The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 05 Jul 2022 14:14:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What are bail funds? Two social policy experts explain Wed, 06 Jul 2022 04:02:43 +0000 By Cynthia A. Golembeski, The New School; and Matthew Bakko, University of Michigan |

When someone charged with a crime is eligible for release but cannot afford cash bail, they typically will remain in jail until they are sentenced or released – unless someone makes a payment on their behalf.

One option is to enlist the help of a private bail bondsman to pay the court the cash used as a guarantee that a defendant will return for a hearing. But bail bondsmen charge steep fees, and many engage in abusive, or even criminal, practices.

Bail funds, which pool money from donors to pay bail for people who can’t afford it, are a better option.

These funds can be relatively large. The Minnesota Freedom Fund received over US$30 million in donations from over 900,000 donors in a four-day period to bail out protesters responding to George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Others are much smaller and operate through crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe. Individual donations also range widely: Gifts to The Bail Project, for example, range from a few dollars to millions.

We, two social scientists, are describing what are sometimes called “community bail funds.” More than 90 of these nonprofits are affiliated with the National Bail Fund Network, which operate as part of a broader strategy to end pretrial detention.

Bail is only meant as a guarantee that an accused person will show up in court. Most of the money, aside from court fees, is typically repaid once all conditions are met. That means these funds get back the bulk of what they spend to bail people out of jail, and the same money can then cover someone else’s bail. Bail funds, that is, recycle most of their donations after paying potential court fees.

Bail funds often are local and may specialize in helping a specific community, as is the case with the LGBTQ Freedom Fund, Black Lives Matter Oklahoma, Repro Legal Defense Fund, Midwest Immigration Bond Fund and the National Sex Worker Bail Fund. The National Black Mamas Bailout pays the cash bail owed by Black caregivers around Mother’s Day, and several mass bailout initiatives exist for Juneteenth and Father’s Day as well.

The practice of collectively funding the use of money to free loved ones and friends has a long history in the United States that began in the days of slavery. Before the Civil War, Black communities raised funds to purchase the freedom of themselves and their families.

One of the first large bail funds emerged in 1920, when the American Civil Liberties Union established one in response to anti-communist prosecutions known as the “Red Scare.” Other bail funds arose in the following decades, often led by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Why bail funds matter

More than 80% of the over 650,000 people in jail in the U.S. have not been convicted and are presumed innocent but can’t afford bail.

Helping people pay bail is important because it means that they can return home and remain employed or in school. They are also less likely to be pressured to accept a plea deal, in which they plead guilty to a lesser charge to serve less time, whether they committed the alleged offense or not.

The median amount for bail is $10,000. But most people who can’t afford to pay bail are living well below the poverty line – defined by the government as being in a family of four earning less than $27,750 a year.

People of color are more likely than whites to be arrested, unable to afford bail and charged higher bail and fee amounts. They are also more likely to receive biased bail decisions, and more likely to be held on bail, spend time in jail and end up incarcerated.

Bail funds can help alleviate these problems, but resolving these serious challenges will require deep reforms throughout the U.S. criminal legal system.The Conversation

Cynthia A. Golembeski, PhD Candidate in Urban and Social Policy, The New School and Matthew Bakko, PhD Candidate in Social Work and Sociology, University of Michigan

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As Biden sends more Troops to Eastern Europe, how do US Commitments now Compare to those of the Cold War? Tue, 05 Jul 2022 04:04:45 +0000 By Christoph Bluth, University of Bradford | –

(The Conversation) – US president Joe Biden is beefing up the US military presence in eastern Europe as a reaction to the Ukraine war. Biden plans to redeploy troops from Germany to Poland and Romania and send more destroyers to strengthen Nato’s naval presence on its southern flank in the coming months, he told the Nato summit on June 29 2022.

The US will establish a permanent headquarters of the US 5th Army Corps in Poland, acting as a forward command post and army garrison headquarters. There will be an additional brigade stationed in Romania to enhance Nato forces across the eastern flank, alongside other manoeuvrable US army units. The US will also increase deployments of special operations forces, armoured vehicles, aviation and air defence to strengthen the security of the region.

The emphasis is on combined operations with other Nato allies, using forces that have enhanced flexibility and combat readiness. The US will also deploy two additional F-35 fighter bomber squadrons to the UK and two additional destroyers at Rota naval base in Spain.

A significant element in Biden’s statement was the clear commitment to defend “every inch” of Nato territory.

Cold war comparisons

Biden had already approved an increase of 20,000 troops in February 2022. This latest update makes permanent and specified changes to their deployment and to military infrastructure in Europe without increasing numbers further.

The US now has more than 100,000 troops in Europe. This is, however, far less than during the early years of the cold war in the late 1950s, when the US had about 450,000 troops in Europe. For most of the cold war, the number was maintained at about 330,000, while the Soviet Union had about 500,000 troops in East Germany.

During the cold war, the Warsaw Pact (a defence treaty between the Soviet Union and Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania) and Nato maintained high levels of combat-ready troops (900,000 on the Nato side and 1.2 million on the Warsaw Pact side) in case a large-scale war should break out.

Both sides had large tank armies (67,000 on the Warsaw Pact side, 32,000 on the Nato side) with artillery, armoured combat vehicles and aircraft. They also maintained very large munition depots. In addition, the US forces were equipped with more than 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons (compared with about 200 currently).

European defence downgraded

After the dissolution in 1991 of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself, and the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from eastern Europe, the US reduced its European military presence substantially, to about 60,000 troops. This happened as Nato added Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to its membership (they formally became members on March 12 1999), in order to integrate these countries into the western alliance.

In the aftermath of the Nato-Russia Founding Act 1997 and the virtual collapse of Russian non-nuclear military capabilities, the defence of Europe became a less urgent concern. US troops in Europe remained part of a global pattern of deployment to support interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the “war on terror” became the main priority of US global security policy.

From 2018 US president Donald Trump started to withdraw forces overseas, demanding increased commitment by European Nato members in their own defence. In 2018, the number of US troops in Europe dropped to a total of 65,000.

But in June 2021, Nato leaders identified three distinct threats to European security – Russia, China and terrorism – and decided that strategic changes were needed, especially since the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Nato stated: “The Russian Federation’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe. Russia has violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order, and poses the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

One problem has been that, until now, the bulk of Nato forces have not been forward deployed in the Baltic countries and other eastern European member states (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia) where the total number of Nato troops is currently 9,641. In order to effectively defend against a Russian attack, substantial numbers of troops and heavy equipment including artillery and tanks need to be relatively close to the potential frontline.

Nato will substantially increase its rapid reaction force – a multinational force configured to react quickly to any security challenge. Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced in the run-up to the recent summit that this is to be increased from its current 40,000 troops to more than 300,000 troops. It includes plans to deploy a larger number of battle groups (units of about 1,000 soldiers) in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. This means that instead of the “tripwire strategy”, which risked the Baltic states being occupied by Russia before a Nato response could be mounted, Nato is now preparing to defeat any Russian aggression from the outset.

All of these declarations and decisions are designed to send a powerful message of deterrence to Russia – although some European alliance members will face difficulties in meeting these targets before 2025. However, as Russian forces are tied down in Ukraine, there is no indication that Russia has the capacity or willingness to open another front in the foreseeable future.

While the Nato summit sent a strong signal about its commitment to defending the alliance, the hard work of implementing the new concept is only just beginning.The Conversation

Christoph Bluth, Professor of International Relations and Security, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why MCU’s Ms. Marvel matters so much to Muslim, South Asian Fans Mon, 04 Jul 2022 04:02:58 +0000 By Safiyya Hosein, Toronto Metropolitan University | –

(The Conversation) – The Disney+ TV show featuring Ms. Marvel, also known as Kamala Khan — the first Muslim superheroine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), launched June 8 — and the internet has been alight with discussions about the lovable titular character.

The comic book series, Ms. Marvel shot to No. 1 on the comic book charts after its 2014 debut.

The Pakistani American teen Kamala has been one of the most successful characters Marvel unveiled in the past decade, with a large audience reach.

The show has received strong reviews, and Kamala’s representation is a breakthrough — particularly to her South Asian, Muslim and racialized fans.

Unfortunately, the show has also received some racist and sexist backlash in the form of internet “review bombers,” people who spam a show with negative reviews, who are upset with the new identity of Ms. Marvel.

Marvel Entertainment: “Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel | Official Trailer | Disney+”

Regular Pakistani American teen

Kamala, played by Iman Vellani, is a regular Pakistani American Muslim teen who transforms into a superhero. In the comics, this happens after she comes into contact with a mist that induces genetic mutation. In the show, her powers are unlocked after she puts on her grandmother’s bangle.

Viewers can partly credit Ms. Marvel’s success to the comic series’ co-creator and editor, Sana Amanat, a Pakistani American Muslim, and its first writer, G. Willow Wilson, a white American convert to Islam.

Wilson wrote Kamala so beautifully that her struggles appealed to a large audience. As The New Yorker reports, Amanat and Wilson knew that as a breakthrough Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel would face high expectations: “traditional Muslims might want her to be more modest, and secular Muslims might want her to be less so.”

Their work was also unfolding in the charged post-9/11 climate when representations of Muslims, while gaining some nuance, have also reiterated long-standing orientalist stereotypes — and Islamophobes framed debates that questioned the compatibility of Islam with the West.

People dressed up and dancing.
Kamala’s friends Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) and Bruno (Matt Lintz) are seen dancing with her and her Auntie Ruby (Anjali Bhimani) at her brother’s wedding.

South Asian Muslim culture

In both the comic and TV series, Kamala’s representation of Islam is primarily a South Asian one. For instance, Kamala wears a South Asian dupatta, when praying in the mosque. And the inter-generational trauma created by Partition, which led to the creation of the South Asian Muslim state, Pakistan, is a driving force in the plot.

Characters speckle their conversations with phrases and words in Urdu. Episode 1 shows Kamala and her mother shopping for a ceremony that is among the most important events in South Asian backgrounds: a wedding. The event is later shown in Episode 3.

The audience is treated to a fitting of Kamala’s go-to-South Asian wear in this episode, the shawlaar kameeze. In this scene, another major fixture in South Asian culture debuts: The gossiping aunty. South Asian music is also a regular feature on the show, and Marvel has posted links to the soundtracks which include a mix of pop and desi tracks.

Supporting cast: Nani and Red Dagger

I’m looking forward to the plot lines with two South Asian characters — Kamala’s nani (maternal grandmother), played by Samina Ahmed, and the Pakistani male superhero, the Red Dagger, played by Aramis Knight.

Red Dagger currently stars in a webcomic with Ms. Marvel and is important mainly because western popular media has often depicted Muslim men as oppressors of women, not superheroes.

Breaking the tired tropes

I’m excited about Kamala’s screen debut because of what she signifies to her South Asian, Muslim and racialized female fans after a lifetime of seeing sparse or orientalist representations of ourselves.

After watching the first two episodes, journalist Unzela Khan said she feels like her “day-to-day reality (minus the superpowers) was finally being shared accurately and safely with the whole world.”

In an audience study I conducted on the Muslim superhero archetype as part of my doctoral research, participants of many different Muslim backgrounds indicated an eagerness to receive Ms. Marvel.

Respondents expressed relief at seeing Kamala as a unique three-dimensional Muslim superhero in American comics, because she is a break from the relentless terrorist and oppressed women tropes entwined with representations of Islam that have dominated the western popular culture landscape.

They regard her as “relatable” because she connects both to her ancestral culture and American one.

A superhero is seen extending her hand.
Iman Vellani stars as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ ‘Ms. Marvel.’
(Marvel Studios 2022)

The South Asian Muslim participants in particular were excited for her because she not only embodies much of their customs, but because she represents a break from the “Muslim equals Middle Eastern” portrayals. Black Muslim participants voiced this last point as well.

Refuge from stereotypes?

While most participants in my study welcomed Ms. Marvel as a refuge from Islamophobic stereotypes, one stressed that if a Muslim superhero appeared in a story showing something that didn’t reflect Islamic principles, there would be a risk this could negatively affect the Muslim community.

Since the show launched, some Muslim fans were outraged by Episode 3’s revelation that Kamala is a djinn.

According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, a djinn is a Qurʾānic term applied to bodies composed of vapour and flame. Djinns are popularly understood as supernatural beings. The djinn filtered through a western orientalist lens has been a staple of orientalist “genie” depictions.

Many have said that it was a baffling choice to draw on orientalist tropes while making the first Muslim superhero in the MCU a djinn — and that they can’t cosplay as her now. The plot turn of Kamala-as-djinn isn’t in the comics.

Turning point of representation?

In my audience study, a young Indian Muslim woman was excited to see Kamala take over the Ms. Marvel mantle from her blonde and blue-eyed predecessor, Carol Danvers.

She said Kamala would let young, brown and dark-skinned girls know that they too were special after a lifetime of not seeing themselves represented in western popular media.

The Pakistani American Muslim illustrator, Anoosha Syed, recently tweeted about this in response to questions on Kamala’s identity, writing: “Seeing a lot of people online … angrily commenting ‘who is this show even for??’ Hi! Hello! It’s for me!!! ME!!!! A Pakistani Muslim girl who has literally never seen herself represented in media like this before!!”

With the Ms. Marvel series currently clocking in at a 96 per cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I ask whether we are on the cusp of a turning point for Muslim representation in the West — especially for South Asian and Muslim girls.

In the past, some dressed up as the orientalist Disney character, Princess Jasmine, for Halloween. With Ms. Marvel and other superheroines, girls are gaining heroines to choose from.The Conversation

Safiyya Hosein, Part-time lecturer, Communication and Culture, Toronto Metropolitan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The clean energy revolution isn’t just a techno-fix– it’s about capturing hearts and minds Sun, 03 Jul 2022 04:02:23 +0000 By Bjorn Sturmberg, Australian National University; Hedda Ransan-Cooper, Australian National University; Johannes Hendriks, Australian National University; Pierrick Chalaye, Australian National University | –

The Black Summer bushfires devastated parts of the Eurobodalla region in New South Wales. Then earlier this year, the area was hit by floods. As climate change threatens to bring more severe and frequent extreme weather events, how can we help future-proof such communities?

One way is to build electricity systems that can withstand natural disasters. That was the starting point of a three-year project we’re undertaking. The project has just reached a milestone: selecting eight sites where microgrids – small, self-sufficient energy systems – might help boost disaster resilience.

Smart site selection for new technologies is crucial. Too often, projects have been parachuted into communities without enough consideration, leading to poor outcomes for both project operators and residents.

The climate and environmental crises demand innovations in our everyday infrastructures. If these changes are to be accepted and adopted en masse, we must find the right fit between communities and infrastructure. Here, we share what we’ve learnt so far, in the hope other regional communities might benefit.

A model community

Microgrids are small-scale electricity networks that can be used as part of, or separate to, the main electricity grid. They usually involve a range of local electricity sources, and can supply power when communities are cut off from the main network – such as during a storm or fire.

H/t Pixabay

But the form that microgrids should take is unclear and contested. A microgrid could be limited to servicing a handful of essential shops during disasters, or it could power the whole community all year round – protecting it from electricity market volatility as well as disasters.

The Eurobodalla Shire is a picturesque coastal region with a growing population.
During the Black Summer fires, power supplies were lost across large parts region and the outage lasted several days.

Our project is working with Eurobodalla communities to determine if microgrids are right for them. We aim to model using microgrids coupled with renewable energy – including household, commercial and community solar, and small- and medium-scale batteries.

Context is everything

Under the previous federal government, Australia’s approach to emissions reduction was narrow and technology-centred.

The new Labor government – elected on the promise of climate action – has the opportunity to move to a community-based approach. This should ensure any new infrastructure integrates with people’s lives, values, and aspirations.

Such an approach requires proponents and funding bodies (both government and private) to genuinely listen to communities’ needs – right from the early design stage.

If local circumstances are not considered, a trial can be plagued with problems. These include:

Listening to local voices

So how did we decide which communities to work with? One guiding principle was to elevate local voices in the decision-making process.

For the selection of sites we held discussions with organisations including the local electricity network company, a prominent community group focused on sustainability and the Eurobodalla Shire Council.

People at the beach in New South Wales, h/t Pixabay.

Based on our initial discussions and a literature review, we compiled a set of indicators to help identify which communities would most benefit from the resilience boost that microgrids offer. The indicators include:

  • population size, age and income
  • rates of people with disability
  • cultural and ethnic diversity
  • the frequency and duration of past power outages
  • layout of the town and electricity network
  • a community’s visions for its future.

In the case of the Eurobodalla region, we also considered communities’ past experience of traumatic disasters, and subsequent “consultation fatigue” following the many investigations into the Black Summer fires.

While our assessment was project specific, we’ve made our framework freely available here so it might inform future technology trials.

From these indicators, we selected eight communities ranging from small hamlets of less than 100 residents to larger towns with more than 2,000 residents.

All were found to be vulnerable to natural disaster – for example, they may have had high residential occupancy rates (as opposed to holiday lettings), or lots of elderly people and those with disability. These communities also had high rates of rooftop solar installation.

The project team will now speak to residents and businesses in each community about their future energy needs, and whether microgrids might have a role. We’ll ask questions such as:

  • what, if any, microgrid designs appeal to you – ranging from backup power for community shelters to large systems servicing an entire community?

  • what, if any, business models do you support, ranging from current market structures to more active roles for the local council or citizens?

By the end of the project, we hope to have identified which, if any, communities wish to move forward with microgrids. For those that do, our project will provide the initial social research and technical feasibility studies on which to build proposals and potentially apply for federal funding.

Looking to a clean energy future

As the climate emergency worsens, there is too much at stake to adopt the “decide, announce, defend” method of technology roll-out. Community-based approaches will better build the widespread support needed to accelerate climate action.

And the recent energy crisis on east coast showed natural disasters aren’t the only threats to electricity supplies. As the national electricity market grapples with a perfect storm of challenges, technology to help communities become energy self-sufficient makes even more sense.The Conversation

Bjorn Sturmberg, Research Leader, Battery Storage & Grid Integration Program, Australian National University; Hedda Ransan-Cooper, Research Fellow, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University; Johannes Hendriks, Research Fellow in the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, Australian National University, and Pierrick Chalaye, Research Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Climate Crisis: even temporarily overshooting an Extra 3.6°F (2°C) would cause permanent Damage to Earth’s Species Sat, 02 Jul 2022 04:02:14 +0000 By Joanne Bentley, University of Cape Town; Alex Pigot, UCL; Andreas L. S. Meyer, University of Cape Town, and Christopher Trisos, University of Cape Town | –

The history of climate change is one of people slowly coming to terms with the truth. None but a small minority still question whether it’s real and caused by humans. Now most grapple with the reality of trying to slow down catastrophic warming, and the difference between solutions and false hope. The concept of climate overshoot is the next thing we will need to get to grips with.

Unless urgent action is taken, emissions are expected to cause the planet to continue heating rapidly over the next few decades, prompting the global average temperature to overshoot the Paris agreement’s target, which aimed to limit warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C. A period of higher temperatures will occur in the middle of this century as a result. Then, the idea goes, new but yet unproven technologies and techniques for pulling greenhouse gases from the atmosphere will eventually bring temperatures back down to a safer level.

H/t Pixabay.

Until now, scientists were unsure what temporarily overshooting (and then boomeranging back below) the Paris agreement’s temperature target would entail for nature. So, for the first time, we studied the consequences of allowing Earth’s temperature to exceed these precautionary limits, then fall below them again, for marine and land-based life. In other words, we looked at how damaging the journey of overshooting the 2°C temperature target would be, and not just the destination itself.

The results suggest that a temporary overshoot would cause waves of irreversible extinctions and lasting damage to tens of thousands of species. This is what the world can expect if humanity fails to make deep emission cuts this decade, and relies instead on future technologies to remove emissions later.

Harm arrives fast and leaves slowly

Our study modelled the impact of global temperatures exceeding 2°C for around 60 years between 2040 and 2100 on over 30,000 species that live on land and in the sea. We looked at how many of them would be exposed to temperatures that could hinder their reproduction and survival, and how much time they would be exposed to this risk.

A line graph depicting
In this scenario in which the world overshoots the 2°C target, emissions do not peak until 2040.
Meyer et al. (2022), Author provided

Harm would be fast to arrive and slow to disappear for nature, even after temperatures fall again. Just a few years of global temperatures above 2°C could transform the world’s most important ecosystems. Take the Amazon basin, for example. Some species would remain exposed to dangerous conditions long after the global average temperature stabilised – with some remaining exposed as late as 2300. This is because some species, especially those in the tropics, live closer to the limit of heat they can tolerate and so are sensitive to relatively small changes in temperature. And while global average temperatures may return to safer levels eventually, local temperature changes might lag behind.

The consequences of this exposure could be irreversible and include the tropical forest turning into savanna. The world would lose a critical global carbon sink, leaving more planet-warming gases in the atmosphere.

The Coral Triangle in the western Pacific Ocean is one of the most species-rich marine ecosystems and home to many reef-building corals, sea turtles, reef fish and mangrove forests. Our modelling showed that in some communities, all or most of the species would be exposed to dangerous conditions simultaneously for at least a few decades and as much as two centuries. As well as disrupting a source of food for millions of people, disappearing corals and mangroves would remove a natural barrier protecting coastal towns and villages from rising seas and worsening storms.

No way home

The consequences of overshooting 2°C for the survival of species have been neglected by policymakers. Our analysis indicates that it cannot be assumed that life will simply recover once temperatures fall below 2°C again. We found that 3,953 species will have their entire population exposed to temperatures outside the range they evolved in for more than 60 consecutive years. The Philippine porcupine will be exposed for 99 years, and the Mawa clawed frog for an astonishing 157 years. Surviving this length of exposure is a stern challenge for any species.

Relying on carbon dioxide removal and so-called negative emissions technologies to lower greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over several decades is too risky to contemplate. Some of this technology, like carbon capture and storage, hasn’t yet been shown to work at the scale needed. Other techniques have negative effects on nature, such as bioenergy, where trees or crops are grown and then burned to generate electricity. Rolling out vast plantations at the same time as temperatures overshoot the internationally agreed “safe” limit would leave species reeling from a hotter climate and shrinking natural habitat.

Delaying drastic cuts to emissions will mean the world overshooting 2°C is a best-case scenario. This overshoot would come at an astronomical cost to life on Earth that negative emission technologies will not reverse. The effort to stop temperatures rising isn’t an abstract attempt at bending curves on a graph: it’s a fight for a liveable planet.

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Joanne Bentley, Postdoctoral Researcher in Molecular Ecology, African Climate & Development Initiative, University of Cape Town; Alex Pigot, Research Fellow, Genetics, Evolution & Environment Division of Biosciences, UCL; Andreas L. S. Meyer, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Cape Town, and Christopher Trisos, Senior Research Fellow in Climate Change Risks, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The Supreme Court has curtailed EPA’s power to regulate Carbon Pollution – and sent a Warning to other Regulators Fri, 01 Jul 2022 04:10:47 +0000 By Patrick Parenteau, Vermont Law School | –

In a highly anticipated but not unexpected 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 30, 2022, that the Obama adminstration’s Clean Power Plan exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

The ruling doesn’t take away the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, but it makes federal action harder by requiring the agency to show that Congress has charged it to act – in an area where Congress has consistently failed to act.

The Clean Power Plan, the policy at the heart of the ruling, never took effect because the court blocked it in 2016, and the EPA now plans to develop a new policy instead. Nonetheless, the court went out of its way to strike it down in this case and reject the agency’s interpretation of what the Clean Air Act permitted.

h/t Pixabay.

Having said what the EPA cannot do, the court gave no guidance on what the agency can do about this urgent problem. Beyond climate policy, the ruling poses serious questions about how the court will view other regulatory programs.

Remaking the electricity sector

The Clean Power Plan would have set targets for each state to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. Utilities could meet these targets by improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants and by “generation shifting” – producing more power from natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar.

In the EPA’s view, this sectorwide shift to cleaner sources represented the “best system of emission reduction,” a statutory term in the 1970 Clean Air Act. Coal companies and Republican-led states contended that the changes the agency envisioned exceeded its authority.

Chief Justice John Roberts framed the issue as a “major question,” a doctrine that the court has invoked in only a handful of cases. It holds that agencies may not regulate on questions of “vast economic or political significance” without clear directions from Congress.

h/t Pixabay.

In the most prominent example, in 2000 the court invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s attempt to regulate tobacco. The ruling held that this had never been part of the agency’s mission, no law gave the FDA clear authority over tobacco, and Congress had not directed the FDA to take such action.

The major question doctrine builds on a more established but increasingly disfavored principle of administrative law, Chevron deference, which requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. In my view, however, the Supreme Court is using the major question doctrine to take on authority to decide what Congress meant, without regard to the agency’s expert views or policy judgments.

A rebuke to EPA

In one sense, the majority opinion is fairly narrow. As Roberts writes: “[T]he only interpretive question before us, and the only one we answer, is … whether the ‘best system of emission reduction’ identified by EPA
in the Clean Power Plan was within the authority” of section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act.

The majority’s answer was no.

Citing its ruling in a 2014 air pollution case, the court said that the EPA’s interpretation of “best system of emission reduction” amounted to a “claim to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power” representing a “transformative expansion in its regulatory authority.” Essentially, the majority found that the EPA had proposed a sweeping national makeover of the electric power industry.

Roberts characterized section 111 (d) as a “backwater” provision of the Clean Air Act that had never been used to adopt a rule as broad and with such “vast economic and political consequences” as the Clean Power Plan.

Although West Virginia and the others who sued argued that the EPA had no authority to regulate emissions “beyond the fenceline” of individual plants, the Court did not constrain the agency that tightly. Roberts also noted that the EPA’s authority was not limited to plant-specific technological controls. This suggests that the court is leaving the door open for some regulation beyond the fenceline.

In a lengthy and acerbic dissent, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, argued that the text, context, history and purpose of the Clean Air Act, as well as common sense and the scientific imperative of dealing with climate change, supported the EPA’s position. “The Court appoints itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening,” Kagan concluded.

Putting regulators on notice

What can the EPA do now? Its options appear limited. The agency can require existing coal-fired plants to operate more efficiently, but that would extend the plants’ useful lives, with negative effects on nearby communities from pollutants that the plants emit.

Theoretically, the EPA could require every coal-fired power plant to install carbon capture and storage technology. This is the kind of technological control that the agency has long required for air pollution sources. But the costs, especially for retrofitting existing plants, are prohibitive, and utilities would surely challenge the technology as not “adequately demonstrated,” as required by section 111 (d).

Another option would be to require retrofitting coal plants to allow co-firing with natural gas – burning a mix of these fuels, as some plants already do. But relying on natural gas brings its own problems, including methane leaks from wells and pipelines. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and a major driver of short-term climate warming.

Market conditions are shifting electricity production away from coal and toward cleaner, more cost-effective sources like wind and solar. Indeed, the Clean Power Plan’s original goal of reducing the electric power sector’s carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 has already been exceeded. But this transition is not moving as quickly as climate science suggests is necessary to avoid catastrophic impacts from warming.

Broader impacts

Beyond climate policy, I expect this ruling to affect how the EPA and other regulatory agencies interpret laws that have been on the books for many years. Regulators may shy away from advancing policies that the court could view as marked departures from past interpretations and actions with big economic and political consequences.

For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently proposed a new rule to require publicly traded companies to provide more robust disclosure of the financial risks that climate change poses to their balance sheets. The agency is also moving to more vigorously police greenwashing by companies claiming to be committed to a net-zero carbon future.

In my view, it is clear that the U.S. has entered a new era of administrative law, with an activist court asserting its power to curtail what it perceives as the excesses of regulatory agencies – and not always waiting for those agencies to complete their work.The Conversation

Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

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American gun culture is based on frontier mythology – but ignores how common gun restrictions were in the Old West Thu, 30 Jun 2022 04:02:52 +0000 By Pierre M. Atlas, Indiana University | –

In the wake of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings, 70% of Republicans said it is more important to protect gun rights than to control gun violence, while 92% of Democrats and 54% of independents expressed the opposite view. Just weeks after those mass shootings, Republicans and gun rights advocates hailed the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated New York state’s gun permit law and declared that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense.

Mayor Eric Adams, expressing his opposition to the ruling, suggested that the court’s decision would turn New York City into the “Wild West.” Contrary to the imagery of the Wild West, however, many towns in the real Old West had restrictions on the carrying of guns that were, I would suggest, stricter than the one just invalidated by the Supreme Court.

Support for gun rights among Republicans played an important role in determining the contents of the the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first new gun reform bill in three decades. President Joe Biden signed it into law just two days after the Supreme Court’s decision was released. In order to attract Republican support, the new law does not include gun control proposals such as an assault weapons ban, universal background checks or raising the purchasing age to 21 for certain types of rifles. Nevertheless, the bill was denounced by other Republicans in Congress and was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

I have found that for those Americans who see the gun as both symbolizing and guaranteeing individual liberty, gun control laws are perceived as fundamentally un-American and a threat to their freedom. For the most ardent gun rights advocates, gun violenceas horrible as it is – is an acceptable price of that freedom.

My analysis finds that gun culture in the U.S. derives largely from its frontier past and the mythology of the “Wild West,” which romanticizes guns, outlaws, rugged individualism and the inevitability of gun violence. This culture ignores the fact that gun control was widespread and common in the Old West.

A view of Dodge City, Kansas, in 1878 including a sign banning firearms.
It’s a bit hard to read, but the sign to the right of this view of Dodge City, Kansas, from 1878 reads ‘The carrying of firearms strictly prohibited.’
Ben Wittick via Kansas Historical Society

The prevalence of guns

Guns are part of a deep political divide in American society. The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to oppose gun control legislation, and the more likely they are to vote for Republican candidates.

In 2020, 44% of American households reported owning at least one firearm. According to the 2018 international study Small Arms Survey, there were approximately 393 million firearms in civilian hands in the U.S., or 120.5 firearms per 100 people. That number is likely higher now, given increases in gun sales in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Americans have owned guns since colonial times, but American gun culture really took off after the Civil War with the imagery, icons and tales – or mythology – of the lawless frontier and the Wild West. Frontier mythology, which celebrates and exaggerates the amount and significance of gunfights and vigilantism, began with 19th-century Western paintings, popular dime novels and traveling Wild West shows by Buffalo Bill Cody and others. It continues to this day with Western-themed shows on streaming networks such as “Yellowstone” and “Walker.”

A gunfight in the TV show ‘Yellowstone.’

A marketing move

Historian Pamela Haag attributes much of the country’s gun culture to that Western theme. Before the middle of the 19th century, she writes, guns were common in U.S. society, but were unremarkable tools used by a wide range of people in a growing nation.

But then gun manufacturers Colt and Winchester started marketing their firearms by appealing to customers’ sense of adventure and the romance of the frontier. In the mid-19th century, the gun manufacturers began advertising their guns as a way people all around the country could connect with the excitement of the West, with its Indian wars, cattle drives, cowboys and gold and silver boomtowns. Winchester’s slogan was “The Gun That Won the West,” but Haag argues that it was really “the West that won the gun.”

By 1878, this theme was so successful that Colt’s New York City distributor recommended the company market the .44-40 caliber version of its Model 1873 single-action revolver as the “Frontier Six Shooter” to appeal to the public’s growing fascination with the Wild West.

A revolver with a wooden butt
Colt’s Frontier Six Shooter was marketed to take advantage of people’s romantic ideas of the Wild West.

A different reality

Gun ownership was commonplace in the post-Civil War Old West, but actual gunfights were rare. One reason was that, contrary to the mythology, many frontier towns had strict gun laws, especially against carrying concealed weapons.

As UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler puts it, “Guns were widespread on the frontier, but so was gun regulation. … Wild West lawmen took gun control seriously and frequently arrested people who violated their town’s gun control laws.”

Gunsmoke,” the iconic TV show that ran from the 1950s through the 1970s, would have seen far fewer gunfights had its fictional marshal, Matt Dillon, enforced Dodge City’s real laws banning the carrying of any firearms within city limits.

The appeal of this mythology extends to the present day. In August 2021, a Colt Frontier Six Shooter became the world’s most expensive firearm when the auction house Bonhams sold “the gun that killed Billy the Kid” at auction for over $6 million. As a mere antique firearm, that revolver would be worth a few thousand dollars. Its astronomic selling price was due to its Wild West provenance.

The historical reality of the American frontier was more complex and nuanced than its popular mythology. But it’s the mythology that fuels American gun culture today, which rejects the types of laws that were commonplace in the Old West.

A particular view of safety and freedom

Hardcore gun owners, their lobbyists and many members of the Republican Party refuse to allow the thousands of annual gun deaths and the additional thousands of nonfatal shootings to be used as justifications for restricting their rights as law-abiding citizens.

They are willing to accept gun violence as an inevitable side effect of a free and armed but violent society.

Their opposition to new gun reforms as well as the current trends in gun rights legislation – such as permitless carry and the arming of teachers – are but the latest manifestations of American gun culture’s deep roots in frontier mythology.

Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the National Rifle Association, the country’s largest gun rights group, tapped into imagery from frontier mythology and American gun culture following the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. In his call to arm school resource officers and teachers, LaPierre adopted language that could have come from a classic Western film: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

This view of a lone, armed person who can stand up and save the day has persisted ever since, and provides an answer of its own to mass shootings: Guns are not the problem – they’re the solution.The Conversation

Pierre M. Atlas, Senior Lecturer, Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Reenactments of Old West gunfights, like this one at a tourist attraction in Texas in 2014, are part of the mythology underpinning the United States’ gun culture.
Carol M. Highsmith via Library of Congress

Why the Supreme Court’s Football Decision is a Game-Changer on School Prayer Wed, 29 Jun 2022 04:02:51 +0000 Charles J. Russo, University of Dayton | –

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools. At the same time, lower courts have generally forbidden public school employees from openly praying in the workplace, even if no students are involved.

Yet on June 27, 2022, the Supreme Court effectively gave individual employees’ prayer the thumbs up – potentially ushering in more religious activities in public schools.

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District – the Supreme Court’s first case directly addressing the question – the court ruled that a school board in Washington state violated a coach’s rights by not renewing his contract after he ignored district officials’ directive to stop kneeling in silent prayer on the field’s 50-yard line after games. He claimed that the board violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and the Supreme Court’s majority agreed 6-3.

From my perspective as a specialist in education law, the case is noteworthy because the court has now decided that public school employees can pray when supervising students. It also helps close out a Supreme Court term when the current justices’ increasing interest in claims of religious discrimination was on full display, with another “church-state” case decided in religious plaintiffs’ favor just last week. And on June 24, 2022, the court overturned Roe v. Wade. The debate over abortion is often framed in terms of religion, even though the court’s holding focused on other constitutional grounds.

Facts of the case

In 2008, Kennedy, a self-described Christian, worked as head coach of the junior varsity football team and assistant coach of the varsity team at Bremerton High School. He began to kneel on the 50-yard line after games, regardless of the outcome, offering a brief, quiet prayer of thanks.

While Kennedy first prayed alone, eventually most of the players on his team, and then members of opposing squads, joined in. He later added inspirational speeches, causing some parents and school employees to voice concerns that players would feel compelled to participate.

School officials directed Kennedy to stop praying on the field because they feared that his actions could put the board at risk of violating the First Amendment. The government is prohibited from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – language known as the establishment clause, which is often understood as meaning public officials cannot promote particular faiths over others.

In September 2015, school officials notified the coach that he could continue delivering his inspirational speeches after games, but they had to remain secular. Although students could pray, he could not. Even so, a month later, Kennedy resumed his on-field prayers. He had publicized his plans to do so and was joined by players, coaches and parents, while reporters watched.

Bremerton’s school board offered Kennedy accommodations to allow him to pray more privately on the field after the stadium emptied out, which he rejected. At the end of October, officials placed him on paid leave for violating their directive and eventually chose not to renew his one-year contract. Kennedy filed suit in August 2016.

Two complicated clauses

Kennedy raised two major claims: that the school board violated his rights to freedom of speech and also to the free practice of his religion. However, the Ninth Circuit twice rejected these claims because it concluded that when he prayed, he did so as a public employee whose actions could have been viewed as having the board’s approval. Moreover, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the school board that the district had a compelling interest to avoid violating the establishment clause.

During oral arguments at the Supreme Court, though, it was clear that the majority of justices were sympathetic to Kennedy’s claims of religious discrimination and more concerned with his rights to religious freedom than the board’s concern about violating the establishment clause.

Writing for the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that “a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause [does not] require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

One aspect of Kennedy with potentially far-reaching consequences is that it largely repudiates the three major tests the court has long applied in cases involving religion.

The first, Lemon v. Kurtzman, was a 1971 dispute about aid to faith-based schools in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court’s decision required that interactions between the government and religion must pass a three-pronged test in order to avoid violating the establishment clause. First, an action must have a secular legislative purpose. In addition, its principle or primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it cannot result in excessive entanglement between the government and religion. Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the “Lemon test,” it was often unwieldy.

A decade later, in Lynch v. Donnelly – a case about a Christmas display on public property in Rhode Island – the court determined that governmental actions cannot appear to endorse a particular religion.

Finally, in 1992’s Lee v. Weisman, a dispute from Rhode Island about graduation prayer, the court wrote that subjecting students to prayer was a form of coercion.

The Supreme Court has backed away from the Lemon test for years. In 1993, Justice Antonin Scalia caustically described it as “some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, […stalking] our Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”

Kennedy may have put the final nail in Lemon’s coffin, with Gorsuch writing that the court should instead interpret the establishment clause in light of “historical practices and understandings.” He went on to remark that “this Court has long recognized as well that ‘secondary school students are mature enough’” to understand that their schools allowing someone freedom of speech, in order to avoid discrimination, does not mean officials are endorsing that view, let alone forcing students to participate.

Moving forward

In a lengthy dissent almost as long as the opinion of the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, expressed their serious reservations about the outcome. Setting the tone at the outset, Sotomayor chided the court for “paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.”

The dissent echoed some points from the June 21, 2022, dissent in Carson v. Makin, another high-profile case about religion and schools, where Sotomayor criticized the majority for dismantling “the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.”

Kennedy v. Bremerton is unlikely to end disagreements over public employees’ prayer as free speech, or the tension between the free exercise and establishment clauses.

In fact, the case brings to mind the saying to be careful what one wishes for, because one’s wishes may be granted. By leaving the door open to more individual prayer in schools, the court may also open a proverbial can of worms. Will supporters who rallied behind a Christian coach be as open-minded if, or when, other groups whose values differ from their own wish to display their beliefs in public?

Meanwhile, Kennedy has said that he would like his job back – so stay tuned.The Conversation

Charles J. Russo, Joseph Panzer Chair in Education in the School of Education and Health Sciences and Research Professor of Law, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Abortion: The story of Suffering and Death behind Ireland’s Ban and subsequent Legalization Tue, 28 Jun 2022 04:02:54 +0000 By Gretchen E. Ely, University of Tennessee | –

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., the nation may find itself on a path similar to that trodden by the Irish people from 1983 to 2018.

Abortion was first prohibited in Ireland through what was called the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861. That law became part of Irish law when Ireland gained independence from the U.K. in 1922. In the early 1980s, some anti-abortion Catholic activists noticed the liberalization of abortion laws in other Western democracies and worried the same might happen in Ireland.

Various Catholic organizations, including the Irish Catholic Doctors’ Guild, St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society and the St. Thomas More Society, combined to form the Pro Life Amendment Campaign. They began promoting the idea of making Ireland a model anti-abortion nation by enshrining an abortion ban not only in law but in the nation’s constitution.

As a result of that effort, a constitutional referendum passed in 1983, ending a bitter campaign where only 54% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Ireland’s eighth constitutional amendment “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and [gave] due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.”

This religiously motivated anti-abortion measure is similar to religiously oriented anti-abortion laws already on the books in some U.S. states, including Texas, which has a ban after six weeks of pregnancy, and Kentucky, which limits private health insurance coverage of abortion.

What happened over the 35 years after the referendum passed in Ireland was a battle to legalize abortion. It included several court cases, proposed constitutional amendments and intense advocacy, ending in 2018 with another referendum, re-amending the Irish constitution to legalize abortion up to 12 weeks gestation.

Real-life consequences

Even before 1983, people who lived in Ireland who wanted a legal abortion were already traveling to England on what was known as the “abortion trail”, as abortion was also criminalized in Northern Ireland. In the wake of the Eighth Amendment, a 1986 Irish court ruling declared that even abortion counseling was prohibited.

A key test of the abortion law came in 1992. A 14-year-old rape victim, who became pregnant, told a court she was contemplating suicide because of being forced to carry her rapist’s baby. The judge ruled that the threat to her life was not so great as to justify granting permission for an abortion. That ruling barred her from leaving Ireland for nine months, effectively forcing her to carry the pregnancy to term.

On appeal, a higher court ruled that the young woman’s suicidal thoughts were in fact enough of a life threat to justify a legal termination. But before she could have an abortion, she miscarried.

The case prompted attempts to pass three more amendments to Ireland’s constitution. One, declaring that suicidal intentions were not grounds for an abortion, failed. The other two passed, allowing Irish people to travel to get an abortion, and allowing information to be distributed about legal abortion in other countries.

Emergency treatment

Even with these adjustments, the Eighth Amendment sometimes restricted the ability of medical professionals to offer patients life-saving care during a pregnancy-related emergency.

In 2012, Savita Halappanavar, age 31 and 17 weeks pregnant, went to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. Doctors there determined that she was having a miscarriage. However, because the fetus still had a detectable heartbeat, it was protected by the Eighth Amendment. Doctors could not intervene – in legal terms, ending its life – even to save the mother. So she was admitted to the hospital for pain management while awaiting the miscarriage to progress naturally.

Over the course of three days, as her pain increased and signs of infection grew, she and her husband pleaded with hospital officials to terminate the pregnancy because of the health risk. The request was denied because the fetus still had a heartbeat.

By the time the fetal heartbeat could no longer be detected, Halappanavar had developed a massive infection in her uterus, which spread to her blood. After suffering organ failure and four days in intensive care, she died.

This was likely not the only time someone had suffered, or even died, as a result of being denied abortion in Ireland. But the publicity surrounding the case prompted a new wave of activism aimed at repealing the Eighth Amendment. In 2013, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was signed into law, which did not fully repeal the Eighth Amendment but legalized abortions that would protect the mother’s life.

It is estimated that about 170,000 people traveled from Ireland to seek a legal abortion between 1980 and 2018.

In 2018, a referendum repealing the Eighth Amendment passed overwhelmingly by a margin of 66% to 34%. As a result of the repeal, legal abortions are now allowed during the first trimester, with costs covered by the public health service.

A similar situation in the US

As a social work professor who researches reproductive health care, I see many parallels between what happened in Ireland between 1983 and 2018 and the present U.S. situation.

People in the U.S. are already traveling long distances, often to other states, in a manner similar to the Irish abortion trail.

In both the U.S. and Ireland, the people who need help paying for abortions are mostly single people in their 20s who already have an average of two children, according to research I conducted with some abortion funds, which are charitable organizations that help people cover often-unaffordable abortion expenses.

In contrast to the United States, Ireland is moving away from political control over private life. Now that Roe has been reversed and abortion may be illegal in much of the U.S., pregnant people could face forced pregnancy, suffering and even death – as was the case in Ireland prior to 2018.

This is an updated version of an article originally published May 16, 2022.The Conversation

Gretchen E. Ely, Professor of Social Work and Ph.D. Program Director, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.