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On our May 24, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Fact-checker Ethan Chiel, Editor-in-chief Mike Dang, Contributing Editor Aaron Gilbreath, and Senior Editor Kelly Stout share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.

This week, the editors discuss stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The CT Mirror, and Engadget.

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00:49 “They Were Conned: How Reckless Loans Devastated a Generation of Taxi Drivers” (Brian M. Rosenthal, May 19, 2019, The New York Times

“There was absolutely no one who was there looking on the side of these low-income drivers.” – Mike Dang

To drive a cab in New York City, you need a taxi medallion. The medallions are valued at over a million dollars, are marketed by lenders as a better investment than the stock market, and represent financial freedom to drivers who want to own their own business. This two-part investigation from Pulitzer-nominated Rosenthal looks at the predatory lenders who entrapped low-income taxi drivers into shady loans.

The team discusses the ethics of loans that overlook how much drivers earn, the complicity of regulators and politicians, and the idea of American greed versus the American dream.  

9:38 “How San Francisco Broke America’s Heart” (Karen Heller, May 21, 2019, The Washington Post)

“I’m really homesick for San Francisco… I feel like it doesn’t exist anymore.” – Kelly Stout

The Post offers another look at the untenable cost of real estate and rising inequality in San Francisco, inspiring the team to discuss whether these stories function to unmask the status quo and inspire readers to question capitalism, or are merely elegies for a way of living that no longer exists.

They talk about the microcosms of late-stage capitalism, the rise of socialist sentiment, and a desire for more regulation, even among some tech capitalists. They also draw a parallel between responses to climate change stories that cause concern without successfully spurring us to change the way we go about our daily lives.

17:00Separated by Design: How Some of America’s Richest Towns Fight Affordable Housing” (Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, May 22, 2019, The CT Mirror)

“If you make racism really expensive, it’s one way to help force people’s hands.” – Aaron Gilbreath

It’s basically impossible to get affordable housing built in Westport, Connecticut — home to the highest wealth disparities between rich and poor in the entire country. Co-published with ProPublica, this investigation looks at the dynamics between the residents, developers, lawyers, and law-makers that maintain a system built around keeping black and Hispanic people out of these extremely wealthy white towns.

24:04Impossible Foods’ Rising Empire of Almost-Meat” (Chris Ip, May 19, 2019, Engadget)

“The problem is on such a different scale.” – Ethan Chiel

Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and his wife, both long-time vegans, have created Impossible Foods, a tech company looking to disrupt the food system by targeting carnivores and eliminating the meat industry.

The team rates Impossible’s flagship burger, which, according to some, tastes just like the real thing. They touch on the role the meat industry plays in greenhouse gas emissions (it’s responsible for 14.5% of the world’s total) and debate the impact of such a product. They weigh the burger’s health benefits in relation to its environmental benefits, and the strategy of a vegan product that appeals not to morality, but gluttony.

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