All posts by Arizona Humanist

GoT Finale and T. Paine

So I found the Game of Thrones conclusion pretty satisfying. I especially liked the brief discussion that comes up at one point about the best form of government. It was a good reminder, I thought, of how absolutely idiotic monarchy is. If there’s a DNA to this country, then opposing monarchy must be in that DNA. I think, for instance, of Paine writing of the origins of a given monarch. In Common Sense, he wrote, “could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace [kings] to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, … who by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.”

When the “chief among plunderers” died or was dying, the question of succession would naturally come up. Everybody would kind of scramble, and somebody would pipe up: “Well, we’ve already convinced people that there’s something called ‘royal blood’; they’ll clearly believe pretty much anything. So, let’s just say that one of the king’s kids has the right blood.” Brilliant. Seems like a great way to empower a real-life Joffrey, a Caligula.

I took this class within the past couple of years where we talked about utopias. Pretty interesting. I came away thinking that we should let experts in certain fields oversee those areas in which they’re experts. Sounds crazy, right? But we wouldn’t elect them. They’d just be chosen by lottery every 5–10 years. That would help limit partisan influence and special interests. Of course, that’s not a democracy or even a republic anymore. And I think these days especially, when people are still persuaded by claims of “elitism,” that this is a tough sell. How come, though? You want an “elite” to fly your plane, right? You want an “elite” to design your bridge, or building, or rocket, or car, don’t you? Maybe you want an “outsider” pilot or brain surgeon who never went to school who’s going to let some rolled bones or the position of a star cluster decide how a flight or operation will turn out. Sounds … less than ideal to me.

So, clearly we’re a ways off from the kind of technocracy I’d like to see. The next best thing does seem to me to be direct democracy. The “wisdom of crowds” seems generally pretty good. Consider that 89% of people in this country favor expanding solar energy.* This suggests to me that, if the U.S. weren’t an oligarchy ruled by fossil fuel companies (oiligarchy? coaligarchy?), we wouldn’t be a top contributor to the burning planet.

Abortion: 69% of people in the U.S. oppose overturning Roe v. Wade* while 79% think that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.* What about immigrants? Don’t they steal our jobs and murder/rape everyone? Well, 62% of people in the U.S. (correctly) think that immigrants (of which we are all descended) make the country stronger.* How about gay marriage? Isn’t it a sin in the Bible? Well, no. Like dinosaurs, airplanes, DNA, the Internet, canned food, rock and roll, and zippers, gay marriage isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Maybe people in the U.S. recognize this or just don’t care, as 67% of us think that marriages between gay people are valid.* Well done again, majority.

Yes, a majority (54%) in this country does favor the death penalty, but that support has been pretty steadily declining for years,* along with the country’s crime rate. Which kinda suggests that the death penalty may not be necessary as a crime deterrent. Why people think that it’s necessary may largely be based on misperception, though. Consider that more than two-thirds of people in the country routinely and erroneously report that crime rates have risen in recent years.

Doesn’t that show the weakness of the majority, though? Doesn’t it show how we can let our mass misperceptions influence how we govern? Well, yeah. But, the solution is to look to those dastardly “elites” again rather than to anecdotes. I think that local news is incredibly valuable, but it doesn’t always do the best job of highlighting trends such as the country’s declining crime rate.

So, I’d suggest that, since we probably won’t be randomly assigning experts to run various facets of our government, we should at least elect representatives whose views agree with those of the experts. I’d argue that each major quality of life gain that we’ve seen as a species has started with such a group of experts, of “elites,” questioning the status quo or simply being curious enough to pursue unanswered questions. I think of contributions such as electricity, germ theory, agronomy, contraception, vaccines, sanitation, computer science, and evidence-based medicine.

(Incidentally, who gives sight to the blind today? That would be optometrists and ophthalmologists. Who allows people to walk or run who’ve lost one or both legs? That would be physiatrists and prosthetists. Who cures leprosy? Your local medical professional with an appropriate antibiotics regimen. Who lets the deaf hear? Otolaryngologists. Who will bring you back to life when you flatline? Probably an EMT with a defibrillator. Those were all considered miracles 2,000 years ago, even 200 years ago.*)

Expecting any one person — hereditary, elected, or appointed monarch — to know enough to effectively rule a whole country seems pretty unrealistic to me. So, why not look to our experts when we can?

One might almost say that our various “elites” have been wielding the tools of science like a dragon’s fiery breath to cut through the darkness of superstition and magical thinking that has plagued humans for most of our existence.

Or maybe more like a solar-powered, LED flashlight, because, although less cool than dragons, they do actually exist.

Public Opinion Regarding Trump Border Wall

“59% of voters oppose building President Trump’s long-promised wall along the southern border, and only 37% support the measure, according to the Quinnipiac poll.”*


“79% of Americans expect that if a wall is built along the border, the U.S. will ultimately pay for it. Just 14% expect Mexico will pay, as Mr. Trump has claimed. 60% of Republicans, and 91% of Democrats, think the U.S. will pay for the wall if it is built.”*


“The majority of Americans (57%) oppose expanding the construction of walls along the nation’s Southern border, a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration-related policies.”
“83% approve of allowing DACA immigrants to become citizens.”*


“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”
—Trump to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, December 11th, 2018*

The US Southern Border Immigrant “Crisis”

I thought it might be useful to have a visualization of the terrifying undocumented immigrant crisis we’re currently facing, so I made the following chart.

The little blue sliver at the bottom represents the number of undocumented immigrants in the country from 1969 to 2016.

Source

Well, so what? Even a small number of people can really hurt the country, right? So, here’s a study about whether undocumented people increase rates of violent crime:

“[W]e combine newly developed estimates of the unauthorized population with multiple data sources to capture the criminal, socioeconomic, and demographic context of all 50 states and Washington, DC, from 1990 to 2014 to provide the first longitudinal analysis of the macro‐level relationship between undocumented immigration and violence. The results from fixed‐effects regression models reveal that undocumented immigration does not increase violence. Rather, the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative….”

Source

Save a Life; Take a Life?

I always like these stories from The Dodo about sickly animals being nursed back to health by kindly people. As I watch this video, though, I wonder how much meat this person is feeding the dog. My thinking is that it doesn’t make much sense to save one animal if it means that other animals have to die in order to feed it.

How much meat do dogs and cats in the US consume?

If the ~163 million dogs and cats in the US comprised their own country, that country would rank fifth in global meat consumption, behind only Russia, Brazil, the US, and China. Dogs and cats consume 1/4 of the total calories derived from animals in the US.*

But, won’t dogs and cats get very sick if they don’t eat meat regularly?

There have been a handful of studies conducted over the past ~15 years regarding the health of companion dogs and cats fed vegan or vegetarian diets. Although you can find plenty of information from reliable sources around the web about cats being obligate carnivores, every study surveyed has found actual and reported health of dogs and cats fed a wide range of vegan or vegetarian diets to be comparable to the health of pets fed traditional diets. Like humans, dogs and cats probably do not need to eat meat to survive and thrive. (However, cat owners who choose to feed their cats vegan/vegetarian diets may want to monitor the pH of their cats’ urine as some cats may develop health issues on meatless diets.)*

I let my cat go outside freely to exercise its feline extincts. What about me?

While this may be good for the cat in some ways, it’s very harmful to birds and small mammals. Owned cats in the US kill ~765 million birds a year and ~1.38 billion mammals per year.*

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.  Continue reading Crystal Cordell on Authoritarian Populism

Decision Tree

For anyone who does not yet have a Christmas tree, I have made a chart to help you decide what kind of tree to get. In four cases, I ranked the top two choices. Here‘s a link I found while creating this chart which shows where to recycle trees in Arizona.

Sources: 
Plastic decomposition: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/do-plastics-go-away-when-theyre-ocean-or-great-lakes

Real tree decay time estimate: https://northernwoodlands.org/knots_and_bolts/tree-falls-in-a-forest

Average cost: https://earth911.com/home-garden/real-vs-artificial-christmas-trees/

Life cycle impact analysis: https://www.sightline.org/2015/12/21/your-christmas-trees-carbon-footprint/

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