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Marking history in Memphis
February 2, 2023
The funeral service for Tyre Nichols was held in Memphis on Wednesday—a service that reflected the city’s proud but tragic struggle for civil rights for Black Americans. Memphis gave birth to a giant of the civil rights movement, Benjamin Hooks, and witnessed the assassination of its undisputed leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose private funeral service was held in Memphis. It is a sad testament to the history of the civil rights movement in Memphis that funerals of Black men serve as markers of the uneven progress in the struggle for equality and dignity.
Tyre Nichols did not die in a protest seeking equality and civil rights for Black Americans as did Dr. King. He died as he attempted to exercise a civil right that most Americans take for granted—the right to safe passage on a public highway. That right is so fundamental and universally secure for white Americans that it is rarely mentioned. But Vice President Kamala Harris “spoke the truth” about the right denied to Tyre Nichols—the right to be safe on a public street. She said,
This is a family that lost their son and their brother through an act of violence at the hands and the feet of people who had been charged with keeping them safe.
When I think about the courage and the strength of this family, I think it demands that we speak truth. And with this, I will say: This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety.
Was he not also entitled to the right to be safe?
So when we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form: Tyre Nichols should have been safe.
Kamala Harris’s remarks at Tyre Nichols’s funeral made history on several fronts. She is the first sitting vice president to attend the funeral of a Black man killed by police. (No president has ever done so.) And her presence was especially meaningful because, as Vice President, she represents the pinnacle of success for a Black woman in American politics (to date). Her voice at the funeral mattered uniquely, but her message connected the death of Tyre Nichols to the struggle for civil rights that began in earnest in the 1950s.
The funeral of Tyre Nichols occurs at a retrograde moment in the effort to repair the damage from the centuries-long effort to deprive Black Americans of their dignity and equality. The cynical attempt of Ron DeSantis to erase large swaths of Black history in America bore ‘strange fruit’ on Wednesday as the College Board inexplicably surrendered to DeSantis’s objections to a proposed advance placement course on African American Studies. See Talking Points Memo, College Board Strips Down African American Studies Course After DeSantis Loudly Rejects It.
The capitulation by the College Board was cowardly and insulting to Black Americans. But it also undermined the legitimacy of AP courses approved by the College Board. As Ian Millhiser (of Vox) commented,
Why would a college still accept AP credits from a course tailored to support Ron DeSantis’s authoritarian goals?
By surrendering to DeSantis, the College Board has effectively appointed DeSantis as the ultimate arbiter of all advanced placement examinations in America—which serve as a non-trivial portion of the course credit for first-year college students.
DeSantis’s attempt to erase Black history by mandating the removal of topics that make white supremacists “uncomfortable” include Black queer studies and the reparations movement. See The Hill, Here are the key changes the College Board is making to its AP African American studies course. It is particularly offensive that the College Board capitulated on topics related to Black queer studies—a topic that includes the literary and artistic contributions of author Langston Hughes, philosopher Alain Locke, poet Countee Cullen, and blues singer Bessie Smith (to name only a few).
There is a common mechanism of action at work in the killing of Tyre Nichols and the cowardly act of the College Board. Both are premised on the notion that it is acceptable to treat Black Americans as “less than” or “less deserving” of respect than other Americans—which is the lie that gave permission to “God-fearing Christians” to enslave and beat humans because of the color of their skin.
I wish I could write that Tyre Nichols’s funeral represents a turning point in the struggle for equality and civil rights for Black Americans. Whether it will be so remains uncertain and depends on our response to the persistent and pervasive artifacts of slavery and Jim Crow laws that serve as the invisible understructure of race relations in America.
First round of debt limit negotiations.
President Biden and Kevin McCarthy met on Wednesday to discuss the looming crisis over the debt limit. Although the negotiations were closed to the media, the respective comments of the participants suggest that President Biden is negotiating from a position of strength, while Kevin McCarthy is negotiating from weakness. President Biden said,
Show me your budget, I’ll show you mine.
Biden followed that direct challenge to McCarthy with a more detailed statement from the White House National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget, which said,
President Biden will release a budget on March 9. It is essential that Speaker McCarthy likewise commit to releasing a budget, so that the American people can see how House Republicans plan to reduce the deficit — whether through Social Security cuts; cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage; and/or cuts to research, education, and public safety — as well as how much their Budget will add to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, as in their first bill this year.
McCarthy responded to the hardball pressure from the White House by saying, “We had a very good discussion, and we walked out saying we would continue the discussion.” In other words, he’s got nothing.
A new “metadata” study allegedly “settles” debate over effectiveness of masks.
An updated metadata analysis regarding the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of respiratory illness was released on January 30, 2023. The study allegedly concludes that masks make little difference in preventing the spread of respiratory disease. At least, that is the headline on anti-vax / Covid denier websites. Although I would prefer to wait until experts can comment on the study, several worried and confused emails from readers have prompted me to provide my initial reaction. I am not a doctor and do not play one on t.v., so what I say here should be taken with a block of salt.
Before I comment, it is helpful to describe the analytical approach used in the report—a so-called “metadata analysis.” Such analyses do not conduct primary clinical research; rather, they “survey” existing studies and attempt to discern patterns from the aggregate data of those studies.
To state the obvious, if the existing studies used in the metadata survey are poorly designed and show weak correlations, aggregating their data will not make their conclusions any more reliable. (The reverse is true; aggregating well-designed and well-executed studies can increase confidence in their conclusions.)
The updated metadata analysis by the Cochrane Library seems to fall in the category of aggregating data from a bunch of unreliable studies—resulting in a metadata analysis that is limited by the deficiencies of the underlying studies. You don’t have to take my word for that observation; the authors of the study come right out and say it in their “Authors’ Conclusions”:
The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions. . . . There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect.
With such a sweeping and debilitating disclaimer, one wonders why the authors would proceed to report their conclusions given the “bias in trials,” “low adherence to masking,” and “limited confidence” in their estimates. Notwithstanding those limitations, the authors go on to say they can’t find strong evidence to support masking based on the dozens of poorly designed studies they analyzed.
All of which leads me to say that headlines reported by readers that the Cochrane study “settles” the debate by concluding masks are ineffective seems premature. As I said, I am not a doctor (or scientist), so I will wait for experts to comment, especially Katelyn Jetelina, who has a Substack blog under the name, Your Local Epidemiologist.
Election denialism undermined the GOP’s presumptive “red wave” in the 2022 midterms. So, what should be the GOP’s rational response to that real-world focus-group reaction? In a normal world, the GOP would conclude that it should “move on” from baseless claims of “rigged elections.” But this isn’t your grandfather’s GOP. In a new report circulated internally at the Republican National Committee, the GOP plans to “double-down” on claims of election fraud to motivate its base. See WaPo, GOP report shows plan to ramp up focus on disproven election fraud claims.
As Napoleon allegedly said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” The theme of “election fraud” does not seem like a winning platform for Republicans in 2024, but if they want to break their pick on that rock, we should let them do so—as long as they do not enact new laws or change election protocols in response to the non-existent fraud.
But there is good news in the report for Democrats. The report takes the time to criticize the counter-measures adopted by Democrats in the face of GOP claims of fraud. Per WaPo, the GOP report whines that
Democrats over the past decade have built a “permanent infrastructure designed to create strategic advantages in every aspect of election administration.” It cited what it described as Democrats’ focus on election-related litigation to shape law, its voter-registration efforts and its organizational might in organizing vote-by-mail campaigns.
Uh, okay. Tactics such as “voter registration efforts” and “organizing vote-by-mail campaigns” sound like good things, no? I mean, they aren’t illegal and seem like “Campaigning 101.” And as for the Democratic “focus on election-related litigation to shape the law,” that also sounds like Democrats are playing by the rules.
So, Democrats should all take pride in the fact that the GOP believes we are winning by outperforming Republicans in voter registration, turnout, and election litigation. Although meant to serve as a damning indictment by our opponent, the grievances amount to high praise! We should keep up the good work!
Talk to you tomorrow!