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December 06, 2021
What A Day
It Goes Omicron And On

In This Episode

  • Omicron cases were found in at least 17 U.S. states and they aren’t all due to travel to southern Africa. Public health officials and experts say that the variant was possibly circulating in the U.S. prior to its initial discovery across the globe, but it’s too early to tell if it causes more severe disease.
  • Descendants of Black revolutionary leader Marcus Garvey have requested that President Joe Biden grant a posthumous pardon to Garvey. As president, Biden has the power to grant clemency but has not exercised it at all during his term.
  • And in headlines: prosecutors charged the parents of Ethan Crumbley with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border grew, and the U.S. Navy shut down a drinking water well in Honolulu that was contaminated with petroleum and that made residents sick.


Show Notes:






Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, December 6th, I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, reminding David Perdue to get his or working man’s jeans out of the closet as he runs for office again in Georgia.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the man is a multi-multi-millionaire, but his down-home jeans almost fooled everyone when he ran for Senate. Maybe they will work when he runs for governor.


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, politics is basically just jeans.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, descendants of the Black revolutionary leader Marcus Garvey ask President Biden to pardon him. Plus, officials have charged the parents of the 15-year old accused of killing four students at his Detroit-area school last week.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, let’s begin with an update on all of our good friends, Omicron the variant. What’s going on?


[clip of CDC Dir. Rochelle Walensky] We know it’s in, as of last night, about 15 states. We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely and we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases. So that number is likely to rise.


Josie Duffy Rice: That was CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday. So Gideon, where are those cases that she mentioned and what else have we learned over the past couple of days?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, unfortunately, we’re still waiting on quite a bit of information. I think we are getting closer than not. But as of recording Sunday night, there have been Omicron cases found in even more states since Walensky spoke there. I think it’s at least 17 states as we’re speaking. And as we mentioned previously, it is not all from travel to southern Africa, so experts think that there is community spread that’s happening already, which is part of the reason why Walensky and others are expecting these numbers to only go up.


Josie Duffy Rice: Can you explain the science of why it takes so much time for officials to identify new cases?


Gideon Resnick: I can try. So part of the reason why we’re not uncovering all of these in real time, as it were, is that approximately 14% or so of all identified positive cases in the U.S. are being sequenced. That’s also, according to Walensky. So in layman’s terms, the way we think about that is that out of all of the positive PCR tests, only 14% are being taken to a lab for further study, and it takes time to determine, you know, what variant caused that positive test. So inherently, you’re learning about these after they happen in a lot of cases. It doesn’t always take this long, of course, but for one example, I saw that the Ohio Department of Health said that it can take something like three to four weeks minimum to collect the sample, to test it, to sequence it, etc. and so forth. And Walensky and other public health officials have really been hammering home the point that the U.S. is not over its Delta problem while all this is happening.


[clip of CDC Dir. Rochelle Walensky] We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9% of them are the Delta variant. So we have an issue right now in the United States with Delta, and we have so many things that we can do about Delta, including getting vaccinated, including getting boosted.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So on that vaccination point, the CDC said that on Thursday alone, over two million doses were administered, which is apparently the highest single day total since May.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s great news.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: That gives me some hope. So back to the point about sequencing, what is the impact of us finding out about these cases after the fact? If it’s going to take Ohio Department of Health three to four weeks, what good does it do us once we actually find out?


Gideon Resnick: It’s a good question, and I think it ends up being sort of this piecemeal kind of mystery that we’re seeing so far. There’s a good New York Times story that we can link to that goes in-depth on the Minnesota guy who tested positive after traveling to New York City for an anime convention. The point was that he came home and tested positive on November 24th, before the rest of the world even knew what Omicron was. And it wasn’t until this past week that Minnesota health officials identified his positive case as definitively being Omicron. And as the story notes, it’s unclear if the man, Peter McGinn, got infected at the convention, but about half of the 30 or so people that he spent some time with in New York City also ended up testing positive. However, none of the states where they live have said whether they have an Omicron case yet, we just know that they have something. So part of the conclusions that public health officials are reaching from this situation is that Omicron was possibly circulating in the U.S. already, and that were kind of a step behind the virus again, with some patchy state-by-state info.


Josie Duffy Rice: So what else are we learning about what’s going on with a variant and other parts of the world?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So in two places where testing is pretty sophisticated, Britain and Denmark, they’re noticing a lot more Omicron cases a lot more quickly. In a similar way to here, it’s also raising alarm bells because Europe was getting hit really hard by Delta in a lot of places. In Denmark as an example, from Friday to Sunday, the number of Omicron cases had jumped from 18 to 183. Again, another indication from these health authorities that they’re seeing community spread and that it could be more widely present in Europe overall. There’s still a lot of information that’s coming from South Africa, and it’s a little bit too early to make broad determinations about the variant, particularly if it causes more severe disease. But here’s how Dr. Anthony Fauci put it on CNN’s State of the Union:


[clip of Dr. Fauci] In South Africa. Omicron has a transmission advantage because if you look at the number of cases now, they were very much at a low level. Then they had almost a vertical spike upwards, which is almost exclusively Omicron. Thus far—though, it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it—thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So to sum that up, he’s saying the transmissibility seems like it’s very, very high but thus far, they’re not seeing that there is a huge, huge difference in severity, but too early to say. We’re going to see how all the information public health officials are providing is going to adjust and change with new info in the days to come as they get it. More on all of this very soon.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that is both worrisome and good to hear that at least as of now, the cases have not been, you know, much more severe. So I guess we will see what Omicron decides to do with us. All right. There’s another story we’re following today about clemency. So 2021 is almost over—which is insane to me, I don’t know about you, Gideon.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, very.


Josie Duffy Rice: And it means that we’re almost a full year into the Biden presidency. And at this point, Biden knows all about his important powers. You know, which suitcase has the special button that can blow up the world, which phone will automatically connect him to Jeff Bezos or Putin or President Xi or James Bond—but it seems he’s kind of forgotten one of the strongest presidential powers he has at his disposal, and that is the power of clemency.


Gideon Resnick: It’d be bad to accidentally call one of those three when you were meaning to call the other one. Might be a tough—


Josie Duffy Rice: I feel like immediately, you know that you got the wrong guy, though.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Oh, yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: Their vibes are so different.


Gideon Resnick: Right, right. You can rule it out pretty quickly. So, yeah, to your point, Biden has the constitutional power to unilaterally grant clemency to someone, pretty much anyone convicted of a federal crime. It usually takes two forms, a pardon, which essentially deletes a person’s conviction as if the person’s arrest and conviction and sentence had never happened. Then there’s commutation, which does not actually erase the conviction but reduces a person’s sentence.


Josie Duffy Rice: And to be clear, this isn’t about innocence or guilt. So people who have, who are admittedly guilty can also get clemency. It’s just the president being like, Hey, I don’t think that was a fair sentence or I think you deserve a pardon. It’s a pretty sweet power as far as powers go. It can’t be vetoed, Congress doesn’t have to approve. The person doesn’t even have to be alive. You can go out pardoning all the dead people you feel like it.


Gideon Resnick: Good to know.


Josie Duffy Rice: The only limitations are it has to be a federal conviction, not a state one. You’ve got to go through your governor or your board of pardons for that. And the president can’t use the pardon power to derail the impeachment process, which randomly became relevant last year.


Gideon Resnick: It did.


Josie Duffy Rice: But yeah, those are the only two things.


Gideon Resnick: So as we get closer to wrapping up this year, Biden has not exercised this power at all.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, no, not once. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that descendants of Marcus Garvey have requested the president grant a posthumous pardon to Garvey. For those who don’t know, Marcus Garvey was a Black revolutionary leader in the early 20th century. He was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 in what was pretty clearly an attempt to curtail and punish him for his activism. And interestingly, Garvey actually has already received clemency once already when Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence back in 1927, but his family is looking for the government to fully pardon him as an acknowledgment that his conviction should never have happened, right? Julius Garvey, his son, said to The Post quote, “President Biden has made statements in his inaugural address about the dream for justice not to be delayed any longer. We will take him at his word.” As of record time, the Biden administration hadn’t commented yet on whether or not he’s considering pardoning Garvey, but I guess we’ll see.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and you mentioned that Biden hasn’t granted clemency in any cases thus far. Is that unusual?


Josie Duffy Rice: Sadly, no. It’s not anymore. So Obama, Clinton, George W. Bush, all of them took longer than a year to grant clemency for the first time. Trump granted clemency just once in his first year, and it was at the very tail end. And there’s really a longer historical trend here, Gideon, and it’s one that really kind of sucks honestly. As America has really shoved more and more people into prisons, presidents and governors have simultaneously granted clemency way less often than they once did. So for some context, the number of people in federal prison skyrocketed tenfold between 1980 and 2013, and simultaneously clemency grants by presidents decreased pretty drastically over time. In just one term, Jimmy Carter pardoned 566 people, including Jefferson Davis, randomly—very weird. And Patty Hearst—who knew. But over the next several administrations, that number got smaller and smaller, and by the time we get to George W. Bush, he’s granted clemency to 1/3 as many people in eight years as Carter did in four.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: So it’s just reduced drastically. And though Trump’s pardons and commutations were often news stories, he granted clemency to Joe Arpaio, Kodak Black, Roger Stone, Dinesh D’Souza, Rod Blagojevich, as well as a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, among others, his total number was also very low. It was in the two hundreds. Biden could be doing way more, and he really should be doing way more.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and what’s the relevance to him not using the power in practical terms?


Josie Duffy Rice: Acknowledging mass incarceration and calling for criminal justice reform is kind of a mainstream position now. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged that the tough-on-crime policies of the ’80s and ’90s and well into the 2000s were misguided and racially biased and caused enormous harm to individuals, to families, to communities. And Joe Biden himself had a lot to do with the 1994 crime bill, which he’s been criticized for. But there are still a lot of people serving sentences that they received during those times, right? They’re serving the kind of sentences that we’ve now understood to be harmful. He has a chance to take advantage of that momentum and get a lot of people out of prison. So here’s hoping year two looks way better than year one. If you want to hear even more about clemency, we’ll have a link in our show notes to an episode I did on it for my old podcast, “Justice in America.” That is the latest for now, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Prosecutors charged the parents of Ethan Crumbley with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their 15-year old son is accused of killing four classmates and wounding seven others at a Detroit area high school last week. But officials also argued that his parents enabled him to go on the rampage at Oxford High School. In a Friday news conference, prosecutors said James Crumbley, Ethan’s father, purchased the gun for his son as an early Christmas present. Officials also said the day before the shooting, a teacher saw Ethan searching for ammunition online. When the school contacted his parents, Ethan’s mother texted her son, quote, “L.O.L. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”—Whoa. The parents also fled the area before their arraignment on Friday, but police were able to find and arrest them in Detroit early Saturday. The couple has since pleaded not guilty to all charges, and a judge has set their bond at a half million each.


Josie Duffy Rice: Just a deeply sad story all around. Tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border are growing. According to an unclassified document obtained by The Washington Post, Russia is planning a quote, “multi-front offensive as soon as early next year, involving up to 175,000 thousand troops.”


Gideon Resnick: Whoa.


Josie Duffy Rice: The Kremlin has recently been moving troops toward the border. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long called for Ukraine and Russia to be quote, “one people.” But under Putin’s control, of course. Russia conducted military exercises in the area last spring but a U.S. senior administration official told The Washington Post that the scale of the current military force is basically about twice as large as the former one. President Biden is scheduled to hold a video call with Putin tomorrow, and the White House has threatened to impose harsh economic sanctions on Moscow should an invasion occur. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said America is committed to ensuring Ukraine has what it needs to protect its territory.


Gideon Resnick: The U.S. Navy shut down one of its drinking water wells in Honolulu, Hawaii, last week after discovering that it was contaminated with petroleum—wow—leaving several military families without clean water. About two weeks ago, residents near Pearl Harbor said they had developed nausea, rashes, and chemical burns shortly after noticing a fuel-like smell in their drinking water. The Navy confirmed Thursday that its Red Hill water well tested positive for petroleum. That same day, Democratic Representative Kai Kehele testified at the House Armed Services Committee about the issue.


[clip of Rep. Kai Kahele] Almost 100,000 people are without water. Our military families, people are getting sick, animals are getting sick, and our military families need answers.


Gideon Resnick: What caused the contamination is still unknown but the local newspaper, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, reported yesterday that the well has been testing positive for petroleum since July.


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh my God.


Gideon Resnick: The Navy has started flushing out the Red Hill well, but says it has no clear timeline for when the water will be safe to drink again.


Josie Duffy Rice: Woooh.


Gideon Resnick: Yikes.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. If you’re skeptical of megachurch pastors who raise millions from their followers just to fill their own pockets, maybe this will make you feel better: sometimes you may also be filling their walls—promise we’re going somewhere with this. Late last week, a Texas-based plumber told a radio station he found about 500 envelopes full of money behind a toilet at Houston’s Lakewood Church, home to top televangelist Joel Osteen.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: Interestingly enough, in 2014, the church reported that $600,000 were stolen from one of its safes. Houston police have confirmed that the money found last week seems to be connected to the money that was stolen in 2014, which the church reported at the time was fully insured. God works in mysterious ways. Currently, he is working to make me raise my eyebrows to an extreme level in the direction of Joel Osteen. Of course, there is no evidence so far of wrongdoing and Lakewood says it’s cooperating with the police in their investigation.


Gideon Resnick: This is just a sign that we need to go to some other megachurches and look behind some toilets. There could be some good discoveries.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. Also a sign maybe I should be ensuring my money. What happens if I spend it? Can I also get it back in that situation?


Gideon Resnick: If you work at Joel Osteen’s church, you can. I think those are the rules. And those are the headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: One more thing before we go: this week on Offline, Jon talks to journalist Charlie Warzel about how Facebook’s original sin maybe the architecture of the platform itself, and why he believes humans maybe shouldn’t be connected at this scale— amen. New episodes of Offline drop every Sunday in the Pod Save America feed. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, check the walls behind your toilet, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just the labels on working man’s jeans like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And don’t forget to share your money.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s our financial advice, guys.


Gideon Resnick: That’s the one thing you can learn from Joel.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true.


Gideon Resnick: We know we’re talking about here.


Josie Duffy Rice: We do. We do. In 2022, we are now all of your financial planners.


Gideon Resnick: Exactly us and Joel working in harmony as we always do.


Josie Duffy Rice: As we always do, yeah.


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.