EPISODE 10: NIKY SHEA PART 1
Compiled & Synthesized by Samia Mounts
00:00:47 Who are the Antifa protestors, what have they said about their willingness to use violence, what are the values they fight for, and is it true they haven’t killed anyone?
I want to preface this by saying that my understanding of who and what Antifa is has evolved greatly since I recorded this interview, thanks to the research I’ve been doing on them for these show notes. I plan to issue an apology for calling them “stupid” near the end of this episode, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are some Antifa groups who engage in activities I find counterproductive, like the property damage and physical attacks on Milo Yiannopoulos fans at UC Berkeley in February 2017, but there are others, like the ones who defended people who were being threatened by white supremacists in Charlottesville, who behave admirably—who arguably have saved lives. It’s difficult to center on one singular characterization of these groups, because there is no central organization. Different local groups behave in very different ways. Below is the best explanation I could come up with for who they are and what they stand for.
Antifa is a loosely organized collection of anarchist, socialist, and/or communist groups that pledge to fight fascism at the local level using unconventional, and sometimes violent, tactics. They reject liberal democracy’s efforts to quell fascism and white nationalism as insufficient, and believe that the people must take this work into their own hands, confronting fascists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups in the streets. Because there is no central organization that governs all Antifa groups, there is a lot of variance between what different Antifa groups are willing to do and how they behave.
In addition to physical confrontations at rallies and protests, Antifa groups also target white supremacists in other ways, including outing them to their employers to get them fired, monitoring their activities both in real life and online, and putting pressure on venues to refuse to host white supremacist events. According to the above linked article from the Washington Post, the “vast majority of anti-fascist organizing is nonviolent. But their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists. Antifascists argue that after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective.”
The values they fight for have some variance—some are straight up anarchists, some are socialists, some are communists, some are social democrats like myself—but they are united in their efforts to stop fascist and racist movements in their tracks at the earliest possible stage. They typically fight to protect oppressed groups, like ethnic and religious minorities and immigrants.
They’ve gotten bad press coverage thanks to incidents like the one at UC Berkeley in February 2017, where masked Antifa protestors set fires, damaged property, threw rocks, and preemptively injured people who came to see a speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. (This was the specific incident that shaped the negative opinion of Antifa groups that I expressed in this episode’s interview.) In spite of all that craziness, no arrests were made.
That incident really bothered me. It’s one thing to fight white supremacy, but stopping Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking is just not part of that fight. Yiannopoulous has spoken out against white nationalism. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s not a Nazi.
Speaking of making important distinctions, there seems to be a big difference between black bloc protestors (anarchists who wear masks and are known for breaking windows and damaging property) and more organized, long-standing Antifa groups, as explained by Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the founder of the Antifa group, One People’s Project (OOP), and one of the only Antifa leaders to speak publicly about the movement. OOP’s tagline is “Hate has consequences,” and their mission is “to research and report on who’s who and what’s what regarding right-wing groups, individuals and activities, and encourage society to be vigilant against them in an effort to diminish their ability to function and cause that society harm.”
For the record, I can totally get behind OPP, and it makes me think there has been an inappropriate conflating of groups like them and groups like the one that caused injury and damage at UC Berkeley.
The Slate article linked to above (here it is again) is REALLY worth reading and will definitely clear up some common misconceptions about Antifa groups. It has swayed my opinion significantly from what I expressed in this episode of the podcast. One of the anecdotes that really struck me: “Laura [an Antifa activist with OOP] described how she got a Virginia white supremacist named Wendy fired. Laura said that Wendy, a psychiatric nurse, posted on the far-right racist site Stormfront ‘about how when she gives out medication to people who are Jewish or black, that she wishes she could give them all cyanide.’ Though Wendy had been posting under an online pseudonym, Laura told me she figured out her real name and contacted her employer.”
I am all for that kind of activism. It’s inhumane and dangerous to have caretakers who harbor those kinds of evil, hateful views.
Another excerpt from that article that I love: “…Jenkins and his crew aren’t simply out to ruin the lives of their opponents; he’s also helped shepherd people out of racist movements. Though he’ll fight white supremacists, he’ll also talk to them whenever he sees an opening. …Sometimes, when white supremacists start nurturing doubts, he said, ‘I’m the only person that will talk to them, really talk to them like they’re a human being.’” Talk about attacking the problem of white supremacy on all fronts. I love this Jenkins guy.
If you want a more intense look at who and what Antifa is, Dartmouth College historian Mark Bray wrote a book called “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” which takes a deep dive into the history of Antifa groups, going back to World War II, and how they evolved into what they are today. You can buy the book here, and you can read an interview Bray gave to Vox about Antifa here.
Here’s one notable quote from Bray on the Antifa stance on violence that seems to mitigate their reputation: “…anti-fascists will concede that most of the time nonviolence is certainly the way to go. Most antifa members believe it’s far easier to use nonviolent methods than it is to show up and use direct action methods. But they argue that history shows that it’s dangerous to take violence and self-defense off the table.”
Antifa groups in the U.S. have never killed anyone, and there is a consensus among experts that they don’t pose anywhere near the same danger as white supremacist groups and other hate groups. As I said in the intro to Episode 10, there is no moral equivalence to be made here. It is not a problem of “both sides” or “many sides.” White supremacy is the problem, and Antifa activists are an aggressive response to that problem—not part of the problem, as our president would have us believe.
It’s also worth noting that Antifa groups aren’t organizing their own rallies; they are merely responding to those organized by hate groups.
00:10:14 What did Trump say during his campaign about taking better care of veterans?
During the campaign, Trump issued a 10-point plan for aiding veterans. He promised to increase healthcare for veterans by allowing them to see private doctors on the government’s tab, to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs by weeding out bad employees, to install new leadership at the VA who will be focused on cleaning up the department, and to create a 24-hour hotline for veterans to report problems with obtaining benefits from the VA.
He’s making good on these promises.
In January, Trump nominated David Shulkin to be the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, a strong vote of confidence from our heavily partisan lawmakers. Shulkin had formerly been nominated by Obama to be the Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health, a position in which he served from 2015-2017 and for which he was also confirmed unanimously.
On June 23, 2017, Trump signed legislation that allows the VA to more easily fire ineffective employees and protect whistleblowers within the department. The law is called the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.
On August 23, 2017, Trump signed a bill that seeks to shorten wait times for veterans who have been denied or been given insufficient disability benefits and choose to appeal the decision. The bill is called the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. Right now, the average wait time for a veteran who has appealed their disability decision is five years, and legislators hope the new law will shorten those wait times to less than one year.
The 24-hour hotline has been delayed for two months as of August 23, 2017, but a pilot hotline has been available since June 1. It’s currently available from 8am to 5pm EST on weekdays, and the number is 855-948-2311. The VA said the reason for the delay was to replace the third-party vendor they’d planned to use to receive the calls with actual veterans, who they feel will be more able to relate to the problems and issues of other veterans.
In addition to all this, on August 12, 2017, Trump signed a bill approving almost $4 billion for a temporary veterans health care measure called the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act. And on August 17, 2017, he signed a bill known as the Forever GI Bill, but formally titled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, which allows veterans to access college assistance for their entire lifespan. Before this bill, there was a 15-year limit on access to those benefits.
00:16:46 What has Trump said recently about President Obama and Obamacare?
In a statement delivered on July 24, 2017, Trump spent a long time talking about personal stories of people being negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act, which he referred to as “Obamacare” throughout his speech. He said Obamacare “has wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent hard-working Americans,” referenced “Obamacare’s victims,” and said, “Well, Obamacare is death, that’s death, and besides that it’s failing.” He also called it a “nightmare” and said, “Obamacare has broken our health care system. It’s broken, it’s collapsing, it’s gone.” You can read a transcript here, or watch video of the full statement here.
He never specifically referenced President Obama in that statement, but he's known for attacking Obama on many different fronts, including pushing the racist "birther" conspiracy theory for years. On August 25, 2017, he retweeted a meme of himself "eclipsing" Obama.
Politifact fact-checked this speech and rated Trump’s comments as “over the top rhetoric.”
00:19:58 Can I see this girl’s crazy eyebrows in the video of Trump’s speech on healthcare?
Here they are in all their insane glory.
00:20:53 Can you run down the recent Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act?
As of now (August 28, 2017), the Republican efforts to repeal and replace, and then to just repeal, the Affordable Care Act have failed.
One bill that everyone hated was passed in the House in May 2017, but was never expected to pass in the Senate without major re-working. In June and July 2017, the Senate came up with its own version of a repeal and replace bill that never went anywhere either. Finally, in July 2017, the GOP settled on trying to pass what they called a “skinny repeal” bill—a measure that would have repealed key aspects of the ACA with no replacement. The skinny repeal would have given lawmakers only two years to figure out the replacement plan, and critics said it would cause chaos in the health markets and kick millions of Americans off of their health insurance. In the end, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who rushed from being diagnosed with brain cancer to be present for this crucial vote, killed the so-called “skinny repeal."
In a statement released after his surprise no vote, Mccain said, “From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people. The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens. The Speaker's statement that the House would be ‘willing’ to go to conference does not ease my concern that this shell of a bill could be taken up and passed at any time.”
For the record, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has predicted that every single Republican healthcare bill proposed so far would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
00:21:59 Tell me more about the failed universal healthcare legislation Hillary Clinton pursued during her time as First Lady. Is it true that now people are saying it was actually a good plan? Why did it fail?
Shortly after taking office in January 1993, President Bill Clinton announced that his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and his good friend, Ira Magaziner, would be heading up a 500-person task force to spearhead health care reform.
The 1993 Health Security Act was a highly ambitious, 1300-page piece of legislation that called for universal coverage, required coverage for many preventive services, and allowed the government to regulate prices of medical treatments and insurance premiums. In many ways, it was similar to the Affordable Care Act. It required all employers to provide health insurance to every employee, and relied on the creation of regional health alliances to provide insurance to the unemployed.
To make a long story short, massive bipartisan kepticism in Congress about the Clintons’ understanding of the legislation process, an impression that the plan was being concocted in secret, growing pressure on Republicans to oppose the measure at all costs, and a very successful ad campaign called “Harry and Louise,” funded by the Health Insurance Association of America, caused the fairly rapid collapse of the plan. It was declared dead in September 1994.
The narrative surrounding the failure of the plan, however, presents a distorted view of what actually went down, according to Paul Starr, a senior health-policy advisor in the Clinton administration. In his article, “The Hillarycare Mythology,” Starr breaks down the many ways that Republicans, Democrats, the press, and the American people got the narrative wrong, putting too much personal blame on Hillary Clinton and betraying a basic lack of understanding of what was actually in the proposed legislation. James Fallows of The Atlantic also did a great job of unpacking all this in his 1995 article, “A Triumph of Misinformation.”
Mrs. Clinton has been brought down by calculated efforts to spread misinformation about her throughout her entire career. The tactic has proven to be very effective.
00:22:20 What did Hillary Clinton say she would do about healthcare if she were elected president?
Directly from her campaign website: “As your president, I want to build on the progress we’ve made. I’ll do more to bring down health care costs for families, ease burdens on small businesses, and make sure consumers have the choices they deserve. And frankly, it is finally time for us to deal with the skyrocketing out-of-pocket health costs, and particularly runaway prescription drug prices.”
Also on the healthcare page of her campaign website are specific bullet points detailing specifically how Clinton would have reformed health care if elected president. They include expanding the Affordable Care Act by creating a “public option,” lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 55, bringing down prices of co-pays, deductibles, and prescription drugs, expanding Medicaid, and expanding health insurance access to immigrants, regardless of immigration status, and people living in rural areas.
00:22:33 Have all the Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act been predicted to rob 16 to 32 million Americans of their health insurance?
The short answer is yes.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that the American Health Care Act 2017, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2017, would result in a total of 23 million people losing their health insurance by 2026.
The CBO then predicted that the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, which was proposed (and then failed to pass) in the Senate, would cause 22 million people to lose their insurance by 2026.
The Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act of 2017 earned a CBO prediction that 32 million people losing their insurance by 2026.
The “skinny repeal,” a.k.a. the Healthcare Freedom Act of 2017, was predicted to knock 16 million people off of health insurance by 2026.
None of these measures were successful.
Now, another effort is being spearheaded by Senators Lindsay Graham and Bill Cassidy, but with John McCain and Rand Paul both already saying they won't vote for the bill, it's not looking like it will pass as of now (9/25/2017).
00:24:12 Give me more details on this child rape case that Hillary Clinton was involved in as a lawyer for the defendant.
I got part of this wrong, and I'm also correcting the Episode 8 Show Notes to reflect that this case ended in a plea deal, which is not a straight up loss for Hillary Clinton's client.
In 1975, when Hillary Clinton was still a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham, she ran a legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. A factory worker accused of raping a 12-year-old girl had been assigned a male court-appointed lawyer, and asked the judge in his case to provide a female lawyer instead. The judge chose Clinton, meaning she was, in fact, a court-appointed attorney in this case.
Clinton wrote about the experience in her memoir, Living History: “I told [prosecutor] Mahlon [Gibson] I really don’t feel comfortable taking on such a client, but Mahlon gently reminded me that I couldn’t very well refuse the judge’s request.” This statement has been confirmed by Gibson himself.
The rest of the story is that Clinton did her job, defending the accused to the best of her ability. Legally, she had to do that.
In the end, she was able to negotiate a plea deal for her client. He ended up being convicted on a reduced charge—“Unlawful Fondling of a Child under the Age of Fourteen”—and was sentenced to a year in the country jail followed by four years of probation.
00:29:31 Can you run down the Benghazi investigation for me? Is it true that most trusted sources regard the whole investigation as an attempt by Republicans to take down the strongest potential Democratic candidate for president in the 2016 election?
On September 11, 2012, while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state, an attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, resulted in four Americans tragically losing their lives. One of them was the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. The other three were an information officer named Sean Smith and two Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
In the aftermath, the attack became the subject of widespread controversy and right-wing conspiracy theories. There is a ton of conflicting information on this out there, and synthesizing it all is beyond the scope of these show notes. I’ll address some of the bigger points here, but to get the full picture, you’re going to have to read all of the linked articles and do your own research. Overall, it looks very much like the Obama administration mishandled the response to the attacks, which were almost certainly preventable had the State Department been better managed, but Republicans went full tilt in the direction of trying to lay the blame solely on Hillary Clinton in an effort to diminish her chances of winning the 2016 election.
One of the most repeated and widely believed theories is that the victims of the attack were raped and tortured by their attackers. This is unverified. There is no proof that anyone was raped or tortured, or that any corpses were dragged through the streets, as many claim. Snopes has listed this claim as “Undetermined,” and cites many conflicting reports about the events of that horrific evening, including a report that Ambassador Stevens arrived alive at a hospital but died shortly thereafter due to extreme smoke inhalation.
There were also reports that Libyans were trying to save his life by running into the burning consulate to retrieve him. A Lebanese news report saying that the Agence France Presse had reported that the victims were raped before being killed was immediately repudiated by the Agence France Presse itself, which released a statement saying, “Concerning your query on the report published by a Lebanese website according to which ambassador Stevens was sodomized. That report falsely quoted our news agency and has no truth whatsoever to it. AFP promptly sent a strongly worded complaint to that website and they removed the report and published a denial, saying that AFP did not report such a thing.”
Claims that Stevens was "dragged through the street" have been debunked. I did find this one video on Youtube, with the claim that it shows Chris Stevens’s body being dragged through the streets. While the headline and comments are very much biased toward the idea that this was a video of Chris Stevens being tortured, if you actually watch the video closely, it’s obvious that he is being helped, not hurt. At 00:32, the person carrying Stevens checks his carotid pulse. That doesn't suggest he was being tortured; it suggests the person was trying to save his life. It was also reported that six civilians brought Stevens to a hospital around 1:15am on the night of the attacks.
Lastly, a photo meme claiming to show the body of Chris Stevens being tortured, and blaming Hillary Clinton for it, circulated the internet in 2016. It has been debunked. The photo was actually taken in 2004, eight years before the attack in Benghazi.
The Obama administration was criticized heavily for giving conflicting statements about the cause of the attack in the immediate aftermath, while intelligence was still being gathered. There was great controversy over whether the attack erupted spontaneously or was planned in advance, and what caused it.
At first, the CIA thought an anti-Muslim video called “The Innocence of Muslims” prompted the attack. The video inspired protests outside of US diplomatic compounds in multiple other cities, including Cairo, Egypt, Tunis, Tunisia, and Sanaa, Yemen, around the same time as the Benghazi attack. The Cairo protests happened earlier that same day. That intelligence was what caused then UN Ambassador Susan Rice to blame the attack on the video in several television appearances. Hillary Clinton also referenced the video in several public statements and in her congressional testimony on October 22, 2015.
A post on the website of the House Select Committee on Benghazi insists the CIA never came to any such conclusion, but also says CIA analysts connected the attack in Benghazi to the protests about the video that occurred in Cairo earlier that same day. It seems to contradict itself.
There are claims that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi sent 600 requests to the State Department for help. This is, at best, a wild exaggeration, although they did ask for more security multiple times. It’s true that security at the facility was insufficient, and that the State Department denied requests for increased security. But it’s extremely likely that Clinton herself never saw those requests, as they are usually handled by people lower on the totem pole.
On July 21, 2016, while accepting the GOP nomination for vice president, Mike Pence said, "It was Hillary Clinton who left Americans in harm's way in Benghazi and after four Americans fell said, 'What difference at this point does it make?'" Politifact rates this statement as Mostly False, saying that “Clinton, as head of the State Department, should shoulder some responsibility for the bureaucratic failures that may have contributed to the tragedy. But there’s no evidence that suggests, as Pence does, that Clinton was personally responsible for or could have prevented the deaths of the four Benghazi victims.”
There’s very little doubt that the attack was preventable, but bureaucratic confusion and poor management structure within the State Department is more to blame than any one person. The irony is that the same Republicans who have been raking Hillary Clinton over the coals for it also voted to reduce the security budget for American diplomatic facilities worldwide not long before the Benghazi attack.
As if that wasn’t enough, after one of the longer and more expensive congressional investigations ever, Clinton was found to have done nothing wrong, but there were measures that could and should be adopted to prevent similar attacks in the future. And seven other congressional investigations came to roughly the same conclusions.
The families of the victims also weighed in. The sister of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens gave an interview to the New Yorker begging people not to blame Clinton for her brother’s death, and said he knew the risks associated with his job well and loved his work in spite of them. In the interview, she said, “With the many issues in the current election, to use that incident—and to use Chris’s death as a political point—is not appropriate.”
Stevens’s mother wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, saying, “As Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s mother, I am writing to object to any mention of his name and death in Benghazi, Libya, by Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party. I know for certain that Chris would not have wanted his name or memory used in that connection. I hope that there will be an immediate and permanent stop to this opportunistic and cynical use by the campaign.”
The mother of Sean Smith spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and said, “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. Personally.” Later, she said, “Donald Trump is everything Hillary Clinton is not.” She concluded her speech by saying, “Hillary for prison. She deserves to be in stripes!” It was a baldly political speech.
It’s one thing to speak with the New Yorker and ask people to un-politicize the Benghazi tragedy, or to request that a political candidate not use your dead loved one’s name in their campaign. It’s another thing entirely to give a speech at the RNC blaming Hillary Clinton personally for the deaths of four Americans, declaring her to be a liar, and assuring everyone that “Donald Trump is everything [she] is not.” It’s terrible that she lost her son, but I find Patricia Smith’s speech shockingly exploitative. And if you think it represented her own words, you'd be wrong. The speech was written by a life-long Republican named Richard Cross, who later said he would not be voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, Cross wrote:
"Despite what I wrote in that nationally televised speech about Hillary Clinton, I may yet have to vote for her because of the epic deficiencies of my own party's nominee.
"President Eisenhower would have never proposed banning Muslims from America. Nor would President Nixon. Nor would President Reagan. Donald Trump has betrayed and perverted their legacies. Consequently, I no longer recognize my party.
"I have never voted for a Democrat for federal office, but when I hear the president criticize the GOP nominee, I can't honestly disagree with him."
As for Hillary Clinton, she publicly took responsibility for the attack in Benghazi multiple times, both in media interviews, her own memoir, and in the eleven hours of questioning she underwent during the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigation. You can read the full text of that 11-hour grilling here.
In his piece, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide To One Of America’s Worst Political Outrages,” Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek breaks down the politicization of the Benghazi attack in no uncertain terms, raking through every detail available to the public about how the investigation was conducted by its Republican leaders and how the misinformation they spread was disseminated by the media. And not just conservative media outlets, either—the “liberal media,” including the New York Times, Politico, and the Daily Beast, reported out lies fed to them by congressional sources. The article also goes into great detail about how the email “scandal” wasn’t a scandal at all. It’s a long read, but essential if you want to understand why and how the Benghazi investigation became such an all-consuming obsession for Republicans. It’s also an opinion article with a clear bias, and some of the things Eichenwald makes are worded in the most extreme manner possible. But everything he writes is fundamentally accurate.
Media Matters for America, a non-profit “progressive research and information center,” put together an extensive list of Benghazi myths and facts that pretty much answers every question you might have about what went down.
For a clear-cut, question-and-answer style explanation of the Benghazi controversy, read this one from Mother Jones.
I realize that conservative readers will find this explanation incredibly biased, but the truth about the Benghazi “controversy” is very clear if you examine the facts we have at our disposal. While there is certainly blame to go around, putting it solely on Hillary Clinton was an obvious political tactic employed by Republicans in an effort to damage the reputation and polling numbers for the strongest potential Democratic candidate for president in the 2016 election. If it was anything else, then why didn’t these sanctimonious Republicans lambaste George W. Bush for the 3,000 American deaths on 9/11? (Actually, Trump made a false claim that Bush was alerted by the CIA that 9/11 was coming while competing with Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary, but there was nothing like the political witch hunt of the Benghazi investigation post-9/11. It’s also worth mentioning that Democrats never made any kind of concerted effort to pin the blame on Bush for 9/11, either.)
00:33:01 Did Obama bring in 11,000 refugees to Florida and New Jersey in 2016?
The number is actually a lot higher than 11,000, at least as far as Florida is concerned. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the state of Florida accepted 62,233 refugees in 2016, mostly from Cuba, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Colombia, Burma, and Afghanistan.
New Jersey is a different story. Only about 1500 refugees have been resettled there in the last ten years, since 2007, and only 601 refugees were accepted in New Jersey in 2016. In November 2015, just after the terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, Governor Chris Christie wrote in a letter to President Obama that New Jersey would not be accepting any Syrian refugees.
00:40:11 How many homeless veterans are there?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, around 40,000 veterans are homeless at any given time. That estimate is from 2016.
00:40:37 Is it true that we don’t know “who we’re really bringing in” when it comes to refugees?
No, not at all. Our vetting process is one of the most extreme and comprehensive in the world. ld. Here’s a detailed rundown of the current refugee vetting process in the United States. We know exactly who we’re letting in when we accept refugees into this country.
For a more personal take on this, here’s a personal essay from a young man who actually went through the process himself in trying to escape with his family from the brutal Assad regime in Syria.
And for a personal take on the other side of the current vetting process, read this personal essay from a former US immigration officer.
00:41:13 What kinds of programs do we have in place to help homeless veterans? Why are there still so many veterans living on the streets?
The Department of Veterans Affairs actively seeks to end veteran homelessness by conducting outreach programs, helping homeless vets find housing and employment, and expanding employment and housing opportunities in coordination with federal, state and local agencies, as well as housing providers, churches, and nonprofit organizations.
There’s also the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, as well as help coming from numerous other government agencies, including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Homelessness Resource Center.
In addition to agencies within our government, there are many other organizations working to assist homeless vets. There’s the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and the National Coalition for the Homeless. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
So why are there still so many veterans living on the streets? There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, but mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries are the heavy hitters.
The VA conducted its first large scale study of homeless veterans in 2012, and found that having a mental disorder, whether it was substance abuse problems or mental illness, was the strongest indicator of homelessness after leaving active duty. Approximately half were diagnosed with a mental disorder before leaving active duty.
Another huge problem for veterans is the high incidence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs are thought of as the “signature wound” for veterans who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. According to cutting-edge research by Dr. Mark Gordon, a TBI treatment specialist in Los Angeles, TBIs can actually cause or worsen symptoms of mental illness and can lead to all kinds of nasty physical and mental health issues, including depression, trouble focusing, memory loss, and an inability to manage one’s emotions.
The VA’s 2012 study found that homeless veterans were much more likely to have suffered a TBI than non-homeless veterans. This means that TBIs could actually be contributing to the extremely high incidence of debilitating mental disorders in homeless veterans.
Gender, ethnic/racial background, age, and pay grade are also risk factors. The study found that homeless veterans are usually younger soldiers from lower pay grades. It also found that women veterans and those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are much more likely to experience homelessness than male veterans and those who haven’t served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans of color are disproportionately represented in homeless veteran populations. And homeless veterans are far more likely to have received treatment for military sexual trauma—this is especially true for women veterans.
Lastly, a ray of hope - the study found that about half of homeless veterans didn’t become homeless until around 3 years after leaving active duty. That means there’s a period of time when it could be possible, with proper care, to prevent homelessness for many veterans.
00:43:40 What is the difference between socialism and communism?
Dictionary.com defines socialism as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” while communism is defined as “a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.”
Based on the dictionary definitions, they sound pretty similar, but there is one major difference between the two. Essentially, socialism is all about creating a society in which all members are equal—no income disparity, no class system, everyone having an equal say in how things are done. And communism wants that same thing but takes it several steps further, saying that people should be assigned resources based on their need, and while all goods and property are publicly owned, the state gets to decide who gets what and why.
Both systems are easy to corrupt by greedy, power-hungry dictators and/or wealthy ruling classes, as in the cases of Venezuela (a corrupt version of socialism) and North Korea (a nightmarish version of communism).
Both can also seem to work reasonably well. Modern China and Vietnam, both communist countries—although a new version of communism that embraces capitalism—have booming economies. (However, they both struggle with terrible inequality and corruption.) And Bolivia has managed to implement a successful version of socialism since 2006, although they, too, struggle with corruption.
The old school definitions of socialism and communism do seem to have a lot in common, which segues us nicely into the next question.
00:43:49 What is the modern definition of socialism? What are its core principles?
Modern socialism, like the modern communism of China, is a version of socialism that embraces capitalism. Originally, socialism was an economic system that arose out of a rejection of capitalism; the new socialism is not an economic system, but rather a set of principles and ideals held by a society that state that each human is deserving of basic human rights and a safety net if they are born into circumstances that put them at a disadvantage.
All modern socialism means is a democratic government that looks out for its people with social safety-net programs and initiatives designed to give people, especially the poor and disenfranchised, opportunities to create a better life for themselves. It’s the idea that being treated with respect is something all people are due, and that includes the right to a livable wage, healthcare, and protections from unfair or unsafe business practices from employers and corporations. It means prioritizing human life over corporate profits and investing in education, transportation, housing, and all the basic things that human beings need to be able to function well in society.
We have something very close to modern socialism, or a social democracy, if you prefer that term, in the U.S. already. Not having universal healthcare is the main thing separating us from other countries who have embraced this system, which include virtually all Western countries.
00:45:41 Where is this study that Samia references that found that income disparity decreases and minorities thrive under Democratic presidents, while the opposite happens under Republican presidents? Is it true that Republican policies disproportionately harm minorities?
The study I referenced is called Racial Winners and Losers in American Party Politics, and you can download the full study here. It’s findings were very clear: under Democratic presidents, minorities do better economically. Under Republican presidents, minorities do worse. From the study authors’ conclusion:
“The empirical evidence is clear: racial and ethnic minorities do better materially under Democrats than under Republicans. This finding has obvious relevance for political discourse in the U.S. It suggests that the conventional wisdom about the two parties is correct and that, however much racial inequality persists, there seems little doubt that it would be much greater were it not for the periods of Democratic Party dominance.”
The study also found that these gains made my minorities under Democratic did not negatively affect the economic standing of white people. In fact, white people did slightly better under Democratic presidents as well.
If you don't have time to read through the full study, here is a concise synthesis of the information from Al-Jazeera America.
It’s hard to construct an airtight argument on something so complicated, but Republican policies certainly seem to disproportionately hurt minorities. From voter suppression laws that target minority voters to efforts to curb legal immigration and affirmative action initiatives, Republican policies do not seem to help minorities. Rather, it seems they'd like to pretend racism doesn't exist, and therefore, no damage needs to be undone.