Yep. ‘That’ OTA

Office of Technology Assessment

Diagnosing the Online Health Exchange Debacle: “Proprietary” Software Needs a Dose of Open Source | Democracy Now!.

*edit, November 2 – Aside from re-phrasing some parts of this post to be clearer, I just now added a link. A Common Dreams article by staff writer John Queally, which I just now read, was really too pertinent to not add to this recent post. I attached the link to the word ‘terrorist’.

An excerpt from the above linked-to segment of Democracy Now (taken from the supplied transcript) follows:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The problem-plagued roll-out of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy has undergone congressional scrutiny for the first time. During a House panel on Thursday, lawmakers questioned technology contractors about a myriad of defects with the website. The online portal for uninsured Americans in 36 states has been marred by crashes, glitches and system failures since it went live earlier this month. The website’s launch began a six-month enrollment period that is expected to draw an estimated seven million people to sign up for federally subsidized private insurance for 2014. During the hearing, Republican Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania accused the Obama administration of wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

REP. TIM MURPHY: We were promised a website where people could easily compare plans and costs. $500 million later, we find the American public have been dumped with the ultimate cash for clunkers, except they had to pay the cash and still got the clunker.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawmakers questioned executives of two of the lead contractors behind the website: CGI Federal and Quality Software Systems Incorporated. They both blamed demanding deadlines, higher-than-anticipated website traffic, and a last-minute registration system that they say may have overloaded the system.

For more, we go to Atlanta, Georgia, where we’re joined by Clay Johnson, former Obama innovation expert who founded the company that [built] Obama’s 2008 site; CEO, Department of Better Technology. He’s the author of The Information Diet: The Case for Conscious Consumption.

Clay Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! What do you think happened? Why has this website not worked?

CLAY JOHNSON: Well, government doesn’t have a lot of people to choose from when they’re looking for contractors to build this stuff. And I think part of the problem is that the same people that are building drones are building websites. When government is building a website like this, they have to use a system called procurement, which is about 1,800 pages’ worth of regulation that all but ensures that the people who are building this stuff are the people with the best lawyers, not the people with the best programmers. And so, you know, you have this sort of fundamental lack of talent amongst the contractor ecosystem that’s building this stuff, that it’s bound to be bad work—that, combined with the fact that in 1996 Congress lobotomized itself by getting rid of its technology think tank, called the Technology Assessment Office. So when they’re writing bills, they don’t understand the technology that they’re requiring in their laws. This is what you get when you have a Congress that is basically brainless on technology, and government who can only pick from a few old, stodgy contractors. You’re bound to have this result. And, in fact, the standings group came out earlier this week and pointed out that over—for all procurements over $10 million, 94 percent of them fail.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What—what about this whole issue of many of these contractors insisting on developing proprietary software for many projects like this? What is the impact of that on—not only on cost, but on the ability to hold contractors accountable for the kind of product they produce?

CLAY JOHNSON: Well, it’s not just about accountability, it’s about security. Look, the Constitution says that government can’t hold a copyright. And I understand that government needs to be able to buy commercial software. You know, government needs to be able to buy a Coca-Cola, if it needs to, and the recipe for Coca-Cola ought not to be, you know, posted on the Internet as a result. But when government is building software like this, it ought to be built out in the open. It ought to be built with a licensing system called “open source,” so that the public truly owns it. You know, if my tax dollars are going to something, then it ought to belong—if the public’s tax dollars are going to something, then it ought to belong to the public. And that’s the only thing that open source can afford.

But the other point about, you know, contractors developing out in the open and using open-source technology is that it makes websites more secure. It makes it so that security holes are easier to find. And that’s why you see, I think, lots of companies moving towards open-source infrastructure, because you’ve got many eyes on problems.

In the case of federal contracting, though, it’s not just about a move to open source, it’s also about moving from these large, stodgy, old vendors, who basically haven’t had to compete in the past couple of decades, to smaller, more innovative businesses, who are more competitive. And what the Obama administration needs to do to—not to fix, but to fix the next from happening, is to really open the door to these smaller—these smaller businesses who have more experience in delivering this stuff…

That’s pretty straightforward, I think. Mention of the Office Of Technology Assessment caught my attention. Noam Chomsky, unlike major media commentators and politicians (when talking about NAFTA), reported long ago about how good alternatives to the proposed free trade agreement that became NAFTA were not only rejected by that administration but not even presented to the public. (It isn’t clear to me, from these few sources, exactly when the OTA assessment was made. Was it before the pact was finalized and official or shortly after?) Is that what they mean by democracy? Of course, Clinton’s lies were that it was all about jobs for Americans. (And you can’t be for and against the people. It’s one or the other. Keep reading.) And they were lies. When the above mentioned Office of Technology Assessment studied the proposed free trade deal, it concluded that it would hurt ALL THREE SIGNATORIES to the pact. Now do you see why that research arm of Congress had to be lopped off? It sinned. If your eye offends you, Jesus said, cut it out, for it’s better to get into the new world with one eye than it is for you to die, forever, with two eyes. (Of course, he didn’t mean that you should actually cut your eye out. An eye doesn’t offend it’s owner. But something that the owner does that he or she knows will hurt his standing before God forces a decision on him: Sacrifice – adjusting behavior and giving up doing something that you may have enjoyed – or risk losing your life because of behavior that the Source of life disapproves of.)

The OTA – an important component of Congress’s brain – had the capacity to render Congress sane and morally upright. Can’t have that. More importantly, The people who matter, namely the rich and corporations, can’t have that. There can be no constraints on corporate behavior. And now there are almost none, side agreements in NAFTA notwithstanding. (In order to con Democrats, like Richard Gephardt, into supporting NAFTA, the pro side emphasized side agreements that Gephardt’s constituents might find acceptable. Some, like certain enviro orgs, allowed themselves to be duped. Others, such as Greenpeace and The Sierra Club, were’t buying it. Of course, the side agreements turned out to be absolutely bogus.) That’s what makes this the neoliberal era. We are in a very dark time when not only do corporations have too much freedom, but they have it by taking it from the people. We all want life. Even those who worship and feed corporations. But we are also free and that means that we are free to pursue life any way we want. Some choose to have their freedom by taking it from others and that puts them on a dark, wide and spacious – rule free – road that leads not to life, but to destruction. But you can’t tell them that. That is to say, You can tell them that, the way the OTA told the Clinton admin that it’s proposed treaty will hurt all the regular people in all three signatory countries. But you can’t make those who you enlighten care.

From pages 99, 184 & 185 of John R. MacAruthur’s excellent book, “The Selling Of Free Trade – NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy,” the following. Keep in mind that, while fast track authority – suspended in 2007 but capable of being revived if politicians cave to demands of special interests – allowed the president to dictate the implementation of a far reaching free trade deal, a sufficient number of members of the House and Senate had to vote to activate it. Republicans were under no pressure to say no. Democrats were under some pressure from those who the Right laughingly refer to as special interests, namely organizations like Greenpeace or the Steelworkers for example:

[H.W.] Bush required [Richard] Gephardt’s cooperation for the simple reason that for the White House to pursue a trade agreement, it needed the House and Senate to grant it so-called fast track authority, permitting it to negotiate with Mexico and Canada on behalf of Congress. Under the rules established for the 1979 Tokyo Round of GATT, Congress grants the President the power to negotiate a deal on its behalf and commits itself to vote the entire agreement up or down without amendment. If this arrangement sounds vaguely unconstitutional and decidedly antidemocratic – something like the flip side of a presidential line-item veto – you’re right…

The environmental side agreement, in essence, was empty rhetoric claiming “to foster the protection and improvement of the environment” while avoiding “trade distortions or new trade barriers.” Nowhere in its forty-three page text is there any mention of sanctions if this protection and improvement are not fostered. True, it requires “each party” to “effectively enforce its environmental laws and regulations through appropriate government action,” but no one has yet accused Mexico of overzealousness in its enforcement of any law, much less the laws protecting the natural world.

The labor side agreement was similarly [de]void of teeth and inflated with hot air. It called for the improvement of “working conditions and living standards in each party’s territory.” Once again the three governments were called upon to enforce their own laws. To accomplish this, the parties were urged to “promote compliance” by

appointing and training inspectors; monitoring compliance and investigating suspected violations, including thorough onsite inspections; seeking assurances of voluntary compliance; requiring record keeping and reporting; encouraging the establishment of worker-management committees to address labor regulation of the workplace; providing or encouraging mediation, conciliation and arbitration services; or, initiating, in a timely manner, proceedings to seek appropriate sanctions or remedies for violations of its labor law.

In retrospect, Michael Wessel thought, the Clinton side agreements were less effective than what was contemplated in the Bush Action Plan, which proposed that enforcement mechanisms be written into the actual trade agreement. But Wessel had a vested interest in this point of view, given Gephardt’s support of the Action Plan. Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch, who opposed fast track, refused to dignify such a discussion. “It’s like comparing rotten fish to rotten beef,” she said.

View Bill Moyers interview with John R. MacArthur in which he discusses his book: Bill Moyers & Company

What happens when you choose a wrong course which information that you possess or come to possess tells you? ‘If’ you don’t admit that you’ve made a mistake, that you’ve exercised bad judgment, that God will surely disapprove, then you ‘will’ rationalize, or make appear good (via clever arguments and lies), to yourself and others, that bad choice. And you will self/world justify your actions, which means looking to others who have made similar choices for moral support. And it won’t be hard to find those supporters, because they will often be the ones who have been egging you on. As time goes on for the errant one, the darkness gets deeper. He or she becomes confirmed in his or her wrong viewpoint. And if it involves hurting others, then the errant one will become increasingly hostile to, and disconnected from, those ones, necessarily. You don’t abuse brothers, sisters or neighbors for personal gain, normally. But ‘commies’, ‘pinkos’, ‘radical nationalists’ are fair game, even if they are often also your brothers, sisters and neighbors. And you can always go further and re-define terms, like ‘terrorist’.

John Ralston Saul, in describing our technocratic, corporatist system in which educational and other institutions have been captured by special interests and run by managers cranked out by those institutions notes that technocrats/courtiers actually view (conveniently) ‘thinking’ as unprofessional. Powerful special interests are in control and they will act so as to keep control. Independent thinkers who can envision and actively champion alternatives are unwelcome. (See page 15 of “The Unconscious Civilization.”) We are all imperfect (and in a moment of weakness capable of doing things we know are wrong) but we don’t all lack principles. Rationalizers who lack humility, namely the ability to see others as being (in particular situations) just as capable of coming to a right conclusion as they are, therefore automatically reject other viewpoints or those who disagree with their course. Their views are wrong and that’s that. And they just can’t admit a wrong. They are too ego-protective.

Let me quote from Chris Hedges’s “Death Of The Liberal Class.” He recounts the incident that led to his final break with the New York Times which he wrote for. He was invited to give the commencement address in 2003 at Rockford College in Illinois. He spoke freely for a while. Then the hisses and boos started. And then they cut off his mic:

The killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will continue to spill – theirs and ours – be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security. But this will come later as our empire expands. And in all this we will become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment, and we are very isolated now…

Chris said much more, but that’s the point he made in his speech that I wanted to highlight.

Clinton, like Obama today, didn’t reconsider his self-serving actions in regard to NAFTA. Indeed, He sought fast track authority in order to prevent the public, through their elected representatives in Congress, from looking closely at the rules that once in place were going to impact them mightily. It’s the opposite of what regular people would call democracy. Since elites and their political tools aren’t going to change their minds about how they have chosen to survive – but they still have to live with themselves (and their children who a part of them cares about in a positive way) – they will therefore call their fascism, their abuse, their deterring of democracy, ‘democracy’. Calling yourself a democrat is just easier to do, usually, than calling yourself a fascist, even if there’s no basis in your behavior for your doing so.

Richard Gephardt - NOT labor or the environment's friend

Richard Gephardt – NOT labor or the environment’s friend

It’s not wrong to want something. But when what you want involves hurting others, that’s wrong. And it’s even more wrong when you go about getting it by lying and manipulating without the slightest hesitation. I may want your beautiful wife. Should I have her just because I want her? Or should my freedom to satisfy my desire to have your wife for my own personal pleasure, against her and your wishes, be curtailed? Not only did corporations want the fullest freedom to pursue cheap labor and protect investments (including factories) made in Mexico when they lured Clinton with money and the promise of glory and power, but they saw an opportunity to weaken the people whom they were about to rip off – further. Noam Chomsky mentions it in a couple of his books that I have. The corporatocracy sought, consciously, to forestall a ‘democracy opening’ in Mexico. Mexico, as in other corporatocracy countries, cannot be run by someone of and by and for the people. Dictators, who play the game of ‘riches for the strongest’, and can be counted on, more or less, to do obeisance to the BIG dictator, are the kind of leaders who uncle Sam wants to see running countries. Leaders who are willing to sell their souls for gain, willing to betray their own people and to allow rules to be put in place that will put the people in their slave’s place, are what you want because that’s what your partners in the private sector want. That’s what plundering corporations want.

From page 36 of Noam Chomsky’s “Hopes And Prospects,” the following:

The likely impact of globalization in the technical sense has not been obscure. One goal of NAFTA, for example, was to “lock Mexico in” to the so-called reforms of the 1980s, which created billionaires at about the same rate as they enhanced poverty. These “reforms” are of great benefit to U.S. owners, managers, and investors, though not to working people. Studies undertaken a few years later revealed that NAFTA was one of those rare treaties that managed to harm the working populations in all of the countries participating: Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The U.S. labor movement had proposed alternatives that would have benefited the workforce in all three countries. Similar proposals were developed by Congress’s own research bureau, the Office of Technology Assessment (since disbanded). These proposals never entered the political agenda, and were even barred from the media, a dramatic example of how existing state capitalist democracy really functions.

Chomsky continues and in the course of so doing he demonstrates that this was not just about corporations, and their political tools, wanting what they want. They were keen on making sure that they alone would have what they want, namely the good life, worked for by slaves. They would have their good life, made possible by profitable investments in slavery and exploitation, that the people would have no way to resist. They calculated that they could enslave, exploit ‘and’ destroy, permanently, any political means (via representative democracy) that the people might pursue to prevent that. Consider:

The attraction of NAFTA for North American elites, the business press reported, was “precisely that it would tie the hands of the current and future governments” of Mexico with regard to economic policy. In that way, NAFTA might fend off the danger that was detected by a Latin American Strategy Development Workshop at the Pentagon in 1990. Its participants found U.S. relations with Mexico to be “extraordinarily positive,” untroubled by stolen elections, massive corruption, death squads, endemic torture, scandalous treatment of workers and peasants, and so on. Participants in the workshop did, however, see one cloud on the horizon: “a ‘democracy opening’ in Mexico could test the special relationship by bringing into office a government more interested in challenging the United States on economic and nationalistic grounds.” The grim threat of democracy and economic nationalism could be averted by a treaty that would “lock Mexico in” to the neoliberal policies of the 1980s and would “tie the hands of the current and future governments” of Mexico with regard to economic policy, as the business press explained. In brief, NAFTA, duly imposed by executive power, in opposition to the public will.

The seeking of fast track authority in order to push through harmful free trade agreements represents the habit of lawless, unwise politicians who only know what they and their powerful special friends want and so there is no need to pause. There is no need to look before you leap. You see more power, glory and freedom for yourself and your friends who support you and so you don’t need to see anything else. Suffering millions and a dying planet… What’s that? Will that beautiful woman you desire say no? You don’t give it a thought. Rape her.

From pages 16 & 126 of Chris Hedges’s “Death Of The Liberal Class,” the following:

It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently…

Those who feel in newsrooms are viewed as lacking impartiality and objectivity. They cannot be trusted.

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