In This Episode
- The U.S. declared a federal public health emergency over the monkeypox outbreak on Thursday after the states of New York, California and Illinois did the same recently.
- A Russian court convicted WNBA star Brittney Griner of smuggling illegal drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in prison — all because she had less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
- And in headlines: the Justice Department charged four police officers for violating Breonna Taylor’s civil rights, the NFL appealed Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShaun Watson’s six-game suspension, and Alex Jones was ordered to pay $4.1 million in damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim.
- New York Times: “How the U.S. Let 20 Million Doses of Monkeypox Vaccine Expire” – https://nyti.ms/3JE82u0
- Vote Save America: Fuck Bans Action Plan – https://votesaveamerica.com/roe/
Crooked Coffee is officially here. Our first blend, What A Morning, is available in medium and dark roasts. Wake up with your own bag at crooked.com/coffee
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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Friday, August 5th.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’m Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What A Day, the Daily News podcast that somehow managed to survive the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And in today’s news, we’ve got a merger between What A Day and America Dissected. So there’s that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, very exciting day for mergers around here. I mean, some better than others. On today’s show, Russia sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in prison. Plus, Alex Jones must pay over $4 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim. And today, a jury could go even further.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: First, yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra did the thing he probably should have done weeks ago:
[clip of Xavier Becerra] I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox. We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus. And we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It’s like they’re going from 0 to 1 here. [sigh].
Priyanka Aribindi: Mmm.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: This federal public health emergency follows an international declaration by the World Health Organization last week, as well as declarations in the states of New York, California, Illinois and the cities of New York and San Francisco, all communities that are hardest hit by the disease.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. So we have been hearing about monkeypox for a while now. So why are they just declaring it a public health emergency now?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That is the important question here, Priyanka. There have now been over 6600 known cases of monkeypox in the U.S. so far. And scientists and public health officials worry that we’re well past the moment where we can control the outbreak. And so much of our response has been hampered by poor communication, poor resource coordination, and poor outreach to the communities that have been hit hardest.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I feel like that is all that I’ve been hearing about this response for you know quite some time. So how does declaring a public health state of emergency on a federal level fix these problems?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, this emergency declaration unlocks a set of tools. The first is just more money that administrators can access to both speed up and expand the containment efforts. It also requires data sharing between different public health entities. Remember, there’s not one health department in America. Priyanka, you live in L.A., right?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So you’re under the jurisdiction of the L.A. County Public Health Department, the State of California Health Department and the CDC. And before now, they weren’t necessarily required to share information about positive tests with each other. This order requires them to do just that. And there’s more. It also makes ordering and reporting tests easier for doctors and speeds up the efforts to get vaccines out to people at risk.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, truly wild system that we are living with. But speaking of vaccines, what is the latest? Because we have reported about how that has kind of been a big stumbling block in the response here. So what’s going on with vaccines?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yes, stumble would be being generous. This is more of a following on your face block.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There are two different types of vaccines. Jynneos and ACAM 2000, not to be confused with a robot. ACAM has all kinds of nasty side effects, particularly in people who are immunocompromised. Right now, the federal government is distributing about 1.1 million doses of Jynneos. Of the 3.5 million that most public health officials believe we actually need, we won’t get the next 500,000 doses until, get this, October. And the worst part is that the federal government was responsible for the delay.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. Okay. So can you explain a little more about how this happened and how they’re responsible?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, according to recent reporting from The New York Times, it’s happened because the government failed to ask the manufacturer, a company based in Denmark called Bavarian Nordic, to process the vaccine that the U.S. already owns in bulk [?]. By the time the U.S. did make the request, the company had already processed other orders from other countries. So the U.S. vaccine is literally being stored in huge plastic bags outside Copenhagen. I kid you not Priyanka. And experts think that it would take another company at least three months to be able to scale up to do this stuff which is called fill and finish.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wild. It’s mistake after mistake, it’s you can’t even comprehend.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Stumble and fall flat on your face. This, of course, is after the federal government failed to request the 372,000 available doses early enough to have them in time to stop the outbreak early and delayed an additional 786,000 doses because the FDA hadn’t finished inspecting the Bavarian Nordic’s facilities. We’ll link to The New York Times reporting on this in our show notes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. So will the public health emergency declaration do anything about that? Will speed it up at all or no?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, it can’t really speed it up because we’re stuck waiting behind other countries to fill and finish the doses that we already own.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: But it could expedite getting the doses to where they need to go. Here as well the federal response has been shambolic. Every single dose in New York City, by far the place with the highest need is spoken for, which means New York City needs more doses. According to one official I spoke to, the federal government has been using HIV data to allocate monkeypox vaccine doses, considering both HIV and monkeypox tend to affect the same community. Here is CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky talking about that yesterday.
[clip of Dr. Rochelle Walensky] We estimate that there are about 1.6 to 1.7 million people who are at highest risk for monkeypox right now. And that’s the population we have been most focused on in terms of vaccination.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: But there’s a real problem with that logic, and it’s this, Monkeypox is a new disease in this population. And so like COVID, it’s starting in the cities and then moving inward. But HIV has been around for decades and it’s had decades to spread. So federal health officials are allocating vaccine based on a virus that has already spread. Rather than using their resources to stop this one from spreading. It’s like covering your floor and towels every time you drink coffee rather than just making sure you don’t spill the coffee in the first place.
Priyanka Aribindi: Maybe not the right approach to take for this.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, because one of the important things that the administration has done to try and address all this is to point to federal response coordinators and Robert Fenton, a FEMA administrator, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, a CDC official.
Priyanka Aribindi: Here is hoping that they can coordinate.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, let’s hope. Because monkeypox, while not deadly, is an incredibly painful illness. And it can and must be prevented. We’ve got to do better, folks.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. Moving to some unfortunate international news, after months of waiting to hear the fate of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is detained in Russia. Yesterday, she was convicted of smuggling illegal drugs into the country and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. Really, truly terrifying. She was also fined 1 million rubles, which is about $16,400. Griner’s lawyers say they will appeal this decision.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, a Russian penal colony just sounds terrible.
Priyanka Aribindi: Really, it does.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Just to remind everyone, Griner has been detained in Russia for the past six months after being accused of trying to smuggle less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
Priyanka Aribindi: Her trial has been watched extremely closely and there are lots of concerns that she is being used as a political pawn. As tensions between Russia and the U.S. continue to intensify over the invasion of Ukraine. According to Griner’s lawyers, the average sentence for this kind of crime is five years. That is four less than Griner’s sentence, and a third of people convicted get parole.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So what happens next Priyanka?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that is still somewhat unclear. President Biden called the sentence unacceptable and promised to pursue, quote, “all avenues to bring her home.” Last week, we talked about the possibility of a prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S.. Griner and former Marine Paul Wheelan from Russia in exchange for a Russian arms dealer imprisoned here in the U.S.. National security spokesman John Kirby said that those conversations are ongoing still, but he declined to give any more details publicly. He said it wouldn’t be helpful to those ongoing negotiations.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Ugh. This is difficult to hear. Obviously, we all want that to work. We all want Brittney Griner home. But can you explain the alternatives she faces? What exactly is a Russian penal colony after all?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, they are really scary places it turns out. They are basically the successors of gulags which are Stalin era labor camps. Prisoners have been tortured. Others have had to work 16 hour days. There also have been reports of prisoners being forced to watch hours of Russian propaganda. They are extremely grim and characterized by harsh conditions and even harsher prison culture.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s awful.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Here’s hoping Brittney Griner does not end up there. I don’t think that’s a place that anyone wants or should be.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: No, how have Griner and her family reacted to the sentence?
Priyanka Aribindi: Griner didn’t react when she was in the courtroom, to the sentence. But according to her lawyers, she is very upset as she was led out. She said, quote, “I love my family.” She’s probably, you know, wondering when and if she is going to see them again. Really heartbreaking situation. Friends and fellow NBA and WNBA players have been posting messages of sadness and support, imploring that she be brought home. The same has been done by her Team USA Basketball and the NBA and WNBA organizations. Her agent tweeted, quote, “Today’s sentencing of Brittney Griner was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn.” More on all of this very soon, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break].
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: Four current and former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, were hit with federal charges on Thursday for violating Breonna Taylor’s civil rights in 2020. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the charges yesterday at a press conference, and he said that those violations directly resulted in Taylor’s death two years ago when police officers shot and killed her in a botched raid of her apartment. Here is Garland:
[clip of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland] We share, but we cannot fully imagine the grief felt by Breonna Taylor’s loved ones and all of those affected by the events of March 13th, 2020. Breonna Taylor should be alive today.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is true. Now, none of the Louisville officers who actually shot Taylor are named on Thursday’s indictment. But three officers who helped obtain the warrant that was used to authorize the raid are. They are accused of conspiring to lie about their case to the judge who granted them the warrant and the indictment literally says that these officers had no evidence to support why they wanted to search Taylor’s apartment. The fourth Louisville officer named on the indictment is the one who blindly shot at Taylor’s apartment ten times and hit a neighboring unit during the raid.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The one good thing about this story is that justice appears to be on its way to being done. The NFL appealed a federal judge’s decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for only six games without pay. The league wanted a much harsher punishment. The NFL filed its brief on Wednesday asking that Watson be suspended indefinitely from the field as punishment for his sexually predatory behavior toward two dozen women he hired for massages. And the NFL also recommended that Watson be fined and required to undergo counseling as further punishment for his actions. There’s no set timeline for when a new decision in Watson’s case will be made, but the NFL’s player union has until the end of the day today to respond to the appeal.
Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t think the NFL has a particularly long history of doing the right thing, but in this case, that is definitely the right move. This man should not be able to, you know, play and profit from this league.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I agree with that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Florida’s Republican Governor and a man who shares a barber with all the male Legos, Ron DeSantis suspended one of the state’s top prosecutors on Thursday. That is because the attorney in question, Andrew Warren, said he would not prosecute abortion in a state where the procedure is now banned after 15 weeks. Warren has also pledged not to enforce laws banning gender affirming health care should they be signed into law in Florida. DeSantis announced Warren’s suspension yesterday, accusing the prosecutor of, quote, “displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform his duties.” Here is what Warren had to say about the decision to bench him:
[clip of Andrew Warren] If the governor thinks he can do a better job, then he should run for state attorney, not president.
Priyanka Aribindi: Whoa.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I feel like he’s goading Ron DeSantis into a potential lawsuit situation, and I’m here to watch.
Priyanka Aribindi: You know what? I love it. I love it. Do your thing, Andrew Warren, we are here for it.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Meanwhile, in actual lawsuits, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages yesterday to the parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. That’s way less than the $150 million those parents were seeking. But it’s not over yet. Today, after hearing testimony about Jones’s net worth. Jurors in Texas will decide what he must pay in punitive damages. And in even bigger fines for disgusting behavior, a judge ruled on Thursday that disgraced actor Kevin Spacey must pay nearly $31 million over his alleged sexual misconduct behind the scenes of Netflix’s House of Cards. The eight figure sum will be paid out to the show’s production company, MRC, which sued Spacey in 2020 for the revenue lost after the actor was dropped from the show.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, you know what? Alex Jones is good for it, so come after him for all he is worth. Please. I think that is said on behalf of pretty much everybody.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’d love to see that man penniless.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Big news out of the Senate last night, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema said that she could support the Climate Focused Inflation Reduction Act after she got a few concessions from Democrats on their tax proposals. Thanks to Sinema and her commitment to the nation’s giant checking accounts, a tax targeting wealthy investors and a new minimum tax on corporations that pay nothing to the U.S. government are gone. The bill now heads to the Senate parliamentarian for review.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Just a few small concessions in the order of billions of dollars.
Priyanka Aribindi: Still a lot of great things in there. Really happy this is getting done. But of course, she is going to chip away at this.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Kyrsten Chaos Sinema, at it again. It took long enough, but science finally managed to make the thing of every Muslim’s nightmares, zombie pigs. Researchers at Yale published a study this Wednesday in which they restored function to cells in the organs of pigs one hour after the pigs died by heart attack. They did this by profusing the deceased pigs with a substance called Organ X, which contained a mixture of each animal’s blood and artificial hemoglobin. In live animals, hemoglobin carries oxygen to cells. Now, maybe this experiment seems suited to the medical staff at Knott’s Scary Farm, but its applications are really exciting. If a solution like Organ X could keep organs healthy and people have agreed to be organ donors, could allow many more people to receive transplants.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m not the doctor on today’s show, but this does sound exciting.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It’s really, really exciting. I uh just kind of wish they didn’t pick pigs first. [laughing] I seriously have nothing against pigs. I normally get all kinds of hate email. I’m just kidding. I’m just playing to the whole thing. It’s all right. It’s nothing against pigs. I don’t eat them. I want them to stay alive.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a joke, everybody. It’s a joke. We’re keeping it light here on What A Day. And speaking of bringing back things from the dead, in a reply to a tweet lamenting the untimely murder of the Choco Taco, the official Klondike account wrote on Wednesday, quote, “We’re hoping to bring this favorite treat back to ice cream trucks in the coming years”. Some specifics here would be nice. Klondike clearly learned the art of committing to things in the most vague terms possible from 27 year old men on Hinge. But when pressed for details by the Today show, Klondike said that support for the Choco Taco had led them to rethink their discontinuation of the treat. But there was no definite timeline yet for bringing it back. Okay, so you know what my counterpoint is Klondike is fully responsible. They are the ones who are in control of whether or not the Choco Taco gets made, manufactured, out there. And here they are in People magazine being like, it’s dead. No, it’s not. They just wanted to drum up a little marketing. And you know what? Smart campaign, people bought into it. But I. I’ve had enough of this nonsense.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go. Crooked Coffee launched a new product today to get you caffeinated for those hot days, the Cold Brewer. It’s a sleek bottle that makes brewing your own cold brew at home super easy. Like all of Crooked Coffee, a portion of the proceeds will go to Register Her, to help millions of women across the country vote. Get your Cold Brewer now and a bag of coffee while you’re at it at Crooked.com/coffee. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, perfuse the choco taco with Organ X and tell your friends to listen.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And if you’re into reading and not just the Inflation Reduction Act in full like me, including the parts that Kyrsten Sinema just axed. What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Abdul El-Sayed.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi and–
[spoken together] Come back Choco Taco.
Priyanka Aribindi: We’re literally sitting here begging to a chocolate and ice cream taco. So this is what Klondike has done to us as a society.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I feel like this is the consequence of having elected Donald Trump president.
Priyanka Aribindi: I haven’t done the math on it, but I’m sure it leads back.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There’s definitely a lot there.
Priyanka Aribindi: 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 producer is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.