In This Episode
- The US is approaching 500,000 deaths from Covid-19. But there is good news, too: New studies suggest that the vaccines might prevent transmission, and Biden’s goal of administering 100 million COVID vaccine shots in 100 days seems very much within reach.
- The extreme weather in Texas is improving, with power back on. Now, the focus is shifting to ensuring people have food and safe water. Some Texans have also discovered that the state’s unregulated, market-driven energy system has led to them being stuck with soaring electricity bills following last weeks energy scarcity. We explain.
- And in headlines: organizers in Myanmar call for a general strike to protest military takeover, Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing, and the family of Malcom X brings forward new evidence in government assassination plot.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, February 22nd. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, reminding Joe Biden that it’s not too late to be cool about student loan debt.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s like I always say, you can forgive me, and then you can forgive everybody else and then you’ll feel better. That’s, that’s a saying.
Gideon Resnick: Um hmm. That’s, yeah. It’s an old adage people might not know, but . . .
Akilah Hughes: You should know it.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, an update on the situation in Texas and what’s causing some people to see spiking power bills, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest.
[voice clip] You and the president have suggested that we’ll approach normality toward the end of the year. What is normal mean? Do you think Americans will still be wearing masks, for example, in 2022?
[clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci] You know, I think it is possible that that’s the case. And again, it really depends on what you mean by normality. If normality means exactly the way—
[voice clip] Right! That’s why I want you to define it.
Akilah Hughes: That was Dr. Fauci on CNN yesterday saying that it’s possible that Americans will still have to wear masks in some settings next year. He went on to say that combining high amounts of vaccinations with low cases could change recommendations of universal masking. And on that note, things are moving in the right direction in the U.S. still. But we are quickly approaching a devastating 500,000 deaths from COVID, or have already hit that according to some estimates, now roughly one year into the pandemic. That’s more than the U.S. lost in World War One, World War two and Vietnam combined.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s really hard to even put into words or understand. And the crazy thing is I was reading that in late March of last year, Fauci and Dr. Deborah Burke said at a briefing that even with strict stay at home orders, the virus could kill 240,000 Americans, which at the time sounded sort of alarmist to people. And now here we are. But as you said, we are luckily in a moment where the trend lines are continuing to move in the right direction. There were about 71,000 cases reported Saturday, for instance, which is down from more than twice that a month ago. The averages have been good. Then on vaccines, the CDC is reporting that over 63 million doses have been administered so far. But the awful winter weather much of the country experienced this past week slowed that down quite a bit.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. And what have public health officials been saying about that?
Gideon Resnick: So as of last Friday, the White House said that the weather had delayed distribution of about six million doses overall. So now what this week is going to be about is trying to play catch up quickly. Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser on the government’s pandemic response, said that the administration is going to be asking states to extend hours and reschedule appointments that were canceled because of the weather. That’s according to The Washington Post. And then even in places throughout the country that aren’t experiencing the weather directly, there have been reported delays as part of this. On Sunday, Fauci expressed optimism about the ability to catch up by the middle of the week. And then, broadly speaking, we have talked about that 100 shots in 100 days goal from the Biden administration—rolls off the tongue—which now seems very much in reach, which is great, especially given the daily averages were over 1.5 million before the storm, according to the AP. So because it’s been good, some public health experts have said they want to see those numbers hitting about three million daily to really speed this up.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and as more people get vaccinated in the U.S. and worldwide, we’re continuing to get more data. So what’s the update on the science end of everything?
Gideon Resnick: It still seems good. Two main things have been appointed discussion over the last couple of days. So there’s a Bloomberg report about the Pfizer vaccine and Israel on some preliminary data that the vaccine was over 89% effective at preventing infections. If that were to hold up, that is really solid evidence of the vaccine preventing spread or transmission, which helps on the path to herd immunity. That analysis hasn’t been peer reviewed at this point but according to Bloomberg, Pfizer and BioNTech are working to do a deeper dove on that data. Then piece number two: the New York Times wrote about a set of studies, again, preliminary here, that suggests that those that have previously been infected with COVID need one vaccine dose, which sort of cuts both ways. Like in one sense, it seems to add some evidence that if you had it, yes, you do, in fact, need to be vaccinated, but perhaps only just once. And some researchers that were quoted in that article said that they were trying to make such recommendations to the CDC. We’ll have to see how that actually plays out there. So we’ll follow all that but let’s get back to the winter weather and specifically what is happening in Texas at the moment.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So the situation with the extreme weather in Texas is improving. The power is back for most residents. The weather is also warming up. The focus has shifted to ensuring people have enough food, safe water and, you know, resources. And at this point, the damage of last week is still being assessed. Over the weekend, the death toll in Texas rose to at least 30, according to reporting. And experts say there won’t be complete numbers for up to 90 days, given how many rural areas were also hit by the storm.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is really devastating. And people are rightly angry about all the failures that actually led to this disaster. Obviously, no one individual can account for the historic storm, but the shoddy, increasingly irrelevant infrastructure across the United States isn’t something that we are just learning about now.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, The New York Times had a great article about that exact point, and we’ll link to it in the show notes. But you’re right, the extent to how bad it got was preventable. And the truth is the forecast is not that this is a one off situation. So beyond repairing all of the old pipes and roads and updating everything, we need lawmakers to take climate change seriously. And also, we just kind of need new lawmakers. Like even if you’re from a blood-red part of Texas, you got to know that this is on the people who keep getting elected into power.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And also, it’s just more and more costly every single time to have to do something about this after the fact when you know that these kinds of things are going to be the norm. So we know the Republicans in the state did little to prevent this disaster from spiraling out of control. But there have also been a lot of people doing good work at the moment and trying to help.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, there were a ton of great organizations on the ground. And over the weekend, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez actually partnered with some to raise more than 4 million dollars for relief efforts. Ted Cruz put a 12 pack of Dasani into a Hyundai, so I guess you can say they both helped (which is a lie because he is useless). And we are going to have more on that in today’s temp check. Also, if you’re looking for ways to help, Crooked made a list of great resources, check it out on Instagram at the handle Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: In the last note on Texas here, there’s been reporting on people getting wildly expensive electricity bills from last week, like in the thousands of dollars. It is deeply enraging to read. Let’s explain what’s going on there.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s absolutely outrageous. It’s not the kind of money I want to spend on just being alive. So another lesson on Texas energy system and all the ways it can go wrong for people, here it comes: essentially it’s unregulated and market driven. People are allowed to pick their energy provider and some of those energy providers offer market rate prices, meaning the price of electricity can go up and down based on supply and demand instead of a fixed price. Now, picking a plan like that can be fine, but when supply runs short and demands run high like we saw last week, the prices can skyrocket for these customers. We don’t know how many people are getting these bills yet. Most Texans are on the fixed-rate plans, but the bills are wild. There’s one guy that got a bill for over $16,000, and that’s according to reporting. And by the way, there’s this energy Professor William Hogan, who’s considered the architect of this free market system, and he gave an interview last week saying that this is how the market is designed to work. High prices are meant to drive down consumption and fix supply and demand issues. So very cool, Mr. Hogan. Great that we have to spend all of our money and empty our bank accounts just to stay alive. And then some people just don’t get too.
Gideon Resnick: Right. That is the definition of a free market at work. There’s mostly outrage over this from customers and lawmakers. So do we think people are really going to be stuck with these bills in the end?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, they really might. And some people have already had their bills due and the money deducted from their bank accounts, which is why I don’t believe and just debiting those things— like ya’ll can send me a bill and we’ll talk about it. [laughs] Governor Abbott and officials in the state say they are investigating the issue and have ordered companies to stop issuing invoices to customers until this all gets worked out. Yesterday, Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, called for the state to pay the bills. And I agree, get those bills paid and get the people who’ve already paid refunded. Others have suggested putting FEMA dollars towards it. Whatever they got to do, people should not have to pay for this mistake. Consumer advocates are saying that these market rate electricity programs shouldn’t have been offered in the first place because of risks like this. It’s really a mess. One of the energy companies that offers this kind of deal is called Griddy—not to be confused with Giddy or Gritty.
Gideon Resnick: Thank you.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Like a grid. It’s a Houston based company with about 30,000 customers. And they were telling people last weekend to switch from them to another company, which like, really? No confidence in their ability to keep people warm. Some customers actually did try to switch, but couldn’t in time. So they just had to suffer. Yeah, like you said, really free market at work. So we’ll keep monitoring this story. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re doubling back to a story we discussed last week: the bad vacation of Flyin’ Ted Cruz. So after he got back to Texas, Cruz got right to work rehabilitating his absolutely toxic image. In a tweet posted yesterday, he wrote #TexasStrong and showed three photos of him with his sleeves rolled up, kindly touching a lady on the arm and putting small packs of water into some cars. He also posted pics of him serving barbecue. Texans weren’t won over right away, with a group of them protesting outside Cruz’s house yesterday and also hiring a mariachi band to play in honor of his love of Mexico. So Giddy, do you think more posts will help Ted save his brand?
Gideon Resnick: I think more posts will solidify Ted’s brand [both laugh] as the guy who would think to do something like this in the first place. Um, you know, you really can’t Men In Black memory stick something like—
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we know about it. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. When you were caught in every single step of the act. I, we’ll see what else he gets up to this week, I guess. But, yeah I mean, doing posts where you’re like, look I helped, is very much the definition of Cruz to me. So I think I think the brand is strong and I think he’s, he’s sticking to it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. It’s pretty wild that like he’s trying to generate buzz about how he’s helping and then like you have AOC who just like, helps and that generates buzz. Like that’s the difference. You have somebody who’s actually helping and so it’s obvious that people would pay attention. And then him being like: hey, I know you can’t see me over the pile of cash that AOC just fucking helped raise, but I’m putting it one Dasani pallet into a car, it looks like it could be my car, [laughs] notice me.
Gideon Resnick: I like the idea also of the social media person on that team, like snapping those pics and being like: Senator, we killed it. This is—
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You look really great.
Gideon Resnick: This is going to repair everything that you’ve done over the last three to four days. Absolutely nailed it sir.
Akilah Hughes: People are absolutely not making jokes about how you’re the worst person, like that Mexico’s not sending their best. Like those jokes have ceased because of this bottled water that’s not enough to help anyone at this point. [laughs].
Gideon Resnick: Yes.
Akilah Hughes: You’re really doing it out here. Great job.
Gideon Resnick: Mission, mission accomplished. So same question for you. Do you think these posts are going to help Ted?
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I don’t know. You know, do you think that posting about putting water in the back of a car will help rehabilitate toxic sludge’s image? Who’s to say? [laughs] I think that he has been garbage. He has been useless. He has not helped the people of Texas. He has only been embarrassing. I mean, again, this is a man who sucks up to someone who called his wife ugly, and then threw his children under the bus when he was like: well, they wanted to go to Mexico, I was just chaperoning on the flight. Like, come on, man. There’s no way that anyone with, you know, in their right mind will think that you are a good, upstanding human being. You’re not. His character is on display always and it is bad. He is a bad character. It’s like if somebody had a script in there, like this bad guy seems too like, likable and maybe we make him sweaty and disgusting. It’s like that’s who Ted Cruz is. He is the worst person in every script. He is to quote Community, like “Gods, build a person!” Like, he fucking sucks. So, yeah, I think his brand is absolutely intact. I think that [laughs] it would be hard to make it any worse at this point. Well, just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. Continue being a better person than Ted Cruz. It’s not hard. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Organizers in Myanmar called for a general strike across the country last night to protest the ongoing military takeover there. The Civil Disobedience Movement is the group that’s been leading resistance efforts since the coup on February 1st. They’re calling the strike the Spring Revolution and asking people across the country to leave their jobs and gather together in protest. The military junta escalated their crackdown on protests over the weekend, opening fire on a crowd of demonstrators and killing at least two. Police reportedly also shot at ambulances and threw tear gas canisters into homes. Nearly 600 people have been detained in Myanmar since the start of the month.
Akilah Hughes: Merrick Garland will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today and is expected to be confirmed as Biden’s pick to serve as attorney general. Just five years ago, Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court under Obama was tanked by the Republican-controlled Senate, which refused to even hold a hearing for him. Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, tried to argue that the Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be appointed in an election year, which is something I now have reason to believe they don’t actually mean. Another Biden nominee, Neera Tanden, might not have as smooth of a confirmation as Garland. Tanden was chosen to serve as director at the Office of Management and Budget but Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Friday he will not vote for her in the confirmation process. He argues that her former tweets criticizing Republicans like McConnell makes her unfit to run the OMB. Biden said last week he won’t be withdrawing Tanden’s nomination.
Gideon Resnick: Lesson is: don’t post. You know? Just don’t.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Never post.
Gideon Resnick: For perhaps the first time ever, federal law enforcement might not have been totally upfront about their role in a political killing.
Akilah Hughes: No way.
Gideon Resnick: Malcolm X’s family released a letter this weekend that they say provides evidence that the NYPD and FBI participated in his assassination. The letter is from a former undercover NYPD officer who worked to infiltrate civil rights groups in the 1960s and take them down from the inside. Days prior to X’s assassination in 1965, the officer was told to lure two key members of his security detail into participating in a bomb plot, which led to their arrest and subsequently left X unprotected. The letter was released by the officer’s family member following his death. He expressed great remorse for the act and said NYPD officers had coerced him by threatening him with drug trafficking charges. An investigation launched last year into X’s murder and the three members of the Nation of Islam who were charged with it, is active and ongoing. The NYPD says they provided all available records and the FBI has made no comment.
Akilah Hughes: Hmm. The Golden Globes are this Sunday but after the L.A. Times published a scathing report on the show’s inner workings this weekend, we’ll see if the little statue man holding the earth shows up to his own damn show. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association puts on the Golden Globes, and it’s long had a reputation for giving away awards in exchange for money and access. The Times report confirmed all that, and went further to suggest that the substantial payments paid by the Hollywood Foreign Press to its 87 members might even call into question the group’s tax exempt status as a nonprofit. The Times pointed out that the Hollywood Foreign Press has no black members. Remember, too, that this year, movies with majority black casts like Judas and the Black Messiah and Da Five Bloods were overlooked for best picture, probably because they didn’t capture that powerful white nothingness of Mank. One instance of shady vote-getting stood out in the report: in 2019, Netflix flew 30 Golden Globe voters out to France to visit the set of Emily in Paris, putting them up in a five star hotel, showing them around a private museum and treating them like, quote: “kings and queens.” Now Emily has a Golden Globe nom and I May Destroy You, doesn’t. At this point, the only awards I think are real are the ones I personally have received.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I want to hear what Jared Leto did for his nomination.
Akilah Hughes: I imagine it was threats. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, trick Netflix into flying you to France and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] And if you’re into reading and not just the absolutely vicious replies to Ted Cruz posts 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 bumping that mariachi music!
Akilah Hughes: Yep, the earlier the better.
Gideon Resnick: It’s just an alarm clock at this point.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s just like being on the beach in Cancun.
Gideon Resnick: Um hmm. It Takes me back.
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 assistant 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.