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The Obamacare Website Wasn’t an Epic Disaster. It Just Didn’t Have Enough Time.

Mother Jones

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The New York Times reports today that heads are likely to roll over the Obamacare website fiasco:

For weeks, the president and his aides have said they are not interested in conducting a witch hunt in the middle of the effort to rescue the website. But in the West Wing, the desire for an explanation about how an administration that prides itself on competence bungled so badly remains an urgent mission.

“I assure you that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about that,” Mr. Obama said in a news conference last month, in comments that reverberated across the administration. The president warned, “There is going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point.”

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with this: it might involve Obama having to take a good, long look in the mirror. At this point, it seems clear that development of the website wasn’t, in fact, some kind of comprehensive and unmitigated disaster. Quite the contrary. The basic design and architecture of the site seem to be fine. It’s now working fairly well, and all it took to get to this point was a couple of additional months of garden variety coding, testing, and bug fixing. If the developers had gotten that additional two or three months up front, they probably would have rolled out a pretty serviceable site on time.

And why was the development was so rushed? Lots of reasons, I’m sure, but reporting from multiple sources suggests that one of the big ones points straight back to the White House: Obama and his aides delayed issuing some of ACA’s final rules and specifications during the 2012 election season because they were afraid of Republican blowback. As a result, contractors didn’t start coding the site until early 2013, leaving only eight or nine months to complete the job. If that work had started even a few months earlier, it’s pretty clear that the site would have been at least tolerably usable by the October 1 rollout deadline.

I don’t doubt that a thorough audit will find fault in plenty of other places. Audits always do. And maybe there are people who screwed up badly enough that they deserve to be fired over it. But if politics played a role in this, some of those people might turn out to have pretty lofty job titles.

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The Obamacare Website Wasn’t an Epic Disaster. It Just Didn’t Have Enough Time.

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There’s No Such Thing as a Value-Neutral Economic Choice

Mother Jones

Charles Lane complains about the politicization of the Federal Reserve:

The 1978 Humphrey-Hawkins Act, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, put the Fed in charge of value-laden (i.e., political) trade-offs by requiring it to minimize both inflation and unemployment.

The implication here is that restricting the Fed’s mandate solely to inflation wouldn’t be a value-laden decision. But it is. It’s a decision to conduct monetary policy exclusively for the benefit of the moneyed class, which likes low inflation, and the corporate class, which dislikes tight labor markets—and without concern for the preferences of the middle class, which likes having a job.

Remarkably, a lot of people in Washington DC are blind to this. They simply take it for granted that conservative economic doctrines are value-neutral, and they tend to dismiss opposing views as just so much partisan nonsense. That’s what produces sentences like the one above.

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There’s No Such Thing as a Value-Neutral Economic Choice

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Hackable Buildings

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Hackable Buildings

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NASA Goes All the Way to Saturn, Takes a Stunning Selfie

That little blue dot floating in the black is every single one of us. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Last week we told you to smile wide, because a camera far, far, far away was about to take your portrait. From orbit around the gas giant Saturn, some 898 million miles from Earth, the Cassini space probe turned and took this photo. We’re that tiny blue dot, drifting in the black between Saturn’s rings and the blue smear at the bottom. (This smear, says Carolyn Porco, the head of the imaging team for Cassini, is Saturn’s E ring, a band produced by the geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.)

This photo is just a sneak preview of what’s to come, says NASA. The full Saturn-Earth photo was taken as 33 individual frames, and this is just one of them. But, it’s the one that has Earth.

The snap is only humanity’s third such photo from the outer solar system. Unlike most tourists, NASA doesn’t travel to distant places just to spend the whole time taking photos of itself. One of the earlier snaps was also taken by Cassini, back in 2006. The one before that was by Voyager 1 way back in 1990—the famous Pale Blue Dot.

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Smile! A Satellite Around Saturn Is About To Take Your Picture

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NASA Goes All the Way to Saturn, Takes a Stunning Selfie

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Short Takes: “Gideon’s Army”

Mother Jones

Gideon’s Army


Dawn Porter practiced law for 15-plus years, mostly for TV studios—before our justice system’s iniquities inspired her to get behind the camera. Gideon’s Army follows public defenders as they struggle with absurd caseloads and fret over clients’ fates. One resorts to pocket change to buy gas. “This is all the money I have in the world right now,” she explains. The occasion for the film is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Gideon v. Wainwright ruling, which compels states to provide an attorney to criminal defendants who can’t afford one. And that’s something. But as Porter sums up today’s situation, “You have the right to a lawyer. You don’t necessarily have the right to a good one.”

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones.

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Short Takes: “Gideon’s Army”

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Warming oceans are killing baby puffins

Warming oceans are killing baby puffins


Atlantic puffins — sometimes called the clowns of the sea because of their squat bodies and odd waddles — are finding themselves in a particularly unfunny predicament.

Scientists think warming ocean temperatures are driving the puffins’ normal meals of herring away from the coastlines; they’re being replaced with other fish that are too large for puffin fledglings to swallow.

We told you in May that record-breaking Atlantic coastal water temperatures were driving some fish away. And on Friday we quoted Oceana scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck warning that the warming of the oceans is “causing significant changes to marine ecosystems.”

Well, what could be a more dramatic poster child for these impacts than the vision of adorable pufflings starving to death? From the Associated Press:

Steve Kress, director of the National Audubon Society’s seabird restoration program, has worked to restore and maintain the puffin population off the Maine coast for the past 40 years. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, coming ashore only to breed each spring before returning to the ocean in August. The chicks swim to sea about 40 days after hatching and typically return to the islands after two years.

More than 2,000 of the birds are now in Maine, the vast majority on three islands. But the chick survival rates on the two largest colonies took a dive last summer, possibly because of a lack of herring, their primary food source, Kress said.

On Seal Island, a national wildlife refuge 20 miles offshore that’s home to about 1,000 puffins, only 31 per cent of the laid eggs produced fledglings, down from the five-year average of 77 per cent. Similar numbers were experienced at Matinicus Rock, a nearby island with more than 800 birds.

Instead of feeding their young primarily herring, puffin parents were giving them large numbers of butterfish, a more southerly fish that’s becoming more abundant in the Gulf [of Maine] or perhaps more accessible to seabirds because they’ve moved higher up in the water column. But the chicks ended up starving to death because the butterfish were too big and round for them to swallow, Kress said. Piles of uneaten butterfish were found next to some of the dead birds.

Perhaps the puffins could raid area homes and steal fish knives.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Warming oceans are killing baby puffins

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