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Act One: The Hamster Wheel

Planet Money's Alex Blumberg and NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook take a tour through the world of money and politics, discovering just how much time members of Congress spend raising money and which committee assignments yield the biggest campaign donations. They also try to figure out what all this money is actually buying.For an interactive map of Washington DC fundraiser locations, charts of the best and worst types of fundraisers, and other online extras, visit Planet Money's website.

Prologue

In the town of Nowthen, MN, residents held meetings to debate whether a police force is worth the cost. And in Springfield, IL, the state police motorcycle division has been cut, leading to an increase in highway fatalities.

Act One: The Sound of Sirens

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has led some of the most sweeping budget cuts in the country. Producer Sarah Koenig reports from Trenton, where one third of the police force has been laid off, leading to dramatically increased crime.

Act Two: Dream Come True

Perhaps the biggest proponent of smaller government in the United States is lobbyist and activist Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. He envisions a government reduced in size by half, and has compelled scores of conservative politicians take pledges to never raise taxes.

Act One: Solidarity For Never

After a 2010 plane crash killed dozens of Polish dignitaries, including the president, some thought that the country would cross the political rift and come together to mourn. Reporter Amy Drozdowska-McGuire tells what happened instead.

Act Three: Job Fairies

For a look at the nuts and bolts of government job creation, This American Life Senior Producer Julie Snyder and Planet Money correspondent Adam Davidson attend a meeting of the International Economic Developers Council in San Diego.

Act Three: Side Effects May Include...

In Tehran in 2004, Omid Memarian confessed to doing things he'd never done, meeting people he'd never met, following plots he'd never heard of. Why he did that, and why a lot of other people have confessed to the same things, is all in the fine print. This American Life producer Nancy Updike tells the story.

Prologue

Ira speaks with Middle East specialist Michelle Dunne to answer this question: Before the recent Arab uprisings, just how hard was the US pushing the government of Egypt to enact human rights reforms? (7 1/2 minutes)

Act Two: Weekend At Bernanke's

Though the name of the Federal Reserve includes the word "federal," it's not actually part of the government. It's an independent institution tasked with something very simple, but very huge: Creating money out of thin air.

Prologue

Republican Bill Jerke, a very conservative former Colorado State Legislator known as a tax "enemy," has a surprising job this election season. He's going around to lots of different conservative groups and urging voters NOT to vote for three Colorado ballot initiatives that would cut state taxes so severely, they'd essentially strangle state government from here on out.

Act One: Mister Fix It

Richard Ravitch has helped fix three governmental crises, including when New York City nearly went bankrupt in 1975. What's changed, to make it so much harder for him to solve the state's current financial crisis? Host Ira Glass reports.

Act Two: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island and Could Only Bring One Economic Plan...

Why is it that Barbados and Jamaica faced almost identical financial crises, but now Jamaica is incredibly poor and Barbados is prospering? Alex Blumberg reports on the surprising strategy Barbados used to survive its crisis. Alex first learned about this story from a paper by Peter Blair Henry, the dean of the Stern School of Business at New York University.

Prologue

Former Bush Administration official David Frum explains a very surprising fact about Bush's economic failure, as it relates to health care. Frum is a regular contributor to the radio show Marketplace.

Act Four: Now What?

Host Ira Glass talks with Susan Dentzer, editor of the journal Health Affairs, about what current health reform proposals do to fix the rising costs of healthcare...And points at a surprising, kind of heartening phenomenon happening within the current debate.

Act Three: Restrictions May Apply

Ira goes to one of the nation's great manufacturers of fine print: The U.S.Congress. He reports on a recent House subcommittee hearing on a practice in the health insurance industry—buried in that industry's own fine print—called rescission.

Act Two: Investigation Report #2

Alex Blumberg and NPR correspondent (and "Planet Money" reporter) Dave Kestenbaum examine what went wrong with the credit ratings agencies. When all these financial instruments that brought down our economy—the mortgage backed securities, the derivatives—were originally issued, the rating agencies (Standard and Poors, Moody's and Fitch) gave many of these things their top rating of triple-A.

Prologue

Ira talks with reporter My Thuan Tran of The Los Angeles Times about how San Jose City Councilwoman Madison Nguyen went from being the "golden child" of the Vietnamese community to someone who faced weekly protests and a hunger striker. Turns out red-baiting is alive and well in the Vietnamese-American community.