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Another 50 migrant deaths and an ever-climbing body count on the border
Police and other first responders work at the scene near San Antonion where officials say dozens of migrants were found dead in a truck on June 27. | Eric Gay/AP Including those found dead in a truck Monday, 290 people have died trying to cross the border in 2022. At least 50 migrants who were driven across the border in a tractor-trailer that was abandoned near San Antonio have died as of Tuesday, from apparent overheating. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), whose district includes San Antonio, told CNN that the truck had passed through a checkpoint north of Laredo, Texas, on Monday. Among the victims were 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans, and two Hondurans, with at least two children. Most of the bodies were recovered inside or around the trailer, though some were found strewn across the road up to 75 feet away. At least 16 others were found alive, suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, and taken to nearby hospitals, where three later died. It’s the largest mass casualty event involving migrants crossing the US border in recent memory. But it’s by no means the only one: In the first six months of 2022, 290 people have died trying to cross the border, according to data from the International Organization for Migration, a division of the United Nations. Another 650 migrants died crossing the border in 2021, more than in any other year since the UN began tracking the data in 2014. Over the past two decades, the number of deaths is estimated to be just under 8,000 according to Border Patrol figures, though the actual number could be much larger since US immigration agencies have not kept complete records. President Joe Biden, in a statement on Tuesday, blamed smugglers who have “no regard for the lives they endanger and exploit to make a profit” for the tragedy. “This incident underscores the need to go after the multibillion-dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths,” Biden said. Immigrant advocates have argued that it’s the result of restrictive US border policies that have failed at their intended purpose of deterring migration. Trump-era policies, including the “Remain in Mexico” policy (otherwise known as the Migrant Protection Protocols) and pandemic-related border restrictions, have remained in place, effectively closing the border to the vast majority of migrants and asylum seekers and exposing them to danger in Mexico. Over the last six months, some 5,000 asylum seekers have been forced to stay in Mexico while awaiting their court hearings under the Remain in Mexico policy. The US Supreme Court is set to decide a case on whether the Biden administration can rescind that policy within the coming weeks. And the so-called “Title 42” policy has allowed the US to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants at the southern border under the guise of curbing the spread of Covid-19. The refugee advocacy group Human Rights First documented 8,705 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants sent back to Mexico under those policies, as of January 2022. Those policies haven’t dissuaded migrants from continuing to attempt to cross the border without authorization. Immigration authorities have encountered migrants at the border more than 1.53 million times this fiscal year so far, already well exceeding the 977,000 total encounters in fiscal year 2019, before the Title 42 policy went into effect. But it has driven migrants to rely more heavily on smugglers and to resort to increasingly dangerous means of attempting to cross the border. “Cruel immigration policies like Title 42 have decimated our asylum system, and forced people to make unimaginable choices in their journey to seek safety and refuge in the US. Seeking asylum is a human right and President Biden should have ended Title 42 on day one of his administration,” the organization RAICES Texas, which was among the first legal service providers on the scene, said in a statement. What happens now to the survivors in San Antonio remains to be seen. The migrants could be sent to immigration detention and placed in deportation proceedings. So far, three people have reportedly been taken into police custody, one of whom was the driver.
3 h
vox.com
Think polarization is bad now? Wait till the post-Roe abortion wars get started.
Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion activists confront each other in front of the US Supreme Court on May 4 in Washington, DC, as demonstrations rippled across the country in reaction to the leaked initial draft majority opinion indicating the Supreme Court would overturn Roe. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Dobbs is the next stress test for America’s teetering democracy. In his decision overturning Roe v. Wadeand Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Samuel Alito argues that the rulings that had protected abortion rights were not only poorly reasoned but actively harmful to American democracy. “Far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division,” Alito writes in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” There are reasons to doubt Alito’s history of the abortion wars. But, more importantly, there is no reason to believe that overturning Roe today will lower partisan tensions in the foreseeable future. As partisan divisions on abortion deepened over the years, the stakes of the issue became even higher, making each subsequent election more and more important to core Democratic and Republican voters. Abortion — and, more specifically, capturing the Court that could strike down the right to getting one — is one of the key reasons Republicans blockaded Merrick Garland, and eventually got on board with Trump despite their misgivings: He would give them the justices necessary to stop what their voters see as a modern-day Holocaust. Now, with the issue returned to state and federal legislatures, elections will actually loom larger than ever. “When it seems like the stakes can’t get any bigger, the end of Roe raises them,” says Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies polarization. Blue states and red states will soon be battling over out-of-state abortions and the national distribution of abortion pills; control over Congress and the presidency could lead to a federal law either legalizing or prohibiting abortion nationwide. The same logic that led Republicans to back an obviously undemocratic demagogue — the consequences are simply too grave for us to let the other side win — now applies on steroids to elections across the country. American democracy is already teetering on a cliff. The coming abortion wars will make it even harder for the country to step away from the brink. Asking if Roe polarized America is asking the wrong question In the six years before Roe came out in 1973, 17 states had reformed their abortion laws, with many following model legislation released by the American Law Institute, a nonpartisan organization of legal experts, in 1962. AP Anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights activists argue their viewpoints on the steps of the New Jersey State House in Trenton on April 30, 1973. That model was not exactly liberal by modern standards: It banned abortion with exceptions for rape and incest, the health of the mother, and cases where “the child would be born with grave physical or mental defect.” But it paved the way for liberalizing and modernizing abortion policy in the US. According to Mary Ziegler, a historian of abortion law at the University of California Davis, the spread of ALI-inspired bills “is what the anti-abortion movement mobilized to oppose.” The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), America’s oldest and most influential anti-abortion group, was founded in 1968 — five years before the Roe ruling. Groups like the NRLC saw the ALI bill as unacceptable, a denial of the essential personhood of the fetus, and pushed for a total ban. During this pre-Roe struggle, politicians were already trying to figure out how to take political advantage of the emerging national division on the issue. “Richard Nixon was using abortion as a wedge issue in 1972, and already experimenting with how he could polarize the debate to his advantage,” Ziegler tells me. Indeed, Republican efforts on this front yielded one of the most famous attack lines in American history — describing Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern as standing for “amnesty, abortion, and acid.” The core of the political case against Roe is that it took these trends and supercharged them: turning fights over the presidency and Supreme Court nominations into winner-take-all conflict over abortion while preventing states from experimenting with legislation that could offer a compromise way forward. Whether the abortion debate would have become so deeply polarized absent these conditions is debatable; there are plausible arguments on both sides. But today, the most important question is not historical but forward-looking: whether repealing Roe can lower the temperature of popular conflict over abortion. And it’s difficult to imagine that being the case. In Between Two Absolutes, a study of public opinion on abortion by three political scientists, the authors argue that a Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that opened a wider door to state-level regulation of abortion (Webster v. Missouri Reproductive Services) turned abortion into a more salient and divisive issue. The reason, they argue, is that elections now had much greater influence over abortion policy — giving politicians more reason to emphasize abortion on the campaign trail and voters more reason to prioritize it. An analysis by Andrew Gelman, a political statistician at Columbia University, bears this theory out. Gelman finds that there was very little partisan polarization among voters on abortion until 1992, three years after Webster and the same year as Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which reaffirmed Roe but also further opened up room for state-level regulation). State-level conflict on abortion escalated after that, most notably producing a series of pre-Dobbs restrictions in Republican-controlled states after the GOP’s dominant performance in the 2010 midterms. Jose Luis Magana/AP Anti-abortion demonstrators rally outside of the US Supreme Court in March 2020. This record suggests that giving states more discretion on abortion does not produce compromise, despite the fact that most Americans have policy preferences somewhere between anti-abortion and abortion rights extremes. Instead, it creates opportunities for state lawmakers to push for more contentious bills — leading to more partisan conflict, not less. This shouldn’t really be surprising: It speaks to the ways that abortion is both a cause and a consequence of partisan polarization. As the parties have become more clearly split on abortion, anti-abortion Democratic voters have defected to the other side (and vice versa). The American primary system incentivizes most candidates for office to cater to the dominant opinion in their party, especially in the safe seats that make up the bulk of legislative districts at the state and federal level. So the two parties’ policy positions have grown concomitantly apart: Democrats are less likely to talk about abortion as a tragedy to be minimized, and Republicans increasingly likely to support bans with few exceptions. As the stakes for abortion policy become higher, it becomes harder and harder for people who care about the issue to imagine crossing party lines for any reason. For this reason, the notion of returning to a pre-Roe abortion politics seems fanciful. Neal Devins, a law professor at William & Mary and a longtime critic of Roe’s effect on the abortion debate, conceded as much in a 2016 paper, arguing that returning abortion to the states today would be more likely to cause more conflict rather than foster a national settlement on abortion. “Today’s political dynamic is far different than the political dynamic in 1973,” he argues. “Abortion now divides the parties in ways that stand against compromise and deliberation across parties or within parties.” How Dobbs could entrench polarization Political polarization is often a vicious cycle: When parties are deeply and bitterly divided, political actors tend to take aggressive actions that lead to even more intense partisan conflict. There is every reason to expect this to be the case in post-Dobbs America, as red states enact increasingly strict abortion restrictions and blue states try to help abortion seekers circumvent them. Texas’s state law, which will go into effect soon, will ban nearly all abortions, with very narrow exceptions for maternal health. Meanwhile, the California legislature is working on a bill that would provide funding for abortion seekers from states like Texas to travel there for an abortion if it isn’t legal at home. A draft bill in Missouri would apply its own laws to out-of-state abortions by residents. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images Abortion rights activists rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24. There are also likely to be conflicts between states and the federal government. In December, the Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling allowing abortion pills to be distributed by mail — prompting Republican state lawmakers to try to figure out what could be done to restrict their spread. In a post-Dobbs world, they’ll push even further. State politics are already increasingly national, with voters caring less about politicians’ stances on local issues than their party affiliation. With one of the most divisive national issues on the ballot in every cycle, the stakes of local elections in competitive states will become even higher — making them not only more nationalized, but also sources of greater partisan strife. In deep red and blue states, candidates will have primary incentives to propose even more aggressive legislation on the issue. As a result, extreme partisanship will become even more entrenched, and the polarization feedback loop will grow stronger. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in his concurrence, signaled something almost resembling relief that the high court would be ridding itself of the abortion question and giving the abortion issue back “to the people and their elected representatives in the democratic process.” But Kavanaugh may find himself disappointed soon enough. The spread of novel state-level abortion laws will yield a tremendous number of lawsuits on largely untested legal questions — lawsuits that will eventually wend themselves toward the Supreme Court. With the Court still being a major player in the abortion wars, battles over its composition will still be (in part) proxy wars over abortion. Moreover, with Roe off the table, the battle for the White House and Congress becomes more than just a battle over who gets to appoint justices. The debate over passing a national law legalizing abortion everywhere — or prohibiting it — is already in full swing. Anti-abortion activists often compare abortion to slavery on a moral level, a comparison I fundamentally reject. But on a political level, it’s a more apt analogy: The issue is so charged, and crosses state lines so thoroughly, that political conflict over it is guaranteed to be bitter and zero-sum. One of the most important political science findings for our understanding our current era is that polarization threatens democracy by raising the stakes of elections. When voters and political leaders view their rivals as enemies, maybe even evil, and elections as existential events, the mutual toleration and forbearance at the heart of democracy wither away. Violating norms becomes imaginable; the boundaries of our politics get tested. In the Trump era, Republicans have already shown how far they’re wiling to go down this particular road. Protecting American democracy depends, at least in part, on figuring out some way to lower the stakes of partisan conflict: to make elections feel less like a zero-sum competition where one’s fundamental view of the country is on the ballot. The abortion wars heightened those stakes. Alito’s hopes to the contrary, the end of Roe won’t lead to a deescalation — and has every chance of making things worse.
8 h
vox.com
You shouldn’t have to ask your boss for an abortion
Activists with Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights protest outside of the US Supreme Court on June 21. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Corporate America is an imperfect ally on abortion rights. Companies stepping up to say that they will support their workers in accessing abortions after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade raises questions both logistical and existential. For example, do you really want to ask your boss at Dick’s Sporting Goods for $4,000 and a couple of days off to terminate a pregnancy? If you start to think about the situation beyond the press release, it can get pretty disturbing pretty quickly. It reinforces how supremely screwed up the entire post-Roe situation is, as well as the setup of the United States health care system. “It’s better than nothing, I’m not going to say it’s bad,” said Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “It’s a Band-Aid on a stab wound.” It’s a Band-Aid millions of people across the country, now stripped of their rights, would rather not need. How and whether all of this will work remains an open question; logistically, how companies will handle this could be complicated. It’s not yet clear how aggressive a post-Roe enforcement regime might be, or what lengths anti-abortion lawmakers will go to in targeting entities, including businesses, that support abortion care. Some experts warn that Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s attack on Disney over the company’s tepid opposition to the state’s “don’t say gay” bill is a disturbing precedent. If abortion is criminalized in a state, courts might issue subpoenas trying to compel companies and health benefits programs to hand over information. Companies could also potentially be accused of aiding and abetting a crime and issued subpoenas in those cases. There are plenty of legal fights ahead and many unanswered questions. On an individual level, companies getting involved in abortion care puts an awkward onus on workers to go through their employers regarding a personal, private matter. It also underlines an often overlooked issue: the way health care in the US is so intertwined with and controlled by one’s employer. Whether or not a worker can get abortion support through their employer in a state where the procedure is outlawed now becomes a matter of luck, where they work, and in many cases, whether they’re covered by their employer’s health benefits plans or not. Some companies making announcements aren’t actually going to provide assistance to all of their employees. “We could probably guess that these types of benefits would be more available to high-income workers who would be better able to afford access to abortion services anyway,” Bahn said. “It’s a Band-Aid on a stab wound” At a broader scale, this is part of a troubling trend in the United States where the public increasingly leans on corporations to solve problems because the government will not. Companies — many of which have donated millions of dollars to anti-abortion politicians — aren’t going to save the people who have just lost what many believe is a fundamental constitutional and human right. “It seems abnormal to you that the state would take away fundamental human rights and you would have to count on capitalism to provide them,” said Linda Hirshman, a lawyer and author of multiple books about activism and social change. “You haven’t lived in a world where the democratically elected government was the adversary and the market economy was the ally.” An insufficient solution to an enormous problem After a draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was leaked by Politico in May, some companies began to announce their intentions to provide support to their employees where abortion access is restricted. Since the decision came down, major companies have reiterated and announced their positions. Disney, for example, has said it will extend its “family planning” benefit to workers who can’t get reproductive care where they live. The CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods said on LinkedIn that the company would provide up to $4,000 in abortion travel expense reimbursement to workers enrolled in its medical plan and their family members. Amazon has told staff it will also pay up to $4,000 in assistance. A litany of major names, including JPMorgan, Bank of America, Meta, Warner Brothers, Reddit, and a multitude of others, say they will reimburse employees for reproductive care-related travel and otherwise support workers in need of such care. Vox Media, which owns Vox.com, has also made such a pledge. On Friday, CEO Jim Bankoff pledged to “support employees seeking access to critical health care, including abortion.” The company has put in place a $1,500 reimbursement of travel-related expenses for employees who have to travel more than 100 miles for “critical health care” needs. The benefit is also about to be enshrined in Vox Media’s new union contract. For many employees, it is reassuring to know that they have their employers’ support, and these measures will surely help many people. At the same time, this is a woefully insufficient solution, and it’s really unclear how any of this will work. “I don’t know what the individual processes will be like, but if someone is seeking reimbursement for travel, you know, do they have to go to HR? Or is it done through the insurance companies?” said Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic who has analogous experience with gender-affirming care. “What are the processes that they have to protect confidentiality, because that is particularly a huge concern, especially if you have a manager that is opposed to abortion.” I love my boss and really trust her. I also would not want to have to ask her — or anyone in Vox’s HR department — for a couple thousand dollars and two days off because of an unwanted pregnancy. It’s worth scrutinizing which workers will be covered by these policies companies are offering up and which ones will be excluded. If, say, a travel reimbursement is covered through the employer’s health plan, workers who aren’t on the health plan — like part-time employees or contractors — wouldn’t be covered. The company would have to deal with that separately, which some firms, such as Levi Strauss, have said they would. Amazon and Disney, which employ hundreds of thousands of people, did not respond to requests for more information about which workers would and wouldn’t be covered by their assistance programs. Dick’s pointed to its original statement and declined to comment further, as did Starbucks. “It’s not a real, just policy if it just covers your corporate headquarters employees,” said Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group. “It’s not a real, just policy if it just covers your corporate headquarters employees” While many big-name companies have said they’ll help workers with abortion assistance, others have not. Walmart and McDonald’s did not respond to inquiries about whether they have any plans to support workers in need of abortion care. It’s a controversial issue, and a lot of companies do not want to get in the middle of it. This conversation also discounts the millions of people who work for small businesses, where what — if anything — they’ll do in the face of Roe’s repeal is a completely open question. Republicans aren’t just going to let this go Businesses saying they’ll cover travel expenses for abortions and providing other assistance are likely to quickly find themselves at odds with anti-abortion lawmakers and leaders. This could have consequences for the businesses in question and their employees. Some Republicans have made no secret of their desire to go after corporations they view as having progressive values. In May, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would remove tax breaks for “woke” corporations. It would bar employers from deducting expenses related to abortion travel costs or gender-affirming care. In Texas, a group of Republican legislators have said they’ll introduce bills banning companies that pay for abortions in states where it’s legal from doing business in the state. Gov. DeSantis in Florida has provided a blueprint, after attacking Disney in the wake of its objection to the state’s “don’t say gay” bill and axing some of the benefits and breaks the company was receiving. “If you saw what happened with Disney, where DeSantis made a very public example of retaliating against Disney, there has been a culture of silence that has fallen. It’s very clear the playbook now is to attack corporations that do anything that goes against social conservatism in a very public way and get them to stop doing stuff like that,” Caraballo said. A state getting a major company to back down could have a chilling effect on everyone else. “All of the smaller companies will fall like dominoes.” Workers will have to depend on their employers to be brave, but this is a situation where state governments may have the upper hand. “At the end of the day, the state, which has a monopoly of force — that’s by definition — is more powerful than the market economy,” Hirshman said. Criminalization is also a major concern. If law enforcement believes a person had an illegal abortion, they may begin to issue subpoenas and warrants as part of their investigations, including from employers and their health benefits programs. “That’s going to be a really interesting problem,” said Lucia Savage, chief privacy and regulatory officer at Omada Health. “Right now, if a law enforcement agency wants to look at a medical record, they can do so with a court order. So changes in reproductive health law that make things illegal creates new criminal bases for that court order to be issued.” “The playbook now is to attack corporations that do anything that goes against social conservatism” There are all sorts of areas where the issue could get thorny; for example, with remote work. Say Texas tries to get a court order or issue a subpoena to investigate an employee who works from home in that state, but for a firm based in California. Would that subpoena be issued rightfully? And then there’s the company’s reaction, too. “Different employers are going to have different appetites for fighting that subpoena,” she said. In the mid-2010s, Apple fought hard to keep from unlocking iPhones, including that of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California, despite multiple orders from law enforcement. In the abortion context, it’s not clear how many companies will be Apple. That was also a key function for customers, not a benefit to employees. The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe will change work for women and people who can get pregnant, whether their employers offer reproductive support or not. Sometimes, separate workforce policies for women can work against them, meaning there could be unintended knock-on effects for these corporate policies. “If there’s a costly benefit that’s only available to women workers, is there a risk that could ultimately lead to a stigma or bias or discrimination?” Bahn said. She also pointed to evidence that reduced access to birth control and restrictions on abortion services can stifle women at work, making them less likely to move between jobs and into higher-paying jobs. “It changes how you think about your life if you live in a place where you don’t have control over family planning,” she said. Companies just aren’t going to save us here One complicated aspect of companies now saying they’ll help support workers needing reproductive careis that some of those same companies also played a role in how we got here in the first place. Namely, if you look at their donations, you’ll see plenty have given money to anti-abortion politicians who helped craft the laws they are now fighting against. Measures being taken now are less valuable than if companies had mobilized to really fight the political battle before. UltraViolet has launched a website that tracks corporate giving to anti-abortion candidates or their associated political action committees, and identified hundreds of thousands of dollars from firms such as Nike, Uber, Disney, and AT&T. All now say they’re going to reimburse abortion travel expenses. “They need to stop giving to anti-abortion politicians,” Spoo said. “Their rationale for giving might not be ideological, but their impact is.” She believes companies have a responsibility to help fund the way back to abortion rights, through lobbying and supporting local abortion assistance groups. Bahn echoed the sentiment. “If companies really cared, I think that they should put their support behind wide-scale policy changes. Some of it could be lobbying on Capitol Hill,” she said. How long companies stick to their guns here is also worth keeping an eye on. At the outset of the pandemic, corporations were very eager to tell us how they were supporting their customers and workers. A few months in, after everybody stopped looking, that support often petered out. Employers supporting workers in need of reproductive care is, generally, a good thing. But for so many people shocked, confused, and devastated by the Supreme Court’s decision, it really seems like we just should not be here in the first place. And, again, it’s worth questioning why health care is at all tied to work. The slogan goes, “My body, my choice,” not “My body, and after consulting with the HR department, my choice.”
vox.com
The anti-abortion “social safety net”
Anit-abortion activists celebrate outside the US Supreme Court on June 24, the day Roe v. Wade was overturned. | Matt McClain/Washington Post via Getty Images The right wants “crisis pregnancy centers” to replace abortion clinics. When the last abortion clinic in Texas closes its doors for good, Prestonwood Pregnancy Center will remain. So will Agape, with locations in Round Rock, Austin, Cedar Park, and Taylor. So will the Pregnancy Help Center, operating in Texas’s Brazoria County since 1990. These are pregnancy resource centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, and for many years, their main mission has been to convince people not to have abortions (the three centers above did not respond to Vox’s request for comment). But now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion bans are either in effect or imminent in Texas and more than 20 other states around the country. In the coming months and years, pregnancy resource centers will have a bigger role to play — one that has researchers and reproductive justice advocates worried. While many centers offer supplies like baby clothes and diapers, they’ve also been criticized for misleading pregnant people and spreading false claims about the dangers of abortion. In one congressional investigation, 87 percent of centers gave false or misleading medical information. Some centers have also been found to encourage people to delay an abortion decision until they are past the gestational limit, sometimes by misrepresenting state laws; one Texas woman even says she was told she could she could continue carrying an ectopic pregnancy — which are highly dangerous and almost never viable — if she was “careful.” “It’s dangerous because they position themselves as legitimate health care centers,” said Onyenma Obiekea, policy analyst for the Black Women for Wellness Action Project, a reproductive justice advocacy group. “You earn the trust of community members only to offer this disinformation.” As anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers plan for a post-Roe future, they’re increasingly talking about services people will need to get through unplanned pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting: things like diapers, formula, and help with food and rent. For a lot of conservatives, the go-to solution for providing those resources is pregnancy centers. In Texas and at least eight other states, the centers already get government funding, and experts expect that funding to grow as the facilities move into providing more kinds of services, like adoption. The centers are part of a kind of parallel social safety net, created by anti-abortion groups and suffused with anti-abortion values, that’s likely to get larger and stronger in the years to come. Though the centers don’t seem to serve large numbers of clients — yet — they do offer “basic things that financially struggling people need,” said Katrina Kimport, a professor at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a group at the University of California San Francisco, who has studied the centers. However, critics say that in addition to spreading misinformation, they also promulgate a narrow vision of heterosexual, two-parent family life that may not be achievable or desirable for the people they aim to serve. At least as it stands now, “this is inadequate care.” Inadequate though it may be, the anti-abortion safety net is about to see an influx of power and money. Americans on both sides of the issue will have to reckon with what that means. Anti-abortion pregnancy centers are a big part of the right’s post-Roe plan Abortion opponents have long been criticized for ignoring the needs of babies after they’re born, as well as the harms of having to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term. Leading up to the end of Roe, however, conservative lawmakers and activists have started to speak more loudly and publicly about what abortion bans are going to mean for people facing pregnancies they didn’t intend. “We are certainly going to have to provide women’s health at a higher level,” Louisiana state Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Republican and a pastor, told the Louisiana Illuminator last month. “We are going to see more babies, not less. So we have to find a way to add resources.” It’s a concern for rank-and-file conservatives too. In a recent poll conducted for the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 62 percent of people who identified as “pro-life” agreed with the statement that a state that restricts abortion also “has a responsibility to increase support/options for women who have unwanted pregnancies.” Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images Fetus dolls in a basket at the pro-life Carolina Pregnancy Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 2016. The attitude is a change for Republicans, who have often opposed government programs for parents and children. “The political winds are definitely shifting,” said Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank. There’s “a lot more room to run on what the government should be doing and what it should be spending money on.” Historically, however, the states that will ban abortion now that Roe has fallen also have the weakest support for children and families, often as a result of decisions made by Republican legislators. Reversing that, if lawmakers want to, will be no easy task. In some cases, conservatives are supporting policies that have been progressive priorities in the past, including an expanded child tax credit or child allowance (a version of which Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) introduced in June) and extended Medicaid coverage for people after they give birth. (Some Republicans remain staunchly opposed to such policies, with one Mississippi state legislator recently arguing that “we need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on” Medicaid.) Then there are pregnancy resource centers. The centers have been around since the 1960s, proliferating after 1973, when Roe established the right to an abortion nationwide. They were founded, mostly by evangelical or other Christian groups, on the idea that “one-on-one ministry to people who were pregnant could talk people out of abortion,” Kimport said. Given that the centers’ original mission was to stop abortion, you might imagine that many would close after the fall of Roe since the procedure will now be banned across much of the country. However, it’s already clear from public statements by the centers themselves and anti-abortion lawmakers that these facilities aren’t going anywhere. Instead, “what we will see is an attempt by abortion opponents and anti-abortion legislators to propose that these centers are the appropriate way for people who would want but cannot obtain an abortion to receive services,” Kimport said. That’s already happening. “If at some point Roe v. Wade is overturned, we’re going to have to step up and fund places like these centers to be able to reach out to all those women who are now going, ‘I need help,’” Arkansas state Rep. Cindy Crawford, a Republican, told the Associated Press in March. Edmonds, the Louisiana representative, is backing a bill that would earmark $1 million from the state budget to help the centers build an online service network. That’s on top of money that the centers already get from Louisiana and other states around the country as part of “alternatives to abortion” programs, which have been around since the 1990s and have grown in recent years. The largest, in Texas, received $100 million over two years in the latest budget cycle, and abortion opponents hope to see that grow further. “We always are working toward the increase in funding for the alternatives to abortion program,” said Amy O’Donnell, director of communications for the group Texas Alliance for Life. “Our goal is to help women remove obstacles that they may face in going through an unplanned pregnancy so that they can successfully give birth to the baby and then keep that baby with support or place that baby for adoption, if that’s their choice,” O’Donnell said. “With that, we recognize that they’re going to need support both before and after birth.” Critics say the anti-abortion safety net … isn’t one Pregnancy resource centers do offer some forms of support to the people who visit them. In a small study published in 2020, Kimport found that women who visited the centers got things like baby clothes and prenatal vitamins, as well as services like pregnancy tests. Especially for low-income people, the centers can fill some of the gaps in states where more conventional social services, from Medicaid to food stamps, have been cut to the bone. Katherine Frey/Washington Post via Getty Images Tere Haring, founder and executive director of Allied Womens Center in San Antonio, Texas, looks over donated items in October 2021. She says the center helps women with rent, utilities, diapers, clothing, and other needs for up to five years after a child is born. However, researchers and reproductive-rights advocates have deep concerns about the idea that pregnancy resource centers could step in to become a substitute for the right to an abortion. At the most basic level, the centers do not provide abortion, which is something a lot of people want. Reproductive rights groups argue that support during an unplanned pregnancy is no substitute for the choice of whether to carry that pregnancy to term. “There’s nothing that a crisis pregnancy center can offer that is equal to getting an abortion,” said Morgan Moone, strategic data and advocacy manager for the New Orleans-based Reproductive Justice Action Collective (ReJAC). “Abortion is providing opportunity; it’s providing autonomy over an individual’s body.” Moreover, people who are seeking abortion may not be interested in goods and services to help them carry the pregnancy to term instead. Kimport’s research suggests that pregnancy resource centers are not especially popular. During a two-year period of recruiting study participants at prenatal clinics, she and her team were able to find only 21 people who had been to such a center and were willing to talk about the experience (and only a handful who had visited one but didn’t want to talk). The majority of people who had visited the centers were not considering abortion; they just needed assistance continuing a wanted pregnancy. After Texas passed the restrictive abortion law SB 8, abortions among Texans fell by only about 10 percent, suggesting that most people in the state who wanted abortions found a way to get them — they did not visit a pregnancy center for support in giving birth and raising a child. Another concern is the actual services that pregnancy resource centers provide. Research from the University of Georgia has found that while the centers sometimes present themselves as medical providers and offer services like ultrasounds, they also often spread misinformation about abortion, such as the false claim that it causes breast cancer. The centers often are not staffed by medical personnel. One 2007 study conducted by the NARAL ProChoice Maryland Fund found that just 18 percent of Maryland centers had staff with medical training. In addition, anti-abortion centers may spread misinformation about sexually transmitted infections and contraception, or provide no information at all. “That’s harmful,” said Obiekea, of the Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “This is information about your health.” The centers are also not subject to the same ethical and privacy regulations that govern medical clinics. The centers can collect and store data on clients’ sexual and reproductive history, test results, ultrasounds, and more, according to Time. That data could then be turned over to law enforcement to sue or prosecute abortion providers or even pregnant people themselves. Most pregnancy resource centers remain affiliated with churches or other Christian groups, and Christian religious messages are typically part of their counseling. Anti-abortion advocates say the centers are still open to all, regardless of religion: “There are some who may look for an open-door opportunity to share their Christian views, but they are also very happy to navigate around that,” O’Donnell said. According to Kimport, however, while people don’t have to be Christian to visit a center, hearing the religious messages is typically “not optional.” Moreover, the centers’ programming is often “informed by a normative idea of gender, of families, that may or may not conform to what the clients want, are interested in, or are even able to achieve,” Kimport said. That includes “an expectation of monogamy, of marriage, of a two-parent home,” and of a male breadwinner and “female caretaker and primary caregiver,” which may not be realistic or desirable for many Americans. Overall, “it’s not a client-centered safety net,” Kimport said. “It is much more top-down-directed, and directed by people who, to the best of my knowledge, do not have experience in the delivery of basic services.” Then there’s the fact that diverting state funding to pregnancy resource centers can take away from the existing social safety net. In at least 10 states, for example, the centers receive money from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — money that would otherwise go to non-religiously affiliated welfare programs for kids and parents in poverty. Such programs aren’t perfect; they, too, can employ a top-down approach that fails to center families’ needs. But pregnancy resource centers are not set up to act as a substitute. “These centers have not historically been tied into existing structures of the social safety net,” Kimport said. They typically don’t have social workers on staff and are not well-versed in navigating the complex web of government services available for low-income families. “People are not getting any kind of wraparound care.” Leah M. Willingham/AP A sign advertises free pregnancy tests and abortion information outside the Woman’s Choice Pregnancy Resource Center in Charleston, West Virginia, on June 17. The anti-abortion center is located next to Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, seen at left in the background, the only abortion provider in the state. The centers also aren’t always subject to the same kinds of reporting and transparency requirements that govern social safety net programs, leading some to question how they’re really spending their money. A 2018 investigation by the Austin Chronicle found that at a number of Texas centers, the overwhelming majority of state money was spent on counseling rather than on any kind of tangible goods like baby clothes or food. Some say it’s impossible to know how effective pregnancy resource centers will be as a part of the social safety net until they actually enter their new, post-Roe role. As Brown, the EPPC fellow, put it, “you can’t know until it’s live.” One thing, however, is clear: The anti-abortion movement is about to have its biggest chance in decades to shape American public policy, and pregnancy resource centers — along with churches and other religiously affiliated organizations like a Dallas-area “maternity ranch” for pregnant people and single moms — are a major part of the movement’s vision. Given this, some hope the centers can adapt to their new role and get better at supporting people, by offering more postpartum help, for example, or doing a better job of working with other services. “To the extent that this is the delivery system that states have decided to invest in, I hope the centers can grow from that,” Kimport said. Reproductive rights and justice organizations have also made some efforts to create resource centers of their own. All Options Pregnancy Center in Bloomington, Indiana, for example, offers diapers and wipes alongside referrals to abortion clinics and funding resources. Other advocates are working on providing information on all of people’s reproductive options, including abortion, even as it gets more difficult to access. “When we find ourselves at the crossroads of moments like this, where there’s a lot of confusion, where there’s a lot of fear, where there’s a lot of emotion, it’s easy to not know where to turn,” said Moore of ReJAC, the New Orleans reproductive justice group. To combat that feeling, the organization is working on raising awareness around where and when people can still get abortions, as well as how they can help others with money or transportation. The Black Women for Wellness Action Project, meanwhile, is backing a California bill that would fund community-based organizations that provide medically accurate sexual and reproductive health information. “It’s a challenge,” Obiekea said of the post-Roe landscape, but “not one that we’re backing down from.” “We absolutely believe in the power of an informed public,” Moore said. “It’s something that we believe is critical in ensuring that people can make the best decisions for their bodies, for their families, for their communities.”
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The Aftermath
Shantel Jones holds her son in New Orleans in March 2022. Both were affected by the closure of a local maternity ward. | Kathleen Flynn for Vox A series about the collateral health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in communities around the US. Courtesy of the Jolley family The doctors are not all right Doctors need mental health support, but the medical profession often punishes them for getting it. By Julia Belluz Joseph Rushmore for Vox America isn’t taking care of caregivers 48 million people provide unpaid care to their loved ones in the US. Here’s how to help them. By Katherine Harmon Courage Nick Danielson for Vox They save skiers and hikers in the wilderness. Here’s how they think about resilience. Search-and-rescue responders have powerful new ways of recovering from trauma. by Christopher Tedeschi Michelle McLoughlin for Vox Maternity wards are shuttering across the US during the pandemic The closures could make giving birth more dangerous in the United States. by Dylan Scott Stephanie Strasburg for Vox Health care in jails and prisons is terrible. The pandemic made it even worse. America’s 1.7 million incarcerated people have a constitutional right to medical treatment. During the pandemic, many of them say they didn’t get it in time. by Victoria Law This series is supported in part by the NIHCM Foundation.
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Biden’s chance to go bolder on abortion rights
Activists hope President Joe Bide will take more executive actions to protect abortion rights. | Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images “This is not a time for speeches and hoping people will vote in November.” This past weekend, more than 30 Democratic senators had a message for President Joe Biden: They want him to do more to protect abortion rights, and they want him to do it now. “There is no time to waste,” they said in the letter, which was led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and sent one day after the Supreme Court announced its decision to officially roll back Roe v. Wade. “You have the power to fight back and lead a national response to this devastating decision.” This letter is the latest indication of growing pressure on the White House to take additional executive actions in response to the fall of Roe. While Biden is not able to reinstate the protections offered by Roe without Congress, lawmakers and activists have clamored for the president to take other steps, such as finding ways for the federal government to defend abortion access in every state. Many of these proposals would likely be challenged in court, but proponents emphasize that they’d like to see the administration give them a try before forgoing them completely. For months, some abortion rights advocates have felt that the White House hasn’t been doing enough to address the urgency of the situation, whether that’s weighing more ambitious policies or simply speaking out more forcefully on the subject. Many were disappointed, for instance, to find that Biden hadn’t used the word “abortion” in any presidential speech until recently. The White House has taken some initial steps — and signaled that further action is on the way — while stopping short of laying out a comprehensive strategy. In a statement on Friday, Biden said he would combat any efforts to prevent people from traveling across state lines for abortions and indicated that the Department of Health and Human Services would work to preserve access to medication abortions to the “fullest extent possible.” Activists, though, feel there are more avenues the White House should consider.“This is not a time for speeches and hoping people will vote in November,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, the executive director of We Testify, an abortion rights advocacy group.“It’s a time to get creative … to try something and see what happens.” What advocates and many Democrats want from the Biden administration The main thing that advocates and many Democrats want from Biden is to take more aggressive actions, even if they’re expected to face legal challenges. These actions — coupled with inclusive rhetoric about abortions — could send a powerful message about the Biden administration’s solidarity with those affected by the bans. As of early this week, nine states have already implemented trigger laws that include either bans on abortion or severe limitations in access. Additional ideas that have been suggested include a proposal championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would establish abortion clinics on federal lands in states where there are existing bans. Because federal lands aren’t subject to states’ civil laws and there’s room to interpret criminal laws, clinics could theoretically establish themselves on places like military bases without having to deal with a state’s bans. “Even though the land is inside the border of a state, it wouldn’t be governed by the laws of a state,” Khiara Bridges, the faculty director of UC Berkeley’s Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, previously told Vox. Experts note that there is a precedent for federal lands to operate under a different set of policies than state-owned ones. Drexel University law professor David Cohen told Vox that there are past cases when a state’s right-to-work laws have not applied to how companies approach unionization if they are located on federal lands. Still, it’s an idea that could face legal pushback depending on how federal funds are used. If the clinics are paying the federal government to rent the lands, such an arrangement could circumvent the issue of the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal spending on most abortions. If federal funds are utilized to set these clinics up, their legal standing could be dicier. The Congressional Black Caucus has also called on Biden to declare a national public health emergency, much as he did during the pandemic. When it came to Covid-19, establishing a public health emergency helped prioritize federal dollars for resources like vaccines — though, again, that might be tougher with abortions due to the Hyde Amendment.The caucus as well as many activists believe such an action could help Biden demonstrate how serious the existing crisis is. Other ideas that have been floated include using federal money to provide vouchers to people traveling across state lines for abortions and enforcing the use of federal Medicaid dollars to provide coverage in the narrow instances in which they can be used. These schemes also face implementation questions, with the first possibly running afoul of the Hyde Amendment and the second facing uncertainty about enforcement. Where the administration could go from here Despite condemning the Supreme Court’s decision, the administration has repeatedly cautioned that there’s only so much it can legally accomplish. “We’re going to continue to see what else we can do,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Saturday. “I guess what I’m trying to say about the executive actions is that nothing could fill the hole that this decision has made.” That may be true, but many Democrats — lawmakers and voters alike — want to see Biden at least show that he’s fighting for people on the issue. So far, a key area of focus is medication abortion: On Friday, Biden said he’d be directing the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, to ensure that people could maintain access to medication abortion, though he offered few specifics on what this would entail. The FDA has already issued regulations that make it easier to obtain a medication abortion, policies that could counter state bans. In April 2021, it approved changes that enabled people to receive a prescription via telemedicine and get medication through the mail, a regulation the agency made permanent in December. Nineteen states, however, have passed laws that directly contradict the FDA’s regulations, requiring people to consume abortion pills with a clinician present. Legal experts argue that the Department of Justice could challenge these laws since federal regulations supersede state policies. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that states can’t ban people’s access to medication abortions, though he has not yet detailed how the DOJ will enforce this. According to Politico Playbook, the administration is still reviewing other possibilities and faces constraints because of congressional inaction. Due to the filibuster, lawmakers have limited recourse to pass legislation in the Senate, where many bills can’t pass without 60 votes. With their one-vote majority, Democrats’ ability to pass any abortion rights legislation this term appears highly unlikely. With that avenue closed, many advocates and lawmakers have been clear that they’ll continue to lobby Biden to take a stronger and more decisive stance. “We’re going to be loud. We’re going to be relentless. Because, Mr. President, we need a plan to protect reproductive rights in America — and we need it now,” Murray said at a June press conference.
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What Biden wants to achieve in Europe — and whether he’ll get it
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gives a speech via video link to G7 leaders. | Christian Bruna/Getty Images Biden may be stuck with symbolic wins at G7 and NATO summits. Four months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the effects of the war are not contained in those two countries. The conflict’s economic fronts, with the rise of energy prices and an emerging food crisis, are compounded by inflation and the likely potential of the war carrying on for months and years. President Joe Biden is in Europe this week to figure some of this out. He met with the group of seven leading economies known as the G7 in Germany over the weekend. Together, they pledged $600 billion for a global infrastructure program in response to China’s investment in the developing world. On Tuesday, Biden will visit Madrid for his fourth NATO summit. The challenge for Biden, as he grapples with the hot war and its many consequences, is whether this trip can move beyond symbolic wins. This will be Biden’s second in-person wartime NATO summit, and it’s significant, as the historically non-aligned countries of Sweden and Finland have formally asked to join the security alliance. But joining NATO requires the consensus of all its 30 member states, and Turkey’s obstructionist demands mean that the enlargement of the alliance in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression remains in the realm of symbolism. At the summit, NATO will unveil a new guiding document that updates the alliance’s worldview since it last released one in 2010. Experts say that China will be mentioned in the document for the first time, a symbolic warning to the alliance’s competitor in Asia. The G7 announced new sanctions against Russia,including on gold. But the economic sanctions levied on Russia have boomeranged to affect the world economy, creating early cracks in the West’s unity. Perhaps the most monumental development coinciding with Biden’s trip is the European Union welcoming the candidacy of Ukraine to be a member. That too is symbolic. It could take decades for Ukraine to meet the EU’s conditions. Of course, symbolism carries its own power. For Biden, the task in Europe is to take the symbolic unity of NATO countries and deliver unity around NATO’s objectives in the war — and in addressing other global challenges. All the problems to solve at NATO and the G7 In a recent essay for the New York Times, Biden laid out what the US “will not do” in Ukraine: it will not seek regime change in Russia or avoidNATO’s direct involvement in the war. He inadvertently posed an enduring question: What are NATO and the US’s strategic objectives in Ukraine? The US hasn’t been totally clear about its strategic goals because much of this depends on what Ukraine wants, explained Douglas Lute, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to NATO from 2013 to 2017. “Our overall objective in Ukraine is still somewhat under formulation,” he told me. “We’re trying to calibrate our support for Ukrainian objectives, and that complicates matters here.” But as the US continues to send more weapons on top of an already staggering amount of military aid to Ukraine, the strategic objectives of the war remain difficult to discern. Much of this summit will be about aligning all 30 countries of the alliance. The problem is that each country faces its own domestic divides. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has just lost his parliamentary majority, and, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the least popular member of his own cabinet. Germany is figuring out new energy and defense policies, stopping Russian oil purchases but still buying Russian gas, as it ramps up its military budget. And in the United States, Biden looks ahead to a prospective midterm shellacking with high gas prices and outrageous inflation, as Supreme Court decisions and ongoing gun violence polarize the country. Though this year the US has reinvigorated NATO and deepened its connection to Europe, experts say policy thinking remains stuck in the post–Cold War past. “We were very focused on Europe in the 1990s, and then 9/11 happened, and we totally forgot about it,” said Max Bergmann of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Back then, the US was “freaked out” by the fact that the nascent EU was not just a political union but also had economic and defense elements that could counterweight US power. “Washington just has no real grasp of Europe today, doesn’t understand the centrality of the European Union, andtries to operate as if it doesn’t exist,” he told me. The US and Europe are also trying to navigate soaring energy prices driven in part by the war, and while Biden tries to lower gas prices by any means necessary — Europe is unevenly reckoning with what it might mean to cut off Russian oil. “Climate is a big deal to the Germans and to the G7,” said Meg Lundsager, the former US executive director at the International Monetary Fund. “I don’t see the policy changes in the US that are needed, or the funding going to clean energy that we would need to do here to have a big impact.” Joanna Rozpedowski, a researcher at the Center for International Policy, says that the countries of the G7 will have to go well beyond Ukraine. “Afghanistan is an ongoing issue. Ethiopia, Haiti, Sri Lanka. But the Ukraine conflict — I’m concerned that it will overshadow all of these crises, simply due to the immediacy and the proximity of that conflict to Europe,” she told me. How to unite NATO on Russia and China At the summit, a reanimated NATO will attempt to meet the thorny moment, while making everything as stage-managed as possible. “The whole goal of NATO is to have a narrative of unity — maximum support for Ukraine — and to have the show just be one of the images of leadership,” says Michael Kimmage, a historian focused on the Cold War at Catholic University of America. “But that’s, of course, different from really arriving at some kind of strategic consensus.” NATO, it might be said, finds itself in a contradiction; it’s structurally a defensive military alliance that has nevertheless become involved in a war it’s not technically a part of. “There’s always this odd rhetorical gray zone or ambiguity where it makes these claims about being there for Ukraine. But it’s really NATO member states that are doing stuff and not NATO as such,” Kimmage, who served in the Obama State Department, explained. The most urgent agenda item for NATO may be the most controversial politically: each country agreeing to a way out of this war. Tom Pickering, a career diplomat who served as US ambassador to Russia from 1993 to 1996, says that the US preoccupation with demonizing enemies has shut down all lines of communication to Russia. “I think that that’s a self-made barrier,” he told me. “During the Cold War, we did learn that longstanding conversations tended, over a period of time, to produce some useful results.” The US has become too focused on the notion of solving diplomatic problems militarily, says Pickering, “when, in effect, military efforts have produced outcomes that have not resulted in solutions so much as prolongations of the conflict.” When Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Putin last month by phone, they pushed for a resumption of negotiations with Ukraine. The Ukrainian foreign minister criticized Macron. Ukraine and Russia are not talking, but David Arakhamia, majority leader of the Ukrainian parliament and the country’s chief negotiator with Russia, keeps an open channel with his Russian counterpart. It’s important to “not completely destroy some relationship,” he said, “because eventually there will be some negotiation, and we’ll have to set something right.” But much of the Ukrainian public is not open to talks after Russian brutality in Bucha and Mariupol, Arakhamia said at a recent German Marshall Fund event. He also conceded that the Ukrainian negotiating position is weak. A quick turnoff may no longer be possible, if it ever was. The idea of finding off-ramps for Putin to deescalate while saving face may itself date to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and assault on the Donbas — when Putin declined to take any off-ramps. Now, the Biden administration seems to have dropped the off-ramp concept and has deferred instead to Ukrainian desires. “So that’s different from an off-ramp metaphor. It’s a message of unconditional support,” said Kimmage. “Not only is there no off-ramp, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for scaling back the escalation that’s happening, and some of that escalation is happening very, very close to the NATO domain.” Though Russia is the war of the moment, observers will be watching how NATO addresses China in its new strategic concept — the document that is its “purpose in life,” as Rose Gottemoeller, the alliance’s former deputy secretary general, put it. Since the US seems increasingly focused on deterring China’s military power in the Indo-Pacific region, European countries will have to refocus on how to defend Europe. “The alliance will be careful not to overreach with regard to its competition with China, and I think it will be careful not to over-militarize that competition,” Lute told me. “It will require careful drafting by NATO, because, of course, it’s a military alliance.” Securing critical infrastructure, commerce, and investments in Europe from China’s influence will likely be a priority of NATO’s approach to China. The last NATO strategic concept was from 2010 and described a different moment. “Today, the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low,” it read.
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Why we need a new queer canon
Could The Matrix series be part of a new queer canon? We discuss what a reimagined canon could look like. | The Matrix “If we know we need a different future, then what are the texts that help us get there?” What makes something part of “the canon”? How do we determine which media and cultural products are considered authoritative, definitional, teachable? It’s a question critics and media fans love to debate, but when the canon is queer, things get a lot more complicated. The Vox Culture team recently got together to create a list of suggestions for a “new” queer canon. Our list consciously moves away from the idea of “the canon” as a list of towering works of art and toward works that offer diversity of human experiences, works that break down binaries, works that dare to imagine queerness as an art form unto itself. In light of a resurgence in political and cultural queerphobia, it’s more important than ever to elevate stories that point us toward a better future. “What the canon shouldn’t be is a shibboleth — a test of whether you’re a ‘real’ queer,” Cáel Keegan tells me. He’s an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Grand Valley State University and author of Lana and Lilly Wachowski: Sensing Transgender. “That taste metric and elitism that can come along with canonicity should ideally never be a thing.” Instead, he suggests the canon should be less about curation and more about function — a queer canon that acts upon culture in real time, rather than one that simply sits there being venerated. That’s a big change in perspective. I asked Keegan to walk me through it. The fundamental question of, “What even is the queer canon?” isn’t as easy to answer as I thought it would be. One complication I ran into as I was trying to explore this subject is that not everyone believes a queer canon even exists to begin with. I think whether you want to admit there’s a canon or not, there just is. Either we’re gonna deal directly with the fact that certain groups have really driven our sense of what counts as useful or valuable media — or we’re not going to admit it and just have the canon exist as a sort of unspoken reality that directly reflects power. I think [in] having these kinds of conversations, it’s important to admit that not everyone in the LGBTQ community has been in the position to make those kinds of determinations. The queer canon has historically been pretty white, pretty cis, and arguably pretty male. Even when we do have texts that have diverse representations in them, they’re often texts that are elevated by white cultural producers for white audiences. Something like Paris Is Burning, for example, has been debated and debated [in terms of] who that film is actually for. So I think it’s better to lean into those questions. Whether you believe in it or not, the culture produces [a canon]. I think, too, so much of the queer canon is subtextual — Rebel Without a Cause,The Children’s Hour — the stuff of The Celluloid Closet. That obviously has such an impact as we process the stories that we are allowed to relate to. Mmm-hhmm. And I have a certain love for films that weren’t representationally queer, but were made queer through different kinds of reading. Also, I think there’s a sense of dissatisfaction with directly representational media, where I do see people kind of wanting that older, more arcane way of finding things to be queer, even when they are not stated. Absolutely. There’s a delight in subverting things that are textually heterosexual. I mean, that’s kind of how queer media began, with the audience developing reading practices that were applied to the text, versus the text just being like, “I am a gay movie.” Right. All of the textually queer movies I watched growing up in the ’90s were very cis white male-centered, in a post-AIDS culture that was very much about processing trauma. They were for a very specific community that I didn’t necessarily see myself in but was obviously drawn to. There was a queer mainstream, if you can call something queer mainstream, canon that developed around teaching straight people how to incorporate gay men — and to some lesser extent lesbians — into the community of normative relationality. Like, this terrible thing happened, all these people died, and now we need these stories — not only for the community ourselves, to process the trauma through whatever mainstream genre codes were available in cinema at that time, but also to teach straight people how to incorporate or assimilate queerness into liberal democracy, through the mechanisms of family, acceptance, tolerance, things like that. If we know the present is pretty awful and we know we need a different future, then what are the texts that help us get there? So I think that categorization was working in two directions simultaneously. Lesbians were much more the focus of television movies, particularly in the mid-to-late ’90s. There were a lot of soap opera plots around lesbianism because a lot of those were directed at more of a stay-at-home-moms audience on daytime TV. So those were less canonized. They were treated as more disposable. I think the question now is, where did the functionality of the canon get us? Because here we are, right? Like, if you wanna say, “Oh, it was useful for getting us gay marriage” — sure. But it’s almost like the canon rewrote the purview of the political framework in which we could imagine a future. And you might argue that the canon reified a lot of straight cis tropes about queer people at the same time that it was trying to assimilate gay people into that world. Well, yeah, I mean, I saw a tweet recently that said that gay movies were better when people thought being gay was bad. That really stuck with me because I’m working on a book about bad trans media, and why good representation hasn’t gotten us anywhere culturally. So much of queerness is about learning to define yourself through opposition and define yourself through deviance, embracing your villainy. And recognizing that in the villainy there is value, and that villainy is required to alter the system in any kind of meaningful way. Be gay, do crimes, essentially. Traditionally the canon was driven by the decisions of a very limited number of people in elite institutions. It’s what was taught as, here is what you need to know in order to be a master of this art form or cultural form, right? I would argue for a redefinition of canon as being works that are popularly valuable — I think that’s a wider and more democratic framework for what is meaningful in any given moment. My idea of canon would make room for something like what you’re talking about. You’ll always get people saying, “but what do we lose if we allow in this new stuff, and how do you know this stuff will be meaningful in five years?” But I find that those claims usually reflect the interests of white people with money. So, “What is the canon doing?” is the question for me. Canon isn’t a container as much as a function. If we know the present is pretty awful and we know we need to go in a different direction in order to get a different future, then what are the texts that help us get there? And those are the things we should be paying attention to. The old canon has delivered us to this moment, which is not a great moment! So we should be asking some questions about why that happened and how it happened. Processing trauma, making arguments for inclusion and tolerance — that’s the old popular function of that post-Hays Code canon. What are the new demands? What are the new needs? I think one new demand would be to really reflect the mentality of modern queer people. The people around me are all really diverse, really global. My friends are on many different continents, many different ethnicities and backgrounds, and they all bring so many different perspectives and there’s just such a breakdown of binary norms in general. I feel like very little mainstream media reflects that, which is perhaps why I personally, and many queer people, tend to go outside of the mainstream for the content that we consume. I think part of that is because we’re looking for things that are wild and outside of the box when it comes to thinking about gender and thinking about sexuality and thinking about a lot of things that are innately part of queer identity. I like that you raised the idea of binarization because binarization was one of the ways in which that older canon made arguments for the inclusion of white cis gays and lesbians. Like, yes, we are gay and lesbian, but we can largely privatize our sexualities and we fit right into the male/female sex binary. We really do need cultural production that helps us question and see beyond this retrenchment of the sex binary that we’re dealing with. Ideally a new canon would help us deal with that. I like to argue that we should be thinking outside of just film, TV, theater, and literature, and considering other forms of media. I’m wondering how feasible you think that is. The old canon was really driven by content. It was about masterworks. “These are works produced by the great minds.” My argument would be that we should ideally move away from that because whatever we think is the masterwork in this moment reflects our own sense of what’s good and bad, rather than what actually is useful. I would argue for a use-based canon. That means asking, “What is the media that is touching people the most? What are people referring to? What’s the thing people are using in their everyday lives to imagine politically, to organize, to communicate, to develop new forms of identification?” I also think we’re pretty far from having an established canon that really fully includes genderqueer and nonconforming and nonbinary stories. In terms of what gets elevated and what gets talked about, we just don’t really have that many, and obviously that’s especially true for people of color. Could a new canon help boost those stories? What’s interesting is that a number of texts that used to be thought of as genderqueer or nonbinary texts have been retroactively rewritten as being trans, but things that are very in the canon, like Stone Butch Blues for example, were understood to be genderqueer texts. There are things in the more recent canon that don’t show up the way they used to because of how “transgender” has risen as the new identity catch-all for non-cisgender things. So there’s a lot of potential transness that’s getting forced into this binary framework by a media culture that really needs trans people to show up as a legible gender to be marketable. So there’s a lot of pressure on creators. The stuff that gets through presents trans people as similar to cisnormative standards of beauty and gender comportment — and really only trans women. There’s very little out there in the popular mainstream frame that represents trans men at all, in any kind of diverse way. What we have is a culture obsessed with trans women for various problematic reasons. And that near-fetishization of trans women as either goddesses or sex workers really blots out everything else and makes everything else really hard to market. Which is the other big problem. None of this stuff exists outside the issue of it needing to generate money for somebody. The ways you’re allowed to be visibly queer and visibly genderqueer in public are incredibly specific. I don’t really see any stories at all that reflect a non-binary experience for someone who doesn’t look like an androgynous model, ever. And I don’t think I would, because it would mean confronting people with very visibly jarring images of non-binary people and what we actually look like. Coming back to the idea that a new canon might be able to change some of this — is that too aspirational? Are there stories right now that you think are doing that work of changing the conversation? I keep thinking about where people are making stuff that’s touching a lot of people, that’s driving conversation and rocking the boat a bit. It’s almost impossible as a trans creator to do that without getting a whole bunch of people really angry at you. I’ve been thinking a lot about this — what is the equivalent of a text now that’s gonna be as big as something like The Matrix was for 1999? I would put Natalie Wynn in there, definitely. I understand that not everyone is a fan of hers, but I do think her impact on the culture and some areas of her videography have been really asking deep questions about representation and beauty standards. She’s not perfect, no one is, but I would argue that her work on YouTube actually has the level of circulation and impact that is arguably canonicity. I would just put her up there as somebody in the YouTube space who’s extremely culturally influential, even if we don’t think of her as making representational or narrative work. Then I think about stuff like the video game Celeste, made by a non-binary creator who then, after the game came out, was like, “Actually, the protagonist of this game is trans and I created the whole game from an unknowing trans perspective.” Celeste is something I would teach in a class about queer and trans game design and what it’s like to make something that’s gonna touch a lot of people — that’s going to give them a queer experience of the world without saying upfront, this is what this is. Obvious things like Moonlight are gonna be in the new canon no matter what. It’s the stuff that people aren’t quite aware of, on the edges of the cultural critical conversation. That’s one reason why I wanted to include the Chinese danmei novel I recommended because it’s done so much to globalize conversations and really bring people together. It’s actively transforming publishing to a degree — this is a work that is actually changing the culture in real time. Maybe it’s not canonical in terms of what would have traditionally been considered a looming, towering work of great artistic genius, but it’s functioning within culture in a way that is very meaningful, and I think that’s important. And then maybe this means that we just completely redefine what we mean when we say canon — like maybe we just throw out the traditional definition of canon altogether. Well, to produce a queer canon would probably be to change the function of it, because to queer something literally means to change its direction — to twist it. So, yeah, I like thinking about it less as just a container of recommended content and much more like a tool.
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Our submissions to the queer canon
Amanda Northup for Vox The queer canon should point us toward the future. We made a list of new, vibrant queer stories helping us get there. The Vox culture team thinks a lot about what stories matter to us and why: in other words, makes something part of “the canon.” Lately, because it’s Pride, but also because of the times we’re in — with anti-LGBTQ bills popping up all over the country, celebrity outings back in the news, and the ominous threat of a repeal of protected same-sex rights — we’ve been thinking a lot about the queer canon and its power. “The queer canon has always drawn attention to works that counter prevailing images and narratives known to marginalize and stigmatize queerness, in favor of ones that are affirmative and/or offer alternative perspectives,” says Maria San Filippo, an associate professor at Emerson College’s Department of Visual & Media Arts. “That body of work often provides those who are queer and questioning with their earliest instances of self-recognition and community belonging.” Storytelling has been fundamental to the progress of queer and transgender rights in America, but lately, despite an abundance of queer storytellers in the landscape of contemporary media, much of that progress has once again turned into a struggle for civil rights. What kinds of stories helped get us out of this mess the first time around, and can they do it again? Or should those stories — what we might consider the essential “queer canon” — give way to something new? Could they pave the way for a rethinking of what queer and genderqueer storytelling looks like in the 21st century, and what its role in society should be? This is a big subject. Trying to define what makes a piece of media feel essential is almost impossibly subjective. Even the idea of “the canon” seems especially fraught when we consider how much of the literary, cinematic, and artistic “canon,” even within a queer context, has been shaped and defined primarily by a hierarchy of white creators and critics. “Even the queer canon tends to favor works by and from more privileged creators and production contexts,” says San Filippo. But the modern internet serves as a potential foil for this tiered system, bringing us a whole new virtual world of hybrid art forms, evolving subcultures, and expanding ideas of queer and genderqueer identity. Social media has given rise to interconnected international communities; queer creators and audiences are constantly breaking down boundaries, blurring art forms, uplifting traditionally shamed genres, and embracing creative anarchy. In other words, if there ever was a queer canon, it ain’t what it used to be. Still, it feels especially urgent to ask: What are the great new stories that reflect contemporary queerness? What is this generation’s Angels in America — and what impact could that story have on a society rushing to criminalize and re-criminalize queer and transgender identity? What are the modern works future generations will look to to understand queer and genderqueer identity? What if the new queer canon is something lighter and more fluid, less defined by towering importance or traditional literary and cinematic parameters for excellence? Might the new queer canon borrow the qualities of evolving queerness itself — less defined by binary dichotomies (exuberance in the face of suffering, survival in the face of ostracism) and more defined by fluidity and community? Could the new queer canon make space for more experimental art? Could it include international media? Would it emphasize heady romantic joy, or might it highlight anger and desperation? Can a comic-book arc or an innovative sci-fi or fantasy novel usurp a position of reverence once reserved for higher literary forms? What do we do with Ryan Murphy? We’ve chosen to focus on works that matter to us individually that we think might also resonate collectively. Obviously no one’s “must-sees” and “must-reads” will be the same; our method of selection is necessarily a little ragtag, and in a limited list, we couldn’t include everything we wanted nor capture the breadth of creative works that rightfully belong here. But that feels fitting. Queerness is too often defined by what it is not, when I suspect that perhaps queerness is a little of everything. Perhaps the new queer canon, rather than serving as a gate-kept list of exemplars, should be messy, inclusive, and a little of everything, everywhere, all at once. Hey — maybe that should be on the list, too. —Aja Romano The Archive of Our Own In fandom circles, the stereotype about queer fanfiction is that it’s, shhh, mostly written by straight, cis women. But the Archive of Our Own — formed out of the late stages of slash (i.e., queer male) fic fandom on LiveJournal — is a garden of sexual and gender diversity. AO3 was created by and for fans who needed a platform to write and read fanfic that was as weird, geeky, queer, kinky, and subversive as the fans themselves. In the 15 years since its beginnings, AO3 has become a haven for queer and genderqueer fiction and themes of all sorts — though it must be noted, a space that’s still prohibitive for many writers and fans of color. Despite its flaws, there’s no space more messily welcoming, joyful, and flagrantly, abundantly queer. Even the platform’s growing pains are queer and kinky. And AO3’s cultural impact is no joke: At a recent Japan Foundation panel on the global rise of queer Boys’ Love media, every single panelist mentioned AO3 as a factor in the medium’s growing popularity. In 2019, in an unprecedented move, the whole site won the Hugo for Best Related Work — an honor bestowed upon 9.4 million works and counting, a giant roiling body of queer-friendly writing. So why not just make AO3 itself, and all of its freakish deviant joy, part of the new queer canon? —AR Hannibal Hannibal, which ran for three seasons from 2013 to 2015, wants viewers to ask one question: When is queerbaiting not queerbaiting? One possible answer it offers is: when it’s part of a deliberate attempt by queer people to take characters you might already be familiar with and expose their super-gay core. Creator Bryan Fuller takes the characters of Will Graham (tortured FBI criminal profiler with an extreme — and fictional — empathy disorder) and Hannibal Lecter (genius, psychologist, cannibal) from Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon and subverts them. Hannibal goes back to before the book, when Graham and Lecter were respectful friends and work colleagues, then shows how Graham finally figured out Lecter was the greatest murderer of them all. Fuller’s great conceit is that Graham and Lecter’s cat-and-mouse game has a romantic, erotic tension at its core. Across three seasons, the show steps right up to the edge of pushing an explicitly erotic connection between the two into the text, always backing down at the last second. When the two finally take the plunge, it almost feels like a sigh of relief, despite them being killer and cop. The show’s queerness goes beyond its central pairing, however. Queer characters exist throughout the show’s ensemble, and as critic Loa Beckenstein has argued, the show’s portrayal of murderers who literally rearrange the human body to express their innermost selves resonates with trans experiences too. Hannibal is a huge, queer soup — and incredibly compelling horror TV on top of that. —Emily St. James In the Dream House In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir-slash-literary criticism, is self-consciously an addition to the queer canon, a story whose form Machado had to invent herself because she could not find it elsewhere. “Our culture does not have an investment in helping queer folks understand what their experiences mean,” she observes. Finding a way to help other queer folks understand their own experiences is part of the project of this luminous, harrowing account of same-sex domestic abuse. In the Dream House is a memoir in fragments. As Machado walks us through the story of how she met, fell in love with, and came under the thumb of her abusive ex-girlfriend, each brief chapter plays with a different narrative trope: noir, erotica, folklore taxonomy, choose your own adventure. It is experimenting because it has no clear precedents, borrowing from other story formats because how else can you find a way to tell a story so unthinkable? “I enter into the archive,” Machado writes, “that domestic abuse between partners who share a gender identity is both possible and not uncommon, and that it can look something like this. I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.” The stone of Machado’s story casts strong echoes. —Constance Grady Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) The last five years have seen a boom in terrific literature written by trans women, from Torrey Peters’s bestselling Detransition, Baby to Jeanne Thornton’s Summer Fun and the assorted works of Casey Plett. Yet my favorite novel in this movement is Hazel Jane Plante’s experimental 2019 novel Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian), which emerged from a tiny press in Canada and captured certain things about the trans feminine experience I had never seen articulated quite as well. The novel’s narrator — unnamed for almost the entire novel — attempts to process her deep, paralyzing grief at the loss of Vivian, her best friend, who died in an unspecified fashion before the novel begins. To do so, she begins cataloging in alphabetical order elements from the fictional TV series Little Blue, which sounds like a cross between Twin Peaks, Gilmore Girls, and the old Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Little Blue served to bring the narrator and Vivian closer together, and the book explores their friendship both in the past tense and in the present, as the narrator rewatches her friend’s favorite show (for Vivian always loved it more than the narrator did). Little Blue Encyclopedia aches, in the best way possible. As the narrator moves through her grief, we also get a beautiful portrayal of the ways trans people care for each other and the bonds that can form between trans feminine people who often have to create their own family structures outside the societal norm. This book is sad, yes, but death is never its focus. Instead, it is interested in all of the ways we find pieces of the dead to make our lives slightly more bearable without them. —ESJ The Locked Tomb series The tagline on Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series is that it tells the epic saga of lesbian necromancers in space, but I assure you that the necromancers are far from the only queer characters in this space opera. There are also nonbinary angels, pansexual Lyctors, and — arguably most important of all — Muir’s first title character, sweet dumb lesbian Gideon, a deadly swordswoman with a weakness for bad puns and a sizable collection of dirty magazines. The Locked Tomb series, which begins with Gideon the Ninth and is planned to extend to four books total, is a study in nightmarish gothic maximalism. It’s a universe of ossuaries and skeleton monsters and appealingly gross flesh magic, and everything that could possibly emit a sepulchered groan and leak blood absolutely does. But at its core, the Locked Tomb series is a study of the power dynamics between two very close people, which is to say that it is a study of love. It takes place within an interplanetary empire ruled over by the universe’s most powerful necromancer, where necromancers and their sword-wielding cavaliers are told to pair off in a quest for ultimate power. Over the course of the series, Muir makes an increasingly pitiless examination of what it means to offer one’s self, body and soul, to another person. What she finds will break your heart every single time. —CG Mo Dao Zu Shi (The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) In December, the first published English translations of three novels by the pseudonymous erotica author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (affectionately abbreviated as MXTX) all hit the New York Times bestseller list at once. This feat made headlines primarily because of the sheer novelty of it: a Chinese author of kinky queer historical fantasies finding mainstream success overseas, mainly due to the organically grown fandom for her works. That fandom centers around MXTX’s “cultivation” epic Mo Dao Zu Shi, an intricate, politically charged novel about a brilliant historical cultivator who begins practicing a dangerous school of dark magic, low-key wrecking society in the process. The story quickly became beloved for its complex world-building and for the soulmate love between its two main characters. MDZS was adapted into the globally popular Netflix hit The Untamed, which alone had a tremendous impact on queer storytelling in East and Southeast Asia; now MXTX’s body of work has begun disrupting US publishing. The international bridges this story has built and the deep love it culls from its audience qualify it for entry into the new queer canon. After all, what is the canon but works that transform us? MDZS is transforming the culture in real time. —AR “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” Music videos are a lost art. It’s not artists’ fault that the industry has changed; that MTV now just plays hours and hours of a show called Ridiculousness. What’s the point in pouring effort and money into a video, when so few are watching? Lil Nas X is one of the exceptional exceptions; his videos are must-see. His clip for “Montero” features, among other things, Lil Nas X being seduced and licked down by a humanoid snake in a Garden of Eden, wearing a pink wig while being chained and judged in heaven, and ultimately sliding down a pole into hell, to give the devil a lap dance. The visuals are explicitly queer, but also a blunt rebuke to the Satanic Panic launched against the singer by right-wing figures and politicians. Instead of shying away from the controversy, he doubles down, quite literally, with Satan. Lil Nas X’s skill with both the spotlight and visual artistry brings to mind artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson, whose music videos are seared into pop music history. Same goes for his irreverent attitude about his biggest haters. Love him or hate him, you can’t stop talking about him. —Alex Abad-Santos Moonlight One of the more unexpected Best Picture wins in the Oscars’ 94 years is also one of the most dazzling and sensitive films of the new millennium. Based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight sensitively weaves together several threads as it tells the story of Chiron, a young boy growing up in Liberty City, Miami. The film is structured like a triptych, with Chiron played by three extraordinary actors — Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes — as he matures into adulthood. The film wasn’t widely seen before its Oscar win, and no wonder; it’s a small, arty film made on a shoestring budget about a poor, gay Black boy from the projects, with a mother who is an addict and a surrogate father who deals drugs, as he deals with bullies and discovers his homosexuality. What Moonlight does best and most brilliantly is evoke the quiet ways that Chiron, who is bullied and lost for much of his youth, slowly and often silently grows into understanding his own identity. Through encounters with a childhood friend, Chiron struggles to accept that who he is will always be at odds with where he came from — and to live the emotions that realization raises. It’s a tale of yearning and pain, grounded in Chiron’s desire to escape himself. But Moonlight understands that need for escape doesn’t come from himself; it’s born out of the influences around him. Love, a place to belong and be safe, is what he longs for most of all. —Alissa Wilkinson Portrait of a Lady on Fire Portrait of a Lady on Fire, queer French director Céline Sciamma’s story of two women falling in love amid a too-temporary matriarchy, is one of the most romantic movies ever made. The connection between painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whose portrait Marianne has been hired to paint, builds inexorably across the film. The two are left to their own devices on a remote island off the coast of Brittany in the late 1700s, yet even as they fall in love, their connection carries within it the promise of melancholy. Héloïse’s portrait is meant for the man she will marry. Stories of two women falling in love usually end in sadness, which irritates many. (Not me! I love when people are sad!) Yet Portrait transcends whatever annoyance you may preemptively feel about its sad lesbians by creating a truly ravishing and revolutionary glimpse at what the world might look like when filtered through the female gaze. Above all, Sciamma understands that the best romances are about the proximity between two people who can’t help falling for each other, and the best love stories are about the separation of soulmates. Portrait somehow manages to pull off both in the same film. —ESJ “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Pose Pose wasn’t a perfect television show (Ryan Murphy’s rarely are) but when it was at its best it was one that, as my colleague Emily St. James said, you couldn’t stop thinking about. And I can’t think of an episode harder to forget than “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” which aired in 2019. Pose explores ballroom culture and the lives of trans and gay people in the ’80s and ’90s. But it also uses that story to reflect the violence against trans women happening in the present. “Never Knew” depicts the murder of Candy, a friend to the show’s main cast of characters. Candy is a ballroom hopeful, but struggles financially. In order to support herself, Candy performs sex work — and ultimately is killed by one of her clients. The episode is moving and awkward, powerful and maybe too sentimental — sometimes all at once. It’s not successful at everything it tries. But what stuck out to me was how the show honors Candy’s life. The show deliberately veers away from depicting violence and how she was killed. Instead, Candy’s ghost appears in the episode and interacts with the characters — a way to show her legacy, the life she led, and the dreams she had. After her death and funeral, Candy is depicted in a fantasy sequence in which she has a ballroom performance of a lifetime. She looks beautiful. She’s smiling. She’s admired. But the sequence isn’t just about what Candy hoped would have happened in her life, it’s about how her friends will remember her. It’s about the brightness she brought to their lives. Pose itself is a reminder that joy is a crucial part of queer survival. —AAS Princess Cyd Stephen Cone’s 2017 coming-of-age drama flew under many people’s radars, but to those who saw Princess Cyd, it was an instant classic. Jessie Pinnick plays Cyd, who’s come to stay with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence, playing a character modeled on the author Marilynne Robinson) for the summer. Like many a teenager, Cyd is trying to find herself. She finds herself attracted to Katie (Malic White), a barista, while also unwinding some of the ways Miranda’s life has gotten too safe. They provoke one another while forming a bond. Together, they’re prodded toward a bigger understanding of the world in the safety of a loving, carefully chosen community. Cone is a master of small, carefully realized filmmaking; his earlier movies such as The Wise Kids and Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party combine an unusual level of empathy for his characters with a combination of interests that aren’t always mixed in authentic ways in queer film: love, desire, sexual awakenings, and religion. Princess Cyd is his most accomplished film to date, graceful and honest, but all of his work ought to be required viewing for young people navigating the tricky waters that often accompany queer identities in religious communities. —AW A Strange Loop Even before it won the Tony for Best Musical, A Strange Loop seemed obviously destined for greatness. You can’t escape its vortex. Michael R. Jackson’s dazzling metafictional show inverts and plays upon so many Broadway tropes that your head is spinning before the first number is over. The tale centers on Usher, a queer Black man who works as, well, an usher for the Broadway production of The Lion King and in his spare time is trying to write a musical about a queer Black usher who is trying to write a musical about … you get the idea. On stage, he’s accompanied by a chorus of his Thoughts, six of them, who at times evoke his family members, his emotions, or a bevy of other detractors. In the course of trying to write the show, Usher finds himself sucked into his own vortex. But his family members’ refusal to accept his identity, along with an unspoken part of family history, throw a key wrench into his mental works. It’s a spectacular hoot of a show, and made even more poignant by the seething authenticity underneath it. Like a number of other recent Broadway productions from Black artists (including Slave Play), A Strange Loop isn’t out to just make fun of the overwhelming white preciousness of the entire Broadway apparatus. It’s ready to burn it all down, frustrated and radical and saying all kinds of things you can’t say on stage. (In one of the late numbers, Usher’s Thoughts, as his family members, sing a song with the chorus “AIDS is God’s punishment.” It’s a lot.) Polite, it’s not — but as Tony voters recognized, it’s a giant leap forward for the Great White Way. —AW Veneno Veneno is an HBO Max miniseries about the power of imagination and storytelling. Veneno is the Spanish word for “venom,” but it’s also the nickname of the legendary Cristina Ortiz Rodríguez or “La Veneno,” a transgender singer and celebrity who rose to prominence on Spanish TV in the mid-’90s. Cristina created a life for herself that defied reality. She dared to dream of something better for herself, and in her own way, turned her success and fame into resistance against transphobia and prejudice. The series, based on Cristina’s biography, doesn’t shy away from the tougher parts of Cristina’s life — the friends she lost, the dreams she gave up on, the bad men she fell in love with, the failures she endured — and in doing so, gives us a portrait of how a queer person’s desire to be seen in the world is a constant, difficult negotiation. Even with these obstacles, La Veneno was an architect of her own life. The show celebrates her for it. —AAS Yuri on Ice The 2010s saw a boom in what we might call queer comfort media: storytelling that prioritizes, first and foremost, creating a happy, loving, progressive environment for its characters and its audience that defied trauma porn stereotypes. Most of these stories — think hockey webcomic Check, Please! or cult webseries Carmilla — found niche audiences and left a relatively small cultural footprint. But Yuri on Ice, the 2016 skating anime that simply presents ice skating as the utopian queer fantasy space it was always meant to be, influenced so much media in its wake that the list is hard to enumerate. Among the mix is arguably the popular romance Red, White & Royal Blue and Netflix’s current hit Heartstopper — but Yuri on Ice tops them both for its charm, grace, and beauty. For most of 2016 and 2017, this anime was everywhere, and it still resurfaces every winter as fans compare the intricate details of the show to the styles and bios of their favorite real-life figure skaters. Yuri on Ice makes a compelling, visually stunning argument for simply rewriting the world to make room for passionate, ebullient, happy queer love stories. No wonder the fandom is still huge, breathlessly awaiting the series’ perpetually delayed second season. We need that kind of hope now more than ever. —AR
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Moving to a new city solo can be less lonely than you think
Shanée Benjamin for Vox How to make and sustain relationships in a new city as a single person. Last December, I rode my bike from my brother’s apartment to Chicago’s Union Station and got on a 52-hour train to San Francisco. It was my fifth move in as many years. I’m in my mid-20s, and I’ve moved over a dozen times. Since college, due to work and school, I’ve lived in Boston, Lusaka, Delhi, Chicago, and now, San Francisco. I’ve done those moves alone, and although I’ve had amazing support from my friends, family, and co-workers, it’s still quite a different experience from moving with a family or a partner. I’ve figured out that learning to make the most of frequent moving is learning to make the most out of an imperfect situation: All kinds of relationships are difficult to sustain in the same way over distances and time zones. Being mobile is only one way of living life, and by living this way — for those of us who have the privilege to choose to move or to stay home — we inherently miss out on all the other ways to live and build community. But it’s the only life I know, and it is a life I love. I’ve found a lot of joy and meaning in moving, exploring new cities, meeting people very different from me, and working all over the world. And I’ve learned a lot from people wiser than me about how to move well as a single young person. Chances are you’ve already got at least some of your logistics ironed out; you know which neighborhood you’ll be living in or what your job will be. Maybe you even know already where the grocery store is. When it comes to the more ineffable stuff, though, it can be a lot harder to plan in advance. You might have questions like “How do I make friends?” “How do I look after my well-being?” “Where does dating slot in?” And it can be daunting to answer them on your own. Here’s some advice from my own moves, bolstered by the insight of a handful of friendship experts. There are a few tactics you can use, particularly based on wherever it is you wind up living, and they break down as follows: Do everything, keep in touch with people, and take time for yourself in ways that aren’t lonely — but understand that you will be lonely at times, and that’s okay. Do everything! The most important thing for me, being in a new city, is to put yourself out there to meet people. This could be through work, exercise groups, meetups, social media, volunteering, or even dating apps. This does not have to break the budget. In every place I’ve moved to, I’ve been able to find activities, such as outdoor exercise and volunteer groups, that are completely free to join. As your budget allows, you could also put a small amount of money into a social fund for these activities each month. I spoke with Marisa Franco, a psychologist and friendship researcher, and Gillian Sandstrom, a researcher at the University of Sussex, about transitions. Both discussed the “liking gap” — people like you more than you think! Going into unfamiliar events and conversations with strangers can be a better experience, even for self-identified introverts, if you realize it’s likely to be a good experience where people like you. Sandstrom found that older adults, having accumulated this knowledge, “anticipate that a conversation with a stranger — any stranger — will be better than younger people do” since they expect a better outcome from such conversations. My first few days in Delhi, one of my colleagues invited me to three events, and I dragged my tired, jet-lagged self to each one, where I made friends with my colleagues, met someone who invited me to join a football club (I’m still lurking on the WhatsApp group from across the world), and joined a board game/tech for development group. Finding sustainable communities that you see regularly and can invest in, as Allie Volpe wrote for Vox, is key to thriving in a new place. When you’re meeting people, Franco told me, it’s often good to meet people who are also in life transition stages. This could be other people new to a city or country, people who have just graduated from college, or people who have recently gone through a breakup and are looking for friends. “It’s a shame if you avoid certain ways of connecting because you don’t think that they’re good,” she said, reiterating the importance of connecting through different channels, whether it’s social media, a group for people from the country or city you’re from, or an exercise or other hobby group. Loose connections are also important. It’s easy to live in a bubble made up of only people who live and think like you, but this robs you of diverse connections and ideas. Sandstrom worked on a huge study on kindness with people from 150 different countries and found that people often reported kindness in interactions from strangers. People may also find conversations with strangers emotionally fulfilling — if they can speak to a particular emotional experience — or that they learn something from talking to people across generations. Keep in touch Keeping in touch is important. Reconnect with friends/acquaintances/friends of friends in the city you’re in, and communicate virtually with friends and family far away. I spoke with Jeff Hall, a researcher at the University of Kansas, about maintaining friendships over time. He told me how young people who prioritize mobility in their lives often have trouble maintaining friendships, learning to treat the friendships they do have “as impermanent because they are; you learn the impermanence of life.” But while friendships may be impermanent, it’s not inevitable that they end when you move away from a place. Something to keep in mind with reconnecting with old friends is that if you’ve fallen out of touch, it’s not necessarily your fault. It’s common, Hall told me, “to believe that you are in the driver’s seat in friendship.” “What we know,” he said, “is that conception is not accurate; other people choose to be your friend and choose to reciprocate.” People might fall away because of a busy job or a relationship or other things that are not related to you, he told me, but then they’ll be happy to see you years or even decades later. “The bottom line is, if people fall away from each other because of life, it’s really important to generate an attitude of sympathy and understanding toward other people ... because it’s not about you. If you make it all about yourself, you miss the opportunity for regrowth and renewal.” On the flip side, if it’s you who’s fallen out of touch due to moving or life, it’s completely good and fine to reach out to folks even if a lot of time has passed. They’ll likely be delighted to hear from you! Now that I’m back in the US, where I grew up, I have found the truth in this. My friends in San Francisco consist of people I’ve met here, people I’ve stayed in touch with over the years, and people I’d fallen out of touch with for years for various reasons but reconnected with when I moved to the city. I also try to introduce my different friends from different stages of life to each other. This makes it easier for me to stay in touch and also for new friendships to form between them. As for keeping in touch with people far away, I spoke with Hall about different modalities of communication. He talked about the importance of “rich channels of communication,” such as phone or video calls, for keeping in touch first. Text is the next best — like texting someone when something reminds you of them — and finally, passively liking posts on social media. Putting time and energy into long-distance friendships and other relationships is key to maintaining the friendship. Visiting family and friends when financially possible is also important. I’ve found my relationship with my family has actually strengthened while living far away. Because I’m only able to visit them one to two times a year, I spend a lot of quality time with them when I see them. I have other friends who call their families every day, and while my family calls less often (although we have an active group chat), it has been great to see how different families find cadences that work for them. This tip is also related to the first! Keeping in touch with old friends, Franco said, can make you feel more grounded, secure, and authentic, which will further give you confidence to put yourself out there and make new friends. Take time for yourself Taking time for yourself is especially important for self-identified extroverts like me. It’s easy in a new city to get into a cycle of meeting people and going to things every single day, which is great but unsustainable for all but the most social of us. For me, this has looked different in different places. In Delhi, it meant eating kati rolls on my balcony at sunset and spending weekends taking the metro to different historical sites. In Chicago, it was biking along the lakefront every day. In San Francisco, it has been city hiking and trying to find every public staircase in the city. “Whether we look at our alone time as alone time or lonely depends on things like how we’re doing mentally,” Franco said. “Part of it is, honestly, just taking care of your mental health more generally so you feel replenished rather than threatened by alone time.” So going to therapy, exercising, staying connected with friends or family “are all things you can think about doing so you can truly enjoy alone time.” This may be exercising, reading a book, cooking, or watching TV — basically, doing something you love by yourself. Having time alone without being lonely is vital to making a relocation healthy and sustainable. All this said, even with the smoothest transitions, there are downsides to being on the move. “Loneliness is going to be part of the process,” Franco said. “It’s not that you’re doing anything wrong.” Whether you’re moving to a new city for a year or the rest of your life, the first few months can be a daunting time. Learning to balance time alone, new friends, and existing relationships won’t make a move perfect, but can make it much better. Even Better is here to offer deeply sourced, actionable advice for helping you live a better life. Do you have a question on money and work; friends, family, and community; or personal growth and health? Send us your question by filling out this form. We might turn it into a story.
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The biggest myths about gas prices
A driver makes his selection at a gas station in Los Angeles, California. Gas prices continue to rise at the pump. | Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images Making sense of the political theater over gas prices. Gas prices are still climbing, and President Joe Biden has nothing but bad options. Last week, Biden called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months — a move that would lower gas prices by 18 cents per gallon. But the proposal for a gas tax holiday already looks to be dead. Republicans have remained firmly opposed, arguing the real problem is Biden’s climate agenda, and Democrats have also called it “shortsighted” to redirect the money away from roads. That leaves Biden with just the limited powers of the bully pulpit to make a difference in costs. On Thursday, he used it to bring oil executives to the White House to meet with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, after weeks of accusations that they are ripping off consumers. The US would be a very different kind of economy if the president could simply turn on and off the faucet for oil. But by design, oil is a free and global market, one that in recent years has been shaped by a decade of low profit margins, turmoil from the pandemic, and Russia’s war on Ukraine. In March, I wrote about what to make of the political theater surrounding gas prices. The list of myths is getting longer as prices climb past $5 a gallon. Myth 1: Federal and state gas tax holidays are the answer Biden has called on Congress to pass a three-month federal gas tax holiday. “By suspending the 18 cent federal tax, we can bring down the price of gas and give families a little bit of relief,” he said Wednesday. These taxes normally fund the Highway Trust Fund to pay for roads, but Biden claimed higher tax revenues this year and the federal infrastructure law mitigates the impact. Economists are largely cold to the idea of a gas tax holiday, though. An analysis of the three states that passed gas tax holidays in March — Maryland, Georgia, and Connecticut — found that consumers benefited briefly, even though the savings from the tax decrease were not entirely passed along to the consumer. The study, from the Penn Wharton Budget Model, found that about 70 percent of savings in Maryland and Connecticut were passed onto consumers, and around 60 percent in Georgia. Refiners captured the rest of that profit. The real issue is that the benefits are fleeting, because lower prices lead to higher demand. When that happens, “suppliers can capture part of the economic benefit of the tax reduction if pump prices do not fall by the full amount of the suspended tax,” Wharton’s experts wrote. Even when there’s a short-term gain for consumers, it won’t make a difference in the longer term. And when a gas tax holiday fails, it’s the wrong people who stand to benefit with higher profit margins. Politicians are racing to show they are responsive anyway. Twenty more states may be on their way to enacting a tax holiday, including Florida and New York. But as states pass tax holidays, it helps to remember that these taxes also make up a relatively small portion of the price. The two factors driving gas prices right now are refining and crude oil prices. Myth 2: Oil companies are price-gouging American consumers No quick fix came out of the oil industry’s meeting at the White House last week. But the oil industry lobby group, American Petroleum Institute, asked for a “tone shift” from the administration. Biden has said thatoil companies are ripping off the American consumer by taking advantage of a war-time situation to reap massive profits. “To the companies running gas stations and setting those prices at the pump, this is a time of war, global peril, Ukraine, this is not normal times,” he said Wednesday. “Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the price you are paying for the product.” Price-gouging typically means companies charging higher-than-usual prices in an emergency situation when people have no other options to turn to. Think if a supplier marks up the price of water bottles after a hurricane or selling face masks at a premium in a pandemic. Oil companies making handsome profits is not necessarily the same thing as textbook price-gouging, or spiking prices when consumers have no other choice to turn to. Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, acknowledged “there is a disconnect between the the price of crude oil and the price of gasoline at the pump in the United States right now, but that’s not because of price gouging.” Oil prices were already increasing last fall, a sign that Russia’s war and the resulting sanctions are not the full story. The problem is refining. US refineries are operating at about 90 percent capacity right now. A major reason why is refineries have shut down in the past few years, outpacing the new refineries being built. During the pandemic the US lost a 1 million barrels a day worth of refining capacity. A similar trend happened globally. There’s less refining capacity than before the crisis, but demand is back up to where it was before. This issue is “very similar to lots of other elements of the pandemic supply chain,” Ori said. “Many of our key supply chains were battered during the pandemic and they have not ramped back up.” A function of tighter refining capacity and higher prices is large profits, the kind the oil industry hasn’t seen in well over a decade. There might be some political options to control those profits, but it’s very unlikely that any of these would be enacted. One is the Democratic proposal for a windfall profits tax, a version of which existed in the 1980s, and was recently enacted in the UK. The second and third ideas are even more controversial: Lawmakers can impose some direct price controls on the otherwise free market to set commodity prices more directly. As complicated (and unlikely) as it sounds, it’s not unheard of — it’s how monopoly electric utilities function. A final idea that’s been floated is to use the Defense Production Act to force companies to accept contracts at below-market prices. Myth 3: Biden killed oil production Fox News has been arguing that Biden’s so-called extremist green agenda is the real problem. In March, Republicans on the Senate Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to Biden claiming that he has shut down leasing for oil and gas and is holding back more production. “There has not been one lease sale on federal lands since you imposed a ban in violation of federal law,” the letter said. “No other major oil-producing nation shuts off its own reserves to production.” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) echoed the myth at a hearing: “The time for leasing pauses has come & gone.” To repeat it again: Biden has done nothing to halt oil leasing. In fact, the Biden administration has outpaced Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands and water in its first year, according to federal data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity. His administration set a record for the largest offshore lease sale ever in the Gulf of Mexico last year, before a federal court blocked the lease sale for not considering climate impacts. These canceled leases, and even a temporary pause on new federal leases in the first few months of Biden’s administration wouldn’t have helped in the current situation. Even if a lease sale is successful and finalized, it would take years to ramp up production. The marginal Biden measures — like reversing Trump-era environmental rollbacks — haven’t made any kind of dent in the global oil market. “The constraints are within the industry itself, and have very little to do with any policies from the federal government,” Ori said. Oil companies are having other issues, too, such as accessing the labor and materials like steel needed for putting pipes in the ground. Meanwhile, the president has done nothing to prevent the vast amount of gas production that occurs on private lands or halt existing oil leases on federal lands. The moratorium is now irrelevant, anyway, because a Louisiana federal judge ruled against it last June. (There’s a second, temporary pause on new lease sales because another court invalidated the administration’s use of a social cost of carbon.) The US also became the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG) for the first time in 2021. Republican critics of Biden aren’t engaging with the consequences of their own ideology. “There’s an irony here: We’re seeing many people with strong pro-free market ideologies expecting politicians to intervene when markets don’t produce the results they like,” Clark Williams-Derry, a researcher at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said. “Perhaps what they’re really in favor of, then, isn’t free markets, it’s simply cheap gas.” Myth 4: The oil and gas industry can quickly ramp up production to make a dent in prices According to an op-ed in the Hill from Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), increasing oil and gas production is as easy as “flipping the switch.” The White House would probably be pulling those levers if it could; Biden advisers have said they’d like to see more production. “Prices are quite high, the price signal is strong,” White House National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti said in an interview. “If folks want to produce more, they can and they should.” But oil companies have made it clear in earnings calls with shareholders that they don’t plan to produce much more, anyway. Remember that just two years ago the industry was in a complete free fall when demand crashed because of the pandemic. Banks sought government bailouts for oil investments that went under, and oil prices actually hit negative levels as producers grew desperate for oil to be taken off their hands. Oil and gas prices have climbed in the US because demand during the pandemic has bounced back faster than supply, and with instability caused by factors that include Russia’s war in Ukraine. In the past decade, Americans have gotten used to cheap fuel, but crude oil is now well over $100 a barrel, as of March 8. Higher profits won’t necessarily change companies’ calculations on production levels. “Whether it’s $150 oil, $200 oil, or $100 oil, we’re not going to change our growth plans,’’ Pioneer CEO Scott Sheffield told Bloomberg Television in February. “If the president wants us to grow, I just don’t think the industry can grow anyway.’’ The largest US fracking companies reiterated in earnings calls in February that they intend to keep output roughly flat, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. In other words, now that companies are making handsome profits, they’re using that extra cash to reward investors and pay down debts, not invest in new production. Myth 5: LNG exports will fix Europe’s problems and help US gas prices Lawmakers and pundits have offered an overly simplified solution that the US can just make up that difference in exports. Columnist Karl Smith at Bloomberg Opinion argued, “Fracking may be America’s most powerful weapon against Russian aggression.” But liquified natural gas exports don’t solve Europe’s or America’s energy challenges. In some ways, they exacerbate them. To export gas to Europe, a facility first needs to convert it to liquified natural gas, which cools and pressurizes the methane so it can be shipped across continents. On the other end of the ocean, another facility must turn it back into gas for shipment via pipeline. That’s a lot of infrastructure, which is impossible to scale up in enough time to make an impact on Europe’s prices. There’s one new LNG terminal that opened this year in Louisiana. On the European side, the LNG terminals are already at capacity. This isn’t going to help make up Russia’s supply of 40 percent of Europe’s gas either. So it’s not particularly helpful or possible to boost exports to Europe, but it also wouldn’t help prices in the US. Williams-Derry considers US exports of liquified natural gas to be a reason for climbing prices. In 2016, the US completed its first LNG export terminal in decades, which the gas industry hoped would alleviate a glut of natural gas that was keeping US gas prices too low for the industry’s liking. Freeport LNG, one of the largest operators in the US, shut down because of a fire and explosion on June 8. It won’t come back online until at least the end of the year. As a result, US natural gas futures dropped immediately, “The reason we’re experiencing higher natural gas prices right now is we’re exporting more,” Williams-Derry said. “It’s not that we’re consuming more. It’s not that we’re producing less. It’s that we’re exporting.” Myth 6: The economy is doomed because of high gas prices It’s understandable to feel grim about the economy when gas price signs are listing anywhere between $5 and $7 per gallon. But remember that oil and gas aren’t the entire economy. A better metric than absolute gas prices is looking at Energy Information Administration data on the percentage households are spending on gas. That ratio is still around 3 percent, not much higher than where it was pre-pandemic. At the last gas price peak in 2008, it was around 5 percent, but thanks to better vehicle mileage, greater access to hybrids and electric cars, and richer households, the number is climbing much more closely than we’d might expect. There’s an important lesson in this data. Climate policies can pull double-duty to both tackle fossil fuel pollution and help people become more self-sufficient from oil during its booms and busts. Countries have still not learned that “part of what we’re seeing here is the cost of reliance on fossil fuels,” Ori said. But clean energy isn’t a panacea either. “Once you’re in the [energy] crisis, it’s too late,” he added. Yet there’s a real opportunity to break the cycle of instability, even though the US risks doubling down on dangerous policies as Biden ups the calls for more oil production. In the long run, investing in fossil fuel infrastructure can seriously backfire by raising energy costs for Europeans and increasing reliance on Russian gas. LNG will always be the more expensive option because of its processing and transport. “By locking yourself into a gas-powered future, you’re locking in higher costs for the long haul,” Williams-Derry said. “There’s not a good alternative to Russian gas if you want to have inexpensive gas in Europe.” “If you’re going to double down on gas, essentially, you’re doubling down on Russia,” Williams-Derry added. The biggest risk is if the US and Europe respond to this crisis by overinvesting in the future of fossil fuels. Actions like building LNG terminals and approving new leasing don’t help in the short term when people are struggling to pay high bills. It doesn’t achieve energy independence. But it would lock the world onto a dangerous path for climate change.
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