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Today’s read: 10 minutes.
Justin Amash’s presidential run, the cost of Blue Angels flyovers and lots of thoughts that aren’t mine. Today’s newsletter is a little longer because there is a ton to cover from the last 24 hours and I wanted to share some notes from readers.
U.S. Congressman Justin Amash speaking with attendees at the 2017 Young Americans for Liberty National Convention at the Sheraton Reston Hotel in Reston, Virginia. Flickr: Gage Skidmore
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Mike Flynn case. The former national security adviser was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI about contacts he had with a Russian ambassador. Flynn’s lawyers claim that new documents unsealed in court yesterday show the FBI tried to set him up in their 2017 interview of him, including a handwritten note from one agent that reads, “What is our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Flynn has been lobbying President Trump for a pardon and has become a symbol amongst Trump supporters of the so-called “deep state” efforts to undermine Trump’s presidency. Some have noted that it is routine practice for the FBI to interview people hoping they will confess or lie and be prosecuted. The Wall Street Journal has the story on the new documents here.
Good news, bad news. The United States has become the country worst affected by coronavirus, with over 60,000 deaths and 1 million diagnosed cases. About 2,700 Americans died of the virus yesterday, the highest single-day death toll yet. The good news: Dr. Anthony Fauci touted Gilead’s experimental drug remdesivir yesterday, saying it “has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover.” Fauci is very careful when he praises treatments or vaccine progress, so this endorsement was considered huge news and a good sign progress is happening.
Trump outrage. Last week, President Trump was reportedly presented with internal polling data that shows him falling behind Joe Biden in key swing states, and responded to the news by erupting on his staff, even saying he would sue campaign manager Brad Parscale. Sources on the story say Trump made the comments in jest, but said he did not believe the polling data he was presented with. “I’m not losing to Joe Biden,” Trump said. Trump denied the reporting in a tweet on Wednesday, saying Parscale was doing a great job and had his full support. Click.
What D.C. is talking about.
Justin Amash. The former Republican turned independent is now becoming a Libertarian — and he’s launched an exploratory committee to run for president. Amash’s decision does more than just throw an unexpected wrench into 2020; it also means he’ll be vacating his Congressional seat in Michigan, one of the more hotly contested House seats on the 2020 ballot. Amash had hinted that he might throw his hat in the ring, but he made it official in an interview with Reason.com, some tweets and ultimately his move to begin seeking the Libertarian nomination. In the meantime, he’ll become the first-ever Libertarian in Congress and will likely be the most recognizable Libertarian to ever make a run at the office of the presidency. Immediately after his announcement, both the left and right began claiming that Amash will ultimately help or hurt Trump’s re-election odds. While polling experts say Amash’s odds are one in a million, he insists he’s running “to win” and not to be a spoiler. Here is an excerpt from his interview with Reason:
"When I look at these candidates, I think most Americans see the same thing I'm seeing, which is these two candidates aren't up to being president of the United States, and we need an alternative," he said. "The botched and expensive federal response to the COVID-19 outbreak only makes that clearer, he said. "Millions of Americans are seeing that the government spent trillions of dollars and still didn't get it right. They didn't get help to the people who need it most. Instead, most of the assistance went to people who have great connections, who run big corporations."
What the left is saying.
There’s no room for error. Amash entering the race is a variable that makes a lot of stomachs turn on the left, and he has the potential to upend what, right now, appears to be a stranglehold advantage Biden has over the president. Trump is underwater in some of the most valuable swing states, and COVID-19 could only make that worse. Disaffected, “never-Trump” Republicans who may have been ready to hold their nose and vote for Biden could now cast a ballot for Amash instead. Liberals who loathe the establishment (read: Biden) and want someone who is bucking Washington D.C. but hate Trump could hold their nose and vote for Amash. States like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which right now look likely to go to Biden, could go haywire.
Pollsters from the left are a bit more pessimistic about the impact he’ll have. CNN’s Harry Enten noted that just about 10% of voters have an unfavorable view of Trump and Biden, and most of them are younger than 45 and liberal. That makes it unlikely they’d vote for Amash — and even in 2016, most disaffected voters ended up casting a ballot for a major party candidate.
What the right is saying.
Certain prominent never-Trumpers on the right seem on board. “I'm seeing people argue with intense conviction that a vote for Amash is a vote for Biden,” David French tweeted. “I'm also seeing people argue with intense conviction that a vote for Amash is a vote for Trump. I'm inclined to believe that a vote for Amash is a vote for Amash.” Plenty of observers like French are looking at the possibility of his candidacy and seeing a “pro-life, fiscally conservative, constitutionally-sound, thoughtful, scandal-free candidate” on the ballot, as French put it. Why not vote for him?
In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen made the case that Amash won’t make an impact on election day. “Democrats are united in their hatred of Trump, and the president’s relatively orthodox Republican policies have satiated most GOP voters,” he wrote. “Amash will attract some die-hard Never Trump Republicans, but it’s hard to see how he obtains even 2 percent on Election Day.” In fact, Olsen argued that Jesse Ventura, who is mulling a Green Party run, may have a bigger impact than Amash on the election. President Trump took a shot at Amash, sarcastically saying, “No, I think Amash would make a wonderful candidate, especially since he is way behind in his district and has no chance of maintaining his Congressional seat. He almost always votes for the Do Nothing Dems anyway. I like him even more than Jill Stein!”
Given Amash is running as a Libertarian, it seems worth including a Libertarian’s voice here. Nick Gillespie wrote in Spectator that Amash will inject a fresh, youthful energy into the Libertarian movement and provide a striking contrast to the other two candidates. He wrote that Biden and Trump “represent not just the past, but something approaching the worst version of the past. Trump is unabashedly nostalgic for an America that was demographically monotonous, sexist and elitist, overflowing with smoked-filled rooms in which businessmen and politicians cut shady deals. Over the course of nearly 50 years in the Senate, Biden was one of the architects of mass incarceration, imperial overreach abroad and the drug war.”
The left needs to take a deep breath. First off, Amash is just launching an exploratory committee — there’s no guarantee he sticks this out, especially if early traction and fundraising numbers fall short. It’s also worth noting that there’s very little Amash has in common with progressive voters who need to turn out to defeat Trump in 2020. There’s some overlap on civil liberties and foreign policy, but that’s about it. Amash is a pro-life, small-government conservative who’d rather be hanged in a public square than fund liberal priorities like Medicare-for-All or the Green New Deal. A momentary infatuation with him from the Twitter left that comes entirely from dissatisfaction over Biden is not a sign that liberals will be voting for him seven months from now. Is there a chance he makes a difference? Sure. It has been well-documented that Trump won in 2016 thanks to just 77,000 votes in three crucial states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin). And many of those votes went to Libertarian Gary Johnson. But as Amash accurately says: we have no idea where his supporters will come from, and it’s far too early to be panicking about him entering the race. Even if he were to pick up those same Johnson voters, Biden is still outperforming Clinton where it matters.
What seems most notable to me is that the fear on the left exists at all. What does it say about the Democratic party’s obsession with the “moderate Republican” voter, or the state of the progressive movement, that they are worried a pro-life, small-government conservative who has spent almost his entire political career as a Republican will… take votes from their candidate of choice? A lifelong Democrat who was Vice President for the most popular Democrat on the planet? Shouldn’t that be a wake-up call? If the Democratic establishment or Biden voters are so worried that Amash is going to hurt Biden’s chances, I think it says a lot more about the candidate they are running and the state of the party than anything else. As Jason Linkins wrote in The New Republic: “We’ve reached the point where a third-party campaign by the person who co-founded and chaired the House of Representatives’ right-wing Liberty Caucus might shift votes away from the Democratic presidential candidate—or, at least, that the Democratic establishment is concerned that he might. Such a phenomenon should call for a prolonged period of soul-searching.”
I reached out to Rachel Bitecofer, the rising star in the pollster world who I interviewed in Tangle in February. Bitecofer said the “wariness” of some never-Trumpers is well-warranted, with polling data showing Biden’s lead over Trump in a general election “narrows when an independent or third-party option is included.” However, Bitecofer made a fascinating observation that voters respond to generic independent or third-party candidates by taking cues from their own ideological framework. In other words, a progressive, when asked about a third-party candidate, imagines a progressive. That means support for such a candidate could dissipate when a real person becomes attached to the third-party run (or, conversely, could gather steam).
Ultimately, Bitecofer seems to think Amash could siphon votes from the right, which will essentially offset the “all but guaranteed” defections from progressives to an inevitable left-of-Biden candidate. She also thinks the impact of a third-party candidate will be stunted by the pandemic, as it will be hard to make inroads or campaign in person across the country. She published her thoughts in full in The Guardian.
Yesterday, I wrote about the difficult decision facing the Trump administration on whether to close down meat processing plants and risk disrupting the food supply chain or keep them open and risk the health of their workers. I asked readers for their thoughts and there was a huge response. I have compiled them in a medley below.
First, there were a lot of people who wrote in and suggested this might be a great time for Americans to move toward a diet that’s based more in vegetables, fruit and grains rather than meat. Francis from New Jersey put it bluntly, saying a price increase on animal products “should not signal any sort of panic” but for “obese America” it should push us to “reassess the American diet and educate citizens. America is addicted to the marketing of meat and other animal products that are not actually all that good for them.” Dylan from Baltimore, Maryland, took a similar line of thought, saying that it may be a “reach for a silver lining” but “given environmental externalities (leaving aside the ethical issues of how we raise meat) meat is currently underpriced anyway and this may result in a long term shift towards a more green diet.”
Conor from Dublin, Ireland wrote in and said he often finds vegetarians or vegans “borderline aggressive,” but said that maybe it was time for America to consider a “nudge” in that direction. Pattie from Florida offered a practical, on-the-ground solution: she suggested that workers can start by cleaning the plant top to bottom, and then get a symptom-free crew in the building that’s willing to work the first shift. “I don’t know what would be a minimum crew to run a plant for — say — two weeks, but have those in the first crew stay in the plant (eat, sleep & work) for those two weeks. Just like those people that stayed for 30 days in a factory making masks.” She suggested that the second crew could stay at home for the 14 days to ensure they don’t have symptoms and then tag in when the first crew is done, with the plant trying to rotate crews until a vaccine or safe new procedure is discovered. “This being said — anyone who is fearful of working in such a close environment should never be forced to choose between money or their life.”
Matty from Los Angeles wrote in with a long and thoughtful email conceding that he didn’t have a solution for keeping plants open, but that the workers’ rights side of this was “black and white.” He argued (convincingly) that meat and dairy are only so inexpensive because those workers are exploited. “They do incredibly difficult jobs – repetitively killing and slicing up animals into the consumer-friendly bits and pieces that we see in the market – and they risk lifelong physical and psychological injuries in the process.” Despite that, Matty said, many still “struggle to live above the poverty line” or provide for their families. “This is an injustice on a fundamental level that existed long before COVID-19, and forcing these people who have been historically marginalized to risk their lives now because of our insatiable appetite for animal flesh is beyond shameful,” he wrote. “When it comes to Left vs Right on this I wish that the conversation would sound more like the fights over bailing out cruise lines and the oil industry… it is just continuing the American tradition of putting profits over people.”
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: While I appreciate the images of the flyovers and agree they are beautiful — I would really love for someone to adequately explain A) The history of flyovers, where and when (and why) they became a thing. B) The monetary impact of these flyovers (a breakdown of costs) and C) what the national reaction is to them in light of the current political, economic, and psychological climate.
— Joshua, Juneau, Alaska
Tangle: This question was an instance where I thought I knew what I was going to write, and then when I began researching the question I went down a rabbit hole of information I hadn’t encountered before. Like you, I have always viewed military flyovers as wasteful and unnecessary. But after learning more about them, my opinion has been moderated.
The history of flyovers is fascinating. Believe it or not, it’s actually more of an English Commonwealth tradition than a U.S. one. Wikipedia has an entire page about the history of flyovers, or as the Brits call them: a flypast. They were happening as early as 1913 when the Royal Air Force conducted flypasts for King George V. They’re also common in Australia, Singapore and Canada, other Commonwealth countries.
Today, most Americans recognize flyovers as a staple of sporting events — and with good reason. In 2005 and 2006, there were 440 events that got official military flyovers, according to one Los Angeles Times estimate from 2008. Not long after, during the 2011 Super Bowl, a news report revealed that Air Force jets flew over the Dallas football stadium — while the roof was closed — at an estimated $450,000 cost. The four seconds of glory shown on television was not deemed worthwhile by the general public, and the Defense Department responded to the blowback by putting a limit on the number of flyovers it conducted every year. Subsequent reporting found the average cost of operating an F/A-18 aircraft is about $10,000 per hour. Previous Dayton 500 flyovers were logged at a cost of $80,000.
However, there are some people who make fairly reasonable arguments in favor of the flyovers. On the element of cost, the Defense Department has actually shown that the money used on the flyovers is typically pulled from training budgets. The hours pilots log conducting the flyovers are part of their training and, thus, part of the budget already. In other words: the Defense Department claims that money would be spent regardless. “If they don’t knock out the training requirements during a flyover they will do it over the Atlantic Ocean,” John Wallach, deputy director at the Navy Office of Community Outreach, told The Washington Times in 2012. “The flying hours that squadron is given is a sunk cost.”
Others argue that if this is what training looks like for our military, then we need to change how we’re training our military. In that same 2008 Los Angeles Times article, Winslow Wheeler, an analyst from the Center for Defense Information, said it was “baloney” that it doesn’t cost taxpayers additional money because it’s pre-budgeted training.
“It’s atrocious training,” he said. “They’re flying from Point A to Point B. They’re doing a couple of sort of low-altitude passes over the events and they go home. That’s what pilots call ‘converting gas to noise.’”
But there’s another thing at play, too, that I didn’t know about: it’s actually a recruiting tool, and often seen as part of the recruiting budget. That’s because the Air Force has a major shortage of pilots. In fact, the shortage got so bad that in 2018 the Department of Defense lifted the limits on flyovers it had imposed after the Super Bowl fiasco years earlier. Now flyovers are coming more frequently and with more impressive formations. The Air Force says it needs another 2,000 pilots to fulfill its obligations and they hope the flyovers at major sporting events or broadcasted on major television stations can get some traction.
As for how these things are received, there isn’t a ton of good data to draw on. I couldn’t find any reliable polls that narrowly defined America’s approval of military flyovers at sporting events.
Anecdotally, people I know tend to enjoy them, and even you — who seems to feel like they’re a waste of money — couldn’t help but acknowledge their beauty. In the Trump era, we did get some information about how Americans felt about military displays when Trump was ready to launch his own military parade in 2018. The Military Times polled its readers, 51,000 of them, and 89% said it was a waste of money and troops are too busy. A Quinnipiac University poll found 61% of voters disapproved of the military parade compared to just 26% who supported it. Of course, these polls were likely colored by everyone’s feelings about Trump, but they seem relevant.
I did see this tweet shortly after your question came in, which cracked me up:
A story that matters.
In states that are beginning to reopen, unemployed workers are facing a choice: “Go back to work and risk catching the coronavirus, or stay home and lose unemployment aid.” By allowing states to reopen, governors are greenlighting employers to call workers back who had been laid off or furloughed and became eligible for unemployment benefits. Now, though, if those workers turn the offer down to come back, federal guidelines say they lose the aid they’ve just started to receive. At the same time, Republicans in Congress are pushing for expanded liability protections for businesses — which could protect employers from lawsuits for endangering their workers, and thus reduce the incentive to play it safe with employees’ health. Labor advocates are sounding the alarm while the federal government is giving state leaders wide latitude on how to handle their own reopenings. Click.
- 3.8 million. The number of new jobless claims that were filed this week.
- 30 million. The total number of jobless claims made over the last 6 weeks.
- 17-20%. The estimated real unemployment rate in America now, after weeks of layoffs due to the coronavirus.
- 60,000. The estimated number of total coronavirus deaths in the U.S., according to Dr. Anthony Fauci in early April.
- 60,000. The estimated number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. by August, according to a model from the University of Washington released in late March.
- 61,123. The total number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. today, April 30th, according to the Johns Hopkins tracking tool.
- 7.5%. The decline in consumer spending across the U.S. over the month of March.
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The South Korean health experts who warned that they were seeing patients who recovered from the coronavirus get “reinfected” now say the most recent testing had displayed false positives. That’s great news for frontline workers who are banking on “herd immunity” or antibodies in people that have beaten the disease to slow the spread of the virus. 277 people had reportedly rested positive after recovering from COVID-19, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, “the country's central clinical committee for emerging disease control said there was no live virus present in such cases, positively refuting theories like the virus being reactivated or reinfection.” Initial reporting about the tests set off a temporary global panic amongst health experts who worried the virus was either mutating or could cause chronic infection. Now, they believe the false-positives came from fragments of the virus that remained in patients’ bodies and showed up on test kits. Click.