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Humanity Continues To Screw Itself and Others

From The Guardian:

The climate crisis has driven the world to the brink of multiple “disastrous” tipping points, according to a major study.

It shows five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1 C (2 F) of global heating caused by humanity to date.

These include the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, eventually producing a huge sea level rise, the collapse of a key current in the north Atlantic, disrupting rain upon which billions of people depend for food, and an abrupt melting of carbon-rich permafrost.

At 1.5 C of heating, the minimum rise now expected, four of the five tipping points move from being possible to likely, the analysis said. Also at 1.5 C, an additional five tipping points become possible, including changes to vast northern forests and the loss of almost all mountain glaciers.

In total, the researchers found evidence for 16 tipping points, with the final six requiring global heating of at least 2 C to be triggered, according to the scientists’ estimations….

“The Earth may have left a ‘safe’ climate state beyond 1 C global warming,” the researchers concluded, with the whole of human civilisation having developed in temperatures below this level. Passing one tipping point is often likely to help trigger others, producing cascades. But this is still being studied and was not included, meaning the analysis may present the minimum danger.

Prof Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was part of the study team, said: “The world is heading towards 2-3 C of global warming.

“This sets Earth on course to cross multiple dangerous tipping points that will be disastrous for people across the world. To maintain liveable conditions on Earth and enable stable societies, we must do everything possible to prevent crossing tipping points.”

Dr David Armstrong McKay at the University of Exeter, a lead author of the study, said: “It’s really worrying. There are grounds for grief, but there are also still grounds for hope.

“The study really underpins why the Paris agreement goal of 1.5 C is so important and must be fought for.”

“We’re not saying that, because we’re probably going to hit some tipping points, everything is lost and it’s game over. Every fraction of a degree that we stop beyond 1.5 C reduces the likelihood of hitting more tipping points.”

The analysis, published in the journal Science, assessed more than 200 previous studies on past tipping points, climate observations and modelling studies. A tipping point is when a temperature threshold is passed, leading to unstoppable change in a climate system, even if global heating ends….

Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, a co-author of the analysis, said: “Since I first assessed tipping points in 2008, the list has grown and our assessment of the risk they pose has increased dramatically.

“Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonising the economy. To achieve that, we need to trigger positive social tipping points.”

Finally

With Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, Senate Democrats accomplished something important today, over the solid opposition of their Republican colleagues. It’s a big deal. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives now needs to approve the bill. It’s hard to imagine that won’t happen.

First, however, it should be noted that news people can’t resist attaching a dollar amount to a bill like this. The Guardian, for example, has this headline:

Senate passes $739bn healthcare and climate bill after months of wrangling.

You have to read the article to figure out what the $739 billion refers to. Is it what the government will spend? Over what period of time? Or is it what the government will collect in new taxes? When will that happen? It’s a really dumb way to point out that it’s a big piece of legislation.

Much more helpfully, here’s how The Washington Post began its analysis of the bill:

Major changes to the Affordable Care Act. The nation’s biggest-ever climate bill. The largest tax hike on corporations in decades. And dozens of lesser-known provisions that will affect millions of Americans.

The legislation Democrats muscled through the Senate on Sunday would represent one of the most consequential pieces of economic policy in recent U.S. history.

The article includes the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent analysis of what the bill will do in coming years.

There will be new spending and tax breaks amounting to $385 billion on green energy and the climate crisis (including rebates for electric vehicles and other technology) and $100 billion for improved healthcare.

There will be increased taxes and other revenue totaling $470 billion from a new 15% minimum tax on corporations, a tax on companies buying their own stock, and a strengthened IRS, plus $320 billion in mostly drug-related healthcare savings (including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices).

$485 billion in spending and tax breaks and $790 billion in revenue and savings (roughly the Guardian’s number) equates to a reduction of $305 billion in the federal deficit. Lowering the federal deficit and lower prices on things like prescription drugs and green technology justified calling it the Inflation Reduction Act, although “Deficit and Inflation Reduction” would have been more accurate.

For now, a few comments. From Paul Krugman:

This was a victory for urgently needed policy. Democrats came into power with a three-part agenda: climate, infrastructure, and social programs [they delivered on infrastructure with a bit of Republican help last year].

They just delivered on the first, which was the most crucial — and no, it wasn’t far less than they sought. It accomplished most of the original objective [it’s estimated that this bill delivers about 80% of the cumulative emissions reductions over 10 years that that Biden’s original  Build Back Better plan would have].

What got lost were the extensive social programs. That’s a tragedy; we could have virtually eliminated child poverty, among other things [except Sen. Joe Manchin was opposed to doing that]. Even there, this bill expanded the enhanced subsidies that have helped bring the percentage of the uninsured to a record low.

But overall, it’s a remarkable record for a party with 50 senators and a relentlessly obstructionist opposition [and two obstructive Democrats, Manchin and Sinema].

From a Washington Post reporter:

Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii is visibly emotional and wiping away tears after final passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. “This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment,” he tells reporters. “Now I can look my kids in the eye.”

And just to keep in mind who Republican politicians represent, this is from Rolling Stone:

“Republicans have just gone on the record in favor of expensive insulin,” Sen. Ron Wyden said after Republicans voted to remove an insulin price cap from the Inflation Reduction Act. “After years of tough talk about taking on insulin makers, Republicans have once against wilted in the face of heat from Big Pharma.”

Democrats needed 60 votes, according to Senate math, in order to keep the private insurance cap in the Inflation Reduction Act. While seven Republicans voted to retain the cap, that was still three senators short of the 60 needed.

Around 37.3 million Americans, 11.3 percent of the population, have diabetes. … Insulin is a “catastrophic” expense for 14 percent of the seven million Americans who need it daily, according to a Yale University study. That means those 14 percent are spending at least 40 percent of their monthly income (after paying for food and housing) on insulin.

The goods news is that the bill — at least for the moment — maintained a $35 per month cap on insulin costs for people on Medicare.

Need I mention there’s an election in three months? Make sure you’re registered and vote for Democrats up and down the ballot!

How Forced Births Will Affect Women’s Healthcare

From Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo:

… The Supreme Court has not only let red states flip the calendar pages back to pre-1973 America. In many ways, it’s worse than that.

Abortion has become a foundational pillar to all kinds of health care procedures. Ripping it out [reduces their availability].

America now faces a reality that will be like returning to the early ‘70s, but with half a century of medical and technological advances that health care providers in certain states can no longer use. Since Roe, abortion care became drastically safer and more efficient, and the medical procedures involved in abortion have become indelibly embedded in the wider health care landscape. They’ve become a key aspect of all kinds of other health care, from miscarriage management to cancer treatment.

Now, in states from Texas to Ohio, we’re already seeing how abortion — or procedures that can be construed as abortion — are deeply intertwined with health care more broadly, and what it means for them to be taken away.

It’s easier, and convenient for the anti-abortion movement, to imagine abortion as a siloed-off procedure, under the auspices of Planned Parenthood and only relevant to young women seeking to end their unwanted pregnancies. But for decades, that hasn’t been the case.

After Roe, Abortion Becomes Safe

After the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, researchers and physicians could finally learn how to get better at it.

“If the procedure is illegal, you can’t do clinical studies and you can’t develop new procedures because you’re doing it secretly,” Johanna Schoen, a professor of history at Rutgers University told TPM. “Most people providing abortions were not clinicians and not able to do it in a medical setting.”

“After Roe, clinicians made it not only the safest out-patient procedure in the country, but also much safer than pregnancy and delivering a baby,” she added. “All of that has to do both with the improvement of abortion procedures and development of new ones.”

In addition to the procedure improvements, after Roe, physicians started receiving more training in how to perform abortions and manage potential complications. Mortality rates associated with abortion started to plummet. And the number of women hospitalized for abortion-related complications dropped between 1970 and 1977, with a steep dip after 1973. By 1995, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients were hospitalized with complications from the procedure.

Abortion Is Now Woven Throughout Today’s Medical Landscape 

While abortion care developed apace, other related medical technologies improved too. By the late 1970s, ultrasounds were being used widely in American hospitals, helping to advance detection of fetal abnormalities.

As the technology continued to improve over the next few decades, physicians became better able to identify abnormality markers. Under Roe, in states that hadn’t impinged on the abortion right with gestational bans (many diagnoses occur in the second trimester, though advances are pushing some earlier), women could opt for an abortion once abnormalities were detected rather than carrying the pregnancy to term.

Now, after Dobbsexperts are certain that women in states with draconian abortion bans will have to go through labor and give birth to babies that cannot survive.

The development of ultrasound technology has also enabled physicians to more accurately diagnose unruptured ectopic pregnancies in a way that was not possible pre-Roe. In these pregnancies, the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus where it cannot survive but can pose a deadly threat to the woman if it’s allowed to grow.

The improvement in mortality rates associated with ectopic pregnancies followed: a more than 70 percent decrease in deaths-to-cases from 1970 to 1978.

Already, stories are emerging about the demise of Roe throwing ectopic pregnancy care into chaos. Doctors report feeling unsure about whether abortion bans — which are often written using broad political messaging language rather than medical — include ending ectopic pregnancies, which are not viable. Various lawmakers and anti-abortion activists have proven themselves to be particularly unlearned on the subject, some suggesting that terminating ectopic pregnancies is not medically necessary, while others have offered up a supposed solution — just moving the ectopic pregnancy inside of the uterus — technology for which does not currently exist.

Another medical success story already under threat is in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. The first IVF baby was born in 1978; since then, initial single-digit success rates have blossomed to nearly 50 percent for cases where the woman is under 35 years old. One to two percent of births in the United States annually result from IVF.

Fertility clinics have already been flooded with calls by people panicked about what abortion bans mean for their procedures. During IVF, clinicians usually implant one or two embryos in the uterus and store the rest for potential future use. It’s unclear whether bans would stop people from discarding the unneeded embryos, perhaps forcing them to pay to keep them frozen forever. Genetic testing of the embryos could become illegal. And if some embryos don’t survive the implantation process — or are nonviable and discarded — clinics could potentially be liable.

Some states are already contemplating granting personhood to the embryos, which could put IVF clinics out of business and leave the people who depend on them without options.

Far-Reaching Consequences

Even cancer treatment, a seemingly far cry from reproductive care, depends on abortion to afford its patients the right to treat their illnesses without worrying about the oftentimes toxic effect those treatments have on fetuses.

Cancer occurs in about one in every 1,000 pregnancies annually, leaving the women with few options even while Roe’s protections were the law of the land. Many treatments can cause miscarriages or birth defects in the developing fetuses, especially at the beginning of the pregnancy. The CEO of the American Cancer Society said that radiation therapy is never given to pregnant patients at all.

Ending their pregnancies, for these patients, can become a matter of literal life and death — the only way for women to receive the full gamut of treatment to cure their cancer. Now, in some states, women may have to choose: lifesaving treatment that will harm the developing fetus, or leaving their cancer untreated.

Some pharmacists are already restricting patients’ access to methotrexate, a therapy for certain kinds of cancer that can induce abortions. Methotrexate is also used in treating ectopic pregnancies and, since the 1980s, soothing chronic inflammation and pain, making it a mainstay in treating diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The Arthritis Foundation has stood up a hotline amid reports of patients struggling to obtain the drug.

Two other pills — mifepristone and misoprostol, the collective “abortion pill” approved by the Food and Drug administration for combined used through 49 days of gestation in 2000, and for longer now — are already being acutely targeted by anti-abortion lawmakers. There’s a long history of animosity towards mifepristone in particular, with the FDA baselessly categorizing it as dangerous for years.

Those medications are indispensable in treating miscarriages, which at least one in four American women will have by age 45. Even before the Dobbs ruling, women have had to rely on abortion clinics for miscarriage treatment, often because of arbitrary limitations on who can distribute mifepristone. That problem has been compounded since the ruling by sparking confusion among some hospitals about whether other aspects of miscarriage care will be misconstrued by authorities as an elective abortion.

“Management of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are things that were not really possible when abortion was illegal,” Schoen said. “Women in the middle of miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies were up shit’s creek — and people died as a result of that.”

Abortion is a medical success story. Bringing the procedure out of the shadows allowed clinicians to make it safe and humane, and to weave it into other medical treatments. Procedures that are related to, or can be construed as abortion, are now integral parts of an astoundingly wide range of medical care. All of it is under threat.

The Supreme Court is not sending large swaths of the country back to the relative ignorance of pre-Roe America. It’s sending us back in time armed with prodigious knowledge and then-undreamed-of technology that lessen women’s suffering, and uncomplicate and alleviate illnesses where pregnancy is not an option — but forbidding health care workers to use that knowledge.

Women will suffer and they will die, even while doctors have 50 years of medical advancements at their backs….

The Dumbest Timeline

When did we stumble into the dumbest timeline? Maybe we did it in 1914 when the European powers blundered into a devastating world war. Maybe it was in 1964 when Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination for president while claiming that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. Or maybe it wasn’t until 2016 when a demagogic con man eked out a victory in the Electoral College. Regardless of when we got here, there’s strong evidence that that’s where (or when) we are. Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine offers two pieces of evidence:

First, the demise of Biden’s social policy agenda:

The most depressing thing about the demise of the Biden administration’s social-policy agenda — other than the demise itself, of course — is the atmosphere of sheer economic illiteracy that surrounded it. Critics of the measure, ultimately including Joe Manchin, made arguments against it that were not so much misguided as lacking any elemental grasp of the basic principles involved (“not even wrong”).

The main argument used against Biden’s plan was that it would worsen inflation, with conservatives scolding Biden for ignoring the sage insights of Larry Summers. To take just one example, pundit Marc Thiessen wrote that Biden signed an economic stimulus in March 2021 “despite warnings from even liberal economists, such as former Treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers…. But instead of trying to tamp down the flames, Biden keeps trying to pour gasoline on the inferno, with more spending and more free money from Washington.” The tone of this column, like many of the right-wing polemics, is one of incredulous condescension: Biden is such a blithering idiot that he is ignoring the obvious conclusion and instead digging holes and pouring gasoline or whatever.

Whatever the case against Build Back Better, this was not it. The American Rescue Plan did contribute to inflation; its purpose was to stimulate demand by injecting deficit-financed spending into the economy. Build Back Better had a different purpose: to address social needs over a long period of time and finance that spending through taxation.

Spending financed by new taxes is not inflationary. That is why Summers himself endorsed Build Back Better. Yet [reactionaries] spent the better part of a year citing Summers as the authority on why Biden’s long-term plans would cause inflation, oblivious to the fact that any economist, very much including Summers, would say otherwise.

In deference to public concerns about inflation, Manchin ultimately reshaped the last version of the bill as an anti-inflationary measure. The plan would have raised $1 trillion in new revenue (or reduced spending) and used half the proceeds for deficit reduction. This would not have had a large effect on inflation, but there is no question that … it would place downward pressure on prices.

[Republicans] simply refused to acknowledge this aspect of the plan at all. In the end, even Manchin himself abandoned his own plan, which was designed in part to reduce inflation, on account of inflation, which is like deciding not to cut greenhouse-gas emissions because it’s too hot.

… When the 9.1% inflation number was released, Manchin [supposedly] said to Schumer, “Why can’t we wait a month to see if the numbers come down? How do you pour $1 trillion on that tempo with inflation?

Remember, $1 trillion is not the size of the spending in the bill; $1 trillion is the size of the revenue. That’s the pay-for aspect of the bill Manchin insisted on maintaining in order to fight inflation. The $1 trillion would not be poured onto economic growth. It would be poured out of economic growth.

In the end, Biden’s attempt to enact permanent social change died in an atmosphere in which the most ignorant fallacies carried the day.

Next, incoherence and derangement on gay marriage:

In 2004, the Republican Party was united in anger at the idea that judges would seize the issue of gay marriage from its rightful place in the legislative arena…..“The only question is whether the constitutional status of marriage will be determined by unelected judges or the American people,” claimed the Alliance for Marriage.

[Republicans] may finally get their wish. The matter of gay marriage is finally coming for a vote before what they have always insisted is its rightful venue: Congress. And yet, far from expressing gratitude that Congress is finally exerting its sacred Article III powers, conservatives are angry that elected officials are now meddling in business properly settled by the courts…..The old danger of activist judges has passed, and now conservative principle requires the party to take a stand against activist … legislators.

Congress is voting to codify same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade undercut the main legal theory that supported other unenumerated rights, including marriage equality….

It wasn’t long ago that opposition to gay marriage held pride of place atop the ideals of the right-wing firmament, second only to the strategic genius of the Bush administration’s “global war on terror” strategy. Conservatives thundered daily against the horrific terrors that would ensue if gay people were permitted to wed each other….

After their heroic stand at the gates of civilization failed, essentially none of the things conservatives warned would happen actually transpired. The cycle of failed prophecy is a familiar one for American conservatism. Every new social or economic reform, from the abolition of child labor to the establishment of Social Security to Obamacare, brings hysterical predictions of collapse that eventually give way to silent acceptance without any stage of reconsidering the failed mental model that produced the erroneous fears in the first place.

At the moment, the case against gay marriage has reached an awkward phase. Marriage equality has enough broad acceptance (around 70 percent support) that the party doesn’t wish to emphasize the issue. But the minority in opposition forms a large enough portion of their base that few Republicans wish to renounce their old stance completely.

Hence the incentive to declare the matter an improper subject for public debate. Unable to take a stand either in favor or against the marriage-equality bill, Republicans are instead directing their arguments … against the Democrats for bringing it up at all….

Finally, an exchange on Twitter between a right-wing blogger and a history professor:

Blogger: Remember when they spent years telling us to panic over the hole in the ozone layer and then suddenly just stopped talking about it and nobody ever mentioned the ozone layer again? This was also back during the time when they scared school children into believing “acid rain” was a real and urgent threat.

Professor: The ozone hole and acid rain. Two things that were LITERALLY fixed by science-led, globally-coordinated, long-term, concrete international action. It’s like being held hostage by the world’s stupidest serial-killer.

Onward Christian Soldiers, Supreme Court Edition

The first words of the Bill of Rights are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In recent decades, that’s meant people are free to practice their religion (the Free Exercise Clause) but not promote it as part of their government jobs (the Establishment Clause).

Charles Pierce of Esquire discusses today’s right-wing reinterpretation of what constitutes free exercise and the establishment of religion:

… It was a pretty good day for theocracy. In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, by the 6-3 vote that was so carefully purchased with dark money and so carefully engineered by Mitch McConnell, the Court sided with a football coach named Joseph Kennedy who used to have his team meet at midfield for a postgame exercise in what the Court said Monday was “quiet personal prayer.”

The history of the case is a perfect example of a small-town controversy that was fairly clear-cut until the conservative movement managed to get it through a carefully engineered conservative-heavy judicial system until it finally landed on the doorstep of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. In 2015, the school district told Kennedy to knock it off. Kennedy refused and was placed on administrative leave. Instead of reapplying for his job when his leave ended, Kennedy decided to sue the school district. He lost in court. Then he lost his appeal. Then an earlier Supreme Court declined to take his case.

But the longer you can keep going in the courts, the better chance you have of running into a conservative Christian who will find room for white-people Jesus in the Bill of Rights…. Kennedy tried again and, this time he finally found Gorsuch and the rest of the Papal States on the Supreme Court.

Once again, that crew threw aside a sensible, durable framework in favor of some sort of weird, literalist invocation of American history. Much of the previous Establishment Clause law had rested on a 1971 case called Lemon v. Kurtzman—decided, it should be noted, by an 8-0 vote under Republican Chief Justice Warren Burger …

Leaving Coach Kennedy’s triumph for a moment, we should be wary of the blithe way the Court’s majority dismisses Lemon as irrelevant to Establishment Clause jurisprudence. Lemon was not purely about prayer. It has also been central to keeping the bunco scheme that is Creationism—as well as its gussied-up cousin, Intelligent Design—out of the public schools … [Lemon] was used to squash attempts at bootlegging Creationist bushwah into science classes in Arkansas and Louisiana … in 2005, when it helped decide a famous case in Pennsylvania. …

In this particular political moment, you’d have to be considerably naive to think that the reactionary right isn’t coming for the public schools, largely because they never stopped coming for the public schools. They will use radicalized Christian religion as their primary artillery. Last week, the Supreme Court opened up the wallets of Maine taxpayers and invited religious schools to dive right in. Would you like to guess what might happen if another Intelligent Design case makes it in front of the current Supreme Court majority?

… Public education is unconstitutional because it is insufficiently theocratic. An interesting legal theory that is coming soon to a Supreme Court near you.

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