Unconscious biases continue to hold back women in medicine, but research shows how to fight them and get closer to true equity and inclusion

If you work at a company, university or large organization, you’ve probably sat through a required training session meant to fight gender and racial discrimination in the workplace. Employers increasingly invest in efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion – commonly referred to as DEI policies. Yet research shows these efforts often fail to address the implicit biases that often lead to discrimination.

I am a professor and a physician who has been working in university settings for over 30 years. I also study and speak about discrimination in medicine and science. Like most of my female colleagues, I have personally seen and experienced gender discrimination on many occasions throughout my career.

However, two things seem to have changed in recent years. First, modern training programs are starting to reflect decades of research on effective interventions. Second, I am noticing a gradual shift with people now more interested in actively addressing discrimination and harassment than ever before. Taken together, these changes give me hope that the medical profession is finally making progress on efforts to fight discrimination.

Existing policies haven’t worked

Many institutional policies outline anti-racist and anti-sexist goals, but research shows results have been slow in coming.

In a study I conducted to understand what continues to hold women back in their careers, I interviewed more than 100 men and women in academic medicine, including many in high-powered positions. In my study, dozens of interviewees told me stories of DEI policies that, even with the right intentions, failed to produce good results.

Research shows that despite policies to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, men still fare better in medical careers.
Darren Robb/The Image Bank via Getty Images

For example, frequently search committees are encouraged to broaden and diversify the pool of candidates for a position. In my study, I found that hiring committees often associate attempts to hire or promote a woman or member of an underrepresented group as “meeting a quota” or “affirmative action,” which the hiring committee sees as an imposition on their ability to choose the best candidates.

A male faculty member I interviewed claimed that a new colleague was hired “because she’s a woman,” even though she was as qualified for the position as other male candidates. Such reactions are part of why this approach, though commonly employed, has not fixed the problem of women getting fewer promotions than men.

It is also clear that blatant sexism is still present. For a study I published in 2021, I was told stories of a male department chair putting a dog leash on the desk of a female co-worker, and a female candidate for a leadership position being criticized by the chair of the search committee for not being “warm and fuzzy”.

Trainings fail to address implicit bias

Implicit bias is any unconscious negative attitude a person holds against a specific social group. These unconscious biases can affect judgment, decision making and behavior. Implicit bias is often one of the underlying issues that leads to discriminatory practices or harassment that DEI policies are meant to address.

Employee trainings are a staple of organizations’ efforts to meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Trainings can take various forms and cover a variety of topics, including implicit bias. These trainings, frequently done online, often “talk at” employees by simply offering information and directives rather than actively engaging them in discussion and analysis.

Trainings that fail to engage participants aren’t very effective in lessening imlicit bias. In fact, research has shown that some trainings suggest unconscious bias is an unchangeable fact of life and imply it can therefore be ignored.

Effective ways to mitigate unconscious bias

Describing how bias works and how it influences individuals is an important step in addressing discrimination.

Researchers have been studying how unconscious bias works and how to mitigate it since the 1980s. These studies show that unconscious bias is a habit that can be broken over time with a clear, consistent and respectful series of evaluations, feedback and follow-ups. During this process, employees become more aware of bias in others, more likely to judge such bias as problematic and more able to mitigate bias in their own behavior. This type of intervention has been shown to produce measurable increases in the number of female faculty in science and medicine.

Many diversity, equity and inclusion policies rely on trainings that don’t do a good job of engaging employees.
Luis Alvarez/Digital Vision via Getty Images

The question is whether the mandatory trainings and public messaging that are the staples of many DEI policies today can produce similar results to these intensive interventions.

Creating situations or a culture where people can and do share their experiences with harassment and discrimination – without risk of retaliation – can lead to increased awareness of bias in others and clear communication of the negative aspects of this bias.

One interviewee in my study talked about an exercise in which the women wrote down their experiences of discrimination and harassment and then the men read the women’s stories out loud. This woman felt that the men, by reciting the experiences of their female colleagues, finally began to understand how practices that seemed to be inclusive and fair were actively harming others.

A changing social environment

Sharing personal experiences of harassment or discrimination with people who have biases is an understandably scary or intimidating thing to do – especially given the history of retaliation or shaming. But my recent experiences seem to suggest that the culture in medicine is shifting from one of avoidance to one of engagement.

I recently gave a talk on gender discrimination at a major cancer conference that brought together researchers from all across the U.S. I shared the results of my study as well as my personal experiences with the audience. At the end of my presentation, the crowd of men and women stood and applauded – a response I have rarely, if ever, seen in my 30 years of attending medical conferences.

This enthusiastic response may suggest that people are broadly becoming more open to and supportive of women and other underrepresented people sharing their own stories of facing discrimination. With a large body of research showing that sharing personal experiences with people who are actively listening and engaging is one of the most effective ways to combat unconscious bias, this standing ovation seemed to me a hopeful sign of things to come. Läs mer…

Manchester United: the business tactics that could lead to a record multi-billion-pound sale

It seems that another item can now be added to the long list of things that are getting more expensive: football clubs. The bids coming in to buy Manchester United, reportedly in the region of £4.5bn (the owners are said to want £6bn) would make it the largest amount ever paid for a club.

Given that the current US owners, the Glazer family, bought Manchester United in 2005 for around £800 million, the current valuation makes it unsurprising that a sale may be on the cards.

But can a football club, even one as famous as Manchester United, really be worth £6bn?

For comparison, in 2021 one of its rivals, Newcastle United, sold for a fraction of that sum, at around £300 million. Yet given that Newcastle had been bought for £133 million in 2007 (about £200 million in today’s money), that controversial sale was still seen as providing a decent return.

But it was Chelsea, sold in May 2022, which started the sale bonanza among the biggest British clubs. Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have all been linked to potential sales since then.

Chelsea had been bought for £140 million by Roman Abramovich in 2003, when it was struggling financially. Two decades later, its £2.5 billion price was achieved despite the club being what is known as a “distressed asset” (something that needed to be sold because Abramovich had been sanctioned by the UK government), meaning that bids were probably lower than if the sale had been on the open market.

Crucially though, Chelsea had also become a more impressive club, winning a number of trophies (two Champions League, two Europa League, five Premier League titles and five FA Cups). (The profit from the Chelsea sale is now earmarked for humanitarian causes in Ukraine.)

Another important element behind a club’s value is, of course, how much any potential owner is willing to pay. Research suggests that owning a football club is generally something that loses money, so owners normally fit one of three categories.

First, there are those who view clubs as a trophy asset; second, fans or local benefactors who want to support their side; and third, those that think they can make money from the club by making changes.

The Glazers fall squarely into the last category, and took the opportunity to buy a club through a leveraged buyout – in essence, using comparatively little of their own money – and taking money out annually through dividends.

Financial goals

That leveraged buyout meant that some of the money used to buy the club was secured against the club itself, like a mortgage, so the debt was borne by the club rather than the owners.

And that debt was considerable. Over the ownership of the Glazers, £837 million has been spent on interest payments alone.

Not every fan is a fan.
John B Hewitt/Shutterstock

Another reason for the increase in value of clubs has been the increase in revenue they can generate. The Premier League, for example, has been significantly increasing its income from selling overseas broadcasting rights (the latest US deal is more than double its previous one), and this leads to more money for the clubs. Increasing global interest in the Premier League has also added value to the small number of clubs which feature in it.

Other things that affect the value of clubs have nothing to do with football. For example, the pandemic led to the very rich getting richer and so there is more disposable income at the billionaire potential owner level.

But ownership comes with plenty of risk too and, like winning matches, financial success is never guaranteed. Around 40% of football clubs in the top four leagues of English football have gone into administration since the Premier League began, including eight of the original 22 Premier League members.

The culture of spending above your means in English football may, in the long term, be tempered by the proposed implementation of an independent regulator. In the meantime football club ownership remains, for most, a loss-making business.

For the Glazers though, selling their club for around £5 billion would surely be seen as a big win. They put in relatively little of their own money to buy it, have taken money out in dividends, and are now expected to make a massive profit on the sale price. Divisive tactics they may have been, but very lucrative too. Läs mer…

’Cracking down’ on antisocial behaviour is a classic pre-election strategy – but this government owes young people better

For a government that is committed to “levelling up”, Rishi Sunak’s administration seems to have taken a major shift towards “cracking down”.

A new action plan on antisocial behaviour has certainly ratcheted-up the rhetoric. Perpetrators will face “swift and visible” justice as part of a “zero-tolerance” approach. “Hotspot trailblazer areas” will be piloted and a new “immediate justice” scheme launched. Offenders will be expected to repair the damage they have “inflicted on victims … as soon as 48 hours after their offence”, but they will also be made to wear “high-vis vests or jumpsuits”.

Laughing gas is also not funny.

Nitrous oxide is highlighted as the drug of choice for 16- to 24-year-olds and will be banned to prevent “intimidating gangs” of giggling youths hanging around. Those responsible “will be quickly and visibly punished” – possibly even forced to wash police cars – as the government moves to “stamp out these crimes once and for all”.

The shift to a very hard stance appears almost designed to promote a moral panic, with young people framed as contemporary folk devils existing on the wrong side of a politically defined moral barricade.

It’s a very old trick. But what it lacks is any evidence-based understanding of young people today.

The young people the government are targeting are the very same generation whose opportunities to be young were ravaged by COVID. The impact of lockdown – its scarring effects – are only just beginning to be understood. Add to this the fact that this is a generation who have lived through austerity, and who now face precarious employment as the new normal and a future that will see their living standards fall below those of previous generations.

And yet this is not a lost generation. It is, in fact, a resilient generation.

The 2021 Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index discovered that almost three-quarters of the 16- to 25-year-olds surveyed were positive that “theirs is the generation that can change the future for the better”. The Talk Together project also concluded – having engaged with almost 160,000 people across the UK – that an upsurge in community spirit exists and needs to be cultivated.

Even during the pandemic, it was young people that generally massed ranks of initiatives, including the NHS volunteer responders scheme and the RSPCA’s volunteer network.

It’s difficult to understand the central logic of government thinking. One minute there are “ambitious plans to level up activities for young people”, but these are almost immediately followed by a youth-focused action plan “to crack down on antisocial behaviour”. The very next day, the message is all about youth facilities being “transformed with new investment”.

When reading the government’s action plan on antisocial behaviour, I could not stop thinking of Keith Dowding’s book It’s the Government Stupid and its central argument that governments often try to blame citizens for their policies.

Youth services have declined by nearly 70% in the past decade. Against this backdrop of long-term decline, the £378m youth investment fund is undoubtedly a welcome measure but it is not “transformational”.

This is not an excuse for antisocial behaviour. It’s a statement of reality. Young people who lack access to basic support services will find things to do.

If the government wants to “rebuild social capital and self-reliance” across the country, then it might start by listening to what local communities and young people say they need. As the Institute for Community Studies report Why don’t they ask us? highlighted, local communities are keen to engage in co-producing and co-delivering policy to fit with local priorities.

The government will say it has listened. The 2022 Youth Review led to the launch of a National Youth Guarantee. But this review was not youth-led or even co-produced. The “guarantee” is therefore narrow – the rebuilding of youth clubs (mentioned above), increased access to the National Citizen Service, and support for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Scheme and other non-military uniformed youth groups.

Ask them

Engaged, embedded and peer-led research suggests that youth clubs and cub scouts are not top of the list when young people are asked what they need. They want a broader choice of flexible opportunities to engage in social action projects, volunteering and practical politics. They need to be listened to and brought into decisions.

Young volunteers at a vaccination centre.

The National Youth Guarantee may offer the basis for a transformational approach to supporting young people – but realising this potential demands a more agile, aligned and ambitious approach.

Agile in the sense of focusing on key transition points in young people’s lives, and making sure that new forms of safety net and civic scaffolding are put in place to catch those who fall through the cracks.

Aligned in the sense of an integrated set of policies that seeks not to put young people “on the right track” – the approach of the antisocial behaviour plan – but to support young people through a “civic journey” where they get the chance to learn new skills, make mistakes, develop confidence and engage beyond their own communities.

And ambitious in the sense of a whole of government approach, where the starting point is not to prevent young people “spiralling” from antisocial behaviour into a life of crime, but instead forged around a belief in the capacity of future generations to flourish in a changing world.

There are enlightened Conservatives working in this space. MP Danny Kruger’s work on a “new social covenant” offers a far more positive and inclusive approach..

The latest crackdown on antisocial behaviour is, if we are honest, to some extent a theatrical performance. It is the pre-election chest thumping of a government that wants to be seen as tough on crime in order to bolster its position among those older voters who are generally enraged by antisocial behaviour.

As a result, however, a government that “hugged the experts” during COVID now goes directly against the experts when it comes to banning laughing gas.

The problem is that demonising young people for votes really is no laughing matter. Läs mer…

What went wrong in Peter Bol’s doping case? A sport integrity expert explains

Lawyers for Australian 800-metre star Peter Bol say allegations the runner engaged in doping should be dropped after two independent labs found no evidence he used a banned substance.

Bol has always strongly denied the allegations.

So what went wrong?

How we got here

Bol is a national champion, Commonwealth Games silver medallist, and finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

He was provisionally suspended from the sport in January 2023 after testing suggested he was using a banned substance called “synthetic EPO”.

EPO stands for erythropoietin, which occurs naturally in the body. It’s secreted in the kidney, and stimulates red blood cell production in bone marrow.

Synthetic EPO (or rEPO) is made in a lab, and is known to enhance athletic performance. It was most famously abused by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Read more:
Lance Armstrong charged with ’blood doping’ and EPO-use … so how do they work?

On October 11 2022, Bol provided an out-of-competition urine sample which was analysed for a range of prohibited substances, including synthetic EPO.

The timing is important. While athletes seeking to cheat commonly use prohibited substances in the off-season to increase their training load, Bol suggested this date is outside of the time when an athlete could benefit from taking synthetic EPO (roughly a three-month window).

On January 10 2023, Bol was advised his A-sample from October 2022 had returned a positive result for synthetic EPO, and was provisionally suspended.

Bol was also told that another previous sample that had been analysed for EPO, collected at some time in 2021, had returned an uncertain result.

Bol’s team believes this is evidence the athlete may have naturally occurring high levels of EPO, which may have been wrongly interpreted as synthetic EPO.

Bol requested the B-sample from 2022 be analysed.

On February 14 2023, Sport Integrity Australia found the B-sample returned an atypical result (not positive or negative, but an indication further investigation is required).

Bol’s provisional suspension was lifted, but Sport Integrity Australia said the investigation “remains ongoing”.

Natural vs synthetic EPO

An athlete is unable to take whatever is left of their original urine sample to have it retested by another lab.

Athletes can, however, be provided with the data, photographs and detailed documentation of the procedure followed by the lab, known as the “lab pack”. The athlete then needs to find an expert to translate the complex documentation.

Two independent labs analysed Bol’s lab pack.

One was David Chen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of British Columbia, and the other was a group of four experts from Norway.

Both assert there was no evidence of synthetic EPO in Bol’s sample.

The Norwegian group found “a large amount of natural EPO” in Bol’s sample, and hypothesised his atypical result may be due to high naturally occurring levels of EPO.

In an interview with Channel 7 in early March, Bol speculated it could be a Sudanese gift:

It’s in our genetics, of course. We’re fitter, we’re faster, we’re more resilient because of how much we’ve been through and gone through. It’s our genetics, it’s who we are. We can get back in shape pretty fast; [it] doesn’t mean we’re cheating. It’s how we’re born.

While there have been studies on the effect of ethnicity in patients receiving synthetic EPO treatment, it’s not known whether there are ethnic variations in EPO production among elite athletes.

Bol won a silver medal in the men’s 800 metre final at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Dean Lewins/AAP

There are different ways of manufacturing synthetic EPO, and the source materials vary too. So identifying variations in what’s within the “normal” range and what’s synthetic EPO becomes increasingly difficult.

Synthetic EPO is also made by legitimate manufacturers, as it’s used to help some patients with chronic anaemia (who don’t have enough healthy red blood cells).

Research suggests even legitimate products can vary significantly, let alone what’s produced on the black market.

The different methods of manufacturing synthetic EPO appear to be causing issues with identifying synthetic EPO, and in interpreting the results of analyses.

It’s possible, then, that naturally occurring EPO could (incorrectly) appear as though it’s a variation of one of the synthetic EPO products.

A ‘catastrophic blunder’?

Bol’s legal team, in a letter to Sport Integrity Australia, said “inexperience and incompetence at the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory (ASDTL) led to an incorrect determination”, accusing Sport Integrity Australia of making a “catastrophic blunder”.

David Chen, from the University of British Columbia, suggested the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) method for testing for synthetic EPO needs to be amended, including for the amount of urine used in the analysis. Under WADA’s rules, it is possible to challenge the validity of the tests.

Quoted in the letter, Chen said all tests performed for Bol used 15ml of urine, but that “an experienced lab person should have understood that this was the upper limit”.

While this means the lab followed WADA guidelines, Chen’s concern is that “for many athletes, this amount is too high”.

What’s not explained in the letter, in what is publicly available at least, is why 15ml of urine is too much for “many athletes”.

Read more:
Snubbing Chinese swimmer Sun Yang ignores the flaws in the anti-doping system

Technically, the investigation into Bol could be closed on the basis the B-sample didn’t confirm the A-sample, so the evidence may be insufficient to comfortably establish a doping violation.

However, Sport Integrity Australia will undoubtedly be as keen as Bol and his team to get to the bottom of this.

It’s important for all athletes, and for trust in the anti-doping system, that the validity of the EPO test and the interpretation of the analysis can be transparently relied on. Läs mer…

Internationell upphovsrättsförordning (1994:193)

sfs 1994:1994:193 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1716  
1 § I denna förordning finns föreskrifter om tillämpningen av lagen
(1960:729) om upphovsrätt till litterära och konstnärliga verk
(upphovsrättslagen) med avseende på andra länder och mellanstatliga

Vid tillämpningen av upphovsrättslagen skall den som är 1994-04-14

Läs mer…

Förordning (1996:1036) om underhållsstöd

sfs 1996:1996:1036 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1598  
Regeringen föreskriver följande.

1 § I denna förordning ges föreskrifter om underhållsstöd
enligt socialförsäkringsbalken. Förordning (2010:1697).

2 § I de fall som anges i 106 kap. 8 § 1
socialförsäkringsbalken ska den som ansvarar för inrättningen
när ett barn skrivs in 1996-10-31

Läs mer…

Lag (1994:1551) om frihet från skatt vid import, m.m.

sfs 1994:1994:1551 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1784  
1 kap. Inledande bestämmelser

1 § I denna lag finns bestämmelser om frihet från och
återbetalning av annan skatt än tull vid import av varor från
tredje land i vissa fall. I lagen finns även bestämmelser om
beräkning av tull och skatt i vissa fall. Lag (2008:1413).

2 § Har 1994-12-15

Läs mer…

Has GPT-4 really passed the startling threshold of human-level artificial intelligence? Well, it depends

Recent public interest in tools like ChatGPT has raised an old question in the artificial intelligence community: is artificial general intelligence (in this case, AI that performs at human level) achievable?

An online preprint this week has added to the hype, suggesting the latest advanced large language model, GPT-4, is at the early stages of artificial general intelligence (AGI) as it’s exhibiting “sparks of intelligence”.

OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, has unabashedly declared its pursuit of AGI. Meanwhile, a large number of researchers and public intellectuals have called for an immediate halt to the development of these models, citing “profound risks to society and humanity”. These calls to pause AI research are theatrical and unlikely to succeed – the allure of advanced intelligence is too provocative for humans to ignore, and too rewarding for companies to pause.

But are the worries and hopes about AGI warranted? How close is GPT-4, and AI more broadly, to general human intelligence?

Read more:
Evolution not revolution: why GPT-4 is notable, but not groundbreaking

If human cognitive capacity is a landscape, AI has indeed increasingly taken over large swaths of this territory. It can now perform many separate cognitive tasks better than humans in domains of vision, image recognition, reasoning, reading comprehension and game playing. These AI skills could potentially result in a dramatic reordering of the global labour market in less than ten years.

But there are at least two ways of viewing the AGI issue.

The uniqueness of humanity

First is that over time, AI will develop skills and capabilities for learning that match those of humans, and reach AGI level. The expectation is the uniquely human ability for ongoing development, learning and transferring learning from one domain to another will eventually be duplicated by AI. This is in contrast to current AI, where being trained in one area, such as detecting cancer in medical images, does not transfer to other domains.

So the concern felt by many is at some point AI will exceed human intelligence, and then rapidly overshadow us, leaving us to appear to future AIs as ants appear to us now.

The plausibility of AGI is contested by several philosophers and researchers, citing that current models are largely ignorant of outputs (that is, they don’t understand what they’re producing). They also have no prospect of achieving consciousness since they are primarily predictive – automating what should come next in text or other outputs.

Instead of being intelligent, these models simply recombine and duplicate data on which they have been trained. Consciousness, the essence of life, is missing. Even if AI foundation models continue to advance and complete more sophisticated tasks, there is no guarantee that consciousness or AGI will emerge. And if it did emerge, how would we recognise it?

Read more:
Futurists predict a point where humans and machines become one. But will we see it coming?

Persistently present AI

The usefulness of ChatGPT and GPT-4’s ability to master some tasks as well as or better than a human (such as bar exams and academic olympiads) gives the impression AGI is near. This perspective is confirmed by the rapid performance improvement with each new model.

There is no doubt now AI can outperform humans in many individual cognitive tasks. There is also growing evidence the best model for interacting with AI may well be one of human/machine pairing – where our own intelligence is augmented, not replaced by AI.

GPT-4 is also ‘multimodal’ – it can take visual input and answer questions based on that.

Signs of such pairing are already emerging with announcements of work copilots and AI pair programmers for writing code. It seems almost inevitable that our future of work, life, and learning will have AI pervasively and persistently present.

By that metric, the capacity of AI to be seen as intelligent is plausible, but this remains contested space and many have come out against it. Renowned linguist Noam Chomsky has stated that the day of AGI “may come, but its dawn is not yet breaking”.

Smarter together?

The second angle is to consider the idea of intelligence as it is practised by humans in their daily lives. According to one school of thought, we are intelligent primarily in networks and systems rather than as lone individuals. We hold knowledge in networks.

Until now, those networks have mainly been human. We might take insight from someone (such as the author of a book), but we don’t treat them as an active “agent” in our cognition.

But ChatGPT, Copilot, Bard and other AI-assisted tools can become part of our cognitive network – we engage with them, ask them questions, they restructure documents and resources for us. In this sense, AI doesn’t need to be sentient or possess general intelligence. It simply needs the capacity to be embedded in and part of our knowledge network to replace and augment many of our current jobs and tasks.

The existential focus on AGI overlooks the many opportunities current models and tools provide for us. Sentient, conscious or not – all these attributes are irrelevant to the many people who are already making use of AI to co-create art, structure writings and essays, develop videos, and navigate life.

The most relevant or most pressing concern for humans is not whether AI is intelligent when by itself and disconnected from people. It can be argued that as of today, we are more intelligent, more capable, and more creative with AI as it advances our cognitive capacities. Right now, it appears the future of humanity could be AI-teaming – a journey that is already well underway.

Read more:
Bard, Bing and Baidu: how big tech’s AI race will transform search – and all of computing Läs mer…

3 ways Ottawa can rebuild trust following changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement

The recent announcement to amend the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement has drawn criticism from human rights groups, refugee advocates, lawyers, researchers and the federal NDP.

Unless the Supreme Court of Canada rules the original agreement is unconstitutional, the new deal on refugee claimants is likely to stand. Justin Trudeau’s government has invested significant political and diplomatic capital in negotiating the amendment.

It was agreed in principle almost a year ago, but implementation had stagnated. As late as the end of February 2023, David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, hinted that no change to the agreement was likely.

Radio Canada has reported the last-minute change of heart by Americans was due to an increase in irregular migration into the U.S. from Canada.

Read more:
The U.S. is playing border politics again — this time with Canada

Unexpected about-face

The change of policy was indeed sudden. U.S. President Joe Biden alluded to it in his speech to Parliament, and then Trudeau announced it at the subsequent news conference on March 24, 2023. The changes came into effect only a few hours later — just after midnight on March 25.

Refugee claimants were caught unaware and prevented from exercising their right to asylum after making long and costly journeys to the Canadian border.

Similarly, non-profit organizations serving refugee claimants called emergency meetings and worked around the clock to respond to information and gaps in protection for asylum-seekers.

In the aftermath of the renegotiated agreement, the Trudeau government should take three steps to rebuild trust and refugee protection:

1. Provide more information

Official information on the new deal and its exceptions should be communicated to prospective asylum-seekers.

Many people were still en route to the border, unaware of the change. The government should provide a lay person’s summary of the agreement in French, English and the languages most spoken by refugee claimants.

In particular, it’s important that people understand that if they’re ineligible to make a claim, they will be returned to the U.S. and barred from ever claiming asylum in Canada in the future.

Information should also clearly indicate exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement that remain in effect.

For example, unaccompanied minors and people with close family members in Canada may still be allowed to make an asylum claim.

These measures will help redress some of the confusion, uncertainty and fear that refugee claimants face when trying to make a decision about whether to cross the border.

An RCMP officer stops people as they enter Canada via Roxham Road near Hemmingford, Que., hours after amendments to the Safe Third Country agreement enabled authorities to turn asylum-seekers away from unofficial border crossings.

2. Mend strained relationships

The federal government also needs to repair relationships with non-profit partners who form the backbone of Canada’s settlement services. No consultations nor briefings were undertaken with civil society partners prior to the announcement.

Officials have justified the surprise announcement, saying they wanted to avoid a last-minute rush to the border. However, the lack of transparency has caused anger and frustration among non-profit organizations that have been forced to scramble in response to a deal that has been shrouded in secrecy.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser needs to organize meetings with key stakeholders to directly address their concerns. The government of Canada relies heavily on non-governmental organizations for service delivery across immigration categories. They should be treated as partners, not afterthoughts.

3. Clarify details

Currently, refugee claimants have no way of knowing the criteria and process to apply for the 15,000 official humanitarian spots, also announced at the Trudeau-Biden news conference.

The details of this program need to be clarified as soon as possible to redirect some prospective claimants from irregular crossings to safe passages.

The 15,000 number is small in comparison to the 40,000 claimants who crossed Roxham Road in Québec in 2022, as well as the millions currently displaced in the Western Hemisphere. The demand for this humanitarian program will greatly exceed available spots.

The government must decide on the criteria for the program in consultation with those most affected. It then needs to communicate these criteria in a transparent and equitable way to avoid repeating the current chaos and information gaps.

Expediency creates challenges

The renegotiated Safe Third Country Agreement was politically expedient for the Trudeau government, but poses real policy and programming challenges.

As a first step to meeting these challenges, it is incumbent on the federal government to acknowledge and address the confusion, chaos and frustration that this new deal has created for claimants — and the non-governmental organizations serving them.

Listen to Christina Clark-Kazak on our podcast, Don’t Call Me Resilient: Roxham Road: Asylum seekers won’t just get turned back, they’ll get forced underground Läs mer…

Why a serious climate strategy is almost impossible in the UK’s current political system

The UK government reportedly chose Aberdeen, its carbonisation capital, as the original location to relaunch its de-carbonisation strategy. The strategy, now published, has been strongly criticised by environmentalists. Part of the plan to transition the country away from oil and gas is to allow highly subsidised, mostly foreign-owned companies to extract more oil and gas from these islands and sell it overseas to the highest bidder, thereby improving the UK’s national energy security. This is barely a week after climate scientists gave their starkest, final warning to keep fossil fuels in the ground or risk catastrophic, civilisation-threatening levels of global overheating.

If your response to “energy security day” is to ask yourself: how on Earth can our leaders offer this as an adequate plan? After all the flooding, wildfires, heatwaves and storms; after all the scientific reports; after David Attenborough’s Climate: The Facts; after Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg and the millions of young people who refused to go to school; and poll after poll showing how concerned we now are; how we want our government to go much further and faster on climate policy. Do they really think we will swallow this Orwellian doublethink – hold two contradictory beliefs in our minds simultaneously, and accept them both? Are we really going to put up with this?

According to my doctoral research at the University of Surrey, the answer to these questions, unfortunately, is yes. Until the elements of UK civil society and polity who advocate accelerating action for a rapid transition become a much more effective, collaborative, strategic and coherent coalition, most of us probably will accept the doublethink and put up with it. To understand why, you first need to understand the “ecosystem” of UK climate actors and coalitions.

One key insight of this research, which relied on analysing the views of 100 experts from a wide cross-section of society, is that the decarbonisation transition needs to be both politically and ecologically viable, but a configuration of actors and narratives that combines these two necessary conditions into an effective force for change does not yet exist.

Politically but not ecologically viable

There is a large, dominant, politically viable coalition – I call it the “green growth” coalition – which consists of the government, the main political parties, the business and finance sectors, the mainstream media, and most civil society NGOs. It is politically viable because it enjoys a broad cross section of support, is relatively unified, and communicates a familiar, coherent, consistent, “win-win” narrative: private wealth and public health and wellbeing go together, and you need a viable, growing economy to pay for public goods.

Energy secretary Grant Shapps is part of the green growth coalition, along with most politicians from most parties.
Jamie Lorriman / Alamy

This coalition also conforms to the global financial system and its deeply embedded addiction to GDP growth. No single politician, political party or national government acting alone is likely to survive a campaign pledge that doesn’t prioritise economic growth.

However, the green growth coalition is ecologically unviable. The internationally agreed safety limit of +1.5O°C of global overheating will almost certainly be breached by the 2030s. If we factor in our greater historical responsibilities and financial capabilities to make things fairer for newly industrialised and less wealthy countries, then developed nations like the UK should be reaching zero emissions by the mid-2030s.

The government’s net zero by 2050 transition is therefore far too slow and increases the risk of tipping Earth systems beyond critical thresholds. 2050 is based not on ecological necessity but on least-cost optimisation and a belief that existing power relations and “the grain of existing behaviour and trends” must be maintained. It also relies on “exporting” emissions to other countries and on speculative carbon removal technologies.

Ecologically but not yet politically viable

Two further coalitions – which I label “limits” (consisting of The Green Party, Greenpeace, and various more radical thinktanks, NGOs and campaigners) and “revolution” (Extinction Rebellion and similar non-violent direct-action groups) – are ecologically viable. They respect the overriding importance of the Earth’s biophysical capacities (planetary boundaries). However, they are (currently) politically unviable, being composed of fragmented groups of more radical actors with marginal influence, few resources and no support at all in key sectors. They also face well-resourced, skilled, incumbent opposition with the backing of all the major media.

Extinction Rebellion: limited influence and powerful enemies.
Joe Kuis / shutterstock

Concerned, but not yet persuaded

A rapid transition to net zero carbon by 2035 for the UK may be an ecological and humanitarian necessity. But despite record levels of concern, the UK public and key sectors are not yet persuaded. In addition, we have our own doublethink issues to contend with. We want better public transport and clean air. And we want to keep our cars and our cheap flights and to pay less in taxes. We want the government to take the lead. And we don’t trust them to manage the rubbish collection let alone a just transition to a new economy.

If we want to take back control and have real energy security – based on renewable energy, properly insulated buildings, the right to generate and sell our own renewable electricity, free public transport funded by a tax on frequent flyers – we’re going to have to break the “silent stand-off” that leads politicians and the public to assume that the other party doesn’t really care about the climate or surely they would be doing more about it. We need a proper national conversation about the kind of society we want to live in, and the real risks and difficult trade-offs we face in the years ahead, so that rapid transition or incremental change becomes a conscious choice.

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
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Too many digital distractions are eroding our ability to read deeply, and here’s how we can become aware of what’s happening — podcast

Staying focused on a single task for a long period of time is a growing concern. We are confronted with and have to process incredible amounts of information daily, and our brains are often functioning in overdrive to manage the processing and decision-making required.

In an era of ceaseless notifications from apps, devices and social media platforms, as well as access to more information than we could possibly consider, how do we find ways to manage? And is the way we think, focus and process information changing as a result?

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, we speak with three researchers who study human-computer interaction, technology design and literacy about how all of these demands on our attention are affecting us, and what we can do about it.

Enhancing learning

Maryanne Wolf is the director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice at the University of California in the United States. Her book, Proust and the Squid, presents a history of how the reading brain developed. Since its publication in 2008, Wolf has published extensively on literacy and reading research.

Wolf believes that reading is important because it contributes to a person’s potential and enhances the ability to learn, think and be discerning:

“I’ve become, in essence, obsessed with the deep reading processes that expand the reading brain of the child to achieve their academic potential. But that foundation expands over time with everything we read and learn, so that we begin to be human beings who have the ability to take their background knowledge, use with logical thinking to infer what is the truth — or the lack of truth — in what they are reading.”

Reading can help children develop empathy and logical thinking.

Wolf is concerned that the amount of interaction we have with our screens and devices — and the speed at which we necessarily have to function — has changed us by removing from us the ability to be present.

“We have all changed. We don’t even realize it, but there’s a patience that’s needed inside ourselves to give attention to inference, empathy, critical analysis. It takes effort. And we’re so accustomed to going so fast that the immersiveness is difficult.”

Capturing attention

Kai Lukoff is an assistant professor at Santa Clara University in the U.S., where he directs the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. He researches how apps, platform and technology designers attempt to capture a user’s attention.

“There are a thousand or more engineers, developers, designers on the other side of the screen who are purposefully or intentionally designing these services in order to capture your attention, to get you to spend more time on the site, to get you to click on more ads. And it can be difficult to resist or even understand what’s happening to you when you feel tempted or lost. But of course, that’s not by accident.”

And so as a response, we learn how to quickly sift through content. In other words, we skim as an adaptive strategy. Skimming undermines the kind of attention Wolf notes is required to reap the intellectual, mental and cognitive benefits of deeper reading.

There’s a cognitive cost to media multi-tasking.

Cognitive cost

Daniel Le Roux, a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, is a computer scientist who investigates the psychology of human-computer interaction. He looks at the effects of what we’re doing when we’re “media multitasking,” how we navigate multiple platforms, events and processes — both online and offline — at the same time.

“Everybody’s doing it, and it’s, in a large way, a natural adaptation to the technological environment that that has been created around us.”

Read more:
Your phone and your brain – what we know so far

Media multi-tasking, like skimming, is an adaptive response to an environment inundated with information. And media multi-tasking comes at a cognitive cost, Le Roux points out.

“We incur what we might call a switch cost; that means our performance in our focal task is going to suffer. If you think of driving as the focal task, the reason we prohibit drivers from using their smartphones while they’re driving is it because it distracts them from the task of driving.”

This episode was hosted by Nehal El-Hadi and written by Mend Mariwany. The executive producer is Mend Mariwany. Eloise Stevens does our sound design, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also subscribe to The Conversation’s free daily email here. A transcript of this episode will be available soon.

Listen to “The Conversation Weekly” via any of the apps listed above, download it directly via our RSS feed or find out how else to listen here. Läs mer…

Happy songs: these are the musical elements that make us feel good

Music has a unique power to affect the way people feel and many people use music to enhance or change their mood, channel emotions and for psychological support.

The strong emotional impact of music is derived from its profound physical and psychological effects. For example, listening to relaxing music often has a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system (which regulates many key bodily functions), by slowing breathing, regulating heart rate, lowering blood pressure and reducing muscle tension.

Listening to music also affects us at a deep physiological level, as it has a strong impact on the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production.

Music can stimulate the release of the neurotransmitters which affect experiences of pleasure by increasing the production of dopamine (the reward hormone), reducing levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and increasing salivary immunoglobulin A – an antibody responsible for strengthening the immune system.

Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys creates a strong emotional uplift.

Of course, these benefits are only experienced if we listen to music that we enjoy. Familiarity also affects enjoyment, but even new music can stimulate positive physical and psychological responses if it is similar to other music that we like.

Music we don’t like can have a strong adverse effect upon mood and wellbeing. Individual differences mean emotional reactions to songs differ depending on the participant’s preferences and associations they might have with the music. If we don’t like the song (or it brings back negative memories), it won’t make us happy, regardless of the quality.

Creating a personal soundscape

Portable listening devices and music streaming platforms have made it possible to choose from an unprecedented selection of musical styles. People can now listen to their favourite music any time, anywhere.

This means music can be used to create a personal soundscape. This is common when using public transport, for example, as many passengers use headphones to create an individualised sonic environment as a distraction from the less pleasant aspects of travelling on crowded and noisy transport systems.

In a recent survey, 71% of 2,000 participants reported that music was the strongest influence on their mood and almost 75% regularly listened to music to cheer themselves up. In response to these findings, I conducted a review of published research, to find out which musical features tend to be present in “happy” songs.

Listening to music on your commute can create a ‘personal soundscape’.
Paolo Paradiso/Shutterstock

It should be remembered that musical preferences and expectations are culture dependent. For example, some Asian cultures have different associations between positive/negative emotions and major/minor chords, so western “happy songs” may not be globally interpreted as such.

Read more:
How your culture informs the emotions you feel when listening to music

Within western cultures, there are certain components of popular music which are commonly linked with positive emotions. Music that is perceived as “happy” is usually written in a major key with a bright tone, featuring instruments with a bright timbre, such as trumpets or electric guitars.

“Happy” music usually adds the seventh note of the scale to the main three notes in the chord. This creates a brief feeling of tension – or pleasurable expectation – followed by relief or resolution when the harmonic progression proceeds as our previous listening experience predicts.

For many people, listening to music becomes an immersive flow experience which can distract from everyday concerns. Active musical participation through dancing or singing along brings additional enjoyment.

A simple, consistent rhythm based on two or four beats in a bar increases a song’s “danceability”, while a binary structure – verse-chorus-verse-chorus – helps to establish familiarity so the song quickly becomes “sing-alongable”.

Songs people have said they use to improve their mood include Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

People generally prefer familiar music, or music which quickly becomes memorable. The most enjoyable songs are likely to be those which strike a satisfying balance between predictability and surprise, providing an experience familiar enough to be pleasurable while avoiding being too simplistic or formulaic.

Unexpected changes can intensify emotional responses. Listeners often derive the most pleasure from music when they are fairly sure about what will happen next but then an unexpected chord progression or key change provides a surprise.

Based on previous experiences, listeners develop expectations about a piece of music. While familiar music tends to give the most pleasure, it also needs to contain enough “surprise” elements to retain enough interest to create a state of flow. This explains the use of a bridge or the middle eight (a section which is different from the verse and chorus) in many songs.

Although “happy songs” are usually written in a major key, they sometimes include a section in a minor key to add interest.

Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys begins with a verse in a minor key and then creates a strong emotional uplift as it switches into a bright major key for the chorus.

The speed of happiness

Faster music tends to induce more positive emotions than slower music. Research suggests that music that is perceived as happy is usually performed at a tempo between 140 and 150 beats per minute (BPM). Songs people have said they use to improve their mood include Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now at 156 BPM.

Tempo is a confounding variable because faster music increases arousal/excitement, but this may not always be associated with happiness. There may also be age-related differences in interpretation.

What is certain is that music can have a profound effect on our sense of wellbeing. Just stick on James Brown’s I Got You (or whatever might tempt you to do a happy dance) and start to feel good. Läs mer…

Endometriosis: black women continue to receive poorer care for the condition

Endometriosis is a common chronic inflammatory condition that affects an estimated one in ten people assigned female at birth. The condition causes tissue similar to the lining of the uterus to grow elsewhere – including on the ovaries, intestines, bladder and bowels. Symptoms can affect the whole body, but often include severe pelvic pain, painful periods, pain during sex, infertility and fatigue.

Sufferers of the condition wait between eight to 12 years on average for a diagnosis. Yet for black women, this picture is even worse – with research showing they’re 50% less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis compared to white women.

There are a number of reasons for why this is the case – including barriers to gynaecological care and systemic racism in the medical field. But this means that black women may suffer for many more years as a result without a proper diagnosis or treatment.

Racial disparities

The poorer care that black women receive today for conditions such as endometriosis may actually be linked back to the very beginnings of the field of gynaecology, which has a legacy of racism and violent exploitation of black women’s bodies.

For example, J Marion Sims, the 19th-century American doctor who invented the speculum, performed numerous experimental surgeries without anaesthetics on enslaved women who could not consent throughout his career. The reason Sims chose not to use anaesthetic was, in part, because he believed black people had higher pain thresholds.

The legacy of this racist myth still persists today. In the US, one study found white medical students and doctors still believe that black patients are biologically less sensitive to pain compared to white patients. And, in the UK, a survey found that most black people have experienced prejudice from healthcare professionals when it came to care – including practitioners dismissing their pain.

These biases may partly explain why health professionals, in the US at least, are less likely to provide black women with pain medication during and after childbirth. Research has also shown that patients of colour consistently receive lower quality pain treatment for many different conditions.

Racial disparities in pain treatment are also found in endometriosis care. In the UK, women with endometriosis from minority ethnic groups are less likely to have their pain believed by clinicians. In the US, almost 72% of patients diagnosed with endometriosis are white and only around 5% are black. This discrepancy is staggering, especially considering there’s no definitive evidence endometriosis is more common in white patients.

Black women are less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
Studio Romantic/ Shutterstock

The minority of black women who are diagnosed with endometriosis are diagnosed on average two and a half years later than white women. Black women are also less likely to receive endometriosis surgery – and if they do, are more likely to experience surgical complications afterwards.

The under-diagnosis of endometriosis in black patients was first identified in the 1970s. Despite this, we still have no reliable estimate of how common endometriosis actually is in black women. This is due to an absence of quality research and the persistent misconception that endometriosis is a “white career women’s disease” and is rare in patients of colour.

Need for change

This all not only means that black patients wait longer for endometriosis care – they’re less likely to receive care to begin with.

Undiagnosed endometriosis has potentially serious health consequences. Left untreated, endometriosis tissue may continue to grow, causing organ damage to the uterus, intestines, bladder and bowels. This can worsen already severe pelvic pain, and cause painful and extremely heavy periods, pain during sex, alongside bladder and bowel damage – which could lead to incontinence and bowel problems.

Endometriosis may also affect fertility. Almost half of all cases of infertility in women are potentially caused by endometriosis. Risks of pregnancy complications (including miscarriages) are also higher – particularly when it isn’t known that a patient has endometriosis.

Endometriosis also affects many aspects of a person’s life – from school attendance and achievements, to relationships, career performance and financial earnings. Without proper care, risks of anxiety, low-self esteem and depression are higher. In rare cases, the risk of self-harm and suicide are also higher for all those with endometriosis.

Much needs to change within the medical community to improve endometriosis and gynaecological care for black women. Mandatory training for health professionals on implicit racial bias, alongside dedicating funding to research investigating the prevalence and impact of endometriosis on black women are just a few of the things we recommend to make this happen. Another shortcoming in relation to black women’s endometriosis care is that the majority of available evidence comes out of the US. This further highlights the need for more research into this area to fully understand what the picture is in other parts of the world.

Black women who suspect they have endometriosis can find resources from organisations like Cysters, the Black Women’s Reproductive Health Project, EndoBlack and the Black Women’s Health Imperative.

Pain is not something you must suffer in silence. Keeping a diary of your pain and symptoms you may have as well as a list of questions when talking to your GP. Läs mer…

MLK’s vision of social justice included religious pluralism – a house of many faiths

The life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been the subject of ongoing debate ever since his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Today, those invoking King’s memory range from Black Lives Matters organizers and President Joe Biden to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Educators trying to teach Black history call on his principles, even as their opponents claim that lessons about systemic racism go against King’s desire not to judge people “by the color of their skin.”

In an age of polarization, it is worth remembering that one of the pillars of King’s philosophy was pluralism: the idea of multiple communities engaging one another, acknowledging their differences and shared bonds, and striving to create what King called a “Beloved Community.”

As an African American philosopher who studies comparative religion, I am especially interested in what role religious pluralism played in King’s fight for civil rights in the United States of America and human liberation around the world.

A chorus of faiths

King’s worldview was deeply nurtured by his experiences in the Black Church, where the Bible’s stories of freedom and oppression are central. The Book of Exodus, for example, tells the story of Hebrew slaves seeking deliverance, and the message has been a frequent theme in Black hymns and preaching for centuries. In the Book of Amos, the prophet cries out, “Let justice roll down like waters” – which is a line King famously quoted in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Building off the work of other pioneering Black Christians, King embraced interfaith leadership. His mentor Howard Thurman, who founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, traveled to India to meet with activist Mahatma Gandhi, who was Hindu.

Gandhi’s approach to nonviolent protest was also influential for Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, whose sermon on the subject after a trip to India in 1949 profoundly shaped King’s religious philosophy.

The religious diversity of King’s coalitions was evident in events like the 1965 March on Selma, where some participants were severely beaten by police on “Bloody Sunday.”

Marchers came from a chorus of faiths that included priests and nuns, Episcopal seminarian, high-profile Unitarian Universalists like James Reeb, who was murdered days later, as well as Jewish leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Civil rights marchers attend the memorial service for Unitarian Minister James Reeb, who was killed by segregationists during the Selma-Montgomery marches.
Flip Schulke Archives/Corbis Historical via Getty Images

Complementing his Black Church upbringing, King was inspired by wisdom across continents and cultures, from the Greek classics and Gandhi to Buddhist leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh. Despite their differing dogmas, he hoped leaders from across the religious spectrum and those of no particular faith would join efforts to promote economic and racial justice and stand against imperialism.

‘The great world house’

When King used the word “pluralism,” he assumed that its ideal of belonging had both religious and racial connotations. For example, King praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Engel v. Vitale, which concluded that public schools could not sponsor prayers, and which segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace opposed. “In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom?” King said in a 1965 interview.

More than a decade earlier, during his time at seminary, King had written a paper exhibiting a keen awareness of Christianity’s connections with other faiths: “To discuss Christianity without mentioning other religions would be like discussing the greatness of the Atlantic Ocean without the slightest mention of the many tributaries that keep it flowing.”

George Maislen, left, president of the United Synagogue of America, presents an award to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Bettmann via Getty Images

Other vivid imagery like “the great world house” underscored how King interpreted all persons and all faiths as living in an interconnected web. Identifying common themes in the discrimination against Indian Dalits, the castes formerly known as “untouchable,” and the plight of African Americans in the U.S., King surmised, “I am an untouchable.” He also saw parallels between the African American struggle for freedom and the work of labor unions such as the National Farm Workers Association.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King insisted.

King then, today, tomorrow

King wanted people to embody the highest forms of their own religion and morality. Religion at its best, he thought, promoted peace, understanding, love and good will. This is true of “all of the great religions of the world,” he wrote in a statement for Redbook magazine.

Those were the kinds of ethics King hoped to fulfill in his own Christian ministry, as is clear in his wishes for what might be said at his own funeral.

“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others,” he said. “I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. … I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

Martin Luther King Jr., left, speaks during a Chicago news conference with the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in May 1966.
AP Photo/Edward Kitch

Yet King’s goal of a world without hunger, war and racism remains unrealized. Poverty persists. War continues. Black people’s safety is still imperiled.

Resolving current social and political crises in America may require the real integration and power-sharing that King’s radical vision demanded.

However, the debate about King’s pluralist legacy is not only about him, but also about us. How do we want to be remembered? What world are we leaving future generations? Läs mer…

Macron’s hard line against pension protests upends France’s tradition of social dialogue

In France these days, there is little common ground between the Élysée Palace and civil society. Despite President Emmanuel Macron’s occasional rhetoric to the contrary, power appears to be exercised from the top down, with violence erupting and spreading, overshadowing meaning and content.

Shaken by the “Gilets Jaunes” movement from 2018 to the start of 2019, a series of all-out protests over the cost of living, France is currently experiencing one of the most serious episodes of civil resistance since the 1995 strikes against pension reform. Tuesday 28 March was the 10th day of strikes against Macron’s retirement overhaul, which would extend the minimum pension age from 62 to 64 years. While participation dropped by comparison to Thursday 23 March, what had begun as a rejection of pension reform has now morphed into a general cry against what many see as the country’s democratic shortcomings. The spark was the government’s using the controversial “49.3” measure, allowing it to bypass parliament and push through the controversial reform bill.

In parallel, more than 25,000 pro-environment protesters have gathered in Western France over the past days to call on the government to stop the construction of giant water reservoirs. Aimed at securing water for the agricultural industry ahead of possible droughts this summer, this type of infrastructure has aroused concerns over the confiscation by one sector of an increasingly scarce resource in the era of climate change. Clashes with some 3,000 police forces have left 47 police officers and 200 demonstrators injured. At the time of writing, two protesters are in a coma, with one between life and death.

These events have increasingly shifted the conversation from meaning and content to clashes between police and subversive forces. As if it were possible to attribute the blame for the rise of violence to one or the other, and to settle the affair by denouncing one arm of the riot control police or the other, the anarchists or black block groups.

Violence is always a possibility in a democracy, but it begins to fester when problems are not dealt with politically. To avoid this, the International Panel on Exiting Violence at the Foundation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme has advised for mediating bodies to get involved.

The decline of institutions and mediation

The current situation in France calls for two types of complementary analysis. On the one hand, it is necessary to examine the processes that, over time, have weakened the players likely to ensure the political treatment of social problems. On the other, recent events demand that we look at the collapse of the institutions and mediating bodies that could have helped resolve political tensions in a peaceful and constructive manner.

The decline of French civil society’s capacity to mediate with power goes back to the mid-1970s. At the time, society was structured by the country’s little-examined Republican system of government and repeated conflicts between workers and employers. Liberalism or neo-liberalism had not yet affect the Republican model of public service and large nationalised companies. In May 1968 a new figure arrived, the student, and deindustrialisation led to changes in the economy, cultural shifts, and the weakening of trade unions.

In the 21st century, the idea and secularism of France’s Republic have largely driven the national conversation, against a backdrop of rising extremist currents, particularly Islamist extremism.

Mobilisations in a fragmented landscape

As a result, the trade unions and NGOs that have long structured French political life are now increasingly struggling to exist locally and rally workers. A telling example took place on 2 June 2020: despite the Covid-19 lockdown and in defiance of police orders, some 20,000 people congregated to demand the truth about 24-year-old Adama Traoré, who died in a police station in the Paris region four years earlier. However, it was not the long-established NGOs SOS Racisme or the human rights focused Ligue des droits de l’Homme that organised the protests, but a network led by Traoré’s sister.

While trade unions were able to come together and collectively call for the withdrawal of the pension reform, the reality is that they’re dependent on the radicalism of the base. In recent years, time and again unions have failed to lead the protest agenda – for example, when workers for France’s national railway company organised their own strike in December 2022, without the assistance of trade unions.

Power from the top down

Meanwhile, President Macron has consistently governed from the top down since taking office in 2017, allowing only a few mediating players.

On social issues, he does not take into account the trade unions, including reformists such as the CFDT – an attitude that does not date only from the debate on pension reform. He confirmed this to me personally when, at a meeting in March 2019 with academics to reflect on the “Gilets Jaunes” crisis, I asked him why he did not talk to the CFDT. Macron answered that the intermediary bodies that merited his attention were local and regional representatives, not trade unions. Time and again, he has criticised “corporatism” – a political ideology whereby professional bodies seek to exclusively defend their interests – referring to it as “the French disease, the thing that reappeared the quickest following the 1789 Revolution”.

This propensity to dismiss mediation can be noted in other areas as well. In June, the government moved to phase out two historic bodies of French diplomacy, ambassadors and foreign-affairs advisers. Instead, a new body of state administrators would be created, with senior civil servants no longer be attached to a specific administration. This prompted the first walkout in the foreign ministry in 20 years. Former foreign-affairs minister Dominique de Villepin and European Commission Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, opposed the reforms, and experts called it a “worrying development”, in vain.

Macron has also been accused of having a casual attitude toward local or regional elected representatives by not inviting the mayors of France at a working meeting on decentralisation on 13 March 2023. And he has blurred distinctions between the left and the classic right, the effects of which we have just observed on the occasion of the parliamentary debate on pensions. France’s traditional conservative party, Les Républicains, is moribund, or almost.

Understanding “Jupiterean” rule

Many have branded Macron’s style of governance as “Jupiterean”. Is it a consequence of the president’s personality, or even – as the former interior minister Gérard Collomb once called it – “hubris”?

By eliminating mediating players between himself and the country’s citizens, Macron risks rolling out the red carpet to the far right. These questions are always risky, but today there is a wealth of journalistic investigations and testimonies that document this creation of an institutional, political and social vacuum. If this owes much to the head of state’s perception of his own role, the fact is that the institutions of the Fifth Republic facilitate it. This has given rise to calls for a new constitution and a Sixth Republic.

We may also ask ourselves whether social, political or cultural players are doing everything in their power to move in the direction of debate and negotiation. The answer is “yes” if we consider how a joint union body has opposed the government’s pension reform by tapping both into its member unions’ defensive radicalism and pro-negotiation reformism. “No”, if we look to the “Gilets Jaunes” who now swell the ranks of the pension-reform protests after having been left disillusioned by Macron’s “Great Debate” – a two-month listening tour of citizen’s demands by local and national authorities. Rather than a negotiation, the thousands of grievances collected resulted in another series of top-down proposals by the president, which many regarded as disconnected from the initial demands.

Could these trends be reversed? At the very least, it would require a profound reform of France’s institutions and a renewal of the political class – both of which seem to be out of reach for now. Läs mer…

What is the National School Reform Agreement and what does it have to do with school funding?

This week, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare announced an expert panel to advise on “key targets and specific reforms” that should be tied to funding in the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA).

The panel will be chaired by Australian Education Research Organisation chair Lisa O’Brien and includes experts with diverse experience in school education and policy.

The panel is due to deliver a report to federal, state and territory education ministers in October. This will include recommendations with the potential to shape the future of schooling in Australia.

Read more:
A new review into how teachers are educated should acknowledge they learn throughout their careers (not just at the start)

What is the NSRA and why is it important?

The NSRA is a joint agreement between the Commonwealth, states and territories, designed to lift student outcomes in Australian schools. It sets out national policy initiatives and reform directions that all governments agree to implement over a five-year period.

The current agreement was due to end this year, but has been extended by 12 months until December 2024. This means the next NSRA will begin in 2025. Clare says the expert panel is a “first step” towards shaping the new agreement.

While it is likely many teachers, parents and students will have never heard of the NSRA, it is a crucial policy.

It is a central pillar of the policy architecture shaping how schooling works in our nation. It has significant power in setting the agenda for what governments do and how they do it.

What is “in” or “out” of the agreement makes a powerful statement about what our governments value in education and deem necessary to pursue at the national level.

How does the NSRA impact school funding?

The NSRA is intimately related to school funding. However, it does not directly determine the model – known as the Schooling Resource Standard – used by the federal government to decide how it funds schools.

The way it works currently is the NSRA sets out the initiatives and reforms that all governments agree on.

Each state and territory then signs a bilateral agreement with the federal government. This sets out the specific actions they will adopt to improve student outcomes in line with the NSRA.

Each bilateral agreement also sets out the funding individual states and territories will contribute as a condition of receiving Commonwealth school funding.

The “schooling resource standard” (often referred to as “the Gonski model”) is used in the bilateral agreements to measure what federal, state and territory governments contribute.

Funding is not equal

Comparing the bilateral agreements is a fascinating exercise. It reveals deep funding inconsistencies and inequities across our nation. The agreements show most private schools are funded at 100% of the recommended amount under the schooling resource standard, whereas government schools fall short in every state.

This is because the federal government contributes 20% of the schooling resource standard for government schools, leaving the remaining 80% up to the states and territories.

Most states and territories are on a “transition path” to contribute the minimum required (75%) over the coming years, but due to a so-called “loophole” for capital depreciation, recent figures suggest government schools only end up with around 91% of combined funding.

This has been the source of significant criticism from experts who argue government schools are being shortchanged. Clare has said the Albanese government is committed to fixing this situation and will:

work with State and Territory Governments to get every school on a path to 100 percent of its fair funding level.

The next National School Reform Agreement is due to begin in 2025.
Russell Freeman/AAP

Aside from funding, has the NSRA made a difference so far?

Progress towards targets in the current NRSA has been underwhelming. In January this year, the Productivity Commission released a review of the current agreement, finding its initiatives “have done little, so far, to improve student outcomes”.

The report provides a rich set of recommendations that are highly valuable for the new expert panel to consider. In addition to developing better strategies for improving and measuring student outcomes, the report says we need to double-down on initiatives relating to areas such as equity, student wellbeing and teaching effectiveness.

Clare has already flagged equity as a key part of the next agreement. When announcing the panel, he said the next NSRA will include

a particular focus on students from low socio-economic backgrounds, regional and remote Australia, First Nations students, students with disability and students from a language background other than English.

This will be welcome news to many education experts and stakeholders, who have long lamented the deep inequities in Australian education.

Read more:
The Productivity Commission says Australian schools ’fall short’ on quality and equity. What happens now?

The importance of states working together

Moving forward, the success or otherwise of the next NSRA will hinge on effective collaboration between governments across the federation, especially education ministers.

The past three decades of Australian schooling reform have seen unprecedented levels of intergovernmental collaboration. But there is widespread evidence the realpolitick of Australian federalism creates barriers to effective collaboration and governments can work together more productively to pursue shared goals.

The fact that nearly all governments are now Labor might provide a good opportunity to foster such collaboration. After all, the last time Labor governments dominated the nation we saw the dawn of Kevin Rudd’s so-called “education revolution”, which set in train a dizzying array of national reform initiatives.

There is also a crucial need to include the diverse voices of different stakeholders when formulating the next agreement, including teachers and school leaders, as well as parents and young people.

For this reason, it’s a good sign Clare has signalled a plan to assemble a ministerial reference group that will include experts and representation from schools, unions and the non-government sector.

Ultimately, the future of Australian schooling depends not only on governments making good decisions but also on citizens with a vested interest in our education systems having the capacity to be heard and to shape the road map moving forward.

Read more:
Australia is now almost entirely held by Labor – but that doesn’t necessarily make life easier for leaders Läs mer…

Lag (1976:661) om immunitet och privilegier i vissa fall

sfs 1976:1976:661 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1802  
1 § Vad som föreskrivs om immunitet och privilegier i de
bestämmelser som skall tillämpas i Sverige enligt lagen (1994:1500)
med anledning av Sveriges anslutning till Europeiska unionen eller
i denna lag, skall gälla trots bestämmelser i andra författningar.
Lag (1994:1817).

2 1976-06-10

Läs mer…

Lag (1990:314) om ömsesidig handräckning i skatteärenden

sfs 1990:1990:314 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1683  
Inledande bestämmelser

1 § Vad i denna lag sägs om skatt gäller även allmän avgift samt ränta
på skatt eller allmän avgift och administrativa pålagor och kostnader i
samband med indrivning.

2 § I fråga om utländsk tull, andra skatter, avgifter och
pålagor som av utländsk 1990-05-23

Läs mer…

Folkbokföringslag (1991:481)

sfs 1991:1991:481 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1698  
Inledande bestämmelse

1 § /Upphör att gälla U:2023-09-01/
Folkbokföring enligt denna lag innebär fastställande av en
persons bosättning samt registrering av uppgifter om identitet,
familj och andra förhållanden som enligt lagen (2001:182) om
behandling av personuppgifter i 1991-05-30

Läs mer…

Australia will have a carbon price for industry – and it may infuse greater climate action across the economy

Australia is about to take a big, constructive step on climate change policy: we will have a carbon price for the industry sector, under the safeguard mechanism.

It comes nine years after the Abbott Coalition government abolished Labor’s carbon price. The safeguard mechanism lay as a sleeper for many years – legislated in large parts under the Coalition government, but kept ineffective due to how it was implemented.

The mechanism will become effective as a so-called “baseline and credit scheme”, putting a price signal on about 30% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. It will create a sizeable financial incentive to cut emissions in industry, even though it also relies on land-based carbon offsets.

Under the parliamentary compromise this week between Labor, the Greens and some crossbenchers, the legislation will prescribe that overall emissions from industrial facilities covered by the scheme cannot rise over time.

Implementation of the safeguard mechanism bodes well for future climate policy in Australia. The policy does not have bipartisan support but the Dutton opposition is not vocal about it.

It could be a basis from which to expand sensible economic climate policy instruments to other parts of the Australian economy and infuse greater climate policy ambition throughout.

Read more:
Carbon pricing works: the largest-ever study puts it beyond doubt

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen, right, struck a deal with the Greens on the safeguard mechanism.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

How the safeguard mechanism will work

The safeguard mechanism applies to 215 of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. It requires them to keep their net emissions below a set limit, known as a baseline.

Facilities under the scheme include gas extraction and processing coal mines, factories producing steel, aluminium and cement, and more. Importantly, the electricity generation sector is excluded from the scheme.

The safeguard mechanism covers a smaller share of the economy than the Gillard government’s carbon pricing scheme, which operated from 2012 to 2014. That scheme also covered the electricity sector and some other emissions.

But the trading price of emissions credits under the safeguard mechanism will likely be much higher than under the earlier scheme. It will be capped at A$75 a tonne, with that cap rising over time.

The higher the price, the stronger the financial incentive to cut emissions, such as by investing in low-emissions processes and equipment.

Read more:
Greens will back Labor’s safeguard mechanism without a ban on new coal and gas. That’s a good outcome

Facilities under the scheme include factories producing steel, aluminium and cement.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Under the scheme, a facility’s baseline is set depending on the emissions-intensity of the goods they produce and the amount of product they make.

New facilities will get low baselines, reflecting international best-practice in production. The federal government will issue credits to facilities that remain below their baseline emissions. If a facility exceeds its baseline, it must cover the excess by purchasing carbon credits – either from other facilities, or from outside the scheme.

The credits trade at a market price. That creates the financial incentive for everyone in the scheme to cut emissions – either to save money or to make money. In that way, it works like an emissions trading scheme.

But the scheme will not be a source of revenue for government. That has been seen as a political necessity, but it’s also a lost fiscal opportunity.

The policy creates the financial incentive for all facilities under the scheme to cut emissions.
Rob Griffiths/AP

A big role for offsets

Emissions baselines under the safeguards mechanism will decline by nearly 5% each year. The resulting net emissions by facilities under the scheme is estimated to decline from the current 143 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent to 100 million tonnes in 2030. It is a suitably steep reduction rate, considering industry emissions have been slowly rising.

But facilities will be allowed to emit above the declining baselines, if they offset the excess by buying Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). These carbon credits are generated by projects in agriculture, forestry and land use. The idea is that emissions reductions that cannot be achieved in industry will be achieved in the land sector and paid for by industry.

There is no limit on how many offset credits industry can use to comply with their baselines. This is unusual for carbon trading schemes internationally. It provides maximum flexibility but also makes for a vulnerability. It is possible that a sizeable share of the overall targeted emissions reductions will come from offset credits.

Australia’s carbon credit system has been accused of not delivering genuine reductions in greenhouses gas emissions in some cases. For example, some offset projects might be granted credits for outcomes such as native vegetation growth that might have happened anyway.

The carbon credit scheme will be tightened following the recommendations of the Chubb review. But doubts will unavoidably remain about whether all credits represent real emissions reductions.

The revised safeguard mechanism will create new demand from industry for offset credits. This will encourage new offset projects, possibly at higher prices.

Nevertheless the ACCU mechanism invariably excludes many emissions reduction options. Additional policy efforts to cut emissions in agriculture and forestry will be needed – as well as in transport, the building sector and electricity.

‘Offset credits’ are generated by projects in the land sector.

The future of coal and gas

The Greens had sought a ban on new coal and gas projects in exchange for supporting the safeguard mechanism bill. So will the policy achieve this? No, though it will make the investment case harder for some fossil fuel projects.

For coal and gas production projects, the mechanism applies only to emissions that arise during the mining of coal and the extraction and processing of gas. It does not apply to the emissions produced when the fuel is burnt for energy, except when the fuel is used by another facility under the mechanism.

So the policy will create a financial disincentive for fossil fuel projects that produce a lot of emissions on site – for example, gassy coal mines and leaky gas extraction. But it does not penalise the fact that fossil fuel is produced.

So what about the amendments negotiated by the Greens – in particular, the “hard cap” on emissions? It means total emissions covered by the mechanism must, by law, fall over time, assessed over rolling five-year periods. The minister will need to be satisfied that the overall emissions objective in the legislation will be met, and may need to change the rules in future if needed.

This is a kind of safeguard on the safeguard mechanism. But it does not amount to a stop to new coal mining and gas production. It will only tend to limit new coal mines and gas fields that have high production emissions – and these face financial disincentives under the safeguards mechanism anyway.

In any case, expansion of coal and gas production is unlikely. Coal demand will decline sharply in Australia as coal power plants get replaced by wind and solar, and the international coal demand outlook is declining. No expansion of Australia’s gas export industry is on the cards; the question is mostly about replacing gas fields that run out.

A question remains how to prepare for the inevitable long-term demise of fossil fuel industries, including whether Australia should in some way constrain fossil fuel production for export. The safeguard mechanism, however, is not the policy to deal with that.

Read more:
Australia’s safeguard mechanism deal is only a half-win for the Greens, and for the climate

A boom in coal and gas production is unlikely.
Darren Pateman/AAP

Looking ahead

The safeguard mechanism will create strong incentives for large industrial emitters to cut emissions. It lays the foundations for a cleaner and more efficient industry sector in Australia.

It positions Australia for future international industrial competitiveness. It will help avoid trade penalties for imports from countries without a comparable carbon policy. It will give advantage to low-emissions production – the only kind viable in a world that acts on climate change.

The safeguard mechanism may also pave the way for carbon pricing beyond the industry sector – possibly with money flowing to government, rather than as a revenue-neutral scheme. More federal level policy effort will be needed right across the economy to complete Australia’s transition to net-zero emissions. Läs mer…

What happened to the Senate inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women?

The Australian Senate’s inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was briefly on the political agenda late last year, with little media coverage.

The inquiry came after Indigenous women working across media, politics, and academia attempted to draw attention to the violence First Nations women face.

Yet even as the “landmark parliamentary inquiry” was announced, there was a striking silence.

The Senate inquiry closed public submissions last December. There is no known future schedule of public hearings, and the inquiry’s methods and ways of working have not been made known to the public. Only one media release – announcing its formation – has ever been issued.

The inquiry itself seems to have gone missing, which worsens the crisis it aims to investigate. This silence speaks to the conditions that make it possible for so many Indigenous women to go missing and be murdered.

Read more:
Four Corners’ ’How many more?’ reveals the nation’s crisis of Indigenous women missing and murdered

An unusually silent inquiry

Public inquiries are established when an issue “requires extensive public consultation and exposure” – they are intended to be part of a wider conversation.

Take as an example the recent Independent Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Service responses to domestic and family violence. This inquiry received extensive [media and political attention] of more than 300 publications about police misogyny and racism.

The Senate Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and girls has generated just 14 news reports from the time the inquiry was announced in November 2021 to present.

In Canada, grassroots movements led by Aboriginal women and families of missing Aboriginal women led to a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous Women, girls and LGBTQIA+ people. It was well resourced over several years, following comprehensive work with communities.The final report named Indigenous femicide (the murder of women and girls), as a form of racial and colonial genocide.

The Australian inquiry borrows much of its terms of reference from the Canadian report. However with the scarce detail the inquiry has provided about its processes, it did not appear to undertake the same grounded and community-led approach to inform it.

Read more:
Disenfranchising Indigenous women: The legacy of coverture in Canada

Naming the violence of silence

In our submission to the inquiry, we highlighted that missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people are never simply “missing”. They do not just vanish from their homes, families and Country. They are violently disappeared.

This is significant because when we examined police investigations into the disappearance of Aboriginal women, the term “missing” seemed to bring with it a pattern of inaction. Missing Indigenous women are typically framed as responsible for their own disappearance.

They do not get afforded the same effort and attention in media and investigations afforded others.

Because of this inaction, there is rarely accountability for violence against Indigenous women. This sets a dangerous pattern where perpetrators know they can get away with acts of violence. We argue this is the underlying cause of the high rates of all forms of violence experienced by Indigenous women.

This pattern of inaction can be observed at coronial inquiries into the deaths of Indigenous women.

For instance, in Queensland, the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal woman Constance Watcho was never solved, and the inquiry into her death also failed to provide any answers.

Outside the coronial inquest into her death, Ms Watcho’s sister-in-law Tarita Fisher said:

No one is giving us answers and we’re sick of it, treating Blackfullas like we’re nothing. We’re something. I’m wild I’m angry, crying for her children and her brothers, her family. We want answers, now. We can’t live without knowing what happened to her.

This silence is telling. It’s the same silence Indigenous families are often met with when reporting their loved ones missing to police.

Breaking the silence

The silence surrounding disappeared Indigenous women is not simply an absence. It erases these women’s lives altogether and replaces Indigenous experiences of racialised and gendered violence with an alternative narrative, in which the disappearance of Indigenous women is seen as unremarkable or even inevitable.

Media reports, police investigations and coronial inquiries position these women as responsible for the violence they experience

The inquiry must understand the function of this silence if it is to disrupt it. It can do this by centring and amplifying the voices of Indigenous women and their testimonies.

Amy McQuire’s work on “presencing” (as developed by Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson offers a way forward for the way media, police and future inquests represent Indigenous women. Presencing is the act of telling the full story of Indigenous women’s lives, not reducing them to their wounds. The purpose of this is to centre Indigenous women, in life and in death, and in seeking justice on their own terms.

It was this method of presencing that enabled the story of murdered Indigenous woman Queenie Hart to be told. In doing so, some form of justice was restored in returning her back to her home community.

Indigenous women and their families continue to speak out about silence and injustice. They are never silent, and their voices should be front and centre of the Inquiry.

Instead, their testimonies are warehoused in an obscure location on the website of the Senate inquiry. Just two hearings have been conducted to date, without adequate public notice, and no further hearings are scheduled.

This silence that shrouds the current Senate inquiry must be broken. Indigenous women have the right to live, to be heard and to be afforded the simple dignity of a response.

Acknowledgements: the authors wish to thank Tarita Fisher for her review of this article. We acknowledge her ceaseless fight for justice and that of all families of disappeared Indigenous women. We also thank Debbie Kilroy (CEO, Sisters Inside), Anna Cerreto (Research and Operations Manager, Institute for Collaborative Race Research) and Dr Alissa Macoun for their contributions to this article. Läs mer…

Will Indonesia’s presidential election be delayed? And could Jokowi stay in power longer?

A decade ago, Joko (Jokowi) Widodo was an outsider candidate whose carefully cultivated “everyman” persona swept him into Indonesia’s presidential office. To get there, he had to overcome opposition from many rich and powerful figures.

However, he soon built a formidable political coalition, and he and his family are now firmly part of the oligarchic ruling elite. So much so, that many members of that elite fear their access to political and economic power could be disrupted if he leaves office.

By law, Jokowi’s time in office is limited. In 1998, Indonesia’s longest-serving president, Soeharto, was forced to step down after 32 years in power. One of the constitutional priorities after his fall was to prevent a repeat of his long rule, which had become associated with military repression and corruption.

In 1999, the Constitution was amended to prevent presidents serving more than two five-year terms. This was seen as a non-negotiable part of the reforms that delivered Indonesia’s transition to democracy.

Elections for the presidency and legislature are now due on February 14, 2024, and, because Jokowi has already been elected twice, he cannot run again.

But in reality, things are not so simple. For some years, powerful politicians, including Luhut Panjaitan (Jokowi’s close adviser and so-called “minister for everything”), have been proposing ways to keep Jokowi in the palace. These range from amending the Constitution to remove the two-term limit to “postponing” the elections because of the COVID pandemic.

These proposals have received little public support and have been roundly rejected by most civil society groups, which are important drivers of public opinion and policy-making in Indonesia.

Jokowi himself has been inconsistent. At times, he has rejected calls for him to stay in office. Other times, his statements have been more ambivalent. Rumours of his involvement in plans to keep him from losing the presidency continue to abound.

Protests broke out last year after rumours spread about possible attempts to extend Jokowi’s presidency to three terms and postponing the 2024 elections.
Mast Irham/EPA

Court decision causing election uncertainty

The idea of Jokowi staying in power just won’t go away.

In fact, it is dominating headlines again after the Central Jakarta District Court issued a shock decision in early March ordering the General Election Commission to postpone the 2024 elections.

The court ruled in favour of Partai Rakyat Adil dan Makmur (PRIMA), a very small party that claimed the commission had unfairly disqualified it from running in the elections. The court awarded PRIMA compensation and ordered the elections be postponed for two years, four months and seven days. It gave no clear explanation for this very specific time period.

As it stands, this decision could force the election commission to postpone the elections, and, presumably, leave Jokowi and the current legislators in office as “placeholders” until new elections can be held.

But, in our view, there is no legal basis for the court’s ruling.

For a start, the court should have refused to hear the case because it lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has clearly determined that in cases where a plaintiff wishes to sue the government for performing an unlawful act, it can only do so in the administrative courts.

In fact, before suing in the district court, PRIMA had appealed to the Jakarta Administrative Court, but that court dismissed the claim, saying it lacked jurisdiction. That should have been the end of the matter.

More problematic still, the district court issued a judicial remedy that does not exist in the law. The 2017 Law on General Elections allows the election commission to hold “further elections” (pemilu lanjutan) or “follow-up elections” (pemilu susulan) in extreme circumstances, such as natural disasters or unrest. The commission may postpone an election in such circumstances, but it can only do this for specified locales – not nationally.

In other words, only the election commission can postpone an election, not a district court. And not even the commission can postpone a national election.

Read more:
Indonesia battles a push to postpone elections – and undermine its fragile democracy

This case also exposes major gaps in Indonesia’s judicial system. For one, the district court ruling, if enforced, leads to a clearly unconstitutional result.

The Constitution says elections must be held every five years, but the court’s decision could delay things until 2025 or 2026, meaning six or seven years would pass between elections.

Only the Constitutional Court has clear authority to make decisions about the implications of the Constitution, but it cannot review lower court decisions. This means it cannot step in and fix the problem created by the district court.

There are even fears the district court decision might prompt the government to attempt to amend the Constitution to provide a basis to delay the election, or even remove the two-term limit on presidents.

In any case, the PRIMA case has now been appealed to the Jakarta High Court. A decision could take some time and is likely to be appealed to the Indonesian Supreme Court.

The potential fallout from a postponement

The run-up to elections is always a time of intense political manoeuvring in Indonesia. Presidential and parliamentary candidates for next year’s elections have also not yet been finalised.

This means the PRIMA case – and the uncertainty it has created – is generating a lot of heat. With little public enthusiasm for postponing the elections, and fears the higher courts may make the situation worse, there is now intense pressure on the election commission to allow PRIMA to run, thereby defusing the issue.

At first, the commission had said it would push ahead with preparations for elections next February, as scheduled, but there are now reports of negotiations between PRIMA and the commission.

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a rising politician himself, gave a fiery speech earlier this month in which he warned that postponing the elections would result in “chaos” and make the “world view Indonesia as a banana republic”.

Read more:
Is Indonesia retreating from democracy?

It’s a fair point. Many observers already believe Jokowi’s time in office has led to democratic regression, with Indonesia slipping in the Freedom House rankings. Jokowi himself has publicly said he thinks Indonesian democracy has “gone too far”.

A delay in elections or a constitutional change to allow Jokowi to run for a third term would only confirm this trend.

But that won’t stop the powerful figures who have benefited politically and financially from Jokowi’s presidency from trying to find ways to keep him there if the PRIMA case fails to do so. Läs mer…

Torrents of Antarctic meltwater are slowing the currents that drive our vital ocean ’overturning’ – and threaten its collapse

Off the coast of Antarctica, trillions of tonnes of cold salty water sink to great depths. As the water sinks, it drives the deepest flows of the “overturning” circulation – a network of strong currents spanning the world’s oceans. The overturning circulation carries heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe, and fundamentally influences climate, sea level and the productivity of marine ecosystems.

But there are worrying signs these currents are slowing down. They may even collapse. If this happens, it would deprive the deep ocean of oxygen, limit the return of nutrients back to the sea surface, and potentially cause further melt back of ice as water near the ice shelves warms in response. There would be major global ramifications for ocean ecosystems, climate, and sea-level rise.

Schematic showing the pathways of flow in the upper, deep and bottom layers of the ocean.

Our new research, published today in the journal Nature, uses new ocean model projections to look at changes in the deep ocean out to the year 2050. Our projections show a slowing of the Antarctic overturning circulation and deep ocean warming over the next few decades. Physical measurements confirm these changes are already well underway.

Climate change is to blame. As Antarctica melts, more freshwater flows into the oceans. This disrupts the sinking of cold, salty, oxygen-rich water to the bottom of the ocean. From there this water normally spreads northwards to ventilate the far reaches of the deep Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. But that could all come to an end soon. In our lifetimes.

[embedded content]

Why does this matter?

As part of this overturning, about 250 trillion tonnes of icy cold Antarctic surface water sinks to the ocean abyss each year. The sinking near Antarctica is balanced by upwelling at other latitudes. The resulting overturning circulation carries oxygen to the deep ocean and eventually returns nutrients to the sea surface, where they are available to support marine life.

If the Antarctic overturning slows down, nutrient-rich seawater will build up on the seafloor, five kilometres below the surface. These nutrients will be lost to marine ecosystems at or near the surface, damaging fisheries.

Read more:
IPCC climate report: Profound changes are underway in Earth’s oceans and ice – a lead author explains what the warnings mean

Changes in the overturning circulation could also mean more heat gets to the ice, particularly around West Antarctica, the area with the greatest rate of ice mass loss over the past few decades. This would accelerate global sea-level rise.

An overturning slowdown would also reduce the ocean’s ability to take up carbon dioxide, leaving more greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. And more greenhouse gases means more warming, making matters worse.

Meltwater-induced weakening of the Antarctic overturning circulation could also shift tropical rainfall bands around a thousand kilometres to the north.

Put simply, a slowing or collapse of the overturning circulation would change our climate and marine environment in profound and potentially irreversible ways.

Signs of worrying change

The remote reaches of the oceans that surround Antarctica are some of the toughest regions to plan and undertake field campaigns. Voyages are long, weather can be brutal, and sea ice limits access for much of the year.

This means there are few measurements to track how the Antarctic margin is changing. But where sufficient data exist, we can see clear signs of increased transport of warm waters toward Antarctica, which in turn causes ice melt at key locations.

Indeed, the signs of melting around the edges of Antarctica are very clear, with increasingly large volumes of freshwater flowing into the ocean and making nearby waters less salty and therefore less dense. And that’s all that’s needed to slow the overturning circulation. Denser water sinks, lighter water does not.

Antarctic ice mass loss over the last few decades based on satellite data, showing that between 2002 and 2020, Antarctica shed an average of ~150 billion metric tonnes of ice per year, adding meltwater to the ocean and raising sea-levels (Source: NASA).

How did we find this out?

Apart from sparse measurements, incomplete models have limited our understanding of ocean circulation around Antarctica.

For example, the latest set of global coupled model projections analysed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change exhibit biases in the region. This limits the ability of these models in projecting the future fate of the Antarctic overturning circulation.

To explore future changes, we took a high resolution global ocean model that realistically represents the formation and sinking of dense water near Antarctica.

We ran three different experiments, one where conditions remained unchanged from the 1990s; a second forced by projected changes in temperature and wind; and a third run also including projected changes in meltwater from Antarctica and Greenland.

In this way we could separate the effects of changes in winds and warming, from changes due to ice melt.

The findings were striking. The model projects the overturning circulation around Antarctica will slow by more than 40% over the next three decades, driven almost entirely by pulses of meltwater.

Abyssal ocean warming driven by Antarctic overturning slowdown, Credit: Matthew England and Qian Li.

Over the same period, our modelling also predicts a 20% weakening of the famous North Atlantic overturning circulation which keeps Europe’s climate mild. Both changes would dramatically reduce the renewal and overturning of the ocean interior.

Read more:
The Southern Ocean absorbs more heat than any other ocean on Earth, and the impacts will be felt for generations

We’ve long known the North Atlantic overturning currents are vulnerable, with observations suggesting a slowdown is already well underway, and projections of a tipping point coming soon. Our results suggest Antarctica looks poised to match its northern hemisphere counterpart – and then some.

What next?

Much of the abyssal ocean has warmed in recent decades, with the most rapid trends detected near Antarctica, in a pattern very similar to our model simulations.

Our projections extend out only to 2050. Beyond 2050, in the absence of strong emissions reductions, the climate will continue to warm and the ice sheets will continue to melt. If so, we anticipate the Southern Ocean overturning will continue to slow to the end of the century and beyond.

The projected slowdown of Antarctic overturning is a direct response to input of freshwater from melting ice. Meltwater flows are directly linked to how much the planet warms, which in turn depends on the greenhouse gases we emit.

Our study shows continuing ice melt will not only raise sea-levels, but also change the massive overturning circulation currents which can drive further ice melt and hence more sea level rise, and damage climate and ecosystems worldwide. It’s yet another reason to address the climate crisis – and fast.

Read more:
A huge Atlantic ocean current is slowing down. If it collapses, La Niña could become the norm for Australia Läs mer…

Federal budget 2023: Long-term investments are needed to fix Canada’s infrastructure gap

The federal government’s 2023 budget unveiled investments in infrastructure, with a narrative highlighting resilient and sustainable communities, and pointing to Ottawa’s progress and investments to date.

The budget is focused on building communities through infrastructure, housing, transit and connectivity. Much of this emphasizes investments made since 2015, including $33.5 billion to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, and $35 billion to the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Funding critical infrastructure

The budget’s investments include funding advanced research in infrastructure innovation, and continuing to invest in Canada’s Infrastructure Bank and Infrastructure Program.

The Bank will play a leading role in electrification as part of the government’s push for clean power. This will likely position the Bank as the government’s primary financing tool for major electrification projects.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 28, 2023.

Budget 2023 also commits to engaging with provinces and territories to revise procurement policies to ensure they benefit Canadian workers and build resilient supply chains. There are also investments in port, air and other critical transportation infrastructure.

We know that Canada’s infrastructure is at risk. Federal infrastructure investments can help to take financial pressure off municipalities that are faced with massive funding shortfalls in addressing their infrastructure concerns. With population expected to grow, infrastructure will continue to be stressed and will struggle to keep up without proper funding.

Budget 2023 provides no new major funds for what is considered essential community infrastructure: roads, water, wastewater and other infrastructure assets. Unlike electrification and connectivity — many aspects of Canada’s infrastructure gap remain relegated to low-priority status.

More investment is needed to address critical infrastructure gaps, but these are investments that Canadians may not be ready to make. Previous budgets have focused on short-term infrastructure investments as an economic stimulus, which doesn’t support the long-term view infrastructure requires.

Canada’s infrastructure gap

A 2013 report on Canada’s infrastructure gap highlighted the chronic issues in infrastructure investments, including the notion that infrastructure remains a political hot potato.

Between the late 1950s and mid 2000s, public investment in infrastructure decreased from around three per cent of GDP to 1.5 per cent, though it began to rise again in 2010. During this same period, there was a significant shift in terms of who carries the burden of investing in infrastructure from the federal government, with a large revenue base, to municipalities who have the smallest revenue base.

Canada’s infrastructure deficit is at minimum estimated at $150 billion.

Local governments bear much of the additional infrastructure costs related to extreme events, climate change mitigation and adaptation. In 2013, floods caused around $3 billion in damage in southern Alberta and Toronto. The cost of rebuilding in British Columbia after 2021 flooding has reached nearly $9 billion. The annual cost of natural disasters in Canada could be up to $139 billion by 2050.

A ‘Bridge is out’ sign is seen following flood damage in Merritt, B.C. in December 2021. Extreme weather events like floods and wildfires are placing greater pressure on public infrastructure.

Internationally, governments are struggling with the same issues. From Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill to China’s infrastructure investments, infrastructure demand remains a constant across international communities from large to small.

But the question remains, where and how should we invest? And more importantly, what do you do when too few people seem to pay attention? North Americans have an imbalanced relationship with infrastructure, and our understanding of priority and need. We care less about infrastructure investments when we can’t see the direct benefits.

What we see in the 2023 budget is a careful dance. The government needs to show it’s making investments in infrastructure without further stretching public finances or making the tough choices that our dilapidated infrastructure requires.

No political party is protected from the curse of the infrastructure deficit — and there are no winners in the game of infrastructure funding. What it does require, is that we all collectively take responsibility. This means dealing with public spending deficits, even if that means paying more taxes. And strengthening our relationship with infrastructure and our collective understanding of the role that it plays in our daily lives.

Governments will need to take on additional costs, and individuals will need to learn to accept that improving our communities costs money. We all need to learn that the connection between infrastructure and our well-being is closer than we think. Läs mer…

Debate: The case of Pinar Selek is a stark reminder of the dangers faced by academics in Turkey and around the world

On 31 March 2023, a trial will be held in Istanbul against Pinar Selek, a sociologist, writer, feminist, anti-militarist and pacifist activist, exiled in France since the end of 2011 and facing life imprisonment in Turkey.

Selek has suffered from relentless judicial persecution by the Turkish authorities for 25 years – half a life. The reason? Her refusal to reveal the identity of the people she interviewed during an investigation she conducted on the Kurdish movements.

Arrested in July 1998, she was tortured and imprisoned for more than two years. Behind bars, she learns she is accused of having planted a bomb that would have exploded in the spice market in Istanbul, killing 7 people and injuring 121.

Selek was released at the end of December 2000, and acquitted in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014 following expert reports showing the tragedy was caused by the accidental explosion of a gas cylinder. Although the Turkish judiciary has cleared her four times, the prosecutor has appealed after each acquittal. After a silence of almost nine years, the Turkish Supreme Court announced the annulment of her latest acquittal and thus this new trial, which will be held in her absence.

Even before the 31 March hearing, Pinar Selek was the subject of an international arrest warrant by Turkey. Nine years after the researcher’s last acquittal, it is difficult not to link the Turkish justice’s revived interest in the academic to the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections scheduled for May and the celebration of the centenary of the Turkish Republic.

Beyond Pinar Selek’s personal plight, this episode illustrates the repression academics have faced in Turkey for years and which intensified further after the 2016 coup attempt.

Scientific freedom at risk

Wanted for “sociological crime”, the researcher has said, “I will not give up.”

Pinar Selek Support Committee, Basque Country. (Click to zoom in)
Fred Sochard, Author provided

Since arriving in France in 2011, Selek has defended a doctoral thesis in political science at the University of Strasbourg, published a myriad of scientific works and taught at the Université Côte d’Azur. After benefiting from a state grant for exiled artists and scientists for the first two years, she was awarded a permanent teaching-research position in 2022 by the University of Côte d’Azur.

In her plight, it is also academic freedom that is at stake. The presidents of the Côte d’Azur and Strasbourg universities, as well as numerous research laboratories and other university and scientific bodies have publicly taken a stance in her favour. University, student and activist support groups have also been formed. She was appointed honorary president of the Association of Sociologists of Higher Education. A delegation of nearly a hundred French and foreign representatives from the civil, associative, cultural, artistic, political, legal, scientific, academic and student worlds will travel to Istanbul to attend her trial, demand the truth and officially ask for justice to be done.

Engaged in a movement to open up the social sciences to society and to criticise scientific postures in the service of the established order, Pinar Selek is a “scientist in danger”. Even though she obtained French citizenship in 2017, she continues to suffer the political violence of an authoritarian regime that attacks the autonomy of the academic world – a phenomenon over which Turkey has no monopoly. Many Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan, Egyptian, Turkish, Iranian and other academics are paying a heavy price through state repression.

A situation that has escalated in Turkey since 2016

The situation of Pinar Selek reflects the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, particularly noticeable since the strengthening of presidential powers following the April 2017 referendum.

Following the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 in which hundreds of civilians, soldiers, police officers lost their lives, a large number of academics have been designated as targets by the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The signatories of the Academics for Peace Petition have been accused of terrorism, subjected to professional ostracism, prosecution and media lynching.

Among them, 549 academics have been forced to resign or retire, dismissed, revoked and banned from public service under the decree laws. The case of the “Gezi Seven” is emblematic of the massive repression of human rights in the country. Among them, publisher and patron Osman Kavala, imprisoned in 2017, was sentenced to life imprisonment for organising and financing the Gezi protests in 2013, without the possibility of parole after being unjustly convicted of an “attempted coup d’état”.

Although there was a Turkish Constitutional Court decision on 26 July 2019 acquitting them, these academics have lost their jobs and have been subjected to harassment in their professional environment. In addition, the Turkish National Research Agency blocks their publications. Terrorism charges continue, especially in relation to the Kurdish issue. For example, in October 2021, writer Meral Simsek was sentenced to one year, three months in prison for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.

Threats are also made to researchers based in France. In 2019, the mathematician Tuna Altinel, a teacher-researcher at the University of Lyon 1, who was accused of terrorist propaganda for having taken part in a public meeting in Villeurbanne on the army’s war crimes in the southeast of the country, was arrested in Turkey. Released after three months, he was only able to get his passport back and return to France in June 2021, after a long battle which is not over yet.

Hundreds of abusive arrests, acquittals – most often overturned on appeal by the Court of Cassation – and cases retried despite the recommendations of the European Court of Human Rights, punctuate this bleak picture. But the many hardships faced by researchers have strengthened their solidarity, as evidenced by their stories in Eylem Sen’s documentary Living in Truth.

In the name of the unconditional freedom of expression of researchers

“By condemning Pinar Selek, the Turkish government is attacking the independence of social science research,” reads the headline of

An article published in Le Monde in July 2022 by a group of academics, “By condemning Pinar Selek, the Turkish government is attacking the independence of social science research”, reminds us of the vulnerability of researchers to the attacks they face in many countries.

International conferences and declarations regularly reaffirm the protection of academic freedoms, but maintaining them requires constant struggles by the academic community and they are, in fact, never permanent students, professors and researchers are always at best suspected or threatened at worst arrested, tortured and killed, when strong powers are established to which they refuse to submit.

A “poetry activist”, as she likes to call herself, Pinar Selek, who is also the author of novels and children’s stories, is subject to political violence that can only be combated by denouncing and overturning her life sentence. Her tireless struggle against injustice, oppression and attacks on academic freedom, which are now being undermined in many parts of the world, illustrates that of all threatened scientists in authoritarian countries, but also in democracies.

Our solidarity with her is more than a moral duty. It is part of a shared struggle in the service of freedom of research and the exercise of a citizenship that must more than ever assert itself as transnational. Läs mer…

Climate change is accelerating – and the UK government is ’strikingly unprepared’

Read successive progress reports by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the UK government’s statutory advisor on climate change, and you sense the growing frustration. Over the years, the CCC’s assessments of the government’s response to the climate crisis have become more critical, its recommendations more explicit and the tone more direct.

The latest progress report from the CCC concerns the UK’s preparedness for climate change, rather than progress toward net zero emissions, but it makes similar conclusions. The committee is scathing and has said that the country is “strikingly unprepared”.

The CCC criticised the government’s national adaptation programme for its lack of vision, ambition and reach. Sector by sector, the report lists failings in the government’s planning for climate change, or where plans exist, in their execution.

Thirteen sectors, from infrastructure and the built environment to health, nature and managed lands are forensically analysed, highlighting that “fully credible” planning is only in place for five of 45 key risk areas, while evidence that the country is becoming less vulnerable to climate change is “lacking across the board.”

If this sounds worrying it should be. It means UK citizens are being left exposed to increased risks of flood damage, food and water shortages, excess deaths from heatwaves, energy outages and infrastructure breakdown, among others.

An international challenge

Internationally, the CCC’s impatience is matched by increasingly urgent messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the foremost body of experts on climate change which issued its latest report earlier this month.

The approval process of IPCC reports, which require sign-off by member governments, keeps its language bland. Yet the report left no doubt that climate change is a rapidly escalating global risk and that, so far, policies and plans do not do enough to address it.

But it also led with a message of hope: there is still time to secure a liveable future for all if we act now.

Countries are not doing enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions – or prepare for their consequences.

Adaptation means dealing with the consequences of climate change, the effects of a warming climate that can no longer be avoided. Emissions reductions and net zero emissions targets deal with the root causes of climate change, the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The two strategies are complementary. Yet adaptation campaigners have long lamented that building resilience to global heating gets second billing to net zero, and they have a point.

In the UK, this hierarchy was institutionalised. Within the CCC, emissions reductions was – and remains – the purview of the main committee, while adaptation was dealt with by a separate sub-committee. This judgemental prefix was dropped only recently.

The more global efforts to reduce emissions veer off track, the more important – and the more difficult – adaptation becomes. At the very least, we will have to adapt to a world that is between 1.5 and 2°C warmer. But on current trends, it could be much more. Failure in one part of the twin strategy puts pressure on the other, and at the moment we are failing on both.

The CCC does not explicitly make this connection in its progress report. It simply points to the fact that the first impacts of climate change can already be felt.

In the summer of 2022, recorded temperatures exceeded 40°C in the UK for the first time. The summer was also very dry, piling stress on ecosystems and farms. People are also becoming accustomed to more frequent winter storms – Dudley, Eunice and Franklin all struck the UK in February 2022.

The CCC estimates that 3,000 people died prematurely at the peak of the 2022 heatwave.
Leighton Collins/Shutterstock

Taking adaptation seriously is crucial because extreme weather is one of the most immediate ways in which the public will experience climate change. In the short term, it is vital that the UK is adequately prepared as these events become more likely and intense, and that it seizes the opportunities and benefits of the transition to a net zero economy.

Retaining global leadership

Even before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the UK prided itself on being a leader in climate change policy. In the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK has a widely admired and frequently copied framework of climate governance. This system is now being put to the test.

The fact that there is an independent body (the CCC itself), which raises the alarm when things are off track, is an important part of this governance framework. This part of the system is working well. However, the real test is whether those warnings are heeded and policy is brought back on track.

The UK government has two immediate opportunities to change tack, and it should take them both. On emissions, the launch of its updated net zero strategy is imminent. The government had been sent back to the drawing board by the courts which had ruled the earlier net zero strategy inadequate. On adaptation, the government will launch a new national adaptation programme, for the years 2023 to 2028, later in the year.

The early signs are not good. The new net zero strategy is rumoured to be about “energy security” (and new oil licenses) as much as about climate action. In the meantime, industry bodies are warning that the UK is losing ground in the race to capture economic benefits from the zero-carbon transition, while the Met Office predicts another year of record-breaking temperatures.

If these warnings are not heeded, the CCC’s frustrations may soon be shared by the wider public, who will rightly question why adaptation measures were not taken earlier.

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far. Läs mer…

Why children misbehave when they are tired

Being tired is a feeling we often experience. When we do certain activities – physical or mental – over a period of time, or even after experiencing intense emotional states, we feel tired, perhaps even exhausted.

We could define fatigue as a lack of strength after physical, intellectual or emotional work. Boredom, unhappiness, disappointment, weariness, tedium or annoyance can also leave us exhausted.

In any case, fatigue has curious effects on our behaviour, resulting in greater difficulty maintaining self-control.

This is very perceptible in children, because when they are tired, either after strenuous activity or as a result of boredom or disappointment, they tend to behave in ways that annoy us. They tend to “misbehave”. But why is this?

Failures in the brain control tower

Let’s start by talking about how the brain works. The brain is the organ of thought where all our behaviours are generated and managed. Each of its different areas fulfils specific tasks within the overall functioning of the organ.

Behavioural control is handled specifically by an area called the prefrontal cortex. It is located in the frontmost part of the brain, just behind the forehead, in the most superficial layers of neurons – hence its name.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for managing complex cognitive tasks, which are grouped under the name of executive functions. They work like airport control towers, making all air traffic flow smoothly in a flexible, non-static way, so that it can adapt to any situation that may arise: a change in atmospheric conditions, a flight delay, etc. In other words, the prefrontal cortex helps us to control our behaviour.

Executive functions include the ability to reflect and plan, to make decisions based on reasoning and to rationalise and manage our emotional state.

Also included in this group is working memory, which is the set of processes that allows us to store and temporarily handle information for the performance of complex cognitive tasks such as language comprehension, reading, mathematical skills, learning or reasoning – not to mention cognitive flexibility, which is the brain’s ability to adapt our behaviour and thinking to changing, novel and unexpected concepts and situations, or the mental capacity to contemplate several concepts at once.

What does all this have to do with fatigue and how does it affect the behaviour of adults and children? It’s quite simple. Although we may like to boast that we have a very large brain, the reality is that it represents only 2 or 3% of the total mass of our body. And yet it consumes no less than 20-30% of metabolic energy – a striking disproportion!

And of the entire brain, the part that consumes the most is precisely the prefrontal cortex.

When we are short of energy, we are more likely to mess up

When we are tired, our metabolism tends to spread out the usable energy, thus decreasing the energy available for the prefrontal cortex to perform its functions with maximum efficiency.

In other words, we find it harder to think, plan, decide, manage emotions and store and handle information because the prefrontal cortex has less fuel to function. This also makes our thoughts less flexible and more rigid. As a consequence, we lose the ability to control our own behaviour.

So when we are tired, we tend to say things that we shouldn’t, that we know might hurt people we care about. And we do this because the executive functions – the control tower of our behaviour – work less efficiently.

And the same thing happens to children. Despite knowing that there are things they cannot do or that we do not allow them to do (and that they are well aware of), when they are tired, the likelihood of them doing these things, of them “misbehaving”, increases.

Shutterstock / MCarper

Boredom has a similar effect to tiredness

Interestingly, when we are bored, disappointed or fed up, something similar happens; although the reason is slightly different.

It turns out that when we are demotivated, the brain also receives less energy, meaning that the prefrontal cortex cannot function at full capacity. Or, to put it the other way around, motivation increases the blood flow to the brain and, with it, the available energy, which in general improves the functionality of executive functions.

That is why, when we are motivated we usually think, plan and decide better, and can manage our emotions much better. Although we should not overdo it. Excessive motivation can also hyper-energise the brain, reducing the efficiency of its functioning, as a recent study has demonstrated.

And a curious and final fact: there’s a good side to being tired. After having carried out a strenuous activity, we tend to be more creative, because when self-control fails, ideas emerge without filters – or with fewer conscious ones. Läs mer…

These neurons are the reason you yawn when you see others do it – and they could help us teach children more creatively too

Have you ever wondered why when we see someone yawn, we yawn almost immediately? Or how newborns imitate facial gestures like sticking out their tongue? And what about how we learn to use scissors or to colour?

It all has a lot to do with a particular type of neuron called “mirror neurons”.

What are mirror neurons?

Mirror neurons are amazing neurons that participate in important processes such as learning, empathy and imitation.

They were discovered by chance by the Italian neurobiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti in 1996. Looking at the brain of a macaque, Rizzolatti and his team recorded neurons that were activated not only when the animal carried out an action, but also when it observed another animal doing the same activity. What’s more, in both cases the premotor cortex was activated in an identical way.

It was soon found that exactly the same thing happens in humans. For example, when we watch someone climb stairs, the motor neurons that correspond to those movements are activated without us taking a single step. When we observe another individual performing an action, without even having to speak, our mirror neurons can put us in the same situation, simulating the action mentally as if it were happening to us.

This type of nerve cell even enables us to understand the intention with which an action is carried out.

Another of mirror neurons’ properties is that they are activated by the sound associated with an action. For example, when they hear paper being torn, they mentally emulate that action – even if we do not actually see it taking place.

Where are they?

Mirror neurons are located in four brain regions that communicate with each other: the premotor area, the inferior frontal gyrus, the parietal lobe, and the superior temporal sulcus. Each of these is responsible for a different function:

The premotor area manages movements and controls muscles
The inferior frontal gyrus is involved in executive control processes, the management of social and affective behaviours and decision making
The parietal lobe analyses visual sensory information
The superior temporal sulcus is involved in auditory processing and language.

Learning and empathy

The existence of mirror neurons is essential for our species. That’s mainly because of the role they play in learning by imitation and observation but also because they participate in language acquisition and are essential in the development of empathy and social behaviour – they allow us to understand the actions of other people and their emotions.

Mirror neurons are implicated in numerous clinical conditions. They are affected by autism, schizophrenia, apraxia (an inability to perform motor tasks) and neurodegenerative diseases, among others.

For example, in autism, there are motor, language and social problems that coexist. It is no coincidence that all these functions are related to brain areas where mirror neurons are located.

Harnessing mirror neurons in the classroom

We can consider observational learning to be any moment in which an action is observed and something new is learned or previous knowledge is modified. We must not confuse imitation (for example, copying an individual’s gestures) with observational learning. The latter is a change that lasts in the individual and produces a response.

By observing a process, mirror neurons prepare us to imitate the action being observed. If, while teaching, we combine observational learning with student creativity, we will obtain more efficient learning. The lesson will be internalised and will last over time.

All of this leads us to highlight the important role that educators play in the classroom. The students observe all the actions carried out by their teacher. For this reason, we should look beyond traditional teaching (which is merely expository and static in nature) and carry out more activities that allow for observation skills to be developed.

Another aspect to highlight is the attitude that teachers have in the classroom. Mirror neurons allow us to understand the intentions and emotions being transmitted. Those passionate teachers who teach their subjects with enthusiasm and joy achieve a greater level of concentration and observation from the student, capturing their attention for a longer amounts of time and infecting them with their emotion.

For all these reasons, there are different educational methodologies that allow us to combine this knowledge about mirror neurons with useful tools that fit into the classroom context. In any case, it is essential to incorporate new strategies to encourage motivation, as well as to use manipulative tasks (laboratory sessions, practical cases, etc.) that allow the contents being learned to be used and internalised.

All the events that take place in the classroom, the dynamics of the classes and the emotional aspects that the teacher transmits to the students will condition the learning and experience that the students have in the classroom. Läs mer…

Shedding pounds might benefit your heart even if some weight is regained – new study

Programmes to help people lose weight through changes to their diet, exercise or both, are mainstays of weight management. Despite their widespread use, many people worry that after the programmes end they will regain the weight they lost – or more – removing the health benefits.

To understand the effects of this, we brought together 249 studies including 60,000 adults who were overweight or living with obesity. We compared the half who joined programmes to lose weight through diet or exercise, or both, with the half who had no support (or less support than offered on these programmes). We assessed what happened to people’s weight after the programmes ended, and what this meant for their physical and mental health.

As expected, people lost weight during the programmes. There was a lot of variability, but, on average, people weighed 5kg less at the end of the programme than they did at the start. In most studies of weight loss programmes, people who don’t receive support (those in the “control group”) also lose weight – these are people who not only want to lose weight, but have volunteered to be in a study to help them lose weight, which means they are highly committed. For this reason, we use these “control groups” as a way to test the effect of the programme itself. On average, people assigned to a programme lost 2kg more than people in the control groups.

People who had been assigned to a diet and exercise programme gradually regained weight when the programme ended. Typically, it took at least five years to regain the weight that was lost during the weight loss programme – few studies followed people for more than five years. Some studies stopped at a point where people still hadn’t regained all the weight they had lost.

We showed that weight loss led to improvements in risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood glucose and type 2 diabetes. On average, these reductions were small, but translated across a population, would lead to significant reductions in disease.

Later, as weight was regained, these improvements ebbed away. But even five years, later some benefits were still apparent. There was some evidence that the chances of developing diabetes or having a heart problem were reduced. But most trials didn’t follow people for long enough to be certain. There is some evidence that short-term reduction in risk factors can lead to long-term reductions in disease incidence.

On average, people who went on diet and exercise programmes improved their quality of life, but around two years after the programme ended, their quality of life was similar to people who did not go on a programme.

Weight loss led to improvements in blood pressure.

Forty-seven studies also looked at the effect of these programmes on mental health. Overall, there was no evidence that these programmes made anxiety or depression worse, either during the programme or after it ended. There was some evidence that anxiety and depression might be improved, particularly in programmes that combined diet and exercise, rather than ones that focused on diet alone. We need more studies to be sure about these findings.

We also looked at whether anything made people more or less likely to regain weight. There was a lot of variation in how much weight was lost and how quickly weight was regained. On average, the more weight people lost through diet and exercise programmes, the quicker they regained it after the programme ended. However, this faster rate of weight regain did not wipe out the initial weight loss for at least five years.

Programmes that paid people to lose weight tended to lead to faster weight regain once the payments stopped than for people who did not receive any financial incentives. Programmes that continued to be available outside of the study were linked to less weight regain. This might be because people could keep attending the programme for as long as they wanted, or engage with it again when they started regaining weight. This included weight management programmes provided in the community.

In our review, we didn’t look at weight regain after using other weight loss methods, like medications. There is some evidence from individual studies that weight regain after weight-loss medication is stopped may be faster than after diet and exercise programmes.

Benefits still accrue, despite weight regain

Weight regain isn’t inevitable, but it is very common. Some people keep off most of the weight they lose in the long term, but it’s hard to predict who this will be. No one sets out on a weight loss attempt wanting to regain weight, but our genes and the environment we live in make it harder for some people to keep off weight than others.

Nonetheless, our findings provide some reassurance that taking part in a diet and exercise programme to lose weight can benefit people’s health – even if they put the weight back on. Increasingly, obesity is thought of as a chronic, relapsing condition – one that may need repeated periods of treatment to reduce health risks in the long term. Läs mer…

The world is hooked on junk food: how big companies pull it off

It is almost impossible nowadays to listen to the radio, watch TV or scroll through social media without being exposed to an advertisement telling us that all we need for a little happiness and love is a sugary drink or a fast-food snack. There’s nothing that a tasty, affordable, ready-made meal cannot fix, we are asked to believe.

Over many decades our food environments have relentlessly been encouraging us to make choices that are harmful to our health, through pricing, marketing and availability. This rise in advertising has contributed to a growing global obesity crisis as well as nutrition deficiencies as more and more people opt to eat unhealthy food.

We each have the right to buy whatever we can afford. But commercial forces limit our freedom of choice more than we think. New evidence published in The Lancet shows that key causes of ill health – such as obesity and related noncommunicable diseases – are linked to commercial entities with deep pockets and the power to shape the choices people make. They do this by influencing the political and economic system, and its underlying regulatory approaches and policies.

Industry tactics

The ways that commercial entities shape our food environments to maximise their profits are known as the “commercial determinants of health”. They create an environment that drives us towards unhealthy choices.

There are three main ways they do this:

We are socialised to believe that, as adults, our food choices are a direct result of free will, and of freedom of choice. Yet for people with a limited amount of money, that “freedom” is exercised in a context largely shaped – and limited – by what food and drink manufacturers and retailers choose to produce, market and sell.
Marketing creates demand. Supermarkets are filled with ultra-processed foods with lots of added sugars, unhealthy fats and harmful additives. These food products are designed to activate your taste “bliss point” and make you crave more. Food and beverage manufacturers use unethical tactics to market them. They target children with manipulative imagery and stressed-out parents with “easy” solutions for feeding and satisfying their family.
Food and beverage companies’ profits strengthen their political influence. This is especially true in under-regulated markets in low- and middle-income countries. They use their economic power (employment, tax revenues) to support corporate lobbying that weakens government policy.

What can be done

The Lancet series maps out four ways through which governments, businesses and citizens can reduce the harms caused by big corporations and curb the power of commercial entities.

1. Rethink the political and economic systems.

Developing countries, including Bhutan, Ecuador and Brazil, as well as developed countries such as New Zealand and Norway, are beginning to pave the way for new frameworks that put people’s well-being first. In the UK, Scotland and Wales have also taken significant steps.

These frameworks measure commercial effects on health and the environment, and encourage commercial practices that promote health. Ways to do this include enforcing policies – such as the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – that ensure commercial entities pay their fair share of taxes, and are obliged to account for the full costs of the health, social and environmental harms caused by the production, consumption and disposal of their products.

2. Develop an “international convention” on commercial determinants of health.

In practice, this would mean replicating and expanding global regulatory frameworks that work. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has shown that public health policies can be protected from commercial interests. Since its adoption in 2003, the convention has had significant impact on public policy changes related to tobacco control around the world. It’s provided a framework for countries to develop and implement evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use and the harms associated with it. Some examples include smoke-free laws; graphic health warnings on tobacco products; prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and tobacco tax increases.

The Lancet suggests that, with support from the WHO and its member states, an “international convention” on commercial determinants of health should be developed. It is proposed that public health policy leaders and politicians replicate the tobacco control convention by making it legally binding for countries to comply with a set of principles or rules. The framework would have to be broad enough to cover the full range of commercial influences on health. These include mining, fossil fuels, gambling, automobile industries, pharmaceuticals, technology and social media (beyond the better-known alcohol and food industries).

3. Comprehensive food-environment policies.

One type of government policy proven to help protect and improve health is public procurement – how governments purchase goods and services. Governments can use their purchasing power to influence the food industry by encouraging the production and distribution of healthy food and limiting the availability of unhealthy food products.

In 2008, the mayor of New York City ordered city agencies to meet public food procurement standards for over 260 million annual meals and snacks. The standards apply to food from over 3,000 programmes at 12 agencies, including schools, hospitals and shelters. Nutritional requirements cover dairy, cereals, meat, fruit and vegetables, and set meal nutrient thresholds.

The Brazilian School Food Programme is another example of a national public-procurement policy with direct health benefits. The programme provides healthy meals to millions of students in public schools across Brazil.

It’s required to purchase 30% of its supply from family farmers. The programme has improved the health and well-being of students, and promoted sustainable and ethical food production practices. It has also successfully regulated the sale and marketing of food within and outside school premises.

Countries across the globe could benefit from adopting this model, including South Africa, where despite industry pledges not to sell to schools, unhealthy foods and beverages remain easily accessible and available in schools.

Read more:
South Africa must ban sugary drinks sales in schools. Self regulation is failing

4. Social mobilisation.

Citizens, civil society groups, activists, public health practitioners and academics can demand their right to health by calling for government action on commercial determinants of health. This can be done using a variety of strategies. They can raise their collective voice in support of evidence-based health measures; expose and oppose the harmful effects of commercial determinants on health and equity; and insist that commercial actors and governments are held accountable.

This article is part of a media partnership between The Conversation Africa and PRICELESS SA, a research-to-policy unit based in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand. Researchers from the SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Policy and Decision Science also contributed to the Lancet Series on the commercial determinants of health. Läs mer…

Industries can harm health in many ways: here are 3 that aren’t so obvious

A recent ground-breaking series of reports in the science journal The Lancet unpacks what commercial determinants of health are, and how they affect public health. It uses a new, broader definition of the determinants:

the systems, practices and pathways through which commercial actors drive health and equity.

Some commercial entities contribute positively to health and society. However, research shows that some commercial products and practices are directly linked to avoidable ill health, planetary damage, and social and health inequity. Large transnational corporations are especially to blame.

Read more:
Profit versus health: 4 ways big global industries make people sick

The Lancet series examines not just directly damaging products (such as alcohol or ultra-processed foods) but the commercial practices that influence human health, inequities in health and planetary health. The series highlights the need to better understand the diversity within the commercial world, and the variety of ways its normal operations harm humanity and the planet.

3 ‘hidden’ industries that can harm your health

Some seemingly benign – or even beneficial – industries actually have major and avoidable impacts on health. They contribute negatively to health in subtle or indirect ways.

The pharmaceutical industry is one. Its abuse of intellectual property to increase prices and limit access to essential drugs is a common trend. The pre-selling of COVID-19 vaccines to wealthy countries is a recent, massive-scale example. The industry’s longstanding resistance to lowering the price of antiretroviral drugs for HIV meant that untold thousands, mostly in developing countries, died because they lacked access to treatment.

Social media is another industry of particular concern especially given the increase in its consumption in recent years. A plethora of research confirms the adverse effects of social media on mental health, especially an increase in cases of depression and anxiety.

On top of this, other industries often use social media to promote harmful products and for “social washing”, a strategy employed by companies to promote themselves as more socially responsible than they actually are, purely for brand promotion. We have also seen an increase in “surveillance capitalism” whereby private information is gathered through social media use. The information is then used by, for example, junk food companies through platforms such as Facebook for the targeted marketing of unhealthy commodities.

Extractive companies have also been linked to various health and planetary harms. Air and water pollution, environmental degradation, fatalities, silicosis, and noise-induced hearing loss are just a few examples of these harms. A report by the South African Human Rights Commission has severely criticised the mining industry and held that this sector “is riddled with challenges related to land, housing, water and the environment”.

In the South African context, the harms created by the mining industry are particularly concerning given the knock-on, damaging socio-economic effects – for example as a result of the loss of breadwinners – on families and, often, vulnerable communities.

Harmful business practices

Not only can harm to global health come from a range of industries, it can also come indirectly from business practices. Three harmful practices are:

Next steps

Commercial determinants of health are clearly influenced by a much wider range of actors and practices than the more obvious product-related harms of the “big four” (tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed foods and fossil fuels). No business entity is purely “good” or “bad”, but we have seen an increasing trend where companies use “beneficial” practices, such as sponsorship, donations and pledges to environmental causes, to mask harmful practices and influence politicians.

Without a common understanding that these industries are harming our health, no action can be taken against them. Holding industry accountable and stricter government regulation are the minimum actions needed.

The Lancet series authors are calling for a global move towards health-promoting models of commerce. This is a move away from emphasising profits and economic growth, and instead focusing on societal and planetary health and well-being.

This article is part of a media partnership between The Conversation Africa and PRICELESS SA, a research-to-policy unit based in the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand. Researchers from the SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Policy and Decision Science also contributed to the Lancet series on the commercial determinants of health. Läs mer…

Australia’s cultural institutions are especially vulnerable to efficiency dividends: looking back at 35 years of cuts

In January the Albanese government launched a new arts policy, Revive. Among its measures was a commitment to exempt Australia’s seven national performing arts training organisations from the efficiency dividend.

The directors of Australia’s national cultural organisations in the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector might well have looked on in envy, but also in hope. Revive did not deal with their problems, but Arts Minister Tony Burke does recognise they are in deep trouble.

Staff at the National Gallery of Australia, for example, are working in mouldy rooms and using towels and buckets to mitigate a “national disgrace”. This week, Burke gave assurances the cultural institutions will receive increased funding in the May budget, but it is not yet clear how much, or for how long.

And for many of the sector’s ills, the efficiency dividend is to blame.

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’Arts are meant to be at the heart of our life’: what the new national cultural policy could mean for Australia – if it all comes together

Making cultural institutions ‘efficient’

The Hawke Government introduced the efficiency dividend – an annual decrease in government organisations’ funding – in 1987, levied at 1.25% annually.

While there was much window-dressing about greater efficiency and value for taxpayers, the overriding aim was budget savings. State governments have also levied efficiency dividends for the same reason.

The efficiency dividend has undermined the cultural institutions ever since. Senior public servants considered if big government departments were taking a hit, GLAM should not be treated differently.

But these institutions are not like other government agencies.

Entry charges were briefly levied at the Australian War Memorial.

While small and specialised – and therefore poorly placed to absorb continuing cuts – they are legally mandated to grow. But these institutions, required by law to “develop their collections”, can barely afford to preserve their existing materials.

The only place where economies could reasonably be made was in employment. As staff numbers and organisational capacity declined, successive governments told the agencies to find new funding sources, such as philanthropy or user charges.

Entry charges were previously levied at the National Gallery, and even briefly at the Australian War Memorial.

Both generated animosity among visitors, who rightly felt that, as taxpayers, they should not have to pay to see the collections maintained on their behalf.

Not neglecting, strangling

In the end, institutions were in the invidious position of maintaining some core functions while neglecting or abandoning others.

When the efficiency dividend took effect in the late 1980s, the newly established National Film and Sound Archive was forced to suspend acquisition to save deteriorating records.

By 2008 similar effects were evident across the board. Required to produce efficiencies each year, the Australian National Maritime Museum found itself cancelling some exhibitions while deferring or scaling back others.

The Australian National Maritime Museum was forced to cancel exhibitions.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies told a parliamentary inquiry staff were “racing against time” to preserve materials that would be “lost forever” in the face of staffing cuts.

The institute even reported the likelihood of having to “compromise” its repatriation program to adhere to the efficiency dividend in 2008, the year of the Apology. The hypocrisies involved here were boundless.

The agencies have often been told to do additional work, even as funding disappeared.

The Rudd government reduced the closed period of most Commonwealth records from 30 years to 20 in 2010. The National Archives would have to release two years of cabinet records annually for ten years. Meanwhile, the archives was failing to meet basic statutory obligations for ensuring timely public access to open period records.

In a 2020 review, David Tune reported the timeframe for examining and clearing records was “unachievable because of resource constraints”.

Governments have nonetheless continued to cut funding to these institutions. The Rudd government increased the efficiency dividend by 2% to a total of 3.25% for one year. In December 2015 the Turnbull government imposed another 3% hike with a view to saving A$36.8 million.

Emergency funding was soon required to keep Trove, the National Library’s popular database, operational. That was a more sensitive issue for nervous politicians: there are Trove users in every electorate around the country and they love it passionately. But a leaky roof in the building that houses Trove, the National Library, is harder to see – even from Capital Hill.

Read more:
Trove’s funding runs out in July 2023 – and the National Library is threatening to pull the plug. It’s time for a radical overhaul

Where to?

In 2018 the Coalition government, supported by Labor, was able to find $500 million for massive renovations at the Australian War Memorial. But it took concerted national action by 150 writers, an intense media campaign and the treasurer’s personal intervention to secure $67 million in 2021 to save vital records at the National Archives from disintegrating before they could be digitised.

If the Albanese government really cares about the future of Australia’s national cultural institutions, the government will exempt them from the efficiency dividend. Revive sets a precedent in relation to performing arts institutions. The National Cultural Policy Advisory Group Burke established has advised dropping the efficiency dividend for cultural institutions.

The unpalatable alternative is continuing the cycle of fiscal suffocation and emergency funding we have seen for decades. A government that creates emergencies for itself to solve can never be called efficient. And for citizens, there is no dividend.

Read more:
Getting more bang for public bucks: is the ’efficiency dividend’ efficient? Läs mer…

Teaching the ‘basics’ is critical – but what teachers really want are clear guidelines and expectations

Anyone watching the debate over the National Party’s recent curriculum policy announcement could be forgiven for thinking there is a deep divide in education philosophy and best practice in New Zealand. The truth isn’t quite that simple.

In fact, most (if not all) interested parties would agree that teaching and learning the basics of literacy and numeracy are vital. As one expert observer noted, the policies of the major political parties actually have much in common.

The National Party policy promises a curriculum focused on “teaching the basics brilliantly”. The government says much of this work is already under way with its current curriculum “refresh”. So where exactly is the issue?

The idea of mandated testing checkpoints clearly has some worried that the National Party’s policy is a return to a “back to basics” mentality that ignores or minimises other vital areas of teaching. As one headline had it, “KPIs are for businesses and boardrooms, not children and schools”.

While the basics are important, the argument goes, there are other things schools should focus on. That may be true, but it need not be so binary. Basic early literacy and numeracy skills are the foundation on which much other success is built.

Perhaps a better way to frame the discussion might be: a wider view of learning is important – and the basics are necessary.

Learning literacy is a complex process: handwriting skill is the best predictor of writing success.
Getty Images

Learning to read and write is hard

Foundations take time to put in place, however. With reading and writing, for example, it’s common for capable adults to assume that many of the foundational skills are easily achieved.

In fact, neuroscience shows literacy learning is a remarkably complex process. Learning to identify letters and the sounds associated with them, and learning to read and retain words, involves a kind of repurposing of the brain’s architecture.

Learning to correctly spell words is even more complex than reading them. Successful teaching of spelling requires clear and systematic guidelines. Mastery cannot be left to chance or done through rote learning lists of words.

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Has a gap in old-school handwriting and spelling tuition contributed to NZ’s declining literacy scores?

Another often undervalued basic skill is handwriting. It can be seen as purely a presentation technique and simply about neatness. But research shows handwriting skill contributes directly to writing achievement and is the best predictor of writing success in younger students.

Reading and writing also rely on a foundation of oral language skill, including understanding sentence structure and having a strong vocabulary. Being proficient with sentences is the building block for paragraph formation, essential to more advanced writing tasks. Vocabulary knowledge is a strong predictor of academic achievement, connected to both reading and writing success.

Clear guidelines and specifics: teachers want to know what denotes progress, and when they should be concerned.
Getty Images

What teachers want

None of these skills develop by chance. So the question becomes, how can a curriculum best support teachers to teach literacy from its foundations upwards, with as many students as possible succeeding?

In my work as a literacy facilitator, I find teachers want specifics. They want to know what to teach at each stage. They want to know what the children in their classes should be able to do within that year. They want to know what denotes progress, and when they should be concerned.

Read more:
Teachers need a lot of things right now, but another curriculum ’rewrite’ isn’t one of them

But the curriculum as a whole is necessarily broad and all-encompassing, to reflect the complex needs of society. The curriculum refresh groups learning in broad bands – and this presents problems for specific guidance and benchmarks.

In the English curriculum, one of the literacy goals for learners in the year 1-3 band is to “use decoding strategies with texts to make meaning”. This is far too broad to be helpful in teaching or assessment in any specific way.

More nuanced progress indicators are still being developed, but the draft examples suggest there will be more guidance in more specific age bands.

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Education expert John Hattie’s new book draws on more than 130,000 studies to find out what helps students learn

Guidelines and benchmarks

As well as through the curriculum, teaching will be supported by the Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy and the Common Practice Model. As an educator, I hope the final versions of these documents will offer clear guidelines for both teaching and assessment.

And there are new resources recently provided to schools that contribute usefully to a systematic and successful approach to literacy teaching. These are based on current evidence of how reading is best taught. They include a progression of word learning framework, and decodable readers with lesson plans.

All of these resources should provide useful direction for schools in their literacy teaching. While we can never make the task of teaching literacy simple, specific guidelines can make the pathway for teaching more straightforward.

More focus on the basics need not be boring for learners, either. I recently observed a lesson where the children were learning to decode new words. At the end, a six-year-old said “that was fun, can we do more?” The act of laying foundations for literacy is anything but dull.

The National Party’s call for guidelines around “teaching the basics brilliantly” speaks to a vital part of a rounded education. More detail is now needed about what “brilliance” will mean in practice, just as we need more detail on the current curriculum refresh. Making foundation skills a key component of the curriculum may not be the whole answer, but it is absolutely necessary for overall success. Läs mer…

NSW Labor unlikely to win majority after flopping on pre-poll votes

Labor is unlikely to win more than 46 of the 93 lower house seats at Saturday’s New South Wales state election, which would be short of the 47 required for a majority. The Coalition is likely to win 35 seats, the Greens three and independents nine. Depending on the outcome in Ryde, where Labor currently leads narrowly, Labor is likely to win 45 or 46 seats.

In Saturday night’s article on the election that was updated Sunday morning, I said that The Poll Bludger’s results
estimated Labor led in 51 of the 93 seats, based mostly on election day booth swings. I said that unless there was a systematic issue with the remaining votes, Labor would win a majority.

Read more:
Labor very likely to win majority in NSW election

People who voted at pre-poll booths before election day made up 28% of enrolled voters. On Monday and Tuesday, pre-poll booths in the close seats were counted, and the swings on pre-poll booths have been much worse for Labor than the swings on election day booths.

An example of Labor’s poor performance on pre-poll votes is Goulburn, which the Liberals held by a 3.1% margin going into the election. On election day booths, The Poll Bludger’s results
give Labor a 4.4% swing, enough to overturn the Liberal margin. But the Liberals gained a 0.8% swing to them on pre-poll booths.

Owing to the pre-poll votes, Labor has fallen behind in five seats that they appeared to lead on election night. The closest current Liberal leads are Terrigal (Liberals lead by 50.3-49.7), Goulburn (50.5-49.5) and Holsworthy (50.7-49.3).

Remaining votes in these seats will mostly be postals (which help the Liberals), and absents (which help Labor). But it’s unlikely that Labor can overturn any of the current Coalition leads.

The marked difference in swings between the pre-poll and election day booths is evidence there was a late swing to Labor that showed up on election day, but not in the votes cast before election day.

If Labor is short of a majority, they will still have at least a 45-36 seat lead over the Coalition. With three Greens and some left-leaning independents, it’s clear Labor would govern. This is not the hung parliament of the Victorian 1999 or federal 2010 elections, where there was a one-seat gap between the major parties and the next government was decided by independents.

In Kiama, Liberal Gareth Ward was forced out of the party over charges of sexual assault (which he denies). He ran as an independent, and defeated Labor and an endorsed Liberal, although there was an 11% two party swing to Labor when comparing Ward to what he polled in 2019 as a Liberal.

The Poll Bludger’s results estimate Ward will defeat Labor by 51.2-48.8 when all votes are counted, from primary votes of 39.7% Ward, 34.7% Labor, 11.5% Liberals and 10.7% Greens. I wrote in 2021 that sexual misbehaviour does not appear to have an electoral cost.

Read more:
Has a backlash against political correctness made sexual misbehaviour more acceptable?

Labor’s issues with pre-poll voting have also affected their statewide vote. On election night, the ABC was estimating a Labor two party vote of around 55-45, but that has dropped back to 53.8-46.2 with 68% of enrolled voters counted, a 5.8% swing to Labor from the 2019 election.

Current lower house primary votes are 37.1% Labor (up 3.8%), 35.5% Coalition (down 6.1%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.1%), 1.7% One Nation (up 0.6%), 1.5% Shooters (down 1.9%) and 14.7% for all Others (up 3.7%). Others includes 9.0% for independents (up 4.3%).

Coalition also improves in the upper house

The upper house is elected by statewide proportional representation with preferences, and a quota is 1/22 of the vote or 4.5%. With 54% of the statewide upper house vote counted, Labor has 8.14 quotas, the Coalition 6.67, the Greens 2.05, One Nation 1.26, Legalise Cannabis 0.80, the Liberal Democrats 0.72, the Shooters 0.68 and Animal Justice 0.46.

Current results do not include below the line (BTL) votes. Once these votes are included, the Coalition will drop a little. The Coalition is also likely to fall back when absentee votes are counted, but could continue to increase until then. They have gained 0.24 quotas since Saturday.

A seventh seat for the Coalition instead of one for Animal Justice would deny the left-wing parties (Labor, the Greens, Legalise Cannabis and Animal Justice) the 12-9 split at this election they need to take control of the upper house. An 11-10 left split would mean the overall upper house would be tied 21-21 between left and right.

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NSW election preview: Labor likely to fall short of a majority, which could result in hung parliament Läs mer…

Canada needs to synchronize its climate policies for effective emission control

National, provincial and territorial governments across Canada have implemented a myriad of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. However, these stubbornly high emissions have only just started showing signs of falling.

In principle, each level of government is working toward the same goal. Yet, the approaches they use vary in effort, design and coverage — with some emissions sources covered by multiple policies while others remain unregulated.

To achieve our emissions goals, we need federal, provincial and territorial policies paddling in the same direction in addition to synchronized efforts to maximize our impact.

In our new study, recently published in Climate Policy, we examine the development and design of climate policy mixes across Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Québec, as well as at the federal level, and evaluate their expected impact on emissions abatement.

Regulatory sticks over policy carrots

Over the last 20 years, the number and types of climate policies implemented in Canada and globally have expanded dramatically.

Policy “carrots” — economic incentives, such as subsidies for low-carbon technologies — are by far the most common policy type and have also been found to be more politically popular. But, it is the mandatory regulations — the regulatory “sticks” — including carbon pricing and flexible regulations that are expected to do most of the heavy lifting.

Incentivizing electric vehicle adoption while decarbonizing our electricity grid can create greater emissions reduction than choosing either policy alone.

While the increased effort toward implementing climate policies across jurisdictions is good, synchronized policy decisions are better.

We see many instances of overlapping policies across provinces that can support or undermine our emissions reduction objectives. Most policy interactions (74 per cent) help reduce additional emissions. For example, incentivizing electric vehicle adoption while decarbonizing our electricity grid can create greater emissions reduction than either policy can on its own.

However, interactions between overlapping policies — particularly across provincial/territorial and federal levels — can also lead to unintended consequences that undermine our policy objectives.

For instance, electric vehicles earn credits under the federal vehicle emissions standards in excess of their actual emissions intensity (prior to policy changes coming in 2025).

This can mean that when additional provincial policies incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles, like B.C.‘s zero emission vehicle sales mandate, they allow even higher emissions intensities from the rest of the vehicle fleet while still meeting the federal standard. This can result in a net increase in emissions.

Need for synchronized climate policies

Understanding how policies work together is critically important.

Consider the case of Canada’s alternative approaches to carbon pricing. When additional policies are imposed to reduce emissions from fuels covered by the federal carbon tax, the incentive from the carbon price adds on to the incentive from the other policy.

This is because the increase in cost of higher polluting goods from the carbon tax does not change in the presence of additional policy. For example, in British Columbia, fossil fuel use for transportation is disincentivized by both the province’s carbon tax and low-carbon fuel standard.

However, the interaction differs when the additional policies to reduce emissions are also covered under a cap-and-trade program. Cap-and-trade programs set a limit on the total greenhouse gas emissions from regulated sectors such as electricity, transportation and heavy industry.

A set quantity of emissions allowances are then allocated or auctioned to firms by the government. These allowances are then used to account for that firm’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is seen in the provinces of Québec and Nova Scotia, for now.

Additional policies can reduce emissions from sectors covered by the cap and with it, the demand for emissions allowances. This makes it easier to achieve the limit set by the cap. However, since the limit set by the emissions cap remains unchanged, additional policies don’t necessarily contribute to any additional emissions reduction, but simply shift costs and emissions between activities.

Such interactions have important implications for how we compare the stringency of carbon pricing systems across Canada in relation to the federal benchmark.

Paddling together

Provinces across the country vary in their economic structure, access to energy resources and political ideologies. So it is no surprise that alternative policy approaches are being pursued.

However, ensuring policies work together to achieve our goals requires greater co-ordination and co-operation across, and between, governance levels. Re-invigorated inter-governmental bodies like the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment offer a path in this direction.

The variety of policies implemented across the country also highlight the importance of evaluating policy choices within the context of the broader policy mix — a key consideration for climate accountability bodies such as the Net-Zero Advisory Body and B.C. Climate Solutions Council.

We are all in the same boat. And if everyone is paddling in their own direction, we can veer off course and make it even harder to reach our destination. To propel us efficiently towards our emissions targets, policies and programs across national and provincial jurisdictions need to paddle together. Läs mer…

Four global problems that will be aggravated by the UK’s recent cuts to international aid

UK economic forecasts have improved markedly since the September 2022 mini-budget. The economic recession may now be more shallow and public borrowing lower than previously expected.

However, faced with persistently high inflation and continued uncertainty caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, financial cuts remained the order of the day in the UK government’s spring 2023 budget announcement.

While Chancellor Jeremy Hunt introduced a £5 billion increase to military spending over the next two years, the international aid budget was cut for the third time in three years. This is part of an increasingly concerning international trend.

UK aid has been deceasing since 2019. And the country is not alone in cutting its aid commitments. Sweden – one of the world’s leading donors in this area – is also set to abolish its target of spending 1% of GDP on aid. Across several European countries, recent cuts have largely been driven by the Ukraine war, as well as national pressures caused by the COVID pandemic.

And yet aid is sorely needed if the world is to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan to end world poverty agreed by UN members in 2015. The “great finance divide” – which sees some countries struggle to access resources and affordable finance for economic investment – continues to grow, according to the UN, leaving developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America more susceptible to shocks.

The UK and Europe’s support for Ukraine is admirable and much-needed. But when countries are faced with important domestic political and financial challenges, governments tend to look inwards – often in an attempt to rally their electorate.

Cuts to aid budgets are one example of this. For the UK in particular, neglecting multilateral solutions to important global challenges could actually exacerbate what are thought of as “domestic issues”. Our research highlights four such issues that could be affected by the UK’s budget cuts.

1. Increasing poverty could affect global stability

While the exact direction of the relationship remains up for debate, poverty is an important cause and effect of war. We know that up to two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor (defined as people earning less than $1.90 a day) will be concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected countries by 2030.

Research shows that aid promotes economic growth. So, reducing international aid will only exacerbate these recent negative trends. According to the chief executive of Oxfam GB, aid is an investment in a more stable world – something that is in all of our interests.

2. Extremism could spread as western influence falls

Violent extremism is on the rise in Africa. It reduces international investment and undermines the rights of minority groups, women and girls. This goes against important UN sustainable development goals aimed at building peace and prosperity for the planet and its people.

Reducing international aid will create opportunities for new political actors to emerge and influence the direction of countries with weak government institutions. Cutting back western influence in international architecture (especially while these countries support a conflict in their own continent) may also be resented by countries in other parts of the world that would like more support.

3. Democracy could be threatened in some countries

When aid is provided in the right way, it can give a boost to democratic outcomes. Again, if western, democratic and liberal states don’t support countries struggling to tackle poverty and extremism, other actors could step in.

Russia’s increasing involvement in the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso are recent examples. Equally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (through which it lends money to other countries to build infrastructure) has significantly broadened its economic and political influence in many parts of the world. But some experts fear that China is laying a debt trap for borrowing governments, whereby the contracts agreed allow it to seize strategic assets when debtor countries run into financial problems.

The growing influence of both states may explain global trends towards democratic backsliding because research shows democratic stability is often undermined in waves. In recent UN votes, Russia and China’s growing influence via such aid has been seen to bear fruit. For example, in October 2022 Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan –- both temporary members of the UN Human Rights council –- voted against a decision to discuss human rights concerns in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

4. More countries could struggle to welcome refugees

People flee their homes for many reasons but mostly due to conflict, violent extremism and poverty. Most refugees do not travel to western countries such as the UK, although the number of people arriving in small boats across the English Channel has risen substantially recently.

But there are more “internationally displaced people” than refugees. That is, most people fleeing war remain in their country, while refugees tend to remain in neighbouring states.

Turkey receives the highest numbers of refugees due to its proximity to the ongoing war in Syria, and Poland welcomed the highest number of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

This, combined with the fact that countries most likely to experience conflict are geographically distant from the UK, indicates that numbers seeking asylum in the UK will remain relatively low. But reducing aid will impose further pressures on poor countries that are already struggling to accommodate refugee flows, as well as increasing push factors for migration from fragile regions.

A pro-migration rally in Parliament Square, London, March 2023.
ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

International aid should be one of many solutions

Failure to tackle global problems like poverty, extremism, and democratic backsliding could further destabilise fragile regions. This will have human costs including increased numbers of desperate people attempting to cross the channel.

Aid is an investment in a more stable world. Deals with France or the risk of deportation to Rwanda will have limited impact on reducing the number of people arriving on small boats if the root causes of their migration are not tackled.

In our globalised world, looking inwards can only exacerbate these problems. It is crucial that states adopt multilateral solutions – including funding international aid programmes – to tackle global problems. Läs mer…

Paul Mashatile, South Africa’s new deputy president, has a critical task: to bring back a sense of stability

In a recent cabinet reshuffle President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Paul Mashatile, the deputy president of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), as the country’s deputy president. The tradition in the ANC since democracy in 1994 has been for its elected deputy president to ascend first to the deputy presidency of the country, and eventually to become head of state. So Mashatile, an experienced politician, may also be destined for top office.

Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle took place in a climate of growing restlessness across the nation about the many failures of the state, high levels of corruption and organised crime.

As a political scientist and researcher on security governance matters, I have been considering the role Mashatile could play in responding to the security crisis.

He will serve on two cabinet structures that are crucial to safety and security in the country. Through this he could contribute to rebuilding trust that the public has lost in the law enforcement and criminal justice system.

Justice, crime prevention and security

One of Mashatile’s tasks is to chair the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cabinet committee. This committee coordinates the work of the ministers who are collectively charged with ensuring safety and stability in the country. During the devastating July 2021 unrest, the ministers contradicted each other. They also failed to show a united front against the violence that engulfed several provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

With deft leadership, Mashatile can assist Ramaphosa to address the legacy of poorly coordinated security services. The former minister in the presidency, Mondli Gungubele, acknowledged this problem on the anniversary of the deadly July 2021 riots.

Read more:
South Africa has a new deputy president in Paul Mashatile: what he brings to the table

The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster was among several cabinet “clusters” established during former president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure. This has cemented a tradition of intergovernmental cooperation ever since. It oversees the work of the following core ministries and departments:

state security
justice and correctional services
home affairs
defence and military veterans

Mashatile will have to contend with a labyrinth of structures responsible for safety. The operational work of the cluster is coordinated by the directors-general of these departments through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS).

While the NATJOINTS operates at national level, its activities are decentralised to provincial structures (PROVJOINTs). They coordinate security operations at a provincial level. They work with municipal law enforcement and emergency services, and advise the provincial governments on measures they are taking to keep the public safe.

The National Security Council

Mashatile will also serve on the National Security Council, which is chaired by the president.

The entity is mandated to coordinate a national security strategy. It also oversees the annual formulation of a budget and priorities by the country’s intelligence services. It is responsible for coordinating the work of the security services, law enforcement agencies and relevant organs of state to ensure national security. In addition, it receives coordinated, integrated intelligence assessments from the national security structures, and mandates these structures to attend to matters of national security as required.

Read more:
South Africa needs strategic leadership to weather its storms. Its presidents have not been up to the task

There is a significant overlap of the membership of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster of ministers, and the National Security Council. Besides the president and deputy president, the council includes all the ministers who are part of the Police, State Security and Justice cabinet committee, as well as the ministers of home affairs, defence and military veterans, international relations, and cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

How Mashatile could bring stability

Ramaphosa has entrusted important functions to his deputy. This suggests a level of confidence and cooperation between the two men, rather than a rivalry. Neither can afford to let the ANC fail in government, as this would augur badly for its prospects in the 2024 general elections.

Mashatile should prioritise getting a few key systems in place. The visibility and effectiveness of the police in day-to-day policing must improve. He must oversee strategies to combat organised crime, which is strangling so many areas of public life. He must also work to secure the resources to implement the recommendations of the Zondo Commission on state capture.

With confidence in the state as low as it is, and the public deeply traumatised by high levels of violent crime, Mashatile must put in extra effort to boost public confidence in the justice, crime prevention and security sector.

He can do this by listening to what key stakeholders have to say about the security of the country. Young people bear the brunt of the epidemic of violence – physical and structural. Attending to their security and wellbeing is crucial for the country’s future.

He also needs to be more strategically visible than his predecessor, David Mabuza, who resigned from the position. Mabuza’s job description was almost identical to that of Mashatile’s. Yet he left office with many questioning if he had made any impact.

New broom

Mashatile could be the new broom that sweeps clean. Ramaphosa’s apparent confidence in him suggests that he has some latitude to do so.

It is said the job of a deputy president, in practically any country, is waiting to replace the president. While Mashatile waits in the wings, he has the opportunity to make a difference and make South Africa a more secure place for the public. Läs mer…

ICC arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin: a king-size dilemma for South Africa

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an international arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes regarding the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia. Such acts are war crimes under two articles of the Rome Statute, which established the court.

ICC arrest warrants against sitting heads of state are rare.

Putin faces arrest if he sets foot in any of the 123 signatory states to the statute. Of these, 33 are African states. The issue could come to a head in August when South Africa is set to host the 15th summit of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) bloc in Durban.

As the head of state of a member state Putin has been invited to attend. But as a member of the court, South Africa is obliged under Article 86 of the ICC statute and domestic law to cooperate fully by arresting the Russian President.

This is not the first time the country has faced such a dilemma.

In 2015 Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir visited the country to attend a summit of African Union heads of state. In terms of South Africa’s ICC obligations, it was obliged to arrest Al Bashir, who had been indicted for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Sudan’s Darfur region. The government, then under the presidency of Jacob Zuma, refused to arrest him, citing immunity from prosecution for sitting heads of state under international law.

The arrest warrant for Putin has put President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government between a rock and a hard place. Complying with its domestic and international obligations by executing the arrest warrant would alienate Russia. This would have bilateral consequences – the country is still considered a friend by the ruling African National Congress based on the Soviet Union’s support during the struggle against apartheid – as well as ramifications within the BRICS given Moscow’s strong ties with Beijing.

It is not unreasonable to argue that Ramaphosa’s government would want to tread carefully to avoid any such tensions.

Read more:
Five essential reads on Russia-Africa relations

On the other hand, welcoming Putin, thus underscoring South Africa’s independent foreign policy, would see the country lose international credibility.

One likely effect is that South Africa might lose preferential trade terms. For example, it could jeopardise its treatment of exports to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). AGOA has been used recently as a punishing tool against Ethiopia, Gambia and Mali for “unconstitutional change in governments” and “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”.

Importantly, its trade with the US far exceeds that with Russia.

The dilemma

When the Zuma administration refused to arrest Al Bashir, it landed the government in judicial hot waters. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal found that it had violated both international and domestic law.

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Zuma’s government notified the United Nations Secretary General of its intention to withdraw from the Rome Statue. This ill advised move was challenged in the High Court in Pretoria. It ruled that the notice of withdrawal was unconstitutional due to the absence of prior parliamentary approval. Consequently, the government “withdrew from the withdrawal”.

In 2017, the ICC found that South Africa had failed in its obligations under the Rome Statute towards the court by not arresting and surrendering Al Bashir. The court, however, decided not to pursue the matter further for pragmatic reasons. It also reasoned that to refer South Africa to the United Nation Security Council for noncompliance “would not be an effective way to foster future cooperation.”

In the event that Putin attended the upcoming BRICS summit and President Ramaphosa’s government did not arrest him, it would mean that South Africa was flouting domestic legislation as well as its own constitution. Article 165 (5) of the country’s Constitution makes it clear that the government is bound by court orders and decisions.

Read more:
Al-Bashir: what the law says about South Africa’s duties

How should South Africa respond to the dilemma?

At present the government’s response is not clear. On the one hand, President Ramaphosa’s spokesperson has said that the country was aware of its obligations to arrest and surrender Putin to the ICC.

On the other hand, Naledi Pandor, the foreign relations minister, confirmed the invitation to Putin to attend the BRICS meeting. She noted that cabinet would have to decide on how to respond in view of the ICC warrant.

The government would want to balance its ICC obligations, domestic responsibilities and its historically friendly relations with Russia carefully. Unless it is hellbent on defying its own court decisions and laws, there are options available to avoid another round of international condemnation. And that would help it avoid potential court battles by civil society for non compliance with the country’s own laws and court decisions.


Firstly, South Africa should continue to extend an invitation for Russia to attend the summit. But, through diplomatic channels, request that the Russian delegation be led by its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov has in essence became the face of Russia on the international stage since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Secondly, during the COVID pandemic, it became clear that physical presence at international gatherings for heads of states can be substituted with virtual attendance. The UN General Assembly set a good benchmark for this when heads of states submitted video statements due to pandemic restrictions. Putin could attend the BRICS summit virtually.

The need to sign summit documentation by the heads of state is not an impediment to virtual attendance. Putin can sign the documents electronically or after the summit, if a non electronic signature is required.

The ball is now in the South African government’s court. The hope is that it makes the right decision, one which is in the best interests of the country and its people – not Russia or the likes of the US, especially as neither major powers are signatories to the ICC’s statute. Neither should prescribe to South Africa what it should decide.

Most importantly, the government must not trample on its own laws and court decisions. Compliance with the Constitution must be the prerogative. Making a decision that is in the interests of South Africa and its people would also provide guidance to the other 32 African ICC signatory states, should they ever be faced with a similar dilemma in the future.

This article was co-authored with Sasha-Lee Stephanie Afrika (LLD), Attorney of the High Court of South Africa and former lecturer at Stellenbosch University and University of Johannesburg. Läs mer…

Lag (1990:314) om ömsesidig handräckning i skatteärenden

sfs 1990:1990:314 
t.o.m. SFS 2022:1683  
Inledande bestämmelser

1 § Vad i denna lag sägs om skatt gäller även allmän avgift samt ränta
på skatt eller allmän avgift och administrativa pålagor och kostnader i
samband med indrivning.

2 § I fråga om utländsk tull, andra skatter, avgifter och
pålagor som av utländsk 1990-05-23

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