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More than 4 in 5 pregnancy-related deaths are preventable in the US, and mental health is the leading cause

Rachel Diamond, Adler University Preventable failures in U.S. maternal health care result in far too many pregnancy-related deaths. Each year, approximately 700 parents die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. As such, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is more than double that of most other developed countries. The Department of Health and Human Services declared maternal deaths a public health crisis in December 2020. Such calls to action by the U.S. Surgeon General are reserved for only the most serious of public health crises. In October 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data gathered between 2017 and 2019 that further paints an alarming picture of maternal health in the U.S. The report concluded that a staggering 84% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. However, these numbers don’t even reflect how widespread this problem could be. At present, only 39 states have dedicated committees in place to review maternal deaths and determine whether they were preventable; of those, 36 states were included in the latest CDC data. I am a therapist and scholar specializing in mental health during the perinatal period, the time during pregnancy and postpartum. Research has long demonstrated significant mental health risks associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the year following childbirth. The CDC’s report now makes it clear that mental health conditions are an important factor in many of these preventable deaths. A closer look at the numbers The staggering number of preventable maternal deaths – 84% – from the CDC’s most recent report represents a 27% increase from the agency’s previous report, from 2008 to 2017. Of these pregnancy-related deaths, 22% occur during pregnancy, 13% during childbirth and 65% during the year following childbirth. This raises the obvious question: Why are so many preventable pregnancy-related deaths occurring in the U.S., and why is the number rising? For a pregnancy-related death to be categorized as preventable, a maternal mortality review committee must conclude there was some chance the death could have been avoided by at least one reasonable change related to the patient, community, provider, facility or systems of care. The most commonly identified factors in these preventable deaths have been those directly related to the patient or their support networks, followed next by providers and systems of care. While patient factors may be most frequently identified, they are often dependent on providers and systems of care. Take, for instance, the example of a new mother dying by suicide from a mental health condition, such as depression. Patient factors could include her lack of awareness about the warning signs of clinical depression, which she may have mistaken for difficulties with the transition to parenthood and perceived personal failures as a new parent. As is often the case, these factors would have directly related to the inaction of health care providers, such as a failure to screen for mental health concerns, delays in diagnosis and ineffective treatment. This type of breakdown – which is common – would have been made worse by poor coordination of care between providers across the health care system. This example illustrates the complexities of the failures and preventable outcomes in the maternal health care system. https://www.youtube.com/embed/ARNKVrWFDvc?wmode=transparent&start=0 The U.S. has a far higher rate of pregnancy-related deaths than other developed nations. The role of mental health In the CDC’s latest report, mental health conditions are the overall most frequent cause of pregnancy-related death. Approximately 23% of deaths are attributed to suicide, substance use disorder or are otherwise associated with a mental health condition. The next two leading causes are hemorrhage and cardiac conditions, which combined contribute to only slightly more deaths than mental health conditions, at about 14 and 13%, respectively. Research has long shown that 1 in 5 women suffer from mental health conditions during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and that this is also a time of increased risk for suicide. Yet, mental illness – namely, depression – is the most underdiagnosed obstetric complication in America. Despite some promising reductions in U.S. suicide rates in the general population over the last decade, maternal suicide has tripled during this same time period. As it relates to maternal substance use, this issue is also worsening. In recent years, almost all deaths from drug overdose during pregnancy and the postpartum period involved opioids. A review from 2007 to 2016 found that pregnancy-related deaths involving opioids more than doubled. Many of these issues stem from the fact that up to 80% of women with maternal mental health concerns are undiagnosed or untreated. Barriers to care In 2021, the first national data set of its kind showed that less than 20% of prenatal and postpartum patients were screened for depression. Only half of those who screened positive received follow-up care. Research has long demonstrated widespread barriers and gaps in maternal mental health care. Many health care providers do not screen for mental health concerns because they do not know where to refer a patient or how to treat the condition. In addition, only about 40% of new mothers even attend their postpartum visit to have the opportunity for detection. Non-attendance is more common among higher-risk populations of postpartum women, such as those who are socially and economically vulnerable and whose births are covered by Medicaid. Medicaid covers around 4 in 10 births. Through Medicaid benefits, pregnant women are covered for care related to pregnancy, birth and associated complications, but only up to 60 days postpartum. Not until 2021 did the American Rescue Plan Act begin extending Medicaid coverage up to one year postpartum. But as of November 2022, only 27 states have adopted the Medicaid extension. In the other states, new mothers lose postpartum coverage after just 60 days. This matters a great deal because low-income mothers are at a greater risk for postpartum depression, with reported rates as high as 40% to 60%. In addition, the recent CDC report showed that 30% of preventable pregnancy-related deaths happened between 43 and 365 days postpartum – which is also the time frame suicide most commonly occurs. Continued Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured new parents and rates of maternal mortality. Another challenging barrier to addressing maternal mental health is the criminalization of substance use during pregnancy. If seeking care exposes a pregnant person to the possibility of criminal or civil pentalties – including incarceration, involvement with child protective services and the prospect of separation from their baby – it will naturally dissuade them from seeking treatment. At this time, 24 states consider substance use during pregnancy to be child abuse, and 25 states require health care professionals to report suspected prenatal drug use. Likewise, there are also tremendous barriers in the postpartum period for mothers seeking substance use treatment, due in part to the lack of family-centered options. With all these barriers, many pregnant and new mothers may make the difficult decision to not engage in treatment during a critical window for intervention. Looking ahead While the information described above already paints a dire picture, the CDC data was collected prior to two major events: the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall of Roe v. Wade, which overturned nearly 50 years of abortion rights. Both of these events have exacerbated existing cracks in the health care system and, subsequently, worsened the maternal health in the U.S. In my view, without radical changes to maternal health care in the U.S., starting with how mental health is treated throughout pregnancy and postpartum, it’s likely parents will continue to die from causes that could otherwise be prevented. Rachel Diamond, Clinical Training DIrector and Assistant Professor of Couple and Family Therapy, Adler University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jobs are up! Wages are up! So why am I as an economist so gloomy?

1 U.S.A dollar banknotes

Edouard Wemy, Assistant Professor of Economics, Clark University In any other time, the jobs news that came down on Dec. 2, 2022, would be reason for cheer. The U.S. added 263,000 nonfarm jobs in November, leaving the unemployment rate at a low 3.7%. Moreover, wages are up – with average hourly pay jumping 5.1% compared with a year earlier. So why am I not celebrating? Oh, yes: inflation. The rosy employment figures come despite repeated efforts by the Federal Reserve to tame the job market and the wider economy in general in its fight against the worst inflation in decades. The Fed has now increased the base interest rate six times in 2022, going from a historic low of about zero to a range of 3.75% to 4% today. Another hike is expected on Dec. 13. Yet inflation remains stubbornly high, and currently sits at an annual rate of 7.7%. The economic rationale behind hiking rates is that it increases the cost of doing business for companies. This in turn acts as brake on the economy, which should cool inflation. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. A closer dive into November’s jobs report reveals why. It shows that the labor force participation rate – how many working-age Americans have a job or are seeking one – is stuck at just over 62.1%. As the report notes, that figure is “little changed” in November and has shown “little net change since early this year.” In fact, it is down 1.3 percentage points from pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. This suggests that the heating up of the labor market is being driven by supply-side issues. That is, there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs being advertised. Companies still want to hire – as the above-expected job gains indicate. But with fewer people actively looking for work in the U.S., companies are having to go the extra yard to be attractive to job seekers. And that means offering higher wages. And higher wages – they were up 5.1% in November from a year earlier – contribute to spiraling inflation. This puts the Fed in a very difficult position. Simply put, there is not an awful lot it can do about supply-side issues in the labor market. The main monetary tool it has to affect jobs is rate hikes, which make it more costly to do business, which should have an impact on hiring. But that only affects the demand side – that is, employers and recruitment policies. So where does this leave the possibility of further rate hikes? Viewing this as an economist, it suggests that the Fed might be eyeing a base rate jump of more than 75 basis points on Dec. 13, rather than a softening of its policies as Chair Jerome Powell had suggested as recently as Nov. 30. Yes, this still would not ease the labor supply problem that is encouraging wage growth, but it might serve to cool the wider economy nonetheless. The problem is, this would increase the chances of also pushing the U.S. economy into a recession – and it could be a pretty nasty recession. Wage growth still trails behind inflation, and for one reason or another people have been opting out of the labor market. The logical assumption to make is that to make up for both these factors, American families have been dipping into their savings. Statistics back this up. The personal saving rate – that is, the chunk of income left after paying taxes and spending money – has fallen steeply, down to 2.3% in December from 9.3% before the pandemic. In fact, it is at its lowest rate since 2005. So, yes, employment is robust. But the money being earned is eroded by soaring inflation. Meanwhile, the safety net of savings that families might need is getting smaller. In short, people are not prepared for the recession that might be lurking around the corner. And this is why I am gloomy. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More than 4 in 5 pregnancy-related deaths are preventable in the US, and mental health is the leading cause

Rachel Diamond, Adler University Preventable failures in U.S. maternal health care result in far too many pregnancy-related deaths. Each year, approximately 700 parents die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. As such, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is more than double that of most other developed countries. The Department of Health and Human Services declared maternal deaths a public health crisis in December 2020. Such calls to action by the U.S. Surgeon General are reserved for only the most serious of public health crises. In October 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data gathered between 2017 and 2019 that further paints an alarming picture of maternal health in the U.S. The report concluded that a staggering 84% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. However, these numbers don’t even reflect how widespread this problem could be. At present, only 39 states have dedicated committees in place to review maternal deaths and determine whether they were preventable; of those, 36 states were included in the latest CDC data. I am a therapist and scholar specializing in mental health during the perinatal period, the time during pregnancy and postpartum. Research has long demonstrated significant mental health risks associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the year following childbirth. The CDC’s report now makes it clear that mental health conditions are an important factor in many of these preventable deaths. A closer look at the numbers The staggering number of preventable maternal deaths – 84% – from the CDC’s most recent report represents a 27% increase from the agency’s previous report, from 2008 to 2017. Of these pregnancy-related deaths, 22% occur during pregnancy, 13% during childbirth and 65% during the year following childbirth. This raises the obvious question: Why are so many preventable pregnancy-related deaths occurring in the U.S., and why is the number rising? For a pregnancy-related death to be categorized as preventable, a maternal mortality review committee must conclude there was some chance the death could have been avoided by at least one reasonable change related to the patient, community, provider, facility or systems of care. The most commonly identified factors in these preventable deaths have been those directly related to the patient or their support networks, followed next by providers and systems of care. While patient factors may be most frequently identified, they are often dependent on providers and systems of care. Take, for instance, the example of a new mother dying by suicide from a mental health condition, such as depression. Patient factors could include her lack of awareness about the warning signs of clinical depression, which she may have mistaken for difficulties with the transition to parenthood and perceived personal failures as a new parent. As is often the case, these factors would have directly related to the inaction of health care providers, such as a failure to screen for mental health concerns, delays in diagnosis and ineffective treatment. This type of breakdown – which is common – would have been made worse by poor coordination of care between providers across the health care system. This example illustrates the complexities of the failures and preventable outcomes in the maternal health care system. https://www.youtube.com/embed/ARNKVrWFDvc?wmode=transparent&start=0 The U.S. has a far higher rate of pregnancy-related deaths than other developed nations. The role of mental health In the CDC’s latest report, mental health conditions are the overall most frequent cause of pregnancy-related death. Approximately 23% of deaths are attributed to suicide, substance use disorder or are otherwise associated with a mental health condition. The next two leading causes are hemorrhage and cardiac conditions, which combined contribute to only slightly more deaths than mental health conditions, at about 14 and 13%, respectively. Research has long shown that 1 in 5 women suffer from mental health conditions during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and that this is also a time of increased risk for suicide. Yet, mental illness – namely, depression – is the most underdiagnosed obstetric complication in America. Despite some promising reductions in U.S. suicide rates in the general population over the last decade, maternal suicide has tripled during this same time period. As it relates to maternal substance use, this issue is also worsening. In recent years, almost all deaths from drug overdose during pregnancy and the postpartum period involved opioids. A review from 2007 to 2016 found that pregnancy-related deaths involving opioids more than doubled. Many of these issues stem from the fact that up to 80% of women with maternal mental health concerns are undiagnosed or untreated. Barriers to care In 2021, the first national data set of its kind showed that less than 20% of prenatal and postpartum patients were screened for depression. Only half of those who screened positive received follow-up care. Research has long demonstrated widespread barriers and gaps in maternal mental health care. Many health care providers do not screen for mental health concerns because they do not know where to refer a patient or how to treat the condition. In addition, only about 40% of new mothers even attend their postpartum visit to have the opportunity for detection. Non-attendance is more common among higher-risk populations of postpartum women, such as those who are socially and economically vulnerable and whose births are covered by Medicaid. Medicaid covers around 4 in 10 births. Through Medicaid benefits, pregnant women are covered for care related to pregnancy, birth and associated complications, but only up to 60 days postpartum. Not until 2021 did the American Rescue Plan Act begin extending Medicaid coverage up to one year postpartum. But as of November 2022, only 27 states have adopted the Medicaid extension. In the other states, new mothers lose postpartum coverage after just 60 days. This matters a great deal because low-income mothers are at a greater risk for postpartum depression, with reported rates as high as 40% to 60%. In addition, the recent CDC report showed that 30% of preventable pregnancy-related deaths happened between 43 and 365 days postpartum – which is also the time frame suicide most commonly occurs. Continued Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured new parents and rates of maternal mortality. Another challenging barrier to addressing maternal mental health is the criminalization of substance use during pregnancy. If seeking care exposes a pregnant person to the possibility of criminal or civil pentalties – including incarceration, involvement with child protective services and the prospect of separation from their baby – it will naturally dissuade them from seeking treatment. At this time, 24 states consider substance use during pregnancy to be child abuse, and 25 states require health care professionals to report suspected prenatal drug use. Likewise, there are also tremendous barriers in the postpartum period for mothers seeking substance use treatment, due in part to the lack of family-centered options. With all these barriers, many pregnant and new mothers may make the difficult decision to not engage in treatment during a critical window for intervention. Looking ahead While the information described above already paints a dire picture, the CDC data was collected prior to two major events: the COVID-19 pandemic and the fall of Roe v. Wade, which overturned nearly 50 years of abortion rights. Both of these events have exacerbated existing cracks in the health care system and, subsequently, worsened the maternal health in the U.S. In my view, without radical changes to maternal health care in the U.S., starting with how mental health is treated throughout pregnancy and postpartum, it’s likely parents will continue to die from causes that could otherwise be prevented. Rachel Diamond, Clinical Training DIrector and Assistant Professor of Couple and Family Therapy, Adler University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is lake-effect snow? A climate scientist explains

By Michael A. Rawlins, UMass Amherst It’s hard for most people to imagine more than 5 feet of snow in one storm, like parts of the Buffalo area saw over the weekend, but these extreme snowfall events sometimes happen along the eastern edges of the Great Lakes. The phenomenon is called “lake-effect snow,” and the lakes play a crucial role. It starts with cold, dry air from Canada. As the bitter cold air sweeps across the relatively warmer Great Lakes, it sucks up more and more moisture that falls as snow. I’m a climate scientist at UMass Amherst. In the Climate Dynamics course I teach, students often ask how cold, dry air can lead to heavy snowfall. Here’s how that happens. How dry air turns into snowstorms Lake-effect snow is strongly influenced by the differences between the amount of heat and moisture at the lake surface and in the air a few thousand feet above it. A big contrast creates conditions that help to suck water up from the lake, and thus more snowfall. A difference of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius) or more creates an environment that can fuel heavy snows. This often happens in late fall, when lake water is still warm from summer and cold air starts sweeping down from Canada. More moderate lake-effect snows occur every fall under less extreme thermal contrasts. The wind’s path over the lakes is important. The farther cold air travels over the lake surface, the more moisture is evaporated from the lake. A long “fetch” – the distance over water – often results in more lake-effect snow than a shorter one. Imagine a wind out of the west that is perfectly aligned so it blows over the entire 241-mile length of Lake Erie. That’s close to what Buffalo was experiencing during the storm that started Nov. 17, 2022. Once the snow reaches land, elevation contributes an additional effect. Land that slopes up from the lake increases lift in the atmosphere, enhancing snowfall rates. This mechanism is termed “orographic effect.” The Tug Hill plateau, located between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks in western New York, is well known for its impressive snowfall totals. In a typical year, annual snowfall in the “lee,” or downwind, of the Great Lakes approaches 200 inches in some places. Residents in places like Buffalo are keenly aware of the phenomenon. In 2014, some parts of the region received upwards of 6 feet of snowfall during an epic lake-effect event Nov. 17-19. The weight of the snow collapsed hundreds of roofs and led to over a dozen deaths. Lake-effect snowfall in the Buffalo area is typically confined to a narrow region where the wind is coming straight off the lake. Drivers on Interstate 90 often go from sunny skies to a blizzard and back to sunny skies over a distance of 30 to 40 miles. The role of climate change Is climate change playing a role in the lake-effect snow machine? To an extent. Fall has warmed across the upper Midwest. Ice prevents lake water from evaporating into the air, and it is forming later than in the past. Warmer summer air has led to warmer lake temperature into fall. Models predict that with additional warming, more lake-effect snow will occur. But over time, the warming will lead to more of the precipitation falling as lake-effect rain, which already occurs in early fall, rather than snow. This article was updated Nov. 19, 2022, with snowfall passing 5 feet. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

State courts are fielding sky-high numbers of lawsuits ahead of the midterms – including challenges to voting restrictions and to how elections are run

Miriam Seifter, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Adam Sopko, University of Wisconsin-Madison The run-up to Election Day is often a contentious time. In recent years, it has also become a litigious time – parties increasingly turn to courts to resolve disputes about the rules for voting. This year, our research shows a significant uptick of those lawsuits occurring in the state court system and challenging every step of the election process — from whether candidates or ballot initiatives qualify to appear on the ballot, to what address information must be completed in order to accept mailed ballots. It also extends to specific procedures for county clerks or poll watchers as voting occurs. This surge in state litigation yields a mixed picture. As scholars of state courts and constitutions, we have studied the crucial role of state courts in safeguarding elections and democracy. State courts have made important rulings – for example, protecting voting and rejecting extreme partisan gerrymandering – rooted in state constitutions’ distinctive democracy provisions. But the current volume of state election litigation also has the potential to derail the safeguards that state courts can provide. When every aspect of an election becomes a lawsuit, negative effects may follow – including destabilizing elections, overwhelming already strained courts and imposing significant costs on states. The numbers In 2020, election litigation reached a new record high, with hundreds of lawsuits filed around the presidential election. But experts like law professor Rick Hasen observed that it was too soon to know if the 2020 spike in lawsuits was a trend or an aberration. One potential explanation was that the pandemic and former President Donald Trump’s polarizing candidacy fueled the 2020 spike and that lawsuits would decrease in future years. Two years later, a different picture is emerging. The total volume of preelection litigation has dropped somewhat – a smaller drop than one might expect in a nonpandemic, nonpresidential election. Litigation in federal court has dropped precipitously, falling to less than half of its 2020 presence, our research shows. But in state courts, rather than decreasing, preelection lawsuits have increased. Some of the rise is due to expected conflict surrounding the post-2020 redistricting process. Of greatest interest, we see a continuation or increase in conflict over “electoral mechanics” – lawsuits challenging the who, what, where and how of voting, even when there is no novel virus throwing an unforeseen wrench in those mechanics. We emphasize that these numbers are provisional as of mid-October, and they are only estimates – and likely undercounts. State courts are notoriously difficult to research; there is no central clearinghouse of state lawsuits or decisions. Our tallies are based on searches in the legal database LexisNexis. Our full methodology and tallies are posted on our website. State courts and their role in democracy Rising interest in state courts does have potential upsides. State courts serve as a crucial line of defense for free and fair elections. As one of us has explained elsewhere in work with legal scholar Jessica Bulman-Pozen, all 50 state constitutions include explicit pro-democracy provisions – a “democracy principle,” as a shorthand – including many clauses with no express federal counterpart. Those resources make state courts more promising venues for protecting democracy than the U.S. Supreme Court has been of late. The court’s recent decisions have limited the avenues for protecting democracy, including by refusing to hear partisan gerrymandering claims and by limiting the reach of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. In contrast, recent state court decisions across the country have applied the democracy principle. For example, state courts have upheld laws permitting voting by mail, imposed new remedies against extreme partisan gerrymandering and preserved the people’s ability to amend their state constitution. A closer look at this year’s cases – so far Yet these significant pro-democracy decisions are only part of the bigger litigation picture, the most salient feature of which is its sheer volume. The largest number of lawsuits involve whether a candidate can properly appear on the ballot. Such “ballot access” lawsuits are long-standing and typically involve candidates sparring over whether they or an opponent have satisfied requirements for petition signatures, residency or other paperwork requirements. The next-largest categories, and we think the most concerning, encompass election administration and absentee voting – often challenging mechanical, even picayune matters. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, multiple suits contest whether mailed ballots can be counted if they omit part of the voter’s address or the date, as well as the permissibility of “ballot curing” – allowing clerks to contact voters to correct technical errors on their mailed ballot. In Arizona, the Republican National Committee and state affiliate have filed two lawsuits against Maricopa County – and its Republican leadership – arguing that the county has failed to explain why it did not hire an equal number of Democratic and Republican election workers. In Michigan, two cases filed by Republicans challenge rules governing poll watchers, including their ability to use cellphones. In Ohio, a secretary of state candidate argues election observers should be given access to the software and source code for voting machines. Finally, another major slice of cases involves ballot initiatives, a means of direct lawmaking by voters. Some of these, like a prominent unsuccessful challenge to the formatting of Michigan’s abortion initiative, attempt to keep a measure off the ballot. Others debate burdens on the ballot initiative process. Sharp partisan divides partly drive the rise in litigation and yield some rough patterns. As legal scholar Derek Muller has noted, the overall rise in election litigation “is emphatically bipartisan.” Both parties have been active in redistricting and ballot access cases. But when it comes to the administration of elections, the parties have tended to press different claims. Democrats and their allies have tended to challenge new voting restrictions. A network of litigants on the right has focused more on whether certain votes can be counted. Steve Bannon has vowed to “adjudicate every battle” in an effort to “take over the election apparatus.” Pitfalls of so many lawsuits This hyperlitigation has downsides. First, an election litigation deluge may undermine voter confidence in the electoral system. Litigation over every detail of the election process lays the groundwork for false narratives or subsequent challenges to the validity of an election. And while courts that serve as a backstop on key elections questions may enhance voters’ trust in elections, some scholars fear that a barrage of lawsuits alleging impropriety in elections may undermine that trust. Moreover, by inserting courts into election administration, hyperlitigation can dovetail with efforts to sow doubt in the courts’ legitimacy. These challenges to the logistical aspects of elections align with a broader strategy to subvert the electoral system by overwhelming it – including through “sham audits,” mass challenges to voter eligibility and frivolous election-related open records requests. The chaos may be the point. The flood of election litigation also results in hefty financial costs to state governments. Pennsylvania spent over US$3.3 million in 2020, a presidential election year, litigating election-related cases. It expects to spend at least as much or more this year. Similarly, Montana’s secretary of state has spent more than 10 times its budget on election litigation in 2022. Finally, hyperlitigation burdens the state court system, which hears over 90% of all cases filed each year and is already straining from pandemic-induced backlogs. Fulton County, Georgia, for example, has accumulated approximately 200,000 cases during the pandemic, and states including North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are also navigating substantial backlogs. High volumes of election litigation impede courts already overstretched in performing their critical public functions. Although scholars have proposed ways to reduce election litigation, the trend is likely to persist, at least in the short term. State courts do have a necessary role to play in safeguarding democracy. But at current levels, election litigation presents serious problems as well as solutions. Miriam Seifter, Associate Professor of Law, Co-Director of the State Democracy Research Initiative, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Adam Sopko, Staff Attorney with the State Democracy Research Initiative at the University of Wisconsin Law School, University of Wisconsin-Madison This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NASA is crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to test a plan that could one day save Earth from catastrophe

Svetla Ben-Itzhak, Air University On Sept. 26, 2022, NASA plans to change an asteroid’s orbit. The large binary asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos currently pose no threat to Earth. But by crashing a 1,340-pound (610-kilogram) probe into Didymos’ moon at a speed of approximately 14,000 mph (22,500 kph), NASA is going to complete the world’s first full-scale planetary defense mission as a proof of concept. This mission is called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. I am a scholar who studies space and international security, and it is my job to ask what the likelihood really is of an object crashing into the planet – and whether governments are spending enough money to prevent such an event. To find the answers to these questions, one has to know what near-Earth objects are out there. To date, NASA has tracked only an estimated 40% of the bigger ones. Surprise asteroids have visited Earth in the past and will undoubtedly do so in the future. Experiments like the DART mission may help prepare humanity for such an event. The threat from asteroids and comets Millions of cosmic bodies, like asteroids and comets, orbit the Sun and often crash into the Earth. Most of these are too small to pose a threat, but some can be cause for concern. Near-Earth objects include asteroids and comets whose orbits will bring them within 120 million miles (193 million kilometers) of the Sun. Astronomers consider a near-Earth object a threat if it will come within 4.6 million miles (7.4 million kilometers) of the planet and if it is at least 460 feet (140 meters) in diameter. If a celestial body of this size crashed into Earth, it could destroy an entire city and cause extreme regional devastation. Larger objects – 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) or more – could have global effects and even cause mass extinctions. The most famous and destructive celestial impact took place 65 million years ago when an asteroid with a 6-mile (10-kilometer) diameter crashed into what is now the Yucatán Peninsula. It wiped out most plant and animal species on Earth, including the dinosaurs. But smaller objects can also cause significant damage. In 1908, an approximately 164-foot (50-meter) celestial body exploded over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. It leveled more than 80 million trees over 830 square miles (2,100 square kilometers). In 2013, an asteroid only 65 feet (20 meters) across burst in the atmosphere 20 miles (32 kilometers) above Chelyabinsk, Russia. It released the equivalent of 30 Hiroshima bombs’ worth of energy, injured over 1,100 people and caused US$33 million in damage. The likely next asteroid of substantial size to potentially hit Earth is asteroid 2005 ED224. When the 164-foot (50-meter) asteroid passes by on March 11, 2023, there is roughly a 1 in 500,000 chance of impact. Watching the skies While the chances of a larger cosmic body striking Earth are small, the devastation would be enormous. Congress recognized this threat, and in the 1998 Spaceguard Survey, it tasked NASA to find and track 90% of the estimated total of near-Earth objects 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across or bigger within 10 years. NASA surpassed the 90% goal in 2011. In 2005, Congress passed another bill requiring NASA to expand its search and track at least 90% of all near-Earth objects 460 feet (140 meters) or larger by the end of 2020. That year has come and gone and, mostly because of a lack of financial resources, only 40% of those objects have been mapped. As of Sept. 18, 2022, astronomers have located 29,724 near-Earth asteroids, of which 10,189 are 460 feet (140 meters) or larger in diameter and 855 are at least 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across. About 30 new objects are added each week. A new mission funded by Congress in 2018 is scheduled in 2026 to launch an infrared space-based telescope – NEO Surveyor – dedicated to searching for potentially dangerous asteroids. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yl2f46L5DJ4?wmode=transparent&start=0 Smaller asteroids, like the one that exploded over Russia in 2013, can strike Earth without warning, but larger, more dangerous objects have surprised astronomers too. Cosmic surprises We can prevent a disaster only if we know it is coming, and asteroids have sneaked up on Earth before. A so-called “city-killer” asteroid the size of a football field passed less than 45,000 miles (72,420 kilometers) from Earth in 2019. An asteroid the size of a 747 jet came close in 2021, as did an asteroid 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) wide in 2012. Each of these was discovered only about a day before it passed Earth. Research suggests that Earth’s rotation creates a blind spot, hiding some asteroids from detection or making them appear stationary. This may be a problem, as some surprise asteroids do not miss us. In 2008, astronomers spotted a small asteroid only 19 hours before it crashed into rural Sudan. The recent discovery of an asteroid 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in diameter suggests that there are still big objects lurking. What can be done? To protect the planet from cosmic dangers, early detection is key. At the 2021 Planetary Defense Conference, scientists recommended a minimum of five to 10 years’ preparation time to mount a successful defense against hazardous asteroids. If astronomers find a dangerous object, there are four ways to mitigate a disaster. The first involves regional first-aid and evacuation measures. A second approach would involve sending a spacecraft to fly near a small- or medium-sized asteroid; the gravity of the craft would slowly change the object’s orbit. To change a bigger asteroid’s path, we can either crash something into it at high speed or detonate a nuclear warhead nearby. The DART mission will be the first-ever attempt to deflect a large asteroid. But this will not be the first time humanity has sent something to an asteroid. NASA’s Deep Space Impact mission crashed a probe into the comet 9P/Tempel in 2005 to take scientific measurements of the comet, and in 2018 Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu and brought them back to Earth, but neither of these was designed as a planetary defense test. The DART mission should generate a lot of useful information. This data will come from a camera aboard the DART spacecraft that will send images back to Earth up until the time of impact. In addition, a tiny satellite called LICIACube that was deployed from DART on Sept. 11, 2022, will take photos of the impact. A follow-up mission from the European Space Agency, called Hera, will launch in 2024 and rendezvous with Didymos in 2026 to begin collecting data. Spending on planetary defense In 2021, NASA’s planetary defense budget was $158 million, just 0.7% of NASA’s total budget and 0.02% of the roughly $700 billion U.S. defense budget. Is this the right amount to invest in monitoring the skies, given the fact that some 60% of all potentially dangerous asteroids remain undetected? This is an important question to ask when one considers the potential consequences. Investing in planetary defense is akin to buying homeowners insurance. The likelihood of experiencing an event that destroys your house is small, yet people buy insurance nonetheless. If even a single object larger than 460 feet (140 meters) hits the planet, the devastation and loss of life would be extreme. A bigger impact could quite literally wipe out most species on Earth. Even if no such body is expected to hit Earth in the next 100 years, the chance is not zero. In this low-likelihood-versus-high-consequences scenario, investing in protecting the planet from dangerous cosmic objects may give humanity some peace of mind and could prevent a catastrophe. This is an updated version of a story originally published on March 1, 2022. Svetla Ben-Itzhak, Assistant Professor of Space and International Relations, Air University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: The Double Asteroid Redirection Test is the first planetary defense experiment ever attempted. NASA/JHUAPL/Steve Gribben

These high school ‘classics’ have been taught for generations – could they be on their way out?

assorted-title books

Andrew Newman, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York) If you went to high school in the United States anytime since the 1960s, you were likely assigned some of the following books: Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Caesar” and “Macbeth”; John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”; Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”; and William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies.” For many former students, these books and other so-called “classics” represent high school English. But despite the efforts of reformers, both past and present, the most frequently assigned titles have never represented America’s diverse student body. Why did these books become classics in the U.S.? How have they withstood challenges to their status? And will they continue to dominate high school reading lists? Or will they be replaced by a different set of books that will become classics for students in the 21st century? The high school canon The set of books that is taught again and again, broadly across the country, is referred to by literature scholars and English teachers as “the canon.” The high school canon has been shaped by many factors. Shakespeare’s plays, especially “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” have been taught consistently since the beginning of the 20th century, when the curriculum was determined by college entrance requirements. Others, like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, were ushered into the classroom by current events – in the case of Lee’s book, the civil rights movement. Some books just seem especially suited for classroom teaching: “Of Mice and Men” has a straightforward plot, easily identifiable themes and is under 100 pages long. Titles become “traditional” when they are passed down through generations. As the education historian Jonna Perrillo observes, parents tend to approve of having their children study the same books that they once did. The last period of significant change to the canon was during the 1960s and 1970s, when the largest generation of the 20th century, the baby boomers, went to high school. For instance, in 1963, a survey of 800 students at Evanston Township High School in Illinois revealed that “To Kill a Mockingbird,” first published in 1960, was by far the “most enjoyed book,” followed by two books that had been published in the 1950s, J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies.” None of these books were yet traditional, yet they became so for the next generation. A comparison of national surveys conducted in 1963 and 1988 shows how several books that were introduced to the classroom when the boomers were students had become classics when boomers were teachers. During the 1960s and 1970s, teachers even reframed “Romeo and Juliet” as a contemporary work. Lesson plans from the era referred to its adaptations into “West Side Story” – a musical that initially came out in 1957 – and Franco Zefferelli’s risqué 1968 film version of Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers. It became the perfect hook for ninth graders in a study of Shakespeare that would conclude in 12th grade with “Macbeth.” Efforts to diversify English education professor Arthur Applebee observed in 1989 that, since the 1960s, “leaders in the profession of English teaching have tried to broaden the curriculum to include more selections by women and minority authors.” But in the late 1980s, according to his findings, the high school “top ten” still included only one book by a woman – Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” – and none by minority authors. At that time, a raging debate was underway about whether America was a “melting pot” in which many cultures became one, or a colorful “mosaic” in which many cultures coexisted. Proponents of the latter view argued for a multicultural canon, but they were ultimately unable to establish one. A 2011 survey of Southern schools by Joyce Stallworth and Louel C. Gibbons, published in “English Leadership Quarterly,” found that the five most frequently taught books were all traditional selections: “The Great Gatsby,” “Romeo and Juliet,” Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” One explanation for this persistence is that the canon is not simply a list: It takes form as stacks of copies on shelves in the storage area known as the “book room.” Changes to the inventory require time, money and effort. Depending on the district, replacing a classic might require approval by the school board. And it would create more work for teachers who are already maxed out. “Too many teachers, probably myself included, teach from the traditional canon,” a teacher told Stallworth and Gibbons. “We are overworked and underpaid and struggle to find the time to develop quality lessons for new books.” The end of an era? Esau McCauley, the author of “Reading While Black,” describes the list of classics by white authors as the “pre-integration canon.” At least two factors suggest that its dominance over the curriculum is coming to an end. First, the battles over which books should be taught have become more intense than ever. On the one hand, progressives like the teachers of the growing #DisruptTexts movement call for the inclusion of books by Black, Native American and other authors of color – and they question the status of the classics. On the other hand, conservatives have challenged or successfully banned the teaching of many new books that deal with gender and sexuality or race. PEN America, a nonprofit organization that fights for free expression for writers, reports “a profound increase” in book bans. The outcome might be a literature curriculum that more resembles the political divisions in this country. Much more than in the past, students in conservative and progressive districts might read very different books. Second, English Language Arts education itself is changing. State standards, such as those adopted by New York in 2017, no longer make the teaching of literature the primary focus of English class. Instead, there is a new emphasis on “information literacy.” And while preceding generations of teachers voiced concerns about the distractions of radio and then television, books may have an even smaller share of students’ attention in the age of cellphones, the internet, social media and online gaming. “We no longer live in a print-dominant, text-only world,” the National Council of Teachers of English proclaims in a 2022 position statement. The group calls for English teachers to put less emphasis on books in order to train students to use and analyze a variety of media. Accordingly, students across the country may not only have fewer books in common, but they also may be reading fewer books altogether. Why teach literature? Over generations, English teachers have voiced many reasons to teach books, and the canon in particular: to instill a common culture, foster citizenship, build empathy and cultivate lifelong readers. These goals have little to do with the skills emphasized by contemporary academic standards. But if literature is going to continue to be an important part of American education, it is important to talk not only about what books to teach, but the reasons why. This story has been updated to correct the year that “West Side Story” appeared as a musical. Andrew Newman, Professor and Chair, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York) This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: High school students have studied many of the same books for generations. Is it time for a change? Andrew_Howe via Getty Images

How you can help protect sharks – and what doesn’t work

David Shiffman, Arizona State University Sharks are some of the most ecologically important and most threatened animals on Earth. Recent reports show that up to one-third of all known species of sharks and their relatives, rays, are threatened with extinction. Unsustainable overfishing is the biggest threat by far. Losing sharks can disrupt coastal food webs that billions of people depend on for food. When food chains lose their top predators, the rest can unravel as smaller prey species multiply. In my years of talking with the public about sharks and ocean conservation, I’ve found that many people care about sharks and want to help but don’t know how. The solutions can be quite technical, and it’s challenging to understand and appreciate the scale and scope of some of the threats. At the same time, there is an enormous amount of oversimplification and even misinformation about these important topics, which can lead well-intentioned people to support policies that experts know won’t work. I am a marine conservation biologist and have sought to improve this situation by surveying shark researchers and helping scientists identify research topics that can advance conservation. I’ve also written a book, “Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive With the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator.” Here are three ways that anyone can make a difference for sharks and avoid taking steps that are ineffective or even harmful. https://www.youtube.com/embed/tKXd8Ud1sOo?wmode=transparent&start=0 A 2020 study that surveyed 371 reefs found that sharks had virtually disappeared from about 20% of them. Don’t eat unsustainable seafood The No. 1 threat to sharks and rays – and arguably, to marine biodiversity in general – is unsustainable overfishing. Some fishing methods are incredibly destructive to marine life and habitats. They can also produce high rates of bycatch – the unintended catch of nontarget species. For example, fishermen pursuing tuna may accidentally catch sea turtles or sharks swimming near the tuna. The single most effective thing that individual consumers can do is to avoid seafood produced using these harmful methods. This does not mean completely avoiding seafood, as some advocates urge. Seafood is healthy, delicious and culturally important, and there are environmentally friendly ways of catching it sustainably. There are even sustainable fisheries for sharks. Reputable organizations such as California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium publish sustainable seafood guides that rate different types of seafood based on how they are caught or raised. While experts may quibble over details of some of these rankings, consumers can follow these guidelines and know that they are helping to protect sharks and ocean life in general. Support reputable environmental nonprofits, not harmful extremists Lots of great environmental nonprofit organizations work on shark issues and offer opportunities to get involved, such as donating money and communicating with elected officials and other decision-makers. In my book, I describe the work of many of these groups, including my favorite, Shark Advocates International. Unfortunately, some organizations promote pseudoscience that doesn’t help anyone or anything. In a 2021 study, colleagues and I surveyed employees of 78 nonprofits that work on shark conservation issues to understand whether and how these organizations engaged with the science of shark conservation. We found that a small but vocal minority had never read scientific reports or spoken with scientists, and held blatantly incorrect and harmful views that cannot help sharks. For example, some organizations are trying to get certain airlines to stop carrying shark products like dried fins, without acknowledging that well over 95% of fins are shipped by sea or that sustainable sources of these fins exist. One of my particular pet peeves is amateur online petitions that may not reflect actual conditions. For example, in the spring of 2022, some 60,000 people signed a petition calling for Florida to ban the practice of shark finning – without recognizing that Florida had banned shark finning in the early 1990s. As I explain in my book, it is essential to identify organizations that use science in support of worthwhile conservation goals and avoid promoting others that do not. Look to experts Many ocean science, management and conservation experts are active on social media. Following them is a great way to learn about fascinating new scientific discoveries and conservation issues. Unfortunately, sharks also get a lot of sensational coverage in the media, and well-intentioned but uninformed people often spread misinformation on social media. For example, you may have seen posts celebrating Hawaii for banning shark fishing in its waters – but these posts don’t note that about 99% of fishing in Hawaii occurs in federal waters. Don’t take the bait. By getting your information from reliable sources, you can help other people learn more about these fascinating, ecologically important animals, why they need humans’ help and the most effective steps to take. David Shiffman, Post-Doctoral and Research Scholar in Marine Biology, Arizona State University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: Whitetip sharks amid a school of anthias near Jarvis island in the South Pacific. Kelvin Gorospe, NOAA/NMFS/Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center Blog/Flickr, CC BY

America’s next big labor battle could be Minor League Baseball

Mitchell Nathanson, Villanova School of Law When the Major League Baseball Players Association sent union authorization cards to approximately 5,000 minor league players in an attempt to unionize them, I was both surprised and not surprised at all. If any industry is crying out for unionization, it’s this one. Minor league baseball players are subject to some of the poorest wages and most dreadful working conditions in America. Most of them toil for years before being washed out of the game without ever having reached the promised land of the big leagues. On the other hand, as someone who has written about baseball’s labor history, I’ve noticed how nobody seemed to care all that much about minor leaguers until relatively recently. Which begs the question: Why now? Unionization, once a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the nation’s workforce, looks to be making a comeback – at least marginally, after decades of declining membership and strong-arm tactics by management to defang it. If unions can work their way into the strip mall coffee shop, why not Minor League Baseball? Big leaguers get their due It was hard enough to get major league players to work collectively on behalf of one another. Marvin Miller, a former labor negotiator for the United Steel Workers of America, became the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966. He soon realized that he faced a monumental task in encouraging big league, brand-name players to stand up for themselves against management. By 1968 he was able to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement for MLB players. Two years later, he succeeded in not only raising the minimum major league salary 25% to US$10,000, but also securing for his players arbitration rights. By 1976, players with more than six years of service had won the right to become free agents and negotiate with any team of their choice. Salaries skyrocketed. As the MLBPA scored victory after victory on the labor front, life for the minor leaguers remained as it had been, and the chasm between being a big leaguer and a minor leaguer grew more pronounced as the decades passed. Over time, the grueling life of a minor leaguer became the stuff of legend, explored in films like “Bull Durham” and “Sugar.” Travel often remained as it always had been: by bus. Trips could last for days; it wasn’t considered cruel and unusual punishment to include clubs residing in Maine, Virginia and Ohio in the same league. Players are only paid during the roughly five-and-a-half month season. According to Advocates for Minor Leaguers – which was subsumed by the MLBPA as part of the union organization push – until 2021, the minimum minor league salary came out to around $4,800, which amounted to about one-third of the national poverty level of $12,880 for a single-person household. Meanwhile, the median minor league salary hovered around the national poverty level. On top of all this, players were responsible for securing and paying for their own housing. A weak attempt to appease In 2021, MLB began restructuring the minor leagues, realigning and contracting them such that 43 out of 163 minor league clubs were eliminated. After this reorganization, MLB finally upgraded minor league pay, at least somewhat, increasing the Single-A minimum salary from $290 to $500 per week and the Triple-A minimum salary from $502 to $700 per week over the course of the season. MLB also assumed responsibility for most player housing. This improved things, but only incrementally. Most minor leaguers still toil for substandard wages under conditions that seem unfathomable given the gravy train that is pretty much everything else Major League Baseball touches. To be sure, not all minor leaguers suffer under these circumstances. Early-round draft picks have the luxury of dipping into their substantial signing bonus money to supplement their minor league incomes. But all minor league players remain subject to a litany of further indignities at the hands of their employers: Clubhouses – where players can spend up to 12 hours a day – can be dingy shacks with dirt floors. Off days are few and far between – sometimes as few as a single day per month – and players are often made to feel disposable. “Minor-league players need to be looked at as investments, not pawns,” one minor leaguer confided to a reporter for The Athletic in 2021. “They act like we aren’t a part of the organization,” added another. The winds of change Suddenly, however, there’s been movement on the minor league front. If nobody else saw this coming, MLB likely did. Why else did the league finally make incremental changes in 2021? I doubt the MLB did this out of the goodness of their hearts. I believe they did it because, like Bob Dylan, they didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing. In July, MLB settled a $185 million class-action lawsuit over minor league pay, agreeing to permit clubs to compensate these players for their work during spring training. Formerly, clubs were prohibited from doing so. Now they’re free to compensate their players for this time – if they so choose. The MLBPA could sense the shifting winds as well. After decades of silence, people with influence were at last beginning to take note of what was going on down on the farm. Reporters started digging, and former players started speaking up, publishing thoughtful and incisive pieces detailing not only MLB’s back-of-the-hand treatment of minor league players, but also how the MLBPA often ignored or sold out their minor league counterparts in labor negotiations. And then, of course, there have been the high-profile unionization efforts at places such as Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Chipotle and Trader Joe’s, which signaled that something was clearly afoot beyond the bushes. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ support for unions is not merely ticking upwards – it’s at a 57-year high. The real work begins The unionization effort is far from a done deal; the MLBPA merely distributed union authorization cards. Now it’s up to a critical mass of minor league players to vote in favor of unionization. How many of these highly vulnerable minor leaguers are going to be willing to risk angering the people who hold their precarious futures in their hands? How many of them are going to be willing to put their lifelong dreams on the line for a union card? How many are confident enough that their skills are such that they won’t be released in retaliation for organizing? All I know for sure is that minor league baseball today finds itself in a place it has never been before: on the precipice of real, profound change. Depending on how things turn out, perhaps one day the reality of being a professional ballplayer might actually resemble the fantasy so many young ballplayers have clung to for generations. Mitchell Nathanson, Professor of Law, Villanova School of Law This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: Minor league players often endure lengthy bus trips. Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Will omicron-specific booster shots be more effective at combating COVID-19? 5 questions answered

Prakash Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina and Mitzi Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina On Sept. 1, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the use of updated COVID-19 booster shots that are specifically tailored to combat the two most prevalent omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. The decision comes just a day after the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the shots. The CDC’s backing will enable a full roll-out of the reformulated vaccines to begin within days. The new booster shots – one by Moderna and another from Pfizer-BioNTech – come as more than 450 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day in the U.S. As of Aug. 31, 2022, only 48.5% of booster-eligible people in the U.S. have received their first booster shot, and just under 34% of those eligible have received their second. These low numbers may in part be influenced by people waiting for the newer versions of the vaccines to provide better protection. But booster shots have proven to be an essential layer of protection against COVID-19. Prakash Nagarkatti and Mitzi Nagarkatti are immunologists who study infectious disorders and how vaccines trigger different aspects of the immune system to fight infection. They weigh in on how the updated booster shots train the immune system and how protective they might be against COVID-19. 1. What is different about the updated booster shots? The newly authorized shots are the first updates to the original COVID-19 vaccines that were introduced in late 2020. They use the same mRNA technology as the original vaccines. The key difference between the original COVID-19 shots and the new “bivalent” version is that the latter consists of a mixture of mRNA that encodes the spike proteins of both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the more recent omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. As of late August 2022, the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants are dominant worldwide. In the U.S., currently 89% of COVID-19 infections are caused by BA.5 and 11% are caused by BA.4. The inability of the original vaccine strains to prevent reinfection and to trigger long-term protective immunity prompted the need for the reformulated vaccines. The booster shots target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron variant, as well as the original version of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 2. How does a bivalent vaccine trigger an immune response? In an actual COVID-19 infection, the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses its protruding spike protein to latch onto human cells and gain entry into cells. The spike protein triggers the production of so-called neutralizing antibodies, which bind to the spike protein and prevent the virus from invading other cells. But when the virus mutates, as we know that it does, the antibodies that were previously produced in response to the virus can no longer effectively bind to the newly mutated spike protein. In this respect, the SARS-CoV-2 virus acts like a chameleon – a master of disguise – by changing its body configuration and escaping recognition by the immune system. The ongoing viral mutations are why antibodies produced in response to the original vaccine strains have over time become less effective at fending off infections by new variants. The concept of bivalent vaccines aimed at protecting against two different strains of a virus is not new. For instance, Cervarix is an FDA-approved bivalent vaccine that provides protection against two different types of human papillomaviruses that cause cancer. 3. How protective will the new shots be against infection? There are as of yet no human studies on the efficacy of the new bivalent vaccine at preventing reinfections and providing long-term immune protection. However, in human clinical trials and laboratory studies, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna found that their initial version of the bivalent vaccine, which was directed against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and an earlier omicron strain, BA.1, induced a strong immune response and longer protection against both the original strain and the BA.1 variant. In addition, the companies reported that the same early combination generated a significant antibody response against the newest omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, though this antibody response was lower than that seen against subvariant BA.1. Based on those results, in spring 2022 the FDA rejected the BA.1 bivalent boosters because the agency felt the boosters may fall short of providing sufficient protection against the newest strains, BA.4 and BA.5, which were by then spreading quickly throughout the U.S. and the world. So the FDA asked Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to develop bivalent vaccines specifically targeting BA.4 and BA.5, instead of BA.1. Because clinical trials are time-consuming, the FDA was willing to consider animal studies and other laboratory findings, such as the ability of antibodies to neutralize the virus, to decide whether to authorize the bivalent boosters. This decision has stirred up controversy over whether it is appropriate for the FDA to approve a booster without direct human data to support it. However, the FDA has stated that millions of people have safely received the mRNA vaccines – which were originally tested in humans – and that the changes in the mRNA sequences in the vaccines do not affect vaccine safety. Thus, it concluded that the bivalent vaccines are safe and that there is no need to wait for human clinical trials. It is also noteworthy that influenza vaccines are introduced each year based on prediction of the strain that is likely to be dominant, and such formulations do not undergo new clinical trials. Based on available evidence from the previous COVID-19 vaccines, we believe it is very likely that the new boosters will continue to offer strong protection from severe COVID-19 leading to hospitalization and death. But whether they will protect against reinfection and breakthrough infections remains to be seen. 4. Will it only be a booster shot? The bivalent vaccines can only be used as a booster shot at least two months after the completion of the primary series – or initial required shots – or following a previous booster shot. The Moderna bivalent vaccine is authorized for use in people 18 years of age, while the Pfizer bivalent vaccine is authorized for those 12 years of age and older. Because of the superiority of the bivalent vaccines, the FDA has also removed the use authorization for the original monovalent Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for booster purposes in individuals 18 years of age and older and 12 years of age and older, respectively. The new bivalent vaccines contain a lower dose of mRNA, and as such are meant to be used only as boosters and not in people who have never received a COVID-19 vaccination. 5. Will the new shots protect against future variants? How well the bivalent vaccines will perform in the face of new variants that might arise will depend on the nature of future spike protein mutations. If it is a minor mutation or set of mutations when compared to the original strain or to omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, the new shots will provide good protection. However, if a hypothetical new strain were to possess highly unique mutations in its spike protein, then it’s likely that it could once again dodge immune protection. On the flip side, the successful development of the updated vaccines demonstrates that the mRNA vaccine technology is nimble and innovative enough that – within a couple of months of the emergence of a new variant – it is now likely possible to develop and distribute new vaccines that are tailor-made to fight an emerging variant. This article has been updated to reflect the CDC’s endorsement of the reformulated shots. Prakash Nagarkatti, Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of South Carolina and Mitzi Nagarkatti, Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of South Carolina This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: In a matter of days, eligible people will be lining up to receive the newly formulated booster shot.

Dr. Oz should be worried – voters punish ‘carpetbaggers,’ and new research shows why

Charles R. Hunt, Boise State University Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz has garnered a lot of media attention recently, thanks to the Fetterman campaign’s relentless trolling of his opponent, mainly for being a resident of neighboring New Jersey rather than the state he’s running to represent. Fetterman has run ad after ad using Oz’s own words to highlight his deep Jersey roots. His campaign started a petition to nominate Oz for the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Fetterman even enlisted very-Jersey celebrities like Snooki of “Jersey Shore” to draw attention to his charge that Oz is a carpetbagger in the Pennsylvania race: a candidate with no authentic connection to an area, who moved there for the sole purpose of political ambition. Fetterman’s attacks against Oz may be entertaining, but they aren’t unprecedented. Such characterizations can be helpful in elections. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, won a tight race in Montana in 2018 in part by dubbing his out-of-town opponent “Maryland Matt.” Democrat Joe Manchin has held on for so long to a Senate seat in a deep red state by “play[ing] up his West Virginia roots.” Meanwhile, Maine Democrat (and native Rhode Islander) Sara Gideon got caught – and derided for – sporting a Patagonia fleece in a state that famously is home to L.L. Bean. She lost to Maine native Susan Collins in the 2020 Senate race even as Joe Biden carried the state by nine points. Given how heavily defined modern congressional elections are by partisanship and by the increasing focus on national rather than local issues, is this kind of messaging actually effective as a campaign strategy? Do voters really still punish carpetbaggers and reward candidates with deep ties to their districts? Some politics is local New research from my upcoming book, “Home Field Advantage,” shows that the answer is an emphatic “yes.” In the book, I created a “Local Roots Index” for each modern member of the U.S. House of Representatives to measure how deeply rooted they are in the geography of the districts they represent. The index pulled from decades of geographic data about members’ pre-Congress lives, including whether they were born in their home district, went to school there or owned a local business. High index scores meant members had most or all of these life experiences within the boundaries of their district; low scores meant they had little to no local life experience in their district. I found that members of Congress with higher Local Roots Index scores perform far better in their elections than their more “carpetbagging” colleagues without local roots in their districts. Deeply rooted members are twice as likely to run unopposed in their primary elections, and they significantly outperform their party’s presidential nominees in their districts. They win more elections by bigger margins and don’t need to spend as much money to notch their victories. Why do voters care about roots? Why do voters respond positively to deeply rooted candidates and negatively to their carpetbagging counterparts? One explanation is that deep roots offer candidates a number of practical campaign benefits. A deeply rooted candidate tends to have more intimate knowledge of the district, including its electorate, its economy and industries, its unique culture and its political climate. Deeply rooted candidates also enjoy naturally higher name recognition in the community, more extensive social and political networks and greater access to local donors and vendors for their campaigns. Other work has theorized that local roots help candidates tap into a shared identity with their voters that is less tangible but meaningful. Scholars like Kal Munis have shown that when voters have strong psychological attachments to a particular place, it has major impacts on voting behavior. And in a recent survey I conducted with David Fontana, we found that voters consistently rated homegrown U.S. Senate candidates as more relatable and trustworthy, and cast votes for them at higher rates. Just as you’d trust a true born-and-raised local to give you advice about where to eat in town over someone who just moved there, so too do voters trust deeply rooted candidates to represent them in Washington. ‘Intimate sympathy’ with the voters Political science tells us that voters care about candidates’ roots, and we know a bit about why. But should they? Deep ties to a place may create a sense of connection and familiarity that voters appreciate, but at what cost? On the one hand, it’s natural to wonder whether the flood of media and campaign attention to Oz’s residency status is distracting from a discussion of more pressing issues like the economy, climate change and the state of American democracy. There’s also a reasonable concern that a healthy attachment to one’s home place could cross the line into outright nativism and unfair vilification of “outsiders” and immigrants. On the other hand, the framers of the Constitution devised – for better or worse – a geographically focused system of elections and representation. Party is important, but places are different from each other even if they have similar partisan makeups – think San Francisco and New York City – and have different needs. This means having members of Congress who have lived in and understand the place they are elected to represent. As a result, shared local ties could also serve as a line of defense against steadily declining levels of trust in government and politicians. Perhaps locally rooted representation can help imbue a sense of what James Madison and Alexander Hamilton called an “intimate sympathy” with the people – and reinvigorate faith in public officials and institutions. Charles R. Hunt, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boise State University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image caption: A Fetterman campaign billboard on the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. Fetterman campaign/

More students will likely become pregnant post-Roe. Who will support them?

Originally published by The 19th This story about pregnant students was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter. LaTavia BigBack was 17, a high school junior, when she and her friends were in a car crash. In the hospital, the doctor asked if she minded her friends being in the room — he had some news for her. LaTavia said no; she thought maybe she had a concussion. But the doctor told her she was pregnant. Years later, she still cries when she remembers her friends’ expressions. “I felt embarrassed and terrified, because me and my friends were so young.” She considered an abortion, but her 23-year-old boyfriend disappeared and she didn’t have any money. “It’s expensive to get the procedure, and he just kept flaking on the appointments,” she said. “So I had kind of no choice but to go along with the pregnancy.” As word of her pregnancy spread at her school in Colorado, so did the unkind comments and judgmental attitudes. Except for one friend, even those who had been in the accident with her pulled away. When her classes were assigned group projects, no one wanted her in their group. Her teachers never acknowledged her growing belly, and the school counselor had no suggestions for outside resources. Never a good student, she started falling even further behind. Finally, at four and a half months, she confided in her dad. LaTavia’s mom guessed several weeks later when she developed a craving for strawberries. LaTavia found herself growing more and more isolated at school and dropped out in her junior year. “If there was anyone who encouraged me, who gave me support, I would have stayed,” she said. Instead, at seven and a half months, with swollen feet and an anxious heart, LaTavia began working two part-time jobs — as a server in a restaurant and a cashier at Walmart. She bounced between her divorced parents’ houses and felt hopeless. “I honestly felt like my life was over.” LaTavia’s story is disturbingly common. Fifty years have passed since Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 went into effect.  While the law is perhaps best known for requiring schools to provide women with equal opportunities in sports, it was intended to prohibit discrimination based on sex in any educational programs and activities — including academic, athletic and extracurricular — that receive federal funds. The law guarantees the right to an education for pregnant and parenting students. But the federal civil rights law is often ignored, misunderstood or blatantly violated in public schools. A charter school in Louisiana required students to take a pregnancy test and then forced them out if they refused or tested positive. Administrators at a school in New Mexico forced a middle schooler to stand in front of her classmates at an assembly while they announced that she was pregnant. Two teens in Michigan were told they couldn’t show their baby bumps in their school yearbook photos. While these incidents got a lot of attention, most pregnant students, like LaTavia, talk of more subtle “pushouts” that make them discontinue their education: a guidance counselor suggesting they transfer to an online program that is less rigorous; a teacher removing them from an honors course or extracurricular activity; a principal ignoring reports of harassment. All are illegal, yet commonplace. Some educators still believe that having pregnant or parenting teens in school or providing services like nurseries will encourage other students to get pregnant. Partly as a result, educational outcomes for these students are bleak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about half of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, compared with approximately 90 percent of their peers who do not give birth. Fewer than 2 percent of mothers under 18 complete college by age 30, according to a 2006 report published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (now Power to Decide). Schools already fail this population of students. And recently, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the longstanding constitutional right to abortion, leaving it up to states to decide. About half of states are expected to ban abortion or allow other restrictions on the procedure to go into effect, and advocates worry the number of pregnant and parenting students will increase. Wendy Luttrell, a professor of urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center and author of the book “Pregnant Bodies, Fertile Minds: Gender, Race and the Schooling of Pregnant Teens,” said an increase in pregnant and parenting teens is a “commonsense prediction.” But she warned that schools are just as unprepared to support these students as when she wrote the book two decades ago. “It is alarming, because if we haven’t been able to do that in 20 years, what’s in place for us to be able to even address an uptick?” she said. “Even though there is data that shows how pregnant teens can be supported and can be definitely on an educational trajectory of success.” The teen pregnancy rate has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s. But despite the drop, it is still one of the highest in the developed world. There were almost 160,000 births to 15- to 19-year-olds in 2020. And advocates say the declining rate of teen pregnancy has been a double-edged sword; while a welcome development, it also means the issue has been getting less attention and fewer resources. For example, the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, a $25 million federal grant program that supported services for young parents so they could finish school, ended in 2020. Now, educators and nonprofit staff who work with pregnant and parenting teens are expecting an uptick in the number of young parents they serve. And even those in states that aren’t restricting abortion are making plans to expand. Shauna Edwards is the founder of Lumen High School in Spokane, Washington, which serves pregnant and parenting teens. She’s preparing for “quite a few more students” from neighboring Idaho, a state where providing an abortion will soon be a felony in most cases. Edwards said not enough thought has been given to how this ruling would affect young parents. “No matter where you stand on the side of pro-choice or pro-life, if we are going to have access to abortion peeled back, states need to be prepared and provide more services,” she said. “Pro-life has to mean someone’s whole life, and that would mean increases to state support systems and your schooling options.” Lisa Steven, who founded and runs Hope House Colorado, which has a residential program and other supports for teenage parents, is also preparing for an influx of applicants, even though Colorado just passed a law allowing abortions in the state. “Teenage moms don’t have access to that type of information, and they believe everything they read or hear on social media. So if social media is blowing up with ‘You’re no longer going to be able to get an abortion,’ they’re just going to believe that.” Steven is in the process of opening a Hope House affiliate in Nashville and said because of Tennessee’s much stricter abortion laws, she expects to see a higher number of teen pregnancies there as well. Hope House offers all kinds of wraparound services, from parenting classes and counseling to education and financial programs. Steven said educators don’t understand the Title IX requirements and offer almost no accommodations for students who may not be sleeping through the night because of their newborn, or experiencing postpartum depression, or trying to get to class on time carrying a backpack as well as a baby carrier and a stroller. Most of the teens she works with drop out in ninth grade. “School is not made to feel like a safe place for them,” she said. A 2015 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California found that teen moms felt “pushed out” of their schools by educators’ shaming behavior. Another study, by the National Women’s Law Center, found that more than half of pregnant and parenting girls said they felt that other students didn’t want them at school, and almost 40 percent said they felt that way about their teachers. And they said they often faced harassment in school, which made them feel school was unsafe for them. Analidis Ochoa, now a doctoral candidate in social work and sociology at the University of Michigan, was formerly a tutor at an alternative school for pregnant and parenting students in Florida’s Miami-Dade school district. She said a negative cultural judgment prevailed there, even in a school specifically for these students. Ochoa, who was often called in to translate for Spanish-speaking parents, recalled a mother saying that the school had phoned repeatedly about her absent daughter. The mother explained that her daughter had just had a miscarriage and wasn’t doing well, and the response she got was: “‘Well, tell her this, then she can’t come back. Because if she doesn’t have a baby, she can’t come back to the school.’” As a former teen parent herself, Ochoa knows how hard it is to stay in school, so she was determined to help her students get into college. But Ochoa said she was shocked by the staff’s low academic expectations for these students; there was no expectation that they would pursue any sort of further education. She couldn’t understand why. “I always thought, you’re not just improving the mother’s life, you’re improving the child’s life as well,” she said. “And so it’s a way of kind of intervening to mitigate intergenerational poverty.” Luttrell said there is still a bias against these students. “There continues to be a way of thinking about being pregnant, as being at odds with being intellectually engaged,” she said. She said that programs designed specifically for pregnant and parenting teens, in either alternative schools or separate classes, rarely offer access to the same curriculum. “When you don’t get access to all the same kinds of coursework, then your future is limited to the kind of coursework that you do have access to,” she said. The social and economic implications for these teenagers when they drop out are profound. Those without a high school diploma have lower lifetime earnings, higher unemployment and greater reliance on social service programs. And perhaps even more worrisome are the outcomes for the children of teenage mothers, who score lower than children of older parents in health, intellectual and behavior assessments. Research finds babies of teens are more likely to have a low birth weight and higher rates of abuse and neglect; they are less likely to complete high school and more likely to become teen parents themselves. But with proper support, teen parents can thrive. As the Biden administration reviews Title IX this year, advocates say this is an opportunity to strengthen existing protections for pregnant and parenting students. In a 2012 survey of state laws and policies by the National Women’s Law Center, almost half the states had no statewide program, grant or support designed specifically for pregnant and parenting students, and fewer than half the states explicitly made homebound or hospitalized instruction services available to pregnant and parenting students. “How are we going to educate all these young parents? I feel that that’s not in the dialogue,” said Janet Max, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Healthy Teen Network. She said anti-abortion advocates who pushed to overturn Roe aren’t talking about supporting these young parents or their babies. “There does not seem to be any plan about the implications of this beyond just ending Roe and ending access to abortion.” Laura Echevarria, the communications director for the National Right to Life organization, agrees there should be more support for young mothers. “These programs that should have existed, many of them never got the opportunity to get off the ground,” she said. “But this can change now. The mantra needs to change. Instead of saying, ‘Get an abortion,’ it needs to be, ‘What can we do for you?’ ” Echevarria said some states are already responding to the anticipated increase in pregnancies. For example, South Dakota launched a new website with information on parenting, adoption and financial assistance. Georgia passed a law making it easier for nonprofits to operate group homes for pregnant and parenting people. Some states are looking at ways to expand and fund pregnancy centers that offer prenatal care and education, using tax dollars. Echevarria soon expects more legislation across the country that’s “protective of unborn babies.” The U.S. Department of Education has released proposed changes to Title IX, which it recently opened to public comments. Cassandra Mensah, a counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, called the proposed protections “overall, a really positive and necessary step” that could significantly help pregnant and parenting students stay in school. For example, the current regulations are silent on lactation rooms, but Mensah said the proposed rules require schools to provide support for breastfeeding students, including a clean, private space in school that is not a bathroom. Under the proposed rules, schools will also have to give teens time off for pregnancy for as long as a health care provider, not just a physician, deems necessary. And while current Title IX rules don’t explicitly mention a school’s role when pregnant or parenting students are harassed, the proposed changes make clear any pregnancy-related harassment is prohibited under Title IX and that schools would be required to investigate complaints in a “prompt and equitable manner.” Some advocates want additional regulations they say will help, such as better data collection; currently, there is no requirement that schools collect even basic information on this population. “A lot of districts actually don’t know how many of their students are pregnant or parenting — that’s part of the problem,” said Lisette Orellana Engel, a vice president at National Crittenton, a nonprofit that supports teen parents. Today LaTavia is 21, with a 3-year-old daughter and an 8-week-old son. Her eyes shone as she proudly held up her son, dressed in a Mickey Mouse onesie, during a Zoom interview. She has met with the career and college coordinator and filled out applications to colleges. In July, she learned that she was accepted to the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she plans to enroll this fall. Without all the extra support, LaTavia said her life would be very different. The biggest change is that she thinks she would have lost custody of her beloved children. “I honestly wouldn’t have had them with me,” she said. As she cooed to her son, LaTavia marveled at how much better life is now. “Because it’s not about me anymore. It’s really about them and their future,” she said, smiling. Neal Morton and Caroline Preston contributed to this story. 

The national teacher shortage is growing. In Florida, controversial laws are making it worse.

Originally published by The 19th “Do you have a dog?” “Who’s your boyfriend?” “Are you married?” Anita Carson fielded questions from students about her personal life each year she taught for Polk County Public Schools in Florida, giving them a short presentation about her friends and family and asking them to do the same. But for the first time in 12 years, when school resumes this fall, the bisexual middle school instructor won’t be in a classroom. She resigned in May due to a combination of factors, chief among them Florida’s recent passage of laws, including “Don’t Say Gay” and the Stop WOKE Act, that limit what educators can say about issues such as sexual orientation, gender identity and race. The laws prevent educators, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community, from being authentic about their lives, covering important subject matter and meeting the socioemotional needs of students, Carson contends. “With the very blatant attacks on education and on marginalized communities, I just couldn’t teach anymore,” said Carson, who is now a community organizer for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. “I cannot fathom being in a classroom where I cannot support my kids to the fullest of my ability because there are now laws that tell me what I can and cannot do to support my kids; like, that’s heartbreaking.” Nationally, teachers have resigned in droves during the pandemic. A National Education Association poll released in February found that 55 percent of teachers plan to exit the profession sooner than planned, up from 37 percent last August. Shortages are difficult to track or compare nationally because states, counties and cities may use different methodology to determine their needs, including current openings, teacher polls and information about the number of students getting education degrees. Florida has more than 9,000 school personnel openings, and roughly half are teacher positions, according to the Florida Education Association. In Virginia, there are as many as 2,500 teaching vacancies. In Illinois, there are over 2,000 such vacancies, and Georgia projects that it will need up to 8,000 teachers over the next few years. Teacher shortages disproportionately affect students of color, who are overrepresented in under-resourced schools where staffing issues are often more severe and leave students with instructors who are likely to be inexperienced and underqualified. While teacher shortages have left no region of the country untouched, Florida is a flashpoint because the state’s education policies, political climate and anti-teacher rhetoric contribute to the crisis. In Florida, about “450,000 kids started school last year without a permanent teacher,” said Norín Dollard, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT director at the Florida Policy Institute. “Of course, it’s going to have an effect on academic success.” A unique set of challenges is causing Florida educators to call it quits. In addition to passing laws that critics say target the LGBTQ+ community and people of color, political figures in the state have characterized educators as threats to students and parents. Tired of what they consider to be character assassination, low pay and a lack of job security, teachers in the Sunshine State are resigning in worrisome numbers. In 2010, for example, Florida had just 1,000 teacher openings, according to the Florida Education Association. Today, the organization warns there aren’t enough aspiring educators to fill openings that are at least four times as high. The Florida Department of Education did not specify how many teacher vacancies the state has but disputed that the figure is as high as the teachers’ union reports. Not only are an increasing number of people leaving the profession, a decreasing number of people are entering it. In 2010, there were about 8,000 students who graduated from Florida’s colleges and universities with education degrees, said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. This year, the association expects between 2,000 and 3,000 students to earn degrees in the field. “First and foremost, it’s just bad policies that have been passed in Florida that have had a huge impact on people deciding not to come into the profession and people leaving the profession who otherwise intended to stay,” Spar said. “The only thing the pandemic did was accelerate how quickly people left the profession.” Just a couple of years ago, quitting education had not crossed Carson’s mind. In 2020, she felt passionate enough about the profession to run for a seat on the Polk County Public Schools board. Although she lost the race, she managed to navigate virtual instruction during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis, a period that she and her colleagues found extremely stressful. Still, she appreciated the lawmakers in her state for thanking educators and other essential workers for their contributions during the pandemic. Then the rhetoric took a sharp turn. Political groups began portraying teachers as nefarious influences in students’ lives. “These right-wing extremist groups were talking about teachers indoctrinating kids with liberal [agendas] and saying that teachers are groomers and pedophiles if they ever support LGBTQ-anything in the presence of a minor,” Carson said. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I was like, ‘I have to get out of this. This is toxic. This is not the space that I want to be in anymore.’” The Sunshine State is the epicenter of Moms for Liberty, a conservative parent group co-founded by two former Florida school board members. Their movement for more parental oversight of curricula related to race, gender, sexuality or politics spread across the nation during the pandemic. The group holds such sway in conservative circles that Betsy DeVos spoke at its summit Saturday, garnering headlines for reportedly calling for an end to the Department of Education, the federal agency she led during former President Donald Trump’s administration. The so-called parents’ rights movement has led to the introduction of book bans, critical race theory bans and curriculum transparency bills in most states. Florida, however, has gone a step farther with the passage of “Don’t Say Gay” and the Stop WOKE Act. While the former prohibits educators from teaching lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity to children in grades K-3 — which Spar denies ever happened — the latter would allow parents to sue if they suspect that children are learning about critical race theory in class. In addition, last year Florida passed a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” law that prohibits government entities from infringing “upon the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of a minor child” without justification. Carson said this sort of legislation can lead to LGBTQ+ and other teachers from marginalized groups hiding themselves from students. Straight teachers, she added, will likely feel more comfortable answering questions from students about their personal lives than LGBTQ+ teachers will. Laws such as “Don’t Say Gay” also lead to confusion because neither teachers nor school districts know exactly how to interpret them, Carson said. “It was very purposely vague, so that they could continue pushing the concept that it’s not discriminatory,” Carson said, noting that SB 1557 does not actually include the word “gay.” “It doesn’t make it any less discriminatory because everyone knows what they were trying to accomplish, but it does make it a lot harder to implement and makes the job of educators 10 times more frustrating because the districts that we teach in…are trying to avoid lawsuits. So they’re either ignoring it entirely and giving no one guidance, or they are giving incredibly conservative guidance to try and stay away from lawsuits.” Although Carson taught science, she said the Stop WOKE Act caused her to question what she would be able to teach. She was uncertain if she could discuss current events with students, which they routinely bring up, even if she presented the topic in a way that was historically accurate and left out her personal politics. Plus, Carson said that she made a point in her classes to highlight the achievements of underrepresented scientists, such as the late Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The Stop WOKE Act indicates that she should not mention Maathai’s race, gender or country of origin, Carson said, even though the information could potentially inspire students. Spar said laws such as the Stop WOKE Act and “Don’t Say Gay” hurt educators. “Teachers are caring individuals who always want to do the right thing, and it’s very hurtful and very frustrating when you’re trying to do the job you’re hired to do and there’s constant regulation preventing you from doing that,” he said. “And then you have a governor going around the state saying things like, ‘Teachers are teaching kids to be gay, or teachers are teaching sex education in grades K-3. Teachers are teaching kids to hate White people, or teachers are teaching kids to hate cops,’ all of which is not true at all. It weighs on the profession.” The controversial legislation Florida has passed over the past year may lower teacher morale, but it is not the only factor causing educators to leave the profession. Spar said that the state’s policies on teacher pay and job security have contributed to the educator shortage. In March, Governor Ron DeSantis set aside $800 million in Florida’s budget to raise minimum teacher pay and increase veteran teacher salaries, the third consecutive pay hike he’s approved for teachers. But Florida ranks 48th nationally in teacher pay, with an average salary of $51,009 during the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Education Association. Also, recent salary increases there have largely benefitted newcomers to the profession, while veteran teachers lag behind their counterparts elsewhere in pay. Spar attributes this problem to Florida’s Senate Bill 736, which passed in 2011 and changed teacher pay, evaluations and job security. “The longer you’re teaching, the smaller your pay increases,” Spar said of the legislative change. “A teacher with 10, 15, 20, 30 years of experience today is making less money in Florida than what teachers with that exact same experience made 10 or 15 years ago. I had a teacher contact me. She has been teaching for 25 years, and she’s making $52,000 a year. She found a salary schedule from the 2008-2009 school year in her district, and a teacher with 25 years experience back then was making $59,000 — $7,000 more than she is today.” Spar said that Florida teachers also no longer have tenure, so they don’t know until the end of each school year if they’ll be invited back for the following year. Teachers who live geographically close enough to earn more pay as educators in the neighboring states of Georgia and Alabama are abandoning Florida schools to do so, said Dollard, of the Florida Policy Institute. By raising salaries, providing more job security and reversing laws that keep teachers from doing their best work, the state may be able to retain and attract the educators it needs, advocates say. Adam Lane, principal of Haines City High School in Polk County, Florida, has come up with some creative solutions to ensure that his school has the personnel it needs. A few years after he became principal in 2015, he began recruiting alums to join the staff. Today, nearly a quarter of his 247-member team are graduates of Haines City High, which has a student body of about 3,000. “When seniors graduate, I work with them to be substitutes,” said Lane, who was named the 2022 Florida Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “Not only are they making money, they are getting experience as a teacher. In four years, they’re ready to go and they have a job waiting for them back at my school working with me.” Lane enjoys bringing on former students as teachers because they already know the school’s mission, vision, procedures and staff. The newcomers also appreciate a starting salary of about $48,000, but Lane acknowledged that mid-career teachers likely need financial incentives to keep them in the profession. As Lane ensures that his school has a pipeline of teachers, he is also making a concerted effort to foster relationships with parents during a time when the two groups are being positioned as opponents in the political sphere. With the help of the school guidance counselor, Haines City High launched an initiative called Parent University that connects parents to teachers, counselors, administrators and social workers at the school so they can see firsthand what the jobs entail. “There’s a lot of parents out there that want to be better parents, and they want to understand the educational process more, but how are they going to do it if they don’t have an invitation to come to a school?” he said. “The more parents you educate, the less friction or misguided information you’re gonna have.” As an organizer for Equality Florida, Carson is now educating people about Florida’s education policies and their potential ramifications. When she heard about the job on Facebook, she knew it was the right fit. “I was like, ‘That’s it. That’s what I need to do. That just fits really well as an LGBTQ educator and an advocate for kids,’” she said. “I am…organizing around these crazy moments that are happening in Florida in schools all across the state. Whether it’s [‘Don’t Say Gay’] or the Stop WOKE law, they’re having to come to terms with these laws without a whole lot of guidance…and with the knowledge that these laws are meant to be discriminatory.”

Abortion right guaranteed by Roe will be replaced by state power if the Supreme Court adopts the leaked Alito opinion

Morgan Marietta, UMass Lowell Draft opinions circulated among Supreme Court justices are meant to allow for deliberation and editing before a final version is released. They are not the last word, nor ready for public reaction. But on the evening of May 2, 2022, Politico published a bombshell: a leaked draft of an opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that overturns Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey – the two rulings that gave constitutional protection to the abortion right. While the final text of the opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson may be somewhat different, the meaning of the current draft is clear. First, the powers of individual states to determine whether abortions are legally available are increasing. Second, the Supreme Court’s barriers for overruling a precedent are decreasing. State by state voting Under American constitutional democracy, many decisions are made by majority rule, accomplished through elections. This applies to routine regulations like drug laws or speed limits. But other decisions are beyond the reach of majorities and protected by individual rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Under Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision fell into the category of rights. But the leaked draft opinion moves abortion from being a constitutionally guaranteed right to an act whose legality is determined by state laws. That means it falls under majority rule, determined by the citizens of each state through their elected state legislators. Alito is saying that when the Constitution does not recognize a clear right, the people must elect representatives that share their view rather than appeal to courts. The Alito draft repeats its core holding several times: The right recognized in Roe v. Wade “has no basis in the Constitution’s text or in our Nation’s history.” The court that decided Roe, Alito writes, “usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance that the Constitution unequivocally leaves to the people.” Therefore, “it is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” Is there a constitutional right? Roe in 1973 and Casey in 1992 determined the right to an abortion was found in a combination of protections recognized by the Constitution. These include the Fourth Amendment’s protections against state intrusion, and the Ninth Amendment’s recognition of non-enumerated rights, or “others retained by the people.” The most prominent justification in those rulings is the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection against deprivation of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Roe grounded the abortion right in a broader right of privacy, while Casey added an emphasis on reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity. In Alito’s view, Roe “was remarkably loose in its treatment of the constitutional text. It held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.” His draft concludes that Roe’s “message seemed to be that the abortion right could be found somewhere in the Constitution and that specifying its exact location was not of paramount importance.” The standard the Supreme Court has employed to recognize a right not specifically stated in the Constitution’s text has been whether it is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” Alito’s draft demands historical evidence of political assertions, judicial rulings or public laws that demonstrate the existence of the right. But Alito’s review of the history argues that the opposite is the case: There is no evidence of an established right and there are, instead, many examples of public restrictions. A 30-page appendix lists all of the state laws outlawing or regulating abortion passed between 1825 and 1952. He concludes that “until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None.” An important part of the draft ruling focuses on the question of who has the power to determine prevailing social facts as well as protected legal principles. At what point a fetus becomes a person – and as such a holder of rights – is a long-standing dispute at the heart of the abortion debate. This is a crucial aspect of the conflict because a woman’s rights to autonomy and liberty may be limited if other rights held by other persons are involved. But it has not been clear who has the power to make that determination. Roe – 50 years ago – and Casey – 30 years ago – said that the court should set a national standard for recognizing fetal personhood. Casey established viability at around 24 weeks, or the point at which fetal life is deemed to be self-sustaining outside the womb, as the point at which a state could recognize fetal rights and therefore restrict abortion. But Alito argues that this specific standard “makes no sense” and that the previous rulings “provided no principled defense of the viability line.” So Alito puts the decision about when a fetus becomes a person clearly in the hands of the elected representatives of each state: “In some states, voters may believe that the abortion right should be even more extensive than the right that Roe and Casey recognized. Voters in other states may wish to impose tight restrictions based on their belief that abortion destroys an ‘unborn human being.’” A weakened standard for overruling precedent The Supreme Court is reluctant to discard its previous rulings, following precedent unless there is a substantial reason to repudiate the old reasoning. For 30 years, the Casey ruling upholding Roe has been considered the “precedent on precedent.” It established four considerations for the legitimate discarding of a previous decision: The ruling misunderstood the Constitution; it proved to be unworkable in practice; new facts had emerged; and whether or not citizens had shaped their life decisions grounded in the ruling, what is known as “reliance interests.” [Over 150,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.] In overturning Roe, the draft opinion offers a new and weaker standard for overturning precedent. The most significant change is what Alito calls “the quality of reasoning.” Rulings that “looked like legislation,” that offered faulty history, or created standards unjustified by the Constitution can be overruled under Alito’s reasoning. This new standard leads to the draft’s conclusion that precedent “does not compel unending adherence to Roe’s abuse of judicial authority.” Alito’s draft reverses Roe by weakening the law of precedent. This is likely to open up many other rulings for potential reversal, including on same-sex marriage and affirmative action. A future of state-level conflict We know that state legislatures will gain power if the final ruling resembles the leaked draft. What we don’t know is what each of them will do. Some analyses estimate the number of states that will outlaw abortion at around 25. That would effectively divide the nation evenly into abortion rights states and anti-abortion rights states. This will no doubt increase the regional polarization and geographical sorting of Americans by culture and ideology. It will also likely create long-term conflict in states that are divided by ideology and partisanship – including large states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It sets up conditions for this one issue to dominate state elections and partisan battles for years to come. Some states will likely attempt to restrict their own citizens from traveling, and abortion rights states will attempt to aid other citizens to travel to their territory. How the Supreme Court will react to such laws is unclear. But what is clear is that the Alito draft will return power over abortion and potentially other issues to the state level, raising the stakes and the bitterness of local democracy throughout the United States. Morgan Marietta, Associate Professor of Political Science, UMass Lowell This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured Image: Abortion rights battles look set to go from the Supreme Court to statehouses. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oldest national parks in America

By Lauren Liebhaber Oldest national parks in America We live in a land of giants, legends, and ancient history. Early descriptions of the regions that would eventually become our national parks, most often told by explorers or laborers, were so foreign and fantastical to the average person that they simply weren’t believed. Even today, the parks’ grandeur can only fully be comprehended in person. But the majesty of Yosemite, Sequoia, and Yellowstone proved all too real, prompting a radical idea; some say it was America’s best idea ever. Canva The idea was simple and conceived in earnest: preserve these lands so that they might flourish and feed the human spirit of every generation to come. Thanks to the National Park Service (NPS), more than 14 billion visitors since 1904 have had the chance to do just that: to experience the impressive scale, history, and raw beauty of these environments. The creation of the national parks as we know them today—over 400 areas, with 85 million acres in 50 states and other territories—was a hard-won achievement. It was a battle fought by pioneers, politicians, scientists, and artists alike to preserve these environments well beyond the scope of their own lives. Individuals like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and countless others were integral in facilitating these protections. In August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, which officially established the National Park Service as a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior. The NPS was tasked with protecting the national parks and monuments already established up to that point and any future parks that would be created. A 1933 executive order transferred 56 pre-existing monuments and historical sites to the purview of the NPS. Today, new national parks are created through acts of Congress. The importance of these lands goes back further than explorations of the Western wilderness, further than the passage of protective legislation. Many of the regions in which the national parks reside are significant cultural heritage sites for the communities of American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians who have lived and flourished in those lands since time immemorial. The first stewards of these lands lived here long before the NPS; protecting and sharing these histories is an essential duty of the NPS as it attempts to preserve the legacy of its parks. Using a variety of historical sources such as the National Park Service, Stacker compiled a list of the 25 oldest established national parks in America. The area of each park is current as of 2017. Because 2020 was such an outlier year in terms of visitors because of COVID-19, we included visitor numbers from 2019 as well. Any parks that have been disbanded since their founding or have merged with other national parks are not included in the list. Read on for an overview of the history and defining characteristics of the 25 oldest national parks. You may also like: Greenest cities in America Niagara66 // Wikimedia Commons 25. Kings Canyon – Location: California – Date established as park: March 4, 1940 – Area: 461,901 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 632,110 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 415,077 Kings Canyon resides in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, adjacent to Sequoia National Park. Its dramatic geography—with glacial valleys, rocky outcrops, and expansive meadows, all of which was brought to prominence in the late 19th century by John Muir—is often compared to the legendary Yosemite. But one of its most well-known and visited features is Grant Grove, an expanse of mighty redwoods, and home to the General Grant Tree, one of the largest living trees in the world. Maurice King // Wikimedia Commons 24. Olympic – Location: Washington – Date established as park: June 29, 1938 – Area: 922,649 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 3,245,806 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 2,499,177 Olympic National Park, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is defined by its geographic isolation. Olympic contains three distinct ecosystems—temperate rainforests, pacific coastline, and glaciated mountains, the most famous of which is Mount Olympus—making it one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the U.S. Canva 23. Shenandoah – Location: Virginia – Date established as park: Dec. 26, 1935 – Area: 199,218 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,425,507 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 1,666,265 Just over an hour’s drive away from D.C., Shenandoah offers a stunning perspective on East Coast wilderness, including 300 square miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shenandoah’s most prominent feature is Skyline Drive, a road that traverses the entirety of the park with over 70 overlooks of the Shenandoah Valley. But Skyline Drive and the park as a whole were not always so accessible. Adhering to Jim Crow laws, private operators implemented what they claimed were “separate but equal” facilities throughout the park until it was fully integrated in 1950. Rick Grainger // Shutterstock 22. Great Smoky Mountains – Location: Tennessee, North Carolina – Date established as park: June 15, 1934 – Area: 522,427 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 12,547,743 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 12,095,720 Great Smoky Mountains National Park is regularly among the most-visited parks in the nation. It is also the most biodiverse park in the national park system—over 19,000 species have been documented and scientists believe up to 100,000 undocumented species may live there. Its creation was more complicated than that of other national parks, requiring extensive fundraising, the purchase of thousands of small farms, and the removal of those who lived there previously. Everglades NPS // Wikimedia Commons 21. Everglades – Location: Florida – Date established as park: May 30, 1934 – Area: 1,508,934 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,118,300 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 702,319 Everglades National Park—established thanks to the efforts of former-land-developer-turned-conservationist Ernest F. Coe—is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. It was also the first national park created to protect an ecosystem at risk. The park is home to many federally threatened and endangered species, including the West Indian manatee and the Florida panther. Wctr2019 // Wikimedia Commons 20. Carlsbad Caverns – Location: New Mexico – Date established as park: May 14, 1930 – Area: 46,766 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 440,691 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 183,835 Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico, is defined by its unique and long geological history, most of which is hidden from sight. This national park contains one of the Earth’s oldest and best-preserved fossilized reefs. Capitan Reef is a record of a 250 million-year-old Permian-age ocean teeming with life in the present-day arid, mountainous region bordered by the Chihuahuan desert. Also hidden below the surface of the Earth is an extensive system of limestone caves decorated by a variety of calcite deposits, the viewing of which is a popular activity for park visitors. Unsplash 19. Grand Teton – Location: Wyoming – Date established as park: Feb. 26, 1929 – Area: 310,044 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 3,405,614 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 3,289,638 Grand Teton National Park is characterized by the rugged Teton Mountain range, clear alpine lakes, and the well-known Jackson Hole Valley. Human presence in the region goes back nearly 11,000 years. The park was also a popular destination for mountaineers, fur trappers, and dude ranchers. Jean-Christophe BENOIT // Wikimedia Commons 18. Bryce Canyon – Location: Utah – Date established as park: Feb. 25, 1928 – Area: 35,835 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 2,594,904 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 1,464,655 Bryce Canyon is the land of hoodoos, or irregular rock spires. In fact, it’s home to the largest concentration of hoodoo formations on Earth. The park’s topography is singularly striking, a relic of far off periods in Earth’s evolution. Bryce Canyon was initially designated as a national monument in 1923 before the land was sold to the federal government and established as a national park five years later. Ken L. // Flickr 17. Hot Springs – Location: Arkansas – Date established as park: March 4, 1921 – Area: 5,548 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,467,153 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 1,348,215 As its name suggests, Hot Springs National Park is known for its geothermal pools. The city of Hot Springs and successful bathhouse industry grew around and in response to the region’s unique hydrothermal features. Liam Fujita Photography // Shutterstock 16. Zion – Location: Utah – Date established as park: Nov. 19, 1919 – Area: 147,237 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 4,488,268 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 3,591,254 Zion National Park has a long human history dating back to nearly 6,000 B.C. when small semi-nomadic family groups inhabited the region. With its deep canyons, vast plateaus, sandstone cliffs, and river formations, Zion has no shortage of striking geological panoramas. Zion was initially established as Mukuntuweap National Monument by President William Taft in 1909. Fearing that a Native American name would deter visitors, the region was renamed Zion, a Mormon phrase reflective of the population residing there at the time. GoodFreePhotos 14. Acadia (tie) – Location: Maine – Date established as park: Feb. 26, 1919 – Area: 49,075 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 3,437,286 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 2,669,034 Acadia was the first national park east of the Mississippi River and is the only national park in the northeastern U.S. Covered in spruce-fir forests, outlined by the rocky Atlantic coastline and dotted with dozens of lakes and ponds, Acadia is quintessential northeastern wilderness. Popular recreational activities include hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and leaf-peeping in the fall. GoodFreePhotos 14. Grand Canyon (tie) – Location: Arizona – Date established as park: Feb. 26, 1919 – Area: 1,201,647 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 5,974,411 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 2,897,098 Grand Canyon National Park is characterized by its staggering vastness. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is a uniquely impressive and inspiring geological wonder. It is also a place steeped in spiritual significance for several American Indian cultures. One of the park’s biggest early advocates who pushed to protect and preserve the land was President Theodore Roosevelt, calling it “the one great sight which every American should see.” Denali National Park and Preserve // Wikimedia Commons 13. Denali – Location: Alaska – Date established as park: Feb. 26, 1917 – Area: 4,740,911 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 601,152 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 54,850 Denali National Park and Preserve is home to North America’s highest mountain peak: Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. The word Denali means “the high one” in the language of local Athabascan Indians. Charles Sheldon—a millionaire in the railroad industry and an amateur naturalist—was the first person to propose establishing Denali as a national park to protect its wildlife from trophy hunters and even hand-delivered the bill outlining the park’s creation to President Woodrow Wilson. NPS 12. Lassen Volcanic – Location: California – Date established as park: Aug. 9, 1916 – Area: 106,589 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 517,039 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 542,274 The stark landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park tells the story of a violent, volatile past. Volcanoes, fumaroles, geysers, and other hydrothermal features give this park its distinct eruptive quality, serving as a keen reminder of how active the Earth is just below our feet. Visitors can spend time at Juniper and Butte Lakes, or observe the many hydrothermal features (assuming they follow all safety precautions). Unsplash 10. Haleakalā (tie) – Location: Hawaii – Date established as park: Aug. 1, 1916 – Area: 33,265 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 994,394 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 319,147 Haleakalā National Park, located on the island of Maui, is a place of great cultural and biological importance. According to legend, the demigod Maui lassoed and trapped the sun in order to make the days longer. In Hawaiian, Haleakalā means “house of the sun.” The park, being so geographically isolated, is home to many endemic species of plants and animals, which visitors can glimpse on trails, day hikes, and guided tours. Jo Crebbin // Shutterstock 10. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes (tie) – Location: Hawaii – Date established as park: Aug. 1, 1916 – Area: 323,431 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,368,376 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 589,775 Like Haleakalā, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park in a place steeped in tradition and biodiversity. The park is home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes. In Hawaiian culture, Kilauea is believed to be the home of the goddess Pele. The park offers several day hikes and additional trails on which visitors can explore the park’s dramatic and culturally rich landscape, as well as its unique wildlife. NPS 9. Rocky Mountain – Location: Colorado – Date established as park: Jan. 26, 1915 – Area: 265,795 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 4,670,053 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 3,305,199 Rocky Mountain National Park provides some of the most dramatic landscapes in the entirety of the National Parks System. It holds the title of being the park at the highest elevation on the popular traverse Trail Ridge Road. Naturalist Enos Mills was the driving force behind the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park after falling in love with the area as a boy. He spent the majority of his life advocating for the park and training the next generation of stewards to do the same. Tobias Klenze // Wikimedia Commons 8. Glacier – Location: Montana – Date established as park: May 11, 1910 – Area: 1,013,126 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 3,049,839 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 1,698,864 Glacier National Park has been nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent” and it’s not difficult to understand why. When it was established in 1910, the park had over 100 glaciers, making its name choice obvious. Today, only 26 remain. One of the most popular features of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which traverses the length of the park. The road takes visitors on a drive across dramatic landscapes and by several National Historic Landmarks established shortly after the park’s incorporation. Lacee Curtis // Wikimedia Commons 7. Mesa Verde – Location: Colorado – Date established as park: June 29, 1906 – Area: 52,485 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 556,203 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 287,477 Mesa Verde National Park is probably best known for its preservation of the Pueblo cliff dwellings dating back to 600 C.E. In total, the park contains over 5,000 archaeological sites denoting the region’s long human history. Its more modern history is also full of intrigue: The Pueblo sites were discovered by a rancher named Richard Wetherill and were excavated and partially pillaged by a Swedish aristocrat named Gustaf Nordenskiold. The area’s establishment as a federal national park was vehemently opposed by a writer named Virginia McClurg, who believed it should be a “woman’s park.” Bobneiers // Wikimedia Commons 6. Wind Cave – Location: South Dakota – Date established as park: Jan. 9, 1903 – Area: 33,971 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 615,350 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 448,405 Wind Cave was the world’s first cave to be designated a national park. It was named for the winds that pass through its entrance—according to local oral history, it is as if the mouth of the cave is breathing. The cave is also known for its rare calcite formations, including boxwork, an elaborate honeycomb-like structure formed by layers of calcite spears. The park also contains one of the world’s few remaining mixed-grass prairies, home to native species like bison, elk, and prairie dogs. Wollertz // Shutterstock 5. Crater Lake – Location: Oregon – Date established as park: May 22, 1902 – Area: 183,224 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 704,512 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 670,500 Crater Lake National Park has a violent past that begat the pristine vistas we know today: 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama was taken down by a two-day volcanic eruption. What was left after the swift fall was Crater Lake Caldera. At 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., and its water is some of the clearest in the world. Rim Drive is the most popular route in the park; the path takes visitors around the entirety of the caldera rim. Jeffhollett // Wikimedia Commons 4. Mount Rainier – Location: Washington – Date established as park: March 2, 1899 – Area: 236,382 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,501,621 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 1,160,754 Mount Rainier National Park’s most prominent feature is its namesake, Mount Rainier. The active volcano is the tallest peak in the Cascade mountain range. Juxtaposed with expansive meadows full of wildflowers, Rainier dominates the park’s landscape. John Muir summited Mount Rainier in 1888 and the experience would compel him to lead the efforts of establishing the region as a national park. Lorcel // Shutterstock 3. Yosemite – Location: California – Date established as park: Oct. 1, 1890 – Area: 761,748 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 4,422,861 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 2,268,313 As it does today, Yosemite had the ability to inspire its earliest visitors with its grandeur. With its ancient giant redwoods, deep valleys, and vast meadows, it was viewed as something to be protected at all costs; not for the privileged few or for profit, but for generations to come. Sen. John Conness, John Muir, and Capt. Charles Young were a few of Yosemite’s most unrelenting protectors. Unsplash 2. Sequoia – Location: California – Date established as park: Sep. 25, 1890 – Area: 404,063 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 1,246,053 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 796,086 As its name suggests, Sequoia National Park is best known for its ancient, giant redwood forests. Home to the world’s largest tree, General Sherman, Sequoia National Park is a testament to nature’s ability to endure not just time, but human meddling. The Giant Sequoias were subject to logging operations in the 1880s. Thanks to the trees’ tendency to splinter and the efforts of advocates like the Sierra Club, the establishment of Sequoia as a national park ended all logging operations. Unsplash 1. Yellowstone – Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – Date established as park: March 1, 1872 – Area: 2,219,791 acres – Recreational visitors in 2019: 4,020,288 – Recreational visitors in 2020: 3,806,306 The early descriptions of Yellowstone recounted by prospectors and explorers who passed through the region were so extreme that they were often laughed off as fantasy. Descriptions of its unparalleled size and eruptive earth—all the things we stand in awe of still today—finally forced an expedition into the territory to validate the claims once and for all. One year after the expedition, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill making Yellowstone the first national park.

How US trees are powering Europe’s renewable energy goals

By Emma Rubin The European Union in 2020 sourced 21.3% of its energy from renewables, surpassing its 2009 goal. With most of the continent’s energy coming from oil and petroleum products, its announcement was one of the first ambitious global promises to address climate change. Within the broad range of renewable energy sources Europe relied upon, one source accounted for nearly half of the continent’s renewable supply: biomass. Broadly, biomass is any organic material used as fuel and can include manure, agricultural or industrial waste, garbage, and most prominently, wood. Burning wood for fuel is nothing new: As countries transition away from coal and other fossil fuels, the popularity of biomass increases, leading to a spike in demand for wood pellets. Stacker cited data from the International Trade Center, Eurostat, and the Southern Environmental Law Center to examine how the growing wood pellet industry in the U.S. is fueling European energy, despite its controversial environmental reputation. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol first considered wood pellets a carbon-neutral energy source. The world was beginning to think more seriously about climate change at the time, and pellets became an easy substitute to transition away from coal-powered facilities. Woody biomass companies replant trees while harvesting timber, allowing young forests to absorb carbon while justifying biomass as a renewable energy source. But biomass’s carbon neutrality is not immediate: It takes years for new saplings to meet the carbon-absorption capacity of older trees being harvested. Meanwhile, wood pellets are burned and emit the CO2 once stored by the wood. The resulting carbon debt can take decades for newly planted trees to offset. Scientists also note that considering wood pellets carbon-neutral overlooks emissions from the supply chain. An analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project published in 2018 found that 21 wood pellet facilities exporting to Europe emitted 16,000 tons of air pollutants annually. Transportation in cross-Atlantic vessels is another phase that often goes unaccounted for in woody biomass’s carbon calculations. Scientists have begun to question the sustainability of woody biomass, and whether the displacement of one fossil fuel is now causing the disruption of forest ecosystems—all while still emitting greenhouse gases. Read on to learn about the complexities of renewable energy. You may also like: The 90 companies responsible for two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions The EU aims for renewables to make up 40% of its energy supply by 2030 The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in April of 2022, warns that efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be taken more seriously. If countries do not make concerted efforts to cut emissions by 2025, the report claims, the world may not be able to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Pressure for countries to meet climate promises and curb reliance on fossil fuels has accelerated since the U.N.’s First Earth Summit in 1972, with European Union countries setting ambitious pledges for the coming decades. Renewable energy supply in Europe has grown 237% since 1990. The United Kingdom has kept up goals even after Brexit, targeting 100% renewable energy by 2035. The growing amount of gigawatts renewables is providing means that demand is accelerating across the renewable sector. Solid biomass still comprises about 45% of renewables Solar and wind power have shown the fastest growth since 1990, but the EU still gets nearly half of its renewable energy supply from combustible biomass. Solid biofuel data can’t be broken down by origin, meaning the exact scale of wood-sourced biomass in Europe’s energy supply is not available. Regardless, estimates suggest forestry accounts for at least 60% of European biomass. Biomass plants qualify to receive renewable energy subsidies, which drives their popularity. Biomass subsidies in the EU have remained steady over the past five years. A report from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy found at least €103 billion have benefited biomass plants since 2015, an amount that falls behind the €170 billion and €113 billion spent subsidizing solar and wind respectively. More than 500 scientists signed a letter to President Joe Biden and the leaders of Japan, the European Council, European Commision, and the United Nations urging against subsidies and incentives for biomass fuel. Last year, the Netherlands—which imported nearly 1.3 million tons of U.S. wood pellets in 2021—ended subsidies on new biomass plants. The country instead seeks to develop a phase-out policy and rely on other renewables. The largest wood pellet mills are in the American South As pressure mounts—especially in Europe—to meet renewable energy goals, demand for wood pellets rises. Forests in Germany, Sweden, and Latvia have historically been major suppliers of this fuel. To meet the demand of less self-sufficient countries, the U.S. South has become a hub for wood pellet production: More than 23 mills produce a combined capacity of 10.5 million tons of pellets annually. The value of U.S. exports of wood pellets to Europe grew nearly 60% in the last five years. The South is also home to the American wood pellet industry, thanks in large part to the region’s forests. Forests cover the majority of land in most southern states, and the ecosystems are diverse. But crucially, many of these forests are privately owned. Although states like Washington and Oregon are home to greater forest acreage than southeastern states, most of their ecosystems are publicly owned. The latest estimates for the largest exporters of wood pellets in 2021 showed most forests are privately owned in Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama. Three companies own about two-thirds of southern wood pellet mills exporting to Europe Three companies—Enviva, Drax Biomass, and Fram Renewable Fuels—control two-thirds of wood pellet facilities in the southern U.S that export to Europe, according to data from the Environmental Paper Network and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Other pellet manufacturers operate in the South, like Lignetics, which is consumer and not business-to-business focused. Built in 1974, Drax power station was the last coal facility in the U.K., originally sourcing coal from the surrounding Yorkshire region. Now, Drax has almost fully converted to biomass, relying on a growing number of mills across North America to power the transition. A 2021 acquisition of Pinnacle Renewable Energy means Drax now owns 17 mills across Canada and the U.S. South. Enviva has also expanded rapidly to meet the demands of its partners in Europe, the U.K., and Japan. Since 2011, it has opened nine mills with a combined capacity of 5.4 million tons. Enviva is currently building another plant in Lucedale, Mississippi, and has proposals for two additional mills in Mississippi and Alabama.

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as Supreme Court justice: 4 essential reads

Matt Williams, The Conversation The phrase “in a historic vote” gets thrown around a lot in journalism – and it isn’t always warranted. But shortly after 2 p.m. EDT on April 7, 2022, a Senate roll call confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice – the first Black woman to sit on the bench. The elevation of Jackson to the Supreme Court will not change the ideological setup of the bench – which would continue to be split 6-3 in favor of conservative justices. Nonetheless, it is an important landmark in the history of the court – of the 115 justices on the Supreme Court since it was established in 1789, 108 have been white men. Race featured in Jackson’s confirmation process; so too did attempts to define her “judicial philosophy.” The Conversation has turned to legal scholars to explain the meaning of Jackson’s potential ascension to the court. 1. Realizing MLK’s ‘dream’ The Senate Judiciary Committee vote moving Jackson’s confirmation toward a final Senate roll call took place on April 4, 2022 – 54 years to the day since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The significance of the date was not lost on American University’s Bev-Freda Jackson. King’s words came up in Jackson’s confirmation hearing. Republican lawmakers suggested that his vision of an America in which people are judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” was at odds with critical race theory, a concept much maligned by conservatives that holds that racism is structural in nature rather than expressed solely through personal bias. Their implication: that Jackson believed in critical race theory and therefore rejected King’s vision. Bev-Freda Jackson argues that this is a distortion. “By recasting anti-racism as the new racism, conservative GOP leaders … use King’s words that advocated for a colorblind society as a critical part of their national messaging to advance legislation that bans the teachings of so-called divisive concepts,” she writes. “Ketanji Brown Jackson is the very dream that King envisioned,” Jackson notes. “But he died before seeing the results of his nonviolent movement for social justice.” 2. On the shoulders of pioneers Now confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, Jackson has broken through the ultimate glass ceiling in terms of legal careers. She did so so on the shoulders of pioneering Black female judges. University of Florida’s Sharon D. Wright Austin notes, even now, “relatively few Black women are judges at the state or federal level” – which makes the achievement of those who have made it to this level all the more remarkable. Of the judges highlighted by Austin, there is Judge Jane Bolin, who became the country’s first Black female judge in 1939, serving as a domestic relations judge in New York for almost four decades. Later, in 1961, Constance Baker Motley became the first Black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. In all she argued 10 cases before the court, winning nine of them. Meanwhile, Judge Julia Cooper Mack is noted as the first Black woman to sit on a federal appellate court, having been appointed in 1975 and serving 14 years on the bench. These women are to be celebrated and remembered. As Austin writes, “Representation matters: It is easier for young girls of color to aspire to reach their highest goals when they see others who have done so before them, in the same way that women like Jane Bolin, Constance Baker Motley and Julia Cooper Mack encouraged Ketanji Brown Jackson to reach hers.” 3. Echoes of the past The fact that a Black female Supreme Court justice is long overdue is testament to the slow progress the U.S. has made toward racial – and gender – equality. Margaret Russell, a constitutional law professor from Santa Clara University, saw signs of this lack of advancement during parts of Jackson’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. Questions directed at the would-be Supreme Court justice were, according to Russell, tantamount to race-baiting. They also sounded eerily similar to criticisms that then-Supreme Court nominee Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American nominee to the court, faced in his own confirmation hearings in 1967. Both Jackson, now, and Marshall, then, stood accused by senators of being soft on crime and were asked about how they intended to bring race into their legal decisions. “Are you prejudiced against white people in the South?” Marshall was asked by a known white supremacist senator. Similarly, Jackson was asked during her confirmation hearings if she had a “hidden agenda” to incorporate critical race theory into the legal system. “I find it striking,” Russell writes, “that race has surfaced in such a major way in these hearings, more than five decades after Marshall’s nomination. In some respects, there has been progress on racial equity in the U.S., but aspects of these hearings demonstrate that too much remains the same.” 4. What Jackson would bring to the Supreme Court Jackson’s historic achievement of becoming the first Black female Supreme Court justice may distract from the fact she is also eminently qualified to sit on the highest court in her own right. Alexis Karteron of Rutgers University-Newark notes that the Harvard Law-trained Jackson went on to clerk for Stephen Breyer, the retiring justice she is set to replace. She has served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission as well as acting as both a trial court and appellate judge. [Over 150,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.] Jackson is also the first former criminal defense attorney to be nominated to the Supreme Court since Marshall. This puts Jackson in a unique position on the bench. Karteron writes that having served as a public defender “will help [Jackson] understand the very real human toll of our criminal justice system. … The criminal justice system takes an enormous toll on both the people in the system and their loved ones. I believe having a Supreme Court justice who is familiar with that is incredibly valuable.” Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives and updates an earlier version originally published on April 4, 2022. Matt Williams, Breaking News Editor, The Conversation This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image: Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Rising costs of climate change threaten to make skiing a less diverse, even more exclusive sport

Brian P. McCullough, Texas A&M University and Lance Warwick, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Watching skiers compete almost entirely on artificially made snow at the 2022 Winter Olympics, we found it hard not to think about climate change and what it will mean for the future of the winter sports industry – and who will be able to participate. Some resorts have launched diversity efforts to try to appeal to a wider community. Johannes Kroemer via Getty Images Ski areas are increasingly reliant on extensive snowmaking operations to keep their slopes open as the planet warms. A few degrees of warming can mean more days of rain instead of snow and shorter seasons. That reduces the operators’ revenue and raises their costs. Those costs, passed along to visitors in higher lift ticket and resort prices, directly affect who can afford to spend a day on the slopes skiing or snowboarding. As resorts’ costs rise, these already expensive sports risk becoming more exclusive and less diverse. Our research involves what’s known as intersectional sustainability in sports – looking at how to ensure they are both inclusive and environmentally sustainable. For ski resorts, intersectional sustainability means acknowledging that climate change may result in the unintended consequence of further entrenching the sports’ lack of diversity, and proactively seeking to prevent that. Adaptation is necessary, and expensive Creating artificial snow to adapt to climate change doesn’t come cheap. Holiday Valley, a small resort in Ellicottville, New York, has invested over $13 million in snowmaking equipment in the past 40 years. On top of that are the costs of energy, labor and piping in thousands of gallons of water a minute to run snowmaking machines. Even as snowmaking machines become more efficient, the overall cost is still significant. An analysis of the outlook for Blue Mountain, a ski resort in Ontario, Canada, offers a glimpse of the future. In a best-case scenario, if the world achieves the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting warming to under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F), Blue Mountain’s ski season is to likely shorten by 8% and its snowmaking efforts would have to almost double by 2050. The window of ideal weather for snowmaking would also reduce by 22%, meaning the resort would be making snow under less efficient conditions, which further drives up the cost. Those extra costs likely will show up in higher lift ticket and resort prices. Smaller resorts may be forced to take on debt to finance snowmaking equipment. High leverage ratios have been shown to reduce profitability for ski resorts. Some smaller ski areas have shut down, leaving fewer nearby options for skiing and snowboarding in some areas and reducing competition that could help keep prices in check. Resorts already struggle with diversity Alpine skiing and snowboarding resorts already draw criticism for their lack of diversity. In 2019-20, 69% of visitors who described themselves as skiers and 61% as snowboarders identified as Caucasian or white, according to Snowsports Industries of America. The organization found the most frequent participants are even less diverse. A separate survey by the National Ski Area Association found a wider difference: 87.5% of U.S. visits that season were individuals identifying as Caucasian or white, and only 1.5% were people identifying as Black or African American. The Snowsports Industries of America survey also found a wealth gap. More than 63% of skiers and 55% of snowboarders had an income over $75,000, almost double the median earnings of Americans. Some resort corporations, including Aspen Snowmass and Powdr, have committed to increasing diversity and inclusion at their resorts. Powdr, for example, has community initiatives in its “Play Forever” campaign that include awarding scholarships to help people attend their camps and a partnership with STOKED, a nonprofit that mentors young people from underserved communities who are interested in board sports. But among several other corporate-owned ski resorts, there is a noticeable lack of diversity efforts on their corporate websites. Eight resort companies included either no mention of diversity and inclusion or provided no evidence of initiatives supporting these efforts on their corporate websites. The results suggest to us that the rising costs of climate adaptation will leave many would-be skiers and snowboarders unable to enjoy the sports. Three tactics to improve diversity for the future As the climate changes, management practices can also change to keep the slopes accessible. One effective strategy is engaging and partnering with community organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion. By working with organizations engaged in the community, Powdr can connect with disadvantaged youth and introduce them to snowboarding and skiing, for example. [Over 150,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.] Ski resorts can also engage directly with nonprofits like the National Brotherhood of Skiers, whose mission is to develop and support athletes of color in winter sports, and communities that are underrepresented on the mountain to understand how decisions related to climate adaptation may have the unintended consequence of further entrenching inequalities. Resort corporations can also improve their connections with diverse communities by increasing the diversity of leadership and creating senior leadership positions in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. By including diverse communities in the climate adaptation discussion, ski resorts have a better chance of achieving a future where snow sports are more accessible for everyone. Brian P. McCullough, Associate Professor of Sport Management and Director of the Laboratory for Sustainability in Sport, Texas A&M University and Lance Warwick, Graduate student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For bullied teens, online school offered a safe haven

Written by Hannah L. Schacter – Assistant Professor of Psychology, Wayne State University Online school during the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on many teens, but new research I co-authored has found a potential silver lining: Students were bullied less during remote instruction than while attending classes in person. We learned this by surveying 388 ninth graders at U.S. high schools. We asked them to answer questions three times over the 2020-2021 school year, at about three-month intervals: in November 2020 and February and May 2021. During that period, many students switched between online-only, in-person-only and hybrid schooling, as the severity of the pandemic shifted and state and local guidelines adjusted. We asked the students to tell us which of those environments they were learning in, how frequently they were the target of bullying, and whether they were feeling depressed or anxious, or having physical symptoms of stress, like headaches and nausea. What we found was that bullied teens reported heightened anxiety when they were attending in-person school, but not when they were attending online school. And the higher proportion of the year a teen spent in online school, the less likely they were to report being bullied. Switching school formats Most of the teens in our study – 86% – began the 2020-2021 school year online. But most of them switched formats – usually from online to hybrid or in-person, or from hybrid to fully in-person – at some point during the year. By the school year’s end in May 2021, less than half the students were in online-only school. We found that during periods when the students reported being bullied, they tended to feel more depressed and report more stress-related physical symptoms, like stomachaches and headaches, than when they were not being bullied. This connection was strong regardless of whether the student was in online, in-person or hybrid school. Less Bullying We adjusted our results statistically to account for other factors that might relate to teen bullying and mental health – given that some students are more likely to be bullied based on their gender and sexual identity, or that students in places with high levels of COVID-19 might be more anxious, regardless of bullying. Our findings stood up: Bullying was less common in online high school and more common at traditional, in-person high school. Compared to students who spent the whole year in in-person school, those who spent the whole year in online school reported being bullied less frequently. Although the difference was quite small, bullying is hard to reduce, so even small changes can be meaningful. Families and education professionals alike are looking to the important social, emotional and academic benefits that in-person school provides. But our research serves as a reminder that for some students, leaving virtual school means a return to bullying and anxiety that were not missed during pandemic shutdowns.

Sidney Poitier – Hollywood’s first Black leading man reflected the civil rights movement on screen

Aram Goudsouzian, University of Memphis In the summer of 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. introduced the keynote speaker for the 10th-anniversary convention banquet of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their guest, he said, was his “soul brother.” “He has carved for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of our nation’s history,” King told the audience of 2,000 delegates. “I consider him a friend. I consider him a great friend of humanity.” That man was Sidney Poitier. Poitier, who died at 94 on Jan. 7, 2021, broke the mold of what a Black actor could be in Hollywood. Before the 1950s, Black movie characters generally reflected racist stereotypes such as lazy servants and beefy mammies. Then came Poitier, the only Black man to consistently win leading roles in major films from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. Like King, Poitier projected ideals of respectability and integrity. He attracted not only the loyalty of African Americans, but also the goodwill of white liberals. In my biography of him, titled “Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon,” I sought to capture his whole life, including his incredible rags-to-riches arc, his sizzling vitality on screen, his personal triumphs and foibles and his quest to live up to the values set forth by his Bahamian parents. But the most fascinating aspect of Poitier’s career, to me, was his political and racial symbolism. In many ways, his screen life intertwined with that of the civil rights movement – and King himself. An age of protests In three separate columns in 1957, 1961 and 1962, a New York Daily News columnist named Dorothy Masters marveled that Poitier had the warmth and charisma of a minister. Poitier lent his name and resources to King’s causes, and he participated in demonstrations such as the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage and the 1963 March on Washington. In this era of sit-ins, Freedom Rides and mass marches, activists engaged in nonviolent sacrifice not only to highlight racist oppression, but also to win broader sympathy for the cause of civil rights. In that same vein, Poitier deliberately chose to portray characters who radiated goodness. They had decent values and helped white characters, and they often sacrificed themselves. He earned his first star billing in 1958, in “The Defiant Ones,” in which he played an escaped prisoner handcuffed to a racist played by Tony Curtis. At the end, with the chain unbound, Poitier jumps off a train to stick with his new white friend. Writer James Baldwin reported seeing the film on Broadway, where white audiences clapped with reassurance, their racial guilt alleviated. When he saw it again in Harlem, members of the predominantly Black audience yelled “Get back on the train, you fool!” King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In that same year, Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played Homer Smith, a traveling handyman who builds a chapel for German nuns out of the goodness of his heart. The sweet, low-budget movie was a surprise hit. In its own way, like the horrifying footage of water hoses and police dogs attacking civil rights activists, it fostered swelling support for racial integration. A better man By the time of the actor’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference speech, both King and Poitier seemed to have a slipping grip on the American public. Bloody and destructive riots plagued the nation’s cities, reflecting the enduring discontent of many poor African Americans. The swelling calls for “Black Power” challenged the ideals of nonviolence and racial brotherhood – ideals associated with both King and Poitier. When Poitier stepped to the lectern that evening, he lamented the “greed, selfishness, indifference to the suffering of others, corruption of our value system, and a moral deterioration that has already scarred our souls irrevocably.” “On my bad days,” he said, “I am guilty of suspecting that there is a national death wish.” By the late 1960s, both King and Poitier had reached a crossroads. Federal legislation was dismantling Jim Crow in the South, but African Americans still suffered from limited opportunity. King prescribed a “revolution of values,” denounced the Vietnam War, and launched a Poor People’s Campaign. Poitier, in his 1967 speech for the SCLC, said that King, by adhering to his convictions for social justice and human dignity, “has made a better man of me.” Exceptional characters Poitier tried to adhere to his own convictions. As long as he was the only Black leading man, he insisted on playing the same kind of hero. But in the era of Black Power, had Poitier’s saintly hero become another stereotype? His rage was repressed, his sexuality stifled. A Black critic, writing in The New York Times, asked “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?” That critic had a point: As Poitier himself knew, his films created too-perfect characters. Although the films allowed white audiences to appreciate a Black man, they also implied that racial equality depends on such exceptional characters, stripped of any racial baggage. From late 1967 into early 1968, three of Poitier’s movies owned the top spot at the box office, and a poll ranked him the most bankable star in Hollywood. Each film provided a hero who soothed the liberal center. His mannered schoolteacher in “To Sir, With Love” tames a class of teenage ruffians in London’s East End. His razor-sharp detective in “In the Heat of the Night” helps a crotchety white Southern sheriff solve a murder. His world-renowned doctor in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” marries a white woman, but only after winning the blessing of her parents. “I try to make movies about the dignity, nobility, the magnificence of human life,” he insisted. Audiences flocked to his films, in part, because he transcended racial division and social despair – even as more African Americans, baby boomers and film critics tired of the old-fashioned do-gooder spirit of these movies. Intertwined lives And then, the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sidney Poitier intersected one final time. After King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Poitier was a stand-in for the ideal that King embodied. When he presented at the Academy Awards, Poitier won a massive ovation. “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” captured most of the major awards. Hollywood again dealt with the nation’s racial upheaval through Poitier movies. But after King’s violent murder, the Poitier icon no longer captured the national mood. In the 1970s, a generation of “Blaxploitation” films featured violent, sexually charged heroes. They were a reaction against the image of a Black leading man associated with Poitier. Although his career evolved, Poitier was no longer a superstar, and he no longer bore the burden of representing the Black freedom movement. Yet for a generation, he had served as popular culture’s preeminent expression of the ideals of Martin Luther King. Featured image: Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons [Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.] Aram Goudsouzian, Bizot Family Professor of History, University of Memphis This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s the difference between sugar, other natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners? A food chemist explains sweet science

Kristine Nolin, University of Richmond A quick walk down the drink aisle of any corner store reveals the incredible ingenuity of food scientists in search of sweet flavors. In some drinks you’ll find sugar. A diet soda might have an artificial or natural low-calorie sweetener. And found in nearly everything else is high fructose corn syrup, the king of U.S. sweetness. I am a chemist who studies compounds found in nature, and I am also a lover of food. With confusing food labels claiming foods and beverages to be diet, zero-sugar or with “no artificial sweeteners,” it can be confusing to know exactly what you are consuming. So what are these sweet molecules? How can cane sugar and artificial sweeteners produce such similar flavors? First, it is helpful to understand how taste buds work. Taste buds and chemistry The “taste map” – the idea that you taste different flavors on different parts of your tongue – is far from the truth. People are able to taste all flavors anywhere there are taste buds. So what’s a taste bud? Taste buds are areas on your tongue that contain dozens of taste receptor cells. These cells can detect the five flavors – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. When you eat, food molecules are dissolved in saliva and then washed across the taste buds, where they bind to the different taste receptor cells. Only molecules with certain shapes can bind to certain receptors, and this produces the perception of different flavors. Molecules that taste sweet bind to specific proteins on the taste receptor cells called G-proteins. When a molecule binds these G-proteins, it triggers a series of signals that are sent to the brain where it is interpreted as sweet. Natural sugars Natural sugars are types of carbohydrates known as saccharides that are made of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. You can imagine sugars as rings of carbon atoms with pairs of oxygen and hydrogen attached to the outside of the rings. The oxygen and hydrogen groups are what make sugar sticky to the touch. They behave like Velcro, sticking to the oxygen and hydrogen pairs on other sugar molecules. The simplest sugars are single-molecule sugars called monosaccharides. You’ve probably heard of some of these. Glucose is the most basic sugar and is mostly made by plants. Fructose is a sugar from fruit. Galactose is a sugar in milk. Table sugar – or sucrose, which comes from sugar cane – is an example of a dissacharide, a compound made of two monosaccharides. Sucrose is formed when a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule join together. Other common dissacharides are lactose from milk and maltose, which comes grains. When these sugars are eaten, the body processes each of them slightly differently. But eventually they are broken down into molecules that your body converts into energy. The amount of energy from sugar – and all food – is measured in calories. High fructose corn syrup High fructose corn syrup is a staple of U.S. foods, and this hybrid sugar sweetener needs a category all on its own. High fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch – the main carbohydrate found in corn. Corn starch is made of thousands of glucose molecules bonded together. At an industrial scale, the starch is broken into individual glucose molecules using enzymes. This glucose is then treated with a second enzyme to convert some of it into fructose. Generally, high fructose corn syrup is roughly 42%-55% fructose. This blend is sweet and cheap to produce but has a high calorie content. As with other natural sugars, too much high fructose corn syrup is bad for your health. And since most processed foods and drinks are packed full of the stuff, it is easy to consume too much. Natural nonsugar sweeteners The second category of sweeteners could be defined as natural nonsugar sweeteners. These are food additives such as stevia and monk fruit, as well as natural sugar alcohols. These molecules aren’t sugars, but they can still bind to the sweet receptors and therefore taste sweet. Stevia is a molecule that comes from the leaves of the Stevia redaudiana plant. It contains “sweet” molecules that are much larger than most sugars and have three glucose molecules attached to them. These molecules are 30 to 150 times sweeter than glucose itself. The sweet molecules from monk fruit are similar to stevia and 250 times sweeter than glucose. The human body has a really hard time breaking down both stevia and monk fruit. So even though they’re both really sweet, you don’t get any calories from eating them. Sugar alcohols, like sorbital, for example, are not as sweet as sucrose. They can be found in a variety of foods, including pineapples, mushrooms, carrots and seaweed, and are often added to diet drinks, sugar-free chewing gum and many other foods and drinks. Sugar alcohols are made of chains of carbon atoms instead of circles like normal sugars. While they are composed of the same atoms as the sugars, sugar alcohols are not absorbed well by the body so they are considered low-calorie sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners The third way to make something sweet is to add artificial sweeteners. These chemicals are produced in labs and factories and are not found in nature. Like all things that taste sweet, they do so because they can bind to certain receptors in taste buds. [Over 140,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.] So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved six artificial sweeteners. The most well known are probably saccharin, aspartame and sucralose – better known as Splenda. Artificial sweeteners all have different chemical formulas. Some resemble natural sugars while others are radically different. They are usually many times sweeter than sugar – saccharin is an incredible 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar – and some of them are hard for the body to break down. While a sweet dessert may be a simple pleasure for many, the chemistry of how your taste buds perceive sweetness is not so simple. Only molecules with the perfect combination of atoms taste sweet, but bodies deal with each of these molecules differently when it comes to calories. Kristine Nolin, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Richmond This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Kwanzaa means for Black Americans

By Frank Dobson, Vanderbilt University On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing. It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous Black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated. As a scholar who has written about racially motivated violence against Blacks, directed Black cultural centers on college campuses and sponsored numerous Kwanzaa celebrations, I understand the importance of this holiday. For the African-American community, Kwanzaa is not just any “Black holiday.” It is a recognition that knowledge of Black history is worthwhile. History of Kwanzaa Maulana Karenga, a noted Black American scholar and activist created Kwanzaa in 1966. Its name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. However, Kwanzaa, the holiday, did not exist in Africa. Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to celebrating the seven basic values of African culture or the “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili means the seven principles. Translated these are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics (building Black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit on each day to celebrate each one of these principles. On the last day, a black candle is lit and gifts are shared. Today, Kwanzaa is quite popular. It is celebrated widely on college campuses, the U.S. Postal Service issues Kwanzaa stamps, there is at least one municipal park named for it, and there are special Kwanzaa greeting cards. Kwanzaa’s meaning for black community Kwanzaa was created by Karenga out of the turbulent times of the 1960’s in Los Angeles, following the 1965 Watts riots, when a young African-American was pulled over on suspicions of drunk driving, resulting in an outbreak of violence. Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – meaning, black people – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform, which would help to rebuild the Watts neighborhood through a strong organization rooted in African culture. Karenga called its creation an act of cultural discovery, which simply meant that he wished to point African-Americans to greater knowledge of their African heritage and past. Rooted in the struggles and the gains of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a way of defining a unique black American identity. As Keith A. Mayes, a scholar of African-American history, notes in his book, “For Black power activists, Kwanzaa was just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kwanzaa was their answer to what they understood as the ubiquity of white cultural practices that oppressed them as thoroughly as had Jim Crow laws.” Overturning white definitions Today, the holiday has come to occupy a central role, not only in the U.S. but also in the global African diaspora. A 2008 documentary, “The Black Candle” that filmed Kwanzaa observances in the United States and Europe, shows children not only in the United States, but as far away as France, reciting the principles of the Nguzo Saba. https://www.youtube.com/embed/eNCPr2v8nM4?wmode=transparent&start=0 ‘The Black Candle’ It brings together the Black community not on the basis of their religious faith, but a shared cultural heritage. Explaining the importance of the holiday for African-Americans today, writer Amiri Baraka, says during an interview in the documentary, “We looked at Kwanzaa as part of the struggle to overturn white definitions for our lives.” Indeed, since the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools for instructing their children about their African heritage. Current activism and Kwanzaa This spirit of activism and pride in the African heritage is evident on college campus Kwanzaa celebrations – one of which I recently attended. (It was done a few days early so that students going on break could participate.) The speaker, a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement, spoke about Kwanzaa as a time of memory and celebration. Wearing an African dashiki, he led those in attendance – blacks and whites and those of other ethnicities – in Kwanzaa songs and recitations. On a table decorated in kente cloth, a traditional African fabric, was a kinara, which contains seven holes, to correspond to the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. There were three red candles on the left side of the kinara, and three green candles on the right side of the kinara. The center candle was black. The colors of the candles represent the red, black and green of the African Liberation flag. The auditorium was packed. Those in attendance, young and old, black and white, held hands and chanted slogans celebrating black heroes and heroines, as diverse as the civil rights icons, Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Jamaican musician Bob Marley. It was a cultural observance that acknowledged solidarity with the struggles of the past and with one another. Like the black power movements, such as today’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is an affirmation of “Black folks’ humanity,” their “contributions to this society” and “resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Karenga wanted to “reaffirm the bonds between us” (Black people) and to counter the damage done by the “holocaust of slavery.” Kwanzaa celebrations are a moment of this awareness and reflection. Frank Dobson, Associate Dean of Students, Vanderbilt University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Featured image by Black Hour, CC BY-NC

The history of National Coming Out Day contains both pride and pain

Mia Gingerich needed October 11. It might have seemed like an arbitrary deadline, but to Gingerich it was a way to honor her community — something formal to keep her accountable. “I knew I couldn’t go through that day and not go through with what I had committed myself to do,” the Washington, D.C., resident said.  That date was National Coming Out Day 2020, an observance started by two activists in 1988 to celebrate queer identities and emphasize the power of LGBTQ+ visibility as politically transformative.  She wrote a Facebook post. “Today I would like to share a part of myself with those who do not already know,” it started. “The fear of sharing this is not easily managed, no more than the discomfort and sorrow of not sharing it would be, and so I will just say it.”  She was transgender, she told them. She changed her profile photo and updated her name, a terrifying and freeing feeling, she said. Most everyone who really mattered to Gingerich already knew she was trans. It was the old high school friends, and the distant relatives she never kept up with — the people peripherally in her life through Facebook — who needed to be informed. They overwhelmed her with acceptance and joy.  Gingerich is among millions of LGBTQ+ Americans who have participated in National Coming Out Day (NCOD). The observance is celebrated every October 11 by major LGBTQ+ rights groups, with social media posts, stories and in-person events.  “It is especially important during our current climate of LGBTQ+ issues as anti-LGBTQ lawmakers continue to add fuel to the anti-LGBTQ forest fire, which is resulting in stress among not only LGBTQ+ adults but LGBTQ+ youth as well, who already have an increased risk of suicidal behavior around their gender and/or sexualities,” Serena Sonoma, communications coordinator at the LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD, wrote in an email to The 19th. But as queer people gained the right to marry and increasing protections from discrimination, the day is increasingly fraught. Some resent the concept of “coming out” at all, saying that over-normalizes heterosexuality. Others find the day to be an agonizing exercise for those unable to be out as LGBTQ+.  Still, for many, the day holds deep personal and political importance. And its history would preview painful battles that LGBTQ+ people would continue to confront.  NCOD can trace its roots back to October 11, 1987, the date of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march, held between October 8-13, was the second queer march on the Capitol. This one aimed to draw attention to the federal government’s inaction in confronting the AIDS crisis and the Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling upholding Georgia’s anti-gay sodomy law. Protesters flooded Washington, D.C., over those five days and demanded legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples, funding for AIDS research, the abolition of sodomy laws and an end to the U.S. support of South African apartheid.  The march marked the unveiling of the AIDS memorial quilt, a massive patchwork honoring those lost to the virus, and at the time an unprecedented show of support for gay rights: More than half a million people showed up to demand their rights that fall.  Two activists— Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary — recognized the power of that momentum.  Eric Marcus, founder and host of the Making Gay History podcast, said the two had absorbed marketing best practices from others in the movement like Frank Kameny, who co-founded the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, and led some of the first LGBTQ+ rights protests in the nation.  “They figured out how to create something that was of benefit to gay and lesbian people in terms of their lives, and also had the potential to benefit the movement by creating visibility,” Marcus said.  So in 1988, on the one year anniversary, they organized the first National Coming Out Day, which quickly gained national prominence.  Getting to that moment of promoting visibility for the broad queer community in 1988 was not easy. O’Leary got her start in 1971, organizing with the Gay Activists Alliance, where she found that lesbians were being barred from leadership.  “The men actually treated women like surrogate mothers, lovers, sisters,” O’Leary told Marcus in a 1989 interview that later aired on his podcast.  “The woman’s role should be respected.” Appalled, she formed Lesbian Feminist Liberation in 1973. But that group would nearly fracture the movement for queer liberation when it decided to bar “drag queens,” the only terminology used at the time for transgender women, in Pride.  “In those days, it was like, well, here’s a man dressing up as a woman and wearing all the things that we’re trying to break free of,” O’Leary told Marcus.  That year, at the conclusion of Pride, trans activist Sylvia Rivera took the stage and blasted the exclusion in a now famous speech. “You all tell me, go and hide my tail between my legs,” she said. “I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment. For gay liberation and you all treat me this way?” At the time, O’Leary worried that “drag queens” were making a mockery of women. But as she got older, as she got to know trans people, her view changed. “How could I work to exclude transvestites and at the same time criticize the feminists who were doing their best back in those days to exclude lesbians?” she asked Marcus in 1989.  By the 1980s, the queer rights movement had shifted, and so had O’Leary’s activism. According to O’Leary biographer Linda Rapp, the disagreement over trans inclusion that fractured Lesbian Feminist Liberation and other gay rights activists eventually healed, with lesbians and gay men coming together over trans rights. O’Leary reunited with friend Bruce Voeller at the Gay Activists Alliance, and the two folded their organizations into the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which today is the National LGBTQ Task Force, a powerhouse queer political organizing machine.  In 1988, O’Leary joined forces with the psychologist and activist Rob Eichberg. Eichberg had done gay and lesbian organizing himself and created a personal development workshop called “The Experience,” which encouraged people to come out to friends and family.   O’Leary and Eichberg decided to organize the day with a dual purpose in mind: They wanted to give people the safety of a community experience to be themselves, but they also saw the political power in coming out. Like the gay rights leader Harvey Milk, they believed that straight people would find it easier to discriminate against a faceless community. Shunning your own gay brother, sister, daughter or friend would prove harder. If people came out, the country would be forced to confront the movement.  “Virtually everyone in America knows someone who’s gay at this point — you really have to work hard not to know someone gay,” Marcus said.  Marcus feels that today, the day is more necessary for trans and nonbinary youth, for people of more marginalized genders — the ones that O’Leary herself needed help understanding.  And that, advocates say, is perhaps why it still resonates even though the realities facing so many gay people have changed since the 1980s.  “Just as conversations around LGBTQ+ awareness evolve, so do events that surround it,”  Sonoma said. “The more we are able to share our stories and highlight our own experiences, the more it urges others to stand in their own truths as well, I believe in this way Coming Out Day has evolved.”  For Gingerich, the last year of being out has changed everything. She’s looking forward to observing outside the metaphorical closet.  “I guess I get to be the supportive individual now, the person who encourages people,” she said.

When ‘breast is best’ becomes too much: Many parents feel pressure and even shame when breastfeeding isn’t possible

Jennifer Gerson Jennifer Gerson Originally published by The 19th Throughout Gray Chapman’s pregnancy, visits to her midwife’s office always meant being asked if she planned to breastfeed. The question didn’t faze Chapman, who told The 19th that she would answer by saying, “Yeah, if it works great, but if not, there’s always formula!” At the time, she meant it, too.  But a difficult birth led to a five-day hospital stay, and Chapman — an Atlanta-based journalist — found her time in the hospital marked largely by a lactation consultant who just wouldn’t leave. Every day for four to five hours a day, the lactation consultant was in her hospital room, trying to help her understand why her newborn wouldn’t latch. With her baby rapidly losing weight and at one point going 26 hours without a wet diaper, at no point did anyone in the hospital so much as mention the word “formula” to Chapman.  Toward the end of Chapman’s post-birth hospital stay, with a baby still struggling to feed, the lactation consultant finally offered up a suggestion for an alternate plan: She told Chapman that in lieu of trying to breastfeed, she should try pumping and bottle feeding. “The troubling part,” Chapman said, “was that there were no professionals around me who were willing to step in and say, ‘This woman is recovering from a C-section and is unable to feed her hungry, six-pound baby — maybe we should bring in the Similac.’” Though Chapman said that she doesn’t believe anyone ever directly spoke the words “breast is best” directly to her, she nevertheless felt overt pressure to breastfeed her child at all costs. After all, she said, why else would the lactation consultant be spending so much time with her if this wasn’t “something I had to make work”? About a week later, National Breastfeeding Awareness Week began, and Chapman’s Instagram feed was suddenly flooded with “beautiful black-and-white shots of women breastfeeding their babies.” Looking over at her husband, then finally feeding their newborn son with a bottle and formula through a second lactation consultant’s advice, she broke down. “I just sobbed,” she said. “My husband has never seen me cry like that and we have been together a really long time. World Breastfeeding Week made me cry.” “I knew intellectually that breastfeeding just wasn’t worth it, that all things equal there wasn’t a huge difference nutritionally between breast milk and formula. But when [my son] came out, I lost all sense of perspective and felt that I had to make this work,” Chapman said. She’s not the only one who has felt this way. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a child’s life — then followed by a combination of breastfeeding alongside the introduction of solid foods for another year — the reality remains that for many parents, breastfeeding is simply not feasible, either because a parent parent struggles to do so either as a result of mechanics or mental health challenges, or because breastfeeding simply isn’t an option based on their own medical history or family- building mechanisms. For these parents, being told “breast is best” implies that straight out of the gate, they have already failed their children by offering them something inherently not the best, says Laura Modi, the co-founder and CEO of Bobbie, an organic formula company. It’s also why Modi’s company is asking people to ask “How is feeding going?” instead of “How is breastfeeding going?” when talking to new parents, especially during National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August — and beyond.  The issue is also personal for Modi, who herself always assumed she would breastfeed and says she went into her pregnancy “completely ill-prepared for what would happen if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.” What happened for her, she told The 19th, was being “hit with guilt, embarrassment, and shame when I realized I was unable to exclusively breastfeed my child.” But she also said that it taught her that she’s also part of a wider community of parents who for any reason are unable to breastfeed, be it those who have had double mastectomies, used gestational carriers, or grown their family through adoption. (Not to mention those, like Chapman, who simply struggled with the work of breastfeeding through no fault of their own.) She pointed out that more babies are being born via surrogacy today than ever before and close to 200,000 American children are being raised by same-sex parents. “Those folks need an alternative, but the message hasn’t caught up.” More from The 19th This nursing mom’s journey to figure out how much vaccinated breast milk is enough to shield her baby from COVID-19 Parent’s vaccine protects babies best against COVID-19, studies show Minnesota offers conditional release so that incarcerated mothers can be with their newborns “I always remind patients that just like there are many definitions of the titles ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ — and many descriptions of a childbirth — there are also many definitions on how to nurture a newborn; breastfeeding is just one of those terms,” Dr. Brian Levine, the founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York, a infertility and reproductive endocrinology practice, told The 19th. Levine sees many patients at his practice that are LGBTQ+, utilizing gestational carriers, and for any number of medical reasons may be unable to breastfeed.  Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi is a board certified emergency physician and investigator of, newborn brain injuries and breastfeeding complications, and is also the co-founder of the Fed is Best Foundation, which seeks to provide safe infant-feeding information to parents and healthcare providers, be it by breastfeeding, formula supplementation or otherwise. Del Castillo-Hegyi pointed out some widely acknowledged benefits of breastfeeding, such as its accessibility and the sharing of antibodies, but also said that parents who struggled with it should understand that “fed is best, no matter what. Any child who receives the full nutritional requirements without starvation or dehydration has the best outcomes.” But experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics caution to not discount the importance of breastfeeding and the immunological merits of breast milk too much. Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding, told The 19th that while “breast is best” might be an overly simplistic slogan, “it is important to be aware of the science and the overwhelming evidence showing improved health outcomes related to breastfeeding, for mother, for baby, and for society” — but that it’s just as important “to understand why and how the decisions to breastfeed, or not, are made.”  Feldman-Winter says that there are documented benefits of even short-term breastfeeding, such as a recent study which indicated that breastfeeding decreased the chances of high blood pressure in children, providers should use the prenatal period to to have “open, honest and nonjudgmental” conversations with parents about infant feeding “and explaining what we know about the benefits of breastfeeding, as well as the risks of supplementing with infant formula.” That said, Feldman-Winter also added that “for those unable to breastfeed at all, we must reassure families that we have a suitable alternative in safely prepared commercial infant formula. We should applaud even the tiniest amount of mother’s milk that the baby was able to receive and her effort in trying.” Del Castillo-Hegyi said that while data indicates that breast milk is an excellent source of nutrition, has antibodies present in it that may provide extra immunity, and is generally sterile, it’s still not a perfect nutritional product because of its inherent vitamin deficiencies. Without nutritional supplementation or monitoring, exclusively breastfed infants can present with anemia as a result of iron deficiency around four months of age. Formula doesn’t have antibodies or any of the potential immunity-boosting factors of breast milk, but parents who cannot breastfeed have “a nutritionally complete form of milk and no baby will ever go hungry from eating it,” she said.  “If it is offered to a baby from the moment they are born to whenever they stop feeding in this way, there is zero risk of them developing malnutrition, hypoglycemia, or jaundice.”  Some of those problems can be addressed at a hospital, often so quickly that they’re not part of the broader conversation. Other times, parents don’t know to look out for them, and the consequences aren’t visible until later.  For instance, research has suggested that when a mother does not produce enough milk, a newborn who is exclusively breastfed is at increased risk for hypoglycemia. Some hypoglycemic babies develop levels severe enough to increase their risk for developmental delays and lowered academic performance. Researchers in Arkansas found that newborns who had moderate hypoglycemia early on often struggled years later with reading comprehension and literacy skills.   Levine said that the “number one shared emotion” he hears from his patients who for any number of reasons are unable to breastfeed is “frustration since so much of our language [around feeding] implies that breast is best. In reality, breast is available for many and used by some, but love and nurture are much more important than the mode of feeding.” He stressed that while breastfeeding is a “natural way to help support a newborn, it is not the only way.”  Del Castillo-Hegyi told The 19th that the current stigma surrounding those who do not, and cannot, breastfeed comes from developments in recent history. Breastfeeding has always been the primary source of infant feeding — even though from as early as the Iron Age, there is evidence of parents finding ways to provide supplemental nutrition because breast milk often does not meet all of an infant’s nutritional needs. The farming revolution made animal milk widely available, and researchers eventually found that adding several micronutrients to animal milk led to a form of nutrition that was readily available at any time — and that’s how formula was born.  Giving in to a kid who is hungry is the best thing you can do as a parent. Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, a co-founder of the Fed is Best Foundation Baby formula soon became a popular product, one that was marketable — perhaps too much so. Commercialized campaigns to bring it to more and more markets led to it being pushed on parents in developing countries who often could not afford it or did not have reliable access to clean drinking water. This ultimately led to many infants dying from starvation or malnutrition. In response to this tragedy in the 1990s, the World Health Organization launched its “Breast is Best” campaign, and soon after came the guidelines from various organizations recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. It also led to a vilification of infant formula, and a not-so-subtle message that parents who formula feed “just don’t care enough about their infants and didn’t try enough or are not educated enough,” says del Castillo-Hegyi, even though a lack of robust data meant that it was never clear if a majority of parents could carry out the recommended breastfeeding guidelines.  Feldman-Winter still pointed out that there are some adoptive mothers who can lactate, and that chest feeding may also be possible in the trans population. “We need to be open to the options, explain the advantages of human milk over the unknowns of exposure to hormones in the case of gender-affirming hormones, and the desires of the partners/parents involved,” she said. “If breastfeeding-chestfeeding-human milk feeding are not options then we recommend commercially prepared infant formula, holding during feeding and responsive feeding to prevent overfeeding …. As pediatricians we need to be steadfast in our support of breastfeeding, but at the same time recognize that there are many factors involved in good parenting.” Lesley Anne Murphy, an Instagram influencer and former contestant on The Bachelor, had a preventive double mastectomy in 2017 after her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and Murphy herself had tested positive for having the BRCA gene. She knew that having her breasts removed would mean she wouldn’t ever be able to breastfeed, but told The 19th “in my eyes, it was more important to take care of my own health than to have the option of breastfeeding one day.” But after giving birth to her daughter last year and posting about formula feeding on Instagram, she was shocked by the kinds of comments popping up in her feed, with people attacking her choice to have had a double mastectomy without having had cancer. “You don’t forget those comments,” Murphy, a spokesperson for Bobbie’s “How is Feeding Going” campaign, said. (Bobbie has since started donating a can of formula to parents in need for each new trolling remark on Murphy’s social channels.)  If breastfeeding isn’t working, or if it isn’t an option, del Castillo-Hegyi said, then “giving in to a kid who is hungry is the best thing you can do as a parent. To be shamed by society because you gave your baby formula is severely harmful.” After five months of attempting to first breastfeed and then pump and supplement, Chapman realized that breastfeeding was something she was pursuing because it had become “a sunk cost thing. I felt like I had been miserable doing this for months already and I couldn’t give up now.” Finally after pumping a particularly bloody bottle of milk one day, Chapman decided it was time to call it quits. “And that was it. And it was fine. I didn’t have any emotional fall-out from switching exclusively to formula. It was a mental health game-changer for me. I am honestly just mad it didn’t happen sooner.” Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

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