Bad Government Software

By James Kwak

Ezra Klein, one of the biggest supporters of Obamacare the statute, has already called the launch of Obamacare a “disaster,” and it looks like things are now getting worse: as people are actually able to buy insurance, the data being passed to health insurers are riddled with errors (something Klein anticipated), in effect requiring applications to be verified over the phone. Bad software is one of my blogging sidelights, so I wanted to find out who built this particular example, and I found Farhad Manjoo’s WSJ column, which fingered CGI, a big old IT consulting firm (meaning that they do big, custom, software development projects, mainly for big companies). (See here for more on CGI.)

CGI was a distant competitor of my old company. I don’t recall facing them head-to-head in any deals (although my memory could be failing me), but they claimed to make insurance claim systems, which is the business we were in. So I don’t have an opinion on them specifically, but I do have an opinion on the general category of big IT consulting firms: they do crappy work, at least when they are building systems from scratch. (They generally do better when installing products developed by real software companies.)

The data centers of the world’s largest companies are littered with difficult-to-use, inflexible, expensive, error-riddled software. Some of it was put there by their in-house IT departments; most of it was custom jobs purchased from consulting firms. As an ordinary human being, most of it is hidden from you (except in your capacity as an employee of one of these companies), but you do get occasional glimpses: peeking at the screen of the airline ticket agent, for example. Or occasionally you’ll be on some otherwise consumer-friendly website and you’ll call up some data about your account (utility and insurance companies are likely candidates) and you’ll see your data, truncated, in all caps, poorly formatted—you’re getting a glimpse into the horror of the mainframe behind the pretty web screens.

Why is so much software so bad? There are lots of reasons. Writing good software is hard to begin with.* Big, custom projects are unique by definition, so they are sold as promises, not as finished products. Every vendor promises the same thing, so the one who promises to do it at the lowest cost often wins; when the project turns out late, bad, and over budget, too many executives have too much invested in its success to admit defeat. Consulting firms, which bill by the hour, make money by staffing projects with lots of people at relatively low cost, which is absolutely the wrong way to develop software; the productivity differentials in software are so vast that you can often get ten times as much output (of quality software) for less than twice the price, while a bad developer will do more harm than good to a project.

Sure, not every company is equally bad at either building software or buying software that works. Manjoo points the finger at one thing that is at least partly to blame: government procurement. Buying software, in the form of finished products or custom projects, is hard, and there are lots of reasons to believe the federal government is especially bad at it. The underlying problem is that government technology procurement is the province of a handful of big contractors and a handful of officials at the agencies who do the buying, and neither side has any real incentive for things to change.

As others have noted, the failure of healthcare.gov is not unique in the annals of government technology projects. But it is surprising that the Obama administration—which has tried to build a reputation for competence—did so spectacularly badly on its flagship project. Most likely, there were just not enough people in the chain of command who had enough understanding of technology to realize that things were going horribly wrong, which is a pretty clear management failure on the part of the administration.

* Although it’s not that clear that this was a particularly hard project. The thing that makes enterprise software difficult is integration to multiple back-end systems. I was surprised to learn that the integration to health insurers is done via daily files, which is just about the easiest way to do it. (Basically, healthcare.gov just has to generate one file per day, per insurer, listing all the people who bought coverage from that insurer, along with their details.) I live in Massachusetts, and judging from our exchange (thank you, Mitt Romney!) there isn’t any other integration: just some qualification logic and then the presentation of a menu of options.

70 responses to “Bad Government Software

  1. the irony of YOU bad mouthing crappy software is priceless.

  2. Actually, it’s hard. You’re talking about the equivalent of a stock exchange for insurance contracts. It was an easy guess that the system would be technically inadequate at the start, and it may or may not improve depending on what competitive incentives exist.

  3. What has surprised me the most in my exploring the healthcare.gov siite is they could not even get the registration part running correctly. Registration systems are not rocket science and should be relatively easy to code and test. Not having that piece working really surprised me. One thing that really shocked me was when the security questions did not load. Turning on browser debugging, it looks like the questions are brought up with an asynchronous request which did not cause the system to block until the request either completed or failed with an error message. That is simply bad coding which should have been caught with a little code review and testing.

  4. They were already copying the rest of Romneycare, why not copy this part too? Just find out who built the website for the Mass ‘Connectors’, and hire them to expand the system for the national ‘Exchanges’.

  5. What ever happened to an apple a day keeps the Dr. away? Worked years ago here and still works today in central Africa. Or we could just check to see if the moon really is made of cheese and not monkey around with the Dr. this time around.

  6. i think this is a case of you get what you paid for. pay little, expect problems. course software is hard. and trying to do it on the cheap, tends to end in failure. but that not exclusive to public contracts. tends to be any large contract by any one. course i also why the insurance companies weren’t involved it testing the software, since its becoming their problem too. this company doesnt just write software, they host it too. so maybe they skimped on the hardware needed to run it? and maybe they hired staff who had very little experience, and the result was pretty much a given, when both of these came to the same project. problem is the company wont suffer from its failure. but thats not different than in private contracting too.

  7. My impression is that they’ve been knocked over by sheer scale. How many web sites, after all, start out by registering millions of users? There are also rumors of DDoS attacks; who knows if the they are true.

    The other day I was thinking that if you wanted an easy way to register this many users, you could much worse than to implement a Facebook app, or make it a Google service. Perhaps have a healthcare exchange API? Though it would have to be carefully secured.

    And, as Jon Walker at FDL reminds us, Oregon’s Medicaid system has had no problem registering 56,000 new users. There is likewise little doubt that Medicare’s established systems could easily accommodate large numbers of additional users. This is a graphic demonstration that the privatization of the system itself adds expense and complexity.

  8. I am also struck by the way that California’s exchange seems to be up and running. Washington’s, on the other hand, is mired in overload.

  9. Using AWS(Amazon Web Service) or Google App Engine is quite a scalable solution. Most of new internet companies don’t build their own data center now. On the other hand, to have millions of new users on the first day of your business certainly is certainly not a typical internet start-up phenomenon.

  10. As a supporter of the ACA, the website is a disaster. It is like they did no testing at all. When January comes around and it is still in bad shape, then the tea party’s demands to delay become reasonable and “I told you so” will begin to make people have 2nd thoughts on the ACA. It has the potential to really snowball into something, all over poor software development. They should have mandated states create exchanges, there does not seem to be any issues with state launches.

  11. Q. What are the risks that banks will run up a dangerous excessive exposure to something ex ante rated AAA to AA and which then, ex post, turns out to be risky?

    A. Empirically very high! That is precisely the stuff bank crises are made off.

    Q. What are the risks that banks will run up a dangerous excessive exposure to something ex ante rated below BB- and which, ex post, turns out to be even more risky than that?

    A. There’s little empirical evidence of that. And, if they did, the banks would have collected a lot of risk premiums too… which is also capital (equity).

    Q. But what are the risk weights in Basel II?

    A. 20% for assets rated AAA to AA, and 150% for assets rated below B-.

    Conclusion: Talk about crappy software!

    http://subprimeregulations.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-basel-committees-and-financial.html

  12. Yup, it’s crappy software. No excuse for it. But the challenge of rolling out software that will take a million plus visits on day one is pretty much unprecedented. The fact that one political party has done whatever it can to sabotage the rollout (not accusing them of DDoS, mind you, just all the lies, distortions, and Republican governors refusing to participate) didn’t help either.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the piling-on, but just need to ask – has anyone every tried to access Ticketmaster when Springsteen tickets go on sale, or a similar event? Here’s a website that’s been in business from day 1 of the internet, and it becomes totally unusable under circumstances that are a cakewalk compared to the healthcare exchange.

  13. JC, I think they did test, but either their load testing wasn’t adequate or the site is under attack. Coveredca.com, the California site, works fine.

  14. Perhaps they should have considered that llaves. When a new football stadium is built, and before the first game, their is what is called the big stadium flush. It’s where the local community is asked to come to the venue to test out the flushing of all the toilets so if there is a problem, it can be caught before the full onslaught of a maddening crowd during the opening game. There is no such thinking in politics, it’s get it done as fast and cheap as possible so the remainder can line the politicians pockets and we can pay people to go out and raise more money. It’s a vicious cycle of greed and arrogance which feeds upon it’s self until it kills it’s own host and moves forward looking for another.

  15. Perhaps we would do better by giving the practice of medicine back to the doctors, on a family by family, town by town, county by county and state by state basis. How big a cut is the insurance industry taking? My bet is that long term, the doctors could organize a better everything, when it comes to health-care services. Medicine is not an industry, it is a craft. We should keep it that way.

  16. Reblogged this on Underwriting Solutions LLC and commented:
    Why is so much software so bad? There are lots of reasons. Writing good software is hard to begin with.* Big, custom projects are unique by definition, so they are sold as promises, not as finished products. Every vendor promises the same thing, so the one who promises to do it at the lowest cost often wins; when the project turns out late, bad, and over budget, too many executives have too much invested in its success to admit defeat. Consulting firms, which bill by the hour, make money by staffing projects with lots of people at relatively low cost, which is absolutely the wrong way to develop software; the productivity differentials in software are so vast that you can often get ten times as much output (of quality software) for less than twice the price, while a bad developer will do more harm than good to a project.

  17. I am a federal government employee and find that software produced specifically for government use tends to be hard to navigate, not user-friendly, and subject to breakdowns. My colleagues and I blame poor oversight of the contractors who produce it, but we don’t really know the reason. My favorite glitch is a personnel evaluation website that requires to you wait several minutes for the form you just filled in to be formatted for printing. Something I have not expected to see since the early 1980s.

  18. Been There, Done That

    Fredric P. Brooks led development of IBM’s OS/360 in 1964 and then wrote “The Mythical Man-Month”, published in 1975, a series of essays on large system development. He said then that there was “No Silver Bullet” for software developers. When a 20th Anniversary Edition was re-published in 1995, Brooks said there was STILL no silver bullet. In my forty years experience I found him right on. There is no substitute for insightful design and then endless testing, much of which must be done by users with little or no experience with the application

  19. Sheesh! This is the administration that wanted to employ one of the architects of the deregulation of the financial markets to run the Fed (Larry Summers)! This is the administration whose regulators have filed literally zero referrals for criminal prosecutions in the wake of the biggest financial frauds in human history!

    Tens of thousands of such referrals were filed by Republican regulators during the Savings & Loan scandal. This sub-prime / derivative / fraudulent foreclosure and appraisal scandal is, by William K. Black’s estimate, seventy times larger, yet still no referrals by any Obama administration regulators.

    And no end to the revolving door with the banksters, either. Jack Lew came from Citi, Obama’s previous majordomo came from Bear Stearns, and Rahm Emmanuel made millions at Bear Stearns before he became mayor of Chicago, looting that city’s parking revenue (selling it to Bear Stearns for 10¢ on the dollar).

    Incompetence isn’t a bug, it’s a feature in this administration.

  20. This seems to be an international issue, so while I don’t want to get involved in the politics of a country I don’t live in, I respectfully think the poster above me is being a little short-sighted by blaming it on the current US govt.

    Here in the UK there are two or three contractors that seem to split most of the govt. IT contracts between them and not to put too fine a point on it, the names of all those companies have become bywords for utter failures in IT project work, software, services, etc. based on the performance of their govt. contracts.

    I wonder if the issue is that _all_ politicians are that worst kind of customer to design solutions for: the users with no idea at all about what’s possible or reasonable but an overwhelming desire to micromanage and change things around. In my experience people at that level certainly treat IT project management and delivery as a religion instead of a science (a topic I’ve blogged on before).

  21. With any big project, when the customer demands last-minute changes but won’t extend the delivery date, you’re gonna have issues.

  22. Agreed many and perhaps most software projects fail or nearly fail. It turns out we don’t really know how to do software. It starts with changing the requirements during development, If you consider that its only 6 months ago that the questions to be asked were firmed up, then the time issue also arrives. Consider that you had to make many systems that were not designed to do so talk to the system as well.
    As a private example, if you recall the problems the Union Pacific had when it merged with the Southern Pacific in the mid 1990s a large part of it was getting the two legacy software systems to communicate during the period before a full cutover to the new system was made. (one system would show a car as empty and the other would show it as having a load for example).
    Another issue is that often in software development best is the enemy of good enough. that is that good enough methods are not used in favor of the most desirable methods although they are much harder to implement.

  23. Interestingly, in areas such as civil engineering, the US government has pioneered a very successful approach to purchasing engineering services. Perhaps healthcare.gov is another reminder that the same approach should be used for _software_ engineering.
    For full details see http://www.agilekiwi.com/estimationandpricing/qbs-and-novopay

  24. We have the same number of government employees now that we had in 1966. For every government employee, there are at least 3 contractors now. Privatization of government functions, contracting out everything that can possibly be contracted out, means that there are few, if any, government employees capable of designing or implementing a system like the ACA exchanges. Government employees no longer have the experience to even specify or oversee these projects. Government systems are built by the “best value” bidder, generally the cheapest one who seems to promise to meet requirements. Having been in an oversight role for the government, I have seen a lot of sloppy, overpriced, late systems. I see no way to avoid this result. It may seem counter-intuitive in our government-bashing era, but the best fix for this is to restore the civil service and let honest, dedicated public employees build systems again, with pride in their work. We put men on the moon this way. We could have built the ACA exchanges easily.

  25. In response to Dan Palanza, the “family by family, town by town, county by county and state by state” approach to “giving the practice of medicine back to the doctors”, sounds good in theory, and might even work just fine when the only medicine being provided is checkups and physicals, but it’s not just doctors who need to be paid for relatively affordable services. It’s hundred thousand dollar hospital stays, and monthly five hundred dollar prescriptions, and ten thousand per week rehabs, and thirty thousand dollar chemotherapy sessions that need to be paid for as well. That’s why insurance is needed, and whether it’s the ACA, or single-payer, or some other form of medical cost support yet to be dreamed up, there’s no way we’re ever going back to paying the country doctor with fifty bucks and a hand shake.

  26. Mary Robinson – this is right on the mark. For all the bashing of gov’t employees and the size of the gov’t, the number of federal employees per capita has dropped year after year. The hollowing out of the civil service in favor of contractors has created the situation we find ourselves in, and it was predictable. While I was never a government employee (federal or otherwise), I worked closely with civil service scientists and engineers much of my career. For the most part, they were dedicated and competent individuals working to make our country a better place.Sure, there were exceptions, but no more (and often fewer) that I found at commercial firms I worked with. Meanwhile, they take crap from the right wingnuts who have never met them, yet feel free to berate them, furlough them, and abuse them in general. It’s unpopular to say anything nice about government employees, so I’m glad Mary is speaking out.

  27. This is what we call qualitative easing at the consumers expense. And Jim surely you must wonder where all the problems stem from that require these outer spaced priced procedures. People never had such problems in the old days and lived just fine without all the tests. No, modern man himself has tricked his mind and polluted his body to the point that insanity takes over rather than common sense. And if people don’t figure this out right quick, there is your reason for going back to 1850, again, so we can reach the day where a Dr. visit and $50 is the cure. See where we are going here? Starting to see the difference between heaven and hell??

  28. The debate overall was somewhat lackluster. More emphasis should have been put on why rather than the blanket statements and clichés offered by Mr. Fisher. Proponents of “Break Up the Banks” lost – 12% in pre-debate to post-debate opinion. Opponents won with 20% increase from the pre-debate position to post-debate opposition in breaking up the banks: Mr. Saltzman had the strongest argument, though he glossed over Dodd-Frank. The growing influence and power by banks and its parent company, the Federal Reserve, should have been the ‘front and center’ topic of discussion, rather than the nonsensical engagement, at times, of the debaters. The only gottcha question concerned the “breaking up the Federal Reserve:” though Mr. Fisher got a good laugh from the question, he has also provided a more sobering analysis in his testimony on Capitol Hill. We can only conclude by asking, was this debate more about marketing of the news network or should the topic of discussion had, instead, been about the Fed and its over-reaching role in the economy.

    BTW, Founding Fathers not so Christian after all: their interpretation of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and other principles behind the declaration of independence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU24fJ4NQxo

  29. I work for the IRS – our “mission critical” software is called IDRS. It was invented in 1969. We would love to have some new buggy software to replace our old buggy software. Yep, the evil empire used pre-DOS, green screen technology with function keys.

  30. I don’t really see why anyone is surprised. It is government. What do you expect? everything cost more and sucks with government except military and defense – that doesn’t suck – but it cost a lot.

  31. The US government does not buy software for something this big anymore than they “buy” space shuttles. They procure huge performance based contracts, lots of them. Within the US Government procurement world, two essential things are completely missing: 1) Competition & 2) Accountability. Competition would require the US government to procure three or more “solutions” from competing vendors and then keep at least two of the best vendor’s solutions available throughout the life of the program. (I can hear the accountants screaming now.) Government vendors are extremely skilled at manipulating government servants on single vendor contracts but incapable of manipulating there direct competitors on competitive contracts. Additionally, this also solves the accountability problem. If no vendor can make it work, then the problem is the procuring agency. If one vendor makes it work, then the problem is not the procuring agency.

  32. I remember when Bill Clinton showed us all the “Health Security Card” almost exactly 20 years ago, and I remember thinking then that the President had no clue what that would really entail not only organizationally and politically, but from an information systems perspective. We have better tools now and far fewer restrictions, but we have very few technologists managing the work that gets done. And that makes all the difference.

  33. Like Klein, I am a supporter of Obamacare (the ACA) and, also like Klein, I think the roll out fiasco was really dumb. As a former developer of distributed databases and web based applications, I agree with this article but would add some important points. First, unless the actual programmers and developers do not meet with the end users during the development, their products will almost always be faulty. In this case, they had no end users to test the program so used other established means of testing. Unfortunately the other established means of testing does not work and never has. My second point, and perhaps even more important, is the inability of development management and the actual developers to communicate well with one another. In every project I worked on for the US Army, the actual purpose of the software got lost somewhere between management and the developers. Much of that is caused by allowing developers into management to make major decisions based on their developers background. Computer programmers simply make bad managers because they do not have the education, training, and experience in management. There are more reasons for the roll out failure but these two, simple errors are at the heart of the problem. I suppose now the only question is “can they fix it?”

  34. There is never a simply answer to a fail. For the new US health system, the author mentioned several issues which including the issue with the system itself. As amateur in modelling, I would say there is never a “working for all” model, therefore, a perfect system which satisfies everything is rare or impossible. At least, they setup something to improve the current situation. In analysing methodology, if there is no solution, establish a solution even it may not be perfect; at least it can be improved. And this is a good start!

  35. It’s the incentives, stupid. When Obama’s re-election was in doubt, their fund raising software worked fine (actually, superbly). They couldn’t impose a mandate upon the electorate that they contribute to Obama, so they had to compete to get the money.

    With Obamacare, it’s the opposite.

  36. Even systems we have lived with for over a decade have flaws that cause misery. Look at the stories about people whose credit histories get messed up, who get accidentally declared dead, get another person’s medical bills or get arrested because they got on the wrong list.

    One should expect much worse during the first year of a new complicated system that has to reflect all of the regulations that various parties insisted on. Expect to see people who end up with five policies and others who though they insured their kids, but the system says that they insured their deceased great-grandfather instead.

    Others will be pissed because they still have high deductibles (but this is a feature that Obamacare opponents should like!)

    But the end result is that millions of people will get better access to medical care and have some degree of protection against financial ruin from unexpected medical bills.

  37. So now it’s every man his own corporation, minus the law firms which keep them above water. This won’t end well, if young people do start paying, they will never stop their whole lives through. In a world already to expensive to live in and with no guarantee that their lives will be more safe or comfortable in the future as a result of paying early. If you recall Reagonomics, that generation was promised more down the road if they contributed more then in the early 80’s. It a pile on ponzi scheme designed to ring the registers of the politicians and at the same time lift your private information by cyber thiefs, who will one day drain your bank account so the Fed can back the banks and make them good in light of the lost forever money. Count on it folks, they don’t care one bit of you and I, or do they see the consequences which must follow such action.

  38. ‘But the end result is that millions of people will get better access to medical care ….’

    Then why did the government have to mandate it?

  39. @anonymousy – as soon as you could not afford to pay, you were OUT. So the years paid in never get trickled back to you if you could not pay one more premium.

    Agreed that the algorithms will NEVER be set to anything other than “extraction”.

    And that’s just fine with the GenXers – it’s all a *game*. They have no ethics – came out of the womb that way, too. Must be something in the water and air post WWII….

  40. That’s just it, the moment you can’t make the used car payment, the repo man is there to take advantage of the situation and leave people walking, and there seems to no end to that type of behavior or trades to practice it in either.

  41. I am grateful for the roll-out failure.

    I hope, now, that the whole ACA thing slinks into infamy.

    Read/watch Dreams from My Real Father to understand the train wreck that may have been prevented. …..Lady in Red

  42. @Anonyomouse – when in the history of USA did MILLIONS lose their “jobs” in a 6 month period – right before a “regime” change – a new Pres after the 8 years of pre-emptive war? They PROGRAMMED the extraction all the way down the line thanks to the Patriot Act which was NEVER about anything other than the enronista-like PREDATORS in USA getting their hands on people’s BANK RECORDS and JOBS.

    Economic genocide – and true to form, just like Stalin did, they gathered up the GOOD people!

    PRIMA FACIE evidence is everywhere. If you participate in IGNORING it, that just means that either you are DELUSIONAL or one of the PREDATORY criminals involved in it…

    Haven’t said it in a while, but it certainly would help if it happene – BURN THE PATRIOT ACT!

    :-))

  43. What is the most startling to me is that the system wasn’t tested on a wide scale, using millions of “fake” individuals. You can’t tell me that it can’t be done, I work at a Fortune 1000 company (no well near the top of the list) and they have done extensive testing with new software rollouts. You use pretend information and you isolate that module from the go-live accounts. I’m not a tech person at all, but I know for sure that testing software can be done on a large scale. Whether you supported ACA or not, this is just a real surprise that this would be allowed to take place.

  44. Yea, six months, that’s how long they said it would take. See ya there with my ax, plow, and my teeth, or, we’re we NOT on the same page?

  45. dinosaur programmer

    This is not fodder for an anti-government debate, even if some want it always to appear that way, and it is not a prelude to a conclusion that sounds something like “American government can never do anything right” that is on the lips of every hardcore anarchistic “conservative” in this country. This is an indictment of the proprietary software vendors and the government procurement officers that don’t have, and possibly aren’t provided, a means to do a more effective planning and oversight job on such a large-scale activity. No more, no less.

    The nostalgic folks who want things to cost $50 like it did once upon a time need to wake from their passionate reveries and look at what healthcare in this country has degenerated into, thanks to FOR PROFIT healthcare providers. And if the concept of non-profits tells them that nobody can make any money doing things that way, then they need to further wake from their ignorance.

    In America, healthcare has removed as much “care” from the equation as is financially possible, with the remaining “health” variable declining proportionately. If the nostalgics want to reminisce about country doctors, I want to remind them that most doctors today are part of the corporate entity side of the equation, not the side that champions patient improvement, and their “union” – the AMA – is the cheerleader for making it even harder to change the system we suffer under.

    As a software engineer who cut his teeth on an IBM/360 back in the early 70’s, and who remembers how the Internet developed from its earliest ancestry, and who has seen software trends and educational trends change again and again since those days, not to mention being part of the generation of programmers whose “laziness” created the once-infamous Y2K bug, I find it a colossal joke to hear so many uninformed people spout off about how this thing should have really been done.

    Yes, duh, it could have and should have been done better, but it wasn’t. I bet people (and especially the media) want to believe that this is unprecedented, the scale is the biggest ever, etc. Hogwash! There are many examples of similar levels of failure throughout the business world that nobody seems interested in cataloging. For example, how many times have you heard of trading stopping on the NYSE because the system couldn’t handle things, or because built-in “brakes” are activated to prevent stress-induced mega dumping of shares? And this is highest-level mission-critical software designed to handle enormous numbers of simultaneous worldwide transactions. Heard of major websites crashed by excessive interest in a new product? It happens regularly, admit it.

    The typical proprietary software design approach today has been to ramp up a product to a point that it is allowed “into the wild” with minimal fanfare to conduct a limited-access beta test in context, and to let the growing user base respond with targeted surveying, or to simply let the bug reports push improvements. One need merely to point to almost every one of Microsoft’s modern offerings to see that this was their approach. Once enough product fixes are accumulated, a new version is released to bigger hoopla – the proverbial “new and improved”.

    Regarding the ACA site, and the state sites that it can feed into, like California’s, it would be more instructive to look at not only the procurement procedures, but also the projections within the ACA law itself as to how things were expected to proceed, and then to follow the projected timeline and see how the real one compared in the ramp up for this project.

    I doubt it will be a pretty picture, but I do hope that partisan bickering will take a backseat, that nostalgia-driven folks will take off their rear-view mirrors, and that we can pile everybody into the car who can look calmly forward toward solutions that will help all of us who are in this together.

  46. I don’t know, we paid dearly to stand in line and send all those cards into the machine, only to have the machine malfunction for half of us most of the time (leaving us in the lurch), as the guy behind the wall was practicing with his new mouse and in dire need of funds to take it to next level. Nothing has changed during all this time and it appears to me to be a human, (i want to say to greed but i’ve done worn it out), induced problem of tricking themselves, and many others into doing things in a rather strange manner. Which typically ends up as money in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons.

  47. @dinosaur programmer – nice post, thanks for sharing.

    I’d like to re-state that the problem is for-profit health INSURANCE, specifically, that is the singular problem. The CEO of United Health Care, an MD, gave himself a 1.08 BILLION $$ package in 2005. He did not bandage a single boo-boo to earn that compensation.

    Health care is an anchor of Main Street life-maintenance commerce. It’s all mano-et-mano. How can someone not doing any mano et mano work be worth 1.08 BILLION as a “health care provider”??!!

    Blaming the clinicians – the mano et mano people – for what they are coerced (yes, coerced) into doing inside the “system” is not in line with “looking calmly toward solutions”. I still remember how Dr. Flowers was hauled off out of the “hearings” when she most definitely provided a plethora of “solutions”….

    An assessment of the whole “gold rush” mania into “software” is summed up in The Urantia Book – Paper 68 – The Dawn of Civilization:

    “…Vanity contributed mightily to the birth of society; but at the time of these revelations the devious strivings of a vainglorious generation threaten to swamp and submerge the whole complicated structure of a highly specialized civilization…..Self-maintenance builds society; unbridled self-gratification unfailingly destroys civilization….”.

    There is evil in this world. Virtual reality contains most of it since it is all “self-gratification”….

    Every human being has the right to make their lives less miserable through honest work. Dedicating years of your life to study the health and maintenance of the human body is honest work. Finding a scheme that compensates you for not actually doing mano et mano work is, well, you tell me what “ism” it is….knowingly causing pain and misery is sadism, medically speaking :-)

    I want FREEDOM from “evil”. A constant battle, no?

  48. 1) six months from now, will anyone remember this ?
    2) anyone remember the rollout of Windows ME or Vista , or, even wasn’t their a DOS that was so bad it vanished ?
    3) Despite what everyone says about GOP obstructionism, etc etc, going from zero visitors Aug30 to 1 million Oct1, it seems clear the obama admin did basic things wrong – like not doing full scale testing , if the news stories are to be beleived;
    4) the point that there is a lot of equally crappy software buried in budgets is one that needs to be stressed: most of the “problems” of go’vt are a noise bias issue: we hear about problems in gov’t; we don’t hear about 500 million dollar projects that get scrapped in priv industry

  49. Adam Eran,

    You posted:

    “… Obama’s previous majordomo came from Bear Stearns, and Rahm Emmanuel made millions at Bear Stearns before he became mayor of Chicago, looting that city’s parking revenue (selling it to Bear Stearns for 10¢ on the dollar).”

    Maybe you should stop reading the sites that spew such drivel. Here’s what really happened, from The Atlantic Wire.

    “The city of Chicago has 36,000 parking meters. In 2008, it sold them on a 75 year lease for over one billion dollars. The buyers were led by Morgan Stanley.”

    Richard M. Daley was the mayor at that time.

  50. “If people really believe that the government could default on its debts or otherwise not make payments to which it is committed, that introduces a huge element of uncertainty into many economic calculations.”

    Well, that doesn’t sound like the [Fed] board nor the institution itself, will be disappearing any time soon. What is needed is a serious proposal of converting The Fed into the “fourth branch” of government; What would a 28thth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution say: Government’s authority to control monetary policy would be primary over the government’s ability to also borrow, specifically barring The Fed and any financial institution other than US Treasury from establishing and controlling monetary policy, along with its fiscal mandate. This includes forbidding Treasury and any other branch of the federal government from relinquishing its authority over the monetary system, including any attempt by Executive order to try and modify, alter, and/or redefine terms and agreement set above, and any effort of being contrary to the original intent of Article 1, Section 8. The Federal Reserve’s primary function would be its privilege of accounting and bookkeeping. Footnote: http://www.annenbergclassroom.org/pages.aspx?name=article-i-section-8&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

    Post Script: At best, bringing into the discussion, the need for monetary reform, at worst a political ploy that was grounded more in ignorance than strategic thinking: To: Senator Ted Cruz; Subject: Shut F***k UP; Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UiLZk2TE8k

  51. @reddit – Notice the DEAFENING silence at the fact that the FRB’s 99 year lease ENDED on 12/21/2012….? The same date as all the evangelicals kept pointing at as the end time date….makes you want to slap all of them, don’t it?

    Considering how the pharisees pin everyone else to “contracts”, how is it that what they are printing now is NOT “funny money”….?

  52. @ Annie: “…….. December 23, 2013 will be the 100th anniversary of the exclusive private banking cartel known as The Federal Reserve–America’s central bank. I detest this organization. It isn’t Federal (not any more “Federal” than Federal Express), and it has no real Reserves.”

    “The Federal Reserve is going back to Jekyll Island to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the infamous 1910 Jekyll Island meeting that spawned the draft legislation that would ultimately create the U.S. Federal Reserve. The title of this conference is “A Return to Jekyll Island: The Origins, History, and Future of the Federal Reserve”, and it will be held on November 5th and 6th in the exact same building where the original 1910 meeting occurred. In November 1910, the original gathering at Jekyll Island included U.S. Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department A.P. Andrews and many representatives from the upper crust of the U.S. banking establishment. That meeting was held in an environment of absolute and total secrecy. 100 years later, Federal Reserve bureaucrats will return to Jekyll Island once again to “celebrate” the history and the future of the Federal Reserve.”

    “You can view the entire agenda of the conference right here. It looks like that there will be plenty of hors d’oeuvres to go around, but should the Federal Reserve really be celebrating their accomplishments at a time when the U.S. economy is literally falling to pieces? Today, 63 percent of Americans do not think that they will be able to maintain their current standard of living. 1.47 million Americans have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks. We are facing a complete and total economic disaster. Today, the Federal Reserve has more power over the economy than any other single institution in the United States. It is the Fed that primarily determines if we will see high inflation or low inflation, whether the money supply with expand or contract and whether we will have high interest rates or low interest rates. The President and the U.S. Congress have far less power to influence the economy than the Federal Reserve does.”

    “…..As I wrote about in “11 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve Is Bad”, the Federal Reserve was created to transfer wealth from the American people to the U.S. government and from the U.S. government to the super wealthy. The sad truth is that the Federal Reserve is at the very core of our economic and financial problems, and that is nothing to celebrate.”

    In other words: since Congress (both parties), Lamestream Media, Academia, and the misguided are seemingly captured, don’t expect too much from the opposing side, and more so from the proponents of the Money Trust. A possible solution, a kind of “join ‘em if you can’t beat ‘em” approach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOZTLLwpQ90

  53. BTW, it is argued that better to have the federal government “printing” too much money than a cabal of pseudo government officials calling in your loan at will. History tells us that the story doesn’t end too well when you have a small group of private (corporate) individuals controlling monetary and then political policy for the nation; just ask the former British Empire, Roman Empire, Greece of today….

  54. Japan…? China, crawling now…? Europe won’t dump the Euro….?

    And, Obama continues to protect the too-big-to-fail banks and bankers who do nothing, earn nothing, produce nothing. ….just skim crumbs off the labor of others? …ah, the Dems: the party of the people. wink-wink.

    The gig’s up:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ambroseevans-pritchard/100025913/citi-forecasts-greek-devastation-unstoppable-debt-spirals-in-italy-and-portugal/

    Forget your medical insurance. War and revolution are in the wind.
    ….Lady in Red

  55. @Today, the Federal Reserve has more power over the economy than any other single institution in the United States.

    You may be right, but it doesn’t have to be. Congress should be in control of policy’s which have power over the economy, but the malfunction of congress has left a vacuum that the Fed has filled. And if something could shake loose the Feds power over the economy, it would be the mkts as we continually see with these latest debt ceiling debates. If the gvt malfunction is great enough, then rates will rise, and equations and theory’s flip, and you could then see steam coming from the ears of some of the elite of Washington. Which they then will turn into a monument and monetize.

  56. At least, if the government was in control of the money supply, you could always “vote them” out but if you don’t like The Fed’s policies, you can’t vote them out of anything, other than blogging your angry and venting to your readers – “I cannot even stand to look at you.”

    I already viewed the documentary “Jekyll Island” – a documentary production of his talking points covered in most of his youtube uploads including this one from 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfxUNYQZJzU. If Charles Ferguerson does a sequel to “Inside Job”, perhaps to the two movie producers could collaberate.

    Bill’s take on the ‘debt ceiling’ was posted on 10/7/13, the national debt ceiling expired 10/17/13: http://bit.ly/HeON9V. And if that is enough to convince some, being (very) disagreeable by others, here is another perspective with similiar conclusions; the answer posed in the form of several questions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvKjsIxT_8

  57. True, but (we the people) sort of lost control of the money system in 1971 when most of us were just tykes. And then OPEC arranging to raise oil prices shortly after that, which then lead to the division of rich and poor which is still in place today for the most part.

  58. Maybe some of you should move to a more ideologically agreeable country;

    http://www.eluniversal.com/economia/131025/central-bank-of-venezuela-reports-serious-shortage-of-16-staples

    ‘In a report, the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) elaborates on the serious levels of shortage in Caracas at the end of September, particularly 16 food products with a shortage index above 41%.

    ‘The items include corn oil, not found in 98.8 out of 100 food stores; whole powder milk, 84.3; sugar, 80.8; pre-cooked corn flour, 73; wheat flour; 64.3, and butter, 58.4.

    ‘Pressured by staple shortage, authorities will resort to a massive import plan to bring food from Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The plan is to put food back on the shelves in the next two months.

    ‘Economy Vice-president Rafael Ramírez claimed on Wednesday, “We are preparing an attack: massive food import.”‘

    Importing from countries that haven’t outlawed capitalism yet.

  59. @reddit.com: Relative to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvKjsIxT_8 What is missing from this fascinating story of money is the role played by the traditional double-entry Book-of-Accounts. Bookkeeping is money’s control-language whose checks and balances validate monetary practices. That was tough to do when the books were kept on paper. Now that we have high speed computation, the checks and balances is possible. The fact today is, however, that we don’t yet know how to balance a computer-driven set of books.

    When the money problem is solved, it will succeed when we understand how Nature balances the creation and the termination of life. The story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvKjsIxT_8 comes close toward the end of its tale when it brings in the issue of value as a stock in trade. But, again, to make value work we all need to learn how and why bookkeeping divides money into an isomorphic rationale, as value set isomorphic to rights. Value | Rights (read the operator ‘|’ named ‘pipe’ as “value set isomorphic to rights.” This is the proverbial balancing of each business transaction into a journal of transactions that generate a book-of-accounts.

    A second bookkeeping operator, ‘||’ read as “double-pipe”. The word here is ‘tautological’. When the daily, weekly, and annually balanced book-of-accounts is placed subject to a Constitutional language of control, The Nature of Life forms a tautologically balanced life-system of individuals =, universe of life-systems. If we keep the individual isomorphy and the common tautology in balance, we have the goal that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvKjsIxT_8 seeks. The video is a great story. All that is missing is the punch line: how to keep such a balanced set of books..I assure you that it can be done.

  60. Possible introductory remarks:

    Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honor and privilege to be your next Federal Chairperson. This conference room where we are all now present, holds great history…. profound debate…. and provides another extraordinary opportunity for us, again, to come together as Americans, for a great cause:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/25/rand-paul-janet-yellen_n_4163766.html?utm_hp_ref=business&ir=Business

    Yes, I do acknowledge and the public does “get it” – Quantitative Easing 1, 2, 3 benefits mostly, if not, all of big businesses and our colleagues at TBTF; that unemployment, low wages, stunted GDP growth is really, the new (and accepted) normal:

    http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/11/rand-paul-why-i-plan-to-grill-yellen/

    But I would plead with those advocating for a Federal Reserve Audit, to reconsider. I’m really on your side of the argument; advocating and supporting the principles of capitalism, liberty, freedom, gold bars, and the bitcoin. Since both parties are captured, one party more enthralled by the money trust than the opposing side, myself and the Fed committee are here to reassure you and the public, indeed, that is the reality:

  61. I would just preface by adding; perhaps the public should read a little more history before they glum onto the likes of Senator Rand Paul. BTW, his father Ron Paul denies he named his son “Rand” after the author, Ayn Rand (“the novelist Ayn Rand was not the inspiration for his first name”).

    In conclusion; thank you Mr. President, dignitaries, and guests. I look forward to my nomination, the Senate Hearings, and serving the American people, toward a brighter future:

  62. I have something that is actually closely related to the post topic (by coincidence) (heh heh!!):

    I think Mr. Kwak has discussed recently that many of the states that had turned down Federal dollars for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were the SAME states that had the most uninsured. I thought some readers (considering the number of illiterate morons from pool of Oklahoma that read this site must be low) might take an interest in this story and these numbers from the Tulsa World. The second link will bring you to a database, and you can choose any hospital in Oklahoma and look at their revenue and profit numbers over the last roughly 5 years. Of high interest in Oklahoma are the rural hospitals, many of which may go bankrupt soon. This is largely due to Presiding C U N T MaryFallin who REFUSED multi-millions in federal dollars for health care.

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/fate-of-rural-hospitals-in-question/article_90b80f58-6b4a-59b9-8b4e-38428e5d8558.html?TNNoMobile

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/databases/hospital-finances-database/html_0c000ebe-3daf-11e3-8117-001a4bcf6878.html?mode=nogs

  63. I must admit (and I know some will judge me very lowly for this confession) I get a pretty strong degree of masochistic thrill imagining all the dumbf*cks in rural Oklahoma, many of them racist, closet KKK, illiterate Teabaggers/Republicans having their local hospital shutdown, then later finding out it was the “evil” “big government” that could have SAVED their local hospital, so they didn’t have to drive 100 miles to the nearest city. That is—-“big government” could have SAVED their Podunk Mercy Hospital—had their pig-nosed leader they themselves voted for—MaryFallin—–not REFUSED the federal dollars.

    They might feel a painful sense of irony in that, if in fact Okie Teabaggers had any clue what irony indeed was.

  64. Some people think real artistry is about more than being a degenerate on MTV music awards, prostrating yourself on reality TV, or twerking for middle aged pedos. They think artistry is place where deep emotions and literary type language can be shared by the masses. I think Lou Reed was that type of guy. Hope you can get a special liver in heaven where you can get sloshed and not worry about it too much:

  65. Good stuff:

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  67. Well, that’s what you get when you farm things out to the private sector. ;)

  68. Min’s comment is actually pretty funny, I mean the government has to take 75%+ of the blame on this, because they in fact CHOOSE the contractors (you can call it a “blind bid” or whatever, but let’s get real, these go to who they want them to go on based on “quality”, “price” or just flat out corruption). Nonetheless, If you really wanna get to who F*cked this up you really do have to take a good look at the contractors. I heard they contacted some folks at RedHat and a couple others (pray to God it wasn’t Steve Ballmer or we’ll be in REAL software hell for the next 30yrs) after the fact to see what had gone wrong on the website.

    My thought is, if Pres Obama wasn’t having his narcissist wet dream by obsessing over tying his name to the law, and was actually worried about the application of the law, he might have called someone like a Linus Torvalds type to help oversee or do some random quality checks on what the hell was going on at the website BEFORE he and Sebelius got caught swimming nude in low tide. In my opinion ANY thought of Pres. Obama having a legacy as a “technocrat” went out the window on this one:

    photo/1

  69. I used to work as a software developer many years (and generations of hardware and software) ago. The large systems integration houses tend to assign their worst staff to government projects and governments complain less about quality of work, and are less likely to go ballistic when projects fail (and many certainly do in both private and public sectors). To put a career bureaucrat in charge (responsible/accountable on the RACI chart) of a complex software development project is irresponsible. I also question why they had to build from scratch when production code is available from third-parties, some of it written for consumer-driven healthcare (CDHP) which shares some of the Obamacare functionality. While those systems are far less complex in terms of constraints and total functionality, the software core of these systems contain (once again) production grade code that have been tested extensively. Why on Earth anyone would want to build this from scratch is beyond my comprehension, unless of course someone wanted to enrich one or more government contractors.

    If read some inept excuse about the project team not being able to perform beta testing. The combination of using production grade code would reduce part of that problem, and of course stress testing (!) the code for greater-than-anticipated volume of users and transactions would have revealed any design or environmental problems early.