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Sunday, March 21, 2010

And Starting For The Defense Pt. II

In which we find Michelle Malkin using her "love" for the American military to defend "Freedom Alliance" and Sean Hannity. Turns out that she's really missing the point on this and should use her "journalistic" skills to dig deeper into this - you know, like she does when she attacks children.

Recently, a story that has been around for nearly three years, has finally gained traction within the conservative realm, and blogger and passionate conservative Debbie Schlussel has rightfully pointed out that Sean Hannity and "Freedom Alliance" are using the image of the American military to steal money from concert-goers.

This has not set well with conservatives that want to use the military as a shield ( and we know what they say about shields ) so they are claiming that this story has been completely and thoroughly debunked. Too bad this isn't true. Let's that a look at the source cited and the reality behind it.

Malkin dives headlong into the shallow end of the pool from the start:

I had the honor of speaking at one of Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance events in 2002 about immigration and national security. While there, I met Shannon Spann, the widow of American hero Johnny “Mike” Spann — the 32-year-old CIA officer and former Marine Corps artillery specialist who was the first American killed in action during our war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Spann was killed in a prison riot where Jihad Johnny Lindh, the American Taliban, was captured. Spann had interrogated Lindh prior to the revolt; Lindh chose to hide the riot plans from his fellow American. Spann died in the violence. His family recounted his bravery after a visit overseas to the fortress where he died...

You see, plenty of flag-sucking and "look how much I love a soldier" she uses right in the first paragraph. It's disgusting how this woman presents herself. If she's so honored to be part of this country, then why isn't she fighting the Taliban herself? Certainly, this would be a question posed to those on the Left, but I feel that Malkin should answer this as well, considering the way she continually molests the corpses of our soldiers.

She continued her hamfisted defense of "Freedom Alliance" by pointing out that just because they honored a dead soldier that THAT is one of the signifiers that should absolve them of any wrong-doing.

But here is where her piece really gets good:

My Fox News colleague and friend Sean Hannity has devoted countless hours helping the Freedom Alliance — which has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator – raise money for the dependent children of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. The charity funds scholarships to students who have lost a parent on the battlefield in Persian Gulf War, the 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and the Pentagon. Sean has hosted Freedom Concerts across the country and helped raise millions for troops and their families...

And while Malkin offers up the "star rating" of this group, the numbers don't seem to jive with what the "Freedom Concerts" are intended to do. And while I am not the best person to analyze the numbers on this, they don't really seem to reflect the image that Malkin is presenting - an organization that is more about helping people than turning a profit. Anyone that knows how to properly break down the dollar figures linked, please do so and I will gladly update this diary accordingly.

But the juice in Malkin's lemon comes with this portion:

Unhinged smear-mongering spread on the Internet today — and it has been swiftly and definitively debunked and deconstructed.

Her "debunked" and "deconstructed" theme comes from non-other than "Freedom Alliance". Am I the only one that recalls conservatives complaining that ACORN had an internal review done to clear their name of any wrong-doing. So why is Malkin so eager to laud "Freedom Alliance" for taking part in the same action?

Instead of taking that route, let's examine this "debunking".

Freedom Alliance’s press release today stated categorically that they have “never provided planes, hotels, cars, limos, or anything else to Sean [Hannity] … to be clear Sean pays for all his own transportation, hotels, and all related expenses for himself and his family and friends and staff.” We are satisfied that this is true.

It is true that Freedom Alliance spent $60,000 on aviation services in 2006, but there is no evidence that this was for Sean Hannity’s benefit, and it seems unlikely that the money was used to lease a Gulfstream 5. Rates for G5 aircraft average around $8,000 an hour. $60,000 would not buy much at that rate.

We have also been able to confirm that Sean Hannity has no operational control over the organization. Nor is he even a member of the group’s board.

So what have we got? "Freedom Alliance" says that this isn't true, but can't provide any actionable information that Hannity pays for his own trips other than their own word. That's like saying you didn't take a cookie form the jar when there are 8 missing and expecting your mother to take you at your word.

And then there is the "aviation expense" line that uses the example of how much it costs to lease a G5. Who said that Hannity ( or anyone ) used a G5? He could have flown business class, or had another type private jet. I'm sure that Hannity has his travel standards, but there is nothing in the "Freedom Alliance" response that proves unequivocally that the claim made by Schlussel isn't true.

This next piece almost made me puke.

FrumForum has intensively investigated Freedom Alliance’s 990 Forms, which have been submitted to the IRS and checked by an independent auditor.

Debbie Schlussel alleges that only $1 million of the organization’s $8.8 million in revenue was going to soldiers and scholarships in 2008. This figure is the product of a misleading and selective reading of the organization’s tax forms.

The numbers that Schlussel cite refer to direct financial transfers to individuals – that is, if there is a direct grant that Freedom Alliance gives to a soldier. This does not include all the positive work that doesn’t involve a direct grant.

Freedom Alliance also spends money on non-cash benefits for military families, involving things like taking soldiers to sporting events and sending care packages to troops.

The highest paid employee earned $152,000 in 2006. The second highest paid employee earned $83,000. In 2007, Freedom Alliance spent about $1 in $7 on salary and benefits.

Total staffing costs may seem high, but they are not out of line with what is spent at many other charities. For example, the Armed Services branch of the YMCA spent about $1 in $2 on salaries and benefits in 2008.

Because we all know that buying a ticket to watch the Cubs get their asses spanked is on par with sending a child to college. The later claim that the Armed Services branch of the YMCA is disproportionately large seems to be somewhat misplaced. Does "Freedom Alliance" think that military personnel are over-paid?

Let's continue.

Schlussel is unhappy with “the fact that in each year’s tax returns soldiers described as having brain trauma injuries, multiple amputated limbs, and severe burns over most of their bodies get a few hundred bucks each from Freedom Alliance and in almost every case, no more than $1,000.”

However, this accusation is much weaker when you examine the Department of Defense regulations regarding donations to active duty soldiers.

According to the DOD Joint Ethics Regulation, gifts with a value of over $1,000 must go through a lengthy bureaucratic process which involves ethics officials. Calls to the Department of Defense confirmed this point.

What becomes clear is that there is a bureaucratic process to get approval from an ethics official, and that the costs of working through the bureaucracy for this purpose may want to be avoided by a charity, especially one that is working in a lot of other areas.

Schlussel also decries Freedom Alliance donations of less than $1,000, complaining for example that Freedom Alliance only gave $200 to a serviceman who lost both legs and his left arm. FrumForum has determined that lower-value grants like these are approved for specific purposes, often requested by a DOD case officer. This applies to cases where, for example, a serviceman may need a bus ticket home to visit his family.

The sums may seem small, but a soldier who is already receiving a government benefit may greatly value an airline ticket that goes above and beyond the Department of Defense’s budget.

Sure, the soldier may be receiving assistance from the government, but if he looks like the poor soul from Metallica's One video, I'm pretty sure that an economy-class ticket from Baghdad to Scranton isn't going to make his family feel any better when they see "Freedom Alliance" spending all this money to bring Billy Ray Cyrus to St. Louis to play some hackneyed songs for people like this.

These statements might as well read like this: We didn't want to fill out that extra form so we would pocket the balance. And the "Freedom Alliance" cash register goes "CHA CHING"!

After all, nothing says "patriot" like sending your disfigured son/daughter home on the cheap and reminding them to watch Fox"News".

Schlussel complains that “167 students got an average of just $4,803.89 each in tuition. With the amount this charity raises, these kids should all be getting a free ride paid for by Freedom Alliance.”

The scholarships that she is referring to are considered and approved annually, meaning that a freshman can qualify for about $20,000 over four years.

Further, $4,800 covers more than a year’s tuition at an average Catholic private school and a substantial portion of tuition at many colleges. For example, it nearly covers a year’s tuition at the University of Georgia ($4,900), and covers about a third of a year’s tuition at the University of Michigan ($11,600 for freshmen, $13,000 for upper-classmen).

Overall, Freedom Alliance raised $2.1 million for scholarships in 2008. About $800,000 of that went to scholarships for that year. Schlussel claims that the remainder, “$1,238,636 – all of which was supposed to go to scholarships for these kids of the fallen – went to Freedom Alliance.”

FrumForum was able to confirm with Freedom Alliance that the $1.2 million that Schlussel cites did not go into the general Freedom Alliance revenues, but instead to the organization’s Scholarship Trust Fund.

Why didn’t Freedom Alliance spend all of its $2.1 million on scholarships that year? Considering your average active duty combat soldier is in his mid-20s, many fallen soldiers have children that are not of age to go to college. Saving a substantial part of funds is simply good planning – the process of funding children of the fallen will continue for fifteen to twenty years. The organization’s trust fund now stands at around $15 million.

This part really get my rage at near rolling boil. They might as well be saying that since your kid isn't of "college age" that you and your family don't count. But even though they offer the final "we're holding the money for your kids until later", where's the guarantee that they are going to be able to use that money for school? Why isn't this deposited into t savings account for the child so that it can accrue interest, to grow? Am I the only one that thinks 6 month old Shelly or Steven are going to get screwed on this deal?

In the end, I don't think there is a clearer picture of how people like Hannity, North, and Malkin are using the military for their own gain. It's beyond disgusting and further proof that these people are a disgrace to the country and the human race.

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