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“A Public-Relations Effort For Himself”: Donald Trump’s ‘Shady’ Support For Veterans

When Democrats make the case that Donald Trump has a controversial background when it comes to veterans’ issues, it’s not just wishful thinking. The presumptive Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan for veterans’ care. His associations with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.

And it certainly didn’t help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

Making matters much worse are new questions about Trump and veterans-related fundraising.

In January, the New York Republican skipped a debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans. Trump repeatedly boasted at the time that, thanks to his bold leadership, he’s raised $6 million for vets. Trump added that he’d contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

Whatever happened to all of that money? The Washington Post took a closer look.

Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the fundraiser actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced.

Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump’s own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing. […]

Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.

The number of questions, which the campaign does not want to answer, represents a real problem. Exactly how much did Trump raise for veterans? His campaign doesn’t know. How much of it has been allocated? His campaign doesn’t know that, either. Who were the beneficiaries of Trump’s $1 million contribution? The campaign doesn’t want to talk about it.

I’m trying to imagine how the political world would react if Hillary Clinton and her team tried this.

The Post’s report added:

In recent weeks, Trump and his campaign repeatedly declined to give new details about how much they have given away. “Why should I give you records?” Trump said in an interview with The Post this month. “I don’t have to give you records.”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Trump’s refusal to divulge how much of the money he had distributed raised questions about whether the candidate intended the fundraiser primarily as a public-relations effort for himself.

“That’s just shady. Right? No matter how you cut it, that’s just shady,” Rieckhoff said. “If he was going to make it right, a couple of weeks before Memorial Day would be a good time to do it. It behooves him, not just politically but ethically, to come forward and account for this money.”

Just so we’re clear, there’s ample evidence that Trump did raise millions for veterans and some organizations benefited from the donations.

There is, however, additional evidence that Trump’s specific claims about the amount of money raised weren’t true, and for whatever reason, the Republican candidate and his team have been reluctant to account for the money in detail. Indeed, when asked for details about how Trump’s $1 million was allocated, the GOP candidate’s campaign manager responded, “He’s not going to share that information.”

Postscript: To put this in a slightly larger context, in April, the Washington Post reported on Trump’s frequent boasts that he’s given “more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.” The newspaper found, however, “Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.”

Update: Several readers reminded me that Trump’s troubles with veterans also extend to his condemnation of John McCain and servicemembers who “get captured.” It’s an important point.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2016

May 25, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Veterans Scandal On Bernie Sanders’ Watch”: An Obscured View Of The Situation On The Ground

Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.

Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.

Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.

Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.

He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.

“We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that’s… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped,” said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

By the time the scandal broke, Sanders had been chairman for more than a year. While the House VA committee held 42 hearings on VA oversight, the Senate VA committee chaired by Sanders held only about seven hearings on the matter.

“The House needed a partner in the Senate to help flesh out the problems at the VA, and unfortunately Bernie Sanders was not that partner. Jeff Miller and his committee were the ones who pursued this and ultimately uncovered [the VA scandal]… only when the VA scandal broke was when [Sanders] ultimately decided to do oversight hearings,” said Dan Caldwell, the vice president for political and legislative action of Concerned Veterans for America.

Republicans on the committee signed a letter shortly after the scandal broke, demanding to hold multiple oversight hearings on the VA, and complained that they had requested “multiple oversight hearings since the beginning of the 113th Congress with none of the requested hearings taking place and no response.”

Even as the scandal was breaking, Sanders was challenged for his defense of the VA.

“You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done,” CNN host Chris Cuomo lectured Sanders as the scandal unraveled.

It was his progressive worldview that blinded him to the problems of the VA, some veterans advocates argued, and it prevented him from seeing the problem as it emerged.

Sanders, some veterans’ rights workers say, wanted to believe that the VA was a model for government-run health care.

“For years, many people within the progressive movement and the left touted the VA as an example of what government-run health care could look like for Americans,” added Dan Caldwell. “Based on Bernie Sanders’s ideology, he wanted the government-run system at the VA to work, because it reinforced his view of what government health care should look like for all Americans, not just veterans.”

Those advocates don’t think his rosy view of what was happening at the VA lined up with reality.

“His worldview got in the way of the facts on the ground. He’s concerned about veterans, but had an almost blind faith in the VA system to where it obscured his view of the situation on the ground as the scandal was unfolding,” said a congressional source close to the legislative negotiations on VA reform.

The problem, the source said, was that Sanders “believed in government, and he believed in it to a fault.”

Ultimately, an emergency piece of legislation was passed that infused money into the VA and created some accountability mechanisms. The Choice Act, as it was called, also allowed vets to find private-care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days, a major concession that Sanders was forced to make.

“He got backed into a corner and had no choice but to support the bill. The consensus on the committee was strong—to have some more accountability and give veterans some private choices,” Caldwell said. “Bernie just got outgunned… he had no choice. Now he’s turning it around and using it as an example of finding consensus… The bill that passed would have largely passed even if he had walked away.”

The congressional source close to the negotiations said Sanders “helped negotiate this bill and got some of his elements in,” including additional funding for the VA, but only after a late start, having defended the VA during the early days of the scandal.

Sanders cites awards from the American Legion and the VFW as evidence of accomplishments during his time as chairman.

But Miller batted this away: “That’s not uncommon for the chairman and ranking member of committees to get awards from veterans associations. Or, quite frankly, if they’re chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to get it from a tax-writing firm. Or if they’re chairman of House Armed Services, to get something from Boeing.”

“When vets needed Bernie Sanders to aggressively oversee the VA and hold them accountable, he was AWOL,” Caldwell added.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2016

February 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Veterans, Patriots And Pawns”: A Particularly Blatant And Distasteful Ploy For Credibility

When Donald J. Trump removed himself from the Republican debate last week and threw a huge public relations party for himself, he did what many politicians before him have done: He cynically used United States military veterans to elevate his own political standing. His alt-rally, called a “Special Event to Benefit Veterans Organizations,” held in Des Moines, was the type of circus we’ve come to expect from the former reality TV star turned politician.

Thankfully, the candidate stopped short of ringleading a few acts under his big top — no Marines on the overhead trapeze, Navy SEALs balancing balls on their noses or Special Forces walking the tightrope.

The circus had nothing to do with those who serve this country; we know that he was sticking it to Fox News and the “mean” moderator Megyn Kelly. But like many before him, Mr. Trump saw an opportunity and seized it.

Mr. Trump didn’t invent this particular brand of hypocrisy; he just employed it a bit more flagrantly. Politicians from both parties have used warriors as photo ops and speech fodder ever since Abraham Lincoln posed with his generals for Mathew Brady at Antietam.

In Des Moines, Mr. Trump, who took a swipe last year at Senator John McCain of Arizona for being “captured” in Vietnam, and long before that complained that “homeless veterans” were ruining his property values, made the night air sparkle with his praise. And soon, like a true ringmaster, he gave the people what they wanted — three real, live veterans who came onstage to speak to the crowd.

As someone who spent 20 years in the active-duty Army, I should be used to strangers bending and twisting my service to suit their needs. But I’m not. I’ve been out of uniform for nearly a decade, and I still break out in a rash when I see service members used, misused and abused for commercial or political gain.

For candidates, veterans are the most useful props imaginable. They are real-life stand-ins for any number of campaign trail virtues: patriotism, national defense, antielitism, take your pick. And they are a great way to inoculate oneself from criticism for not having served — which is the case for every major candidate in the 2016 race, not just Mr. Trump. (The former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, a long shot, is the exception.) Still, for Mr. Trump, who avoided military service in Vietnam, this was a particularly blatant and distasteful ploy for credibility.

But the public gets something out of the bargain, too. For many, to be in a room with a veteran is to touch the battlefield. In his novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Ben Fountain describes the quasi-religious ecstasy that can come about when civilians meet so-called war heroes: “They tremble. They breathe in fitful, stinky huffs. Their eyes skitz and quiver with the force of the moment, because here, finally, up close and personal, is the war made flesh.” Mr. Trump hoped his supporters would skitz and quiver their way right into his campaign coffers.

At least there was a payoff. The $6 million Mr. Trump promised to donate to veterans organizations is, as Forbes recently pointed out, $5.94 million more than his charitable foundation has given veterans in recent years. Though some veterans organizations have said they’ll take the money raised at the event, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group that represents about 150,000 veterans, has said no thanks. The I.A.V.A.’s founder, Paul Rieckhoff, tweeted: “We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Mr. Rieckhoff was right to refuse the candidate’s cash, and put some distance between veterans and Mr. Trump.

Other veterans saw last week’s rally as just more of the same. Nathan Webster, a Desert Storm veteran and contributor to the anthology “Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home,” told me that “veterans are the go-to for any politician who wants an easy, effort-free splash for an event or promotion.”

Mr. Trump’s Iowa event appeared to be heavily seeded with fist-pumping veterans chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Veterans are like anybody else in this current culture,” Mr. Webster said. “They’re happy to play along with whatever cynical fame-grab somebody offers them.”

Most veterans I know don’t want to be lionized for any purpose. We were simply dedicated to doing our jobs to the best of our abilities, carrying out the orders of our superiors and coming home safe every night, not unlike responsible employees at Microsoft, City Hall or Mo’s Coffee Shop. But politicians don’t rally in honor of programmers, office clerks or short-order cooks because they just aren’t as sexy and camera-ready as soldiers — particularly the ones who’ve been battered and broken by combat. Military service is charged with a special aura of bravery and honor that politicians can’t resist glomming on to.

As a result, those who serve in the military all too often find themselves also serving as the flavor of the month (November), and the poster children or circus performers at political rallies like Mr. Trump’s. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. In his novel, Mr. Fountain writes: “What is a soldier’s job but to be the pawn of higher? Wear this, say that, go there, shoot them, then of course there’s the final and ultimate, be killed.”

What a shame, then, that those who make it home alive sometimes find themselves fighting a new battle: to be seen as more than a prop on the American political stage.

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Veterans Being Used As Props”: Trump Claims To Aid Veterans, But Is He The World’s Least Charitable Billionaire?

Donald Trump wants voters to believe that he cares deeply about veterans and proved it by skipping Thursday’s Republican debate to raise money for organizations serving them.

But the billionaire developer’s latest stunt was all about him and his feud with Fox News, not about helping those who served. While he did raise $6 million (including $1 million of his own money), those funds all went to the Donald J. Trump Foundation — a tax-exempt non-profit entity that generally gives barely $1 million a year to charity, let alone to veterans’ groups (the last time it disbursed more than a million dollars was in 2012). Indeed, Trump is reputed to be “the least charitable billionaire in the world.”

He donated $5.5 million between 2009 and 2013, a tiny drop in the bucket for a man who is apparently worth $4.5 billion. According to the latest filings available, his foundation donated only $540,000 in 2014 — with $100,000, a fifth of all donations, going to a group listed as “Citizens United.” If that is the same group whose Supreme Court litigation led to the legalization of limitless political campaign expenditures, it received 10 times the amount of money that the Green Beret Foundation, a charity that helps Green Berets when they return home, received from the Trump Foundation in 2014.

His foundation’s record validates claims by veterans groups that they were being used as props in Trump’s campaign to make him seem the victim of Fox News.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted before the Trump fundraising event: “If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump’s event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.” Founded in 2005, IAVA has more than 180,000 members and provides support for over 2.8 million veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, according to its website.

Trump’s foundation, for its part, released a list of the charities that will be receiving the money raised at his counter-programing event. It includes 22 veterans organizations from over a dozen states. But the campaign has not commented on how the groups were selected or how the money will be distributed. If the money is distributed evenly, each organization would stand to receive around $272,000.

By avoiding the last Republican debate before the Iowa primary, Trump sent a clear message to the Republican establishment. He doesn’t need their approval to win over voters.

But it isn’t clear Trump won that battle, even if the debate had the second lowest ratings in this election cycle. The presidential campaign has been going on for nearly a year, the debate was the seventh one for the Republican candidates and it was held on a weeknight. Those factors may explain the lower ratings — and more Americans tuned in for the debate than for Trump’s rival event.

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, January 29, 2016

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Charitable Donations, Donald Trump, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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