The Obama Administration

Resignation: What Kind of V.A. Secretary Was Eric Shinseki?

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson Vietnam veteran Rollie Lewis, center, from Solway, Minn., looks at the challenge coin given to him by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Fargo, N.D., July 5, 2011. T o no one's surprise, Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki resigned today. Once Democrats started calling for him to step down, it was pretty much inevitable; the political damage from him remaining was just too overwhelming to resist. But even if you've been following the V.A. scandal closely, you probably have no idea whether Shinseki was actually doing a good job as secretary. You're not alone; in fact, the ratio of people who actually understand his tenure to those who are expressing opinions about it is infinitesimal. Not only that, we'll probably get only the blurriest impression of how his successor does. The reason is that like most departments of the federal government outside of State, Defense, and to a lesser...

In an Obamacare Experiment, Maryland Aims to Make Its Poor More Healthy

In the rural area around Cumberland, the obesity rate is almost 29 percent, nutrition is poor and food insecurity is high. With a waiver from the federal government to experiment with preventive care, state officials hope to reverse those trends.

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Monica Potts/The American Prospect Residents wait for their turn at a food bank in Cumberland, Maryland. C umberland, Maryland, is in the western handle of the state, sitting atop Virginia near the narrows that once funneled settlers through the mountains and into the West. It’s the biggest city in the area, with about 20,000 people. The railroads were once the largest industry here, and freight trains still rumble through the downtown, past an old sign for the Cumberland Steel Company and a hilly jumble of old red-brick factories, two-story offices, and church spires. Now, as in almost every other rural part of the country, the biggest employer is the local hospital. The hospital, Western Maryland Health Systems, is participating in a statewide experiment that officials hope will control hospital costs and also make the state’s population healthier. The State of Maryland has been trying to control health-care costs since the 1970s, but its efforts are getting new attention because...

How Conservatives Will React to Obama's New Climate Regulations

A mountaintop removal mine in Virginia. (Flickr/Universal Pops)
President Obama is set to announce new rules for carbon emissions today, and what we'll see is a familiar pattern. The administration decides to confront one of the most profound challenges we face. It bends over backward to accommodate the concerns of its opponents, shaping the policy to achieve the goal in ways that Republicans might find palatable. Then not only are its efforts to win support from the other side fruitless, the opposition is so vituperative that it veers into self-parody. That's what happened with the Affordable Care Act; not only was the law not "socialism" as Republicans charged, it was about as far from socialism as you could get and still achieve universal coverage. It involved getting as many people as possible into private insurance plans, where they could see private medical providers. But Republicans who had previously embraced similar market-based ideas decided that once Obama poisoned them with his support, they were were now the height of statist...

Daily Meme: The Immigration Merry-Go-Round

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
It's been about a year—329 days, to be precise—since the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, but it seems we're no closer to seeing it become law now than we were then. Care to take a ride on the immigration merry-go-round? House Speaker John Boehner swears no one wants to see immigration reform get done more than he does, but Obamacare shows that we can't trust the president. Latino journalist Jorge Ramos, pointing out that immigration has nothing to do with Obamacare, tried to cut through the cant on Thursday: "Why are you blocking immigration reform?" he asked the speaker at a press conference. Boehner's response: "Me? Blocking?" Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour swears that Boehner is "trying very hard." But Brian Beutler at The New Republic says it's never been more clear Republicans are killing immigration reform. Now they have another excuse not to budge. President Barack Obama unilaterally designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico a...

A Few Things to Keep In Mind About the V.A.

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Even though there may be somewhat less demagoguery around the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration than around some other issues, there will no doubt be a certain amount on the way. So here are a few handy things to keep in mind: This scandal isn't about the quality of care . While there are surely some veterans who have gotten poor care, just as there are plenty of patients at private hospitals who get poor care, the V.A. actually has an excellent record on this score. Surveys consistently show most veterans are extremely satisfied with the care they get at V.A. facilities, often more so than private insurance customers. And independent studies from places like the RAND Corporation have found that patients have outcomes as good or better at the V.A. as in private care. The problem around which this scandal revolves is how long vets have to wait to see a doctor, not what happens once they get there. This is an important distinction to make, because there are going to be...

The Good Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
The controversy over whatever might have happened at the Veterans Health Administration, particularly the V.A. facility in Phoenix, is going to get some elevated attention now that President Obama came out before the press to address it. If there has to be an administration scandal, this is a good one to have. Let me explain what I mean. The most important reason is that there is actually a problem at the V.A., or more correctly a series of problems, that need to be solved. If some officials in Phoenix falsifying records to make it seem like veterans were getting care quicker than they actually were is what it takes to generate the will to solve it, then that's a good thing. This is something we sometimes pay lip service to with regard to scandals, but in this case it's genuinely meaningful. For instance, I'm not the only one who has said about Benghazi that if what we get out of the various investigations is a better understanding of how to protect our embassies and consulates...

The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes N ot long ago, a pal of mine asked whether I’d heard the latest scoop about Charles and David Koch, the right-wing billionaires currently overseeing capitalism’s final solution to the democracy problem. Did I know—did I know!?—their grandmother had been none other than Ilse Koch, the human-lampshade-loving wife of Buchenwald’s commandant? Cazart, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say. Overseeing final solutions just runs in the family. My friend looked distinctly chagrined when I told her it wasn’t so. Like many liberal Americans, she hates the Kochs so much that no calumny strikes her as too far-fetched. But as it happened, I was midway through Daniel Schulman’s first-rate Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty , and I felt reasonably sure that Schulman wasn’t saving Ilse and her apocryphal lampshades for a Harry Potter gotcha toward the end. Considering that Charles and David are worth more than $80 billion...

UPDATED: Dangerous Amendment Amounting to Declaration of War Put Forward

Fox News furnished the pictures, and it looks like Representative Duncan Hunter wants to furnish the war.

© Holly Kuchera/iStock
Duncan Hunter/Facebook A photo from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter's Facebook page shows him during a tour of duty with the U.S. Marines. UPDATE (May 21,2014): Rep. Hunter revised his amendment in the Rules Committee, removing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force and replacing it with language demanding two reports from the president. The first, due 30 days after passage, would be required to contain "the identity and location of those persons and organizations that planned, authorized, or committed the attacks against the United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya that occurred on September 11 and 12, 2012; and a detailed and specific description of all actions that have been taken to kill or capture any of the persons described in clause." Additionally, the report would clarify whether the president would be required to go to Congress for an AUMF if he wanted to launch a military strike to capture or kill those terrorists. A second report due 90 days after the laws enactment...

After the Revolution, the Tea Party Struggles for Purpose

AP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon
AP Photo/John Bazemore William Temple holds up a tea kettle during the Atlanta Tea Party tax protest Wednesday, April 15, 2009 in Atlanta. M y favorite story from the last week in politics was a tiny item about the Republican committee in South Carolina's Charleston County voting to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham. This rebuke didn't come because of some grand betrayal or criminal malfeasance; Graham, the party activists felt, just wasn't being conservative enough. And there are things like this happening all over. There's the local group of New Hampshire conservatives running radio ads against Republican state senators, or the Virginia conservatives jeering House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at meetings and taking over their local Republican committee. These aren't the significant primary challenges of the kind we've seen in recent years. You get the sense that Tea Party folks are sitting around saying, "Well, Obamacare isn't getting repealed. The presidential election isn't for a couple...

Michael Boggs, an Unacceptable Judicial Nominee

U.S. District Court nominee Michael Boggs seems like an all-too-depressing example of a typical 21st-century Republican federal judicial appointment. As a state legislator, he voted to keep a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid on the state flag. He opposes reproductive freedom. He supported amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Given his conservative views and apparent neoconfederate sympathies, he has attracted strong opposition from members of Congress like the civil rights icon John Lewis. What's even more depressing is that Boggs was nominated not by George W. Bush but by Barack Obama. How did this happen? And should be done about it? The primary villains here, as is so often the case, reside in the World's Worst Deliberative Body. Senate Democrats took an long time to abolish the filibuster for executive branch and sub-Supreme Court judicial appointments, permitting the Republican minority in the Senate to engage in...

Stemming the Tide of Recidivism: Banning 'the Box'

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iStockPhoto L ast week, the City of Baltimore approved an ordinance removing “the box,” as it is known among those with a criminal record, from employment applications for companies with 10 or more employees. It joins more than 10 states and 60 cities and counties—including Hawaii; New York City; Berkeley, California; and Jacksonville, Florida—in an effort to provide a second chance to people returning to their community after serving their time in prison. Just 40 miles away in Washington, D.C., President Obama could follow their lead by banning the box for all executive-branch employment. Today, 70 million Americans have criminal records—nearly one third of the American adult population. Studies reveal that formerly incarcerated people with stable employment are far less likely to reoffend than those who are unemployed. But too often, they’re hindered by the employer practice of asking about prior convictions, which for many serves as an instant disqualification. As a result, former...

Daily Meme: Is the Obamacare Tantrum Finally Over?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Sometimes, the best thing to do with a child throwing a tantrum is to let them have it and wait for them to wear themselves out. Could the GOP—after voting to repeal Obamacare more than 50 times —have finally grown tired of its own screams? For the first time in quite some time, Republicans' congressional calendar over the next few weeks is clear of any hearings or votes about the health-care law. According to The Hill , “The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down.” The reason? Sign-ups have beaten expectations, people are paying their premiums, and the rate of uninsured is plummeting. In total, 17.8 million people now have health-care coverage because of Obamacare . “There is absolutely zero evidence that any Republican is talking about Obamacare less,” says the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Just like climate change, huh? It may be futile given...

Why Grayson Would Make Perfect Opponent to Gowdy on Benghazi Committee

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
Florida Rep. Alan Grayson at a 2009 congressional hearing. ( AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File ) T he work of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Talk Points—as the new committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would be more accurately named—began in earnest Friday, as the seven Republican members met for the first time with Speaker John Boehner, and then among themselves. In protest of Republican rules granting Chairman Trey Gowdy unilateral subpoena power, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has yet to appoint minority members. Democrats received no guarantee they will be allowed access to interview witnesses before public testimony is given. Regardless of Democratic participation, there is no doubt this committee is, in Nancy Pelosi’s words , a “political stunt”—simply the latest attempt by Republicans to convert tragedy into scandal. The process will undoubtedly waste millions of dollars and thousands of hours, ultimately to reach the...

Daily Meme: It Ain't Easy Being a Koch

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Pity the poor Koch brothers. All Charles and David want to do is make America safe for good, old-fashioned, Wild West capitalism. But somehow, they seem to be teeing everybody off—left and right. Plus, it's so doggone pricey to buy control of the federal government these days! The K-Bros dished out $400 million to defeat President Obama in 2012, all for naught. According to an Americans for Prosperity memo that fell into the hands of Politico , they learned a startling lesson from the effort: “If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak." Who knew!?! So now, as they prepare to spend $125 million to buy Congress this year, the memo says the Kochs are softening their message so people don't get the wrong idea : "We consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy—and its advocates—benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of...

Meet Trey Gowdy, GOP Benghazi Attack Dog

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina Since House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi affair, Republicans have been saying it will be a serious investigation, while Democrats have been saying it will be a partisan circus. To get a sense of who might be right, I spent some time watching YouTube videos of Rep. Trey Gowdy, the heretofore obscure second-term Tea Party congressman from South Carolina whom Boehner named to lead the committee. There are a lot of these videos of Gowdy in congressional hearings, posted by conservatives, with titles like "Gowdy DESTROYS Obama Admin Stooge!" He's obviously very popular among the base. To call Gowdy prosecutorial would be an understatement. Uniformly angry and outraged, these videos show Gowdy always seemingly on the verge of shouting, he's so damn mad. Like any good lawyer, he never asks a question to which he doesn't already know the answer. But when a witness gives him...

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