© 2017 MARA

EPISODE 8: SARAH

SHOW NOTES

Compiled & synthesized by David Sokol and Samia Mounts

00:04:41 What happened with the Stonewall Riots in New York City? Did drag queens really bloody the New York City police?

 

The Stonewall Riots were a landmark moment in the history of the American gay rights movement. In the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969, police officers in New York City initiated a raid of a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. These raids were pretty ordinary occurrences, as being gay was pretty much a crime in those days. (For example, cross-dressing was technically illegal in New York City all the way up to 2011. But in 1969, that shit was actually enforced.)

 

On this particular night, something snapped within the hearts of the Stonewall Inn patrons. They refused to cooperate with the police. Those who were cleared to leave lingered outside until a crowd had formed. Police officers began assaulting patrons, and the crowd responded by mocking the police and cheering on the uncooperative patrons. The unrest quickly turned into a full-blown riot with hundreds of people on the streets throwing objects at the police officers, breaking windows, and setting fires. Drag queens really did assault the NYPD that night, in a fever of rage at the years of oppression and humiliation. At one point, drag queens in the crowd formed a kick line, and cops beat them with nightsticks as they sang and danced.

 

The rioting continued the next night, and thousands of people showed up this time. Gay men and women were seen openly showing affection for each other on the streets. Drag queens cavorted in public. Allen Ginsberg said of that night, “You know, the guys there were so beautiful—they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.”

 

Violence sprung up sporadically for several more days after that, and the country was never the same.

 

The Stonewall Riots marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Before the riots, the fight for societal acceptance of homosexuality was a more subdued battle, with activists working quietly behind the scenes for slow, hard-won changes to discriminatory legislation. Stonewall blew the movement up and out into the public eye, sparking a chain reaction that we are still seeing the results of today.

 

As a bisexual woman, LGBTQ rights are really important to me. I wrote a song about the gay rights movement from the Stonewall Riots up to the historic lawsuit brought by Edith Windsor that ended the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed the federal government not to recognize legal same-sex marriages. It’s called "We Have The Right," and you can watch the music video here. We shot the concert scenes in NYC’s very first gay bar, Posh Bar & Lounge. The owners, when they found out what the song was about, said I could shoot in the bar all day for free if I was willing to pay the janitor $50 to come in early and keep an eye on things.

 

00:05:57 Who are Jean O’Leary, Ginny Vida, Sidney Abbott, and Barbara Love?

 

All four women were feminist and gay rights activists who got their start in the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s.

 

Jean O’Leary started out as a nun before becoming one of the leading lesbian activists of her time. She was the founder of Lesbian Feminist Liberation, an early member and co-director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force, and a co-founder of National Coming Out Day. The podcast Making Gay History released a great two-part episode on her, which you can listen to here. O’Leary died from complications of lung cancer in June 2005.

 

Ginny Vida was the Media Director of the National Gay Task Force in the 70s and edited the book Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book in 1978. The book is a compilation of articles and interviews with women that covers the many different aspects of lesbian life. An updated version was released in 1996 entitled The New Our Right To Love: A Lesbian Resource Book. Vida is listed as the editor. I can’t find anything else about her online.

 

Sidney Abbott co-authored Sappho Was a Right-on Woman: A Liberated View of Lesbianism with then-partner Barbara Love. She was an extremely active member of the National Organization for Women, and helped bring lesbian rights into the broader conversation of women’s rights. And she never slowed down. In 2007, she founded the nonprofit Women’s Rights Are Human Rights. She died in a fire in her Long Island home on April 15, 2015, at the age of 77.

 

In addition to co-authoring the above-mentioned book with Abbott, Barbara Love helped organize demonstrations from the National Organization for Women and founded the radical feminist group the Matriarchists. She was instrumental in persuading the American Psychiatric Association to take homosexuality off of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. She was also the editor of the book Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975, a comprehensive resource documenting the lives of all the incredible leaders of the second wave feminist movement. Love is currently on the board of the Veteran Feminists of America as the Vice President of Development.

 

00:07:14 Who was Muriel Siebert?

 

Muriel Siebert was known as the First Woman of Finance, and for good reason. She was the first woman do a lot of things in the male-dominated world of finance: first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, first woman to head one its member firms, first woman to be superintendent of banking for New York. She used her status to advocate for women in the financial industry, investing millions of dollars to help other women build a career in finance. She lobbied for the end of sexist practices, like not allowing women into fancy New York social clubs—where deals were often made—and she succeeded in many of those efforts. She was a true trailblazer for women in business and finance, and now I’m really jealous that Sarah got to work with her. Siebert is exactly the kind of badass bitch I look up to the most. She died in 2013 at the age of 84.

 

00:09:37 Did the Democratic Party “off-load” Hillary Clinton in favor of an unknown Barack Obama in 2008?

 

Yes. There was a strong perceived bias in the 2008 Democratic Primary in favor of Barack Obama, but it lacked any hints of sensationalist scandal. The Democratic Party’s rules committee made a decision that damaged Hillary Clinton’s chances at winning during that primary.

 

00:11:55 Remind me again of when and why Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”?

 

At the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City on September 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton gave a speech showing her support for the LGBT community. Here is the "basket of deplorables" part of her speech in context:

 

"In too many places still, LGBT Americans are singled out for harassment and violence. You can get married on Saturday, post your pictures on Sunday and get fired on Monday. That's why we've got to continue the forward march of progress.

 

“And we cannot do it alone. I cannot do it alone. I'm not like Donald Trump, who says, 'I alone can fix it.' I've never quite figured out what it is he alone can fix. But that's not what you'll hear from me. I think we have to do this together. So, together we're gonna pass the Equality Act to guarantee full equality. We're going to put comprehensive quality affordable healthcare within reach for more people, including for mental health and addiction. We're going to take on youth homelessness, and as my wonderful, extraordinary, great daughter said, we are going to end the cruel and dangerous practice of conversion therapy. We're going to keep working toward an AIDS-free generation, a goal that I set as secretary of state, and with your help we're going to pass comprehensive gun laws.

 

"I know there are only 60 days left to make our case -- and don't get complacent, don't see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think, well, he's done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people -- now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

 

"But the other basket—and I know this because I see friends from all over America here—I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas—as well as, you know, New York and California—but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

 

"And what I hope is that in addition to your extraordinary generosity, you will go to our website, hillaryclinton.com, or text to join at 47246 to see how else you can get involved."

 

The next day, after seeing all the criticism, she released this statement:

 

"Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that's never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’—that was wrong. But let's be clear, what's really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values. It's deplorable that Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia and given a national platform to hateful views and voices, including by retweeting fringe bigots with a few dozen followers and spreading their message to 11 million people. It's deplorable that he's attacked a federal judge for his ‘Mexican heritage,’ bullied a Gold Star family because of their Muslim faith, and promoted the lie that our first black president is not a true American. So I won't stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign. I also meant what I said last night about empathy, and the very real challenges we face as a country where so many people have been left out and left behind. As I said, many of Trump's supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them.  I'm determined to bring our country together and make our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top. Because we really are ‘stronger together.’ “

 

So this is really whatever you want to make of it. For me, as a liberal, I’m on board with everything she said here, and the “basket of deplorables” thing didn’t give me pause even during the election I was like, “Yeah, the racist jerks who love Trump are deplorable! And Trump is also deplorable! They deserve to be in a basket together!” But that’s just me. I can easily imagine a Trump supporter, or even someone who was trying to keep an open mind about him, feeling insulted by these comments.

 

00:11:58 Did Hillary Clinton laugh during the Benghazi hearings and say, “What difference does it make?” What was the context? What was she responding to?

 

These were actually two separate occurrences during two separate hearings.

 

In January 2013, Clinton testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While being questioned by Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson about why she didn’t call the survivors of the Benghazi attack to find out what had happened—whether it was protest gone wrong or a terrorist attack—she uttered the famous words, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

 

If you read the full interaction in context, it’s clear that Clinton is not being flippant. She was visibly exasperated by the line of questioning, but she did answer the question with a detailed description of what her priorities were in responding to the Benghazi attacks.

 

In October 2015, during the marathon 11-hour hearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Clinton laughed loudly in response to a question from Republican Martha Roby of Alabama. Roby asked where Clinton was on the night of the Benghazi attacks. She said she was alone at home. Then Roby asked, “All night?” Clinton laughed in bewilderment at the redundant clarifying question.

 

In the video, you can hear and see other Democrats in the room laughing with her, because it was legitimately funny that Roby was insinuating something sinister about Clinton being alone at home, although we’re not quite sure what it is. She wasn’t laughing about what happened in Benghazi. And mind you, this interaction happened about nine hours into the eleven-hour hearing. Everyone’s nerves were frayed at that point.

 

The whole hearing was very clearly an attempt by conservative politicians to to take Clinton down, with many media outlets calling the entire investigation absurd. In the end, they found no evidence that Clinton had done anything wrong.

 

00:17:08 Has Bill Clinton been accused of rape more than twelve times?

 

I don’t know where Sarah got this number. It’s not accurate.

 

There has been only one rape accusation levied against Bill Clinton (and of course, one is one too many), one accusation of groping without permission, and one accusation of indecent exposure.

 

The rape accusation came from a woman named Juanita Broaddrick. In 1978, while working as a volunteer for Bill Clinton’s campaign to be governor of Arkansas, she says he invited her to his hotel room and raped her. She didn’t report the rape at the time, saying she was in shock and denial, and felt, like many rape victims do, like it must have been her fault. She didn’t go public about the incident until 1999, when she gave an interview to Dateline NBC. The rape was never proven and Clinton denied it, but I err on the side of believing the victims.

 

It’s difficult to make any judgement about the groping accusation. In 1993, Kathleen Willey was a White House volunteer, and she alleged in statements to a grand jury during the Monica Lewinsky scandal that Bill Clinton fondled her after she tearfully asked him for a paying job due to some financial hardships she’d recently encountered. But there were a lot of problems with her story. For one, it changed from her deposition to her grand jury testimony. In the deposition, she said Clinton didn’t fondle her; by the time she got to the grand jury, that had been added to the story. She was also caught lying to the FBI about her relationship with an ex-boyfriend—I’m not sure what the details are with that, but it appears in the independent counsel’s report on her allegations. And probably most damning, the testimony of Linda Tripp stated that Willey was romantically interested in Clinton and that she had interpreted his alleged interest in her in a positive way. This was the same Linda Tripp who got Clinton impeached for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, so the grand jury was inclined to believe she had no reason to lie about this.

 

Lastly, a woman named Paula Jones alleged that Clinton had propositioned her and exposed himself to her in 1991, while he was governor of Arkansas. She filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 1994, which was settled in 1998 for $850,000 with no admission of guilt from Clinton.

 

You can read a complete guide to all of Bill Clinton’s sexual improprieties from the Washington Post here, or from CNN here.

 

Aside from these three allegations of unwanted sexual contact or behavior, Clinton has also had a series of consensual affairs.

 

00:17:15 How many times has Donald Trump been accused of rape and/or sexual assault?

 

There are far more accusations against Donald Trump for sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact than there are against Bill Clinton. I said he’d been accused “in excess of twelve [times] certainly,” which isn’t an accurate number, but it’s close. (That’s if you don’t count the allegations of improper sexual comments or behavior, like walking into teenage girls’ changing rooms or making comments about dating 10-year-olds.)

 

There have been two allegations of rape against Donald Trump. One rape accusation came from his ex-wife Ivana in her divorce deposition, but she later claimed her statements were “totally without merit.”

 

The other was from a woman who claimed Trump tied her to a bed and raped her in 1994. She was only 13 years old at the time. In the statement she provided for the lawsuit filing, she said she begged him to stop, and he responded by slapping her across the face and “screaming that he would do whatever he wanted.” She also said he threatened her and her family with physical harm if she ever spoke out about what had happened. The rape (and a series of other instances of unwanted sexual contact preceding it) happened at parties thrown by a man named Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile. The case, opened in New York in June 2016, was dropped in November 2016.

 

00:17:39 As a private attorney, did Hillary Clinton defend a man who was convicted of raping a 12-year-old?

 

Sarah got this wrong. Here’s what actually happened.

 

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.

 

00:18:43 What is Hillary Clinton’s record on women’s rights?

 

Women’s rights have been a cornerstone of Clinton’s career, along with advocating for children. From fighting for equal pay to advocating for reproductive rights, Clinton has always been one of the strongest political voices for women’s rights. While at the State Department, she advocated for women’s issues around the world and established the Office of Global Women’s Issues. She’s fought for paid family leave for parents and caretakers. She made the phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights,” into a globally recognized slogan of feminist goals. She’s literally spent her entire career fighting for women.

 

00:18:58 What is this executive order that Trump signed banning federal funding to nonprofits around the world that provide abortion services? Does it get passed back and forth depending on whether the president is a Democrat or Republican? And what kinds of effects does that have on women globally?

 

Yes, everything I said about this is correct. There is a rule, known as the Mexico City policy and often called “the global gag rule” by critics, that prohibits federal funding to foreign charity organizations if they provided women with abortion services. Since it was first established in 1984, it’s been placed in or out of effect with every partisan switch in the presidency. Trump signed it back into effect on January 23, 2017. It was an expected move.

 

The thing is, with or without the rule being in effect, federal law still prevents U.S. funds to pay for abortions globally. The Mexico City policy is basically just an extra fuck-you to organization fighting to help women.

 

00:19:24 Did Trump end an Obama-era rule that was supposed to protect transgender students as far as bathroom use in public schools?

 

Yes, he did. On February 22, 2017, the Trump administration withdrew protections for transgender students regarding public school bathroom use that had been put in place by the Obama administration. The Obama rule said transgender students were protected in their right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. By overturning it, Trump took away that legal protection.

 

00:20:14 Did Hillary Clinton allow the father of the Orlando shooter to stand behind her at a political rally in Orlando soon after the Pulse nightclub shooting? Why would she do something like that?

 

This is a misleading claim. Seddique Mateen, the father of the Orlando nightclub shooter, did attend Clinton’s rally in Kissimmee, Florida—not Orlando—on June 12, 2016, but he was not invited and the Clinton campaign told NPR they didn’t even know he was there. Mateen himself confirmed this, telling reporters, “It’s a Democratic party, so everyone can join.” He also expressed his support for Clinton and his distaste for Trump, saying, “Hillary Clinton is good for United States versus Donald Trump, who has no solutions.”

 

The rally was open to the public, and anyone could attend. Mateen was in a large group of people positioned behind Clinton, and was therefore visible in photos and videos of the event. There’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton chose to have Mateen present, or that she had anything to do with where he was standing in the audience.

 

00:21:20 Did Omar Mateen’s father express some “out there” opinions? Did he say he’s “the king of Afghanistan”?

 

Not only is this not a mental health issue, this didn’t ever actually happen.

 

Mateen did host a political show on Afghan-Pakistan issues on a U.S.-based Afghan satellite channel, and he did announce on the show that he was a candidate for president of Afghanistan. But it wasn’t the bizarre “king of Afghanistan” proclamation that Sarah described. It was the political musings and rants of a man passionate about politics who had access to a media outlet that he took advantage of from time to time.

 

According to the owner of the television channel, Mateen would show up at the television studio a few times a year, purchase some time from the channel, and talk about politics for a few hours on air. He would harshly criticize Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and he was very anti-Pakistan.

 

As far as Mateen’s views being “out there,” there’s no evidence that I can find that he has radicalized ideas, although there is evidence that he believes homosexuality is morally wrong in the eyes of God. He gave an interview to the Washington Post after the Orlando shooting in which he said he would go to Orlando to visit the survivors of the attack, saying, “If they’re not ready, I still say to them, ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m saddened for their injury or if they lost their dear one.” But he also posted a Facebook video around the same time in which he said, “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality. This is not for the servants [of God].” In the same video, he described his sadness and disbelief that his son would carry out such a horrific act. So anti-gay? Sure. Radicalized? Nope—or at least, there’s no evidence to support that assumption.

 

All of these misleading claims seem to have spun out into an even weirder conspiracy theory that Seddique Mateen was actually a candidate for president of Afghanistan and that he visited Hillary Clinton at the State Department in 2016. The same theory claims that he may have influenced his son to carry out the Orlando attack.

 

Let's start with the obvious: since Clinton was no longer at the State Department in 2016, having left her position as secretary of state in 2013, this claim couldn’t possibly be true. Secondly, Mateen never actually ran for president of Afghanistan. Third, there’s no evidence to suggest, as stated in the last paragraph, that Mateen has radicalized views like those of his deceased son.

 

00:26:47 Are many people retiring earlier to avoid being laid off?

 

This is definitely a thing, with employers offering incentivized early retirement packages to older workers in order to cull these (usually higher-paid) employees and make room for younger hires who can start at a lower pay grade. There are a host of other ways employers try to get rid of older workers, and early retirement incentives are one of the more benign. This is a whole world of problems I’ve never considered, and it freaks me out.

 

From what I’m finding, however, it’s not like people are voluntarily opting for early retirement in order to head off lay-offs. It sounds like they are being forced into early retirement by their employers. In many cases, older workers must choose between taking an early retirement package and getting laid off for all sorts of reasons that may have nothing to do with how well they perform at their job.

 

00:26:53 What is a reverse mortgage? Are many people going for them? 

 

A reverse mortgage is basically a homeowner’s loan that leverages home equity in order to defer monthly mortgage payments until the homeowner sells or moves out of the house, or until they die. That sounds morbid, I know, but in the U.S., reverse mortgages are only given to homeowners age 62 and older.

 

This kind of mortgage can act as a safety net for older Americans who may not have the income or savings to afford mortgage payments, and Sarah was right that more and more people are going for them. Americans are living longer and facing greater financial challenges, which has contributed to the rising popularity of reverse mortgages. If used correctly, they can allow an elderly homeowner to stay in their home through their final days while enjoying extra money for expenses, and when they die or sell the house, the bank gets its money back then. Borrowers don’t usually have to actually pay back the loan.

 

But they do carry risks. Spouses whose names were left off the deed can find themselves without a home when their partner passes. The loans can be awfully complicated and come with high fees and compounding interest that can eventually exceed the value of your house. Receiving a reverse mortgage can also affect your eligibility for Medicaid and other government assistance programs.

00:26:59 Are there a lot of people applying for disability benefits who are barely disabled?

 

Sarah’s not wrong. There are a lot of people on disability these days who never would have dreamed of taking government help in a different kind of economy. Their reasons aren’t typically about gaming the system or being lazy. Their reasons have to do with survival.

The number of people who apply for and receive disability benefits both increased by a lot between 2003-2013, but the reasons listed in the linked articled from CNN Money are an aging population, welfare reform that saw states helping people on welfare to apply for disability if they needed it, and advances in medical care that have allowed more people—especially military veterans—to survive injuries that once would’ve killed them.

 

In some cases, the matter seems much more ambiguous. In this in-depth piece from NPR, journalist Chana Joffe-Walt describes a system that allows people with back pain and high blood pressure to collect disability checks. That sounds fishy at first, but Joffe-Walt goes on to explain that many people who can’t work because of seemingly mild things like back pain are less educated, less skilled workers who wouldn’t qualify for a job that allows them to sit all day. That means the jobs they could get—service positions, menial labor, factory work, stuff like that—would be impossible for them to do, and that justifies disability benefits.

 

In a lot of cases, disability checks have taken the place of welfare checks. The world has changed significantly in the last thirty or forty years, and menial labor jobs that used to grant you middle class status now barely clear the poverty line. Also, a lot of those jobs are disappearing, and the people who depended on them are ending up on disability.

 

Of course, there are and will always be exceptions.

 

But things aren’t always as they seem. There are cases in which a person may not seem to be disabled, but in reality, they are. I have a close personal friend who looks like an able-bodied young man, but he suffers from severe bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and paralyzing depression. I’ve watched him try his damnedest to hold down a steady job for the last five years—he’s charming, sweet, and an incredibly hard worker—but his illness always thwarts his best efforts. The best he can do is work for 8-9 months during a good period before a manic episode destroys his ability to interact normally with other people. (Which is when he inevitably gets fired.) Even when things are “good,” he deals with crippling social anxiety and an inability to handle stressful situations. He also has severe irritable bowel syndrome, which is a common comorbidity with bipolar disorder, which gives him terrible stomach pain on most days. Having only a high school degree and living in a big city, the only jobs he qualifies for are in the service and retail industries. His employers have never cared or understood that he deals with illness, and he’s been fired multiple times for being sick—which is illegal, but extremely hard to prove when you have no money for a lawyer. He’s been trying to get on disability for two years now, and has been rejected every time.

 

00:26:28 Before Obamacare, was healthcare responsible for in excess of 50% of the bankruptcies in the U.S.? Did Obama himself say that, and is that the correct figure?

 

That seems to be the correct approximate figure. When he was still President-elect, Obama said, “close to 50% of family bankruptcies are caused because of a health care crisis.” A Harvard study conducted in 2005 found that about half of all bankruptcies were filed because of healthcare costs, illness, and health-related loss of work, and just over a quarter were attributed specifically to medical bills.

 

However, in 2013, three years after the ACA was signed into law, medical costs were still the number one reason for bankruptcy filings, accounting for about 60% of all bankruptcies. The ACA didn’t fix the problem of crazy high medical bills fucking up people’s financial well-being.

 

But there is hope. In May 2017, total bankruptcy filings were down by 50% from 2010. The ACA wasn’t the only factor affecting this, but experts agree it helped bring about the decline.

 

00:27:47 Who was the architect of the Affordable Care Act? Is it really an “inverted Ponzi scheme” where people with higher incomes are paying for poorer people?

 

The key architect of the ACA was an MIT economist named Jonathan Gruber. He is on record saying that the ACA requires that “healthy people pay in and sick people get money,” and that politically speaking, the only way to pass the law was to make it as opaque as possible. So it’s not exactly that high income people are paying for poorer people—it’s that healthy people are paying for sick people.

 

Which is the very foundation of how health insurance works. Let’s take a moment to remember that, in order to work effectively, health insurance companies depend on healthy people with low medical costs paying premiums that can be used to cover the high medical costs of sick people. That’s literally the premise behind the very concept of health insurance. It cannot work if healthy people aren’t paying for sick people.

 

For that reason, it's not reasonable or accurate to call the ACA an “inverted Ponzi scheme.”

 

What Sarah may have been referring to when she used those words was the fact that higher income people do not qualify for subsidies from the federal government to help cover the cost of their insurance. As a person with a decent income, she would have to pay the full cost of her health insurance premiums if she purchased insurance through the ACA, but that doesn’t mean her money is going to subsidize the health care of lower income people.

 

00:29:09 What are the fines or penalties required by the individual mandate in the ACA if one doesn’t purchase health insurance? Is it a $2000 fine? Can they levy your income if you aren’t owed a tax refund? Can they levy unemployment insurance payments or your veterans’ benefits? How does it work?

 

I was right about this one: it’s not a $2000 fine, and it is only collected if you’re owed a tax refund, at which point the penalty is deducted from your refund. Read on for details.

 

The individual mandate written into the legislation of the Affordable Care Act states that any person who doesn’t pay for health insurance will face a financial penalty. In theory, this would cause more people to buy health insurance, thereby lower premiums for everybody. The penalty was designed to graduate slowly over a three-year period, I presume to avoid shocking people with a sudden slapping of fines. It started out low in 2014 at $95 per person or up to 1% of income, and graduated to $695 per person or up to 2.5% of income by 2016. Families pay half of the penalty amount for uninsured children. That being said, there are exemptions to the rule for people who can’t afford insurance, have very low incomes, had a gap in insurance coverage that was less than three months, and a few others.

 

And here’s the crazy thing—remember how I said my friend had his penalty deducted from his tax refund? It turns out that’s the only way the government has of collecting the penalty. If you aren’t owed a refund, you don’t pay anything for not having insurance. The IRS can’t levy any of your actual income, assets, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits, or anything else against you in trying to collect the penalty.

 

00:32:20 What is the current approval and disapproval ratings for Donald Trump?

 

The most recent polls consistently show an approval rating under 40%, which means it’s gotten worse since my conversation with Sarah in March. The Rasmussen Reports, a poll that usually is a little more favorable to Trump, puts his approval rating at 39% as of July 31, 2017. The Gallup poll puts him at 37% as of July 30, 2017. Woof.

 

00:34:18 Can I read the article Sarah wrote about Mike Pence?

 

Here is her full article, which I found quite funny, edgy, and sharp, reprinted here with her permission:

 

CAKE WARS

By Sarah M. Ito

 

Several months ago the Cake Wars began. No, I am not referring to yet another version of a Food Network program. I am referring to the battle that began in the great state of Indiana, where the first fondant bullets were fired, forks clashed, and the apron thrown down. 

 

When a gay customer was refused a wedding cake by an offended baker whose alleged religious conviction prevented the baking and/or decorating of said cake, and the gay client became equally offended by this bizarre belief, I doubt that either offended party had any idea how truly offensive this war would become in such a short time. The governor of Indiana, one Mike Pence, a born-again Christian, was unable to find within the Bible the passage devoted to wedding cakes, and so was rendered dumbstruck, befuddled and impotent, and did nothing to offer guidance in this sticky matter. After boycotts, threats, petitions, and my own home state of Connecticut prohibiting its employees to travel to Indiana on state business, the issue seemed to fade away like, well, old stale cake. But, like the Middle East, where enemies are forever, so are the cake warriors. Now with Walmart apparently not willing to put a Confederate flag on customers’ cakes, a new wave of the offended has washed ashore. This I do not understand. Who buys a cake in Walmart in the first place? A Walmart cake is offensive enough on its own merits without adding any questionable decoration or messages. Besides, a true son or daughter of the South is more likely to be concerned with Walmart running out of Bud on a NASCAR weekend than stale cake.

 

But wait, there’s more to be offended about. Rumors abound that Walmart has put an ISIS logo on a cake. This puzzles me. Why would any American be offended by this? If that cake is not enough to drive ISIS followers from our shores, nothing will. And inquiring minds want to know – is there an additional charge for baking a cake with gelatinous dynamite and a cellphone inside? Now while I have had the misfortune of checking out in Walmart behind all kinds of people wearing truly offensive Spandex garments, I have not noticed any Arabic-looking men toting cake boxes. The women are another story. Who knows what’s underneath that offensive-looking…oh, wait, that’s a Catholic nun in a habit. Now I don’t have to be offended. Damn!

 

I would like to see the Cake Wars end in the world’s largest arena, with one army of the offended led by a white-jacketed Buddy Valastro and the opposing forces commanded by Duff Goldman, and we could all write our messages of hate and symbols of hate and expressions of hate on a stupid f**king cake and hurl icing and chunks of cake at one another until the fat lady goes into diabetic shock. If one slice of stupid f**king cake with a stupid f**king message attached could replace one bullet, or one IED, or one beheading, or one church arson, and some little kid in Syria or the USA could live long enough to enjoy another birthday, with or without cake, then I for one am willing to be “offended.”  Let us all eat cake.

 

00:34:38 What happened with Mike Pence and Hamilton? Did Pence respond like a gentleman and a statesman?

 

Yeah, he definitely did well with his response to this. Here’s the whole story.

 

On November 18, 2016, Mike Pence attended a performance of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton in New York City. The show features actors of color portraying our nation’s founding fathers, and the cast is chock-full of minorities and LGBTQ people—two groups who stood to suffer the most under a Trump presidency. When the show’s creator (Lin-Manuel Miranda), director (Thomas Kail), and producer (Jeffrey Seller) found out Pence would be seeing the show, they wrote a statement for lead actor Brandon Victor Dixon to read after the performance. Here is what Dixon said:

 

“Thank you so much for joining us tonight. You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you're walking out but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo here ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here, we're all here sharing a story of love.

 

“We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK?

 

“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

 

“Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show. This wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men [and] women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

 

Pence was on his way out of the theater when Dixon began speaking, but stopped and listened to the entire statement. He later told Fox News he “wasn’t offended” and that the boos from the audience that were directed at him were “what freedom sounds like.”

 

Trump, on the other hand, issued a blistering Twitter attack at the cast and creators of Hamilton, calling the show “overrated” and demanding that they apologize for “their terrible behavior.”

 

00:35:30 Were there legitimate concerns about Hillary Clinton’s health during the election?

 

There was a LOT of speculation on conservative media outlets about Hillary Clinton’s health, but there’s no evidence that Clinton has any serious health conditions that would have affected her ability to lead the country.

 

She seemed to stumble and nearly fall while departing early from a 9/11 commemoration event in September 2016, and it was announced soon after that she was overheated, dehydrated, and had been diagnosed with pneumonia. Her campaign responded to concerns about her health by releasing a letter from her doctor detailing her health records.

 

The New York Times subsequently published an article listing everything we know about Clinton’s health. Not surprisingly, it’s all pretty normal for a 68-year-old woman with a swinging career. She has a record of pushing through illness to keep working, something most ambitious, successful people I know do. (Hell, I do that all the freaking time. I've literally walked off stage during a performance to go be sick in the bathroom, returning immediately after to go on with the show.) She suffers from seasonal allergies. She has a history of blood clots, but they’re not frequent and she now takes a medication to lower her risk of developing them. In 2012, she got a stomach virus after traveling abroad that caused her to faint from dehydration. She hit her head in the fall, ended up with a concussion, and was then hospitalized for a blood clot in her head.

 

But there’s nothing at all to suggest that she has a serious medical condition that is life-threatening or would prevent her from being effective in any job, including as President of the United States. These claims of her having a secret serious illness emitted the stench of politically motivated conspiracy theories.

 

00:36:22 What’s a banana republic?

 

From Wikipedia: “In political science, a banana republic is a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas, minerals, etc. Typically, the banana republic has a society of stratified social classes, usually a great, poor working class and a ruling-class plutocracy, composed of the business, political, and military elites of that society. Such a ruling-class oligarchy control the primary sector of the economy by way of the exploitation of labour; thus, the term banana republic is a pejorative descriptor for a servile dictatorship that abets and supports, for kickbacks, the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation.”

 

00:37:19 What exactly has Trump done that is reminiscent of an autocrat?

 

From using divisive language and scapegoating minority groups, to firing people who won’t pledge loyalty to him, to spreading lies and misinformation and attacking the press, Donald Trump has consistently drawn comparisons to autocratic leaders. He has also openly praised autocratic leaders around the world, including Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Vladimir Putin of Russia.

 

Most recently as of this writing, rumors are flying that his public humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is merely a ploy to get Sessions to resign, so that Trump can appoint a new Attorney General willing to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is currently leading the investigation into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia in helping Trump win the 2016 election, and it’s been reported extensively that Trump is doing everything in his power to find a way to shut the investigation down. If Trump succeeds in firing Mueller, many fear that would create a constitutional crisis.

 

00:38:29 What happened at UC Berkeley that resulted in a woman getting pepper sprayed?

 

This was so, so stupid, and a great example of how liberals can be just as shitty and hateful as anyone else.

 

Outspoken right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s known for his inflammatory statements, was supposed to give a speech at UC Berkeley in early February 2017, but it was canceled due to violent left-wing protests. A woman named Kiara Robles was in the middle of an on-camera interview with a local reporter when a protestor, completely unprovoked, pepper sprayed her in the face. At least five other people were injured. 

 

In addition to pepper spraying Robles, the UC Berkeley protesters set things on fire, damaged university property, and generally created havoc. The protest turned into a riot that cost the university $100,000 in damage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Robles is suing the university and several other entities for $23 million in damages. No arrests were made.

 

The protesters were part of a group called “Antifa,” short for anti-fascist. Antifa protestors often use “black bloc” protest tactics, dressing all in black and donning face masks to give themselves anonymity when protesting at right-wing events. They are known for threatening and executing violence, and they piss me the fuck off. They’re fighting for the same things I believe in, but in exactly the wrong way. In my opinion, this kind of violent, threatening assclownery is damaging to the very causes they claim they’re fighting for. Advocates say that in the face of massive injustice, violence is the only way to be heard. I disagree.

 

00:39:49 Are their instances when Donald Trump singled out particular individuals who had criticized him and tweeted their username to his followers? Did they really get numerous death threats and rape threats?

 

Yes, this has happened twice.

 

The worst one was in October 2015, when an 18-year-old woman named Lauren Batchelder addressed Trump at a political event in New Hampshire. She said, “So, maybe I’m wrong, maybe you can prove me wrong, but I don’t think you’re a friend to women.” She also asked him about equal pay and abortion access. That was the extent of the interaction. He said if she could do as good a job, she’d get equal pay, and that he was pro-life, and that was it.

 

The next morning, Trump attacked Batchelder on Twitter, saying, “The arrogant young woman who questioned me in such a nasty fashion at No Labels yesterday was a Jeb staffer! HOW CAN HE BEAT RUSSIA & CHINA?”

 

Within hours, she began receiving numerous threats of death, rape, and violence that carried on through the end of 2015 and throughout the 2016 election. The threats came on the phone, in emails, and on social media. A Facebook message sent five days before the election—over a year after her interaction with Trump—said, “Wishing I could fucking punch you in the face. id then proceed to stomp your head on the curb and urinate in your bloodied mouth and i know where you live, so watch your fucking back punk.”

 

All because of a tweet from Trump.

 

Then, in December 2016, Chuck Jones, a union leader in Indianapolis who represents the workers at Carrier—you may remember Trump “saving” hundreds of jobs from going to Mexico by giving Carrier a $7 million tax incentivecriticized Trump publicly for allegedly lying to Carrier workers about the deal he’d struck to supposedly save their jobs. Trump responded by calling Jones out by name on Twitter, saying, “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” Almost as soon as the tweet went up, Jones began receiving threatening calls from Trump supporters.

 

In neither of those instances did Trump share the Twitter usernames of his victims, so I was wrong about that.

 

00:41:13 Has there been a rise in hate crimes in the U.S. since Donald Trump was elected?

 

Yes. In 2015, when Trump launched his campaign, hate crimes against Muslims reached the highest levels since just after 9/11. It gets worse. Hate crimes in the U.S. rose 23.3% in 2016 as compared to 2015, with many crediting Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric for the uptick. ThinkProgress found that 42% of hate crimes reported from November 9, 2016 through February 9, 2017, “included specific references to Trump, his election, or his policies.”

 

00:42:54 What the hell happened with Korea’s first female president? Sounds like a shitshow!

 

It was a shitshow.
 

In 2013, Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first female president, promising to take a strong stance with North Korea while working to bridge the divide between the two nations.

 

She simultaneously benefitted from and was hurt by the legacy of her father, Park Chung-hee, who was a controversial figure viewed by some as a dictator with a shoddy human rights record and by others as the heroic architect of modern Korea. Often, these opinions are divided by generational lines. During his 18-year rule, Park made political dissent illegal and arrested and tortured those who spoke out against the government. He was eventually gunned down by his own intelligence and security chief in 1979.

 

Many said his daughter didn’t do enough to separate herself from her father’s brutal legacy, but she did publicly apologize for his human rights violations.

 

Now let's get to the shitshow part of all this. Park Geun-hye’s presidency is famous for a massive corruption scandal that resulted in her being impeached in late 2016, and it’s bizarre AF.

 

Basically, the story was that President Park was brought down by a woman named Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a cult leader, whose influence caused Park to abuse her power in myriad ways. Choi herself was arrested and convicted for crimes related to abuse of power, and she also reportedly took bribes and engaged in extortion schemes. Choi is broadly blamed for bringing down the first female president in South Korea.

 

To add to the weirdness, it was made public in 2016 that Park’s office had bought a crazy amount of Viagra and similar drugs. The official explanation from her spokesperson was that the pills can also be used to help with altitude sickness, and that the drugs were purchased to help presidential aides on a trip to high-altitude countries in Africa. Even if that was why they were purchased, it was the last thing her scandal-ridden administration needed at that moment.

 

Park was indicted in April 2017 on numerous charges, including abuse of power.

 

Later, she issued an emotional apology for the whole craptastic disaster, saying “loneliness” compelled her to turn to Choi, an old friend, for emotional support.

 

South Koreans organized a series of massive street protests calling for Park to step down after her impeachment proceedings had begun.

 

Only days after my conversation with Sarah, on March 9, 2017, Park was officially removed from office, following weeks of mass protests. An election was held in May to choose a new president, and liberal candidate Moon Jae In won with 39% of the vote.

 

On a personal note, this whole thing makes my feminist heart extremely angry. I grew up in Korea. I know how bad sexism and patriarchal values are there. It’s a wonderful country in many ways, but the culture suffers from staggering misogyny. I worry that this episode set the country back, and I fear that people who believe women are inferior to men will point to Park Geun-hye as the ultimate example of what happens when you give a woman power and responsibility. I am furious with her for botching the incredible opportunity to enact major societal changes. All she had to do was not suck at her job. Face, meet palm.

 

00:45:28 Can you run down Trump’s gendered attacks on women? How many times has he been accused of sexually assaulting or groping women? And what’s the deal with Ivana Trump’s rape allegation?

 

Here’s a compilation of all of Trump’s most sexist public remarks over the decades.

 

Here’s a full list of the women who have publicly accused Trump of groping them without permission or engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct. There are twelve total assault allegations currently on the record.

 

Trump’s first wife Ivana accused him of violently raping her while under oath during her divorce deposition, according to Harry Hurt III, author of Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump. Much later, in 2015, she issued a statement and said the rape allegation was “totally without merit.”

 

According to the linked Politico article, “the divorce was granted on the grounds of ‘cruel and inhuman treament’ of Ivana,” and she’s legally prohibited from discussing her marriage to Trump publicly without permission from him.

 

00:45:27 Is there body language evidence that perhaps Melania Trump doesn’t like the Donald so much?

 

Elle Magazine asked two body language evidence to analyze photographs and videos of Donald and Melania from when they first starting dating in 1999 until now, and they saw significant “breakage” in the relationship, complete with lots of awkward moments, hand swats, and that epic Inauguration Day face fall.

 

Body language expert Susan Constantine has said the First Lady seems unhappy with her marriage and her role in the White House and has predicted that the Trumps’ marriage won’t last.

 

00:47:51 How bad was JFK when it came to using and abusing women?

 

He was really, really bad. From affairs with teenaged interns to elevator hook-ups with hookers, JFK’s sexual improprieties make Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout.

 

00:50:48 Are hateful comments and actions on the rise because of Donald Trump’s rhetoric?

 

It’s difficult to definitively connect the rise in hate crimes in 2016 and following the election with Donald Trump’s hateful, violent rhetoric, but many have opined that that connection exists.

 

00:53:39 When has Trump publicly condemned hate crimes, and were those condemnations “lukewarm”?

 

The most vocal Trump has ever been regarding hate crimes was in his speech to Congress on February 28, 2017. (This was the “not-State-of-the-Union” speech that Samia references later in the episode.)

 

In that speech, he said, “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” (Links in quote copied from the Time article.)

 

Critics said this wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the months of divisive, hateful rhetoric Trump used on the campaign trail. And this happened after Trump remained silent on the issue for weeks following a rash of threats to Jewish community centers in the U.S., as well an actual attack on two Indian immigrants in Kansas, one of whom was killed.

 

Before giving the speech to Congress, Trump was asked about the anti-Semitic attacks by an Israeli reporter in a press conference in February 2017, and he responded by talking about how he won the election.

 

In May 2017, he did condemn the brutal train stabbing in Oregon in a tweet, saying “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.” Nice that he tweeted about it.

 

In that gruesome incident, a man was yelling anti-Muslim epithets at two young women who appeared to be Muslim. Two other men came to the women’s defense, and the man pulled out a knife, stabbing and killing them both. One other man was badly injured but survived.

 

So have Trump’s condemnations of hate crimes been lukewarm? It’s really a matter of opinion, so I’ll let you be the judge.

 

00:54:19 Where is this speech that George W. Bush gave after 9/11? Did he really say “Islam is peace”?

 

Yes, he did, in a speech he delivered on September 17, 2001. Here is the full speech, and here is the section when he said, “Islam is peace.”

 

00:55:05 What not-State-of-the-Union speech does Samia mean?

 

This speech right here. In it, Trump said, “Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our Nation from Radical Islamic Terrorism.”

 

00:55:39 What do most Muslims think of ISIS? Are they peaceful?

 

A Pew survey conducted in 2015 found that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in ten Muslim-majority countries have an unfavorable view of ISIS. (The word “unfavorable” seems so lukewarm to me—I want a strong word!—but that’s how they do their surveys.)

 

It’s also important to note that most of ISIS’s victims are Muslims. No other group has suffered more death and damage than Muslims in regions where ISIS has strongholds.

 

Islam, like all major religions, can be interpreted to endorse violence or peace, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and don’t approve of violence. Furthermore, Muslim-majority countries have on average a lower homicide rate than Western countries.

 

Lastly, nearly a quarter of the world’s population identify as Muslim. It just doesn’t make sense to demonize the whole religion based on the actions of a very few.

 

00:56:56 Did Trump set up a unit just to document immigrant crimes? What was the logic behind that? What did the critics say?

 

In late February 2017, Trump gave a speech announcing the formation of a new office to serve American victims of crime perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. It’s called the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he would reallocate funds and resources that were being used to advocate for undocumented immigrants in order to create the new office.

 

In the same executive order that created VOICE, Trump also called for weekly reports detailing crimes committed by illegal immigrants, in order to call out and publicly shame sanctuary cities.

 

Critics of these moves say they’re specifically designed to negatively influence the public’s opinion of immigrants.

 

00:57:10 Are undocumented immigrants more law-abiding than American citizens?

 

Yes, studies have shown that undocumented immigrants are more law-abiding and less anti-social than U.S. citizens.

 

00:57:47 Does the intelligence we have support targeting immigrants from Latin America and Muslims?

 

I obviously can’t speak to whatever the intelligence community might actually know about all this, since much of their information isn’t available to the public. So I actually kind of spoke out of turn here. Instead of the word “intelligence,” I should have used the word “research.”

 

That being said, experts are on record saying that the countries targeted in Trump’s travel ban didn’t really make sense with the data we currently have, and that the ban might actually make the threat of terrorism worse.

 

As for immigrants from Latin America, see the above show note about how undocumented immigrants are more law-abiding than American citizens.

 

Which makes Trump’s speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25, 2017, during which he graphically described immigrants murdering “beautiful,” “young girls” even more chilling. What was he talking about??? We don’t know, because he never gave any concrete details. Just an overly graphic depiction of terrible violence with nothing to back it up.

 

00:57:58 What’s the update on the Muslim travel ban? And are most of the terrorists in the U.S. homegrown, and did the intelligence community say that in a leaked document?

 

Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of Trump’s travel ban on refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries could go into effect. The only exception they made was for people who had “bona fide relationships” in the U.S., like family members or employers. This was a temporary lifting of the restrictions imposed by lower court rulings, until the Supreme Court reviews this case again in October.

 

Most of the terrorists in the U.S. are indeed homegrown.

 

And yes, a leaked document showed that Department of Homeland Security intelligence analysts—or at least one of them—had concluded that there wasn’t any evidence to support the idea that a person’s country of citizenship had anything to do with terrorism threats. It also said that over half of the people who had attempted or succeeded in carrying out terrorist attacks in the U.S. were U.S. citizens. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security told the Associated Press that the document was authentic but “incomplete,” and that it reflected “commentary from a single intelligence source,” and wasn’t “an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing.”

 

01:01:20 Back during George W. Bush’s presidency, were there a lot of farmers and ranchers along the U.S.-Mexico border complaining about illegal immigrants destroying their crops, harming their cattle, and polluting their water? Did they ask for walls and/or barriers to be built?

 

Okay, I have searched and searched, and I can’t find any news stories about farmers or ranchers along the border with Mexico asking the government to erect walls or barriers to stop illegal immigrants from hurting their crops, cattle, or anything else. If you have info on this, please email it to me at makeamericarelateagain@gmail.com.

 

The only stories my searches are turning up are ones about how landowners along the border were angry at the government for buying their land at shit prices or just seizing it outright in order to build George W. Bush’s extremely expensive border fence. People who lived on the border were super pissed about it. The mayor of a town called Brownsville told the Chicago Tribune, “To appease people in middle America, they are going to kill our communities along the border. The rest of America has no idea how we lives our lives here. We are linked by the Rio Grande, not divided by it. Our history, our families, our neighbors are tied together on both sides of that river.”

 

The government’s response to these angry landowners, who did not want them building a fence on their property, was to take them to court. Many landowners sued them right back. And if you’re thinking, well, maybe normal people were angry about it, but the farmers and ranchers were probably stoked—think again. The farmers and ranchers of Texas were super against that border fence, too.

 

That last link, from the Associated Press via the Washington Post, has one line that addresses what Sarah was claiming: “Texas landowners—sick of illegal immigrants cutting their fences, stealing and trespassing, and tired of worrying about smugglers of humans and drugs endangering their families—have been demanding for years that Congress tighten the border.” Then, the next line says, “But not, some say, with a double-layer, $6 billion fence cutting through their land and keeping them and their livestock from the river.”

 

So basically, while strengthening border security is something a lot of people want, a giant wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was never a feasible solution to the problem. Not in George W.’s day and not now. For a really detailed argument about why border walls don’t work from someone who knows what they’re talking about, read the written testimony of Stephen E. Flynn, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander and homeland security expert, to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. This happened back in 2004, before Bush started plans for his border fence, which ended up costing about $3.6 billion of taxpayers’ money from 2006-2009. Flynn argues that border walls not only do not work, they also make it easier for criminals to exploit desperate immigrants in complex smuggling schemes, creating chaos at the borders.

 

Direct quote from Flynn’s testimony: “The experience over the past decade of stepped-up enforcement along the Mexican border suggests that U.S. efforts aimed at hardening its borders can have the unintended consequence of creating precisely the kind of an environment that is conducive to terrorists and criminals. Draconian measures to police the border invariably provide incentives for informal arrangements and criminal conspiracies to overcome cross-border barriers to commerce and labor movements. In addition, unilateral measures pursued on one side of the border create political impediments for enforcement cooperation on the other. The result is that the border region becomes more chaotic which makes it ideal for exploitation by criminals and terrorists.”

 

I highly suggest you read the whole thing, especially if any part of your brain still thinks border fences or walls are a good idea. Walls don’t work. They make things worse.

 

What does work? According to Flynn, cross-border cooperation between countries’ immigration and customs officials. That means you need a good working relationship with your neighboring countries so that you can develop systems, together, that allow the vast majority of law-abiding travelers to cross borders without a huge hassle, while effectively targeting potential threats. This can be done with technology and lots of cooperation with your friendly neighbors across the border.

 

It’s hard to have a good relationship with a neighboring country when your president is calling them “rapists,” “criminals,” “bad hombres,” and “animals" who “prey on innocent young people” and “slice them and dice them with a knife, because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

 

In short, Trump’s approach to border security is all kinds of wrong. For many reasons.

 

01:08:31 I still haven’t read that dossier thing. Where is it? And how much of it has been substantiated?

 

Here is the now-infamous dossier as posted by Buzzfeed on January 10, 2017. At the time, they admitted the allegations were unverified, and the report contained some errors. The dossier claims that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting, and assisting” Trump for years. It alleged claims of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives—some of which have now been verified.

 

Conservatives want to dismiss the dossier as unverified crap, but Christopher Steele has an impeccable reputation in the international intelligence community for being extraordinarily credible and competent.

 

The dossier also alleges that Russia has an extremely salacious video of Trump cavorting with prostitutes that could potentially be used to blackmail him. Golden showers are involved. This has sparked some really great pee-pee party jokes.

 

01:09:44 Does Russia have a weak economy?

 

Yes. This article from Time concisely explains the issues surrounding why the Russian economy is so bad, as does this article from the New York Times and this one from Bloomberg. Essentially, a focus on centralizing power within the government and feeding the people a daily diet of pro-government propaganda are major factors that are stifling the Russian economy. Russian wealth is centralized, and corruption is a major reason for that.

 

Another factor is the worldwide lowering of oil prices. Russia’s economy saw decent growth back when oil prices were high; now that they’re so low, their economy has hit a major recession after 13 years of growth from 2000-2013. Add to that a shrinking population—low fertility rates and high death rates among young men due to illness, suicide, alcoholism, and violence—social issues, and severe problems in regions like Chechnya and Crimea…and yeah, the Russian economy isn’t looking like it will recover anytime soon.