Painful progress.

Today’s Edition (Vol 2, No. 70) Painful progress.

          The week has been filled with angst, relief, and renewed disappointment over police shootings of unarmed Black citizens. Despite the tumult and grief, Joe Biden continues the hard work of governing a great nation. Before the weekend, let’s review just a few of the positive developments that never would have happened under the previous president.

1.       Biden renews U.S. leadership in the fight to slow climate change.

Biden led a climate summit of forty world leaders from the East Room of the White House. In a meeting that the Washington Post described as surreal, Biden promised to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of their 2005 levels by the end of this decade. It is an ambitious goal that recognizes the damage inflicted to international trust in the U.S. by the previous president. As explained in Vox, the ambition of Biden’s goal is a deliberate effort to make up for lost time and rebuild trust among nations who felt burned by the prior president’s abrupt withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords:

          [W]hen the US officially exited the Paris climate agreement in November, it became the only country to back out, which was particularly frustrating for countries that joined and came up with targets at the US’s behest. So, the new, more ambitious commitment from the US (following Biden’s reentry into the agreement in January) is an important way to rebuild trust.

See Vox, “Earth day summit: 5 things to know about Biden’s climate change goal for 2030.”

          “Rebuilding trust” by demonstrating leadership—there is a concept that was sorely lacking over the last four years!

2.       Biden manages to engage Republicans in the process of governing.

Biden’s aggressive effort to pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill is popular among Americans—but not among congressional Republicans. Still, it’s hard to oppose spending money to upgrade roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, broadband connectivity, semiconductor manufacturing, renewable energy, and the electrical grid. So, Republicans in Congress have finally engaged in the legislative process by offering a competing bill. Well, it is more of an outline of a draft of the plan for a bill they might release in the future, but that’s better than nothing. It appears that Republicans hoped to offer a “bill” that is so patently inadequate that it would provide a fig-leaf to cover their “No” vote against Biden’s proposed bill. See Talking Points Memo, “Republicans Release Draft Version Of Plan To Vote Against Biden Infrastructure Package.” The $568 billion counter proposal reduces Biden’s plan by nearly 70% by defining “infrastructure” as including only items built with materials used by the Roman Empire. (Note to new readers: That was a joke, which used sarcasm. In fact, the GOP draft defined “infrastructure” as including only items built with materials used by the Mesopotamian Empire.)

          Since the point of the Republican draft was to justify a “No” vote on Biden’s bill, the last thing they expected was for Biden to take their proposal seriously. But the ever-optimistic Biden welcomed the rare sign of life from a moribund GOP. See The Hill, “White House sees GOP proposal as legitimate starting point.” Though the negotiations seem unlikely to succeed, it has been a long time since anything resembling bipartisan negotiations occurred in Washington. We should be grateful for that progress.

3.          Biden reverses prior administration rule that permitted discrimination against transgender people in homeless shelters.

          In an administration filled with gratuitously mean-spirited acts, the decision by the prior administration to allow homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender people seemed particularly mean-spirited. The Biden administration is repealing that order. See WaPo, “Homeless shelters will no longer be allowed to discriminate against transgender people.” The prior administration allowed federally-funded homeless shelters to use the “sex assigned at birth” as a basis for excluding transgender people from single-sex shelters. At a time that GOP-controlled legislatures are prohibiting transition medical treatment for transgender people, the Biden administration’s stand sends an important message to the transgender community.

4.          Congress passes bill to combat rising number of hate crimes against Asian American / Pacific Islander communities.

The previous president described SARS CoV-2 as “the China virus” and the “Kung Flu.” During the period of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of hate crimes against AAPI community ticked up dramatically. See CBS News, “Reports of Asian American hate crimes rose nearly 150% in major U.S. cities last year.” Per CBS, in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by 150%, while overall hate crimes fell by 7%. Senator Mazie Hirono introduced the bill, which passed in the Senate on Thursday. See WaPo, “Asian American hate crime bill passes following Atlanta spa shootings.” The bill expedites reporting and response to hate crimes related to the coronavirus. President Biden is expected to sign the bill next week—something that would have never happened under the previous president.

5.        Russia backs down in Ukraine . . . because of Biden?

While America has been internally focused, Russia has been building its military presence on its border with Ukraine. See The Hill, “Russia says it is ending military buildup at Ukrainian border.” (“Russia said troops would be ordered to return to their bases by May 1.”) Though I don’t know for certain, I suspect that Biden’s tough stance on Russia’s aggressive cyber activities and human rights violations caused Putin to rethink his plans for Ukraine. I would love to hear from knowledgeable readers with diplomatic experience in Eastern Europe.

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          While there are more positive developments than those described above, just looking at those five items makes me feel more confident and hopeful about the direction of our nation under Joe Biden.

 A Note on Scholarly Studies About the Role of Race in Police Shootings.

In the last several weeks, I have received comments from a dozen (or so) readers who argue that available data show that race does not play a role in the use of force by police. As I said to one reader this morning, “Teasing truth from statistics is a difficult task.” I don’t have space to address all of the arguments / statistics that readers have sent to me, but I do want to address two scholarly articles that seem to be the source of many of the statistical arguments in support of the proposition that race does not play a role in use of force by police.

          The first article was published in PNAS, “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings.” The authors later retracted the article and acknowledged an error in their descriptions of their conclusions. See PNAS, “Retraction for Johnson et al., Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings.” Though the article has been retracted, readers continue to cite it as a basis for their belief that race plays no role in police use of force.

          The second article is by Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force | NBER.” Fryer’s methodology has been the subject of widespread and serious criticism. See Jonathan Mummolo: "Estimates of racial bias using police data are wrong if police discriminate in who they stop.

          I admit that both Fryer’s article and Mummolo’s response are beyond my training in statistics, so I will leave it to others to evaluate their methodology. But I do know that the issue of drawing conclusions from limited data is difficult and that using raw data to draw conclusions is an easy path to error.

More organizations focusing of flipping state legislatures.      

         Readers continue to respond to my request for organizations that are focused on flipping state legislatures. I heard from a state representative who was able to flip a seat in the Georgia legislature with the help of Sister District Project. Sister District describes its mission as follows:

          You’ll help Democrats get elected to critical state legislative seats across the country by making phone calls to voters, writing postcards, sending text messages, and raising small dollar donations. And you’ll do it all while having fun with a community of like-minded activists!

          If you live in a solidly blue state, you can help flip a seat in a red state by helping Sister District. Check it out!

Concluding Thoughts.                                              

It has been a difficult week. It started in hope and ended in disappointment and grief. It is difficult to find optimism when it appears that nothing ever changes no matter how much outrage is expressed or how many protesters march in the street. But the appearance that nothing is changing is an illusion. Only a decade ago, many of the incidents that are front-page news today would have remained hidden in cryptic police reports in forgotten filing cabinets. The fact that we know what is happening is painful, but that knowledge is indispensable to accountability and progress. The fact that a polarized Congress can pass a hate crime bill when it can do nothing else is a sign that the scenes of men, women, and children dying in the street are changing us as a nation. Each of us must be an agent of that change.

          The next newsletter will be published Sunday evening for delivery Monday. My Managing Editor and I hope that you have a blessed and peaceful weekend.

          Talk to you on Monday!