In This Episode
- The state of the pandemic in the US is looking brighter with infection rates dropping to where they were in June of last year, and hospitalization rates declining, too. But vaccination rates vary widely depending on where you look on a map, with New England showing rates above average and the South showing rates below average.
- The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas reportedly held over the weekend, and now the focus has shifted to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Rebuilding after the destruction will inevitably be complicated by Israel’s blockade on most construction supplies entering the region.
- And in headlines: Belarus intercepts an airplane to arrest a journalist, the AP fires a Jewish journalist for voicing pro-Palestine views, and the Texas legislature approves a law to ban teaching of critical race theory.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, May 24th, I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we just want to say preemptively, we’re not looking to hire Rick Santorum now that he’s off CNN.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, we don’t have any need to rehab Republicans that say racist things. You know, we don’t we don’t need a quota. We don’t have any part of that.
Gideon Resnick: That is not the side of both sides that I’m interested in, quite frankly. [laughs]
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] That’s right. On today’s show, a delicate cease-fire continues in Israel and Palestine. Plus, we’ll have headlines.
Gideon Resnick: But first, the latest:
[clip of Dr. Scott Gottlieb] The bottom line is that the people who are getting infected now tend to be people who are younger and less vulnerable to the infection, because a lot of the vulnerable population has been vaccinated. About 85% of those above the age of 65 have now been vaccinated. So the people most likely to get into trouble with COVID have now been protected through vaccination. You’re seeing a rapidly declining rate of new hospitalizations as a consequence of that fact.
Gideon Resnick: So that’s former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday. And like he’s saying there, for the U.S., this summer is starting to look bright. Coronavirus infection rates have dropped below 30,000 each day—that is the lowest since June of last year—in addition to the declining hospitalization rates. But to keep that positive progress going, it is all about vaccination. So Akilah, where does that actually stand?
Akilah Hughes: Well, vaccination rates vary widely depending on where you look on a map. So, for example, if we’re looking at the northeast part of the U.S., in many of those states, more than 60% of adults have had at least their first jab. But if you look at the South, for example, many of those states are well below 40% and the top 21 states for getting at least one dose voted for Biden, which begs the question: why Republican elected officials don’t care that mask mandates falling away might lead to an uptick in disease, especially if the voters that they need to even exist become the most likely to catch it, or die from COVID. It’s just very weird, that’s all I’m saying. Maybe care about that. And the new trend seems to be incentives for getting vaxxed. WAD listeners already know that in Ohio they’re giving away a million dollars in a lottery to the vaccinated. But dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge are also allowing users to list vaccine status preferences to limit their dating pool. Meanwhile, if bribes don’t work, a Tulane University health expert told the New York Times that employers should start mandating that employees be vaccinated.
Gideon Resnick: Interesting stuff. Yeah, I mean, so long as at some point I can get into a lottery, I will be OK with all of it. But that’s a quick look at the state of vaccines here in the U.S. Abroad, things haven’t been very positive, with lack of access to vaccines and a spike in new variants. So what is the latest worldwide?
Akilah Hughes: There is a ton of global news. So I’m going to start with an update from the World Health Organization. On Friday, they said that official COVID-19 death toll—so it’s currently around 3.4-ish million deaths worldwide—could actually be two to three times higher than reported. A devastating figure that you can share with any moron still claiming that COVID-19 is just the flu. And the World Health Organization makes the case that in many countries it’s hard to keep accurate stats on infections and deaths, leading to a major undercount. For example, in India, the official COVID count is just behind the U.S. with 26 million in total confirmed cases. But experts have cited the low number of tests in several regions of the country and the overall stress on the health care system in how these numbers just aren’t adding up.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there seems to be an agreement that it’s definitely quite a bit higher. And so keeping with India for a second, in addition to being a major epicenter for the virus, there’s a new fungal threat that’s complicating things there. What have we learned?
Akilah Hughes: All right. So right now, the country is seeing 240,000 plus new cases a day, which is a decline from the 300,000 new daily cases from the week before—although, again, that could all be an undercount. But there are new worries about a fungal infection there called mucormycosis that is caused by exposure to mucor mold, and mucor mold can be found a lot of places: in soil, air, and even in the nose and mucus of humans. It spreads through the respiratory system and can break down facial structures—which sounds terrifying. But according to the AP, there have even been instances where surgeons have had to remove a patient’s eyes to stop the fungus from reaching the patient’s brain.
Gideon Resnick: Oooh. Horrifying, horrifying stuff.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, the scariest stuff on Earth. Yeah. And the disease is not considered contagious, which is great. But there have been more than 9,000 cases and 250 deaths in the past little while, which is leading medical experts to believe that COVID’s weakening of the respiratory system makes contracting and dying from the disease more likely. There is a drug that treats it, but there’s a shortage of the drug because of the huge influx of cases. So there’s more to learn there and we’re going to keep with it as the pandemic continues on. But now let’s turn to our other big story: the situation in Israel and Palestine. So Gideon, where do things stand there now?
Gideon Resnick: Yes, we left off at the end of last week with the cease-fire that was reached between Hamas and Israel after 11 days of violence. And during those 11 days, more than 240 Palestinians were killed, including many children, as well as 12 Israelis. So that cease-fire has reportedly held over the weekend, but much of the focus in the last few days has been the immediate actions that can be taken to address the humanitarian crisis that was unleashed by the bombing campaign in Gaza. So according to the United Nations, the strikes in Gaza destroyed hundreds of homes, damaged medical and education facilities and other infrastructure like roads and even power lines. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced. The president of Egypt, which has been involved in the cease-fire agreement, reportedly pledged 500 million dollars in the rebuilding effort so far.
Akilah Hughes: And then where do things stand on the U.S. side of things? So obviously, there’s been a lot of criticism about the response from the Biden administration lately.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So as Washington Post notes, the involvement of the United States might get somewhat complicated. So the U.S. and other countries that say they want to assist in rebuilding efforts have also said they don’t want to work with Hamas. Biden said last week that the aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority instead, though their governance is not in the Gaza Strip so it’s unclear how much they would actually be involved here. And also, the Biden administration hasn’t detailed how much it is going to give. While the U.N. has released over $20 million from an emergency fund for rebuilding purposes, and countries like Britain and Norway have pledged millions as well. But Akilah, it’s also sort of broadly unclear how the whole rebuilding process will go, given a blockade imposed by Israel on most construction supplies entering Gaza. Reconstruction from prior conflicts has failed, due largely to this reason, leaving a lot of people living in temporary housing even as this most recent campaign began.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and what has been some of the other political fallout from everything happening?
Gideon Resnick: Oooh. There is a lot, a lot, a lot. So for one thing, there was reporting earlier this month that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was basically going to be left out in the cold by another group of politicians forming a coalition. He is still facing corruption charges. And the read from many observers is that he basically just used this violent campaign in Gaza to his political advantage ahead of a possible national election later this year, which would be the fifth in just two years.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they have way more voting than we do. [laughs] It’s wild. It’s very wild.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. I feel like we’ve done like half a dozen Netanyahu’s-specific elections since we started. Somehow he still remains. So there’s that side of the equation. Then reportedly, the top diplomat for Palestine has pointed to what many citizens have been saying, that this cease-fire is not addressing the causes of the most recent violence, namely the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem that we talked about, and the planned evictions of Palestinians in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah. One of the people that I spoke with last week, Ines Abdel Razak of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, worried about broader issues like annexation fading from view after a cease-fire might be reached. So there was initially a ruling scheduled by the Israeli Supreme Court for earlier this month regarding Sheikh Jarrah, but now that is reportedly set for the coming weeks, then on Al-Aqsa, there were reports after the cease-fire was reached that Israeli security forces got violent again in the past few days with Palestinians who were there worshiping, and reportedly shepherded Jewish settlers into the compound. And finally, stateside, a number of U.S. Jewish organizations asked the White House to take measures against more instances of anti-Semitic violence in the U.S. in recent weeks.
Akilah Hughes: All right. Well, one more thing before we move on here. What was the latest update on this big arms sale from the U.S. to Israel that faced a lot of congressional opposition?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so here’s what Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to say about that yesterday on ABC’s This Week:
[clip of Sec. Antony Blinken] First, the president’s been equally clear: we are committed to giving Israel the means to defend itself. Especially when it comes to these indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians. Any country would respond to that. And we’re committed to Israel’s defense. At the same time, any arms sale is going to be done in full consultation with Congress. We’re committed to that. And we want to make sure that that process works effectively.
Gideon Resnick: So Akilah doesn’t seem like that deal is going to stop. Hard to say, but it doesn’t sound like it. Blinken is set to travel to the Middle East in the coming days. So we’ll be following that and all the aspects of this story. But that is the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re doing something different: an icon of the early web, the over 25-year old browser Internet Explorer, will be put to rest by mid-June of next year. Microsoft broke the news last week. Over the years, the browser has been criticized for its slow speed, unreliability, and vulnerabilities to hacks. And even by 2015, Microsoft had launched a new browser to replace it. But for geriatric millennials like us who were online before high-speed Internet, Internet Explorer’s legacy looms large, and that iconic blue E with a ring around it will forever be associated with magic and wonder. So Giddy and I wanted to say a few parting words about Internet Explorer and all the memories we made together.
Gideon Resnick: Internet Explorer, I remember using you to load the Neopets website. As a collage of JPEGS loaded pixel-by-pixel, I felt like we would be together forever. And to be honest, the JPEGs took so long to load that we almost were. You exposed me to many viruses, but the virus, I will remember, is the one called heart-sickness. I will love you always. You changed my life more than any friend or teacher. And I know you’re rocking out in heaven with Hendrix and Joplin on an awesome power soundboard. Good night.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. Internet Explorer, you were the first program installed on a library’s computer that I truly fell in love with. You hid nothing from me except for games that require me to update Macromedia Shockwave Flash. And when I was at home with you, the only thing that could come between us was my mom needing to use the phone for any reason at all. Leaving you for Firefox, and then Safari, and then Chrome, where three of the hardest moments in my life. When I have a daughter, I’m going to name her after you. She’ll be Akilah Internet Hughes Explorer Jr.
Gideon Resnick: Powerful, deeply powerful.
Akilah Hughes: Well, rest in peace, slow king. And to the rest of you: stay safe, tell your browser’s you love them, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: On Sunday, the government of Belarus sent a fighter jet to intercept a commercial flight and forced the plane to land to detain a single passenger. 26-year old Roman Protasevich, a journalist who ran the popular opposition outlet Nexta, was headed to Lithuania from Greece. Nexta was used during the last year’s anti-government demonstrations and became an organizational tool for the opposition. Ryanair says that when the plane was over Belarussian airspace, air traffic control notified the crew of a potential security threat on board and ordered the plane to be grounded. Authorities though, found no explosives on board. And after Protasevich was detained, the plane continued on its path. Critics of the Belarussian regime call this an act of terror and a kidnaping. Protasevich’s current conditions are unknown, but other passengers on the flight said he told them he expects to be executed. Jesus.
Akilah Hughes: Wow. Here’s how we’re treating journalists in the U.S.: Emily Wilder, a junior-level news associate at the Associated Press, was fired last week following a right-wing smear campaign that surfaced her pro-Palestinian advocacy. Wilder had been working at the AP for less than three weeks, but after the Stanford College Republicans unearthed old tweets and called her an anti-Israel agitator in conservative outlets, and politicians piled on, she was terminated. The AP claims that Wilder was fired for violating their social media policies, but according to Wilder, they didn’t specify which ones. Wilder, who is Jewish, said an AP editor, had reassured her she would not face punishment for previous activism, and believes the AP fired her in response to right-wing criticism.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and yet Chris Cuomo, still making the big bucks.
Akilah Hughes: Right. Yeah, Cancel culture is only real if you’re a young woman.
Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. Texas. Schools might have to present American history, according to the buried 1940’s Disney movie model, after state lawmakers approved a bill this weekend to effectively ban the teaching of critical race theory. Coasting on a wave of outrage from conservative lawmakers with the 1619 project from Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Texas bill specifically bans lessons that would cause students to feel discomfort or shame on account of their race for sex. Turns out facts do care about your feelings.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] A lot.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And it also says that if teachers discuss current events or controversial social affairs in classrooms, they have to discuss them from diverse and contending perspectives. An example of this would be to say racism exists, but it also doesn’t. The bill is widely opposed by teachers who say it would stifle important conversations, and it was previously approved by the House but rewritten in the Senate. In all likelihood, it will be signed soon by Governor, and dedicated ally to COVID, Greg Abbott.
Akilah Hughes: Ugh. Well, the L.A. band, the Linda Lindas are proving that you don’t need to be old enough to attend your own shows to rock insanely hard. They got signed by punk label Epitaph Records over the weekend for their song “Racist Sexist Boy” that went viral last week.
Unidentified [song plays]
Akilah Hughes: Hell, yeah.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Akilah Hughes: That’s my stuff right there. That’s, that is everything. So members of the group are between 10 and 16-years old. They’re half Asian and half LatinX. And they have already opened for groups like Best Coast and Bikini Kill. Their song was performed in the Los Angeles Public Library—which is a place where I’ve been shushed, so obviously that song rules—and it was part of a celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, and was inspired by a comment connecting coronavirus to Chinese-American people made by one of their classmates. He shouldn’t feel special, though, because racist sexist boys are some of the most common boys in our country.
Gideon Resnick: Yet they are not rare at all, unfortunately.
Akilah Hughes: Yea, we might as well make it the national anthem. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go on the latest episode of With Friends Like These host Ana Marie Cox is joined by former mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum. After 14 months of sobriety and stepping away from politics, Gillum sits down to discuss his recovery and the work he’s currently doing to destigmatize mental health issues. Check it out by subscribing to With Friends Like These, wherever you get your podcasts.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, listen to the Linda Lindas, and tell your friends to listen,
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just actual history without being afraid of it like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon. Resnick.
[together] And remember, Internet Explorer!
Akilah Hughes: It was a great, great place to explore, you know, one page a day.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly one. Every single day. That’s it. That’s your max.
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 and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.