Best of Brickbats: The Obama Years, 2009–2016


Terry Colon

In 2015, the Pentagon admitted to accidentally shipping live anthrax spores to labs in all 50 states and nine foreign countries. The labs expected the spores to be dead.

In 2008, officials in Tempe, Arizona, said they needed more housing for deaf senior citizens. So with the aid of $2.6 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Cardinal Capital Management and the Arizona Deaf Senior Citizens Coalition built a 75-room apartment building just for the elderly deaf. The apartments have lights that flash when the doorbell rings and other amenities designed for the hearing-impaired. But then, in 2012, HUD said that because management prefers to rent to deaf tenants, the building violates federal civil rights law. The agency demanded that the owners take steps to make sure that 75 percent of residents of the building are not deaf. Two years later, the department dropped its objections.

In Ontario, people donated some 40,000 pounds of aid for victims of the 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was a commercial shipment, which meant each food item had to have a certificate from the Food and Drug Administration. After a three-day delay, officials finally allowed the food into the country.

A 2012 federal transportation bill designated Broadway and 7th Avenue in New York City as federal highways, which means they are now subject to the billboard limits imposed by the Highway Beautification Act. The Federal Highway Administration denied reports it was trying to force the removal of billboards in Times Square.

The Secret Service in 2015 forced hundreds of children with cancer and their parents out of Lafayette Square Park in Washington, D.C., disrupting a planned vigil. The park was barricaded for hours, and families were not allowed to get back in to retrieve their belongings. Parents said agents told them they closed the square because President Obama had left the White House from a nearby exit.

An Obama administration official reportedly got into a fistfight with a Native American college student over a Washington Redskins shirt the student was wearing. Barrett Dahl says William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative of American Indian and Alaska Native Education, approached him, called him stupid and uneducated for wearing the shirt, and attacked him when he turned to walk away.

The National Park Service has removed merchandise with the Confederate battle flag from all of its bookstores and gift shops—including the ones at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Officials at Salem High School in Plymouth, Michigan, agreed to take down bleachers paid for and built by parents for the school's baseball team in 2014. After an anonymous complaint, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights found the school was in violation of federal law because the baseball facilities were then superior to the girls' softball field. The school couldn't afford to upgrade the softball field, so it had to remove the amenities at the baseball field.

Officials in cities across the nation were caught off guard by a 2013 ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency that said fire hydrants must meet new, stricter lead-content rules for plumbing fixtures. Officials said that meant the hydrants and hydrant parts they had already bought couldn't be installed after January 4, 2014. The new rules were supposed to reduce lead in drinking water. It took an act of Congress to stop them from going into effect.

In Reading, Pennsylvania, a private company with the help of local police pulled over motorists in 2013 to ask questions about their driving habits and to request to swab the inside of their mouths. Officials said the company was hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. They also claimed the checkpoints were voluntary. But one motorist said he was detained five minutes and had to repeatedly refuse to answer questions before he was allowed to leave.

Supervisors at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in seven states ordered their employees to falsify records to make it look as if the wait times for veterans seeking help met V.A. standards. And employees in several other states were doing so without explicit commands. In all, employees at V.A. facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico manipulated data on wait times for up to a decade, according to a 2016 USA Today report.

A 4-year-old boy from Alameda County, California, was one of 18 defendants suing to have their names taken off the federal government's terrorist watch list. The boy, identified in court papers only as Baby Doe, had been on the list since he was 7 months old. His parents said they had not been told why he was placed there.