Each episode will go deep on a big story you’ll definitely want to hear more about. We’ll share with you our best investigations (think private prisons, electoral skullduggery, Dark Money, and Trump's Russia connections), and informative interviews with our reporters and newsmakers. We're hoping to make your week more informed with the stories that really matter, told by us, the folks you trust for smart, fearless reporting.
How America's Super-Rich Tax Evaders Are Hurting Everyone
Money. You’re probably thinking a lot about it these days. From a global pandemic that’s tanked the global economy, to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill, to workers once again trying (and failing) to unionize at Amazon, who gets what and how is the recurring theme of so many important social and political debates right now.
Michael Mechanic is a long-time Senior Editor at Mother Jones. His compelling new book is called Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All. From Capitol Hill to family office suites to wine cellar bunkers, this is an eye-opening romp through the lives of the richest people in America–the so-called One Percenter and a.comprehensive look at the structures behind wealth inequality. Not to mention the psychological effects of wealth on the very people who have the most of it. "Higher wealth is associated with more entitlement and narcissism, less compassion," explains Mechanic on the podcast. "People who are wealthier tend to be less socially attuned to those around them."
In this conversation with Jamilah King, Mechanic discusses the tax code, the ways that race and gender have played into the accumulation of generational wealth, the tension between the promise of the American dream and the stark reality of the present-day wealth gap. And that specifically American landscape does not have much allure for others. "When people visualize how bad the wealth gap is in America,” Mechanic notes, “they say, I don't want to live there."
The Hidden Influence of Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson always fit the mold of a certain old-fashioned, stereotypical presidential wife: self-effacing, devoted to her generally unfaithful domineering husband, not particularly chic, and, being a traditional first lady one who needed a public cause, and found hers it in planting lots of flowers near highways. They called it at the time, with just a hint of disparagement, "beautification." Nowhere in the hundreds of thousands of pages written by presidential historians on the 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, has there been presented much evidence to the contrary.
But in her new book, Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight, Julia Sweig has radically changed the narrative. “She doesn’t just have a front seat at history,” says Sweig on the podcast. “She was shaping it.”
Mother Jones's DC Editorial Operations Director Marianne Szegedy-Maszak sat down with Sweig to talk to her about Lady Bird Johnson, writing history, and how the dominance of a certain narrative about male power informed the way we have understood the Johnson presidency. Especially striking is how many of the same issues that are current today—income inequality, the fight for racial justice, police shootings, environmental despoliation, and environmental justice—were priorities for the Johnson administration. Nearly all of them eclipsed by the Vietnam War.
This episode includes clips from In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson, a podcast hosted by Sweig and produced by ABC News/Best Case Studios.
Hope and Fear: The Dangerous New COVID Phase, Explained
Earlier this week, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky went off-script during a news conference to issue an emotional warning: a fourth coronavirus surge could be on its way. She described a “recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” saying that while there was “so much to look forward to,” the country was entering a dangerous new phase. “I’m scared,” she said.
Meanwhile, the country has seen week-on-week vaccination records tumble, and officials predict that half of Americans will be fully protected within the next two months. Nearly 150 million doses have been administered so far.
So Americans find themselves confronting yet another front in the war on COVID-19, in which hope and fear are colliding. Can we vaccinate fast enough to combat the threat of dangerous new variants? What’s the deal with the AstraZeneca vaccine drama? Why is the United States populations getting vaccinated at a much faster rate than the rest of the world? When—if ever—can we ditch the masks?
We try to answer some of those questions on this week’s episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, with Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist and the founding dean of the national school of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. He’s been leading a team at the Baylor College of Medicine that uses older vaccine technology to create a COVID-19 vaccine that would be cheaper to make and distribute.
“By the summer I think we could potentially vaccinate ourselves out of the epidemic,” Hotez tells Kiera Butler, our senior editor and public health reporter, during a taped livestream event last week. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet. Though coronavirus cases have dropped 80 percent from the latest surge, case numbers are at the same level that they were last summer and variants are spreading quickly. “We’re at a dangerous time right now.”
This interview was originally recorded for a Mother Jones livestream event on March 24, 2021. The full video can be found on www.motherjones.com or on Mother Jones’ Youtube and Facebook channels.
Stop the COVID Shaming!
For many people who contract the coronavirus, shame is an underreported side-effect. Its symptoms are intense bewilderment about the cause of infection, reluctance to engage with healthcare systems, and discomfort disclosing the diagnosis to friends and family. The internal dynamic is likely reinforced by the public shaming that follows news stories about crowds of spring breakers not following social distancing rules. Or the Instagram account dedicated to calling out parties and gatherings. Or the tweets about how people who dine indoors are selfish morons.
Shaming others “can function as a way to distance yourself from the fear, the terror, or any uncomfortable feeling you have by placing the badness on someone else,” says Dr. Deeba Ashraf, a psychoanalyst at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. “We can feel this illusion of safety, which is born out of shaming another group.”
In this bonus episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, Associate Producer Molly Schwartz interviews Ashraf about the psychological effects of COVID shaming, the impacts on public health, and some tips for dealing with feelings of shame and stigma.
This interview is part of Molly’s big feature about COVID shaming and its historical parallels in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Read the full story at www.motherjones.com.
A Post-Trump Guide to Stopping the Lies and Healing Our Politics
Cass Sunstein is a public intellectual and provocateur—and he has been pondering a timely issue: public lying. A longtime Harvard law professor and an expert on behavioral economics, Sunstein has written a slew of books, including volumes on cost-benefit analysis, conspiracy theories, animal rights, authoritarianism in the United States, decision-making, and Star Wars. He was recently named senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, where he will oversee the Biden administration’s rollback of Donald Trump’s policies. But right before he rejoined the federal government, he released his latest work: Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception.
The book is certainly a product of the Trump era, a stretch in which the “former guy” made 30,583 false or misleading claims while serving as president, according to the Washington Post. All his lying kind of worked. Donald Trump was elected despite—or because—of his serial falsehood-flinging. He nearly won reelection after his tsunami of truth-trashing. And after the election, Trump promoted the Big Lie that victory had been stolen from him, and his crusade triggered an insurrectionist raid on the Capitol that threatened the certification of the electoral vote count. After all that—and after Trump’s misleading statements about the COVID-19 pandemic led to the preventable of deaths hundreds of thousands of Americans—Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party and a hero for tens of millions of Americans.
So what, if anything, can be done to thwart such lies? Especially in an age of expanding disinformation, wild-and-wooly social media, QAnon, deepfakes, and widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories?
In his book, Sunstein discusses why lying can succeed and how tough it is—especially given First Amendment freedoms—to counter them. He notes that certain forms of lying can be punished: perjury, defamation, and false advertising. And he argues for extending the category of lies that ought to be officially punished, noting, “Governments should have the power to regulate certain lies and falsehoods, at least if they can be shown to be genuinely harmful by any objective measure.” Though that is much harder done than said.
Our Washington DC Bureau Chief David Corn spoke with Sunstein about all this. And they addressed the big topic: given that a debate over lying and what to do about it is, in a way, a debate over reality, how can we as a democratic society function, if we don’t agree on what is and isn’t true?
What Happened in Jackson, Mississippi, Was a Catastrophe—and a Warning Sign
Boiling water to drink and bathe. Collecting rainwater to flush toilets. Using bottled water distributed by the National Guard to take care of basic hygiene.
For four weeks, tens of thousands of people in Jackson, Mississippi, did not have access to clean water. Freezing winter storms wreaked havoc on Jackson’s old and crumbling water infrastructure. In mid-February the city experienced 80 water main breaks, leaving tens of thousands of residents were left without running water. But while the Texas blackouts dominated the news cycle, Jackson’s water crises received far less attention, even as it extended into its fourth week. Jackson’s residents, 80 percent of whom are Black and nearly 30 percent of whom live below the poverty line, were forced to boil water to drink, bathe, and use the bathroom. In the middle of a pandemic, residents of Jackson didn’t have reliable access to clean water to wash their hands.
This water crisis was years in the making. For the past 50 years the Republican-led state government has been cutting taxes and neglecting to invest in infrastructure repairs. Jackson’s shrinking tax base has been exacerbated by white flight and the fact that, unlike other capital cities, Jackson does not receive payments in lieu of taxes for its state-owned properties.
“It isn't a matter of if these systems will fail, it's a matter of when these systems will fail,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba tells Mother Jones reporter Nathalie Baptiste on this week’s show. “We have a $2 billion infrastructure problem.”
Last week, Jackson finally lifted its boil water notice. But Jackson’s water crisis laid bare the budget, infrastructure, and equity issues that leave cities like Jackson vulnerable to future extreme weather events.
“Climate change is significantly impacting the pressure on our infrastructure. We have hotter summers, colder winters, and more rain in the rainy season,” says Mayor Lumumba. “They’re becoming our new normal.”
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