April Fools

Obama Administration

Have you ever considered that life itself is an April Fool’s joke? That would explain a lot.

Anyhoo — yesterday there was a big rush on the ACA insurance exchange websites, to the point that the system crashed for a while. A few righties couldn’t resist the urge to snark about that, overlooking the fact that, um, the system crashed because boatloads of people were trying to use it.

The signup surge has the Right in denial — it’s their fallback position on everything — and making claims that the Administration is lying about numbers, or else that the people getting insurance are either not paying for it or had insurance anyway. Jonathan Cohn takes apart their arguments. The bottom line is that there has been a huge backlog of people who wanted insurance but couldn’t get it, or who wanted insurance that wasn’t eating a disproportionate amount of their income and now those people are coming forward to use the ACA.

The ever-optimistic Brian Beutler thinks the ACA battle has been won. Maybe. I do think that the Right has way over-invested in Obamacare being a political winner for them, and if events continue on their current trajectory, it probably won’t be.

The question that won’t die — even on Fox News — is why can’t the Republicans come up with an alternative plan? And of course, they have. Every few months they announce with great fanfare that they have an alternative plan, and it gets a little flurry of attention, and rightie media triumphantly announces that the problem is solved, and then everybody forgets about that plan. And a few months later they announce a new new plan, which turns out to be a tweak of the last one, and then that one is forgotten.

And this happens because their plans aren’t serious. They’re just props. Because what they really want to do — eliminate or privatize the safety net and just let an unregulated private insurance industry gouge us any way it likes — is a political non-starter, and they know it. Their only hope of getting what they want is by doing it in increments — dismantling the ACA, then cutting safety net programs and insurance regulations by persuading us that it will make everything better, because free markets and capitalism and makers not takers.

So whatever “plans” they come up with have to serve that incremental purpose, which means they aren’t designed primarily to help people get health care.

Paul Krugman reminds us that the ACA was their plan, which has a lot to do with why it’s so messy.

Ross Douthat, in the course of realistically warning his fellow conservatives that Obamacare doesn’t seem to be collapsing, goes on to tell them that they’re going to have to come up with a serious alternative.

But Obamacare IS the conservative alternative, and not just because it was originally devised at the Heritage Foundation. It’s what a health-care system that does what even conservatives say they want, like making sure that people with preexisting conditions can get coverage, has to look like if it isn’t single-payer.

I don’t really think one more repetition of the logic will convince many people, but here we go again. Suppose you want preexisting conditions covered. Then you have to impose community rating — insurers must offer the same policies to people regardless of medical history. But just doing that causes a death spiral, because people wait until they’re sick to buy insurance. So you also have to have a mandate, requiring healthy people to join the risk pool. And to make buying insurance possible for people with lower incomes, you have to have subsidies.

The box they are in is that they can’t come up with a serious alternative. There is no possible serious alternative on the Right. Not one that will actually help people get health care, anyway. All they can do is obstruct and play legislative theater with their prop plans.

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  1. anthrosciguy  •  Apr 1, 2014 @11:38 am

    A while back I referenced Nixon’s “secret plan to win the war”. Younger folks may not realize that wasn’t a paraphrase by me; Nixon actually ran using that that phrase as a promise/premise. This sort of “we’ve got a great alternative but we can’t show it to you” has been a staple of the GOP for a long time now.

  2. moonbat  •  Apr 1, 2014 @11:49 am

    I’m less concerned about the right’s alternative plan – which is pretty obviously a dead end – and more concerned about how their noise machine will use “the Failure of Obamacare” – i.e. giving FREE health care TO THOSE PEOPLE – to bludgeon progressives next election cycle. In other words, it’s the living proof of Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, which very much animates the right. In any column I read defending the ACA (particularly at the LA Times), there’s a reliable wingnut section in the comments that retorts with their Takers vs Makers obsession.

    I’ve read that Bill Clinton was out encouraging Democrats to not be shy about defending the ACA, and that’s what’s gotta happen. It’s going to be a standard blast from their noise machine, whose goal is to get the Democrats to fold. I am not optimistic.

    As a side note, unrelated, can you point me to a good discussion about the various threads within Buddhism? I’ve been taking classes at our local Kadampa center (very much enjoying it), and there’s also a Shambhala center in town. Want to find out how all these expressions are related to each other. Thanks.

  3. maha  •  Apr 1, 2014 @1:04 pm

    I wrote an article awhile back on the major schools of Buddhism, but I’m not sure how helpful it is. People are sometimes surprised to find out their are sectarian divisions within Buddhism, but it’s actually more complicated than Christianity.

    There are two basic kinds of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada is dominant in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and Mahayana is dominant everywhere else. The doctrinal differences between them are very hard to explain and take most of us a few years of meditation practice before we catch on to them and their implications. In the West, Theravada is mostly represented by temples catering to ethnic Asian communities and by Vipassana or Insight Meditation centers, which teach Theravada meditation to westerners, although there are a few monastic centers (viharas) that have ordained western monks here and there. There are some sectarian distinctions within Theravada, but they are minor compared to what goes on in Mahayana.

    Mahayana includes Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Pure Land (or Amidism), Nichiren Buddhism (that’s the Tina Turner variety) and a few others you are less likely to run into in the West, although they are starting to show up. And there are big sectarian divisions within those divisions.

    If the Kadampa Center is New Kadampa Tradition, which it may not be — NKT is an offshoot of the Geluk (or Gelugpa) school of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the Dalai Lama’s school. NKT originated from a subsect within Gulugpa that venerates an iconic character named Dorje Shugden. The Shugden devotees have a long history of not playing well with others, and in the mid 1970s they published a book wishing pain and bad fortune to others within Tibetan Buddhism who disagreed with their doctrinal positions, and the Dalai Lama dissociated the group from Gelugpa. So now they somehow have a lot of money, allegedly funneled to them from China but I don’t know that for a fact, to build centers and to organize protests against the Dalai Lama for being mean to them, or something. I generally tell people to stay away from NKT, although individual sanghas may not be that bad. And, anyway, “Kadampa” is a word that shows up a lot in Tibetan Buddhism and your Kadampa center may be a different group. If they haven’t gone on about Dorje Shugden, they probably are a different group.

    Shambhala is a western-based offshoot of another school of Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu. It was established by a Tibetan teacher named Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, who was a five-alarm character and something of a mess of a human being, but he had a huge impact on western Buddhism.

    There are four or six schools of Tibetan Buddhism, depending on what you count as a school What you’re likely to run into in the West is Gelugpa or Kagyu, or maybe Nyingmapa, but the others haven’t caught on here much. Here’s an overview with links to articles about the different schools.

    Zen has been around for awhile, of course. There are two schools of Japanese Zen called Soto and Rinzai, and the difference between them is mostly methodology rather than doctrinal. There is also Korean Zen (Seon) and Chinese Zen Chan), and Vietnamese Zen, exemplified by Thich Nhat Hanh.

    Pure Land is the dominant form of Buddhism in eastern Asia, and it’s the kind you’re most likely to find in Chinese and Japanese ethnic communities outside Asia. The Chinese version in the West usually calls itself Chinese Mahayana. In Japanese ethnic communities the dominant form is Jodo Shinshu, although there are other kinds.

    Nichiren Buddhism, aka Tina Turner Buddhism, originated in Japan in the 13th century, and it split into two schools, Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu. Nichren Shu is pretty much mainstream Mahayana, but Nichiren Shoshu is to Buddhism what the Mormons are to Christianity. When they talk about “the Buddha,” for example, they’re referring to their founder, Nichiren, not to the Buddha everyone else refers to. The biggest group of Nichiren Buddhists in the West is called Soka Gakkai International, which is a lay organization based on Nichiren Shoshu. SGI is led by a character named Daisaku Ikeda, around whom an unhealthy cult of personality has formed. I have no quarrel with SGI or Nichiren practices, but I wouldn’t trust Ikeda as far as I could throw him. Fortunately it’s a big enough organization that he doesn’t exert that much control over local groups, so it’s really not a cult.

    Like I said, it’s complicated.

  4. joanr16  •  Apr 1, 2014 @1:12 pm

    Every single GOP candidate for governor in my state is loudly trumpeting “pro God, pro family, anti Obama, and anti Obamacare.” Every single one, plus a couple of candidates for U.S. Senate as well.

    And not a single one is for any program or idea that involves actually governing the state or the nation. They’re just lazy ignorant bigots, and proud of it, thank you very much. What I don’t understand is why they would get involved in politics in the first place; it’s so much hard work. I suspect they secretly hope to follow the Cheney/Halliburton model, and find a way to lure millions of taxpayer dollars into their own pockets. (I hate to break it to them, but to be successful they’ll have to start a war with Iowa or Kansas first.)

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 1, 2014 @1:14 pm

    The PPACA website was overwhelmed?

    It’s like (the famous non-Buddhist) Yogi once said – “Nobody don’t go there no more. It’s too crowded.”

    What Republicans fear, is that the 7,000,000+ people who have signed up, will tell their friends and relatives.

    The Republicans are running all sorts of ad showing faux-victims of the PPACA.

    Why aren’t the Democrats running ads showing people who have been helped by “Obamacare?”
    It’ sucks to be a Democrat, because we can’t “message” for f*cking sh*t!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. moonbat  •  Apr 1, 2014 @1:29 pm

    Thanks, maha, this is hugely helpful. I’ve been looking for this kind of family tree explanation

    The Kadampa center I go to is NKT, and true to your description, they recently organized some kind of protest against the Dalai Lama, who was visiting the US. For all their faults, the monk at the head of this center is good at presenting Buddhism in a way that Westerners can understand. A year or so ago, I saw Crazy Wisdom, the movie about Chogyam Trungpa – he was indeed a five alarm character, as you put it.

    I knew it was complicated, and I also knew it would take me a very long time to figure out even a piece of it on my own. Thanks again, and thanks also for your warning about NKT.

  7. Doug  •  Apr 1, 2014 @9:36 pm

    Joan – Regarding getting rich from being in office, you don’t need to be connected to Haliburton.

    Between 2006 and 2012, nearly half the US Congress who have retired, or lost election (50% of the Senate and 46% of the US House) have gone to work as lobbyists – earning on average, 14 TIMES their salary in Congress. That’s just over $2 Million annually – the consolation prize for loosing an election, that is… if you played ball with the lobbyists while you were in office. The main job of a Congress-critter turned lobbyist is to return to Capitol Hill to let his or her colleagues know what post-retirement rewards await… provided of course, you play ball.

    This is how you get rich after ‘serving’ in Congress. Those who are rich when they enter office also have the inside advantage of insider investing – and if you think the STOCK act has slowed down the profiteering, I have some mountaintop land overlooking Lake Okeechobee for sale. The ‘back end’ of the Stock Act was supposed to require reporting of the investing of members of Congress. That provision was repealed in a bipartisan way shortly after the act was passed, and Obama signed the bill which neutered the Stock Act. But the poor angry teabagger can cash in through the lobbyist retirement program. And the corruption is quite bipartisan.

  8. Swami  •  Apr 1, 2014 @9:54 pm

    Yeah, and they can always pick up a few extra bucks selling reverse mortgages to the most economically devastated and emotionally vulnerable senior citizens. It never hurts to pick those bones clean before they toss them in the ground.

  9. Swami  •  Apr 1, 2014 @11:52 pm

    With a little online research you can find out the most amazing things ..I just found out that when Rep. Paulie Ryan (R-Wisconsin) was sworn into Congress he elected to swear his oath on a copy of Atlas Shrugged rather than the traditional Holy Bible.

  10. BlueLoom  •  Apr 2, 2014 @8:46 am


    See Toles cartoon in today’s (April 2) WaPo:


  11. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 2, 2014 @9:41 am


  12. Chocura750  •  Apr 4, 2014 @1:43 pm

    Does anyone know where I can see a sample of a health insurance cancellation letter from a health insurance company?