May 12, 2021

Tangle readers get their say...

Tangle readers get their say...

Plus, a question about discussing racism.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

I’m sharing some reader feedback today, which might be something I start doing more consistently on Wednesdays. It seems like a crowd-pleaser. Plus, a question from a reader in New Jersey about discussing racism. Also, while I have your attention, did you know we have a podcast? You can find it, and subscribe, here.

Quick hits.

  1. House Republicans officially voted to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as Conference chair this morning. She is expected to be replaced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who will take over as the third highest ranking Republican in the House. (Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  2. The death toll climbed and clashes continued to escalate in Israel over the last 24 hours. Civilians in the Gaza Strip and Israel continued to shelter as rocket exchanges rocked the region in the worst violence seen in years. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  3. The man accused of killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women, at two Atlanta area spas has been charged with murder. (Axios)
  4. The White House said that undocumented students can receive some of the $36 billion in emergency federal aid going to colleges. (The New York Times, subscription)
  5. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the Reduce Bureaucracy Act, which she hopes will prevent political appointees from turning their appointments into lifelong career positions. (Fox News)

Your feedback.

Over the last week, we’ve received some really great reader responses to the Tangle newsletters. As I often say, we’re just one person and a small team trying to produce a holistic view on the news of the day. That makes reader feedback really valuable to us, because we get to hear from both American and international readers with a diverse set of views.

Below, I’ve tried to pull together a wide range of challenging, thought-provoking and well-reasoned feedback about the things we’ve published in the newsletter. By sharing it, I hope you can get a glimpse of the range of responses that are out there to the issues we cover.

As always, thanks for reading (and for writing in). Remember: you can reach us anytime by just replying to this email.

A reader from Jerusalem responded to yesterday’s edition on the clashes in Israel.

I am Jewish and I'm currently dorming in Jerusalem. I really do feel for the Palestinians. The government is definitely not treating them right. But for anyone in America to say that this is one sided is absolutely ridiculous. Two days ago I went into a bomb shelter because there was a rocket attack on my neighborhood. Last night I stood on the porch of my school watching rockets fly towards Tel Aviv. This morning I checked to see how many people died in the strike I had watched. There is a sign on the door telling us not to go outside unless it’s absolutely needed. You hear about the TikToks, I know people who were attacked because of them. Last week I was harrassed and spit at on a train.

The average person in America giving an opinion on the Middle East has no context for this. If they spent the night wondering if they would need to go into a bomb shelter I don't think they would be so friendly with the people shooting at them. So yes, I know that there are alot of reasons for what is going on, but at the end of the day watching a rocket attack go on just a couple of miles from where I live and being scared to leave my residence because of terror attack scares has a much bigger impact on me.

Another reader wrote in about the conflict in Israel and said this:

As a fellow Jew, I can say unequivocally that what’s happening in Israel is apartheid, which is defined as “a political system that legally separates people of different races.” If anything, the current events reinforce this pretty obvious example.

The only time when this issue really gets complex is when you get into the mental gymnastics of justifying the existence of Israel in the first place. Defending Israel’s right to exist let alone expanding their occupation of Palestine is akin to being pro American during the slaughter and displacement of Native Americans during American colonialism. It could be a good idea for both you and your readers to do a deep dive into the history of the Balfour declaration, the birth of Zionism, etc. There’s a lot of antisemitism involved in the pro Israel arguments made during its creation.

I know it’s difficult to confront ideas when you’ve been indoctrinated into a system for many years. I’ve experienced some of that same treatment, but it’s so important to be objective on these issues and not let your perceived cultural identity get in the way of what you’re seeing happen in front of your eyes. We’re witnessing a people being literally wiped off the map. Which side of that history do you want to be on? Particularly as someone who considers themselves a source of news and information to others.

Michael from Sebastopol, California, responded to the story on Rep. Liz Cheney.

The best way to define Liz Cheney is as an iconoclast. A president may be an iconoclast, a Supreme Court Justice may be an iconoclast, a member of leadership in a big tent party may not. The Party is the defining reality and ideology, not one's individual's views. One can defend Cheney's views or decry them, but she is not being a party person, and therefore needs to go. Perhaps becoming an independent that caucuses with the Republicans would give her the freedom she seeks.

Kendra from Phoenix, Arizona, replied to the newsletter on the latest jobs report — and wanted to chime in about why people aren’t returning to the restaurant industry.

As I've been listening to the ongoing conversation regarding the lack of staffing in the restaurant industry, it seems that the only people not taking part in the conversation are the actual workers who aren't returning. Restaurant owners are putting up signs and calling people lazy. Politicians and pundits are hypothesizing on why workers aren't returning. But I think the real reasons are being lost.

My partner and I have both been career service industry folks. We planned to stay that way.  As a result, most of our social circle is also in the restaurant industry. It's a grueling business to be in, with long and odd hours, physically demanding work, few to no benefits, and inconsistent pay. One of the few guarantees in this industry has been that there are always jobs. If you get fired, there's more restaurants. If your job closes, there's more restaurants. If you move to another city or state, there's more restaurants. The jobs aren't always good but they're available and easy to find.  And if you find one of the rare good companies that provides benefits, isn't rife with harassment, and treats you with respect, you stay and remain loyal.

Last year, that single guarantee of work always being available was ripped away.  Almost the entire industry was unemployed and there was nothing available. A lot of people I know are now figuring out how to stay out of the industry and enter into one that provides healthcare, pto, and sick time. Parents that have been able to put their kids to bed each night of the last year want to find work that allows that to continue. Personally, I've been able to attend more family gatherings and backyard bbq's (socially distanced, of course) in the last year simply because I'm not working every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

My partner, who has returned to bartending at an upscale restaurant, is only walking home with about 60% of what he was making at this time two years ago. He has to deal with guests that want to argue their mask policy and taunt him for wearing one. The staff that has been there since the restaurant reopened last summer is exhausted, stressed out, and making a portion of the income they're used to. Many of them have had covid, a couple of them more than once.  

Specifically in the restaurant and service industry, I think this last year allowed a lot of people to imagine what a future of work/life balance would look like. People who have been talking about leaving the industry for years have finally been pushed into actually doing it. Even if they haven't found their new industry yet, they're unwilling to return to one that relies on low wages and nonexistent benefits to succeed, especially when returning to those jobs means lower wages than they made in the past.  

The restaurant industry has been due it's day of reckoning for a long time. It's deeply unfortunate and heartbreaking to see how much my industry has suffered over the past years and the amazing establishments that have closed, but this might be the catalyst for some long overdue change.

Another reader, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in about what they’re seeing in the retail jobs market more generally.

I was with [REDACTED MAJOR RETAILER] when the Affordable Care Act was passed. The response from so many retailers: cut the lowest employees' hours to safely fall under the 'part time' qualification so the company avoids paying for more healthcare benefits. Employees who had been with the company for decades, working 35-40 hour weeks, were suddenly dropped in hours to 15-20. This happened all across retail and other industries that heavily rely on hourly workers, and forced many people into working 2-3 jobs over the past 10+ years. There was no way that this balanced out over time and companies have continued to gain more power and leverage here.

As someone who has worked in retail management and business support, it's really difficult to see single parents, college students, or other low income earners struggle while they get squeezed by reduced hours and no benefits. Oh, and those part time employees also have to keep up with open availability, or they often get their hours further reduced or even let go. Can't work every weekend, night, holiday, etc. because of childcare or school? The company will give your daytime hours to someone else or won't even consider hiring you. Can't work every weekend, night, holiday, etc. because of a conflict with another part time job? The company will give your hours to someone else or throw a non-compete at you. It's a vicious cycle and very few companies make a conscious effort to work with employees to help secure their positions and consistent hours.

From what I've seen, the relief packages that Trump and now Biden passed, have swung the balance of this power back to the hourly employee significantly. The way of squeezing hourly employees that have been practiced since the ACA was passed have gone up in smoke, essentially overnight. Instead of recognizing that hiring shortages are a result of more balanced economic leverage, I see so many peers in my industry blaming unemployment benefits as the problem. It's not. Add to all this an effort from the Biden administration to shore up ACA marketing, sign ups, and affordability, and it's so obvious why people wouldn't want to apply for hourly retail jobs. Open up more full time roles, pay your employees more, provide them with benefits, they will come back. If the industry doesn't go this route, then it'll be back to relying on federal and state government policy to force people back into the cycle of low income, no benefit jobs they just experienced for the past 10+ years.

In response to a reader question about guns, I wrote that “advocates for a gun-free future tend to ignore the hundreds of thousands of self-defense incidents that occur every year thanks to firearms. The CDC estimates that there are between 500,000 and three million incidents every year where victims of crime use firearms to defend themselves. That is one reason why gun ownership is so popular.”

Julie from Brooklyn wrote in and said the following:

This is [a] highly contested statement. Also, the current CDC website says this:

“Estimates of defensive gun use vary depending on the questions asked, populations studied, timeframe, and other factors related to the design of studies. The report Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violenceindicates a range of 60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year.”

There's a lot unknown about gun use in this country, including self-defense incidents, but I would be wary to make a statement like that as if it were fact, when it has been often challenged.

Replying to the edition on Trump’s Facebook ban, Jonathan from Seattle, Washington, said:

With respect to Facebook and Trump, I agree that Facebook's application of their policies is inexcusably inconsistent. But that does not change what I believe to be the most important fact here: Trump lies. Trump is not about to stop lying. Trump's lies are undermining the faith of a significant number of Americans in our Democracy. This is already having horrible consequences, like allowing state legislatures to restrict voting rights based on nothing but "The Big Lie", to say nothing of inciting and inspiring violence. Given those very real threats, I can see no justification for NOT banning him from these platforms and removing his ability to continue in this manner, as he assuredly will.

Writing in about the ban on menthol cigarettes, a former tobacco executive made this point:

If the government were to ban cigarettes outright, the tobacco companies wouldn't be able to continue to pay the states under the Master Settlement Agreement. And, taxing jurisdictions would scream bloody murder at the loss of the excise tax revenue as well. (An unspoken truth: the taxes on a pack of cigarettes are always more than the cost of the cigarettes themselves. Between the federal, state, and (often) municipal taxes, the tobacco companies are a minority stakeholder, from a financial perspective.)

So, the calculus goes something like, "We might get away with banning menthol smokes, but some portion of smokers, hopefully most, will merely switch to non-menthol, and the tobacco companies continue to make money, and the taxing jurisdictions continue reaping the profits from sales and the MSA." No one wants to kill the goose that lays those golden eggs.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How do you think we can update the rhetoric around systemic racism to better reach the typical, less involved Americans who still only think of racism as hating people? Having had these conversations with white, older, upper-middle class relatives/family friends your take on the Tim Scott discussion struck a chord with my frustration. Do you think there is a missed opportunity on both sides to address this without simply appeasing them with the comfort blanket of almost meaninglessly saying the 'country' isn't racist?

— Bill, Wayne, New Jersey

Tangle: I think one of the flaws about the messaging around systemic racism on the left is born out of the bubbles we all live in. Progressives are often talking to other progressives, which means they are learning and adopting language together that makes sense to them — or language that is commonly used in progressive circles. If you pick a random suburb in America and strike up a conversation about “equity” or microaggression, you’re probably going to encounter some glassed over eyes.

In my experience, it’s not at all difficult to talk to older, white, upper-middle class Americans about racism if it happens in their “language.” I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who fit that description and happily concede Black Americans have “gotten a raw deal,” or have been “boxed out of powerful positions at corporations,” or are facing the after-effects of generational wealth disparities and laws that gave huge advantages to white people just 50 years ago. Usually the friction comes when you press them on the advantages they’ve gained by being a part of that system. Nobody wants to be told what they have isn’t well-earned.

This friction only grows when progressives describe an institution, system or country as “racist” because it produces racially unequal results. The fact that many Americans don’t usually use the word racist in this way (but instead as you defined it: open hatred of a group of people) results in a great disconnect. One of my regrets from covering the Tim Scott issue was that I could have tried to preface the conversation with definitions of racism or systemic racism, which is often helpful. As basic as it is, some people are just using the same word to mean two different things. Asking people, or defining it yourself, would probably be useful in the conversations you are having.

As I often say in politics, personal experience always prevails. All the data and studies in the world can fail to convince someone that there are, say, disparate outcomes in how job applications are received with minority-sounding names. But if someone can talk about their experience as a person of color being interviewed or applying for a job, and the tiny clues they pick up on about the biases of the person interviewing them, that’s a more compelling story.

What I often see in these debates is one side throwing links and data at the other side, trying to compel them to abandon a belief they might have come to from their own life experience. But if you center the self, and talk from your own first-person experience, that’s a different ball game.

For example: I could argue that there was a Harvard study showing police are more antagonistic when pulling over Black drivers. That might be a somewhat compelling data point for a person who doesn’t think there is any discrimination in policing. But if I could compare my own experiences being pulled over as a driver with the time I was pulled over while a Black colleague was driving, and explain the differences I witnessed in how the police acted, that’s going to be a much more convincing story.

Ultimately, if your goal is to move someone’s position on an issue, any issue, giving them space to explain why they think the way they do and then centering your own personal experience (rather than an article you read in Vox) is a really productive way to have a conversation. It’s also why I so often share my own personal anecdotes in Tangle, because I think that may help readers understand why I feel the way I do — and that allows more space for them to consider the supporting evidence I may bring to an argument.


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Have a nice day.

Three years ago, when Tanitoluwa Adewumi started playing chess, his family was living in a New York homeless shelter. He was 7 years old, and they were fleeing religious persecution in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Now 10 years old, Adewumi just became a chess master. On May 1st, he won all four of his matches at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut, bumping his chess rating up to 2223 and making him the 28th youngest chess master ever. “But Adewumi's journey is not over yet,” NPR reports. “He says his goal is to become the world's youngest grandmaster. At 10 years 8 months, he has a little under two years to beat the current record holder, Sergey Karjakin, who gained his title at 12 years 7 months.”

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