Crystal Cordell on Authoritarian Populism

On November 9th, 2016, I woke up to see a mostly red US electoral college map. With a 9-hour time difference between France, where I live, and the West Coast of the US, polls had been closed for nearly 2 hours.

At that moment, my thoughts turned to what I would say to you today. You see, I had originally intended to question the way we think about the clash of civilizations. “Individual rights and aspirations for democracy,” I had intended to say, “must not be thought of as belonging exclusively to certain civilizations, not least because that would mean undermining the validity of universal principles, if ever those civilizations happened to falter.”

I would have preferred that events in my home country not impress upon me so sharply the importance of what I had to say to you today, but they have, and they urge me to make my argument with even greater conviction. The problem that confronts us today is not Oriental or Occidental, Northern or Southern; it concerns all of us what is happening politically in states across the globe today.

Many people in power or hoping to get there are selling citizens on a package deal: “We will protect you from the dangers of the world,” they say, “if you give us power.” What are those dangers according to populist leaders? “Economic competition due to globalization; political parties and governments disconnected from the people; and corrupt values that weaken families and societies,” they say.

Now, to protect people from such great dangers, authority is needed, so the sales pitch goes, the authority of strong leaders, the authority of the state. Only authority can protect. That is the hallmark of populist discourses that seek both to reassure and instill fear, promise justice, and pledge retribution, liberate some and censor others. Now, some analysts say that these discourses emanate from a demand from below. The people are dissatisfied, alienated from political processes. Populist leaders step up and fill the gap left by other political elites.

That’s where it’s important to understand how authoritarian populism is different. Part and parcel of this brand of populism is the figure of the providential leader who will be able to restore a nation to greatness. The cult of personality allows authoritarians of all stripes to place themselves above political institutions and to use political institutions for their own ends, bending them to accommodate their ambition, breaking them when bending is not enough. And yet, authoritarian populists remain populists. They try to appeal to ordinary people, clothing themselves in the attractive attire of the political outsider.

So, are they the true spokespeople for the under-represented? There are at least two reasons to think not: one is empirical, the other theoretical.
First, empirically-speaking, authoritarian populists themselves tend to be elites. They present themselves as anti-system outsiders. But they inhabit the spheres of power inaccessible to ordinary people: financial and industrial power, legal power, media power, and the power of influence.

The second reason concerns what representation is meant to do. Representation is about refining and enlarging the public views, not coarsening and narrowing them. That was James Madison’s argument in Federalist Number 10, defending the the US Constitution back in 1787. The conservative Irish statesman Edmund Burke defended a similar conception of representation in a memorable speech delivered before his constituents in 1774. For him, the duty of the representative was to bring to bear unbiased opinion, mature judgment, and enlightened conscience in political deliberation rather than to follow blindly the wishes of the voters.

And, back in the 5th Century BCE, the Greek philosopher Socrates warned of the dangers of demagogues who flattered the people in order to rule over them. Those immoderate demagogues, warned Socrates, lacked even the capacity to rule over themselves.

So how come authoritarian populists are picking up momentum? Because they promise simple solutions to complex problems, feed into people’s fears, and place themselves on the side of renowned values and traditions. Together, these three strategies are a potent catalyst for authoritarian populism.

Let’s break them down. Can authoritarian populists deliver on their promises to protect the working classes from increasing competition in a globalized world? Any such promise must recognize the complexity of the issues at hand. Authoritarian populists refuse to do so. They promise easy solutions that are backward-looking: economic nationalism, a withdrawal from international institutions, a return to the supposed golden age.

Here’s why we should be wary: Superman doesn’t exist. Remember the fictional Superman could turn back time to undo the bad while leaving the good unchanged. Well, the fictional, the would-be Super-men and -women of Planet Populism would have you believe they can. And yet there is no return. We cannot undo history, technological advances, or the increases in productivity engendered by those advances.

Think about the manufacturing boom in the US or the glorious 30 years in France following the end of World War II. These supposed “golden ages” followed on cataclysmic conflict that decimated competition and destroyed infrastructure, creating a period of high demand. Bolstered by foreign aid, economies saw strong and rapid growth. Purchasing power increased along with consumption. And international trade, facilitated by lower trade barriers, helped maintain that purchasing power and high standard of living in those same countries where today we hear the sirens of protectionism singing their beguiling song.

The problem is a tariff war won’t bring back the boom. Now, think about the alternative to open trade. The alternative is slowing flows of capital, tightening flows of trade, and retreating flows of people. And, as many economists argue, the cost of stunted international trade, in terms of average real incomes, impacts both developed and developing countries. And actually, we don’t need populists keen on protectionism to bring about this alternative. The Great Recession of 2008 has already slowed flows of people, goods, and capital.

Now, in Europe, many authoritarian populists are using refugees to instill fear in people. It’s true that in the midst of a crisis it can be difficult for citizens to maintain perspective on the current situation. But it really is important to gain empirical perspective on this question.

Consider this: in Hungary, the October 2016 referendum intended to keep out refugees concerned 1,294 asylum seekers as per the EU agreement. That’s 0.01% of a population of about 9.8 million. In Lebanon, a country of about 5.8 million, there are over 1 million refugees fleeing violence, rape, and torture in Syria. That’s over 17% of the population in a country whose GDP per capita is 34% less than in Hungary.

“How about population flows from Mexico to the US?” you might ask. They’ve been on the decline since 2009. That’s according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

So, what authoritarian populists are really good at doing is maximizing their political opportunity, taking advantage of people’s incomplete perceptions of the present situation and offering a wall of false protection.

Does that mean there is nothing to be done? Absolutely not. Investing in making economic transitions creative and productive is possible, and that is future-looking. Investing in training young people and retraining the not-so-young, investing in the colossal, untapped profitability of clean energy technologies. These strategies are future-looking. But authoritarian populists are backward-looking. The economic nationalism they’re trying to sell us takes us in the same direction as recessions and wars when flows of people, goods and capital stagnate.

“But,” they say, “it will be good for the underdogs.” “We will help ordinary people who are not winning in the globalized world.” Can we believe them when they say they will be different, that they will bring equality and protection to those who need it most? It’s true that inequality remains prevalent today, including in developed economies.

Can we expect greater equality thanks to authoritarian populists? Well, experience shows that, all too often, promises of equality are betrayed to the clientelistic interests of the few and used as leverage to maintain the power of authoritarian populists no matter the cost.

But there’s more to it. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the vision of equality and justice that authoritarian populists are peddling with increasing success?” It’s a vision of exclusion and division. According to this vision, equality and justice can only emerge once those who have been deemed undeserving of equality or justice have been excluded from the nation. No, authoritarian populists are not just engaged on the side of economic nationalism; they’re also engaged in cultural nationalism, and that’s where the narrative comes full-circle. Voters might not know exactly how slowing flows of people, goods, and capital will stimulate the economy, but, then again, they don’t have to know. That’s the point of the package deal, the dismal economic story is supplemented by a warm narrative of belonging.

Like Socrates warned over 2 millennia ago, authoritarian populists flatter those over whom they seek to rule. Today’s demagogues do this in two ways: first, they tell their supporters that they and they alone are the true people. This is the strategy playing out in countries of different traditions and religions across many continents today. Inevitably, this type of flattery has an ethnic or cultural dimension. It implicitly or explicitly excludes.

Second, they tell their supporters that their values and traditions are the only true ones, the only right ones. And this is how the authoritarian populist discourse manages to seduce so many. If you haven’t been fully convinced about how your interests will be served by their policies, you will likely identify with the portrait of the genuine citizen they’re selling, and surely succumb to the flattering idea of your own moral superiority. That’s what they’re counting on anyway.

So, where does all this get us? If we look around the world today, the picture is pretty clear. In many countries where authoritarian populists are in power, the independence of the judiciary is being undermined, the constitutional structure of the separation of powers weakened. The media are increasingly being controlled by those in power, threatening liberty of the press. Pluralism is being stifled, purges of the opposition are taking place, and religious fundamentalism is gaining ground. The rule of law is not doing well where authoritarian populism has taken root. And misogyny is becoming mainstream again: women’s rights are regressing, women’s choices about their lives and destinies are seen as threats. And the rights of sexual minorities are being undermined as well. Legal protections against violence and discrimination are being denied LGBTI citizens. Security is being invoked to legitimize the control of free expression of sexual minorities.

So, what does this admittedly bleak picture show us? It shows us that authoritarian populism is authoritarian in two ways: first, it is politically authoritarian; it undermines constitutionalism and the separation of powers, and threatens individual liberties and the rights of the opposition. Second, it is morally authoritarian; it often uses religious rhetoric to shore up its own moral legitimacy, sacrificing vulnerable minorities on the altar of righteous indignation and denying women liberty and equality.

So, what can we do? Stand up for liberty, our own and that of others, particularly the most vulnerable. Use the heritage of freedom that exists in so many cultures and histories and memories to inspire us today. The phenomenon of authoritarian populism shows us that cultures or civilizations are not inherently or permanently superior or inferior, enlightened or misguided. Every society must affirm and reaffirm for itself its devotion to liberty.

In that sense, we must recognize that every civilization contains fault lines, the seeds of division, and the people willing to exploit those divisions for their own advantage. Every civilization also contains within it the seeds of hope and progress. Ordinary people who face the present open-mindedly and look to the future with hope, mobilized individuals who help to organize the peaceful and pluralistic dialogue within so many societies contributing to constructive deliberation.

And I conclude with a word to the political leaders of today and tomorrow, some of whom might be listening to me today. It is time for leaders, women and men of courage and character who are future-looking and concerned for the common good, to lead, to show by example that we will not flatter the worst instincts in the human soul, to recognize how fragile freedom is and how noble a responsibility democracy is, to dare to hope.

Why Vote for Democrats?

Legislation

1935
Social Security Act
-Passed the House 372-33
-Passed the Senate 77-6
-Signed into law by FDR

House
-Dem: Yes — 284 of 319 (89%)
-Rep: Yes — 81 of 102 (79%)

Senate
-Dem: Yes — 60 of 69 (87%)
-Rep: Yes — 16 of 25 (64%)

Source

* * *

1938
Fair Labor Standards Act
-Established minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, and restrictions on child labor
-Passed the House 291-89
-Passed the Senate by voice vote
-Signed into law by FDR

House
-Dem: Yes — 252 of 293 (86%)
-Rep: Yes — 30 of 78 (38%)

Senate
Passed the Senate by voice vote.

Source

* * *

1941
Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry
-Executive Order 8802
-Banned discriminatory employment practices by Federal agencies and all unions and companies engaged in war-related work
-Established the Fair Employment Practices Commission to enforce the new policy
-Signed by FDR

Source

* * *

1948
Desegregation of Armed Forces
-Executive Order 9981
-Established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the segregated military
-Signed by Truman

Source

* * *

1963
Clean Air Act
-Passed the House 276 to 112
-Passed the Senate by voice vote
-Signed into law by LBJ

House
-Dem: Yes — 204 of 256 (80%)
-Rep: Yes — 69 of 178 (39%)

Senate
Passed the Senate by voice vote.

Source

* * *

1964
Civil Rights Act
-Passed the House 290-130
-Passed the Senate 73-27
-Signed into law by LBJ

House
-Dem: Yes — 152 of 248 (61%)
-Rep: Yes — 138 of 172 (80%)

Senate
-Dem: Yes — 46 of 67 (69%)
-Rep: Yes — 27 of 33 (82%)

Source

Note: This vote was an important moment in the history of the Republican and Democratic parties and was the major catalyst leading to the transition of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party.*

* * *

1965
Medicare (Social Security Act Amendments)
-Passed the House 307-116
-Passed the Senate 70-24
-Signed into law by LBJ

House
-Dem: Yes — 237 of 293 (81%)
-Rep: Yes — 70 of 140 (50%)*

Senate
-Dem: Yes — 57 of 67 (85%)
-Rep: Yes — 13 of 32 (41%)*

* * *

1972
Clean Water Act
-Passed the House 366-11
-Passed the Senate 74-0
-Vetoed by Nixon
-Nixon’s veto was overridden by Congress

House Override
-Dem: Yes — 151 of 161 (94%) (92 abstained)
-Rep: Yes — 96 of 109 (88%) (68 abstained)*

Senate Override
-Dem: Yes — 34 of 37 (92%) (17 abstained)
-Rep: Yes — 17 of 25 (68%) (19 abstained)*


The Economy

Most economists lean Democratic:


From a 2003 survey of 264 economists
Source


From a 2010 survey of 299 economists
Source


Climate Change

The earth’s climate is extremely important, both economically and biologically. Most Democrats agree with the vast majority of climate scientists that humans have caused all or nearly all of earth’s rapid warming over the past 5-6 decades.* As of 2017, 78% of Democrats agreed that human activity is causing the warming while only 24% of Republicans agree* with the extremely strong scientific consensus.

But, isn’t there still a lot of uncertainty about what’s causing global warming? No. Climate scientists are roughly as certain that humans are causing the rapid warming of the earth’s atmosphere as they are in the basic science of plate tectonics.*

But, is scientific consensus really important? Maybe. One way to look at it is to consider artificial intelligence. Imagine if we looked at research papers of artificial intelligence researchers and polled them and found that 5% of them are warning that there is a high probability of robots taking over the world in the near future. That might be slightly alarming, right? However, if we look at that same information and talk to the same people and find that 97% of those papers and scientists are warning of a robot takeover, governments all over the world would be acting immediately to prevent this.

Separation of Powers and the Clean Water Act

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argued that a separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of government is necessary to prevent abuses of power. He wrote that, if a single body holds all of these powers, that body can abuse it, but, if the powers are separated, each can check the other. He wrote that the legislative branch alone should have the ability to tax in order to prevent the executive from imposing its will arbitrarily. The president can veto acts of legislature, and the legislature is divided into two chambers that each check one another. The judiciary, Montesquieu thought, should be independent of the other two branches and should only concern itself with laws regarding threats to public order and security.*

An example of this is the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (aka, the “Clean Water Act”). This bill set a national goal of eliminating all pollutant discharges into US waters by 1985 while also making waters safe for fish, shellfish, wildlife and people by July 1, 1983. The bill passed the House by roll call vote 366-11 and the Senate by roll call vote 74-0 on October 4th 1972.* The Senate needs a simple majority of 51 votes to pass a bill while the House needs a simple majority of 218 votes to pass a bill.* So, the Clean Water Act easily passed both chambers of Congress.

President Nixon then had an opportunity to veto this bill. As the Constitution notes, every bill that passes the House and Senate must be signed by the president in order to become law. If the president returns it with objections to the originating chamber, it must be voted on again and receive two-thirds vote from both chambers before becoming law.*

In this case, President Nixon chose to exercise that Constitutional privilege and returned the bill back to Congress on October 17th. Nixon chose to do this shortly before midnight on that day which would have been 10 days from when he received it. If he had waited until after midnight, the bill would have automatically become law (another stipulation in the Constitution). On being returned to the House, not all members voted again. A two-thirds vote of the entire 435 body would be 290. Their vote of 247-23 means that only 62% of House members voted. However, of those who did vote, 91% voted to override the president’s veto. In the Senate, the breakdown was 52-12, again a large majority of a subset of the Senate. Thus, the bill became law on October 18, 1972.*

McSally vs. Sinema – AZ Senate Race 2018

 

ACLU

Supports government transparency; Supports eliminating discrimination against women, minorities, and LGBT people; Supports protecting the rights of immigrants

McSally and Sinema:
https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/acl18002_legislative_report_card_v2.pdf?redirect=legscorecard2018


AFL-CIO

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the largest federation of unions in the United States.

Sinema: https://web.archive.org/web/20180923212924/https://aflcio.org/scorecard/legislators/kyrsten-sinema

McSally: https://web.archive.org/web/20180923212941/https://aflcio.org/scorecard/legislators/martha-mcsally


FreedomWorks

Pro Small Government Advocacy/Tea Party-Affiliated

McSally and Sinema:
http://congress.freedomworks.org/keyvotes/house/2018#keyvotes-descriptions


Human Rights Campaign

Advocates for LGBTQ Equality

McSally and Sinema: https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/114thCongressionalScorecard.pdf?_ga=2.84250265.1888141725.1539383407-944623586.1539383407


Humane Society

Pro Animal Welfare Advocacy

McSally and Sinema:
http://www.hslf.org/assets/pdfs/humane-scorecard/humane_scorecard_2017_final.pdf


League of Conservation Voters

Environmental Advocacy

Sinema:
http://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/kyrsten-sinema

McSally:
http://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/martha-mcsally


NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Advocacy, “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination”

McSally and Sinema: https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/2017-Legislative-Report-Card-1.pdf


National Cannabis Industry Association

McSally: 17%
Sinema: 100%

No Title

No Description


NCPSSM – National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

McSally: 14%
Sinema: 86%

No Title

No Description


NEA – National Education Association

Labor union that represents public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers.

McSally and Sinema


NumbersUSA

Immigration Reduction Advocacy

McSally and Sinema: https://www.numbersusa.com/content/my/tools/grades/list/0/CONGRESS/az/A/Grade/Active


NRA

Gun Deregulation Advocacy

McSally and Sinema


Planned Parenthood

Pro Reproductive/Abortion Rights

Sinema

McSally

The Restless Wave

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,” spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. And I do, too. I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I’ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.

I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued service is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.

John McCain, The Restless Wave, 2018

“Doing Good with My Money”

It’s quite hot, so I decided to go knocking on strangers’ doors to get them to sign ballot initiatives.

I talked to one voter who said to me, “I’ve been a Democrat my whole life, but now I went Republican because the Democrats are giving all my money away to the f*cking illegals. Do you have something that stops that?”

I said, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any antipsychotics with me at the moment that I can give to you.”

No, I didn’t actually say that.

In hindsight, though, I regret not asking why on earth she thinks this. We know that human beings who commit a misdemeanor — not a crime —* by entering the country illegally do contribute about $12 billion to the US economy annually without being eligible to, for example, vote or collect Social Security.*

So, yeah, I’ll probably never know why she believes that all of her money is going to “illegals.”


Hispanic Share of Population in Arizona, 1870-2012
Source

She follows this up by saying, “I love Trump ‘cause he’s stopping them. He’s doing good with my money.”

“I see,” I say. “Well, I have this Outlaw Dirty Money petition here.” I explain to her what it does. She’s not interested, though. I guess she can’t see how that one “does good with her money.” I walk away. She shouts down the street, “Do you have one on legalizing marijuana? I’ll sign that one!”

“Sorry, no!” I say.

Immigration’s interesting. We’ve had a border since the country started, and people have pretty much come and gone as they pleased. They’d fulfill seasonal manual labor needs in agriculture or construction and many would then return home. Meanwhile, those that stay commit crimes at much lower rates than the native born.*


Source

I wouldn’t say that any of this means that we need open borders. I do think that we need to stop believing untruths about immigrants, though. Somewhere back there, we all had an immigrant family member. Can you prove that all of your ancestors came here legally? I certainly can’t. Plus, for 99% of us, the only thing we’ve ever done to deserve to be in the country is pay taxes. (Though, some, like the president, don’t even do that.)

If somebody does commit a misdemeanor by entering the country via an unofficial channel, then pays taxes, doesn’t commit other crimes, and just works hard for years and years, why the hell are we trying to punish them? Yeah, I don’t know either. It seems dumb and probably villainous.

Anyway, another person opens his door. Looks to be around my age. Ornate mustache. He’s got the ends of the ‘stache curled up into kind of a spiral. I tell him I’m a precinct committeeperson in his legislative district collecting signatures for some ballot initiatives. He asks what I’ve got. I say that one of them is Invest in Education. He says, “I don’t know what more they want. They’re already getting a 20% pay raise.”

I say, “That just goes into the schools overall. It doesn’t necessarily go directly to teachers.” Last I checked, there also wasn’t a guaranteed funding source, so it’s uncertain that schools or teachers will see any extra money. Invest in Ed doesn’t necessarily go directly to teachers either. It at least gives a funding source, though.*

He’s unconvinced. I say, “Well, I also have Outlaw Dirty Money which makes it so different organizations and lobbyists have to be more transparent in their political contributions.”

He says, “I’ll have to look into that more.”

One thing that’s strange to me about school funding generally is why we make schools scrounge and beg for money. I’ve never heard of a school that was just too well-funded, where students just had too many people caring for them and too many people teaching them. I understand that we need to worry about wasted money, but maybe we could make sure that teachers actually have competitive pay and kids are able to be transported to school and be properly fed before we get too worried about that.

Another person signs all three petitions. We talk about how stupid coal is in terms of health and in terms of jobs. While signing Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona she says, “I sympathize with the people who work in coal, but we need to retrain them for jobs in clean energy. We need to stop living in the past.” (I always like it when people make my arguments for me.) She said she used to be a Reagan Republican but that her social views have come to supersede her economic views.

It’s an interesting sentiment, and I think it comes from the Republican Party doing a great job of convincing people that it’s better for the economy. In reality, blue states do the same economically overall. If you look at things like unemployment and personal wealth for all 50 states, you find that neither party can really be boastful on these issues. This is worse news for the Republicans, though, because they advertise themselves as the “business lubrication” party. If they’re actually no better for economic flourishing than the Democrats, though, what’s left? To me, mostly just misinformation and collective delusion.

The Supposed Deterioration of English

“The common language is disappearing. It is slowly being crushed to death under the weight of verbal conglomerate, a pseudospeech at once both pretentious and feeble, that is created daily by millions of blunders and inaccuracies in grammar, syntax, idiom, metaphor, logic, and common sense …. In the history of modern English there is no period in which such victory over thought-in-speech has been so widespread. Nor in the past has the general idiom, on which we depend for our very understanding of vital matters, been so seriously distorted.”
—A. Tibbets and C. Tibbets, What’s Happening to American English?, 1978


“Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.”
—J. Mersand, Attitudes toward English Teaching, 1961


“From every college in the country goes up the cry, ‘Our freshmen can’t spell, can’t punctuate.’ Every high school is in disrepair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments.”
—C. H. Ward, 1917


“The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.”
—M. W. Smith, “Methods of Study in English,” 1889


Unless the present progress of change [is] arrested … there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will become utterly unintelligible to an Englishman ….
—Captain Thomas Hamilton, 1833


Our language is degenerating very fast.
—James Beattie, 1785

The Big Dipper and Ursa Major Across Time and Cultures


On a given night



With stars labelled
Image by Ken Christison



North American interpretation



Shang-di, aka, the Jade Emperor
Stone carving from the Wuliang Shrine, ca. 150 CE



Starry Plough flag of the Irish Citizen Army, 1914



From Abdul Rahman bin Omar al-Sufi’s Pictures of the forty-eight planets, ca. 950 CE



Egypt, from the tomb of Seti I at the Valley of the Kings, ca. 1280 BCE
Photograph by M. Sanz de Lara



Charles’s Wain, aka Charles’s Wagon, Europe, ca. 1500s CE


From Gaylord Johnson’s The Star People, 1921



As part of Ursa Major, described by Ptolemy ca. 150 CE


From Johann Bayer’s Uranometria, 1603

Real Constitutionalists and Grumpy Spouses

Another fine day of canvassing for my local candidates.

One conversation:

“Hi, I’m Clif. I’m with the Democrats.” (That’s me speaking.)

“Democrats? Oh, no. I’m a constitutionalist. I believe in the Constitution.”

“Oh, great! Same here!”

“No, I’m a real constitutionalist.”

“Yeah? Me too.”

And we go back and forth like that for about 45 minutes.

Kidding! She just said, “Uh huh. Right. Bye.” and closed the door.



My Beloved Legislative District “LD17”


Another convo:

“Hi, I’m Clif. I’m with the Democrats.”

Roughly 50-year-old male answers the door:
“The Democrats?”

He literally thumbs his nose at me. Which I thought was pretty funny.

Thing is, I was looking for a female voter at that house. I can’t tell you how many times I get a grumpy spouse who doesn’t like Democrats or doesn’t like being bothered, but then I ask for their spouse and find their spouse extremely receptive.

I remember one of my first times canvassing this happened. The spouse answered and was like, “We don’t want any.”

His partner overhears and says, “Who is it?”

“The Democrats.”

“Get out of here!” she tells the spouse, literally pushing him out of the doorway. Then she signed whatever petitions I had and complained about ol’ President Pussygrab.


Another convo:

“Hi, I’m Clif. I’m with the Democrats. I’m out collecting signatures for two candidates who are running for the state Senate and House in our district.”

“The Democrats? Oh my god. Where do I sign?”

“Haha! Yeah, I talk to people all the time who are so happy to find that there are others of us out there.”

“Yeah, my friend said to me the other day, ‘You ever feel like the white speck in the potting soil?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!'”

I tell her that there are more white specks than she probably realizes. (Not my analogy, folks!) Actually, most people I speak to don’t realize that the state is almost equally split between people who lean Republican and people who lean Democratic.

Of course, that varies from district to district. I’m kinda lucky in that I’m in a purple district with great candidates who have a real shot at winning.

Jogging Outdoors in Arizona

I’ve largely stopped jogging outdoors in recent years. One reason is that I’ve been concerned for a long time about the air quality. It kind of defeats the purpose of exercising if you’re breathing in car exhaust and coal fumes.*

Arizona’s most recent air quality grade from the American Lung Association is, overwhelmingly, an F, mainly thanks to our cars and reliance on coal for electricity.*


From the American Lung Association’s 2018 Assessment*

We know from a 2013 MIT study that air pollution causes roughly 200,000 premature deaths in the US annually.* This isn’t surprising as we also know that air pollution increases risk of respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart disease.

What shocked me years ago as a psychology student was coming across various studies indicating different ways in which air pollution causes cognitive problems. It reduces brain mass, negatively impacts memory, and it’s associated with increased Alzheimer’s incidence.**

Reading this stuff, I would think back to times throughout my teens when I would ride my bicycle a hundred miles a week from Silly Mountain out to Crismon and back, praying that I wouldn’t get stuck at a red light next to that poorly-serviced 1970s station wagon. Or summers when I worked for my mom’s husband in road construction shoveling dirt from curbs while walking around in a black cloud of exhaust from the giant Caterpillar machines. I look back and wonder what permanent cognitive damage I unknowingly inflicted on myself.


Silly Mountain, A Stone’s Throw from My Teenage Home

These days, people are often surprised that I drive around in a Micro Machine. Seems to me that that’s the least I can do. Just like I think voting for people who oppose fossil fuels and support cleaner energy sources is the least I can do.

I think it’s this easy: Kids should be able to ride their bicycles and play outside without an increased risk of physical or cognitive impairment. It’s inexcusable and unconscionable that they don’t have such a guarantee in Arizona in 2018.