HHS Announces New ‘Early Innovators Grants’ To Help States Develop Technology For The Exchanges

October 29, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new round of grants this afternoon to help states expedite and simplify the process of developing IT systems for the new exchanges (the Travelocity-like market places that will help Americans find comprehensive insurance coverage). By the time the exchanges become operational in 2014, states should be able to use information technology to determine eligibly, enrollment, premium tax credits, cost-sharing assistance administration, and integrate the system with Medicaid and CHIP. Officials believe that sophisticated, yet “consumer friendly” IT systems are “critical to the success of the exchanges” and hope that the final product will look similar to the new HealthCare.gov website, where beneficiaries can compare different plans, identify if they’re eligible for government aid, and enroll in insurance.

But as Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn points out this morning, “states view the project Early Innovators Grants” will be offered to five states or coalition of states “that demonstrate leadership in developing cutting-edge and cost-effective consumer-based technologies and models for insurance eligibility and enrollment for Exchanges” that “can be adopted and tailored by other States.”

“The benefits to the states are three-fold,” Ario said. “First, there are lower costs through the uses of shared models, second there is an improved implementation schedule, increased quality and reduced risk through the re-use, the peer-collaboration and the leveraging of lessons learned across the state boundaries. And finally, there is improved capacity for program evaluation because of the more uniform implementation theory,” he explained.

Last month, the federal government awarded exchange planning grants to 48 states and the District of Columbia and has announced that it will award “Establishment Grants” in February of 2011. “We’re looking for a lot of collaboration, we’re looking for states to lead….to really kind of provide the direction and progress that needs to be made early rather than later,” Henry Chao — the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight — explained on the call, noting that states struggled to implement the IT requirements in Medicare Part D because they were given “very very short timeframes” “in terms of systems development.” “I think the lessons learned have really told us that we need to collaborate much more so upfront, not just with the states, but across the federal government, with other agencies.”

Wonk Room

OIC wants UN to develop a “legally binding institutional instrument” to muzzle free speech about Islam and jihad

September 26, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The Organization of the Islamic Conference continues to pretend that it is Western non-Muslims, not Islamic jihadists, who are responsible for the link between Islam and terrorist violence, and are hoping by means of laws against “incitement to religious hatred,” which are of course to be interpreted and applied by them, to render us mute and hence defenseless in the face of the advancing jihad. “OIC calls for urgent collective measures against Islamophobia,” by Habib Shaikh in the Saudi Gazette, September 27:

JEDDAH - Foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have called upon the international community to make collective efforts to prevent incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims and to take effective measures to discourage negative stereotyping of people on the basis of religion, faith or race, according to an official source at the OIC on Sunday.

This call was made in the declaration by the Annual Coordination Meeting of Foreign Ministers of OIC Member States on Countering Islamophobia held at the United Nations head quarters, New York on Friday.

The foreign ministers called for a global awareness on the dangerous implications of the rise of Islamophobia on world peace and security and urged the leaders of the international community to demonstrate their collective political will to address the issue with all urgency.

“We emphasize the need to develop, at the UN, including the HRC, a legally binding institutional instrument to promote respect for all religions and cultural values and prevent intolerance, discrimination and the instigation of hatred against any group or followers of any religion.”

They also called upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up an observatory at her office aimed at monitoring and documenting acts that lead to incitement to religious hatred, hostility and violence.

In the declaration, they extended support for all initiatives aimed at promotion of moderation, tolerance and encouraging dialogue for shunning violence and extremism, and invited the international community both in terms of policy and practice to stand against all xenophobic campaigns of fear-mongering and discriminatory measures that endanger peaceful coexistence among cultures, civilizations and nations and create a negative environment conducive to violence and violation of human rights of individuals and communities.

“We also call upon the international community to make concrete measure with a view to fostering an environment of respect for all religions,” they said.

They stressed that while considering the importance of dialogue among civilizations and expansion of relations and cooperation between the Islamic World and other cultures and civilizations, “we reiterate our commitment to continue efforts in engaging with the West in projecting the true tenets of Islam, and countering common challenges.”

However, they expressed “profound regret and deep concern” at the increasing acts of Islamophobia, growing trend of intolerance and hatred toward Muslims, and mounting number of acts of violence against Muslims in some Western societies….

Jihad Watch

Colbert Calls For Either More Visas For Farmworkers Or Develop Vegetables That Pick Themselves

September 24, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Back in June, the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched their “Take Our Jobs” campaign which invites American citizens and legal residents to fill the farm jobs that are mostly occupied by undocumented labor. Comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” traveled to a farm in upstate New York and spent ten hours “picking beans, packing corn and learning about the stark reality facing Americans farms and farmers.”

Today, Colbert testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on his experience as an entertainer-turned migrant-worker. As part of his testimony, Colbert called for more visas for farmworkers

This brief experience gave me some small understanding of why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field worker. So what’s the answer? I’m a free market guy. Normally I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market, but the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs over to Mexico and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farm land due to lack of available labor because apparently even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans. [...]

Maybe we could give more visas to the immigrants, who — let’s face it — will probably be doing these jobs anyway. And this improved legal status might allow legal immigrants recourse if they’re abused. And it justs stands to reason to me if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that itself might improve pay and working conditions on these farms and eventually Americans may consider taking these jobs again.

Or maybe that’s crazy. Maybe the easier answer is just to have scientists develop vegetables that pick themselves.

Watch it:

Agriculture is ranked amongst the three most hazardous occupations in the nation. For every 100,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. in 2007, there were 25.7 occupational deaths. That’s because farmworkers are exposed to toxic pesticides, work under the hot sun for 10-12 hours a day, handle hazardous tools and machinery, and live in crowded condition with poor sanitation. In return, most farmworkers earn approximately $ 28,040 a year.

Initially, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) asked Colbert to leave the room without delivering his testimony. However, Conyers indicated he changed his mind after hearing the testimony of Dr. Carol M. Swain who denied that there is a shortage of agricultural workers and called it “a manufactured crisis.”

Contrary to what Swain and other immigration hawks suggest, despite a major recession, most farmers and ranchers are still struggling to find the workers they need. “Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, so that America’s farmers and ranchers can continue to produce an abundant supply of safe, healthy food, as well as renewable fuels and fiber for our nation,” writes Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. The Wonk Room has more on farmworkers and labor conditions.

Think Progress

California Public Schools Invited BP To Help Develop Environmental Curriculum

September 8, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

BPWhen students in California return to school this fall, they will have a brand new environmental curriculum — developed, in part, by oil giant BP. The Sacramento Bee reported today that BP helped California’s public schools form an environmental curriculum to be used by over 6 million public school students (kindergarten through 12th grade) in 1,000 districts. The Bee reports that state officials included BP on a technical team that “was responsible for developing the program’s guiding principles.”

Even before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which BP officials admit was the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the company had a terrible environmental record: over the past five years, BP paid $ 373 million in fines to avoid prosecution after admitting to breaking U.S. environmental and safety laws.

The same company involved in forming California’s environmental curriculum also has a long record of dishonest greenwashing. As Lisa Graves, executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors “greenwashing” techniques, told the Bee: “I’d hate to see how a section in future textbooks mentioning the BP oil spill will look. … I think it’s very worrisome because their fundamental goal is to profit from energy and not to teach children.”

BP’s dishonesty was on full display during the Gulf disaster, as the company tried to spin the environmental catastrophe that unleashed 206 million gallons of oil into the ocean. Just today, BP released a report deflecting blame for the oil spill onto various other companies. The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has been tracking some of BP’s most egregious statements:

- Five months and one day before its Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, BP’s top Gulf of Mexico official testified its practices were “both safe and protective of the environment.”

- In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, BP officials called the disaster “inconceivable,” “unprecedented,” and completely unforeseeable: “I don’t think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we’re faced with now,” said one spokesman. This was despite the fact that blowouts are unfortunately common in offshore oil drilling.

- Then-CEO Tony Hayward said on May 19 that “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest.”

- On June 9, Hayward said that a new fund the company set up “will have a significant positive impact on the environment in this region.”

- BP’s new CEO, Robert Dudley, has repeatedly said dispersants the company used in the Gulf were “like dish soap.” The dispersant used, Corexit, is a combination of petroleum distillates, propylene glycol, and dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate which is banned in the United Kingdom.

Nevertheless, California officials defended BP’s involvement in interviews with the Bee, saying that the company’s involvement was “minor” and that it was “important to get all sides of the environmental debate involved in developing the classroom materials.” The problem is that the side BP generally represents is not based in fact.

Think Progress

Will Brain Science Develop Alternative Technologies for Interrogation?

August 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(Kenneth Anderson)

Via FuturePundit, who observes that this is really much more broadly about lie detection than counterterrorism as such, note this press release from Northwestern University:

For the first time, the Northwestern researchers used the P300 testing in a mock terrorism scenario in which the subjects are planning, rather than perpetrating, a crime. The P300 brain waves were measured by electrodes attached to the scalp of the make-believe “persons of interest” in the lab.

The most intriguing part of the study in terms of real-word implications, Rosenfeld said, is that even when the researchers had no advance details about mock terrorism plans, the technology was still accurate in identifying critical concealed information.

“Without any prior knowledge of the planned crime in our mock terrorism scenarios, we were able to identify 10 out of 12 terrorists and, among them, 20 out of 30 crime– related details,” Rosenfeld said. “The test was 83 percent accurate in predicting concealed knowledge, suggesting that our complex protocol could identify future terrorist activity.”

Rosenfeld is a leading scholar in the study of P300 testing to reveal concealed information. Basically, electrodes are attached to the scalp to record P300 brain activity — or brief electrical patterns in the cortex — that occur, according to the research, when meaningful information is presented to a person with “guilty knowledge.”

Research on the P300 testing emerged in the 1980s as a handful of scientists looked for an alternative to polygraph tests for lie detection. Since it was invented in the 1920s, polygraphy has been under fire, especially by academics, with critics insisting that such testing measures emotion rather than knowledge.

University press releases about new research tend to promise more than the research subsequently delivers, of course. Check back in a few years and we’ll see if this turned into an actual technology; if so, there will be a number of legal questions involved.  I don’t have any expertise or background knowledge in this particular technology, and would be interested in comments from people who know something about it.

The Volokh Conspiracy

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