In This Episode
- Wildfires in the western US and parts of Canada, driven by extreme drought conditions and heat waves, are casting hazy skies across the country. We talked to Brian Kahn, the managing editor of Earther and a lecturer at the Columbia Climate School about how climate change is altering our lives.
- Some counties nationwide are recommending that even vaccinated individuals keep their masks on when in indoor public spaces to fight the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus.
- And in headlines: India’s COVID death toll estimated to be over 4 million, the former chair of Trump’s inaugural committee Tom Barrack was arrested for foreign lobbying charges, and Japan loses big on the Olympics.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, July 21st. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the future gold medal winner in the Olympic event called Competitive Browser Tab Opening.
Akilah Hughes: Yes, we’ve been training for this our whole lives, currently maxing out at 100 open tabs.
Gideon Resnick: I also want to confess to shooting steroids into my computer.
Akilah Hughes: I’m not confessing anything. I want to win.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, Jeff Bezos flew to space and all he brought back was a cowboy hat. Plus, the Olympics has become a $20 billion boondoggle for Japan.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the western U.S. and parts of Canada are once again in flames.
[clip of Carrie Bilbao] Everything we’re seeing in the outlook doesn’t look good for the next couple of months. It looks like we’re in this for the long haul.
Akilah Hughes: So that was Carrie Bilbao of the National Interagency Fire Center speaking to PBS NewsHour. The wildfires on the West Coast are so catastrophic and burning so fiercely that the smoke has cast hazy skies across the eastern part of the country. Gideon first give us an update on those fires.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so as we go to record, there are over 60 uncontained fires in just the US alone. That’s according to the U.S. Forest Service. Most are concentrated in Oregon, Idaho, Arizona and California. And one that is of the most concern right now and was being discussed in that clip above is what is being called the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon. It is real and it is the largest wildfire in the country so far this year. It has burned more than 340,000 acres, or an estimated 530 square miles. That is larger than a city like Los Angeles.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. I do not like that as a person who lives in a city like Los Angeles.
Gideon Resnick: No.
Akilah Hughes: And the severity is another example of climate change, but it’s also leading to some crazy effects.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, this fire is so large that I’m sure people have seen headlines about it creating its own weather, quite literally. So as an example, every day that a big fire like this rages, it can create these huge updrafts that are called pyrocumulus or the larger pyrocumulonimbus cloud. And that latter one can actually, in turn, lead to lightning strikes, which in turn can spark even more fires. So it’s this kind of cyclical thing. There are also these apocalyptic mentions in the New York Times story about this fire of what are known as fire whirls and the potential of a fire tornado. I mean, it is beyond belief. Then there’s the smoke, which can travel. I spoke earlier with Brian Kahn, the managing editor of the website, Earther and a lecturer at the Columbia Climate School.
[clip of Brian Kahn] You’re also getting all these powerful winds that are part of the jet stream that essentially just say, hey, like, here’s something that I can move along. And that’s where you’re getting all this smoke moving from the west to the east, essentially riding the currents of air that are tens of thousands of feet above the surface.
Gideon Resnick: And he said, yes, I mean, this has happened before, but the regularity with which it is happening and the distance here is insane.
Akilah Hughes: Right. And you’ve been seeing that smoke out of your window in New York on the other side of the country. So what has that been like?
Gideon Resnick: Well, I can attest that it was hazy out today. My throat feels weird. I don’t know if that’s the thing that’s like in my head or if it’s real—as has been the state of things during the pandemic. And the air quality was the worst New York City has seen in something like seven years, if not more.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. Does not sound psychosomatic to me, man. Well, the Bootleg fire is just one of many raging right now. And there’s also a fire in northern California called the Dixie Fire, which is burned through something like 30,000 acres and may have actually been caused by power equipment from the utility Pacific Gas and Electric. We’re talking about them all the time. They just keep messing it up. But Gideon, is there a sense of when any of these fires could get somewhat under control?
Gideon Resnick: Well, that’s the really scary part of this equation. Yesterday, the chief of fire protection with the Oregon Department of Forestry said that the Bootleg fire could grow another 50,000 to 100,000 acres on top of this before it can get contained. And remember those extreme drought conditions and the recent triple digit heat wave that we discussed a few weeks back? Well, he said that basically that all has sped up the fire season in a way. Like forests were as dry in early July as they typically are in late August. And at the moment with the Bootleg fire, there are more tha0 2,000 people that are working to contain it. But Brian Kahn from Earthier said that while the landscape has been drying up, so have the actual boots on the ground.
[clip of Brian Kahn] I think we’re looking at a lot of fires growing. We’re also looking at, you know, the human side of this, which is that the Forest Service, which battles most of our fires, is really overtaxed as it is. I mean, this past week, the head of the Forest Service sent out a letter basically saying this is a national wildfire crisis and we also are in a severe staffing shortage.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, people are burnt out, as you said, no pun intended, truly from the severity of the last season, and that the pay just has been not good as well. The entry level pay for some federal firefighters is less than $15 an hour.
Akilah Hughes: Wow.
Gideon Resnick: But there is a pay bump for these firefighters in the bipartisan infrastructure package if it gets passed.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So no rush there. Not super important to just fucking pass it. Well, this climate disaster isn’t just in the U.S. either, as we all know. Internationally, there are these other visceral reminders of where we are and where we might be going.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, this is the existential part of all this that, you know, we’ve been thinking about. And Brian Kahn told me that climate change has been impacting the way we lived for years, of course and we’re only just seeing the beginning of it. And perhaps personally speaking, maybe just reckoning with how bad it is already.
[clip of Brian Kahn] I think for, you know, folks that are looking out, though, and seeing other people’s homes burned down or be flooded, they can watch the subway in New York filled with water after an afternoon rainstorm—I think, my hope is that this turns on the light for some people that, you know, things are bad now and we know they will get worse and so there is this need to act. I mean, that said, like, that’s my hope for like the average public. And I have a lot of faith in them. I mean, elected officials, it’s a whole other ballgame, and those are the folks that we really need to wake up to this moment and meet this moment frankly.
Gideon Resnick: We’re going to have links to stories about the fires in the West, ongoing dangerous flooding in central China, and more on the climate crisis enveloping our world in our show notes. But Akilah, let’s turn to a story that you’ve been following: COVID, the Delta variant, and masks.
Unidentified [song: Future, Mask Off]
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So, you know, on and on and on. So Future was right in that song Mask Off: we went from mask on, to fuck it, mask off, right back to mask on. And it is mask on again and again and again. So following Los Angeles County’s lead, more than half a dozen counties in California are recommending that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in public spaces to stop the spread of this new dominant Delta variant. And it’s not just happening on the West Coast. In Arkansas and Missouri, which have become hot spots for this newest COVID strain, local officials are considering a return to masking.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this does not seem to be moving in the right direction. And we talked last week about the current and former surgeon general’s recommending the return of the mask, not to be confused with Son of Mask, the vehicle starring Jamie Kennedy. But another group is recommending masks for the upcoming school year. So what is that particular part of this about?
Akilah Hughes: OK, so on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that for in-person learning this coming school year, all children over the age of two wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. And that’s more aggressive than the CDC suggested guidelines released almost two weeks ago. As a refresher, the CDC did say that unvaccinated people should be wearing masks in schools, but left it up to individual districts to decide what rules to create for their students. And you talked about that with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona just last week. But we can see how clearly stupid that guidance is, given that the honor system has not worked in this country. If a 100% of the people not wearing masks and stores and movie theaters this summer were actually vaccinated, we probably wouldn’t be in the mess that we’re in. And to reiterate the mess we’re in, in the past week, coronavirus cases have spiked some 70% in the U.S. so things really aren’t looking good. And some people are calling on the CDC to change course and come out with stronger restrictions for everyone. We’ll link to one of those stories in our show notes.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So it seems like we’re seeing early signs that mask rules might return in more places that have actually relaxed them ahead of the summer. But Akilah one more sign of how serious cases have become in the country, backtracking maybe from conservatives?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so some people at Fox News have finally changed their tune. On Monday night, Sean Hannity went against aggrieved fried fish heir Tucker Carlson and told people to get vaccinated and to take the virus seriously. I personally don’t believe that they actually give a fuck if they kill their viewers, but they do care about the economy tanking due to Delta variant concerns and the almost inevitable wrongful death suits. You know, they’ve only spent hundreds of hours downplaying the severity of COVID-19. So if Hannity is a broken clock, consider this guidance from him being right one of two times a day. We’ll keep you posted on any new guidance or mask mandates. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re discussing the finale of this season of Astro Billionaires. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, successfully traveled past the edge of space yesterday, accompanied by three other passengers on a spaceship made by his company, Blue Origin. Bezos was joined by his brother, 82-year old aviation pioneer Wally Funk—cool name—plus the 18-year old son of a Dutch investor who bought a ticket. Upon returning. Bezos put on a cowboy hat and gave this sound bite at a press conference.
[clip of Jeff Bezos] I also want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. Saying the quiet part out loud. He also announced $100 million donations to CNN political contributor Van Jones and chef Jose Andres for them to share at their discretion. Which, what? Anyway, Giddy, we’ve been anticipating this for a while, but what was your reaction to the actual launch?
Gideon Resnick: I mean, I think we got everything we anticipated, right? Like there was this lovely show put on for the nice billionaire man and people wrote about it and it was all of this, you know, PR stuff that he was looking for. But, yeah, that quote that we have there is the really revealing part of this, right? Like, it’s trite to say, but everybody was saying, like, you know, he’s going into space and leaving everybody else that is working at his company is behind in his wake on Earth, having to deal with what happens in those warehouses and having to deal with labor practices and all of these other things. And it’s you know, yeah, it’s like obviously this guy doesn’t understand that there’s a connection between those kinds of things in the way that he’s not really thinking it through. So it was basically everything that that I anticipated. And yeah, and he, the hat I don’t, I don’t understand. That just, it’s an interesting look and a notable one.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: But how are you thinking about all this?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I’ll start with the fashion. I saw some weird brown boots that didn’t match the blue outfits, which to me felt like whoever dresses Ted Cruz to look like a human being when he would be like, I’m not rich guys, I’m just like you. And it doesn’t work. Like poor people wear cool shoes sometimes. But also, yeah, I mean, I think it is weird to say the quiet part out loud, that like because you don’t have a union and because I never raise your wages because there’s such high turnover, because you know, if you die of COVID and you work here, we’re not going to talk about it, I was able to go to space. Like, wow, get bent. Also, like, if you leave the planet after you get divorced, you lost the divorce. That’s just fair. Like, we don’t see McKenzie running to Venus, we see her trying to spend that money on actual important causes. Hopefully she continues to do so. But, yeah, I just think this whole thing is very stupid. And it’s really weird that these billionaires who have made the earth, you know, not really inhabitable, not that fun, really, really just kind of like worse in every way, are like the ‘new frontier of space—it’ll be good for everyone!’ I’m like, not if you’re going.
Gideon Resnick: Right, right.
Akilah Hughes: You need to stay here and go down with the ship. So that’s our temp check. Stay safe. We’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: A new Harvard University study estimates the true coronavirus death toll in India to be between 3.4 and 4.7 million, about 10 times the official count of 414,000 deaths. The inaccurate count is likely due to hospitals being forced to turn away patients who ultimately pass at home during the peak of the pandemic in April and May, as well as family members perhaps being reluctant to report COVID deaths out of fear of getting shunned by the community. With only 6% of India’s vast population of 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated, India could be a hotbed for new variants to spread out of control, especially with more people de-masking and not socially distancing lately. Undercounting is a serious problem though, not just in developing countries. And the World Health Organization stated back in May that the global death toll could be two or three times the official number.
Akilah Hughes: Just devastating. And one of Trump’s billionaire friends, who also happened to be the chair of his 2016 inaugural committee, was arrested yesterday on foreign lobbying charges. Tom Barrack was charged for his effort to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates under the Trump administration. According to the Department of Justice, Barrack asked a UAE-affiliated business partner to create a wish list of U.S. foreign policy goals that they wanted from the then incoming Trump administration. He also advised Trump against hosting a Camp David summit to address a blockade on Qatar by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. There are many other similar counts, but the main theme of them all is that powerful people with the UAE’s interests in mind reached out to Barrack for his access to Trump. He’s the latest person in a long line of Trump associates who are facing criminal punishments for doing undeniably corrupt things under the last administration.
Gideon Resnick: This is the best financial advice you will ever receive: if it’s a pandemic and you’re Japan, don’t ever host the Olympics. The country has spent over $20 billion on the games, according to government auditors, and they’re likely to suffer major financial losses. Organizers had estimated that visitors would spend some two billion dollars on meals, transport, hotels and merchandise, but given travel restrictions, those sales will be severely curbed. Additionally, restrictions on spectators will amount to a roughly $815 million loss. On top of all that, advertisers are signaling their reservations about the games. Japan’s most valuable company, Toyota, recently said they won’t run any ads in Japan that are tied to the Olympics, responding to the opinion held by nearly two thirds of people in the country that the games shouldn’t be held at all. The Olympics are still set to kick off on Friday and are set to become our new guilty pleasure watch, only the guilt is a lot more real than usual and grounded in grim scientific realities.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I just keep imagining a Zoom opening ceremonies and getting depressed. So staying on top of the Olympics, Norwegian Women’s Beach handball players were fined 150 euros each for a pant-length violation. They played a game in shorts over the weekend and the European Handball Federation chose to enforce a rule that requires athletes to dress in bikini bottoms. The rules are creepily specific about what cuts of bikini bottoms are acceptable for women, while, in contrast, men can wear shorts that cut off four inches above their knees. The implication here is that people are not interested in seeing toned men’s butts flexing, which is an implication I will vigorously challenge. The Norwegian women’s players chose to wear shorts to protest the sexist rules and had been planning to do so for weeks. Many players on the team said that bikini bottoms aren’t ideal for the sport. I’ll take their word for it instead of listening to some European sports officials who get to do their jobs in pants that offer full calf and thigh coverage.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, what the hell do they know?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I hope that they lose all of their pants. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, root for us in competitive browser tab opening, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just handball rules that don’t weigh in on pants like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And welcome back to Earth Wally Funk!
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I hope you enjoyed it out there, those 10 minutes weren’t too annoying with that loud ass laugh from that annoying ass man.
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 and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.
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.