In This Episode
- Inflation is at a four-decade high, and on Monday, stocks fell to their lowest levels since March 2021. We break down what’s happening in the economy, why, and what you need to know about what the Federal Reserve might do in response at its meeting today.
- Russian troops are reportedly in control of as much as 80 percent of the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk. Jack Crosbie, a correspondent for Rolling Stone, joins us to discuss what he saw on the ground when he was in eastern Ukraine last week.
- And in headlines: the House passed a bill to increase security for Supreme Court justices, BTS is going on an indefinite hiatus, and an appeals court ruled that a 51-year-old Asian elephant named Happy was not a person.
- Jack Crosbie on Twitter – https://twitter.com/jscros
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Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, June 15th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day where we’re acknowledging our role in damaging the dress Kim Kardashian wore more to the Met gala. We used it to clean up a spill.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, the dress was Marilyn Monroe’s. We didn’t know that. We just knocked over a soda and grabbed the first thing we saw.
Priyanka Aribindi: The other detail here is that we are constantly hanging out with Kim. Just a side note.
Gideon Resnick: That point was understood in our telling of the story. On today’s show, we’re going to get an on-the-ground report from Ukraine on what civilian life is like right now. Plus, the K-Pop band BTS says that they are going on a break.
Priyanka Aribindi: Say it ain’t so. But first, we are breaking down what is happening in the economy, why, and what you need to know about what the Federal Reserve might do in response at its meeting today. So on Monday, stocks fell to their lowest level since March 2021. You have probably heard the term “bear market” being used to describe what’s happening. That is a term that investors used to describe a drop of 20% or more from recent highs. A bear market isn’t an official benchmark, but when we dip into one, it usually precedes a recession.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s not good at all.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely not. So what happened on Monday was that the S&P 500 was down more than 21% from where it was in January. We’ve talked about the several factors at play in this economy before on the show: there is high inflation, interest rates are rising–we’ll talk more about that in a minute–there’s still Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has had widespread effects. And of course, people are worried about heading into a recession, which affects how they spend money, how they make decisions, all of that.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, definitely. It feels like it’s on the brain, right. Whether people know–
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Gideon Resnick: –the specifics or not. So let’s talk specifically about inflation and interest rates. President Biden is reportedly considering rolling back some of the tariffs that were imposed on China from the previous administration. That would be to help ease inflation even a little bit. So what is happening here?
Priyanka Aribindi: Inflation is at a four-decade high right now. You don’t need to be an expert to know that something is up. You can see it for yourself at your grocery store, in your everyday purchases. Prices are up. Things are more expensive than they used to be. It is like not fun to look at a receipt at any point in time these days. And to combat that, the Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates. So higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money. This can help stabilize inflation and prices, but it’s a whole cause and effect cycle. Raising interest rates makes borrowing more expensive across the entire economy, so that means mortgages, business loans, corporate expansions, all of that type of stuff becomes more expensive. This slows down those markets and consumer spending, and with less competition, prices can settle and in some cases go down. But of course, if you need to borrow for any of those things your in a tougher spot.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And so that brings us to the Federal Reserve, which is having a meeting today aimed at slowing down inflation. It sounds as though there have been quite a few of those as of late, or we’ve been talking about these happening.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely.
Gideon Resnick: So what should we know about this one?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So back in May, they raised rates by half a percentage point and suggested that similar hikes would follow, but inflation didn’t slow down. Consumer price index data released on Friday actually showed that inflation was at its highest rate since 1981. It was even more of an increase than was expected. So now the Fed is likely to discuss bigger rate increases, possibly its biggest increase since 1994 at that meeting today.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Priyanka Aribindi: A bigger increase means that it will be even more expensive to borrow in any capacity. And the thought that that could happen is what sent stocks into a tailspin on Monday.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So to that point, what’s happening in the markets at this moment?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, stocks closed lower on Tuesday than they did on Monday. Definitely not a fun time in the market. Do not recommend checking any of your stocks if you have them. It’s not good. But it was a lot calmer day than it was on Monday when many people were rushing to sell and there was a much bigger drop.
Gideon Resnick: And let’s talk a little bit more about like the actual economy here, some of the prices of things that people need every day.
Priyanka Aribindi: Sure. So as we were saying, inflation is at a 40-year high in the U.S. Prices are still rising on critical things like gas and food. Gas price increases specifically are being driven by the rising cost of crude oil. Those prices have been rising for a bunch of reasons: oil companies laid off workers, they decommissioned rigs during the pandemic, and they were pretty slow to get things up and running at full capacity after that. They’re also worried that prices will crash, so they don’t want to ramp up production, even though the Biden administration has been, you know, begging them to do so. And internationally, Russia is selling way less oil because of EU sanctions against them. And countries in the Middle East that have oil can’t ramp up their production quickly enough to offset that change. So it’s a bit of a supply issue there and that is part of the reason inflation has been rising. We also continue to experience shortages. The latest one in the US economy is tampons. It’s being blamed on the usual suspects: the supply chain, rising costs of fuel and materials. If you’re experiencing this, I highly recommend trying out, you know, reusable menstrual cups or disks, if you can, if that is something you can afford or find. Switching gears from tampons to the fed–definitely giving a little bit of whiplash, but I’m going to do it–they are meeting today on those possible interest rate hikes. We will continue to keep you updated on what they do, what it’ll mean for all of us., and, you know, the shortages in our economy, all of the rest.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is a crazy moment for sure. Moving to international news now, more than 100 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, Russia’s military efforts appear to be most strongly focused on the eastern Donbas region of the country. According to reports on Tuesday that cited regional officials there, Russian troops are in control of as much as 80% of the city of Severodonetsk, and the last bridge connecting that city to a territory controlled by Ukraine to the west was destroyed. That could also lead to a worsening humanitarian crisis in terms of evacuation. Hundreds of people are trapped in a chemical plant in the city, though Russia has promised a humanitarian corridor is set to begin today. Meanwhile, ahead of a meeting today in Brussels with allied countries, U.S. Pentagon official Colin Kahl said that the U.S. is not going to urge a cease fire or more broadly, quote, “tell the Ukrainians how to negotiate.”
Priyanka Aribindi: Meanwhile, there is another brief Russia-related update on a story that we’ve been following for quite some time now. On Tuesday, a Russian court extended the pretrial detention for WNBA star Brittney Griner for another 18 days. Griner was arrested on February 17th when Russian officials claimed that she had vape cartridges with traces of hash oil in them in her luggage while passing through the Moscow airport. On Monday, officials at the U.S. State Department met with her team, the Phoenix Mercury, to talk about attempts to release her. The State Department has said that she has been wrongfully detained. They have been talking about this for months, as have we. This is wild that it’s gone on this long. I hope we get some good news soon. We need it.
Gideon Resnick: Truthfully. Now, as for Russia’s invasion itself, I wanted to find out what life in Ukraine is like right now for people living there. So last week I spoke with Jack Crosbie, a correspondent for Rolling Stone, among many other things, who is in eastern Ukraine at the time. I began by asking him where exactly he was, and what he was hearing from people there.
Jack Crosbie: Were about, Kramatorsk itself is about 30 kilometers from the front lines in basically every direction except for due west. So it’s kind of in one of these little sort of pockets of Ukrainian control surrounded by areas that the Russians have pushed into, either the front lines that were set up in the initial invasion in 2014, or new ones that have come down through military offensives up in sort of the north of the country. I’ve been here interviewing people inside Kramatorsk and interviewing people in the surrounding villages about what their needs are, and, you know, when they’re making the decision to leave. The military situation is very much sort of in flux. Most of the fighting has been concentrated around a city called Severodonetsk, which is about 80 kilometers to the northeast of me.
Gideon Resnick: And when you’re talking to people, how and when are people deciding what they want to do, where they want to go?
Jack Crosbie: So I was speaking to someone this morning who put it like extremely bluntly: if we all had money, we would leave. And I think at this point in the war, it’s really sort of coming down to that financial reality for a lot of people, but many, many have fled. You know, the cities and towns around here are extremely depopulated.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And is that one of the more kind of noticeable changes since the war has started?
Jack Crosbie: Yeah, I’ve been to the city like a dozen times before, because before the war, this was basically the last major train stop before the kind of original front lines in 2014.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Jack Crosbie: So if you were covering the war from Kiev, you would take, there was an express train, Kiev to Kramatorsk, that would get you here in about 6 hours. You’d get on it at 6 a.m. with your big bag and your body armor and everything, and you’d get on it with a lot of like very sleepy soldiers, and you’d be in Kramatorsk by a little bit after noon. That train is no longer running because of the attack that we saw a few months ago at the Kramatorsk train station that killed 50-some odd people. So the difference in the city now is really striking. It doesn’t appear to make a huge amount of sense. Kramatorsk is still relatively safe. I know that’s sort of ironic to say about a city where there was this horrific rocket attack that killed so many people at the train station, but it’s largely out of the effective range of a lot of the artillery systems that the Russians are using in surrounding villages and things. It is struck occasionally, but it’s civilian areas have really been spared some of the punishment that surrounding villages have, and yet it’s almost completely deserted. I spoke to one person who said he lives in an apartment building with 36 different flats and 31 of the families or individuals living in those flats have left. There’s one restaurant open. I guess there’s two. There’s a pizza place and like a, it’s sort of like a barbecue restaurant that’s open that basically all of the journalists have been going to every single night. And it’s very sort of surreal to see the city like this.
Gideon Resnick: Right. I’m curious also, like even while there’s apprehension around the dangers of actually like living in various places throughout the country, does it feel like there are these moments where Ukraine is beginning to rebuild itself in any capacity, like even as we sort of have an unfinished story here, I guess?
Jack Crosbie: I mean, where I am, no. The cities where I am in the cities where I’m going are preparing to be destroyed. But yeah, I mean, things are very different in the west of the country. I spent most of last week in Kiev in the capital, and things were very much getting back to, not necessarily normal, but those like signs of life were returning. Like I went to a deejay night at this really cool little sort of like bar club complex area out in this old industrial district, you know, as New Yorkers will relate to, like extremely Bushwick vibes out there, and all these people like in extremely cool streetwear and mesh tops and stuff and like pounding bass and dancing out there. I stayed in a really sort of cool and hip district of Kiev when I was out there that some friends live in, and yeah, just, you know, walked down and got a haircut one day and spent way too much money at te, again, like very cool, expensive European streetwear store right across the road from me. So those lives are being put back together, but the impact and the influence of the war is like inextricably tied to them now. You know, the streetwear brand that I bought a hat and some pants from is called Riot Division and they sell like, you know, very sort of military-inspired tech wear and they’re donate portions of their proceeds to various causes. And the DJ rave techno night and everything like that is, is part of a club that’s hosting events like basically every night of the week, you know, open mic nights and comedy and rock shows and stuff like that, and a portion of their proceeds are all going toward funding various military and civilian causes and things like that. So it’s very strange, if like there were like Bushwick, like art raves, like going on in order to benefit the Marines or something like that. It is interesting to see a society that has completely reinvented itself around war, where even like these normal signifiers of sort of life and culture are tied to it.
Gideon Resnick: Right. That is really fascinating. What is the feeling about like what the next phase of this is going to look like among people that you’re talking to in the last couple of days?
Jack Crosbie: So it’s hard to say because there are two ways of looking at this war. One of the ways of looking at this war is as a civilian who is on the ground, who is living in these places, who is basically doing everything they can to continue living and surviving in this environment and taking every bit of normalcy that they can get. Oftentimes that’s accompanied by a lot of denial in some ways. The other way to look at this war is the way that most of the West views it, which is the picture is not good, there’s a very real chance that Russian forces will be able to make significant territorial advances, that some of the towns that I’ve been to in the past couple of days and some of the towns that are in this area will be taken and will be occupied or will just be sort of crushed in-between the two armies. What I am pretty sure of, though, is that the shape of the conflict now is very different from what it was. And we’ve very much entered into a phase of it that is sort of just going to be a grinding and long and bloody war of attrition. Nothing is going to happen quickly and nothing is going to happen sort of gently or peacefully.
Gideon Resnick: That was my conversation with Jack Crosbie, a correspondent for Rolling Stone. We’ll let you know when his latest work is published. We can link to it in the show, but that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: The United Kingdom was set to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda by plane yesterday as part of a controversial immigration deal between the two countries, but just minutes before the flight was set to take off, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the seven asylum seekers on board were, quote, “a real risk of irreversible harm”–forcing the UK to cancel the trip. For context, back in April, Rwanda and the UK entered an agreement that would allow Britain to deport people to the East African country, if they had entered the UK illegally. There they would be allowed to apply for asylum, and in exchange the British government would pay Rwanda millions of pounds. But immigration rights activists worldwide have called the agreement inhumane ever since it was announced, arguing that Rwanda isn’t equipped to receive refugees or guarantee their safety. And the UN’s Refugee Chief, Filippo Grandi, said that by entering the agreement, the UK was quote, “exporting its responsibility to another country.” Tuesday’s flight cancelation was a result of several legal attempts to block the scheduled deportation over the past few days, but it’s unclear how long that relief will last. The UK’s Home Secretary put out a statement yesterday saying that her office is already preparing for the next deportation flight.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. First of all, this is a wild idea. I don’t how anyone thought this was a good one. But, second of all, I don’t understand how these decisions get made so down to the wire, like minutes before the flight was set to take off’ Like, you knew this was going to happen. And legal stuff takes a long time–
Gideon Resnick: It seems crazy.
Priyanka Aribindi: Why? There is no reason for your scheduling to run up minutes ahead. Like all of us know the dates. It’s all on the calendar. Come on. That’s a note for everybody across the legal system. We all know, less of the drama. Please. Congress acted in a bipartisan way yesterday to protect people from violence, only it’s just a handful of people who are extremely powerful. By a wide margin, the House passed a bill yesterday to increase security for Supreme Court Justices and their immediate families. The bill quickly passed in the Senate last month following the leaked court draft opinion overturning Roe. There were some delays in the House, but a new sense of urgency came last week after police arrested a man who was armed, outside of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. Lawmakers in the House voted 396 to 27 for the bill. Every Republican voted in favor of it, meanwhile, 27 Democrats opposed it for various reasons. Seven of the nine New Jersey representatives voted against the bill because it did not include protections for lower court judges. They fought for that because back in 2020, a New Jersey district judge’s son was shot and killed at the judge’s home. Also, a group of progressive Dems voted against the bill because they hope to tie it to another measure that would protect abortion providers. That measure lacked the same support as this one, which protects Ginni Thomas. So for now, the bill heads to President Biden’s desk.
Gideon Resnick: Well. Joe Biden’s favorite K-Pop group, BTS, shocked the world yesterday when they announced they’re going on an indefinite hiatus– still do not know what it stands for. The news came during a livestream event celebrating the group’s ninth anniversary. BTS members said they needed a break after nearly a decade of churning out hits, and they needed time apart to focus on their solo careers. The hiatus might also allow some of the boys to carry out their overdue government-mandated military service, using their skills to dance, rap, and sing the enemies of South Korea into submission. Yesterday’s announcement devastated BTS fans worldwide, who often call themselves the BTS Army because of their gigantic size and militant Twitter presence. And for good reason. It might trigger flashbacks to when other boy bands like One Direction have gone on a, quote unquote, “indefinite hiatus” only to never reunite.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s what an indefinite hiatus means.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s literally in the name. BTS did promised fans during yesterday’s livestream that they would return as a group, which Joe Biden should try to make happen in 2024 if he wants to continue to be president. That would honestly make up for some age gaps between him and the inevitable Republican nominee, if it’s not Trump who is also ancient.
Priyanka Aribindi: I can picture the rallies now. It’s BTS performing, and as vote for Biden, you get to go see BTS.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, exactly. Vote for Biden TS is the slogan.
Priyanka Aribindi: Put that on a poster. There we go. The efforts of the legal community to understand what animals are, continue in New York where yesterday, an appeals court ruled that a 51-year old Asian elephant named Happy was not indeed a person. The vote was 5 to 2, indicating at least two judges were willing to see Happy as a new type of guy. The case was brought by an organization called the Nonhuman Rights Group who wanted to free Happy from the Bronx Zoo, where he is currently housed, by arguing that he should receive the same protection against unlawful detainment, which the law extends to humans. This protection is called habeas corpus. As one argument for their cause, the Nonhuman Rights Group pointed to a test passed by Happy, which proved that he had self-awareness. That wasn’t enough for five of the judges, though, who acknowledged that elephants were smart but said habeas corpus didn’t apply to nonhuman animals.
Gideon Resnick: Rude.
Priyanka Aribindi: This by no means settles the question of whether animals can legally become humans though–a process lawyers describe as doing a reverse Anamorphs. Just last month, the Nonhuman Rights Group filed a habeas corpus claim on behalf of three elephants in a Fresno, California zoo. And the group celebrated the two dissenting opinions in yesterday’s ruling, saying that they offered, quote, “tremendous hope for a future where elephants no longer suffer as Happy has, and where nonhuman rights are protected alongside human rights.”
Gideon Resnick: The full guarantee of human rights extended to Happy should include a rent-controlled apartment in his area, if he would like to leave the zoo, because that would be a difficult and very humane thing to offer somebody.
Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know if he’d be able to fit in an apartment, though. I think we just have to offer him like a full house.
Gideon Resnick: That would be a small problem that we would resolve in court. We’d have to establish a larger space for Happy to live and for him to live up to his namesake.
Priyanka Aribindi: We want that for him.
Gideon Resnick: We want that for him, as much as anything.
Priyanka Aribindi: Get Happy an apartment.
Gideon Resnick: Get him an apartment. Don’t have the rent go up for him. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads with some exceptionally bad sound from two people who should stick to hyping cryptocurrencies.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday WAD squad And today we’re doing a segment called Bad Sound. Take a listen to today’s clip: [male singing Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing]
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, my God . . . no. Oh, my God.
Gideon Resnick: Until he goes for the high notes, I will say that’s just a bar karaoke vibe. Not terrible.
Priyanka Aribindi: Beginning was totally permissible. I wasn’t like, Wow, I’m so impressed. But I wasn’t like, Oh, my God, fully headed and hands cringe.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. That was, of course, the rock and roll stylings of the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. They sang this in New Jersey last week. The two identical billionaires are famous for accusing Mark Zuckerberg of stealing their idea and turning it into Facebook. Now they’re on tour as a band called Mars Junction, which steals songs from bands like Journey and Blink 182 and turns them into nightmares. Here is an extra bad sound of Mars Junction covering Rage Against the Machine. If you can handle it.
I knew that would be worse, and it was. Of course, the Winklevoss twins are busy doing other things too, like laying off 10% of the staff at their cryptocurrency exchange, Gemini, earlier this month. So, Priyanka, what is your take on these rich twins living their rock star dreams?
Priyanka Aribindi: Hot people think they can do anything, and this is just evidence of that. This is wild.
Gideon Resnick: And rich.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Yeah, they got both. So, like, clearly, nobody in their life will tell them. No, maybe this isn’t the best idea, sirs. Sirs, plural. Maybe, maybe no.
Gideon Resnick: Winkelvi.
Priyanka Aribindi: What do you think about this, Gideon?
Gideon Resnick: I contest that it’s not fun to bully in this situation, because it’s kind of a punch up, if you will. So, I mean, I leave that undecided at this moment. I just, this is not the tweeting Internet twins I want doing covers. That I want for the Krassenstein Brothers.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m sorry. We only want the Krassensteins. Bring them back! I also think the Krassensteins would, like, get creative with the lyrics a little bit. Like, they’re just doing covers. Like, that’s not that exciting to me. I think the Krassensteins would like find a way to make everything about, like Robert Mueller and like Trump, and like, just change lyrics, and that would be exciting to me.
Gideon Resnick: I’m basically saying I want the Krassensteins to do Weird Al, but only about political topics.
Priyanka Aribindi: But I’m cosigning. I agree with you fully.
Gideon Resnick: This is dangerous.
Priyanka Aribindi: We just made them a whole new grift. Guess what? They will be selling out arenas around the country to frenzied liberals by this time next year.
Gideon Resnick: I will be there because I’m the tour manager, and this was why I brought it up. That’s, so bad. Okay, that was Bad Sound.
Priyanka Aribindi: Exceptionally bad sound. Two more things before we go. Juneteenth is coming up this weekend and we want to know how you plan to celebrate. You can tell us by recording a voice memo on your phone, then you can email it to us. Our address is WAD at Cricket.com, and we’ll play some of what you say on our show on Friday.
Gideon Resnick: Also this week on Pod Save America, the guys are joined by Senator Chris Murphy to talk about a potential deal on gun safety. Plus, the second January 6th hearing exposes Donald Trump’s Big Lie. You can listen to Pod Save America Tuesdays and Thursdays wherever you get your podcasts. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, think hard about why an elephant is or is not a human, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the YA series called Animorphs 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.
Priyanka Aribindi: And stop grilling us about wrecking Marilyn Monroe’s dress!
Gideon Resnick: We’ve been over this a million times. If you leave something on the counter and I spill, what am I going to do?
Priyanka Aribindi: I just thought it was a decorative towel.
Gideon Resnick: There were no towels.
Priyanka Aribindi: With a lot of little crystals.
Gideon Resnick: I thought you had good taste, Kim.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Pete’s fault for inviting us.
Gideon Resnick: Probably. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzy 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.