Apr 29, 2020

Trump uses an executive order to keep meat plants open.

Trump uses an executive order to keep meat plants open.

Plus, I address some reader criticism from yesterday.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Trump signs an order to keep meat plants open, I address some reader feedback in the Q&A section, and a story about your dreams.

Also, I wanted to share some photos a Tangle reader sent in from the Blue Angels flyover that happened in the northeast yesterday. The photographer, Bill Zupko, is a true talent. The pictures were taken at the Trenton Mercer Airport in New Jersey.

Quarantine update.

Yesterday, after nearly a month of effort, my fiancé and I gave up on an impossibly hard 1,000-piece puzzle of the galaxy that had been sitting on our family room table. We’d gotten about a quarter of the way done but just couldn’t seem to muster the focus or energy to get over the hump. Why am I telling you this? Because I think all across the country (and the world) people are doing all sorts of things to help get through quarantine. We thought it’d be fun to tackle a challenging puzzle, something we’d never done together. But when it became not fun, we resisted the urge to quit because it just feels like we should be doing something new, learning something, making something productive out of all this free time. Right?

Well, when we dumped that puzzle into the box and got our family room table cleared off and back to good use holding up our wine and takeout food, let me tell you something: it felt incredible. I mean, really, I felt like I could breathe. It was so nice not to have that damn, God-forsaken puzzle staring at me. So my message to you is: relax. Don’t fall for the quarantine pressure. Sometimes, new puzzles and new hobbies suck. And it’s okay not to do them. And you don’t have to bake sourdough bread like all your friends. A great friend recently gave me some advice that his boss gave him, and I’ll pass it on: “Whatever you’re doing, however you’re feeling, is exactly how you should be.” Cheers.

What D.C. is talking about.

The meat. And not Arby’s. President Trump signed an executive order to keep meat-processing plants open during the coronavirus pandemic, a flex of federal authority that comes as at least 5,000 meat-processing plant workers have tested positive or had to self-quarantine because of COVID-19. At the same time, food supply chain experts warn we could be headed for a shortage. Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson took out advertisements in newspapers and wrote in blog posts that the food supply chain is breaking, warning millions of pounds of meat was set to disappear as processing plants close.

The executive order says the Secretary of Agriculture shall use the authority to “ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry.” The President plans to use the Defense Production Act, which Tangle covered here, to ensure facilities stay open. Administration officials told The Wall Street Journal that Trump will designate the plants as “critical infrastructure” and improve safety for employees and facilities. The Labor Department is also going to issue guidance that is designed to protect plant owners from lawsuits and liability in the event their workers get sick on the job. Critics of the decision say that the nature of meat-processing work, which often involves workers side-by-side in small spaces, makes it a particularly dangerous undertaking during a pandemic.

What the right is saying.

It’s a necessary and difficult decision. Forcing any workers into the building during a time like this has risks, but the alternative is an almost catastrophic scenario that’s tough to imagine. If our meat-processing plants close up, the prices of meat will skyrocket across the country before inevitable shortages — which may include other products like eggs, too. Without action from Trump, the White House says as much as 80% of the meat-processing capacity across the U.S. could have been shut down. That chain reaction — farmers not having a place to send their animals, meat-processing plants having to lay off workers, grocery stores having shortages of meat — would destroy thousands of jobs, disrupt the food supply chain and leave some Americans hungry. Many grocery stores are already struggling to keep their shelves stocked. The Labor Department’s guidance will include recommendations that at-risk workers, like those over 65 or with underlying conditions, stay home.

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” wrote John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, in a post on the company’s website Sunday. “The food supply chain is vulnerable.”

What the left is saying.

Workers will die. One union has already reported that 5,000 U.S. meat and food-processing workers have already been exposed to coronavirus. At least 20 have already died, and plants have shut down precisely because of outbreaks. “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said. Others have criticized what they view as hypocrisy. Chris Hayes from MSNBC summed it up in a tweet: “Tyranny is the government telling you you can't go to a hair salon because there's a plague,” he said. “Freedom, on the other hand, is the government telling you you have to go back to work at your plague-stricken pork processing plant alongside workers who might be sick.”

At the same time, many liberals are also arguing that the federal government should be stepping up to help reimburse the plants that are being forced into closures. Instead of rushing them back and putting workers at risk, Democrats have argued those plants should receive a rescue package of their own to stay closed for as long as they need to before it’s safe to reopen.

My take.

About a month ago, I wrote in Tangle that the U.S. food supply was in good condition and there was little reason for concern. At the time, that was true: the shortages of food and supplies like paper towels were a result of panic buying, and grocery stores being unable to keep up with the demand. It was not an issue with the supply chain. But in recent weeks, that has changed.

With meat-processing plants and restaurants closing, farmers are stuck holding onto animals that are supposed to be slaughtered for our food. That means they’re forced to euthanize these animals for nothing, or they are forced to keep them alive and sink money into feeding them until the plants reopen. With the processing plants closed, it also means a shortage on the other end: meat that’s typically in strong supply doesn’t get to the grocery stores. All of this is being exacerbated by the fact there was an outbreak of African swine fever in China (yes, seriously) that destroyed millions of their pigs. China is the world’s top hog producer.

As Noah Rothman said on Twitter, “Anyone who tells you this is an easy one is selling something. These are essential businesses, so they can't close or the supply chain breaks, and staying home becomes harder. Can't practice social distancing or the production line breaks. Can't open them, or workers get infected.”

I truly don’t know the best answer here. On one hand, I like to think there is a way to keep these plants open with new measures that protect workers. Most of these outbreaks were happening before PPE supply caught up to the demand, and now many workers could go back to the plants with face masks, gloves and other protective measures that they didn’t have a few weeks ago when these outbreaks were happening. The Labor Department could also lay out specific guidelines that allow at-risk workers to stay home and collect unemployment. A combination of all these things could at least mitigate the risk and keep things running.

At the same time, these are low-wage workers we’re talking about. Many of them are migrant workers, and plenty are either undocumented or here on work visas. Do I have confidence that corporate giants like Tyson Foods are going to do their best to protect undocumented migrant workers and keep them safe? Or crush their own profits to provide PPE and hand sanitizer and employ extra workers to sanitize these factories in order to protect low-wage American workers? I wish I did, but I don’t. There’s just no historical precedent to convince me that will happen. I have no faith these plants will strictly enforce guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, and I have no faith workers come out unscathed.

But what’s the alternative? Shut the plants down and everyone suffers on the other end, too. The price of chicken, beef and pork skyrockets. Even the price of things like eggs, relied on by food banks and low-income Americans to avoid going hungry, will undoubtedly spike through the roof. I’m plenty cynical about the motivations behind keeping these plants open, but I don’t really see an alternative. Do you? Write in and let me know what you think — I’ll share your thoughts in tomorrow’s newsletter.


Masks. Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence came under fire after touring the Mayo Clinic in Florida without wearing a mask. Observers immediately jumped on the image of Pence, surrounded by health care workers and patients in masks, without his face covered. “As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said. “I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers and these incredible health-care personnel and look them in the eye and say thank you.” Click.

Jewish community. Last night, Mayor Bill de Blasio personally oversaw a police effort to break up a large, Orthodox Jewish funeral in Brooklyn. Afterward, de Blasio sent out a tweet singling out the Jewish community for violating social distancing guidelines. He faced immediate blowback, with critics (like me) noting that communities of all creed have been flouting New York’s social distancing guidelines, including thousands of New Yorkers who gathered closely without masks just hours before the funeral to watch the Blue Angels flyover. The Orthodox Jewish community had planned the funeral in coordination with NYPD but things went south when the procession became overcrowded. Click.

Justin Amash. The current House independent and former Republican member of the Freedom Caucus left the Republican party last year. Now, he says he is launching an exploratory committee to run for president as a Libertarian. Amash is up for a tough re-election race in Michigan, and political observers are split over whether he’d help Trump or hurt him. But either way, if he officially enters the race it could throw an unforeseen variable into the November election. Click.

Your questions, answered.

Remember: Tangle is all about reader interaction and reader questions. I love hearing from you, even (especially) when it’s critical. If you’ve got something you want to unload about, just reply to this email and write in. It goes straight to my inbox.

Instead of direct reader questions today, I want to reply to some reader mail I got about yesterday’s newsletter. Two of the comments felt worth addressing, and both were somewhat framed as questions I think are worth tackling.

One reader (their words in bold), who requested to remain anonymous, wrote in and told me they were “disappointed” in my overall take on the Biden allegations, asking how people on the left can “so loudly shout ‘believe women!’ when something like the Kavanaugh hearings happened, but when this comes up with Biden, it’s a lot of ‘well, does her story make sense? Is she credible?’” They added:

“This is just a golden example of why so many people on the right get so frustrated with people on the left playing morality police, or making statements like "Believe all women!" Well, yeah, of course I want to protect women and do what I can to fight against sexual assault. I think most decent Americans would agree with that. But that's kind of the only thing those sort of moral high-ground statements allow for: agree with us, or you are an awful person and I can't associate with you… I also wish you wouldn't have taken such a neutral stance on something like this,” they concluded. “E.g. ‘I believe her, and I’m sure if I sat down with Joe Biden and asked him questions, he could give me a believable defense, too.’ I just think that would never fly if some conservative politician said that about Kavanaugh when everything was going down with him.”

This reader note made me go back and check my coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings. I have to confess, I was a bit nervous when I opened that edition of Tangle, which was one of the first I ever wrote. But as I read my coverage, which I probably should have looked back on before writing about the Biden allegations, I was actually quite proud of my consistency. Here is what I wrote about Brett Kavanaugh back in September:

I remember watching [Christine Blasey] Ford’s testimony and being so struck by her pain in detailing what happened to her that I was certain she was telling the truth and Kavanaugh’s nomination was sunk. Then, minutes later, I found Kavanaugh nearly as compelling in his defense and the nature with which he defended his own character struck me as convincing, even if it seemed — at times — a bit unhinged for a judge on the highest court in America. I can’t presume to know what happened on any of the three nights these assault allegations took place, though I’m inclined to pause anytime someone has been accused of three separate incidents of harassment or assault. What I do know is the political fight that will come from this is a dangerous game for both sides.

Comparing that to my coverage of the Biden allegations (below), I think there is a lot of consistency:

There were no witnesses and so far there is no public documentation of the assault, so I’m not going to sit here and say I know for sure one way or the other. I don’t. Only Reade and Biden know the truth. But I listened to her tell her story, I read dozens of news articles about it, and I think the latest evidence only adds to her credibility… I’m sure if I sat down with Joe Biden and asked him questions he could give me a believable defense, too.

As for the left being hypocritical on the “believe all women!” trope, I think there is some fairness to that. There have been some remarkable studies about political bias and the way it impacts our judgment, and I think there is absolutely a huge swath of Americans who judge an accuser favorably or unfavorably based solely on their own political leanings. However, I do think the “believe all women” line is more of an invention from the right than it is a stance most liberals or Democrats take. In fact, I think it’s a classic example of one side elevating the other side’s worst argument and trying to make it the argument people identify with when they think of that side. Trust me: I live in Brooklyn. I know a lot of liberals, and I talk a lot about politics, and I don’t know any liberals who walk around with the mindset that “believing all women” over men — regardless of the circumstances or evidence — is a just or fair way to live.

The real call to action, in my experience, is more accurately described as “hear all women.” To allow women the ability to tell their story without fear of revenge, social shunning or career and reputation destruction. And I do believe that call to action is fair and reasonable, especially given our society’s history of ignoring women (or destroying their reputations) after they alleged a powerful man assaulted them. And yes, even by that standard, some factions of the left have been hypocritical: Tara Reade was ignored, then harassed online, shunned into silence and smeared across various outlets when she first alleged Biden assaulted her. She’s facing a similar fate now. But at the same time, there are lots of liberals calling on Biden to personally respond to the allegations, and I think that’s positive progress. And there are plenty of Democrats who are sharing Reade’s story and acknowledging what she’s claiming, which is consistent with their call to “hear all women.”

Another reader, Ashraf from Singapore (hello, Singapore!) wrote in to criticize this line: "CNN and MSNBC are a dumpster fire of Trump hate."

That sentence “does not encompass everyone who works there, Ashraf wrote. “I find that a bit harsh. While there are many liberal people working there, a ‘dumpster fire’ is a bit strong. Would you call Chris Hayes that? He is liberal, yes — but his analysis is sound and not based on sensationalism.”

After reading that line written back to me, I think Ashraf has a point. It’s not a sentence that’s typical of this newsletter, I don’t think it meets the bar I set for myself to be measured and fair in my writing. CNN has some great political reporters, and despite leaning more to the left these days it still has the best international reporting team of any television news station on the planet. There are so many brave, smart, experienced CNN reporters who are in dangerous places and complex foreign cities across the world who do excellent reporting I could never do. And I shouldn’t write them off, or even all the folks on the politics desk, as being a dumpster fire.

It’s also true that MSNBC has great reporters and good hosts. I agree that Chris Hayes is (generally speaking) someone who provides sound analysis and tries to avoid sensationalism. Yes, his punditry is just that — punditry. And he is obviously a lefty, but that doesn’t mean he’s on the same level as someone like Sean Hannity, who I think allows his politics to make his show extreme and lie-filled in a way that Hayes does not. Thanks for calling this out and keeping me honest, I think it’s a fair criticism.

A story that matters.

Having wild dreams? It’s not just you. A new story from the Associated Press explored how coronavirus is impacting the sleep of millions of people globally. The stress of job loss, the horrors of infection, the loneliness from isolation, the concerns about family members getting sick, all of it is showing up in millions of people’s sleep. “Experts say humanity has rarely experienced ‘collective dreaming’ on such a broad scale in recorded history — and certainly never while also being able to share those nightmares in real time,” the AP reports. One Harvard professor is collecting COVID dreamers worldwide and has collected 6,000 “dream samples” from 2,400 people. She’s found an overarching theme of stress related to the pandemic — and nightmares that include everything from being stuck in a heavily congregated place to suffering negative impacts from being injected with an alleged vaccine. The stress and sleepless nights could have long-term impacts on everyone living through the pandemic. Click.


  • 1,014,568. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, as of this morning, breaking the one million infection threshold for the first time.
  • 96%. The percentage of coronavirus-positive inmates in four U.S. prisons who were asymptomatic.
  • 1.6 billion. The number of students, globally, who have seen their schools close due to coronavirus.
  • 10.7%. The percentage of Nebraska businesses that have received the federal government’s small business loans.
  • 1.9%. The percentage of New York businesses that have received the federal government’s small business loans.
  • 30%. The percentage of Democrats who trust the federal government to look out for their best interests.
  • 70%. The percentage of Republicans who trust the federal government to look out for their best interests.

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Have a nice day.

An Oxford University laboratory seems to be defying space and time in their race to discover a vaccine for the coronavirus. Scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute have scheduled a vaccine trial on 6,000 people that will launch by the end of next month, and they think it will show not only that the vaccine works but that it’s safe. Oxford scientists say with an emergency approval, they believe the first few million doses of the vaccine could be available by September. One of the most encouraging signs of the Oxford trials was tests done on six monkeys in Montana who received the vaccine. 28 days after being exposed to heavy quantities of the virus that sickened other monkeys, the vaccinated monkeys are still coronavirus free.  That’s no guarantee for humans, but it’s a good sign. Previously, the fastest vaccine development like this to ever take place happened in just about four years. Click.

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