Monthly Archives: October 2013

What Would You Ask To Investigate the ACA Website Debacle?

Since I have so many friends who do work or have worked in the software industry, I’d like to get your opinion on what kinds of questions you would ask if you were given the task of finding out what went wrong with the development of the Affordable Care Act web site.

Let us see if we can make suggestions to the clueless Congressional Committees on what they should ask if their intent is really to improve the performance of future government efforts such as this one.

To seed the discussion, I have thought of a few questions I would ask.

  • Since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) already covers 100 million people successfully, who designs, creates, and supports the successful web sites you already have?
  • How does the creation of the ACA web site differ from the standard practices for all your other web sites?
  • How experienced in managing software contracts was the person who managed the contracts to get the ACA developed?  What was that person’s track record?
  • Apparently, the web site needed to integrate web services from web sites of many government agencies.  What authority did your contractor have over developments at those other web sites?
  • If the contractor had no authority over these other web sites, what steps did the CMS office that managed the contract take to insure successful integration?
  • Was there a plan to do integration testing as all the different parts were being developed, or did you the manager or the contract put this testing off until the end?
  • What was the risk management philosophy in the design of the web site and the letting of the contract to develop it?
  • Did the chain of management of this web site development clearly understand that there is no difference between a physical server and a cloud server?  Anything served by “the cloud” must use a physical server.

Now here is a chance to put your software management skills to use to help the government.

Begin Sarcasm Danger Area

Surely private industry does this better than the government.

End Sarcasm Danger Area


Another GOP representative babbles incoherently when asked to explain her criticism of Obamacare

The Daily Kos has the story and video clip for Another GOP representative babbles incoherently when asked to explain her criticism of Obamacare.

Before you watch the video from the Congresswoman, it might enhance your experience if you first watch the clip below from The Daily Show.

Now watch the Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

I was wondering when the anchor would ask Blackburn if she understood the question that the anchor was asking? Maybe she should have had Blacknurn repeat the question back to the anchor so that the anchor could find out if what the Congresswoman thought she heard is anywhere near the question that the anchor thought she had asked.

Are they sure about what committee this woman is on? I bet she is really on the House Lack Of Intelligence Committee. She doesn’t know her physical server from a cloud in the sky. She didn’t mention all the tubes in the internet, though.

In case you were wondering, Congresswoman Blackburn is not the same person as in my previous post GOP Rep Freaks Out when Confronted with Proof of ACA Success. That’s why The Daily Kos put the word “another” into their headline.

How Kentucky Built The Country’s Best Obamacare Website

Talking Points Memo has the article How Kentucky Built The Country’s Best Obamacare Website.

From that point forward, Kentucky’s game plan for a successful website launch could be read as a counterpoint to the mistakes that the Obama administration made in building its own website. The recipe for success in Kentucky was: A pared-down website engineered to perform the basic functions well and a concerted effort to test it as frequently as possible to work out glitches before the Oct. 1 launch.

Beshear officially created the marketplace, now named kynect, on July 17, 2012, a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. In October 2012, the state hired software developers to build the technological infrastructure behind the marketplace.

Testing was undertaken throughout every step of the process, said Carrie Banahan, kynect’s executive director, and it was crucial because it allowed state officials to identify problems early in the process. She laid out the timeline like this: From January 2013 to March, they developed the system; from April to June, they built it; from July to September, they tested it.
From a design standpoint, Kentucky made the conscious choice to stick to the basics, rather than seeking to blow users away with a state-of-the-art consumer interface. A big part of that was knowing their demographics: A simpler site would make it easer to access for people without broadband Internet access, and the content was written at a sixth-grade reading level so it would be as easy to understand as possible.

“We wanted it to have a branded feel, but that was not the most important part,” said Gwenda Bond, an exchange spokesperson. “The most important part was that it works. I think a lot of people would say that simplicity is good website design.

I bet they used a methodology similar to what I called top-down design and implementation.  You start implementing at the very entry point to the software.  That way the part that the user will first see can start to be tested almost as soon as the first lines of code are written.  You then fill in the missing stubs as you go along.  The part that gets the most testing is the part that the user will use most often.  If the parts at the top don’t work, you fix them first before you implement the lower parts whose design may be affected by the mistakes you originally made at the top and got to recognize and fix before you were irretrievably committed to a bad design.  Furthermore, testing and implementation can go on in parallel.  You don’t wait until all the software is done to see if any of it works.

Despite the claims in part of the article that the implementation was done before the testing, I am mpre likely to believe the part that said “Testing was undertaken throughout every step of the process, said Carrie Banahan, kynect’s executive director, and it was crucial because it allowed state officials to identify problems early in the process.”

The contractors who built the federal system are fools if their complaint was that there was not enough time for testing.  If they didn’t do internal testing throughout the process, they cannot blame their failures on the the customer.  It is up to the customer (HHS and Sibelius) to blame herself for not insisting on being able to test parts of the system in parallel with its development.

When I was at Analogy, I was responsible for designing and implementing the back end of a system.  I had written a substantial piece of my part before the front end was able to supply me any data to test my part.  As part of my development, I wrote a very crude front end to provide me with enough data to test my part.  In fact there was a middle part between me and the front end.  The middle part did not get designed (let alone implemented) until I could hand a completely designed and partially working back end to the designers of the middle part.

Good old principles of software engineering.  What I used to call risk minimization was often ridiculed in comparison to what I called risk maximization of the projects that usually failed.  Of course the rewards go to the people who screw up the software and then make a heroic effort (we called it a diving catch) to rescue the project.  If the project works well when you release it, then it couldn’t have been that difficult to do, so there is no point in rewarding people for doing something simple.

Luckily  for my morale I was self motivated,  Doing a good job and having satisfied customers was enough for me, no matter what the bosses did.  Not that I am saying I was poorly paid.  Although I did learn the lesson that I would never get rich being an employee.  I needed to be an owner instead.  I didn’t get rich being a stock owner, but I was able to retire comfortably.  If I had learned the lessons of stock ownership 20 years earlier than I did, I might have been rich by now.

Economics could be a Science if More Economists were Scientists

New Economic Perspectives has the brilliant William Black article Economics could be a Science if More Economists were Scientists.

But here is the real takeaway about economists and their pretensions to be scientists.  The Fed employs hundreds of economists who are supposed to study important economic developments.  There were no more important micro-foundational developments than the three mortgage fraud epidemics and the hyper-inflated bubble that they produced.  The Fed’s economists, according to the authors of the study I have been discussing, failed to study the four developments that were about to cause a catastrophe.  To make it worse, only the Fed had the authority under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA) to ban all liar’s loans and the Fed held a series of hearings mandated by Congress at which there was extensive testimony about liar’s loans.  The Fed’s economists, therefore, should have made studying the three mortgage fraud epidemics and the resultant bubble their highest research priority.  That’s what scientists would have done.

But those studies would have produced results that would have devastated the dogmas that rule the Fed’s economists.  The effectiveness of those ideological blinders in preventing serious research on the frauds by the Fed’s economists continues to this day.  This is a very old story.  Michael Jensen, when he was the managing editor of the Journal of Financial Economics, discovered that no proposed article could get through peer review if it challenged the efficient market hypothesis.  Jensen was a strong supporter of EMH, but he was appalled by this triumph of dogma over science.   He published an “anomalies” volume, though as he noted in the first volume each of the contributors professed belief in EMH.

The strength of Jensen’s endorsement for EMH, even when he discovered that his colleagues were ruled by their dogmas should be a cautionary tale with regard to Chetty’s claim that this time it’s different, this time economists will behave like scientists.  Jensen stated:  “I believe there is no other proposition in economics which has more solid empirical evidence supporting it than the Efficient Market Hypothesis.”  If he is correct, then the costly collapse of EMH suggests that all other economic propositions rest on even shakier foundations built on friable dogma rather than bedrock facts.

The irony of this article is that on this very web site, New Economic Perspectives, there is a contingent that adamantly refuses to understand the content of this article.

Look at the discussion of the article Why Understanding Fiat Currency Matters For Scientists: We Are Being Pitted Against Public Health.

I repeatedly refer to the writings of William Black to urge caution in the proposals put forth by the New Currency Theory proponents.  The person most often responding to my comments refuses to recognize the relevance of the possibility of fraud in talking about the theory.

I discussed this “conversation” in my previous post MMT, NCT, or Reality?

One Man Is Putting the U.S. Economy & Markets At Risk, Says David Kotok

The Daily Ticker has the story One Man Is Putting the U.S. Economy & Markets At Risk, Says David Kotok.

David Kotok, co-founder and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, had been expecting further gains in stocks, but now he tells The Daily Ticker that the market and the economy are vulnerable because of one man — Senator Rand Paul.

Can you imagine putting something as important as the Fed under the oversight of this dysfunctional Congress? It is not that Rand Paul wants to have oversight of the Fed. The problem is that he wants the Fed to go back to the same policy that even Milton Friedman said made the great depression worse.

The fiscal irresponsibility of the Congress is in not allowing enough stimulus so that the Fed is forced to use its only policy tool, monetary easing, as ineffective as it might be.

The Fed has made liquidity flow freely enough so that monetary policy is no longer a drag on the economy. Beyond that, only a strong dose of fiscal stimulus can help. Given that we need trillions of dollars in investment in our infrastructure regardless of the economic conditions, wouldn’t doing this investment when the costs are low and the economy needs stimulus be the best time to do it?

We certainly don’t need massive infrastructure investment when the economy is roaring along and such investment would compete for non-monetary resources that can be productively used in the private sphere.

Admittedly there is no logic I can use to dissuade people who think that Ron and Rand Paul are geniuses when it comes to their ideas about the Fed and the economy in general.

Meet 3 Master Manipulators of America’s Oligarchy

Alternet has the article Meet 3 Master Manipulators of America’s Oligarchy: Financiers Stanley Druckenmiller, Pete Peterson and John Arnold form a trifecta of treachery.

We bring you profiles of three financiers who never made a useful thing in their lives, including one who helped bring you the Enron disaster. They are united in their efforts to blame ordinary people for Wall Street-driven economic woes and carve out another pound of your flesh for the rich. Money is no object in their quest.

I have known about Pete Peterson for quite a while, but I had not heard of the other two until now. What confuses the heck out of me is that I have a lot of respect for Simon Johnson, even though his resume shows a stint at the Peterson Foundation. Could it be that Johnson escaped that job unscathed?

Max Blumenthal’s Goliath, Life and Loathing in Greater Israel

Warning: Under no circumstances should relatives of Steve Greenberg read any further.

The Real News Network has the video Max Blumenthal’s Goliath, Life and Loathing in Greater Israel – Pt1.

On Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, author Max Blumenthal discusses his new book and traces the rise of Avigdor Lieberman and current policies of ethnic cleansing in Israel

As they get published, I’ll add upcoming parts of this series to this blog post.

October 30. 2013

Ethnic Cleansing and the Israeli “Center ” – Blumenthal Pt2

In this episode of Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Max Blumenthal author of Goliath – Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, looks at Tzipi Livni who’s support for expelling Israeli Palestinians even surprised Condoleezza Rice

Compare Blumenthal’s description of Nakba (much more in the video)

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there is the–the most remarkable of these laws was the Nakba Law, which–you know, the Nakba is a reference to the Palestinian catastrophe, the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from what became the state of Israel in 1948. It’s a continuous process. And there are Palestinian citizens of Israel who go out during what is known as Israeli Independence Day, May 15, 1948, which also happens to be the date of that marks their catastrophe, and they’ll observe the tragedy of this moment for them.

to the mythology upon which I was raised.

I was told that when Israel was created, the leaders of the Palestinians unnecessarily frightened the Palestinians into leaving voluntarily. There was no need for this fear, because the Israelis would have been glad to live peacefully with the Palestinians. In fact the leaders just wanted their followers to leave so that they could get the war over quickly and drive the Israelis out of the middle east. After not winning the war, the Palestinians wanted to return. The Israelis rightfully told them that they had forfeited their right of return because of their disloyalty and their voluntary abandonment of their property. (See Myths & Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict)

As an adult, I used to have discussions with a Palestinian with whom I worked and with whom I became a friend. I thought I was being reasonable in saying, “You may not agree with the story I grew up with, but can you admit that if a people believed this story, they would have a reason for the anti-Palestinian feelings that they do?” And I thought he was just being unreasonable for not conceding my point. I have learned a lot since those days in the 1980s.

Netanyahu’s Greater Israel Based on Expulsion and Annexation

October 3, 2013

Architect of Apartheid in Israel: “If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist” – Blumenthal Pt4

In this episode of Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Max Blumenthal looks at Arnon Sofer, one of Israel’s most important strategic thinkers, who developed plans to defend Jewish demographics

Racism, Occupier and the Occupied – Blumenthal Pt5

In the final episode of this Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Max Blumenthal responds to critics who say he has not dealt with the effect of terrorist attacks and anti-Jewish propaganda in the Arab world in strengthening racist and apartheid opinion in Israel

Rand Paul: I’ll Block Yellen Unless My Bill Gets a Vote

The Wall Street Cheat Sheet has the article Rand Paul: I’ll Block Yellen Unless My Bill Gets a Vote.

Procedurally, Paul could only stop a vote on Yellen’s confirmation if he had the support of 40 other Senators in the body. CNBC reported that the junior senator from Kentucky released a statement saying he would tie voting on confirmation of the new Fed chair to voting on his own bill, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, an effort that would remove current oversight on the Fed and institute a system of audit involving figures from Congress. The measure would effectively limit the U.S. central bank’s independence.

The Republicans’ appetite for making fools of themselves seems insatiable.  Can you imagine giving the dysfunctional Congress any type of oversight for the Fed?

If Rand Paul could have forced the Fed to go by his policies since 2008, we’d now be in such a deep depression that their would be breadlines all over the country and there would be 25% unemployment.  How could I make such a prediction?  The policies that Rand Paul endorses were exactly the policies that were followed until FDR took office in 1933, and the result I described was exactly what happened then.  Ben Bernanke has had the Fed following its current policies exactly because Ben Bernanke is a deep student of what went on in the Great Depression.  Even Milton Friedman blames these policies for causing the depression.  Of course Milton Friedman did fudge the data so that he could blame it all on monetary policy and deny the need for fiscal policy too.  That little bit of subterfuge is what won Friedman his Nobel prize in Economics.

If you want to get an idea where compromise with Rand Paul will get us, see my graphic depiction at Why We Should Not Always Just Compromise.

Inside the Faux Noise lie machine: I fact-checked Sean Hannity on Obamacare

Salon has the article Inside the Fox News lie machine: I fact-checked Sean Hannity on Obamacare.  This article is one of the ones that were quoted and linked to in the article I referred to in my previous post Fact-Checking Faux Noise on Obamacare.

Credit EmmieH for tracking this article down from This Week magazine.  I don’t think Emmie reads this blog, but I know RichardH does.