Author Archives: DCG

California department confronts $86 million IT bill for ‘nothing’

 

drain

Sacrament Bee: Another California state government technology project is in trouble, and this one needs $17.5 million right away or the state could be on the hook for five times that much and have nothing to show for it.

Lawmakers said this week that they want to hold hearings about the future of the BreEZe project over the next few months before they’ll authorize the money. On Friday the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is implementing the system, said the delay would trigger contractual obligations to vendor Accenture PLC totaling up to $86 million.

Those costs, in turn, could raise fees collected by Consumer Affairs, department spokesman Russ Hiemerich said. “We are still evaluating the potential ramifications,” he said.

Consumer Affairs runs 40 state entities – boards, bureaus and commissions – that do everything from licensing doctors to regulating guide-dog schools. The department annually processes about 350,000 first-time license applications and 1.2 million renewals.

Ten entities launched BreEZe in 2013 to replace their decades-old paper-based systems with a unifying online program that would streamline work and make applications and renewals more convenient for licensees.

It hasn’t worked out that way, however. A state audit this month found that the new system is less efficient, poorly planned and difficult to implement. The department has spent more than $37 million on BreEZe so far. In 2009, the department figured the whole project would cost $28 million.

stupid_government_tshirt-p235958435748284613qsj5_400

Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, mentioned BreEZe on Friday when she announced a bill that would require state departments to ask outside contract bidders whether they worked on other state projects that busted their budgets. Accenture is a case in point: The New York-based firm installed a glitch-prone computer system for CalPERS that cost double its original $279 million budget and launched two years late.

Consumer Affairs wants to part ways with Accenture at the end of the year and worked out a $17.5 million agreement to pay the company through December. Then the department would take the audit’s advice and reassess the project.

But when the Brown administration asked lawmakers to appropriate the money, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, tapped the brakes. The department, he wrote in a letter to Finance Director Michael Cohen, “has failed to provide adequate information necessary to inform the Legislature’s review and decision-making.” Several committees have hearing dates scheduled over the next few months that will provide “an opportunity to inform the decision-making process,” Leno said.

The delay, however, would invalidate Consumer Affairs’ agreement to cut ties to Accenture this year and allow the firm to bill roughly $2 million per month for 43 months, even if it no longer works on BreEZe.

“That in turn means the boards and bureaus may have to pay up to $86 million while getting nothing in return,” ”

Standard Operating Procedure for government agencies.

DCG

Southern Oregon elementary school will change “harsh” consequences for tardiness

 

lunch kid

Oregon Live: Officials at Lincoln Elementary in Grants Pass say they plan to change the consequences for students who are tardy after a grandmother’s photo of her first-grade grandson stuck behind a cardboard wall in the school lunchroom prompted widespread outrage on Facebook and in phone calls to the district.

In a posting on the school’s web page, district officials wrote Thursday that their practice of separating students behind a cardboard shield during lunch “was never intended to isolate or stigmatize students.”

But that was exactly what it looked like to parents, grandparents and anyone on Facebook who saw the photo of little Hunter, dejected behind a screen as his classmates eat together at a nearby table.

Students who are chronically late to school or who miss too many days of school are in serious jeopardy of not learning to read and not graduating from high school. For that reason, good schools stress the importance of regular on-time school attendance and take steps when a student is frequently late or missing. In Oregon, the problem begins in kindergarten and is pronounced in kindergarten and first grade.

But experts and educators recognize that when 5- and 6-year-olds are late to school, it is the parent, not the child, who is doing something wrong and needs to do better.

That is exactly the point that Laura Hoover of Grants Pass made in her angry Facebook post:

His momma’s car sometimes doesn’t like to start right up. Sometimes he’s a couple minutes late to school. Yesterday, he was 1 minute late and this is what his momma discovered they do to punish him… for something that is out of this baby’s control! They make a mockery of him in front of the other students! His mom found him there, crying, and took him home for the day.

Nearly 50,000 people shared her post. Many people who send or have sent their children to Lincoln Elementary commented.

They explained that the school has an official policy, instituted by the principal,  that students who are tardy four or more times will be subject to “lunch detention.” Students are forbidden to talk during that time and are put behind a screen if they try, parents wrote.

District officials posted an extensive explanation and pledge to make changes on Lincoln Elementary’s web site:

“There has been considerable general and social media attention regarding the Lincoln Elementary School Attendance/Tardy Academic Catch-up Protocol, which is intended to help support students address learning gaps arising from chronic tardiness/absenteeism. Principal (Melissa) Fitzsimmons immediately reached out to the parents involved in order to meet, and we are looking forward to addressing their concerns regarding Lincoln’s current practice in this area. Lincoln’s current attendance support protocol was communicated to parents via newsletter and is intended to provide the students with an above average level of tardiness, supervised additional learning time in a non-distracting setting. It was never intended to isolate or stigmatize students.

The District is taking the concerns raised very seriously and are reviewing alternative approaches for Lincoln Elementary to accomplish this worthwhile objective while avoiding any chance of adversely impacting a child, which was never intended. Lincoln Elementary is a warm and caring learning community receiving Student Success Champion School recognition from the Oregon Department of Education in 2012 as an inspiring example of what is possible when teachers, administrators, parents, students, and communities come together behind a shared vision of excellence for all students.

The District is open to constructive criticism with respect to current practices which can almost always be addressed and resolved informally. Modifications are already being made to the Lincoln tardiness support protocol in order to ensure “catch-up” learning opportunities are being provided in a supportive and caring setting.  In order to minimize the disruption of Lincoln’s ongoing educational process, please submit any additional concerns or input to the District Office at info@grantspass.k12.or.us.”

A call to the school went straight to voice mail and Fitzsimmons has not yet responded to the request for comment.

Personally, I don’t  think that punishment is harsh. And if grandma is so concerned about it, maybe she should help get the baby’s momma a new car.

Then again, public school indoctrination policies are always messed up.

DCG

Whiplr, a new Fifty Shades-inspired dating app, helps BDSM fans connect with kinky play partners

photo

DailyMail: Not only has Fifty Shades of Grey brought BDSM to the mainstream, E.L. James’ erotic novel and its film adaptation have inspired a bondage friendly dating app that is similar to Tinder – but kinkier. Whiplr is a free location-based messaging app that discretely allows users to channel their inner Christian Grey by connecting them with people who share similar interests in BDSM or other fetishes.

‘The inspiration comes directly from the kink community where people are looking for ways to find and meet other like-minded people,” Whiplr Chief Commercial Officer Daniel Sevitt told the The Daily Dot in an email. He added: ‘I think the genius of Fifty Shades of Grey was that it tapped into something that was already happening.’

According to the app’s description, it is ‘the world’s first and only location-based messaging app to help you connect with potential play partners online or in person’.

The free download, which was released today (Thursday) on iOS and Android, allows users to message, call and video chat their potential partners without ever having to leave the app’s interface.  ‘Download today and embark on your personal “Fifty Shades of Grey” journey!’ reads the app’s description.

Most importantly the login remains anonymous and private, so users don’t have to worry about Whiplr linking to their Facebook pages or sharing their personal information.  In addition to the app’s secure login, you can keep your messages and videos from falling into the wrong hands thanks to the app’s ability to delete shared content from both your device and the Whiplr user to whom you sent it to.

photo2After joining, users are prompted to upload a photo and fill out a profile that includes gender, location, a ‘kink category’ and level of experience. Preferences are broadly categorized by fashion, objects, behavior, materials, accessories, and sounds, and every experience level – including the merely curious – are welcome. And the truly shy can start a conversation by sending an animated ‘Spark’.

The free version of Whiplr has daily allotments, which allows users to browse up to 100 profiles, start up to 10 chat sessions, initiate three voice or video calls, send three ‘Sparks’ and swipe through 25 profiles over the course of 24 hours. But for those who find themselves spending all their time on Whiplr, the restrictions can be lifted by purchasing monthly subscriptions, which range from $19.95 for a one month of service to $119.95 for a year.

Of course, Fifty Shades of Grey has inspired more than just this a dating app. Since the release of the trilogy’s first book in 2012, companies have been motivated to cater to its fans by offering titillating hotel packages, as well as themed sex toys and lingerie.

With two more films on the way, it was only a matter of time before a company found a way to help people meet their very own Christian Grey.

What could possible go wrong?

See also:

DCG

States that restrict abortion have lower maternal mortality rates: Mexican study

unborn baby

LifeSiteNews: An international team of medical researchers comparing maternal mortality rates and abortion laws in 32 Mexican states claims it has disproven the claim of abortion promoters that easy access to abortion will reduce maternal deaths.

Comparing 14 states with constitutional protection for the unborn with 18 states with varying degrees of permissiveness over 10 years, the Chilean-Mexican-American team found that the less permissive states had a maternal mortality rate 23% lower, and a post-abortive mortality rate “up to” 47% lower.

Team member Dr. John Thorp of the University of North Carolina medical school said in a video released along with the study that it “pretty much refutes the conventional wisdom” that freer access to abortion will reduce maternal fatalities because abortions will be done in safe conditions.

The research director, Dr. Elard Koch, director of the sponsoring MELISA Institute and an associate researcher with the University of Chile’s faculty of medicine, said in the same video that the study does not show “making abortion laws less permissive will automatically decrease maternal deaths.”

But what it does show is that more difficult access to abortion has none of the negative impact on death rates claimed by organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute.

At the same time, the study shows that states with more permissive laws had higher rates of violence against women. Meanwhile, those states with less permissive laws regarding abortion provided better prenatal care, more skilled maternity staff, and better emergency obstetrics.

Out of 10 factors examined, the one bearing the strongest relationship with reduced maternal mortality rate (MMR) was the mother’s literacy and education levels, which bring knowledge about pre-birth health and hygiene and dispel counter-productive folk “wisdom.” Less permissive states had better literacy rates.

Thorp said the results were not a surprise.  A similar study tracking Chilean MMR through several changes back and forth in abortion laws showed the same factors correlating strongly with a reduced MMR, especially female literacy maternal and access to modern medicine. It also showed that legal abortion access had little to no relevance.  Thorp also noted a study comparing abortion laws and the rate of complications arising from abortions in 23 U.S. states also showed that tighter abortion laws went with fewer complications.

Other factors the study found to be related to higher maternal death rates were “Poverty, malnutrition, and exposure to infectious diseases during the fertile age of women increase the risk of maternal death,” according to Sebastián Haddad, MD, a researcher at the Universidad de Anáhuac in Mexico.

DCG

Public university omits race from crime alerts to protect minority students’ feelings

stupidity

Campus Reform: The University of Minnesota has discontinued using race in campus crime alerts sent to the Twin Cities community.

In an email sent to faculty, staff, and students at the U of M, President Eric W. Kaler and Vice President Pamela Wheelock said they had been made aware of the “negative impact of using race as part of the suspect descriptions” and will cease to use racial descriptions in alerts that are “too general.”

“We have heard from many in our community that the use of race in suspect descriptions in our Crime Alerts may unintentionally reinforce racist stereotypes of Black men, and other people of color, as criminals and threats,’ Kaler said in the email obtained by Campus Reform. “That in turn can create an oppressive climate for some members of our community, a climate of suspicion and hostility.”

According to the email, Kaler and Wheelock have been discussing the removal of racial descriptions from the crime alerts for more than a year—since Dec., 2013.

“As a student here, I feel that any details that can be shared with me about the suspect are important to know for my safety,” Matthew Ricker, a freshman at U of M told Campus Reform. “If the university is withholding information that can help me identify a threat to my safety, I cannot support their actions.”

In her statement, Wheelock said that while crime alerts are supposed to help people be safe, they can also impact people’s feeling of safety.

“For some, knowing they have all the information available about a crime, including the complete suspect description, makes them feel better informed and increases how safe they feel,” Wheelock said. “But others—particularly Black men—have shared that suspect descriptions negatively impact their sense of safety. They express concern that Crime Alerts that include race reinforce stereotypes of Black men as threats and create a hostile campus climate.

According to the email, racial descriptions will be included in the crime alerts only when the university thinks there is “sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group.”

The email also claimed that U of M’s campus has become safer in the past 18 months as the number of robberies has decreased, and U of M faculty, staff, and students are “more aware” of campus safety measures.

pc police

DCG

Washington State spends millions on convicted teachers retirements

say what

King5.com: In Washington, public employees who commit a crime don’t lose their taxpayer guaranteed retirements, and teachers can earn the right to a lifetime retirement after working for as little as five years.

KING 5 asked the state for a list of all the teachers who have had their Washington teaching license revoked and compared that list to a list of all the public employees receiving a pension.

The state has multiple retirement plans for teachers. Two of them would be considered a traditional pension plan, the third includes a private component. KING 5 only focused on the first two.

That led to a list of 22 teachers, most who had been convicted of crimes against children, who together have received about $5.1 million above their own retirement contributions, interest included as of the end of 2014.

That’s about $236,027.95 on average per person.

The list includes people like Norman Standley, David Lloyd Anderson, William Pickerel, Ruben Carrera, Alfredo Castillo and Ande Strittmatter, who were all found guilty of child molestation, Larry Pierson who was found guilty of assault with sexual motivation, Craig Figley who is serving a life sentence for molesting children and Christopher Loftus who was convicted of child rape.

messed up

In one specific example, KING 5 looked at the records for Laurence “Shayne” Hill. Hill was convicted on multiple counts of child molestation in King County in 2005 after he admitted to molesting his 10-year-old and 11-year-old students.

By the end of last year, Hill had received about $334,471.03 from the state retirement system; just over $208,568.16 was money above and beyond what Hill contributed into his own retirement, interest included.

“What! It’s that gut reaction of, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ This person is in prison for this and they are receiving several thousand dollars a month? What?!” exclaimed Anne Marie Gurney, a researcher with the Freedom Foundation, a conservative policy group in Washington state.

Gurney contacted KING 5 with concerns about the state’s pension laws. “To a certain degree, we need to protect our taxpayers,” Gurney said.

At least 25 states, including Alaska, California, and Arizona, have pension forfeiture laws, in other words public employees and/or elected officials convicted of a crime lose at least some aspect of their taxpayer funded retirements. Washington does not have a pension forfeiture law.

“I really think that probably it has never really come to the surface,” said State Senator Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. Bailey is the chair of the Select Committee on Pension Policy.

“I would agree, you know some things are so egregious you really can’t understand how these things can happen,” Bailey said regarding teachers who have committed crimes against children and are still receiving a pension.

Bailey said she’d consider whether public employees who commit a crime should be required to forfeit a portion of their pension, for instance to help pay for incarceration costs. “I think that is only fair, and I think taxpayers would agree,” Bailey said.

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said he would be open to considering some kind of pension forfeiture law for future hires, but he would want to make sure whatever penalty was imposed only negatively impacted the person who committed the crime and not his or her dependents.

“I would fight it,” said Kit Raney, President of the Washington Teacher’s Association-Retired. She represents the interests of retired teachers. “So, this is just pure noise and a non-issue as far as I’m concerned,” Raney said.

Raney said she doesn’t believe teachers should lose their pensions under any circumstance. “If a worker commits a crime, it is handled by the legal system. The trial, the conviction is part of the legal system. It is totally separate from the pension system, which they contributed to and earned throughout their career. It’s apples and oranges,” Raney said. Raney accused the Freedom Foundation of being anti-teacher and anti-pension.

Gurney said the issue is not teachers or their pensions, but creating the legal room for taxpayers to have a choice. “I think taxpayers should have a choice if they are going to fund the pension of hardened criminals,” Gurney said.

Any new legislation would be met with by lot of resistance.

For now, Senator Bailey said she’s studying her options and the earliest she would propose a bill would be next year.

DCG

Billing blunder: 13,000 in Washington State overbilled for health insurance

obamacare

KOMO: Nearly 13,000 people across Washington State experienced sticker shock this week after being billed three times their normal amount for health insurance.

A spokesman for Washington Healthplanfinder said the incorrect totals were withdrawn from bank accounts during the monthly payment process. The glitch meant hundreds of dollars were automatically deducted from customers’ accounts statewide. 

“We’re very upset about this issue and apologize to impacted customers,” said Michael Marchand, Director of Communications for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. “We’re very concerned about this and we want to make sure that we’re able to provide remedies for those individuals.” The state expected to be able to reverse the incorrect withdrawals within the next 48 hours.

The glitch meant customers like Jim West were scrambling to get to the bank Tuesday morning to make sure accounts weren’t overdrawn. “For us it wasn’t a huge issue but a lot of seniors are on fixed incomes,” said West, of Lake Stevens. “I’ve seen one lady on Facebook that they’d taken an extra $800 out of her bank account. That can affect real people who are in need.”

This isn’t the first time the state’s health benefit exchange has run into problems. In December, 6,000 accounts were accidentally canceled. One month earlier, the health care exchange shut down after problems with tax credit calculations.

Marchand said Tuesday that customers were notified of this most recent problem via phone and email.

“Yes, this is part of the growing pains of an organization moving forward, but really, we’re a long-term play,” he said. “We’ve essentially created a marketplace where one hasn’t existed before. We’re fourth in the nation with lowering the rate of the uninsured. We’ve covered almost 640,000 lives and we’re continuing to make changes and improve.”

West, who is semi-retired, said he and his wife would be fine but feared what might happen to customers with less flexibility in their finances. “I think a state agency should be a little more careful with what they’re doing,” he said.

DCG