In This Episode
- Yesterday marked the beginning of the federal criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos. She and her former boyfriend Sunny Balwani were charged with about a dozen counts that include wire fraud for lying to investors as well as patients about what Theranos technology could actually do.
- The weekly pediatric coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 250,000 this week for the first time since the pandemic began. The uptick in young people testing positive comes during Back to School week for many, and that is NOT a good sign.
- And in headlines: the Biden administration announced its plan to expand the use of solar energy, LAPD officers have been instructed to record the social media information of any civilian they stop, and Starbucks is reportedly trying to stop a unionization effortShow Notes:
- Wall Street Journal: “Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes’s Trial: Prosecutors Must Show Intent” – https://on.wsj.com/3toFZqh
- Politico: “Get vaccinated or else: Colleges roll out new punishments for holdouts” – https://politi.co/3toVvSY
- See Steve from Blue’s Clues’s heart-felt message for the show’s 25th anniversary – https://bit.ly/3l4pjjX
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, September 9th, I’m Gideon Resnick.
Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson, and this is What A Day, where we’re sending our support to the spider who is spinning a web on Virginia’s now-removed statue of Robert E. Lee.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, hit him with the stickiest web you got. We got your back.
Tre’vell Anderson: Turn the entire warehouse where he’s stored into one big web. Please and thank you.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, we hit another grim milestone in the pandemic with a record number of children contracting the virus. Plus, Starbucks tries a “Grande union bust”—yes—among employees in Buffalo, New York.
Tre’vell Anderson: But first, yesterday marked the beginning of the criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos.
[voice] That people are looking forward to giving your side of the story out, Ms Holmes?
Tre’vell Anderson: That was the sound of her arriving at a federal courthouse in San Jose, California, where really weirdly, there were also a few people dressed like her, out of admiration or something.
Gideon Resnick: Sure.
Tre’vell Anderson: Gideon, so before we dive in here, tell us the charges that Holmes is actually facing.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there are a lot of them. Holmes, as well as the company’s president and her former boyfriend, Sonny Balwani, got charged with about a dozen counts that include wire fraud for lying to investors as well as patients about what Theranos technology could actually do. Now, for those who didn’t follow the story at the time, to take it a step back even further, Holmes started this company when she was just 19-years old in 2003, and the promise was incredibly enticing to basically everyone. She claimed that Theranos would change the health care industry for good by detecting various diseases through a single finger prick. Holmes was on the cover of magazines, and Theranos was worth billions of dollars at one point, and turned into basically the apple of every important political figure’s eye. But by 2015, this huge Wall Street Journal investigation discovered issues with the blood tests, many, many issues. That eventually spawned the book “Bad Blood”—a must read, by the way—and documentaries, podcast series, etc., etc., etc. Then in 2018, Holmes was indicted by federal prosecutors who alleged that she knew she was overstating the company’s technological abilities and also knew that the tests they were conducting were not reliable. Theranos then dissolved in 2018 and so basically ended Holmes’s star and association with high-profile politicians and the tech elite.
Tre’vell Anderson: So Holmes has pleaded not guilty, as has Balwani, whose trial is set to begin next year. But what are both the prosecutors and the defense expected to argue?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so we got the first look at this actually before the opening statement. So court records that were reviewed by the Wall Street Journal showed that Holmes and her team are planning to allege that Balwani was abusive throughout the relationship, including controlling what Holmes ate, how she dressed, monitoring her communications, throwing sharp things at her, and many more awful, awful things. Balwani denied the claims, but the filings indicated that Holmes and her team could mount a defense hinging on her mental health. But yesterday, her defense team actually began by presenting Holmes as genuine and a hard worker, and that the failure of Theranos didn’t mean that Holmes was actively trying to deceive people. Quote, “Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime” attorney Lance Wade said, according to reports. Wade went on, quote, “By the time this trial is over, you will see that the villain the government just presented is actually a living, breathing human being who did her very best each and every day.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Now, what did the prosecution have to say and what do they need to actually prove here?
Gideon Resnick: It’s a lot, actually. So one of the big things that we heard was this attempt to really establish intent. Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach reportedly said that Holmes was struggling financially by 2009 and, quote, “out of time, out of money, Elizabeth Holmes decided to lie.” That he claimed, led Holmes to lie about Theranos to attract investments from places like Walgreens and Safeway, among others. He also claimed that she and the company were making, quote unquote, “grandiose claims” about their technology that would be used across the world in the future and generate hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as showing investors reports from pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer to, quote, “give the false impression that Pfizer endorsed Theranos miniature blood analyzer.” Pfizer has certainly had a better run than Theranos in the last 10 years or so. In another good Wall Street Journal article that we can link to, experts really made the point that actually proving that there was an intent to deceive is a particular challenge in this instance given that Silicon Valley startups are so often predicated on a kind of exaggeration. Like you may promise that something is going to work, you may really believe that it would, and then it doesn’t. The question here then is can the prosecution prove that Holmes was doing that while knowing that the product could not deliver and deceiving people as a result?
Tre’vell Anderson: As somebody who went to Stanford, there’s a lot of embellishing going on over here. I’ll just leave it at that. So now what should we be looking for here in the weeks to come?
Gideon Resnick: OK, so the jury trial is expected to last at least 13 weeks or so. There is expected to be some pretty harrowing testimony from patients, including some who had been erroneously informed they were HIV positive, according to the tests that Theranos did and at least one woman who had been informed she had a miscarriage. The potential witness list also includes Holmes herself, John Carreyrou, who is the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story, board members like Jim Mattis and Henry Kissinger—who is somehow still alive—Rupert Murdoch and more. Now, if Holmes does end up being convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. We’ll keep following that and check in with some other voices on it soon. But Tre’vell, let’s turn now to the pandemic in the US.
Tre’vell Anderson: I want to start our COVID update today with a reminder for everyone listening today that comes from a musician by the name of Heb On the Web.
[singing] “The pandemic isn’t over just because you’re over it”
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, the pandemic is not over just because you’re over it. All right? Cases are still ticking up in several parts of the country. And here’s another stark stat: according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, weekly pediatric coronavirus cases surpassed 250,000 this week for the first time since the pandemic began. The uptick in young people testing positive comes during back to school week for many, and that is not a good sign. And though most of those cases are not severe, nearly 2,400 children were hospitalized nationwide this past week, more than ever before, according to The Washington Post.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is bleak and vaccines still are not approved for many young kids. I think the question people keep coming back to is, where are we with that?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, vaccines are still not authorized for youth under 12. But according to the CDC, half or more of all children between 12 and 17 have received at least one dose. But experts fear with the ongoing spread of the Delta variant and others, that the situation regarding youth and COVID could worsen. And obviously all of the politicization of masks and vaccination mandates doesn’t help, creating even more issues for school districts interested in protecting their students, faculty and staff.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is such an ongoing situation and changes so frequently. So what are some of the examples of where precautions, the fights against those precautions, actually stand in districts across the country?
Tre’vell Anderson: Here’s a couple of stories that stood out to me. In Lacy Lakeview, Texas, which is right outside of Waco, this is the home of the Connally Independent School District. When Connally Junior High School began classes a couple of weeks ago, very few students wore masks. You’ll remember that Governor Greg Abbott in May bared Texas school districts and other governmental entities from requiring masks, though that decision has been put on hold by the courts. Well, now, after two teachers died of COVID and a surge in cases there, the district decided late last week to implement a mask mandate for students and staff. Meanwhile, over in Florida, their foolish governor, Ron DeSantis, also attempted to ban mask mandates in schools earlier this year. A number of the school districts in the state filed complaints, calling the rule everything from illogical to nonsensical. But just yesterday, a judge decided for the second time in favor of the districts and concerned parents, meaning the districts could continue to acquire masks for in-person teaching. That said, the state did say they intended to file an emergency motion to reinstate a stay that would allow them to enforce the ban.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And then as soon as today, there could be some other pretty big news coming out of California.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, The New York Times broke the news yesterday that today the Los Angeles Unified School District is expected to vote on and pass a vaccine mandate for all students 12 and older who are going to class in person. L.A. Unified is the nation’s second largest school system, so if the board actually goes through with this decision, it would propel Los Angeles once again into the national spotlight for COVID safety measures that are already among the most aggressive in the country. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics told NPR that it is urging the FDA to accelerate its timeline for approval of a vaccine for children under 12.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and so that’s a quick look at the outlook for grade schools. Now, what about colleges, most of which have returned to in-person instruction already?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, let’s just say that the colleges are not playing any games. According to a political report that we can link to on our show notes, after months of coaxing students with everything from gift cards to sports tickets and free parking just to get vaccinated, colleges are now beginning to roll out punishment for those who are unvaccinated. At Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, unvaccinated students will be fined up to $200 a week and lose access to the campus’s Wi-Fi until they get the shot. And at Rutgers University in New Jersey, which was the first university in the US to mandate vaccination for students, they are threatening to disconnect email access and deny campus housing for students who don’t comply. So suffice it to say, it looks like where possible, institutions overall are becoming more strict in hopes of protecting all involved. And I will note that today the Biden administration is expected to unveil a six-pronged plan that they hope will provide Americans a clearer view of how we get to the end of this pandemic. It will reportedly include particulars around certain mask and vaccine mandates, as well as increased testing. We’ll obviously report back on any meaningful updates. And that’s the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about icons in the field of striped green shirts. So Steve from Blue’s Clues popped back into our lives this week with a touching and honestly, quietly devastating video message in celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary,
[clip of Steve of Blue’s Clues] We started out with clues and now it’s what? Student loans, and jobs, and families. And some of it has been kind of hard. You know? I know you know. And I wanted to tell you that I really couldn’t have done all of that without your help.
Gideon Resnick: Thank you so much for not playing any more of that. To be clear, there is just dust that’s in my eye. For myself and my fellow geriatric millennials, this clip was a nostalgia bomb aimed directly at our hearts. In the full clip, Steve also talks about his abrupt exit from the show and says, quote unquote, “I never forgot about you”, giving us the kind of closure every man needs to provide. We’re going to link the full clip in our show notes, but Tre’vell, what was your reaction to this clip and your relationship with Steve from Blue’s Clues?
Tre’vell Anderson: I just got misty eyed all over again. It’s so nostalgic. It brings back all of those hopefully positive memories for folks about sitting in front of the TV. I remember when Steve just disappeared randomly. And, you know, I feel like as kids, we take everything super seriously and any abrupt change to our routine is a problem. And like that sticks out for me. What about for you?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I remember distinctly the disappearance for sure, because it was like a rumor mill in the way that, like, chain emails are, I guess, for like bloopers. There’s like a conversation of like what happened to him. This was like strangely the talk of the town, you know, like where is Steve? What occurred? To the point where, like his return, I was just, I didn’t expect it. And that’s probably what made it even more shocking. And also honestly exploiting everybody’s like fragile emotional state from the past two years.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. The rapper Chika on Twitter tweeted that, like: now that Steve has apologized, we can all work through our issues that we’ve been harboring for so long—and that that feels very appropriate for me.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, we are cleared to start exploring other problems because of Steve and we thank, we thank him for that. And just like that, we have checked our temps. Don’t ever forget about Steve because he hasn’t forgotten about you. And we will be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: The Biden administration announced its plan to expand the use of solar energy yesterday in an effort to fight climate change, starting with a blueprint to get almost half of the nation’s electricity from the sun by 2050. Climate scientists believe this ambitious plan, outlined in a report by the Energy Department, is necessary to stave off the worst effects of global warming. The report said to get there, they would need to be a vast transformation in technology, the energy industry, and the way people live. Moreover, it would require the electric grid to undergo a major makeover to transport power across the country. As of now, it is unclear how the administration will be able to push these ideas through, since it is ultimately Congress’s job to authorize the federal spending for this to happen.
Gideon Resnick: And they need to do it. LAPD officers have been instructed to record the social media information of any civilian they stop. That is according to a new report from The Guardian. And this practice has been in place since 2015. Referred to as, quote, “field interview cards”—OK—that police complete when they stop people, whether they’re being arrested or just interviewed, the info collected includes people’s basic information, in addition to their usernames on social media. The documents were first obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice, and they reveal a new level of Facebook stalking by the police. Activists against this practice have compared it to stop and frisk, a controversial police program in the early 2000s that allowed police to stop and question anyone they believed to be engaged in criminal activity. The vast majority of people that officers stopped were young, Black and Latino men, and the program was later ruled unconstitutional. In response to the Guardian article, the LAPD said that the policy about field interview cards was, quote unquote “being updated”—OK—but did not add further details.
Tre’vell Anderson: Meanwhile, Starbucks has revealed that the one thing that scares them more than freelancers with laptop chargers is employees who want to unionize. A burgeoning unionization effort at a few Starbucks locations in Buffalo, New York, has provoked an outsized response by the company involving mandatory anti-union meetings and, quote, “listening sessions.” High-ranking executives have reportedly started dropping by the Buffalo locations to help out and or appear to be buddies. This includes even the president of Starbucks North America, which has 8,000 locations. All this suggests Starbucks is worried that the unionization effort will spread to other stores, which makes sense since the original three cafes in Buffalo said they would vote to unionize, making them the first US locations to do so. Two more cafes in Buffalo have joined in. Workers have cited chronic understaffing, exacting performance metrics, and lax safety standards during the pandemic as motivations for seeking to form a union. On September 20th, they’ll meet with the National Labor Relations Board to seek approval for an election.
Gideon Resnick: I will be going to Dunkin tomorrow, until they try similar shit because there’s no ethical capitalism. Anyway, Canada is in the midst of its largest ever act of civil disobedience, which is a huge achievement for a country whose national motto is ‘soory.’ The protest aims to block commercial logging of old growth forests on the southwest of Vancouver Island. And since April of this year, it has led to the arrest of 866 activists. Protesters have gotten creative, doing things like chaining themselves to logs and suspending themselves in trees, in the process also stealing my idea for a woodland Cirque du Soleil but they have my blessing. Officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been sent to respond to the protests, and faced wide criticism for their use of excessive force against the activists. Demonstrators are hoping for swift action from the government to protect the last remaining sections of the forest.
Tre’vell Anderson: I thought Canada was supposed to be better.
Gideon Resnick: That’s what we thought. No where’s good. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, watch our laptop for a sec at Starbucks, and tell your friends to listen.
Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading, and not just alternate theories about Steve’s disappearing from Blue’s Clues like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And enjoy catching bugs, Robert E. Lee!
Tre’vell Anderson: I hope they taste yummy.
Gideon Resnick: Hope they rust, rust the pieces of you that are left. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and Me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.