Jun 15, 2020

The COVID-19 reopening debate continues.

The COVID-19 reopening debate continues.

Plus, a stunning Supreme Court ruling.

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Today’s read: 10 minutes.

The Supreme Court’s decision on LGTBQ rights, the latest on COVID-19 debates and a question about making elections a national holiday.

Photo: Ted Eytan / Flickr


In a stunning Supreme Court decision, the highest court in America has just ruled that the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex — covers millions of gay and transgender workers. The court ruled in a 6-3 opinion that “sex” encompassed sexual orientation and gender identity. Lawyers for employers and the Trump administration had argued that the common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 was bias against women or men, and did not encompass sexual orientation or gender identity.

For years, the court has taken that position as well, citing decisions grounded in constitutional law. Today’s ruling, though, concerns the interpretation of the bill itself and its intention. The Supreme Court has effectively cemented national protections for LGBT employees into law. Conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and John G. Roberts joined the majority opinion, and Gorsuch actually wrote the opinion itself.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court.

Two reactions from the right and left:

Reader notes.

On Friday, I wrote that “leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement” had been critical of the Seattle protesters’ takeover of Capitol Hill. Bert from Boulder, Colorado, wrote in to point out that the African American Community Advisory Council — which Fox News described as “Black Lives Matter” leaders — were a group actually designed to work alongside police. Additionally, some Black Lives Matter leaders have been vocally supportive of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, too. She also sent me a fascinating Medium piece from a writer on the ground with some interesting backstory on what’s happening in Seattle. You can read it here.

What D.C. is talking about.

COVID-19. Again. The coronavirus has killed more than 115,000 Americans and infected over two million people. Now, states across the U.S. are beginning to roll back social distancing restrictions. The recent spate of protests against police violence and systemic racism seems to have accelerated a “return to normal,” but rising cases in many states are giving people pause. While New York and New Jersey are beating back the virus, the U.S. as a whole — when excluding those two states — is holding steady or headed in the wrong direction.

In the meantime, Governors and mayors in Oregon, Utah and Tennessee have now pressed pause on reopening plans. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to suspend reopening plans because restaurants and bars are flouting the rules. Houston officials say they may reimpose a lockdown after hitting “code Orange,” a significant and uncontrolled spread. Massive protests have continued across the U.S., including in Brooklyn, where thousands of demonstrators marched through the borough for a rally in support of black trans lives. President Trump will begin holding rallies again this week. A concerning result from a contact tracing study in Japan suggests asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic young adults could be the source of coronavirus outbreaks.

A new project from a group of non-partisan health experts shows exactly how disjointed and mixed the United States’ progress is. Pooling data from the CDC and the COVID Tracking Project, the website covidexitstrategy.org shows how each individual state is trending with a simple red, yellow and green color scheme. Here is the current state of affairs:

What the right is saying.

The economic repercussions of a continued lockdown are a bigger threat than the virus. Skepticism of the health “experts” has only grown on the right in recent weeks, especially as some abandoned their previous position on protesting or close contact and then signed a letter encouraging thousands of protesters to hit the streets in demonstrations against structural racism. Spikes in Florida, Arizona and Texas are being attributed not to reopening but to expansive testing — and some jumps in cases can be easily tied to spreading events at meatpacking plants or prisons.

“A more important metric is hospitalizations,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. “In Arizona the weekly rolling average for new Covid-19 hospitalizations has been flat for a month. Emergency-room visits for Covid-19 have spiked this week, but the number of ER beds in use hasn’t changed since late April.”

The media and the experts continue to misinform. Members of the press heaped praise on the response of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but an investigation into New York’s response by The Wall Street Journal shows a series of failures that led to thousands of deaths and a worse outbreak than anywhere else in America. The World Health Organization said masks did little to help, then briefly told us asymptomatic spread was rare, only for the public to find out the complete opposite of both of these things was true.

In the meantime, the U.S. economy is being devastated.

“Although the true number of unemployed people is a matter of debate, the data show that as many as 27.5 percent of Americans lost their jobs or had their hours scaled back as a result of the shutdowns,” Henry Olsen wrote in The Washington Post. “That’s more than 30 million Americans, at a minimum, who were hit hard economically. We simply cannot sustain that level of economic catastrophe much longer.”

What the left is saying.

There is some division brewing. The left supports reopening, but not without a clear plan — and not in areas where virus cases are surging. Florida and Texas received praise from the right for bucking the consensus opinion and reopening, and now we’re seeing the impacts. Record numbers of cases are showing up and they’re not just a result of expansive testing. Even the data we have, which isn’t good, could just be a fraction of what’s really going on because of politicians’ efforts to suppress the true numbers.

Our initial lockdown was never meant to be permanent, it was meant to slow the initial spread of the virus and buy us some time to begin contact tracing and ramp up testing. “But the US didn’t use that time to prepare for managing the pandemic in the future,” Brian Resnick said in Vox. “And now we’ve wasted the weeks that have passed since reopening.”

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald argued that health experts have put themselves in a bind, and now one of two things is true:

“1) these protests will lead to a significant spike in coronavirus infections and deaths, in which case public health experts should reconcile that outcome with how they could have encouraged and endorsed them,” he wrote. “Or 2) it will not lead to such a spike, in which case it will appear that the months of extreme, draconian lockdowns — which caused great suffering and deprivation around the world — were excessive, misguided and unwarranted.”

My take.

If the “mask wars” and cultural battles over COVID-19 weren’t enough to ramp up the division over lockdowns, the George Floyd protests seem to be doing the trick. And it’s not hard to see why.

For the last few months, many families were told they could not hold funerals for their loved ones who had died. Mothers and fathers perished in hospitals alone, with family members locked out and forbidden from visiting them. Businesses were destroyed — told they had to close their doors for weeks and months then denied loans or federal help with no option to operate under any circumstances. Churches and synagogues and mosques were closed and congregants were relegated to Zoom or no group worshipping at all.

Then, in an overnight shift in tone, health experts and television hosts began excusing and justifying — or explicitly endorsing — mass protests in response to the death of George Floyd. It’s perfectly reasonable to understand how witnessing that change could infuriate Americans who lost so much during lockdowns, regardless of whether you support the movement for structural reformation of police departments happening across the U.S. right now. If I were denied the ability to bury a parent with a proper funeral, only to watch protesters flood the streets a few days later, my anger would be palpable.

The simple truth is that this is a complicated, difficult part of the entire COVID-19 battle. Every move we make as individuals and as a collective country must be weighed with the risk of making that move. Protesting outside with masks on may be safer than dining at a crowded restaurant, but the idea that thousands of people spending hours shoulder-to-shoulder is not high-risk seems hard to believe. There will be a cost to these demonstrations — and I expect we’ll see spikes that are tied to the protests themselves or tied to the thousands of people who were arrested and stuffed into vans and cells together across the U.S.

But it’s also true that we’re already seeing spikes tied to states reopening. Again, just like the protesters, folks opening up businesses or Republican governors dropping restrictions are all taking calculated risks. Everyone is motivated by different factors here. And yet, most of the states that have reopened or begun reopening didn’t even meet the minimum standards laid out by the Trump administration.

My greatest fear, from the start, was that we’d get the worst of both worlds: hundreds of thousands of people would die from the virus and we’d simultaneously destroy the economy trying to stop it. Frankly, we seem well on our way to that reality. It’s worth remembering that even with “draconian” lockdowns, some 115,000 Americans are already gone. What would have happened had we done less?  It’s an important question to keep asking ourselves.

What’s clearest to me, though, is that we’ve squandered another month that could have been used to move us back toward a normal life. Where is the president? Where is the leadership? Where is the COVID-19 task force and the daily updates? This argument is taking place on Twitter and in the editorial pages of the newspapers, but I haven’t heard much from the people most responsible for leading the country.

What would be nice right now is a clear message from the top. Instead of tweeting conspiracy theories about an MSNBC host murdering a former staffer, our president could use his time urging caution at protests — telling Americans to wear masks and keep their distance the best they can. Instead of live tweeting the stock market’s fits and spurts, the president could address the nation about the civil unrest, or a massive testing plan, or a contact tracing program, or give an update on how we should all proceed into this summer. But no — we haven’t gotten any of that.

The vacuum of leadership at the top is costing us now. There’s no clear roadmap, just a nation of Americans seemingly angrier and more spiteful at each other than they’ve been in decades. In the meantime, cases of COVID-19 are rising outside New York and New Jersey, the protests continue, businesses are shuttering and some 26 million Americans are claiming unemployment. So, again, I ask: What’s the plan? Where is the leadership? How don’t we have a unified message?

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.

Q: It seems like voting is a huge opportunity for creating change, and yet there are major obstacles to increasing turnout, such as suppression and voting not being an especially sexy form of advocacy. To suppression, can you talk about the idea of making the November election a national holiday (and perhaps batching it with lots of other local/state/federal votes to maximize people's voices)? What would have to happen for this to become a reality? How is a new national holiday established, and what's the best way to advocate for this one to happen?

— Grant, New York, NY

Tangle: This is a question a lot of Americans are asking right now. The game — as they say — is afoot. Delaware, Virginia, Hawaii, Kentucky and our home state of New York have already made Election Day a state holiday. There’s currently a bill floating around Congress to make Election Day a national holiday. In order to answer how this might happen or why it hasn’t, we need to go on a brief trip back in time.

What’s crazy is that our current national election day — held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November every year — is a date that was set in 1845.

The purpose of that date was borne out of the fact that most citizens were working as farmers and were a long way from polling places to vote. Weekends wouldn’t work, since almost every American was attending church. Mid-week wouldn’t work since Wednesdays were market days for farmers. Since it was a day or two of travel to get to most polling places, the government picked an election day with a nice window — a Tuesday — that would allow folks to get to and fro between these major social events.

They chose November because of farming, too: spring or summer voting would have interfered with planting and late summer or early fall would have interrupted the harvest. That left November: post-harvest but before the harsh winters set in. In 175 years, nothing has changed.

Is this absurd? Yes. Is this due for a change? Yes. Could I believe this was actually why we voted every Tuesday in November for 175 years? No.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good arguments against federal election holidays, though. For one, the change may have the opposite effect many liberals and Democrats seem to be going for (making it easier for working-class Americans to vote). Federal law doesn’t require private companies to give employees paid federal holidays, so making election day a federal holiday could actually box low-wage workers into jobs that don’t offer time off for a national holiday. They may even be more likely to have to work than they would have been on a random Tuesday in November.

There are also other, potentially better options. Why not have election day on a Saturday, when more people would have a chance to get free from work than even a national holiday? In Arizona, state law allows employees who do not have three consecutive hours before or after work when polls are open to take paid time off to vote at the start or end of their work days. That’s a solution other states could adopt. Automatic voter registration, same-day registration or early voting availability could also solve the problem without a national holiday.

One of the most popular proposals right now is to make Veteran’s Day (November 11th) into Election Day. Personally, I would love the significance of this. Honor veterans who fought for our ideals by exercising the right to vote in a free Democracy. It seems like this change could pull on the political and cultural leanings of both the left and the right, and it’d be great to see it adopted.

As for why it isn’t happening: there are people in power who benefit from the system we have now. I don’t intend to point partisan fingers, and I try to avoid doing that at all costs, but there is really no other way around this. There’s an abundance of political research that shows Republicans would be hurt by increased voter turnout. President Trump conceded as much in April when he said voting by mail would be bad because it would hurt Republicans. It really was him saying the quiet part out loud — and members of Congress like Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are running out of excuses to oppose a national election day holiday.

But some kind of change is desperately needed. In 1888, not long after election day was established, our presidential elections saw 80% turnout. In 2016, it was more like 60%. Republican women were calling for Election Day to be a patriotic national holiday in 1924. In 1947, a Gallup poll asked voters if they’d like to see presidential elections declared a national holiday. 52% said yes and 33% said no. By 2018 those numbers had skyrocketed to 71% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans supporting a national election holiday.

In 2001, a bipartisan National Commission on Federal Election Reform — led by former presidents Gerald Ford (Republican) and Jimmy Carter (Democrat) — called for moving Election Day to Veteran’s Day. George W. Bush said it was “impressive.” Now, a similar commission is exploring this same idea, and some people think the change could happen by 2026 — the 250th birthday of the United States.

I’m not sure what you could personally do, but contacting your local representative to express support for the change or voting for people who are pushing to expand voting access is  paramount to eliciting this change. You could also take things into your own hands and simply work to canvass and register voters, which volunteers across the United States do every year.

3 quick hits.

  1. Another police shooting in Atlanta on Friday night led to the police chief resigning, an officer being fired and a Wendy’s being burned in a weekend of protests. Rayshard Brooks, 27, was found asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through. After failing a sobriety test, officers tried to place Brooks in handcuffs. Brooks resisted arrest and stole a taser from an officer during a scuffle. Video shows Brooks sprinting away with the taser, which he briefly pointed at an officer, before they open fire. Brooks was killed. An autopsy report and body camera footage show the police shooting Brooks in the back.
  2. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) indicated Republicans are nearing completion of a bill that will ban chokeholds and explore other potential police reforms at a federal level. Scott seemed skeptical that updates to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police from accountability for misconduct, would be a part of the federal bill. However, he seemed to indicate a database tracking misconduct and a re-examination of no-knock warrants would be in the bill. “I think we’re going to get to a bill that actually becomes law,” he said.
  3. President Trump announced he was pushing back his June 19th rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, citing feedback he received from African-American friends and supporters. Trump had been criticized for holding the rally on Juneteenth, a day celebrating the announcement of the end of slavery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a race massacre took place in 1921. Trump had previously defended the rally as a “celebration.” He moved it to Saturday, the 20th, and says more than one million tickets have been requested.

A story that matters.

Catholic schools across the U.S. are closing as the pandemic exacts its economic toll. About one-third of all private schools in the U.S. are Catholic schools, and the loss of them to the economic strain of the pandemic could “narrow the education market, especially in low-income and high-minority communities,” Axios reported. 60 private schools, 49 of which are Catholic, have permanently closed already. That alone has displaced 8,100 students. Some estimate as many as 100 Catholic school closures may have already happened. If public schools have to take on those students, it could add $125 million to already strained budgets, setting up major concerns for the education system. Click.


  • 2,000. The estimated number of U.S. cities and towns that saw protests over the death of George Floyd, according to a count conducted by The New York Times.
  • 22. As of Saturday, the number of states where coronavirus cases were rising.
  • 3%. The lead Democrat Theresa Greenfield has over Republican incumbent Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race, according to a Des Moines Register poll.
  • 2%. Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in Arkansas, according to a new poll.
  • 27%. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in Arkansas during the 2016 race.
  • $50 million. The amount of money consumers have reported lost due to fraud related to the coronavirus, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • 45%. The percentage of Americans who were satisfied with the way things were going in the United States in February, according to Gallup.
  • 20%. The percentage of Americans who are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States now, according to Gallup.

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20 years after being stolen, a video camera in Queensland, Australia, was returned in pristine condition to its original owner — with the precious home videos still intact. The camera was found in an abandoned public housing complex, and police struggled to figure out a way to locate the original owner. Sharon Stretton said she had “no idea” what to do with the camera or how she was going to safely save the videos now back in her possession, but she was thrilled that it had turned up after all these years. "Not in a million years did I think it would come back," she laughed. Click.

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