Facts, Factoids and Flinders: Questions to Ponder

P1000025Does Voter Turnout Measure the Strength of a Democracy?

Seventy-seven percent of eligible voters went to the polls in New Zealand’s recent nationwide parliamentary election. Australia (where voting is mandatory) had a 93% turnout for their last two elections. Sixty-five percent voted in the United Kingdom’s 2010 general election. The United States’ voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 58%, and for the 2010 off-year congressional election it was 41%. Are we really the world’s best example of a vibrant democracy?

Ideology or Science?

Does political ideology rather than science drive America’s response to climate change? Alan Leshner thinks so. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told The New York Times, “Ideology and intuition sometimes appear to be trumping science. I fear that the pace at which the public understands that the climate is changing–––and puts pressure on the political system––– will be too slow.”

A poll conducted on behalf of The NYT and CBS supports Leshner’s concern. Only 46% of those polled (and 26% of Republicans) believe that global warming is causing a serious impact. The Republican number is important when thinking about potential responses to climate change because they have a good chance of controlling both houses of Congress in 2015-16. Any remedial legislation would have to pass through those who do not believe that a remedy is necessary.

Marxist or Saint?

Helder Camara, the late Archbishop of Brazil, said “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Pope Francis said, “Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamoring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.” Rush Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist.

Are Poor People or Poverty the Problem?

John Boehner of Ohio, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, told the American Enterprise Institute, “People have the idea, ‘I really don’t have to work…I really don’t want to do this…I think I’d rather sit around.’” This sounds like the reincarnation of the 47% theory espoused by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Say it again, Mr. Secretary

Secretary of State John Kerry told participants at the January 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “After a decade defined first and foremost by force, we are entering an era of American diplomatic engagement that is as broad and as deep as any time in history.” Kerry said that the United States’ foreign policy would henceforth be assertive, but non-militarily focused, global engagement. Then the world turned, and we are back to the diplomatic era that emphasized on bombs and missiles.

“Informed” by Fox?

The Farleigh Dickinson Public Mind poll reported “Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.”

Dictator or Strong Leader?

Opposition voices from the American political right label President Obama a dictator when he uses executive orders to implement policies. The same voices proclaim that Vladimir Putin is a strong and forceful leader.

Why Do Democrats Oppose the President’s Nominee for Surgeon General?

Democrats in the Senate held up confirmation for Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General. Why? Not because he is a bad doctor, but because he advocated tougher gun laws, including licensing gun owners and banning assault weapons. In 2012 he tweeted, “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.” The NRA went on the attack and Democratic senators trembled.

Truth or Heresy?

What makes us think we can–––or even should––– impose Jeffersonian democracy on nations that have no governing history other than strong-man dictators; and, in which vast numbers of the electorate are poorly educated and ill-informed? Wouldn’t it be better to assist nations in developing their capacity for inclusive educational opportunities, modern governing practices and economic development; and, to strengthen infrastructure, such as electricity, roads and running water? Such endeavors would take a generation of hard work before true democracy takes root, but it would have a chance to grow and prosper.

Cocksure or Doubt?

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points. This was not always the case. ” Bertrand Russell wrote this in 1933 under the title The Triumph of Stupidity. It still applies today.