Paul Waldman

Should We Be Concerned About Privatization of the V.A.?

Flickr/Coast Guard
Yesterday, the House passed a bill to address problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs on a 421-0 vote, a kind of unanimity usually reserved for resolutions honoring astronauts or declaring Necrotic Hangnail Awareness Week. The Senate's version is likely to be voted on in the next couple of days. It happened because of some features of this particular scandal : that both sides sincerely wanted to fix the problem, and that the opportunities for demagoguery were limited. While the bill has a number of provisions including steps to replace the outdated intake system and to hire more doctors and nurses, the one most directly intended to address the backlog of patients would allow veterans who haven't been able to get an appointment, or who live 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, to get care at private medical providers. Is this something for liberals to be worried about? Since we embrace nuance here at the Prospect , the answer is: maybe. It's important to remember that...

Eric Cantor Defeated and Nothing Changes -- Not Even Prospects for Immigration Reform

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia listens at right as House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Cantor lost his congressional primary to David Brat, a political newcomer backed by Tea Party groups, among which Cantor was once popular. J ust a few weeks ago, I described the Tea Party challenge to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as "pesky," because that's what it seemed like—unpleasant for Cantor, but ultimately futile. Well it turned out to be something more, as Cantor lost his primary yesterday to the colorfully named David Brat, a professor at Randolph Macon College. As of their FEC filings in the middle of May , Brat had spent $122,793, while Cantor had spent $5,026,626, or over 40 times as much . Brat won easily, which can happen when you have a low-turnout primary in which angry people are more likely to turn out than contented people. But since the second-highest-...

Republican Rhetoric and Right-Wing Terrorism: 10 Troubling Incidents

Flickr/Andrew Partain
On Sunday, Jerad and Amanda Miller killed two Las Vegas police officers and a shopper at a nearby Walmart, then took their own lives. When authorities investigated, they found that the two were likely motivated by their hatred of government. " There is no doubt that the suspects have an ideology that's along the lines of militia and white supremacists," said an assistant sheriff on Monday. After shooting the officers, they draped the bodies with Gadsden flags; the Millers had also spent time at the standoff at the Bundy ranch. Yesterday, I asked in a piece at the Washington Post how much the hyperbolic rhetoric of which we've heard so much from so many on the right in recent years contributes to creating an atmosphere in which this kind of violence becomes more likely. After hearing some reactions and having a little more time to think about it, I have some more to add. But first, what I said was that the problem isn't just the violent rhetoric we sometimes hear from the likes of...

Why the GOP Is the Party of Creative Thinking

Flickr/opensource.com
Over the weekend, Republicans in Virginia pulled off an extraordinary feat. Faced with a state senate deadlocked at 20-20 and a battle with Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe over whether to accept the expansion of Medicaid, they apparently persuaded a Democratic senator from a conservative district to retire, thus giving them a majority and making it even less likely that McAuliffe will be able to get 400,000 low-income Virginians health insurance. And all it took was delivering a couple of jobs : RICHMOND — Republicans appear to have outmaneuvered Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state budget standoff by persuading a Democratic senator to resign his seat, at least temporarily giving the GOP control of the chamber and possibly dooming the governor’s push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy...

Twelve Years Later, Hillary Clinton Still Struggles to Explain Her Iraq War Vote

Flickr/Marc Nozell
Back in 2002, many liberals (myself included) thought that all the Democrats who voted for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq did so out of a simple craven fear of being tarred as soft on terror, not because they actually believed Iraq was a terrible threat to the United States. Whether that is true of Hillary Clinton is something we'll never know, but when she ran for president in 2008, she struggled mightily to explain her vote in favor of the war. Barack Obama, on the other hand, was pure in voters' eyes on this question—not only hadn't he been in Congress to vote on it, he had opposed it as a state senator. I'm guessing that Clinton didn't expect she'd have to revisit this question over and over as she approached a 2016 presidential run, but with Iraq now mired in a new civil war (can we call it that yet?), it's coming up again. And yesterday, she gave this answer to a question about when she decided to finally declare her vote for the war to be a mistake: I...

Have Republicans Moved So Far Right They Left Their Own Voters Behind?

This chart could blow your mind.
It's been true for many years that Democrats have an advantage among the electorate on most issues. Whether it's economics, or health care, or foreign policy, the position held by elected Democrats is usually (though not always) more popular than the one held by Republicans — sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. It's a tribute to Republicans' political dexterity that they've managed to win lots of elections despite this fact, in part because they've always understood that issues are only a part of how voters decide for whom to cast their votes. But a new Washington Post poll shows something qualitatively different. Instead of what we've come to expect—Republicans have the support of their voters, Democrats have the support of their voters, and they fight over the few independents in between—on a couple of extremely important issues, elected Republicans have gone so far to the right that they've left their own voters behind. With the important caveat that this is only one poll, I...

Bring On the Stupid

The offending fowl from Bruce Braley's TV ad.
If you ask any candidate how they plan to win, they'll respond: "I'm just going to talk about the issues and how we can make Washington work for us instead of the special interests. This election is about the future of our state and our country, and I firmly believe that when voters hear my vision for the future, we'll be successful." Here's what they don't say: "Well, eventually my opponent or his campaign will say or do something dumb, at which point I'll pretend I'm super-mad about it and we'll get a whole bunch of press coverage of him trying to defend it, and that's how I'll win." The latter more closely resembles how campaigns actually proceed, shuffling from one inane made-up controversy to the next. And the last couple of days have given us two of the dumbest in recent memory. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is on the defensive after her campaign sent out to reporters a preview version of a newspaper ad it was planning to run,...

The Inexorable March of Big Government Health Care

Click inside to behold this chart in all its glory.
According to data released yesterday by the federal government , due to the Affordable Care Act, 6 million more Americans now have insurance through Medicaid. That's a victory for the law and for the Obama administration, and it's also a victory for our national soul, despite the fact that we still have some distance to go before we reach the goal of universal coverage. I want to elaborate on something I discussed this morning at the Washington Post with regard to these and other numbers: The conservative nightmare of a nation of moochers suckling at government's teat for health insurance has, to a substantial degree, come true. As you might expect, I have a chart. But first, let's go over a few numbers. With these six million new members, enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) is now at 64 million. Add in the 52 million seniors on Medicare and the 9 million veterans in the Veterans Health Administration, and 125 million Americans, or 39 percent of...

Maureen Dowd Gets Way Too High

Do NOT let Maureen near that—she'll eat the whole thing! (Flickr/animakitty)
While I usually try to abstain from writing posts about how something an op-ed columnist wrote was stupid—not an unworthy endeavor, but if I don't do it many other people will be there to pick up the slack—today I'm going to make an exception for Maureen Dowd. That's not only because her column in today's New York Times is particularly inane , but because there's a lesson hidden there, really there is. So stick with me. But first, on to Dowd's glorious tale. Seems she was in Denver and decided to sample some of this "marijuana" she's been hearing so much about. Like any sensible person trying a drug for the first time, she made no attempt whatsoever to determine how much of it she should consume to reach her desired state of consciousness. Instead, she bought a cannabis candy bar and ate the whole thing. The results were unsurprising: But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state...

The Bowe Bergdahl Situation Is Complicated. Let's Not Pretend Otherwise.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong A "Bring Bowe Back" sign honoring captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is seen through a POW-MIA flag in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday, June 22, 2013. B efore long, we'll surely be hearing that Barack Obama arranged for the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to distract the country from Benghazi. Or maybe the theory is already making the rounds on talk radio; I'm not sure. But this messy episode reminds us of how little the people who fetishize "toughness" and want desperately for the War on Terrorism to extend into eternity actually grasp about where we find ourselves in 2014. But before we get to that, if you go to any conservative site today, you'll see one piece after another attacking Bergdahl, with the implied or stated conclusion that we should have just left him there. Some of the people with whom Bergdahl served say he was a deserter. And they may turn out to be right. But there was enough uncertainty about what he did, and why, to make the idea of just...

Facial Recognition and the Loss of Anonymity

You're not fooling anyone, kid. We know who you are. (Flickr/Glen)
With all the attention given to the Obama administration's new regulations on carbon emissions, you may have missed the latest revelation from the documents obtained by Edward Snowden, which came out over the weekend. The latest news is that the NSA is now increasingly relying on facial recognition in its surveillance, and gathers millions of images a day from emails, social media, and other sources, and it isn't alone. Here's an excerpt from a report that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday : State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its "next generation identification" project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data. The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing...

Maybe It's Time We Did Declare War On Coal

Wikimedia commons/U.S. Department of Interior
A look around at the reactions to today's administration announcement of new regulations to reduce carbon emissions shows about what you'd expect. Environmentalists are pleased, but think it doesn't go far enough . Conservatives are outraged . Across coal country, you can expect to hear cries that that this is just the latest salvo in Obama's "war on coal." The administration will respond that it isn't waging war on coal, because under these regulations states will have the flexibility to achieve emissions reductions in a variety of ways. But you know what? Maybe it's time we did wage war on coal. The stuff is a menace. OK, I'm joking—kind of. What I mean, though, is that it might be clarifying if we decided that we're going to mobilize our resources and ingenuity to rid ourselves of this scourge upon the earth--to actually say not just that we're going to enhance other forms of energy, but that our goal is to get to the point, no matter how long it takes, where our use of coal drops...

Does Obama Have a Foreign Policy Doctrine? (Let's Hope Not)

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama delivers a major foreign policy address at the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014. O n Wednesday, President Barack Obama outlined his foreign policy principles in a speech at West Point, giving rise to a round of commentary on the "Obama Doctrine." Opinions fell into three camps: those who thought the Obama Doctrine sounded quite sensible (for example, Fareed Zakaria ), those who were underwhelmed by its lack of clarity and vision (for example, the New York Times ), and those who were horrified by its insufficient testosterone (pretty much any conservative you could name). But the truth is that foreign policy doctrines are overrated. It's no coincidence that the only presidents in the last half-century who had clear doctrines, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, were the most simplistic of thinkers (there have been doctrines attributed to...

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...

Who's Hacking Your Phone?

They can definitely hear you now. (Flickr/Esther Vargas)
NBC aired its interview with Edward Snowden on Wednesday night, and there were lots of interesting things about it, particularly how confident and articulate Snowden was. One of the details that stood out for people was when Brian Williams asked Snowden about the NSA's ability to infiltrate your phone. I think the real lesson here isn't the one most people are taking, but to start, here's an excerpt from NBC's write-up : "The NSA, the Russian Intelligence Service, the Chinese Intelligence Service, any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding and a real technological research team, can own that phone the minute it connects to their network. As soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs. They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take the data off of it." Snowden described how the simple pattern of his phone calls—not the content of the calls but the time and location of those calls—could be invaluable to a security service. And how...

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