In This Episode
- Russia launched 30 missiles at a Ukrainian military base over the weekend, killing at least 35 people and wounding at least 134 more.
- New COVID cases in the U.S. have dropped from 800,000 cases per day at the pandemic’s peak to about 36,000 cases per day. Last week, the CDC announced that 98 percent of the U.S. population lived in areas where it’s safe to congregate indoors without masks on. Meanwhile, China’s daily cases of symptomatic COVID have more than tripled in recent days to its highest numbers in two years, with the Omicron variant driving much of that.
- And in headlines: Saudi Arabia executed 81 people, Texas’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled against abortion providers challenging SB8, and Uber announced that it will add a temporary fuel surcharge for its services in the U.S.
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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, March 14th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan, and this is What A Day, where we are making a playlist for Barack Obama to listen to while he recovers from COVID.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, he’s made us so many playlists over the years, it’s only fair we make him one.
Erin Ryan: We don’t expect a big thank you, just one follow from the official Barack Obama on our Spotify account.
Tre’vell Anderson: He could easily do that. Like, come on. On today’s show, masks are coming off in the US, but COVID cases are spiking in China. Plus, Uber will be tacking on gas surcharges to fares to help drivers with skyrocketing fuel costs.
Erin Ryan: Ooh, interesting. But first, let’s bring you an update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of our recording at 9:30 Eastern on Sunday night. Over the weekend, Russian forces struck a Ukrainian military base. Tre’vell, what more can you tell us?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, so Russia launched a barrage of 30 missiles at a training site for foreign fighters just 15 miles from where American soldiers are stationed in the allied country of Poland. According to Ukrainian officials, 22 of those missiles were intercepted by Ukraine’s air defenses, but the attack killed at least 35 people and wounded at least 134 others.
Erin Ryan: Ugh. That just adds to the growing bloodshed of this invasion. What are the latest numbers?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So according to the U.N., since this invasion began a couple of weeks ago, at least 596 civilians in Ukraine have died, over a 1,000 more have been injured, though they cautioned that actual numbers are likely considerably higher. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov called the military base strike quote, “a terrorist attack on peace and security” and repeated it now re-occurring call for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But as we’ve seen, the U.S. and its NATO allies are being cautious about exactly how it goes about supporting Ukraine. While they thus far have said no to a no-fly zone, Biden committed over the weekend another $200 million in arms and equipment to Ukraine, although on Saturday a Russian official said it would consider any supply lines of those weapons legitimate targets. Here’s U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan yesterday on Meet the Press talking about some of these updates:
[clip of Jake Sullivan] It’s no surprise that the Russians are trying to expand the number of targets in this war because they’re frustrated by their lack of ability to take some of the major cities, by the fact that they are well behind the objectives they set for themselves and by the incredibly stiff and brave resistance that the people of Ukraine, the military of Ukraine, and ordinary citizens of Ukraine are putting up. And we’re going to continue to support those fighters as they fight.
Tre’vell Anderson: Now, aside from military support, the world is still putting economic pressure on Russia. In a new round of proposed European Union sanctions, they were looking to target more than a dozen individuals, including Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the owner of England’s Chelsea Football Club.
Erin Ryan: This is like the biggest story in the world of soccer right now. If they froze his assets or did anything with Chelsea, that would be huge. Then on the ground, there have been major developments for civilians still in Ukraine trying to resist Russian influence. What’s the latest there?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, so on Saturday, in the Ukrainian city of Melitopol 2,000 people took to the streets to protest the abduction of their mayor. Apparently, Russia has been kidnaping city leaders and installing their own mayors. In fact, Melitopol’s new mayor, who was formerly on the City Council, responded to the protests by releasing a video telling the city to get used to quote, “the new reality.”
Erin Ryan: This is so bizarre. The resorting to looney tunes tech—what are they, are they, are they showing up, kidnaping the mayor, having the new mayor dress up in the old mayor’s clothes? So you show up and you’re like, Hey, Mayor, I’ve got this curb that needs to be painted. And you’re like, Whoa, that’s not the mayor. And he’s like, Yes, I am. And he’s got a pasted-on mustache. Like, what? What is the point of this?
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, Erin, if that wasn’t enough, that little virus thing we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years, the internationally known Miss Funky Covidina is still swirling in the air, all right? With millions of people fleeing, health systems disrupted, and testing and vaccination programs suspended in many places, Ukrainian health officials say they fear that another coronavirus surge is possible because obviously ain’t nobody worried about wearing masks when they’re dodging bullets and missiles. So that is our update on the Russian-Ukrainian war right now.
Erin Ryan: Oh, my goodness, what else could go wrong?
Tre’vell Anderson: Right;
Erin Ryan: Speaking of COVID, that’s the next update, because Sunday marked the two year anniversary of then-President Trump begrudgingly declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency. The end of this week will mark the two-year anniversary of California Governor Gavin Newsom declaring the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order as well—Oh my gosh. Two years: a million years, or five minutes ago. Who can say? Time has collapsed on itself. And so here we are, season premiere of COVID Season 3 and I’m not sure the writers room knows what it’s doing.
Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, it’s kind of like Lost in that way.
Erin Ryan: Oh my gosh. After Season 2, Lost lost me. And lost is a great way to describe how a lot of people are feeling. First, there’s a lot of good news out there. New cases in the U.S. have dropped from highs of 800,000 cases per day at peak to about 36,000 cases per day. And last week, the CDC announced that 98% of the U.S. population lived in areas where it’s safe to congregate indoors without masks on, as most parts of the country now qualify as low-to-moderate transmission zones. Places as far flung as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have dropped their mandates, as have federal buildings in D.C.. In most places, individual businesses are still able to require masking and vaccines, but those city and statewide regulations are going away.
Tre’vell Anderson: Now is this the same CDC that two years ago told us that we shouldn’t wear masks at all?
Erin Ryan: Oh yeah, it’s the same CDC that did that. In fact, I remember distinctly doing a What A Day episode after that guidance was issued and saying, Look, guys, we don’t need these masks—so, you know, egg on my face. Not everybody is running to rip their masks off. I mean, two years of what can feel like public health guidance whiplash means that when new guidance comes out, people tend to be wary of it regardless of what the guidance is. And you know, we don’t really do well with change as a nation. And this sudden casting aside of masks isn’t exactly welcome news for people who are immunocompromised or who have children under five who can’t get vaccinated yet. And we’re still coming up on the extremely bleak milestone of one million COVID deaths. All this as unvaccinated Nets player Kyrie Irving saunters maskless courtside at a Nets game where the players are required to be vaccinated, but not the fans. This cultural moment is going to be so hard to explain to future generations. I currently am living it and I don’t fully understand it.
Tre’vell Anderson: None of us understand it. We’re just going to bypass this moment in history. It was just too chaotic. How about that? OK?
Erin Ryan: Pure chaos.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right. meanwhile, we’re not done by any means. There’s another variant out there to watch for. What’s it called?
Erin Ryan: Move over webinar, there is a terrible new portmanteau in town—I almost wrote this as ‘momtrepreneur’ because I hate momtrepreneur but I think webinar is worse than momtrepreneur. Anyway, the new portmanteau that is terrible is “Deltacron” and it describes a new variant of COVID that combines aspects of Omicron and aspects of Delta. And apparently, it’s in the U.S., where it’s been for some time, and it’s also in several European countries. While it sounds scary, experts say the level of transmission is very low. Another variant known as “stealth Omicron” is effectively subdued by existing vaccines, so nobody’s hair is on fire over that. But it’s important to remember just how easily this thing mutates and how all of our newfound irrational exuberance can evaporate in a heartbeat, like the promised Shot Girl Summer of 2021 under a Delta wave.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, I remember that summer. It was a quick whiplash moment. We thought we were going to be out and then we were like, No, you’re not actually going to be out.
Erin Ryan: Everybody was ready to make out with strangers in bars like they were in college. That never happened.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Now, while we nervously wait to see what happens in the US, there is some major COVID news in Asia. What’s happening there?
Erin Ryan: China’s daily cases of symptomatic COVID have more than tripled in recent days to its highest level in two years, with the Omicron variant driving much of that. Now we’re talking about much smaller numbers in China than we do in the U.S., only in the low four-figure range according to the best numbers the media can access on the situation, but the quick jump has led the country to act fast. The surge has centered on the northeastern province of Jilin, where provincial capital Changchun is under lockdown as its hospitals and health care providers deal with the added strain. There are also problems in the south, where six government officials were fired for failing to manage COVID in and around Shenzhen. Overall, it seems that China zero-COVID approach of managing the pandemic through testing and aggressive lockdowns is being put to the test with a rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
Tre’vell Anderson: Ah, yi yi. So Miss Rona isn’t finished with the world just yet. In fact, someone well known to the crooked family caught it.
Erin Ryan: Exactly. We alluded to this a bit earlier, but on Sunday, former President Barack Obama—heard of him—announced that he had tested positive for COVID, saying in a tweet that he felt fine apart from a sore throat and that he was vexed and boosted, and that his wife, national treasure Michelle Obama, had tested negative. Here’s wishing the ex-POTUS a swift recovery. That’s the latest for now, we’ll be back after some ads.
Tre’vell Anderson: OK, now let’s wrap up with some headline.
Saudi Arabia executed 81 people on Saturday. This is the country’s largest known mass execution in modern history. Most of those killed were Saudi, but seven were Yemenis and one was Syrian. Saudi officials said in a statement that these people had to be executed for, quote, “multiple heinous crimes that left a large number of civilians and law enforcement officers dead.” However, this drew international criticism, with the director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights saying quote, “These executions are the opposite of justice.” The group said it tried to monitor some of the cases of those who were put to death, however, it said the Saudi justice system wasn’t transparent, and of the information it could find, it said none of the charges merited the death penalty. This comes after the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he’s working to curb Saudi Arabia’s use of capital punishment. But at the same time, the Saudi government denies any wrongdoing or these mass executions.
Erin Ryan: Yes, move along. Nothing to see here. Of course, I’m sure right, all on the up and up, everything is fine. Some legal updates from Texas over the weekend. Let’s start with the good news and this one’s for trans families. A judge blocked the state from enforcing Governor Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate gender-affirming care for minors as child abuse. The state’s Department of Family and Protective Services had been investigating one of its own employees who has a transgender daughter, but the ACLU of Texas and LGBTQ+ civil rights group Lambda Legal sued on that family’s behalf, and won. Attorney General Ken Paxton, said he would appeal the decision on Friday, but for now, trans kids and their families can breathe a sigh of relief—side note Attorney General Ken Paxton cannot breathe a sigh of relief for himself as he is being investigated for corruption, still. Now for the bad news: Texas Supreme Court ruled against abortion providers challenging SB8, the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks. The High Court unanimously agreed that state officials can’t be sued because they can’t enforce the ban. The law gives all the power to private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Texas resident get an abortion. This defeats what abortion rights advocates say was their last shot at blocking the law, which is the most restrictive abortion ban in the country—and is objectively crazy! It is a crazy law. Nancy Northrup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said quote, “the courts have allowed Texas to nullify a constitutional right.” Well, hang on, Nancy, we’ve only got a couple more months until the Supreme Court does the same thing.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yikes. With gas prices now pinch hitting for COVID in the great struggle to keep us confined in our homes, Uber is announcing that it will add a temporary fuel surcharge for its services in the US. Starting on Wednesday, riders will pay an extra fee of up to 55 cents per trip, and Uber Eats customers will pay up to 45 cents. The rideshare company said the policy will last for two months and that 100% of the surcharge will go to their drivers since they pay for their own gas. If you want to support your drivers on top of this fee, you can do it by only taking Ubers to places that are downhill. State officials are also trying to soften the blow of high fuel prices by proposing a temporary suspension of the gas tax. State and federal taxes on gas typically go toward repairing and expanding transportation infrastructure, but with gas prices skyrocketing amid the Russia-Ukraine war, state leaders argue that it’s more important to make fuel more affordable for their residents who, it’s worth noting, are probably used to swerving around potholes anyway. Maryland, for example, is close to approving a month-long suspension on its gas tax. Six Democratic governors also wrote to federal lawmakers last week asking them to suspend the federal gas tax until the end of the year, writing quote, “Money saved at the pump translates into dollars back in consumers’ pockets for groceries, child care, rent, and more.
Erin Ryan: You know, this is one of those stories that makes me feel like Bernie Sanders. Like, make the billionaires pay their taxes. We need to fix infrastructure in this country, and this is, you know, a short-term solution to a short-term serious problem. But like long term, we need to do something. And also, last year, didn’t we just let a child tax credit expire that put dollars back into consumers’ pockets for groceries, child care, rent, and more? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s not just you, it’s all of us. We all recognize the foolishness at play.
Erin Ryan: Argh. The foolishness at play is overwhelming. In other news about the American dollar letting itself go, as inflation sits at a 40-year high and production costs are up, some manufacturers looking to pad their margins are resorting to “shrink-flation,”—that’s when companies reduce the size of their products while keeping the price the same so that only consumers who weigh all their groceries will notice. Example potato chip company Frito-Lay announced last week that it’s reducing the size of its standard bag by half an ounce, or a difference of about five chips. That bag of chips so costs roughly $4 and 30 cents, so your wallet won’t be affected, only your Dorito-deprived stomach will. And Frito-Lay isn’t an anomaly. In recent months, Crest has shrunk some of their toothpaste bottles—I knew it! I knew it!
Tre’vell Anderson: Same, actually.
Erin Ryan: Oh my gosh. I opened a new thing of toothpaste the other week and I was like, This is not the right size.
Tre’vell Anderson: You’re like, Did I buy the miniature version? What is this?
Erin Ryan: Did I buy like,—yeah, the euro, is this like some European sizing that they’re now offering, like slim cut toothpaste? No, I was right. I really thought I was losing my mind, and this makes me feel a little better if not cheated out of some money. Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal is doing the same thing. They are now selling in boxes of eight instead of boxes of 10, and one size of Gatorade shrunk from 32 ounces to 28 ounces, though in the final case, Gatorade claims the change wasn’t related to inflation, saying quote, “basically, we redesigned the bottle. It’s more aerodynamic and easy to grab.” Aerodynamic!? How fast as the airspeed of your Gatorade bottle as you’re drinking it that you need to cut down on drag?
Tre’vell Anderson: I think it’s for the sports people. Maybe they’re like tossing the bottles in the air or something?
Erin Ryan: Right. And you’re like Milliseconds count, I need it faster. Anyway, it’s all a lot to process, but as you dry your tears from this side effect of inflation, remember that you’re not crying more, there are just fewer tissues in the box.
Tre’vell Anderson: We should all start protesting for them to restore everything to their pre levels.
Erin Ryan: I mean, Costco pretty soon is just going to be like a regular store. And like CVS is just the whole section is going to be those tiny travel things.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right. And those are the headlines.
Erin Ryan: One more thing before we go: check out the latest episode of Offline, recorded live from South by Southwest. This week, Jon talked to Greg Daniels about his latest show, “Upload” and what inspired him to write a show about the digital afterlife, how likely that future may actually be, and what he thinks of The Office’s lasting impact. You can now find new episodes of Offline every Sunday in the Offline feed wherever you get your podcasts.
Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, do an Uber ride entirely in neutral, and tell your friends to listen.
Erin Ryan: And if you’re into reading, and not just the exact weights of chip bags, so you know you’re not getting tricked like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Erin Ryan.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[together] And give me back my five Doritos!
Tre’vell Anderson: I want them. I want all of that cheesy goodness.
Erin Ryan: When you want Doritos, five Doritos can really take the edge off.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. Like, it’s a solid snack song. So like, you’re missing out a whole meal plan.
Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. This cannot stand. We need to fix this. This is priority one in the world right now, Doritos.
Gideon Resnick: 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 producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.