In This Episode
- The main electric grid operator in Texas, ERCOT, is dropping the ball on providing services again, this time during extreme heat. It’s asking residents to conserve electricity until Friday to keep up with demand. Approximately 12 gigawatts of generating capacity was offline on Monday, and the electricity demand by residents came dangerously close to exceeding the grid’s capacity.
- The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 climbed over 600,000 yesterday, according to the tracker from Johns Hopkins University. Still, there’s progress in the country towards the new normal, with California and New York among the states fully reopening on Tuesday.
- And in headlines: Israel’s military launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip despite the ceasefire, Biden announces a plan to combat domestic terrorism, and a lawsuit resurfaces phony poison milkshake allegations from last summer.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, June 16th, I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the podcast that is funded by money vapors coming off donations from Mackenzie Scott.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s not the donations themselves. It’s just the vapors that are enough to sustain us.
Gideon Resnick: [laughs] To be clear, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife gave us nothing and she never will.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it doesn’t matter how many letters I write, she’s not going to pay these student loans, I guess. On today’s show, we look at two major re-openings as the country hits a grim COVID milestone. Plus, we’ll have headlines.
Gideon Resnick: But first, the latest:
[clip of Senator Ted Cruz] I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic.
Gideon Resnick: All right. Without the video, it’s hard to know, but that was Texas Senator Ted Cruz in a video that he tweeted of himself on Monday, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to no one—typical normal guy behavior. Instead of showing any allegiance to the people of Texas who are once again the victims of bad weather and worse utilities. So what is the latest down there, Akilah?
Akilah Hughes: All right. So we spoke last week about the heat wave that’s coming in hot across the West and Southwest and of course, Texas is also feeling the heat. And Texas’s main grid operator, ERCOT—not to be confused with the more fun Epcot—has dropped the ball—pun intentional—on providing services, again. Approximately 12,000 megawatts of generation were offline Monday, or enough to power 2.4 million homes on hot summer days like the ones we’re experiencing this week. ERCOT aka. the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, hasn’t been reliable and is asking residents to conserve electricity until Friday to keep up with the demand from the hot temperatures. And you’d think it would have gotten its act together after the fiasco in the winter, where extreme cold led to blackouts around the state and the deaths of about 700 Texans, and Senator Cruz fleeing to Cancun. But a few weeks ago ERCOT completed 20 visits to plants across the state to ensure that they would be reliable for the summer. Four of those 20 plants are currently experiencing outages.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is not an insignificant number there. And do they know why there are so many outages? It seems like the sooner they figure out the problem, the sooner they could solve it.
Akilah Hughes: Kind of. But, you know, not really. So 80% of the outages are coming from plants that are largely natural gas fired. But beyond that coincidence, ERCOT hasn’t been able to explain what’s going on. Governor Abbott, who’s shown more interest in spreading COVID and mass shootings, signed a bill last week that was written in response to the winter outages. The law was meant to improve the grid for extreme weather, but the law doesn’t even require that companies weatherize until 2022 at the earliest. So with any luck, there won’t be any more extreme weather in Texas, a state that has been ravaged by hurricanes, floods, inclement cold and unsustainable heat, for the next six months, hopefully. And to be clear, the legislation is really just a half step. A report from six former state and U.S. regulators, including five former Texas public utility commissioners, called for much stronger legislation that provides direct aid to consumers without power, requires plants to have backup power, it stops companies from price gouging during these outages, and so much more. But in any case, we can expect to hear from angry Texans on Twitter about it because their politicians really don’t seem to care. Turning now to the pandemic: yesterday brought some pretty big indicators of where the country is going and also a horrible reminder of where we’ve been.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. So the US death toll from COVID-19 climbed over 600,000 yesterday, according to the tracker from Johns Hopkins University. Just really unfathomable. It’s larger than the populations of places like Milwaukee or Baltimore, to put it in some perspective. And worldwide, almost four million people have died, which is thought to be an undercount. And the US has the highest death toll out of any country. But the rate of this unbelievable toll has slowed down a lot since the vaccination campaign began in the US. For example, it was the beginning of 2021 on this show that we talked about total deaths surging from 400,000 to 500,000 in just one month. But as of now, deaths have been averaging around 340 a day. Terrible still, but it’s a massive, massive decline from around mid-January when that number was peaking at 3,400 or more. So overall, things are massively, massively better. But as one epidemiologist put it to The Wall Street Journal, this milestone is a reminder that still too many people are unvaccinated at this point.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I mean, I think I’m preaching to the choir, but if you can get vaccinated, do it! Just do it. You might be saving your life in other people’s. But, you know, because of this progress, we saw two states that bore the brunt of the pandemic at various stages fully reopened yesterday.
[announcer] And now, please welcome to the stage, California Governor Gavin Newsom.
[CA Gov. Newsom] Well, good morning.
[Optimus Prime] Good morning Governor.
[CA Gov. Newsom] Is that Optimus Prime?
[Optimus Prime] It is a privilege to stand by your side.
[CA Gov. Newsom] It is good to have you standing by my side.
Akilah Hughes: Oh, my God, what a fiasco. Just an absolute catastrophe of planning. So that was Governor Newsom while at Universal Studios Hollywood with literally the minions, Optimus Prime and a troll—just in case your brain hasn’t fully broken at this point. He was talking about the state reopening after going into lockdown in March 2020. So what did reopening look like?
Gideon Resnick: Well, for one thing, he announced the vaccine lottery winners and no one at WAD heard their names. So there must be a problem.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I need a recount. Obviously, they stopped counting the ballots too soon. And I just think, you know, the mail voting on this lottery was outrageous.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there will be audits. Broadly, though, it is a big step for the first state in the country that had any form of COVID lockdowns to get rid of most of their restrictions yesterday. There are no more state-mandated rules on social distancing or capacity, for example. Vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks outside of health care and public transit settings, though, of course, private businesses can make their own rules about them. This is all happening because California is among a group of states where over 70% of all adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose. So it’s pretty wild to think about since in March of last year we were all watching the Grand Princess cruise ship dock and things quickly spiraled from there.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, got to say, it has been quite the traumatic year. Then New York State followed a similar path yesterday.
[clip of NY Gov. Cuomo] Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it. We’re no longer just surviving. We’re not in our homes afraid to go out. We’re not in our homes disinfecting everything that we can see. Life is not about survival. Life is about thriving.
Akilah Hughes: OK, so Cuomo and I clearly follow the same motivational hustle culture Instagram accounts—really need to fix that, are going to do that after the show. But Gideon, what does the reopening look like for New York?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, those accounts are clearly not good for everybody. So much of the same as California. New York also hit 70% of adults with at least one shot, because of that some things that can change here: restaurants won’t need to space tables six feet apart, there won’t be required space between seats at places like movie theaters, and no more temperature checks required to enter buildings, etc.. There was also a set of fireworks displays last night across the whole state, perhaps to celebrate or perhaps to drown out the multiple crises enveloping Cuomo, including a possible impeachment proceeding—but I digress. Overall, though, it is really symbolic that two of the state’s most impacted by COVID and with some of the strongest rules, have fully reopened. That leaves just four more states to relax their own rules across the country Washington, Oregon, Michigan and New Mexico.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and to that point, how is the national picture looking overall?
Gideon Resnick: It is looking very solid, but there are still concerns about that Delta variant that we’ve talked about before. It’s believed to be the most contagious strain so far. And the CDC classified it as a, quote “variant of concern.” It’s now making up almost 10% of COVID in the US and epidemiologists think it’s going to become the dominant one later in the summer. So that’s a big concern for the states where vaccination numbers are significantly lower than the rest of the country, lower than the New Yorks and Californias of the world. But overall, we’re up to about 65% of adults in the country with at least one dose. So getting closer to that White House goal of having at least 70% with one dose by July 4th, and our goal of getting to 69%.
Akilah Hughes: Nice.
Gideon Resnick: More on all of. That’s the latest from.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and today we’re doing a segment called WAD Recommends, where we share something we’ve recently bookmarked using the Internet browser called Life. So Gideon you had something you read and you wanted to tell people about it?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this was definitely going around. But it’s this pretty lengthy report on basically the working conditions at Amazon, specifically this place called JFK8, the site on Staten Island where some people might know Christian Smalls, who was on our show at one point, trying to organize, published yesterday in The New York Times. Basically, the gist of it is, one, the working conditions are insane. It’s a lot of the stuff that’s like motivating the unionization efforts in Alabama. There’s this thing called time off task, which is literally measuring your minutes of not shipping and lifting and packing, and yeah. And that overall thing that I came away with was they are just pretty explicit about the turnover rate and the inability for people to move up in the company. So the way they approach everything is like, oh, these people are functionally expendable because they will be anyway, because we’re just going to churn through them, you know, over and over.
Akilah Hughes: Really, really gross company culture. Got to say
Gideon Resnick: It’s probably like one of the few things that’s put together a lot of like the animating themes about Amazon recently, like all in one place. It is lengthy. It’s like intense in certain parts with, you know, other things we didn’t even talk about, like people discussing racial inequality within the plant, talking about not getting disability when they were out for COVID, all these other things. But just a really good thing that I think sort of helps crystallize why sometimes we are frustrated about how things are going there.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, for sure. Jeffrey Bezos, you’ve been put on notice by the Times. Well, thank you so much for considering Gideon recommendation. We’re going to link that story in our show notes, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Israel’s military launched airstrikes on the Gaza strip yesterday, making it the first major attack since a ceasefire was declared in May. The ceasefire was meant to put an end to an 11-day assault that killed over 250 Palestinians. Hamas rockets and civil unrest killed 13 people in Israel during the same period. Israel’s military claims the latest attacks are a response to Palestinians sending balloons with flammable materials into southern Israel. And this all follows a far-right Israeli nationalist march through East Jerusalem earlier in the day. The marchers at times shouted anti-Arab chants while commemorating the controversial March of the Flags, which celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem. The march was postponed from May 10th, when tensions were rising over Israel’s planned forced displacement of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. During the event, over 30 Palestinian counter protesters were injured by Israeli police using rubber bullets and stun guns. At least 17 Palestinians were arrested.
Akilah Hughes: Yesterday the Biden administration announced a cross-agency strategy to combat domestic terrorism. An effort led by the National Security Council, came to the shockingly unshocking conclusion that white supremacists and militia groups are the most lethal and persistent terrorism threat facing the U.S.. A 32-page plan titled “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism” highlights a shift in the government’s approach to counterterrorism, which for decades prioritized fighting foreign terrorists. Biden’s plan calls for an expansion of staff at the Justice Department and FBI, greater information sharing between relevant parties and government, and more. In a memo accompanying the strategy document, Biden wrote, quote “preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond.” Cosign.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. The future is uncertain for what’s considered to be the world’s holiest white chip: communion wafers, and the rituals that go along with them, may be withheld from politicians who support reproductive choice, depending on what bishops of the US Catholic Church decide this week. The question will be voted on at the annual spring meeting of American bishops. Be there or be square, losers. It’s especially relevant since President Biden is a devout Catholic and has previously been denied communion by one South Carolina priest due to his support for abortion access. Many Catholic bishops think that communion shouldn’t be politicized and see the effort as a move by Trump-aligned bishops to damage Biden’s public profile. It’s notable that Biden is only the second Catholic president. Going to war with him seems misguided, in the same way that it would be bad for all of New Zealand to come out and say they hate Lorde. What it’s worth, the conservative bishops are unlikely to succeed. They would need unanimous support from all U.S. bishops or two thirds support, plus approval from the Vatican, which has already said it opposes this effort to gatekeep eating God,
Akilah Hughes: Let people eat God, if they want to on Sundays.
Gideon Resnick: Let ’em.
Akilah Hughes: Come on. They had to do all that other Catholic stuff to get that that rite, let them eat God. All right. Well, here’s a follow on a story from last summer about a sweet dairy drink conspiracy. A former manager of a Manhattan Shake Shack has sued members of the NYPD, the city of New York, and two police unions, after cops falsely allege he had poisoned their milkshakes. This all happened in June 2020 when protests for racial justice were widespread, and officers were channeling their anxiety about being part of a racist system into seeing every food as a potential biological weapon. Three officers described in the lawsuit as Officers Vanilla Shake, Cherry Shake and Strawberry Shake—and that is real—
Gideon Resnick: Oh my.
Akilah Hughes: —allegedly noticed a strange taste in their desserts, then did what’s known as ‘hurt tummy’ detective work and concluded that they were poisoned. Two police unions quickly amplified these claims online with no evidence. An NYPD investigation eventually exonerated the employees, but that wasn’t until after the Shake Shack manager behind the suit was arrested and interrogated until 1:30 in the morning. The manager is seeking monetary damages and legal fees.
Gideon Resnick: Listen, hurt tummy detective work is something that is, for me, after I eat something like Shake Shack on my own. It’s not for police. That’s all I’m saying.
Akilah Hughes: You’re right. Also like what an expensive way to find out you’re lactose intolerant. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, get a whiff of these money vapors, and tell your friends to listen,
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just the adventures of Officers Vanilla Shake, Cherry Shake and Strawberry Shake 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 get the vaccine Optimus Prime!
Akilah Hughes: Do it. Set a good example. Transform and roll out to the nearest vaccine place.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Roll out on that J&J, on that Moderna, on that Pfizer. Whenever you got to roll out on.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, whatever you got to do.
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.