As Britain passes 100,000 COVID deaths, Boris Johnson is in a crisis of his own making


Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

Two slippery and elusive phantoms seem to be escaping UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative government. The first is the fiendishly viral and deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of covid-related deaths in the UK has passed 100,000, making it the first nation in Europe to pass this milestone. The UK now has the fifth-highest death toll in the world. The Johnson government has struggled to manage the crisis, and the human cost is higher than the total civilian casualties the UK experienced during the second world war.

As elusive for Johnson, who for so long has played arch-buffoon and joker, is political capital. The concept of “political capital” feels intuitive – popular politicians seem to have a lot of it, and unpopular ones seem to have none of it. Yet, political science has long wrestled with trying to define and understand it.

The notable sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was one of the first to grapple with the idea. The academic Kimberly Casey argues that political capital is analogous to a cake – it requires a number of ingredients and, crucially, not all of them were initially made by the baker. Richard French suggests political capital is made of up of:

[…] mostly intangible assets which politicians use to induce compliance from other power holders [such as business leaders].

After his emphatic 2019 election win, Johnson seemed to have stacks of it. He won a landslide majority of 80 seats and notably broke into Labour’s “red wall” (although the starkly majoritarian electoral system skewed Johnson’s victory margin).

A rampaging virus has meant a bleak winter in the UK, which has just passed 100,000 COVID deaths.
Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/AAP

Johnson has made a number of serious political misjudgements in responding to the pandemic. First, his government has repeatedly been slow off the mark to deal with the crisis. At the outset of the first wave, it played down the risks. In March 2020 he was arguing the UK would “turn the tide” in 12 weeks.

Johnson’s government was slow to handle the second wave, attempting a relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period. The government’s chief medical officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, asserted an earlier lockdown could have made a difference. More striking was this claim relating to the first wave by one of the scientists advising the government, Professor Neil Ferguson:

Had we introduced lockdown a week earlier we’d have reduced the final death toll by at least half.

Johnson also made of habit of either marginalising or just ignoring scientific advice. In tandem with handling the pandemic, Johnson was under immense pressure to deliver a Brexit deal while also dealing with the “economic emergency” of the crisis.

More damningly, there appears to be no overarching and clear strategy to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Johnson’s government has had to make numerous and predictable policy U-turns on a range of issues.

Poor communication has also been a hallmark of the period. The government’s “stay alert” campaign last May was met with public bemusement. The belated introduction of a tier system in October also seemed to cause confusion and was followed by further England-wide lockdowns.

Johnson’s approach has been bedevilled by trying to meet the health challenges while simultaneously trying to rebuild the economy and manage the spiralling costs of the pandemic. The government’s “eat out to help out” scheme proved disastrous, with evidence it appears to have contributed to the devastating second wave.

Worse still were the complacency and apparent hypocrisy that are part of Johnson’s political calculus – not least his handling of the damaging trip made by his then-top aide Dominic Cummings to “test his vision”. Johnson’s own father Stanley has seemingly flouted lockdown rules, all while his government hectors the public. The double standards in Johnson’s approach give an impression of “one rule for us” and serve as a reminder of the levels of inequality in the UK.




Read more:
As a second wave of COVID looms in the UK, Australia is watching closely


There are systemic factors, beyond Johnson’s leadership, that help explain the flailing response to the pandemic in the UK. In a considered essay, Ferdinand Mount brutally reminds us of the systemic dismantling of the NHS and neo-liberal reforms under both Conservative and Labour governments, and the austerity measures that have left the system struggling. Mount’s judgment is:

The malign combination of an over-centralised system and a hopelessly narcissistic prime minister has been fatal.

Will Johnson be able to remake his political capital? If he manages to ride out the current crisis, he has a number of available strategies and systemic advantages.

First, he stuffed his cabinet full of loyalists, many owing their political careers to his backing – even when they break ministerial codes. Johnson is now trying to get on the front foot, expressing “deep sorrow” for the mounting death toll, and a change in advisers is resetting his political strategy. He is adept at downplaying criticisms with the “benefit of hindsight” argument.

The vaccine roll-out in the UK has also been hailed as a great success, and the government is still performing relatively well in the polls.

Crucially, the UK is not scheduled to head to the polls until 2024. If the vaccine strategy works, Johnson knows future elections are not often decided by a government’s record in the early part of a term.




Read more:
As COVID rampages through Europe, it will test not just health systems but social cohesion


The Conversation


Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

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

Stranded at sea: the humanitarian crisis that’s left 400,000 seafarers stuck on cargo ships


Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

It has been rightly described as a humanitarian crisis and a modern form of forced labour.

In the early months of 2020, stranded cruise ships became a stark symbol of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Now it is seafarers stranded on cargo ships.

There are more than 50,000 such vessels, with about 1.6 million crew.

Before the coronavirus crisis, about 100,000 of these crew changed over each month, typically after serving contracts capped at 11 months under the United Nations Maritime Labour Convention. But since March, border closures and other restrictions have prevented this for many seafarers, forcing them into indefinite service, unable to even take shore leave.

And their work has never been more important to the rest of us. Before the pandemic cargo ships carried about 80% of all global trade. With the curtailment of international air travel reducing air cargo capacity by about 20%, shipping has become even more crucial to the global economy.

But the personal costs are enormous. Working on a cargo ship is taxing as the best of times. Now the work is even harder, with no respite.




Read more:
The reality of life for seafarers like those crewing the ‘hijacked’ tanker Nave Andromeda


In June the number of stranded seafarers was estimated to be 150,000. By September it was 400,000 (there are no more recent estimates). Some crew have now been at sea for 18 months.

The damage to mental health is great, increasing the risk of occupational accidents and environmental disasters.

Stuck at sea

Their plight is one to which I can personally relate.

In early March I boarded a two-masted schooner, the Avontuur, one of the few cargo ships operating under sail, as part of my research into decarbonising the shipping industry. I planned to be on board for a three-week voyage from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

My voyage aboard the Avontuur.
www.timbercoast.com

I ended up being on board for five months.

By the time we reached port at Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, Caribbean nations were restricting air travel and closing borders due to COVID-19. On March 24, after extended negotiations, we were allowed to briefly dock to take provisions. But no one was allowed ashore.

On April 10, we reached Puerto Cortés in Honduras, to load a cargo of green coffee. Stevedores came aboard to load the bags, but we were prohibited from going ashore. A week later we loaded cacao in Belize City, but again were refused permission to step on land.

Loading a cargo of cacao in Belize.
Christiaan De Beukelaer

So my trip extended port after port.

We spent ten days off the Mexican port of Veracruz, waiting for cargo, repairs and favourable winds. Again authorities did not allow us to step ashore. It wasn’t until late June, after more than 120 days on board, in Horta, that we were able to go ashore for a few days on the Azorean island of Faial. But given travel restrictions, we continued on for another three weeks to Hamburg.

The routine of work on a sailing ship occupied our time. Everyone worked eight hours a day in three different watches (four hours on, eight hours off).

But my ordeal was limited. I had confidence that in Hamburg I would be able to disembark and return to Australia. This is something many seafarers do not have. For many, there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.

Crew change possible, but difficult

Cargo ship crews need to keep watch and maintain the vessel at all times. They work 12 hours a day. Without weekends. Without seeing family or friends. Shore leave is increasingly rare, due to tight turnaround times in port, and often confined to docks.

Cargo ships off the coast of Thailand.
Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

Labour unions and seafarers initially accepted crew change limitations due to COVID-19 border closures as “force majeure” – an issue beyond anyone’s control. As a result, flag states, unions, and port state authorities allowed ship owners to extend contracts beyond Maritime Labour Convention rules.

Since May, many organisations have been appealing to governments to recognise seafarers as “key workers” and permit them to cross borders. Ship owners have also been under fire for not doing enough.




Read more:
Thousands of seafarers are stranded aboard ships, with no end to their shift in sight


In early September the head of the International Maritime Organisation, Kitack Lim, said progress was being made by many countries in allowing for crew changes, but not at a rate to keep pace with the backlog.

Most nations now permit seafarers to cross borders, but the process is hampered by bureaucracy, screening and quarantine requirements, limited and hugely expensive air travel, and changing rules due to new waves of COVID-19. So while travelling home is technically possible, many seafarers remain stuck at sea.

The consequences, Kitack Lim warned, are dire:

Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely. In addition to the humanitarian crisis that has been caused by keeping seafarers effectively trapped on their vessels, the safety issues that arise from requiring overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers to continue operating vessels are a matter of great concern.

These concerns have been echoed by the Consumer Goods Forum, comprising the top executives of about 400 multinational retailers and manufacturers, which wrote to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres calling for action to end a situation that had “inadvertently created a modern form of forced labor.”

The International Transport Workers’ Federation called the shipping industry “a ticking timebomb”, with its survey of seafarers showing 60% believed they or crew mates were more likely than not to be “involved in an accident that could harm human life, property or the marine environment due to tiredness or fatigue”.

Oil leaks from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier ship that ran aground off the coast of Mauritius in August 2020.
Oil leaks from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese bulk carrier ship that ran aground off the coast of Mauritius in August 2020.
Gwendoline Defente/AP

United Nations call for action

Where I live, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority announced last month it would end interim arrangements permitting seafarers to serve longer than 11 months on ships from 28 February 2021.

But as the International Transport Workers’ Federation noted – welcoming the decision while also expressing disappointment at the unnecessary delay – this is only the start of action needed from port states to help resolve the crew change crisis.

On December 1, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all governments to promptly take steps to facilitate crew changes, including by expediting travel and repatriation efforts and ensuring access to medical care.

A key step is designating seafarers as essential workers, with permission to cross borders, priority access to international flights, and to vaccinations when they become available.

The urgency is clear: the global economy depends on the work of seafarers.

When we celebrate Christmas with family and friends, feasting on imported delicacies and exchanging gifts shipped in from overseas, let’s not forget the ordeal of the hundreds of thousands stranded far from home who made that possible.The Conversation

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

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

Cutting taxes for the wealthy is the worst possible response to this economic crisis


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

Australia’s response to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is rightly considered one of the world’s best. At their best, our federal and state politicians have put aside the sterile games dominating politics for decades.

It seemed possible these efforts might last, as politicians sought to find common ground and make real progress on issues such as climate change, industrial relations and inequality as part of the coronavirus recovery.

But as soon as the virus seemed to be receding, politics returned to the old “normal”. Policies are again being put forward on the basis of ideological reflexes rather than an analysis of the required response to our new situation.

There is no more striking example than the federal government’s reported plan to bring forward income tax cuts legislated for 2024-25. The idea apparently has backbench support.

Those cuts will benefit high-income earners the most. They include replacing the 32.5% marginal tax rate on incomes between A$45,000 and A$120,000, and the 37% rate on incomes between AA$180,000, with a single 30% rate up to A$200,000.

This is being proposed while the government begins to wind back income-support measures, such as free child care, with much more serious “cliffs” fast approaching.

This economic crisis is different

One of the most striking features of Australia’s initial response to COVID-19 was the speed at which the Morrison government abandoned a decade of rhetoric denouncing the Rudd Labor government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis.

In mid-March the government was floating the idea of a tightly limited response with a budget of A$5 billion. By the end of the month this had been abandoned in favour of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes, estimated to cost A$14 billion and A$70 billion respectively. Other schemes brought the total to A$133 billion.

Despite the close resemblance to the Rudd stimulus packages, there was one crucial difference.

The GFC caused a collapse in the availability of credit, potentially choking off consumer demand and private investment. This was the classic case needing demand stimulus.

By contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shock to the production side of the economy, which flowed through to incomes. Millions of workers in industries such as tourism, hospitality and the arts were no longer able to work because of the virus.

The crucial problem was to support the incomes of those thrown out of work, and keep the businesses employing them afloat until some kind of normality returned. There were problems with the details of eligibility and implementation of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs, but the response was essentially right.

Have cash, will buy luxury car

The primary rationale for early tax cuts is that they will stimulate demand. But the economy’s real problem is not inadequate demand – particularly not on the part of high-income earners.

On the contrary, the problem for high-income earners is having a steady income even as many of the things they usually spend on (high-end restaurant meals, interstate and overseas holidays) have become unobtainable.

Among the results has been a splurge on luxury cars. Compared to June 2019, sales of Mazdas, Hyundais, Mitsubishis, Kias, Nissans and Hondas last month were all down. But Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus were all up.

As Jason Murphy notes, this rush to buy fancy cars isn’t definitive proof the wealthy are looking to ways to spend all the money they’re saving. “But it is suggestive. Eventually the money has to go somewhere.”

The worst possible course of action

The continuing problem with the pandemic is the loss of income faced by millions of workers. By definition, anyone in a position to benefit from a high-end tax cut doesn’t have this problem. Equity would suggest that, far from receiving more income, they should be sharing more of the burden, if not now then in the recovery period.




Read more:
Cutting unemployment will require an extra $70 to $90 billion in stimulus. Here’s why


When the federal government legislated its tax-cut schedule in advance, critics including Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and Access Economics partner Chris Richardson pointed out the danger of promising future tax cuts based on projected growth. The same policy had failed ignominiously in the 1990s when the Keating government legislated tax cuts to be introduced after the 1993 election. After declaring the cuts “L-A-W”, Paul Keating was forced to withdraw half of the tax cuts when the budget deteriorated.

These criticisms have now been vindicated.

The decade of strong economic growth, starting this year, that was supposed to make big tax cuts affordable has disappeared. We will be lucky if per capita GDP is back to its 2019 levels by 2024-25, when the tax cuts are slated to kick in regardless of circumstances.

Once that happens, we will need all the tax revenue we can get to bring the budget back into balance and deal with the continuing expenditure needs the pandemic has created.

The government now seems to be headed for the worst possible course of action – cutting support for those hit hardest by the pandemic while pouring money into the bank accounts of the well-off.




Read more:
Forget JobSeeker. In our post-COVID economy, Australia needs a ‘liveable income guarantee’ instead


The inevitable result of such a policy will be a surge of personal and business bankruptcies, mortgage defaults and evictions. That will bring about the kind of demand-deficiency recession the tax cuts are supposed to prevent, superimposed on the continuing constraints created by the pandemic.

So far we have all been in this together. For high-income earners that means forgoing tax cuts promised in happier times and contributing more to the relief of those who need it most.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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

As Minneapolis burns, Trump’s presidency is sinking deeper into crisis. And yet, he may still be re-elected



Sipa USA Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sip

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

Violence has erupted across several US cities after the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was shown on video gasping for breath as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck. The unrest poses serious challenges for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as each man readies his campaign for the November 3 election.

If the coronavirus had not already posed a threat to civil discourse in the US, the latest flashpoint in American racial politics makes this presidential campaign potentially one of the most incendiary in history.

COVID-19 and Minneapolis may very well form the nexus within which the 2020 campaign will unfold. Trump’s critics have assailed his handling of both and questioned whether he can effectively lead the country in a moment of crisis.

And yet, he may not be any more vulnerable heading into the election.

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A presidency in crisis?

As the incumbent, Trump certainly faces the most immediate challenges. Not since Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war has a US president presided over the deaths of so many Americans from a single cause.

The Axis powers and COVID-19 are not analogous, but any presidency is judged by its capacity to respond to enemies like these. With pandemic deaths now surpassing 100,000, Trump’s fortunes will be inexorably tied to this staggering (and still rising) figure.

Worse, the Minneapolis protests are showing how an already precarious social fabric has been frayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns.




Read more:
Donald Trump blames everyone but himself for the coronavirus crisis. Will voters agree?


Americans have not come together to fight the virus. Rather, they have allowed a public health disaster to deepen divisions along racial, economic, sectional and ideological lines.

Trump has, of course, often sought to gain from such divisions. But the magnitude and severity of the twin crises he is now facing will make this very difficult. By numerous measures, his is a presidency in crisis.

And yet.

Trump, a ferocious campaigner, will try to find ways to use both tragedies to his advantage and, importantly, makes things worse for his challenger.

For starters, Trump did not cause coronavirus. And he will continue to insist that his great geo-strategic adversary, the Chinese Communist Party, did.

And his is not the first presidency to be marked by the conflagration of several US cities.

Before Minneapolis, Detroit (1967), Los Angeles (1992) and Ferguson, Missouri (2014) were all the scenes of angry protests and riots over racial tensions that still haven’t healed.

And in the 19th century, 750,000 Americans were killed in a civil war that was fought over whether the enslavement of African-Americans was constitutional.

Trump may not have healed racial tensions in the US during his presidency. But, like coronavirus, he did not cause them.

How Trump can blame Democrats for Minneapolis

Not unhappily for Trump, Minneapolis is a largely Democratic city in a reliably blue state. He will campaign now on the failure of Democratic state leaders to answer the needs of black voters.

Trump will claim that decades of Democratic policies in Minnesota – including the eight years of the Obama administration – have caused Minneapolis to be one of the most racially unequal cities in the nation.

In 2016, Trump famously asked African-Americans whether Democratic leaders have done anything to improve their lives.

What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?

He will repeat this mantra in the coming months.

It also certainly helps that his support among Republican voters has never wavered, no matter how shocking his behaviour.

He has enjoyed a stable 80% approval rating with GOP voters throughout the coronavirus crisis. This has helped keep his approval rating among all voters steady as the pandemic has worsened, hovering between 40 and 50%.

These are not terrible numbers. Yes, Trump’s leadership has contributed to a series of disasters. But if the polls are correct, he has so far avoided the kinds of catastrophe that could imperil his chances of re-election.




Read more:
In Trump we trust: why continual disasters fail to shake the president’s loyalists


Why this moment is challenging for Biden

Biden should be able to make a good case to the American people at this moment that he is the more effective leader.

But this has not yet been reflected in polls, most of which continue to give the Democrat only a lukewarm advantage over Trump in the election.

The other problem is that the Democratic party remains discordant. And Biden has not yet shown a capacity to heal it.




Read more:
Third time’s the charm for Joe Biden: now he has an election to win and a country to save


Race has also long been a source of division within Biden’s party. Southern Democrats, for instance, were the key agents of slavery in the 19th century and the segregation that followed it into the 20th.

After the 1960s, Democrats sought to make themselves the natural home of African-American voters as the Republican party courted disaffected white Southern voters. The Democrats largely succeeded on that front – the party routinely gets around 85-90% of black votes in presidential elections.

The challenge for Biden now is how to retain African-American loyalty to his party, while evading responsibility for the socio-economic failures of Democratic policies in cities like Minneapolis.

He is also a white northerner (from Delaware). Between 1964 and 2008, only three Democrats were elected president. All of them were southerners.

To compensate, Biden has had to rely on racial politics to separate himself from his primary challenger – Bernie Sanders struggled to channel black aspirations – and from Republicans. And this has, at times, caused him to court controversy.

In 2012, he warned African-Americans that then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would put them “all back in chains”. And just over a week ago, he angered black voters by suggesting those who would support Trump in the election “ain’t black”.

Biden is far better than Trump on racial issues and should be able to use the current crises to present himself as a more natural “consoler-in-chief”, but instead, he has appeared somewhat flatfooted and derided for being racially patronising.

The opportunities COVID-19 and the Minneapolis unrest might afford his campaign remain elusive.

The protests over George Floyd’s death swiftly spread across the country.
ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA

There is reason for hope

America enters the final months of the 2020 campaign in a state of despair and disrepair. The choice is between an opportunistic incumbent and a tin-eared challenger.

But the US has faced serious challenges before – and emerged stronger. Neither the civil war in the 19th century or the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th halted the extraordinary growth in power that followed both.

Moreover, the US constitution remains intact and federalism has undergone something of a rebirth since the start of the pandemic. And there is a new generation of younger, more diverse, national leaders being forged in the fire of crisis to help lead the recovery.The Conversation

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

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

Morrison, compassion and coronavirus: when crisis refines leadership


Sen Sendjaya, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Monash University

News that the Morrison government paid A$190,000 last year for advice on how to empathise with the Australian people was met with ridicule.

Yet it might be worth the money.

In late January, Morrison was continually criticised for appearing to lack compassion over the bushfires.

He himself said, “there are things I could have handed on the ground much better”.

There are signs he has taken that to heart during the coronavirus outbreak.




Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough


He has acknowledged unknowns and people’s fear of the unknown, and used inclusive language along the lines of, “together we will get through this”.

It’s been more than getting the narrative right. We’ve seen capable and compassionate leadership, even “servant leadership”.

Problems, not projects, make leaders. Real leaders faced with real problems put their followers before themselves.

Servant leadership works

Research shows that “servant leaders” make good leaders.

Their stories explain the success of many of the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, including Zappos.com, Marriot International, and TDIndustries.

In a recently published state-of-the-art review of servant leadership, we argue that servant leadership makes sense empirically, financially and psychologically.

Our review of 285 studies on servant leadership in 39 countries finds the approach creates better leader-follower relationships, in turn boosting performance metrics including employee satisfaction and well being, commitment, and innovation.

It can help in the polls

It is probably why we react positively in the polls when our political leaders show compassion.

The latest Newspoll suggests his approach to the coronavirus has done him no harm.

Financially, servant leadership is a worthwhile investment because it is correlated with individual, team, and organisational performance better than other forms of leadership.

Psychologically, it helps individuals shift from a concern for themselves towards a concern for others, creating a culture of service.

Servant leadership is made up of six dimensions that can be applied on a daily basis:

It is a common misconception that in times of crisis we need leaders with a command-and-control and domineering approach, and those who demonstrate compassion will be seen as weak.

Compassion needs genuine strength

The truth is that being compassionate does not signal weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect.

On the contrary, only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are able to put aside themselves and instead serve others in times of crisis.

Being compassionate isn’t easy, as Morrison knows.

But it’s never too late to start.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Morrison looks to his messaging on coronavirus and climate


The Conversation


Sen Sendjaya, Professor of Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Senior Lecturer, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

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

Coronavirus: 5 ways to manage your news consumption in times of crisis



Victoria Heath/Unsplash

Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Thousands of employees internationally are already working from home in COVID-19 self-isolation because of their recent travel, related symptoms or immune system vulnerability.

But to do so while habitually checking the news on devices – and allowing 24/7 news channels to play non-stop in the background – might erode your productivity and increase stress and anxiety.

A foundational element of media literacy in the digital era is striking an appropriate balance between news consumption and other activities. Even before the current crises, Australian research demonstrated news avoidance had risen among news consumers from 57% in 2017 to 62% in 2019, driven by a sense of news fatigue.

Self-help expert Rolf Dobelli implores us to stop reading the news. While he advocates going cold turkey and abandoning all packaged news consumption, Dobelli makes exceptions for long-form journalism and documentaries.

So too does philosopher Alain de Botton in The News – A User’s Manual, while proposing more positive news and journalism’s examination of life’s deeper issues, emotions and aesthetics.

In journalism education there has been a move towards “peace journalism”, “mindful journalism”, “constructive journalism” and “solutions journalism”, where the news should not merely report what is wrong but suggest ways to fix it.




Read more:
How peace journalism can help the media cover elections in Africa


Of course, it would be a mistake to abstain from all news during the COVID-19 pandemic and its unpredictable economic and social consequences.

Often it is best to navigate a middle path, so here are five suggestions on how you can stay in the loop at home while you get your work done – and help maintain your mental health.

1. Switch off

Avoid the 24/7 news channels and feeds unless it is your business to do so, or unless the information is likely to impact you directly.

Try to develop a routine of checking in on the main headlines once, twice or three times a day so you stay informed about the most important events without being sucked into the vortex of click bait and news of incremental changes in the number of coronavirus cases or the ups and downs of the stock markets.

2. Dive deep

Look for long-form journalism and in-depth commentary on the topics that most interest you. Articles by experts (Editor’s note: like those in The Conversation!) include the most important facts you need to know, and are likely to have a constructive angle presenting incisive analysis and a pathway to a solution or best practice.

Spend your time engaging with well-researched and accurate stories.
Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

On radio and television, look for big picture current affairs programs like the ABC’s AM and 7.30 – or on a lighter and more positive note Ten’s The Project – so you don’t have to be assaulted by a disturbing litany of petrol station hold-ups, motorway chases and celebrity gossip in the packaged morning and evening news.

3. Connect

Use social media wisely – for communicating with family and friends when you might be physically isolated and by following authoritative sources if something in the news is affecting your life directly, such as emergency services during cyclones, fires and floods.

But avoid the suggested and sponsored news feeds with dubious and unfiltered information (often shared as spam by social media illiterates).

Keep your social media commentary civil, empathetic and supportive – mindful of everyone’s mental health during a crisis.

4. Interrogate

Ask the key question: “What is the best source of the information I absolutely need to know?”

Go to primary sources where possible. Subscribe to official and authoritative information feeds – for example, daily summaries from the World Health Organisation) and the Commonwealth Department of Health on COVID-19 and your preferred bank’s summary reports on the sharemarket and economic indicators.

5. Be mindful

Bear in mind the well being of any children in your household with the timing and selection of your hard/live news consumption. International research has shown more constructive news stories have fewer negative mental health impacts on children, particularly when combined with the opportunity to discuss the contents with their peers.

It’s important to think about where your children get their news, too.
Shutterstock.com

Finally, you might also use these crises to build your own media literacy – by pausing to reflect carefully upon what news you really need in your family’s life. This might vary markedly according to your work, interests and passions.

For many of us it will mean a much more critical diet of what we call “traditional hard news” – allowing us the time to read and view material that better contributes to the quality of our own lives and to our varied roles as informed citizens.The Conversation

Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Griffith University

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

Vital Signs: Australian and US rate cuts underline seriousness of the coronavirus crisis


Richard Holden, UNSW

This week the Reserve Bank of Australia did something everyone expected and the US Federal Reserve did something almost nobody expected. Both are revealing.

At its monthly meeting Australia’s central bank cut official interest rates by 25 basis points to a record low of 0.5%.

The Fed cut rates by 50 basis points – not at a regular meeting but “off cycle” – in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which looks likely to become a global pandemic.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s announcement of its decision made it seem COVID-19 was the main, if not only, reason it was cutting rates.




Read more:
One word repeated 9 times explains why the Reserve Bank cut: it’s ‘coronavirus’


In reality, the bank was always going to cut rates sooner rather than later. Australia’s economic growth remains sluggish on a per capita basis, wage growth is still hovering about 2%, unemployment is 5.3% and inflation has been below the 2-3% target band for Philip Lowe’s entire time as governor (since September 2016).

The US economy, by contrast, is doing better on all these measures. Unemployment is at its lowest rate in several decades. Wage growth is above 3.6% on an annual basis.

That makes the US rate cut far more revealing about the Fed’s view on the economic effects of COVID-19.

The Fed’s Open Market Committee is worried. US stock markets responded to the announcement by dropping about 3%, before recovering the next day.

One tool in the box

There is a narrative in Australian business circles, among certain commentators – and voiced by former treasurer Peter Costello – that the Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts no longer do anything to spur investment and growth because rates are already so low.

Moreover, the argument goes, by cutting rates the central bank sends a negative message about the state of the Australian economy.

The hard truth is the economy is in bad shape.




Read more:
Economic growth near an end as Treasury talks of prolonged coronavirus downturn


Interest-rate cuts alone won’t solve the problem. But it is the tool the Reserve Bank has at its disposal. There is also good reason, as I wrote late last year, to believe the normal transmission mechanisms of monetary policy are still working.

As almost every mainstream economist has said, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak the Australian economy needed significant fiscal stimulus rather than the balanced-budget fetishism of the current Coalition government (and, to be fair, also the current Labor opposition).

We are now going to see some targeted stimulus because of COVID-19, but that won’t address the Australian economy’s pre-existing problems.

Sending a message

Curiously enough, the critique of the Reserve Bank of Australia just mentioned applies quite well to the US Federal Reserve’s decision to cut rates dramatically – and do so off-cycle.

The Fed cut its rate range from 1.5%-1.75% to 1.0%-1.25%. Doing so used up a lot of its remaining monetary policy ammunition.

And the virus crisis is not just a demand-side problem where consumers aren’t spending. It’s also a supply-side problem where businesses are unable to produce what consumers might be willing to buy. No rate cut can repair global supply chains disrupted by mass factory closures in China.

What the Fed definitely did do is send a message that the virus crisis is going to be a really big deal. That helps create its own vicious cycle of beliefs on the demand side as consumers respond to the rate cut by increasing precautionary savings and cutting back on spending.

So the Fed used some of its limited ammunition in a way unlikely to be very effective, and has freaked out markets and consumers. Oops.

A time to borrow and spend

Coming back to Australia, it will be important to unpack both the Reserve Bank’s monetary response and the federal government’s fiscal response. How much is a response to COVID-19 and how much to the underlying weakness of the Australian economy?

The real fear is that too little will be done, especially with fiscal policy, to address that underlying economic weakness.

There is some hope, now the prospect of a budget surplus has essentially evaporated, the Coalition government will be free to do what it should have been doing all along – making long-term investments in the Australian economy.




Read more:
Vital Signs: Australia’s nation-building opportunity held hostage by the deficit daleks


Let’s not forget the government can borrow for 10 years at 1% in nominal terms – a negative interest rate when adjusted for inflation. Debt markets will essentially pay us to borrow from them. That is a rare opportunity to make smart investments that will pay huge dividends in years to come.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest crisis ever to hit international education


Christopher Ziguras, RMIT University and Ly Tran, Deakin University

The coronavirus outbreak may be the biggest disruption to international student flows in history.

There are more than 100,000 students stuck in China who had intended to study in Australia this year. As each day passes, it becomes more unlikely they will arrive in time for the start of the academic year.

Of course international affairs are bound to sometimes interfere with the more than 5.3 million students studying outside their home country, all over the world.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States closed its borders temporarily and tightened student visa restrictions, particularly for students from the Middle East. Thousands were forced to choose different study destinations in the following years.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s government instructed all its citizens studying in Canada to return home, in protest at the Canadian foreign minister’s call to release women’s rights activists held in Saudi jails.

A significant proportion of the 12,000 or so Saudi students in Canada left to continue their studies elsewhere, before the Saudi government quietly softened its stance.

So we have seen calamities before, but never on this scale. There are a few reasons for this.

Why this is worse than before

The current temporary migration of students from China to Australia represents one of the largest education flows the world has ever seen. Federal education department data show there were more than 212,000 Chinese international students in Australia by the end of 2019.


Screenshot/Department of Education

This accounts for 28% of Australia’s total international student population. Globally, there are only two study routes that involve larger numbers of students. The world’s largest student flow is from China to the United States and the second largest is from India to the US.

It’s also difficult to imagine a worse time for this epidemic to happen for students heading to the southern hemisphere than January to February, at the end of our long summer break.

Many Chinese students had returned home for the summer and others were preparing to start their studies at the end of February.

By comparison, the SARS epidemic in 2003 didn’t significantly dent international student enrolments in Australia because it peaked around April-May 2003, well after students had started the academic year.




Read more:
We need to make sure the international student boom is sustainable


Ending in July that year, the SARS outbreak infected fewer than half the number of people than have already contracted coronavirus. Even during the SARS outbreak Australia didn’t implement bans on those travelling from affected countries.

What will the impact be?

This crisis hits hard for many Chinese students, an integral component of our campus communities. It not only causes disruptions to their study, accommodation, part-time employment and life plans, but also their mental well-being.

A humane, supportive and respectful response from the university communities is vital at this stage.

Australia has never experienced such a sudden drop in student numbers.

The reduced enrolments will have profound impacts on class sizes and the teaching workforce, particularly at masters level in universities with the highest proportions of students from China. Around 46% of Chinese students are studying a postgraduate masters by coursework. If classes are too small, universities will have to cancel them.

And the effects don’t end there. Tourism, accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers who cater to international students will be hit hard too.

Chinese students contributed A$12 billion to the Australian economy in 2019, so whatever happens from this point, the financial impact will be significant. The cost of the drop in enrolments in semester one may well amount to several billion dollars.

The newly-formed Global Reputation Taskforce by Australia’s Council for International Education has commissioned some rapid response research to promote more informed discussion about the implications and impacts of the crisis.




Read more:
What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?


If the epidemic is contained quickly, some of the 100,000 students stuck in China will be able to start their studies in semester one, and the rest could delay until mid-year. But there might still be longer-term effects.

Australia has a world-class higher education system and the world is closely watching how we manage this crisis as it unfolds.

Prospective students in China will be particularly focused on Australia’s response as they weigh future study options.

The world is watching

Such a fast-moving crisis presents a range of challenges for those in universities, colleges (such as English language schools) and schools who are trying to communicate with thousands of worried students who can’t enter the country.

Australian universities are scrambling to consider a wide range of responses. These include:

  • delivering courses online
  • providing intensive courses and summer or winter courses
  • arrangements around semester commencement
  • fee refund and deferral
  • provision of clear and updated information
  • support structures for starting and continuing Chinese students, including extended academic and welfare support, counselling, special helplines, and coronavirus-specific information guidelines
  • support with visa issues, accommodation and employment arrangements.

A coordinated approach involving different stakeholders who are providing different supports for Chinese students is an urgent priority. This includes education providers, government, city councils, international student associations, student groups and professional organisations.




Read more:
Coronavirus fears can trigger anti-Chinese prejudice. Here’s how schools can help


This outbreak further raises awareness within the international education sector of the need for risk management and crisis response strategies to ensure sustainability.

Most importantly, we need to ensure we remain focused on the human consequences of this tragedy first. Headlines focusing on lost revenues at a time like this are offensive to international students and everyone involved in international education.The Conversation

Christopher Ziguras, Professor of Global Studies, RMIT University and Ly Tran, ARC Future Fellow, Deakin University

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

The water crisis has plunged the Nats into a world of pain. But they reap what they sow



Angry farmers are pressuring the Nationals to tear up the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Daniel Connell, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

When farmers descended on Parliament House in Canberra this month to demand the Murray Darling Basin Plan be dumped, they reserved sharp words for Nationals leader Michael McCormack.

“The National Party is not going to exist after the next election unless you grow some spine,” one angry irrigator warned him.

“Get up there and say ‘this is not f—ing good enough’. Get angry!”




Read more:
Fish kills and undrinkable water: here’s what to expect for the Murray Darling this summer


By the end of the week, federal Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud, a Nationals MP, had announced a review of water sharing arrangements under the basin plan, claiming it would “take the politics out” of the issue.

But that hope will be in vain. If irrigators in New South Wales get more water, that means less for the environment and other water users downstream including irrigators in South Australia.

The Nationals are wedged between NSW irrigation communities and its coalition with the Liberals. But this crisis is largely of the party’s own making, and it will not go away any time soon.

Farmers say water shortages are threatening their livelihoods and communities.
AAP

A political bind

The Murray Darling Basin Plan became law in 2012. It’s meant to determine how much water can be drawn from the river system by users, mostly irrigators who use about 95% of extracted water. The plan aims to return some water to rivers, wetlands and flood plains by buying it from willing sellers on the water market, and improving infrastructure to prevent water loss.

The National Party has long blamed the basin plan for a raft of problems facing rural communities. This attitude might have served the Nationals’ short-term political interests. But it created a monster: stoking dissatisfaction from rural voters it is now unable to manage.




Read more:
The Murray-Darling Basin scandal: economists have seen it coming for decades


The beneficiaries are right-wing minor parties such as One Nation, to which rural voters in NSW and southern Queensland are now turning.

The Nationals’ base might be rural, but it is in coalition with the Liberals who must appease both capital city voters concerned about the environment, and constituents in downstream South Australia where voters of all persuasions think their state does not receive a fair share of water.

The Nationals are wedged between their rural base and Liberal voters.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

A history of white-anting

It is ironic farmers now accuse the Nationals of not doing enough to oppose the basin plan, given the party’s record on water policy at a state and federal level.

As far back as the 1980s, it became clear water salinity and over-extraction by irrigators was degrading river environments in the Murray Darling Basin.

Over ensuing decades the Nationals could have helped affected communities accept the need to take a basin-wide approach to water extraction. Instead they fuelled resentment by demanding more water for irrigators, implicitly dismissing the legitimate needs of the environment and downstream water users.




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Paddling blind: why we urgently need a water audit


In the early 1990s, for example, when a cap on further extractions was being planned, the NSW government (whose water policy was controlled by the Nationals) insisted water licenses not yet activated should be accepted within the cap. This substantially increased the volume of water extracted.

But even after securing the the changes, the Nationals campaigned against the policy.

Later as part of the Howard government, the Nationals reluctantly helped prepare the Water Act 2007 which underpins the basin plan. When it finally went before Parliament in 2012, McCormack, then a backbencher, opposed it. Such opposition has been a hallmark of Nationals policy ever since.

Receding waters in the NSW Menindee Lakes which is under pressure from low water flows.
Dean Lewins/AAP

In NSW, Nationals water ministers have undermined the plan in many ways, including by failing to ensure the timely delivery of “water resource plans”. These plans are supposed to outline how water will be shared between irrigators and the environment at a regional level, and are essential to the success of the broader basin policy.




Read more:
It’s time to restore public trust in the governing of the Murray Darling Basin


Meanwhile federally, Nationals MPs have insisted water for the environment be acquired by improving water infrastructure rather than taking water from irrigators. The building of this infrastructure has led to additional costs for taxpayers for little environmental benefit.

Farmers at a rally outside Parliament House. They want the basin plan scrapped.
Lukas Coch/AAP

So what next?

The basin plan now appears on the brink of collapse. The NSW government is threatening to pull out if changes are not made and Littleproud’s decision to review water-sharing arrangements is hardly a ringing endorsement of the plan.

Meanwhile the Greens and other critics say the plan was never adequate anyway,
given the low volumes of water redirected to the environment and its failure to properly recognise climate change.

If irrigators succeed in having the plan scrapped, their victory is likely to be short-lived. Public anger at ongoing environmental degradation will only grow. And depending on the party in government when a new Murray Darling policy is drafted, irrigators may be treated with far less sympathy.The Conversation

Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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