Jul 7, 2020

We find some common ground.

We find some common ground.

Yesterday's news did not produce a divisive main story.

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Today’s read: 9 minutes.

An unusual day for this newsletter: I break down the last 24 hours and how the country had some moments of agreement.

The Supreme Court made another important ruling yesterday: this one by a unanimous, 9-0 vote. Photo Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.


In yesterday’s numbers section, I wrote that “Donald Trump and the Democratic party” raised $131 million in June. Most obviously, I meant to write that Trump and the Republican party raised $131 million, while Biden and the Democratic party raised $141 million. I can’t blame this one on my editors, as they actually caught the mistake but a copy and paste error on my end kept it in the newsletter. It’s good to be back.

This is the 8th Tangle correction in its eleven-month existence and the 4th in the last four weeks (I’m starting to think the bigger the readership the more corrections). I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to stop counting when the number becomes embarrassing.

Reader feedback.

Yesterday, I wrote that “there are clueless lefty protesters who are now tearing down monuments of abolitionists and statues of Frederick Douglass.” As a few readers pointed out, we don’t yet know who tore down the statue of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY — and it seems just as likely it was someone with right-wing ideologies issuing “payback” for confederate tear downs as it is that an ignorant lefty protester ripped down the statue. I shouldn’t have written this so blithely and made a misleading implication.

More to the point: I understand there are left-wing protesters out there who are pushing the limits of what monuments should be taken down, and some of them have made embarrassing mistakes already. Trump was clearly seizing on this Friday by trying to conflate the people who want to, say, take down statues of George Washington (a small minority of Americans, I imagine) versus people who want to take down statues of Robert E. Lee (a larger portion of Americans, I imagine). I was trying to illustrate both that Trump was sowing some confusion and that protesters were making it easy for him.

What D.C. is talking about.

Most days, this newsletter covers a major story centered around a disagreement or tension on the biggest news of the day — offering you the right’s and left’s perspectives, then my take. But in the last 24 hours, something interesting happened: that story didn’t really materialize.

Occasionally, this is just how things go in this space. The promise of Tangle is not just that I deliver a full spectrum of views on the biggest news stories of the day — it’s also that I avoid clickbait, sensationalism and exaggeration. Which means I’m not going to create tension out of thin air for the sake of the newsletter.

Instead, I figured I’d use this opportunity to give you a wider wrap up on some of the important news going on right now — that way you can still walk away feeling like you’re caught up, even if there isn’t a “main story” of the day with both sides’ takes.

The big news of the day yesterday was another Supreme Court ruling: the court struck down challenges to the “faithless elector” laws, which say members of the Electoral College have to vote for whoever wins a state’s popular vote in presidential elections. 10 of the 538 presidential electors went rogue in 2016, attempting to cast ballots for someone other than the candidate they were pledged to by virtue of who won their state’s vote. 32 states and Washington D.C. have laws that can punish faithless electors — and those laws were challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

SCOTUS responded by unanimously supporting the laws in a 9-0 decision, which reflects widespread support on both the left and right (and is part of the reason today’s Tangle is an unusual one!). Most Republicans and Democrats just agree on this: state electors should have to vote for whoever won the state’s popular vote.

The other big news from yesterday was that the full list of companies who received loans from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was released for the first time. Remember: PPP was designed to be a small business relief program, one that ensured small companies would keep their staff on payroll and stay afloat while being forced to reduce their business or shut down altogether during the COVID-19 pandemic. 660,000 “small” businesses who each received more than $150,000 were disclosed yesterday and businesses who received less than that remained anonymous. In sum, this was just 15% of all the loans that were given out. $521 billion of taxpayer money was given out in total.

Once again, the right and left came together to scoff at some of the recipients. Newsmax Media Inc., a right-wing media company run by Trump donor Christopher Ruddy, received a loan. So did Media Matters, a left-wing media company that was blasting Trump for his response to the pandemic while taking in close to $2 million. The Daily Caller, the news organization founded by Tucker Carlson, also received a loan.

An Indianapolis service provider to charities partly owned by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos received a loan, according to The Wall Street Journal. So did P.F. Chang’s, the massive food chain with over 200 locations. Five Guys and Black Angus steakhouse got loans. Nonprofits like Girl Scouts Inc. raked in money, as did the Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C., whose alumni include children of former presidents.

Some members of Congress also got loans, The Wall Street Journal reported: Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) got a loan of $1 to $2 million for his KTAK Corporation, which operates fast-food franchises. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) received a loan for a car dealership he runs outside Pittsburgh. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) husband Paul Pelosi got a loan for a Northern California firm he’s invested in. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family’s shipping business also received a loan.

In some more ironic incidents, many vocal opponents of government spending or advocates for “small government” also received loans, which former Fox News hosts, Forbes and Axios reporters came together to call out. Among them were Americans for Tax Reform, founded by Grover Norquist, as well as the The Ayn Rand Institute (no, I’m not making that up), which received between $350,000 and $1 million.

Even Kanye West’s Yeezy LLC, the holding company that manages his fashion business, took a loan between $2 million and $5 million. West is a billionaire.

The data, which were released after weeks of pressure from media outlets and lawmakers, “paints a picture of a haphazard first-come, first-served program that was not designed to evaluate the relative need of the recipients,” The Washington Post reported. The right and the left were both stunned and dismayed by the list.

Over the weekend, a horrible wave of violence broke out across U.S. cities, some of which led to the deaths of children. An 11-year-old in Southeast D.C. was hit in the head by a stray bullet during a nearby shootout as he attended a cookout his mom organized. An 8-year-old girl in Atlanta was fatally shot near the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed last month. A 7-year-old in Chicago was one of 80 people shot, at least 17 fatally, across the city during the weekend. An 8-year-old boy in Hoover, Alabama, was killed during a horrific shootout in the Riverchase Galleria, the state’s largest mall. A 6-year-old in San Francisco was also fatally shot in the city’s Bayview neighborhood Saturday night.

Another 65 people were shot in New York over the weekend and homicides also climbed in Miami and Milwaukee. Summer months usually usher in more violence in America’s big cities, but the spate of child victims has been especially heartbreaking. Police and their political allies have tied the jump of violence to movements calling to defund the police and asking them to fall back in city neighborhoods. Some on the left have said police are shirking their responsibility because the public wants to hold bad police officers accountable.

My take: a small sampling of crime data (like that from a single weekend) is tough to parse, and every city is different. That’s in normal times, too, without the variable of a global pandemic. It’s tough to draw broad conclusions from this violence (yet), but it’s a horrific and frightening development nonetheless.

COVID-19 is still a thing, too. Maybe bigger than ever. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, announced mandatory face coverings inside buildings. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tested positive for COVID-19 despite being symptom-free. She got the test after she said her husband seemed to be sleeping more than usual. Several Mississippi lawmakers also announced they had tested positive for the virus yesterday. Arizona and Nevada both reported their highest numbers of coronavirus-related hospitalizations ever in recent days, and nearly 300,000 new COVID-19 infections were recorded in the first 6 days of July. Meanwhile, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, 86, says he will skip the Republican National Convention — the first time he’s missed it in 40 years.

COVID-19 is also blowing up college plans. International students may need to leave the U.S. or risk deportation if their classes go online this fall, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last night. The stunning update could impact thousands of foreign students. ICE issued guidance saying students who fall under certain visas "may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States," adding, "The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States."

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Senate Republicans are in “danger” of losing half of the women in their caucus come November. There are nine women in the GOP’s Senate caucus, and four are facing extremely competitive races in Arizona, Maine, Georgia and Iowa. The losses would be a blow to a caucus that has strived to make gains in female representation over the last decade. Democrats, on the other hand, “smell a rout,” and now have their eyes not just on retaking the White House and Senate — but on down-ballot wins that could help them redistrict the country. Wall Street seems to agree and is no longer betting on Trump, Axios reports. A Citigroup poll of 140 fund managers found 62% expect a Biden win (70% were betting on Trump in December).

Google, Facebook and Twitter said they would stop processing Hong Kong government requests for user data while they review the new controversial security law. TikTok also said it was leaving Hong Kong and would deactivate the app for people there in the coming days. The U.S. says it’s “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese apps. The viral video app is not available in mainland China and has long been criticized as a data-collection tool. With China encroaching on Hong Kong, alarm bells are going off in the tech world.

In some quick-hit news: A tell-all book by Donald Trump’s niece is set to be released next week after she won a court battle against Robert Trump, the president’s younger brother. The book is titled “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” The woman who called the police on a birdwatcher in Central Park a few months ago, helping the “Karen” meme explode, was charged for filing a false police report yesterday. Spencer Cox won the GOP primary in Utah over Jon Huntsman, all but assuring he’d become the state’s next governor. Huntsman previously served two terms as Utah governor and was one of the most popular governors in the country when he stepped down in 2009. Fox News host Tucker Carlson stepped on a rake last night, accusing Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) of “hating America.” Duckworth is a double-amputee Iraq War veteran who is under consideration for the Vice Presidency. Carlson’s comments were trending on Twitter and drew strong rebukes from both sides of the aisle.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: every day, I answer a reader question from across the country. If you have a question — or feedback — you can reach me by just replying to this email. It goes straight to my inbox.

Q: I see the daily COVID-19 numbers increase and that’s hard to understand based on testing vs. actual new cases. But is there a resource to show what the current hospitalized numbers are? Does that even seem like a good measure of severity?

— Reed, Pittsburgh, PA

Tangle: To address your comment before your question: I understand that testing and new cases can be convoluted. If there are more tests and more cases, are there really more cases? Is an outbreak happening or are we just observing a result of better testing?

When news outlets or epidemiologists report on these things, they are not simply saying there is an outbreak or a surge of cases somewhere because more testing is drawing more positive results. These people understand the way increased testing produces higher numbers and percentages of positive results. There are all sorts of key metrics that go into this reporting: positive test rate, the difference in testing and increase in positive tests, hospitalization rates, how many ICU beds are available and the overall number of positive test results.

Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA Commissioner who has become a reliable voice on these numbers, put it this way: “New York State on 7/4: More testing. Fewer cases uncovered. When the virus is under control, testing doesn’t uncover more cases. It’s a tool for keeping the epidemic at bay.” That’s really the simplest way to think about it.

As for your question about measuring the hospitalization rates, or positive tests vs. overall death rate and severity, this is the “trillion-dollar question,” as Miles Beckett put it on Twitter. He explained a really simple paradox we’re all observing called the Simpson's paradox, which occurs when data is pooled together that shouldn’t be.

Here is an excerpt from his Twitter thread, since he’s an expert on this stuff:

If you lump the data and look at the US as a whole, you'll observe: Cases are increasing, positivity rate is increasing, hospitalizations are increasing, and deaths are decreasing. Until recently, it also looked liked [sic] hospitalizations were decreasing and positivity was flat. It would be rational to come to the following conclusions. "Young people are getting it now, not old people." "We've gotten better at treating it, the death rate has fallen." "We're testing more people, so we're seeing more cases." Twitter is awash with these. There's some truth to these conclusions. Yes, more young people than old are getting it (for now). Yes, we have gotten better at treating it (a little). Yes, we are testing more people and finding more cases (somewhat). None of these conclusions explain the effect.

Here's the truth. The COVID-19 outbreak, is not ONE outbreak spread evenly across the US. It is MANY outbreaks spread unevenly. You need to look at state data, or better, county data to really understand what's going on. For instance, take AZ and TX. Cases AND deaths have both been increasing for weeks. FL looks similar (except their data sucks, so it's hard to analyze precisely). If you hone in on Miami and Houston, it's much worse.

This is the heart of Simpson's paradox. If you pool data without regard to the underlying causality, you'll get erroneous results. The truth is simple, and horrifying. We are about to have dozens of NYCs around the country. The next 8 weeks are going to brutal [sic], no matter what we do. ICUs overflowing, ventilators rationed, hundreds of thousands of deaths.

That basically sums up all the things that I think are important here. Hospitalization rates and death rates are going to go up — we know this because we have 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the first week of July alone, and we know that most deaths and hospitalizations trail those new cases by anywhere from one to five weeks.

As for collecting those data, that’s a bit harder. Positive test results are being streamlined to all sorts of national sources, so they’ve been easier for newsrooms and organizations like Johns Hopkins to track. It looks like Pennsylvania, where you’re writing from, has live hospitalization tracking data up on its state government website. That’s a good thing — and something other states aren’t properly keeping up with. Right now, it says there are 598 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in PA. You can find that here, or check it out in the screengrab I took below:

A story that matters.

State and local government jobs are being gutted as the economic recovery crawls forward. The COVID-19 pandemic absolutely dynamited budgets across the country for state and local governments. Some states have already reduced their spending and laid off thousands of workers. 22,000 government jobs are at risk in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Missouri and Maryland have already announced coming cuts. Massachusetts, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Montana all saw 50% or more reductions in their year-over-year state tax revenue. It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of such losses — and the lasting damage it will do to government agendas. The federal government is now considering a $500 billion fund that states can borrow from. Click.


  • 5%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania.
  • 11%.  Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in Maine.
  • 4%. Democratic nominee Sara Gideon’s lead over Republican incumbent Susan Collins in the Maine Senate race.
  • 11%. The percent of Maine voters who say they are undecided between Sara Gideon and Susan Collins.
  • 91%. The percent of Republicans who approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president.
  • 2%. The percent of Democrats who approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president.
  • 89%. The partisan gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ ratings of Trump’s performance, the largest Gallup has ever measured in a survey.
  • 58%. The percent of U.S. adults who trust the quality of water that comes out of the tap in their home.
  • 4 million. The number of Americans who bought guns in June, about 1.5 million of which were first time purchases.

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Have a nice day.

The federal government announced today that it was going to pay the vaccine maker Novavax $1.6 billion to expedite the development of 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the beginning of next year, The New York Times reported. It’s the largest deal the Trump administration has made with any vaccine maker so far, and it’s a major step forward in the federal government’s fight to get a vaccine to market. It’s also a huge bet on Novavax. Click.

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