Participating in democracy

I can’t vote. Although I am a permanent resident of the United States, I am not a citizen, which means I do not have the right/privilege of voting. It’s kinda like taxation without representation…

Because I cannot vote I have been feeling like I have no control over what happens today. Given that Illinois is strongly Democratic, it is extremely unlikely that my one vote would change things here. However, the same cannot be said of other places in the country. I will still not be glued to TV/web coverage of the election, though. Partly because of my inability to participate, partly because of my concerns over the two-party system, and partly because I cannot stand the media coverage for the reasons eloquently parodied in this xkcd comic:

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Are religious/conservative states more charitable?

…or as Hemant Mehta puts it, Are Atheists Being Stingy When It Comes to Charity?

Hemant describes data presented on the website of The Chronicle Of Philanthopy

Donors in Southern states, for instance, give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity—both to religious and to secular groups—compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.

But the generosity ranking changes when religion is taken out of the picture. People in the Northeast give the most, providing 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.

Unfortunately, none of the many other charts and analyses presented on The Chronicle Of Philanthropy website split the data by donations to religious vs secular oranisations. Is this an issue? Yes, because donations to churches are not really charitable contributions. Much of that money goes into church coffers rather than getting spent on good causes.

To be fair, churches can be excellent at charitable work, but this isn’t always the case. According to a report by the Council for Secular Humanism, a surprisingly small proportion of church funds is spent on charitable causes:

For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income. Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received). One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries. Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.

Hemant also points out that the analysis of charitable donations by state, which makes “red” states look more charitable than “blue” states, is misleading with religious donations included. The chart looks like this:

I thought it would be interesting to see what this would look like without religious donations included. However, after much searching, I cannot find the detailed data necessary to do this. However, we do know that from the images above what proportion of donations are to religious organizations by region. For example, residents of Illinois give an average 4.2% of their discretionary income to charity. By looking at the maps, we can see that although residents of the midwest give an average 4.3%, they only give 0.9% to secular charities. The proportion of donations that go to secular charities in the midwest is therefore 0.21. We can do the same for all the map regions and multiply the percentages given in each state by the proportion given to secular charities for the region, giving us a rough estimate of donations to secular charities by state. Yes, this is hugely kludgey and assumes that religious/secular donation ratios are the same across states in a region, but it’s all I have to go on. The results look like this:

World + dog united in scorn at Akin

In a rare few hours of unity, the entire world has come together to point at Todd Akin and laugh.

Of course his stupendously offensive, hurtful, misinformed, deranged remarks are not a laughing matter. Mark Turner at Friendly Atheist points out that, in addition to the obvious callous stupidity of the remarks, it is remarkable that Akin only mumbled a not-very-apology rather than immediately resigning:

What concerns me is that he is still in a position to say such things. As I’ve already mentioned, Akin has already made three other sackable offenses this week — how has he not been removed? How has he not been pressured to stepped down? It used to be that politicians were very careful about what they said in public — no doubt some may have shared Akin’s views, but no would dare be so candid. Even the staunchest of Republicans would still carry out the political process with an air of respect for their opponent, their voters, and at the very least themselves.

It seems that the last ten years has seen that system thrown out and replaced by a system which sees people who shouldn’t be running a street corner lemonade stand running for high office.

Turner then notes:

When someone runs for election to any position, they are essentially trying to get a job. They are trying to convince voters that they can do it better than the other guy. Why, then, does it seem that the least suitable people, with the lowest qualifications and the least practical experience, continually get elected.

Voters have to vote for someone, but it is the senior members of the GOP who chose to back Akin with not just logistical and ideological support but hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds. Was there really no one else?

Why is there no chain of command? Who is Akin’s GOP “boss”? Why can he not be thrown out of the Republican party? Some of the answers to these questions are the result of years worth of apathy and mistrust in the political system that seems to have resulted in the Tea Party. Why is no one in the corridors of power within the Republican party leaning on Akin to resign? Hell, why has he not resigned himself out of the utter shame he has brought on himself, his political party, and his state. Politicians in other countries have lost their position for far far less than Akin, usually pressured to resign to senior party leaders.

Hear hear!

Maybe there is some justice, however:

Republican U.S. Congressman Todd Akin is quitting his senate race, according to multiple GOP politicos, including CNN’s Erick Erickson, and Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s former foreign policy spokesperson.

But the matter is not yet settled. Even though the Republican chairman has urged Akin to give up his bid for senator, Akin may not quit:

But Akin insisted he would continue to pursue his Senate bid. Later on Twitter, he vowed to stay in the race and called on supporters to donate to his campaign.

Priebus, however, joined a chorus of Republicans urging Akin to drop out of the running.

“If it was me, and I wouldn’t say anything that dumb as he has, but if it was me, and I had an opportunity to let someone else run to actually give ourselves a better chance of winning, I would step aside,” Priebus said.

According to Missouri election law, Akin has until Tuesday evening to drop out of the race with little difficulty. He can choose to withdraw at a later date, but such an exit would require more paperwork and involve a court order. It would also give Republicans less time to build a campaign for the new nominee against McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP deems vulnerable in this year’s election.

Referring to Akin’s statement as “biologically stupid” and “bizarre,” Priebus on Monday said he’s “hopeful” the congressman hears the numerous calls for his departure from the race.

Fingers crossed…

Republicans are getting more and more insane

***WARNING*** may cause uncontrollable rage and/or despair

This blew my mind:

Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill, justified his opposition to abortion rights even in case of rape with a claim that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses that prevent pregnancy.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

You can check if you like, this isn’t from The Onion. This is a real politician who would like to be a senator. My first thought was that this must some weird mind-manipulation to make Romney and Ryan seem sane. My second one was that Akin thinks this is a serious and reasonable thing to say.

Akin started backpedaling as soon as everyone responded with “WTF?!!!”

In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year. Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.

However, he immediately shoved his foot back into his mouth:

I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action. I also recognize that there are those who, like my opponent, support abortion and I understand I may not have their support in this election.

and then quickly tried to change the topic

But I also believe that this election is about a wide range of very important issues, starting with the economy and the type of country we will be leaving our children and grandchildren. We’ve had 42 straight months of unacceptably high unemployment, trillion-dollar deficits, and Democratic leaders in Washington who are focused on growing government, instead of jobs. That is my primary focus in this campaign and while there are those who want to distract from that, knowing they cannot defend the Democrats’ failed economic record of the last four years, that will continue to be my focus in the months ahead.

Hey! Look over there everyone! The democrats! Jobs! The economy!

Just going to show how crazy Akin is, Romney and Ryan quickly said “we’re not with him”

… the Romney campaign said it does not share Akin’s view, nor will the Romney-Ryan ticket govern in keeping with his belief that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape and incest. Akin himself later tried to back away from the comments.

“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement,” the Romney campaign said in statement. “A Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”

Ryan’s history suggests this is not necessarily true

the rape exemption called for by the Romney campaign would represent a big shift for him. Ryan is among the most socially conservative members of Congress on abortion, favoring a ban even in cases of rape and incest.

Both Akin and Ryan co-sponsored a 2011 bill in Congress that would refine the federal abortion coverage ban exemption for rape to cover only “forcible rape.” That language was dropped under pressure from women’s advocacy groups and Democrats.