Aron Ra Resigns as President of Atheist Alliance of America, Focuses on State Senate Run

Aron Ra- State Senate Ad- YouTube

Atheist Activist and Science Communicator Aron Ra. Image: YouTube screen capture.

Aron Ra, the atheist activist and science communicator, has resigned as President of the Atheist Alliance of America, according to an article from his blog. He has decided to move on from the organization to focus on an increasingly busy schedule related to his Texas State Senate run. “So in an effort to minimize distractions, I have resigned as President of Atheist Alliance of America to concentrate on my increasingly busy State Senate Campaign. Yes, I’m really doing this despite how much of a long shot this is,” Ra noted.

He is running as a Democrat in Texas State Senate District 2, whose incumbent, Bob Hall, is a Republican. If Ra wins the Democratic primary in the spring of 2018, he will face a district where a Democrat has not run since 2002. Nevertheless, as an insurgency grows against President Donald Trump and the GOP, he may have an opportunity to stage a spectacular upset.

During his time as Atheist Alliance of America president, he helped to relaunch the Secular Nation podcast (disclosure: co-hosted by yours truly), assisted with the coming relaunch of Secular Nation magazine, and helped rebuild its presence within the growing Atheist movement.

If you are interested in learning more about Aron Ra’s candidacy and ways to support, visit his campaign website, aronra.org.

Where are the Scientists in Congress?

si-capitoldomenight

A few years ago on Real Time with Bill Maher, astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson brought up a very interesting point about the United States Congress. “I wonder what profession all these Senators and Congressmen are? Law, law, law, law, business man, law, law. . . . There are no scientists? Where are the engineers? Where is the rest of life?,” quipped Tyson. The rest of life, indeed. According to a report released last year by the Congressional Research Service, there were only 11 members of Congress (out of 535) that were scientists or engineers; all of them were in the House of Representatives, with the exception of one engineer in the Senate. This is the very definition of disproportionate, seeing as by 2010, one in every 18 jobs in the United States was in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM). By 2018, it is projected to be nearly one in five. If our congressional representation kept a parity with the private sector, there should be 30 scientists, rather than merely 11. By 2018, it should be closer to 91.

This is a sad state of affairs, something that should have changed years ago. However, with the election of one of the most unqualified, anti-science administrations in history, scientists are beginning to get political. As a recent piece in the New York Times noted, scientists are now beginning to organize and even run for office, namely UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen. Within the growing secular movement, activist and science communicator Aron Ra is running for the Texas State Senate. This is all culminating in a national March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Thousands of scientists, engineers, and all-around rationalists from across the country are getting organized to take on the anti-science, anti-reason impulses of our body politic. But it doesn’t end there.

The March for Science should be the starting point of an even larger movement to reshape Congress. Our Congress needs to be more aligned with the growing body of knowledge about the harmful effects of climate change, the wrong-headed hysteria over GMO foods and vaccines, as well as a larger commitment to critical thinking. We need to have organizations and activist resources that help us find, groom, canvass for, and finally elect science-oriented reformers to Congress. So much of the rancor and divisiveness plaguing our politics is rooted in a partisan view of the truth. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” An objective, non-partisan view of facts and science should come back to our politics. Liberals, conservatives, and independents should more than happily disagree about specific actions we take on the issues, but if we can’t even agree on what the issues are, we can never really change them. Electing science-minded members to Congress will go a long way to fix many such ills we face in our country and the world.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

trump_machado-jpg_1718483346I was recently browsing one of my favorite bookstores when a realization hit me—again. I was in the presidential book section, gleaning over the latest titles they had shelved. Among the biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, I spotted a couple of books both by and about Donald J. Trump. I thought to myself, “wow, that’s rather odd. Did someone misplace these books? Surely they don’t belong here.” And then it happened; the stark truth hit me in the face like a cold, unwelcome breeze. Those books did belong there, because he will be the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump’s election to the White House is a reality I still haven’t gotten used to. With each passing day it feels like a bad nightmare coming apart at the seams. This incoming administration is getting dangerously close to being not only one of the most plutocratic but also one of the most ignorant. His cabinet picks are akin to a rogue’s gallery of villains, each with their own disastrous idiosyncrasies. First, there’s Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General. His own antipathy towards civil rights during the 1960s made him too toxic for a federal judgeship in the 1980s. Also, he’s a climate change “skeptic,” which is a theme we will come back to.

Next, there’s Betsy DeVos, the prospective Secretary of Education. A billionaire and school choice advocate, DeVos has been a champion of voucher programs and charter schools, which have been shown in initial studies to be either below or barely on par with public schools on basic reading or math. She’s also never been educated in the public schools, sent her children to public schools, or served as a public schools administrator. On top of all of this, vouchers have been consistently used to fund religious and parochial schools, which are often at odds with a proper understanding of evolution, climate change, or reproductive health. If you are someone who values public education as I do, having attended them my whole life, this is a terrible choice.

Trump’s potential cabinet is also filled with climate “skeptics” who seek to undermine the international community’s efforts to combat climate change. Scott Pruitt, the man he’s chosen to run the EPA, was described by Rolling Stone’s Tessa Stuart as a “climate denier who fought the expansion of the Clean Water Act and formed a secretive alliance with energy corporations to fight air-pollution regulations. . . .” His pick for Interior, Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, also doubts the science of climate change, saying that, “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” Finally, there’s Rick Perry, his choice for Secretary of Energy, who’s called climate change a “contrived, phony mess.” As a coincidental aside, Perry also currently serves on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. So much for trying to take climate change seriously.

The most outlandish pick he’s made since becoming president-elect is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, who backed out of becoming HHS secretary because he thought he was unqualified, is now more than happy to take a job he has even less qualifications for. How does being one of the best brain surgeons in the world prepare you to lead a multi-faceted government bureaucracy dedicated to fair housing and urban planning? I guess being a critic of desegregating housing practices, standing against government programs for those he simply calls the “needy,” and having a friend who helped orchestrate successful real estate deals before his conviction for fraud in 2007.

Then there’s the vice president-elect, Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence supported its controversial version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which harmed its business reputation as well as harmed the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. He also supported a law that required miscarriages and abortions to be given cremation or burial. To be fair, the law never mandated the parents be present or choose which method, and it was deemed unconstitutional, but the fact that he supported it is still pretty egregious. And, as the icing on this fundamentalist cake, he gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of intelligent design in the classrooms. (Check out AAA President AronRa’s YouTube video, PWNing Pence, which refutes the former representative’s ideas on intelligent design and evolution.) Yet, I haven’t even given you the half of it.

So Trump’s cabinet picks and his vp-elect are only the initial soundings of things to come, but they have nonetheless shocked most of the scientific, atheist, and freethought communities. His choices have shown a complete lack of regard for science, the separation of religion and government, and plain common sense. As I reflect back on that day in the bookstore, I keep saying to myself, “One of these things is not like the other.” Trump certainly isn’t like most of the others leaders we’ve had. While there have been presidential failures like James Buchanan and Warren Harding, Trump feels like he belongs in a class of his own. As such, his choices for some of the nation’s most important jobs demonstrate that he has no idea what it means to be reasonable, ethical, or presidential.