In This Episode
- The FDA granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the first vaccine in the country to move beyond the “emergency use authorization” that’s been in place for months now. The announcement was followed by a slew of new vaccine mandates for educators, service members, and more.
- Republican attacks on voting rights are continuing every day in Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. We discuss the latest updates in the conservative push to make voting harder, and the racist history of laws that bar people who have been convicted of a felony from casting a ballot.
- And in headlines: the Paralympic Games begin in Tokyo, the Cyber Ninjas are taken out in Arizona, and the latest on T. Rex’s jaw.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, August 24th, I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast created by the computer glitch that results from hitting rewind on HBO Max.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the new Y2K is somehow going to happen because somebody was trying to skip ahead in Sex and the City.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. I lose minutes a day to pressing the rewind button.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s dark out there. Be careful. On today’s show, the Paralympics kick off in Tokyo, plus, new research suggests the T-Rex’s might have been more gentle-jawed than we thought.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, yesterday was a pivotal moment for one of the coronavirus vaccines.
[clip of President Biden] So let me say this loudly and clearly. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who said that they will not get the shot until it has full and final approval of the FDA, it has now happened.
Josie Duffy Rice: That was President Biden speaking after the FDA granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That approval is for people in the U.S. who are 60 and older. And it is the first vaccine in the country to move beyond just the, quote, “emergency use authorization” that has been in place for months now. And it was even given a fancy name, one I can’t pronounce. Please let us, Gideon.
Gideon Resnick: I’m being thrown to the wolves here. I think the name on the market is “Comirnaty.” It just rolls off the tongue super easy.
Josie Duffy Rice: Sounds like some sort of community put through some sort of audio machine.
Gideon Resnick: Put through a sea shanty. Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, exactly. A sea shanty. But Gideon, you’ve been looking into at full approval means in practical terms right now.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I mean there’s the personal and the communal effect of all this, as is the case with, you know, the whole pandemic. But that’s how I’ve been sort of thinking about it. On the personal, I hope, but I don’t quite know honestly, and I don’t know that anybody does, that this is going to move some people to get vaccinated if they haven’t yet or if they haven’t had the opportunity to yet. We are in a pretty grave moment right now with nearly 100,000 thousand people on average hospitalized with COVID in the US daily. Plus, for the first time since March, the average daily deaths have climbed over a 1,000 in recent days. And so all of that is happening while the school year is kicking off and children under 12 are not eligible for vaccines yet.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s just terrifying that a thousand people a day are dying from COVID still.
Gideon Resnick: I know.
Josie Duffy Rice: Just very tragic. So talk to us a little bit about the communal effects.
Gideon Resnick: Well, so we already saw the severity of this Delta wave lead a lot of places to start instituting vaccine mandates of different sorts before yesterday. But if the full FDA approval is not going to end up moving people personally to get vaccinated, more and more communal settings are going to make it a requirement now. For example, almost right as the full FDA approval came down, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated that all Department of Education employees have at least one dose of a vaccine by September 27th. According to The New York Times, that is going to apply to almost 150,000 workers. And it’s likely going to be influential given that we’re talking about the largest public school system in the country.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, there was a relatively kind of quick cascade on the education front just over the last 24 hours or so.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s definitely the place where it seems like the most is happening, right? So Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey announced a similar plan yesterday for the state’s school employees, though with the option of actually undergoing weekly testing instead. That’s actually not available under the New York City plan. And Louisiana State University announced the students are going to be required to be vaccinated, as did the University of Minnesota, among other colleges and universities.
Josie Duffy Rice: And it seems like other sectors have also started to announce mandates, too. Is that right?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So on Monday as well the Pentagon formally announced that they are going to require vaccinations for all military service members. That had already kind of been in the works, but seems to have gotten expedited by the FDA approval. Then on the industry side, Chevron came out and said that they were going to mandate it for some employees by November 1st. CVS said there will be a requirement for some 100,000 employees or so by the end of October/early November. So collectively, if we add up all these bits and pieces, it should add up to some measurable increase in vaccination rates nationally, we would think.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, let’s hope so. One last thing that I think some people might have been wondering that I’ve seen some people asking, which is why did this take so long?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it really seems like it, right? There’s like a lot of people who have been vaccinated for quite some time, and yet it seems like it took forever to get this full approval. But according to The Washington Post, the companies behind this particular vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech, actually filed for licensing in early May. And so this inevitably took less than four months. That actually made it the fastest approval in the FDA’s history. But to the thought process of some of these people, the FDA did move pretty deliberately, like even as some health experts were pushing them to go faster as Delta was taking over. They basically wanted something like six months of follow-up data on people who were in the clinical trial. And that was something like 44,000 people across numerous countries. So it was a lot of data to have to look at and analyze. We’ll see how all of this shakes out in the days and weeks to come, as well as where else there may or may not be mandates. But Josie, let’s turn to voting rights now. There was a host of news on that front from around the country, as is unfortunately the case most days.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So for years the right has been pushing to limit access to the ballot, trying to make it more difficult for people to vote. Democrats and progressives, meanwhile, have generally been pushing for the opposite, hoping to actually expand or at least maintain ballot access, right?
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: So here’s what happening just these past few days around the country on voting rights.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s start out with Texas. This has been a big story over the last couple of weeks. Where do things stand there?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so Texas is the only major Republican-controlled state that has not passed more restrictive voting rights since Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and began his rampant and, of course, completely false claims, of election stealing. But for months, Republicans there have tried to pass a bill that would do stuff like outlaw 24-hour polling sites, prohibit drive-through voting, and give increased access to partisan poll watchers. The bill was passed in the state Senate and was expected to pass in the state House too, since Republicans have a majority in both houses. But listeners might remember that last month, more than 50 House Democrats left Austin and flew to Washington, D.C., to prevent a quorum and therefore hopefully making it impossible for Republicans to pass the legislation.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: But last week, 3 of those 50 Democrats returned to the House chamber, restoring a quorum and effectively paving the way for Republicans to accomplish their goal of restricting ballot access. So the news is that yesterday the state House Constitutional Rights and Remedies Committee began taking public comment for that bill. And Republicans are rushing to bring it to a vote as soon as possible because they want that bill to pass as quickly as they can.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, they’ve done like a million legislative sessions just to have this specific vote, it seems, passed and done with. But, it isn’t all bad news, I guess we could say, on voting rights, as it were. There’s at least a positive development that happened in North Carolina. So what was the story there?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, there’s some great news out of North Carolina. So 55,000 people who have been convicted of a felony had their right to vote restored on Monday.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Josie Duffy Rice: Previously, people on probation and parole in the state were not permitted to cast a ballot. Yesterday, though, a state court ruled that anyone who is not incarcerated has the right to vote. And North Carolina is the latest state to expand ballot access for people who have been convicted of a crime.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so people may not have been paying attention to everything that was going on here. So what is the actual back story and how this ruling came to be?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so last week, lawyers for civil rights groups argued in front of a three-judge panel, and they basically said that, look, state legislators passed this provision in the state constitution way back in 1875 because they were motivated by—spoiler alert—racism. Like many states, especially in the south where I live, white legislators in North Carolina originally passed felon disenfranchisement laws as a way to prevent Black people from having voter access. And in fact, attorneys at the State Department of Justice who were tasked with defending the law actually agreed that the original intent behind the law was racist. But they argued that the law was updated in the 1970s, which apparently means it was no longer discriminatory.
Gideon Resnick: Right. That all checks out, of course, for sure. But as you’re talking through this, right, civil rights groups clearly demonstrated the law was not just racially discriminatory back then. It is racially discriminatory right this very moment.
Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. I mean, this law has been racially discriminatory since the minute it was passed in 1875. And right now, Black people make up 21% of North Carolina’s voting-age population, but there are 42% of the people disenfranchised by that law. So literally double.
Gideon Resnick: Man.
Josie Duffy Rice: Thankfully, the panel was unpersuaded by the state’s defense of disenfranchisement, but Republican lawmakers, unsurprisingly, have promised to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, in other states, approximately 5.2 million Americans are still prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise people who have been convicted of felonies.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, truly unconscionable number of people. One, I guess more local story that we were monitoring on voting rights is actually taking place in Georgia, your home state, in Fulton County, to be exact. Which I’m sure people listening know is where Atlanta is.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So in my home state and home county last week, the state elections board voted unanimously to assign a panel to conduct a review of the Fulton County Elections Board. That sounds like bureaucratic administration and not that interesting, but it actually is a really big deal. So Gideon, you may remember that Georgia went blue in the 2020 election.
Gideon Resnick: I have wiped out everything from my memory before earlier today. So I have no idea what you’re talking about. Yeah, no, big deal. Pretty big stuff happening in the Senate as well down there.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, we’ve got two Democratic senators. And as a result, in March, Republican lawmakers passed a new elections law that gives the state board of elections the power to take over local elections by reviewing a local elections board. If in the review, the state board finds evidence that the local board has shown, quote, “nonfeasance, malfeasance or gross negligence” the state board can suspend the local board and install someone of their choosing to oversee elections in that county. And unsurprisingly, Republican lawmakers have long pushed the board to review elections in Fulton County, which has left voting rights advocates pretty concerned that the state board, which is overwhelmingly Republican, will soon attempt to take over local elections in Fulton County where voters, almost half of whom are Black, vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the stuff is often so cartoonishly transparent in intent.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. So we’ll be following that story in the weeks and months to come. And that’s a quick update on what’s happening on voting rights this week. And that is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It is Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the going away party for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. At long last, yesterday was Cuomo’s final day in office, and he released a prerecorded statement that was vintage him. It included challenges to the Attorney General’s report that led to his ouster, plus attacks on the media for reporting on the many, many allegations of sexual harassment against him.
[clip of Andrew Cuomo] The attorney general’s report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic and it worked. There was a political and media stampede, but the truth will out in time. Of that, I am confident.
Gideon Resnick: All right. We are just going to have to wait and see. We have talked a lot about the different ways that this man is uniquely bad. But an all new flaw came to light yesterday. It was the report that in leaving the governor’s mansion last week to make way for Kathy Hochul, Cuomo left behind his dog, Captain, who was by his side throughout the pandemic. Cuomo asked staff members at the mansion if they wanted his dog—that’s according to the Albany Times Union. One staffer reportedly gave Captain a home for a few days, but changed his mind. All right. A senior adviser and spokesperson for Cuomo said he was only looking for dog care on a temporary basis while he goes on vacation and described the reports as, quote unquote, crazy. So Josie, there is a lot to say about Cuomo: sexual harassment, his dishonesty, his relationship with his father, all of his twisted pathologies—but specifically on the subject of prized dog abandonment, what are your thoughts?
Josie Duffy Rice: I mean, if it turns out that the story is actually true, it is like a textbook remarkable way to go out on just a really low note when you’re already kind of going out in shame.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: You almost have to give it to Cuomo. I mean, all that, the only thing he hadn’t done at this point was abandon a dog, and he managed to check that off his bucket list.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s almost too fitting of how he operates that it makes it a little bit harder to believe on its merits just because we’re like, oh, yeah, this is absolutely a thing that he would do. I’m a bit more confused about, like the passage of this dog from like one staffer to another. Like, couldn’t there be some sort of like arrangement here where like, I don’t know, perhaps we find somebody who would be a legitimate and good caretaker of the dog before maybe saying, hey, why don’t you take him for a day, see what happens?
Josie Duffy Rice: You know, honestly, publishers should offer this dog like an eight million dollar book contract and we can really get the true story.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, but seriously, let’s just make sure that this dog does not get mistreated. But just like that, we have checked our temps. If you have a dog, it’s best that you keep being its caregiver. That’s how that thing works. But we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: President Biden’s initial plan to completely withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by August 31st may face resistance today during his virtual meeting with G7 leaders who want him to extend the deadline so more people can be safely evacuated. In Sunday’s address. Biden said his administration may extend the deadline, but yesterday the Taliban warned that there would be, quote, “consequences” if the U.S. does not remove all troops by that date. And U.S. military advisers told the White House that Biden should make a decision ahead of the G7 meeting. This all comes as the Pentagon is ramping up evacuations from Kabul’s airport by deploying American helicopters and troops to assist. And as of yesterday, 37,000 people had been evacuated since August 14th when the Taliban seized control of Kabul. Also yesterday, the Taliban held its first meeting of religious leaders since retaking Kabul, laying out guidelines about the country’s religious instructions moving forward.
Gideon Resnick: The 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo begin today, just a few weeks after the Tokyo Olympics came to an end and all the Olympians got to go home to bed’s made of metal or wood. We all remember that beloved story. This marks the 16th Summer Paralympic Games and over 4,000 athletes are competing in Tokyo for the next 12 days. New events are going to include badminton and taekwondo. And for the first time, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee will give Paralympians the same amount of money for winning medals as Olympians and the events will be broadcast on prime time TV. I don’t know why that took so long. As Japan’s number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise and break Japan’s own records, spectators are banned from the Paralympics, but organizers want to allow about 130,000 schoolchildren to attend. Some competitions that you can watch today include cycling, swimming, and table tennis.
Josie Duffy Rice: The only pro-Trump cybersecurity firm named after a deep-cut Disney Channel original movie, Cyber Ninja’s, is delaying the release of its 2020 election audit in Arizona because its employees are, of course, sick with COVID-19. The firm reportedly delivered a draft version of their report to Arizona state senators yesterday instead of the full version they had promised. And this might shock you, but any conclusions the report reaches will be extremely suspect, since the Cyber Ninjas have no experience in administering or auditing elections and have received nearly six million dollars in funding from Trump allies. They’re also using questionable methods of analysis, like looking for bamboo in paper ballots, which we have to assume as part of some indie conspiracy theory that hasn’t broken out big yet. And in regards to the COVID delay, the burning question is whether the Ninjas were vaccinated. And for now, that question has not been answered. We have our suspicions. It would be against their ninja training, however, to not dodge the needle.
Gideon Resnick: That is definitely true. I consider myself a Cyber Ninja when I’m navigating the HBO Max app—that is a joke to bring back full circle from earlier. That’s how we do it here.
Josie Duffy Rice: I love it.
Gideon Resnick: OK. A new study of the jawbone of a Tyrannosaurus rex has revealed that the world’s most famous dinosaur had a mouth that is more sensitive than scientists previously thought. We can all sense that this is a huge brag, and here’s why: it theoretically would have let T. Rex chew its prey differently, depending on the body part, and it could have also let it carry its children around in its mouth. The fact that this does not happen at all in Jurassic Park is proof of Steven Spielberg’s obvious bias against momma dinosaurs. It has been there the whole time, you just had to look. Here is another story about an ancient monster playing against type: a giant tortoise on the islands of Seychelles was recently recorded eating a baby bird. Dear Lord. Giant tortoises were formally considered herbivores, but there were rumors that they sometimes acted as slow bird assassins. And as of this week, those rumors have been tragically confirmed in the journal Current Biology. Now, one explanation for this behavior is that birds are a source of calcium, a rare nutrient on islands that tortoises need to build eggshells.
Josie Duffy Rice: You know, I got to tell you, my three-year old son will be so excited to hear about the Tyrannosaurus Rex and his new jaw. He cares about T-Rexes more than he cares about any other dinosaur or person.
Gideon Resnick: I’m excited for him, as well as his worldview more generally. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, help find a home for Cuomo’s dog please, and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And, if you’re into reading, and not just the script for Cyber Ninjas 2: Hack in Action like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[both] And congrats on your great jaw, T-Rex!
Gideon Resnick: You have a great jaw line, you’re a beautiful creature, and we love you.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you keep complimenting, T. Rexes, maybe he won’t eat you.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. This is our way out.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yup.
Gideon Resnick: You’re exactly right.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers, and Kelly Sadikun is our intern. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.