Some required reading. Let’s do the technical piece first and get it out of the way.
Healthcare.gov has a significant data problem that won’t be fixed simply. That means no patches or rewrites are likely to fix it. Reports are emerging that focus on these ‘834’ forms. These forms are used in the process of direct enrollment, and it appears that they are filled with incorrect information, making purchasing plans for many impossible. The data that is coming to insurers from healthcare.gov is corrupted or sending ‘questionable’ data.
“The data’s pretty bad,” the executive said. And even if the data was not corrupted, the number of enrollments the insurers are getting from HealthCare.gov is “pretty low.”
The data is pretty bad. How can that be? The answer is clear if you consider the role of the site in the first place. At its core the most fundamental function of the site is to access and manage data from a variety of massive databases, from sources like the IRS, Veterans Administration, insurance carriers, the DHS, and Medicare. We are talking about a lot of incongruent and varied information that has to be extracted, transformed and analyzed, ideally on the fly. Does that sound like anything? To our dedicated readers, that’s a classic Big Data use case. So where has this gone wrong?
Creating and imposing the required data structuring onto this variety of sizable databases means a tremendous, effective effort should have taken place. Data from these systems needs to be identified, correlated, and processed in accordance with the target system. It would be nice if that was automated, but the truth is that many, many data points would have had to been manually evaluated, then categorized. It is quite likely that there are massive variations from one database to the next, from one instance to the next, even from within the same system. Differences in syntax, standards, data types, the list of information has got to be tremendously long.
Another challenge, these databases – who knows how dated they are. Government systems are famously several revisions behind all the time as they are always awaiting security validation and certification or believe it or not ($634 Billion), behind revisions because of budget. In light of all those challenges – given what we know about CGI Federal and CMS that was running this thing, the misinformation that purposely was put on display so that the public and congress would believe this site was ready to go, does anybody really think this crew would be able to pull this off? Or that we’re a couple of handful of patches away from fixing this thing?
Let me paraphrase this – bad data mapping leads to this exact problem – error-filled code and bad end data. That’s your 834 issue. Hacks and workarounds can only stack so high. There is a foundational flaw with the entire thing, and as we can all see the website was just the beginning…
Now for a pair of cultural essays that make more sense of the bits and bytes above. First, from Mark Steyn, an account of the development effort from inside:
“We were working in a very very nimble hyper-consumer-focused way,” explained Todd Park, the chief technology officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “all fused in this kind of maelstrom of pizza, Mountain Dew, and all-nighters . . . and, you know, idealism. That kind of led to the magic that was produced.”
Wow. Think of the magic that Madison, Hamilton, and the rest of those schlubs could have produced if they’d only had pizza and Mountain Dew and been willing to pull a few all-nighters at Philadelphia in 1787. Somewhere between the idealism and the curling slice of last night’s pepperoni, Macon Phillips, the administration’s director of new media, happened to come across a tweet by Edward Mullen of Jersey City in which he twitpiced his design for what a health-insurance exchange could look like. So Phillips printed it out to show his fellow administration officials: “Look, this is the sort of creativity that is out there,” he said. “One thing led to another and he left Jersey City to come to D.C. and helped push us through an information architectural process.”
Don’t you just love it! This is way cooler than the decline and fall of the Roman Empire: The only “architectural process” they had was crumbling viaducts. I think we can all agree that Barack Obama is hipper than all other government leaders anywhere, ever, combined. Unfortunately, the dogs bark and the pizza-delivery bike moves on, and, in the cold grey morning after of the grease-stained cardboard box with the rubberized cheese stuck to it, Obamacare wound up somewhat less hipper…
Next up, Virginia Postrel, the country’s leading expert on glamour. Huh?, you say. No, I assure you it’s relevant.
We imagine that software is a kind of magic — all the more so if it’s software we’ve never actually experienced. We expect it to be effortless. We don’t think about how it got there or what its limitations might be. Instead of imagining future technologies as works in progress, improving over time, we picture them as perfect from day one.
The most successful companies encourage that illusion. “We feel our job is to try to solve tough, difficult problems,” Jony Ive, head of design for Apple Inc., said in a recent interview, “but we don’t make the complexity of the problem apparent in its resolution.” His company regularly describes its products as “magic,” and the illusion of ease is essential to their glamour. They promise a world in which, contrary to the frustrations of everyday experience, computers “just work.”
Freed from real-world technical constraints, Hollywood amplifies that promise. “The police on the CBS show ‘Hawaii Five-O’ have these amazing computer databases at their disposal where images … can be digitally thrown from a digital table onto a giant wall screen with the flick of the officer’s hand into space,” says Tom Simon, a special agent with the FBI in Honolulu. In real life, “we work in a Microsoft Windows environment with all its benefits and limitations.”
Glamorous Hollywood visions make us forget that effortlessly informative, endlessly flexible databases represent the world as we wish it were — or fear it might be — not as it actually is. “TV computer hackers, especially those employed by the police, can instantly tap into any video feed, satellite imagery, internal database, or record ever created by man, even though the record exists only on paper and has never been digitized,” retired police officer Tim Dees wrote on a Quora thread about ludicrous crime-show conventions.
And much easier is the political dish that explains (maybe) why the president is such an ignorant outsider in his own government.
(Valerie) Jarrett, an old Chicago friend of both Barack and Michelle Obama, appears to exercise such extraordinary influence she is sometimes quietly referred to as “Rasputin” on Capitol Hill, a reference to the mystical monk who held sway over Russia’s Czar Nicholas as he increasingly lost touch with reality during World War I.
Darrell Delamaide, a columnist for Dow Jones’s MarketWatch, says that “what has baffled many observers is how Jarrett, a former cog in the Chicago political machine and a real-estate executive, can exert such influence on policy despite her lack of qualifications in national security, foreign policy, economics, legislation or any of the other myriad specialties the president needs in an adviser.”
Delamaide believes the term “vacuous cipher” that was applied to Jarrett stung so much because it could be used as a metaphor for the administration in general. He writes that what “has remained consistent about the Obama administration is that vacuity — the slow response in a crisis, the hesitant and contradictory communication, a lack of conviction and engagement amid constant political calculation.” The stunning revelation that President Obama wasn’t kept properly apprised of problems with Obamacare’s website is just the latest example of how dysfunctional Obama World can be.
Whether Jarrett’s influence is all too real or exaggerated is unknowable. What is known is the extent to which she has long been a peerless enabler of Barack Obama’s inflated opinion of himself. Consider this quote from New Yorker editor David Remnick’s interview with her for his 2010 book The Bridge.
“I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”
Up against a court flatterer of that caliber it’s no surprise that Jarrett has outlasted almost everyone who was in Obama’s original White House team — from chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to political guru David Axelrod to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. All are known to have crossed her, and all are gone. As one former Obama aide once told me: “Valerie is ‘She Who Must Not be Challenged.’”
Finally, a horrifying bit of context that illustrates why all of this is such an unmitigated catastrophe.
Waving the bloody shirt is not only about making an emotional appeal — it’s a strategy for distraction. It became a bitter joke in the Soviet Union — whether the issue was the crimes of Stalin or the fact that the Lada was a piece of junk, the answer was always the same: A u vas negrov linchuyut. The same principle is at work in today’s Democratic commentariat: As Americans start to notice what a fiasco Obamacare is . . . Oh, look! A Confederate flag! There is really nothing more satisfying to liberals than a Confederate flag sighting, though I wonder what they’d make of the fact that in my corner of Texas it is not unheard-of to see black men wearing Dixie belt buckles or T-shirts. (All of our necks are just different shades of red.) When Brad Paisley sings about the Confederate flag, it’s like Christmas morning for Touré. Yet, despite the daft insistence of Joan Walsh and the Affiliated Suburban Pearl-Clutchers of America, there is no neo-Confederate revanche just around the corner. The idea is, however, a useful distraction. But a distraction from what?
Fifty years into the Democrats’ declaration of a war on poverty and President Kennedy’s first executive order for affirmative action, while spending $300 million a year on worthless diversity workshops and singing endless verses of “We Shall Overcome,” after enduring endless posturing from Barack Obama and the moral preening of his admirers, that is what black American families have to show for themselves: an average household net worth of $4,955. The average white household in these United States has a net worth of $110,729. Black Americans’ median net worth is less than 5 percent that of white Americans.
By way of comparison, black South Africans under apartheid had a median net worth about 6.8 percent that of white South Africans. Repeating: Black Americans are worse off relative to their white countrymen than black South Africans under apartheid were to theirs, a fact to which former Washington Post reporter Jon Jeter has drawn attention and from which he has drawn all the wrong conclusions. (Muppet News Flash: Washington Post straight-news reporter turns out to be a garden-variety liberal.) Philadelphia mayor John Street used to brag that “the brothers and sisters are running the city,” which would be more of a boast in a city with less criminal governance. Mayor Ray Nagin, whose fraud/conspiracy/money-laundering/bribery/tax-evasion trial should be getting under way any moment now, liked to promise that New Orleans would remain a “chocolate city.” A generation of one-party rule based on racial politics was enough to doom Detroit. Outside of the womb, the most dangerous place for a black American to be is in a city run by Democrats.
This is the bottom line of the ongoing sick tragedy called liberalism. It’s not about helping people because it doesn’t. It’s about power, and, yes, glamour, and the moral midgets who seek them at the cost of their souls and our freedom.