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April 08, 2021
What A Day
Atlanta Is For Voters

In This Episode

  • The CDC is continuing to warn about new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus in the US, and is tracking potential spread in daycare centers and youth sports. Meanwhile, Brazil is grappling with its own new variant that has caused infections and deaths to reach new highs this week.
  • Republicans in Kentucky joined together with the Democratic Governor to expand voting rights in the state — bucking the trend of Republicans elsewhere in the country. We explain what’s behind the move, along with a new executive order from the mayor of Atlanta to protect her residents against Georgia’s restrictive voting law.
  • And in headlines: Arkansas moves forward with extreme anti-trans law, the physics of muons, and House Republicans con their own donors.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, April 8th, I’m Akilah Hughes


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the daily news podcast you should never play backwards, unless you want your mind blown.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s just like that Missy Elliott song where it’s like: erf fur fr mr frmd yt. Like, that’s what it sounds like, but it’s pretty good.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. I would like to hear you do that a couple more times. [laughing] On today’s show, voting rights in Kentucky and then some headlines,


Akilah Hughes: But first the latest:


[clip of Dr. Rochelle Walensky] Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B117 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States.


Akilah Hughes: So that was CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky yesterday, talking about the more contagious variant that first appeared in the U.K. Officials had been warning for a minute that B117 was on the way to the U.S., but what else do we need to know for now?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so it is believed to be as much as 50% more transmissible. And there’s some evidence that it can actually cause more severe disease in young people than the original strain. Those are the two most worrisome things. Now, what we might be seeing is the variant beginning to drive overall cases up in the U.S., combined with, you guessed it, all the re-openings.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So basically going to Disneyland, which is planning to reopen in just a few weeks, might not be the best idea right now. Shocking. But what were the other key takeaways from Walensky?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so some other stuff here. States with the most prevalence of B117 include Michigan, Minnesota, California and Florida, among others. Those are some of the ones that we’re watching. And this part is key: she said the CDC is keeping a close eye on increasing cases associated with places like daycare centers and youth sports, and that hospitals are actually seeing patients in their 30s and 40s recently. Part of the reason for that is that a bigger percentage of older Americans have been vaccinated so far, but that’s another really important thing to keep an eye on as we go forward here.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So South America is another region where things are still very much not in control and even getting worse. The epicenter, Brazil. In fact, Brazil is number two in the world in total cases and deaths, behind only the U.S.—you know, when we talk about American exceptionalism, we were not saying that it was always exceptionally good. So let’s talk about what’s happening there. Gideon, this is something that you’ve been keeping an eye on.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s really scary. I mean, Brazil recently hit a daily COVID death toll of 4,000 people, which is just unfathomable. And per capita, that death rate is a level America never reached, even in the worst surge last winter. And there are a few main factors why things are spinning out of control at the moment. So one is their vaccination campaign. Only 2.4% of Brazil’s population has been fully vaccinated. That’s compared to 18% in the US. And there’s just a lot less supply in Brazil and in South America overall. Then the other big driver is that lockdown measures are virtually nonexistent. And a lot of that stems from the fact that President Bolsonaro is against lockdown measures. He downplays the virus, spreads misinformation. He blames all of this on the media—if that rings any bells to people?


Akilah Hughes: It kind of does.


Gideon Resnick: I don’t know who else would seem similar. And he recently also shrugged off criticisms following the country’s deadliest day. He has really been nothing short of a calamity there. Then the last thing is the P1 variant, which might be up to 2.5 times more contagious than the original COVID strain. And that was discovered in Brazil and has really taken off.


Akilah Hughes: So a lot of variants look out for. And the situation in Brazil is really dire, but it’s also spilling over its borders into neighboring countries, too.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. So in Lima, Peru, for example, this variant now accounts for 40% of COVID cases. In Uruguay, it’s been detected in 30% of cases. If you’re not a numbers person or that’s a lot to kind of hold your head in one moment, another way to think about it is this headline from a recent Washington Post story: quote “Brazil Has Become South America’s Super Spreader Event.” We’ll put a link to that story in our show notes, because it has a lot of really good information on what’s happening there.


Akilah Hughes: And there was one other development yesterday on the global vaccination campaign. Did it have to do with AstraZeneca?


Gideon Resnick: It did.


Akilah Hughes: Always. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: You know, sometimes it is Ground WAD over here, just the same, same old same. But the European Medicines Agency said that there was a, quote “possible link” between the vaccine and those very rare blood clot cases that had been identified. However, the message was still that the benefits of the vaccine vastly outweigh the risks. Even so, U.K. officials said that they would start offering alternative vaccines to people under 30, the thought being that they are at less COVID risk and that they may be more prone to the clots. More on all of that soon as it develops. But, Akilah, let’s move on to our next story and zoom in on Georgia’s voter suppression efforts and an incredibly helpful loophole that was just discovered by Atlanta’s mayor. What did she figure out here?


Akilah Hughes: OK, so Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms proved another great reason why local elections matter. It turns out from her mayoral position, Bottoms can legislate protections against Governor Brian Kemp’s cruelty re: SB202. So she did. On Tuesday, she signed an executive order ensuring that every Atlanta resident has the right to vote. Here are a few key ways. First, it provides extra resources and training to residents on voter registration, early and absentee voting, and in-person voting. Knowledge is power and whatnot. You know, that’s kind of the whole thing there. Second city officials will collaborate to disseminate that information on exactly how to obtain the proper forms of ID that are newly-required for absentee voting. And third, Mayor Bottoms is also working with corporate and community partners to create PSAs on early and absentee voting, and that will likely be extremely helpful to older residents—especially since they’re more likely to get information about elections from TV or print, and are also most likely the ones who would be deterred by some of the more heinous parts of SB202 like the shortened voting access windows. That would mean longer waits, more standing, and more of a need for food or water, etc etc. And quickly on the print tip: part of the order is incredibly creative in how to get the word out. The city will be using utilities (Woohoo infrastructure) like water bills to also provide information that will be useful to residents trying to combat the assault on their voting rights.


Gideon Resnick: Very creative and very cool. We do love our infrastructure. So all these efforts are a move in the right direction. Did the mayor say exactly how she expects the order to effect voter turnout?


Akilah Hughes: Well there’s no real way to know for sure, but the aim of the order, in her own words was, quote “to do what those in the majority of the state legislature did not—expand access to our right to vote.” So obviously, this doesn’t undo the damage of the suppression law, which will still be an obstacle course for people living in other Georgia cities with less progressive mayors. But it does also signal that other newly-blue states’ local officials should do everything in their power to shield their constituents from the undemocratic nonsense.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there is certainly a pathway there. And we’ve spoken at length on the show about the all out-assault on voting rights in the country following Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. But there’s one, you know, quote unquote “red state” that is actually making it easier to vote.


Akilah Hughes: That’s right. Oh, the sun is shining bright in my old Kentucky home. So yesterday, their Republican legislature actually reached across the aisle—can you believe it?—o expand voting rights in the state. Here’s Democratic Governor Andy Beshear on that good, good legislation.


[clip of Gov. Andy Beshear] This new law represents an important first step to preserve and protect every individual’s right to make their voice heard by casting their ballots in a secure and convenient manner on the date and time that works best for them.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, go off Andy. So, more specifically, it allows for three early days of voting and continues the online portal for absentee voting information. But it also allows for drop boxes, it sets up parameters for recounts, prohibits tax dollars from being used to influence what questions will appear on a ballot, and ensures that all voting machines have a paper trail of the actual ballots cast. So I think it’s a really great model of what it should look like if you want to protect voting rights.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, indeed. So does that mean that Kentucky is actually progressive?


Akilah Hughes: OK, yes and no. This latest order is in line with other progressive moves Beshear has made since he was sworn in in 2019, like restoring the voting rights of nearly 140,000 people convicted of felonies. And of course, that number is disproportionately Black and Latino. But the reason for expanding voting rights now is a little less progressive than we may hope. It turns out that pandemic provisions to voting really help turnout for Republicans in the state, and allowed for Mitch McConnell to ooze his way into another victory. And quite frankly, Kentucky had a pretty low bar to clear in expanding rights. You know, there was no early voting. There were strict limits on absentee voting. And those new provisions only really gets them up to par with other states. And one last thing that I would really like to point out: the law was penned by Jennifer Decker, a Republican Rep. in the state, and in an interview, she said that election reform shouldn’t be partisan since the legislative majority can change at any time. I wish that other red states’ leadership felt the same way. We will let you know if they ever approach a functioning democracy. But that’s the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re spotlighting an amazing colleague, our executive producer, Katie Long. She is starting an awesome new job at Crooked next week and so we’ll no longer get to hang out with her every day from 1-9 PM. Katie helped us launch the show, and brought most of us on, and has been our absolute rock since day one. We’re going to miss her on What A Day, and we’re really glad that we’ll still be on the same Slack. So, Giddy, do you have anything to say on this monumental day?


Gideon Resnick: How much time do we have here? We have enough time on the show. Man. Katie did it all, from like guiding this from a piece of some, like, seedling that didn’t exist, into what it is now. And supporting us along the way, like from the manager side, from the emotional side, from the friendship side. Couldn’t have asked for more. I mean, this doesn’t exist without what Katie has done from the start up until now. I’m very glad also that we’re getting the chance to embarrass her. I’m feeling particularly good about that element. [laughs].


Akilah Hughes: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: But yeah, you know, Katie, Katie’s rocked it. She’s going to rock this next role even harder, I bet.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, absolutely. I can’t agree even harder. I think that that is just facts. You know, Katie did find me, and I think, all of us [laughs] and you know, we built this show from just an idea of a daily news show. We had no idea what it was going to be and Katie’s expertise and patience and, you know, just belief in us as hosts has been really so impactful in my own career. But I know that, like, the show is a hit because we had her leading the way. And I’m really happy for her. I think this is great. And I think that this is like, you know, if this is the least we could do is tell her how wonderful she is. You know, I’m glad we made the space.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, without a doubt.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Would anyone else on the team like to say something?


[different voices] Thank you. Thanks Katie. Thanks Katie. You’re so good at your job.


Akilah Hughes: Best at your job. Yes.


Katie Long I’m really beet red blushing. Thank you guys.


Akilah Hughes: [laughs] We got her good y’all. Just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. We hope you have a Katie Long in your life, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Arkansas became the first state in the country to outlaw gender-affirming health care to trans youth. Earlier this week, Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed a House bill 1570, which bans doctors from providing essential health care services like gender-affirming surgery or hormone therapy for trans youth under the age of 18. On Tuesday, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to override the governor’s veto, effectively passing the law. This all comes as a wave of Republican state lawmakers continue to push legislation restricting the rights of trans people across the country. Just this week, GOP lawmakers in North Carolina introduced a bill that would prevent doctors from performing gender-confirmation surgery for people under 21. You would think they have a job to do that’s not this. Organizations like the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign put out statements saying they will do what they can to fight these laws, and stop any that are signed from being immediately enacted.


Akilah Hughes: Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been moved to an infirmary due to a number of potentially fatal health risks. He was previously kept at a prison sick ward due to signs of respiratory illness earlier this week. Navalny lawyer said he was housed with three people who were hospitalized from tuberculosis. He has also been on a hunger strike since last week, demanding medical attention from an actual doctor. He had an MRI scan late last month which prison authorities used to tell the press that his condition was all good. When his lawyers got access to the scan yesterday, they found two herniated disks and one bulging disk. That confirmed his teams’ and his supporters’ beliefs that Navalny has not been receiving the adequate medical care he needs in prison. Navalny has been in jail since January, essentially for his outspoken opposition to Putin’s government. His arrest sparked nationwide protests earlier this year.


Gideon Resnick: The cancel culture might be coming for Sir Isaac Newton—


Akilah Hughes: Oh no!


Gideon Resnick: —because physicists think they have discovered a new fundamental force. The results are from the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Illinois, which has been doing experiments on muons. Muons are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons, but 200x heavier—maybe even 201x heavier after a full year in quarantine. Thank you. This is why I’m a professional physics comedian. I go to all the conferences. The experiment involved measuring the wobble of muons in a big magnetic field. Based on the most current model of particle physics, they should have wobbled at a predictable rate. When scientists recorded muons wobbling at a rate that was faster than expected, they were led to hypothesize that a new fundamental force was at play. Of course, if you’re not muon hive like me, this might not mean a lot. But people in the physics community are very excited. They say this finding has the potential to clear up galactic mysteries like dark matter. Look, all good. Keep it up, guys. Just let me know before you do something that sucks us all into a black hole.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Or don’t tell us. You know. I’m tired of the news being about being sent into a black hole. [laughs] Well, supporters of the Republican Party are facing their greatest challenge ever, aggressively user-unfriendly web design that wants to steal from them. Earlier this week, The New York Times ran a piece on the Trump campaign’s use of pre-checkboxes on fundraising sites—basically, Fox News-brain grandmas in the Florida Panhandle had to un-check a box to make a one-time donation, and if they didn’t, their donation would be monthly, then weekly, then weekly plus $100. The con was made more effective by making the boxes hard to read. They featured black on yellow text and had the scary, rambling energy of a juiced-up CEO screaming from his G-wagon after you cut him off in traffic. After Trump’s campaign implemented these methods, they got refund requests on 12.9% of all donations. Well, it turns out that the official fundraising page for House Republicans is using the same tactic right now. The text of their pre-checkbox is so crazy it has to be read in full: quote “We need to know we haven’t lost you to the radical left. If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR and sided with the Dems.” “I’m telling Trump” as a threat is just shocking. I mean, the way it combines big tattletale energy with the promise of finally winning the approval of President Dad. I personally am amazed. It’s just poetry.


Gideon Resnick: I just can’t believe the lack of respect for the supporters. Man, just fleecing, fleecing them left and right.


Akilah Hughes: You know, Donald Trump said he loves the poorly-educated and it’s really unfortunate. But those are the headlines.


Akilah Hughes: One more thing before we go: last week on Hysteria, hosts Erin Ryan and Alissa Mastromonaco were joined by Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project to discuss her battle to preserve voting rights in her state. And this week, they’re joined by Secretary Hillary Clinton. Hear these fantastic conversations by subscribing to Hysteria wherever you listen to podcasts.


Gideon Resnick: That is it for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, cancel Isaac Newton, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just highly technical journals of particle physics like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And thank you Katie!


Akilah Hughes: [singing] Thank you for the time and the friendship and the love.


Gideon Resnick: [singing] Thank you for all of the above.


Akilah Hughes: [laughs[ That was beautiful, Gideon.


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 Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.


Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.