Aug 26, 2020

Kenosha, Wisconsin, unraveling with protests.

Kenosha, Wisconsin, unraveling with protests.

Plus, who pays for Trump's lawsuits?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum. You can read Tangle for free, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to subscribe. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

The scene in Kenosha Wisconsin after Jacob Blake was shot, a question about who pays for Trump’s lawsuits and some Republican National Convention recaps.


Yesterday, I referred to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as the “House Majority Leader.” Pelosi is the House Speaker, which is the highest-ranking position for any Democratic member of the House of Representatives. The Majority Leader for Democrats is Steny Hoyer, who represents Maryland’s 5th district. Tangle’s editors regret allowing me to make this error.

This is the 13th Tangle correction in its twelve-month existence and the first time corrections have ever exceeded its months of existence. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to stop counting when the number becomes embarrassing, which might be soon.

Quick hits.

  1. Melania Trump delivered a 25-minute speech at the Republican National Convention last night, making a pitch that seemed aimed more at independent and waffling voters than the Trump base that’s otherwise been the focus of this convention. She pleaded for racial harmony, saying she has been reflecting a lot on the racial unrest in the country and the harsh realities that are a part of our history. “I encourage you to focus on the future while still learning from the past,” she said. "I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals…I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice, and never make assumptions based on the color of a person's skin."
  2. President Trump nominated Chad Wolf to be the Department of Homeland Security secretary yesterday. Wolf is the acting secretary and was recently under fire for acting in his role without Senate confirmation. The nomination sets up hearings that will almost certainly be tense, given Wolf’s role in federal troop deployments into U.S. cities over the last few months. “As the Homeland faces evolving threats from natural disasters, violent opportunists, malign cyber actors & transnational criminal orgs, the mission of DHS is as critical as ever,” Wolf said. On the same day, former DHS chief of staff Miles Taylor alleged President Trump offered to “pardon U.S. government officials for breaking the law to implement his immigration policies.”
  3. A bipartisan group of Congressmen are introducing a resolution to condemn the far-right conspiracy theory group QAnon. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) introduced the symbolic legislation just days after President Trump offered lukewarm praise of QAnon supporters, and a week after Republican Majorie Greene, who has expressed enthusiasm for their conspiracy theory, won an election in Georgia. The FBI has labeled QAnon a domestic terrorism threat. “Conspiracy theories that falsely blame secret cabals and marginalized groups for the problems of society have long fueled prejudice, violence and terrorism," Malinowski said in a statement Tuesday. "It's time for us to come together across party lines to say that QAnon has no place in our nation's political discourse.”
  4. Two speakers at the Republican National Convention were under fire yesterday hours before they were set to address the nation. One, Mary Ann Mendoza, was removed from the speaker list after she promoted a series of tweets echoing anti-semitic theories. Mendoza is on the advisory board of the Trump campaign and is an “angel mom,” a term for someone whose child was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Abby Johnson, a pro-life activist who did deliver her remarks, was under fire for tweets where she expressed support for household voting, a voting method where each house gets a single vote. Historically speaking, those votes went to men. After a user asked what happens if the wife and husband disagree, Johnson said “Then they would have to decide on one vote. In a Godly household, the husband would get the final say.”
  5. Last night, President Trump pardoned Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber who now runs a nonprofit in Nevada for prisoners. The White House announced the pardon in a short video aired during the Republican National Convention. The move was another data point that the Trump campaign is attacking race and racial justice issues — where he’s polling poorly with voters — head-on. Fox News’ Brit Hume called it “the most powerful moment” of the night. CNN’s Van Jones said it was a “political stunt.” Trump called Ponder a “beautiful testament to the power of redemption.”

What D.C. is talking about.

Kenosha, Wisconsin. Last night, for the third consecutive night after video footage went viral of police shooting Jacob Blake Jr., protests descended into riots in Kenosha. It’s still not clear what happened leading up to the shooting of Blake, in part because the Kenosha Police Department has not released any details — or the names of the officers involved. In the video that set off the protests, Blake is seen walking away from the police as they grab his shirt, then opens his driver’s side door to get in his car when the officers shoot him seven times in the back. You can hear police say “drop the knife” but there is no evidence Blake had a weapon of any kind and no knife visible in footage online.

A second video released yesterday shows police struggling with Blake beside the car before he stands up (I won’t be linking to either video in this newsletter). A 911 call captured by Broadcastfly, a radio wave tracker, picked up a call for police to come to Blake’s home because he had a set of keys he was refusing to give back. Witnesses and Blake’s attorney say he was breaking up a fight and de-escalating a volatile situation. They also say police used a stun gun on Blake before he got up and tried to get into his car. Inside the vehicle were three of Blake’s five children, who his attorney says he was going to check on. Blake, 29, is Black, which made the horrific footage seem like a match being dropped in a tinderbox full of petroleum.

Since the shooting, and the videos, protests have erupted across Kenosha — an otherwise sleepy Wisconsin city that sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is not the typical setting for protests, though Blake’s grandfather was apparently a civil rights activist in the Chicago area. Protesters have spent time congregating around a county courthouse downtown Kenosha clashing with police. Some people also looted, rioted and burned down businesses in Kenosha.

Last night, two people were killed and one was injured in a shooting, according to a police report. The Kenosha sheriff told news outlets he was investigating whether the shooting was the result of a conflict between protesters and a group of armed men who said they were protecting a gas station. The New York Times reported that protesters moved from the county courthouse to the gas station late at night, where a verbal altercation may have turned into a violent exchange. Graphic video footage went viral of a man carrying a rifle running down the street, being chased and tackled protesters, before turning around and firing on them.

The demonstrations spread from the small Wisconsin city of 100,000 to Portland, Oregon (where protests have never really stopped), Seattle, Washington D.C. and New York City. Yesterday, Blake’s family spoke to the press, informing them that he was undergoing emergency surgery to treat seven bullet wounds and was currently paralyzed from the waist down. He is conscious in the hospital.


Both the right and the left have criticized the police actions based on the available footage we have. I’ve seen very few defenses of the police in this situation, not unlike the George Floyd incident. Certainly, some people on the right have said Blake was “resisting” and should have followed police commands — but for the most part, commentators say they saw the same thing: unnecessary force and the police shooting someone in the back who was not a threat to them.

What the right is saying.

It’s a mix. For the most part, the right has focused on the protests and rioting that have happened since the shooting took place. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson focused on the looting and violence — pointing out that the St. Louis McCloskey couple was widely mocked for saying these protests and riots were going to come to smaller towns just hours before they arrived in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Carlson argued that the violence was a “class war masquerading as a race conflict.”

“It was almost exclusively young people in the street committing violence, it always is,” he said. “As the fires burn, normal people in Kenosha cowered in their homes.”

C.M. Fortenberry argued that Donald Trump needs a new message: Make America Safe Again. Fortenberry suggests this motto instead of “Law & Order,” which he argues creates divisions and images of “good and bad” guys.

“Law and Order can be a reminder of what sparked the unrest in the first place: another instance of life-destroying brutality by a lawman,” Fortenberry wrote. “Americans don’t want racial inequality under the law, and might opt to endure some (remote) disorder as a necessary detour on the road to a more just society… Make America Safe Again answers concerns about unrest, and it expands beyond Law and Order to embrace the broader, shared concerns of the American people.”

A reporter from the conservative website The Blaze shared footage of a rioter pulling out a handgun and pointing it at him. On Twitter, Michael Tracey made the case that Kenosha is an example of when and where the federal government should deploy the National Guard. “I guess according to Wisconsin officials, vigilante gunfights are preferable to deploying a sufficiently large National Guard force,” Tracey said. “Strange, because everywhere I went across the US, the Guard was overwhelmingly welcomed and praised by residents facing violence and chaos.” (Editor’s note: the National Guard has been deployed in small numbers to Kenosha, and hours after Tracey’s tweet the Kenosha mayor requested more troops from the governor.)

In Washington D.C., footage went viral yesterday of protesters who were demonstrating in Blake’s name surrounding white patrons in restaurants and insisting they raise their fists in support of Black Lives Matter. In one widely shared video, dozens of protesters surround a white woman who is sitting and eating her dinner while shouting in her face and insisting she raise her fist in solidarity.

“This is insane,” Thomas Chatterton Williams said about the restaurant videos. “And no one comes to the defense of the person being swarmed on, who has done nothing to deserve this. This is cult behavior. This is what a moral panic powered by technology looks like.”

What the left is saying.

It’s a mix. Most people on the left are focusing on the incident that set off the protests and riots. The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that Blake’s shooting, just days after Trayford Pellerin was killed in Lafayette, Louisiana, “should quash any lingering notion that brutal and excessive police force directed against Black men is an overstated problem or that the nation’s reckoning with racism and police violence will be brief.”

“Kenosha police in the Blake shooting weren’t wearing body cameras, leaving only the bystander video,” it wrote. “That recording quickly went viral, turning Kenosha into the latest in a dismaying line of U.S. cities roiled by violent protests. Having body cameras on the officers in Kenosha would have supplied important additional context to help understand the shooting, and the accountability they provide might have changed the way the officers handled the incident.”

The Washington Post editorial board called it a “sickening deja vu.” The board said there is “no question that the destruction that occurred as protests turned violent early Monday cannot be condoned. Calls by Mr. Blake’s family and others for peaceful protest should be heeded.” And yet…

“Shouldn’t police officers by now be on notice to stop using unwarranted — and too often deadly — force against Black men and women?” the board asked. The “frustration and anger over how Black people are treated by police who seem to think they can act with impunity are understandable. Police were apparently responding to a domestic disturbance, and Mr. Blake, according to witnesses, was trying to break up a fight when the incident turned lethal.”

On Twitter, many on the left argued that the number one story in America should be the armed white men, some of whom were allegedly part of a militia, patrolling the streets with long guns and now apparently responsible for the death of at least two protesters.

My take.

I can’t stop thinking about the boys. The three little boys in the backseat of Jacob Blake’s car. There’s an argument in politics — one that resonates with me a lot — about our “war on terror” in the Middle East. You’ve probably heard it before, but the gist is that every time an American bomb falls in the Middle East, it creates 100 more extremists who will spend the rest of their lives hating America, and being hellbent on destroying it.

I thought about that watching the Jacob Blake video, which I don’t suggest you do. I thought about the boys in the backseat, the millions of young Black teenagers who have smartphones, and all the other people who witnessed the incident. What will those boys think of police for the rest of their lives? Of white men with guns? Of what to do if they’re witnessing a fight, or a cop tells them to “stop,” or they get pulled over for speeding?

The Jacob Blake story, as we understand it now (and trust me, it will change), is all the worst parts of our country wrapped up into one. USA Today estimates three minutes elapsed from the time a 911 call was made to Blake being shot. Three minutes. It’s been three days and the Kenosha Police Department hasn’t released the most basic details of the interaction. The Kenosha police don’t have body cameras. The Kenosha police have not named, fired, or investigated any officers, though apparently one who was involved is on a “leave of absence.”

Witnesses say Blake was there trying to de-escalate a fight. Supporters of the police will argue that Blake resisted arrest, which he very well may have. He certainly appears to be escaping the police officers’ grip. A lot of those police supporters will share videos of men in Blake’s situation walking back to cars like his, opening the driver’s side door just as he did, and then retrieving a gun that they use to attack a police officer with. Those videos also deserve watching. Much like the little boys in the backseat and the Black teenagers all over the world with cell phones will have images of Blake being shot in the back burned into their memories, the police watch videos of people grabbing guns from their driver’s side door to turn on them and fire — a lesson to always be on guard and alert burned into their memories.

Blake’s family pleaded with protesters to be peaceful, but many have apparently ignored them. Joe Biden, despite being accused of being silent, actually released the same statement he did after George Floyd’s death: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.” His words have been largely ignored by liberal politicians apparently afraid of condemning riots and conservative reporters who want to frame Biden as a radical who is encouraging chaos.

I don’t know where we go from here. The protesters surrounding diners in an outdoor restaurant and trying to force them to raise their fist in allegiance to Black Lives Matter is absurd and frightening. The woman who refused to participate said she’d been marching with them all week, but the whole thing “didn’t feel right” — and who can blame her? I wouldn’t feel right if dozens of people barged into my dinner, pointing cameras at me and insisting I do something, screaming at me if I showed the slightest resistance, even (and probably especially) if I was sympathetic to their position.

And of course, let’s not forget the goons in military fatigues with AR-15s and bulletproof vests “protecting” the local businesses. For every conservative who condemned the loud but peaceful mob trying to force patrons into a raised fist, very few if any of them spent a breath on the Wisconsin wannabes surrounding businesses with long guns. If anyone wants to know what the predictable result is of “armed citizens” patrolling streets like they’re marines, you now have your answer. This isn’t Call of Duty. People actually die.

We’re in a dark place. Trump and Republicans are trying to sell the country on an idea that more of this is ahead with a Biden presidency, but it’s an idea that defies reality. We’re witnessing it right now, with a Trump presidency. Perhaps Biden could be the calming force some past presidents have been — a voice that can ease tensions and build bridges. But a Biden presidency could be getting less likely every day. For every video of a burnt up family-owned store, every video of chaos spreading in a suburban street, every video of store owners being knocked unconscious — all of it will be used to sell the left as violent radicals. And for a lot of waffling voters, that’s a purchase they’re primed to make.

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Your blindspot.

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.

The left missed a story this week about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatening to freeze property tax revenue for any city in Texas that votes to cut police funding in reaction to the state capitol of Austin recently moving to redirect some police funds to other social and public safety agencies.

The right missed a story this week about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) apologizing for misrepresenting a key statistic about how effective blood plasma is in treating COVID-19 far too positively.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: You can ask a question (or write to me) anytime. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in — it goes straight to my inbox.

Q: Who foots the bill for all of the lawyers that have to defend Trump? Is it out of his pocket, or is it like when he goes golfing and our taxes are paying for it all? I’ve read that he has spent more on legal fees in less than four years than any other president in our history.

— Blair, Syracuse, New York

Tangle: The short answer is that his donors do.

The longer answer is that it’s a mix. In May, OpenSecrets reported that the Trump campaign was spending “unprecedented sums” on legal fees. When it says the “Trump campaign,” it means the body that is funding Trump’s run in 2020. In other words, the organization people donate to when they give money to Trump. As of May, the president had spent $16 million on legal and compliance services in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles. Legal fees were about 10% of the campaign’s entire spending as of March. Frankly, I’m always surprised this isn’t a bigger story.

It’s not unheard of for this spending to be in the millions, by the way. Obama spent $5.5 million on legal fees during his 2012 reelection campaign, Hillary Clinton spent $6.5 million in 2016 and Bush spent $8.8 million in 2004. But $16 million — already — is pretty remarkable. So is 10% of the total expenditures running into March.

Part of the novelty of what Trump is doing is that he’s suing a lot of news networks. That’s actually the majority of his legal fees. The campaign is basically using lawsuits as a way to try to stymie negative coverage of his presidency. He’s successfully gotten retractions from the Daily Telegraph and MSNBC, and in February sued The New York Times over a “quid pro quo” op-ed. The campaign has also sued people making Trump gear and selling it as if it’s going to the campaign, which is more akin to your typical campaign lawsuits.

In Obama’s case, for instance, lawsuits were filed by the campaign against bills that restricted in-person voting. The campaign also violated some copyright laws that caused legal battles and it was sued by the FCC for not properly disclosing a certain set of donors.

The Republican National Committee is also helping Trump out. During his impeachment trial, the RNC began footing the bill for his lawyers — which is not unlike the Trump campaign paying for them since the money comes from donors. Because it was an impeachment trial and the trials were a result of his status as an officeholder, election law allows him to take party or campaign funds to pay his legal bills.

But there are other ways you and I as taxpayers are “paying” for the lawsuits. For one, Trump has White House counsel, which includes lawyers who work for the Justice Department, or are federal prosecutors, and thus receive taxpayer-funded salaries. House Democrats who impeached Trump also had government lawyers, and we are also paying those salaries with our taxes.

There’re also lawsuits involving Trump’s businesses. In those cases, there were about 10 Justice Department lawyers, as of 2017, who were defending Trump’s companies. All of those lawyers have annual salaries, paid with taxpayer funds, that range from $133,000 to $185,000, according to USA Today. That legal team was not defending anything Trump did, but instead was in court making the head-scratching case that it is not unconstitutional for the president to profit from foreign governments while he’s in office.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing of the New York Attorney General, who is going after Trump for his financial records. In that regard, folks living and paying taxes in New York (like me!) are paying for both the defense and prosecution of Trump. I try not to spend too much time thinking about that.

A story that matters.

For many Americans, the COVID-19 lockdown has made work and social life more accessible. “Many nondisabled people have reported that while remote work has improved their quality of life, virtual socializing has been draining and disappointing,” The New York Times reports. “But for some of the 61 million Americans with disabilities, the ability to work, learn and socialize from home has been an unexpected expansion of possibility.” Invites are coming in, house parties are suddenly accessible, and everyone is working remotely on the same playing field. Now, millions of disabled Americans are hoping that accommodations to work from home or socialize remotely will last beyond the pandemic.


  • 10%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say race relations or racism is the most important problem facing the country.
  • 19%. The percentage of U.S. adults in June who said race relations or racism was the most important problem facing the country.
  • 72%. The percentage of K-12 parents who are satisfied with their childrens’ education.
  • 82%. The percentage of K-12 parents who were satisfied with their childrens’ education one year ago.
  • 48%. The percentage of U.S. adults who are Democrats or lean Democratic.
  • 42%. The percentage of U.S. adults who are Republican or lean Republican.
  • 50%. The percentage of U.S. adults who were Democrats or leaned Democratic in June of this year.
  • 39%. The percentage of U.S. adults who were Republicans or leaned Republican in June of this year.

Have a nice day.

A prototype for a new wildfire sensor is injecting hope into a world that has been overwhelmed over the last few years, especially in California. More than 37,000 wildfires have hit the U.S. already this year, and one of the chief struggles in controlling them is detecting them before they spread. Manning vulnerable areas is expensive. Placing sensors in the woods requires replacing their batteries regularly (and risks polluting the environment with the batteries). But Michigan State University researchers say they’ve developed a fire sensor that is powered by a “triboelectric generator,” a generator that draws power from tiny motions. By hanging the sensors in the trees, and allowing them to sway in the wind or with a branch’s movement, you power the sensors. This motion to energy source is a breakthrough technology that’s only now being harnessed for prototypes like this.

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