top of page



Compiled & Synthesized by Samia Mounts

00:06:43 Did Samia’s father really pen the current death penalty in the state of Florida?


I had to call my dad for the full story on this, and here’s what he told me.


In 1972, the Supreme Court made a decision in a case called Furman v. Georgia that struck down capital punishment in America, due to the evidence that there was unconstitutional discrimination from juries toward minorities, especially black people. If states wanted to continue to apply the death penalty, they had to do it in a way that removed the issue of social discrimination from the sentencing process.


My dad was a young staff lawyer in the governor’s office in Florida at the time. Florida wanted to keep the death penalty, so they came up with a scheme that would divert the responsibility of sentencing in capital cases from the jury to the judge, although the jury would still make an advisory recommendation. The judge would be required to write a transparent opinion, reviewable by the higher courts, of why he or she determined the death penalty was appropriate in that case, thereby avoiding the secret back-room jury process that often led to discriminatory sentencing in cases involving people of color. You can read that statute here. (It has been amended since my dad touched it, but the part he penned has been partially preserved and is what I’m describing here.)


Basically, if a jury found a suspect guilty of a capital crime, the judge would then conduct a separate sentencing hearing in the presence of the jury to identify the aggravating factors, from a list modeled after the Model Penal Code. Aggravating factors are factors that make the severity of the crime worse, like if the victim was a child under 12 or the crime was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.” If the judge felt any of the listed aggravating factors outweighed evidence of the presence of any of the listed mitigating factors, he or she could impose the death penalty, but had to submit a transparent written opinion explaining why capital punishment was appropriate. 


That was how Florida was able to keep enacting capital punishment after Furman v. Georgia, by putting the decision in the hands of a judge instead of relying on the highly secretive jury decision-making process. Georgia modeled their own death penalty scheme after Florida’s soon after.


Then, in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Ring v. Arizona that statutory schemes like the one my dad and his colleagues came up with were unconstitutional, in that they violated a person’s right to a trial by jury by taking the sentencing ability away from the jury. The court decided that the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution requires that juries, not judges, identify the aggravating factors required to sentence a person to death. In Florida, the judge must also now find that the aggravating factor relied upon by the jury was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the death penalty statute, penned by my dad thirty years earlier, had to then be amended to put more power back in the hands of the jury.


My father wants everyone to know that he’s very much against capital punishment, because there have just been too many cases where we found out our criminal justice system had convicted innocent people of capital crimes. I’m completely with him on this.


00:08:00 What does “behind the orange curtain” mean?


It’s a somewhat derogatory term used to described people in Orange County versus people in Los Angeles. Orange County tends to be quite conservative, while Los Angeles is extremely liberal.


00:11:20 Are humans causing climate change or just contributing to it?


Not only are humans the main cause of global warming, the natural events affecting climate change on Earth are mostly working to cool the climate right now. Starting with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, human activity has disrupted a long period of climate stability, predominantly because of the rate at which we burn fossil fuels.


There is virtually no doubt within the scientific community that humans are the dominant cause of climate change.


Researchers from the Australian National University determined that human activity is making the climate change 170 times faster than it would have naturally.


Before the Trump administration took control, the Environmental Protection Agency’s website stated, “In general, climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions, and natural changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicated that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.” This statement has now been removed from the EPA’s website by the Trump administration.


The European Environment Agency’s website says, “Since the start of the industrial era (about 1750), the overall effect of human activities on climate has been a warming influence. The human impact on climate during this era greatly exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes, such as solar changes and volcanic eruptions.


In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that said, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Scroll down to D.3 in the linked report to find this quote.) The same report found that humans have most likely caused all of the global warming that has happened in the last 60 years. This report is considered to represent the absolute best and most comprehensive information and science we have on climate change.


A whopping 97% of climate change scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, and the 3% that disagree do not have the benefit of a staggering amount of evidence from peer-reviewed studies.


Scientists are as certain that humans are causing climate change as they are that smoking causes lung cancer.


Scientists also agree that coal, oil, and gas emissions are the main factors behind human-induced global warming.


00:12:50 What kinds of technologies do we have that would allow us not to damage the environment? Why haven’t we just switched over to them?


I kind of spoke out of turn here. While we do have some clean energy technologies, like solar and wind power, scientists are still working to develop the technologies that could actually save the planet. Finding funding for such projects isn’t exactly easy, but companies like Tesla are working at breakneck speed to discover new ways to make clean, renewable energy ubiquitous and affordable.


The obstacles standing in the way of developments in clean energy include the existing iron grip that the fossil fuel industry has on the world’s energy needs, lack of infrastructure, prohibitively high costs associated with developing new technologies, and the fact that there are government subsidies for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries but not for clean energy efforts.


Public awareness and understanding of climate change is also posing a problem in the development of new technologies by limiting public support. According to a 2016 Pew Research study regarding public opinion on climate change, just under half of all Americans believe that human activity is causing global warming, and only 27% of Americans believe there is scientific consensus on this. (As written above, there is definitely scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.) The same study found that the main dividing line between people who understand climate change and those who regard it with skepticism was political affiliation. Most liberals believe humans are causing climate change, and most conservatives don’t. (That’s how we ended up with a president who believes climate change is a hoax.)


00:13:19 How exactly do fossil fuels damage the environment?


The real problem with burning fossil fuels is in the greenhouse gas emissions that result, specifically emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Along with methane, these gases comprise the main causes of human-induced global warming.


Carbon dioxide, while not as powerful a greenhouse gas as nitrous oxide or methane, is the most common of the three and the biggest factor in human-induced climate change, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels. It’s emitted when we burn any type of fossil fuel—coal, oil, or natural gas. In the U.S., the coal industry alone releases as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as all of our cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes combined.


Nitrous oxide is the third most influential greenhouse gas in affecting global climate change, behind carbon dioxide and methane, but it’s also 300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. So there’s less of it, but it’s way more harmful. Nitrous oxide is produced naturally by microbes in the ocean and soil, which accounts for about 60% of the nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. The other 40% is produced by human activity: burning fossil fuels, biomass burning, the industrial production of adipic acid and nitric acid, and agricultural practices involving nitrogen fertilizers. (Adipic acid is used to make nylon fibers and plastics; nitric acid is used in fertilizers, where it goes on to create more nitrous oxide emissions when applied to soil. Double whammy.)


Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency reportedly removed most of the information about climate change from its website earlier this year, so many of the links in my source articles no longer work. There was a huge media firestorm about it.


But that no longer seems to be true. I found this page on climate change indicators on the EPA website (posted June 22, 2017) as well as this page designed to help local governments adapt to climate change risks (posted before Trump was elected, on October 19, 2016). While the original EPA climate change site now leads to this empty page, clearly, the information has not been totally scrubbed, like so many media outlets reported. And it wasn’t just the “liberal media”—Fox News reported on this, too. (The linked article is actually a repost of a piece from the New York Post, another right-leaning media outlet.)


In June, on the same day the Climate Change Indicators page was added to the EPA website, a former EPA scientist under the Obama administration published this op-ed decrying the removal of the data as an act of “war” on science. I’m not sure what information is missing, but there’s a lot of info on climate change available through the EPA website as of right now. It doesn’t really add up, and I can’t find any media stories about the reappearance of climate change data on the EPA website.


Around the same time the EPA posted this information, however, an EPA advisory committee was told that the Trump administration would be deemphasizing climate change. Also around the same time, there were reports that EPA staff had been instructed not to use any climate change-related terms. And Trump administration officials will not answer questions about whether or not the president believes climate change is real. It’s all pretty confusing.


What’s not confusing is that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, making us look like assholes in the international fight against climate change.


00:13:27 What exactly is hemp? Is it the same as marijuana? Can you really grow a new crop of hemp every three months? Why aren’t we just using that for paper instead of cutting down all the trees?


Hemp and marijuana are both from the cannabis species, but hemp has only a tiny fraction of the THC content of marijuana—not enough to get you high. It’s a fantastically versatile plant, and can be used to make everything from paper to clothing to food, and more. You really can produce a whole new crop of hemp in only three months (or 70-90 days). It’s renewable and actually good for the environment. Hemp has the delightful quality of improving the soil in which it grows, and it shows high resistance to damage from insects and disease. It’s awesome.


So why the fuck is it illegal under federal law to grow hemp industrially in the U.S.? WHY?!?!? The weird part is it’s fully legal to import hemp from one of the 30 countries that produce it around the world. What’s with this ridiculous bullshit? We could be capitalizing on this industry so hard, and our federal government is totally missing out on this exciting industry.


Similarly to how many states have legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana in defiance of federal marijuana laws, 33 states have removed legal barriers to hemp production and fifteen states have begun planting hemp as a part of research projects and pilot programs.


But this is all state law, not federal law. Federal law still defines hemp as the same thing as marijuana, which is, ludicrously, still considered a Schedule I Controlled Substance—even though hemp has a better chance of giving you a headache than getting you high and marijuana doesn’t at all deserve to be in the same class as heroin. (To give you an idea of how backward the DEA’s categorization of drugs is, methamphetamine—i.e. speed or crystal meth—is only a Schedule II drug, while marijuana is Schedule I. What. The. Actualfuck.)


Why are hemp and marijuana so demonized by our country’s government? It’s all about cracking down on minority communities. No, truly, weed is illegal because of racism. It started just after the Mexican Revolution, with baseless accusations that Mexican immigrants were smoking pot, going nuts and killing people. That led to marijuana being banned in certain cities—El Paso being the first in 1915—and Mexican immigrants who smoked pot being rounded up and deported.


The infamous propaganda film Reefer Madness came out in 1936. It featured a soundtrack of jazz music, at the time associated with black people and loose morals. By 1937, marijuana was made illegal in 46 out of the 48 states.


Then, in 1972, Nixon started his fucked-up “war on drugs,” categorizing marijuana as a Schedule I drug—that means it has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”—and establishing harsh mandatory sentences for drug crimes.


Only recently has it been made public what the reasoning behind the war on drugs was. Former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman said this to Dan Baum of Harper’s Magazine:


“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”


For a concise, entertaining explanation of all this fuckery, watch this amazing video by CollegeHumor.


Wooooooow. So at this point, we know for a fact that the war on drugs was racially and politically motivated and had nothing to do with preserving public health or helping people in any way. (To this day, marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color, even though white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate. It’s so obviously a racial issue that Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is making the legalization of marijuana the focus of new racial justice legislation he’s introducing in the Senate this year.)


AND YET MARIJUANA IS STILL ILLEGAL UNDER FEDERAL LAW. And our wonderful attorney general Jeff Sessions declared earlier this year that the Justice Department would now be pursuing marijuana prosecution IN THE STATES THAT HAVE MADE IT LEGAL. Luckily, Congress was like, "NAH BITCH, stop with your foolishness! We ain’t giving you money for that.”


Sorry for all the caps. I get worked up about this. It’s so disgustingly unfair, so backward, so fucking stupid that this is still happening, with all we know about the many benefits and relative harmlessness of marijuana—especially when compared to actually harmful (and legal) drugs like alcohol and tobacco.


00:14:06 What is Trump’s position on climate change? Did he really say it’s a hoax propagated by the Chinese?


He’s called climate change a “hoax" many times. He’s called it "bullshit.” And yes, he’s also said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” These were all in tweets.


Here is a timeline from Newsweek of everything Trump has ever said about climate change, and all the inconsistencies between his public statements and his actions (like applying to build a sea wall in order to protect one of his golf resorts from predicted rising sea levels and frequent storms due to global warming.)


At this point, no one from his administration is willing to say what Trump’s position on climate change is. Trump himself remains noncommittal on the subject.


But two things are clear: he doesn't think the U.S. needs to participate in the global fight against climate change and his administration has taken action to overturn many of the climate policies introduced by the Obama administration.


00:14:30 Are Donald Trump’s businesses guilty of outsourcing?


Yes. Trump clothing has been manufactured in China, Bangladesh, Honduras, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, and China. Trump eyeglasses are made in China. Trump Home items are manufactured in Turkey, China, India, Germany, and Slovenia. Trump Hotel items are manufactured in China and Taiwan. Trump Vodka is made in the Netherlands. 


00:14:37 Will people in developing countries work for pennies? Is their relative dollar different than ours in a way that means that money can actually support them and their families? Is it really okay in some countries to send 8-year-olds to factories to work?


While the cost of living in developing countries is often cheaper than in the U.S., factory workers in many of those countries barely make enough to survive.


Garment workers in Bangladesh make as little as $68/month and don’t make money for overtime hours—a constant with how high the production targets are set in order to fulfill the worldwide demand for fast fashion.


In Cambodia, garment workers successfully lobbied their government for a raise of the minimum wage from $140/month to $153/month. Imagine living anywhere on $153/month.


In India, garment workers earn as little as $60/month. In the linked article, one worker talks about production targets so high that she would avoid drinking water so as not to “waste time in the toilet.”


That all being said, some economists make an argument that having shit jobs that pay little is better for the economies and the people of developing countries than having nothing at all. That doesn’t make me feel any better about all the clothes in my closet from H&M.


As far as child labor, it’s all too common. The International Labour Organization says there are about 260 million working children in the world. That’s 11% of the world’s children. A lot of it is due to the demands of the fashion industry.


In H&M’s factories in Myanmar, there are workers as young as 14 working 12-hour days for about $3/day.


In Colombia, children as young as 5 years old work in agriculture, coal mining, and construction, among other industries. They also work in child porn, the sex industry, and they are used in armed conflicts. I’m so sad for the babies in Colombia.


In China, workers under the age of 16 are collected from all over the country to work in garment factories, making only about $150-300/month.


These are just a few examples.


00:18:22 What exactly are nationalist and populist philosophies?


Populism is a political ideology that pits the “common man” against the “privileged elite.” Populist leaders invoke a moral high ground that only the normal, working people who have been kept down by a corrupt establishment can claim. Basically, it’s the little people against the Man, the oppressed masses versus the evil government powers. It’s a reductionist perspective that doesn’t allow for the idea that there are multiple groups within any society who all have different interests and value systems that are equally valid.


Nationalism is a political ideology centered around an intense kind of patriotism that usually includes a sense of superiority over people from other countries.


I prefer liberal democracy and globalism.


A liberal democracy is exactly what we’ve been trying to perfect here in the U.S. since the birth of our nation: a society in which there are multiple political parties, fair and open elections, a separation of powers between branches of the government, checks and balances, and equality in human rights, civil rights, and political freedoms.

Globalism is an ideology that supports globalization, immigration, and free trade. My take on it is that all people of all nations are sharing this planet, and it’s silly to act like we’re from different tribes when really we’re all human beings.


00:19:17 Do terrorist organizations perpetrate more terror attacks in the Middle East than in the Western world? Does Europe get hit with more terror attacks than the U.S.?


The overall answer to both of these questions is yes.


I generalized in using the term “Middle East.” In reality, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are the terrorism hotspots of the world. From 2015 to July 2016, there were 50 times more deaths from terrorism in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia than in Europe and the Americas.


The 2016 Global Terrorism Index, which supplies the best information we have on the impact of terrorism around the world, found that the countries that experienced the most terrorism were Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. (In case you’re not clear on this, Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of Asia, Iraq and Syria are in the Middle East, and Nigeria is in Africa.) Yemen, Somalia, India, Egypt, and Libya round out the top ten for highest terrorism impact.


The United States is number 36 on that list, after the United Kingdom (#34) and France (#29), and Europe saw its highest levels of terrorism ever in 2016.


In general, there is a much greater risk of terror attacks in Europe than in the United States, for several reasons. Europe shares a land border with the Middle East, making it more easily accessible to terrorists from that region. Also, the open borders between European countries make travel for terrorists across the continent easier, while gaps in intelligence and law enforcement make identifying potential threats much more difficult. Europe has also seen far more people leaving home to join ISIS or other terrorist groups—about 4000 Western Europeans have joined ISIS as of early 2016, and only 100 Americans have done so.


Since the beginning of 2015, Western Europe has had thirteen major terror attacks, while the United States has had only 10 since September 11, 2001. Of those 10 attacks, the perpetrators were all either American citizens or had entered the country legally.


00:21:11 Does the Republican agenda include the elimination of social programs?


It’s no secret that Republicans hate social safety net programs. They see them as enabling the poor to stay poor, rather than encouraging people to work harder to get out of poverty. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has spoken at length about how he wants to see welfare benefits minimized, because they encourage people not to work. There’s certainly an argument to be made for welfare reform that eliminates the benefits cut-offs currently in place, which state that if you make even a small amount of money, you can lose your welfare benefits, even if the amount you’re earning isn’t enough to cover basic living expenses.


On a personal note, it seems to me that cut-offs do make it harder for people to get off of welfare than it should be. It would seem to make more sense to taper them off slowly, which is a tactic Paul Ryan favors. In my version, though, the people who make the decisions on how to taper benefits would receive compassion and inspiration/motivation training in order to truly help people work toward a more self-sufficient life, with benefits ebbing or flowing depending on how things are going for the individual. My version would allow for fuck-ups, because people fuck up. Trained counselors would use their judgment and an agreed-upon list of best practices based on social science, in order to effectively help people. Exhibiting unkind attitudes would be grounds for required retraining, or firing if they persist.

Sorry, I got lost in my vision for a utopian society for a second there.


Of course, the problem of poverty is hugely complicated, and people who need welfare programs to survive aren’t necessarily going to fare better with a smaller safety net.


00:21:20 Do Republicans want to privatize Medicaid and Medicare?


Yes, in re: Medicaid, and with Medicare, they want to cripple the program as it functions now. The 2016 Republican Party platform used vague language to indicate that the GOP would privatize Medicaid and Social Security, and restrict federal Medicare spending to block grants that would be issued to states, instead of paying whatever is needed to cover people. They also proposed raising the age of eligibility for Medicare.


Paul Ryan has also said he’s in favor of eventually privatizing Medicare, as well.


00:21:24 Did Trump promise he wouldn’t go after Medicaid and Medicare as president?


Yes. As early as 2015, Trump said he wouldn’t make cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security if elected president, telling the Daily Signal, “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.”


In crafting the Republican Party platform, GOP officials basically ignored/defied him on this.


00:21:35 Has Paul Ryan been vocal about wanting to privatize Medicaid and Medicare?


Ryan has a plan to privatize Medicare and wants to cap Medicaid spending (which the Affordable Care Act expanded, allowing millions of Americans access to health insurance.)


00:21:43 What’s going on with the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act?


As of now (August 7, 2017), the Republican effort to repeal and replace, and then to just repeal, the Affordable Care Act has failed. But they haven’t given up.


00:22:00 Do Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood?


Yes. Defunding Planned Parenthood was part of both the (Republican-sponsored) House and Senate bills intended to replace the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican-controlled Senate approved legislation in March 2017 that allows states to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.


00:22:12 Do we really have a welfare program that helps middle to upper middle class kids in Michigan go to college?


Yes. The Michigan Competitive Scholarship and Michigan Tuition Grants are both funded by federal welfare dollars. This is the same state that has allowed the poor residents of Flint, Michigan, to go without clean drinking water for three years now in a dangerous effort to cut expenses.


00:22:25 Is the state of Oklahoma using welfare money to provide relationship counseling classes to middle class couple?


Yes. Because Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money can be used to “encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families,” Oklahoma uses nearly $10 million, or 5%, of their federal TANF funds on their program offering relationship counseling to mostly middle class couples. About $18 million, or 9%, actually goes to help families in need.


Very few needy families in Oklahoma are able to receive TANF funds—only 7 out of every 100.


00:23:43 Where can I find the Reveal podcast?


You can find Reveal wherever you get your podcasts, or at their website,


00:23:46 Where can I find Reveal’s episode on welfare programs?


I was referencing an episode of Reveal called “A welfare check,” which you can listen to here.


00:25:46 Did Hillary Clinton flip-flop on gay marriage?


Yes, Hillary Clinton did what Politifact calls a “full flop” on gay marriage, only publicly announcing her support for gay marriage in 2013.


I think it’s important to note that she was in favor of civil unions, with all the same rights as marriage, as early as 1999.


00:26:15 Where can I watch Hillary Clinton’s cameo on Broad City?


You can watch it right here. I think I actually cried the first time I saw this.


00:29:07 Which episode of the Make America Relate Again featured a well-informed 30-year-old who opened up about being raped as a teenager?


That would be Episode 3, featuring Part 1 of my conversation with Ashley Rollo.


00:31:00 As of February 15, 2017, when this conversation was recorded, was the National Security Council really empty? Were there a bunch of other positions that weren’t filled?


I got the National Security Council part of this wrong. It wasn’t empty, but it was in turmoil, with many staff members who served under Obama having already vacated with no replacements appointed yet. General Mike Flynn had just been forced to resign as National Security Advisor only two days before.


However, I wasn’t wrong in talking about how many top positions in Trump’s administration were sitting unfilled for much longer than usual for new presidency. On April 22, 2017, 85% of the key executive branch positions remained empty. Trump didn’t fill all his Cabinet positions until the end of April.


As of August 4, 2017, only 124 of 577 essential executive branch positions had been filled.


Trump is lagging behind past presidents in staffing his own administration, and it’s mostly because the White House has been incredible slow in submitting their nominations for key positions. This ain’t good for government efficiency, with Cabinet members forced to meet in person with Trump, partly because most of them still don’t have their top leadership jobs filled.


But overall, those the progress of the administration in filling top positions has been slow, it hasn’t been catastrophic.


00:31:06 Did it take Obama eight months to fill most of the politically appointed positions in his government?


Yes, and actually, it probably took longer. While Obama was doing better with filling positions than Trump at this point in his presidency, there were top jobs in key departments that remained vacant throughout his first term and into his second, most notably at the State Department and the Commerce Department. This was partially due to an intense vetting process executed by the Obama administration and a highly partisan confirmation process.


There were also news stories from this point in Obama’s first term (about seven months in) with similar “Now hiring” headlines to the ones we’re seeing about Trump now.


00:31:26 How many ambassador positions were empty as of February 15, 2017, when this conversation was recorded? How many are still empty now?


Before his inauguration, the Trump transition team announced that all Obama-appointed ambassadors must leave their positions, “without exceptions,” by Inauguration Day.


Most ambassadorships are not political appointees, but career diplomats. Those ambassadors weren’t affected. And actually, it’s normal for politically appointed ambassadors to resign when a new president takes office. It was just unusual that the transition team ordered them out without applying standard grace periods.


At the time of my conversation with Alley, Trump had nominated only three ambassadors out of the approximately 50 recently vacated posts.


There are a total of 188 U.S. ambassador positions, and as of August 4, 2017, 55 of them remain vacant.


It’s hard to find concrete information on this, but I’m fairly certain some ambassadorships were vacant throughout the Obama administration as well, which is why there’s a discrepancy in the numbers listed above.


Overall, I overstated the disastrousness of the empty positions in this particular rant about empty positions in the Trump administration.


00:32:21 Does Mike Pence support gay conversion therapy? What’s his position on abortion rights?


Mike Pence’s alleged support for gay conversion therapy is actually a matter of debate and interpretation.


On the website for his 2000 congressional campaign, Mike Pence stated his position on the Ryan White CARE Act, a program that funds care for HIV/AIDS patients, saying:


“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”


That line about those seeking to change their sexual behavior has been interpreted by LGBTQ rights activists as a bald admission of support for the widely condemned, ineffective, and dangerous practice of gay conversion therapy.


This interpretation is the result of combining the statement from the campaign website with Pence’s history of opposition to gay rights. A sampler platter: he said gay marriage would bring about “societal collapse” and being gay is a choice, he opposed legislation protecting LGBT people against discrimination in the workplace, he was against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and he wasn’t cool with Obama letting transgender students use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity.

It’s possible that Pence was referring to changing sexual behavior in regards to practicing safe sex, which is what his spokesman, Marc Lotter, told the New York Times in November 2016.


Since Pence never explicitly said he supports conversion therapy, Politifact gives the claim a rating of Half-True.

On abortion, the record is much clearer. Pence is adamantly anti-abortion.


Once, in an effort to restrict federal funding for abortions, which is only legal in cases of rape, incest, or if the health of the mother is at risk, Pence co-sponsored a bill with dozens of other Republican lawmakers that attempted to redefine rape to something called “forcible rape.” If that legislation had passed, a woman who was drugged and then raped would not have been a victim of “forcible rape” under the law. Fuck that!


At the March for Life in Washington on January 27, 2017, Pence gave a speech to the crowd in which he proclaimed that “life is winning in America.”


00:32:39 What is Mike Pence’s history on LGBTQ issues?


As stated above, Pence has a long history of opposition to gay rights. He said gay marriage would bring about “societal collapse” and being gay is a choice, he opposed legislation protecting LGBT people against discrimination in the workplace, he was against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and he wasn’t cool with Obama letting transgender students use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity.


00:32:58 Where can I find Dan Savage’s podcast?


Find more info on the Savage Lovecast right here.

00:33:26 Who is Rick Santorum, what did he do to incite the ire of Dan Savage and his fans, and where I can find out more about this campaign to redefine his name as “the frothy mixture of cum and fecal matter that can sometimes result from anal sex”?


Rick Santorum is a Republican politician who served in the U.S. Senate from 1995-2007 representing the state of Pennsylvania. He was also the runner-up against Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.


The reason Dan Savage unleashed one of the grossest (and most hilarious) smear campaigns in history on Santorum has to do with his record on LGBTQ rights. Santorum has said many offensive, inflammatory things concerning same-sex marriage and gay rights, but the campaign was a direct response to one particularly awful interview.


In 2003, Santorum gave an interview to Laura Jakes Jordan of the Associated Press, in which he said the following things:


Regarding allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: “In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship.”


On whether or not we should outlaw homosexuality: “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.”


After that last one, the interviewer asks, “OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?”


Santorum responds with: “We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does…You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”


On gay marriage: “Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”


On personal freedoms: “The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.”


So let’s unpack that real quick. In this one interview, Santorum said that priests who have sex with underage boys are not committing child abuse, that gay people are fine by him as long as they don’t ever have sex, that anal sex is morally comparable to adultery and polygamy, that there’s no room in the institution of marriage for gay people, and that the government has the right to tell people what they can do in their private lives. Wowza.


Just after that interview was released, Dan Savage launched his campaign to redefine Santorum’s last name, calling on readers of his popular sex advice column to submit their own definitions. The winner was almost what I said to Alley (I was off by one word):


santorum (san-TOR-um) n.

  1. The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.


If you Google “Santorum,” you get as many search results about the redefinition of his name as you do about the man himself. Which, in my opinion, is just wonderful.


When Santorum was gearing up for his second attempted presidential run, he softened his tone on LGBTQ issues a bit, apologizing for comparing homosexuality to bestiality and publicly supporting Caitlin Jenner’s transition.


But I’m still not about this guy. Around the same time, he also said he wouldn’t go to a same-sex wedding, even if it was for friends or family, because it would violate his faith. That's just douchey.


00:37:09 What are the United States’s current vetting policies for refugees and immigrants? Do we have one of the most extreme vetting processes in the entire world?


Yes, it’s one of the most extreme and time-consuming vetting processes in the world.


Here’s a detailed rundown of the current refugee vetting process in the United States.


For a more personal take on this, here’s a personal essay from a young man who actually went through the process himself in trying to escape with his family from the brutal Assad regime in Syria.


And for a personal take on the other side of the current vetting process, read this personal essay from a former US immigration officer.


That extreme vetting process applies only to refugees, not all immigrants coming to the United States. However, we aren’t exactly an easy country to get immigration status in, either. Here’s a summary of the other vetting processes already in place to protect the United States from potential terrorist threats.


00:37:27 Have we really not had any major terror attacks executed by foreigners in the U.S. since 9/11? Have most of the terror attacks in the US since 9/11 been executed by U.S. citizens?


That first statement I made isn’t entirely true. Throughout this conversation, I’ve been getting overly worked up and confusing some of my facts.


It is true that the United States has had zero major terror attacks since 9/11 that were perpetrated by people from any of the countries on Trump’s travel ban list. There have been several nonfatal attacks executed by people from two of the countries on the list (Iran and Somalia), but that would not constitute a major terror attack, by most definitions.


While we have not completely avoided major terror attacks from foreigners since 9/11, it’s true that most of the terror attacks since 9/11 were executed by U.S. citizens, and the rest of the perpetrators were in the country legally.


The most lethal act of terror since 9/11 was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The shooter was born and raised in the U.S.; his parents were from Afghanistan.


The second worst was the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, in which one shooter was a Pakistani woman and the other, her husband, was born in the U.S.

00:37:44 What are ISIS’s recruiting strategies? Do they really target and psychologically manipulate vulnerable children and teenagers?


ISIS and other jihadist terrorist groups are well-known for targeting and recruiting children and teenagers, as well as anti-social adults, using an incredibly advanced social media strategy and psychological manipulation tactics to hook new followers. They even have a handbook for their operatives to use in luring foreigners to the jihadist cause. It’s called “A Course in the Art of Recruiting.”


If you are identified as a potential target, one or more ISIS operatives will develop an incredibly intense relationship with you online via multiple messaging and social media platforms. They’ll you with compliments and engage you in deeply personal conversations in order to build trust, all the while slowly indoctrinating you with jihadist beliefs. They will discourage you from telling anyone about your relationship with them, isolation being a top manipulation and control tactic. After what is usually months of daily, constant contact, there will come a challenge to make good on your new devotion to the jihadist cause, usually in the form of an invitation to travel and join ISIS forces, or to carry out an attack wherever you are.


You can read about one American woman’s experience with the ISIS recruitment process here.


The contact goes both ways; troubled people who are inspired by the violent rhetoric of ISIS also reach out to them, or just show up in terrorist-controlled areas to fight.


While ISIS used to use open social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they’ve recently adopted a lower-profile strategy that uses encrypted messaging apps, which makes investigating their recruiting strategies—and the acts of terror they inspire—much more difficult.


00:38:24 What the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando executed by an ISIS operative or just a mentally ill guy who used ISIS to justify his murderous actions?


As far as we know, there was no actual connection between the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, and ISIS, but Mateen did claim his allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call he made during the attack. We don’t know for sure if he’d ever communicated with anyone from ISIS, and we know he didn’t have any help in planning or executing his attack.


For ISIS, though, it doesn’t matter if an attack was prompted by an actual connection with ISIS operatives or carried out by a lone operative. As long as they can claim credit for the attack and use it to increase their momentum, that’s all that matters to them. Using broad messaging to inspire lone actors to carry out terror attacks while invoking the name of ISIS is one of their core strategies.

Whether or not Mateen was mentally ill is something we can't know for sure, lacking a psychiatric assessment of him, but his ex-wife described him as "mentally unstable and mentally ill."


00:38:54 Is there a war on Muslims? Do most Muslims condemn the actions of ISIS? Do they face massive discrimination and hate crimes in the Western world?


Many, including myself, feel strongly that Trump’s rhetoric and actions towards Muslims comprise a war on Muslims. This is largely a matter of opinion, with plenty of dissenting voices making perfectly valid points.


Most Muslims do not support the actions of ISIS.


There are indicators of strong, rampant anti-Muslim sentiment both in the US and in Europe, and hate crimes against them are on the rise in the United States.


00:39:43 Is it true that none of the 9/11 attackers were from any of the seven countries listed in Trump’s original travel ban?


Yes. The seven countries listed in Trump’s original travel ban were Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon.


00:39:54 Where can I read arguments that the best way to attack ISIS is to attack their funding? How would that even be done?


First of all, the U.S. has already been actively pursuing ways of attacking ISIS’s funding since at least early 2016. Efforts to go after ISIS’s cash stores are being undertaken by other countries, as well.


In 2014, the Brookings Institute released a report called “Cutting off ISIS’ Cash Flow,” which details the ways ISIS makes money and suggests strategies for attacking their funding on multiple fronts.


Many strategies and opinions have been offered on this subject from multiple sources, including attacking their oil reserves, bombing their banks and cash reserves, and stopping them from accessing banks in other countries.


00:41:08 What is Samia referencing in this (slightly unhinged) rant about the Muslim ban? What did Rudy Giuliani have to do with it? Did Trump really say he would give Christians priority over Muslims when granted asylum to refugees?


In late January 2017, Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that Trump had asked him about how to make a Muslim ban legal. His exact words:


“I’ll tell you the whole history of it: When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’”


In an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said he would give Christians priority over Muslims when granting asylum to refugees. Here’s what was actually said:


Brody: Persecuted Christians, we’ve talked about this, the refugees overseas. The refugee program, or the refugee changes you’re looking to make. As it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority here?


Trump: Yes.


Brody: You do?


Trump: They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.


The Washington Post gave Trump two Pinocchios for the claim that Christian refugees have a harder time getting into the United States than Muslims, citing misleading figures and other factors that may affect the numbers of Christian and Muslim refugees from Syria who are granted asylum.


00:41:29 Do autocratic regimes typically use a tactic of scapegoating minority groups in order to inspire fear in the general population and thereby control them more easily? Is Russia doing that to the LGBTQ community right now? Is that what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, Gypsies, and LGBTQ people?


Scapegoating is a classic tactic used by authoritarian or autocratic regimes in order to distract their population from recognizing the corruption of their leadership.


Russia is absolutely scapegoating the LGBTQ community right now, and that’s exactly what Nazi Germany did to the Jewish people and other minority groups.


00:42:12 Where can I find this book Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit?


You can find it right here.


00:42:26 Where can I read Solnit’s essay on why the GOP is against marriage equality?


I managed to find it published on the website of the Financial Times. It’s a fantastic read, like everything Solnit publishes.

bottom of page