December 7, 2017

On Wednesday, the Veterans Affairs Department released an annual survey showing that the number of homeless veterans rose 1.5 percent in 2017 versus 2016, the first increase since 2010. Also on Wednesday, Politico reported that VA Secretary David Shulkin has decided to end a $460 million program to provide housing for homeless vets.

The VA had quietly announced the decision to end the program, administered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in September, but faced blowback when officials brought up the decision in a Dec. 1 phone call arranged by Shulkin's Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans. Veterans' advocates, state agencies, and even HUD officials attacked the decision, five people on the call tell Politico. VA officials briefed congressional staffers on Tuesday, and all 14 members of the Senate appropriations VA subcommittee asked Shulkin to reconsider the decision. One of the senators, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), called the move "a new low" for the Trump administration and "especially callous and perplexing" given the rising number of homeless vets.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Shulkin said "there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs," and he "will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most." The VA decided to shift the funds from the program — in which HUD gives housing vouchers to veterans and VA connects vets with apartments and manages their cases — to local VA hospitals, who can use the money as they see fit, as long as they deal with homelessness.

The defunded program has served 138,000 vets since 2010 and roughly halved the number without housing, Politico says, citing HUD data. "The people in this program are the most vulnerable individuals," says Matt Leslie at Virginia's Department of Veterans Services. "If someone's going to die on the streets, they are the ones." Peter Weber


Up next for Netflix? Some really bad PR, apparently.

Netflix executives are "nervous" about an upcoming Wall Street Journal investigation into its company culture, NBC News reported Thursday. While no specifics about the forthcoming article have been revealed, Netflix evidently expects something similar to The New York Times' 2015 investigation into Amazon, which described a "bruising" and "punishing" workplace where employees openly weep on a regular basis and are encouraged to sabotage one another.

The Times' exposé on Amazon also alleged that some workers dealing with illnesses or personal tragedies were "edged out" and not given any recovery time. One woman said that while fighting breast cancer, she became in danger of being fired and was put on a performance review plan. Unsurprisingly, the company dealt with substantial fallout following the article's publication.

Now, Netflix employees have reportedly been told to brace for a "critical" article about its culture apparently along those lines. The article will arrive at a time when the streaming giant has been enjoying some great press and growth. The company earlier this week announced that it beat its subscriber estimate in the third quarter of 2018, sending its stock soaring after a disappointing second quarter, per CNN.

But depending on the contents of the article, it remains to be seen how long-lasting any effects might actually be. As NBC News points out, three years after that New York Times investigation into Amazon, LinkedIn still ranks it as the #1 most desirable company in America. Brendan Morrow


Opioid addiction is an American crisis. So are negative campaign ads, if you ask Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.).

At least that's what the congressman implied during a Wednesday visit with incarcerated drug addicts at Virginia's Chesterfield County Jail. One inmate was particularly worried about finding a job after her release, and Brat insisted he could relate. "You think you're having a hard time? I've got $5 million worth of negative ads coming at me," Brat said on audio captured by WCVE, Richmond's NPR affiliate. "How do you think I'm feeling? Nothing's easy. For anybody," he continued.

Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat currently challenging Brat's seat this fall, soon tweeted that Brat's comparison of "the hardship of addiction and the struggles of recovery to his campaign" was "shameful." But Brat still hasn't clarified his comment, and even included WCVE's audio clip in a press release about the jail visit.

Brat does go on to tell the inmate "you've got it harder ... coming up with a job or whatever," per WCVE's audio. And in a tweet, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw suggested Brat's comment "could've been at attempt at humor." Whatever the off-color comment was, it seemed to get President Trump's attention. Kathryn Krawczyk


TV isn't always meant to reflect real life, but when it comes to characters who are immigrants, even realistic shows are coming up short.

An analysis by the University of Southern California's Media Impact Project, led by the Norman Lear Center and shared with The Hollywood Reporter found that in 143 sample episodes from 47 television series, immigrant characters were disproportionately portrayed as less educated and more involved in crime.

The immigrant crime rate is lower than that of native-born Americans, The Marshall Project found earlier this year. But in TV shows aired in 2017 and 2018, about 34 percent of immigrant characters were associated with crime. While less than 1 percent of immigrants have been incarcerated for non-immigration-related offenses, 11 percent of immigrant characters on TV are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated.

Meanwhile, shows also tend to overinflate the number of immigrants who are undocumented. Only 23 percent of immigrants on TV are American citizens, but in reality, 49 percent of immigrants are naturalized citizens. The study also found that just 7 percent of immigrants on TV held bachelor's degrees, and just 3 percent held doctoral degrees. In real-life America, 17 percent of immigrants are college graduates, and 13 percent hold a PhD.

"With immigrants, everything seems to fall into two categories: the criminal hustling the system, or the high-achieving, pristinely perfect 'good' immigrant," Noelle S. Lindsay Stewart, entertainment media manager for the nonprofit Define American, told the Reporter. "That doesn't allow for the complexity or humanity that real people have." See more results at The Hollywood Reporter. Summer Meza


Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was often critical of Saudi Arabia's government, but this wasn't what earned him a writing ban in the country two years ago. Rather, it was criticism of President Trump.

Saudi Arabia in 2016 banned Khashoggi from writing, appearing on TV, and attending conferences in the country, after he offered a light critique of America's then president-elect, The Independent reports. At a Washington think tank, Khashoggi said that Trump's Middle East policies were "contradictory," and he told The Washington Post that the incoming president's attempts for reconciliation in the region were "wishful thinking."

That was the final straw for Saudi Arabia, Wired's Virginia Heffernan points out. A Saudi spokesman quickly said that Khashoggi didn't represent the kingdom's views, and his newspaper column was subsequently canceled.

The State Department's own 2017 report on human rights in Saudi Arabia later noted that Khashoggi received a media ban "as the result of remarks he made that were interpreted as criticizing the president of the United States." This ban was reportedly lifted the following July, but by that point, Khashoggi had moved to the U.S. and feared he would be arrested if he returned home. He went on to write columns for the Post that often criticized Saudi Arabia's media suppression.

Earlier this month, Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a marriage document. Although Saudi Arabia's government denies any knowledge of what happened, Turkey says it has evidence that he was tortured and murdered in front of a Saudi diplomat.

In March 2018, Khashoggi told the Columbia Journalism Review that he was "so insulted" when the royal court told him he couldn't write anymore. "In America," he said, "you take freedom for granted." Brendan Morrow


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been compared to the Zodiac Killer and the very smushy blobfish. Even his fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) once joked about murdering him.

But his wife? "Everyone loves Heidi," a Houston Democrat told The Atlantic. “Every time I talk to her I think, 'you should be running for office, not your husband.'”

Heidi Cruz and her husband married just a year after working on former President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign together — a time when Ted looked like a "1950s movie star," she told The Atlantic. Ted insisted on playing the Disney classic "A Whole New World" at the ceremony, and has described their life as a "magic-carpet ride" ever since. "Sometimes I'm like, 'I hope we don't hit the cement,'" Heidi said.

Heidi generally "sees eye to eye with her husband on policy," The Atlantic notes. So for her, the hardest part of Cruz's Senate and presidential campaigns, as well as his current stint on the Hill, has been disrupting her expertly-coordinated life plan to be there for him. Heidi loved her first Treasury Department job, but gave it up when her husband became Texas' solicitor general. She again paused her Goldman Sachs job in 2015 when he decided to run for president. Their daughter Caroline even warned Heidi that all this sacrifice might not be worth it.

When President Trump was running his campaign against Cruz, he retweeted an attack on Heidi's appearance. In retrospect, that memory now just leaves her laughing, The Atlantic notes, as does a National Enquirer insinuation that Ted has "five secret mistresses." But when Cruz dropped out of the race in 2016, "I don't know that I even shed a tear," she said. Read more about Heidi Cruz's sometimes-magical life at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk


Saudi Arabia's upcoming investment conference is continuing to fall apart.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Thursday that he will no longer be attending the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia as originally planned.

In recent days, a number of key companies and government officials have also pulled out of the event in reaction to concerns that Saudi Arabia's government murdered Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who went missing earlier this month. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement, but Turkey says it has evidence that a top Saudi diplomat was in the room while Khashoggi was tortured and beheaded at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As recently as Monday, Mnuchin still planned to attend the conference, which was scheduled as a stop on his trip focused on fighting terrorist financing in the Middle East, The New York Times reports. But now, Mnuchin has changed his tune. The treasury secretary provided no further details about what went into his decision, but he said it came after he met with both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, who met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss Khashoggi's disappearance, said that he and Trump will give Saudi Arabia "a few more days" to complete an investigation into the matter, which the kingdom has assured will be "complete" and "thorough." Pompeo also emphasized that Saudi Arabia remains an "important counter-terrorism partner." Brendan Morrow


Fox & Friends often feels eerily similar to President Trump's rallies these days, but Thursday's broadcast was even more openly aligned with Republican talking points than usual.

During a segment Thursday morning, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy suggested viewers have "got to vote for Republicans" if they don't want open borders, Mediaite reports. He said that "it's clear" that in the midterms, you should only support Democrats "if you think that our southern border should be open," but you should support Republicans "if you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly." At the last minute, he added "...the Republicans say" to suggest he was technically paraphrasing the Republican Party's message, but not before his fellow hosts had already moved on.

Doocy's comments came during a segment about a caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S. with hopes of crossing the border. Doocy suggested Fox & Friends might sway voters this November, forcing them to think, “did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?” The Democratic Party also calls for improving border security.

Other segments on Thursday's Fox & Friends included a friendly interview with Eric Trump, who similarly warned of chaos at the hands of the Democrats. To really drive the point home, the show aired a clip of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich characterizing the midterms as a "life and death struggle" with "radicalized" Democrats. Watch Doocy's warning below, via Fox News. Brendan Morrow

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