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May 19, 2014

You Had *One* Job....

"So I think he definitely has convinced people that he stands for change and for hope, and I can't wait to see what he stands for."

- Susan Sarandon, on Barack Obama

Flash forward 6 years and America is still waiting to see what Barack Obama stands for. Even when he gets "madder than hell", there is no action. And no consequences:

The White House chief of staff says President Barack Obama is 'madder than hell' about reports of treatment delays at veterans' hospitals across the country.

Top aide Denis McDonough tells CBS' Face the Nation that Obama is demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and others in the administration 'continue to fix these things until they're functioning the way that our veterans believe they should.'

Note the lack of a concrete standard for when things will be considered to be "fixed": he doesn't demand that the people in charge of the facilities who covered up their own wrongdoing and incompetence should be held accountable (much less suffer any punishment for lying to the groups charged with oversight). He's not even willing to say what the standard ought to be - that, he leaves to "our veterans" (who, last time we checked, weren't being paid to make policy or monitor performance). Unlike Petzel, Shinseki, or Obama.

But this is a stunning admission:

Petzel, the undersecretary for health care at the VA, resigned abruptly on Friday, just a day after telling a U.S. Senate committee that he knew in 2010 about a memo describing 'inappropriate scheduling practices' now blamed for as many as 40 deaths at VA medical centers.

...Petzel acknowledged to lawmakers that he had seen a 2010 memo titled 'Inappropriate Scheduling Practices,' which described failures in several of the VA's 21 service regions.

Shinseki, seated next to him, insisted that 'I was not, I am not' aware of it.

Setting aside the observation that "inappropriate" is the mother of all euphenisms for a deliberate coverup of professional malfeasance that resulted in the deaths of veterans, isn't it Shinseki's job to be aware of how the VA is run?

And isn't it, in turn, Obama's job to be aware of how well each of his cabinet secretaries are doing their jobs?

Isn't that precisely what both these men were hired to do?

"I had no idea what was going on in the organization I was hired to run until I turned on the TV news" is an excuse that only works for one Barack Obama, Lightworker.... for Benghazi, DOJ seizing phone records from reporters, Fast and Furious, the Statue of Liberty flyover. ...

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But Duuuuuuuuuuuuude. That was like, one year ago.

Why do the press let him get away with this nonsense? Where' Dana Priest? Hiding out in an undisclosed location? Are these folks seriously not aware that the job of the President is to know what's going on in the Executive branch?

Of course no one expects him to be personally involved in every aspect of the running of every department. This is why we have Secretaries. Who are supposed to know what's going on in their departments and report it up the chain to their boss.

You know, the President. The man in charge of the desk where the proverbial buck stops.

... as President of the United States, one of the things I’ve learned, and we just talked about was anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility. That’s what people expect. Harry Truman said the buck stops with me...”

Barack Obama, July 2012

Yanno, having re-read Obama's "the buck stops here" quote, we're now inclined to think we missed his meaning entirely. Damn that Harry Truman.

Posted by Cassandra at May 19, 2014 06:02 AM

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You forgot "No one's angrier than I am that I let this happen on my watch and haven't done anything effective to correct it."

It's pretty sad when a senior executive says "I didn't know anything about it" in a tone that makes it clear he thinks he's exonerating himself. "Sure, I'm incompetent, but no actual criminal liability can attach without mens rea, right?"

Posted by: Texan99 at May 19, 2014 10:41 AM

It kind of makes sense though. This guy thinks that we should be handling the war on terriers in the courts, so what could make more sense than to adopt of legalistic standard for executive performance?

There are no standards or hard edges to any of this - it's all, "Can you *prove* that I didn't do my job?"

Posted by: Cassandra at May 19, 2014 11:06 AM

Aside - I remember my Dad telling me when he made Captain that the most depressing thing was that people stop telling you things they don't think you want to hear (and it's your job to know anyway).

That's pretty much the standard for effective leadership - creating a climate in which your people come to you when things go wrong because they know that your number one priority isn't busting them for screwing up, but rather getting things right and addressing problems while they're still small (and fixable).

The other thing he told me that I've never forgotten is that if you do your job right, your team will know what to do (and perform well) even if you're not around to check up on them.

It's that whole "command climate" thing.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 19, 2014 11:09 AM

The effects we are observing suggest a command climate that was along these lines: 'The main thing we have to do with national health care is to bend the cost curve. The VA is leading the way on this, and I want all Americans to see that it's bringing costs down. I won't ask too many questions about how those costs get down, but they need to come down.'

Or, as John Stewart might put it: "Death panels??? Of course we don't have 'death panels'! Just... you know... inappropriate scheduling practices."

Posted by: Grim at May 19, 2014 12:05 PM

"The Buck Stops Here"--Harry Truman

"The Buck never got to me!"--Barack Obama

Or perhaps:

"George Bush stole that buck"

"Income inequality leaves OTHER people getting the buck"

"If you LIKE your buck, you can KEEP your buck"

"Let me be CLEAR about that buck--it never got to me!"

"The Republicans, THEY are the ones that prevented the buck coming to me!"

"I'm claiming Executive Privilege so that Secretary __________(insert name here) doesn't have to explain about the buck."

"I was not in the Situation Room when he buck arrived at the White House."

Or borrowing a line from Hillary "What DIFFERENCE does a buck make now?"

Posted by: frequent flyer at May 19, 2014 01:02 PM

Talking of bucks is racist and sexist.

Posted by: htom at May 19, 2014 01:55 PM

The buck stops with me. Which is convenient, because I'm deader 'n a doornail.


Posted by: You Can Call Me "Buck" Owens at May 19, 2014 02:33 PM

Riffing on frequent flyer:

"Buck? What buck? I was not, I am not aware of any so-called 'buck'."

Posted by: You Can Call Me "Buck" Owens at May 19, 2014 02:34 PM

I woke up this morning still thinking about the buck."

Posted by: Rex at May 19, 2014 03:19 PM

"I had that buck in my bracket to win it all this year."

Posted by: The Wyzzyrd uv Izz at May 19, 2014 03:24 PM

But the big question of the day is, will that buck be able to wear nasal strip when it finally gets there?

Posted by: The Wyzzyrd uv Izz at May 19, 2014 03:25 PM

On a more serious note, it's really hard, if not impossible, to go into the top job of any large organization and find out what's really going on and actually committing change. One has to recruit spies at the lower levels, as well as fostering a climate of doing the right thing. Hiring excellent subordinates is also necessary.

Well, the VA Secretary can only go down a couple of levels in hiring. And it appears that he didn't hire the right people. And he certainly didn't recruit spies at the lower levels.

Wouldn't have done him much good if he had. Unless he was willing to make a public stink.

VA hospitals have been underfunded for at least 30 years. When I was still practicing law in the early 80's, I had occasion to visit a VA hospital to interview a client. No A/C (in the South!), floors were not as clean as the decks in your average warship, nurses were scarce, and the doctors barely spoke English. Nothing much has changed, nor will it, until the government is willing to spend equivalent amounts of money that private or non-profit hospitals spend.

Posted by: Rex at May 19, 2014 03:26 PM

*a* nasal strip

Posted by: The Wyzzyrd uv Izz at May 19, 2014 03:27 PM

When a male deer happens upon his presence it halts in awe of his splendor.

Posted by: The Most Interesting President in the World at May 19, 2014 04:31 PM

No one wonders if he poops in the woods.

Posted by: Evil Twin at May 19, 2014 05:21 PM

If you are looking for people to blame, I would suggest that you include Washington state's senior senator, Patty Murray. She was on the Veteran's Affairs committee practically forever, and became its chair in 2011.

She has claimed for years that she really, really cares about veterans, and I believe that she does -- but she wouldn't be my first pick to oversee any government bureaucracy.

Posted by: Jim Miller at May 19, 2014 06:41 PM

Speaking of "bucks"--do you suppose that the heads of the affected hospitals "bucked" it up the system for action and consideration?

"Speaking of BUCKS without speaking of DOES is sexist--obviously, part of the GOP 'War on women."

"The Buck stops HERE"--Harry Truman. "The Buck stops OVER THERE!"--Barack Obama--Carney said he "learned about the problem "through media reports."

Obama--pounding his desk--"The buck doesn't stop with me, I'm going to PASS THE BUCK on to my underlings!"

The President demanded more "BANG for the Buck...." (oh, wait--that was Clinton--sorry, wrong President)

Posted by: frequent flyer at May 19, 2014 07:02 PM

Actually, ff, I think these are what he was talkin' about.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 19, 2014 07:47 PM

Their *defense* is that this administration is even *more* pathetically incompetent than Carter's', and that the problems ALL started in Bush'es time.

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 19, 2014 09:59 PM

Are these folks seriously not aware that the job of the President is to know what's going on in the Executive branch?

Only if your name is "Chris Christie". If your name has a "D" after it, though... really...

"What difference does it make?"

Posted by: IGotBupkis, "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." at May 20, 2014 03:53 AM

Found--LOTS of examples of Obama Bucks

Posted by: frequent flyer at May 20, 2014 11:24 AM