In This Episode
- The Taliban has taken over twelve provincial cities in Afghanistan, and U.S. intelligence officials estimate the country’s capital Kabul could also fall within a few months. The takeovers have not affected the timeline of withdrawing U.S. troops from the country.
- New Census data shows that diversity has grown quickly in the past decade with the greatest gains seen among people identifying as Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial. We spoke with Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, about how these numbers could be used and potential Republican gerrymandering.
- And in headlines: the country’s biggest teacher’s union supports requiring vaccinations, blue hydrogen might not be all that clean, and a mayor in Japan bites an athlete’s gold medal.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, August 13th. I’m Gideon Resnick
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that sniffs every Mountain Dew we encounter to make sure it’s not alcoholic.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, alcoholic Mountain Dew is out there now or will be soon. And we all need to be extra vigilant.
Priyanka Aribindi: Stay safe, protect yourselves, your neighbors, your friends, your loved ones.
Gideon Resnick: When they said do they “Do the Dew” it was menacing. That’s all I’m going to say.
Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Britney Spears’ father says he is finally willing to step down as her conservator. Plus, the country’s biggest teachers’ union comes out in favor of mandatory vaccines.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, but first, we wanted to give a quick update on Afghanistan. So keep in mind, we’re recording this on Thursday night and the situation on the ground is changing quite rapidly. But Priyanka what is actually going on at the moment?
Priyanka Aribindi: So over the past week, the Taliban has taken over 12 provincial cities in Afghanistan. That’s at a rate that’s been really shocking and unexpected to the U.S. and the rest of the international community. The Taliban’s conquests include Kandahar, which is the country’s second largest city, and according to U.S. intelligence officials, the country’s capital of Kabul could also fall to the Taliban within 30 to 90 days.
Gideon Resnick: OK, so let’s back up for a second. Can you give a little background on what actually led up to all of this?
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. So earlier this year, President Biden promised to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. That was scheduled to happen by the end of this month, August 31st. It was a really big deal. American troops had been there for over 20 years. It’s been super expensive, over a trillion dollars, and very, very deadly. Thousands of U.S. service members have lost their lives and more than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians have died because of the war as well. Kabul was expected to fall after American troops left, but definitely not in this time frame.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And so has all of this, these takeovers, as it were, affected the timeline for U.S. troops leaving the country?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So as of now, the timeline is still the same. Earlier this week, President Biden was very emphatic, saying that we’ve trained and equipped over 300,000 Afghan forces and now they’ve got to fight for themselves. As of yesterday, the Pentagon is moving 3,000 Marines into Afghanistan and 4,000 more troops into the region. But they’re calling it a very temporary mission to help diplomats leave safely and assist with any possible evacuations. Biden has also sent an envoy to meet with Taliban political leaders in Doha to try to get them to stop their offensive and negotiate some kind of settlement.
Gideon Resnick: And so what else do we need to know about this whole situation for now?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So for most of us, these are headlines in the news we read every so often. But on the ground, this has caused a real crisis of violence, displacement, and human rights abuses. Almost 400,000 people have been displaced by this conflict since the beginning of this year. And 60,000 families fleeing violence in other cities are now living in the streets of Kabul. Journalist and human rights advocates on the ground have been killed and there is increased violence, especially towards women and girls. We’ll keep you updated as the situation changes, but that is the latest in Afghanistan for now.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s turn back to the US now with some other big news. So new census numbers came out yesterday that told the story of a changing America. Overall, the population growth dramatically slowed, but the data showed that diversity has grown quickly in the past decade, with the most gains seen among people identifying as Hispanic, Asian or multiracial. Meanwhile, the number of those who identify as just white declined for the first time since 1790.
Priyanka Aribindi: I am imagining on Fox News right now, there is a little countdown clock in the corner of the broadcast, just like ticking down the days.
Gideon Resnick: A Doomsday Clock. Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. But beyond demographics, these particular stats will be used by state legislatures and independent commissions to redraw districts all over the country. And the way the maps are drawn can have a huge impact on who eventually wins important local or national elections, and how long they may be entrenched in power. Republicans control the redistricting process in 20 states. That is more than twice the number that Democrats do. That also means that they get to draw the maps for almost 3x the number of congressional districts that Democrats get to. Advocacy groups are already working off the presumption that there will be a lot of gerrymandering in the Republican maps, particularly given the further erosion of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and while the map drawing process could take weeks or months, we’re going to get you some expert advice on what these numbers actually show and how they could end up being used. With us today is Yurij Rudensky. He is the redistricting counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. Welcome to WAD.
Yurij Rudensky: Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining. What has been your biggest takeaway from this data so far?
Yurij Rudensky: Well, I think we’re seeing the trends that were true in prior decades holding true and accelerating this decade, and in particular that the country’s population is increasingly based in suburban and urban communities, rather than rural ones, and that the population is increasingly diverse. There is significant growth among Latino communities, Black and Asian communities, and with people who identify as multiracial, and that’s the category that’s actually seen the most growth.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, super interesting. And some of the other takeaways that I’ve been seeing, Philly kind of being knocked out of the top five biggest cities population-wise by Phoenix. I’m curious about what you are kind of seeing as the most interesting change based on geography.
Yurij Rudensky: I think one of the most interesting things, actually, was news that came out in April, and that’s California’s congressional delegation is decreasing for the first time in the state’s history, which the state has never dealt with before, receiving less federal representation for the next 10 years than than it did in the prior.
Gideon Resnick: Isn’t it also New York losing one as well? And it was like the thing where it was the difference between like 89 to 100 participants or something like that?
Yurij Rudensky: Yeah, New York had a very robust get out the count effort. And, one of the things that the numbers shows is that the get out the count effort in New York City in particular was very strong, and the decrease in congressional representation was widely expected to be two congressional seats, and it almost ended up being zero congressional seats. New York was very, very close, under 100 people from retaining all 27 of its current congressional districts.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow.
Gideon Resnick: That’s crazy. I want to go back a little bit for a second. The census ran into several challenges when it was actually kicking off last year. The pandemic meant that census workers had a really difficult time doing outreach. Former President Trump tried to add the citizenship question in that attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the count. So is there any way to tell right now if or how these numbers were affected by those factors?
Yurij Rudensky: It’s still a little bit too early. There are some initial indications that things didn’t go completely off the rails. The Census Bureau and others have made projections in terms of what the demographic composition of the country should look like on the census and the numbers came in fairly close. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t significant undercounts, and that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a racial or ethnic dimension to the undercount. We just won’t know until more granular data about that becomes available, which should be later in 2021, early 2022 and into next summer.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Just to follow up on what we were talking about earlier with the new concentration or the increased concentration within cities, what does that mean for gerrymandering, specifically packing, cracking, that type of thing?
Yurij Rudensky: First and foremost, what it means at a very basic level is you’re going to see cities and their suburbs have a greater a number of districts. So you’re going to see, say, New York City is going to command more districts starting in 2022 two than upstate New York and western New York. And that’s going to be true in other states as well. In terms of how the boundaries are set, there are a couple of things at play. First, we’re in a bit of a political transition moment. The suburbs are swinging toward Democrats. That is a trend that if current political conditions hold, will likely to continue. And that’s going to influence, even in states where it’s a hyper partisan and political redistricting process, how these decisions are going to be made. It’s hard to give a definitive answer here. But these abuses are very real and it’s something that we’re going to keep an eye on. And the question is going to be whether, say, cracking Austin, which is what Texas did last time around, where not a single congressional district was drawn fully within the city’s confines, will continue to be a viable strategy, or whether that’s a way to create four or five Democratic districts because the city is growing so fast.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And you’re talking about this right now, but you’ve worked a lot on how this process can become more fair so that there isn’t one side or one particular community or one particular political party dictating this or excluding the others from representation. So what can be done then in terms of reforms here?
Yurij Rudensky: I think the key thing is that it’s very hard to gerrymander when the process is sunlit. If it’s transparent, if everything is being done above board, and the public really can see how these decisions are being made, what data is being used, and what is motivating the decisions, it becomes politically untenable for lawmakers to at least carry out the worst abuses, the most extreme gerrymanders. So that’s probably the biggest thing at this point. And of course, one of the biggest and most consequential things that could happen is if Congress passes the For the People Act. There are very robust protections, clear criteria, and a ban on partisan gerrymandering, which is very needed.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Speaking of protections, I wanted to ask you, as this process starts to take place in the fall, what are some of the issues we’re going to face now, given what the Supreme Court has done to the Voting Rights Act, and where we’re currently at?
Yurij Rudensky: The Supreme Court is no friend to the Voting Rights Act. There have been a number of decisions in the past 10 years that have weakened and limited its reach. And so that’s, that is a big question. And, of course, one of the things that we’re seeing more generally are these ‘fraudits,’ these post-election, completely phony, completely partisan autopsies of election results. And the fact is, is there is a direct connection between the changing demographics of this country and how politics are changing here as a result. And these attempts to cast doubt on election outcomes and the voter suppression efforts that we saw across legislatures in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 elections, these aren’t distinct things that are happening. They’re all part and parcel of the same enterprise, which is to try to create a minority in government, where minority interests can still set the political agenda and the policy agenda, and that is at the expense of growing communities of color. So it’s a huge concern. And vote suppression works with gerrymandering to limit the political voice of communities of color. So all of these things that are happening need to be seen as part of a broader web of bad actors and bad faith action with one goal in mind.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Thank you so much for linking all of that together. I think that’s going to be really helpful for people to understand. Yurij Rudensky, the redistricting counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. Thank you so much again for taking the time today.
Yurij Rudensky: Thanks for having me.
Priyanka Aribindi: We’ll have a link to the Brennan Center’s work on redistricting and the effort to reform it in our show notes. And that is the latest for now.
Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about benevolent robots. So in Indonesia, residents of a village in East Java have created a remote-controlled assistant made of recycled appliances to help people who are currently isolating at home. This is a classic, sad but also heartwarming type of story, which has become pretty common during the pandemic. The helpful robot is frankly adorable, with a head made from a rice cooker, a torso that’s made from an old TV and a gorgeous lavender and white color scheme tying it all together. Her name is Delta. You get it. And she’s programed with a friendly voice to say hello and goodbye. And she makes food deliveries to people’s homes. The approachable, recycled bot presents a sharp contrast to some robots that we’ve seen during the pandemic, like the terrifyingly sleek Boston Dynamics Dogs. Yikes. But you’ve been used to measure vital signs and even encourage social distancing. So Priyanka, what are your thoughts on this story?
Priyanka Aribindi: So I originally I want to say we should be skeptical of these robots and they aren’t on our side. They’re not trying to help. This is such a cute robot.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: This is, she’s adorable. She says hello. She says goodbye. She’s like, has shades of like this periwinkle color.
Gideon Resnick: Periwinkle is right.
Priyanka Aribindi: She’s adorable. I love her. I love her. And maybe that means I will get taken over, you know, when the robots rise up against us, led by the Boston Dynamic Dogs. But for now, I love her.
Gideon Resnick: I think it’s also a thing like the color scheme is very inviting. Right? Like it’s not really sharp edges. I think for me, the second that we take like human or animal limbs off of robots and we decide, like, we’re not doing that anymore—much more approachable. Delta is moving around, like on this kind of swivel thing. She’s got like four wheels here, maybe like looks a little bit like a toy car, might be, you know, like the bottom situation that she’s got going on. Very chill vibes. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps. If you want to help your community, I guess you can rely on a robot if they’re friendly. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: The biggest teachers’ union in the country announced yesterday that they will support policies requiring all teachers to get vaccinated or regularly tested. Support coming from the National Education Association is a huge deal, partly because the union represents around three million people across the country. So far, they’ve reported that 90% of their members are already vaccinated. This also follows a similar announcement by another major union, the American Federation of Teachers. Ultimately, however, it is up to state and local governments to implement vaccine mandates for teachers. This all comes as some areas of the country are struggling with a surge in COVID cases. Hospitals in Texas are reaching capacity, and Mississippi is dealing with an ICU bed shortage. We’ll keep tracking the state of things across the country on our show. We hope that improves.
Gideon Resnick: Yes. There’s some evidence of the perfect fuel doesn’t exist. New research found that supposedly clean blue hydrogen releases 20% more greenhouse gas across its supply chain than coal and 60% more than diesel. This is a huge problem considering that dozens of gas companies have already started producing blue hydrogen and testing its success in existing gas pipelines. It’s also predicted to supply about 18% of total energy demand by 2050. Now, tying is back to what we’ve been talking about in Congress, the Senate just dedicated $8 billion in its recently passed infrastructure bill to develop blue hydrogen. Yikes. In an effort to combat climate change. It’s now possible that that money would be better spent paying teenagers to set trees on fire. Blue hydrogen is backed by the Hydrogen Council, a group made up of oil companies like BP, Total and Shell, a trio we can trust to know about climate change because they did a shitload of it.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is bad. Just not, not good in any way. But hopefully we do have some better news for you coming up next. Which pop star’s dad has announced his intent to eventually relinquish total control of her finances?
[clip: It’s Britney, bitch.]
Gideon Resnick: That’s right.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is right. Britney Spears’ dad, Jamie Spears, announced yesterday his willingness to step down as her conservator. That is something that Britney and her lawyers urgently requested last month, but were denied by a judge. In a statement released yesterday, lawyers for Jamie Spears defiantly said that there were no legal grounds for his removal, but that he was stepping down because continuing the public battle over the conservatorship was not in Britney’s best interest. No shit. Importantly, Jamie Spears did not give a timeline for his resignation, saying only that he would step down, quote, “when the time is right.” I don’t know what that means. Britney has previously described the arrangement as abusive and has called for her conservatives to be put in jail.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I don’t really trust anything that this guy is saying about all of this.
Priyanka Aribindi: No. Most hated man in America. Get out of here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. What is going on? We are five days out from the end of the Olympics and we are finally getting to the stories that could be classified as hijinks. So, first off, Jamaican hurdler Hansle Parchment posted a video this week explaining how he nearly missed his event because he boarded the wrong bus. Then a volunteer sent from transit heaven lent him money for a cab and allowed him to arrive on time and win gold. The Jamaican government thanked the volunteer and invited her to visit the country. Personally, this is the exact thing I expect will happen to me anytime I do something nice to anyone or for anyone. In other news about trophies and how they taste, the Japanese mayor said he was sorry after he bit an athlete’s gold medal. You can find the picture of it that I tweeted yesterday morning, which I found to be hilarious. The mayor of Nagoya was doing a photo op with a softball player from Team Japan when he decided to honor his impulses and put her gold medal in his mouth.
Priyanka Aribindi: Horrific.
Gideon Resnick: He later offered to pay for a new one, but the IOC is replacing the medal for free.
Priyanka Aribindi: All right. You know what? I’m going to ignore that last crazy story, and just like, does, the first one, the story about the hurdler, does that not scream rom com to you? That is adorable.
Gideon Resnick: Screams. Screams rom com to me.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. I want to fall in love. She saved his Olympic chances. He won gold. They’re going to reunite in Jamaica. Take one for the team. Fall in love, guys.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Please pay us to produce this movie. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, some exciting news, in addition to Tre’vell Anderson and Priyanka—
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s me!
Gideon Resnick: The WAD squad is growing on Monday. Josie Duffy Rice is also joining as a co-host of What A Day. So you can listen in while she joins me for her first episode. And honestly, we cannot wait for that. To make sure you don’t miss out, subscribe to What A Day wherever you get your podcast. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, take that stranger’s metal out of your mouth, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just fairy tales about the perfect fuel 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.
[together] And enjoy your zero ABB Mountain Dew!
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’ll get you cranked enough. You’ll be fine.
What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers, and Kelly Sadikun is our intern. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.