The Conversation

How dual loyalties created an ethics problem for Chris Cuomo and CNN

by Jane E. Kirtley, University of Minnesota

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo conceded in March, 2021 that he could not, ethically, cover the sexual harassment allegations against his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The family ties were simply too strong for him to do so independently.

But afterwards, Chris provided behind-the-scenes counsel to his brother and his brother’s team. By August, 2021, when Andrew resigned in the wake of the scandal, there were calls for Chris to step down from his job as well because the New York attorney general’s initial report revealed that he had helped draft a statement for his brother in February. As the adage has it, no one can serve two masters. The CNN anchor who should have been serving the public was secretly putting family loyalty first by helping his brother navigate a political and public relations disaster.

And now CNN has fired Cuomo. The firing happened on Dec. 4, less than a week after the attorney general’s office released pages of transcripts, exhibits and videos from its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo. The documents detailed the extensive help Chris Cuomo had been providing to his brother for months.

Viewers of CNN would have known about the cozy familial relationship between the two. In 2020, when Andrew Cuomo was still governor of New York, Chris teamed up with his brother to banter on the cable network about how the state was handling the pandemic. The segments were wildly popular.

Although they raised eyebrows in media ethics circles because Chris Cuomo appeared to be violating fundamental norms of journalistic independence. CNN justified its exception to a conflict of interest rule imposed since 2013 prohibiting the anchor from covering his brother, stating, “Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”

And, incidentally, the banter was great for ratings. But the sexual harassment scandal that erupted in late 2020 put an end to all that.

But it did not end the behind-the-scenes conflict.

Public interest above self-interest

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel – former journalists and now ethics scholars and media watchdogs – have written, “[Journalists] must strive to put the public interest – and the truth – above their own self-interest or assumptions.”

Journalists’ fundamental role in democracy is to hold those in power, especially those in government, accountable. But if they have close relationships with those in power, their independence, or at least the perception of it, can be compromised. Independence coupled with accountability and transparency underpin the public’s trust in journalists.

But goodwill towards Chris Cuomo, who the Washington Post reported was “known for his intense loyalty to the network, its employees and their families,” along with the unwavering support of CNN President Jeff Zucker, helped Cuomo keep his job.

He stayed in it until the Nov. 29 document dump disclosed just how closely the CNN anchor had helped his brother Andrew’s team frame and mount a defense to the accusations. Among the offers Chris made: he would work his own journalistic sources to investigate the credibility of the women who alleged harassment or assault.

At that point, CNN suspended Cuomo “indefinitely.”

“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” CNN said in a statement. “But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second.”

Cuomo’s firing followed four days later.

‘Accountable and transparent’

Was it ethical for the anchor to continue to advise his brother while representing to his viewers that he was keeping his relationship at arm’s length? Should he even have participated in what a Donald Trump campaign spokesman called “the Cuomo Brothers Comedy Hour” at the beginning of the pandemic?

Journalists’ associations have developed ethical codes and guidelines that address this situation.

One of the oldest and best known is the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). News organizations also have their own ethics rules and post them online so that the public can read them. Television networks frequently assign ethics enforcement to their “Standards and Practices” departments.

These codes set out the ethical standards for a news operation.

But the word “code” is a misnomer. Although news organizations are free to enforce their provisions on their own staff, they are not intended to create legal obligations to anyone else, as with licensed professions such as law and medicine. The SPJ Code is explicit about this, emphasizing that its code is “not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”

It does, however, emphasize that conflicts of interest must be avoided, or at the very least, disclosed, to maintain independence and transparency.

CNN has acknowledged that Chris Cuomo “broke our rules.” But the rules aren’t posted on CNN’s website. In fact, CNN has fought to keep them secret.

In August, the Washington Post quoted from a leaked copy of the network’s “News Standards & Practices Policy Guide,” reporting that “the document mandates that ‘CNN employees should avoid any real obligation or appearance of any obligation to any interest that he/she may be covering or reporting on,’ and ‘should avoid conflicts between personal interests and the interest of the company or even the appearance of such conflicts.’”

That sounds about right, but did CNN enforce those rules with Chris Cuomo? How could the anchor avoid conflicts of interest while pitching softball questions to his brother during the pandemic, much less by providing behind-the-scenes advice on how to deal with the sexual harassment scandal?

Many media commentators say that he couldn’t, and now, CNN seems to agree.

Fool me once

Was it unrealistic to expect the Cuomo brothers not to confer in times of crisis? Some news consumers think so, as reader comments on a Nov. 30 New York Times story contended: “One of the biggest draws to CNN is Chris Cuomo & his personalized brotherly banter & friendship with Don Lemon. He reflects what’s right in America. Family & Loyalty.”

Those readers are right that it is a question of loyalty. But they are answering the question differently than many journalists would.

Kovach and Rosenstiel have written that journalists’ “first loyalty is to citizens,” and in their book The Elements of Journalism call it an “implied covenant” with the audience.

As columnist Margaret Sullivan argued in the Washington Post, “You don’t abuse your position in journalism — whether at a weekly newspaper or a major network — for personal or familial gain.”

Conflicts of interest violate that covenant and undermine public confidence in media independence. Some conflicts of interest are such a problem that no amount of disclosure or disclaimers can cure them. CNN has apparently concluded that Chris Cuomo’s is one of them.The Conversation

Jane E. Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, University of Minnesota

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

7 lessons about US gun laws from the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the Rittenhouse verdict

by John Donohue, Stanford University

As the country awaits a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a New York state case that may create a federal constitutional right to carry guns outside the home, what lessons can the nation draw from the recent acquittal in Wisconsin of Kyle Rittenhouse and the convictions in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia?

The obvious first lesson is that no one would be dead, maimed or going to prison if the men in these cases had not possessed firearms or had just left their weapons at home. The man Rittenhouse maimed learned that his self-proclaimed constant gun carrying not only did not protect him or others, but simply added him to the victim count when he pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.

During the oral argument in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen on Nov. 3, 2021, a number of the conservative Supreme Court justices seemed unaware of a second lesson: The best empirical evidence shows that carrying guns outside the home substantially elevates the risk to the public. As my own research and 14 academic papers in the past four years alone have shown, the restrictions on gun carrying in states like New York and California have reduced violent crime. Expanding the Second Amendment beyond its current scope of a right to possess a gun in the home would likely reverse this progress.

Travis McMichael is one of three white men convicted of chasing down and shooting Arbery, an unarmed Black man. McMichael testified at the trial that there had been much crime in his neighborhood and that he had a Smith & Wesson pistol stolen from his truck in front of his house. Lesson three: That gun and other guns stolen outside the home abundantly arm American criminals – to the tune of roughly 100,000 guns per year. Even before McMichael murdered Arbery, he was already contributing to violent crime indirectly.

Lesson four concerns the deceptive, or at best opaque, feature of Wisconsin law that even the judge in the Rittenhouse case said was “confusing.” The statute states: “Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor,” where “dangerous weapon” includes “any firearm, loaded or unloaded.”

While this law would prevent someone of Rittenhouse’s age from carrying a handgun, stun-gun or brass knuckles, it has buried cross-references that end up exempting all long guns, including Rittenhouse’s AR-15.

Whether this was through poor legislative drafting or influenced by lobbying from gun rights groups in Wisconsin is unclear, but if the intention of the law was to protect the public from dangerous weapons, then this public interest was undermined by an obscure statutory regime that prohibited minors from having dangerous but non-lethal weapons while permitting them to walk city streets with an AR-15.

Lesson five is that if the federal assault weapons ban had remained in place instead of lapsing in 2004, the Rittenhouse tragedy might not have happened. The AR-15 once again proved to be attractive to someone who should not have had the weapon, with Rittenhouse testifying that he was drawn to the gun because it “looked cool.” This is indeed part of the marketing strategy of gun sellers – to exploit the fantasies of young men that assault weapons will make them more manly. As the Parkland High School shooter in Florida noted just before killing 17 in 2018, “With the power of the A.R., you will know who I am.” The Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter posted a picture of his AR-15 with the heading “She’s a bad bitch” shortly before he killed 26 in Texas in 2017.

Rittenhouse should never have had an AR-15 in the first place. The federal Gun Control Act prohibits the sale of any firearm to someone under the age of 18, and the 17-year-old Rittenhouse only had one because he used an illegal straw purchaser to circumvent this federal law to procure his assault rifle. A straw purchaser acts as a proxy buyer of a weapon for someone who is not legally entitled to purchase the firearm, which is a clear federal crime.

As NRA leader Wayne LaPierre once testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “We’ve said straw-man sales should be prosecuted for years. … If someone is doing a straw-man sale, they should be prosecuted, absolutely.”

Rittenhouse’s friend, the gun purchaser, can be prosecuted for this felony offense, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

But can Rittenhouse as the recipient of the gun also be charged? Some might argue that the federal gun laws are as porous as Wisconsin law and that the answer is no. This uncertainty demonstrates the need for a clarified federal law prohibiting both the straw purchaser and those like Rittenhouse who take ownership of guns in violation of the law.. That’s lesson number six.

Securing a federal felony conviction of Rittenhouse would prevent him from owning the AR-15 that the lobbying group Gun Owners of America planned to send him to celebrate his Wisconsin acquittal.

The final lesson of how guns outside the home generate unusual harms was underscored by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in which disaster was avoided because Washington gun laws prevented hundreds from carrying their handguns and assault weapons during the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

As the Supreme Court justices consider the New York case, I’d argue they should be cautious about ignoring the need for constraint that is articulated in the text of the Second Amendment referring to a well-regulated militia. And I believe they’d be wise to recognize the long history and tradition of restricting gun carrying outside the home to promote the safety of the citizenry and, indeed, the health and perhaps existence of our democracy.The Conversation

John Donohue, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford University

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

School shootings are at a record high this year – but they can be prevented

by James Densley, Metropolitan State University and Jillian Peterson, Hamline University

Whenever a school shooting takes place like the one at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit on November 30, 2021, it is typically followed by a familiar chorus of questions.

How could such a thing happen? Why doesn’t the government do more to stop these shootings from occurring?

Those questions are even more urgent in light of the fact that the shooting at Oxford High School was one of 222 school shootings in 2021, an all-time high, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database. That’s over 100 more school shootings in 2021 than in 2019 or 2018, respectively the second- and third-worst years on record.

In the Oxford High School case, a 15-year-old boy armed with a semiautomatic handgun is accused of killing four students and injuring six others and a teacher.

As shown in our 2021 book, “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic,” school mass shooters tend to be current or former students of the school. They are almost always in crisis of some sort before their attack, as indicated by a noticeable change in behavior from usual. They often are inspired by other school shooters, and they also tend to leak their plans for violence in advance to their peers.

And school shooters usually get their guns from family and friends who failed to store them safely and securely.

News reports suggest a lot of this holds true for the Oxford High School shooter. For instance, the suspect’s father allegedly purchased the handgun used in the shooting just four days prior. The shooter reportedly exhibited “concerning” behavior at school and posted pictures of the gun alongside threats of violence on social media.

The question now is how to translate these findings into policy and practice in order to prevent the next school shooting.

Trouble from the start

The data we use to track school shootings is a comprehensive database that includes information on “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of week” going back to 1970.

Working with its co-creator, David Riedman, we uncovered a record 151 school shooting threats in the “back-to-school” month of September 2021, up from a three-year average of 29. Actual school shootings also more than doubled during September 2021 compared with the same month in previous years.

There were 55 school shootings in September 2021, up from 24 in September 2020 and 14 in September 2019. But the school carnage began well before the 2021 school year got underway for most students, as evidenced in the Aug. 13 fatal shooting of 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

These trends are part of an overall rise in shootings and murders in 2020 and 2021, tied in part to record gun sales. More guns in more hands increases the likelihood that a firearm will find its way into a school.

Local responses

Schools are struggling to respond to the overwhelming number of shootings and shooting threats. There have been a staggering 30 shootings just at high school football games so far this year.

A “State of Emergency” meeting was held after nine teens were shot in two separate shootings in Aurora, Colorado, in November 2021. Public schools in the area are prohibiting students from leaving for lunch in an effort to keep them safe.

One school in Phoenix, Arizona, banned backpacks and food deliveries after a student was shot in the bathroom on Nov. 29. The Newburgh Enlarged City School District in New York State offered remote learning following two separate shooting incidents near its schools on Nov. 22. Schools across the country are increasing safety measures, canceling classes, even using police escorts for students coming onto campus.

These localized responses stand in stark contrast to the national legislative action taken in Finland, Germany and other countries when they experienced deadly school shootings.

Response in the UK

Twenty-five years ago, in March 1996, a gunman walked into Scotland’s Dunblane Primary School and opened fire, killing 16 children and a teacher. A successful campaign for gun regulation followed, laws were changed, handguns were banned and the United Kingdom hasn’t had a school shooting since.

Yet in America, active shooter drills to rehearse for a real shooting incident and armed guards to respond to them are the best children can hope for. There is a US$3 billion “homeroom security” industry, and some parents send their children to school wearing bulletproof backpacks.

Searching for solutions

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2021, we searched public records on 170 mass shooters who killed four or more people from 1966 to 2019 for any communication of intent to do harm. That includes posting a threat on social media or telegraphing future violence to a loved one in person. We found that 79 mass shooters – nearly half of them – leaked their plans in advance. Communication was most common among school shooters and younger shooters. The fact it was most strongly associated with suicidal tendencies or attempts, as well as prior mental health counseling, suggests it may best be characterized as a cry for help.

Threats of violence circulated on campus before the Oxford High School shooting, with some students staying home out of an abundance of caution. There will be questions now about whether threats were disclosed to authorities and handled appropriately, in ways consistent with best practices on threat assessment or what we like to call “crisis response” systems. Our research is clear that all threats must be investigated and treated seriously as an opportunity for real intervention.

There are further implications from our research. If school shooters are nearly always students of the school, educators and others who work with them need training to identify a student in crisis and how to report something they see or hear indicative of violent intent.

Schools also need counselors, social workers and other resources so they can respond appropriately and holistically to students in crisis. This means not unduly punishing students with expulsion or criminal charges – things that could escalate the crisis or any grievance with the institution.

And for parents of school-age children, safe gun storage at home is paramount.

School shootings are not inevitable. They’re preventable. But practitioners and policymakers must act quickly because each school shooting feeds the cycle for the next one, causing harm far beyond that which is measured in lives lost. We believe the steps outlined above can help address that harm, promoting school security while safeguarding student well-being.

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James Densley, Professor of Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University and Jillian Peterson, Professor of Criminal Justice, Hamline University

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

Aaron Rodgers dropped the ball on critical thinking – here's how to do better

by Joe Árvai, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

It was hard to miss the news about Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 3. Like the vast majority of people currently catching – and dying from – the coronavirus, he was unvaccinated.

A few days after his diagnosis, Rodgers took to the airwaves to offer a smorgasbord of pandemic misinformation and conspiracy theories in defense of his decision to skip the COVID-19 vaccine.

Having listened to many an interview with Rodgers, I found it totally predictable that he began his comments by asserting, “I’m not, you know, some sort of anti-vax, flat-earther.”

But as someone who does research on how people think and decide, it’s what Rodgers said next that caused me to lean in: “I am somebody who’s a critical thinker.”

Critical thinker? The fact is, research on the link between critical thinking ability and behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that Rodgers is the opposite.

For scientists like me whose job it is to unravel how people instinctively make choices, and then to help them make better ones, critical thinking isn’t just a slogan used to score points. It’s not some after-the-fact justification someone makes to convince others – or themselves – that their opinions or behaviors are sound.

Instead, critical thinking is a pattern of behaviors that happen before someone makes a judgment, like coming to the conclusion that something is risky. Likewise, critical thinking comes before making a decision, like choosing to avoid something judged to be too risky for comfort.

Here’s what it really takes to be a critical thinker.

Three ingredients for critical thinking

Critical thinking as a precursor to sound judgments and decisions involves three related elements that are accessible to almost anyone.

First, critical thinking means being able to recognize that there are situations where you must balance your instinctive reactions to what’s going on around you, based on emotions like fear and desire, with the need for a heavier psychological lift. In these cases, it’s crucial to take note of conflicting objectives and make difficult trade-offs.

Take the pandemic, which, thanks to the arrival of new variants like omicron, has gone into overtime. You may have a strong desire to live your “normal” life as you knew it before COVID-19 started to spread; at the same time, you probably want to keep those around you safe and secure. Knowing where to draw the line between personal comfort and the well-being of those around you means putting your emotions to the side and diving into data so you can better understand the broader consequences of your intended actions.

Second, critical thinking means following some basic principles when you search for and use information. You must be open to and consider more than one solution to a problem, without ignoring or dismissing evidence that goes against your initial beliefs. And you must be willing to change your mind and your behavior in response to new information or insights.

Last, critical thinking means recognizing when you are out of your depth and then looking to legitimate experts for help. In other words, critical thinkers understand when it’s time to outsource critical thinking to others.

But this raises an important question: How do you figure out who is an actual expert? Critical thinkers answer this question by not just looking at someone’s stature or credentials. They also assess potential experts’ behaviors with respect to the first two elements of critical thinking. How good is the expert at balancing instinct with the need for more in-depth analysis? And does the expert follow the basic principles that should govern the search for and use of information?

Everyone loses when critical thinking is sidelined

Consider the results of a recent study conducted during what scientists around the world agree is a serious public health crisis. In it, my colleagues and I found that people in the U.S. who score high on a scale used to measure critical thinking ability judge COVID-19 to pose a real and significant risk to public health. They also placed greater trust in legitimate public health experts, and – importantly – behaved in a manner that is more consistent with pandemic risk management strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Judging by his behavior and statements, Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have belonged in this group. Indeed, Rodgers’ own comments suggest he fumbled his way through the three elements of critical thinking.

In spite of his claim that his decision to remain unvaccinated involved “a lot of time, energy and research,” it seems he neither understood nor weighed the trade-off between the exceedingly slim chance of becoming sick from one of the available vaccines versus the much higher probability of becoming sick – or making others sick – from COVID-19.

And historically, Rodgers hasn’t been shy about dismissing viewpoints that run counter to his own. Boasting about his COVID-19 infection, Rodgers confessed as much when he said, “I march to the beat of my own drum.”

Finally his success rate when it comes to handing off critical thinking to others is lousy. On COVID-19, he follows the advice of pseudo-experts like Joe Rogan over that of actual medical experts and has chosen to subject himself to a demonstrably dangerous drug, ivermectin, instead of a safe and effective vaccine.

Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers is far from alone when it comes to poor critical thinking. And, making matters worse, the implications of uncritical thinking extend well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, the poster child for an absence of critical thinking is the political divide in the U.S. From Main Street America to the U.S. Capitol, I’d argue that nothing says my-way-or-the-highway like the inflexible tribalism that has infected important policy issues ranging from inequality and climate change to guns and health care. Balancing fast-acting emotion with the slow burn of analysis, a willingness to change your mind and compromise, and the courage to admit you are not an expert – and to trust those who are – seem as far away in politics today as they have been in decades.

Training camp for critical thinking

On the bright side, and with a little practice, people can learn to think critically. Unlike other tasks that require highly specialized skills – like playing the position of quarterback in the NFL – critical thinking is well within the reach of nearly anyone willing to put in the reps.

Studies show, for example, that critical thinking can be activated in the moment just before certain judgments or choices need to be made. Researchers also know that the basic principles of critical thinking can be taught, even to young children and adolescents. And, for complicated judgments and choices, people can take advantage of decision-support tools that help them clarify their objectives, consider relevant information, evaluate a wide range of options and understand the compromises that come with choosing one possibility over another.

Deploying the skills of critical thinking ultimately requires one more important ingredient, though, and this one can’t easily be taught: courage. It takes courage to break from your closely held opinions and, especially, from the relative sanctuary offered by your social or political circle. And it takes courage to publicly change your mind and your behavior.

But here too there’s a bright side. Changing your mind and behavior because you thought critically about something doesn’t mean that your earlier opinions and behaviors were a mistake. On the contrary, it’s a public display that you learned something important and new. And that, at least as much as success on the frozen tundra of Rodgers’ home field in Green Bay, is worthy of respect and admiration.

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Joe Árvai, Dana and David Dornsife Professor of Psychology and Director of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

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

Why the GOP's attempts to ban 'critical race theory' unintentionally do the opposite

by Jonathan Feingold, Boston University

Since the final months of the Trump administration, the Republican Party has waged a sustained assault on critical race theory. Otherwise known as “CRT,” this academic framework offers tools to illuminate the relationship among race, racism and the law. Through calculated caricature and distortion, right-wing think tanks and media have weaponized CRT to manufacture a culture war that recasts antiracism as the new racism.

This campaign employs a well-worn script designed to sow racial division, galvanize voters and shield economic elites – and the systems they enable – from meaningful critique.

This campaign appears to be working. Anti-CRT messaging has emerged as a signature – and potent – GOP political talking point. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, for example, repeated a common refrain when she asserted the falsehood that “critical race theory teaches people to judge others based on race, gender, or sexual identity, rather than the content of their character.” More recently in Virginia, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin closed his campaign with a pledge to “ban critical race theory on Day One.”

Pundits may have overstated CRT’s impact in Virginia and beyond. But Youngkin’s success cemented CRT as a favorite foil in the Republican playbook.

On the legislative front, between January and September 2021, Republicans invoked similar anti-CRT rhetoric to justify 54 bills across 24 states. At least 11 are now law.

The mainstream media keeps characterizing these laws as “CRT bans.” This framing is understandable and inviting. But often it distorts reality by mischaracterizing the laws themselves. Most of these bills – if you take seriously their actual text – call for more CRT, not less.

Banned concepts

Consider a bill recently passed by Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated Assembly. The bill, which tracks legislation across the country, prohibits teachers from “teach[ing]” a series of banned “concepts.” This includes a ban against teaching that “[o]ne race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”

Now imagine a 10th grade social studies class begins a unit on corporate America. The teacher opens with basic facts about Fortune 500 CEOs: 92.6% are white, 1% are Black, 3.4% are Latinx and 2.4% are Asian. These disparities exist against a backdrop in which roughly 60% of the U.S. population is white, 14.2% is Black, 18.7% is Latinx and 7.2% is Asian.

The teacher shares two additional facts. White men – roughly 35% of the population – hold 85.8% of CEO posts. Of the 83 women who have become CEOs since 2000, 72 were white, thereby comprising 86% of all female CEOs this century.

The statistics invite an inescapable question: Why do such glaring disparities exist?

One answer assumes today’s CEOs are the product of fair and unbiased systems that reward talent and hard work. This response implies that white men, relative to everyone else, and white women, relative to women of color, are simply more talented and harder workers.

In effect, this story suggests that white men are inherently superior – the precise message that Wisconsin’s bill prohibits.

Explaining advantage

A different answer might explore whether the systems that produce CEOs are, in fact, fair and unbiased.

This is where CRT enters. Roughly 40 years ago, a group of legal scholars confronted a similar question: Why do profound racial disparities persist even when the law prohibits racial discrimination?

Four decades later, these scholars – who would name their project critical race theory – have offered varying answers. These answers, many grounded in seminal work from professor Derrick Bell, have exposed the myriad ways that race and sex remain powerful determinants in America – even when laws prohibit race or sex discrimination.

The teacher in our example could bring this robust literature into her classroom. Doing so would comply with the Wisconsin bill and, importantly, enrich her students’ learning. She could, for example, assign writings from acclaimed critical race theorist Cheryl Harris, who exposed the often-invisible benefits whiteness can confer, even to poor white people.

Our teacher could then draw on professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, a CRT co-founder, whose pathbreaking work urges us to explore how racism interacts with sexism, classism and homophobia – among other dimensions of identity.

She could also turn to legal scholar Jerry Kang, who has outlined why implicit biases often lead individuals and institutions to discriminate – even when we hold earnest egalitarian commitments.

Though the specifics differ, the above scholars – and the collective CRT canon – offer a consistent insight: CEO white/male overrepresentation cannot be explained by some “inherent superiority” enjoyed by whites and men. Rather, contemporary disparities result, in large part, from race and gender – and often class – advantages and disadvantages embedded within the systems through which CEOs must pass.

CRT’s political reality

For educators like me who have witnessed the benefits of a CRT-rich curriculum, it’s welcome news that anti-CRT lawmakers are proposing and passing pro-CRT laws – even if unintentional and counterintuitive.

But in reality, these laws are unlikely to yield more CRT in classrooms – regardless of their actual language.

The GOP’s anti-CRT crusade, as with related campaigns targeting trans youth and mask mandates, has never been about facts – let alone concern for legal text. This is about power, and “anti-CRT” laws empower private and public actors to target teachers who engage in even basic conversations about race and racism.

A recent report from the free-speech advocacy group PEN America captures this dynamic. After reviewing all 54 bills, PEN concluded: “These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: They are educational gag orders.”

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PEN further explained that even when bills do not become law, they “send a potent message that educators are being watched and that ideological redlines exist.”

In today’s toxic political climate, this translates to less CRT in the classroom, even when the law – and sound teaching – demands more.The Conversation

Jonathan Feingold, Associate Professor of Law, Boston University

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

The Supreme Court is primed to wade in on a new controversy about state funding for religious schools

by Charles J. Russo, University of Dayton

Since 1947, one topic in education has regularly come up at the Supreme Court more often than any other: disputes over religion.

That year, in Everson v. Board of Education, the justices upheld a New Jersey law allowing school boards to reimburse parents for transportation costs to and from schools, including religious ones. According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – an idea courts often interpreted as requiring “a wall of separation between church and state.” In Everson, however, the Supreme Court upheld the law as not violating the First Amendment because children, not their schools, were the primary beneficiaries.

This became known as the “child benefit test,” an evolving legal idea used to justify state aid to students who attend religious schools. In recent years, the court has expanded the boundaries of what aid is allowed. Will it push them further?

This question will be in the spotlight Dec. 8, 2021, when the court hears arguments in a case from Maine, Carson v. Makin. Carson has drawn intense interest from educators and religious-liberty advocates across the country – as illustrated by the large number of amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs filed by groups with interests in the outcome.

To the school choice movement – which advocates affording families more options beyond traditional public schools – Carson represents a chance for more parents to give their children an education in line with their religious beliefs. Opponents fear it could establish a precedent of requiring taxpayer dollars to fund religious teachings.

SCOTUS’ shift in thought

As a faculty member who focuses on education law, I have often written about the Supreme Court’s decisions about religion in schools. In the almost 75 years since Everson, the court’s thinking about aid to students who attend religious schools has evolved.

In 1993, justices heard Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, which centered on a student who was deaf. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the public school board provided him with an interpreter. When he enrolled in a Catholic high school, the justices ruled that the board still had to provide him with an interpreter because this was a discrete service that assisted him and no one else. Ever since, the court has allowed greater aid to students attending religious schools.

Two recent judgments have continued that trend. In 2017’s Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, the court reasoned that states cannot deny religious people or religious institutions generally available public benefits simply because they are religious. Three years later, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court invalidated a provision in the state constitution barring “religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools.” This decision meant parents in Montana who enrolled their children in faith-based schools could participate in a state tuition tax credit program.

Mainers’ education

Maine’s Constitution mandates the creation of public schools. But many rural towns don’t have their own school system: In fact, of the 260 “school administrative units” in Maine, more than half lack a secondary school.

In areas without access to public schools, Maine allows students to attend other public or private schools at public expense, but not religious ones. The state requires approved schools to be nonsectarian, “in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Carson v. Makin arose when three sets of parents unsuccessfully filed suit on behalf of their children, arguing that the rule discriminated on the basis of religion. The federal trial court in Maine ruled in favor of the state, affirming that its “tuitioning” statute did not violate the rights of the parents or their children. On appeal, the First Circuit unanimously affirmed in favor of the state, rejecting all the parental claims.

A closer look

First, the First Circuit decided the requirement that schools be “nonsectarian” did not discriminate solely based on religion or punish the plaintiffs’ rights to exercise their religion.

This is because the rule has a “use-based” limitation – which may prove to be a crucial distinction. In other words, sectarian schools are denied funding not because of their religious identity, the First Circuit wrote, but because of “the religious use that they would make of it.”

It is “wholly legitimate” to restrict religion-based content, the court noted, because “there is no question that Maine may require its public schools to provide a secular educational curriculum rather than a sectarian one.”

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The First Circuit also rejected the parental claims that Maine’s “nonsectarian” requirement violated their rights to freedom of speech, because it was enacted to provide students with secular secondary educations and “does not commit to providing any open forum to encourage diverse views from private speakers.”

Quoting Eulitt v. Maine, another case about Maine’s tuitioning system, the court noted: “The fact that the state cannot interfere with a parent’s fundamental right to choose religious education for his or her child does not mean that the state must fund that choice.”

School-choice advocates had hoped that Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza would strengthen the Maine parents’ case, since they upheld the idea that the First Amendment requires the government to extend general benefits to religious institutions or individuals, so long as it is not discriminating against or in favor of particular religions. But the courts differentiated these cases, and mused that if parents wish to forgo the free secular education Maine offers in its public schools or “tuitioning” program, they are free to pay tuition in the religious schools of their choice.

Carson is unlikely to end disagreements over the limits of using taxpayer funds to assist students who attend religious schools. However, it will likely provide an indication of the Supreme Court’s position on the future of the child benefit test, as it seems to be softening on its attitude of maintaining a wall of separation between church and state when it comes to education and aid to students who attend religious schools.The Conversation

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

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The hunt for coronavirus variants: how the new one was found and what we know so far


Prof. Wolfgang Preiser, Stellenbosch University; Cathrine Scheepers, University of the Witwatersrand; Jinal Bhiman, National Institute for Communicable Diseases; Marietjie Venter, University of Pretoria, and Tulio de Oliveira, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Since early in the COVID pandemic, the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2. This was a valuable tool to understand better how the virus spread. In late 2020, the network detected a new virus lineage, 501Y.V2, which later became known as the beta variant. Now a new SARS-CoV-2 variant has been identified – B.1.1.529. The World Health Organisation has declared it a variant of concern, and assigned it the name Omicron. To help us understand more, The Conversation Africa’s Ozayr Patel asked scientists to share what they know.

What’s the science behind the search?

Hunting for variants requires a concerted effort. South Africa and the UK were the first big countries to implement nationwide genomic surveillance efforts for SARS-CoV-2 as early as April 2020.

Variant hunting, as exciting as that sounds, is performed through whole genome sequencing of samples that have tested positive for the virus. This process involves checking every sequence obtained for differences compared to what we know is circulating in South Africa and the world. When we see multiple differences, this immediately raises a red flag and we investigate further to confirm what we’ve noticed.

Fortunately South Africa is well set up for this. This is thanks to a central repository of public sector laboratory results at the National Health Laboratory Service, (NGS-SA), good linkages to private laboratories, the Provincial Health Data Centre of the Western Cape Province, and state-of-the-art modelling expertise.

In addition, South Africa has several laboratories that can grow and study the actual virus and discover how far antibodies, formed in response to vaccination or previous infection, are able to neutralise the new virus. This data will allow us to characterise the new virus.

Viruses on a white background

3d Variants of Covid-19 Virus (Sars-COV-2). Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta in white background.

Shutterstock

The beta variant spread much more efficiently between people compared to the “wild type” or “ancestral” SARS-CoV-2 and caused South Africa’s second pandemic wave. It was therefore classified as a variant of concern. During 2021, yet another variant of concern called delta spread over much of the world, including South Africa, where it caused a third pandemic wave.

Very recently, routine sequencing by Network for Genomics Surveillance member laboratories detected a new virus lineage, called B.1.1.529, in South Africa. Seventy-seven samples collected in mid-November 2021 in Gauteng province had this virus. It has also been reported in small numbers from neighbouring Botswana and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong case is reportedly a traveller from South Africa.

The World Health Organisation has given B.1.1.529 the name Omicron and classified it as a variant of concern, like beta and delta.

Why is South Africa presenting variants of concern?

We do not know for sure. It certainly seems to be more than just the result of concerted efforts to monitor the circulating virus. One theory is that people with highly compromised immune systems, and who experience prolonged active infection because they cannot clear the virus, may be the source of new viral variants.

The assumption is that some degree of “immune pressure” (which means an immune response which is not strong enough to eliminate the virus yet exerts some degree of selective pressure which “forces” the virus to evolve) creates the conditions for new variants to emerge.

Despite an advanced antiretroviral treatment programme for people living with HIV, numerous individuals in South Africa have advanced HIV disease and are not on effective treatment. Several clinical cases have been investigated that support this hypothesis, but much remains to be learnt.

Why is this variant worrying?

The short answer is, we don’t know. The long answer is, B.1.1.529 carries certain mutations that are concerning. They have not been observed in this combination before, and the spike protein alone has over 30 mutations. This is important, because the spike protein is what makes up most of the vaccines.

We can also say that B.1.1.529 has a genetic profile very different from other circulating variants of interest and concern. It does not seem to be a “daughter of delta” or “grandson of beta” but rather represents a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2.

Some of its genetic changes are known from other variants and we know they can affect transmissibility or allow immune evasion, but many are new and have not been studied as yet. While we can make some predictions, we are still studying how far the mutations will influence its behaviour.

We want to know about transmissibility, disease severity, and ability of the virus to “escape” the immune response in vaccinated or recovered people. We are studying this in two ways.

Firstly, careful epidemiological studies seek to find out whether the new lineage shows changes in transmissibility, ability to infect vaccinated or previously infected individuals, and so on.

At the same time, laboratory studies examine the properties of the virus. Its viral growth characteristics are compared with those of other virus variants and it is determined how well the virus can be neutralised by antibodies found in the blood of vaccinated or recovered individuals.

In the end, the full significance of the genetic changes observed in B.1.1.529 will become apparent when the results from all these different types of studies are considered. It is a complex, demanding and expensive undertaking, which will carry on for months, but indispensable to understand the virus better and devise the best strategies to combat it.

Do early indications point to this variant causing different symptoms or more severe disease?

There is no evidence for any clinical differences yet. What is known is that cases of B.1.1.529 infection have increased rapidly in Gauteng, where the country’s fourth pandemic wave seems to be commencing. This suggests easy transmissibility, albeit on a background of much relaxed non-pharmaceutical interventions and low number of cases. So we cannot really tell yet whether B.1.1.529 is transmitted more efficiently than the previously prevailing variant of concern, delta.

COVID-19 is more likely to manifest as severe, often life-threatening disease in the elderly and chronically ill individuals. But the population groups often most exposed first to a new virus are younger, mobile and usually healthy people. If B.1.1.529 spreads further, it will take a while before its effects, in terms of disease severity, can be assessed.

Fortunately, it seems that all diagnostic tests that have been checked so far are able to identify the new virus.

Even better, it appears that some widely used commercial assays show a specific pattern: two of the three target genome sequences are positive but the third one is not. It’s like the new variant consistently ticks two out of three boxes in the existing test. This may serve as a marker for B.1.1.529, meaning we can quickly estimate the proportion of positive cases due to B.1.1.529 infection per day and per area. This is very useful for monitoring the virus’s spread almost in real time.

Are current vaccines likely to protect against the new variant?

Again, we do not know. The known cases include individuals who had been vaccinated. However we have learnt that the immune protection provided by vaccination wanes over time and does not protect as much against infection but rather against severe disease and death. One of the epidemiological analyses that have commenced is looking at how many vaccinated people become infected with B.1.1.529.

The possibility that B.1.1.529 may evade the immune response is disconcerting. The hopeful expectation is that the high seroprevalence rates, people who’ve been infected already, found by several studies would provide a degree of “natural immunity” for at least a period of time.

Ultimately, everything known about B.1.1.529 so far highlights that universal vaccination is still our best bet against severe COVID-19 and, together with non-pharmaceutical interventions, will go a long way towards helping the healthcare system cope during the coming wave.

This article was updated following the World Health Organisation’s announcement on the new variant.The Conversation

Prof. Wolfgang Preiser, Head: Division of Medical Virology, Stellenbosch University; Cathrine Scheepers, Senior Medical Scientist, University of the Witwatersrand; Jinal Bhiman, Principal Medical Scientist at National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), National Institute for Communicable Diseases; Marietjie Venter, Head: Zoonotic, Arbo and Respiratory Virus Programme, Professor, Department Medical Virology, University of Pretoria, and Tulio de Oliveira, Director: KRISP - KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, University of KwaZulu-Natal

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

'Psychological ownership': Expert explains why Black Friday shoppers throw punches over bargains

Colleen P. Kirk, New York Institute of Technology

Black Friday, the most celebrated shopping day of the year, abounds with tales of fistfights over discounted televisions or even stampedes as consumers rush to get that low-priced sweater they saw in an ad.

Many people chalk it up to bad behavior. But marketers like me have a term to describe one feeling that contributes to it: psychological ownership.

Have you ever felt as if another driver stole your parking spot? Or were supremely miffed when someone else nabbed the last red sweater that you had your eye on? And isn’t it irritating when someone else receives credit for your idea? If so, you experienced psychological ownership.

In other words, we often take ownership over a thing or service in our minds before we actually give up the cash that makes it legally ours. And retailers use this psychological technique to get us to buy more of their stuff – or spend more. It also makes us more likely to brag about our purchases, valuable word-of-mouth advertising for those brands.

While the concept itself is well-known, there’s been little research on how people actually react when someone seems to infringe on their psychological ownership. My colleagues Joann Peck and Scott Swain and I conducted several studies to find out.

That feeling that something is yours

Psychological ownership is an important concept in marketing. Sellers are motivated to elicit it because having it makes you want to buy their goods.

An example of this is potato chip maker Lay’s “Do Me a Flavor” contest, which began in 2008 and invited customers to suggest and vote on new chip flavors. By tickling customers’ sense of ownership in the product and the brand, it was a remarkable success in markets around the world.

But it doesn’t have to be a major campaign. A simple ad or invitation to touch can have the same impact.

There are three factors that foster psychological ownership:

  1. If you can touch or control something or even imagine doing so. An example is putting something in your shopping cart – whether physical or virtual online.
  2. If you have customized something or invested your efforts in designing it. When the server brings the food to your table and places your dish in front of someone else, you’re quick to say, “That’s mine.”
  3. Intimate knowledge. If you grew up with a product, have always used it or have a special or unique way of using it, the odds are good you feel psychological ownership over it.

Furthermore, you can feel psychological ownership over pretty much anything that doesn’t legally belong to you, from the last chocolate truffle in a display case to the dream home you found on Zillow, and even intangible things like ideas.

Psychological ownership in action

To find out how people react when their psychologically owned property is threatened, my colleagues and I conducted a series of experiments. Each was designed to elicit or manipulate feelings of ownership in consumers and then have other people communicate, or signal, psychological ownership of the same product.

In the first one, 58 college students participated in a simulated dining study in our lab. At one point, they each poured themselves a cup of coffee from a bar and customized it with condiments like sugar, frothed milk and syrup, which helped create strong feelings of ownership of the coffee.

Later, after serving participants a piece of cake at their table, a waiter asked, “Is everything OK?” The waiter also, in half the cases, moved their coffee cup for no apparent reason.

After the “bill” came, we found that participants whose coffee cup was moved tipped the server 25 percent less. In a subsequent survey, these participants reported that they felt the server had infringed on their territory and said they’d be less likely to return to such a restaurant.

A second experiment extended this territorial feeling to something less tangible: an artistic design. As part of volunteer work for a local nonprofit, 162 university students decorated folders for children’s educational materials. They either copied a design onto the folder – which elicits low psychological ownership – or created their own design – leading to high psychological ownership. After they finished, a staff member walked up to half the participants and said, “That looks like my design!”

Later, as the staff member left the room, she “accidentally” dropped a pen, supposedly without noticing. We found that participants who designed their own folder and were told by the worker that it looked like hers were 66 percent less likely to pick up the pen and return it.

A later survey showed that these participants indeed felt that the staff member infringed on what they considered theirs. As a result, they were also less likely to donate to the nonprofit or volunteer again.

Interestingly, they reported they would be more likely to post a selfie with their folder on social media – in other words, they tried to defend their psychological ownership by communicating their own claim to ownership.

Limits of psychological ownership

Other similar experiments showed there are some limits to psychological ownership and who’s more susceptible.

One such experiment, conducted online, involved asking participants to imagine they were queuing to buy a comfy sweater for an upcoming social event and told to close their eyes and picture themselves wearing it. They were then told, at random, to imagine either that another customer reached out and touched the sweater or asked permission to do so. We found that asking first reduced the participant’s feeling of infringement and tendency to respond territorially.

In a separate experiment, we wanted to see if more narcissistic people were more likely to respond territorially when someone infringed on their “property,” in this case a delicious-looking pizza. We elicited psychological ownership of the pizza by asking participants to imagine they had traveled a long distance just to get it.

As they were standing in front of the pizza stand, a stranger came up and said either “I am not familiar with this pizza” or “I know this pizza well. I call this pizza ‘Antonio’” – the latter phrase meant to signal ownership. At the end of the survey, we measured narcissism using a common personality scale.

We found that customers who scored high on narcissism expected others to be more aware of their feelings of ownership. Thus, they were more likely to feel infringed upon and respond territorially to the stranger who signaled ownership.

How to cope

Together, these studies demonstrate we really don’t like it when others show signs of ownership of something we feel is “ours,” particularly if we believe they should know of our prior claim. Furthermore, we might retaliate when given a chance.

Consumer responses when this happens can vary from simply abandoning the location to talking badly about the business or person involved. In other words, companies that play on this feeling of psychological ownership to spur sales should bear in mind that there’s a cost as well, particularly when a product or its low price is scarce, such as on Black Friday.

So as you hunt for bargains in the coming weeks, bear in mind that psychological ownership sets in long before a cashier puts your stuff – or a fellow shopper’s – in a bag. My best advice is be polite. There’s usually enough for everyone.The Conversation

Colleen P. Kirk, Assistant Professor of Marketing, New York Institute of Technology

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

The complicated legacy of the Pilgrims is finally coming to light 400 years after they landed in Plymouth

Peter C. Mancall, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' voyage to Plymouth will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic with a “remembrance ceremony" with state and local officials and a museum exhibit in Plymouth, England. An autonomous marine research ship named “The Mayflower" has been equipped with an AI navigating system that will allow the ship to trace the course of the original journey without any humans on board.

Yet as a scholar of early 17th-century New England, I've always been puzzled by the glory heaped on the Pilgrims and their settlement in Plymouth.

Native Americans had met Europeans in scores of places before 1620, so yet another encounter was hardly unique. Relative to other settlements, the colony attracted few migrants. And it lasted only 70 years.

So why does it have such a prominent place in the story of America? And why, until recently, did the more troubling aspects to Plymouth and its founding document, the Mayflower Compact, go ignored?

Prophets and profits

The establishment of Plymouth did not occur in a vacuum.

The Pilgrims' decision to go to North America – and their deep attachment to their faith – was an outcome of the intense religious conflict roiling Europe after the Protestant Reformation. Shortly before the travelers' arrival, the Wampanoag residents of Patuxet – the area in and around modern day Plymouth – had suffered a devastating, three-year epidemic, possibly caused by leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can lead to meningitis, respiratory distress and liver failure.
It was during these two crises that the histories of western Europe and Indigenous North America collided on the shores of Massachusetts Bay.

Despite a number of advantages, including less competition for local resources because of the epidemic, Plymouth attracted far fewer English migrants than Virginia, which was settled in 1607, and Massachusetts, which was established in 1630.

The Pilgrims, as they told their story traveled so they could practice their religion free from persecution. But other English joined them, including some migrants seeking profits instead of heeding prophets. Unfortunately for those hoping to earn a quick buck, the colony never became an economic dynamo.

A shaky compact

Plymouth nonetheless went on to attain a prominent place in the history of America, primarily due to two phenomena: It was the alleged site of the first Thanksgiving, and its founders drafted the Mayflower Compact, a 200-word document written and signed by 41 men on the ship.

Generations of American students have learned that the Compact was a stepping stone towards self-government, the defining feature of American constitutional democracy.

But did Plymouth really inspire democracy? After all, self-governing communities existed across Indigenous New England long before European migrants arrived. And a year earlier, in 1619, English colonists in Virginia had created the House of Burgesses to advance self-rule in North America for subjects of King James I.

So American self-government, however one defines it, was not born in Plymouth.

The Mayflower Compact nonetheless contained lofty ideals. The plan signed by many of the Mayflower's male passengers demanded that colonists “Covenant & Combine ourselves into a Civil body politic, for our better ordering, & preservation." They promised to work together to write “laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions." The signers pledged to work for the “advancement of the Christian faith."

Yet as the years after 1620 bore out, the migrants did not adhere to such principles when dealing with their Wampanoag and other Algonquian-speaking neighbors. Gov. William Bradford, who began writing his history of Plymouth in 1630, wrote about the Pilgrims arriving in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men" even though Patuxet looked more like a settled European farmland. The Pilgrims exiled an English lawyer named Thomas Morton, in part because he believed that Indigenous and colonists could peacefully coexist. And in 1637, Plymouth's authorities joined a bloody campaign against the Pequots, which led to the massacre of Indigenous people on the banks of the Mystic River, followed by the sale of prisoners into slavery.

The Compact was even used by loyalists to the British crown to argue against independence. Thomas Hutchinson, the last royal governor of Massachusetts, pointed to the Pilgrims as proof that colonists should not rebel, highlighting the passage that defined the signers as “loyal subjects" of the English king.

History told by the victors

After the American Revolution, politicians and historians, especially those descended from Pilgrims and Puritans, were keen to trace the origins of the United States back to Plymouth.

In the process, they glossed over the Pilgrims' complicated legacy.

In 1802, the future President John Quincy Adams spoke at Plymouth about the unique genius of the colony's founders and their governing contract. He announced that the Pilgrims would arrive at the biblical day of judgment “in the whiteness of innocence" for having shown “kindness and equity toward the savages."

In the mid-19th century, the historian George Bancroft claimed that it was in “the cabin of the Mayflower" where “humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of 'equal laws' for 'the general good.'"

Nineteenth-century anniversary celebrations focused on the colonists, their written Compact, and their contribution to what became the United States. In 1870, on the 250th anniversary, celebrants struck a commemorative coin: one side featured an open Bible, the other a group of Pilgrims praying on the shoreline.

Missing, not surprisingly, were the Wampanoags.

A more nuanced view of the past

By 1970, the cultural tide had turned. Representatives of the Wampanoag nation walked out of Plymouth's public celebration of Thanksgiving that year to announce that the fourth Thursday in November should instead be known as the National Day of Mourning. To these protesters, 1620 represented violent conquest and dispossession, the twinned legacies of exclusion.

The organizers of an international group called “Plymouth 400" have stressed that they want to tell a “historically accurate and culturally inclusive history." They've promoted both the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and an exhibit featuring 400 years of Wampanoag History. Unlike earlier generations of celebrants, the organizers have acknowledged the continued presence of Native residents.

Prior celebrations of Plymouth's founding focused on the Pilgrims' role in the creation of the United States. By doing so, these commemorations sustained an exclusionary narrative for over two centuries.

Perhaps this year a different story will take hold, replacing ancestor worship with a more clear-eyed view of the past.

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Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

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Biden taps the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — here's what you should know about it

by Scott L. Montgomery, University of Washington

President Joe Biden ordered a release of oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Nov. 23, 2021, as a part of a coordinated effort with five other countries to tamp down rising fuel prices. The U.S. plans to tap 50 million barrels of crude oil in the coming months, while the other nations – the U.K., India, Japan, Korea and China – are said to be releasing about 11 million barrels in total.

But what is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, why was it created and when has it been used? And does it still serve a purpose, given that the U.S. exports more oil and other petroleum products than it imports?

As an energy researcher, I believe considering the reserve's history can help answer these questions.

Origins of the reserve

Congress created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 in response to a global oil crisis.

Arab oil-exporting states led by Saudi Arabia had cut supply to the world market because of Western support for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Oil prices quadrupled, resulting in major economic damage to the U.S. and other countries. This also shook the average American, who had grown used to cheap oil.

The oil crisis caused the U.S., Japan and 15 other advanced countries to form the International Energy Agency in 1974 to recommend policies that would forestall such events in the future. One of the agency's key ideas was to create emergency petroleum reserves that could be drawn on in case of a severe supply disruption.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act originally stipulated the reserve should hold up to 1 billion barrels of crude and refined petroleum products. Though it has never reached that size, the U.S. reserve is the largest in the world, with a maximum volume of 713.5 million barrels. It currently holds a little over 600 million barrels of crude oil.

Oil in the reserve is stored underground in a series of large underground salt domes in four locations along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana and is linked to major supply pipelines in the region.

Salt domes, formed when a mass of salt is forced upward, are a good choice for storage since salt is impermeable and has low solubility in crude oil. Most of the storage sites were acquired by the federal government in 1977 and became fully operational in the 1980s.

History of drawdowns

In the 1975 act, Congress specified that the reserve was intended to prevent “severe supply interruptions" – that is, actual oil shortages.

Over time, as the oil market has changed, Congress expanded the list of reasons for which the SPR could be tapped, such as domestic supply interruptions due to extreme weather.

Before the latest drawdown, more than 230 million barrels of crude oil had been released since the reserve's creation. The amount of the November 2021 release, 50 million barrels, is the largest so far.

There have only been three emergency releases in the reserve's history. The first was in 1991 after Iraq invaded Kuwait the year before, which resulted in a sharp drop in oil supply to the world market. The U.S. released 33.75 million barrels.

The second release, of 30 million barrels, came in 2005 after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina knocked out Gulf of Mexico production, which then comprised about 25% of U.S. domestic supply.

The third was a coordinated release by the International Energy Agency in 2011 as a result of supply disruptions from several oil-producing countries including Libya, then facing civil unrest during the Arab Spring. In all, the IEA coordinated a release of 60 million barrels of crude, half of which came from the U.S.

In addition, there have been 11 planned sales of oil from the reserve, mainly to generate federal revenue. One of these – in particular the 1996-1997 sale to reduce the federal budget deficit – seemed to serve political ends rather than supply-related ones.

Biden's decision to tap the reserve was similarly seen as political by Republicans because there's no emergency shortage of supply. The White House said part of the release is an acceleration of planned sales approved by Congress, while the rest is an exchange that will return to the reserve over time.

Is the reserve still necessary?

Because the U.S. is today a net petroleum exporter, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve has entered a new era. Some of its original rationale and function – to be used in emergencies to ensure the U.S. has a steady supply of oil – are gone.

And efforts to reduce global carbon emissions and the use of oil – for example, with more electric cars and other vehicles on the road – will likely only reduce the need for such a reserve.

Indeed, Congress has recognized the reality that oil exports have been declining. It mandated annual sales from the reserve beginning in 2017 and extending through 2028 – for a total of 271 million barrels.

But as long as the reserve is available, Biden's use of it primarily in hopes of reducing gas prices – which will take time to have any effect, if any – suggests Americans will see many more similar releases in the years to come.

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Scott L. Montgomery, Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

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

BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!