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First POST: Crisitunity?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, November 20 2013


  • If there's one thing you read today to understand the roiling politics of Obamacare, sit with Thomas Edsall's challenging column on "The Obamacare Crisis" in today's New York Times. He points out that the underlying economics of the President's centerpiece domestic policy involves a substantial " a transfer of benefits from Medicare, which serves an overwhelmingly white population of the elderly – 77 percent of recipients are white — to Obamacare, which will serve a population that is 54.7 percent minority." Then he reminds us that "Those who think that a critical mass of white voters has moved past its resistance to programs shifting tax dollars and other resources from the middle class to poorer minorities merely need to look at the election of 2010."

  • Edsall goes on to point out that it was President Obama's own blithe optimism about how easy it would be to use the technology of the health care exchanges that has created such tectonic political problems now:

    The increasingly complex and technical character of the health care system – complexity which voters recognize, and about which they make implicit and  explicit inferences – is what has turned the disastrous rollout of the portal into a ever escalating political crisis. This crisis has in turn generated a pervasive fear that the services provided under the Affordable Care Act, once they are finally in place, will themselves be subject to fatal technical glitches.
    An effective health care delivery system that employs an open exchange among 50 states is likely to take years if not decades to complete. It will require that personal and confidential information not be compromised. A nationwide plan that works in the open market will require a vast hardware infrastructure, enough to consist of whole city blocks. Google and Amazon have taken over a decade to successfully deploy such hardware.  And it was Obama himself who promised, in a speech on Sept. 26,  service at an Amazon level:

    “Starting on Tuesday, every American can visit to find out what’s called the insurance marketplace for your state.  Here in Maryland, I actually think it’s called  But if you go to, you can look and they’ll tell you where to go.  They’ll link to your state. 
    Now, this is real simple.  It’s a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans, side-by-side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak —  same way you shop for a TV on Amazon.  You just go on and you start looking, and here are all the options.” 

  • Edsall's final point: "There is obvious irony in the possibility that technology could bring down the most high-tech president in American history. Is the federal government equipped to take responsibility for a venture of such magnitude and importance?
    Technology aside, the stakes could not be higher for the Democratic Party."

  • As much as 40% of the information systems underpinning have yet to be built, including the process that will deliver payment to insurers, Politico reports.

  • Obama says, “What we probably needed to do on the front end was to blow up how we procure I.T., especially on a system this complicated. We did not do that successfully. Now, we are getting it fixed, but it would have been better to do it on the front end, rather than the back end….In fact, there’s probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than I.T.”

  • Our Miranda Neubauer reports that grassroots efforts of Obamacare supporters to spread their personal success stories with the program on Facebook are gaining some traction.

In other news around the we:

  • Upworthy, the "news that matters" sharing juggernaut brainchild of Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley, is doing so well it has spurred not just a parody twitter account, but a site that randomly creates Upworthy-style articles.

  • No, we're not linking to the Huffington Post's headline for how Upworthy would have reported the Gettysburg Address. Not gonna do it.

  • NYU's GovLab has started soliciting ideas for designing a 21st century version of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (aka, the people who make the Internet domain name system work). They're using IdeaScale.

  • Rahul Bhargava of the MIT Center for Civic Media gives us a new term to chew on: "popular data," a mash-up of Paulo Freire's popular education and open data, or as he puts it, "Popular data is my name for engaging, participatory approaches to data-driven presentation and decision-making."

  • Derek Khanna reports that the leaked draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty on intellectual property shows that the White House is negotiating to ban cellphone unlocking while publicly claiming that it is for allowing the practice. In fact, Khanna, a Republican tech policy maverick, was the author of a successful petition to the White House's "We the People" platform, calling for the freedom to unlock cell phones.

  • Voter-data-fueled TV targeting took off in 2013, Kate Kaye reports for Advertising Age. The technique was popularized in 2012 by the Obama campaign in particular, and involves matching TV subscriber data to voter file data to produced "anonymized audience segments categorizing voters according to their interests, likelihood to vote and political leanings."

  • Google just took the wraps off its Civic Information API, developed in consultation with the Sunlight Foundation. It enables users to identify the relevant public officials for a given location, along with the relevant political jurisdictions. and PopVox are showcased as early users.

  • Speaking of which, belated congrats to Anthea Watson Strong, a civic tech geek extraordinaire who has worked diligently behind the scenes on the Voter Information and Civic Information APIs, who just joined Google's Civic Innovation team full time.

  • Newly-intalled FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has announced that his agency will be pushing to move America's telephone system fully to Internet-based systems like the ones already used by Skype and Vonage.

  • With the second installment of the Hunger Games coming out this weekend, the Harry Potter Alliance is making waves with