Year: 2017

Just another ‘war on drugs’ disaster

The recent passing of a new addition to the British statute books, which will come into effect on April 6th, is the latest in a long line of poorly drafted drug laws. The new law, to act in parallel with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, effectively bans all substances – with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine – with a “psychoactive effect” on “normal brain functioning”. The awful irony of a UK government exempting two of the most individually and socially harmful substances has not been lost on concerned commentators. So where exactly has this nonsensical law come from? How on earth have we got ourselves into this situation? And will it work? To answer that, it’s worth reflecting on the emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or so called legal highs. New highs In 2009, club drug researchers first heard talk of the stimulant NPS mephedrone or “M-Cat” at UK clubs and after parties. At that time, there was growing disillusionment among users with the purity of popular illegal club drugs – as one of our interviewees put …

Re-evaluating present human rights for the future

Since the mid-20th century many have grown used to the idea of having human rights and how these can be used when those people feel they are being threatened. In particular, despite having a heritage stemming back further, contemporary understanding of these rights was largely formed in 1948. That’s when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) was created. This milestone document sought to facilitate a new world order following the devastation of World War II. It declared all humans to be born free and equal. It committed states to protect rights such as those to life, to be free from torture, to work, and to an adequate standard of living. These promises have since been cemented in international treaties, including the 1966 International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in regional instruments like the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR). More recently, however, states have started to think again. In the US, the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency have involved openly flouting international human rights commitments, most …

How animals taking communal decisions

Today we opt for ballot boxes but humans have used numerous ways of voting to have their say throughout history. However, we’re not the only ones living (or seeking to live) in a democratic society: a new study has suggested that African wild dogs vote to make group decisions. A new study has found that these dogs sneeze to decide when to stop resting and start hunting. Researchers found that the rates of sneezing during greeting rallies – which happen after, or sometimes during, a rest period – affect the likelihood of the pack departing to hunt, rather than going back to sleep. If dominant individuals start the rally it is much more likely to result in a hunt, and only two or three sneezes are required to get the pack started. But if a subordinate individual wishes to start a hunt, they have to sneeze a lot more – around ten times – to get the pack to move off. The researchers think that this sneezing is the pack members voting on when to …

North Korea is not the biggest nuclear threat to the world

North Korea is not the biggest nuclear threat to the world

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its dictator, Kim Jong-un, seem determined to demonstrate to the world, and particularly the United States, its nuclear weapons capabilities. With a possible hydrogen bomb test and two missile launches that have passed over Japan this month, tensions have been raised, with U.S. President Donald Trump implementing further sanctions and threatening to rain down “fire and fury” on the country. But does North Korea pose such a threat with its ongoing testing? Why is the U.S. not considered a threat in similar terms? For one thing, it’s the only country to have actually dropped a nuclear bomb on a civilian population, two in fact, on Japan to supposedly to avoid a land invasion, save lives and bring about a “swift end” to the Second World War. Yet this official narrative, pushed for decades, is being questioned by modern historians and no longer appears to hold up as it once did, especially as high-ranking U.S. officials themselves have questioned their use. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a …

Canadian health-care system under performing?

Canada’s health-care system is a point of Canadian pride. We hold it up as a defining national characteristic and an example of what makes us different from Americans. The system has been supported in its current form, more or less, by parties of all political stripes — for nearly 50 years. Our team at the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies Health Policy Council is a team of seasoned and accomplished health-care leaders in health economics, clinical practice, education, research and health policy. We study, teach and comment on health policy and the health-care system from multiple perspectives. While highly regarded, Canada’s health-care system is expensive and faces several challenges. These challenges will only be exacerbated by the changing health landscape in an aging society. Strong leadership is needed to propel the system forward into a sustainable health future. A national health insurance model The roots of Canada’s system lie in Saskatchewan, when then-premier Tommy Douglas’s left-leaning Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government first established a provincial health insurance program. This covered universal hospital (in 1947) …

Rising food price has lead to conflict in Syria

Rising food price has lead to conflict in Syria

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria. From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today. But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts. In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. …

Failure of football clubs to pay staff a living wage

Failure of football clubs to pay staff a living wage

English football’s top flight, the Premier League, dominates the sporting world’s league tables for revenue. Star players, managers and executives command lucrative wages. Thanks to the biggest TV deal in world football, the 20 Premier League clubs share £10.4 billion between them. But this wealth bonanza is not being distributed fairly within clubs. Wages are dramatically lower for staff at the opposite end of the Premier League labour market to players and executives. Many encounter in-work poverty. Indeed, Everton and Chelsea are the only two Premiership clubs fully accredited with the Living Wage Foundation to pay all lower-paid directly employed staff, as well as external contractors and agency staff, a real living wage. This is a (voluntary) wage that is higher than the legally required national living wage. It is calculated based on what employees and their families need to live, reflecting real rises in living costs. In London it’s £9.75 an hour, elsewhere it’s £8.45. Of 92 clubs in England and Scotland’s football leagues, only three others – Luton Town, Derby County and Hearts …

Affects of some of the most addictive substances

Affects of some of the most addictive substances

What are the most addictive drugs? This question seems simple, but the answer depends on whom you ask. From the points of view of different researchers, the potential for a drug to be addictive can be judged in terms of the harm it causes, the street value of the drug, the extent to which the drug activates the brain’s dopamine system, how pleasurable people report the drug to be, the degree to which the drug causes withdrawal symptoms, and how easily a person trying the drug will become hooked. There are other facets to measuring the addictive potential of a drug, too, and there are even researchers who argue that no drug is always addictive. Given the varied view of researchers, then, one way of ranking addictive drugs is to ask expert panels. In 2007, David Nutt and his colleagues asked addiction experts to do exactly that – with some interesting findings. 1. Heroin Nutt et al.’s experts ranked heroin as the most addictive drug, giving it a score of 3 out of a maximum …

Perils of North Koreans fleeing to China

Perils of North Koreans fleeing to China

China shares a border with North Korea, it has become the first destination for desperate North Koreans who risk their lives to escape. An unofficial figure estimates that there are between 50,000 and 200,000 North Koreans living in China. The Chinese government denies most of them refugee status, instead treating them as economic migrants who have illegally crossed the border to seek work. Most have no formal identification or legal status. In addition, Beijing works together with Pyongyang to capture defectors and send them back, making their lives as escapees completely untenable. In the interviews many North Koreans now settled in the UK. Many of them said they had been caught by the Chinese police and repatriated to the north a number of times, but managed to escape again and again. The combination of desperation, the denial of legal status and the terror of the Chinese police operation exposes these people to gross exploitation – especially women. Among those who successfully leave North Korea, women make up the majority. In their search for freedom, many …

UK rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) after Brexit?

With the Brexit clock ticking ever louder, the need to plan the UK’s future relationships with not only the EU but other trading partners too becomes more urgent. One option is to seek membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the grouping comprising Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This would provide some continuity in terms of preferential access to a not insignificant market for UK goods. EFTA accounts for 8.5% of UK exports. Membership should also, through EFTA’s free trade agreements with 38 countries, provide preferential access to a range of markets without the UK having to negotiate new bilateral agreements. Plus, securing EFTA membership would facilitate participation in the European Economic Area(EEA) if the UK wanted to pursue this post-Brexit. EFTA membership does not entail EEA membership, but only EU and EFTA member states can currently be contracting parties to the EEA Agreement. This raises the question of what is the process for joining EFTA, an organisation of which the UK was in fact a founding member in 1960 and which it only …