It’s Not Safe To Fool Mother Nature..

Those of us of a “certain age” may recall an old commercial for a margarine brand in which  “Mother Nature” was deceived into thinking the margarine was butter; when she realized she’d been tricked, she responded with a thunderbolt while declaring that it “Isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Evidently, the ad sold a lot of margarine.

It appears, however, that more recent efforts to deny reality have met with a different–and far more lethal–consequence. In a recent commentary, Michael Hicks has reported on a study conducted by three Yale researchers into the effects of politically-motivated disinformation on COVID death rates

Last week three Yale professors published a study of COVID-related deaths in the United States. The data they used matched COVID deaths, voter registration by party and age in two states—Florida and Ohio. One goal of the study was to test whether anti-vaccine or anti-mask campaigns contributed to differences in death rates by political affiliation. Here’s what they found.

Before the pandemic, as one might have expected, death rates between Republicans and Democrats  of the same age and condition but different political affiliation were statistically identical. In other words, political affiliation had no effect on death rates.

But then, denial–first, of COVID’s reality and then of the efficacy of vaccination–became a political marker, a way for MAGA Republicans to claim membership in the tribe and to  “own the libs.”

Slowly, the Republican death rate began to edge higher than the Democrat death rate, again controlling for age differences. In the weeks before the COVID vaccine was made available, a gap emerged, with Republicans of the same age dying at a 22 percent higher rate than Democrats in these two states. That is large, accounting for hundreds of extra dead Republicans. This might have been due to Republicans having been exposed to more anti-mask messaging, leading them to forego more public health recommendations.

However, once the COVID vaccine was introduced, the death rate difference between Republicans and Democrats of the same age ballooned to 153 percent.

Hicks notes that there are several other underlying risks associated with political affiliation, such as gun ownership or lifestyle choices. But as he points out,

those risks didn’t cause death rate differences until COVID came along. It was partisan differences in the consumption of anti-vaccine messaging that killed many, many more Republicans than Democrats….

Nationwide, at least 250,000 Americans died of COVID because they chose not to be vaccinated. More will continue to succumb to the disease. Every last one of these deaths resulted from the rejection of modernity and reason. These were voluntary and senseless deaths attributable to petulant ignorance. The people second-guessing a study about which they have no technical understanding, exhibit the same flawed reasoning as those who rejected the COVID vaccines.

The GOP’s constant attacks on “elites” and higher education have led to a widespread, very partisan rejection of science, expertise and reality. It isn’t limited to suspicion of vaccines–it’s everything from unwillingness to accept the medical complexities implicated in the abortion debates to denial of the reality of climate change. It’s fear of modernity, of a world without bright lines–a world where individuals have to trust that scientists and medical professionals know what they’re doing and are offering sound advice.

As Hicks puts it,

This acceptance of expertise, trust and accumulated knowledge is necessary to sustain our modern world. Yet, we live in a time when social media allows more-skilled charlatans to deceive us. I think those of us who came of age before the dissolution of national media are especially vulnerable to purposeful distortions. That vulnerability killed a quarter million Americans, and it endangers us all in the years ahead.

It isn’t just a pandemic. Today’s GOP stands for nothing more than the intentional embrace of conspiracies, the willingness–even eagerness– to label and blame “the Other” for any and all uncongenial realities, and the substitution of vengefulness for policy. Insane as it seems, the cited study confirms that MAGA Republicans are willing to die in order to “own the libs.”

“Petulant ignorance” might just as well be the MAGA motto.


The World’s Worst Legislature

During his too-brief life, former NUVO editor Harrison Ullmann was best known for his repeated assertion that Indiana had the “world’s worst legislature.” Participants in the current session are once again demonstrating the accuracy of that label–and given the number of other legislative bodies that could plausibly win that title–especially, after yesterday, the United States Senate– awarding it to the Hoosiers in the Indiana Statehouse is really saying something.

The current session has seen a steady stream of bills by sponsors who haven’t even tried to obscure outrageous conflicts of interest: efforts by real estate developers to eliminate environmental protections like wetlands, a bill from a homebuilder/legislator that would disallow local design oversights. (Respecting the environment and following minimum design standards costs money, you know…)

An obscene number of measures take aim at Indianapolis.

I have previously pointed out that municipalities in Indiana have no genuine home rule–that the same lawmakers who bemoan “unfunded mandates” from Washington are perfectly happy to impose ridiculous constraints on Indiana’s cities and towns. It certainly won’t surprise anyone living in Indianapolis that our legislature– dominated by rural interests– has once again aimed its animus at the state’s largest city. But this year, the effort to spit in the face of the state’s economic driver–to punish Indianapolis for being “blue”–has gone into overdrive.

One bill would remove the police department from the control of the mayor and city council. Another would remove the city’s legal authority to provide bus rapid transit. Yet another would prevent the city from regulating the placement of 5G wireless devices.

A truly despicable bill that seems likely to pass is a legislative smackdown of a city ordinance that provided (minimal) extra protections for tenants. That measure, which passed previously, was vetoed by Governor Holcomb; legislators now propose to override that veto.  Indiana  law has historically and unfairly favored landlords; the Indianapolis City-County Council had begun to redress that imbalance.

As Michael Hicks recently wrote in a column for the Howey Report,

These are unusual issues for a state legislature to become involved in, but there’s more. One bill would prevent Indianapolis, or any other city, from changing its name. To be fair, that bill might be targeted at Russiaville, Toad Hop or Slab Town, not Indianapolis. Another would limit the powers of Indianapolis to undertake land-use authority within its city limits… 

This flurry of legislation aimed at the heart of Indiana’s largest municipal government seems to signal that something unseemly is happening in Indianapolis. 

What is “unseemly,” of course, is that Indianapolis is now a reliably Democratic city in a reliably Republican state.

The proposed punitive legislation wouldn’t just affect Marion County. (For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, the city limits have been essentially coterminous with the county’s since the early 1970s.) This is, as Hicks noted, different from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the surrounding counties. Much of the proposed legislation would affect both the City of Indianapolis and the surrounding metropolitan area that depends upon the success of the city.

Hicks also notes that–far from demonstrating “unseemly” governance,  the metrics show that Indianapolis has been far more successful than the rest of the state.

 Indianapolis has been responsible for the lion’s share of state population growth.

Since 2000, the Indy metro area has grown by 35%, the City of Indianapolis by 12%, and the whole rest of the state by 2.1%. The City of Indianapolis saw more population growth this century than the 80 non-Indy metro counties combined. So, whatever concern about crime, zoning or building design residents have about Indy, they are worse everywhere else. 

What about jobs?

Since 2000, the Indianapolis metro region has added some 154,000 jobs. Of those jobs, the City of Indianapolis can account for 18,000 new jobs over the same time period. Here’s the rub; over the same time period, all the rest of Indiana lost a whopping 151,000 jobs. 

Speaking of economic impact, Hicks tells us that, annually, residents of Marion County send a net of more than $500 per person in tax revenues to residents of the rest of the state.

All told, 20 Hoosier counties pay more taxes to the state than they receive in tax revenues from the state. Five of those are in the Indianapolis metro area. So, just to summarize it clearly, Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis region as a whole, are growing leaps and bounds faster than the rest of the state. At the same time, they bear a greater state tax burden, of which a significant share is sent to other counties. They get far less back in tax dollars than they spend.

In the World’s Worst Legislature–coming to citizens courtesy of extreme gerrymandering–resentful representatives of dwindling rural areas are intent upon killing the goose that sends them the golden eggs.