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Today’s read: 9 minutes.
A personal update, Trump extends social distancing guidelines, questions about the Joe Biden sexual assault allegations and how the coronavirus bill will impact you.
Many readers have reached out and asked how things are going in New York City. Thank you for your kind notes and thoughtfulness. We are hanging in there. Things are certainly not normal, and for those of you curious about how life has changed in the eye of the coronavirus storm, I’ll give a couple of quick notes about life here right now:
- Getting groceries is hard. Stores are ransacked and dangerous to go in, given how many people are infected here and how contagious it is. I also don’t have a mask or gloves so I am trying to avoid shopping in person. But every online outfit — Amazon, Target, FreshDirect, etc. is totally booked. It took a full day of refreshing the page for my fiance and me to get a grocery delivery window from Target, which wasn’t even delivering groceries a few weeks ago.
- The Internet is slow. Given all the issues in the world, I know it sounds like a “first world problem,” but it also seems notable. Working from home in Brooklyn means I’m joining thousands of others on the Optimum internet, which is a cable line. With everyone on at once, the internet is much slower than usual. It’s just another way life has sort of been ground to a halt.
- There’s a lot of virtual stuff. Happy hours, meetings, check-ins, Shabbats, birthdays, etc. Everyone is taking things seriously here and all the normal social stuff is moving to Zoom, FaceTime and Skype. There’s something nice about how much more in touch with friends and family I’ve been, but I deeply miss social connections and in-person hangs and a drink after work. I miss restaurants, too.
- We all know someone. By now, most New Yorkers have a friend or family member who has tested positive for COVID-19, had symptoms and couldn’t get a test, is awaiting results or is seriously ill. I know several. People are starting to succumb to the virus and it is definitely scary to hear those stories. But I’ve also heard a lot of stories about people kicking it in a couple of days like any other virus or fever or flu. It’s a mixed bag.
- We’re killing time. There’s an unfinished 1,000 piece puzzle of the galaxy on our coffee table. We’re watching Tiger King, Ozarks, Sherlock and Love is Blind. We play cards. We read. We are cooking a lot. We’re trying to be grateful for the roof over our heads and the good health we still have and the fact we’re still able to pay rent. All of that is a blessing, and while none of this is normal or comfortable and it’s all pretty anxiety-provoking, overall things are going well despite how eerie the city is.
What D.C. is talking about.
President Donald Trump announced yesterday that he was extending the White House’s “15 days to slow the spread” shutdown until April 30th. The guidelines were going to expire tomorrow, March 31st. They ask all Americans to participate in social distancing, avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, avoid eating or drinking at bars and restaurants, abandon all non-essential travel, and encourage the elderly to stay home no matter what. The president had previously floated the idea of opening the country back up starting tomorrow, and then Easter Sunday (April 12th), before ultimately landing on an extension until April 30th. Trump said the peak death rate will likely arrive in two weeks and he expects “great things to be happening” by June 1st, suggesting that would be when things are back to normal. "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump said.
What the right is saying.
They’re glad to have POTUS in control. Some saw yesterday’s press conference as his best yet. He had stark, honest warnings for Americans about the threat we were facing. He admitted his goal of opening by Easter was “aspirational.” He comforted Americans by promising them we would beat this virus. He deferred questions about the trajectory of the deaths to the health experts by his side. And he made sure people knew he was focused on getting them help financially and bringing our economy back online. POTUS continues to come out in front of the press every single day and answer questions for hours on end. Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was a “good call to continue social distancing policies through the end of April.” Scott Gottlieb, a Republican physician who served at the FDA, said it was a “prudent, public health minded, courageous decision.” Generally speaking, Trump continues to heed the advice of experts while also making it clear he wants to get the economy back up and running as soon as humanely possible.
What the left is saying.
Duh. The idea that we were going to “re-open” this week or Easter was always a pipe dream. In fact, the president even floating that idea was a dangerous message to send to Americans and one that probably put a lot of people at risk. Trump “predictably walks back his Easter deadline,” former Obama advisor David Axelrod said. “That is a sad reflection on the severity of the outbreak — yet thank goodness we aren't endangering many many more,” Erin Schrode tweeted. “No more arbitrary, dangerous Easter timeline, as Trump wanted.” Harvard lawyer and liberal activist Laurence Tribe praised the move, saying we “shouldn’t hesitate” to say when Trump does the right thing. “Not because he gives a damn what people like us think — he doesn’t. But because it’s true, and truth matters.” The left also hammered Trump for bizarrely insinuating that health care workers were stealing masks and for his confrontational tone with Yamiche Alcindor, an African-American woman who works for PBS and pressed Trump on his comments that governors might be requesting equipment they don’t actually need. Trump claimed “I didn’t say that” while Yamiche quoted him from a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity. Then Trump said, “Why don’t you people — why don’t you act in a little more positive? It’s always ‘get ya, get ya, get ya.’ And you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore… Look, let me tell you something. Be nice. Don’t be threatening. Be nice.” Yamiche was praised for standing her ground and pressing POTUS.
It’s both wise and terrifying that Trump is extending the social distancing guidelines. If we’re headed to April 30th under the current way of life, I think it’s safe to say we will be indoors and quarantined a good deal longer than that. Trump said June 1st things will be normal again, which to me means it won’t be until after June 1st. Generously speaking, Trump has consistently and repeatedly shown an unabashed optimism about coronavirus. Critically speaking, he’s been unrealistic and dangerous in how he’s downplayed the threat. Either way, I think that means if he’s saying June 1st, then June 1st is the best-case-scenario.
The insinuation that something nefarious was going on in New York is an important look into Trump’s world. My best guess is he got that idea planted in his head from Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor who said earlier in March that masks may have been stolen from some hospitals in New York. Trump is a chronic embellisher, though. And when he’s in front of a crowd he tends to be a chronic liar, storyteller, and maker-upper-of-fantasy-stories. It seems like he just went on some riff based off of that limited intel and moved toward the idea tens of thousands of masks were disappearing “out the back door.” The reality, of course, is that nurses and doctors are going through masks like crazy because they are treating a highly contagious virus. Many nurses and doctors here in New York have dangerously resorted to making makeshift masks or sharing them or wearing one for a full day.
As for Yamiche, she’s a good reporter. Her job isn’t to be nice. It’s to be critical. It’s one of the fundamental things people misunderstand about the press. The president’s job is to tell his story, to boast about his accomplishments and share the narrative he wants to share. The media’s job is to challenge that narrative every chance they get. That’s how the world works, and Yamiche is one of the best in the game. She was steady and reserved and asked a legitimate question using the president’s own words.
Much has been made of the United States surpassing other nations in total coronavirus cases. It is a frightening, dispiriting landmark that is both newsworthy and relevant, especially given the head start we had on knowing what the virus was and when it would get here. But it’s also worth contextualizing. In the seven countries with the most total coronavirus cases, here are the relative rates of coronavirus organized by the percentage of the population that has tested positive, as of Sunday night. These numbers were pulled from Worldometer’s global population count and Johns Hopkins’ total confirmed coronavirus cases count. It’s worth noting that we have reliable reporting to suggest China is underreporting its positive cases. It’s also worth noting that the U.S. is about two or three weeks behind Europe on the breakout of the virus.
- Spain has 80,031 cases in a population of 46,750,226 = .17% infection rate.
- Italy has 97,689 cases in a population of 60,484,124 = .16% infection rate.
- Germany has 62,095 cases in a population of 83,716,388 = .07% infection rate.
- France has 40,704 cases in a population of 65,237,132 = .06% infection rate.
- Iran has 38,309 cases in a population of 83,718,847 = .04% infection rate.
- America has 137,294 cases in a population of 330,511,725 = .04% infection rate.
- China has 82,122 cases in a population of 1,437,921,227 = .0057% infection rate.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!
Q: In the last 72 hours, I’ve gotten several questions about the sexual assault allegations leveled against Joe Biden by Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer. “Are the Biden harassment allegations anything? Hard to parse with the influx of all other kinds of news right now,” Dylan from Baltimore wrote. “Can you please shed some light on your thoughts/fears about this development?” asked “M” from San Francisco. “I cannot express how much I loathe the idea of 4 more years with a sexual predator in the White House.” Nicky from Chicago asked, “do her claims seem credible / is there any major legit criticism about her claims or her believability?” and noted that she has been accused of being a “Russian asset or something to that effect” because of “oddly effusive praise of Putin.”
Tangle: After receiving a flood of questions about these allegations, I listened to Reade’s most recent podcast interview on Rolling Stone this weekend, read a dozen published articles about her latest allegations and reviewed some of the previous allegations she had made against Biden. If you’re not familiar with the contours of the story, here is — generally — what you need to know:
Tara Reade worked in Joe Biden’s Senate office in the early 1990s. Last year, after several women accused Biden of touching them inappropriately, Reade came forward and joined the chorus of allegations, noting that Biden had “put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck.” Other women have claimed he kissed them unexpectedly on the back of the head or touched noses with them in bizarre, creepy and awkward interactions. Reade was smeared after sharing her personal story. Some people accused her of being a Russian plant and others simply attacked her credibility. Reade went quiet after the online abuse and the criticisms of her story became louder and louder. Biden would later apologize in a now-infamous video where he said, “I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this.’” He added that “the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset” and said he would change how he acted.
Then, this week, Reade made a new allegation. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault, I just want to note that I am about to describe an act of alleged assault. Reade told a Rolling Stone reporter in an interview that there was more than just uncomfortable touchy-feeliness in 1993. She said Biden sexually assaulted her by pushing her up against a wall and penetrating her with his fingers. Reade described the scene in detail, noting that they were alone, that there was no exchange, that he had her up against a wall. She described the scene in great detail through tears in the podcast interview.
“He just had me up against the wall and the wall was cold,” she claimed. “His hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And he went down my skirt, and then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers. He was kissing me at the same time.”
When Reade pulled back, she claims, Biden said: “C’mon man, I heard you liked me.”
You can listen to an excerpt of her story here:
Biden’s camp responded to the allegations already.
“Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false.”
Based on a lot of the questions I received about these allegations, I got the distinct sense people are asking me to make a judgment about whether these allegations are true or false. I won’t do that. She is making an allegation about an incident that happened 27 years ago with no witnesses. What I can do is tell you my personal judgment, which is that I find Tara Reade credible. There have been times when women who level allegations of sexual assault can be credibly accused themselves of having ulterior motives. Reade concedes that she is a supporter of Bernie Sanders, but I don’t think that’s a realistic reason for her telling the story she’s telling — especially not given the current state of the race.
But Biden’s history is out there. Several women have accused him of inappropriate touching, comments or moments — though none as serious as this. The case for Biden is that some “uncomfortable” moments of him with women also have been taken wildly out of context, like the famous photograph below that is often shared as proof of Biden’s misconduct with women:
It’s also true that Biden’s “affectionate” nature is well documented and famous with reporters, constituents, politicians and — yes — women. He is notoriously handsy with men and women both and acknowledged as much in the video message where he apologized for that behavior.
However, Reade’s allegations should give everyone pause. Listening to the podcast interview, which I encourage you to do, is both heart wrenching and familiar: a powerful man subtly pressures a subordinate female on his team into sexually charged scenarios until he finally preys on her. In The Intercept story about the allegations, this quote from Reade’s brother — who encouraged her to stay quiet about the allegations — also struck me:
“Woefully, I did not encourage her to follow up,” he said. “I wasn’t one of her better advocates. I said let it go, move on, guys are idiots.”
As for the allegations she’s a “Russian asset” or somehow part of a Russian scheme: stupid hogwash. Those allegations all stemmed from a glowing Medium post Reade had written about Russia and the Russian government. I even entertained the idea that she was some kind of “Russian actor” long enough to notice that when she did explain the Russia-loving Medium blog post to The Intercept, which has since been deleted, Reade said she was influenced by a “Russian friend in her creative-writing group” and a novel Reade was working on writing that’s set in Russia. When Reade explained it to Vox, she mentioned reading Noam Chomsky and the same Russian novel. A suspicious reader might see the discrepancy there (“a friend in a writing class” vs. “reading Noam Chomsky”) and conclude she was hiding something. I read that and think she probably just had some people and literature around her that led her to view Russia favorably. There are far too many Democrats in this country, particularly the Biden or Hillary-supporting kind, who see Russia in everything. Everyone helping Trump or hurting the Democratic establishment or supporting Bernie Sanders isn’t a Russian asset. Everyone praising Russia isn’t a Russian spy. Every viral hashtag isn’t being elevated by Russian bots. The simple truth is lots of people, especially on the left, have found things to love about Russia in the last 40 years. Reade appears to simply be one of them — and also coincidentally is a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Joe Biden.
Do I believe her? Yes, I do. And I’m sure if I sat down across from Joe Biden and listened to him explain what had happened — that it was consensual, that it never happened at all, that she wants to sink his campaign because he never promoted her (these are all hypothetical responses I could imagine Biden giving) — that I might believe him, too. Unfortunately, he isn’t making such a precise defense. It’s a horrific and discouraging thought to imagine we’re going to have two men publicly accused of sexual assault running against each other to become president this year.
A story that matters.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed in Congress and was signed by President Trump on Friday. The bill address health care, hospitals, small and big businesses and just about every corner of American life. But today’s “A story that matters” is how it impacts individuals. That means you. Individuals making less than $75,000 a year should receive a $1,200 check in the mail in the next month or two. If you make between $75,000 and $99,000 a year, you’ll get less than $1,200 until the $99,000 threshold. Anybody making more than that will not receive a check. If you have children, you will get an additional $500 for each child. The bill also adds $600 of federal unemployment benefits, per week, for anyone who qualifies. This is on top of state unemployment benefits. A lot of readers have written in asking about this: yes, that means you could potentially make more than you were when you were employed. The national average paycheck for people receiving unemployment benefits is $340 per week. With this bill, those workers would be receiving a take-home pay of $940 per week. Those boosted payments will last four months and unemployment insurance will be extended 13 weeks. The bill also adds a "Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” program for gig workers and freelancers who lost a job because of the pandemic. It pushes back the deadline for filing taxes, allows employers to provide tax-free student loan repayment benefits and requires all private insurance plans to cover COVID-19 treatments and vaccines while making coronavirus testing free. However, there is one bad loophole: many college students and adult dependents will not receive the $1,200 check. Nor will some high-school students, disabled or elderly folks who show up on tax returns of the people they live. WSJ explains why here. You can read more about the benefits here.
- 49-40. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in a new Fox News poll.
- 49-47. Joe Biden’s leaver over Donald Trump in a new Washington Post poll, a statistical tie.
- 15%. The percentage of Bernie Sanders supporters who say they will choose Donald Trump over Joe Biden, according to a new Washington Post poll.
- 11%. The percentage of voters in the Fox News poll who said they were undecided or would vote for someone else.
- $250-$500. The cost, in fines, New York City will begin imposing on people for violating social distancing protocols.
- 200. The number of U.S. cities that reported a dire need for face masks, ventilators and other emergency equipment vital to fighting coronavirus.
- 10%. The percentage decline in podcast downloads since the start of March, according to the data outfit Podtrac.
- On Sunday morning, a plane from Shanghai landed at JFK airport with 12 million gloves, 1.7 million surgical masks, 130,000 N95 masks, 130,000 hand sanitizer units, 50,000 gowns and 36,000 thermometers to be distributed to tri-state area hospitals.
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Last week, a new website launched called justgivemepositivenews.com. The site is dedicated entirely to good news about coronavirus and the fight against it. On the homepage, today are stories about the curve in Spain flattening, Prince Charles surviving the virus and coming out of isolation, Australia trialing a new vaccine and an antibody test in the United Kingdom coming online quickly. If you’re looking for a reprieve from all the doom and gloom, this website is a good place to get it. You can check it out here. And if you want this kind of news to show up in your social media, consider following the website where I work as an editor: www.aplus.com. Our Facebook page is here and our Twitter is here.