The Uncertain Hour

The Uncertain Hour Podcast

In “The Uncertain Hour” podcast, host Krissy Clark dives into one controversial topic each season to reveal the surprising origin stories of our economy.  Because the things we fight the most about are the things we know the least about.

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 pandemi...

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 — an...

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 — an...


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....

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....

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....


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....

Introducing “This Is Uncomfortable”
We’re hard at work on the next season of “The Uncertain Hour,” but in the meantime, we’re excited to share a new podcast from Marketplace: “This Is Uncomfortable.” It’s a storytelling podcast, all about life and how money messes with it. Every Thursday, host Reema Khrais will dig into the unanticipated ways money affects relationships, shapes identities and often defines what it means to be an adult. The first episode is out now. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts....

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....


Supply
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....

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.”...

Sentencing
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?...


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....

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....

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....


“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 ...

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 ar...

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....


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....

The sentence that helped set off the opioid crisis
When OxyContin went to market in 1996, sales reps from Purdue Pharma hit one point particularly hard: Compared to other prescription opioids, this new painkiller was believed to be less likely to be addictive or abused. But recently unsealed documents in this investigative episode shed light on how the maker of OxyContin seems to have relied more on focus groups than on scientific studies to create an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that helped fuel the national opioid crisis. Welcome back to T...

The peanut butter verdict
For the past two episodes, we’ve been telling you the birth story of a single regulation, one of the most misunderstood, and yet pivotal, regulations in American history: The number of peanuts that should be in peanut butter. Today, that story comes to an end. We’re picking up the action in 1965. It’s been more than six years since the Food and Drug Administration discovered a bunch of big peanut butter brands were using fewer peanuts and more artificial additives. Those heavyweights went back and forth wit...


The Peanut Butter Wars
It’s 1959 and Ruth Desmond, the gurney-climbing, cook-from-scratch co-founder of the Federation of Homemakers was prowling the halls of the FDA, about to earn her “peanut butter grandma” namesake. She stumbled upon this unassuming, but ultimately history-changing memo. It was four little paragraphs, a proposal to regulate one of the most popular foods in the country. The government was trying to answer an existential question: how many additives can you put into a jar of peanut butter before it’s not peanut...

The Peanut Butter Grandma goes to Washington
Donald Trump, the business man president, isn’t the first politician to rail on government regulations. In 1979 Jimmy Carter, the Democrat peanut farmer president, told a crowd: “It should not have taken 12 years and a hearing record of over 100,000 pages for the FDA to decide what percentage of peanuts there ought to be in peanut butter.” That really happened. It’s one of the most ridiculed, infuriating and misunderstood moments in American history, and it caught the attention of one Virginia housewife.  R...

The Uncertain Hour dives into red tape
Join us this season as we go down the strange rabbit holes of history to find the origins of one of the most important but least understood battles in our economy today.  We’ll bring you tales of peanut butter, “unelected bureaucrats,” the federal register, and a youth jazz orchestra. It’s all to make sense of that unassuming buzzword that shapes every moment of our lives: federal regulations....


The Album, “Work Makes the Difference”
Loyal listeners of The Uncertain Hour podcast may have had motivational work songs stuck in their heads (our apologies!). As you know, this season we dug deep into the story of what the heck welfare is today. Episode one featured music produced by a county welfare department in Riverside, California. We also annotated the lyrics to the first track. The album, “Work Makes the Difference,” was created to play in waiting rooms, over PA systems and as the hold music for incoming calls. After that episode, we re...

The road not taken
What’s the best path out of poverty — work or education? Twenty years ago, welfare reformers came to this fork in the road and had to ask the question: Is it better to encourage welfare recipients to get a job, any job? Or is it better to support them while they get training and education that will eventually help them get better-paying jobs? In the end, welfare reformers adopted a “work-first” strategy that required most folks to work in order to receive cash welfare. In this episode, the what if…. We meet...

“Pregnant? We can help.”
When Brandi David discovered she was pregnant, she knew she wanted an abortion. Brandi was a graduate student at the time and didn’t feel ready to be a mother. She wasn’t sure where to go for help. But then she remembered a billboard at a busy intersection in South Bend, Indiana that she had driven by many times. It said: “Pregnant? We can help.” So she called the number. What happened to Brandi next… well, that’s what brings us to Indiana–the last stop on our cross-country trip where we investigate how sta...


Everything but the kitchen sink
What do college scholarships, marriage counseling classes and crisis pregnancy centers have in common? In some states, they’re funded by federal welfare dollars. We are continuing our cross-country tour where we drop in on states to investigate how they spend welfare money, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF.  This week: Michigan.  The state spends about $100 million a year in TANF dollars on college scholarships—and many recipients are from families that earn more than $100,000 year. M...

What’s love (styles) got to do with it?
What do you think of when you think of welfare? Probably something along the lines of help or money given to families living in poverty.  Or, work requirements to receive assistance. But actually, in 2014 only 23 out of every 100 poor families received basic cash assistance. That’s partly because states have a lot of discretion in deciding how to spend federal welfare block grants, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF. States spend welfare money on the obvious things, like childcare and ...

White gloves, aluminum cans and plasma
Perhaps more than any other group, women on welfare have been stigmatized. In this episode, we introduce you to two women who’ve relied on welfare through the years: Ruby Duncan, an 83-year-old welfare rights activist in Las Vegas, and Josephine Moore, a 59-year-old mother of six in Kermit, West Virginia. Duncan grew up picking cotton in rural Louisiana. As a young woman, she moved to Las Vegas where she worked as a maid in hotels and a cook in casinos. After an accident left her with severe spine damage, D...


The Magic Bureaucrat
In the summer of 1996, on the lawn of the White House Rose Garden, President Clinton signed a bill that would dramatically transform the country’s welfare system. Twenty years later, what the heck is welfare anyway? And we should make it clear — we’re talking about cash assistance to poor families, not food stamps or medicaid. Welcome to “The Uncertain Hour,” the Wealth & Poverty desk’s new podcast hosted by Senior Correspondent Krissy Clark. In the first episode, we’ll introduce you to the “Magic Burea...