Discover more from Revelatur Newsletter
How We Face Down the Republican Threat
And Make this the Country We Really Want To Live In
We continue to sound the alarm that we are in a war with Republicans regardless of our reluctance to call it just that. The two Jan. 6 Congressional hearings held so far, the revelations about Rep. Loudermilk’s January 5 tour, the Proud Boys attack on children, their parents and library staff in San Lorenzo, CA, and the Patriot Front plan to attack Pride Month supporters in Coeur d'Alene, ID this week reinforce the seriousness of the right’s authoritarian intent and ever-increasing willingness to engage in violence.
In response, we continue to advocate strongly for economic boycotts, mobilization of liberals and progressives into existing and new democracy preservation movements, and to stress the value of voting, running for office, and flat wearing out our elected officials with our prescriptions for their action.
But in addition to that, we thought we’d take a more hopeful tack in this newsletter. We point out two sectors of our country that work well, that can be usefully modeled and expanded, and that can be strategically integrated as lines of effort in the developing progressive strategy to achieve the better country that our forebears, ourselves and descendants deserve. The two sectors are science and evidence-based policy, and we include separate pieces on each below.
Why the Right Hates Science, and How That Hatred is Dooming Us All
Science tells the objective truth, thus from the right’s perspective directly attacks faith-based, subjective belief systems, mythologies, and propaganda. Even the basic principles of science, much less their often subtle and complex findings, are well beyond the comprehension of most of the Republican base, and much of the party leadership – thus they fear it as all dullards have feared science since the dawn of civilization. Home schooling, increasingly lax grading and graduation standards, the lack of rigor in science teaching in most American public schools, and the reduction in college enrollment rates have combined to create a situation where hundreds of thousands of Americans died needlessly from Covid-19 because most Republicans lack basic understandings of science and critical thinking, and most liberals don’t know enough to make up the difference.
Here’s Glenn Beck: “global warming is the greatest scam in history.” “I support intelligent design. What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides,” Michelle Bachmann. The late (Cause of Death – Covid-19) Herman Cain: “I don't believe ... global warming is real. Do we have climate change? Yes. Is it a crisis? No. ... Because the science, the real science, doesn't say that we have any major crisis or threat when it comes to climate change.” “I think there is a theory, a theory of evolution, and I don't accept it. ... The creator that I know created us, each and every one of us and created the universe, and the precise time and manner. ... I just don't think we're at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side,” Ron Paul.
And from Chief Scientist Trump: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice,” “NBC News just called it the great freeze—coldest weather in years. Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?”
“Any and all-weather events are used by the GLOBAL WARMING HOAXSTERS to justify higher taxes to save our planet! They don't believe it $$$$!,” Global warming is based on faulty science and manipulated data which is proven by the emails that were leaked,” “I've seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy,” “ Autism rates through the roof—why doesn't the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism. We lose nothing to try.” “Fracking poses ZERO health risks. In fact, it increases our national security by making us energy independent,” “Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people's health. They should be outlawed and allowed only in heavily industrialized areas.” All quotes above from Scientific American, November 1, 2016.
Here are just a few of the impacts of this anti-science bias:
Some recent research that the Supreme Court clearly ignores in its draft overturning of Roe V. Wade precedent: “The Turnaway Study, led by Professor Diana Green Foster, found that: “patients who were able to receive an abortion were more than six times more likely to report aspirational 1-year plans than those who were denied one. They are more likely to have a wanted child later and better able to take care of the children they already have.”
By contrast, if people are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, they are more likely to experience financial hardships. After being denied an abortion, women have three times greater odds of being unemployed than those who had obtained abortions and had four times higher odds of being below the federal poverty level.” Science, 20 May 2022, p. 779.
Interestingly, research has established a correlation between the availability of abortion and the crime rate – as availability goes up – crime rates go down. While there are multiple factors influencing that dynamic, it is clear that society experiences measurably better outcomes from unfettered access to abortion, and clearly Republicans are once again hypocritical on the issue of being “family friendly.”
“The red-blue divide in American politics extends beyond culture and mask-wearing habits, but also to health. Indeed, residents of Democrat-leaning counties are seeing fewer premature deaths than in counties that vote consistently for Republicans.
That's according to new research from Brigham and Women's Hospital, which found specifically that, over the last two decades, a widening gap in mortality rates has been observed between red and blue American counties. While medical experts emphasize that across the board, mortality rates have continued to improve counties that voted for Democrats in presidential elections from 2000 to 2016 saw a faster decline in premature deaths than their Republican-leaning counterparts.
In other words, the "mortality gap" between red and blue counties is growing.
Looking at the 10 most common causes of death, the study published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal found that between 2001 and 2019, the mortality rate gap between Republican- and Democrat-leaning counties saw a 600% increase. Deaths due to heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, unintentional injuries, and suicide have largely driven this gap.
Reflecting on the findings, Dr. Haider Warraich believes that political entrenchment of healthcare access is likely to blame.” Salon, by ERIC SCHANK June 10, 2022, 6:00 AM.
“About 234,000 U.S> deaths from Covid-19 since June 2021 could have been prevented if all eligible adults had received the primary series of vaccinations,” Science Magazine, 29 April 2022 p. 439. This total is on a par with U.S. World War II combat deaths.
“Covid-19 drove down the rate at which U.S. kindergartners received three routine vaccinations; in 47 states, percentages of those receiving the diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis vaccine, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and the varicella vaccine fell below the 95% mark considered necessary to maintain population wide immunity.” Science, Op. cit., 29 April 2022, p 440. What this means is we will at the very least experience an uptick in deaths from these diseases that far outnumbers the miniscule number of adverse effects of receiving the Covid vaccine. We may experience outbreaks of one or more of these that require major, costly international interventions in health wars we thought we had already won.
“2021 marked the highest temperature and likely the lowest oxygen content for the oceans since human records began. Runaway climate change (a more and more likely outcome) would put ocean life on track for a mass extinction rivaling the worst in earth’s history. Polar species are likely to go globally extinct (soonest) as their suitable conditions disappear entirely. Climate change is, in effect, walking species off the ends of the earth.” Science, Op. cit., 29 April 2022, p. 452-453. It will shortly begin doing the same to humans, as highly populated coastal areas (40% of total earth population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast) are becoming increasingly more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“Over the next 65 years, between 25 and 40% of the earth’s biocrusts (microbial mat over soil and sand) will vanish.” Science Magazine, 20 May 2022, p. 787. The thing is, we know how to fix this, we did exactly that to address the 20th Century Dust Bowl problem in the Great Plains. The resolution requires method and discipline, not cost.
“The earth’s trees ability to capture carbon dioxide peaked in the 1990s and has since declined by 1/3. Science, Op. cit., May 20, 2022, p. 790.
“Avian influenza has been identified in 51 bird species, have killed 456 people since 2013, caused $3billion in U.S chickens and turkeys to be killed in 2014, killed 48 bald eagles, is spreading across north America and is not going away anytime soon.” Science, 29 April 2022, Op. cit., p. 441. With the Covid-19 and Ukraine crises, and right-wing shenanigans, this story finds it hard to gain traction, but this is both a meaningful indicator of a larger problem, and a real-world health and livelihood problem for millions worldwide.
“Half of turtle and crocodile species are in danger, 18% of reptile species are threated.” Science, 29 April 2022, Op. cit., p. 440. These may seem like small numbers, but no one is sure what threshold causes a catastrophic cascade that broadens and accelerates such a trend. We are in real danger of a man-made mass extinction event that will eventually render earth uninhabitable – by humans.
The good news: science is not only pointing out the problems but solving them as rapidly as resources and politics allow. For example: the first self-copying mRNA Vaccine for Covid-19 works –it doesn’t need super cold storage, and it can be used in smaller does than currently approved vaccines. Science, Op. cit., 29 April 2022, p. 446.
Through science, we’ve pioneered multiple new methods to develop anti-viral vaccines in record short times, biotechnology and CRISPR technology (developed primarily by scientists) are giving people longer and better lives, we recently pioneered a malaria vaccine suitable for children, and we’ve eliminated or turned scourges into nuisances of countless childhood diseases in less than 100 years.
It is the scientific method – not so much the scientists themselves, that we must thank for these successes. That method – which is a target-centric and recursive process, coupled with rigor and an unflinching willingness to face the truth head on – can be, and should be, utilized in all societal sectors. We are using it to great effect here at Revelatur, where we cast all our forecasts as hypotheses and then endeavor to prove ourselves wrong over time. The scientific method is increasingly finding a home in technology development, innovation efforts, and even at long last in public policy.
Policies that “Work,” Energize Democrats and Demoralize Republicans
Hand washing and masking. Austrian physician Ignaz Semmelweis recommended regular hand washing in 1847, we’re finally doing it almost frequently and thoroughly enough, and this simple act has saved millions of lives since then by reducing the Basic Reproduction Number (R
0) of dozens of pathogens. Same with medical and pandemic masking techniques. Again, method and discipline are much of the answer to reducing the spread of pathogens. Recent modeling confirms that as regards cultural practices, change and improvement are the result of individual conviction and subsequent actions, much more so than top-down directives.
It is true that hand washing and masking have been increased by cultural “nudges,” but whether someone does them is primarily impacted by what they see others around them doing. Marketers have known this for some time now and using it to influence customers. We can purposely adopt those same principles and methods to fix our other problems, such as the receptivity to and spread of disinformation and violence.
Soil conservation, crop rotation, cover crops, integrated pest management, organic farming. These simple concepts are helping save the earth and improving the health and longevity of hundreds of millions of people. Where government encourages and incents these practices they are adopted – it’s that simple. In localities where farmers adopt these methods regardless of government incentives, they work and spread.
401k “Opt Out” Default option. Numerous studies revealed that if people are automatically enrolled in 401K programs as the default option, the percentage of savers is substantially higher, the lifetime savings are exponentially higher and most interestingly, no one even notices – let alone misses -- the money they invest in this manner.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the problems of homelessness and the lack of significant participation in politics and public works.
“During the last decade, Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, has moved more than 25,000 homeless people directly into apartments and houses. The overwhelming majority of them have remained housed after two years. The number of people deemed homeless in the Houston region has been cut by 63 percent since 2011. Even judging by the more modest metrics registered in a 2020 federal report, Houston did more than twice as well as the rest of the country at reducing homelessness over the previous decade. Ten years ago, homeless veterans, one of the categories that the federal government tracks, waited 720 days and had to navigate 76 bureaucratic steps to get from the street into permanent housing with support from social service counselors. Today, a streamlined process means the wait for housing is 32 days.
Houston has gotten this far by teaming with county agencies and persuading scores of local service providers, corporations, and charitable nonprofits — organizations that often bicker and compete with one another — to row in unison. Together, they’ve gone all in on “housing first,” a practice, supported by decades of research, that moves the most vulnerable people straight from the streets into apartments, not into shelters, and without first requiring them to wean themselves off drugs or complete a 12-step program or find God or a job.
There are addiction recovery and religious conversion programs that succeed in getting people off the street. But housing first involves a different logic: When you’re drowning, it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore. You can address your issues once you’re on land. Or not. Either way, you join the wider population of people battling demons behind closed doors.
Half a century ago, America invented modern homelessness.
The stage was set with the shuttering of psychiatric hospitals in the wake of abuse scandals and the introduction of new psychotropic medications. Then cities started offering tax incentives to owners of flop houses, or single-room-occupancy hotels, to convert their properties into market-rate rentals, condos, and co-ops. In New York City alone, units that had housed substance abusers, elderly singles, former inmates and the mentally ill were lost.
During the 1980s, back-to-back recessions, combined with the Reagan administration’s severe federal cutbacks targeting low-income housing and poverty assistance programs, forced more and more Americans — including large numbers of families — into homelessness. At the same time, well-paid manufacturing jobs moved overseas, and steelworkers had to start pushing brooms at McDonald’s. An oil crisis drove up fuel prices, which bumped up rents, as did a new generation of gentrifiers discovering the architectural pleasures of historic neighborhoods.
On top of all that, Reagan-era tax reforms encouraged the construction of high-end, single-family homes but not of affordable multifamily rentals. There were 515,000 multifamily homes built in America in 1985, but just 140,000 built in 1991. As people began competing for fewer and fewer apartments, the affordable housing market turned into a game of musical chairs played by low-income Americans. Someone always lost.
A decade ago, Houston had one of the highest per capita homeless counts in the country. Its homeless response system was in shambles. The city was squandering millions of public dollars and police officers’ time by jailing homeless Houstonians for intoxication. Residents living on the streets, under bridges and along the bayous were using ambulances to get basic medical care because they had no other way to do so.
Thao Costis, who runs a homeless service provider in Houston called SEARCH, said that back then her organization, like many in the city, was trying to do everything: outreach, case management, child services, employment training, paying rent to landlords to house clients. “SEARCH was $1 million in the hole,” Ms. Costis remembers, “and the people who most needed help weren’t getting it.”
Houston started collecting real-time data, as opposed to relying solely on a once-a-year census. At first, the goal was to house 100 homeless veterans in 100 days, and after that was achieved, 300 more in another 100 days. “Then we thought, if we can do that, we can do something really big,” Ms. Parker told me.
The Houston Housing Authority joined the continuum. It agreed that 250 homeless clients a year could jump to the top of the waiting list for vouchers. Since that change, thousands have received vouchers and been housed.”
Scaling and spreading these winning, evidence-based efforts is what elected Democratic officials should be doing. That they are not brings into question their real motives and objectives, as well as their commitment to participative democracy.
Participative Democracy as Answer to Lack of Civic Engagement. “Political participation is at the core of democracies around the world, but its application may vary greatly in terms of quality or type. The most common kind of political participation in all democracies is the electoral process. As citizens, we go to vote, seeking to directly influence the people that are going to be representing us. But participatory democracy is concerned with ensuring that citizens are afforded an opportunity to directly participate, or otherwise be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.
Today, people do want to have a say on public policies. When it comes to the development of spaces in urban areas, for example, people are increasingly advocating greener cities. In Barcelona, citizens have pushed for the democratization of public spaces through the creation of "superblocks", which carve out large car-free areas. They are supporting the implementation of this urban policy through platforms for citizen participation, such as Decidim Barcelona. This kind of local and communal engagement is key to participative democracy, which does not stop at the local level. Systemic issues that affect everyone’s lives, such as climate change, have urged people to push for their voices to be heard on a global scale as well.
Some politicians view participatory democracy as a threat. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Participatory democracy can supplement, if not complement, representative democracy. But in order to make the two coexist, conditions need to be met and a cultural shift must take place in our democratic institutions, one that favors transparency and openness and acknowledges the relevance of public opinion. This remains a major challenge for many democratic institutions and their representatives.
There are numerous success stories of participatory democracy around the world. At the local level, for instance, many cities, such as Paris, have introduced participatory budgets, where citizens can vote on how parts of the city’s budget are used. Good examples also exist at the national level. In the United Kingdom, over 30 deliberative democracy processes have been held across the country over the past three years. These have consisted in inviting randomly selected citizens to take part in debates and make recommendations on various topics, ranging from climate change to Covid-19 recovery. Overall, democratic processes and institutions are shifting towards higher citizen engagement and civil society inputs are increasingly being taken into consideration.
Furthermore, it is clear that younger generations crave participation. The Youth for Climate movement is a case in point. Participatory democracy processes can answer this call, enabling generations to have their voices be heard. People want to participate, it’s now a matter of helping them find spaces where they can do so.
What are the ways and tools available to instill democracy and trust-building?
Participatory democracy needs to be entrenched in representative institutions. Concretely for Parliaments, that means creating spaces for citizens and civil society organizations to voice their opinions. This can be achieved by engaging people through communication channels that consider the questions of "who to bring in", "for what purpose" and "at what level". For example, the UK House of Commons is currently organizing an inquiry on the UK preparations for COP26 in Glasgow. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has collected inputs from citizens, civil society organizations, business associations, academia, etc., over a period of several months, in order to deliver a report that holds the government to account.
Representation and demographic inclusion remain a particular challenge for participatory democracy. How many people do you need to consider for the participation of citizens to be sufficiently representative? Who participates in these processes?
This brings forward the question of equal access, because not everyone has the ability to understand the political processes and legal technicalities when no effort is made to explain these to the citizens. This has a two-fold implication: firstly, it means that people should be given the tools to understand the content of the debates; secondly, it means that each stage of the decision-making process has to be fully transparent. On both of these issues, civil society can be an effective conduit to gathering citizens’ views and feeding them back to the decision-making process.
Similarly, information and communication technologies have been very helpful in facilitating citizen engagement. Many new tools have been developed around the world, mainly by civic tech organizations. However, although new technologies have created new opportunities, especially for the youth, it is important to keep in mind that these tools do not work in the same way for everyone. Technology should therefore not be considered as the only way of engaging citizens, but rather as one of many great options in the large toolbox.
The pandemic has really tested a lot of governance systems around the world. Emergency measures were put into place in strong and stable democracies in a way that was unthinkable just two years ago, with little to no public scrutiny, in some cases without time restrictions, and without a test of proportionality or necessity. Ultimately that has really led to a restriction of civic space, a limit on public expression and assembly, both offline and online. These civic spaces are crucial for a healthy democracy, and their restrictions often go hand in hand with the restrictions of political space. The existing trends that tame the two are extremely worrying.
However, throughout the pandemic we’ve seen examples of civic support, demonstrations, and a range of civil society organizations that have stepped up. A guide from Civicus shows countless examples around the world where citizens and civil society organizations have increased their efforts, despite the restrictions imposed upon them. In Chile, for example, street art has been a vital part of the ongoing protests for political and economic change. It recently moved online, with the creation of a virtual protest mural, while protest images were projected onto buildings in the capital, Santiago.
We have also seen how, in some democracies, new spaces have been created for citizens to participate in the post Covid-19 recovery and beyond. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Taiwan has involved citizens in its decision making using digital tools for engagement. The UK city of Bristol established a citizen assembly to discuss and make concrete recommendations on the recovery. In France, some Members of Parliament developed a national platform to gather citizens' ideas.
These three very different examples show us that participatory democracy will not end with Covid-19, even if the pandemic has put a strain on it, as it has certainly been more difficult to engage citizens beyond the online spaces. Going forward, participatory democracy will need to continue to involve more citizens, especially those who are more apathetic to the political debate. It will also need to find innovative ways to target citizens' engagement on issues they care about, while leaving the door open for everyone to participate.” Institute Montaigne, Participatory Democracy: The Importance of Having a Say When times are Hard, 8 June 2021.
Bottom line: we agree with Dr. Bjarne Berg Weg who recently said on his talk at the May 20-22 2022 Cornell University International Systems Thinking Conference: “We need an Epidemic Spreading of better thinking,” talk entitled: Designing Organizational Learning Spaces (OBEYA) using VMCL and DSRP: Bjarne Berg Wig.
Liberals and progressives who are not critical thinkers, who do not understand and apply the scientific method to their work, who do not understand the basics of complexity theory and systems thinking are doing a disservice to the cause. We are fighting an asymmetric war – the right’s foot soldiers don’t need to know this stuff, but we must master it to draw even and eventually prevail. It’s not fair, it’s not going to be fun, and it’s going to take a long time. But we dug ourselves a hole, the right is executing brilliantly on a strategy that animates its people, and we are failing to counterpunch at every opportunity because we simply do not understand the complex battle for survival we’re in. Time is running short.
What you can do now along these lines:
Create a local Participative Democracy effort. Start with your family. We had three generations of ours at last weekend’s “March for Our Lives.” The authors are members of over a dozen democracy preservation organizations. Start or join one.
Join your School Board. Advocate for higher educational standards, increased STEM offerings and requirements, higher teacher standards and salaries.
Subscribe to Science Magazine – it’s expensive, difficult to read, and vital.
Read the book “Complex Adaptive Systems” by John Miller and Scott Page, or “The Model Thinker by Page – tough but accessible reads.
Sign up for Coursera or similar courses in Systems Thinking, Systems Thinking, AI, Machine Learning, Modeling, Data Science, and/or Design.