In This Episode
- The coronavirus relief bill moves to the Senate this week. A group of progressive House Democrats are continuing to push for a minimum wage increase in the bill. Meanwhile,
Senator Warren and other Democrats introduced a wealth tax proposal aimed at addressing economic inequality. We talk to Representative Pramila Jayapal about why she’s pushing for it now.
- Protests in Myanmar are ongoing following the coup last month and the response from the police and military has grown increasingly violent. We review the recent history of the country, and recommend some good resources for digging in deeper.
- And in headlines: President Biden meets virtually with Mexican President Lopez-Obrador, why pharma companies won’t share vaccine blueprints, and former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy is convicted of corruption.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, March 2nd. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we’re calling our moms twice as much now in celebration of Women’s History Month.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. And she’s calling me twice as much in celebration of Women’s History Month.
Gideon Resnick: I’m getting the same amount of calls and um . . .
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show an update on the situation in Myanmar one month after the coup, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest.
[clip of Sen Schumer] Last week, the legislation passed in the House of Representatives. This week, the Senate will take up the measure. Let me say that again: the Senate will take up the American Rescue Plan this week.
Akilah Hughes: Well, thank you. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for doing my job there and just saying the news. [laughs] So like he said, the COVID relief plan that passed recently in the House with no Republican votes, is set to move forward in the Senate this week. Which means it’s time for another segment we’re calling Stimulus Countdown, or as someone wonderful on Twitter suggested: Stimu-waiting.
[song “Tired of Waiting”] So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you . . .
Akilah Hughes: It would be so tight if they would just give us that money. [laughs] So the last time we talked about this, there was a decision from the Senate parliamentarian to nix the $15 minimum wage hike, saying it can’t be done via reconciliation. A few days have passed since and lawmakers are trying to figure out the way forward. So Gideon, where do things stand now?
Gideon Resnick: The question of the day. Well, first things first. When this decision actually came down, we mentioned there was a backup plan from Senator Sanders. He and Senator Ron Wyden, they’re the finance and budget chairs, said that if they couldn’t just increase the wage, then they wanted to add tax penalties for companies that weren’t paying workers $15 dollars an hour. But as of late Sunday night, that backup plan was scuttled—for now, at least. The Washington Post broke the news that they were stepping away from that idea, seemingly because of a desire to get the larger bill passed by mid-March, when those unemployment benefits expire. The thought, according to this report, was that it was going to be challenging to get everyone on board with this new idea in such little time.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Then yesterday, there was a more direct route proposed by some Democrats regarding the minimum wage.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, it’s sort of the easier route, I guess. Representative Ro Khanna led a letter to the White House saying that the parliamentarian should simply be overruled. It was signed by a number of members, including Pramila Jayapal, Cory Bush and AOC, and it cited some historical examples where former vice presidents did just that. The other route that we’ve discussed and has been discussed by Senate Democrats is simply eliminating the filibuster. That would clear the way for this and other things, rather than using the budget process.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, just do it like, we all hate the filibuster. [laughs] Is fine.
Gideon Resnick: We don’t like it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Let’s talk about how the administration is navigating all of this, though.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. They’re pretty consistently adamant that they are not interested in overruling the parliamentarian. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said as much yesterday again. So right now, what you’re hearing a lot of from Biden and some Senate Democrats is this continued verbal support for raising the minimum wage without an obvious way or will to do it. As we mentioned before, if this passes in the Senate without the minimum wage hike attached, it will go back to the House where the increase was included. Then it gets tricky and it’s possible some Democrats will want to pass the overall package as it is to get it done and not risk Biden’s first legislative accomplishment here. Or they might stand firm and not vote for a bill that doesn’t include the minimum wage hike.
Akilah Hughes: So a lot of options. But meanwhile, Senator Warren and other Democrats also introduced a wealth tax proposal yesterday. This is something that she had campaigned on during her presidential run. And we’ve heard a lot of members of Congress talking about this in recent years. Gideon, do you want to explain how it works?
Gideon Resnick: I do, because it is pretty straightforward, which is nice for all of us. The pitch is a 3% annual tax on wealth over one billion dollars and a 2% annual wealth tax on net worth over 50 million. Economist Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman at UC Berkeley estimated that it would apply to about 100,000 Americans and raise at least three trillion dollars over a decade. So a two or three percent tax on .05% of the population could fund major priorities of the administration like child care, infrastructure and education. It’s pretty straightforward. The White House has so far been dodgy on this. But the renewed urgency from Democrats is in part because wealth inequality was very bad before the pandemic and it has only increased and gotten worse since. That was a major point that Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made. She’s leading the House sponsorship and I talked to her yesterday about it. She said the case for a wealth tax is even more clear now a year into the pandemic.
[Rep. Pramila Jayapal] There are 46 new billionaires that have been created just since COVID started and the billionaires that we had have become1.3 trillion dollars wealthier since COVID. And so I think that that deep inequality—when people are struggling and there’s, you know, eight million more people in poverty, there’s a million new unemployment claims every week being filed—it is that disparity that I think makes it that much more appealing for people to pay their fair share.
Gideon Resnick: Yep. Again, straightforward. She also told me that the tax and the minimum wage issue are both popular policies that could be realities with filibuster reform. Also that they are hoping to bring to light the connection between racial inequity in the country and the way in which wealth is taxed or quote “better said, is not taxed.”
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, definitely could be more taxed.
Gideon Resnick: That’s true for sure. A lot to stay focused on there. But in international news, let’s turn our attention to Myanmar. We’ve been following the situation there since the military took over last month and wanted to spend some time talking about it today.
Akilah Hughes: Yes. So a lot has transpired. There have been ongoing protests in cities and towns across the country following the military coup. Protests on the ground have been growing and the response to those protests has become increasingly violent. The U.N. said they had, quote “credible information” that security forces had opened fire on protesters in different cities, killing 18 people and injuring 30 people on Saturday. That hasn’t stopped protesters from taking to the streets, though. Police in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, tear gas crowds yesterday who are still out there calling for the military to step down.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and for people who haven’t been reading about this day to day, let’s just do a mini refresher on how we got here.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So for five decades, Myanmar was under military rule. The country had been progressing slowly towards democracy, but on February 1st, the same day that their new parliament was set to take office, this coup was initiated. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party would have led the government, but instead she and the president and a slew of senior officials were detained. The military is now charging her with crimes and hoping to keep her out of office. And just a primer on why the military dislikes Aung San Suu Kyi. She rose to prominence in the 1980s and something called the 8-8-88 Uprising against military rule and became the general secretary of the National League for Democracy, or NLD. In 1990, the NLD won 81% of the parliament seats, but those results were nullified by the military. She was detained before that election and remained under house arrest for 15 years. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in the 90s for her struggle for democracy and human rights. More recently, though, she’s been criticized for human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims. But back to her and the military. In 2015, the military took the major step of handing over some of their power to civilians when NLD won elections that year. It was seen as a huge gain for democracy. And Aung San Suu Kyi became the elected leader. And she’s basically been a figurehead for what the military there has historically been against: democracy.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And so obviously, we can’t get to all the ins and outs on our short show of ours, but any recommendations on where to read more about this?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so there’s a really, really good opinion piece by political scientist based in Yangon, Min Zin, in The New York Times about the protest movement dating back to the 80s and how the young people protesting there today are the children of the young people that were leading the movement back then. Our producer, Sonia, flagged this so hat tip to Sonia. We’ll put a link in our show notes. Also, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Aye Mint Thant has been doing great on the ground, reporting on their Twitter account, complete with videos of protesters singing and chanting in the name of democracy. Here’s a clip of a protester on the front lines facing off with security forces:.
[clip of protester] [yelling].
Akilah Hughes: So the protester there is saying “Yes, I am afraid, but for our freedom, we will fight. I can die now, but I will never forgive you.” So we’ll include a link to Aye Mint Thant’s Twitter in the show notes as well. Plus, I think Pod Save the World is trying to get them on their show this week. So definitely look out for that. Our thoughts are with the people of Myanmar as this coup continues. We’ll keep you posted with any updates. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about fresh faces in business, Seth Rogen officially launched his own weed company yesterday, a brand called Houseplant that will start selling pot in California next week. For people who live elsewhere, their non-weed products, like retro table lighters and ceramics, will also be available online. We love a celebrity entrepreneur and there are tons of them. Shaq owning 155 Five Guys restaurants is obviously the blueprint. So Giddy, what other celebrity or product line crossovers do you want to see?
Gideon Resnick: Shaq sort of reminded me of this, I think that Adam Sandler should have like a basketball short thing, because he’s always wearing like, like he’s always in—
Akilah Hughes: A tall tee and basketball shorts, because he like in 2007. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: Yes. Yes. So I think, you know, there’s a very specific market. Actually it could kind of neatly overlap with the sort of attire you may or may not be wearing when you’re relaxing with houseplant. That could be an overlap there. But, yeah, he like, he has such a unique leisurewear, I would say, in basically like every setting, that that would be really funny. Like he on the sort of And One type of drawing situation for shorts.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. But like what would the face be like, what would be the like silhouette. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: It’d be Happy Gilmore. Yeah. Yeah. It would be Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore.
Akilah Hughes: I love that. You know, that’s a really good one.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I hope he’s, I hope he’s paying attention to that. I don’t know who that, yeah, that would be for like kids at their bar mitzvahs I guess, would enjoy. I don’t know.
Akilah Hughes: They would, I think everyone who likes sports, comfy apparel—we’re living in an athleisure time, you know, like this is the time just, you know, go with the silhouette that is maybe less flattering for everyone.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, I think that’s right. But same question for you, Akilah. Who are you thinking about here?
Akilah Hughes: All right. So I’ve been watching the new Billy Eilish doc, which is really great on Apple+ and, I got to say her hair is really cool. I think that she should have like a hair dye line because as someone with dark hair, it’s really difficult to maintain a hair color. And like she has had those green highlights really, really well done for a long time. I feel like, you know, we would all benefit from her knowledge about it. She also had the blue hair for a while. I just think she’s really good with hair color. And there are so few like celebrity hair color lines. There’s like a lot of like celebrity makeup, but no hair color. Help us out. Help us help ourselves.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I been wondering for a while like, where is this happening? Is this happening in her house? Like, I know that they do a lot of like the music, you know, in-house, in-family. Is there also a family member who is hooking it up on the hair? That’s what I’m curious about.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Her mom, who is like incredibly, I would say conservative, not in the like political space, but like conservative as a parent is yeah, definitely dying her hair in a big sink somewhere. Yeah. I’m not sure, but I was just thinking, you know, she could call the line Ocean Dyes, like that song Ocean Eyes. We’re out here, right? [laughs] Or maybe that’s just the color for the blue one. I’m just, you know: Billy hit us up, we’re, we’re here every day. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: Also, I would throw it out there, you know, if you need some, like athleisure wear that, maybe you don’t feel so bad about getting some, like, hair dye on? I know, I know a guy. I know a guy who’s into that.
Akilah Hughes: Perfect. Well, just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. If you’re Billy Eilish, maybe just release a brand of hair dyes called: the Bad Dye, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The biggest electricity cooperative in Texas filed for bankruptcy yesterday following the recent winter storm that left millions of residents cold and powerless. According to court documents, Brazos Electric Power Cooperative said it got an unpayable 1.8 billion dollar bill from the state’s electricity grid operator. A spokesperson from the co-op said that going bankrupt was necessary to protect its members and customers from unaffordable bills. Critics say the state operator failed to prepare for the surge of electricity usage that would result from the storm. That operator is currently being investigated by some Texas counties and a federal agency. Also yesterday, Texas AG Ken Paxton announced he’s suing electricity provider Griddy remember them for making its customers pay astronomically high electricity bills during the storm. Griddy was effectively shut down last week.
Akilah Hughes: Good riddance. President Biden spoke with Mexican President Lopez Obrador yesterday in the first virtual meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office. They discussed the challenges of the pandemic and immigration. Lopez Obrador was expected to ask Biden for help getting vaccines to countries with less resources than the U.S., including his. White House press secretary Jen Psaki got ahead of that by announcing before the meeting that Biden’s administration is not considering sharing its supply with Mexico. Mexico has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the world’s third highest death toll behind the U.S. and Brazil, and only three million vaccine doses secured so far for its population of 126 million people. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also announced yesterday that the administration will consider allowing families separated at the border to reunite and remain in the U.S. permanently, though it’s unclear whether they’ll be guaranteed a path to U.S. citizenship.
Gideon Resnick: Also on the topic of not sharing, a new report from the Associated Press found three factories on three continents that say they could start producing millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses if pharmaceutical companies would just tell them how. The drug companies are, of course, infected with a different virus—we call it capitalism—and say that their ability to protect their intellectual property and thereby profit from it is essential if they’re going to keep investing in research. The counterargument here is that a good deal of the research that was done on the COVID vaccines was funded by taxpayers who may prefer to help vulnerable people instead of shareholders at Moderns, just the thought. Governments in Africa and Southeast Asia in particular, are calling for vaccine blueprints to be made public since it’s been impossible for their countries to achieve the vaccine coverage of richer nations. Right now, the alternative offered by drug companies is to negotiate IP sharing deals with factories on a case-by-case basis and for rich countries to give more doses to poorer countries through Covax.
Akilah Hughes: A member of the elite community that can’t do crimes, presidents, is facing consequences in France. Former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty and sentenced to prison yesterday for corruption. In 2014, he arranged to offer a job to a French judge in exchange for information about another case against him. Sarkozy may not serve any of his three year sentence because, for very powerful men, even the idea of being in trouble, is punishment enough. At maximum, he’ll do a year under house arrest but even that is in question since he has appealed his conviction. Some in France say the real impact of yesterday’s ruling will be on Sarkozy’s status and influence within France’s Conservative Party. Sarkozy is also the subject of several other criminal cases, including one that accuses him of manipulating the elderly woman who inherited the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune into funding his campaign. Mr. President, give back the shampoo money now! And please return the bottles that look like cute little fish, you know. She deserves those.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you can make them swim in the bathtub, and we can’t do that.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Yeah, let her do that. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, call your mom, and tell your friends listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just freely-distributed vaccine blueprint’s like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And keep swimming, L’Oreal fish!
Akilah Hughes: You got this. Just keep it up.
Gideon Resnick: You got that one big eye that looks out into the tub.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we were kids in the 90s.
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 is our system producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.