The Day Zach Galifianakis Saved Obamacare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/08/2018 - 12:50am in

The website for Obamacare was launched on October 1, 2013.

That was the same day the 2013 Republican-led shutdown of the government began. The 16-day shutdown—which was essentially caused by Ted Cruz, who held up the passage of a spending bill because the Democrats wouldn’t agree to defund the Affordable Care Act they had just passed—failed. But one of the reasons the Republicans never paid a price for the shutdown was that it got completely overshadowed by the clusterfuck of the failed launch of the website, which was called Healthcare.gov.

The failure of the Healthcare.gov caused no end of tsuris for the entire Obama administration, but especially for Brad Jenkins, who was the Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Jenkins had lined up an army of celebrities to build support for Obamacare, which always depended, remember, on getting younger people to sign up for healthcare. But the celebrity industrial complex is only as strong as your website is working.

“Doing the blocking and tackling of getting celebrities to get the word out” for Healthcare.gov, explains Jenkins,

was going to be the way to go—that was my life for a year—but that all went to shit when the website wouldn’t work for two months. We literally got seventy celebrities on the first day of enrollment to tweet out Healthcare.gov. We got Lady Gaga backstage at her concert, and all of her [forty-eight] million followers went to a website that didn’t work. It was my worst nightmare.

That was October 2. The website wouldn’t even become minimally functional for another two months, in December. The celebs weren’t happy.

All of these celebrities were rip-shit pissed. Maybe they weren’t angry, but their publicists and managers were emailing me: What the fuck? So we burned that bridge. It took two months to fix the website, and it’s very hard to go back to Lady Gaga and ask her two tweet out Helathcare.gov again.

What to do, what to do? If they didn’t get those enrollments up, the whole program would collapse. And the only people enrolling—that is, willing to wait for hours on end while a dysfunctional website endlessly reloaded—were people who were sick or needed healthcare immediately. What the government needed was healthy people to enroll. But that wasn’t happening.

There was always the possibility of pursuing another celebrity route. How about going back to will.i.am and asking him to reprise that modern miracle of art and propaganda “Yes We Can” but for healthcare? Alas, they couldn’t swing that. “This is going to be impossible,” Jenkins feared. “It’s really hard to make health care sexy and cool.” Especially when your website sucks.

Then Jenkins had an idea. Or resurrected a very old idea. You see, apparently it had been a “dream project” of the Obama people—”for years,” says Kori Schulman, Obama’s Deputy Chief Digital Officer—to have Obama go on Zach Galifianikis’s satirical talk show Between Two Ferns. What if they got Obama on the show, allowed Galifianikis to make a little fun of him and his website, and use the platform to get all those young viewers to hear about Healthcare.gov and sign up?

The Obama team sent out Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser, to LA. Jarrett’s people talked to Galifianikis’s people, who “made clear that it had to be like every other Between Two Ferns,” says Jenkins. The art of Between Two Ferns was not to be compromised. “It couldn’t be watered down,” Jenkins explains. “It couldn’t be some big Obamacare commercial.”

And here’s the craziest, most ridiculous part of this entire story: it worked. The show aired on March 11, 2014. It got 30 million views. Healthcare.gov got a 40% uptick in traffic, almost all of it from people who had never been to the website before. “It was the exact healthy demographic who would never think to go to Healthcare.gov or who had never heard of it,” says Jenkins. That’s how Obamacare got saved.

Liberalism, they said back in the 1930s, was freedom plus groceries. Now? It’s websites plus celebrities. Once upon a time, you got Social Security or Medicare just by turning 65. Now you have to go to a website, which may or may not be working, and the visibility and viability of which depends upon the tweets of Lady Gaga.

Which makes the Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare all the more revealing: despite the program having a relatively new provenance, despite its amateur-ish rollout, despite the GOP having total control of the federal government, they still were not able to overturn the legislation. Though they’re certainly trying to inflict a slow death upon it.

In any event, this was Jenkins’s moment of triumph. (It’s prominently featured on his Wikipedia page.) Followed by his debriefing of Obama in “the Oval.”

Someone literally helped me clean baby-vomit stains off of my suit jacket before I went into the Oval, and I had maybe five minutes, way more time than we needed. But I walked him through it all. And not to sound hyperbolic, but no president ever went on a program like this—an internet-only, weird satirical show. [Not to take anything away from Jenkins’s sense of the epochal, earth-shattering events of world history, but he might want to google Richard Nixon and Laugh-In.] It was the biggest video of the year, and I was thinking, Wow, maybe he’ll give me a fist bump. It’d be this moment where Barack and I would become friends, and that did not happen. He smiled and congratulated me. Valerie was in the office as well, and he looked at her. “Val, I thought this was your idea?” And she was like, “No, no. This was Brad’s.” The biggest takeaway from all this was, he expected it. That decision was probably the least-important decision he had made in those twenty-four hours, whether to go on that stupid show. He’s dealing with life-and-death matters on national security.

After several weeks of reading these various Obama memoirs, this is what I’ve come to learn and appreciate about the Obama Style. There’s always a story of mind-boggling inanity, often told by a man, who swings from fanboy ingénue (will he notice me? will he be my best friend? will we have breakfast together? maybe get ice cream?) to aw-shucks self-flagellation (silly me! what was I thinking! he’s the Leader of the Free World! he’s thinking about things like…drones, and killing people! he’s important! I’m nothing!), and is always cushioned by a warm helping of clichés (the baby vomit: Jenkins, you see, is an ordinary guy, just a parent like you and me, navigating everyday challenges like babies barfing all over you) and a cool appreciation of power: “the Oval.”

All of this appears in the very excellent Obama: An Oral History 2009-2017 by Brian Abrams, which I highly recommend.

But a version of the story apparently also appears in a book called West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House. (I’d love see a will.i.am “Yes we can” video about the decision to go with that title.) Which I can’t recommend because I haven’t read it (and probably won’t) but which Joe Biden calls “exceptional because of the people in it: ordinary citizens who did extraordinary work and always put the American people first. We have so much to learn from their stories.”

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s the Constitutional Amendment We Need But Never Thought About

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/08/2018 - 11:47pm in

Image result for public urination

Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.

Start gathering petition signatures.

If you’ve ever had to work for someone else, you’ve probably been presented with a no-win situation of someone else’s making. “Be promptly at your desk at 9 am,” my boss ordered me. “We can’t have customers calling at the start of business with no answer.” Reasonable. But it was a two-man office — him and me — he had the only key and he was often late. When customers complained, he’d yell at me. “What would you have me do,” I’d ask, “break in?” Unreasonable.

A lot of bosses are stupid little tyrants. But government should know better than to pass a law its citizens can’t obey.

Like most cities, New York prohibits public urination. It’s no longer a criminal offense but public pee-ers still risk a ticket and a fine. The NYPD issues 20,000 to 30,000 such summons a year. Yet, as The New York Times noted in 2016, “New York City…is one of the most public-bathroom-resistant places in the world.”

People pee. People poo. A city that chooses not to provide people to pee and poo knows that some folks won’t find their way to Starbucks or other de facto public restrooms before it’s too late.

The city wants people to pee and poo in public.

Experts estimate that properly equipping Gotham’s streets with the thousands of toilets necessary to serve the city’s inhabitants and visitors would cost tens of millions of dollars. “I gave you a pot to piss in” isn’t the legacy most mayors want to be remembered for (though perhaps they should reconsider). Getting NYC to do the right thing by everyone with a bladder would require ratification of my proposed 28th Amendment.

If nothing else, those who answer nature’s call in the streets and avenues could do so without fear.

Some people charged with a crime have successfully used the “necessity defense” that the harm they committed was necessary in order to avoid a greater wrong or harm. If you’re trying to escape from someone trying to kill you, a judge should dismiss the charge that you trespassed on private property to get away.

Yet, even though it defies common sense, American law still permits government to pass laws that are impossible to follow. In June the California Supreme Court ruled on a law requiring gunmakers to microstamp bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons with unique identifying information.

The court’s ruling was complicated but it included this gem: “impossibility can occasionally excuse noncompliance with a statute, but in such circumstances, the excusal constitutes an interpretation of the statute in accordance with the Legislature’s intent, not an invalidation of the law.” In other words, an impossible-to-follow law can be passed and no court can invalidate it. Each individual who wants to be exempted on the basis of impossibility must hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

The Impossible Law Amendment (ILA) would ensure that any law deemed impossible for any citizen to follow would be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Impossible-to-follow laws are more common than you might think.

The Affordable Care Act requires people to purchase health insurance from private for-profit corporations or get slapped with a fine when they file their annual tax returns.

The cheapest healthcare plans in the Obamacare marketplaces run around $1600 to $1800 in many counties. One out of four Americans say they can’t afford healthcare. If the United States insists on spending tax dollars on blowing up brown people in Muslim countries rather than caring for its own sick people, that’s a political priority this nation is free to select. But it’s insane to charge people a fee for not buying something they can’t afford. Punishment is immoral if there was no intent or desire to disobey the law.

The ILA would effectively eliminate an entire class of government fines for things people are mandated to buy but must have in order to live: motor vehicle registration fees, smog inspection fees, parking.

On July 27 The New York Times reported that parents, usually mothers, are routinely arrested and have their children taken away from them by child-welfare authorities, because they can’t afford daycare and so are found guilty of such “abusive” behavior as leaving their kid in the car for a few minutes while running into a store.

Children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, so it reasonable for the police to be concerned when they come across a possible case of neglect. But society should not criminalize the behavior of people who have no other choice. Daycare runs about $200 per week per child. Individual average income runs about $500 a week before taxes, or $350 after taxes. Unless the average American goes without food or shelter — which child-welfare authorities will look down upon at least much as leaving a kid in a car — he or she can’t afford daycare. In many other (civilized) countries, of course, daycare is provided gratis by the government.

If and when the U.S. provides daycare for all, it may prosecute parents for refusing to use it.

A government that passes laws that anyone — much less a significant portion of the population — cannot obey, yet imposes fines and jail terms, deserves nothing but contempt. Ratify the ILA!

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)