In This Episode
- Former Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin pleaded not guilty to not one but TWO federal indictments this week in two separate instances of extreme police brutality. He’s currently serving a 22.5 year sentence at a maximum security prison outside of Minneapolis. And starting today, Minneapolis voters will decide on a measure that could reform the make-up and mission of the local police department.
- Today, U.S. officials take a shot at maybe approving a booster of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. An FDA advisory committee has a hearing scheduled about the need for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and it is expected to vote today.
- And in headlines: health care is rationed throughout Idaho, California wildfires threaten some of the biggest trees on Earth, and France called out a new security alliance between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, September 17th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we are already nostalgic for Insta-Story posts telling us to vote in the California recall.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, sure. Let’s just do the whole thing again in October. I am not participating, but I was caught up in the drama.
Priyanka Aribindi: I love a good info graphic.
Gideon Resnick: I live for them and I die for them. On today’s show, the FDA considers boosters for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, plus four civilians shot up into space with just the autopilot as their captain.
Priyanka Aribindi: Uh-oh. But first, it has been a busy week in Minneapolis for the issue of police reform and accountability. First, former Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin pleaded not guilty to not one but two federal indictments this week in two separate instances of extreme police brutality.
Gideon Resnick: Well, yeah, and people might have missed this actually happening. So tell us what the details are there.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So you probably remember when Chauvin was convicted earlier this year on state murder charges for killing George Floyd. He’s currently serving a 22 1/2 year sentence at a maximum security prison outside of Minneapolis for that. But he and three other former Minneapolis police officers are also facing federal charges from Floyd’s murder. And earlier this week, on Tuesday, the four of them pleaded not guilty to those charges. But that’s not where this ends. Chauvin also pleaded not guilty yesterday in a completely separate indictment involving the use of unreasonable force, this time with a 14-year old back in September of 2017.
Gideon Resnick: Dear Lord. So what happened in that incident?
Priyanka Aribindi: So the first count of that indictment said Chauvin, quote, “held the teenager by the throat and struck them multiple times in the head with a flashlight.” Then the second count said that Chauvin, quote, “held his knee on the neck and upper back of the teenager even after they were lying prone, handcuffed and unresisting.” Obviously horrific for so many reasons, but especially because that last part sounds very similar to what he did to George Floyd.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And after Floyd’s murder, the people of Minneapolis were calling for these big systemic changes to be made to policing in the city. So what do we know about their proposals and what is actually happening now?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, there are two parts here. So first, I’m going to tell you a little bit more about the proposal that has been in the works. And then we can get into some of the hiccups that have been happening on the way to getting it on to the ballot.
Gideon Resnick: Got it. OK, let’s do it.
Priyanka Aribindi: So, like you said, the community definitely wants policing reforms. Even opponents of the proposal that’s currently on the table agree with that. But not everybody agrees on what those reforms should look like. There is a ballot referendum right now in Minneapolis to replace the police department with a public safety department. This new department would use a so-called comprehensive public health approach, meaning that law enforcement would be reduced and focus on responding to violent crime, while other specialized responders would address mental health, addiction, homeless outreach, and violence prevention.
Gideon Resnick: OK, so an interesting proposal being put forward there. But there is a caveat since it doesn’t go quite as far as police abolition altogether.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. OK, so the organizers behind this proposal say that the public safety department would absolutely still have police and that the goal of this amendment is not to defund or disband the police. The proposal also would shift the department from under the purview of the mayor’s office, which is what the police department is, to give the city council a little more oversight as well. But opponents of this proposal think that the amendment doesn’t offer a clear enough plan for what this new department is actually going to look like and how it will work. But the coalition behind the plan says that it’s intentionally lacking some of these details. They want to work with residents to create what this becomes.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. And so aside from the proposals outright opponents, there are other things that are standing in its way. Do we know at this point if this is actually going to be on the ballot?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So we found this out right before we went to record. Really great timing for us, but definitely came down to the wire. So for the first time since Floyd’s death 15 months ago, the people of Minneapolis will be voting in a local election. And today itself is actually the first day of early voting. So if you are there, make your plan to vote, get out there, do your thing. But the reason that things got so crazy was because earlier this week, a judge in Hennepin County ruled that the city officials chose to present this question to voters in a, quote, “unreasonable and misleading way.” And she barred the votes on the measure from being counted.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. This prompted an immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the votes would be counted. But that happened at about 6:00 p.m. Central yesterday night, not before I stress ate multiple polls of Thai food waiting for what would happen here.
Gideon Resnick: Listen, there are worse foods to stress eat, so at least there’s that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, certainly are. That is true. And we will keep following the story. I’ll keep you all updated on the future of policing in Minneapolis, and hopefully across the country as well. But for now, an update on the pandemic. Today, U.S. officials take a shot at maybe approving a booster of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. And some health experts say they might be necessary for certain people.
[clip of Dr. Ashish Jha] Our vaccines are holding up against severe illness for most people. But the data emerging from Israel, the data emerging from the United States, suggests that efficacy of the vaccine does begin to wane probably about six months after the second shot.
Priyanka Aribindi: That was Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown School of Public Health, talking about boosters on MSNBC yesterday. An FDA advisory committee has a hearing scheduled today about the need for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It’s expected to vote today, too. But Gideon, what do we know about what experts are thinking here?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so this has been a pretty big topic of discussion for a while and for a lot of different reasons. Among them being the question of giving people third doses before we have these huge populations of the world that have yet to have one. And another being whether or not such a strategy like this for all ages is even really backed up scientifically at this point. And so within that, maybe, what the goal is of such a strategy overall? Like is it fully necessary to tamp down any and all infection risk or just focus on severe outcomes? But to take a step back here, it’s been nearly a month since the Biden administration said that it was planning to make boosters available to the general population beginning as soon as September 20th, pending approval. I had to check a calendar to make sure that this is accurate. But September 20th is Monday.
Priyanka Aribindi: There has been some skepticism of that plan, though. Where is it coming from, and what is the reasoning behind it?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so some of it is from the FDA itself. On Wednesday, the FDA put out this report talking about the data that it analyzed from Pfizer and BioNTech. As a reminder, that data was submitted by the companies themselves, with the intent on getting this third shot approved. And so the FDA sounded pretty noncommittal and they raised some caveats about the available booster data at this stage. A lot of that is coming from Israel. The agency said that some studies pointed to declines in efficacy for symptomatic infections, but other ones didn’t. And the reviewers wrote in part, quote, “overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States.” So point there being these vaccines are still working. We don’t know at this point if it’s super, super necessary to recommend more. But even before that, two FDA regulators who are planning to leave the agency published their own review in the medical journal The Lancet. They said that there wasn’t much credible evidence to support a booster campaign for the whole population at this point.
Priyanka Aribindi: OK. So that’s the skepticism, but what is the case being made for boosters? Is there one? What’s going on there?
Gideon Resnick: There is Pfizer has really been making it, which you can interpret in a lot of different ways.
Priyanka Aribindi: You don’t say?
Gideon Resnick: You do not say. But they’ve really been relying on actual real data from Israel in making their case to US health officials. The most recent data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week, and that pointed to a pretty significant drop in the likelihood of infection among about one million people in Israel—they were aged 60 and older—after receiving a third Pfizer dose. That’s in addition to severe disease. So evidence that the third one is helpful. Pfizer also said that when it gave a third dose to over 300 or so trial participants, antibodies jumped about three fold. Now, one other thing to just throw out there as we wait to learn more about what the US is going to do: the UK announced a plan earlier this week for getting through the winter months of the pandemic, and part of it included offering a third dose to people over 50.
Priyanka Aribindi: OK. So, as you said, we are still waiting to see what this meeting will hold. But what is next in the process here?
Gideon Resnick: OK, so the recommendations by this committee are not binding per se, but the FDA does typically follow them and that’s basically to sign off on the efficacy and safety. Then next week, the CDC is going to meet with their own advisers and they will be determining who would actually get another dose in the US if that happens. In the past, they had suggested that boosters could be useful for people like nursing home residents, older people generally, health care workers, and the like. The option is already available to people who are immunocompromised. So today is going to kind of mark the start of the process of finding out how much more widely boosters end up getting recommended. We’re keeping our eyes on the developing story and we’ll be back with more on it next week. And that is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about letting a robot drive you to space: SpaceX launched its first private space flight on Wednesday with just four tourists aboard and an automated system operating the capsule. Unlike the relatively brief billionaire space flights that we’ve seen recently, this trip will last a full three days, splashing down tomorrow. The rocket, which is called Inspiration4, is going to soar 100 hundred miles above the International Space Station with a planned maximum altitude of 357 miles. The whole trip is funded by one of the passengers, billionaire Jared Isaacman. He intends to use the trip to raise $100 million for St. Jude Hospital, on top of 100 million that he has already pledged to donate. Yesterday, SpaceX tweeted that the crew was, quote, “healthy, happy, and resting comfortably.” So Priyanka, what is your reaction to the first no-astronaut space flight?
Priyanka Aribindi: Well, I mean, the “healthy, happy, resting comfortably”—that’s intel from a robot. Do we trust that? I don’t know. I think the robot has them as hostages in space. That is my, that’s my initial reaction to this. What about you? Would you go to space if a robot was flying you there?
Gideon Resnick: This is such an interesting question. Thank you for asking. I, I don’t know that I would if a human was piloting or trusted sources. It’s a, it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposal, I guess.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s wild. Like none of them know, I’m presuming they don’t very little about, I don’t know, astronaut stuff. Like, you want to be up there with nobody who knows what they’re doing? Like, that seems like a terrible idea to me.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Or you know, to your point, there is something going on with the computer-type situation where it turns into like a 2001 HAL-type thing, and there are like ulterior motives here or something. But good for them. We hope that the computer obviously does not turn on them at any point. Just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe on the ground or in space, whatever it is that you prefer. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The Idaho Department of Health announced that it will expand health care rationing throughout the entire state, yesterday. This comes because of a tremendous increase in the number of patients that are hospitalized with COVID-19. On Wednesday, Idaho’s largest hospital network, St. Luke’s Health System, asked state officials to allow, quote, “crisis standards of care.” Now, crisis care standards are when resources are strained, such as when there are a scarce number of ICU beds, and only patients who are most likely to survive receive them. Only about 40% of Idaho’s population is currently vaccinated, and it has the third lowest vaccination rate in the country. About 92% of all of the COVID-19 patients in St. Luke’s hospitals were unvaccinated. Coronavirus patients have exhausted the state’s medical resources, and in the last week, one in every 201 Idaho residents has tested positive for the virus.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is so crazy.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wildfires in California are now threatening some of the biggest trees on earth. Two fires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have already closed down Sequoia National Park, which is home to giant sequoia trees, some that are as tall as 300 feet and hundreds to thousands of years old. Two thirds of all giant sequoia grove acres have already burned down in wildfires within the last five years. A historic drought and heat wave caused by manmade climate change are to blame for the extreme proliferation of fires in the area. Firefighters are working hard to protect the giants by doing things like wrapping them in huge fire resistant blankets that are usually reserved for protecting buildings. Here’s hoping that they’re able to save the General Sherman tree, which—fun fact—is the largest tree in the world by volume. It will become the biggest and most vengeful tree ghost if we kill it via climate change. We cannot let that happen!
Gideon Resnick: No, but I mean, could you blame it for stomping on some humans and, you know, getting revenge?
Priyanka Aribindi: For haunting? Yeah, no, I certainly could not.
Gideon Resnick: No. Now onto some international tea, which could potentially have long-lasting consequences for global relations. Yesterday, both China and France called out a brand new security alliance in which the US and the U.K. agreed to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Pacific. Even though China was not explicitly mentioned in the announcement, this decision has widely been interpreted as an attempt to counter Beijing’s reach in the region. China’s government said the new partnership clearly targeted China—they had been sub tweeted—and warned that it could intensify a regional arms race. Meanwhile, France is angry because the new deal voided a $66 billion agreement it made in 2016 to sell French-built submarines—pronounced submarines—to Australia. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tried to cool things down yesterday, describing France as a, quote, “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region. That was after France compared Biden to Trump for making the decision without warning or discussion.
Priyanka Aribindi: The girls are fighting. All right. Here is the latest on some stories that have been captivating/tormenting us this week. The show that set out to prove that helping people is a zero-sum game, “The Activist” on CBS, is being retooled after widespread backlash. In its initial formulation, The Activist pitted six contestants against each other to see who could raise the most awareness for their cause. The competition element has now been nixed, and the show will air as a documentary special about the six activists. No word on what’s happening to Usher, Priyanka Chopra, and Julianne Hough, who were initially announced as judges. Presumably, the camera will capture them frowning throughout the doc to show that they understand that this is serious business. There is also an update to the most famous stolen election of the past year, the one for Jeopardy’s new host. Trivia champ Ken Jennings will join Mayim Bialik in hosting through the end of 2021 after Mike Richards, like at least one other, Michael Richards, before him experienced a very public downfall. The White House confirmed on Wednesday that it had offered to arrange a call between a doctor and large ball misinformation vector Nicki Minaj. That’s probably what Minaj was talking about when she said she’d been invited to visit the White House, which is very, very different. But sure, Nicki, whatever you say. I’m not in the mood to fight with the Barbz.
Gideon Resnick: Her assistant who relayed that information to her might be getting fired now. That’s what I think might have happened.
Priyanka Aribindi: I think there’s a lot that, that has gone wrong this week in Nicki Minaj’s life. I feel like maybe she could use a do over. I would like that for her.
Gideon Resnick: We could all do the Men in Black memory eraser thing for everyone involved.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’d be happy with that.
Gideon Resnick: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go. Lovett Or Leave It is back in Los Angeles: Live Or Else! Vaxx up and mask up to join Jon Lovett and friends every week at Arena Cinelounge, outdoors. In his first show back, Lovett will be joined by a friend of the pod, Emily Heller. Tickets are on sale now for weekly shows starting September 23rd. Learn more and get your tickets at Crooked.com/events. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, be a good Michael Richards if your name is Michael Richards, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just reviews of a short-format YouTube documentary that will likely be the final form of CBS’s The Activist like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And eyes on the road, robots!
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Do not look at pedestrians, please.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.