The Problem Podcast
The Problem With War: You Break It You Buy It
Like the annoying guy at a party who won’t shut up about Bitcoin, we have some investment advice: America needs to invest more in our veterans, both emotionally and financially. So today, Jon sits down with some staff who are very emotionally invested, and also talks to Professor Linda Bilmes about her proposed solution for investing more financially.
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The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast
Episode 2 Transcript
Jon Stewart: Isn’t it in an audio form don’t we have like a sound effects box that we press that makes like a *DOING* or some kind of… we’ll add that in.
Jon: Welcome back to the podcast, it’s episode two, Chelsea! I’m here with head writer Chelsea Devantez and all around bada**.
Chelsea Devantez: Ok, hi!
Jon: Uh and we are excited it is post-launch.
Chelsea: I mean it’s here, finally we’ve made it. After months of development we are at episode two.
Jon: We started, it was, we met at Live at BudhaCon. It was a cheap, it was a Cheap Trick concert and uh –
Chelsea: After some weird weed, we came up with the show and twenty years later, here we are!
Jon: – And we are reveling in the exhaustion and glow and alcohol poisoning that comes with launches, but more importantly, Chelsea, I hope you got some sleep!
Chelsea: Uh yeah I did, but I got that sleep where like you wake up at 3am, because your body’s like “you’re still drunk!”
Jon: I like that your body when it tells you you’re still drunk, chants it like a gameshow.
Chelsea: Oh yeah yeah yeah.
Jon: “You’re… Still… Drunk!”
Chelsea: And then it’s like, should we play, “What’s your next anxiety?” or “Should we drink some water and try and go back to sleep?”
Jon: Or drink some water and see if there’s any pizza left?
Jon: I love it. I’m so pleased and and relieved. You know, it’s the the launches are always so stressful and uh it’s always so lovely to be done with them. But I have to tell you the joy that I felt, almost, like got a little weepy, when I came up to our luxurious office space which as you know, uh, traveling in the finest freight elevators New York City can provide.
Chelsea: I mean I’ve never seen a freight elevator with more dirt, and I think that’s something they did specifically for us.
Jon: [LAUGHS] I saw actually the maintenance workers in there yesterday adding another layer of oil –
Chelsea: Oh that’s nice yeah.
Jon: – Yeah so, there were certain areas that they had missed uh with carcinogens and those types of things.
Chelsea: Right that that’s good, probably because my dog has been licking it off an elevator cause it’s like you know –
Jon: That’s exactly right.
Chelsea: – It’s a s***fest and he likes human s***, so he’s been licking all that off and they had to replace it.
Jon: Does Atticus really like human s***?
Chelsea: I don’t want to specify human, I kind of want to say it’s probably all s***. And I’m hoping what we’re encountering on New York City sidewalks is dog s***, but I’m not going to make any, I’m not going to rule anything out.
Jon: Right. Hey Chelsea, I just wanted to talk a little bit about how Atticus uh licks my face.
Chelsea: Ok. You know what? I’m feeling I’m feeling bad for this, but given that we filmed a whole segment and you let me have spinach in my teeth for it, I kind of now feel like we’re even and this is my justice.
Jon: Even Steven.
Chelsea: Even Stevens. Ok so you came up to the office, we have launched.
Jon: Uh popped out of the freight elevator. When I saw the whole staff dressed up and re – you know ,‘cause you forget they haven’t seen the show, you know, we’ve assembled the different elements of it in an Avid and there was a lot that went into it and we were rushing to get it out. But when I saw you and Toccara in like prom dresses.
Chelsea: [LAUGHS] Ok, ok you know for listeners, Jon, I need to clarify something here.
Chelsea: We were not in prom dresses [LAUGHS].
Jon: But they would have worked.
Chelsea: They, ok.
Jon: They would have worked at a prom.
Chelsea: F*** d*** you’re right, you’re right, but we would have been like the cool girls who like put their own spin on it. Like it wasn’t classic prom.
Jon: It’s like Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino prom like in ah whatever that movie was where they –
Chelsea: “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.”
Jon: That’s it! That’s it!
Chelsea: Ok you know it’s harsh to hear this fashion judgement, but I do accept, we were in bright neon. I’ll give you that. I’ll give you that.
Jon: [LAUGHS] Everybody was dressed up and, and like so, it was such a joyful morning.
Chelsea: It really really was.
Jon: And I just loved it. And I think sometimes having done this for so long to be able to see it kind of freshly in their eyes and to feel it in that way, so invigorating.
Chelsea: Everyone came dressed to the nines and also it, you know, 10 in the morning. 10 in the morning because that’s the fun thing I found out: on a streaming platform your premiere begins at 6am so –
Jon: Oh, is that true?
Chelsea: – Well yeah because, you know, in the past you’re like the show drops at 8pm.
Chelsea: – It comes out, you’re all dressed up, you go have drinks. This started at 8am and then the show premiered –
Jon: That’s right.
Chelsea: – And then we were, ate breakfast. And then we –
Jon: And then it was drinks at noon!
Chelsea: – The bar at noon! [LAUGHS]
Jon: No, that makes total sense. Uh, anyways you know everything focuses on that and it and it gets you know, it’s the stress of getting it out there. And that’s why I sort of explained to the group, which was, this is the heaven and hell day.
Jon: Launch day is the heaven and hell day. It’s the heaven of that thing that we’ve all worked so hard on over these past months, finally gets out there into the world, but like, also everyone gets to comment on it and you got to wade through that and I was sort of trying to explain to them, feel it. Feel every inch of whatever, excitement, pain, disappointment, anger, you feel at other commenting to it and then let it go because today’s the day that everybody watches it that has to watch it, but tomorrow is the day everybody watches it that wants to watch it.
Chelsea: That’s a great point.
Jon: And make sure you don’t, make sure you allow yourself to connect with the people who are watching it out of desire and excitement and feel that. Feel how they’re receiving it. Cause I’m not one of those people who’s like, “I don’t read the reviews.”
Chelsea: I like that you admit it too –
Jon: Oh god.
Chelsea: – A lot of people pretend not to. You read ‘em.
Jon: I will say this, I don’t read all of them and I don’t usually get all the way through. You know what’s odd? I generally don’t read through the positive ones.
Chelsea: That’s something for your therapist for sure.
Chelsea: That’s definitely the headline for that section.
Jon: That is kind of the headline on this. Did you have a favorite review? Did you have a favorite?
Chelsea: I did, I did.
Jon: Let me hear it.
Chelsea: So I, you know, when we locked the title of the show, I don’t know if you remember this, but I was like, “Jon, we’re hand, we’re handing critics headlines to them” –
Chelsea: – You know? And you were like, “who cares” and also like, “how lazy would you have to be to use that headline?” Well turns out… [LAUGHS]
Jon: I was the one who named a movie “Irresistible.”
Jon: Like all, I just keep setting up shots like a pinata like it’s, I’m a pinata and I keep going, “Hey hey is this a bat? Does anybody want this?”
Chelsea: Does anybody want to beat the s*** out of this?
Jon: I’m filled with candy!
Chelsea: One person wrote, the headline was, “Old man yells at cloud, but turns out it’s what we need,” and I thought that was so smart because there is a cloud in our first episode and it was the only headline that didn’t have “A Problem” play on words, and I was like “that’s funny.”
Jon: That is pretty funny. My favorite one was, I can’t remember the headline on it, oh I think it was one that it said, “Does Jon Stewart even want to be funny?”
Jon: No. No, he doesn’t he wants to grow old in peace.
Chelsea: Like everything in this show is a choice so like, you can be like, “I’m displeased that he took this first topic of veterans dying from cancer seriously…” –
Chelsea: – “I wish he had had more jokes in it!”
Jon: Uh and we just said like what’s, what I liked about it, so what’s this show?
Chelsea: Can you believe it can be both serious and funny? It’s almost as if it’s based on the topic!
Jon: You really do find like a weird serenity in it all. Especially when you know you feel like it does connect with people, when people see it in the way that you intended it, it’s really more gratifying. But more importantly, I’ve learned that the way you make it is so important.
Chelsea: Like the process?
Chelsea: It’s the journey not the destination, is that what we’re saying?
Jon: I’m gonna, what is, I’m about to sing “The Climb.” [Jon sings section of “The Climb”]
Chelsea: Oh God. I’m so proud you know that.
Jon: I’m excited you know we have this, episode two of the podcast is kind of an interesting one because –
Jon: The second week it’s kind of the in between shows. We’re going to talk to uh Tocarra, uh and Reza and kind of get, you know Tocarra’s whole family worked –
Jon: – Yeah. They were veterans and also she worked at the VA and her family worked at the VA.
Chelsea: Yeah that was something Tocarra told me halfway through the veterans episode. [LAUGHS]
Jon: That’s f****** hilarious.
Chelsea: I was like “Tocarra what?” She was like “I wasn’t sure if anyone,” but uh yeah it was incredible and her, between her and Rob like we just had such a wealth of experiences to pull from, but yeah her experiences are nuts with that.
Jon: We’re gonna have that conversation with, with Reza and Tocarra, uh about her family’s experience and uh, I found it really interesting so I hope that you guys too.
Interview with Tocarra Mallard and Reza Riazi
Jon: All right! Introduce yourselves to the audience of the podcast.
Tocarra: I’m Tocarra Mallard. I’m a staff writer.
Reza: I’m Reza Riazi. I’m a senior episode producer.
Jon: Wow. That’s, do you guys have business cards? We don’t have.
Reza: I thought it was in my deal that I would get some but I didn’t get it.
Jon: Wait, you have a deal? How professional are we?
Tocarra: I’m paperless for the sake of the planet so.
Jon: Are you paperless as well?
Reza: Yeah, strictly handshakes, but we don’t do the handshakes.
Jon: Strictly paper. And that includes anything that you would normally do. Like if I Google something, I actually have to do it on paper. I’m desperately trying to murder this planet. I’m doing my best. It’s going down and I’m going to be the cause.
Tocarra: If my children can’t see dolphins because of you –
Tocarra: – I’m going to be really upset.
Jon: So let’s talk. We’re talking about veterans and the episode, Reza, you produced the episode and Tocarra, you did not serve but your family is very ensconced in military lifestyle and culture.
Tocarra: I was going to say it would be me and my little brother who were the odd people out, but he just visited a Navy recruiter the other weekend so.
Jon: Really? He’s thinking of going in?
Tocarra: Yeah, he’s thinking of going in.
Jon: Would your sibling that has gotten out say, “It accomplished for me the things that I wanted it to accomplish?”
Tocarra: I think in a sense, yes, because, you know, “Travel the world! Join the Navy.” She traveled the world, been to places that, you know, most people will never see.
Tocarra: But also the Navy’s the reason why she’s probably never going to come to my apartment because I have a gas stove and she can’t hear that pilot light ignite so.
Jon: Really? Why?
Tocarra: Because she can’t use that light because she was in a fire in Bahrain.
Jon: Oh, my goodness.
Tocarra: Yeah. She went in when she was 18 I believe, and came out a, I don’t want to say completely different person, but different. She’s different.
Jon: In the affirmative and also in the negative?
Tocarra: I think she’s more weary of things that actually go on in the world. She knows a lot more. She was an intelligence officer. So there are just things that she watches the news and is just like “I’ve had enough of that.” And then will literally like go in her room because she knows what’s really going on. She would brief people in power about what’s really going on.
Tocarra: But also because of the Navy, she’s learned multiple languages and traveled the world and is very confident.
Jon: So it is, that it’s that strange, double edged sword of, “You will get to see the world before we destroy it.”
Jon: So I’m curious. So you have your youngest sibling and he has obviously seen the experience that your sister’s had.
Jon: For the positive and the negative.
Tocarra: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jon: And still even within that, like, believes, “this is still a viable option for me.” And you have another sibling who’s there right now who sees that and thinks, “that, I will get out without the negative or that the negative is worth the package.”
Tocarra: So it’s everyone’s experience in totality. So it’s like, you know what? I hear what my mother went through, my stepfather, my father, my siblings, my grandparents, my uncle, my godmother, but maybe it’ll be different for me.
Jon: How did you, Tocarra, did you ever consider it an option or did you always know, “Look, I’ve got a creative itch to scratch and I’m going to move in that direction.” I mean you’ve done a ton of stuff.
Tocarra: Mm hmm. I don’t think I actually ever considered it seriously.
Reza: You know, it’s funny because it hung over me in a different way. But I did get hit up by a recruiter when I was in high school and, at that point, I knew I kind of wanted to do something in film and he told me he’s like, “oh, there’s nothing better for you than joining the Army if you want to go into film.”
Reza: Yes, I swear to God!
Jon: That’s the trajectory everybody goes on. It’s –
Reza: They really tried to like, send me with any sales pitch they could. It was like, “what do you want to do?” And whatever you wanted to do, the answer was kind of like, well, “if you come here, that’s actually the best way to do that.”
Jon: How honest were your parents, Tocarra, about the plus minus of military service, or did they both feel like this was a really solid option? And whatever it whatever it took, it worked out?
Tocarra: I mean, now that I’m a full fledged adult, they’re a little bit more honest or my mother is about her experience in the military and what that was like, you know, being in infantry and what that’s done to her body and her quality of life. But when I was younger, it was like, you know, “hey, you know, because of the military, we all have health care. Because of the military, we have job security. Because of the military, you know, you know where your next meal is going to come from.” There is just there was a sort of gratitude and this is our way of life around that.
Jon: Are your parents Jewish by any chance?
Jon: Because I’ve had very similar conversations, Tocarra.
Tocarra: It was just like, this is not, this is not going to be good for you.
Jon: They were practical. I find all this really interesting because it’s the difference between kind of the – this episode is there’s so much about the incentivized systems around military service and the government’s lack of care once you’re out and the way they use you. But the reality of it, the real reality of service, is a family story and not a country story.
Reza: The recruiter didn’t say that part, by the way, when he called.
Jon: Oh, he didn’t mention that to you?
Jon: Was your family supportive when you went a pretty unorthodox route, clearly for your family?
Tocarra: I think they thought they were.
Jon: Mm hmmm.
Tocarra: [LAUGHS] But they were like, “Don’t, don’t major in this. Don’t do that.” And actually told me to apply for government jobs like, “Apply to the VA, like there’s job security in that.” Go back to that because that’s what else my family does. If we don’t, we’re not in the military, we work for the Veterans Administration and actually my mother does.
Jon: They also work for the VA?
Tocarra: My mother does. My stepfather does. My sister just got a job with the VA and I used to work for the VA when I was 18.
Tocarra: I was a human resources clerk. That was my first like job. I was a little GS2 and I reviewed background checks for people who wanted to get other jobs in the VA. So military service, government service, like anything that felt secure and well within the boundaries of “You will be taken care of, you will have food on the table, there will be something that will provide for you.” And obviously the sacrifice you make for that, your mental health, your physical health, your hearing, the fact that you can stay in an apartment with a gas stove and not freak out, all seemed worth it because there was some, there was a security blanket around your quality of life, because that’s what we’ve all seen the military do.
Jon: I mean, the darker vision of this, and I hate to say that it’s what flashed in my head is that perpetual poverty is a recruiting tool –
Tocarra: It is.
Jon: – And it serves the interests of the defense of the country to make sure that there is a population that is perpetually vulnerable enough that they’re willing to make that choice. That security is worth the debilitating effects that you talked about.
Tocarra: As soon as you get out, you thought that the military was supposed to help you not feel those feelings anymore. That you were going to get out and you were going to feel secure. You were going to have transferable skills. The Veterans Administration would support you. The DOD would be by your side and you’ll be able to navigate life with these two big security guards behind you, but the reality is that’s not the case. I worked there when I was a kid, so like 18 years old. Bay Pines, VA Health Care Center. And I was using a typewriter.
Reza: No way.
Tocarra: In the year of our Lord 2007.
Jon: I can just see you. It was a dark and stormy night.
Reza: It’s where you harness your writing skills actually.
Tocarra: They put it in front of me and I was like, “Is this decoration? How cool!” “No, use this.”
Jon: What a stark reminder, though, of priorities. I mean. And at that very same time you’re watching on TV, “It’s the new smart missile. I press a button and it can hit this man sitting at this desk and miss this man.” And meanwhile, the technology for taking care of veterans postwar is, you know, from Mickey Spillane’s era. Like it’s but what a stark reminder of that priority.
Reza: Literal typewriters on the other side.
Tocarra: I mean, I can only imagine what my parents feel, especially my mother and my stepfather who work for the Veterans Administration, who work in benefits.
They talk about the money more than anything, and especially now that they’re working on the benefits side, just thinking of all the things and the hurdles that these veterans have to jump through just to even get someone on the phone –
Tocarra: – Can be incredibly difficult. So, you know, more staff, better technology, better processes in general, just so that people don’t have to feel so stupid going through this process.
Jon: And less scrutiny, less–
Tocarra: And less scrutiny.
Jon: – Less like an auditing process. You know, it’s so interesting to me how the Pentagon, people will be like, “Hey, man, did you guys see I left a pallet with ten billion dollars. I might have left it over here. Has anybody seen that?” And they’re like “No, all right, we’ll just –”
Reza: “Should we look for it? Nah, it’s not worth it.”
Jon: – “Put that down in the fund.”
Tocarra: And they want to say “yes”. They’re like, “the military, you know, the VA must have this money.” They’re asking for money. They’re asking for 100 percent disability. They’re asking for some assurance that they’re going to have a quality of life, whatever that life looks like. And the VA are like, “no, technically no. Actually, no. Tell him 50% percent, tell him 30.” Um and imagine having to go through that process as someone who also served.
Jon: Yeah, DOD and VA are not you know, it’s almost as though DOD doesn’t realize that they’re making the VA’s customers like it’s almost as though they just don’t even imagine like the VA. All the time when we’re talking about the different budgets. And I would say, you know, the Pentagon’s got a 70 billion dollar OCO slush fund that they’re just doing. The VA deserves that. “They’re different, they’re a different department, different system.” Like meh.
Reza: They service the literal same people.
Tocarra: Venn diagram situation going on here.
Jon: Tocarra, when you were working at the VA and you were on your typewriter.
Jon: Was there, was your typewriter connected to any typewriters at the Pentagon, did their typewriters ever talk to your typewriters?
Tocarra: No. It was a very lonely typewriter situation.
Jon: Singular and isolated, because they had, I can remember even ten years ago, there was one had a system called Alta, the other had a system called Vista. And those were the information systems that carried all of the veterans, you know, metrics and all those types of things. And the two computer systems did not communicate.
Reza: To each other.
Jon: To each other.
Reza: We were told things even as simple as that, by the veterans, that sometimes they need service records from the DOD –
Tocarra: Mm hmm.
Reza: – At the VA when applying for things –
Reza: – and they literally just can’t get them.
Tocarra: That is correct.
Jon: Did your family have trouble getting ahold of it when they needed their record?
Tocarra: Paperwork in general. It’s like, “can I prove I was stationed here? Can I prove I served here?” And the multiple phone calls you need to make to make that happen –
Jon: That service connection thing.
Tocarra: – It’s so difficult.
Jon: But it’s also, it really speaks to this – their entire ethos of the the military is “We’re a team.”
Reza: Mm hmm.
Jon: “No man left behind. We’re going to help you get over that wall and we’re going to do it.” And when you walk out that door, you’ve been kicked off the team. The camaraderie is gone. You have connections and things, but you’re no longer a part of that culture.
Reza: And again, just from us talking to the other veterans, the financial burden that comes with it, too.
Jon: Mm hmm.
Reza: If you are somebody who’s facing these things and needs to get outside doctor help or these assessments, it just drains you financially.
TIK TOK SECTIO
Tocarra:Um I don’t know if you’re on the TikTok.
Tocarra: Do you Tik and you Tok?
Jon: I’ve Tok’d.
Jon: I can’t say I’ve Tik’d.
Tocarra: We’ll fix that.
Tocarra: There is a disability advocate by the name of Imani Barbarin, also known as Crutches & Spice on the internets. She said something that I think of all the time, “that there is always something that any movement can learn from the disability movement. And that is any time someone calls you a ‘hero’ or an ‘inspiration’, they’re willing to let you die.”
Jon: Wow, that was on TikTok?
Tocarra: Anytime I hear teachers being called a “hero.”
Jon: Right. Essential workers!
Tocarra: Essential workers.
Tocarra: And, you know, they won’t get paid more. They’re willing to let you die. Teachers, they won’t, you know, make mask mandates. Because being a hero should be enough.
Tocarra: That’s the greatest honor.
Jon: Because they make you a martyr.
Jon: If you’re a hero, you’ve already decided, “you mean nothing to yourself for you to be willing to put the line.” But it is, that’s such an interesting phenomenon because it’s a way for people to soothe their own, whether it be guilt or selfishness or anything else. “You’re a hero.” And they don’t, they don’t lift a finger about it.
Reza: I mean, I view it differently now because, sadly, I was somebody who would say, “thanks for your service” if I saw somebody random and I really did think I was doing the right thing and –
Jon: This episode was an intervention for you, Reza.
Reza: – This is the most expensive intervention anyone has ever thrown.
Jon: Yeah, it was a lot. It was a lot.
Reza: That was something that was enlightening to me of like, “oh, s***,” like, you can just become dismissive so quickly of it because you buy into that so quickly to think, “yeah, that’s it. That’ll, that’ll thank them for it. They’ll go home and feel good about all that.”
Jon: What do they you know, Tocarra, does your family have any sense of who are the advocates or of the things that need to change, that they would I mean, I imagine they’ve got some pretty strong opinions about having been on both sides of this, whether in the military or at the VA. Are there things that they’ve ever mentioned to you, like if we could just do this, it would alleviate some of the burdens that they’re facing?
Tocarra: Um, yes. You know, one of the things that they really talk about is the dignity of being a veteran, kind of, is non-existent because, again, you have to imagine if you want to get these benefits, you’re essentially begging to be broken. I am, “please give me 100 percent disability.” Like, imagine having to say that over and over again and prove that, you know, your mind –
Jon: And being viewed with suspicion.
Tocarra: – Exactly.
Jon: Like you’re f***ing making it up.
Tocarra: Exactly. So that’s terrible. So one of the things that they always talk about is just giving the veteran the benefit of the doubt, like no –
Tocarra: Exactly, they gave you your six, your seven, their 15, their 20, their 30 years. I don’t give a s*** if they’re scamming you, give them what they’re asking for. So that’s number one. And then number two, is pouring more money into that agency.
Reza: And you hit it on another level when you talked about, I’ve never thought of it from that perspective, of feeling like you’re begging to say “you’re broken” –
Reza: – Especially coming from an entire culture that you were built on being strong, like you just came out of this whole thing where it’s like –
Jon: Ah, that’s a great point.
Reza: – Your whole identity was how strong you are and what you endured. And now somebody is asking you to say, “no, you can’t take anything.”
Tocarra: Nothing will make you sadder than being on the phone with someone you absolutely love and saying, you know, “Hey, what’s new with you?” And them saying, “Oh, great news, I got 100 percent disability.”
Jon: Oh boy.
Jon: And it’s incredible to me that the rhetoric in our country is so patriotic, symbolically so. It’s so incredible to me, the outrage generated by a football player taking a knee versus a veteran having to beg for disability when they are physically and emotionally broken by the system that put them there. And that generates not even a mention.
Reza: There was an assumption to me that there is that promise fulfilled on the other side.
Jon: And you just feel like, “oh, we’re not recognizing the weight of the human capital that we’re losing.”
Jon: That we’re, that we’re destroying.
Tocarra: Completely changing them and altering who they are as people.
Tocarra: I think is the thing that, like, really just scares me again, my little brother who could potentially, you know, be joining, you know, the rest of my family as servicemen and women.
Jon: Right. We are here only to destroy.
Jon: You must do your part. Do that. You know what you gotta do, you got to go home in the Obi Wan robe and just stand next to his room and go, “You must go. Be a destroyer of worlds.”
Tocarra: He’s a nerd too. The only thing he’ll do is critique my performance –
Tocarra: – And I don’t, I myself am sensitive and I don’t enjoy critique and I don’t want that.
Jon: Understood. It is is such the bulls***. Here’s my new mantra, and this goes to the Texas abortion situation and it goes to the VA and the DOD, and I know those things don’t seem connected, but it’s –
Tocarra: But he’s going to make it happen. Watch.
Jon: – It’s this: If you don’t have the courage to make something illegal, make it impossible.
Jon: And they don’t have the courage to codify what they’re doing to veterans. But they f***ing make it impossible.
Jon: And that’s how they get around accountability.
Reza: If it takes that much for you just to be able to prove that you served where you said you served, how do you do the rest of the process?
Jon: Because they’re trying to keep it from they don’t, if it’s service connected they have to pay.
Reza: Or people told us countless stories of being like, “Well, can you tell us that you did serve near this burn pit?” Like, but you should know that, you should know I served by the burn pit.
Jon: Mm hmm. And they do by the way.
Reza: Yeah of course.
Tocarra: Yeah. Imagine being the richest country in the world –
Jon: Mm hmm.
Tocarra: – And just wanting to hold on to the money from the people who protected that country –
Reza: Of course.
Tocarra: – And those riches. I just, it doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s some sort of logic flaw in that conversation around the United States of America. How can you proclaim this and then be so cheap, just so cheap when it comes to supporting people who have served?
Jon: Right. Yeah, it’s a very strange disconnect. We tell ourselves a story about who America is and who we are as a people. We are the defenders of freedom. We are a beacon to the world. We support the troops. God bless America. But when it comes to putting in the work –
Jon: – And the interesting thing is how upset people get that just talking about it is somehow subversive.
Reza: Sure. Bringing it up is an insult to all of it –
Jon: That’s right.
Reza: – And somehow that’s an insult to the very people who they’re not giving the benefits to.
Jon: When so many people have fought so hard and you want to say to the government, “how dare you? That dude is actually protesting that very injustice and you’re telling him, ‘he’s not honoring their sacrifice.’ You’re not! You’re actually spitting in the face of it.”
Tocarra: You’re actually in breach of contract.
Jon: That –
Reza: Is brilliant!
Jon: – Is absolutely true.
Tocarra: If we want to take it a little step further, I just keep thinking about what you said when we were speaking earlier about like, “let’s get rid of the morality. Let’s talk about the currency.” And if the currency is the business, and the business is about the money. You were in breach of contract. I told you I would give you my body in service to this in exchange for this, this, that and the other and you’ve given me none of those things.
Jon: Guys, thank you very much.
Reza: Thank you.
Tocarra: Yeah. All right.
Jon: This was nice. And join us again, coffee talk with typewriter lady.
Jon: Well, that was wow, that’s a mind blowing conversation, but at least I know now. Christmas party this year what I’m getting a staff, “The Problem with Jon Stewart” typewriters! “You get a typewriter, you get a type.” I’d be like the worst Oprah, the worst version of Oprah you could have. So we’re going to take a quick. So we’re going to take a quick break because that is a format you are used to on the podcast. Please enjoy this word from our sponsors. And when we come back, we got a little solution. There’s a solution going in this war space, this veteran space that we think is quite interesting. So stick around for that.
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Interview with Linda Bilmes
Jon: We are back, and I am assuming as the podcast grows and its popularity and scope, our sponsors will reflect a more sophisticated tone. What have we got next? The solution? This is actually sort of this is a very interesting solution to this. I had obviously advocated for a tax on war profiteers, but I believe we’ve got something that may be more doable, would that be the right word, more doable, so take a listen to this.
Jon: We’re talking to Professor Linda Bilmes, who is a leading expert on budgeting and public finance, at the Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Bilmes proposed the creation of a National Veterans Trust fund. And that’s something that we’re going to get into and talk about today. So, Professor, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast to talk about this.
Linda Bilmes: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Jon: Professor, the trust fund, it’s an idea of a national veteran’s trust fund. How did you come up with it and what do you think it’s going to accomplish?
Bilmes: So in every war, there is a long lag between the um when the real cost of taking care of the veterans and the war. So, for example, the peak year for paying out veterans benefits for World War I was in 1969 and the peak year for paying for veterans benefits for World War II was in 1986 and the peak year for paying benefits for Vietnam veterans hasn’t happened yet. So, using a very conservative estimate I’m projecting that we, over the next 30 years, will need to pay between two and 2.5 trillion dollars in veterans benefits and care. The government right now has absolutely no clear plan for how to pay for this commitment and my feeling is that we are at risk of shortchanging the veterans if we don’t set up some mechanisms for the long term funding of this promise.
Jon: So clearly, this wasn’t a surprise and when you talk to people about this tale and its existence, it didn’t just arise in these more modern conflicts.
Bilmes: So I’ve been calling for a veteran’s trust fund, along with my co-author Joe Stiglitz, for more than a decade. What we had suggested is that for every dollar that was set aside for spending on the war, we had a surcharge. We were suggesting between five and 10 percent that was set aside for paying for long term veterans benefits and put into a veterans trust fund. Now, a trust fund It’s not like a private sector trust fund, but it’s like an accounting mechanism in which funds can be tracked and monitored and some receipts can be put directly into that fund.
Jon: And it’s not novel to the U.S. government, trust funds. Social Security trust fund, many other trust funds like that. Are there models, so people can get a sense of the breadth of these trust funds, of how the country’s already done this in other areas?
Bilmes: Well, we have more than 100 trust funds for all different kinds of things financed in different ways. It is important to understand that a trust fund, a federal trust fund is not a panacea. What it is, it is a sort of stake in the ground which says we need to recognize the fact that there are, at least 1.8 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who have already been awarded and promised this amount of funding in terms of benefits and care.
Jon: You know people are under the misconception that if you serve, your health care is taken care of for life and it’s not the case. The VA really oftentimes functions like an insurance company accepting or denying these claims of service connection so as to not be on the hook for that disability and that kind of gets to the heart of the entire battle for the burn pit injuries and toxic exposures and things like that. There’s a process. It’s not just submitting a claim, it’s almost like a court procedure where the veteran is a defendant in a case about their health claim and it seems like the status quo is suspicion of fraud. That the cost of going through that process, not just financially but stress wise, it puts on the veteran and their family, it’s wrong, it’s insane.
Bilmes: The whole system, in my view, is vastly overcomplicated. What we should be doing is accepting all claims presumptive to the veteran and auditing some subset to weed out fraud. It would be a much simpler system. But instead, the mentality is to make absolutely sure that not a single nickel is spent on a veteran who shouldn’t get that nickel, even if it costs millions of dollars to guarantee that that nickel is not spent. So it is overly complicated and we don’t do this in other areas.
Jon: So what are the bottlenecks? How are we going to make this likely to happen, not likely to happen? How can we apply pressure in the right places to get it to happen?
Bilmes: This is a really expensive part of war, we have already spent, depending on how you count it, you know, seven, eight trillion dollars on waging these wars over the last 20 years, of which only a small part, so far, has been taking care of veterans. But it needs to be looked at holistically. So, I believe making the toxic exposures presumptive for the veteran is just common sense. I would love to see a situation where for once we said, “you know what, we are going to do this. And we’re going to set up a system to figure out how to pay for it.”
Jon: Yes. Yes. This has been terrific. Professor Linda Bilmes, thank you for articulating and giving us a great big picture of this situation. And hopefully they’ll take your advice and use that common sense.
Bilmes: Thank you so much Jon.
DOD and Money Porn
Jon: A trust fund for veterans when they come home from war because they are always shortchanged on the back end, so we set up something because we will have planning, we will have foresight, we will be, in the great fable of the ant and the grasshopper, we will be the ant! And we will put away… or maybe that’s I could be confusing this. Maybe that’s “Hansel and Gretel” in one of those Aesop’s fables, one of the animals definitely prepared for the inevitable scarcity of winter and the other animal was all like, “I don’t f***ing need that. I’m going to I’m going surfing or whatever the animal was doing in it.” I believe I thought it was an ant and a grasshopper, but it was a very long time ago. The point being, let’s be ants and not, let’s put it away for what we know that we will need. We know that we will need it. We’ve done this every war and we always balance the budget on the back on vets on the way back. Would an ant do that? No, but a grasshopper, would f***ing do it. You can bet. I mean. They were they used to write stories about it. So point being, we should be doing this as a country. What do we got next? Our legal and corporate overlords who we all bow down to and swear fealty to, they’ve asked us for a sexual content disclaimer before this next segment, although to be quite fair I think the whole podcast is quite sexy. S***’s about to get real, what?
Alexa: Hi, I’m Alexa Loftus and I’m a writer on the show. While researching the veteran’s healthcare episode, we learned that the Department of Defense has a budget of bazillions of dollars, but they seem to be a little stingy with it because they don’t always cover healthcare for veterans. And it kind of seemed like they loved their money so much, they would definitely f*** it. So I wrote a porn based on this idea and I’m going to read it for you right now. Buckle up.
Alexa: A sign on an office door reads “Department of Defense.”
Garth Steel: Oh.
Alexa: A man in a suit, Garth Steel, opens the door and walks in.
Garth: Garth Steel.
Alexa: He loosens his tie. “It’s gonna be a late night, boss…”
Alexa: Sultry music starts playing. He does a little dance as he undresses.
Alexa: Reveal, he’s talking to a giant pile of money.
Alexa: He pounces on it and starts grinding it.
[SOUND OF DOOR KNOCKING]
Alex: Oh, there’s a knock on the door, it’s Eric from HR.
Garth: Ooh, Eric.
Alexa: He’s received a complaint… that there “isn’t enough f***ing going on here.”
Garth: Oh no!
Alexa: He joins in on the erotic money grinding.
Garth: Link my coin purse.
Alexa: Several close up shots of them slapping themselves in the face with the money. Eric sucks on a coin roll.
Alexa: Garth keeps getting paper cuts, but he loves it.
Garth: Suck my cast.
Alexa: Eric cums so hard he dies.
Alexa: Last shot is a bunch of money and cum falling onto a skeleton in a grave. That’s right, Eric came so hard his skin flew off. He’s now just a skeleton. His bony mouth gasps.
Alexa: And that concludes my dramatic reading. Hope it wasn’t too sexy!
Jon: Wow! I am glad we gave that sexual content disclaimer, although we should’ve given a disclaimer that someone is going to cum so hard their skin will come off. Only Alexa could pull that off, only Alexa. That’s episode two, everybody. Thank you so much for listening. I do hope that you’ve got it. If you want more information on the problem, head to the website, theproblem.com. We have a newsletter. We’re just f***in shooting content right into your eye holes. We’re just, it’s a, we’re a torrent of different content and you can always go to Burn Pit 360 or with any of the other toxic exposure organizations, burn pit organizations. We can help push for this presumption legislation and get this damn thing done. And I will see you all next week. See you as a metaphor or something… I won’t actually will be hearing. You’ll hear me, I won’t hear you, but I’ll be… I’ll be thinking of you.
The Problem with Jon Stewart podcast is an Apple TV+ podcast produced by Busboy Productions.