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It’s The Contractors, Stupid

Now that the government is open again, republicans are finally getting their opportunity to talk about something other than their cravenness and incompetence; the failure that is healthcare.gov. To be clear, the failure is limited to the website and in no way, shape or form extends to the ACA at large.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the launch of healthcare.gov was a monumental disaster. As an aside, the issues aren’t all emanating from just the federal site. Most of the state run sites were also poorly coded. We don’t have one giant federal failure, we have one giant federal failure and twenty some odd state failures.

Yes, the site was overwhelmed with traffic. But there were telltale error messages that are indicative of bad coding. There were sql errors, query errors, and javascript errors. These errors would not have been the result of overwhelming traffic. For those of you who don’t know much about software development (I’m not an expert, but I’m reasonably knowledgeable), the query errors and the sql errors indicate that there are issues with the back end and with the database. In other words, the bad coding goes all the way to the core. The javascript errors tell me the front end is also fucked up. These back end issues typically can’t be resolved in a few days, especially if the site isn’t taken completely offline while the code is reviewed. In other words, keeping the site live will prolong the repairs. Additionally, it’s much more difficult to find the errors in someone else’s code so fixing the problems is really challenging.

There doesn’t seem to have been much quality assurance testing done prior to launch. I literally can’t imagine that even a canned piece of QA software, didn’t pick up those query errors.

In discussing this disaster, everyone is missing the heart of the problem, which is the way in which government contracts are awarded. Our government doesn’t award contracts to a company that has a proven track record of successfully completing the type of task they’re being contracted to complete. Our government awards government contracts to companies that have a proven track record of securing government contracts. This ineptitude is often compounded by the practice of either awarding a contract to a crony, the biggest lobbyist, or someone’s nephew. The job almost never goes to the company most qualified to deliver the best result.

That’s what happened here. This is a case of an incompetent company getting a contract to do develop the ACA website. I haven’t been able to find out any details on who the contractor was, or the means by which this contract was awarded. I know there’s at least one journalist working on this, but the media is once again asleep at the wheel. We should be having a national conversation about the menace that are inept government contractors, and how they continue to be awarded for their incompetence with more government contracts. But thanks to the media, we’re once again missing the opportunity to have an important conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not absolving the administration from their responsibility in all of this. It is well within their power to award government contracts in a more effective way. They simply did nothing to fix the fucked up way in which we dole out federal tax dollars to contractors.

The Obama administration definitely failed here. But let me just say that it takes a special kind of stupid to conclude that the ACA is a failure on the basis of bad software coding. Making that conclusion really does take the kind of  simpleton that is beyond my comprehension.

That said, this situation isn’t a catastrophe since everyone has until March 31, 2014 to get health insurance before the $95 fine (you read that correctly, the fine is $95 or 1% of your annual salary) for not signing up is imposed. . The fact that they launched the site so far ahead of the deadline is a good thing. It’s inconceivable to me that these issues won’t be resolved before the December 14, 2013 deadline to sign up for coverage that is effective on January 1, 2014.

As we’re listening to the hyperbolic doomsdayers, let’s apply a little perspective to this situation. This fuck up didn’t kill anybody, unlike when KBR electrocuted  at least eighteen of our soldiers in Iraq. Personally, I would be delighted if delaying someone’s ability to find out how much money they were going to save on health insurance was the worst thing that an incompetent or greedy government contractor ever did.

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Pork Is The New Normal

So I woke up this morning, and did what I usually do; scoured the news. The news today is, of course, all about the budget deal. Predictably, there is lots of analysis on who “lost” and who “won”. I don’t care about that, since everyone has figured out that part of the whole equation, except to say that democracy won. Our already fucked up system of governance didn’t get more fucked up by setting the precedent that a recalcitrant minority can undo the will of the people, as well as unraveling decades of duly passed laws.

The more important story to me, is about everything that was included in this bill. Rachel Maddow spoke about some of the “pork barrel” items in the bill like;

  • $450 million in Colorado flood relief 
  • $600 million to fight forest fires
  • Money for the widow of the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg
  • Back pay for state workers funded through federal grants
  • A $2 billion dollar increase in funding for the Olmsted Lock dam in Kentucky

I didn’t highlight that last one to single out Mitch McConnel for being extra, super porky (although…). I highlighted that last one because it illustrates something about Mitch McConnell in particular, but many members of the senate at large; they all know how fucked up the government is. The very act of including some of these things in a bill that wasn’t going to get any scrutiny, due to time constraints is a tacit admission that their fucked up government can’t fund anything any other way.

They understand that Colorado will remain in shambles, and that we can’t fight forest fires, or pay the widow of a United States senator the “normal” way. We can’t get jack shit done the “normal” way, and it’s in large part Mitch McConnell’s fault.

Remember, until the 2010 election, when the tealiban won some seats in congress, Mitch McConnell was the nutbag in chief in the GOP. Okay, co-chief. He had Paul Ryan by his whackadoo side. They were the ones insisting that we cut, and cut, and cut the budget without raising a nickle in revenue to balance the budget. They championed the idea that the United States’ only problem is that we just spend way too much money, and that we can do with less.

Guess what, Mitch? Your little $2 billion dollar pork project demonstrates that you know you’re full of shit. Now McConnell is trying his best to push the responsibility for this spending off on Dianne Feinstein and Lamar Alexander, who are on the senate appropriations committee but it’s abundantly clear that they made a deal with McConnell.

I will admit that I don’t know anything about this dam project. I don’t know if it’s vital to Kentucky, or if it’s a giant gift to McConnell’s donors. But I do know that it’s no more or less important than all of the other infrastructure projects that are waiting for funding all across the country. I know it’s not more pressing than feeding the working poor in Kentucky. I know that very poor families in Kentucky are more concerned with feeding their kids, than they are with building a dam. Curiously, McConnell porked up a dam instead of bringing some of that evaporated food stamp money back home to his constituents.

Paying for shit that you’re interested in, while eliminating funding for programs that you’re not, doesn’t demonstrate that we can do with “less”. And having to pay for those projects that you’re interested in by using sneaky underhanded tactics proves that we can’t do with less, and you know it.

I suspect that McConnell’s dam may have gotten funded with stimulus money, had McConnell not done his damndest to whittle down as much as he could. He and the rest of the GOP wouldn’t have to fund things with federal money like thieves in the night, if they would just admit that we can’t do with less. Pork is the new normal.

I’m not avoiding talking about the Lautenberg pork because I’m a partisan, prone to excusing democrats. I don’t care about the Lautenberg pork because democrats aren’t the ones that have been pushing this “we can do with less” bullshit. The issue here is the hypocrisy, and the way that hypocrisy has sped up an already untenably fucked up government.

This runaway train is most assuredly going to crash and unfortunately, the only solace we get in all of this is that the conductors go down with the train. I know that this won’t help feed your kids or get you a job, but it’s all you get in tealiban America.       

 

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Fighting Extremism With Extreme Measures

I’ve been thinking about this insane government shutdown and all of its moving parts. Let’s be clear, there are a lot of moving parts, despite all of the memes boiling the situation down to one thought.

Yes, the GOP is essentially trying to subvert democracy and the democratic process by trying to blackmail the president into reversing everything the American people voted for. They want to disappear the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that America collectively voted for it twice. They want to implement the draconian Ryan budget, despite the fact that America said, “NO!” to Paul Ryan and his budget. Something that very few people are talking about, is the fact that democrats are culpable in all of this. Obama established a pattern of behavior when he negotiated over the debt ceiling a couple of years ago, and congressional democrats didn’t help this time around by presenting a budget whose cuts exceed those in the Ryan budget. It’s a little difficult to place all of the blame on republicans for trotting out an insane tactic that has worked well for them in the past. There’s plenty of blame to go around here.

That said, the lion’s share of the blame here lies with a small group of whackadoos that represent roughly 1/4 of the house GOP; the tealiban. The insane ones who are so severely ideologically driven, that on any given day, they can’t see past today. They’re the nutters you’ve seen on TV for the past two days, who despite a giant mountain of evidence, are channeling a doped up Charlie Sheen and claiming they’re “WINNING!”

They are unfortunately being enabled by a pathetic John Boehner, who refuses to put a vote on a clean CR (continuing resolution) on the floor. A clean CR would pass, since there are enough republicans in the house who would vote with with democrats to pass it. Boehner is suffering from the same delusion that Obama suffers from; he thinks that he can get these people to like him and to work with him. He can’t. These people despise him and they always will, just like republicans despise Obama and always will. They’re just not into you, and they never will be. Trying to appease these morons won’t get Boehner any further than it got Obama, and attempting to do so will present a slew of new problems every single day.

But fear not, Bitchy has not one, but two solutions to end this. The first solution lies with Obama. This whole debt ceiling situation is about allowing the treasury to print up more bonds to sell in order to raise the cash to pay the debt. Most of you know this, but raising the debt ceiling doesn’t create more debt. It’s about giving the treasury the ability to pay for the existing debt. Don’t confuse the debt with the deficit. The debt refers to all of the money that we owe. It includes spending from a decade or two ago, and the interest on that spending. The deficit refers to the debt to revenue ratio for any given year. So raising the debt ceiling is about nothing more than selling more bonds. I think the president should just go ahead and instruct the treasury to print up more bonds to sell. Congress will likely challenge this in the courts, and it will invariably end up with the Supreme Court. I believe that a strong argument for ending the process of having to raise the debt ceiling can be made under the fourteenth amendment. Section four states;

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

In other words, once congress approves the spending that created the debt, that debt is no longer in question. I honestly believe that this is a winning argument that would put an end to this insanity forever without taking any constitutional power away from congress.

My other solution is going to sound batshit crazy, because it relies on congressional republicans taking action. There is a way for the less crazy republicans to end this shutdown and neuter the tealiban forever. If seventeen of them went to Boehner and let him know that they were going to switch parties, thereby turning the house over to the democrats, they could force Boehner to stand up to the extra, super turbocharged crazies. I’m pretty sure that Boehner would fold as soon as the words “Speaker Pelosi” made it into his little pea brain. If the threat doesn’t do it for him, they should switch parties just to end the shutdown. This would give Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker Of The House, the power to put a clean CR up for a vote. To my knowledge, there’s nothing to prevent congressional members from switching parties every day so they could always switch back as soon as that vote is taken.

I know how crazy this sounds, but it would solve a lot of problems for the GOP. They have to do something about the tealiban before that small minority blows up the whole party. Big thinkers in the GOP (I know, I know) should be able to see the long term gains in taking this kind of action. The tealiban has already cost the GOP both senate and congressional seats. They need to stop the bleeding now, before it snowballs. It will most definitely snowball since the nutters’ seats are completely safe due to the insane gerrymandering republicans did in 2010. So what’s basically happening, is that the nutters have all the job security in the world, and the less crazy are being forced to up the crazy or jeopardize their own seats. Something needs to be done to stop the bleeding, and republicans are the only ones that can do it.

Will republicans ever do this? Of course not. I haven’t completely lost my mind. It’s crazy, but it would work. Honestly, we’re in a place where the only way to fight extremism is with extreme measures like the ones I’ve suggested. I don’t see any way to stop the insanity for any length of time without extreme remedies being taken.

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