Obama’s tech expert too busy fixing website to testify

Source: Reuters – Fri, 8 Nov 2013 02:19 AM

Author: Reuters

(Recasts with Park asking for delay due to work on website)

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) – The chief technology officer for the White House is willing to testify to a powerful oversight committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Todd Park is still too busy trying to fix the glitch-ridden Obamacare website to appear, the White House said on Thursday.

Republican Darrell Issa said he wants to hear from Park and other top Obama administration tech officials next Wednesday about why HealthCare.gov has performed so poorly, potentially preventing millions of people from enrolling in new online health insurance exchanges.

Issa, noting that Park was a “central leader” in the website’s development, asked him to reconsider his decision by Friday or potentially face a subpoena compelling him to testify.

Park is open to meeting with Issa’s staff informally in late November and would testify at a hearing sometime in the first two weeks of December, said Donna Pignatelli, the assistant director for legislative affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Because Mr. Park is currently occupied full time on the critically important work of improving the website for the millions of Americans seeking affordable health insurance options, his testimony needs to be scheduled at a time that is less disruptive to that work,” Pignatelli said in a letter to Issa.


Park’s precise role in the website’s insurance marketplaces is unclear, although he has been deeply involved in the round-the-clock effort to try to fix the bugs, occasionally sleeping on a mat in his office.

Before joining the Obama administration, Park was a successful healthcare IT developer, steering Athenahealth  through a blockbuster IPO, and helping start another company, Castlight, which provides data on healthcare costs.

The 40-year-old helped build the original HealthCare.gov website in 90 days in 2010 when he was chief technology officer at the Department of Health and Human Services. The website then provided information about public and private insurance programs, sorted by zipcode.

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight panel, chastised Issa for the threat and for ignoring Park’s offer to testify in December.

“I am personally very concerned that the Chairman’s actions may have a direct and negative impact on efforts to fix HealthCare.gov, which would aggravate the problem rather than help solve it,” Cummings said in a statement.

Issa is a strong critic of the Obama administration. He has launched a number of probes, including one into the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and a “Fast and Furious” investigation into a failed U.S. government sting operation involving gun running.

The hearing next week could shed light on what role various officials played in developing the site’s technology. So far, the project appears to have been spread out among offices and federal contractors without strong oversight.

Other officials due to appear include Steve VanRoekel, chief information officer at the White House and Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, was passed in 2010 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. It requires most Americans to have health insurance beginning Jan. 1 or pay a fine.

Republicans see the Democratic president’s program as a costly expansion of government and fear Obamacare is too complicated and expensive to work.      (Additional reporting By Karey Van Hall; Editing by Xavier Briand and Ken Wills)



Russian channel to censor ‘The Simpsons’

Figures created in the likeness of characters from the Fox sitcom "The Simpsons." Photo: Flickr user Cindy Funk.
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 30, 2012 12:21 EDT

A Russian national channel said Thursday it would censor “The Simpsons” cartoon series to comply with a new law banning scenes of violence, drinking and smoking before a late evening watershed.

The 2×2 channel, aimed at young adults, told AFP it would cut scenes where the Simpsons family watches a spoof ultra-violent cartoon called “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” after the law comes into force on Friday.

“Under the new law we cannot show ‘The Itchy & Scratchy Show’ from ‘The Simpsons’” before 11 pm, said general director Lev Makarov.

“We will retouch in an ironic way all the programmes where there are scenes that fall under the new law. For example we will black-out the screen and write a joky message in a rolling caption.”

Makarov added that the channel would move all its showings of another US cartoon, “South Park”, to after the watershed because of a recurring joke about one of the characters being murdered each episode.

“All the scenes from ‘South Park’ where ‘they killed Kenny’ should disappear until 11 pm. So ‘South Park’ will air after 11 pm,” he said.

The wide-ranging law on “protecting children from information causing harm to their health and development” says that scenes encouraging children to try drugs, tobacco or alcohol or justifying violence must not be shown until 11 pm.

It won wide criticism from Russia’s Internet companies with amendments signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in July that allow the state to create a black list of websites and enforce their closure.

It is not the first time that the 2×2 channel has faced legal difficulties over its cartoons.

In 2008, Moscow prosecutors charged 2×2 with extremism over a Christmas-themed episode of “South Park” after a complaint was filed by members of a conservative group, but the charges were eventually thrown out

Phthalate, environmental chemical is linked to higher rates of childhood obesity

Obese children show greater exposure than nonobese children to a phthalate, a chemical used to soften plastics in some children’s toys and many household products, according to a new study, which found that the obesity risk increases according to the level of the chemical found in the bloodstream. The study will be presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society‘s 94th Annual Meeting in Houston.

The chemical, di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), is a common type of phthalate, a group of industrial chemicals that are suspected endocrine disruptors, or hormone-altering agents.

In the study, children with the highest DEHP levels had nearly five times the odds of being obese compared with children who had the lowest DEHP levels, study co-author Mi Jung Park, MD, PhD, said.

“Although this study cannot prove causality between childhood obesity and phthalate exposure, it alerts the public to recognize the possible harm and make efforts to reduce this exposure, especially in children,” said Park, a pediatric endocrinologist in Seoul, Korea, at Sanggye Paik Hospital and professor at Inje University College of Medicine.

Phthalates are found in some pacifiers, plastic food packages, medical equipment and building materials such as vinyl flooring, and even in nonplastic personal care products, including soap, shampoo and nail polish.

Prior research has shown that phthalates may change gene expression associated with fat metabolism, according to Dr. Park. Because past research suggested a link between concentrations of phthalate metabolites and increased waist size in adults, her group studied a possible connection with childhood obesity.

Dr.Park and colleagues measured serum levels of DEHP in 204 children: 105 obese and 99 healthy-weight youth ages 6 to 13 years. The researchers divided these DEHP measurements into four groups from the lowest detectable level (40.2 nanograms per milliliter, or ng/mL) to the highest (69.7 to 177.1 ng/mL).

They found that the obese children had a significantly higher average DEHP level than did the nonobese controls (107 versus 53.8 ng/mL, respectively). In particular, a high DEHP level correlated with body mass index and percentage of fat mass. This increased risk of obesity with elevation of DEHP levels was independent of factors such as physical activity and daily calorie intake, according to the authors.

“More research in people is needed to determine whether DEHP exposure contributes to childhood obesity,” Dr.Park said