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The Uncertain Hour
29 minutes | 5 months ago
Answering your “History of Now” questions
We’ve spent the past five weeks trying to make sense of this moment, where the inequalities of our society have been suddenly set in high relief. In that time, you all have written in with a bunch of questions big and small. Today, we’re going to cap off this pop-up season by answering a few of them. Questions like: What would chicken cost if plant workers got better wages and benefits? And how did health insurance get tied to our jobs anyway? We’ll also look back at two very clear moments, both after pandemics, when economic inequality started to fall dramatically. Thanks so much to everyone who listened and sent in questions. We’ll be back later this year with new episodes. Until, then, there’s always our first three seasons.
43 minutes | 6 months ago
Without a home in a pandemic
On any given night last year, half a million people in the United States were experiencing homelessness, and more than 60% of them were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs. Now, those same facilities are hot spots for COVID-19. It’s hard to social distance when you’re cramped, sharing bedrooms and sharing locker-room style communal showers. Today, we’ll look back at the history of how America has sheltered unhoused people, and how those approaches can make it hard for them to get back on their feet even when there’s not a pandemic going on.
33 minutes | 6 months ago
There are cracks in the foundation of our housing system
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a moment when the gap between rich and poor in this country had hit a record high. One place that inequality is most visible is in the neighborhoods where we live. Generations of discriminatory housing policy, and lending practices that favored white borrowers, have entrenched segregation in American cities. This week, we’ll examine the housing policies that emerged from past economic crises, policies that excluded black people and other people of color, preventing them from building the wealth that middle class white families built.
36 minutes | 6 months ago
Unemployment benefits are hard to get. That’s on purpose.
Millions of Americans who are out of work don’t receive unemployment benefits. That’s by design. Today, we’ll look at the history of the United States’ unemployment insurance system, how this country defines “unemployment,”and why the program was never intended to cover everyone who’s not working.
29 minutes | 6 months ago
An unequal history of quarantines
As long as there’s been such a thing as quarantine, each person’s experience under it has depended largely on their economic status. On this week’s show, we take a tour of quarantines through history, from the bubonic plague outbreaks in 14th and 17th century Italy, to the a typhoid outbreak in New York in the early 1900s and a few other stops along the way. Those quarantines looked very different if you were, say, an immigrant, or a Jewish textile merchant, or a sex worker. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic shine a spotlight on all the inequalities already lurking in the system, and ideas of what the government owes to people in quarantine have changed over the centuries too. Long gone are the days of the government sending your family fennel sausage, cheese and wine to make it through.
30 minutes | 7 months ago
You’re an essential worker. Do you get essential protections?
Chicken is America’s most popular meat. But chicken supply chains — in fact, many of our food supply chains — are in danger of breaking down. Part of the reason is the workers who process and package those goods are getting sick. In some cases, they’re dying. For the first episode of our new season, “A History of Now,” we focused on America’s chicken supply chain because it raises a huge, looming question: How is it that essential workers don’t have essential protections? How do we get through a crisis — any crisis — if we can’t be sure our food-producing workforce is safe?
4 minutes | 7 months ago
A History of Now: The Trailer
There’s not much more uncertain than our current moment. Our day-to-day lives and our economy have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. On this season, “A History of Now,” we’re digging into the history and policies that help make sense of this current moment, a time where issues of wealth and poverty feel even more stark than usual. New episodes start May 13.
16 minutes | a year ago
A new piece of the opioid crisis origin story, revealed
We just found the answer to a really big question that’s been bugging us for years, about why the opioid crisis has hit some places so hard while other places have been relatively protected. The answer comes in the form of new academic research, that builds upon our reporting. Specifically, a secret internal marketing document from Purdue Pharma that senior producer Caitlin Esch discovered in the bowels of a county court house. She’s on this bonus episode to talk about it.
46 minutes | a year ago
George Bush’s infamous crack speech, 30 years later
On this day, 30 years ago, President George H.W. Bush gave his first address from the Oval Office. Bush held up a baggie of crack he said had been seized just outside the White House. Today, we’re revisiting our episode about that speech, the events that led up to it and the lives it affected. For more on America’s drug war, listen to season 3 of our show.
49 minutes | 2 years ago
Kicking the habit
Many people in Wise County agree that they can’t jail their way out of a drug epidemic, but there’s a lot less agreement on what to do instead. And we find out what happened to Joey Ballard.
41 minutes | 2 years ago
It’s not easy being an undercover cop in a county of just 40,000 people. But drugs were making it hard for Bucky Culbertson to run his business, so he made it his business to get rid of drugs.
36 minutes | 2 years ago
Welcome to Wise County
It’s the deadliest drug epidemic our country has ever faced. We go to ground zero, where “nothing changes except for the drug.”
48 minutes | 2 years ago
The drug bust and the trial were a “farce,” but the full force of the law still came down on Keith Jackson — and thousands of people like him. That didn’t end the crack epidemic, so what did?
33 minutes | 2 years ago
What happened to Keith?
One day, early in the semester, Keith Jackson didn’t show up to class. He’d been arrested for selling crack, but for his classmates, that wasn’t the surprising part.
46 minutes | 2 years ago
George H.W. Bush and his baggie of crack
It was the perfect political prop: drugs seized by government agents right across the street from the White House, just in time for a big presidential address. The reality was more complicated.
2 minutes | 2 years ago
The Uncertain Hour Season 3: Inside America’s Drug War
Thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush held up a baggie of crack on live TV, and said it had been seized right in front of the White House. The Uncertain Hour’s third season looks at how the policies launched that day continue to reverberate – even as the crack epidemic has faded into history. New episodes start March 21.
79 minutes | 3 years ago
“A mosquito in a nudist colony”
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress rolled back a gun regulation last year that would have restricted some people with mental disabilities from buying guns. Now, this story isn’t about gun control, but the law they used to erase that rule and 14 others last year. It’s a tale that goes back decades, and it starts in Kenya in the 1960s. Along the way, we’ll meet a man in a white suit and an army of used car dealers. This story is also the last episode of our second season, all about who writes the rules, who gets to unwrite them and who gets written off.
69 minutes | 3 years ago
Law and Odor: a crime story about orchids, pig smell, refineries and you
There are lots of different ways to commit a crime. Some of them are obscure — it’s a crime to sell Swiss cheese without holes, for example. Some deal with serious safety and environmental issues — it’s a crime for a refinery to release more than a certain amount of the carcinogen Benzene. There are people who argue there are just too many federal regulations with criminal consequences, that with thousands of potential criminal acts on the books, how can you know if you’re doing something wrong? And that argument has some very powerful forces behind it. In this episode, we look at the issue that’s come to be known as “overcriminalization,” and the debate about what’s a crime worth enforcing and what’s bureaucratic overreach.
46 minutes | 3 years ago
Who’s regulating whom?
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention corporations once. But if you want to talk about federal regulations, you have to talk about private enterprise, too. They’re yin and yang, intertwined over centuries, locked in an eternal struggle. This week, we’re tracing that history back to the 13 colonies, when corporations helped to create the basic framework of our democracy. And we hear how railroad companies, the country’s first big homegrown corporations, regulated the people before the people regulated them.
30 minutes | 3 years ago
Your regulations questions, answered
We’re working on the next batch of episodes for season two, but this week we’re taking a quick break over the holidays to bring you a sort of reporter’s notebook, a glimpse behind the scenes. First we’re going to answer some of your questions about the stories we’ve brought you so far in this season. Then, because regulations have been in the news so much, we’re also wanted to give you some helpful context for what you’ve been hearing. Subscribe to The Uncertain Hour podcast.
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