In This Episode
- As Biden works to sell his infrastructure plan, we take a look at the money he’s proposing for high-speed internet and what it could do to address equity issues in education.
- 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had to be tossed out after a factory mix-up in Baltimore. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is back and the Texas Rangers have announced no plans to cap attendance … even though we’re still in a pandemic.
- And in headlines: Republicans try to stay silent on Gaetz-gate, Ivanka Trump’s women’s initiative was a flop, and 15,000 bees in a car in New Mexico.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, April 2nd, I’m Akilah Hughes.
Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan, in for Gideon Resnick.
Akilah Hughes: And this is What A Day, where we’re both recovering from duel shoulder replacements after doing one pull-up like Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Erin Ryan: Yeah, I’m bionic now and I hate to say it, but I’d do it again.
Akilah Hughes: You know, with my knees, shoulders, I think I could defeat Kahn.
Erin Ryan: I believe you.
Akilah Hughes: On today’s show, Major League Baseball is back and more dangerous than ever.
[clip of President Biden] Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake. They should listen to Dr. Fauci and the scientists and the experts.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. Well, that was a very sad sounding President Biden telling the MLB to play it safe and not host tens of thousands of fans on opening day. We’ve got that and some headlines coming up.
Erin Ryan: But first, the latest, where we’re going to do a deep dive on President Biden’s infrastructure proposal. We mentioned that the price tag could reach up to four trillion dollars. I truly can’t even imagine that amount of money. My brain breaks as it approaches imagining it. But, Akilah, let’s focus on a carve out within that funding for high speed Internet. How much are we talking?
Akilah Hughes: A lot. Lot. Lot. Hella money. Lots of zeros. So within President Biden’s infrastructure proposal lies 100 billion dollars to get every person in America Internet access. I mean, you know, if we want to be the best country in the world, we should at least have fewer blackout zones for Wi-Fi. Right? So the goal with the money is to improve the economy by empowering all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. And this digital divide has become even more apparent with so much of our lives becoming Zoom meetings in the pandemic.
Erin Ryan: You know, honestly, Akilah, if I could work from any place in the U.S., I am purpling up a red state ASAP. [laughter] I’m out of this really terrible real estate market. I’m moving to Kansas City.
Akilah Hughes: I love that for you.
Erin Ryan: Watch out for me and my high-speed Internet that I’m going to get in rural Kansas. This isn’t the first time the government has invested billions in the digital divide, but it is the first time that they’re using the money differently, depending on where you live. So how is the money going to be spent in rural areas versus urban ones?
Akilah Hughes: That is a great question. So the problem with Wi-Fi in rural areas tends to be access at all. You know, it’s expensive to install the wiring that reaches those areas, and private companies tend to be pretty cheap about it. The problem with Wi-Fi in suburban and urban areas tends to be affordability. Cable-Internet providers have created these monopolies for service in those areas and because of it, they can charge whatever they want. When I was living in Bee-Stuy, Brooklyn, it was apparent that the more gentrified neighborhoods had earlier access to faster fiber optic Internet.
Akilah Hughes: That is unsurprising but still disappointing.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it pissed me off.
Erin Ryan: I would be mad too. When I go home to visit my parents in the rural Midwest, and I record an episode, in order for me to upload the episode, I have to drive to a place where it’s possible for me to hotspot my phone, because our Internet is so slow it would take seven hours to upload an episode. So it’s more than just an issue for rural and urban people. Can you talk a little bit about why this plan could be good for social justice?
Akilah Hughes: Totally. So better, more accessible Internet benefits everyone, but it’s also about equity. Take doing better in schools, for example: without good Internet, according to Pew Research, Black teens and people living in lower-income households were more likely to say that they can’t complete homework assignments. And this is the homework gap that has been referenced countless times throughout the pandemic. And it has really negative, lifelong implications in a world that is more and more online. And look, there are still outstanding questions about how this administration can achieve their goals of getting the poles installed for Wi-Fi to reach these sparsely-populated areas. Those companies haven’t expressed interest in doing so in the past, even with the promise of billions of dollars. But all of this is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Erin Ryan: Also, within this big infrastructure bill is space for IRL connection via the country’s rail services. I love a train, Akilah! I want to know what the plan is around the trains.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, choo-choo. Alright, so Biden’s plan is to allocate eighty dollars billion to beef-up our rail systems. Finally, y’all, infrastructure is a go! So in preparation for the bill to pass, Amtrak has put out plans for 30 new routes that would give people access to transportation between bordering cities and states. And some of the new routes include a train between Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit to Toronto; and Nashville to Savannah, Georgia. And the hope is that this will create new economic opportunities for people who could commute to nearby cities for jobs. The plan also makes space to fix the ancient outdated rail systems in the northeast corridor that you may remember from the horrible crash back in 2015 that killed eight and injured more than 180.
Erin Ryan: And we have to fix the old train like, tracks for sure. But when you said Nashville to Savannah, Georgia, my first thought was: girls’ trip express. That’s what that route is going to be called. Like bachelorette parties, fortieth birthdays, all your girls’ trip needs. You can just go between Nashville and Savannah. It’s going to be wonderful.
Akilah Hughes: Nancy Meyers is writing that book as we speak. [laughs]
Erin Ryan: I want her to decorate that train. Have her set designer make the train look like one of her kitchens.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, please.
Erin Ryan: This all sounds great, but poor, unfortunate soul from The Little Mermaid, Mitch McConnell has already vowed to fight the Biden administration, quote “every step of the way.” What does the fight look like to get these proposals through?
Akilah Hughes: You know, I honestly just wish that we could slot in another show section on the filibuster, because that’s where we are AGAIN with this. Dems need ten Republicans to break with McConnell to give the people better Internet and and more travel options. They likely won’t do it because party over country, always with these virtuous Reps. No Republicans voted for Biden’s super popular COVID plan, even though a few have tried to take credit for it on Twitter and gotten clapped-back to the Stone Age. So it’s seeming pretty unlikely that this country is ever going to move forward with this stupid filibuster problem, but we’re going to keep following this. But it wouldn’t be a new month in 2021 without more news on the coronavirus pandemic. So where are we with that?
Erin Ryan: Well, some people are being guided by common sense and medical advice, while others are crowding into stadiums to spread COVID to the beloved traditional tune of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Akilah Hughes: Oh, no. Well, finally, we will get an answer to the question, what’s a more effective way to end a pandemic: by taking precautions or acting like everything’s fine? You know, the jury’s really out.
Erin Ryan: I don’t know, going to put on my thinking cap, but I think it’s probably taking precautions. The world waits with bated breath. Let’s start with some news that pairs perfectly with that “slapping own forehead” emoji: 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had to be tossed out after a factory mix-up in Baltimore caused the doses to become contaminated. The factory behind the mistake was manufacturing both the Johnson % Johnson and the AstraZeneca vaccines. According to the New York Times, “human error” led to AstraZeneca ingredients being added to the J&J vaccine. Whoopsie-daisy?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I’m never one to advocate for someone losing their job, but c—whose human error was this?! I want names! Anyway, officials have been warning for weeks against another possible surge of cases. So where are we actually seeing that play out already?
Erin Ryan: So I know, you’re probably tired of hearing this, but sometimes it’s better to just say something true than say something pretty: we are not out of the woods yet. For a cautionary tale about what happens when you relax too soon, just take a look at what’s happening in Michigan. America’s mitten has become the nation’s latest COVID-19 epicenter as it experiences a surge in cases and hospitalizations that has public health officials sounding alarm bells. The British variant is to blame for much of these increasing numbers. Other Midwestern states like Minnesota and Illinois are experiencing troubling upticks of their own. And the East Coast is seeing cases increase as well. The Brazil variant has been found in 20 states.
Akilah Hughes: Meanwhile, some people are still taking this seriously, right?
Erin Ryan: Yes. California and many Western states have seen decreasing numbers, although that may change as Los Angeles County has plans to relax restrictions even more on Monday. Just a reminder, L.A. County is the biggest county by population in the entire country.
Akilah Hughes: Oh, no.
Erin Ryan: It’s going to be a lot of people being allowed to do more stuff on Monday.
Akilah Hughes: Ugh.
Erin Ryan: And just to add more anxiety to the Major League Baseball’s opening day was yesterday, and COVID precautions around the league are inconsistent at best.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I think I can guess, but who were the worst offenders?
Erin Ryan: Well, the Texas Rangers are doing their best to displace the Houston Astros for most of hatable baseball organization in Texas, as the team has announced plans to simply throw caution to the wind and play like there’s no pandemic. On Monday, they hosted nearly 13,000 fans for an exhibition game, and they have no plans to cap attendance at all this season. President Biden isn’t a fan. Let’s hear him again on ESPN in case you didn’t hear it in the back.
[clip of President Biden] Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake. They should listen to Dr. Fauci and scientists and the experts.
Akilah Hughes: Straight up. Listen to Dr., Fauci and scientists and the experts already. And over in Washington, D.C., opening day was postponed for some reason.
Erin Ryan: Yes. And it was a good reason, actually. One Nationals player has tested positive for COVID this week, and five other people within the team organization are in quarantine after close contact with the player. So they’ve announced that they won’t play on the first two days of the season just to be safe.
Akilah Hughes: Well, I appreciate them thinking about all of our safety.
Erin Ryan: Yeah. And you know what? The Nationals: very likable organization, despite the fact that Brett Kavanaugh likes the Nationals—
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, the worst thing about them is that Brett Kavanaugh [laughs] is a fan.
Erin Ryan: Literally, the worst thing. But there are a lot of fun to watch and if they weren’t league rivals with the Dodgers, I would be a, I would be a fan. And hopefully more baseball teams realize that when fans sing “Buy me some Peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back” they don’t mean that they literally don’t care if they contract a deadly disease at a sporting event and die. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, WAD squad. And for today’s temp check, we’re talking about a new reason to love college. President Biden has made the first step towards actually canceling federal student loan debt by asking Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to write a report on whether the president can legally cancel up to $50,000 per borrower. That’s a big step up from what Biden was offering on the campaign trail. He said he supported $10,000 in student loan forgiveness, but since then, members of his own party have been pressuring him to go further and to do it by executive order. Forgiving the full 50K would erase all student loan debt for 36 million people, some of whom would never be able to pay their loans back. So, Erin, what’s your reaction here?
Erin Ryan: Well, you know, as someone who paid off their student loans by themselves . . . I think that nobody else should have to go through it.
Akilah Hughes: Yay.
Erin Ryan: I love, [laughs] like I’m one of those people that, you know, when I was in my 20s and early 30s, it was really hard. It was a hardship to pay back my student loans. It was, it really like was an albatross around my neck for a really long time. And when I paid it off, I felt really good about myself and accomplished. But also, I would not want, I want other people to have more freedom than I did because that sucked. That absolutely sucked. How about you, Akilah? Same question.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, one, I just want to say: I love this take. It’s weird because people pay off their loans usually are like: and I think everyone should suffer similarly. So I appreciate you having a little bit of perspective on this. I think it’s great. And for all of the reasons you said. You know, student loan debt is the biggest cost in this country. School is very overpriced. And I think that, you know, if we don’t have jobs that match what we’re paying to go to school for, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have people, you know, just like going broke or never, ever getting out of that debt. It is a really horrible system that we’ve built here. And I think it’s, you know, the right thing to do.
Erin Ryan: It really puts people behind the eight ball too. You graduate from college with like 50 grand in debt, and then you have friends whose parents could pay for their entire schooling. And your friends are working hard too, but they don’t have the debt. So they’re able to get their life started. They’re able to save for a down payment on a house. And it’s just, they’re so far ahead of people that emerge from college with debt. So I think like minimizing that is necessary for anybody to ever feel like they have an adult life in younger generations.
Akilah Hughes: Totally. And, you know, I think that a lot of people are about to graduate into a recession. As someone who did that, I’ll say that, yeah, it seems like you might be able to get a job right after college that will make it easy to pay those loans back, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was deferring for several years as I had to figure out my footing. So why have to go through that kind of stress? I agree with you 100%. And just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. Biden. Do your thing! Get rid of that debt. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Erin Ryan: There have been over one hundred mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit which tracks all shootings that injure or killed four or more people. The latest mass shooting took place at a real estate office in Orange, California, on Wednesday night, where a gunman opened fire, killing four people, including a nine-year old boy. Police say the shooting appeared to be related to a business or personal matter between the suspect and the victims, and appeared to be, quote “an isolated incident”—which I think is language we need to retire, along with any senators standing in the way of meaningful gun reform or axing the filibuster. Yech. This is just so exhausting, over and over again, and we don’t do anything. To get involved, check out the groups: Moms Demand Action, Everytown, March for Our Lives, and others in your area. And if you want to read more about the issue of gun violence and ways to fix it, check out the work from the team of tireless reporters at TheTrace.org.
Akilah Hughes: It’s day three of Gaetz-gate: the scandal involving sex trafficking allegations against Florida congressman, gas-mask prop comic, and former model for Party City’s “1920s Mob Guy” costume: Matt Gaetz—here is where things stand. There’s been near total silence from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who you might expect to be shouting “fake news” to anyone within earshot. Only Representatives Jim Jordan and cross -fit’s own Marjorie Taylor Green have defended Gaetz so far, with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sticking to a tepid quote “let’s get all the information.” That’s not necessarily surprising, since Gaetz talks often and with pride about how unpopular he is among politicians, and everybody. The Daily Beast also spoke to lawmakers who said Gaetz’s drinking, illegal drug use, and frequent relationships with younger women, have made him a scandal waiting to happen so Republicans have known to keep their distance. Since The New York Times first reported that Gaetz was under investigation by the DOJ for possibly transporting a 17-year old girl across state lines for sex, he’s done his best to muddy the waters: he provided documents to the conservative Washington Examiner detailing an alleged extortion scheme against him, in which an ex-military official told Gaetz’s dad he could make the DOJ investigation go away for a ransom of 25 million dollars. Don Gaetz did cooperate with the FBI after this, according to those documents, but from what I understand, you can’t be extorted for doing sex trafficking unless there’s some evidence you did sex trafficking. Like that’s the whole extortion bit. Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics committee investigation of Gaetz. Bring it on. The more investigations, the merrier.
Erin Ryan: Yeah, you know, men that age—he’s 38, he’s rushing toward his 40s—men that age who are targeting people that young, girls that young, clearly do so in part because they completely lack the ability to impress a woman who knows any better. Like, it’s just, it’s true. I’m sorry.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Lock him up! Lock him up!
Erin Ryan: Look, I’m pro prison reform and I think that a lot of sentencing is really draconian and unjust, but Gaetz—
Akilah Hughes: Why don’t we reform it after we throw him under the—[laughs]
Erin Ryan: Yes! Exactly. He can be the last one in, and then after that we reform.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, the last one out. [laughs]
Erin Ryan: The last one—oh boy. Being the smartest Trump only gets you so far: government auditors have found that signature program of reactionary girl-boss and former presidential adviser Ivanka Trump was a total flop. The “Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative” was tasked with giving millions of dollars to women-owned businesses in impoverished communities around the world. In a damning report issued earlier this week—I read the whole thing and damning is the proper, proper word for it—the Government Accountability Office found that the program administrators were not able to say how much money it had given to these groups, or how to even define what actually constitutes a woman-owned business. Of the recommendations listed in the report, the GAO says that the program should establish a process to ensure that money allocated by Congress gets to intended recipients. Another thing that the report said multiple times—because it’s a government report, so it’s all like methodology, conclusions, like that—another thing it said was: we need to figure out what any of these words mean, we haven’t agreed-on definitions for anything. It’s really, really, really stunningly, uh—
Akilah Hughes: Bleak.
Erin Ryan: It’s bleak. To be determined, if this failure affects Ivanka as she moves into her post-White House career: person who has to look really close at any plate of food she’s served in New York City to make sure nobody did anything to it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I just wouldn’t be eating there. But in the words of Matt Rogers: this was just her flop buffoonery in the clown square. [laughs] Yeah, I think she deserves every bad review that she gives after this. Turning now to insect news: a guy in New Mexico returned to his car after a ten-minute grocery shopping trip this Sunday to find 15,000 honey bees in the back seat. Obviously, they were unmasked, not even close to socially distanced—you know, maybe that stuff flies in the hive, but when you’re a guest in someone’s car, it is totally uncool. Here is where the story takes a nice turn, though: instead of surrendering his vehicle to the swarm, the man called the fire department, and one of the firemen who responded was an amateur beekeeper.
Erin Ryan: What!?
Akilah Hughes: The luck? All the luck. He quickly diffused the situation, because as he told The New York Times, he would, quote “do anything to keep people from killing the bees.” I mean, I don’t think that guy was about to fight the bees, all right? [laughs] This was always going to be the bees win. Over a period of 30 minutes, the firemen lured the bees out of the car and into the hive box treated with lemongrass oil—as we all know, that mimics the smell of the queen. She smells delicious. For his efforts, the firemen got to take home an impressive 3 1/2 pounds of bees. Allegedly, spring time is swarm season, when colony split and follow the queen bee to a new location. They could end up anywhere, including the office of Matt Gaetz. And I think that this might be what Nicki Minaj meant when she said bees in the trap.
Erin Ryan: Wow. That song was way more complicated than I thought the first time I heard it. I have a question that arose as I listen to you tell this amazing story. How do you count that many bees, like 15,000?
Akilah Hughes: That’s a good question.
Erin Ryan: Like do you have to raise their hands?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and like, we’re they, did they stop swarming? Cause like, you’re probably counting a few several times. [laughs]
Erin Ryan: Right. I feel like I’m, I’m going to be a little bit skeptical of any count of bees that is over five bees.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah.
Erin Ryan: Because you can you know?
Akilah Hughes: You know, prove to me that they were just switching order, because they probably were. [laughs].
Erin Ryan: It could have been. [laughs]
Akilah Hughes: They weren’t in line. Those are the headlines.
Akilah Hughes: One last thing before we go: this week on Rubicon, Brian Beutler talks to FiveThrityEight senior writer Perry Bacon about the recent wave of voter suppression laws, the biggest threats to H.R.1, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Check it out and subscribe to Rubicon wherever you listen to podcasts.
Erin Ryan: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, feed lemongrass oil to bees, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just a student loan statement that says zero like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan.
[together] And better luck next time Ivanka!
Akilah Hughes: Get it together, lady. Figure it out. OK. [laughs] Or just go away already!
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.