Our Body Politic

The Complex Task of Public Safety Reform, Live Entertainment Slowly Regains Steam, and An Astrophysicist Takes on Bias in STEM

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with St. Louis mayor Tishaura Jones about how she hopes to accomplish her progressive goals. Business of entertainment contributor Casey Mendoza reports on the #FreeBritney movement as a reproductive justice issue, and shares which entertainment venues are reopening. Astrophysicist Sarafina Nance explains how she manages the sexism and racism in her field, and invites other women like her to study science. And Errin Haines of The 19th hosts the weekly news roundtable Sippin’ the Political Tea, with Tiffany Jeffers and Jess Morales Rocketto.


00:54 St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on public safety reform 

13:08 Contributor Casey Mendoza on this summer’s entertainment news 

23:18 Astrophysicist Sarafina Nance on making her mark

31:56 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines, Jess Morales Rocketto, and Tiffany Jeffers talk about the week’s news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we're still growing and evolving our show and we're shaping it with lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcast on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much. 

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Here on the show, we've discussed public safety and police reform with data scientists, parsing out how different segments of the population feel about policing. My next guest shares what it takes to implement change in real time. Tishaura O. Jones is the Mayor of St. Louis, Missouri.

Chideya: Before that, she served as the city's Treasurer and in the Missouri House of Representatives. When she was sworn in this spring, she became the city's first black female Mayor. I'm pleased to have her on the show to talk to us about her approach to politics and what it means to her to be progressive and pragmatic. Welcome, Mayor Jones.

Tishaura Jones: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: In your inauguration speech, you said, "I am not naive in my pursuit of progressive public policy." What does that mean?

Jones: That means that I know that sometimes as I pursue progressive policies, that I will be met with resistance, so I am expanding what public safety means in my city and really transforming the meaning of public safety. Public safety is everything that keeps you safe in your neighborhoods and in your homes. Some of the things that I have proposed to do that we're working on right now are adding more social workers to the police department and using a co-responder model where officers and licensed clinical social workers go out on certain calls. The other thing I'm trying to do is set up tiny home villages for our own house to connect them to resources as well, and had to back up of calling them intentional encampments because people just went crazy over that phrase, and so now, we're calling them tiny home villages. We're going to connect them with wraparound services to connect people to resources, to employment, to Section 8 vouchers, get people on a path to more permanent and supportive housing, but these are things that we're making intentional decisions about so we don't leave people by the wayside. I took this job and ran for office to take care of the least of these, and I just feel like this is my calling to do so.

Chideya: Axios reported that the Biden-Harris Administration is asking local officials to use some of the money from the COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan to boost police department, so how do you respond to this?

Jones: Actually, I thought you were going to talk about how, they're also asking cities to use money to boost community violence interruption initiatives, which is what I signed on to do, and I got a lot of flack for this, but I think our police departments and their budgets are already pretty large. In St. Louis, it's over 50% of our budget. One of the first things I did when I became Mayor was I took $4 million from vacant positions in the police department. They were playing a shell game with the budget and had over 150 vacancies that then they would shift that part of the budget to overtime. Then, it was also discovered by our auditor that they were abusing overtime as well, so I shifted this money towards hiring more social workers, also victim support services to try to interrupt violence when it happens by having people available to do that, so moving this money into some real progressive spaces. At least in St. Louis, we already have more police per capita than all of the cities our size. It's not about having more police, it's about deploying the right professional to the right call and how do we deploy our existing resources.

Chideya: We work with the researchers at GenForward, which is a national survey that focuses on folks 18 to 36, has a lot of detail on race and ethnicity, and in 2018, 37% of the young people surveyed, said their community needed more police officers, but by August 2020, only 20% of respondents said that. At the same time, one of the factors in the New York Mayoral primary with Eric Adams was that he really took a pro-law enforcement stance and said he himself would carry a weapon. There's been a lot of recent research about how black people and people of color who vote democratic are actually less socially progressive than white democratic voters, so when you put all that in a blender, what do you think your people want from policing and from safety?

Jones: We have some similar data. There was a proposition on our ballot several years ago to increase our sales tax, to give officers a raise, and I was against it because I believe that increasing sales taxes is regressive in nature, and poor people pay more in sales tax, more of their income in sales tax than people who are wealthy or well-off. I had to really clarify my statement and said, "Look, please don't take me being against this sales tax as not thinking that our public servants deserve more income." They absolutely do, but a sales tax increase is not the way to do it, but that ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly in black neighborhoods, and so I think that it's one of those things where I'll have to show them better than I can tell them, because also, we know that as police budgets have increased over the years, we're not more safe because of it, because we've also had the proliferation of guns to deal with, and in Missouri, since 2013, our gun laws have actually been weakened by our Republican legislature, and as a result, we have more gun crimes. They also preempted cities from making any laws on gun control, so they've literally tied our hands and basically given everybody a gun. It's a horrible cycle that we have to go through, but you're right, African-Americans are typically more conservative, but I think that with the things that I am proposing, I think they have to see them in action because also, with black people, you got to show us better than you can tell us, so they'll have to see an action that these things actually make a difference.

Chideya: Now, you've recently traveled to Denver, Colorado with Representative Cori Bush to learn about that city's program that directs some 911 calls to mental health professionals and social workers. How did you decide to team up on that and what did you learn?

Jones: Representative Cori Bush and I were friends before we got into our current positions, and so we have enjoyed our friendship and the sisterhood for many years. I called her up and told her about this program that we should go visit, and she was totally onboard, so we both took a staff person with us and visited the STAR's program, which sends out an EMT and a licensed clinical social worker in a smaller van to respond to mental health emergencies and substance abuse emergencies. What we found was it is a new muscle developed within their public safety ecosystem, that their police, fire and EMS now know that there's a fourth option and a less expensive option than deploying police or fire or EMS to every call, and it frees them up for more serious calls, and so I am looking forward to taking our existing co-responder model and bumping that up to match STAR's because they are making some really great strides and taking care of their people. When we opened the van, I mean, they have ... It's almost like common sense. They have water or Gatorade if you're dehydrated, extra clothes if they find someone that needs some clothing, snacks, feminine products and a couple of seats in case they need to take someone to a homeless encampment site or safe outdoor space or to the hospital.

Chideya: Obviously, you and Representative Bush are very familiar with Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, all of the passion that hit the streets. How are people in the St. Louis area processing now that Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, but there wasn't a parallel for Michael Brown? How are people feeling and how are you doing?

Jones: I think people are hopeful, but I also think that the murder of George Floyd gave a lot of us PTSD, who had experienced the protest after the murder of Michael Brown, but I think that, not think, I know that there are people here who were pretty sad about our own situation here because Mike Brown wasn't the only one that that happened to here. We've had several other incidents where police have not been held accountable for the deaths of unarmed citizens.

Chideya: You are part of the coalition of 11 mayors who want to examine reparations. What is reparations to you, and what is this moment in history where many people who kind of poo-pooed the idea of reparations or just thought even if they supported it, it was unfeasible are now starting to take second looks?

Jones: Well, I think it's a disgrace that this country has sort of made reparations or acknowledged how it has mistreated every other minority population but African-Americans who were brought to this country not of their own freewill and built this country with their bare hands. I am encouraged by the recent movement and the recent interest in reparations and the recent conversations, but I think it's more than just money, because we have to recognize this systemic racism within our politics, our policies, our laws that have contributed to the reason why blacks can't attain wealth in this country. I think it was Martin Luther King that says, "It's crazy to ask someone to pull up their own bootstraps when you take away their boots where they have no boots," and this country has not given black people boots to start with. I mean, and that's what reparations means to me. It's more than just money, it's reparations and.

Jones: That's what Representative Bush and I talk about all the time, is reparations and housing, is reparation and healthcare, is reparations and access to affordable financial services, and fill in the blank with whatever we can attain.

Chideya: Don't you think that that's part of the conversation that also provokes resistance, though? How do you tactically think about framing this, especially as part of this coalition now in a way that reflects that we have a divided electorate and a divided country?

Jones: America has to atone for its history, the good, the bad and the ugly, and it hasn't been until recently that we have even acknowledged some of the horrible things that have happened in our past, just as recently as 100 years ago with the Tulsa riots, but in 1917, we had the East St. Louis riots that were about a labor shortage. I'm sure that every city has its own story, and I guess the way that I respond to it is tough, but we have to get through this and we have to acknowledge and atone for this, or else I don't think this country can move forward unless we do.

Chideya: Mayor Jones, thank you so much for joining us.

Jones: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: That was Tishaura Jones, Mayor of St. Louis. We love covering government and politics on this show. We are also tuned into culture, which is just as much a force in our lives as laws or elected officials. Take Britney Spears conservatorship, which made headlines recently. Looking at it more closely, it illuminates power dynamics that women and especially women of color deal with on a regular basis. Joining me to discuss this and other pop culture topics is our regular contributor on the business of entertainment, Casey Mendoza. Hi, Casey.

Casey Mendoza:

Hi, Farai.

Chideya: Let's talk about something that has been in the news of late. It is the Free Britney Movement. Do you think it is interesting and why?

Mendoza: Britney Spears conservatorship is something she's had for the past 13 years after a slew of public struggles in 2006 and 2007, and her conservatorship basically restricts her ability to make legal and medical decisions for herself, as well as just like live her life like a normal person, so the Free Britney Movement is working to terminate the conservatorship so she can be free and be able to make decisions for her life again, but beyond Britney Spears, this is an issue of disability rights, of legal abuse and reproductive justice.

Chideya: Let's dive a little further into the reproductive justice part of that. Britney Spears said, "Look, I want to have a kid. I want to ..." She's 39. She wants to have another kid. She has a boyfriend, but because of some of her mental health challenges and at one point, substance challenges, her family kind of has her on complete lock. She talked about having an IUD and not wanting to have one, so give us a little bit more on the reproductive justice framing?

Mendoza: That was definitely the most heartbreaking part of Britney Spears' testimony, and a lot of people, like myself included, there was a realization that fame and wealth aren't shields against this issue. At the time, it reminds people, or maybe people even are learning for the first time, that reproductive rights in the U.S. aren't guaranteed, that the U.S. has a history of legal precedents for forced contraceptives and forced sterilizations against those with disabilities or mental health struggles. One of the best pieces that I think contextualized this history came from the 19th, and they made sure to note that the reproductive justice movement started because of the issue of reproductive coercion happening to black families and enslaved people.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, among many other black women, indigenous women and women of color who were sterilized, the Organizer, Fannie Lou Hamer, who really revolutionized how black Americans approached the democratic party during the civil rights era, and she had been forcibly sterilized. She went in for something totally different and came out sterilized, so there's a long history of this, but we kind of sometimes think, "Oh, that was in the past," and to be clear, Britney Spears was not sterilized, but she is being prevented under this conservatorship from controlling her own body. Let's get it back into the entertainment realm and fandoms. The Britney fandom has been really influential in surfacing her concerns. How do you view fandoms and their role in pop culture?

Mendoza: One of the things I've been wrestling with while following this case is the fact that several of the concerns Britney Spears brought up during her most recent testimony, these are things she actually brought up two years ago too, and the biggest difference between then and now is the size of the Free Britney Movement. Two years ago, it was just a handful of protestors and a couple online groups talking about it, and as it's grown, I would actually liken its growth more to like a grassroots political movement rather than a simple fandom. That's not to say fan base movements don't have power, especially online, and there are like elements of the fandom of fans forming parasocial relationships with Britney Spears, but everyone I've spoken to in my reporting, including organizers behind the Free Britney LA, who are the main protestors in June, they're not protesting because they're fans that want Britney Spears to get back on stage or get back in the studio. They're protesting because they recognize an injustice happening, which makes it very political rather than pop culture-oriented.

Chideya: There's also a relatively recent documentary about Britney Spears. Can you tell us anything about that?

Mendoza: Before the documentary, Framing Britney Spears came out. The Free Britney Movement was really just a handful of fans, some protesting physically in Los Angeles, and most just talking online. That documentary came out earlier this year from The New York Times and Hulu, and that really brought the Free Britney Movement to the mainstream because before that documentary came back, I think the general public was still skeptical of this movement of fans. Jamie Spears called them a group of conspiracy theorists, and that is her father. When you look at like the type of content that's being posted on TikTok or Instagram or Twitter, it's hard to bet these types of concerns, so it was good when the documentary came out, that more people were able to see the issue as more than just a fan movement.

Chideya: Let's wrap it up with the Free Britney Movement and move on to something completely different, which is the freedom to enjoy concerts again, and festivals. Give us an update on where we are in the not quite post-pandemic world.

Mendoza: One of the biggest music festivals is Lollapalooza in Chicago. In the past in 2019, for example, that music festival had over 400,000 attendees or around 100,000 a day. I'm not sure yet if Lollapalooza will be able to go back to those pre-pandemic levels this summer, but Chicago has been doing, and cities around the country have been opening up a little bit more, taking safety precautions seriously. I haven't personally gone to a concert or a club or a music festival yet, but I have heard anecdotally that people are starting to feel a little bit safer and it's making them feel a little bit more optimistic about going back to summer music festivals. Again, Lollapalooza is happening. Bonnaroo, which is usually in June, is happening in September, but another one of the big ones, Coachella is still postponed to the spring of next year in 2022, so we'll see how it goes, and maybe this will be a test run for them.

Chideya: Do you think that the pandemic says anything or it's too soon to say about the viability of festivals?

Mendoza: Because music festivals have different streams of revenue, ticket sales, concessions, merchandise sales, and of course, sponsorships, it might be too soon to tell, but I think there's a lot of flexibility with how they can continue to make money. Like during the pandemic, virtual concerts became a big thing, so maybe that is something. That could also supplement the live experience or music festivals could bank on the fact that physical exclusivity is something that's going to drive people back into the festivals.

Chideya: Let's switch to yet another case of reopenings. What do we know about reopening of movie theaters?

Mendoza: It's very similar. With every new major release, more and more people are going back to the theaters, but we're still not at pre-pandemic levels. Memorial Day was a big test, both Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II were released, and the Box Office raked over $100 million, which is an amazing improvement. A week later, I went back to the movie theaters to see In the Heights. That was my first time back in theaters. I was masked up, I was socially distancing, and I was glad to see other people doing the same. The theater wasn't filled to capacity, which made me feel safe, but it also showed me there was a consistent level of foot traffic. That's probably likely going to steadily grow as more films come out. Another record-breaker was F9 from The Fast and Furious franchise. That made over $70 million in its opening weekend, which is the most, any film has opened with since 2019.

Chideya: Finally, rolling through all the genres, what are some of the summer TV shows and movies of note?

Mendoza: Last year, I was a huge fan of the premiere of Never Have I Ever on Netflix, which is from Mindy Kaling. I love how it portrayed Asian immigrant families and what it's like to grow up as an Indian-American teen. That came out recently. Another TV show that is getting a lot of traction on social media is the Gossip Girl Reboot, which came to HBO Max. I did watch the original series because it was just a very addicting soap opera type show about rich people, and the new reboot is also about that, but one thing that is getting people's attention is the fact that this new series is LGBTQ inclusive, more diverse in its cast, it touches on social justice issues, something that the original show never really did, so it's been interesting to see how these two iterations have evolved based off of what is happening in society.

Chideya: Well, Casey, it's always a pleasure to get the updates from you, and I'm going to have to dig into some of the things you recommend. Really appreciate you.

Mendoza: Course. Thanks so much.

Chideya: That was Casey Mendoza, Newsy reporter and Our Body Politic business of entertainment contributor. My next guest has been studying the night sky since she was four years old. Now, she just had her first zero gravity experience. Sarafina Nance is a PhD candidate in astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley. Her specialty is exploding stars or supernova. Sarafina, welcome.

Sarafina Nance: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

Chideya: Tell us about this experience that you're doing next month, where for two weeks, you're going to live in a Hawaiian habitat designed to mimic the experience of living on Mars?

Nance: The HI-SEAS mission is an analog astronaut mission. Meaning, we're simulating what it's like to live like an astronaut on another planet like Mars or on our moon, so they have lunar and Martian missions that are ranged anywhere from two weeks to a year. Basically, you live in this habitat with your crew of six people, and every time you leave the habitat, you are wearing full space gear and you go on research missions and you go on extra vehicular activity walks and things like that to really simulate as much as possible what that experience would be like while you're still on earth, and so there are several goals of that mission. One is to really try to tease out any particular problems or things that could arise and be able to formulate solutions when you're still on earth. I am particularly excited about it for all of those reasons, but also because I get to do my own research while I'm there, and so I'm going to be collecting rock samples and basically using this handheld device to measure the elemental composition of the rocks and try to determine which exploding star, which supernova is responsible for that particular rock formation.

Chideya: I have to say the idea of putting on a space suit every time I left a certain area for six weeks, that sounds like a lot of energy, and yet, when we think about going to Mars, you better be prepared for that and more. Do you want to go to Mars if you get the chance? Are you committed to taking it?

Nance: I think absolutely, yes. I will take any chance I get to explore and push the envelope of what we see and what we know and what we can do.

Chideya: Yeah. Give us a sense of how long based on current technology it takes to just get to Mars, let alone explore it.

Nance: We don't have the current technology to send a crew to Mars, at least safely and be able to support them while they're there. That mission cannot happen yet, but that technology is rapidly evolving, and I think in the next decade or two decades, it's going to happen in some way, shape or form.

Chideya: What do you think of the state of play in the interaction between private space exploration and NASA and other governments? Do you think it's possibly synergistic or possibly a tension, and how are you processing it?

Nance: I am having a hard time with it. I think in some ways, it's very positive. I think there is a scenario in which you can have private sector and government funded entities like NASA working together, like NASA works with SpaceX to do rocket launches all the time, and I think in some ways, that can be great, but in other ways, we see this sort of billionaire contest of who can get to space first, and this isn't space exploration, this is space tourism, and who are we really serving when we do missions like that? I think the space community and everybody to some extent needs to sit with that and reckon with it a little bit because when you have people who are predominantly white, male, older, who are leading the charge, who have an incredible sum of money at their backs, doing these missions, you need to start thinking about how are you really making space more accessible for everybody when you're letting the richest people on our planet spearhead missions like this.

Chideya: How do you think about the question of who even gets into these hard sciences that at least give you a chance to think about engaging with space? You are an Egyptian-American woman. Stem is not always the kindest to women or people of color or both. How have you dealt with any headwinds or skepticism about what you could do and what you could achieve, and have there been any?

Nance: Yeah, there have been many, and it's been incredibly difficult from a very early age. I think I was nine or 10. I remember somebody telling me ... He was an astronomer, and I told him I want to be an astronomer when I grow up, and he said, "This isn't for you. You can't do this." I remember every part of that moment because it hurts so much and it made me really question my self-worth and my value and whether I would ever have a place in this field, and that messaging has continued in varying scenarios and ways for my entire career, and I don't think it will ever stop. I was very lucky because I had some incredible mentors that helped me. I had a community of people who lifted me up and supported me, and so I think I was just lucky, really to make it. Of course, I worked hard, but that's not what it's about. When you have implicit and explicit messaging constantly for your entire life, telling you that you don't belong in a certain place, it's not your fault when you decide that you should leave, and unfortunately, I think a lot of people end up leaving because it's a dangerous, toxic atmosphere for a lot of those people, and so my goal is to change that and be a voice of representation, and also try to elevate the voices of people who are trying to get into the field to say, "You are good enough, you deserve to do this, and I will help you in any way that I can."

Chideya: One way that you give back in addition to doing all of the other work is that you have a pretty amazing Twitter account. Social media has its pros and cons. I'm very active on it too, but why do you have such a rich feed?

Nance: I began on social media, on Twitter specifically because I wanted to talk about some of the most incredible science topics that I was learning and share that joy and excitement. I was kind of shocked by how people responded. There was a lot of interest, and my hope is to learn from other people, elevate the work and the voices of other people, and then share some of the things that I'm experiencing and learning.

Chideya: One of your recent tweets talks about a children's book, an illustrated children's book you've got coming out, Little Leonardo's Fascinating World of Astronomy. Tell me about the book and why you wrote it and what ages it's for.

Nance: It's written for ages four through eight, but I really, really think that anyone of any age can get something from this book. It is designed to communicate some of the most exciting, fascinating parts about our universe, and the children that are depicted in the book and the pages of the book are designed to show that every child can be interested in astronomy or science or whatever they choose. They can go to space, they can become astronauts. My goal is to really try and share the magic of the universe without gatekeeping who gets excited about that.

Chideya: Well, Sarafina, it's been a joy to speak with you. Best of luck in everything you do, and thanks so much for joining us.

Nance: Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast.

Chideya: That was Sarafina Nance. She's an Astrophysicist and her Twitter handle is @starstrickenSF. Her book, Little Leonardo's Fascinating World of Astronomy is available for pre-order and it comes out in September.

Each week on the show, we bring you a roundtable called Sippin' The Political Tea. This week, our regular contributor Errin Haines, who is editor at large at The 19th, is on that tea duty. You are the host. Take it away, Errin.

Errin Haines: Thanks, Farai. So, joining me on today's roundtable we have Tiffany Jeffers, law professor at Georgetown Law and Our Body Politic's legal analyst. Hi, Tiffany.

Tiffany Jeffers: Hi, Errin. It's good to have you in the host chair today.

Haines: I appreciate it. It's good to be hosting. And, Jess Morales Rocketto, civic engagement director at The National Domestic Workers Alliance and Our Body Politic regular contributor as well. Welcome back, Jess.

Jess Morales Rocketto:

Hey, Errin. I keep thinking of that meme that's like, I'm the captain now. .

Haines: Yes. Well, look. Since we have an immigration policy expert and a legal analyst on the roundtable, let's just start with the news last week. A federal judge ruled DACA unconstitutional. It was a lawsuit brought by Texas and eight other states, and a U.S. District judge in Texas said that the DACA program is illegal because its creation violated and its continued existence violates the procedural and substantive aspects of the Administration Procedure Act. Tiffany, let's start with you. Please explain to us on what legal grounds this ruling was made possible and what the Administration Procedure Act is.

Jeffers: Yeah, so that's just a lot of fancy legal jargon where the judge is saying that Congress didn't give the Homeland Security Administration specific authority to create DACA and that President Obama creating DACA unilaterally is a violation of the Constitution.

Haines: So, Jess, how would you describe this decision and what's behind it? I mean, what can Congress do to address this issue, if anything?

Morales Rocketto:

Well, it's really important to know who Judge Hanen is because he is an extremely... Kind of known to be an extremely anti-migrant judge. So, it's not a coincidence that the case was filed for his jurisdiction and nor is this a surprise. However, it is a huge blow to immigrants' rights community and of course to DACA recipients and undocumented youth all over the country. And, that's really why we are pushing every day and always but especially now that Congress works to pass permanent protections for DACA recipients, for undocumented youth, you know, for the whole dreamer population, which includes people who don't have DACA. They need a path to citizenship. They need citizenship now. Without that, they'll continue to be in limbo and because it is possible, maybe even likely, that the DACA program no longer continues and that the last set of people who got DACA status will not be able... You know, they're the last ones. The urgency around citizenship was already pretty high this year, but now I think it's just like, you know, went into the stratosphere. So, Congress really... The ball is in their court and they have the ability right now to pass citizenship for DACA recipient, TPS holders, essential workers, and all the undocumented immigrants who need citizenship now.

Haines: I think that urgency is not lost on the administration. You've got Vice President Harris this week meeting with DACA recipients and dreamers without DACA, as well as immigrants' rights leaders. So, we'll be staying tuned to see what the administration's continued response is to that issue. But let's stick with immigration and do a check in on the border because there are reports that climate change is forcing more and more people out of their homes in Central and South America. And, last month, during her visit to Guatemala, Vice President Harris told people not to come to the border. And, Politico's headline is "It's Not A Border Crisis. It's A Climate Crisis." Jess, what needs to be done on a policy level to really prepare for more and more climate-fueled migration to the United States? What levers does the Biden/Harris administration have? What are they trying to use to address this?

Morales Rocketto:

Yeah. That's a really good question. I mean, you know, it's not popular to say this, but they actually are kind of doing a good job on the root causes. They've re-established some programs that supported children that were gotten rid of by the Trump administration. Now, I could use a lot of different rhetoric. This insistence on telling people not to come, I think suggests a completely naïve understanding of why people come here and how they make the decision to come here. They have a huge 10 point plan to address it. And so, that, I have been really heartened by.

Haines: And Tiffany, are there any legal protections or frameworks that we can use to address the climate refugee crisis?

Jeffers: I think Jess really brilliantly summarized the landscape and the framework of what's happening as it relates to the climate crisis. But if we think about international law governing bodies, changing the status of asylum from simply political asylum to climate asylum and incorporating climate asylum as another category for which people can be granted asylum in climate-safe countries, I think is one way that international communities can help with this crisis. But that lends itself to whether nation-states will allow themselves to be governed by international bodies of law. So, the language is only as helpful as the country is willing to allow itself to be governed by that particular type of language. And, as we've seen with many international treaties and other types of responsive language by international bodies, the United States is not always a willing participant.

Haines: Last weekend, the President was asked about the ongoing pandemic and misinformation and basically told reporters that Facebook is killing people and says that the only pandemic that we have is among the unvaccinated. And, this past week, he elaborated a little bit more on what he meant.

President Joe Biden:

Facebook isn't killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It's killing people. It's bad information. My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I'm saying Facebook is killing people, that they would do something about the misinformation.

Haines: So, Tiffany, what power does the executive branch even have to address private companies about their policies? And, are there any legal issues here that President Biden has to be careful about?

Jeffers: It's important to remember that corporations function legally as individuals in our legal system, and so, President Biden doesn't have direct authority to regulate Facebook's behavior specifically. He couldn't regulate my behavior specifically, either. So, we're thinking of Facebook as an individual. Now, he can collectively regulate corporation or social media company behavior through an executive order or encouraging Congress to act, but he really is limited in his ability to specifically regulate Facebook in any meaningful way.

Haines: And Jess, you see the President trying to clarify his comments there. What's the line that you think that he's trying to toe?

Morales Rocketto:

You know, on one hand, one of the major powers of the President is the bully pulpit, and, you know, 2016, 2020... Like, at this point, for almost a decade, we have known that there is a need to regulate these big tech companies. You know, maybe even more than a decade if you go back to, like, the Microsoft anti-trust case, right? So, there is a lot on the line here around monopolies, around anti-trust, that we're getting into is Facebook but there's a whole other layer here, which is that Microsoft wasn't necessarily eroding our democratic elections. They weren't necessarily creating new, you know, conspiracy theory factions. And so, now there is both the urgency of regulating these humongous corporate giants that are these disruptive tech companies. But then, there's also the disruption that those companies are causing in our democracy that has to be addressed. President Biden doesn't have that many powers to be able to do that except calling them out. At the same time, it's, you know, starting to be a daily life sort of problem that I think the White House and certainly from these comments, the President, is feeling the urgency around.

Haines: Okay. So, staying on the Biden/Harris administration's relationship with business, you have President Biden signing this executive order cracking down on monopolies earlier this month. There's a political article in which the President described himself as a, quote unquote, proud capitalist, clarifying that capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation. Jess, how do you view this move by the executive and is it likely to be successful?

Morales Rocketto:

So, I think that's in vogue for politicians to be anti-corporation now because it's, you know, a growing demand from the left and in particular from the, you know, sort of elites who populate social media conversation and op ed editorials and all of that stuff, which I think is a really big and important shift. But I think it's so weird the way that they always want to make sure, like, "Don't worry. I'm still a capitalist. I just want to crack down on monopolies." I think even if you want to support the markets in some way, you also need to contend that the markets have created incredibly inequity, which is why they want to kind of take this on. And, that's just something that I feel like their ambivalence around actually makes it difficult for them to be effective from a governing perspective.

Haines: Tiffany, what do you make of the President even saying that this is part of being a, quote unquote, proud capitalist? I have like this image in my mind of him having, like, that Monopoly top hat. I don't know. But I wonder what you think.

Jeffers: Errin, you and Jess are reading my mind. This proud capitalist thing is so strange and it's really frustrating because it's President Biden's way of continuing to hold on to the purse strings of capitalism even in its really perverted form now and saying to the working class and the rest of us, "Oh, no, no, no. I'm... I'm really trying to help you but I also need their money and I need their support, and so, I'm not going to completely dismantle this perverted system that we're calling capitalism. I'm just going to function on monopolies." Quote unquote. So, it's frustrating to hear the President talk about his proud capitalism when this version of capitalism is really hurting so many people every single day. Some of us are just struggling to make ends meet, struggling to survive, and it's hard to see someone waving their white flag, supporting capitalism while telling us that they're doing something to stop what's happening.

Haines: Well, I want to circle back now to misinformation on COVID because here's Fox News anchor Sean Hannity changing his tune about vaccines. Let's listen to a clip.

Sean Hannity: Please take COVID seriously. I can't say it enough. Enough people have died. We don't need any more deaths. Take it seriously. And, it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.

Haines: Okay. So, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is responsible for more than 80% of the new COVID-19 cases in the United States. But the authorized vaccines remain more than 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. That's according to top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who testified at a U.S. Senate hearing this week. Tiffany, last year, Fox News was sued for spreading false information about the vaccine. Does this explain the shift in their tone?

Jeffers: I think it does. No one wants to be sued. Litigation's expensive, costly, time-consuming. And, they know they're going to lose in the courts because this exceeds their ability to engage in, quote unquote, what they call it, free speech, because it's just misinformation and it's just incorrect. And so, I think it has scared them. I'm encouraged by the shift in rhetoric. Hopefully it changes minds and leads to more vaccinated people in that conservative community.

Haines: Anyway, finally, wrapping up our loosely related section on social media, COVID vaccines and the role of government, in one sentence, what are your reactions to Marjorie Taylor Greene's suspension from Twitter? The Congresswoman was put on timeout. She was suspended temporarily over tweets that she violated the social media company's COVID-19 misinformation policy. Greene posted that the coronavirus was not dangerous for non-obese people and those under 65 and that organizations should not force non-FDA approved vaccines or masks on people. The tweets that she posted were labeled as misleading. Jess, go. One sentence.

Morales Rocketto:

Shame on her and shame on Twitter, too.

Haines: Tiffany. Your turn.

Jeffers: She's such a hot mess, I wish she would just go away.

Haines: And, those were hot takes. So, we got to talk about this space race because bazillionaire Jeff Bezos spent what he called the best day going into space. He had three other passengers successfully reaching the edge of space aboard a capsule developed by the Amazon founder's company, Blue Origin. Now, we had an astrophysicist on the show this week, Sarafina Nance, who said this says a lot about who we're allowing into this space. LOL. Got a space pun going there. We want some hot takes on this very rich man going into space. So, Jess, I saw you retweeted some things about this. What are your general thoughts about that endeavor?

Morales Rocketto:

So, my husband's from Houston, Texas and, like, had a dream of being an astronaut. He loves space more than anything. So, this is like all we've talked about in our house for like three days. And, I think the biggest problem I have with this is it's 100% related to this kind of race to privatize space and there are a whole host of reasons why we shouldn't privatize space. This idea that rich men are going to, you know, throw their money around and go to space is not only bad for our country, it's also really bad for space exploration. It's really concerning to think that now they're literally going to re-create the inequities that we have on Earth in the whole solar system and it's something all of us should actually be really worried about and to fight as much as we can.

Haines: BRB. Going to start that petition for Jess' husband to get on the next rocket ship. Tiffany, what struck you the most about that moment this past week?

Jeffers: My tweet was with Branson going up first, but I just said if all the billionaires went to space, maybe we could fix capitalism. So, that's kind of what I think about it. I just think this is ridiculous. I don't expect Jeff Bezos or Branson to use their money to fix the problems of inequity that we have here on Earth, but if they at least paid their fair share of taxes, that'd be a start. And so, this just disgusts me so much. It's really frustrating and I try to joke about it to not be enraged. But I'm actually enraged about this.

Haines: Well, you know, Jeff Bezos is taking care of space and he's apparently leaving Van Jones to deal with inequality down here on Earth, giving him $100 million on the same day that he went to the edge of space. So, I guess that just solves everything. We're going to switch gears a little and check in on the aftermath of the January Sixth insurrection because this week, the first felony charge was handed down to a Florida man who breached the Capitol on that day. Paul Allard Hodgkins was sentenced to eight months imprisonment. So, Jess, how do you feel about an eight month sentence here?

Morales Rocketto:

This stuff always is tough because I don't... I really don't believe in cages. I don't believe in jails for anybody. I spend, you know, a lot of my time fighting immigration detention. At the same time, I believe that there should be accountability for this absolutely horrific attack that this man was a part of. But I worry that there really isn't any justice here because the actions that he took are about how he believes and how he feels, and, you know, that... I don't know that can be addressed in eight months or even eight years in jail or wherever. That has to be something that he wants to change. And so, that's the thing that I really hope this time will give him and I hope that it is a little bit of a deterrent for other people who are involved in this, that they understand that there are consequences to their actions, not only for themselves individually, but for our country.

Haines: And, I might end it with you, Tiffany, my lawyer. Does this eight month sentence make sense to you based on what you know about the legal system? And, do you think we're likely to see even more people sentenced for participating in the insurrection?

Jeffers: I think this eight month sentence is fair. I believe in decarceration. I'm not an abolitionist. I believe in punitive consequences for crimes. And so, I think that this individual deserves to spend eight months incarcerated in a federal prison for his crimes against this country. It makes sense. It's not the maximum sentence that he could have received for his crime, but I think without a criminal record and without any physical violence that the state had, eight months is pretty significant and I think it's a good start to what's going to happen with other individuals who are charged in the insurrection. So, I'm satisfied and I'm just, you know, waiting eagerly to see what will happen with the rest of the cases.

Haines: Ooh. So much tea this week. We're going to have to leave it there for now, but it was nice talking with you, Jess and Tiffany.

Morales Rocketto:

Thanks Errin.

Jeffers: Thanks so much Errin.

Haines: That was Tiffany Jeffers, legal analyst at Our Body Politic and Georgetown law professor, and Jess Morales Rocketto, Our Body Politic contributor and civic engagement director at The National Domestic Workers Alliance. And, I'm Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th, in the host chair of Sippin' The Political Tea.

Chideya: Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nakano and Veda Chand. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, The Heising-Simons Foundation, the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “The Complex Task of Public Safety Reform, Live Entertainment Slowly Regains Steam, and An Astrophysicist Takes on Bias in STEM.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. July 23, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/