EPISODE 4: ASHLEY, PART 2
Compiled and Synthesized by David Sokol
Edited by Samia Mounts
00:04:18 Did Barack Obama do amazing things for our economy?
Yes and no. Obama entered his presidency during the 2008 financial crisis - what many economists say was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Regardless of the fact that numbers don’t lie, it will always be a matter of opinion as to whether a president or their administration did enough to help it. Fortune’s article, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, gives an extremely balanced summary of what Obama’s administration was and wasn’t able to accomplish from 2009 through 2015.
Obama’s response to the Great Recession included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the auto industry bailout, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (which, among other things, established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
00:04:25 Did Barack Obama bring the nation’s economy out of the Great Recession, cut the unemployment rate in half, and provide health insurance to tens of millions of people who’d never had it before?
One of the key pieces of legislation that Obama introduced as President was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was designed specifically to get our country out of the Great Recession of 2008, and prevent big banks from creating the conditions that led to the financial crisis again. Essentially, it increased the amount of the regulation the Federal government requires of banks, especially the largest banks. The new regulations included requiring banks to have more money in reserve and more easily-liquidated assets, in order to allow them to better weather another crisis like the Great Recession. It also requires the largest banks to undergo annual stress tests, to see if they could survive another major crisis. And it established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is charged with protecting people from abusive or unfair financial practices, like the shady mortgage deals that led to the housing crisis and the Great Recession.
Different analyses will tell you Dodd-Frank wildly succeeded or spectacularly failed, but I like this more balanced one from the Guardian.
And here are some numbers showing what happened in our country during Obama’s presidency. My favorite highlights: the Recession ended, a bunch of people got health insurance for the first time (not the tens of millions I said - the number was more like 16 million), and the unemployment rate did get cut in half. However, some of that dip in the unemployment rate was due to Baby Boomers retiring and some people just giving up on trying to find work.
00:05:16 Did the election of Donald Trump cause a stock market rally?
Some say it’s because Obama dealt him a pretty good hand. Others say it’s because of a trend that began when investors thought Hillary would win. There are also those who believe it’s entirely due to Trump’s influence.
According to CNN Money, the one constant during the months leading up to the election and inauguration was the Federal Reserve, which was expected to raise interest rates several times from the end of 2016 throughout 2017. If they raise the rates three times during the year by a quarter point every time, it would still be an extremely low-key short-term rate, making stocks more attractive than bonds.
The stock market is complex, and isolating a single cause for any of its constant upswings and dips is nearly impossible. All of the arguments above could literally all be correct at the same time.
00:05:39 Did Obama double our deficit? How much do we owe? Are the national debt and deficit the same thing?
Conservatives are really concerned about national debt, because debt is a bad, scary thing in most people's minds when it comes to their personal finances. There's a lot to unpack here.
First of all, Ashley confused the federal deficit with the federal debt. In her defense, people confuse the two terms all the time.
The federal budget deficit is all about the difference between how much the government brings in and how much it spends. A deficit is created when government spending exceeds the amount coming in. In response to a federal deficit, the Treasury Department issues treasury bills, notes, and bonds to domestic and foreign investors, corporations, and other governments. That’s how they get the cash they need to provide governmental services. This is measured on an annual basis.
The federal or national debt is the net accumulation of the annual budget deficits. It's the total amount of money that the federal government owes to its creditors. This is a lifetime tally.
Due to one being an annual measurement and one being a lifetime measurement, we could have a shrinking deficit even as the debt increases. One or two years of surplus will still result in a large debt, because it would take many many years of surplus before the debt was entirely paid off.
Our national debt did double during the Obama years, from $10.6 trillion to $19.3 trillion. This was largely due to bills introduced by both Bush and Obama that were designed to reinvigorate the tanked economy.
Also, the annual deficits under Obama decreased every year except for his last in office, from an annual budget deficit of $1.4 trillion in 2009 down to a low of $438 billion in 2015, then rising to $585 billion in 2016. However, the downward trend is not expected to continue, and can't totally be attributed to Obama's policies.
For the sake of brevity (too late), I won’t summarize this article, but in my opinion, it brilliantly explains why the federal government’s balance sheet is not comparable to a family household budget. This analogy is a popular Republican talking point to get people on board with curbing government spending on investments into things like education, health care, and social programs. Every household wants to get out of debt, right? But debt just doesn't work the same way when we're tlaking about the United States Federal Government. Read the article linked to in this paragraph to understand why.
It’s also worth noting that the only government budget surpluses the U.S. has seen since 1970 were the budget years of 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001, all under Democrat Bill Clinton’s administration.
Moral of the story - the national debt and fiscal deficit are incredibly complicated, and we can’t simply look at the numbers like we would a household budget. Being afraid of accumulating federal debt the way we're all afraid to accumulate too much personal debt doesn't make sense. They just aren’t comparable.
00:05:59 To whom does the U.S. owe money?
Ironically, we owe the majority of the national debt to ourselves. To be more clear, we owe most of the money we borrow domestically to individuals, brokers, corporations, insurance companies, savings bonds, banks, and mutual funds, as well as state and local governments. We also owe money to the federal government, specifically to the federal reserve, social security, federal retirement and disability, and military retirement.
Business Insider made a handy chart to break down who the U.S. owed the national debt to in 2013. It's not current, but it gives you a good visual of how most of our debt is not owed to other countries, as Ashley implied, but rather to domestic entities and our own government.
Here are the current numbers as of January 26, 2017. This article doesn't show the difference between our domestic and foreign debts as cleanly - it breaks it down into Intergovernmental Holdings and Debt Held by the Public (which includes debt to foreign entities), but if you add the numbers up, it shows that we are still in debt mostly to ourselves.
00:06:13 Where does the money that we borrow to create the national debt going? What do we spend it on? Does any of that money go to our schools?
Since the national debt is defined as the lifetime accumulation of money needed to cover the many annual deficits, it’s better to ask where the money we’re borrowing to cover the deficits is going. And that’s largely going to depend on that particular fiscal year and what Congress has decided needs to be paid for.
Economist Josh Wright pointed me to this article. It provides easy-to-read pie charts detailing exactly where our money was allocated in 2015. I will let the charts and numbers speak for themselves, but ultimately, it's broken down into discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and interest on the federal debt.
Debt interest comprised only 6% of spending that year.
Discretionary spending is the portion of the budget decided by Congress through the annual appropriations process, which allows Congress to set the spending levels for each year. In 2015, this took up about 29% of total government spending.
Mandatory spending is spending that Congress legislates outside of the annual appropriations process, typically less than once a year, and it is dominated by extremely popular safety net programs, like Social Security and Medicare. Mandatory spending took up 65% of 2015’s spending, with Social Security alone accounting for nearly half of it. Veterans' benefits make up only 3.71% of all mandatory spending, but that comes out to about $95 billion - not exactly chump change.
As far as federal spending going directly into our schools to assist in the rebuilding of old school buildings? Under the Constitution, the responsibility of K-12 education rests with the states. To quote the linked article, “The federal government, through the legislative process, provides assistance to the states and schools in an effort to supplement, not supplant, state support.”
00:07:11 Do we have troops on every continent right now?
We have an active military presence on every continent except Antarctica. Due to the Antarctic Treaty System, no military activity is allowed on land or ice shelves below 60ºS. The treaty does not apply to naval activity within those bounds so long as it takes place on the high seas. The use of nuclear weapons is absolutely prohibited.
00:07:21 Has Trump said he wants to take U.S. troops out of other countries?
As is with many of Trump’s declarations, this one is confusing. He’s said that America’s involvement in Afghanistan was a “disaster” and talked about pulling U.S. troops out of the country. But when he spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in December 2016, he assured him that America would maintain its commitment to aiding Afghanistan with its military presence
In June 2017, Trump announced that he was authorizing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to "determine troop levels in Afghanistan." It's believed that Mattis will most likely send potentially several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, but the exact number and timing of the deployment has not been announced by the White House as of this writing. However, a White House official told the Associated Press that they are planning to send 4000 more troops to Afghanistan, and that an announcement could be made as early as late June 2017.
He also mentioned closing bases in Japan and South Korea, because “they don’t pay us what they should be paying to defend them and we’re losing a fortune.” Like many of Trump's statements, this one is entirely inaccurate. Japan and South Korea have paid billions to support the American military presence in their countries, and we've also had a vested interest in being there for our own national security.
00:07:37 Did Trump negotiate a better contract for fighter pilots and jets, resulting in billions of saved dollars?
The evidence says no. It appears the cost reductions were already in the works before Trump even announced his candidacy, and all he did was bring attention to the issue, resulting in a slightly higher savings than was initially projected.
00:08:18 Does the GOP want to cut funding to Veterans’ programs, Medicaid, Medicare and other programs?
Well, sort of on the veterans' programs, a definite yes on Medicaid, and a no on Medicare.
The GOP is typically pretty against entitlement programs, except when it comes to veterans' programs. That's why it was a big surprise to their voter base when Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray drafted a bill in late 2013 that would cut veterans' pension benefits by about $6 million. Ryan defended the bill in an op-ed for USA Today, saying the cuts were relatively small and only affected new military retirees, who tended to be on the younger side. You can retire from the military after only twenty years, which means many veterans who enlisted as very young men are in their late 30s and early 40s when they retire. However, that part of the bill completely backfired on Ryan, sparking a massive lobbying campaign, which resulted in Congress overturning the cuts to veterans' pensions soon after the bill was passed.
More recently, there have been rumors that veterans' programs may once again be on the chopping block, along with other safety-net programs like food stamps, welfare, and income assistance for disabled Americans.
And of course, the health care bill Republicans have been trying to pass all year dismantles the Medicaid expansion that resulted from the passing of the Affordable Care Act, which will be devastating for millions of lower-income Americans. The bill that the House passed in May 2017 will most likely go nowhere, since the Senate has been working on their own version. Both versions make deep cuts to Medicaid, which 1 in 5 Americans depend on for their health insurance. Medicaid is the insurer that covers 49% of all births in the U.S., 64% of all American who live in nursing homes, 40% of all poor adults, 76% of all poor children (and 39% of all children in the country), and 60% of all children with disabilities.
The money being taken from these important safety net programs will instead be diverted to huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
00:08:54 What is the Veterans Affair Funding Bill, and was it shot down?
In 2015, Senate Democrats initially blocked the spending bill for veterans' programs due to issues they had with the Republicans' larger plans for the budget, and Obama's refusal to support budget measures that didn't release mandatory government spending caps. (That means he wanted to be able to allocate more money to these kinds of safety net programs.)
Only about a month later, a compromise was reached, and the bill passed unanimously, granting $2 billion more than was initially requested. So no, it wasn't shot down; it was merely stalled. The resulting compromise actually got more money for veterans, which wouldn't have happened if Democrats hadn't initially opposed the bill.
00:10:44 What sorts of programs do we have to help veterans gain job skills?
We have a number of programs to support veterans in gaining education and job skills, including assistance in getting college credit for military service experience, exams that count for college credit, free tutoring programs, work-study programs, funding for licensing and certification exam fees, free college tuition, job placement assistance, and additional help for disabled veterans.
We also have many programs to help homeless veterans, including education, health care (including mental health), rehabilitation, residential care, and paid work therapy programs. And they don't just wait for homeless veterans to come to them. As part of their services, they include "aggressive outreach to veterans living on the streets and in shelters who otherwise would not seek assistance," as well as long-term residential and employment assistance.
00:11:18 Do refugees have easier access to health insurance and housing than veterans do?
Refugees who are resettled in the U.S. have access to a temporary health care program called Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA), but they can only access that program for their first eight months here. After that, they can use the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, just like every other American.
There are several health care programs specifically for veterans provided through the VA. If they choose not to be enrolled in one of those programs, they can also get their health care through the ACA Marketplace, where they may also be eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, if they have dependents.
Ultimately, refugees are open to use the same outlets to get healthcare as veterans are, except Veterans have the additional option of being covered under the VA instead.
There was a popular conservative claim in 2015 that Obama took $2.6 billion from veteran's funding to aid Syrian refugees, but it has been debunked numerous times.
“We’ve got a lot of wasteful government spending in programs designed to, for example, stop women from having abortions”
Does our government really fund programs designed to stop women from having abortions.?
Many state governments help fund "pregnancy centers" that are designed to discourage women from pursuing an abortion. These centers usually have no doctors or licensed medical staff, but they offer free ultrasounds, a tactic that is thought to inspire maternal bonding with the unborn child, thereby discouraging women from pursuing an abortion. Some centers will imply that they will provide an abortion, but then purposefully delay a woman's appointments in order to make sure her pregnancy advances into the second trimester, making abortion more complicated and expensive. Also, these centers often provide inaccurate information about the risks of abortion, literally lying to women. And again, in many states, taxpayer money is going toward funding these places.
Here is one example of a specific anti-abortion organization that received million of dollars of taxpayer funds from the states of Pennsylvania - and got in trouble for allegedly skimming off the top of those funds for unknown projects. A quote from the article:
"'It’s outrageous that any taxpayer dollars are given to organizations that deliberately mislead and harm women,” said Vicki Saporta, the head of the National Abortion Federation, a medical association that advocates for abortion providers and sets industry standards for quality abortion care."
I couldn't agree more.
00:12:18 Was Trump always pro-life?
In 1999, he said he was “very pro-choice.”
In March 2016, he said that a woman should be criminally punished for having an abortion, but then recanted his statement to say that it is the doctor who should be punished.
00:12:44 How does Donald Trump’s past personal opinions compare to the GOP?
To name a few: he used to like Hillary Clinton, he was a registered Democrat, he called for legalizing drugs, he was pro-choice, he supported an assault weapons ban, and he said he believed in “universal healthcare.” His words.
Notably, he also called the American Health Care Act “mean.” That's right - as a Republican President currently in office, he called his own party's effort at health care reform "mean."
00:13:29 What “bathroom thing” is Ashley talking about?
In March 2016, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as HB2, which states that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Government facilities include schools and public parks, putting transgender youth at particular risk of facing a humiliating choice - use a restroom of the opposite sex (opposite to the one they identify as) or don't use public restrooms at all. Transgender people born in North Carolina can change the sex on their birth certificate, but only if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery. The law prompted intense outrage and boycotts. Many celebrity musical acts canceled concert appearances in the state in protest of the bill. The NCAA pulled seven championships out of North Carolina over it. Businesses canceled major events. PayPal canceled an expansion plan in the state.
Finally, in March 2017, North Carolina's government repealed parts of the controversial bill, including the portion that prohibits trans people from using the bathroom of their gender identity. However, they left in place a temporary hold on local anti-discrimination legislation - meaning individual cities are barred from passing their own anti-discrimination laws - which will last until the year 2020.
That same month, March 2017, the Texas Senate passed a very similar bill to HB2, as well as voiding city ordinances that allow people to use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity. In May 2017, the Texas House of Representatives couldn't come to an agreement on the bill, partly because the major Texan business entities hate the bill after seeing what HB2 did to North Carolina. For a moment, it seemed like it was dead in the water, Not to be deterred, however, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for a special legislative session to revive the bill, which will happen in mid-July 2017.
There is a (false) claim that sexual predators will take advantage of public accommodation laws that allow one to use the bathroom of their gender identity to attack women and children in bathrooms, but there is no evidence to back up this claim.
And while we're talking about sexual predators, one in two transgendered individuals have been sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes. That's fifty percent. And the number of times that trans people have ever sexually attacked people in bathrooms? Zero. There have never been any reports of this happening, ever.
Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro tried to make an argument to support the passing of these kinds of bills, but the only instances he could cite of bathroom assaults happening as a result of anti-discrimination laws regarding public bathrooms were executed by cisgender men who exploited the law in order to carry out assaults. Trans people aren't the problem here, and even if the Federal government passed a bathroom bill, a cisgender sexual predator could still dress in drag to assault people in bathrooms. Passing discriminatory legislation that deeply affects the daily lives of trans people, a group that already faces massive disadvantages in our society, does not in any way solve the problem.
To further sharpen the point that trans people are too often victims of sexual assault, not perpetrators, 15% of transgender individuals report being sexually assault while in police custody or jail. That number more than doubles - to 32% - if the trans person in question is black. (That's a lesson in intersectionality, for those of you who haven't yet heard the term.)
Here is a great article where 15 experts debunk the right-wing transgender bathroom myth.
00:14:01 Are both liberals and conservatives lighting things on fire and throwing bricks?
During Trump’s inauguration, a group of liberal activists set vehicles on fire, broke windows of buildings that symbolized American capitalism, and threw objects at officers wearing riot gear. This is likely the specific situation that Ashley is talking about with it happening only a few weeks prior to the interview.
While searching for a situation in which conservatives were doing the same, and admittedly coming up with almost nothing in recent times, I found this article that asks Do Conservatives Riot? The take-away is largely that while it’s impossible to say definitively that conservatives do not riot, the clear track record is that they are not the ones that typically turn to violent displays.
However, that has been plenty of reporting of the huge problem of right-wing terrorists attacks, which exceeds the threat in the U.S. of foreign-planned terrorist attacks.
00:16:34 Does the government fund salaries for someone who makes $250,000 to measure grass growth and someone that earns a living running a facility to run bobcats on treadmills?
I cannot find any examples of a person specifically paid $250,000 to watch grass grow, but we did apparently spend $10,000 to have people watch the grass grow. That article lists a ton of other instances of wasteful government spending, like paid leave for employees that were suspended as a disciplinary action, and $387,000 that went to giving rabbits daily massages to study the effect of massage on relaxation. Seriously.
While at first it might seem like measuring grass growth is sort of silly, this grad student says there is a very good reason for it. To paraphrase - she says that she is a scientist that does environmental work, and she’s guessing no one is staring at the grass but rather making weekly or monthly visits to monitor the growth rate of salt marsh grass for the Department of the Interior. This department likely needs the information because one of the best ways to prevent damage from hurricanes is through restoration of coastal wetlands, and the more you know about how quickly they grow, the more effectively you can restore them.
I cannot find any examples of a government-funded research facility where we run bobcats on treadmills, but I did find a research study that involved putting shrimps on treadmills, to see how they respond to changes in water quality. Which sounds entertaining and hilarious, but also frivolous - unless you put it in context. The treadmill part of the experiment was just one component on a greater goal of studying an "economically important" ocean species.
00:17:23 Did Donald Trump say climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese?
Yup! He said so in this tweet right here:
00:17:31 Is climate change a real thing?
Like Ashley said, you can’t refute science.
00:18:15 Did Obama have a solution to decrease our greenhouse gases? And did Trump dismantle all of that by pulling us out of the Paris Agreement? What were his reasons?
Obama’s sustainability plans for 2016 are outlined here.
He also entered the U.S. into the Paris Agreement, which was a historic agreement between nearly every country in the world - the exceptions being Syria and Nicaragua - within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance, starting in the year 2020. On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement, stating that “the agreement would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, and effectively decapitate our coal industry.” He also said it would “cost the United States $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs.” These jobs are presumably within the fossil fuel industry.
World leaders, business leaders, and meteorologists have all slammed the decision. Many states and cities within the U.S. have created a bipartisan group called the United States Climate Alliance that is committed to upholding the objectives of the Paris Agreement, in spite of Trump's decision. And Governor Jerry Brown of California has been extremely vocal is saying that the states are now responsible for preserving our planet's future stability. California, on its own, has the world's sixth largest economy, giving it enormous power to influence the international community, and Brown is dedicated to doing so, especially when it comes to climate change.
00:18:53 Does Donald Trump want us to be less dependent on other countries for their fossil fuels to keep costs down? Does less dependency on other countries for oil bring down gas prices in the U.S.?
I’m assuming that’s what Ashley means when she says he wants us to be less dependent on other countries for fossil fuels and oil.
Does less dependency really lead to lower gas prices, though? This compilation of reports from different sources says it's not likely. Another report shows that a weak economy leads to lower demand and therefore lower gas prices.
00:19:36 How have the low oil prices affected Venezuela?
Crude oil is the main export bringing in revenue for Venezuela. If the oil prices drop, they don’t get the funds they need for their own government’s needs. The rapid drop in oil prices in the last few years has left Venezuela's economy in a shambles, because they had bet on the prices remaining high and never prepared for what might happen if they didn't.
00:19:45 Did Trump really say that we should have stolen Iraq’s oil?
He sure did, which, by the way, would have been totally illegal. He also claimed ISIS would not exist if we had kept the oil - I'm sorry, let me rephrase, if we had stolen the oil - when we got out of Iraq. However, Howard J. Shatz, who served on George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, says that Iraqi oil revenue "would not have made much of a difference" to ISIS, with Syrian oilfields providing much more revenue than the Iraqi ones did.
00:21:15 Do we ever enter other countries purely for humanitarian efforts?
This is largely a matter of opinion. But there are some notable examples of the United States aiding another country purely for humanitarian efforts. Was it ultimately for monetary gain? Maybe. However, it could also be to prevent further fighting or to gain an ally. Foreign relations and policy are complicated.
An example of military intervention not directly linked to monetary gain that comes to mind is our involvement in the Korean conflict, although in this example, we had a vested interest in stopping the spread of communism.
00:22:17 How much money did we spend fighting in the Middle East and Syria? Did we spend trillions of dollars? Did Obama really “drop a bomb every twenty minutes"?
I can't find numbers for the entirety of Obama's presidency, but in 2016, he really did drop an average of one bomb every 20 minutes, for a grand total of 26,171 bombs dropped in that year alone. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the image most liberals have of Obama as a politician who prioritized diplomacy over hostility.
Trump made a claim that we’ve spent $6 trillion on the wars in the Middle East, and according to the researchers at Politifact, the statement is half true. Trump confused the amount that has already been spent with the number that was projected to be spent. However, either way, the number is still in the trillions.
Ashley's assertion that we would do better to stay out of other nations' conflicts certainly has its proponents - most on the left - and ironically, Barack Obama's foreign policy, especially in regards to Syria, reflected her stance on the issue.
I like this essay from The Atlantic, which uses the example of the U.S. staying out of Syria for so long to suggest that not getting involved in international conflicts does as much harm as getting involved.
00:25:01 Did Trump say he would do everything in his power to get Roe v. Wade reversed?
00:27:23 What are Neil Gorsuch's (Trump’s Supreme Court nominee) views on Roe v. Wade?
Neil Gorsuch said that he would have “walked out the door” had Trump asked him point-blank to overturn Roe v. Wade, and said, “That’s not what judges do.” He also said Roe v. Wade is the "law of the land." Neil Gorsuch has never taken part in an abortion-related case in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, nor has he written on the subject. His position on abortion remains a big unknown.
00:27:42 Did the Amish come out to vote for Trump? Do they not usually vote?
It is true that the Amish usually do not participate in political elections, although it is not prohibited outright by their theology.
Very little has been published about the Amish vote since the day of the election and before, but most speculated that the Amish were no more likely to come vote in the 2016 election than any other.
However, there was an article published on a fake version of CNN claiming that 3 million Amish people had declared their support for Trump, ensuring his victory. This may have been where Ashley got her info on this. That article was debunked as fake news.
00:28:44 What happened in Mogadishu? Was it Bill Clinton’s fault?
The Battle of Mogadishu was the outcome of an operation intended to seize Somalian self-proclaimed president-to-be Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s high-echelon lieutenants during a meeting in the city. The goal of that operation was achieved, but the conditions spiraled into what came to be known as the Battle of Mogadishu. The initial operation, which was intended to last an hour, turned into an overnight standoff and rescue operation.
But was it "Bill Clinton's Benghazi"? Breitbart.com certainly think so, and questions were raised at the time about how well Bill Clinton handled the crisis.
However, it wasn't Bill Clinton who originally sent US troops to Somalia - it was George H.W. Bush. The idea was to provide humanitarian aid to a country facing famine and civil war.
Soon after Bill Clinton's inauguration, in the fall of 1993, the mission was expanded to include restoring the Somalian government. The Battle of Mogadishu was only supposed to be a 30-45 minute raid, with the goal of taking down two top officers of the warlord who controlled the city at the time. The raid just went terribly wrong.
After the Battle of Mogadishu, President Clinton announced that it had been a mistake to send U.S. troops to Somalia in the first place, and said he would enact plans to remove the troops within the next six months.
In short, the Battle of Mogadishu was a very different kind of situation than Benghazi. It was a military operation that went wrong - not a failure on Bill Clinton's part to protect our troops.
The most devastating effect of the tragedy was that it laid the foundation for Al-Qaeda to gain strength and power in the region. With the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia, the resulting lawlessness set the stage for Osama bin Laden to recruit and groom fighters for Al-Qaeda.
00:29:16 Is it true that the Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi sent emails every day for six months begging the State Department for help and were ignored?
There are claims that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the Americans at the US Consulate in Benghazi sent 600 requests for help. This is, at best, a wild exaggeration.
Where things get confusing is that, much of the time, it's stated that Hillary Clinton personally ignored the requests for additional security, when in actuality, it was Hillary Clinton's State Department that denied the requests. Paul Ryan tweeted:
The key words here are "Clinton's State Dept." Politifact rates the comment made by Ryan as true, but only because he is not faulting Hillary Clinton directly.
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, “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.”
00:31:00 Show me the essay by Chris Stevens's sister saying not to blame Hillary Clinton for Benghazi.
00:34:16 Did Clinton’s leaded emails prove wrongdoing on her part?
Again, the claims about whether Clinton did anything wrong or not are mostly a matter of opinion, but after one of the longest and costliest congressional investigations ever, she was found to have done nothing wrong.
I unfortunately don’t have time to go through the 50,547 pages of leaked documents to form my own opinion based on the emails specifically, but here is the website to do that search yourself, if you feel so compelled.
It's my personal opinion that the motives to end Hillary Clinton's career with this investigation were so strong that if there actually were anything in the leaked emails proving her personal culpability for the attack in Benghazi, it would have been shouted from the rafters by the Republicans on the House committee on Benghazi. It wasn't. That suggests to me that such emails don't exist. But feel free to spend hours searching in an effort to prove me (and the House Committee on Benghazi) wrong. And if you find something, please let me know, and maybe send it out to to all the news outlets whose professional fact-checkers all worked on this for countless hours as well.
00:34:50 Did Hillary Clinton erase emails and get rid of the server she used? Did she call her daughter to discuss what was happening?
Hillary Clinton did delete emails that she believed were personal and not “work-related,” and FBI Director James Comey stated that they “found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them in some way.”
The claim of Hillary Clinton getting rid of the server is false. In September of 2015, the private server was in the possession of the FBI, and while there seems to be some confusion as to whether the server was “wiped” or that emails were simply deleted, it stands to reason that the server was not wiped clean. Experts say if the server was wiped, it would hamper the FBI investigation. We all know the emails were combed through by the FBI.
Hillary Clinton did send an email to Chelsea Clinton's alias “Diane Reynolds," regarding the Benghazi attacks. In it, she writes, "Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group: The Ambassador, whom I handpicked and a young communications officer on temporary duty w a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same tomorrow."
00:35:07 Did Hillary take no responsibility for the Benghazi attacks?
Clinton 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 as part of the House committee investigation into Benghazi.
00:35:46 Were US soldiers raped and tortured? Are there videos of this?
This is so unverified, it’s unbelievable how many people are repeating it as confirmed fact.
The attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was so chaotic that it’s almost impossible to figure out what really happened, but there is no proof that anyone was raped or tortured, or that any corpses were dragged through the streets, as Ashley claimed. Snopes has listed this claim as “Undetermined,” and cites many conflicting reports about the events of that horrific evening, including a report that Chris 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 Agency France Presse had reported that the victims were raped before being killed was immediately repudiated by the Agency France Presse, 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 whatsover 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.”
I cannot find any graphic videos of Americans in Benghazi being tortured in the way that Ashley claims. 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 the 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.
00:37:37 Is 13 Hours an accurate, fact-checked account of what happened in Benghazi?
No. Even Fox News posted an article about the movie with the headline “AP Fact Check: Benghazi movie misstates some facts.”
And The Guardian published an article featuring a CIA Officer explaining the major inaccuracies in the movie.
00:30:13 Did Trump know what he was signing when he authorized the raid in Yemen that resulted in an American death?
It's been reported that he did not have sufficient intelligence when he signed that order, nor did he adequate ground support or back-up preparations in place. But there are arguments on both sides that make valid points.
00:39:44 What happened in Yemen?
The raid was originally planned under the Obama administration to gain intelligence on Al-Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Here is the rundown on what happened (and what went wrong) in the Yemen raid, from the New York Times.
00:41:10 Did Trump express being "pissed off" that he didn't know he had signed an executive order appointing Steve Bannon to the National Security Council?
I can't find anything to back up Sami's claim that Trump expressed being "pissed off" about this, but there has been reporting that he didn't realize an executive order he signed appointed Bannon to the NSC.
00:41:37 Did Trump say verbally that he wanted Steve Bannon on the National Security Council?
I can't find evidence of this, but he has since removed Bannon from the NSC.
00:41:54 Show me a couple of clips of SNL portraying Steve Bannon as the Grim Reaper, 'cause this shit is heavy and I need to laugh.
You got it, boo:
00:42:20 Was the Benghazi investigation used by Republicans to hurt Hillary Clinton for political reasons?
I think the headline to this article says it all: Another GOP congressman says Benghazi panel meant to hurt Clinton.
00:43:54 Was there a plane in France full of Marines who changed uniforms four times in an effort to prep for going out to help the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?
There was, and they did change uniforms four times, back and forth from camouflage uniforms to civilian clothing. There was concern about them showing up in daylight and the type of image that it would present if they were transported in uniform.
00:44:15 Was Hillary Clinton the only person who could have authorized sending military aid to Benghazi?
No. It was not Clinton's responsibility to send troops to help - that was the responsibility of the military chain of command. Also, it appears that there is no evidence that the requests for help ever reached her desk.
It's also worth reading this fact-checking article from CNN about the security situation in Benghazi.
00:45:36 Did Hillary Clinton hide her email server?
No. This comprehensive analysis of the entire email scandal from Politico paints an entirely different picture than what's been presented by either side of this debate. To summarize with a quote directly from the article:
The interviews—taken together and reconstructed for this article into the first-ever comprehensive narrative of how her email server scandal unfolded—draw a picture of the controversy quite different from what either side has made it out to be. Together, the documents, technically known as Form 302s, depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides inside a bureaucracy where the IT and classification systems haven’t caught up with how business is conducted in the digital age. Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up.
00:45:43 Did Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch have a secret meeting on an airport tarmac?
The answer to this is really unclear and can never truly be known. Lynch said all they discussed were grandchildren, golf, and travel adventures, but the optics for the Democratic Party were extremely bad. Then FBI Director James Comey said the private meeting prompted him to speak publicly about the Clinton email investigation. Whether it was really just an innocent conversation between old friends or a secret meeting to discuss getting Hillary Clinton out of trouble for the email situation, pretty much everyone agrees it showed a lack of good judgement on both Bill Clinton's and Loretta Lynch's part.
00:46:01 Did they announce that no charges would be pressed against Hillary Clinton the day after the Bill Clinton/Loretta airport tarmac meeting?
Not exactly. The meeting prompted James Comey to speak out a few days later - not the very next day - about the investigation, but his conclusion was that "the bureau would not recommend criminal charges but that the former secretary of state had acted recklessly by using the private server." But he did this out of concern that the Justice Department may have been compromised by said meeting, and felt it was his duty to make sure the public could trust the FBI's investigation.
Also, in December 2016, Lynch told Jake Tapper she regretted the meeting. She said it was "painful" that the meeting had put the integrity of the Justice Department in question.
00:46:07 What's happened with Mike Flynn that led him to resign/be fired as National Security Advisor?
It was discovered that he had been communicating with the Russian ambassador without notifying Trump or Pence. In this conversations, he discussed the possible relaxing of U.S. sanctions against Russia, before Trump had even been inaugurated. However, it took 18 days for the Trump administration to fire him after being made aware of the fact that he'd been compromised by then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. The White House's explanations for why they took so long to act on this don't really make sense, nor do they actually address the delay.
00:46:59 Does Trump really have the lowest approval ratings of any President ever?
At the time of the interview, his approval rating was already historically low, at 40%. After dropping to 36% on June 20, 2017, as of this writing (June 26, 2017), it's now back up to 40%.
To put this in context, Trump's approval rating is the lowest of any President ever this early in his first term. However, that same article says this doesn't mean he can't turn it around, and that in the past, President's with low approval rating in the beginning have often gone on to very successful presidencies - Bill Clinton being a prime example.
00:48:23 Is it really the "global consensus" that everyone dislikes Hillary Clinton?
I can't find evidence to support Ashley's claim that the international community hates Hillary Clinton. Just like opinions here in the US, opinions on Clinton and Trump globally vary widely, with most not really seeming to care one way or the another.
In my personal experiences traveling internationally, the election of Trump has made a laughingstock of America in the global community. Of course, I travel mostly to urban centers where lots of progressive thinkers live.
00:48:41 What did the Clinton Foundation do in Haiti, and are Ashley's numbers correct?
Here is the BBC article that Ashley is reading from, with the chart she references nearly halfway down. But if you read the whole article, it's not as if the Clinton Foundation was trying to fuck everything up. They just made mistakes - it wasn't handled well. There's no evidence of malicious intent, corruption, or anything like that.
There was also a claim from now Vice President Mike Pence that the Clinton Foundation directed contracts for Haiti relief efforts to friends of the Clintons, but this claim is unsupported by any actual evidence.
For a really detailed look at what happened between the Clintons and Haiti, read this in-depth article from Slate. It does not paint the Clintons in the a good light, and it provides the many complicated nuances of the story in its entirety.
In summary, the Clinton Foundation's efforts to provide relief to Haiti failed - miserably.
00:50:35 Did Kanye West really help Haiti more than the Clintons did?
It's hard to make a comparison, but Kanye did participate in a remake of "We Are The World," alongside other major artists, including Lil Wayne, P!NK, Usher, Celine Dion, and more. There were also reports that he was banned from a telethon to raise money for Haiti, and then conflicting reports saying he wasn't banned.
00:52:13 Did we fail to provide adequate aid to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?
00:52:34 Did Donald Trump contribute to the downfall of Atlantic City?
Technically, he got his businesses out before things really went downhill, after filing for multiple bankruptcies and building a reputation for playing a "crude" form of hardball with contractors. Milton Glenn, who ran the front desk at Trump Plaza for five years in the '90s, said, "“Yes, he made a lot of money, yes, he got out at the right time, but he really did contribute to the economic devastation of this town. And he didn’t get out of here at the right time. He was pushed out by bankruptcy.”
Ashley said that Atlantic City went into the shitter because the police force cut staffing, but there are some who argue that it was actually Trump cutting security in his casinos that started the wave of violent crime. Plans to cut police staffing began after at least one of Trump's casinos began to fail.
So Ashley's statement that Atlantic City is no longer safe has validity, but there is a good amount of evidence pointing to Trump playing a large part in making the city so dangerous.
00:53:08 Did Trump stiff a bunch of contractors who had completed work for him in Atlantic City?
There have been numerous allegations of contractors getting stiffed by Donald Trump after completing work for him, and not just in Atlantic City.
I love this essay by a former Trump Taj Mahal cocktail waitress. She describes what it was like to work there when things were going well - and then she documents the decline, and how the workers were treated when the casinos started to fail.
00:53:29 Has Donald Trump filed for bankruptcy?
Yes., he's actually filed for bankruptcy six times. But they weren't all entirely Trump's fault, and they were all in line with normal business practices for investors.