Saturday, October 26, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (10/25/13)

We had a pretty decent show tonight. And there was a lot that was discussed that requires some counter messaging, as Nawaz put it. So it's time to get into it.

Al Sharpton: The Republicans are obfuscating the issue by saying ObamaCare has failed because the website failed. Getting people insured is the objective, not delivering a great website.

There are multiple things wrong with spin. The PPACA was not implemented to give uninsured people insurance, full stop. The PPACA was sold as a measure to give uninsured people insurance in a cost effective manner that would not disrupt the rest of the insurance and labor market. On that score, the verdict is leaning towards failure and quite possibly disaster.

Before the business mandate was suspended a year, many firms were in the process of pushing full time hires to part time positions and dumping the part time employees onto the healthcare exchanges. The Administration changed the requirements on the website contractors because they didn't want people to see the unsubsidized prices of the insurance plans. The subsidies in the plans are tremendous and, in the final analysis, it will cost taxpayers a lot more than the rosy projections that the CBO was forced to come up with.

But the main objective for Democrats is to insure the uninsured, with cost as a secondary or tertiary concern. And the entire plan is predicated on young middle class wage earners subsidizing the poor and the old. The insurance plans have been working under that assumption. And if the first year's enrollment is poor and the young workers decide to forgo insurance and pay the fine, premiums will rise substantially in the second year.

That increase in premiums will force increased subsidies or force the poor and the old out of the system. It certainly won't get the young into the system. This endeavor is either going to cost taxpayers a far larger sum than they were told in the beginning, or it will end in failure.

Michael Moore: The "internet company" hired to create the website is an incompetent Canadian company that got fired by the Canadian government. Is there any wonder that they screwed this up?

Speaking as a software developer that works in an internal IT consultant in a media company, Michael Moore's comments were infuriating. Because the way he dismisses the "internet company" (his own words) while completely shielding the Administration from blame underscores how thankless a job IT is.

When I explain my job to friends and strangers, I'm fond of reducing IT to a very simple problem: moving information from point A to point B. That is the whole of IT, the transfer of data from one endpoint to another in a readable format.

The reason why that job gets hairy and complicated and why IT workers get paid so well is because every endpoint has that data stored in different formats (Excel documents, flat text files, various database solutions [SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, DB2, Mongodb, etc], , physical documents) and in different schemas (the way the information is presented). All of it requires an enormous amount of development, configuration, debugging, and testing. On top of that giant pile of suck is the coordinating effort. Project managers and business analysts have to suss out requirements, limitations, and then get the team moving in the same direction.

IT is strictly a business cost. It's overhead. The value of IT is related directly to how much it helps out the non-technical people using the solution. So to wring out as much productivity as possible, customers want to impose deadlines which may or may not be realistic. And government is the absolute worst customer possible. Because deadlines are based in political terms and not terms dictated by reality or feasibility.

People in government are not tech savvy. Everything gets contracted out because the General Schedule and the various regulations that govern full time employment in the Federal government does not allow most IT developers to get paid what they are worth. And when customers make abrupt changes to the specifications, that just triggers an additional round of development, configuration, debugging, and testing. The end result is that there has never been a bigger knowledge/communication gap between the customer (the Federal government) and the IT shop.

The Congressional hearings has been a classic postmortem analysis of an IT clusterfuck. The people representing the IT consultants blame other IT consultants while taking great care not to blame the customer (because the customer is always right). When you're developing a website that's supposed to gather data from the IRS, DHS, HHS, not to mention all participating insurance companies in each of the 30+ states that have opted for the Federal exchanges, it takes a lot of time to create a seamless experience that integrates all of these disparate parts.

And then you have to take in account that government regulations make everything 10 times harder and complex and it's no wonder that the website has been absolute dogshit. Right now, the administration is telling the public that the problem will be fixed by November 30. That is an impossible deadline. And the likely result is that the vast majority of applications on the website will be rejected by the companies underwriting the insurance.

Richard Dawkins: Religion sucks.

Bill Maher: Agreed. And we should get that stuff outta the schools too. Evolution should not be considered a theory. It's fact.

 While I think the US will get less religious over time, it's still worth noting that a great majority of the country is still very religious. And, to be perfectly honest, this is a bad fight for progressives to pick. Teaching evolution isn't necessary. Our kids are failing in reading comprehension, writing skills (which is closely related to your ability to read), and basic math. Our workforce will get less and less competitive if these trends continue.

Progressives are better off pushing for better reading, writing, and mathematical standards. That will attract support from all corners of the political spectrum. But emphasizing the schism between certain religious sects and school curricula is nothing but an exercise in ego stroking.


1. Valerie Plame is the Oliver North of the Democrats.

2. Michael Moore is a fat Canadian who is obsessed with America. It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

3. Dawkins is a very well spoken huckster. He's like the go-to evangelist for the atheist movement.

4. Maajid Nawaz should have been on the panel.

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