Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Smoke Free Indy Peddles Unsupported Health Claims

I was in the breakroom at work when I came across a warning contained in a Smoke Free Indy flier:

Secondhand and Thirdhand smoke is common in multi-unit housing, the toxins of tobacco and nicotine can be left behind in vents, walls and floors. This can lead to serious health issues such as, (sic) lung cancer, heart disease and complications with asthma.  Exposure to smoke and the toxins left behind not only affect the user but also their neighbors as smoke travels through cracks, doorways and vents.

The flier then asks people to share "their experiences and thoughts regarding second-hand and third-hand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing" by taking an anonymous survey.  It is clear that Smoke Free Indy's next target is to outlaw smoking in private apartments.

In participating in the survey, Smoke Free Indy insists you accept as established fact that second and third-hand smoke (what is third-hand smoke?) has terrible health consequences.  But that is a lie. The dangers of secondhand smoking have never been established.

Several years ago, I with co-counsel Mark Small, represented several establishments in an effort to overturn Indianapolis' ban on smoking in bars.   (It should be noted that casinos and cigar bars were inexplicably exempt from the ban despite the supposed dangers being exactly the same.)  In that role, Mark and I became very knowledgeable about the studies done regarding the health effects of secondhand smoke.  

In determining whether something causes health problems, epidemiologists review studies and develop something called a "risk factor" that has a basis of 1.  If a review of the studies indicates a risk factor below 1, that means there is a negative association between thing being studied and health consequences. If it is above 1, that means there is a positive association.  But as epidemiologists will tell you, association is not the same thing as causation.  There may be a number of reasons for a positive association.  To establish causation, epidemiologists require that the risk factor be 1.95 or more.

The risk factor between second-hand smoking and cancer and/or heart disease is about 1.3, a very weak association.  Even that 1.3 level was only accomplished by epidemiologists putting their finger on the scale by omitting from consideration several legitimate second-hand smoke studies that showed a much lower association than 1.3.  One very credible study that was not included even showed a negative association.

For comparison purposes, directly smoking cigarettes carries a risk factor of about 10.  Causation is clearly established.    

Don't get me wrong.  I detest smoking.  It's a nasty habit and I always prefer establishments that choose not to allow it.  But to say my health is threatened by second-hand smoke?  Well, that's just a lie.  Scientific studies have never shown that.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

While Democrats Won Congressional Redistricting, Voters Lost as the Number of Competitive Districts Decline

The website for political junkies, FiveThirtyEight, has an article demonstrating that Democrats won congressional redistricting although Republicans controlled redistricting in far more states:

As the maps stand on March 30 at 5 p.m. Eastern, 175 congressional districts have a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean1 of D+5 or bluer, 181 have a partisan lean of R+5 or redder and 33 are in the “highly competitive” category between D+5 and R+5. 

That’s a net increase of 11 Democratic-leaning seats from the old maps. Meanwhile, the number of Republican-leaning seats has decreased by six, as has the number of highly competitive seats.

Of course, that’s just the partisan lean of the districts. To get a sense for how these changes will affect the race for control of the chamber, you need to factor in which party currently controls each seat (not to mention the national political environment, but put that aside for a moment). Still, Democrats are likely to gain seats from redistricting in 2022 even after you consider that they already hold a lot of those newly blue-leaning seats. By my calculations, redistricting alone should net Democrats about two more seats in the House next year,2 while Republicans are in position to lose around three or four seats on net from the process.3 Of course, the national political environment (which is currently Republican-leaning) will have a much bigger impact on the 2022 midterms than redistricting, so this doesn’t mean Democrats are favored to hold onto the House — but it does mean that redistricting made that task slightly more possible.

We also have a good sense for what the new maps will look like in the four states that have yet to enact them;4 Florida is the only state that might deviate significantly from the old map. If we add their projected partisan breakdowns on top of the numbers we already have, I estimate that we’ll end up with 220-223 districts that are to the right of the nation as a whole and 212-215 districts that are to the left of the nation as a whole. Pretty evenly split!

But the most interesting analysis is FiveThirtyEight's discussion of the tipping point congressional district:

Accordingly, the tipping-point congressional district — the one that theoretically would be the majority-clinching 218th seat for either party — should be historically close. Since 1996, the tipping-point House seat has always had a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of R+2.7 or redder. In recent years, it’s been closer to R+5 — meaning, in theory, Democrats have to win the national aggregate House vote by roughly 5 or more percentage points to win a majority in the House. Depending on how things shake out in the remaining four states, the tipping-point seat could be anywhere from R+1.0 to R+1.9 in 2022.

Note on the chart how the tipping-point seat’s partisan lean lurched rightward in both 2002 and 2012, reflecting Republicans’ gains in redistricting after the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Not only did Democrats break this mini-streak of good redistricting cycles for Republicans, but they also reversed the effects of two pro-GOP redistricting cycles in one fell swoop.

Even in Democrats’ worst-case scenario at this point, the House’s long-standing (we’re talking over 50 years) bias toward Republicans would drastically diminish. That would certainly be historic — but it wouldn’t mean everything is finally hunky-dory with our congressional maps. Some of this increase in balance is thanks to courts striking down Republican gerrymanders in states such as North Carolina, but Democrats achieved this near-parity mostly through gerrymanders of their own in states such as New York and Illinois. The result is an overall national map that looks fair but individual state maps that are anything but.

Indeed. While Democrats won redistricting overall, voters and democracy lost.  Republicans and Democrats focused their redistricting efforts on creating safer districts with more incumbents who will be immune from general election competition.   That means more crazy far right and far left members of Congress and fewer moderates in both parties.  

OOP's short takes:

  • News today is that an Indiana man was killed robbing a bank in California.  Robbing a bank today is an incredibly irrational act.  Most of the money handled by today's banks involves electronic transfers of money.  They keep very little cash on hand. The most prolific bank robber of the 21st Century is Anthony Hathaway, a former Boeing engineer, who stole money to subsidize his heroin addiction.  In robbing 30 banks in one year's time, an incredible rate that exceeds any bank robber that I'm aware of, Hathaway averaged a take of $2,500 per bank.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Is Trump Losing His Influence Over GOP Primary Voters?

Speaking at the Gridiron Dinner on Saturday, New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu mocked former President Donald Trump:

"You know, he’s probably gonna be the next president. No, I’m just kidding. He’s fucking crazy. Are you kidding? Oh, come on.”''

Later, Governor Sununu took another dig at Trump's mental health:

“The press often will ask me if I think Donald Trump is crazy. And, and, I’ll say it this way. This is probably the best way. I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.”

The crowd roared with laughter.   

In a later interview, Sununu tried to soften his comments about Trump by saying that it was just a joke and that Trump would get a big laugh out of it.  Nobody believes either of those things is true.  The "joke" Governor Sununu said is what virtually every elected Republican feels about Trump, but have been too afraid to say out loud due to Trump's dominance of Republican primary voters.   As far as Trump appreciating a good joke at his expense...well, he most famously does not.  Trump is notoriously thin-skinned and insecure.  He certainly does not like to be the butt of a joke.

Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH)

Sununu, who undoubtedly aspires to a future outside the New Hampshire's governor's mansion, no doubt considered the political impact of his mocking the former President.  After all,  the jokes were not made off the cuff...they were part of a prepared presentation.  Sununu's political calculation was that there was an opening, that Trump's cultish hold over his base was weakening.

Indeed, that appears to be the case. Trump has endorsed several candidates going into the 2020 GOP primary.  While most of his anointed candidates will win their primary, several notable ones appear to be struggling.  The most prominent one is former Georgia Senator David Purdue who was induced to put his hat in the ring to oppose Republican Governor Brian Kemp.  Trump has a well-publicized grudge against Governor Kemp who refused to ignore the actual election results (confirmed by multiple recounts) in order to hand the state to Trump.  Kemp is far ahead in the polls and looks likely to have a general election rematch with former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.  Notably, Abrams, like Trump, claims the election was stolen without offering any proof.

In Alabama, Congressman Mo Brooks was endorsed by Trump, but that endorsement failed to gin up much support in the state.  Indeed, after the endorsement, Brooks' numbers fell to the point where he  was running a distant third.  As a result, Trump pulled the endorsement.  

By the way, look for that approach to be replicated in other races.  If an endorsed candidate is running behind, Trump may well pull the endorsement claiming that the candidate is not running on the right issues or is not Trumpian enough.  That way, Trump can avoid taking a loss on his record.  There is the real possibility that will happen in the Georgia Governor's race.

In Idaho, Trump gave his "complete and total endorsement" to Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin who is challenging Governor Brad Little in the GOP primary.  The endorsement appears not to have helped McGeachin as she trails Governor Little badly in the polls.

The 2022 primary season is Trump's revenge tour.  It doesn't appear to be going that well.  It would certainly help if Trump used some of the millions he's raised to support his endorsed candidates. But Trump has a history of not sharing his campaign cash, so that's not likely to happen.

As far as 2024 goes, I still think it's less than 50-50 that Trump runs.  (Though, to fleece his flock as much as possible, Trump will play the role of possible candidate as long as he can.) This weekend, Meet the Press' Chuck Todd had the best two word explanation as to why Trump might choose not run:

"It's work."  

Exactly.  Running to be President of the United States is a lot of work.  I'm not convinced that Trump, who will turn 78 years old in 2024, will want to put in the work to be President again.