Jun 25, 2020

COVID-19 rears its ugly head.

COVID-19 rears its ugly head.

The spread is accelerating. Now what?

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Today’s read: 11 minutes.

COVID-19 accelerates its spread, a question about the Black Lives Matter movement and an important story about wealthy people making charitable donations.

Image: covidexitstrategy.com

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Yesterday’s newsletter said New York congressional candidate Suraj Patel was “endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” In fact, the two have been mutually endorsed by several groups and were part of a young, up and coming class of New York politicians two years ago, but AOC has never endorsed Patel. I apparently made that up out of thin air and was quite surprised to realize the error. Thanks to some readers who pointed it out!

This is the sixth official Tangle correction in its 10-month existence, the second this week and the first time ever with back-to-back corrections. (In the interest of transparency and reader trust, I will keep a running tally of Tangle corrections, which are separate from the reader feedback I publish daily).

Reader notes.

Jeff from Aston, PA, responded to yesterday’s note about the end of Trump’s “perfect endorsement record in GOP primaries.” According to Ballotpedia, Trump has had several failed endorsements — including one in a Senate race and one in a governor’s race. Yesterday’s language was referring to this Politico article about Trump’s “perfect record” of endorsements specifically in Republican House primary races.

After a wave of anger about the H-1B visa ban, several readers wrote in yesterday with more sympathetic feelings about President Trump’s decision. Conrad, a software engineer from Chicago, said that the vast majority of H-1Bs are all held by a handful of companies and that those companies abuse the system to spend less on foreign workers. A company may work the system by hiring these workers as 1099 contractors, so while they make a $60,000 salary, the company isn’t paying for their health insurance like they would for an American employee.

“I think the more important part is that the visa is tied to employment,” he added. “H-1B holders can stay 60 days after leaving their job and H-1B transfers take 4-8 weeks (28-56 days). Worst case scenario if you got fired, you have 4 days to find a new job. Best case scenario if you got fired you have 32 days. This immense pressure makes it that these staffing agencies that employ the majority of H-1B's have employees that are desperate to not get fired. They can make them work longer hours, more days a week, and the pay is more than what they'd make back home, but less than what a comparable American would cost.”

Quick hits.

  1. The New York Times/Siena poll of swing states shows Joe Biden ahead by 11 points in Michigan, 11 points in Wisconsin, 10 points in Pennsylvania, 9 points in North Carolina, 7 points in Arizona and 6 points in Florida. Donald Trump won each of those states in 2016 over Hillary Clinton. The latest numbers have Republicans suddenly concerned about the prospect of holding onto the Senate — something that seemed unthinkable a few short months ago.
  2. The Democratic National Convention is downsizing to a smaller center that will fit 1,000 people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They plan to conduct most of the convention virtually. Meanwhile, the Republican National Convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida a week later, and party leaders expect it to be a packed, raucous affair. Axios calls it “constraint vs. bravado, a proxy for Trump vs. Biden.”
  3. The Supreme Court ruled that “expedited removal” processes for asylum seekers apprehended near the border comply with the constitution. The ruling says undocumented immigrants can be expedited out of the country if they’re apprehended within two weeks of entering the U.S. and are found within 100 miles of the border. “Under the Convention Against Torture, however, the U.S. may not return aliens to a country where they are likely to be tortured.” It’s a major win for President Trump’s immigration policy.
  4. More than 1 million coronavirus stimulus checks were sent to dead people, according to a Congressional watchdog. The checks sent to the deceased totaled more than $1.4 billion. Previous reporting had indicated $1,200 checks were sent to some deceased Americans, but the scope of the problem had not been known until now. “The news that so much money has gone to the dead could add to reluctance from some Republicans to agree to more direct relief payments,” The Washington Post reports.
  5. Another 1.5 million U.S. jobless claims came in last week, signaling a slowing recovery for the job market as new COVID-19 infections cause a pause on some reopening plans. While weekly totals are far lower than the late-March peak of 7 million claims, they’re still well above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 during a single week in 1982. Economists say the sluggish improvements likely mean a much slower recovery than we’d hoped.

What D.C. is talking about.

COVID-19. Again. It’s been 10 days since coronavirus was the top story in Tangle, but the latest numbers have everyone talking — and worrying. The United States recorded a record number of new cases yesterday. Nationwide, cases are up 30% since the beginning of June. The pandemic is now getting worse in almost every part of the country, except in the states it hit hardest early on. The rise in positive cases coincides with more testing, but it cannot simply be attributed to more tests. The number and rate of new cases is going up faster than the testing, and in some states — like Florida — testing has gone down while cases are going up.

It’s almost the complete inverse of what we saw in March and April: cases in New York, New Jersey and most of New England are under control or plummeting. Cases almost everywhere else seem to be rising fast. 26 states have seen caseloads climb in the last week, according to Axios. The Wall Street Journal says numbers are climbing in 33 states. New cases are up 77% in Arizona, where the state is “overwhelmed” by demand at testing sites, leaving people sitting in 3-mile long lines in their cars. Cases are up 75% in Michigan, 70% in Texas, 66% in Florida and 47% in California.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was going to delay the reopenings of shopping malls, movie theaters and gyms (which were set for Friday). 14-day quarantines have been ordered for visitors from Florida, Texas and Arizona. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says rapid transmission among 18-34-year-olds appears to be contributing to the spread. Overall, the U.S. now accounts for 2.38 million of the 9.4 million cases globally, and 122,000 of the 483,000 deaths.

What the right is saying.

No more lockdowns — under any circumstances. The right is recognizing the rise in cases and the danger they bring, but the lockdowns were never going to eradicate the virus, and they didn’t do much besides buy us unused time and destroy the economy. The Wall Street Journal editorial board argued the flare-ups are all going to be part of the fits and starts of getting the country back to normal, saying the “health, social and economic cost of shutting the economy again are too high.”

“More spread was inevitable once states started to relax their lockdowns, and they are going to continue until a vaccine exists,” it wrote. “New York City and other hard-hit parts of the Northeast experienced bigger outbreaks in the spring, which were slow to recede even with strict lockdowns as the virus spread through nursing homes and public housing. Two months after locking down, New York City still had many more COVID patients in intensive care than most new hot spots do today.”

On the whole, the right is resistant to any “top-down” government mandates for how the country should respond to COVID-19. National lockdowns should be replaced by state and county directives. We’ve seen how the virus unevenly impacts a place like New York City versus a state like Utah. The WSJ’s Holman Jenkins noted that the rising rates of infections seem to be amongst younger Americans, which is good. Any plan to move forward should focus on reducing the risk of older or at-risk Americans encountering the virus, especially in nursing homes, which have accounted for about one-third of all U.S. deaths.

“If you can’t stop the spread, then remove the elderly and vulnerable from harm’s way,” he said. “That seems to be happening. If a vaccine arrives, many of us will come through the epidemic without ever encountering the virus.”

What the left is saying.

The whole point of the first lockdown was to buy us time. And what have we done with it? Far from facilitating a coherent, unified plan — our federal government under the leadership of Donald Trump squandered their only opportunity to get this right. Now we face the real prospect of a worsening virus and the economic carnage it has left behind for us.

Instead of a leader addressing the very real threat we are facing, Trump is living in an alternate reality. “It’s going away,” he told rallygoers at a megachurch on Tuesday.

“That’s what delusion sounds like,” Nicholas Kristoff wrote in The New York Times. We need a Churchill to lead our nation against a deadly challenge; instead, we have a president who helps an enemy virus infiltrate our churches and homes. Churchill and Roosevelt worked to deceive the enemy; Trump is trying to deceive us.”

Many on the left are pointing to success stories abroad, and how the European Union is now considering a ban on American travelers. A University of Edinburgh professor called it “utterly tragic” and admonished the “appalling leadership and incompetent government” we have under President Trump.

Not only does the president refuse to wear a mask, rally his supporters together in packed arenas and dismiss his own government’s data, he now appears to be actively sabotaging the visibility we have on the virus. The federal government is reportedly pulling funding for test sites in states like Texas, where the outbreak is worsening by the day.

My take.

At the height of the pandemic, I wrote sympathetically about Trump and the virus. COVID-19 is unlike anything any leader in the modern world has experienced — and it’s flummoxed and overcome everyone from New York’s Andrew Cuomo to France’s Emmanuel Macron. Some select countries have succeeded in controlling COVID-19, but Trump is hardly the only national or global leader to struggle to contain the virus and keep his people safe from it. I’ve also responded to a reader question and written about the many, many things Trump could have done differently that would have left us better off today.

Throughout this, though, I’ve made it clear what my worst fear was: we get the worst of the medical outcomes and we get the worst of the economic outcomes. Every day, it seems like we’re teetering closer to that reality. We are probably there already, given the well documented lag between infection and serious illness. Take the numbers at the top of this edition alone: 2.38 million of the 9.4 million global cases and 122,000 of the 483,000 global deaths, or over 25% of global totals in each category, are in the U.S. We have just under 5% of the world’s population. We now have 21 million people unemployed, countless businesses that have been destroyed, and drug overdoses, depression and anxiety are spiking in areas across the country.

These numbers, alone, are enough to call our response and handling of the virus an unmitigated disaster. It’s not all on Trump. Government officials in New York, which was uniquely positioned for the spread of a contagious virus, made fatal error after fatal error. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a brief week where he earned praise, even in the pages of this newsletter, for his handling of COVID-19. Now Florida’s pulling back its testing as cases skyrocket and shipping spring breakers or people who ran off to Florida back across the country. Shoot, it wasn’t so long ago that we were being told by the “experts” that masks wouldn’t help us and were needed for frontline workers. Now they’re becoming mandatory.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. And yet, it’s absolutely clear that the president has contributed to worsening the situation we’re in now. In fact, the buck should stop with him. He is the president. And what has he done?

He scoffs at the idea of wearing masks and refuses to wear one himself, which we now know is one of the most important elements of containing the spread. He swears up and down the virus is receding when it’s doing the opposite. He’s holding campaign rallies in crowded arenas. He spends endless hours on Twitter fighting petty political battles, voicing conspiracy theories or defending the way he walks down a ramp. He is actively suppressing the voices and warnings of government experts and he’s opined on cures, statistics and testing capabilities in ways that can only kindly be described as uninformed.

On the right and left, the questions are the same: Where is the plan? How are we going to send our kids back to school in the fall? What happened to the COVID-19 task force? What should we be doing when we go outside? What’s the path forward? What are the safest ways to congregate? What safety nets are we going to keep in place for the millions of unemployed? What procedures do companies need to follow to bring people back to work? Why are states reopening that didn’t meet the administration’s minimum requirements for reopening? How many friends are too many friends?

These are the questions the president should be answering. They’re questions we have to have answers to, but nobody in the political sphere seems to have them. Another national lockdown isn’t feasible — and even state lockdowns seem as if they could be an unmitigated disaster or counterproductive. We know the spread of the virus happens most often inside and in close contact, so ordering everyone to stay home or stay inside during the summer could backfire.

But the alternative is allowing people to interact regularly or in small pods. That means we need safety plans for work, school, grocery stores, or coming together with friends outside. We probably need targeted closures of hotspot spreaders (like bars or gyms). But right now the president is floundering, the virus spread is worsening, and it certainly seems that we are not responding to the changing circumstances around us. I’m not sure who deserves the brunt of the blame, but we can’t keep claiming COVID-19 is going to go away and then just hope for the best.

Your blindspots.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that uses data to rate the political lean of stories and news outlets, I’ll be featuring parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their biased news diets.

Last week, the left missed a story about the House of Representatives launching a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that includes education, broadband and housing. The bill merges “several typically unrelated bills into one massive ‘infrastructure’ package.”

Last week, the right missed a story on how climate change is tied to pregnancy complications, with black mothers most at risk. Women who are exposed to higher temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have premature or underweight babies, according to a study of 32 million pregnancies.

To check out Ground News, click here.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. You can ask a reader question, or chime in, by simply replying to this email.

Q: I'm new to Tangle but I’m gaining interest and love your forum. My question: Do you believe the BLM foundation is partisan and supporting the DNC?

— Megan

Tangle: Thanks for these questions, Megan! I wish I had gotten to them last week when they were a bit more front and center in the national conversation, but I’m happy to address them now.

I’ll first address the Black Lives Matter question. A lot of the questions or accusations that BLM was “supporting the DNC” were due to a fundamental misunderstanding about a donation platform BLM uses to raise money. The platform is called ActBlue, and its target audience is people who are left politically or registered Democrats. All sorts of politicians use ActBlue to raise money — from Joe Biden to little known state and local candidates  — and it’s a staple of many left-leaning or Democratic campaigns.

The entire rumor started after Candace Owens, a black conservative activist, posted a misleading series of videos and tweets showing that BLM’s donate page brought you to an ActBlue logout page and claiming (in all capital letters) that “BLACK LIVES MATTER FUNDING GOES DIRECTLY TO WHITE DEMOCRATS AND THEIR VARIOUS INITIATIVES TO GET DEMOCRATS INTO OFFICE.”

I would have responded to Owens’ tweet to correct her, but she blocked me last year for repeatedly fact-checking dubious claims she made on Twitter. In reality, Owens’ tweet actually explained a lot more about her than it did about BLM: it showed she doesn’t really understand the political landscape. I imagine any political reporter in the country could tell you who ActBlue is, how it works and what it does. It is not a Super PAC and money you donate to BLM on that platform does not go to the DNC or Democratic candidates. ActBlue is a payment or donation platform — it’s like Venmo, PayPal or GoFundMe. It’s a tool to send money securely to many like-minded causes and candidates.

The only real difference is that ActBlue often targets donors with left-leaning politics. But the claim that if you donate to BLM it goes to the DNC is as nonsensical as claiming when you donate to Joe Biden it goes to Bernie Sanders — just because they both use ActBlue to process donations. It’s not true, nothing about it’s true, and — frankly — I hope it was an ignorant claim from Owens and not one that was made with malice to mislead her followers.

There are some other slight nuances to this, though, which you can read about here.

As for the general partisan nature of BLM, that’s a bit harder to parse. Certainly, the organization and its activists as a whole seem to support Democrats. Technically, BLM is a non-partisan movement (i.e. they don’t explicitly endorse any political party). But the fact that their leaders tend to support Democratic politicians, in my opinion, should not so much be a knock on BLM as it is an indictment of how so many black Americans view the Republican party.

I’ve said this here before and it’s worth saying again: Black voters are not a monolith. Black Americans are not a monolith. I often cringe when I see them spoken about in broad terms. Some of my favorite Black writers and reporters — Glenn Lowry, Kmele Foster, Coleman Hughes, Thomas Chatterton Williams — are conservative and often speak critically of the BLM platform and tactics. Some of the most prominent BLM activists and voices also speak critically about the Democratic party.

I wouldn’t call BLM “partisan.” BLM leaders certainly don’t pull punches on Democrats the way many liberal pundits do. I do think if you’re going to generalize the BLM movement as a whole, it’s fair to generalize them as being more supportive of Democrats than Republicans. But, again, I’m not sure casting that as a judgment on BLM is fair — and I suggest it may be a reflection of how the Republican party represents and does outreach to the Black community in America.

A story that matters.

Billions of dollars of “charitable donations” going to donor-advised funds, or DAFs, seem to be accruing interest and earning investment income without ever reaching people in need. The controversial and booming form of philanthropy is under increased scrutiny as billionaires across the U.S. announce donations to DAFs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the funds, which are not working charities like American Red Cross or United Way, don’t seem to be making any actual difference. The Washington Post tracked $180 million in donations from Google co-founder Larry Page to one such fund, and said it was “unclear if any of that money funded any charitable works, or if it’s all still sitting in accounts mostly controlled by Page, collecting interest and earning investment income.” DAFs are the fastest-growing form of charitable spending in America. Click.


  • 90%. The percentage of college students who say they should pay less in tuition if schools are only offering online classes, according to a new survey.
  • 94%. The percentage of black Americans who think that “our country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.”
  • 91%. The percentage of black Americans who “support the protests following Floyd’s killing that have taken place in cities across the country.”
  • 22,000. The number of New York City municipal workers that Mayor Bill de Blasio warned could be laid off.
  • 200. The number of federal judges Donald Trump has successfully appointed to the judiciary, following the confirmation of Cory Wilson on Wednesday.
  • 24%. The percentage of U.S. adults planning to vote for Joe Biden who say he should pick Kamala Harris for Vice President, the highest of any candidate.
  • 54%. The percentage of Americans who are uncomfortable with reopening K-12 schools this fall.

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Have a nice day.

A woman in Gig Harbor, Washington, who was furloughed from her job has been dubbed “Lasagna Lady” after making and donating over 1,200 pans of home cooked lasagna to her community. Michelle Brenner was helping do grocery runs for neighbors when she noticed frozen lasagna was a popular item. As a “die-hard, full Italian” lasagna lover, she offered to cook her neighbors real lasagna the right way. Interest started pouring in, so she put aside her $1,200 stimulus check to fund the donated lasagna. When the demand only increased, she launched a Facebook fundraiser to pay for ingredients. Over 3 months, she cooked 1,200 pans and raised about $20,000 in donations. “It’s a pan of love,” Brenner, who has been living on unemployment assistance since she was furloughed, said. “A lot of the people I make lasagna for have lost their jobs, and this is my way of saying, ‘I understand and I’m here for you.’” Click.

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