In This Episode
- Russia invaded Ukraine early Thursday morning, and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said that over 130 people died – both soldiers and civilians – and hundreds more were wounded. In a televised statement, Zelensky called for everyone and anyone who is able to join the military to do so, and said Russia is on a “path of evil” in their attack on the country. Foreign policy expert Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, joins us to discuss his view of the situation.
- Florida’s House of Representatives passed its notorious, Republican-backed “Don’t Say Gay” bill yesterday, bringing it one step closer to being signed into law. The measure would effectively ban educators from engaging in any and all discussions of queerness and gender identity in Florida classrooms. Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting and an LGBTQ+ activist with Equality Florida, joins us to discuss his reaction to the news.
- And in headlines: Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted in federal court of violating George Floyd’s civil rights, the World Health Organization is changing how it distributes COVID vaccines to African countries, and Citigroup announced it will eliminate overdraft fees this year.
- Take Action via Equality Florida – http://eqfl.org/act
- Safe School South Florida – https://safeschoolssouthflorida.org/
- SAVE LGBTQ – https://www.save.lgbt/
- The Florida Coalition for Trans Liberation – https://www.fc4tl.org/
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Friday, February 25th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan, and this is What A Day. And we’re going to jump straight into the show because there’s a lot going on in the world today to tell you about. In a few minutes, we’ll talk about Florida passing its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill. We’ll hear from a survivor of the Pulse shooting about how devastating that is for the state’s LGBTQ community and for his friends’ legacies.
Brandon Wolf: They deserve to have their stories told.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, let’s give you an update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That began early Thursday morning Ukraine time with airstrikes across the country.
Erin Ryan: So we’re recording this show at about 9:30 Thursday night, East Coast time, and there are reports of more Russian airstrikes on Kiev and other Ukrainian cities currently underway. But Josie, what else do we know at the moment?
Josie Duffy Rice: So Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said that over 130 people died on Thursday, both soldiers and civilians, and hundreds more were wounded. In cities like Kiev, people took shelter and subway stations. We spoke with journalist Jack Crosbie, who’s in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, about what he saw and experienced.
[Jack Crosbie] The past 12 hours have been sort of strange and surreal and bewildering. Sort of just walking around the city, there’s a very strange sense of just like kind of lost and abandoned, just kind of trying to make plans for how the next couple of days will shape out. But I think the one thing that we learned from this conflict so far is that plans are going too, aren’t going to get you too far in this because it’s still a very volatile and very changing situation.
Erin Ryan: Can’t even wrap my head around it. And yesterday, Vladimir Putin made his first comments since he began this invasion. What did he say?
Josie Duffy Rice: So he said he had no other choice but to invade neighboring Ukraine to ensure his own country’s security. This, of course, is not the case in reality, but simply a justification for attacking Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces destroyed more than 80 Ukrainian military targets. There was also a battle between Ukrainian and Russian forces at Chernobyl, in which Russia eventually took control of the infamous nuclear power plant. In a televised statement, Zelensky called for everyone and anyone who is able to join the military to do so, and said Russia is on a quote, “path of evil”. But he added that he is Russia’s quote, “target number one”.
Erin Ryan: Russian troops taking over Chernobyl. What could possibly go wrong there?
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s only February, and not—
Erin Ryan: It’s only February.
Josie Duffy Rice: —too much for the year.
Erin Ryan: President Biden gave an address to the world yesterday, too. What did he say?
Josie Duffy Rice: President Biden unveiled new severe sanctions against Russia yesterday afternoon that target Russia’s financial institutions and elite families. Many others joined the US with similar actions, including the E.U., Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. So with so much going on, I talked yesterday afternoon with foreign policy expert Max Bergmann, he is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and is an expert on Europe, Russia, and U.S. security cooperation. I started by asking him if he was surprised by what he’s seen so far.
Max Bergmann Well, I think a lot of Russia experts were surprised because it’s an incredibly reckless and risky decision. I personally, I wasn’t shocked, just based off of what we’ve seen over the last few months. But what I think, we didn’t know how the Ukrainian military would respond to this invasion and what we’re seeing is the Ukrainian forces are fighting and in some cases looks like they’re fighting quite hard and quite well. Now this is the tip of the spear. Russia is sort of, this is their initial invasion. They have a lot of tanks and other assets that they’re positioned across the border. But I think right now, you know, I’m impressed by the bravery of the Ukrainian military, and not that that’s that surprising, but given what they’re confronting, you just never know how that will play out.
Josie Duffy Rice: And do you think that the fact that Ukraine is responding this way makes it less likely for Putin to kind of continue this invasion?
Max Bergmann No, unfortunately, I think he’s pot committed. His chips are in and he’s going to see this through. And if anything, I think what we’ll see as the resistance builds and if it continues to build, is an escalation of violence on the part of Russia. As the fighting escalates and continues, the situation and the death toll, unfortunately, it’s just going to get worse.
Josie Duffy Rice: So you think that Russia can occupy all of Ukraine? I mean, is that a real possibility?
Max Bergmann So this is the question. I think if you, you know, ask smart Russia analysts, they’re like, I don’t quite see it like, what’s the endgame here? And in some of the discussions I’ve had with some colleagues, that I think remains sort of the big question. I think what’s clear is Vladimir Putin wants to control Ukraine, whether that means all of Ukraine geographically is a big open question, but that this is a war of regime change. And I think we should be very clear about this. When you see them go after Kiev, the reason why is because that’s where the government is. And so I think what we will see is an effort to topple the Zelensky government, at least control the government buildings in Kiev, and to have a new leader.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely. In his speech on Thursday, President Biden also said this:
[clip of President Biden] Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences. Today I’m authorized additional strong sanctions and new limitations on what can be exported to Russia.
Josie Duffy Rice: What were your big takeaways from the speech, and how would you rate the severity of the sanctions that President Biden announced?
Max Bergmann I think the sanctions he announced are incredibly severe. We’re talking about major Russian banks being effectively blocked from operating. They’re going to have to be bailed out by the Russian state, which then means that Russia is going to start drawing down its coffers. This is going to atrophy the Russian economy. This is, this is a really big, significant deal.
Josie Duffy Rice: What do you see as the most aggressive choice that the U.S. and the E.U. could make in the coming days weeks?
Max Bergmann Well, I think there’s a bit more we can do on some of the financial sanctions, but I think we’re starting to do that. What I would like to also see is for the West to really go after Russian oligarchs. Russian oligarchs have, you know, gained their money by effectively exploiting the Russian people. And they don’t hold their assets in Russia, they hold their assets in the west, in western bank accounts, in properties on the French Riviera, in Trump properties, in Chelsea Football Club. And so these assets are there and can be seized. And I think that that’s sort of the next step because that’s also about deleveraging from Russian influence, that rich oligarchs that then become citizens of whatever country they host their money and then can influence our politics as well. The other thing is I think, and this is a longer term step, but it really makes sense to throttle up and accelerate the de-carbonization effort. Europe is dependent on Russian gas, 40% of its energy use is Russian gas, and it needs to get away from that. Russia could respond by cutting off gas to Europe. It’s very cold right now in northern Europe. It’s a real problem, and I think accelerating the de-carbonization agenda has to be on the top of minds of European leaders. And I hope we see a lot of action in the coming weeks about—maybe it won’t matter right now, but next year or the year after, will make a real difference. And it’s also good for the planet in general.
Josie Duffy Rice: What should we expect to see in terms of Russia’s response, not just to Ukraine but to the West more generally?
Max Bergmann Right. So I think this is where we should kick ourselves a little bit that we haven’t done enough over the last five years to increase our resilience to potential Russian interference, to Russian cyberattacks against us, to Russian political interference in our elections, and to Russian espionage in general. Russia has been thinking about this for a long time, about how to strike back at the West. And I think one thing that will happen, you know, we have to be prepared for—and frankly, when I was in the Obama administration, we weren’t really prepared. We sanctioned Russia in 2014 after it effectively invaded Ukraine. And then we, you know, sort of turned away. And then the 2016 election came about and no one would ever expect any country to interfere in our democracy, and the Russians did. And so I think for Vladimir Putin, the gloves will be off, that we will have sanctioned his economy, we will have brought him to his knees effectively economically, and I think we can expect some sort of retaliation against us and we need to be prepared for that. And I think this administration is. But, you know, we wasted a lot of time.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So what now? Is there anything that the rest of the world can do really to apply pressure on Russia? Or is it truly something where we just kind of stand by and wait, where you know, the world kind of stands by and waits?
Max Bergmann I think the response has been quite good and quite strong, and I think we need to appreciate that to some degree. What I would say is, first of all, the equipment and military equipment that we’ve provided to Ukraine may be making somewhat of a difference right now on the battlefield. Now we don’t know that for sure, but Ukraine is using a lot of the military assistance that we’ve already provided. I think that will continue. But I think when it comes to the kind of broader effort here is that it is clear to the world who’s at fault here, and that is Vladimir Putin. And I think the global isolation that is coming toward Russia is a huge deterrent, and will be felt.
Josie Duffy Rice: This might be hyperbolic, but after the first waves of attack were happening, some of us saw the phrase World War III trending on Twitter. And I think just in this moment right now, everything feels so ominous. So if that is on some people’s minds, right, what’s your advice for the perspective that they should really take on this situation?
Max Bergmann I don’t want to sugarcoat it. I mean, this is a very nerve-wracking moment and violence can always spiral out of control. This is incredibly dangerous. Now that said, I think the Biden administration by taking the military option off the table—because let’s be clear, there was no military operation, just practically our military option, because we’re not there. And I think Vladimir Putin is very nervous about messing with NATO. So I think this is not World War III. It’s perhaps adjacent to it. But I think what this is more like is Vladimir Putin has decided that he wants to enter into a new Cold War with the United States and with Europe. And that’s very tense, and that’s going to be, I think, very unsettling, and we need to sort of brace ourselves for that. But I don’t think, I think we have a cool level-headed administration, which is not going to be eager to escalate this into any sort of military conflict that involves the United States.
Josie Duffy Rice: And Erin, that’s my conversation with Max Bergmann from the Center for American Progress. As always, make sure to follow us Pod Save the World and Pod Save America on your socials for the very latest updates on Ukraine throughout the weekend.
Erin Ryan: Or you can do what I do, which is stare at a corner, take deep breaths, and reflect on how little control I have over this horrifying situation. Let’s turn to some big domestic news that happened yesterday, too. It’s an update on Florida’s notorious Republican backed “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And spoiler alert: it isn’t good news.
Josie Duffy Rice: The state’s House of Representatives passed it yesterday afternoon, bringing it one step closer to being signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. So Erin, can you remind us what this bill actually does?
Erin Ryan: Of course, this bill would effectively ban educators from engaging in any and all discussions of queerness and gender identity in Florida classrooms. The measure has drawn national outrage—rightfully so—over how it could harm LGBTQ+ kids. Before it passed yesterday, Democratic Representative Michele Rayner, the first openly queer Black woman elected to the state’s legislature, had this passionate message to share:
[clip of FL Rep. Michele Rayner] So I’m here to tell the LGBTQ babies who are watching, You matter, I see you. You are loved. You are perfect just the way you are. I know you are getting told right now in this room that you are less than, but God made you beautiful and special, just the way you are.
Josie Duffy Rice: And that makes me want to cry. So, Erin, you got a chance to talk about this bill yesterday. So can you tell us a little bit more?
Erin Ryan: Sure. I spoke with Brandon Wolf. He’s a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting and an LGBTQ+ activist with the nonprofit Equality Florida. He was actually in the chamber during the House vote, and I spoke with him just hours after the bill passed. I started by asking Brandon what it was like to witness that moment in person.
Brandon Wolf: It’s heartbreaking to sit by and watch Republican leadership unfazed by the powerful stories of their colleagues, by the powerful testimony from the public, and ultimately choose culture wars and their own political ambitions over the well-being of the most marginalized in this state.
Erin Ryan: There was an article in The Washington Post that talked about how teachers in Orlando are especially concerned about how this law will impact their ability to talk honestly about LGBTQ history, particularly the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. As a survivor of that horrific event, do you share those concerns now that the bill has passed?
Brandon Wolf: I do, and I want to be even more clear about what we’re talking about. Forty nine mostly LGBTQ people of color were murdered on June 12th of 2016. It was the deadliest attack on LGBTQ people in this country’s history. People know some of that story. They know that, you know, just after two o’clock in the morning, a man barged in the front door and fired 110 rounds into the club. They might know that he was carrying an assault weapon and a handgun that night. They might know that he held hostages in the bathroom while people, like my best friends, died on the floor of the club. They might know the names of my best friends, Drew and Juan, and the fact that they were supposed to get married to one another, that they took 19 rounds between the two of them and never got home to say goodbye to their parents. But more important than how Drew and Juan and 47 others died, is how they lived. My best friends were loving. They were compassionate. They were caring. And they were proud and openly LGBTQ members of our community. They deserve to have their stories told.
Erin Ryan: Florida has a really large and active LGBTQ+ community, and teachers in Florida have been a frequent punching bag for Governor DeSantis in the culture wars that you mentioned. Do you think that this bill is like a bridge too far for those communities?
Brandon Wolf: The agenda of this governor that has been overtly anti-LGBTQ from the beginning has always been a bridge too far for our communities. I remember when in 2019, the governor issued a proclamation on June 12th to honor another year since the shooting at Pulse and didn’t mention LGBTQ people or Latino people. And when it hit the front page of the New York Times, he panicked and called people on our team and asked how he could fix it. I remember that he showed up to Pulse nightclub the next day to mark that anniversary with his wife. They laid flowers and he committed to us that he was always going to stand in the corner of LGBTQ people in the state of Florida. It was the next year that Donald Trump waged war on LGBTQ people on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. And then it was the year after that, 2021, that the governor vetoed all LGBTQ-specific funding from the budget, including $150,000 for mental health resources for Pulse survivors the week before the anniversary of Pulse that year. This governor’s agenda has always been overtly anti-LGBTQ, and that has only gotten worse as he’s become more obsessed with the idea of seeing himself atop the Republican presidential ticket in 2024. Now is our opportunity to put a stop to it before it comes to a ballot near the rest of the country in 2024.
Erin Ryan: Your take on this being an attempt to get names on things, chyrons on Fox News, that’s something that has been my impression too. How do you, as an advocate, fight against laws that seemed like they were designed to create headlines in right-wing media? And what happens if DeSantis, like does something crazy, like veto it?
Brandon Wolf: Well, first of all, I’m not pinning my hopes on Governor Ron DeSantis vetoing a key component of his authoritarian agenda. This is part of just a buffet of culture war issues that the governor has staked his claim on. It’s the buffet of culture war issues that’s designed to stoke right-wing outrage, as you said, chyrons, and—and that’s what they’re looking for. I wish I could tell you that Governor DeSantis cares about the well-being of LGBTQ young people in our state, or that he’s really passionate about getting parents more involved in education. That’s just not true. At the end of the day, the governor and his legislative allies do not care about the educational well-being of these children. They’re looking for political wins. Once that bill gets over the finish line, if it does, if the governor signed it into law—and by the way, there were some good points made by Democrats. An amendment was filed, I think, by Representative Anna Eskamani, who is my state representative, we love her. She filed an amendment that would have allowed students to sue the school if they had been outed and that caused them irreparable harm. There were other amendments that were filed that would allow schools to recoup their legal fees, if you know, a parent sued and lost their case. Those amendments failed. There’s no attempt to make this an equitable law. It is simply a messaging bill that incentivizes parents to go out and sue the school.
Erin Ryan: Right. Well, let’s talk some more about amendments that were added. One that got pulled would have required educators to out their students to their parents, even if it puts their safety at risk. So even though the provision is no longer in the past bill, how do you think this law will endanger LGBTQ students?
Brandon Wolf: This is a bill that is singularly designed, that unfairly equates the existence of LGBTQ people to sex education conversations, and ultimately will serve to have a chilling effect on the kind of inclusive environments we’ve worked really hard to create, and further isolate those young people who are already four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide before they graduate high school.
Erin Ryan: What do you have to say to those kids, to the LGBTQ+ kids in Florida right now in light of the bill’s passing?
Brandon Wolf: I want you to know that you’re seen, that you’re loved, and that we show up every day to fight for you because you’re worth fighting for. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong in the halls of this legislature. Continue to live unapologetically, unashamedly, because that’s how we change the future.
Erin Ryan: What does Florida’s LGBTQ+ community need right now after seeing this worst-case scenario very, very, very close to becoming a reality? Or is there anything we can do to show up for the community right now?
Brandon Wolf: Yes. Now is the moment. For four weeks this “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been the most recognizable piece of state legislation in the country. That’s a testament to the kind of pressure that people have been able to put on across the nation. So my urge right now is don’t let up. I know that it’s easy to see what happens in the House today, to feel defeated, to feel like it’s all you know without purpose. But look at what we’ve been able to create. Seven Republicans crossed the aisle today. That is unprecedented. On a bill like this, that’s a part of the Governor’s agenda, seven Republicans said, I can’t do this, enough is enough. We need fewer than that in the Florida Senate in order to kill the bill. So I would urge everyone lean in right now, jump on to social media and start tagging these state senators. Let them know that you want them to take a stand and to push back against this governor’s runaway authoritarian agenda.
Erin Ryan: And Josie, that was my conversation with Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. We’ll put links to ways our listeners can directly support Florida’s LGBTQ+ community in our show notes. More on all this very soon. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: A federal jury convicted all three former Minneapolis police officers on trial for violating George Floyd’s civil rights the day of his murder. Those three are J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao. Yesterday, the jurors said the men were guilty on all counts for failing to aid Floyd during and after Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck. Chauvin himself was already convicted of murder in state court and pleaded guilty to the federal charges he faced. He’s currently serving up to 25 years in prison. As for these other three former officers, their sentencing has not been scheduled yet. However, the punishment could be as severe as life in prison. These men will also be on trial in state court this June for Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Erin Ryan: The World Health Organization, or the WHO, says it’s recently changed how it distributes COVID vaccines to African countries in hopes of reversing lagging vaccination rates in the continent. Only about 16% of people in Africa have gotten at least one dose, which is because of a combination of factors, from vaccine hesitancy, to logistical problems in delivering and storing shots, to the refusal of biotech companies to share instructions for producing mRNA vaccines locally. That’ll do it. But since January, the WHO says it’s only sending vaccines to countries when they request them. Before that, the org would automatically send doses as it became available, which led to some going to waste. Because of this recent policy change, the WHO said its goal to get 70% of Africans vaccinated can be moved up to the beginning of 2023—great news. That’s more than a year sooner than was previously predicted. Meanwhile, the WHO has more data about the newest sub variant of Omicron, known as BA.2. The organization says it’s 30% more transmissible than the original and is responsible for one in five cases worldwide. However, scientists are not sounding the alarm just quite yet. According to the study, so far, BA2 isn’t connected to more hospitalization rates compared to the original Omicron. Josie, I think I’m the last person in America to get COVID. I haven’t had it.
Josie Duffy Rice: I haven’t had it either. We are like the two last people.
Erin Ryan: We can never meet because one of us is going to give the other COVID.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. Citigroup is moving away from one of the most game-changing innovations of our financial system: punishing people for being poor. The bank announced yesterday it will eliminate overdraft fees this year, becoming the largest financial institution to do so. Smaller banks Capital One and Ally Financial have already faced out their fees, while Bank of America is currently in the middle of its Scrooge redemption arc and has cut its fees from $35 to $10—Bank of America, I need you to go to zero. But truly, it’s not an easy call for banks to make since their revenue from overdraft fees in the US was, wait for it . . . $15.47 billion in 2019. Billion. B.
Erin Ryan: Oh, my gosh, that is too much money to make from poor people.
Josie Duffy Rice: I know it’s crazy.
Erin Ryan: They don’t have the money.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s just an unbelievable amount of money. Only about one million of that was from me, so I don’t know where the rest of it’s coming. The ethical argument for getting rid of overdraft fees is clear though, the fees target low-income people, effectively trapping them in a cycle of poverty. A 2017 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed that the 9% of people who are considered frequent overdrafts incur 80% of all fees and typically have balances of less than $350. Unbelievable.
Erin Ryan: Oh my goodness. Unbelievable. As you were reading that, I got flashbacks to that $35 overdraft fee that I used to get hit with on Mondays after big weekends when I was 23.
Josie Duffy Rice: I think Bank of America should give me money every time I overdraft.
Erin Ryan: Yes, you need it.
Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly, exactly.
Erin Ryan: The city of Ottawa has thought of the perfect way to cheer up its residents after multiple weeks of nonstop trucker protests by redoing the holiday designed to attack and destroy the mental health of single people. Valentine’s Day has officially been rescheduled to March 14th in the city, following a unanimous City Council vote since protesters of vaccine mandates had taken over February 14th. Part of the rationale for the rescheduling is how many businesses in Ottawa lost money during the demonstrations. Hopefully, they’ll recoup some of that now that couples have been ordered by the government to go out to dinner—that is so Canadian to me. Also in trucker convoy related news, the U.S. version continues to lumber toward the Capitol, demanding an end to mask mandates and vaccination requirements. One man representing the convoy’s Pennsylvania faction promised that it would be like a quote, “giant boa constrictor around D.C.” that quote, “squeezes you, chokes you and swallows you.” When he said this, though, his portion of the convoy consisted of just one large truck, plus seven smaller vehicles. I guess the convoy will put some light pressure around you that is fleeting.
Josie Duffy Rice: I mean, if it’s the convoy versus like one person, they could definitely be like a giant boa constrictor. The problem is, there are a lot of people.
Erin Ryan: You know what they could do? They could convoy like how the garbage truck in my neighborhood convoys on Wednesdays, which is, you turn a corner and you’re like, Argh! I’m behind a garbage truck! And then you have like 10 minutes of just waiting for it to go all the way down the street. They could do it like a garbage truck does.
Josie Duffy Rice: That’s a great idea. Let them know. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, and tell your friends to listen.
Erin Ryan: And if you’re into reading, and not just a second round of triggering Instagram posts on Ottawa’s second Valentine’s Day like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Erin Ryan.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
[together] And limit Valentine’s Days to one per year!
Erin Ryan: Zero per year is fine.
Josie Duffy Rice: Nobody likes Valentine’s Day. I’ve not yet met a person who likes it. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this like, National nightmare?
Erin Ryan: I’m married and I don’t like Valentine’s Day.
Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, I hate it.
Erin Ryan: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: Ugh.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.