Jan 23, 2020

Obama-era water protections were just gutted.

Obama-era water protections were just gutted.

Plus, I address some reader feedback about Fox News.

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Today’s read: 6 minutes.

A sentence in yesterday’s newsletter caused quite the stir, and I address some reader feedback in today’s “question” section. Also, a big environmental move from the Trump administration and what folks on both sides are saying.

A photo of wetlands at the National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, MA. | Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Keep an eye out.

Tangle typically comes out Monday-Thursday, around lunchtime (EST) with the occasional Friday edition. But tomorrow I’ll be releasing the full transcript of a special interview with Jimmy Williams, a writer, MSNBC contributor, former lobbyist, and former Democratic Senate staffer. During our conversation, Williams disclosed to me that he was advising the Tom Steyer campaign and shared his thoughts on the Bernie-Hillary beef. Few people know D.C. better than this quick-talking South Carolina native, and I thought the free-wheeling conversation we had was pretty fascinating. So keep an eye out for this special edition of Tangle tomorrow!

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What D.C. is talking about.

President Trump is set to gut some of the longest-standing environmental protections for streams, wetlands and other bodies of water across the United States. The move fulfills a promise Trump made during his campaign in 2016 to roll back as many of the Obama-era environmental regulations as he could. He’s gone after laws and codes that farming lobbyists and agricultural businessmen have described as “onerous and unnecessary burdens.” This rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule or WOTUS, was repealed in September. Now Trump is unveiling its replacement, a move that will finalize the change. Trump’s new rule will both roll back protections dating to the 1972 Clean Water Act on streams and wetlands that run underground, and will also help landowners who said they had to seek out permits on a case-by-case basis from the Environmental Protection Agency to build on their own property.

What the right is saying.

The right says many rural Americans, especially those in the agricultural business, are thrilled about the announcement. It’s been a tumultuous two years of trade wars and uncertainty, and de-regulation in the industry is something they are happy about. When the Obama-era rules went into effect, they were fought tooth and nail. Many farmers said the statutes were so broad that WOTUS ended up regulating dry land across the U.S. and not just waterways. Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said last year that WOTUS was “the largest federal land grab of our farms and our lands and taking our private property rights in the history of our country, and this organization showed its strength by making a move to try to do away with that rule and get a new one.” A Republican strategist told The New York Times that “this is bigger news for agricultural producers than whatever is happening with the sideshow in D.C.” Trump’s rules will allow property developers or landowners to dump pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers directly into waterways and will also allow them to fill in wetlands for construction projects without seeking the advice of the EPA.

What the left is saying.

It’s an environmental catastrophe. These rules remove federal protections for more than half of the nation’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of small waterways. It’s corporate-supported deregulation that is going to be a boon for golf course developers, which is obviously a group the president surrounds himself with (he is a golf course developer). Even an advisory group of EPA scientists handpicked by the Trump administration said that the rule “neglects established science” in a series of letters made public earlier this month. “This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Blan Holman, a lawyer specializing in federal water policy, told The New York Times. “This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”

My take.

I’m quite sympathetic to Americans — especially those living in rural parts of the country — who want less government oversight of their privately owned land. Having spent a lot of time in rural Texas, it’s tough to describe the beautiful feeling of freedom in places that seem out of the reach of the federal government. When Trump proposed building a giant, 2,000 mile long wall along our border, that was one of the big issues I harped on: even putting the questionable efficacy aside, building a border wall would require stealing millions of acres of privately owned land. Similarly, I understand and respect the fact that rural, landowning Americans felt like Obama’s broad environmental rules took away the control they had over their land. It’s also absolutely true that WOTUS was used, in many cases, to regulate what construction projects private landowners could be permitted to execute on their own property. And I really do get how that’s a burden many farmers want to fight, but it’s also part of living in America: the government makes rules and regulations that address how we treat the land we live on.

I’m also skeptical of a number of things. First, most news organizations are framing this as a “victory for farmers” and then attributing that victory to Farm Bureau lobbyists saying it’s a good thing. The Farm Bureau does not represent all farmers, and I imagine there are lots of rural Americans concerned about the impact this is going to have on their drinking water — which is already depleted in many parts of the U.S. Second, this is very different from building a wall because dumping freely in waterways doesn’t just impact the property that water is on. It impacts all the people who live downstream or upstream or nearby these waterways, especially in rural areas, as they now have to worry about their water source being polluted. And that’s the case for broad regulations, which is reasonable to me. Finally, it’s worth noting that the legal dumping of pollutants is something people get permits for all the time. But they inevitably lead to environmental cleanups down the road, which ends up being a cost that taxpayers take on. So there’s a perfectly good case to make for the financial downsides of this, too.

I’m sure there is a reasonable middle ground between what Trump and Obama both tried to institute here, but this really isn’t it. I’m skeptical that farmers across the U.S. will benefit from these changes even if I understand the desire for less regulation of your privately owned property. It’s tough not to read both sides of this and come away feeling like we are endangering the water supply for millions of Americans at a time when America’s water is already in danger.

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Your questions, answered.

In yesterday’s newsletter, I answered a question by telling a reader that "I’d be reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Fox News and other reputable news sources with legitimate editorial standards” instead of getting my news from r/sandersforpresident, the Reddit community.

Many of you wrote in with objections to including Fox News amongst NYT, WaPo, and WSJ. Voni from Texas said, “surely you don’t consider Fox News reputable?” Jane from Tallahassee, Florida, sent the Media Bias Fact check rating of Fox News which says it is “strongly right-based due to editorial positions and story selections that favors the right.” They also rated them “mixed factually.” Jeff from Aston, Pennsylvania said “they have shown repeatedly that they do not have ‘legitimate editorial standards.’” I want to respond with three separate points.

1) Fox News is not The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. I should not have grouped those four together, and I regret doing so. I’ve written often about “the big three” papers and how I much I trust them, and it’s absolutely fair to note that “one of these things is not like the other,” as Jeff from Aston, PA, put it. In my response, I was trying to make the point that news organizations — even those with bias like Fox News — are more reliable than subreddits designed to ramp up support for a candidate. That’s all. Still, I’d like to make two other points…

2) When I referenced Fox News in that list, I was not talking about Fox News’s television station. That’s why I said, “I’d be reading Fox News.” I’m talking about the website: www.foxnews.com. Fox’s primetime TV line-up — and almost all of its TV for that matter — is mostly hot garbage meant to reinforce the views of the people who are watching it (I do think Fox News host Chris Wallace is one of the best interviewers in the game, though). Fox News’s television station is absolutely one of the reasons I created Tangle. Most primetime television news, as I’ve written here before, is not worth your time. But the FoxNews.com website is a different entity that does have real editorial standards akin to ABC News or NBC or other major news networks that double as television and digital outlets. They also have one of the most respected polling outlets in the country and are a very valuable resource for polling in the U.S. That being said, I think the most apt comparison for FoxNews.com is probably The Huffington Post (full disclosure: my first professional reporting job was at The Huffington Post). Both have clear and overt biases, but both also have real journalists and are committed to editorial standards.

3) FoxNews.com operates differently than Fox News channel. I know reporters who work at FoxNews.com and I know that they care about their profession. The headlines and story selections are absolutely biased to the right, but FoxNews.com reporters will not simply say or publish something that is untrue the way an opinion host or pundit on Fox News channel might say something that’s untrue. I read Fox News every day, certainly more than most of my liberal subscribers do, and I can tell you that they do legitimate reporting. And, because of their right-lean, they are also very well-sourced. The current administration and many Republicans in Congress often leak stories to Fox News if they want to beat out other outlets they view as left-leaning. So, on top of all this, they are frequently breaking important news. Is it right-leaning and biased? Sure. Is it based in real reporting? Unless they make a mistake, yes.

All this is to say I appreciate the reader feedback from yesterday. Everyone who wrote in made totally valid points that grouping together Fox News with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post is not reasonable. But I just want to be clear that a website like FoxNews.com, or The Huffington Post, or other news outlets with obvious biases, are still far more reliable than what you will find on fan pages or subreddits for presidential candidates. Editorial standards are real things and even the most openly biased reporters live by a certain ethical code that I’ve seen in action.

A story that matters.

More than three in five Americans now describe themselves as lonely, and the number of people who say they are left out, poorly understood or lacking companionship is only rising. This sad reality was brought to light by a new Cigna survey that was released on Thursday. There has been a 13% rise in loneliness since 2018 alone, according to the survey, and more than 10,000 adults were questioned to find the results. The data from the survey have far-reaching implications. Research has also linked the rise of extreme political parties and white nationalism to loneliness, noting that people are more susceptible to joining such groups when they are desperate for a sense of belonging. The research may also have implications for mental health, gun violence and anxiety, all of which have been tied to loneliness in America. It can impact the economy, too: lonely workers are more likely to call out sick due to stress or illness. Click.


  • 7. The number of points Michael Bloomberg’s favorability rating rose when his name was changed from Michael to Mike in a Wisconsin poll.
  • 20. The number of points Michael Bloomberg’s favorability rating rose amongst 30 to 44-year-olds when his name was changed from Michael to Mike in a Wisconsin poll.
  • 8.1 million. The combined viewership of Fox News, MSNBC and CNN during the impeachment hearings from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
  • 11.23 million. The viewership of the hit show NCIS on CBS during the same 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot on Tuesday night.
  • 32%. The percentage of Republicans and GOP-leaning voters who say Trump has “definitely” or “probably” done illegal things since he launched his campaign for president, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
  • 59%. The percentage of Republican and GOP-leaning voters who said it’s likely Trump committed illegal acts that also said he should not be removed from office.
  • 28%. The percentage of Wisconsin voters who say they will vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, best among any Democrat.
  • 22%. The percentage of Wisconsin voters who say they will vote for Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, second-best among any Democrat.

Have a nice day.

Today’s feel-good story comes from Michael in Pittsburgh, a health care worker who flagged this World Health Organization report on how guided self-help is providing a meaningful boost for refugees in Uganda. The findings are particularly important because the guided self-help program can be administered by non-specialists and is designed for groups with low literacy rates. It’s called Self-Help Plus (SH+) and is a five-session pre-recorded audio course with an illustrated self-help book. The guide is designed for managing distress from experiencing interpersonal violence, armed conflict and chronic poverty, WHO said. “At the 3-month follow-up, SH+ also led to improvements in PTSD and depression symptoms, explosive anger, functioning, and subjective well-being, and was equally beneficial among women with different trauma histories, levels of distress, and levels of exposure to gender-based violence,” the study authors wrote. It’s a short-term look at how SH+ may help, and further studies are needed to explore the long-term effects, but it’s a positive step forward to address a desperate need. Click.

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