All posts by Arizona Humanist

2020 Presidential Race Legislative Scorecard Compilation

“A Joe Biden presidency would be exactly the same as a second term for Donald Trump.” This is something that I have heard from various friends and, of course, from the Internet recently. For one friend, Trump’s various sexual misconduct allegations are exactly equal to reports of unwanted contact from Biden. There was also a Bloomberg quiz where you can guess, unsuccessfully, as to which person said which of a small collection of quotes.

Of course, that is pertinent information, but I think it ignores the significant differences in legislation that would be passed under each presidency and what might also happen to the Supreme Court under each presidency. To get a better picture of the actual impact of each person’s presidency, I have dug into the legislative careers of various presidential candidates.

Why “various”? Why not all of them? Well, obviously, not all of the candidates have a legislative trail. Julián Castro was most recently HUD Secretary and Mayor of San Antanio. Pete Buttigieg is mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Andrew Yang founded the nonprofit Venture for America.

Trump, of course, never held elected office until winning the electoral college in 2016. FiveThirtyEight, a website devoted to quantifying political, sports, and other phenomena, tracks how closely the voting records of congresspeople have aligned with Trump. The most-aligned with Trump by that metric was Jeff Sessions, who voted with Trump 100% of the time before becoming Attorney General. So, it is Sessions who will be used as an (imperfect) proxy for Trump.

I live in Arizona, and so I am especially interested in my own senators. Those two senators currently are Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema. They both became senators (Sinema by election and McSally by appointment) in 2019. Therefore, their House records are used for this comparison.


ACLU

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Current positions of the ACLU include: opposing the death penalty; supporting same-sex marriage and the right of LGBT people to adopt; supporting birth control and abortion rights; eliminating discrimination against women, minorities, and LGBT people; supporting the rights of prisoners and opposing torture; and opposing government preference for religion over non-religion, or for particular faiths over others.


AFL-CIO

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) is the largest federation of unions in the United States. It is made up of fifty-five national and international unions, together representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.


FreedomWorks

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

FreedomWorks is a conservative and libertarian advocacy group based in Washington D.C., United States. FreedomWorks trains volunteers, assists in campaigns, and encourages them to mobilize, interacting with both fellow citizens and their political representatives. It is widely associated with the Tea Party movement.


Human Rights Campaign

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. The organization focuses on protecting and expanding rights for LGBTQ individuals, most notably advocating for marriage equality, anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation, and HIV/AIDS advocacy.


Humane Society

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), based in Washington, D.C., is an American nonprofit organization founded by journalist Fred Myers and Helen Jones, Larry Andrews, and Marcia Glaser in 1954, to address what they saw as animal-related cruelties of national scope, and to resolve animal welfare problems by applying strategies beyond the resources or abilities of local organizations.


League of Conservation Voters

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is an American environmental advocacy group. LCV says that it “advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and elects pro-environment candidates.”


NAACP

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909 as a bi-racial endeavor to advance justice for African Americans by a group including W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington and Moorfield Storey. Its mission in the 21st century is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”


National Education Association

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest labor union and professional interest group in the United States. It represents public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has over 2.9 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.


NRA

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is a gun rights advocacy group based in the United States. Founded in 1871, the group has informed its members about firearm-related legislation since 1934, and it has directly lobbied for and against firearms legislation since 1975.


NumbersUSA

Scores are percentages. The higher the score, the better, according to the organization.

-Click here for enlarged image.
-Click here to see the underlying data/sources.

From Wikipedia:

NumbersUSA is an anti-immigration organization that seeks to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the United States. It advocates for immigration reduction through user-generated fax, email, and direct mail campaigns.

Ten Rather Strong Suggestions

I think it’s good to live by a code, so I decided to formalize one I’ve been trying to adhere to for many years now. Ten seemed like a good number of tenets for a code. However, to make sure my code would not be confused with another famous — and more authoritarian — set of 10 dicta, I tried to make clear right in the title that my code is comprised of “rather strong suggestions” rather than of commandments.

1. Generally try to do what will result in the greatest, longest net well-being.

For example, you could eat chocolate cake for every meal and get blackout drunk every day for the next year. That might be great for this year, but your health will suffer enormously in the long run.

Likewise, a group of revolutionaries in a given society might feel that their political leadership is totally out of touch. The revolutionaries decide to overthrow that oppressive government. This causes a serious conflict with great loss of life. The revolutionaries finally win, but, because of the conflict, no one was paying sufficient attention to agriculture. There is no food, and, without adequate food, the society collapses from famine. The revolutionaries were so focused on the short-term that they neglected the future.


2. Favor what is most likely true over what you wish were true.

An owner of a fossil fuel company might not want to believe that emissions created from the burning of fossil fuels poses a risk to human health. The exec might not want to believe that those emissions contribute to the recent rapid warming of earth’s atmosphere and to ocean acidification. However, not wanting to believe those things does not make them go away.


3. Apply the scientific method whenever possible.

We all know that making abortion illegal reduces the rate and number of abortions, right? Well, that is a reasonable hypothesis, but when we experiment by passing laws restricting abortion in some countries but not others, we find that fertility rate doesn’t change on a country level* and changes only slightly on a state level.* While legal abortions may go down where abortions are more restricted, women instead have unsafe abortions, increasing their likelihood of dying while attaining an unsafe abortion.*

Here’s a handy mnemonic for the scientific method:
On quest (for) hippos, exercise caution.

On – Observe
quest – Question
hippos – Hypothesize
exercise – Experiment
caution. – Conclude


4. Reduce your environmental impact to the greatest degree possible.

To quote the country band Alabama:

Let’s leave some blue up above us
Let’s leave some green on the ground
Let’s save some for tomorrow
Leave it and pass it on down


5. Support effective charities / Vote with your wallet.

  • An organization called GiveWell measures charities on their efficacy.
  • Organizations like your local legislative district are the unsung volunteers that help make our communities more like we want them to be.

6. Don’t hurt or kill any animal, directly or indirectly, unless in self defense.

Exceptions are medical research that passes the requirements of a given institutional review board, independent ethics committee ethical review board, or research ethics board.

I typically think of the work of Pasteur with vaccines and Banting and Best with insulin. In both cases, dogs were used as test subjects. That is not a pleasant thought to me, but I think the research can be justified in the lives of humans and dogs saved.

More on Pasteur
This anecdote comes from a 1902 biography of Pasteur regarding Pasteur’s collaboration with Dr. Pierre Paul Émile Roux. The two worked on avian cholera and anthrax together.

The trephining of that dog had much disturbed Pasteur. He, who was described in certain anti-vivisectionist quarters as a laboratory executioner, had a great horror of inflicting suffering on any animal.

“He could assist without too much effort,” writes M. Roux, “at a simple operation such as a subcutaneous inoculation, and even then, if the animal screamed at all, Pasteur was immediately filled with compassion, and tried to comfort and encourage the victim, in a way which would have seemed ludicrous if it had not been touching.

“The thought of having a dog’s cranium perforated was very disagreeable to him; he very much wished that the experiment should take place, and yet he feared to see it begun. I performed it one day when he was out. The next day, as I was telling him that the intercranial inoculation had presented no difficulty, he began pitying the dog. ‘Poor thing! His brain is no doubt injured, he must be paralysed!’ I did not answer, but went to fetch the dog, whom I brought into the laboratory.

“Pasteur was not fond of dogs, but when he saw this one, full of life, curiously investigating every part of the laboratory, he showed the keenest pleasure, and spoke to the dog in the most affectionate manner. Pasteur was infinitely grateful to this dog for having borne trephining so well, thus lessening his scruples for future trephining.”

 


7. Never steal or lie unless it’s a life or death situation.

You should lie to Nazis about whether you are hiding Anne Frank and her family if you are reasonably certain that you can keep them and your own family alive.

Mostly, though, there’s very seldom a good reason to lie.


8. Learn and contribute to new knowledge constantly.

If you are trying your best to adhere to number three, you could also make your findings public whenever possible.


9. Be conversant in the basics of logic and statistics.

A politician might say, “The 2015 murder of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant is evidence of how dangerous undocumented immigrants are.”

If a politician were to say this, the person would be committing the logical fallacy of hasty generalization. A single example of a crime does not imply epidemic.

Going further, the underlying claim is a statistical one: are undocumented immigrants more likely to commit crimes than the native-born population? The best available evidence suggests that the answer is “no.”


10. Be excellent to each other.

I stole this from the 1989 movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I like that it goes a step further than “do unto others….” Do not just be good to each other; be excellent to each other.

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.