Wednesday, July 29, 2020

New Democratic Plan BRIDGES Evictions

New Democratic Plan BRIDGES Evictions

     In light of the wave of evictions coming due to COVID-19, and knowing that the current proposal to fund lawyers to fight those evictions 1 will surely leave between thousands and millions homeless, top Democrats plan to draft another stop gap measure to literally bridge two problems at once.  The aptly named Benignly Retrofitting Infrastructure under Degradation and Giving Evictees Shelter, or BRIDGES Act, will provide help to people evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic while simultaneously repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure.

      The proposal will provide funding to repair hundreds of bridges across the United States at this critical time when they will also be needed for alternative housing arrangements,”  extolled Sen Chuck Shumer (D-NY).   “I just don’t understand these Republicans,” said Sen Shumer.   “We already refuse to fight for any meaningful reform or policies that would make a substantial difference to the American people, and yet leader McConnell still won’t negotiate with us, so we’re offering this in the spirit of bipartisan compromise.”

     Among the critical infrastructure repairs to American bridges,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “the BRIDGES Act will also provide funding to renovate the underside of those bridges to function as alternative housing for families evicted during this COVID-19 crisis.”  

      One of the special features I personally inserted into the bill was a provision for contractors to renovate underneath the bridges.  Most concrete under bridges is poured on a slope, but this provision mandates 2 areas of flat concrete to allow for the storage of a 42 inch refrigerators, just like the twin Sub Zero models I use to store gourmet ice cream in my kitchen.  This will allow families a place to store their ice cream during these difficult times.  It’s really a win-win situation for American families,” she said while placing her hand on her over-sized clutching-pearl necklace.  “Honestly, short of publicly fighting and showing America how truly depraved Republicans are, this is the best we can hope for,” she added with Sen Shumer nodding glumly in agreement.

     “Given the state of disrepair in American infrastructure 2, this should be an easy bill for the Republicans to come to agreement on,” said Sen Shumer, adding that “the results of this bill may even be enough to bring America’s infrastructure score up to a C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers.  I have heard from one of my colleagues across the aisle that there may be some Republican support if we insert a measure to rename the renovated bridges after Mr. Trump in big, gold letters.”

     We reached out to several Republicans for comment.  Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) spokesman said he would consider voting for the measure if it also renamed the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama in Mr. Trump’s honor.  Though the bridge is not considered sufficiently degraded to need repair, the spokesperson said, since Mr. Trump is better known and better represents the modern conservative movement then his name should be connected to the historic events that took place there.

More Satire from The Diogenetic Light

Oklahoma Legislators to Propose New Teacher Employer Rights Bill


1 Yes, this is satire, but we still provide citations as we are satirizing real life. 

2 The American Society of Civil Engineers currently gives American infrastructure a D+ grade.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Why I’m No Longer on Facebook

Why I’m No Longer on Facebook

     Remember a few weeks ago after that Facebook update flagged all those legitimate news stories as fake news? i  It seems that’s when the problems began . . .

     It was a few days after that update and couple weeks after the massive toilet paper shortage began. I was living in Hanoi and astounded that there were bare store shelves in America. I was always told that communism is what leads to bare store shelves, yet this was happening in America? And there I was living in the heart of a communist dictatorship. To understand how weird it was, you need to see just how bad the store shelves were in Vietnam.

(My apologies for the bad video quality.  I rarely even take photos, much less video.  Also, I was wearing a thick mask that forced the heavy breathing.  But you can clearly see that the stores were better here than back home.)

     Ok, things weren’t bad in Vietnam. Other than the coronavirus, things were actually pretty good.  My apologies again for the poor video quality.   But you can see the store shelves were fully stocked.

     Then a woman returned from a trip to Europe and fell ill with Coronavirus the next day.
Some convenience store shelves in the immediate area were cleared out that night, but they were fully stocked again the next day.  That was the worst of it.   It also didn’t hurt that the Vietnamese government took the virus seriously.

     Her illness was confirmed late on a Friday evening.  The next morning the Vietnamese army deployed a chemical weapons response team that literally disinfected the streets iiA few people said they thought it was overkill, but, at the very least, they showed their nation 2 things.  First, that this virus was deadly.  (This was when Trump was saying it was a Democratic hoax.)  Second, they showed the citizenry that they were taking the virus as seriously as the deadly threat that it is.  Can you imagine how many fewer people would have died if Trump had taken the virus seriously when he was first briefed about it back in December?

This is what it looks like when a government takes Covid-19 seriously.
     Seeing how badly things were going back home compelled me to show others that it doesn’t have to be this way.   Others needed to see this too.   Just after the video posted on facebook,  I saw an odd message that disappeared before I could read it.  I was logged out of my account and couldn’t, for the life of me, remember my password to log back in.   Oddly, though, I could click on some links and they still worked.  Over the next few minutes, though, all those features were killed off too.   I have regularly posted videos from YouTube onto both my personal page and the The Diogenetic Light’s facebook page, so it couldn’t have been the video.   I knew that facebook’s new algorithm had some major issues and figured it must have been something to do with that.

     This was right in the middle of the greatest global threat of our lifetimes, though, and facebook was the primary contact that I had with friends & family.   So I made a new account to stay in touch with family and friends.  The setup process is a pain and they demand a LOT of personal information.   That’s creepy, but I needed to know if my friends and family were alright.

     Facebook began suggesting all the people on my friend’s list to me in the new account.  The vast majority of my friends are still from America, so why would facebook suggest friends from literally half a world away?  I guess that it’s somehow related to the device ID number, but this is still really creepy.  I had no time to deal with that, though.  I needed to know that my loved ones were ok.  I figured that I’d contact facebook later to get it straightened out and get my old account back.

     At that time, I was confronted with another problem.  Until then, it seemed that we would turn the corner at any moment on the pandemic.   Especially in Vietnam, which has received international praise for effectively handling the virus. iii   But then a few more new cases were found in Vietnam.  The pandemic was now getting worse, and there was talk of closing down the national borders.  My wife and daughters were still in Thailand.   I needed go and look after them.  My wife and I scrambled to find a plane ticket to get me out before the country went on lock-down.

     I arrived in Thailand, went through the airport health screening, and caught some much needed sleep.  The next day, while scrolling through facebook, a porn pic scrolled through my feed – again.  I was furious.  It came from a facebook group that regularly bashes religious hypocrites and is usually good fun.  It first popped into my feed when I was in the Hanoi airport.  I’m no prude, but there is no free speech here in SE AsiaHere’s an example to show how it is here.

     In 2014, a military junta seized control of Thailand’s government. iv  At the time it said that it would only be a temporary measure as there had been violence against anti-government activists.  Instead being responsible government and protecting citizens, the military chose to seize power. T he temporary junta still controls Thailand in 2020.  In 2016 an anti-junta activist’s mother received a private message through facebook Messenger criticizing the government from one of her son’s friends.  Not wanting to be bothered, she replied “jaa,” the Thai equivalent of “whatever.”   She was arrested and charged with lese majestethe crime of disrespecting the monarchy. v vi vii

      Let’s review those facts:
This lady did not agree with the activist but dismissed him, yet that was considered the same as insulting the king, and threatened her with 3 – 15 years in a Thai prison. viii   Further, she did not say that on someone’s facebook post, but in facebook’s Messenger app.  The Thai government hacked not only the accounts of democratic activists, but even their mothers to shut them up.  Thus, you are not allowed to say anything less than praising the monarchy, and, ripping a page from 1984, the governments here will use facebook to spy on you and charge you with thoughtcrimeix  That is how draconian and backwards the governments here view freedom of speech.

     So when that porn image scrolled through my facebook feed three more times in the Bangkok bus station, I was justifiably angryThe group admins did nothing when I reported the image.  I had initially complained about that image on the post itself, which is why it came through my feed the second time in Vietnam, but I had deleted that comment.  That post should not have come through again.  It never should have been posted in the first place, and now I was furious.  Far too many Thai government officers see foreigners as an easy extortion payday, and facebook was putting me at risk.  So I posted a complaint into that group, and was promptly told to “f off” by several group members.   That’s too bad, as I had enjoyed that group until then.

     It had been a week or so since my first account had been killed, and I had been using facebook as ususal.   I had been posting news articles, YouTube videos, and memes like normal.   I had been so busy that I didn’t think to repost the grocery store video.  So I posted it again, and had no problem. For a couple hours.

     Then my second account was killed off by facebook.  Damn it!  It seemed the trolls in that group decided to beat me to the punch by reporting my profile over and over.  Sure there was no justification, but facebook’s community guidelines are so so vague that they are meaningless.   Additionally, moderators have only seconds to review both a report and the accompanying post or comment. x,  Sometimes the moderators do not even speak the language the post is written in. xi  Besides posting videos for the past week as normal, I had received several nasty comments between posting the video and getting killed off, so it seemed that I was getting jerked around by people exploiting facebook's rules.

     So I had to make my third account. Facebook tries to force you to connect your email and other accounts to them.   I really did not want to do that.   We know that facebook is data mining us, that the platform has been used to hack people, and they have been less than forthright about actually changing and protecting our privacy. xii,xiii  I cannot trust the platform, but, again, everyone is there. So I made another account and connected it to my main Gmail account, which also connects to my blog and YouTube accounts.

     Even though facebook profited from purveying Russian propaganda during the 2016 election and even more before and after the election, they refuse to clean up their platform. xiv,xv  The fact checking program they announced in 2018 was so pathetically useless that Snopes withdrew from itxvi  One former Snopes employee even went so far as to claim that facebook was merely using Snopes to make itself look less awful in a crisis management scheme. xvii   As if that was not bad enough, facebook announced that they will not fact check political ads on their platform, despite having the biggest liar ever recorded in American politics occupying the White House. xviii  They are, however, more than happy to spread propaganda for anyone that has the money.

     In between all the havoc of those days, I began writing Gut Check.   Now, with my Gmail account connected, everything should be fine.  So I posted Gut Check, and everything, again, was fine.  For a several minutes.  Then my third account was killed off.  That was it.

     Let’s put this all into perspective.   Facebook is absolutely with fine taking money from Russian spies to spread propaganda and undermine the American democratic process.   They refuse to do anything meaningful to actually weed out disinformation from their platform.  Yet, I post a fact-based story based on direct observation and went so far as to record video to document the facts, and I get killed off.  Yeah, seems legit.

     I do not have the time to waste with a propaganda platform that refuses honest, fact-based writers from having a voice to counter that propaganda.   I even cite sources in my satire pieces.  So, if fb’s content moderation is that flawed, why bother with the platform?

     At this point, what is the best explanation for facebook’s behavior?  While Occam’s Razor suggests this is just corporate greed using bots instead of actual people to monitor disinformation on their platform, can we trust that?   Facebook has been repeatedly criticized for relying on faulty algorithms and not allowing their human employees to have adequate time to meaningfully review problematic posts.  So, is it mere corporate greed, or is the platform simply compromised?   Either way, facebook is not trustworthy and I can see no reason to waste more time making another account at this time.  

On the plus side, though, friends of back home have been able to post stories from The Diogenetic Light on facebook without a problem.  If you like the stories we create here, you can help to support this blog by subscribing and sharing. 


Thank you for reading.   If you need a break from lockdown boredom, I've linked some satire pieces below to give you a laugh.  If you want to see something that will make you further scratch your head about the American system, check out Gut Check .  


Oklahoma Legislators to Propose New Teacher Employer Rights Bill


Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Covid-19 Election

The Covid-19 Election
      The Democratic base is once again being led to coalesce around the “safe” establishment candidate.  We constantly hear that we must support the establishment candidate or there will be another 4 years of Trump.  This creates the makings of another catastrophic election year unless the two halves of the Democratic base come together.
      There’s an old saw that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.  I have been watching both Bernie groups and establishment Democrat groups on Facebook for the last few years, and there is definitely a lack of understanding.  The Bernie group understands Biden’s positions and what they will mean for them.  They have grown up under and live with the effects of those policies. Unfortunately, I do not see much understanding going the other way.  This gap was recently driven home when the Affordable Care Act was brought up in a conversation.
      The ACA was enacted when I was in graduate school. At the time, I was living on student loans with little disposable income.   That meant the only option was a garbage plan under the ACA that covered nearly nothing.  I used it once for a basic physical, and was still hit with a few hundred dollars in co-pays and lab bills, despite telling the doctor outright that I did not want those excessive, expensive, and unnecessary tests.  A few months later, when I was hit by a car on my bike, I refused to go to the ER because I knew how horrible my insurance plan was.
      I had never really thought much about my ACA experience until that conversation. Looking back, the ACA was worse than nothing for me.  If I had no insurance, then at least I would have saved the premium cost and avoided outrageous medical bills.   Since I had to pay for that out of student loans, I am still paying for that and will be for years to come.  My experience is not unique.
      This is also the experience of millions of Gen X-ers and Millennials.  The Boomer generation has fared better because they were better off financially from the start.  That is our society in a nutshell: if you had it ok before, you're allowed to maintain an average life, but if you had it tough before, it never gets better.  Upward mobility in America has dropped significantly because of the failures in our system. i  Our healthcare system is one of the largest of those failures.  So on it goes, becoming consistently, gradually worse.   If we don't begin to bridge this understanding gap, then there will be 4 more years of Twitler for sure.
      The younger voters that are Bernie's base have been told to accept incremental improvements for decades by the establishment, but those improvements never materialized.   Instead, the incremental change they have experienced has been backwards and consistently makes life worse, not better.  How many more decades do they have to wait for a system with some basic fairness?  Even the ACA, lauded by the likes of Biden, has been an utter failure for younger generations.  Unless and until the Democratic establishment comes to realize this, there will never be unity within the party.
      The Bernie people I know are liberals who are willing to hold their noses and vote for a Democrat only if they fight for positions like Bernie does.  The further away from those positions, the less likely that they will find that person worthy of their vote.  We are taught in America that it is a politician’s duty to not only represent, but to effectively advocate for policies that reflect our values.  If a politician fails to promise to fight for our values, or fails to deliver on their promises, then constituents are under no obligation to continue supporting that failed politician.  The younger generations are not serfs owing a fealty tribute to a manor or party overlord. They are citizens, and, if you want their votes, you must earn them.
      Some Millenials see healthcare as a universal right. Others are more pragmatic and argue that it is simply more economically efficient to get rid of the bloated bureaucracy of insurance companies.  The overwhelming bulk of studies on US healthcare support this argument. ii iii   Whichever path you choose, though, the Coronavirus makes it necessary.
      Now that Coronavirus is a major issue in this election, healthcare is front and center.   I had to refuse healthcare when I was injured, laying on the street, and barely able to move because my Obamacare plan was so awful.  Refusing care was not an option when I was suddenly hit with enteritis on a southbound train from Bangkok somewhere in the rural Thailand; neither is it optional for Covid-19. iv  Now, millions of un- and under-insured are facing the same reality if they become infected with Covid-19.  Do they go to the hospital and risk losing everything, including their homes, or do they tough it out and risk death?  Even worse, there are already some people who were sick with the virus and denied care because they did not have insurance.  At least one teenager has died because he had no insurance and was denied care. v  Yet, Biden is still against universal healthcare. vi
      Biden is heralded as the safe candidate, but the Corona-virus makes us all unsafe. Having uninsured and undiagnosed Americans walking around with a deadly and highly transmissible virus because they cannot afford healthcare is a threat to everyone.  How many of our fellow Americans are we willing to kill off in order to continue this obviously failed system?  How many of our family and friends are we willing to let die just to maintain a system that, by all objective accounts, has been the worldwide worst at containing the disease? vii
      The Democratic party has already broken their own rules by letting an unqualified billionaire on the debate stage, and people in the Bernie camp are rightly infuriated.   Those underhanded maneuvers are what caused the 2016 DemExit, but now it's worse. The people that bolted last time are already on the way out, and I'm afraid even more will follow this time.  The old guard has refused to listen, so the younger generations are refusing to lend their support to a party that has no problem killing them off to maintain corporate profits.  Their shenanigans may have brought them power within the party, but it will not bring them votes in the general election.  Only a true platform of reform will do that. 
       Now is the time to listen.  Yet we hear the establishment say that now is not the time; that they will do an after-action report when the threat has subsided and learn the lessons then. viii  The younger generations have seen that line a million times: you have to change incrementally, slow and steady. But there is no time to wait until after the Coronavirus threat abates.  People are already dying.  Universal healthcare is a deal-breaker because Covid-19 is a death sentence for the uninsured either immediately because they cannot get treated, or belatedly from a life mired in medical debt and bankruptcy that forecloses opportunities for a better life just because someone got sick once.  Because the younger generations have been misled and told to wait for decades, they will not believe any politician with a history of not forcefully arguing for universal healthcare.  If the candidate will not change his platform, then the party must change the candidate or lose.  Further, they have no obligation to vote for a candidate who is willing to kill them off in support of a failed system.   For them, this is not merely a political issue — it is life or death.  Do not expect them to fall in line behind a candidate that is willing to sacrifice them for corporate profits.

      Even Trump was smart enough to promise some sort of universal healthcare.  He was lying, as anyone with half a brain knew, but at least he said it.  In 2016, not supporting universal health care was a deal-breaker.  With Covid-19, it’s a no-brainer.  A failure to understand this will ensure the Democratic nominee also fails to capture the White House.   A failure to understand is a plan to fail.
      So, to the Democrat establishment, the choice is yours.  The younger generations see that maintaining the status quo ante will only lead to bankruptcy, misery, and death for them.  Why would they bother voting for that?

iii Some criticize Bernie’s use of the lower of Mercatus’ 2 figures.  For example, they claim that doctors would be forced to accept 40% less in reimbursements.  Maybe so, but that conveniently ignores the cost savings that the doctor’s offices would see by not being forced to keep multiple insurance billing specialists on the payroll.  Private health insurance companies have very complicated payment systems and they frequently change their system with no notice to care providers. This results in lost revenues every time a change is made.

In contrast, the Medicare system is very straight forward.  One insurance billing specialist I used to know estimated that, for her mid-size hospital that serves a metro area of about 100,000 people, the hospital could drop from 3.5 billing specialists to 1 under a Medicare-style billing system.  Not only would that result in substantially fewer denied payments, it would also save the hospital a hundred grand or so every year in unnecessary employee costs. That does not even count how many private practices would be able to reduce their labor costs as well. 

From what I can see, those replies that fail to consider these costs that are littered throughout our system into account smack of being either incompetent or disingenuous. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which.

If you’d like to see this story written up with better numbers, please leave a comment below. If there’s interest, I will contact the billing specialist and see if I can get better numbers to write
it up.

Note: while the health officials are trying to sow doubt and claim he may have had underlying conditions, it is reported that he did test positive for the virus after he died. We reject that spin. This kid was refused the last chance he had for lifesaving treatment because he did not have insurance. Period.

viii Considering how fundamentally incompetently this administration has handled the virus, we all should be outraged, but that’s a rant for another day.