the lead on. So I'm glad to see the feds trying to step in to take control of this problem. Criticizing their response is easy, but I can’t think of anything major that I’d do differently based on their actions so far. If anything, I’d support the federal government creating more financial incentives for farmers. I don’t know exactly how much I’d be willing to see the government spend on preventing a bird flu outbreak that would disrupt our food supply and potentially infect humans, but I’m prepared for the number to be high. So I hope the FDA continues to prioritize the creation of strong incentives for farmers to test and isolate sick animals, monitor workers closely, and get as many tests out as possible. We may not have learned enough from Covid, but one very obvious takeaway is that testing and isolating are good ways to monitor and contain a virus.

For what it’s worth, I thought every writer we cited today had at least one good point to make. Starting with "What the right is saying," Allysia Finley was right to note that "the press profits from scaring the public, as does the public-health industry,” and we should be wary of overblown headlines saying bird flu could be “100 times worse than Covid." Betsy McCaughey is right that the Biden administration needs to allow robust public debate among scientists and ensure we have domestic supplies to manage a potential major bird flu outbreak. And Anthony Bellotti is right that scientific research can sometimes lead to unforeseen consequences, like dangerous outbreaks (though, to be clear, I haven't seen any evidence yet that this is what we are witnessing here).

And under "What the left is saying," Shira Doron is right to call for plans, not panic, and also right to point out that the current threat of measles is probably much greater than the threat of bird flu. F.D. Flam is right to warn about H1N5 jumping to pigs and to call for testing of healthy-looking animals. And Melody Schreiber is right to note that we are actually partially to blame for outbreaks in livestock, and we should think long and hard about the way industrial farming (a relatively new phenomenon) risks making disease outbreaks like this more common and more dangerous.

Again: All of these are good observations, coming from all across the political spectrum. Our focus now should be on expanding testing and observation, keeping our wits about us, and having a plan for a worst-case scenario.

Take the survey: How concerned are you about a potential outbreak of bird flu in cattle? Let us know!

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

Q: I just attended the NYC event for the election debate and I was wondering if you could tell me how you selected your panelists? Wish I could have asked it in person but alas!

— Mica from New York

Tangle: Picking guests for an event is actually quite difficult — it’s a lot more like finding people to come on the podcast than people to cite in our daily newsletter.

A big reason why finding guests is hard is that great writers aren’t always great speakers. I’ve found that a lot of writers create work I respect and admire, but I wouldn’t invite them to appear on the podcast or at a live event because I don’t think the way they articulate their views live would make for a great product. So, first and foremost, we look for people who we know can show up and hold their own on stage, which immediately limits the candidate pool.

Next, of course, is that we are looking for ideological diversity. For the New York event, we reached out to about a dozen conservatives; a dozen liberals; and a dozen “never-Trump Republicans,” libertarians, or people whose political ideology we just couldn’t identify. Given that we were talking about the 2024 election, we wanted to include someone who could articulate Trump’s worldview well on stage, someone who could articulate Biden’s, and another person who could represent more of an independent or undecided voter.

After that, we try to find people with similar areas of expertise who can speak to each other. So far, this has been the hardest part. We don’t want to put someone on stage who only writes about economic news with other pundits who are immigration experts or generalists; we want to create a group of people who can spar competently on the topics of discussion. In New York we talked about the 2024 election, so we found people with a lot of experience discussing that topic. 

So those are the big things we shoot for. At this past event, something interesting happened: We actually had two guests bail at the last minute. One was Kmele Foster, the host of The Fifth Column podcast. We ended up replacing him with his co-host Michael Moynihan, who stole the show with a lot of well timed humor. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editorial director of The Nation, backed out late in the game, too. We replaced her with Catherine Rampell, a columnist at The Washington Post, who did an excellent job making the case against Trump and for the Biden economy. The one person we had booked from the beginning was Josh Hammer, a fast-talking conservative legal expert and editor at Newsweek, who I thought did a very good job making the case that some of Trump’s legal troubles were overblown and that his trade policies were the right thing for America. 

In the end, the guests felt like equal sparring partners who represented a lot of ideological diversity on stage. I was pretty happy with the result, but it is never easy getting the right collection of people together. If you want to check out the event, you can listen to it here.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Controversy has erupted over the way the United Nations is counting the death toll in Gaza. Late last week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revised the data it used to tally the number of Palestinian casualties, reducing the number of women and children it had said were killed by half. Then on Monday, the United Nations clarified that the overall death toll tracked by the Gaza Health Ministry remains unchanged (at over 35,000), but the UN's latest report only included fatalities of women and children whose names and other identifying details had been fully documented. The identified fatality total is distinct from the total number of women and children killed, and the UN is relying on the Gaza Health Ministry for both figures, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said. Fox News has a story on the revision, while CNN has the latest UN comments.


  • 1996. The year H5N1 was first identified (in Southern China), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 2022. The year of the first human case of H5N1 in the U.S.
  • 90,892,846. The number of detected cases of H5N1 in birds in the U.S. since 2022.
  • 48. The number of U.S. states with confirmed cases of H5N1 in birds to date. 
  • 463. The number of human deaths caused by H5N1 worldwide since 2003. 
  • 23. The number of countries with reported cases of H5N1 in humans.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we had just published a subscribers-only piece about changes to our editorial policy.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was a subscribers-only piece giving the argument for why Israel should invade Rafah.
  • Nothing to do with politics: GameStop’s stock price is surging again…
  • Yesterday’s survey: 1,155 readers answered our survey on Judge Aileen Cannon’s  handling of Trump’s classified documents case in Florida with 46% mostly blaming her for the case’s delay. “While the case has some complexities, Judge Cannon has been an ’enabler’ for Trump and his lawyers, entertaining delays that even conservative lawyers have scoffed at,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

In Kruger Park, South Africa, a baby elephant stumbled into a woman’s yard, dehydrated and alone after being separated from his herd. Thankfully, South Africa’s first elephant rehabilitation center was not far away. Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development (HERD) took in the orphaned elephant, and named him Phabeni. Now Phabeni is learning to walk in a pack with sheep and how to suckle from Lundi, his adopted mother. “Lundi surrounded him immediately, protectively reversing toward him and touching his trunk with her own. It was an absolutely heartwarming introduction," HERD said. Sunny Skyz has the story (and videos!).

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.