With our low voter turnout, is America still a democracy?
In Upheaval, Jared Diamond points out the sad facts of American voter turnout.
- In his latest book, Upheaval, Jared Diamond points out that America's voter turnout is the lowest of all prosperous democracies.
- While Australia, Belgium, and Indonesia top at 90 percent voter turnout, America's average is around 60 — and that's only during presidential races.
- Local elections are even lower; the last Los Angeles mayoral race only turned out 20 percent of Angelenos.
In the final installment of his trilogy on the fate of societies, Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis, historian and anthropologist Jared Diamond compares the crises individuals face with those of countries. Although there are obvious differences, Diamond searches for through lines in the recent histories of Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, Australia, and the United States.
While the book ends contemplating the socioeconomic, political, and environmental future of the entire planet, Diamond devotes two chapters to investigating the strengths and weaknesses occurring in his American homeland. While he specifically avoids focusing on Trump — like all administrations, this one is transient — he homes in on one specific phenomenon that helped elect the current president: civic engagement, or really, the lack of it.
After championing and criticizing American values and democracy in Chapter 9, he focuses the following chapter on three big problems: voting, inequality, and investing in the future. Though all three are interrelated at certain junctions, the voting issue is one every American needs to concern themselves with.
Diamond writes that a democracy in which citizens can't or don't vote is not worthy of the name. By those standards, America "is barely half-deserving of being called a democracy." He points to Los Angeles as an example: in 2017, only 20 percent of eligible Angelenos turned out to elect the current mayor. That lack of civic engagement in one of America's largest cities is inexcusable.
Yet the rest of the country isn't much more engaged. Diamond compares America to the rest of the "affluent democracies," using three measures: residents old enough to vote that did vote; the percentage of eligible voters that voted; and the percentage of registered voters that voted. America comes in last every single time.
By the numbers, Australia, where voting is compulsory, turns out 93 percent of the population; Italy sees up to 93 percent turnout; Belgium, 89 percent; Indonesia has fluctuated between 80 and 90 percent since resuming free elections in 1999; and in most European and East Asian democracies, voter turnout ranges between 58 and 80 percent.
Voter turnout | Political participation | US government and civics | Khan Academy
Then there's the U.S., in which 60 percent of eligible voters participate in presidential elections and 40 percent for midterm or congressional races. The highest turnout ever was in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidential vote. A total of 62 percent showed up that year.
Citizens aren't fully to blame, though they do hold a lion's share of responsibility. Voter suppression is real, as is gerrymandering, making residents of some districts feel that their vote is ultimately futile. Another intriguing aspect is registration. Diamond writes,
"But there's another reason why many Americans eligible to vote don't do so: they can't, because they are not registered to vote. That's a distinctive feature of American democracy that calls for explanation."
The explanation is as follows: in most democracies, citizens are automatically registered to vote when they pay their taxes or apply for a driver's license. In Germany, when a citizen turns 18 they receive a postcard informing them of the next election. They've already been entered into the database.
Trying to get an American teenager excited enough to engage in the civic process is another story altogether. Yet if they received such a postcard, chances are they'd be more inclined to take part. Mobilizing Americans has, sadly, long been a laborious project. That's likely why Obama is now devoting his time to just that. If anyone knows how to excite a base, it is him.
Voting is also financial, which is its own problem. As Diamond notes, voter turnout is over 80 percent for Americans who earn more than $150,000 and under 50 percent for those earning less than $20,000. This skews the electorate, with higher earners choosing candidates that benefit them financially, regardless of the cost down the line. Those down the line, whose voices are needed the most for deciding the best interests for all Americans, end up not showing up — or can't, which is why the call for turning Election Day into a national holiday needs to be seriously considered.
Scientist Jared Diamond attends Conservation International's 17th Annual Los Angeles Dinner at Montage Beverly Hills on April 4, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage
Other minor tweaks that should be implemented include same-day voter registration, freeing up citizens to both register and vote simultaneously, and mail-in ballots. I haven't stepped inside a Los Angeles voting booth in five years. I simply receive my ballot, research the races I'm ignorant of, and mail it in before the deadline.
The biggest obstacle to voting might be one many of us are already feeling: burnout. Just as news is now a 24-7 game with every media company fighting for attention, holding office is less about governing and more about fundraising and campaigning. The day after Obama was elected (and again after he was re-elected), Republicans began the election process; the same holds true for Democrats and Trump. As Diamond writes, "No country approaches the U.S. in the expense and uninterrupted operation of our political campaigning."
Diamond notes that a retired senator friend expressed his consternation over the reality of the occupation, saying that he spent 80 percent of his time fundraising and campaigning and only 20 percent governing. That's not what they're elected to do, but that's what's actually being done. The fact that we're a half-year into the process of deciding who will run in another fourteen months is simply ludicrous.
Perhaps we should, as Diamond suggests, take a hint from the UK, where "campaigning is restricted by law to a few weeks before an election, and the amount of money that can be spent for campaign purposes is also restricted by law."
Over $5 billion was spent in three of the last four election cycles, including the 2018 midterms, which proved to be the most expensive congressional cycle ever. We can likely expect another record during the 2020 cycle. If Citizens United was overturned and campaign cycles legislated by law, this insane amount of money could be put to much better use supporting the public these politicians are voted to represent. As it stands. we'll remain, as Diamond suggests, a half-functioning democracy or worse — if we don't show up to vote.
- Democracy Digitized: A 21st Century Plan to Reinvigorate American ... ›
- Can sending a postcard to eligible voters increase turnout? - Big Think ›
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
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