Ask the grumpies: Why hasn’t the world cracked down on crypto yet?

First Gen American asks:

Why do you think the world has not cracked down on crypto yet?

We should ban it because it allows people to tax evade and launder money for illegal activities, and, of course, the environmental factors.  The longer we don’t ban it the more difficult it will be to ban as pensions start including it in their portfolios.

(Answer from when this question was first asked):  Because President Trump sucks.  We need US leadership to get the world to do anything– see climate change (#Kyoto)

(Answer from this year): Since this question has been asked, China and 8 other countries have fully banned crypto.  But I think the main reason the US hasn’t is because our political process is being held hostage by ultra-rich people who are making money from it.

In other words:  Citizens United

Blue State Readers: Democracy at risk, call your reps

Hey guys…

So, voting rights are being eroded across the country.  Most recently Wisconsin said that they can’t have drop-boxes for absentee ballots.

If you’ve been reading twitter, people who were most active in electing democrats are now turning on them.  Elected democrats are not protecting democracy enough.  They’re not protecting the vulnerable enough.  They’re not even protecting the post office.  These things are all true.  But I’ve seen a lot of twitter accounts with massive amounts of followers starting to say that they won’t vote at all in the next election and they’re encouraging their followers to not vote either.

So basically we’re getting:

  1.  Vulnerable people being unable to vote because of legislation and rulings making it difficult for them to vote.  Long lines, few voting sites, voter ID, insane gerrymandering, etc. are now the order of the day.
  2.  Well off white people who helped in the last election not helping at all, and, in fact, supporting fascists with their rhetoric.

I live in a not voting state.  What these two items together end up giving you is a whole lot of death.  Even if most of our population supports something, it doesn’t matter because we don’t run and we don’t vote because we’ve given up hope.  We had a little bit of hope two elections ago, but not enough to sustain until the next election, and not enough to overcome the barriers to voting for vulnerable people.  I don’t want to live in a not voting country.

Today is MLK day.  The MLK family is doing a big march to protect voter rights for that first group.  If this were four years ago, there would be a centralized website where you could find marches in your area.  But I don’t think there is.  Just the main march.

Here’s my ask.

If you live in a Blue State, or if you have a Democrat as a senator (especially if that “democrat” is Sinema or Manchin, both of whom are acting like Republicans and making it really difficult for any sort of progressive agenda to get through):

  • Call your senator and make it clear that you still care about democracy.  We NEED the freedom to vote act to be passed.  https://5calls.org/issue/voting-rights-ftva-freedom-vote-act/
  • Before completely throwing away a representative, take a look at what they’ve been trying to do.  Is it truly them, or have they been trying and been stymied by not having *enough* power.  Look at their own records, not just the record of democrats as a whole.  This is going to vary by representative and senator.  Don’t throw away the entire party.

If you live anywhere in the US:

  • Primaries are starting up.  Look into these.  Republicans are worried about being primaried on the right.  Maybe dems should start worrying about being primaried on the left.  If you have extra cash, throw a little money to the candidates whose ideologies best match yours.  Even if they have no chance of winning, money will send a signal.
  • Look at your upcoming local elections and make a plan to VOTE.  Local primaries and local politics are now more important than ever since neither the court system nor the federal government is going to protect us.

I’m not sure where the best place for right-to-vote donations are right now.

Not allowing comments today because I don’t want to deal with all the well-off White dudes who want to tell me that everything is hopeless.  You guys should move to Russia.  Once you decide everything is hopeless, the fascists win.  So yes, if you get enough people to lose hope, you’re right.  Would you rather be right or still have some chance at living in a democracy?

Ask the grumpies: McConnell and Russian campaign funds

Rose asks:

What is true about the rumors I have seen that Mitch the Senator has been given billions/millions in campaign funds filtered from Russian plutocrats?

Here’s what politifact says about this story.  To quote the bottom line:

A post says McConnell’s “biggest donor” is a Russian oligarch who was released from U.S. sanctions.

Blavatnik is involved in Deripaska’s businesses, on which sanctions were lifted recently, but it is inaccurate to call him the Russian oligarch “that the GOP just lifted sanctions on.”

Blavatnik also donated money to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund, but he wasn’t the highest donor, records show. He also contributed to other Republican leaders and GOP-affiliated PACs.

So yes, it looks like he has been given quite a bit of money from Russian plutocrats.  Some portion of the $7.35 million given to the GOP in 2017 by a Russian oligarch, according to this Dallas News story.

Ask the Grumpies: Why can politicians only get things done for short term intense emergencies (aka after the last minute)?

Debbie M asks:

Why are businesses and government officials doing things that are bad for business in response to coronavirus (when they wouldn’t in response to the climate crisis)? I like it, but I don’t get it. It’s not like they suddenly have morals. I don’t think they were pressured by their customers or citizens. Now that it’s started, there’s plenty of peer pressure. But I don’t see what inspired the first people to start doing the things (like canceling events and closing down bars) that previously would have been considered crazy.

This relates to a more general question that drives economists CRAZY.  For example, we have known that there’s an upcoming problem with social security since at least the 1980s.  We’ve also known at least a dozen different plans that would “fix” it with minimal pain if any of them had been implemented back in the day (all small cuts and small tax increases).  None of them happened.  Social Security fixes only happen at the last minute (as with the last fix) with much more pain than is needed.  It takes a lot of political will to do difficult things, but if the pain is now and the rewards are in the future, it’s not going to happen.  Political will usually only happens when the emergency is now.  When people see the reason for painful cuts.  Politicians don’t get credit for making small slightly painful cuts now to remove the chance of big gashes later.  So they sometimes try, but they don’t succeed.  It’s far easier to vote no, we can’t hurt this group of people even a tiny bit now until there’s actually a crisis that forces us to hurt people a lot in order to avoid catastrophy.  And then they can blame the people who didn’t make those tiny cuts in the past.

How do we fix this problem?  Well-functioning governments are great– when governments are run by good people we can get multi-national accords where some of the blame can be shared in the interest of global harmony etc.  The EU did a lot of stuff to fix long-term things (not enough, but they’d be much worse off without their accords) when they got together.  Similarly big climate change agreements have helped a little, though Trump really destroyed that.  For these to work, you need to not have the dominant party running on xenophobia.

So we could have taken steps against Corona-virus back in January (bringing back the CDC pandemics people, working internationally with test kits, upping ventilator/mask/glove/etc. production, rapid response grants, increasing customs employees, bringing people back to the US in an orderly and controlled manner, etc. etc. etc.).  But the Federal government opted not to.  Only when people in the US started dying did anything happen, and it’s mainly been happening at state and local levels, which is really not where the main leadership should be coming from for an infection disease that spills over to the entire country and beyond.  We have managed pandemics better before, and we learned from those pandemics… but Trump fired all those people pretty early on and just threw away all of our knowledge.  Instead of using known systems and experts, he gave the response to his son-in-law.  It’s infuriating.

Now I need to watch some cat videos.

Ask the grumpies: What is UP with VA politicians?

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

What on EARTH is up with my state’s politicians (oh, Virginia).

One word:  Patriarchy

Context:  This question was asked a YEAR ago!  Like, dudes, don’t dress as Klansmen.  Don’t sexually assault people.  Don’t wear blackface.  This shouldn’t be hard!

Ask the grumpies: How to find news that’s not about trump

Sandy L. asks:

How to find news that’s not about trump.

We have no idea.

Well, there is breaking cat news.

Maybe Google news -Trump?

Activism: What is helping me cope

  1. Changing the goal posts.  My focus isn’t on making the world incrementally better or keeping it the same, but limiting the damage that is being done.  Everything I do makes progress towards that goal.  I cannot lose.  And, unlike normal times, there isn’t a chance that I’m making things worse.  It’s all uphill from this perspective.
  2. Not reading the news at all.  I’m paying for news, but I am not looking at headlines.  Instead, I am reading @wandsci and @scalzi and, when I’m feeling up to it, various indivisible twitter accounts or @decaro_nick.  They provide a filter for what’s important and what’s actually going on vs. what’s rumor.
  3. Linking troubling information to actions.  I feel better when I’m doing something about the thing that’s bothering me.  Even if it doesn’t get anywhere, I tried.  I call, I give money, I fax, I send letters.
  4. Talking with other people who are also being active and doing things.  Especially people who are doing even more.  They inspire me.
    1. Keeping abreast of the amazing amount of organization that’s happening.  Groups are meeting with other groups.  They’re coordinating.  People are joining them.  People are starting them.  At midterms it won’t matter that the official democratic party is a disorganized mess because we WILL elect moderate republicans in the primaries and flip districts to democrats where possible.  Indivisible will do that.  Groups with the name Alliance or Warriors etc. will do that.  They’re organized.  They’re strong.  They’re growing.  They’ve got money.  If we’re not fascist yet, things are going to happen.  The newly complacent tea party won’t know what hit them, nor will they particularly care now that there’s no longer a black president.
  5. Asking people who tell me that activism in my red state doesn’t make any difference to shut up.  Because even if I know my senator is never going to vote against a racist bigot because he himself is a racist bigot, my calls and the protests I attend send a message that he can’t go as far as he wants in that direction.  He needs to think twice about doing worse things.  Having second thoughts about doing horrific things at the very least slows them down.  AND I’m not the only person who has suddenly become politically active.  A year ago my voice wouldn’t have mattered, but today I am part of a chorus, and that chorus is growing stronger.  Every week I’ve been calling, my representative’s opinions have changed, and they’ve changed because of people like me calling for the first time because it matters and we know we’re stronger together.
  6. Getting my actions each week from one of the weekly lists we mention in our activism tab.  I’ve been going broad instead of deep.   This way I don’t have to be exposed to the entire world of media out there and can just focus on something someone I trust has already curated (I like Actions for Americans because they have a paragraph and links explaining each issue) and get my voice out there efficiently.
  7. Practice and habit.  Calls are WAY less anxiety-producing now.  I have a habit.   I go through Actions for Americans each week.  Later in the week when I get hit with news, I check out what @decaro_nick or my local indivisible groups say to do (if it’s local) and I do that.  I know which of my senators’ local office numbers have a non-zero chance of working and which ones try to make it more difficult to leave a message.  It’s much more matter of fact now than it was when I first called with my voice shaking.  It’s just part of my weekly routine.  Protest whatever atrocities are on the plate for this week.  So that 4 years from now I won’t have to anymore (hopefully then I’ll start calling to support positive change).

What is helping you cope?

How to talk to politicians

This google document that has been going around the progressosphere is an important read.  An extremely important read in the days going forward.  (And, I trust it because, humble-brag-6-degrees-of-separation-style, my aunt knows one of the authors!)

Many of us, I think, are new to this whole getting involved with politics thing.  We may have fired off an email or a letter when something particularly egregious has happened, but for the most part we’ve voted and generally trusted our elected officials to do what’s right or to ignore what’s right because we’re outnumbered.

We no longer have luxury of trust.  And we have the moral imperative and the will to fight to stem the worst excesses even if outnumbered.  With enough of our voices we can make change.  We’re the majority in the country even if not a majority in our gerrymandered districts.

A question I’ve had as I make these phone calls to politicians (something I’ve been doing almost every weekday since recovering from the election) is whether or not we can/should batch up comments into one phone call to an office or if each item should get a separate call.   Another question is whether it’s ok to leave a voicemail or if I should keep trying offices until I get a voice on the other end of the line.  And should I be using polite scripts or should I be more confrontational?  (Answers down below.)

Calling every day is a bit draining.  Generally the feeling of being drained happens before I make the call and I feel fine and maybe a little strong and powerful after, but I was a bit shaken and angered by an extremely unpleasant call with so-called “Richard Wilson” at the house financial oversight committee republican number who claimed to be the front office supervisor who told me that they couldn’t possibly investigate Trump’s potential conflicts of interest until they’d finished investigating the oh so corrupt current administration and then got confrontational with me (and if I wanted to complain about him, I would have to call my senator because he is the top supervisor).  Usually though I just do the polite script, they say, “thank you I will let X know” and that’s that.  Easy Peasy.  But I was feeling really angry about the latest Trump conflict of interest and the way that the financial oversight committee is determined to do nothing (and has plans to do nothing) so I started asking when and why.

According to the guide, I should be having more of that type of conversation, pushing aides to give me an answer and telling them I’m not satisfied.  And I will, but those phone calls take energy.  (I did recently have a script-like conversation with a nice lady at the governor’s office about an issue directly related to my kids– it was easier and more natural to push on that because I did want information and I did want the governor to actually do something.)  The guide recommends a separate phone call for each issue.  Calling until you get a staffer, and not just talking to the staffer who answers, but talking to the staffer specific to the issue you’re concerned about and not letting go until you’ve talked with them.  If that sounds overwhelming, keep reading this post.

I want to remind everybody that although the script in the google document is the ideal, that although having confrontational phone-calls, going to town hall meetings, and so on are important and we should be working towards them, in politics as in everything else that matters:

Don’t Let The Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good.

Reading that google doc has made me want to do more, much more.  And it’s pushed me to try to connect more with our local groups even though they’re not making it easy.  (If we ever get in touch, one of our first orders of business will be to make it easier.)  I’m going to try to use more confrontational scripts with my local staffers.

Part of the reason these calls are so important is because staffers check a box based on your call to see what issues constituents care about and in which direction they care.  So calling up and telling your senator about the appointments you oppose in one phone call gets those boxes checked (“We prefer it, so much easier for everyone,” a staffer told my sister.)  That’s not ideal when talking to Republican representatives, according to the google doc , because we don’t want things to be easier on them, but we do need those boxes to be checked.  Calling and getting those boxes checked is so much better than not getting any checked because you couldn’t make all those phone calls.  Similarly, leaving a message isn’t as good as talking to a staffer, but if you aren’t going to be able to keep calling until you get a staffer (because you have a job), leaving a message is still important.  Polite scripts still get your voice heard and that box checked.  We don’t need everybody to be confrontational, but we do need our representatives to know that people are noticing that what is happening is not acceptable and we do not support it.

I’d say right now, in D&D terminology, I’m a level 3 activist (and if you play D&D, you know you’re still fighting slime molds and can die by goblin at that level).  But that’s ok.  Just like with role-playing games, we need experience before we can level up.

What I’ve been doing has been doing one action item off one of the newsletters I subscribe to each day.  Sometimes I talk to a person (and sometimes I call different offices until I get a person).  Sometimes I leave a message.  You may prefer to bunch up and make all of your phone calls on Moral Monday or Activism Thursday or whatever fits best in your schedule.  (And I may move to Moral Mondays as time goes on.)  Start at whatever level you feel most comfortable.  Batch your calls once a week if that’s what you have time for.  Use the polite script if you don’t have the time or energy to have a discussion.  Leave messages if you don’t have time to call different offices until you find a person.  As you get more comfortable or as you’re working on the issues that you care about more, then do more.  The more you do, the sooner you level up, and the more you’ll be able to do and the easier it will be.  Because we have a lot to do to keep this country from moving backward, and we need to make our voices heard and to organize in order to survive the next few years.

In the words of one of the new activism newsletters I subscribe to, “Letting your voice be heard in any way is more important than not being heard at all.”

What level activist are you?  What suggestions do you have for organizing?  Have you reached out to any groups?  How have your experiences with calling been?  Is it easier than you thought or harder?  What other kinds of things have you been doing besides calling?  Is anybody going to DC or a local city for the Women’s March?

Helping others: Becoming more politically active

I was brought up knowing that I had God given gifts that a lot of people don’t have.  Because of those gifts, it is my responsibility to use them to Make the World a Better Place.  My parents are very politically active.  My sister has been progressively increasing her activity.  (Note:  her local planned parenthood and women’s shelters were both full up on volunteers when she called– a lot of people are feeling that call to activism.  There were still spots for driving women to get abortions, so she will be doing that.)

DH and I both have jobs that ultimately help other people.  My research is policy-driven.

But I’ve been falling down on the political sphere.  Much of this is because I hate politics.  Even the best politicians cannot do things that are politically infeasible even while economically the best option.  Some of this is fear– when I was younger I was brave but I’ve been beaten down too many times for speaking my piece.  Intolerant bullies are especially scary these days and those we should be able to trust to protect us often ignore threats against women and minorities until the threat has materialized into actual hurt.  Even speaking out anonymously carries the possibility of real danger.  A lot of this is just laziness.  I’m good at being dragged places, but not so good at going on my own.

I don’t know yet what to do.  I mean, I’ve done some things already– donated money to various groups, written my senators about the possibility of introducing legislation to limit executive action, written Paul Ryan to praise him for taking stands against racism and xenophobia and to ask him to keep it up.  But I don’t know what is best to do or what to do long-term.

Ideally I would pick one organization and get heavily involved in it such that I was making a strong difference there.  My state’s disorganized democratic party would be a really good place to start.  But… I have a job and I have a family.  That’s not going to happen.  My mom was on school board for many years and it kept her from doing research.

So I’m going to start small.

Every weekend until Trump is out of office DH and I are going to do *something* politically active.  We may donate to a charity (easy).  We may write or call a politician (somewhat harder).  We may join protest rallies (even harder).  We may do something more substantial if we can figure out what to do (campus democrats were extremely active 4 years ago, but they haven’t even updated their webpage in a year… maybe they need a new faculty sponsor?).  There’s a lot of good out there that can be done, and it’s our responsibility to find it and start doing some of it.  Even if we’re starting small.

Action item for today (fighting hate):  Call your state senators/congressperson and ask where they stand on the Bannon appointment.  Tell them he is unacceptable.  Bannon is an “alt-right” racist, misogynist, anti-semite from Breitbart.com who Trump intends to appoint as chief strategist.  White nationalists are delighted.

How are you engaging politically?

Thoughts on having voted

I feel much more relaxed now that I’ve voted.  Also not paying so much attention to what’s going on in the news.  It’s pretty nice.

Another really cool thing:  THERE WERE DEMOCRATS ON THE BALLOT.  I mean, there were still a few uncontested Republican-only elections (and there were some local non-partisan-only elections for which one actually had to research the candidates), but there was a democratic congressional candidate and for the first time in my memory, multiple democratic candidates for other elected offices.

The most demoralizing thing is going to vote (for example, in a non-presidential year) and having to decide between the fake libertarian* and the tea party republican for any contested election.  Occasionally with a green party candidate thrown in as a third option.  This is (at least partly) why turnout is low.  And with turnout low, the democratic party doesn’t even bother.  But it should bother, because when voting is demoralizing democrats will not turn out, and that’s bad for the state and for the country.  Even if the democratic candidate isn’t going to win this time, being able to vote for him or her provides hope and a reason to go vote which means that someday in the future democrats may start winning again.  That’s the hope.

I still feel like I should be doing more.  I’m probably not going to volunteer in the short time remaining.  But I did throw some money towards contested house/senate races.**

*a fake libertarian is a social conservative/tea party republican by another name.

**What are some good candidates to throw money to, you ask?  According to the Sam Wang website, Cortez Masto in Nevada, Hassan in New Hampshire,  Kander in Missouri, Ross in North Carolina, and McGinty in Pennsylvania are all in close races.  YMMV for best use of donation dollars depending on how awful you believe the Republican candidate to be (IMO, a Republican that supports gun control and isn’t going to try to destroy the supreme court isn’t as bad as one who works for the NRA and agrees on filibustering all nominees for the next four years).  I will note that Ross’s opponent in NC just suggested assassinating HRC, so Ross definitely got some of my $$.

If you’ve voted, how did you feel after voting?  (If you haven’t voted yet, are you feeling anxious?)  Which contested elections do you think are worth donating to?  How happy will you be when this whole thing is over?