I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 10 minutes.
Today is a special edition with a round-up of some feedback from Tangle readers, the quick hits on the news you need to know and a chance to vote on tomorrow’s edition! Also: I promised mugs by the end of March. Today is March 31st, and while I don’t have the actual mugs yet I do have the mock-ups to share. The real thing coming soon…
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On Fridays, subscribers get special editions that are for paying members only. This week, I am going to look back on some of my predictions and writing from the last year and evaluate how well it has aged. Friday editions are usually fun deep dives, original reporting, transcribed interviews, reader-requested content or personal essays.
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President Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion jobs plan focused on infrastructure and climate change today. The plan aims to replace every lead pipe in the country, build charging stations for electric vehicles, and provide high-speed internet to all Americans by the end of the decade. He hopes to pay for it with taxes on corporations for 15 years. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him (The New York Times, subscription). Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson last night to deny the allegations, which Carlson described as “one of the weirdest interviews” he’d ever done. (Fox News)
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is safe and 100% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in adolescents as young as 12 years old, data from a trial of 2,300 people indicates. (The Washington Post)
The New York state legislature voted to legalize adult-use, recreational cannabis yesterday, creating the nation’s second-largest recreational marijuana market. (Politico)
The Derek Chauvin trial will enter its third day today. Yesterday, witnesses described a scene where onlookers pleaded with Chauvin to remove his knee from George Floyd’s neck. (Associated Press)
In yesterday’s reader question, I mentioned that Texas’ and Pennsylvania’s legislatures had been “kicking around” abolishing straight-ticket voting for some time. I was trying to make note of the fact that laws about this have been proposed, fought over and passed for years, but it’s clear to me now “kicking around” was a rather sloppy way of saying it. As several readers pointed out, straight ticket voting is currently prohibited in both Texas and Pennsylvania. I’ve mentioned this before but wanted to make it clear in case there was any confusion.
A funny thing happens when I write this newsletter.
Every day, I send out an email to more than 20,000 people. And amongst those people, there are 20,000 different kinds of life experiences and connections. I write a newsletter about Sidney Powell and the claims of election fraud, and someone who worked with her at a law firm responds. I write a newsletter about background checks, and someone who works at the largest background check company in the world responds. I write a newsletter about the new voting laws in Georgia, and someone who works in the Georgia state legislature responds.
This happens all the time, every day, nonstop, and it’s exhilarating.
Unfortunately, these emails just go to me. I try to share reader feedback regularly, not just from people who have relevant life experience but from anyone who makes a good point. It’s tough, though. The newsletter is tight enough on space as it is. So when I can’t, I try to put aside reader emails I find really thought-provoking or worthwhile and collect them — hoping to share them at some point with my readers.
Today is one of those days.
My goal with Tangle is and has always been to broaden the kinds of political perspectives you all encounter — while also making sense of the day-to-day politics grind with my experience as a reporter. A lot of other news organizations will bury “letters to the editor” on the back page or at the bottom of a story, but I try to feature them as a collection of the kinds of things people are thinking and feeling in America.
And those examples at the top? They’re all real. You’re about to read them, and a few others as well.
Below, I’ve assembled just a few of the many interesting, thought-provoking and worthwhile emails I’ve gotten in the last week or so. I’ve tried to focus on the ones that come, loosely, from an “expert” on the topic I wrote about. As always, this is not an endorsement of everything written below.
On the contrary, I try to pick things that I don’t think I would have written myself — or point out views that were pushing back on something I wrote in my newsletter — so you can continue to see perspectives you may not otherwise get.
In response to yesterday’s newsletter about the Georgia voting laws, a reader named Chloe wrote in to express concern on a part of the reform I left unaddressed.
“I'm unsure if you saw this part of the bill and decided against reporting it or if, similar to many other outlets, you may have missed it completely. Our election laws in Georgia are convoluted and have a bit of an ‘insider baseball’ effect, so I have found that many sources did not notice one major, egregious change made by SB 202. The law has created a new way for the Republican party to influence and run all elections moving forward by means of fully controlling the state election board. The General Assembly now will elect all members of the board and our Secretary of State (Brad Raffenspberger, who you mentioned in Tangle) will no longer have the same powers.
“Due to heavy-handed gerrymandering in many districts plus the urban vs rural effect, our General Assembly is strongly Republican and will not be turning blue anytime soon. This is especially notable since we have just finished an election cycle where Republicans in the state legislature pushed for several recounts on behalf of Trump and Giuliani (we know how that story ends). Moving forward, if their party does not like the outcome of an election they now have much more control to do as they wish. To me and to many other Democrats, it is extremely unnerving to know that one party holds a freshly solid grip on elections through a provision that was buried behind all of the other messaging picked up in the media.”
Chloe pointed to this Vox article as a good explainer. For whatever it’s worth, I share her concerns, and these provisions didn’t “make the cut” mostly because there hasn’t been a ton of commentary on them to parse (yet), but I wish I had addressed them.
In response to the newsletter on Sidney Powell, a reader who worked with Powell wrote in to share their thoughts.
“What is most interesting to me about Sidney’s involvement in nutball conspiracy theories/outright lies (and there are a bunch in addition to the Big Steal), is that in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, she was a very highly respected appellate lawyer in Dallas. We were partners together at Strasburger and Price (a 200+ person firm) for several years and I had numerous professional interactions with Sidney on cases, as well as talking socially in the break room and at Firm functions. Absolutely nothing in any of those interactions led me to suspect that she was anything other than a very smart, very talented, lawyer, albeit one with strong conservative views…”
They also added that they “thought Sidney’s lawyers did a good job with their Motion for Dismissal. As a lawyer, when you have the facts you argue the facts. When you don’t have the facts, you argue the law. Defense counsel in this case appears to [be] arguing that certain elements of the judicial standard for a successful defamation claim were not met. You pointed out the seeming hypocrisy in making contradictory statements (i.e. no reasonable person would believe that her statements were factual vs. a statement that she continues to believe them to be true). I view this as good lawyering. They are arguing in the alternative. If either of those statements are true, the claim cannot stand. There is no inconsistency, rather they are completely separate arguments, the court only needs to agree with one of them, not both.”
In response to my writing about gun control, one reader who said they worked for one of the largest background screening companies in the world wrote in expressing their frustration.
“I am always annoyed every time I see media stories about background checks, because frankly, the background check system in the US is a mess.
“The national criminal database — which is used for instant criminal checks — only has about 50% of criminal records. There is no national requirement for counties to report their records to this database, and if they do they are not required to update it on a regular basis.
“This is why companies like [REDACTED] (and hundreds of others) exist. You have to get records directly from the county and every county has a different process. Some states have moved onto electronic systems created by private companies, but other states still require a person to physically go to a county office and make the request for a record. Additionally, how do you know which counties to search? What these companies do is they essentially run a credit history on the person’s SSN to get the counties the person has lived or worked in in the last 10 years. But that leaves a ton of room for error and does not include federal crimes, which has an entirely different process.
“By the way: this is not free. Counties have fees they charge to access these records which range from ~$10 to ~$100 in states like New York. And the private companies charge a fee on top for gathering the records.
“All this to say, background checks are a joke in my opinion. I’m all for gun control, I really am. But I have no confidence at all in background checks. We don’t have a system in place to accurately screen. On top of that, my confusion is around what would disqualify you from gun ownership? The majority of criminal records are for misdemeanors. Does that mean you can’t own a gun? Meanwhile, a kid in my hometown bought an AR-15 and shot his girlfriend and others the same day at a party. He had no criminal record.
“In my opinion, it’s same-day access and lack of requirements that are the issue. You have to take a class and pass a written and physical test to drive, what would be the problem of having this structure for guns?”
Note: The presence of a misdemeanor on its own is not disqualifying for gun ownership. For more information on what could be discovered from a background check that would disqualify a person from purchasing a gun, see this article by the nonprofit Criminal Watchdog.
One reader objected to my framing of subsidies to farmers as “pork” in the COVID-19 bill.
“It's worth noting that commercial farmers writ large have received nearly $50 billion in 2020 for ‘coronavirus relief’ in the form of direct payments through the USDA. That's more than 10x the average annual spend from the Farm Bill, and there has been a lot of reporting on the fact that much of it went to the richest 1% of farmers. Not to mention that in October/November, commodity grain prices started climbing, and since then have reached the highest levels in a decade.
“So not only did many of America's farmers receive millions in direct payments in 2020 (when they, arguably, didn't need them, because commodity grain production wasn't significantly affected by the pandemic), they also received special access to PPP (despite the fact that the ratio of farm owner to farmworker in the US is basically 1:2, so yeah, most farmers don't employ anyone, so whose paychecks were they protecting again?), and now *a lot* of them are mad that minority farmers are getting loan forgiveness through USDA programs (an organization with a long and well-documented racist history).
“In short, America's wealthy farmland owners who are more than 99% white (agriculture is the most racially homogenous sector in the US) are *pissed* that minority farmers are getting loan forgiveness, when they just wrapped up their highest income year in a decade, which they ‘earned’ through government payments they didn't need. The criticism here is basically, ‘how dare someone else get the taxpayer dollars I could have gotten’ and also, ‘reverse racism.’ And even outside the agricultural industry, folks who critique the $5 billion or even the $11 billion figure are largely missing the point that we already spend $5 billion a year paying farmers and subsidizing research and insurance, and that over the course of the Trump administration, we spent more like $100 billion. So it's hard to see how specific complaints about this funding is not racially-motivated.”
Another reader replied to me characterizing infrastructure as becoming “liberal code” for climate change.
“I'm a licensed civil engineer and wanted to follow-up on your mention of infrastructure under the reader question. In case you aren't aware, I thought I'd share the Report Card for America's Infrastructure published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The 2021 version was just released this month. It aims to provide a roadmap (pun not intended) to the issues we need to address and their priority nationally. It's a pretty cool and very accessible resource for this topic.
“I also wanted to say I take exception to the idea that infrastructure is becoming liberal code for climate change. Mostly, I think giving air to that take is distracting from the true lede (i.e., our infrastructure is failing us), but it also lacks nuanced understanding of my profession. In fact, I have an ethical responsibility to consider climate change in my work. I subscribe to the Code of Ethics provided by ASCE, as do many of my peers, and it tasks me with several ethical responsibilities. Key among those is public safety, but maintaining the built AND natural environments through sustainable design (not just "green" design, but also cultural and financial sustainability) and considering the resiliency of my designs to resist potential changes is also a critical canon.”
There was an assortment of other pieces of feedback I got, too.
One reader said they watched Joe Biden’s press conference after my write up, writing: “I honestly don’t know if we watched the same press conference… my impression was of a Joe Biden who seemed clear, resolute, and committed to doing the things that we elected him to do.”
Another wrote in to say, “I think it's fair to question giving ‘stimulus’ checks to be Covid relief — if those checks are being given to people who have been fully employed the whole pandemic period. The economy doesn't need stimulus, it needs to reopen.”
And a D.C. resident said, “I do wish people would talk about other options than retrocession or full statehood. There could be a happy middle ground, like has been proposed in the past, of giving the District representation in either or both chambers (but not equal to that of a state). This could be 1 senator and 1 representative, for example. Granting DC 1 voting House member came the closest during President Obama’s first term, in 2009. I get frustrated that people are stuck in this dichotomy of retrocession vs statehood without exploring an area for compromise in the middle.”
Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. But one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.
If you’re on the left, you probably missed the story about COVID cases in Texas hitting a record low three weeks after the mask mandate was lifted.
If you’re on the right, you probably missed the story of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging Republican men to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.
26%. The percentage of Americans who do not plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new Gallup poll.
38%. The percentage of Americans who say they are currently adhering to strict social distancing practices.
47%. The percentage of Americans who said they were adhering to strict social distancing practices a month ago.
68%. The percentage of Americans who say they are satisfied with the vaccine rollout in the United States.
44%. The percentage of Americans who said they were satisfied with the vaccine rollout in the United States a month ago.
72. The number of Black executives who penned an open letter demanding that corporate America fight legislation that would restrict voting access.
What should we cover?
For tomorrow’s edition, I am considering three issues: The Derek Chauvin trial, the $2 trillion infrastructure bill, or the World Health Organization report on the origins of COVID-19. I thought it’d be fun to let you help me decide. You can cast a vote here:
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A 17-year-old student has created a suture invention that can detect when a surgical wound is infected. Dasia Taylor, a student at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, is a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for her invention. There are already sutures that can detect infections with smartphones, but Taylor wanted to solve for places where smartphones weren’t accessible. So she turned to vegetables, some of which change when in contact with high acidity. That piqued Taylor’s curiosity because wounds also see a rise in acidity when they are infected. Taylor came up with sutures made from beet threads that can change colors when a wound is infected. (Smithsonian)