Plus, am I thinking about leaving Substack?
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
The MLB moved its all-star game after the new Georgia voting law. Was it worth it? Plus, a reader asks about the controversy surrounding Substack, and whether I plan to leave.
- Democrats’ infrastructure plan could be passed with a simple majority vote, but it will require removing or amending several pieces of the plan to comply with Senate rules. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
- Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Tuesday that proposals to expand the court would erode trust and make justices appear more political. (The Washington Post, subscription)
- Amazon’s Jeff Bezos came out in support of a corporate tax rate hike yesterday. (BBC)
- The Arkansas legislature has overridden the governor’s veto and passed a bill that will ban transgender youth from transitional surgeries and hormone supplements. (USA Today)
- The U.S. State Department denied that it was considering a joint boycott (alongside allies) of the 2022 Winter Olympics set to be held in Beijing over reports of Uyghurs being held in detention camps in China. (CNBC)
Today’s big story.
Baseball. Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced that it was moving its all-star game from Atlanta, Georgia, to Denver, Colorado. The move came in response to Georgia’s recently passed voting laws, which drew a torrent of criticism from many in the business community and liberal political leaders in Georgia.
The bill, which we covered in Tangle, imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, limits dropbox use and gives state election officials new mechanisms to challenge election results, among other changes. While it restricts voting access compared to 2020, it also expands access to voting by mail and early voting hours compared to the laws that were in place in Georgia in 2019.
After the bill passed, boycotts of Georgia-based companies picked up steam. CEOs of more than a hundred companies released statements rebuking the law’s restrictions on voting access. After the game was moved, Atlanta Braves players had their home opener this week and covered the all-star patches on their jerseys in protest.
Removing the game from Georgia could cost the state an expected $100 million in revenue. Major sporting events like the all-star game drive in tourists, vendors, fans and are a boon for local businesses.
"Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies," Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday. "Georgians — and all Americans — should fully understand what the MLB's knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn't agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter."
Below, we’ll be looking at some responses to this news.
What the left is saying.
The left has mostly supported the move, arguing that Major League Baseball drew a strong line in the sand and sent a message to politicians. But some also worry that it’s a missed opportunity.
In an NBC News op-ed, Cecil Harris celebrated the move.
“MLB is choosing to play on the right side of history this year by relocating both the game and the July amateur draft because Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill that experts all agree would make it harder for people of color to vote — just because they tend to vote for Democrats,” he wrote. “There is also plenty of precedent for taking their ball and going elsewhere,” he added, citing the 1993 Super Bowl and 2017 NBA All-Star games, which were also moved in political protest.
“Kemp complains about ‘cancel culture and woke political activists’ coming after ‘you’ — but by ‘you,’ he means only white conservatives, not the people he wants to disenfranchise,” Harris added. “Regardless of what Kemp says, Georgia did not lose the All-Star Game because of ‘wokeness’ or ‘cancel culture’ but because of his authoritarianism and undemocratic policies.”
In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch said the move honored the civil rights legacy of Hank Aaron, a former Braves legend.
“Aaron died in January at age 86, but there was little doubt that his actions had bent the arc of the moral universe in the right direction,” Bunch wrote. “There was no more powerful symbol of that than last week’s bold decision by Major League Baseball — whose long, tortured, far-from-complete journey toward racial equity had unfolded during the Hall of Famer’s lifetime — to yank its 2021 All-Star Game (and its annual player draft) from the Braves’ new-ish billion-dollar playpen in the Atlanta suburbs, to protest Georgia’s new law that advances voter suppression.
“Baseball’s unexpectedly decisive action — which caused conservatives to lose their collective mind, with GOP lawmakers threatening to punish MLB by revoking its antitrust exemption, and the disembodied voice of Donald Trump to call for a boycott from exile in Florida — seemed a turning point, marking voting rights as the battle for the soul of post-Trump America,” he added. “I think what’s really riled the political right over the pressure not just from baseball but from Georgia’s top brands like Coca-Cola and Delta is that they’ve put the focus on the Big Lie — that Trump’s 2020 loss was the result of massive voter fraud that never happened — but also on the Pretty Big Lies behind a Republican voter suppression drive in dozens of states.”
In Politico, Jeff Greenfield said it was “understandable” for the left to be happy about the move given Georgia’s “restrictive rules clearly designed to depress Black turnout.” But he argued moving the game was shortsighted.
“If MLB was truly worried about protecting the ability to vote in Georgia—and making sure Georgia’s disenfranchised voters weren’t silenced—there was a much, much better way to act: Bring the full force of baseball’s celebrity power to bear on Georgia itself,” he said. “The real loss is what the All-Star Game could have meant to the effort to mobilize against that law. Consider this alternative: The All-Star Game stays in Georgia. But the event—a three-day affair—is built around a multifront campaign to address the restrictions imposed by the new law. None of it would need to be framed as partisan. It would be purely pro-voting, pro-democracy—an equal-opportunity push to be sure the good old-fashioned American election process worked.”
What the right is saying.
The right criticizes the move, saying it makes little sense and is an overblown reaction to a bill that is not dangerous.
“Cobb County estimates that losing the game will cost the region more than $100 million,” David Harsanyi wrote in National Review. “Or to put it another way: Atlanta, a city with a 51 percent black population — the largest black-majority metro area in the nation — will be out $100 million. They’ll live, but it’s certainly a peculiar way for professional baseball to show solidarity with the African-American community.
“Another funny way of showing your concern for alleged ‘voting restrictions’ is by moving the All-Star Game to a state that in many ways has voting laws at least as stringent as Georgia’s,” Harsanyi added. “To vote in Colorado, a person needs photo identification, just as they do at the will-call window at Coors Field. Like Colorado, Georgia allows voters without ID to use the last four digits of their Social Security number, a bank statement or utility bill, a paycheck, or any other government document with their name and address. Though ID requirements are the provision Democrats hate most, they are broadly popular among voters, which is why they are compelled to use hyperbole and disinformation when talking about the rest of these laws.”
In The Washington Post, Hugh Hewitt said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has “declared the league an arm of the Democratic Party.”
“No doubt Manfred will insist he didn’t mean that, but Republicans know the insult of the accusation of racism when it hits them,” Hewitt wrote. “The MLB wants to be a Democratic Party interest group? Fine, Republicans should oblige them. I will. And the same applies to Delta, the nonofficial but very real airline of the Democratic Party, and Coca-Cola, the nonofficial but very real drink of the Democratic Party. Good luck with your fans and your customers. Maybe they won’t notice…
“The three musketeers of virtue signaling likely heard President Biden describing the new Georgia law as ‘Jim Crow on steroids’ and falsely claiming that the law ‘ends voting hours early,’” Hewitt wrote. “But they seem to have missed that the president’s words were ridiculed far and wide. The Post’s Fact Checker blog slapped its worst standard rating, ‘four Pinocchios,’ on the president’s claim. Yet in running over the interests of their customers, the commissioner and CEOs didn’t stop to study, ponder and consult. They wanted to be seen as “doing the right thing.”
In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria said Biden and corporations are “tougher on Georgia than they are on China.”
“Apparently, expanding voting opportunities in Georgia is boycott-worthy, but China’s genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang is not such a big deal. China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, and Biden remains unable even to threaten a boycott over human rights,” he wrote. “The CEOs of Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines have also condemned Georgia. Coca-Cola has also lobbied against legislation to stop Uyghur forced labor, and Delta continues to bill itself as the ‘most Chinese-friendly U.S. airline.’”
Let’s get a few things out of the way: First, I started my career as a sports reporter. Sports and politics have always and will always be intertwined. Do I love when I finish work, turn on a basketball game, open a beer to end my day and am immediately confronted with political ads, political statements, or political commentary from Charles Barkley? Not particularly. Like a lot of people, I’m a sports fanatic in part because sports are an escape. But players, coaches and owners all have a right — and sometimes an obligation — to engage in political actions that matter to them. There’s nothing wrong with it.
Second, I’ve seen a lot of people on the right claim that Colorado’s voting laws are more stringent or the same as Georgia’s. I think that claim is flimsy at best and laughable at worst. Yes, both require forms of ID. Fundamentally, though, voting in Colorado is about as easy as it can be. Every registered voter is sent a ballot to mail in every year, no request needed. Photo identification can include student IDs. If you don’t have that, bank statements and paycheck stubs work fine. There is one dropbox for every 9,400 voters available 24 hours a day, compared to Georgia, which has one dropbox for every 100,000 voters for a limited time only (as of the new laws). The differences are numerous (and, for whatever it’s worth, Colorado still has very little fraud).
Third, as I wrote last week, the fear over the Georgia bill struck me as overblown. It got watered down and ended up, in many ways, enhancing voting access. As many of you pointed out to me, and to which I agreed in a follow-up newsletter, the most dangerous part of the bill is the provision giving the Georgia Assembly control over the State Board of Elections, which will allow the board to take over local county boards and choose who decides to disqualify which ballots — even in Democratic strongholds. In 2020, a provision like this could have easily been used to throw out legitimate ballots and given Georgia to Trump, had Republicans caved to his pressure.
And, again, my position is that this bill is based on a contradiction: Georgia Republicans have not presented any evidence — and aren’t even alleging! — that there was fraud in their state. They are both saying that 2020 was a huge success with audits and recounts showing everything went smoothly and claiming that the entire system needs to be reformed. It just makes no sense.
But is this the answer? I think Harsanyi and Greenfield both got it right, in part. Moving the game is going to hurt the working class Georgians who were about to benefit from a surge of tourism and interest. All the restaurants, bars, Airbnbs, hotels, street vendors, grocery stores and employees at Braves stadium lose out here. Not just that, but — working under the assumption that you want to fix this going forward — Greenfield is also right that organizing around the game would have been a far more effective long-term strategy.
I don’t know what this solves. It’s a strong statement, sure. But against what? The move obscures the reality that the corporations behind the boycott — like Delta and Coca-Cola — are prolific political donors who do next to nothing when their market is at risk. Corporations seem to rely on an “invest or divest” decision when they know the press will do the marketing work for them, rather than actually approach these issues with an intent to make positive or lasting change. Sometimes it works. Often, though, it does next to nothing but enhance their image with the people who are upset.
Your questions, answered.
Q: Have you thought about leaving Substack over the transphobia in their hiring for their premium version?
— Anonymous, Southern Illinois
Tangle: For those who don’t spend a lot of time on media Twitter, I’ll explain this question briefly: Substack, the platform I use to send you this newsletter, is host to thousands of writers. Part of their business strategy is recruiting writers with large followings and offering them “pro deals” (note: not “premium”) to come to Substack and write. Usually, the deals guarantee those writers ‘X’ number of dollars in the first year to write on Substack, while Substack takes most of their subscription revenue. Then, after a year, it flips — Substack takes a small cut of their subscription revenue and writers get the bulk of it.
For writers worried about the risks of jumping ship from their day jobs to go independent, it’s a good deal: a guaranteed salary while they build something. Unfortunately, Substack’s process for recruiting writers (those who get a lot of interaction on social media) has led to them picking up some fire breathing, culture war types. Some of those writers have been accused of transphobia. Some writers are leaving Substack because they don’t want to share a platform with those writers.
To get to your question: No. I haven’t thought about leaving Substack for these reasons. As far as I know, the only writers who have both gotten a pro deal and been accused of transphobia are Glenn Greenwald (who I am not even sure got a pro deal) and Matty Yglesias. I’m not a huge Greenwald fan because his commitment to contrarian thinking and being cruel on Twitter is bad for discourse. But he’s a unique thinker and I read his work. He’s also an openly gay man who has been outspoken in his support for trans rights, and I’m not convinced he’s a transphobe. Yglesias hasn’t even been directly accused of transphobia, though people continue to imply that. Instead, a former colleague who was trans expressed disappointment when he signed a letter supporting free speech because she felt it contained dog whistles toward anti-trans people. She never actually accused him of being transphobic (she actually said he had been kind and supportive of her work).
Even if these writers were what they have been accused of being, though, I’m not sure it would cause me to leave. I came to Substack specifically to avoid being associated with anyone else. The entire reason I started Tangle was to be independent. It’s in my tagline (“independent, ad-free, non-partisan”). I am not those writers, I am not associated with those writers, and — despite any claims to the contrary — none of my readers are in any way funding anyone on this platform except for me. Full stop. I share a platform with them the same way you share Twitter with people you despise. As Ben Thompson puts it, I’m a “sovereign writer.” I didn’t get a pro deal. 99.9% of Substack writers don’t. I’ve worked 14 hour days for a year and a half to build something that is mine and nobody else’s.
On a personal note, my entire career in journalism has been plagued by a constant fear of layoffs and unrelenting pressure to appease investors and advertisers. Being a journalist can be miserable. Substack has, for the first time in my professional life, offered me stability and financial independence. There are other platforms that send newsletters and I have considered them, mostly because Substack takes 10% of my revenue — more than most newsletter hosting websites — which means I lose about 45%-50% of all my revenue to taxes, Substack and Stripe fees (speaking of, please go subscribe!). If I ever leave Substack, it’ll be a business decision because it’s good for me and Tangle.
And frankly: the leaderboard of Substack is far more ideologically diverse than any platform I know of. Because of that leaderboard, where Tangle is a top 20 politics newsletter, I also get new readers. No matter where else I might go, save my own custom-built newsletter delivery system (which I have neither the skills, time, funds, nor inclination to create), I’d be sharing a platform with other people.
Substack has also treated me very well. They’ve added new features I’ve requested, they gave me a grant, they supported me at a time when very few people were interested in my writing, and as a result, I’ve built my dream job out of thin air: a politics news outlet I own that is improving and not eroding the discourse. As today’s newsletter touches on, boycotts are not the only tool for political action. They’re often blunt and sometimes self-destructive. For me, being one of the people shaping the content on Substack in a positive way is more productive than leaving it behind to be dominated by the folks causing all this controversy. So for now, I have no plans to leave.
If you have something you want to be answered in the newsletter, you can simply reply to this email and write in or fill out this form to submit a question.
Speaking of which…
I started Tangle with the goal of providing something different in the media landscape: a fair representation of arguments you might not agree with, and a balanced take on issues that affect all of us. In the interest of providing that balance and with boycotts taking up so much of the room in today's newsletter, I want to ask you to subscribe to Tangle.
I'm committed to remaining ad-free and providing a free service to those who can't afford to pay, but I can't do that without the subscriptions of those who can. For under $5 a month, you can directly support the kind of journalism that avoids clickbait, explores the gray areas and gets you out of the media echo chamber. In addition to keeping our lights on, subscribers get access to Friday editions that include exclusive interviews, deep dives on reader-requested issues, as well as the comment section and the rewards program.
A story that matters.
With a pandemic forcing millions of Americans to lock down indoors, many have found refuge in exploring the wilderness. Some have discovered a new love for adventurism. But as tens of thousands of inexperienced adventurers have gone barrelling into remote places to escape lockdowns, they are now straining an overwhelmed network of volunteers who are responsible for keeping them safe. Search and rescue crews across the country are seeing an increase in adventurism this last year — and with it, a dramatic increase in the number of people who are good at getting lost, injured or otherwise putting themselves in desperate need of being rescued. (The New York Times, subscription)
- 18%. The percentage of Americans who think handing out food and water should be illegal at polling places.
- 33%.The percentage of Americans who support making ballot drop boxes available only during early voting hours.
- 53-28. The percentage of Americans who support-oppose requiring a photo ID in order to vote absentee.
- 74-22. The percentage of registered voters in a UGA/AJC poll who support-oppose requiring voters to include a copy of their photo ID or other documentation when voting by mail.
- 7%. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they do not use the internet.
- 2.5%. The overall growth of the global economy in 2021 since the end of 2019.
Have a nice day.
With less human activity in the last year, there have been some bizarre and fascinating environmental outcomes. One of them is that whales, who are particularly sensitive to noise, might be experiencing lower levels of stress. Marine ecologist Ari Friedlaender says animals like whales use songs to communicate and locate food. Noise — caused by boats, hunters and tourists — can disrupt that communication. “The global slowdown has actually been good for the whales, as human interference has decreased,” NBC reports. “Ambient noise in the world’s oceans from cruise ships, sonar and construction is way down.” Coronavirus silver linings are hard to find, but we’ll take this one. (NBC News)