In This Episode
DeRay, Brittany, Clint, and Sam discuss the Georgia gubernatorial election, the new prison reform bill, incarcerated firefighters, and American fast food consumption. Representative Gwen Moore (WI-4) joins DeRay to talk about congressional news, including Nancy Pelosi’s race for Speaker of the House and welfare reform.
- Vox: The more money you make, the more fast food you eat
- New York Times: Fast Food: It’s What’s for Dinner. And Lunch. And Breakfast.
- Think Progress: Stacey Abrams won’t concede to Brian Kemp because his voter suppression was ‘truly appalling’
- New York Times: Just How Much of an Overhaul Is This Overhaul of the Nation’s Criminal Justice System?
- New York Times: As Inmates, They Fight California’s Fires. As Ex-Convicts, Their Firefighting Prospects Wilt.
- Rep. Gwen Moore Twitter Account
DeRay: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode we have news as usual with me, Brittany, Clint, and Sam. We’re also joined by Representative Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.
Rep. Gwen Moore: I do think a lot of these challenges have a lot to do with making sure that the diversification that this election suggests that there ought to be, be made real. That that actually be reflected in the leadership.
DeRay: Now the word this week is to remember that part of the battle is getting people elected into office. The other part is to make sure that they do what they got elected to do. So, we should celebrate the wins, there were a lot of wins with this last midterm. Like people did incredible work. A lot of people voted, more people participated in politics than in a long time. Now that they’re in office, we need to make sure that they show up to work every day and do the things that they said they were going to do.
DeRay: So, when we think about what happens in January when the new congress gets installed. When we think about the new committee appointments, your new mayors, your new states attorneys. Getting them there was the first part of the battle. Holding them accountable is the rest of the work. There’s so many elected officials who are on our side who actually need us to keep the pressure so they actually have the cover to do the things they said they were going to do. So, if your person said they wanted to end bail, it’s not enough for you to just have elected them, you need to keep raising holy hell while they’re in office so that they even have the cover to do the things that they promised to do. The things you asked them to do and demanded that they do. Let’s go.
Brittany: Hey y’all, it’s the news. This is Brittany Packnett @MsPackyetti on all social media.
Sam: And this is Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
Clint: And this is Clint Smith @ClintSmithIII.
DeRay: Ay, ay, ay, ay. Boom I was on time today. Haha. This is DeRay @deray on Twitter.
Clint: So we had some happenings happening over the weekend.
Brittany: I know right, I finally saw Hamilton.
Sam: She was going to get that Hamilton in some how, some way.
Brittany: Because I’m so obsessed. Oh my God, it’s amazing.
Sam: Brittany, what’s your verdict? Did it live up to the hype? Was it better than the hype?
Brittany: I think it totally surpassed the hype and frankly, the problem with seeing it is that once you are on the other side of ignorance and you’ve seen it, then you want to see it over and over, and over again, and you can’t just like, find it on Itunes. You can’t just like pop in a DVD. So, Reggie and I have been listening to the soundtrack over, and over and over again, all weekend, and walking around and just turning to each other and saying, “And Peggy.” Like we’re the Schuyler sisters. It’s really amazing, truly.
Clint: And while most people go to the theater and they get maybe some popcorn or some skittles, or some wine if they’re feeling fancy at the show, you got a different sort of treat than most people get.
Brittany: Yeah, the love of my life asked me to marry him on stage at Hamilton after the show was over.
Clint: Oh, snap.
Brittany: I thought that the biggest surprise was-
DeRay: Can’t wait for the wedding.
Brittany: I thought the biggest surprise was that we had better seats than Tom Brady, and I was like, “This is pretty dope.” Then he was like, “We get to go back stage.” I was like, “What?”. Then we’re on stage taking a picture and I turn around and he was on one knee. It was incredibly special and he knows how much I love musical theater, so it was very thoughtful. I couldn’t be more excited. I was already living a very full life before I met him. So I’m grateful that two whole people were able to come together and I’m excited. It’s going down at the wedding.
DeRay: And just keep me posted when you do the wedding roles, the roles at the wedding. Just don’t forget about us.
Brittany: I mean, listen. I’ve had five grown adults ask if they could be the flower girl. Or basically say that they were going to be the flower girl. I was like, “That’s interesting. I have lots of children in my life.” But I promise I will not forget about you all. You all are my brothers. I am very excited to celebrate with you all and our friends and family.
DeRay: We going to be there no matter what. Whether I got an appointed role or not, I’m going to be up there.
Brittany: What I really want for a wedding present, if the three of you all or all of you all listening could make this happen, I would really like Betsy DeVos to step down.
DeRay: The best wedding gift.
Brittany: Nobody has to give me any pots or pans, or contribute to any honeymoon fund. If she can go, that’s enough. Because the leak that I have seen on these new Title IX rules are disturbing as I don’t know what. From the looks of it, there are going to be new rules around Title IX that will loosen the kind of reporting and investigation requirements that college campuses have to do when there is sexual assault reported. I’m very, very worried about how unsafe college campuses are going to become once again for young people all together and young women in particular, if these rules actually go into effect.
Brittany: So if y’all can make that happen, I’d be much obliged.
DeRay: One of the things too that’s in the proposal is that it stipulates that cross examination can now be done by a third party, such as a lawyer. People are worried that in the Title IX hearings now that what will happen is that they’ll be a two tiered system where rich students will have these really extensive lawyers and people who are not rich will be really stuck as a part of the process. That just hasn’t happened currently.
DeRay: The thing that I’m mindful of is that it’s a proposed regulation, so it has a 60 day public comment period, and the department is obligated to respond to the public comment. So I’m hopeful that enough people will push in thoughtful ways so that we can actually get more clarity and there can be some real back and forth with this administration that hopefully ends soon.
Brittany: So what that means is you all can make your voices heard and actually try to get me that wedding present.
Clint: I got you. Baby Jay said that’s what he’s going to get.
Brittany: Listen, I already know Baby Jay is going to be like the most woke little boy I know. So, I’m all about it.
Clint: Mm-hmm (affirmative), I’m just saying. If there is anybody else in the running for ring bearer, Jay ready. We stay training, we’ll walk him and practice him walking up and down.
Brittany: Yo, and I already know he looks cute in a bow tie. You know. So, listen y’all, I know that we had some incredible wins on election day. Amendment four was passed, there are record number of women going to congress. There a record number of women of color, indigenous women, Black women, Latinas going to congress, and it truly was an amazing day. But of course we know that that doesn’t mean that everything we wanted came true. In particular there were three governors races that I was paying close attention to. Ben Jealous, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum. Two of those races extended beyond election day, and since that time until now we have seen both Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams say that they understand that their opponents are actually going to hold the seat.
Brittany: I say that that way in particular because Stacey Abrams has not conceded. She didn’t concede because she essentially said that her moral compass would not allow her to concede because concession would be admission that this was a fair election, and it was not. So, I’m deeply grateful to people like Stacey for making sure that we maintain a moral consciousness about our elections.
Brittany: So as it stands right now, the gap between Brian Kemp the republican governor elect, and Stacey Abrams is about 18,000 votes. If she had been able to close that 18,000 vote gap, she would have been able to pursue a run off which means that there would have had to be another election, a special election for governor in Georgia. But here’s what we also know, as we talked about before on the podcast that we’re 53,000 brand new voter registrations flagged. 70% of them were Black, and they were flagged by Brian Kemp’s office because of course he was the Secretary of State in Georgia overseeing all elections.
Brittany: Now, there were lawsuits that helped ensure that the majority of those registrations were actually confirmed. But then you have the issue of getting that information out to those folks who submitted those registrations, which means it’s not kind of one to one where people will automatically be able to show up and vote again if they were in that 53,000. But there are far more than those 53,000 brand new registrations that we know are problematic. Since 2012, Brian Kemp’s office has purged 1.4 million people from the voter roles. 670,000 of those folks have been purged just since 2017 when he presumably was very active in running for governor. There were 214 polling places that were closed across the state of Georgia, and just a week before the election he announced without any provocation or seemingly any evidence that he was going to open up a hacking probe into Stacey Abrams campaign.
Brittany: This means that Brian Kemp grossly abused his position as Secretary of State to benefit himself. He did not resign from the office of Secretary of State until after election day when it was looking like there may be a run off or at least there was a recount. So, we know that the election in Georgia was deeply problematic, but this is not the only place where secretaries of state have actually been abusing their office. We know that Chris Kobach who almost won the governor role in Kansas didn’t recuse himself until very late in the game when there was a recount for his own primary race. We know that in Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Grimes is under investigation because she was accused that she misused voter data.
Brittany: In Arizona, Secretary of State Michele Reagan is being sued for allegedly failing to update voter registration information as required under the federal law. In fact, last week we found out that Indiana Secretary of State allegedly removed at least 20,000 voters from the rolls using a method that was blocked by a federal judge last June.
Brittany: So, there are abuses happening in the Secretary of State office across parties, and across the country. There should be a rule across every single state that the Secretary of State can actually not run for office while they are actively overseeing their own election. Or that we actually don’t engage in partisan appointments and elections for the Secretary of State office. Whatever happens, we have to be vigilant as voters. 2020 is right around the corner, we have to make sure that we’re supporting organizations like the National Voter Protection Action Fund. That we’re looking to organizations like the ACLU and the NAACPLDF and The Lawyers Committee who are taking on these lawsuits. In years when we’re not even voting to make sure that when we do show up at the ballot box, that our voices can be heard and never be silenced.
Sam: You know, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of federal intervention or action to hold Brian Kemp accountable other than what we saw the federal judge do with allowing this 53,000 people who were put on pending registration status to be able to sort of challenge that decision. But overall, we haven’t seen any sort of large scale effort from the federal government at least to say that this election was actually an illegitimate election. That these things that Brian Kemp did should not be done again. Or for any measures to be put in place to prevent that from happening.
Sam: The good news is, in addition to all of those opportunities to support organizations, to get out the vote, to address voter suppression at large, there are also opportunities in run off elections even in Georgia to replace the Secretary of State that used to be Brian Kemp with John Barrow who’s running as the democrat for the December 4th election there. So if he’s elected to Secretary of State, he would then have the power to reverse some of those measures. He might be able to reinstate some of those folks who have been purged, and he would be able to prevent further voter suppression from happening moving forward.
Sam: So, really important that Georgia voters turn out. Early voting is November 26th through 30th in Georgia. Then election day is December 4th to elect John Barrow to be the next Secretary of State.
Clint: Another thing I keep coming back to is the fact that Kemp was caught on tape at a campaign event saying that Stacey Abrams voter turn out operation “Continues to concern us, especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote.” So we have on record the fact that none of this was unintentional, right? It’s very clear that what he was saying about the threat that voter turn out represented to his ability to be elected governor was 100% connected to his actions as Secretary of State even though it was under the guides of preventing voter fraud. Kemp’s not the only person who’s doing this. Just last week we had Cindy Hyde-Smith the senator in Mississippi who’s running against Mike Espy. If you are in Mississippi, please, please, please make sure you get out to the polls and vote for Mike Espy. For many reasons, but among them is as Cindy Hyde- Smith said, she was caught on tape at an event saying, “There are lots of liberal folks in those other schools that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult.” I think that’s a great idea.
Clint: So again, we have another elected official, another member of the republican party saying aloud what we know to be true, even when it’s not said as directly as we’ve caught them saying it in the past few weeks. They recognize that the demographic landscape and the political landscape is changing and the only means they have to prevent themselves from losing politically is to cheat. But lots of really important stuff to do legislatively and I think that’s one of the most important reasons that the democratic congress has put voting rights and automatic voting registration and things like that at the top of their priority list for the upcoming congress.
DeRay: So the only things I add is that I’m reminded that Stacey Abrams did not concede, and what she said in her speech is important to just read from her voice. She said, “I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified the victor in the 2018 Gubernatorial elections. To watch an elected official claims to represent the people in the state boldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s Democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So, let’s be clear this is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right or true, or proper. As a woman of conscious and faith, I cannot concede that.”
DeRay: I love that framing that she’s like, I get that I will not be the legal winner, but I will also not say that he’s the legitimate winner. The other thing that has gone under reported is that Nate Silver who we know from FiveThirtyEight who is a pollster, one of the things that he has noted recently is that there’s almost no precedent for the opposition party coming this close to matching the President’s vote total from two years earlier. 60 million people turned out to vote for Dem’s in the midterms and Trump only got 63 million votes total across the country.
DeRay: So one of the things to remember is that the strategy’s actually working. So for all of the haranguing that’s happening, for all the resistance in that moving and people need to try new things. It’s like, what the Dem’s going to do is keep fighting. People are mobilized, we can certainly mobilize them more. We definitely need to work on voter suppression, but the story is not that people aren’t engaged. The story is not that people don’t care. 60 million people voting, 3 million people shy of who elected the President is not insignificant. So remember that the system isn’t designed to make you believe that you have power. That’s just not the way the system works. What we’re doing is effective and we made a lot of wins at the state level with some races for governor and certainly in the house.
DeRay: Don’t go anywhere, more Pod To the People is coming.
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Sam: So my news is focused on California, in particular the wildfires that have been really all over the state over the past several weeks. Destroying thousands and thousands of homes, endangering thousands of lives that we still don’t know in total how many people have died. It is sort of an unprecedented fire in it’s scale. One of the thing’s that’s interesting about the fire, first of all we know that climate change is contributing to this fire and to fires in general becoming more severe in California. So, California is getting hotter and drier than usual year over year. So that’s a contributing factor, but as we see sort of more and more fires in the state we also see the state using incarcerated workers as fire fighters to combat those fires.
Sam: So, statewide 3700 people who are incarcerated are actively engaged in fighting the fires. So California uses inmate labor for fire fighters to an extent greater than any other state. Just to give you a sense of what that means. So, for example in Los Angeles 1500 of the total 9,400 fire fighters fighting the fires there are actually inmates. So that’s about 1/4 of all the fire fighters in the Los Angeles area are actually incarcerated.
Sam: What we find out is that they make only $2 a day plus $1 an hour for risking their lives to do that work. In looking at some of the reporting on what happens sort of after folks are released after engaging in this work, what’s clear is that the state still has a lot of work to do to make sure first of all that folks are paid fairly for the work that they’re doing. But also, connecting folks to careers after they’re released from prison in this industry.
Sam: So, there are a couple of major barriers that have been cited to actually prevent folks after their released, after doing this work for being fire fighters professionally moving forward. So first of all, there’s a 10 year delay built in in the ability to get an EMT license in the state. So if you are released from prison, you have to wait 10 years before you’re eligible to get an EMT license and an EMT license is a requirement to be a fire fighter. Then many other sort of local agencies and fire fighters, there are actually rules at the local level that prevent folks who have a felony conviction or if particular types of felony convictions from ever being a fire fighter, from ever being hired.
Sam: So, big picture, this is a major equity issue, right? A major issue where you have so many workers in the state risking their lives for almost no pay. Being exploited by the state and then not being connected to any type of opportunity in that industry once they’re being released. So, I’m hopeful that this new governor elect Gavin Newsom and the new legislature which will be super majority Democratic. When they reconvene in January we’ll actually get to work to create pathways for folks to be employed after release and for them to be paid fairly while they’re incarcerated.
Brittany: We often discuss the private industries that take unfair advantage of the labor of people who are incarcerated. You talk about the coffee cups end, the clothing items and all of the things that we use all the time and don’t even think about just how cheaply they were made. Because we can essentially throw people away and tell them that they have to do this for little to no money. That is worrisome on it’s own, but it is particularly worrisome when you think about the fact that government agencies are also using that kind of labor. So from license plates to fire fighters, we see the government essentially taking advantage of the rules that it makes for itself. If there’s any theme for this week it is about how the government continues to create rules that advantages itself. This is one of the many ways in which it does that.
Clint: I also think it’s really important for us to interrogate the very notion of what constitutes as volunteering to fight in a fire. So some people will contend that this is a choice that incarcerated people are making and no one is forcing them to do this dangerous work, but this also to that point, this has to constantly be put in the context of what the reality of what incarceration is and the sort of subtle forms of coercion, that the very social condition that incarceration creates.
Clint: So, if you’re told that you can get time off of your sentence for fighting these fires and you’ve got a partner and kids, and parents and other people back home who need you and literally any time off of your sentence, even just a day is time that gets you closer to home. You’re going to be more likely to put yourself in danger in order to get closer to that. But just because the social conditions that someone finds themselves in creates a certain set of incentives that to do otherwise dangerous work doesn’t mean that these states and these departments of correction have the right to pay them as little as they do. Just because people are desperate to earn any income does not mean that they should not be paid an income that is commensurate with the work that they are doing and that pays them a wage of dignity and a wage that they can live off of whether or not they are incarcerated or not.
Clint: With that said, this isn’t to say that incarcerated people don’t have agency over the decisions that they’re making, because they certainly do. It is to say that as is the case with this, or any situation like this that agency has to be understood in the sort of broader context of their current social reality. It also must be noted that incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, they as is the case with any group of people, are not a homogenous group. So many have different ideas and conceptions of what is with regard to their opinion on this.
DeRay: So a company that you’ve probably never heard of, it’s in New York State, it’s called Corcraft. Corcraft is a $50 million industry and their employees make as little as .16 an hour, and Corcraft is actually the brand name for the division of correctional industries which is operated by the state department of corrections and community supervision, also known as DOCCS.
DeRay: Now, most of their operations are hidden behind prison walls. A 2014 report says that they employee approximately 2100 inmates and 288 civilians in 14 facilities across the state. They average about $48 million in sales annually. Now, they make everything from soap dispensers in City Hall bathrooms to secure therapy desks and the reason that this matters is that they have a near Monopoly on products for local governments to use. So state law requires that local governments purchase commodities from Corcraft if it has a product that satisfies the form, function, and utility required.
DeRay: So the law essentially gives Corcraft, which is the brand name for prison slave labor, a monopoly on a whole range of products that the government has to buy. You think about this stuff because guess who the single largest purchaser of Corcraft products is? New York City. New York City spends more than $15 million a year on Corcraft items. So the government is getting a deal on a whole host of things while people who are incarcerated are spending their time and labor and not being compensated in any capacity. So, this isn’t something that’s just unique to places like California, it’s also in places like New York and New York City and New York state that pride themselves in this progressivism and that’s just not the reality is so different than the rhetoric that people have.
DeRay: So, there are a lot of solutions that we can think of. People have entertained the idea of a living wage and mandating that some of the money go into a savings account and that people incarcerated will get all it upon release and they’ll get some of it while they’re incarcerated. But none of the solutions should be we just don’t compensate people for the time and labor that they’re putting in, especially when there is money. It’s not like there is a shortage of money happening around the country. These industries are making not just a couple hundred thousand dollars, they’re making millions upon millions of dollars.
Sam: Yeah, just to put that into perspective, it would cost less than 1% of California’s department of corrections budget to pay each and every one of these incarcerated fire fighters to work full time and make the same salary as an entry level fire fighter in the state. So, the resources are clearly within the purview of the state to provide and it’s choosing not to.
DeRay: 1% is pretty wild, Sam.
Sam: Yes, actually it’s less than 1% that it would cost of the total department of corrections budget in California to pay each and everyone of these incarcerated fire fighters a fair wage for their work.
Clint: That’s a staggering number. On the subject of incarceration. So, not as a matter of coincidence Jeff Sessions was ousted only two weeks ago and last week a piece of criminal justice legislation known as The First Step Act was endorsed by President Trump and on the White House side largely led by Jared Kushner who we should note whose father, as it’s been extensively reported, served some time in prison himself, which makes us think about the role that proximity to a problem plays in how invested someone feels in it. I think it is worth noting Jared Kushner’s relationship to the issue of incarceration on a personal level and his advocacy for it on a political level.
Clint: So the bill would end the practice of counting gun offenses for which the person’s not yet been convicted as a prior that could add up to 25 years to a sentence. There’s an expansion of accrued time and good behavior for early release for prisoners in state and federal custody. Prisoners are to be housed now at facilities that are closer to their families to allow for easier visitation, which so much what we know about reducing recidivism is tied to the relationships that you maintain while you’re in prison. It makes shorter sentences for crack cocaine as compared to powdered cocaine and it makes that retroactive for a few thousand inmates. It increases the number of people eligible to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences but not by a huge amount. It reduces the three strikes penalty from life to 25 years. Allows for more mentoring and education programs for people incarcerated. There’s a prohibition on restraint of pregnant prisoners. So previously, women who were giving birth could be shackled and this would prevent that from happening. There’s some other stuff.
Clint: But then on the not so great side this legislation is not retroactive with the exception of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In that sense, it doesn’t benefit a huge number of people in terms of reducing their sentences who are currently incarcerated. Some people are saying it releases between 7,000 and 10,000 incarcerated folks, which is less than 4% of the federal incarcerated population. This also allows for people to be released earlier but potentially under electronic supervisions. So like an ankle bracelet that monitors where you are. That’s like one of those things that’s tough because it’s both good that someone’s not in a cage, but also can become really concerning because it increases the scope of possible surveillance. You have to think about in low income communities that interact with the police or interact with the criminal justice system often if you have entire communities who have ankle bracelets because they are on probation or their coming out of the system, it provides an opportunity to monitor an entire community of Black and brown and poor people in ways that are really concerning.
Clint: All that’s to say this piece of legislation is a mixed bag and I think we can recognize that the bill does some good things and also acknowledge that it does not go nearly far enough. I think we can acknowledge that it affords some people certain benefits and reprieve, but also kind of does so at the expense of some other incarcerated people. I think we need to recognize the things that this bill does well and the things that it doesn’t do well. Ultimately regardless of what happens with this bill, keep pushing for legislation that is more inclusive and does not reify sort of existing false dichotomies between for example, like violent and non violent offenders. Or people who are deserving of reprieve and empathy and people who are not.
Sam: So one of the things that was particularly sort of egregious or shocking to me was the projected impact of applying the fair sentencing act, retroactively. So, basically under the Obama administration, one of the first things was change the crack cocaine disparity from 100:1. So, if you’re caught with the same amount of crack cocaine as powder cocaine, you get 100 times worse sentence. Change that to 18:1, which is still ridiculous and obviously we know and have talked about in the past how those decisions to make crack have a substantially higher punishment than powdered cocaine had a particular racial bias in mind and racial bias in application in terms of who’s impacted by that.
Sam: The projection for applying that retroactive, so when Obama signed the law changing it to 18:1, it was not applied retroactively so people who had already been sentenced under the 100:1 sentencing guidelines were actually continued to serve that sentence. What this for a step back would do, is apply that retroactively. That would actually make 3,000 federal prisoners eligible for release. So, there are 3,000 people in federal prison right now who are there because of that 100:1 crack cocaine disparity. Still there today, who would actually be able to be freed if that were reduced to 18:1. So that’s just wild to me. 3,000 people are still sitting in prison because of that racist law from decades ago that still hasn’t been reformed. I’m hopeful that that change alone will be able to go through and impact those 3,000 lives.
Brittany: One of the things that worries me is what often happens when interest convergence like that which brought us to this point often just kind of packs up and goes home. So, if you remember back to the Obama administration it was not just Democrats, but a number of Republicans. It was not just more progressive corporations, organizations, and activists who had been working on this, but also folks like the Koch brothers who obviously we have a lot of opinions about. They were at the table on this criminal justice reform conversation.
Brittany: So a lot of people will say that the reason why someone like Trump is even continuing to consider this and would endorse a bill like this is because that kind of interest convergence, that kind of bipartisan action was happening to lead to this point. Often interest convergence will lead to what people will see as a big win, even though it’s only incremental and then everyone will just stop. They will say, “We got The First Step Act.” And they will congratulate themselves and one another and they’ll hang a big banner, and they’ll talk about it at gala’s. In meantime, the continual work that needs to happen, the continual work that grass roots organizers and activists are pushing for is suddenly ignored. Because people then move on to another topic.
Brittany: So I am worried that this will be abandoned like so many other things before. I’m worried about the fact that there’s just a real history of us seeing that we will take a first step and then not take the second or the third.
DeRay: There are a couple of things to be mindful of. One is that congress has not liked state legislatures. In the sense that congress entertains issues on the four, five, 10 year cycle, not every year. In your state house, there might be like an education bill every year. Like a new funding bill around public works or some new legislation or criminal justice reform. States do the same issue often because that’s just the nature of state legislatures. Congress does stuff in like the five, 10 year. So, there are people who are worried this bill could be the only criminal justice bill we get for another five, 10 years, or another two, three congresses. If we can only get bills per issue once a decade, essentially, then we should make sure that the bill we get is actually an incredible bill. What a lot of the criminal justice groups said for a long time is that they could actually do some of the things that they’re trying to do legislatively. They could do the majority of them administratively and the DOJ just wasn’t interested in it.
DeRay: So, one of the provisions of the bill would move people incarcerated closer to the place the lived, for instance. The Department of Justice could already do that. Or not shackling women during childbirth, the Department of Justice could actually already do that. The law doesn’t need to change for that practice to change.
DeRay: The third thing that I think is interesting that I don’t hear a lot of people talk about because it’s a little wonky is the conversation about what is funded and what is not funded. In the last version of the bill, the leadership conference on civil rights came out against it. One of the things that they were saying is that many people wouldn’t even be eligible to earn credits prior to participating and rehabilitation or reentry programs, which is like a big part of this. Why wouldn’t they be able to earn credits?
DeRay: One is that they be ineligible based on a risk assessment or a needs assessment. The second is that the warden can just deny it on their own. The third is that the federal government is actually closing rehabilitation and reentry programs. If a hallmark of the bill is that people can participate in reentry programs while the Department of Justice is simultaneously closing those programs, this is something that just seems really cool on paper and actually doesn’t mean anything. So when we think about any part of the legislation. Part of our work as organizers, activists, and citizens is to actually try and ask the questions about what’s the what? Will this even work in practice even if it works in theory?
DeRay: So my news, there was a study that I saw that was really different to me that I hadn’t seen before. It’s about fast food. So the study’s called The More Money You Make, The More Fast Food You Eat. It’s based on a CDC study. The percentage of adults who ate fast food rose with increasing income. About 32% of people who earn less than 130% of the federal poverty rate, which is about $32,000 for a family of four, ate fast food daily. But 42% of people above 355% of the poverty lines, like $112,000 were daily consumers too.
DeRay: So, what they conclude is that people who make a lot of money are actually eating a lot of fast food, more than anecdotally people believe. They don’t know why, so people have theorized that it’s not lack of money that drives fast food consumption. Some people have said that it is lack of time that people with high incomes don’t actually have time to make food for instance, which is why they eat fast food. The study’s top line is that people with high income’s actually consume way more fast food than people think. And that the consumption actually rose with increasing income. So I thought I would just bring that here for us to talk about.
Sam: So this was really fascinating and sort of counter intuitive if you’re familiar with some of the literature on food desserts and lack of access to healthy foods in general, that literature shows that to the extent that areas are lower income, they tend to have fewer full service grocery stores, fewer access to healthy foods, and more unhealthy food options of which fast food is sort of a signature example of an unhealthy food option. This is why it’s really important to interrogate the data and see what the story is behind the data. So, overall what we see in this study it shows that folks that are of higher income tend to eat more fast food.
Sam: What it also shows that’s interesting is that Black folks are more likely to eat fast food than any other racial group. So, 42% of Black folks in the survey reported eating fast foods frequently compared to 37% of White folks. So that means while income appears to show that folks who have more money tend to eat more fast food, Black folks also tend to eat fast food. So how do we reconcile those two?
Sam: One thing that is also interesting when you look at the other body of literature out there is that the answer appears to be that the prevalence of fast food restaurants is highly correlated with race, but not with income or poverty. So a study called Do Minority In Poor Neighborhoods Have Higher Access to Fast Food Restaurants in the United States. That’s the name of the study, what it shows is that looking at census block groups of 95% of all US census block groups, so these are sort of neighborhood level analysis. What they find is that the percent of Black residents in those neighborhoods was significantly correlated with the prevalence of fast food restaurants. So, you are closer to a fast food restaurant if you are in an area with more Black residents. But you are not closer to a fast food restaurant depending on incomes. So folks who are in lower income areas, they’re not actually closer to fast food restaurants unless you’re in a low income area with a significant Black population.
Sam: So what this shows is that while overall there tends to be this surprising finding about folks who have higher income eating fast foods. When you sort of disaggregate that data by race, which we find is actually what’s going on is that fast food restaurants are in closer proximity to Black people in particular. That that is true regardless of income level.
Clint: Yeah, I appreciate you bringing this here DeRay, because this is a pretty counterintuitive study and I admittedly have not sort of made my way through the methodology section yet, but because it’s a survey, I can imagine some sense of what it might look like. I ask for me, as I think about it, I’m interested in what constitutes as fast food in the study. I think Chipotle for example, do those things count as fast food even though the nature of what that place is in terms of health is something very different than maybe Burger Kind or a Wendy’s, or something like that. So I’d also be curious about what people are ordering from the fast food places and so I think there’s still questions around what sorts of foods people do or don’t get when they go to these places and that will be interesting to see if those things could be disaggregated.
Clint: This certainly gives an incentive to go back and revisit the broader literature around food insecurity and things around this issue. Because this is not what I would think it would be, but I also have questions about what things constitute as fast food generally.
Brittany: You know, it’s interesting because we keep having these conversations about things like fast food, or who’s buying the Jordan’s or who’s buying the iPhones, because we make these questions of morality. When at the end of the day it actually is not about an either or proposition. It’s not about whether or not high income folks or low income folks are buying the most fast food. Clearly people of all stripes are needing something that is accessible, affordable, and quick, and we should just be making sure that those options are healthy and stop assigning consumer choices to morality.
Sam: That’s the news.
DeRay: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere there’s more to come.
DeRay: Pod Save the People is brought to you by the film ‘The Front Runner’. From Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman who brought us ‘Thank You For Smoking’ ‘Juno’, and ‘Up In The Air’. The ‘Front Runner’ is based on the shocking true events that changed the path of a nation.
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Brittany: Before you know it, it’s going to be the holiday season. Let’s be honest people, I’m already hearing Christmas music when I get into my Lyft’s. It’s just a little too soon. I’m like, let’s let the calendar play out please. But it is clearly right around the corner, and I’m already brainstorming on what to get everyone. One of the gifts that you can’t go wrong with is socks. Like, everybody needs socks. Most socks barely last more than one winter, so people will always need new ones. Plus, they can make all the difference when it comes to staying warm. That’s why I’m thinking about getting a bunch of pairs of Bombas for my friends and family.
DeRay: I like that Brittany, especially for the people you want to show appreciation for and maybe don’t know all that well. Because Bombas are the most comfortable socks in the history of feet. Because they have a cushion foot bed that provides comfort without added bulkiness, and they stay in place without slipping down, which is so frustrating.
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DeRay: Now my conversation with congresswoman Gwen Moore from Wisconsin.
DeRay: Representative Moore, thank you so much today for joining us on Pod Save the People.
Rep. Gwen Moore: I am absolutely excited to be here.
DeRay: I have a lot of questions. The world seems to be careening very quickly out of control in so many ways, especially with congress. A lot of big wins that just happened with the midterms. What should we expect?
Rep. Gwen Moore: You know, I don’t want people to expect that there will be huge changes that we’ll be able to wave some magic wand. I think that the new congress will at a minimum, be able to put a check on these unbridled powers that the President has. I don’t mean powers simply to be obnoxious as he’s been, but powers to destroy the environment, powers to destroy the social safety net, all of those programs under Social Security, which Republicans have targeted. Continuing to diminish the role of the consumer financial protection agency, and so on. So I do think that we’re poised to stop some of the worst abuses of power.
DeRay: So you are on The House Committee on Financial Services, and The Financial Services sub committee. I read that you are lobbying to be on the Ways and Means Committee. Can you just help us understand how y’all get put on committee’s, why does it matter that you are on Ways and Means? What does it even mean to lobby to be on the Ways and Means Committee? How does impact the way that you introduce legislation or the legislative process actually works at the member level?
Rep. Gwen Moore: You know, the Ways and Means Committee is the oldest committee in congress, standing committee. It’s a committee that deals with taxes, also Social Security, all those programs under Social Security. Medicare fall under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. Welfare reform, workforce development funding, foster care, trade, which is so important to labor unions. This is health committee, and a big part of that of course is Medicare, huge responsibilities and the ability to raise revenue, it is so important.
Rep. Gwen Moore: The way things work in congress is that the budget committee sort of sets the parameters for what each committee can do. Then the Ways and Means committee is the actual committee that raises revenue and determines where the revenue will come from to pay for the many things that are authorized on other committee’s.
Rep. Gwen Moore: I belong on that committee. I belong that committee for a variety of reasons. One reason is it has jurisdiction over the Welfare programs. Just so you know, in 1996 I was a member of the state legislature in Wisconsin. That’s when then Governor Tommy G. Thompson ushered in the idea of ended Welfare as we know it, cut Welfare off in Wisconsin. I vowed then to do something about it as that poison, as I call it, spread and it was ultimately taken up in 1996 by then President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and on a bipartisan basis, they ended the safety net for women and children.
DeRay: Now you recently sponsored the Rise Out Of Poverty Act. What would this do? Why did you sponsor this?
Rep. Gwen Moore: I harken back to my own personal experience. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter at age 18, found myself on Welfare as an adult. And was able through educational opportunity to work my way out of poverty. That ability to do that has been foreclosed with the current TANF structure. It was an entitlement program. It was a program that said if you were eligible based on your inability to take care of your kids, you could access Medicaid, you could access monthly benefits that yes, there was some reporting involved with trying to make sure that you had some sort of engagement. But the primary focus was to intervene and interrupt the poverty that your family was experiencing.
Rep. Gwen Moore: This program has evolved or devolved I would say, into a program that strictly tries to focus on matching a parents ability to work with the amount of benefits that they’ll receive. That too often mires the child in poverty. Subjects the children to homelessness and hunger, and even when those parents make great efforts to work, a minimum wage job does not meet their needs to say, take care of three kids, pay daycare, provide transportation costs, and they still find themselves in deep poverty. The current TANF program and it’s benefits sort of ignores that. So, I would want to insert into the statutes a statement of purpose that the intent of the TANF program ought to be to ameliorate child poverty as it’s primary purpose.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Secondly, my bill would index the Welfare benefit and make it commiserate with 2019 standards versus the 1996 figure at which it has been stalled. This is a real problem when you consider less than 1/4 of the people who are living in extreme poverty are able to access the program simply because there just aren’t that many funds. Whereas back in the days of AFDC about 68 families out of 100 who were poor, was able to access the benefits under the program. The bill calls for a maximum benefit of five years if people are eligible for Welfare. Of course, how does that work in a capitalist, countercyclical economy?
Rep. Gwen Moore: If there is a 10% unemployment rate in your rural area, or your town because some big factory has left town for example and you have been on the program for five years, at some previous time in your life and you now need benefits because you find yourself with a young child, you would be artificially barred from accessing the programs benefits because you had been on five years. We say that that makes no sense. That this provision should reflect the actual market conditions of the area.
Rep. Gwen Moore: What I would do in my bill is to take away sort of the artificial time limits and constrictions that are in the bill. The program in my estimation would work much more effectively if we were to guarantee childcare for every TANF work eligible recipient. In an extremely important part of my bill would eliminate the full families sanctions in lifetime sanctions that some states have imposed on individuals. You know, there have been individuals who have missed appointments with their case worker, been late, and they sanction the whole family. They take the benefit from everyone. So my bill would reform that provision.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Last, but certainly not least, it would require states to make provisions for those women primarily, but those families afflicted with domestic violence and other factors associated with domestic violence and displacement that would prevent them from meeting the so called work requirements.
DeRay: What do you say to people who say that there should be a five year maximum on when you can receive cash assistance, or do you believe that there should be work requirements and think that this is just giving money to people who should be working hard. What do you say to those people? I’m sure some of your colleagues believe that.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Oh, absolutely. I do remind people that this bill passed on the bipartisan basis. So, it’s not just republicans who have bought into the whole Reagan notion that there are Welfare queens out there. Really targeting Black women, and exaggerating Welfare fraud. Saying that there was this mythical woman called the Welfare queen who had 80 names and three addresses and she had $150,000 in income from direct payment programs. That she received Medicaid and Foodstamps, now called SNAP. Many Americans bought into this. What we have done DeRay is we have not addressed the lack of wages rising for the last 30 years. We’ve had flat wages, we’ve had extreme income inequality. We’ve had folk displaced because of industrial devolution and the mismatch in skillsets, and displacement with technology. The response to this has not been to increase people’s skills, but just to deride poor people and say that somehow their character is just flawed if they’re poor. And ignore all of the other market forces that have taken place to really increase income inequality.
Rep. Gwen Moore: So, income inequality is a structural problem in our capitalist society. The only thing that can mitigate it is to have safety net programs to prevent people from falling into deep, deep poverty. People can’t afford healthcare, they have a wage that is flat, there is absolutely no two bedroom apartment anywhere in America that you could afford off of a minimum wage job. Rather than to take these issues on, it is so much easier to demonize the poor.
DeRay: In 2016, you were elected as the whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, what does that mean? What does that involve?
Rep. Gwen Moore: Well, the Congressional Black Caucus has always been known as the conscious of the congress. We represent an awful lot of Americans not all of whom are African Americans, but we represent rural areas, urban areas, suburban areas, where people look to us as the conscious of the congress to make sure that their voting rights are protected, to make sure that there’s access to healthcare. We represent a constituency that their not all looking for handouts, but there are people who think that they need a fair deal. An opportunity to go to school and not be mired in debt and that every human being should enjoy the dignity of having a decent, nutritional meal and not have to chose between buying medicine and buying food.
Rep. Gwen Moore: We as a Congressional Black Caucus and we hail from different areas, different regions. One of our new members is a Semoli woman who’s also a Muslim. We all agree on this. As a whip, it’s my job to really inform the body about votes that we’ve all agreed upon, about the consensus that we’ve reached and to reach out and make sure in our messaging that we stand together.
DeRay: This is a big race for Wisconsin that just came up. The Wisconsin Governor’s race. Tony Evers won in a way that people didn’t necessarily think was going to happen. What do you make of how the gubernatorial election gives us a perspective on what might be coming in Wisconsin?
Rep. Gwen Moore: I’ll just have to tell you that getting Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes elected was like one of my highest priorities during this past campaign season. Up until this time, I had been the only person who’d ever been able to say I had beat Scott Walker in an election cycle. So I’m glad to rid myself of that moniker. He was so horrible as a governor, and I don’t think this podcast is long enough to go into all of his sins, but let me say it was neck and neck. Tony Evers was down and when those last votes, 41,000 votes absentee ballots in person voting occurred because we were able to preserve Souls to the Polls and other voting rights. When those 41,000 votes came in and over 65% of them went to Tony Evers from the city of Milwaukee, the city where I live, I knew that we had this one in the bag. Milwaukee showed up.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Unfortunately two years ago, we had a drop of about 40,000 people in Milwaukee county who had voted. So we were able to inspire those voters to come out uncustomarily in a midterm to vote. We worked really, really hard and I think that this means a lot for 2020 in terms of being able … first of all, we have a governor so that he’ll have his hands in the redistricting process. You know, Wisconsin has suffered tremendously from gerrymandering. We have just recently had a case, Gill versus Whitford where we sued based on the plethora of votes that are democratic votes but they’re not registering because of the gerrymander. We have two thirds of our state assembly is Republican where over half of our voters in the state vote democratic because of our gerrymandery. So, I think we are in a good position first of all to reverse that representational gap.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Secondly, our state did not take the Medicaid expansion. That has really cost our state a lot in terms of the numbers of Wisconsinites that could be covered. We’ve got 2.5 million people in our state who have pre-existing conditions who are at risk of losing that coverage. Of course, having a governor who has prioritized healthcare, prioritized education. We could see some turnaround in those institutions.
DeRay: In the news right now, there’s a lot of conversation about Pelosi in her role potentially being challenged. Where do you stand on what’s happening with Pelosi right now?
Rep. Gwen Moore: Well, I think that our majority is growing everyday. Of course we need 218 votes and I think that this is all going to work out. I do think a lot of these challenges have a lot to do with conversations that people want to have about making sure that the diversification that this election suggests that there ought to be, be made real. Not just some platitudes around how many LGBTQ people have been elected or how many black women were the base of our party and led us to this victory, and how many progressives. But that that actually be reflected in the leadership.
Rep. Gwen Moore: So, I do think that this is a pause. I’ve heard some of the critics make the argument that we’ve got to take some stuff seriously. Like gun control, not trying to figure out and just calculate what the Republicans will or will not make hay of. That we have to really take a deep dive into some of the issues that brought people to the table and really inspire them to run.
Rep. Gwen Moore: So I do think it’s going to work out. My guess is that Nancy Pelosi will be elected as speaker. One of the things that I find so amazing, it just gives me a chuckle, is that the Republicans have been very successful in framing some of our colleagues. Getting them to say I absolutely won’t vote for Nancy. Now they’re stuck. That they have framed us with their frame. Of course they don’t like Nancy Pelosi. She’s been effective, barring none male or … well, there have been no other females who have been speaker, barring none. She has been effective as a leader as a strategist, as a fundraiser.
Rep. Gwen Moore: So you got the Republicans running commercials talking about how awful Nancy. We want to be in charge for longer than two years. I think we have a lot of talented new people. A lot of talented, energetic young people. I think that Nancy would be very, very happy to pass that gavel on at some point in the near future, but now is the time for us to play the strongest hand we can.
DeRay: Also recently in the news, there’s a picture of the Wisconsin teenage boy smiling wearing suits and giving the Nazi salute that I’m sure you saw. What do we make of that? It seems like in some ways white supremacy is just not even hiding anymore, it’s on full display. That picture was one where you were like, “Wow, are these kids really giving the Nazi salute at what seems like a celebration?” What do you make of that?
Rep. Gwen Moore: I think this is a teachable moment. I do think that it’s really easy to start talking about suspending the kids, but I think that even as 17, 18 year old seniors, this is an opportunity to give them some experience and to teach them about the Holocaust and to teach them about racism and the impact that it has had. I don’t take it for granted that these young people have heard about the four little girls who were murdered in Alabama. I don’t necessarily know that they know the history. They put it on a website that was called parody. I don’t think that their brain developments suggest to me that we ought to write them off as white supremacists that don’t deserve the intervention. I’d be very curious as to what they’re hearing at home. This is a teachable moment.
DeRay: As we come to close, what do you say to people who are losing hope who say, “You know, we voted, we’ve elected people in before, we’ve gone to the meetings, we emailed, we called. We never really got the change that we wanted but we participate just because we participate.” What do you say to those people?
Rep. Gwen Moore: I say, “You have to stand up. It’s your time.” I was 16 when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. I was President of the Student Council at my high school. Vice President of the Wisconsin Association of Student Council. I was a student leader. I started an organization called Black Organized Youth. The struggle continues. You don’t get a chance to say, “I’m not going to be in the struggle or in the fight.” Because you’re going to have children and children’s children. We laid the foundation and it’s every generations obligation to lay the trail and to cut the path and kick those doors in. Before me, there was a Shirley Chisholm. Before Shirley Chisholm, there was a Sojourner Truth. We don’t get to sit down and say, “Oh gee, they didn’t do it right.” Every generation has an obligation to step up. Welcome to the struggle.
DeRay: What’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you?
Rep. Gwen Moore: The advice that I have is that you’ve got to keep your head to the plow. You’ve got to keep moving forward, keeping moving it forward. That is the advice that I have had. Always look forward, and I’m excited about the millennials and the Generation Z’rs. I’m excited about their energy. I see myself in them. So on a day when I feel a little bit tired, on a day when my arthritis kicks in, I am encouraged to know that the stuff I care about is going to be continued.
DeRay: Where can people go to stay attuned to what you’re doing, and to follow your work?
Rep. Gwen Moore: Twitter @RepGwenMoore.
DeRay: Boom. Awesome, well thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save The People, can’t wait to have you back and we will keep following what’s going on with you.
Rep. Gwen Moore: Sounds like a plan.
DeRay: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save The People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure [inaudible 01:06:57] wherever you get your podcast whether it’s Apple podcast or somewhere else. We’ll see you all next week.