Don’t rule out national insurance U-turn amid Tory cost of living jitters

Analysis: a behind-the-scenes battle is being fought on the scheduled 1.25 percentage point increase

Amid Boris Johnson’s recent travails, one Tory MP recounted how he, like many colleagues, was phoned by an ally of the prime minister seeking to shore up his support. Asked what changes No 10 should consider, the answer was immediate: scrap the planned national insurance rise and cut VAT on energy bills.

“Boris’s people have been ringing up a lot of us to hear what we think, and as I understand it, every single MP is basically telling them to get a grip with taxes and the cost of living,” the MP said.

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Tinie Tempah puts modern heroes in portrait focus for BBC series

In six-parter on BBC One, the rapper matches people with extraordinary stories to celebrated artists

As one of society’s oldest art forms, portraiture was traditionally used to convey the power, importance and even wealth of a sitter. Now, one of Britain’s most successful rappers wants to help “change the narrative” around the art form – by shining a spotlight on contemporary heroes instead.

In a new six-part series for the BBC, Tinie Tempah, who has had seven No 1 singles in the UK, will match members of the public with “extraordinary stories” to a selection of celebrated portrait artists who will then capture their likeness.

Extraordinary Portraits starts on BBC One on 14 February.

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Some ex-ministers unclear about rules on outside roles, watchdog says

Former health minister Steve Brine breached rules by failing to seek advice until after he had taken up job

Not all former government ministers are “sufficiently clear” on the standards of behaviour, rules and legislation they are bound by after leaving top jobs, an anti-corruption watchdog has said.

Eric Pickles, the chair of the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), said he was “increasingly concerned” about behaviour, after the former health minister Steve Brine failed to seek advice on an outside role until after he had taken up the job, in a breach of the rules.

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Yizker bikher books commemorate Holocaust deaths – but also celebrate Jewish communities’ life

A group of schoolgirls in Czyzew, Poland, before the Holocaust. Czyżew Yizkor Book by Shimon Kanc/New York Public Library

Each year on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex in Poland, an International Day of Commemoration memorializes the victims of the Holocaust. This somber day focuses on the destruction the Nazis and their collaborators inflicted on Jewish communities throughout Europe. But there is another way to honor those 6 million murdered: remembering the ways they lived, not only the ways they died.

I am a sociologist who focuses on Holocaust memory and education. My interest is both professional and personal – my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. During research into my own family history, I became absorbed by the largest body of writing collectively created by survivors in the postwar years: “yizker bikher,” which is Yiddish for “memorial books.”

There are over 1,000 of these volumes recording the lives and deaths of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Yizker bikher were collaboratively written after World War II by survivors, many of whom sought to reclaim their lives and memories by contributing to the books, and published by mutual aid societies called “landsmanschaften” in Yiddish. Defying the Third Reich’s attempt to wipe Jewish culture off the map, these books memorialize writers’ hometowns, commemorate murdered loved ones and pass on collective memory to their victims’ descendants and their own.

‘Like life itself’

Instead of dry, matter-of-fact historical material, yizker bikher give rich descriptions of everyday life before the war: folklore, idioms, superstitions and life stories. Only toward the very end of any given volume do they turn to experiences during the Nazi era. Woven together with the text is all kinds of visual material: hand-drawn maps, sketches, photographs and documents from daily life, including meeting notes, newspaper clippings and notices of events in the “shtetl” – Yiddish for a small town. Yizker bikher might be compared with a communal scrapbook, capturing both personal lives and the community’s.

Despite writers’ desire to focus on life, the volumes are framed by a profound sense of loss. One Polish contributor simply states: “There was a Jewish community in Czyzew, and it is no longer.” This line distilled the very essence of yizker bikher: Something was there, and now it is not.

Photos of the Zilberklang family, who lived in Turobin, Poland.
Turobin Yizkor Book, edited by Me’ir Shim’on Geshuri/New York Public Library

Yet the authors brought entire communities back to life, describing both people and places with words like creative, vibrant, lively, dynamic, exciting, sublime, energetic, outstanding, vivacious, rich, effervescent and wondrous. One small shtetl in Poland was “a lively town with virtues and flaws, greatness and smallness, storm and tranquility, light and shadow like life itself.” Another is described as a “warm nest for Jewish life and culture” – an idea yizker bikher consistently emphasize, as well as the diversity of Jewish beliefs.

Authors highlight individual members of their communities, bringing the everyday to life. Writers often say that their shtetls were made up of Jews who were “simple” and “common,” such as “Chaikel the wagon driver and Yakir the shoemaker” from Sochaczew, Poland. Yizker bikher paint a picture of the shtetls as both “ordinary” and diverse. In Chorzel, Poland, for example, there were “rabbis, scholars, honorable community activists, wealthy and poor people, observant people and free-thinkers, zealots and heretics, maskilim [Jews who encouraged adopting more secular European culture] and ignoramuses, philanthropists and misers, merchants and tradesman, people interested in improving the world and Zionist pioneers.”

A map of Działoszyce, Poland, in the town’s memorial book.
Dzialoszyce Yizkor Book/New York Public Library.

“Maybe our town Działoszyce was not very different from hundreds and thousands of other Jewish communities in eastern Europe,” one Polish writer muses. “Staszów was one of the countless small Jewish towns of Poland, one of the shtetls,” another writes. While the authors spend hundreds of pages explaining what made their homes so very special, they still situated themselves within a much broader Jewish community; they saw their lives and fates as intertwined.

Tribute and protest

As a whole, yizker bikher represent an extraordinary effort against oblivion. Their authors sought to create an everlasting memory, to avoid the complete erasure that seemed a possibility after the horrors of the war. Each volume is a form of protest that stresses the urgency of survival, continuity and history. Each one is a lament – but also a concerted effort to reclaim humanity and accountability.

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Sometimes the accounts border on the rosy and nostalgic, but, time and again, the message is clear: death should be remembered, but life should be celebrated.

Jennifer Rich does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Boris Johnson ‘had birthday party indoors during lockdown’

ITV reports that Carrie Johnson threw surprise party for prime minister that broke social gathering rules

Carrie Johnson threw a surprise birthday party for Boris Johnson during the first lockdown, despite the rules forbidding social gatherings indoors, according to ITV.

Downing Street has admitted the prime minister attended the gathering in the cabinet room at No 10 with up to 30 people at 2pm on 19 June 2020, but denied reports he held a birthday party later in the Downing Street residence.

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The Guardian view on benefit levels: the only way is up | Editorial

A social security system that leaves 14.5 million people living in poverty is failing. Payments must increase

Benefit levels are set too low. The social security budget was £36bn less in 2019 than in 2010, and the basic rate of out-of-work benefits is at its lowest for 30 years. Repeated freezes combined with the benefit cap and two-child limit, and rising housing costs, have hit millions of households hard. The consequences have included massive rises in the number of people needing support from food banks and other forms of crisis support, even before the pandemic.

The prospect of energy price rises has led to warnings that more households face horrendous decisions about whether to “heat or eat”. Research by the campaigning food writer Jack Monroe on supermarket basics ranges shows that price increases on the lowest-cost items have far outstripped averages. The price of the cheapest pasta in a local branch of Asda, for example, has risen 141% in a single year.

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EHRC threatens to intervene over Tory Islamophobia claims

Watchdog under pressure to investigate party as Cabinet Office launches inquiry into Nusrat Ghani’s allegations

The UK’s equalities watchdog has said it could use its legal powers to act on allegations of Islamophobia made by the former Tory minister Nusrat Ghani.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is under pressure to launch an investigation into alleged anti-Muslim hatred in the Conservative party after Ghani’s claims. In an interview published in the Sunday Times, she alleged that her “Muslimness” was raised when she was removed from a ministerial job in 2020 and she was told it was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.

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Who’s to blame in the Ukraine-Russia standoff? It depends on perspective

A Ukrainian soldier sit in the trench on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine in January 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)

In the West, the current standoff between Ukraine and Russia has typically been presented as one in which a righteous Ukraine is standing up to bullying by a scheming, even Machiavellian Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may indeed like to see himself as Machiavellian, but otherwise this characterization is only one point of view.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks during a news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels in January 2022.
(Johanna Geron, via AP)

During a recent visit to Kyiv, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly reaffirmed Canada’s solidarity with Ukraine over the Russian-dominated separatist territories in the east. She also reiterated her government’s desire to see Ukraine join NATO.

But Ukraine is arguably not an ideal candidate for portrayal as a righteous victim by Joly or anyone else. While it has made some progress in terms of democratization, Ukraine is not a bastion of democracy and the rule of law in a part of the world otherwise lacking in those qualities.

Low rating on democratic progress

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization, Freedom House, gave Ukraine a paltry 39 out of 100 for its 2021 democracy rating, describing the country as “transitional or hybrid” in terms of democratic progress. Even Joly has had to acknowledge that Ukraine has some way to go in both of these regards.

What’s more, Ukraine hasn’t been an honest broker in negotiations with Russia over the future of the predominately Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian territories. Ukraine has done very little to provide the citizens of those territories with the autonomy negotiated back in 2014 and 2015 under the Minsk Protocols. Moscow has hardly gone out of its way to look for compromise and good will, but then neither has Kyiv.

It’s also important to remember that this swath of Russian-speaking Ukrainian territory did not end up as part of an independent Ukraine through some sort of popular revolution. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev believed, likely with some justification, that the U.S.S.R. collapsed and an independent Ukraine was born thanks to the machinations of a power-hungry Boris Yeltsin and other Soviet republican leaders, including Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuk.

By getting rid of the U.S.S.R., these Soviet leaders removed their principal political rival, Gorbachev, in what seemed more a power grab than a reflection of popular sentiment.

Back in December 1991, Yeltsin and Kravchuk certainly didn’t have a popular mandate to sign the U.S.S.R. out of existence. In early 1991, a significant majority of the Soviet population made it quite clear in a Soviet Union-wide referendum that it favoured the preservation of the U.S.S.R. in at least some form.

Signing the agreement to dismantle the former Soviet Union and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991.
(RIA Novosti Archive), CC BY-SA

Premature end?

Had the U.S.S.R. survived, having a large Russian population in eastern Ukraine would not have been a cause for concern. Many Soviet citizens saw themselves as Soviet as well as another nationality. But of course that didn’t happen, and the U.S.S.R. was brought to what Putin certainly sees as having been a premature end.

It is worthwhile trying to see current events from a Russian perspective. Putin’s show of force can be seen as a move to defend a Russian minority in Ukraine — and a local majority — from an anti-Russian government in Kyiv that has not kept its side of the bargain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 21, 2022.
(Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More broadly, Russian moves can also be seen as an attempt to ward off the encroachment of a hostile military bloc — NATO — into territory that has historically been dominated by Russia.

There is also probably some truth to German Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach’s recent suggestion that Putin is looking for international respect — both for himself and Russia. If the West treats Russia like a pariah, it is more likely to act like one.

In what’s now an intensely polarized situation, diplomats and politicians on all sides of the current crisis in the Ukraine would do well to remember that their cause represents only one point of view. If a peaceful resolution to the crisis is to be found, then a Russian perspective cannot simply be ignored.

Alexander Hill does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The pandemic exposed the vulnerability of international students in Canada

Universities and colleges need better, more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students. (Shutterstock)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, students in Canadian universities and colleges faced many challenges. Classes moved online, students were asked to leave campus residences and many students lost jobs or faced reduced work hours.

While some domestic students could return home, many international students could not go back to their home countries, either because of the cost or because of border restrictions.

Roommates in shared dwellings struggled to adhere to proper social distancing measures. Media reports suggested the pandemic had made international students more vulnerable to adverse events and had posed unique challenges for them.

In fall 2020, we decided to ask international students how they were faring, using a survey and in-depth interviews. We hoped that a better understanding of the challenges they encountered could inform an effective policy response. What the students told us revealed intense psychological, academic and financial vulnerabilities, often occurring in conjunction with one another.

Growing number of international students

The number of international students in Canadian colleges and universities has grown rapidly over the past decade, while the number of domestic students has remained relatively constant. According to Statistics Canada there were 142,170 international post-secondary student enrolments in fall 2010; there were 388,782 in fall 2019. Based on data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) there was a 35 per cent dip in the number of new study permits issued in 2020, presumably because of the pandemic; however, the number rebounded to the pre-pandemic level by the end of 2021.

The IRRC study permit data also shows that more than half of all international students come from either India or China. Since 2017, India has become the top source country.

Universities and colleges have made strenuous efforts to attract international students, who pay three to four times the tuition of domestic students.

Facing closed or restricted campus facilities has been difficult for many students.

Survey of international students

In our survey, we were not seeking a representative sample of international students based on where they came from or where they were going to school. Instead, we hoped to hear from anyone willing to share their experiences.

We advertised the survey on social media and wrote to campus clubs, student unions and international student offices. About 1,000 international students answered at least some of the survey questions, and roughly 600 completed the whole survey. Our sample included students from 84 countries. About 46 per cent of respondents were from India and seven per cent were from China. Other nationalities represented included: the Philippines (3.7 per cent); the United States (3.4 per cent); Colombia (3.3 per cent); Nigeria (3.3 per cent) and Iran (2.4 per cent).

After the survey ended in February 2021, we conducted in-depth interviews with 25 survey respondents.

Psychological stress

We asked students four questions that sought to capture how often they felt anxious or depressed in the previous two weeks. Importantly, the four questions constitute psychological scales that are correlated with clinical diagnoses of depression and anxiety.

Based on their answers, about 55 per cent of our respondents were at risk of depression and about 50 per cent were at risk of an anxiety disorder. In interviews, international students spoke of loneliness, mental exhaustion, panic attacks and social isolation.

Students reported that they found counselling centres at their schools hard to reach and that attempts to make appointments did not work out due to the large number seeking help. At best, there were long waits to get appointments. Shivajan Sivapalan and Yasir Khan, two doctors who work in student health and wellness services, report that international students face significant barriers in accessing health supports.

Dr. Shivajan Sivapalan and Dr. Yasir Khan discuss how to improve health access for international students in a presentation through the India Research Centre for Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Guelph.

Academic stress

A significant minority of our respondents — about 30 per cent — reported that they had not adapted well to online instruction. International students overwhelmingly felt that online courses undermined their overall educational experience because of the lack of interaction with fellow students.

Almost two-thirds identified lack of interaction as an obstacle to online learning. Lack of interaction with peers was also chosen as the most important obstacle by the greatest number of respondents.

Inability to experience and adapt to Canadian culture, lack of social networks, and inability to use campus space and amenities were other factors that undermined their overall educational experience.

Financial stress

Media reports have highlighted the financial precarity of international students, as have reports from non-profit organizations such as One Voice.

Journalist Nicholas Hune-Brown’s excellent story, “Students for Sale,” notes that the study-work-immigrate dream is being heavily marketed abroad with admission to a Canadian university or college as the entry point. He details how some arriving students are carrying heavy debts from home, along with massive family and community expectations.

Our survey and interviews showed that the loss of parental or spousal income and the loss of wages from off-campus employment created the greatest financial hardships for international students.

When we asked international students “how concerned are you about your ability to pay for your education,” almost 80 per cent were either “concerned” or “very concerned.”

In interviews, students specifically identified a persistent and pervasive feeling of not receiving adequate value for the fees they were paying. One said:

“I feel like we’re getting kind of the short end of the stick with paying almost double [of] … domestic students during the pandemic.”

Another said:

“ … now it feels like I’m paying $10,000 per semester to teach myself.”

Intersecting vulnerabilities

Roughly two-thirds of our survey respondents experienced financial stress, just over 70 per cent psychological stress, and almost 40 per cent academic stress. Over 25 per cent felt both financial and psychological stress but not academic stress; about 20 per cent felt all three kinds of stress.

While some students experience all three forms of stress together, others experience only one or two or none at all. We observed that psychological, academic and financial stress interacted with each other, compounding the collective toll. For example, not having a job can increase anxiety; high levels of anxiety can affect focus and, in turn, academic performance.

People march towards Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Toronto office at a rally led by current and former international students calling for changes to immigration rules during COVID-19, in September 2020.

Policy gaps

The difficulty that our interviewees had in getting help to deal with their psychological distress suggests that universities and colleges need better and more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students.

Several community groups or community-partnered campaigns like the Pardesi Project at Sheridan College have also pointed out the need for better mental health services. That said, we know of no comprehensive analysis of mental health services tailored to international students in Canadian universities and colleges.

The financial precarity that many international students experience suggests a need for targeted and sustained financial support, including emergency grants and loans and the extension of tuition fee payment deadlines.

While Canada was comparatively generous in allowing international students who met the eligibility requirements to receive the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit, there was no sustained financial support offered by Canadian universities and colleges. Emergency support would acknowledge the financial situation in which international students find themselves. Even without the pandemic, the loss of a job or a lengthy spell of illness or injury can spell financial disaster.

International students pay significant tuition fees and, as future permanent residents and citizens, contribute to Canada’s success. There is an urgent need to understand their unique vulnerabilities and to develop effective policy responses.

Anil Varughese’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

Saul Schwartz’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

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More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border

There’s a renewed stream of migrants seeking refuge in Canada after a 20-month ban on asylum requests designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Families are once again lugging suitcases and carrying children across a remote, snow-covered ditch to the border.

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Boris Johnson’s many challenges – and how Tory MPs aim to capitalise

Analysis: Backbenchers are spotting opportunities to take advantage of a weakened leader

Boris Johnson and the Conservative party are facing crises on multiple fronts, all interconnected in various ways. As the pressure mounts on the prime minister, his MPs are spotting opportunities to take advantage of a weakened leader by pressing hard for different concessions.

Here we take a look at the challenges facing Johnson, and the demands he is facing from his MPs that may help them go away.

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London drinkers given caustic soda instead of salt in tequila slammers

Apparent staff error caused injuries to five people at central London bar Tiger Tiger last month

Clubbers in London’s Tiger Tiger were mistakenly given caustic soda instead of salt when knocking back tequila slammers, sending four people to hospital with burns.

Police attended the nightclub near Piccadilly Circus in central London last month after receiving reports that people had chemical-related injuries, believed to be caused by a staff error. Authorities then closed Tiger Tiger as a precaution.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg and the age of enlightenment | Letter

The leader of the Commons should never be confused with the search for knowledge, betterment and understanding, which characterises 18th-century intellectuals, writes Toni Silver

The reference to Jacob Rees-Mogg as “the honourable member for the 18th century” is a soubriquet that I find extremely distressing (Rees-Mogg’s roots tell a true Conservative tale – just not the one he wants us to hear, 22 January).

It should be noted that the 18th century was the age of enlightenment, with a long list of luminaries whose names have become bywords for the possibilities of the thinking and endeavour of which humans are capable. A quick “Kanter” through without racking one’s brain could produce Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Wollstonecraft, Hegel, Diderot, Paine et al.

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Making tough choices for better NHS care | Letters

One junior doctor says we need to make the NHS the best choice for healthcare, Gary Hartnoll believes consultants who do private work are an easy target and Steve Iliffe says tapping the private sector can help the NHS

Private healthcare does more than just undermine waiting lists for NHS patients (Hundreds of England’s NHS consultants have shares in private clinics, 21 January). Students, junior doctors and other healthcare professionals need training by senior NHS doctors. When private treatment goes wrong or isn’t enough to fix a problem, private patients end up back in the NHS system to fix any issues ahead of those who have waited.

As a junior doctor, I believe that we must keep our NHS public to ensure high standards of care for everyone. But with the NHS increasingly unable to deliver even basic care, I can understand why patients with the means choose to cut the queue. I understand why colleagues choose private work, when NHS constraints force us to lower the quality of our care, under deteriorating working conditions, with ongoing pay erosion.

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Court backs CPS decision not to charge alleged killer of drowned boy

Mother of Christopher Kapessa attacks justice system over response to incident in Wales in July 2019

The mother of a 13-year-old boy who drowned in a river in Wales has said her son’s alleged killer has got away “scot free” after the high court dismissed a challenge to a decision by prosecutors not to bring charges over his death.

Alina Joseph, the mother of Christopher Kapessa, said: “The [Crown Prosecution Service] have concluded that there is enough evidence to prosecute him for manslaughter.”

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‘Arrogance, indolence and ignorance’: Treasury minister resigns over Covid fraud errors – video

Treasury minister Lord Agnew has resigned at the despatch box over what he called a series of ‘schoolboy errors’ from the Treasury in the handling of Covid business fraud. Agnew said: ‘I hope that as a virtually unknown minister beyond this place that giving up my career might prompt others more important than me to get behind this and sort it out’

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Fear of COVID-19 and fear of change are dangerously intertwined for 2022

At the end of 2021 there was a correlation between worldwide Google searches for the term “fear of change” and “fear of COVID.” (Shutterstock)

Omicron has renewed people’s fear of COVID-19, while at the same time starkly surfacing our other embedded fear — fear of change.

In looking at Google Trends, my research shows that at the end of 2021 people googled “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates. This result projects an increasingly widespread Omicron-driven fear accompanied by an increasing and intertwined fear of change.

As they inextricably entwine, fear of change and fear of COVID-19 are foreshadowing a year of intense “fight, flight and freeze.”

As a change management scholar, over the years a few simple clichés have sustained themselves. Generally, we hate change because it shakes up the status quo, predictability and our naive sense of control. Clinical psychologist Carla Maria Manly says, “Our brains are hardwired to prefer routine and consistency.”

The pandemic has shaken up many of our routines, feelings or normalcy and ability to maintain consistency. So as people continue Googling “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates, we need to think about their impacts and how we can get out of this fear cycle.

Trying to control change

For a long time, we have been told to embrace linear, mechanistic thinking that teaches what happened before will likely happen again, and so old solutions work best for new problems.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has turned that thinking on its head. We fear COVID-19 because of its befuddling failure to be controlled, the way its changed our lives and the risk of illness and death.

An article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Fear of COVID-19 Infection Across Different Cohorts: A Scoping Review,” put it succinctly by stating studies identified “various domains of fear related to the fear of COVID-19 infection.” These included, “fear of oneself or their family members getting infected, fear of having economic losses and being unemployed, or fear of avoidance behaviours toward gaining knowledge about the pandemic,” as well as “fear of making decisions [about actions like] whether to visit parents or not, whether to look for information on death rates or not, etc.”

But perhaps it shouldn’t be so scary. If we think of COVID-19, we can flatten the fear with facts, and when it comes to change, consider how its been around for billions of years.

Instead of trying to control change, we should take solace from organizational consultant William Bridges who looks at events in our lives more as psychological “transitions” than change, where we let go of how things were (endings), and enter a “neutral zone” of “creating new processes and learning” often feeling confusion and distress.

According to Bridges, beginnings involve new understandings, values and attitudes. He’s offering a process for accepting that yesterday’s solutions, cultures, structures and systems are no longer applicable — a means of letting go.

The big question is whether we can let go of yesterday, experience deep reflection and start a new beginning.

Instead of trying to control change we should see it as a transition.

2022 and the fear ahead

Fear is an excellent accelerator for those with specific agendas, for those with divisive intentions and for those fiercely protecting their own definition of status quo.

In my doctoral work on public protests, I found an ocean of reviewed literature on how a state of fear can trigger anger, outrage, a demand for action, a disintegration of trust and even civility.

Today, we are very afraid.

A public opinion poll by Ipsos in December 2021 showed that in over 28 countries surveyed, 32 per cent of respondents agreed that COVID was the “world’s number-one worry.”

In a study of American Twitter data published in September 2021, researchers found that the public trusts the vaccine but are also experiencing a mixture of fear, sadness and anger.

Google Trends provides real-time data for comparing the search terms “fear of change” versus “fear of COVID.” For example, on Jan. 12, 2022, at 2 p.m. PST, the average for all countries was equally 53 per cent for searches about fear of COVID-19 and fear of change.

What’s in store?

Forecasting is inherently tricky and as meteorologist Edward Lorenz said, change can be subject to sensitive dependence on initial conditions, meaning even a very small thing can set off a ripple effect of immense consequence.

In a nutshell, Lorenz cautions when it comes to thinking people can nail down a perfectly predictable future based on only what they know and ignoring what they don’t and often can’t know. Short term projections can be OK, longer term not so much. And if people don’t have certainty, they get very uncomfortable and fearful.

As science writer David Robson wrote in the BBC, “the fear of coronavirus is changing our psychology.” He said:

“Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of disease may even sway our political affiliations.”

In other words, thanks to COVID-19, our fear of all manner of change becomes both magnified and deeply intractable.

So, what to do in the twisted fate of 2022? In my book Corporate Personality Disorder: Surviving and Saving Sick Organizations I argued that fear can be explained as an amalgam of powerlessness and the unknown — COVID-19 has led many of us to feel powerless.

Overcoming this fear, whether it be fear of change or fear of COVID-19 requires personal empowerment and knowledge. But the trick is defining whose power and what knowledge.

Eli Sopow does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Lower drug prices are a priority for Canadians, but not for the federal government

Changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board regulations, which are intended to help lower drug costs in Canada, were originally scheduled to take effect in July 2020. (Shutterstock)

Once again, the federal minister of health has postponed changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) regulations for another six months until July 1, 2022.

The excuse is that bringing the amendments into force during the COVID-19 pandemic requires preparedness and consultation and the government needs to further engage stakeholders — the pharmaceutical industry and its allies.

The process of changing the regulations started in June 2016 when the PMPRB released a public discussion paper. Changes were necessary because of the high cost of drugs in Canada: The PMPRB reported in 2019 that only the United States, Switzerland and Germany had higher drug prices. On a per capita basis, Canada spent the third-highest amount in the world on drugs in 2021, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Lowering drug prices was part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan — although pharmacare gets only a passing mention in the latest mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the new Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Finally, the multinational drug companies were not living up to their end of the bargain: in 1987 they agreed to spend 10 per cent of sales revenue on research and development in Canada in return for Canada changing its rules about drug patents. By 2019, that figure had shrunk to 3.9 per cent.

Delayed by two years

The PMPRB changes were initially supposed to come into effect on July 1, 2020, but were delayed for six months. The reasons, according to the federal government, were “to minimize the imposition of new administrative burden on industry” and to give stakeholders more time to provide feedback because of the impact of the pandemic.

Efforts to lower drug prices were part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan.

Fast forward six months and there’s another six-month delay. This time, a spokesperson for Health Canada said that the industry needed more time to adjust to new reporting requirements while dealing with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 24, 2021, seven days before the changes were to start, the federal government decided that industry needed even more time because of the pandemic. On that occasion, Health Canada said, “It is not anticipated that further delaying these amendments will be needed.” But as the announcement on Dec. 23 showed, another delay was necessary.

Lobbying efforts

Are the pandemic and the need for more discussions the only reasons for these repeated delays? The multinational drug companies, as represented by their lobby group Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC), have been very vocal in their opposition to the changes.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is reportedly rebuilding bridges with Big Pharma.

IMC disputed the need for them, the benefits that would result and claimed that drug companies would either not launch or delay the launch of new drugs in Canada. The only evidence for the latter threat was a report from Life Sciences Ontario, an organization whose membership includes multiple multinational drug companies.

If the pandemic meant more discussions were necessary, it also meant more lobbying by the industry. According to an investigative article in The Breach, an online media outlet, IMC lobbied elected representatives and government officials 55 times in 2021.

“Lobbyists for U.S.-based pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson … paid designated office holders in Canada a combined 116 visits since October 2020.”

The bulk of the lobbying was to make sure that Canada didn’t support any relaxation of patent standards at the World Trade Organization. But in light of reports that then Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne had “made it a mission to rebuild bridges with Big Pharma,” some of that lobbying was very likely also around the PMPRB changes.

Besides lobbying and predicting repercussions like delayed drug launches, the industry has also attempted to buy its way out of the changes. IMC offered to spend $1 billion over 10 years to boost local manufacturing and commercialization, and on new programs to improve access to drugs for rare diseases on the condition that some of the pricing changes be scrapped.

Vocal opposition

IMC was backed up by various patient groups. Durhan Wong-Reiger, president and CEO of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD), warned that “draconian” restrictions on drug prices won’t solve Canada’s budget problems.

Chris MacLeod, the founder of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society, said burdensome drug-pricing measures could cut Canada out of the latest COVID-19 vaccines and treatments being developed around the world.

Canadians pay some of the highest prescription drug costs in the world.

On its website, CORD lists over 25 drug companies among its “corporate leaders.” The website of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society doesn’t say if it has any relationships with drug companies.

Likewise, a group of “concerned Canadian doctors” recently wrote an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator. In it they argued that the federal government should halt implementation of new federal drug pricing regulations until a thorough consultation that includes physicians is undertaken.

Their reasoning is that if the regulations went ahead, Canadians will have increasing difficulty accessing effective new drugs. The article did not mention whether any of the signatories had financial conflicts of interest with drug companies.

Finally, there has been pressure from outside Canada. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby group that represents giant American drug companies, made it clear that in its view the changes “will significantly undermine the marketplace for innovative pharmaceutical products, delay or prevent the introduction of new medicines in Canada and reduce investments in Canada’s life sciences sector.”

In its annual report, the Office of the United States Trade Representative warned that the U.S. “will continue to monitor the implementation and effects of … changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s pricing regulations.”

Rising drug costs for Canadians

While the federal government has been bowing to the pharmaceutical industry, the amount that Canadians spend on medicines has continued to rise. In 2020, Canadians spent an estimated $32.7 billion, 4.3 per cent more than the previous year. Meanwhile, more than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.

A report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions estimates that the lack of affordability of prescription drugs could be causing 370 to 640 premature deaths due to heart disease every year, and 270 to 420 premature deaths annually of working-age Canadians with diabetes.

More than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.

Added to these grim numbers, job losses due to the pandemic have meant the loss of benefits including insurance for prescription drugs. An Angus Reid poll reports while seven per cent of Canadians gained prescription drug coverage during the year ending in October 2020, 14 per cent lost it during the same year.

Canadians have been waiting more than five years for lower drug prices. It’s time to stop waiting.

In 2019-2021, Joel Lexchin received payments for writing a brief on the role of promotion in generating prescriptions for Goodmans LLP and from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for presenting at a workshop on conflict-of-interest in clinical practice guidelines. He is a member of the Foundation Board of Health Action International and the Board of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. He receives royalties from University of Toronto Press and James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. for books he has written.

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The Conversation – Articles (CA)

When two ecosystems collided, ichthyosaurs re-evolved the ability to consume large prey

A specimen of the newly discovered species of ichthyosaur had teeth that showed it was capable of consuming large prey. (Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The land contact between North and South America has long been a fountain of research. The Isthmus of Panama — the narrow strip of land between the two continents — fully emerged about 3.5 million years ago. It allowed contact between terrestrial North and South American mammals, and resulted in wide-scale invasions of placental mammals into South America and the ultimate extinction of most southern marsupials.

In the late Jurassic, 150 million years ago, Earth was emerging from a relatively cool period, the supercontinent Pangea was breaking up, and a spike in extinction intensity rippled across the ecosystems. During the following period, known as the Early Cretaceous, the planet was warming, global sea levels and atmospheric oxygen were rising and the continents continued to fragment.

As a result, two entirely isolated oceans, the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys, which would later become the Atlantic Ocean, came together across the Hispanic Corridor. This union of oceans during a time of relatively high temperatures created a perfect storm for ecosystem evolution and drivers for novel biodiversity in the Neotropics — an event that would transform the course of marine ecosystems for the next 60 million years.

Biodiversity hotspot

Hispanic Corridor.
(Climate Archive), Author provided

Our research team, consisting of scientists from Colombia, Canada and Germany, explored the Neotropics by using the fossil record from the Paja Formation, a poorly studied shallow marine deposit in central Colombia that was laid down just after the formation of the Hispanic Corridor. Our main goal is to understand the origin and evolution of this marine ecosystem, and if it served as a potential ancient biodiversity hotspot — an epicentre for new species to originate and flourish.

We discovered a new species of ichthyosaur, the giant fish-like marine reptile. While examining a beautifully preserved skull specimen of the species we named Kyhytysuka sachicarum, we recognized this to be the first Cretaceous hypercarnivore ichthyosaur.

The skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.
(Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The new species evolved from Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the Tethys, but differed in that it had unique teeth for an ichthyosaur: there were several different tooth shapes that served different purposes, ranging from piercing to saw-tooth cutting to crushing.

This large ichthyosaur represents a revival of hypercarnivory (eating large prey). Although some early evolving ichthyosaurs did this, they moved to small fishes and invertebrates for the next 70 million years. Kyhytysuka somehow re-evolved the capacity for hypercarnivory during this time and place of intense ecological upheaval.

Large marine animals

Kyhytysuka was also one of the last surviving ichthyosaurs. Most ichthyosaurs went extinct by the end of the Jurassic — only a few made it into the Cretaceous but none survived past 100 million years ago. The fossil record in the Paja Formation preserves hints of the changing marine ecosystem.

3D animation of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.

These rocks preserve some of the largest marine animals ever discovered, including several ichthyosaurs, enormous whale-sized pliosaurs, the first long-necked elasmosaurs and a 10-metre-long crocodile that was the last survivor of a long lineage of Jurassic marine crocodiles.

The fossil record also contains the oldest known marine turtles in the lineage of today’s sea turtles as well as the origins of several crustaceans that survive today .

The information in the fossil record helps us reconstruct ancient food web interactions based on what was present in the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys prior to their contact and what was present during their contact in the Paja Formation. Changes to these ancient food webs promise to shed light on the environmental and ecological factors involved in the long-term sustainability of ecosystems.

An artist’s reconstruction of an Early Cretaceous ecosystem, created for Hace Tiempo, the first illustrated book about Colombia’s geological history.
(Hace Tiempo/C. Jaramillo and Guillermo Torres Carreño), Author provided

Careful inspection of fossils from this unique time and place offers a new window into what happens when ecosystems collide. So far, we’re finding this facilitates the evolution of enormous top predators and several evolutionary origins of new lineages that would persist for millions of years.

These results provide relevant data for better understanding of the consequences of the Jurassic-Cretaceous extinction on marine animals and, ultimately, of the advent of today’s marine ecosystems.

Dirley Cortés received funding from the BESS-NEO program, NSERC CREATE 46283-2015, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Anders Foundation, the 1923 Fund, and Gregory D. and Jennifer Walston Johnson, and the Fonds de recherche Nature et technologies Quebec (FRQNT). DC received particular subventions to this project by the Redpath Museum’s Delise Alison Award- 2019, the Sigma Xi Grant-in-aid-of-Research (GIAR), Canada-2019, and the Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science excellence award-2019 (QCBS). This work is part of DC’s PhD thesis dissertation at McGill University.

Hans Larsson receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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South Wales police left residents ‘unprotected’ during Swansea riot

Independent review finds officers stood by rather than tackling rioters during Mayhill unrest in spring 2021

A police force left residents “in danger, at risk and unprotected” for a “protracted period” during a riot in which cars were set on fire and bricks were hurled at houses, leaving people fearing for their lives, an independent review has concluded.

The chief constable of South Wales police, Jeremy Vaughan, apologised that his force had failed to act quickly enough during the disturbance in Swansea and accepted residents had been “tormented” by the rioters.

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Julian Assange wins first stage of attempt to appeal against extradition – video

The WikiLeaks founder has won the first stage of an attempt to avoid extradition to the US to face espionage charges. Assange’s partner, Stella Morris, spoke to supporters and the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the decision was made and explained they will now have to wait for the supreme court to decide if it will hear the appeal

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Minister resigns in protest at handling of fraudulent Covid loans

Responding to question on £4.3bn in Covid payments lost to fraud, Lord Agnew says he is unable to defend government

Follow the latest UK political developments as they happen

The minister responsible for efficiency has resigned his post publicly in parliament, saying he was unable to defend the way the government handled fraudulent Covid business loans.

“Given that I am the minister for counter-fraud, it would be somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly,” Theodore Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister whose brief also covers the Treasury, told the Lords.

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British kids’ TV shows under threat after ministers end funding

Young Audiences Content Fund had been intended to help UK broadcasters compete with US streaming services

Children’s television makers have said that distinctly British kids’ programmes could vanish from screens and be replaced with imported shows, after ministers quietly closed a £44m fund designed to support the sector.

The Young Audiences Content Fund had been intended to help British broadcasters compete with the globalised children’s output available on YouTube and cartoons on US streaming services such as Netflix.

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‘I don’t think it will ever be the same’: commuters slow to return in England

Lifting of working from home Covid guidance leads to gradual awakening in London and Manchester

Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverage

At Moorgate tube station in London’s financial district, more commuters braved the return to office on the first Monday since government guidance to work from home was lifted.

“It does feel busier today, it’s good – London’s waking up,” said the woman staffing the barriers of the station.

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I don’t trust PM not to leak interview with Sue Gray, says Cummings

Former No 10 adviser says he will only submit written evidence to Downing Street parties inquiry

Dominic Cummings has submitted written evidence to the inquiry into lockdown breaches in Downing Street in 2020, telling Sue Gray he did not trust Boris Johnson not to leak his conversations with the inquiry chief.

The former senior adviser also claimed that officials were deeply uncomfortable with handing over some evidence to the inquiry, believing that they could face retribution for damaging evidence.

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RSPB calls for emergency shooting ban during bird flu outbreak

Shoots cause stress for migratory species such as Svalbard barnacle goose, whose numbers are down 38%

The RSPB has called for an emergency shooting ban after an “unprecedented” outbreak of bird flu that has left wildfowl populations in “catastrophic decline”.

Migratory geese that overwinter on the Solway Firth, which stretches between Scotland and Cumbria, are being hardest hit, with a 38% decline in the Svalbard barnacle goose breeding population from winter last year.

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The big idea: should animals have the same rights as humans?

Debates about the human-like attributes of animals miss the point. Can we respect them regardless?

The government has finally caught up with what most animal behavioural scientists have been saying for years by formally recognising animals as sentient beings in its animal welfare (sentience) bill. In November it was confirmed that the scope of the bill would be extended to include in the “sentient” category all decapod crustaceans (such as crabs and lobsters) and cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish). This ruling heeds a review led by Jonathan Birch of the London School of Economics, who points out: “Octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now.”

Although these rulings are welcome, their tardiness is sobering. People have been arguing fiercely, dogmatically and even violently about animal welfare for a very long time – yet framing the issue in terms of legally enforced rights comes with baggage about the socially constructed (and therefore exclusively human) nature of moral status and rights-based reasoning. The starting point should rather have been the nature of animal cognition: how we and other beings are situated in a broad panorama of minds. While there is still plenty to learn about that mindscape, Birch is right to imply that, given what science has already told us, it borders on the absurd that UK law took so long to formally acknowledge animal sentience.

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‘I owe it to the kids’: coin found by detectorist dad sold for £648,000

Devon family makes a fortune from 13th-century gold coin discovered thanks to return to an old hobby

A metal detectorist who gave up his hobby when he started a family, only to return to it when his children were old enough to nag him into taking them out detecting with him, has been rewarded with one of the most extraordinary finds – a lovely example of England’s oldest gold coin, which has sold for a record-breaking £648,000 at auction.

Michael Leigh-Mallory, 52, found the Henry III gold penny buried 10cm deep on farmland in the Devon village of Hemyock shortly after taking up his old hobby again. Not realising what it was, he posted a picture of the coin on social media, where it was spotted by the auctioneers Spink in London.

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Boris Johnson warns Russia invading Ukraine would be ‘painful, violent and bloody’ – video

The British prime minister has warned Russia that invading Ukraine would be a “disastrous step”. Boris Johnson said: “We also need to get over the message that invading Ukraine from a Russian perspective is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business.” White House and Downing Street said they had started withdrawing diplomats’ families from Ukraine

Nato reinforces eastern borders as Ukraine tensions mountUS and UK withdraw families from Ukraine embassies but EU to stay put
No 10 casts Johnson as head of anti-Russian alliance over Ukraine
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Johnson warns of painful and violent Ukraine ‘lightning war’

Prime minister to hold talks with other political leaders amid fears of imminent Russian invasion

A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “painful, violent and bloody business”, Boris Johnson has warned as he said a “lightning war” was possible but not inevitable.

The prime minister said it would be “disastrous” if Vladimir Putin directed thousands of soldiers to cross into Ukraine seeking to take further parts of the country after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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England to end Covid testing for double-vaccinated travellers, says Johnson

PM announces he is scrapping compulsory testing for arrivals who are double-jabbed

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Coronavirus testing for double-vaccinated travellers arriving in England will be axed, Boris Johnson has announced.

The prime minister did not confirm when the travel rules would be eased, but it is likely to happen before the February half-term break.

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Jill Schlesinger on why why you should file your taxes as soon as possible

CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger joins “CBS Mornings” on the first day of tax season to discuss what Americans need to know when filing their taxes this year. She addresses specifics about the Child Tax Credit, stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and free resources for tax prep.

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Woman stabbed to death and man fatally hit by car in west London

Police were called to reports of a stabbing in Maida Vale and also found a man had been hit by a car

A woman has been stabbed to death and a man has died after being hit by a car in west London.

The Metropolitan police said it had launched an urgent investigation after the incident in Chippenham Road, Maida Vale, at about 9am on Monday.

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