More

A powerful ad challenges Trump to act like a legitimate president. Here's the backstory.

A message from an Afghanistan war veteran takes on the president directly.

A powerful ad challenges Trump to act like a legitimate president. Here's the backstory.

"President Trump. I hear you watch the morning shows," begins the latest TV spot from VoteVets, the self-described "largest progressive group of veterans in America."

The ad, which debuted during Monday morning's episode of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (a show Trump reportedly watches on a regular basis), features an Afghanistan war veteran who lost a leg in combat, addressing the president directly in a voice-over.

"President Trump. I hear you watch the morning shows. Here’s what I do every morning. Look, you lost the popular vote. You’re having trouble drawing a crowd. And your approval rating keeps sinking. But kicking thousands of my fellow veterans off their health insurance by killing the Affordable Care Act and banning Muslims won’t help. And that’s not the America I sacrificed for. You want to be a legitimate president, sir? Then act like one."

Just minutes after the ad aired, Trump tweeted, which the group suspects may have been in response to the ad.


Trump has talked a pretty big game when it comes to how he sees the military's role, but VoteVets has concerns about what exactly that means.

"I will be so good at the military your head will spin," Trump said in a September 2015 interview. In one of his first acts as president, Trump signed an executive order calling for a "great rebuilding of the Armed Forces." While those actions and statements might sound good, there's not a whole lot of substance to them.

That's why VoteVets is trying to reach the president where they're most likely to be heard: on cable news.

"All we're really doing here is elevating the voice of one of our members who wants to speak directly to Trump, and obviously, we feel he's earned that right to do it," says VoteVets Chairman and Co-founder Jon Soltz. "So, we just wanted to do something that was direct, something that addressed him personally, something that would catch his attention that had substance to it about the Muslim ban and the Affordable Care Act."

Trump holds a Purple Heart replica that was given to him during a campaign event in August 2016. "I've always wanted to have a Purple Heart," Trump said. "This was much easier." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

While the ACA and the travel ban are receiving much attention lately, there are a number of other issues VoteVets and other veteran advocacy organizations are concerned about.

Soltz cites possible privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs as one of the larger concerns on the group's radar. While Trump has made some bold promises to "fix" the VA, it's not entirely clear what that will look like. Adding to the concern, Trump held a "listening session" for possible improvements to the VA that didn't include prominent veterans advocacy organizations.

Additionally, Soltz notes that Trump's federal hiring freeze will hurt veterans in a number of ways. There are more than 2,000 job openings at the short-staffed VA that, due to Trump's hiring freeze, will remain vacant. Additionally, 31% of all federal employees are veterans. For that reason, along with the fact that veterans are given hiring preference for federal jobs, the hiring freeze will disproportionately affect veterans in search of work.

Iraq War veteran and VoteVets Chairman Jon Soltz meets with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2007. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images.

Not to mention the concerns some veterans and active members of the military may have over Trump's views on things like NATO and his general decision-making capabilities when it comes to issues of war.

But why take out an ad? Why not just flood the White House comment line and use more traditional avenues of lobbying for policy change?

Well ... with the White House comment line down, people and groups have been scrambling to find new ways to make their voices heard.

How do you get through to a president that doesn't listen to anyone outside his own circle of advisers, refuses to acknowledge any poll that shows disapproval of his performance or policies, calls any news not to his liking "fake news," and accuses anyone who protests of being nothing more than a paid plant?

VoteVets' strategy of targeting his favorite TV shows is an innovative approach, to say the least.

Image from VoteVets/YouTube.

It's an approach that brings with it another challenge, however: TV ads take time to make. That's why VoteVets deviated from the approach they've used in the past — veterans talking directly to the camera — and instead chose to rely on a voiceover message so the audio can be swapped out as needed to keep up with the quickly changing news cycle.

"We're interested in shooting this ad in a way that's simple, that does not look like a political ad — because it's not. It's a veteran's story," says Soltz, "but in a way that if we have to make his statements more pointed, we have the ability to do that quickly so it's still relevant to the news cycle."

As for why the veteran who stars in the ad isn't named, Soltz explains that there are concerns about the veteran's and his family's safety, as well as a belief that "less is more."

"If you really want to hit hard, you've got to say something," says Soltz. "We don't need to explain a lot for people to know this is a combat-wounded Afghanistan war veteran. We don't want to distract from the visual or the words."

To learn more about this ad, visit the VoteVets website.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less