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February 09, 2021
What A Day
There Goes My Hero Pay

In This Episode

  • Trump’s Senate impeachment trial begins today. Trump’s team continues to argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional… that’s what they’ll be debating with House managers today.
  • Many of the country’s largest retail and grocery chains have suspended “hero pay” to essential workers, despite having a profitable 2020. Now cities and counties are trying to increase wages with local ordinances, but the businesses are fighting back.
  • And in headlines: rescuers in India are working to find people after a Himalayan glacier disaster, inmates in a St. Louis prison call for better protections against COVID, and Facebook to remove vaccine misinfo.




Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, February 9th, I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the official podcast of not knowing which chair to sit on when you work from home.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I feel like Goldilocks, you know. That chair is too hard, this chair is too soft. None of them are just right. There’s no baby bear living home.


Gideon Resnick: No. And I’ve spilled the porridge.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the status of hazard pay and vaccinations for essential workers. Then some headlines.


Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest. We finally made it to the opening day of Trump’s second impeachment trial, which means another impeachment news blast.


Song: Hit me baby, one more time.


Akilah Hughes: That’s a good one. Topical.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, perhaps the best one yet. Yeah, we got to have three impeachments to keep us going, OK. The trial starts today in the Senate, but there’s still a lot of unknowns about how it’s actually going to proceed. So let’s catch up on what we do know and don’t know at this point, starting with how long is this thing going to go?


Akilah Hughes: I don’t know, man. Honestly, I have no clue. You know, it could be as short as a week or it could drag on forever like the pandemic. But what we do know is that today’s debate will last four hours and then they’ll have a vote to officially start the trial, which is expected to pass. After that, each side will have 16 hours of oral arguments over the next few days, if they want to use it. Then next week we could potentially see witnesses called to testify. But it’s not even clear if that’s going to happen at all. There’s pressure on both sides to keep this thing pretty short and sweet. Obviously, Republicans don’t want to deal with this. And in the weeks since the insurrection, many GOP lawmakers are back in Trump’s corner. For example, Lindsey Graham, who on the night of the insurrection said about Trump, quote: Count me out, enough is enough. Well, I guess it wasn’t enough because he’s now telling CBS that he’s ready to move on and that impeaching Trump is a bad idea.


Gideon Resnick: Of course. Mm hmm.


Akilah Hughes: Mm hmm. Well, when it comes to Democratic leadership, they reportedly also want to keep things speedy so that they can focus on passing COVID relief and they aren’t very optimistic about a conviction anyway.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that seems like it’s going to be a tough, tough thing to get. But there’s also reporting that other Democrats do want to take time with this to actually call witnesses.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So according to Politico, some of the House managers have considered calling witnesses like Capitol Police officers to tell their stories about fighting the mob or call Republican officials in Georgia who are pressured by Trump to overturn the final vote tally. None of this has been finalized, and it’s a question that might come up next week. Other tactics include using video footage of the attack. But one really big difference with this trial versus the impeachment 1.0 trial is that the senators themselves are witnesses to the insurrection. Additional witness testimony can definitely give them a clearer view of why and how it happened but they were there for it, being evacuated, potentially hearing the gunshot, hiding for their lives. So that will definitely make this trial much more pointed than perfect phone calls with Ukraine.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, without a doubt. This is certainly a lot more straightforward with a lot more video and photo evidence. Last week we talked about the arguments that both sides would be making. Are there updates on that?


Akilah Hughes: Well, the big focus today between Trump’s team and the House managers is whether the trial is allowed under the Constitution since Trump has already left office. That’s what they’ll be debating and voting on today. Trump’s defense team has been arguing that the answer is no, and that trying a former president was never the intention of impeachment. The vast majority of Republican senators have glommed onto that theory. 45 out of 50 of them voted just last month to dismiss the trial altogether for that very reason. So we should note that focusing on this procedural question allows them to avoid actually dealing with the substance of Trump’s actions. So, it’s really convenient for them. Anyway, over the weekend, a top conservative lawyer named Charles Cooper wrote an op ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing against this Republican point of view. Lots of other legal scholars agree with him, but it was notable that he spoke out because he’s close with top Republicans in Congress like Ted Cruz, according to The New York Times, so he doesn’t really qualify as a liberal hipster or Antifa or, you know, the cancel culture. He’s a, he’s just a guy pointing out truth.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, right. And then one last note on precedent here. So Congress hasn’t impeached any former presidents before. Congrats to Trump for that honor. The Senate did try a former war secretary, though, after he left office back in the 1800s, which is something that Democrats and legal experts have been pointing to.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, so there’s definitely some history here. Anyway, we’ll keep track of the trial as it progresses. But let’s get on to our next story about essential workers.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is something we wanted to take a moment for today.  Because as we’ve been talking about, a unionization vote is taking place in Alabama at an Amazon facility beginning this week. And so it seems like a good time to check in on the status of hazard pay for people who are going to work every day in person and keeping the economy going. One of the demands from the Amazon workers is for additional hazard pay to return, and they are far from alone in that. A recent New York Times article captured the feeling of some grocery workers who are also often heralded as these essential workers without seeing benefits from that designation. A recent Brookings report looked at the issue and found that 13 of the largest retail and grocery companies in the United States earned a striking 17.7 billion, with a B, more in the first three quarters of 2020 than 2019. Yet many of those same companies stopped offering extra pay to their employees at some point last year.


Akilah Hughes: All right. So this group of companies includes places like Costco, Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens, Albertsons and others. It’s like Freak-A-Leek, you know, Kiesha, Deronda, Monica, Monique, Crystal. Anyway, how do they actually compare on this issue?


Gideon Resnick: I think that you’re the first person to make that comparison but I hope not the last. The reports of the places like Costco and Target are exceptions to the rule in this group because they’ve kept up some form of hazard pay for the last several months. Costco has given its employees an extra two dollars an hour through March, while Target has raised its starting wage to 15 an hour. But one of the companies that has earned the worst attention is Kroger, which Brooking’s said ended what it calls, quote, hero pay last May while also doubling profits and spending almost a billion dollars to buy back its own stock shares. All at the same time. Not great. According to the Times, their CEO earned over 20 million dollars in 2019, while the median salary for a Kroger employee was 26,790.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, makes you not want to go Kroger’ing at all. I remember the slogan so, good for me. Really? What the fuck? Well, in the meantime, some local governments are trying to step in and institute hazard pay if the companies won’t. So how is that working out?


Gideon Resnick: It is not working out great thus far. Recently, the City Council in Long Beach, California, approved an ordinance that requires grocery chains with more than 300 employees nationally to pay workers an extra four dollars per hour for at least 120 days. L.A. County, Seattle and Santa Monica are taking similar steps and a number of other California cities are looking at it, too. So this is the part where it’s not going great. After Long Beach approve this rule, Kroger responded by announcing that two of their stores in the area, a Ralphs and a Food For Less would be closing in April. According to the Times, the employees union said that workers had not been informed yet if they’d be shifted to a different location. So, potentially in the lurch here, in the middle of a pandemic. The California Grocers Association, a trade group of grocery stores and suppliers, sued over the Long Beach ordinance. And they claim that pay bumps for employees will turn into higher prices for customers or store closures, even despite the growing revenues of these chains. They also say that they’re going to sue in other places over similar ordinances and that stores have taken expensive measures to make things safer for their employees. Separately, our capitalist system has created a kind of splintering of frontline workers over overall. These local laws pertain to grocery workers, but not other frontline workers.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, and at the moment, grocery workers are largely not eligible for vaccines.


Gideon Resnick: That’s right. So The Times also found that 13 states at least have made some grocery workers eligible so far. That is something that could change in the near future. And in the meantime, Kroger has also recently said that they’re going to pay 100 dollars to everyone who does get a vaccine.


Akilah Hughes: Right. And these conditions are part of why we’re seeing so many progressive Democrats push so hard for the 15 dollar minimum wage. And that’s, you know, part of this COVID bill that they’re hoping will stick around.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, exactly. And yesterday there was a pretty big step on that. The House Progressive Caucus said that they were able to get the wage increase into the House bill. Meanwhile, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office yesterday might have complicated some views on this issue. The CBO said that raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour by 2025 could lift almost a million people out of poverty. That is something that Democrats will definitely be pointing to. Increase wages for over twenty five million people also huge, but that it would cost over a million jobs because the thinking would be that some employers could cut jobs. Yet other economists at the Economic Policy Institute or National Bureau of Economic Research, they say that the CBO is job loss estimates are just not in line with other studies that have been done on this issue. So it’s definitely not settled. Hopefully, though, the Senate budget chairman and his room full of lawyers are able to get this passed. But that’s latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, WAD Squad, and for today’s Temp Check, we’re talking about finance again, Tesla bought 1.5 Billion dollars in Bitcoin yesterday in what’s probably the largest ever purchase by a public company. Bitcoin soon rose to its highest value ever. Tesla CEO, the richest neem guy in the world, Elon Musk, has also been tweeting a lot about a much smaller cryptocurrency called Dogecoin recently. Those tweets have also helped drive investor interest and bring about a huge jump in the coin’s price. I objectively have been benefiting. So thanks, Elon. But Gideon, without cheating, what do you know about cryptocurrency and does this scare you at all?


Gideon Resnick: I feel like I know about as much as many of the people that are purchasing it and encouraging the purchase of it.


Akilah Hughes: Are you talking about me? Because, fair.


Gideon Resnick: No, no, I know. I think, like, you know, Elon, all these other folks, it seems like just an entirely made up thing. And, you know, like if you can manipulate stuff in this way via your tweets, God bless you. I also don’t trust many things, if any, that Elon is just telling people to do.


Akilah Hughes: I know, Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: So, yeah, I mean, I personally have never delved into crypto land, but, you know, money is fake, the economy seems to be fake. So yeah. If this is if this is something you enjoy. You have my blessing. Same question for you Akilah. How are you viewing cryptocurrency and are you afraid of all this?


Akilah Hughes: Oh I’m not afraid. I didn’t put that much money in. So if I lose my hundred bucks I’m literally chilling. Feel very lucky to say that but you know, there’s also the potential that I become a billionaire just like Elon Musk.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Yeah.


Akilah Hughes: I really doubt it. I highly doubt it. But I do think that it’s just, it’s an interesting thing to pay attention to just because it is the sort of like, you know, I think that as a culture, we’ve all agreed that money is just a concept and we’re all like this piece of paper has this much value. And so now we can say that about pretty much anything, including something called Dogecoin, which is based on the Shiba Inu memes. Like literally there’s a, you know, I think that we’re all just we’re all trolling each other now. Like the economy is trolling us. We’re trolling the economy. It’s a, we have to come back to a place where anything makes sense. But, you know, who’s to say it made sense before?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I think that there should be some rule with his account if he’s not the only person running it, that for every one of these, like, stupid tweets, it’s just like “Dogecoin.” He can do a thing that’s like, oh, like give hazard pay to whoever. Just balance it out. If you if you want to futz around with all this other stupid shit, like do one or two other things that are in the mix there that like might help somebody who is more reliant on the way that things are going, then you. That’s just my small piece of advice. And, you know, maybe we got to get in a social media manager for Elon to make this happen.


Akilah Hughes: You know, I don’t think you’re wrong. I think that Elon could learn a thing or two from us, honestly.  A little compassion, maybe, grow that heart a few sizes. Well, just just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe. If you’re into Dogecoin, like you can sit by me and we’ll be back after some ads.


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Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


Sung: Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Rescuers in India are still working to find people after a Himalayan glacier broke off over the weekend, causing deadly floods and landslides. At least 26 people were killed and nearly 200 people are still missing. Officials yesterday were focused on saving 37 workers who are trapped inside a tunnel in one of the hydropower plants in the area. Terrifying. And the government began air dropping food and supplies to at least two villages that were not evacuated nearby. Environmental experts in the country have been warning about a disaster like this for a long time. Studies show that the Himalayas have been warming at an alarming rate, elevating the risk of floods and landslides. Experts even warned that large development projects in the area could mean huge risks for nearby populations. But the government ignored those warnings and went ahead with construction.


Akilah Hughes: It’s the same everywhere. We just make bad choices as people. Well, over 100 inmates at a jail in St. Louis staged a revolt over the weekend, calling for better conditions and protections against COVID-19. Inmates at the City Justice Center, or CJC took over two units of the building for six hours before law enforcement intervened. Images on social media showed them holding signs through broken windows on the fourth floor. Since December, the jail has seen three protests, all calling for better COVID protocols and proper PPE, among other things. The Bail Project, a national nonprofit, says it received many reports from inside CJC of visibly ill inmates and a lack of protective gear. Missouri Representative Corey Bush also put out a statement yesterday saying that one in five incarcerated people across the country have tested positive for COVID and called on St. Louis to make its COVID data public.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that would be good. Israel is in the middle of a historic trial after Benjamin Netanyahu became its first ever sitting prime minister to be indicted. But because Netanyahu is humble and hates making a big deal of stuff, he left a hearing yesterday abruptly and let it continue on without him. Bibi faces multiple charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the most serious of which involves giving favorable treatment to a telecom company in exchange for positive news coverage. His trial opened last May, but has faced repeated delays and it could face more. Netanyahu and members of the right wing Likud Party are calling for the trial’s evidentiary phase to be pushed until after the country’s elections on March 23 so the trial won’t interfere with the vote. Seems like a guilty guy behavior to me. But hey, I am not an Israeli judge. You do your own thing, you decide. In related news, the Biden Administration, moved to rejoin the UN’s Human Rights Council yesterday in a reversal of Trump’s departure from it 3 years ago. Conservatives have criticized this group of focusing disproportionately on Israel’s human rights abuses while counting authoritarian nations like China, Russia and Venezuela as members. Biden State Department said that the council needs to be reformed and that U.S. involvement can help in that process.


Akilah Hughes: Facebook brought down the Hammer of Truth again yesterday by announcing plans to remove false claims about vaccines from across its platform. Previously, Facebook would down-rank vaccine misinformation, meaning they’d push it down in people’s feeds. But we know that’s no obstacle for experienced scrollers. Now, Facebook will start removing posts, groups and pages from the platform entirely, instituting something like a no tolerance policy for posting that Bill Gates created the vaccine to turn people into computers, which, you know, who is to say that that’s a conspiracy theory. Facebook will also give health ministries, NGOs and U.N. agencies 120 million dollars in ad credits to spread reliable COVID-19 vaccine information. Instagram brands consider collab’ing with these places so we can get some COVID vaccines/parade underwear sponcon in the near future. We’re all asking for it. In the past, Facebook’s attitude towards free speech allowed false vaccine information to circulate freely on the site. For anti-vaxxers there are now only a few safe places left to gather, like in front of the TV whenever Jenny McCarthy is talking on the Masked Singer.


Gideon Resnick: You got to be pro mask, though, to watch it. I guess. That’s an impediment.


Akilah Hughes: You know, a real a real conundrum. And those are the headlines.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, be humble like Bibi and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading and not just an anti-vaxx free Facebook feed like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out, subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


Both: And be careful with Crypto.


Akilah Hughes: We just don’t know what it’s going to lead to. In my case, probably me being a trillionaire, but for everybody else, I don’t know.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you’re either, you’re trillionaire one day and next day you’re saying Dogecoin over and over to yourself, wondering why you did it.


Akilah Hughes: Exactly. Do it for the Doge.


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.