Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One Turn Deserves Another


                                                            http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/

The time has come, Lawrence Martin writes, for Michael Sona to name names. If he doesn't, the Harper party will get away with what was clearly an organized attempt to steal an election. In fact, what happened in the robocall scandal was standard Harperian practice. Consider the record:

We have a party that got caught staging a deceptive phone campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, an act that the Conservative Speaker of the Commons called “reprehensible.” We have a party that first denied, then admitted involvement in a deceptive robocalls campaign involving a Saskatchewan riding redistribution dispute. A Conservative MP pointed the finger at senior party organizer Jenni Byrne, now the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff. We have a party that pleaded guilty in 2011 to Elections Act charges relating to exceeding spending limits in the so-called “in and out” affair from the 2006 campaign.

Perhaps, facing five years in jail, Sona will pull the plug. It's clear that Elections Canada -- under Mr. Harper's appointee, Yves Coté -- has no intention of reopening his investigation into the 2011 election. That's exactly what the Conservatives want.

It was those same Conservatives who turned on Sona. One turn deserves another.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Acknowledging the Irrational



At the centre of classical economics is the notion that man is a rational decision maker. Thus, economics is all about creating incentives. If you lower taxes, people will have more money to spend and the economy will become a virtuous cycle. But the "dead money" sitting atop the Canadian economy gives the lie to the notion that man always makes rational decisions.

Worse still, the only explanation classical economics has for unemployment is that it is a moral failure. The unemployed simply have not taken advantage of economic incentives. Shipping jobs overseas, or bringing in temporary foreign workers to replace the already employed has nothing to do with unemployment.

The same model of man as rational decision maker applies to Canadian Conservative drug policy. Create stiffer penalties for drug use, and it will decline. It's called the War on Drugs and it's been going on in the United States for forty years and filling American prisons beyond capacity.

The problem with Conservative drug policy is the same as its problem with economic policy. Man does not always make rational decisions. Devon Black writes:

The philosophy behind this approach to drug policy blends overly-simplistic thinking with moral judgments and a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction. In theory, harsh penalties for drug trafficking and drug use should have a deterrent effect. Alongside tough drug penalties come government campaigns which teach that drugs are a choice – one it’s possible to “just say no” to. And so any rational person, understanding the consequences of drug use, would obviously choose to stay away.

The fatal flaw, of course, is the assumption that everyone will respond to the same incentives. The whole nature of addiction is that addicts keep seeking out the focus of their craving, no matter the consequences. It’s not a matter of choice; addicts can no more say no to drugs than I can say no to the flu. Trying to change the behaviour of a person suffering from addiction by creating more consequences is an exercise in futility.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, for many heavy drug users, drug use does have a twisted rationality. There’s a strong correlation between experiencing trauma and developing problems with substance abuse. For teens with post-traumatic stress disorder, the problem is particularly acute: Up to 59 per cent of them go on to develop problems with substance abuse. When there’s no adequate mental health care available, it’s little wonder that many people coping with the after-effects of trauma turn to illegal drugs to manage their pain.

And so, while throwing drug users in jail might seem like a solution on the surface, it only compounds the problem. Eighty per cent of offenders have substance abuse or addiction problems. Prisons have tried to address this – primarily by introducing methadone replacement therapy for inmates with opioid addictions.

We have a self-fulfilling prophecy. The War on Drugs is one of the causes of the problem it seeks to eradicate. The fatal flaw in Conservative ideology is its failure to acknowledge the irrational. And the solutions it proposes become, by extension, irrational.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bad Moon Rising

                                                      http://www.scenicreflections.com/

You know the Conservatives are in trouble when Ian MacDonald says they are. No Liberal or Dipper, MacDonald got into politics as a spokesman for Brian Mulroney and as an ardent supporter of his high school classmate, Jim Flaherty. But now he is worried. The latest EKOS poll is bad news all around:

This isn’t the one bad poll in 20. And it wasn’t a one-night stand.

The Liberals now lead the Conservatives by 38.7 to 25.6 per cent, with the NDP at 23.4 per cent. In effect, the Liberals have doubled their vote from the 18.9 per cent they received in the 2011 election, while the Conservatives have plummeted from 39.6 per cent to the mid-20s. The Liberal brand is back.
The Liberals lead in every province except the Tory heartland of Alberta and Saskatchewan. And where it matters most — British Columbia and Ontario — the Liberals lead not by a little but by a lot: 37 to 22 in B.C., where the NDP is actually in second place at 26 per cent, and 46 to 28 in Ontario. Those are blow-out numbers, pointing to a Liberal sweep of the lower B.C. mainland and the Greater Toronto Area.

In Quebec, the NDP lead with 37 per cent, with the Liberals at 30 per cent, the Bloc at 16 per cent and the Conservatives at a measly 12 per cent. This means the Liberals would re-gain most of the Montreal and Outaouais regions, with the NDP retaining most of their seats in the rest of the province. The Bloc would disappear and the Conservatives would be shut out, except perhaps for a couple of seats in the 418 Quebec City region.

In the Atlantic zone, the Liberals lead the Conservatives 53 to 29, with the NDP at 21 per cent. What the Conservatives are getting Down East is pushback from voters on employment insurance reforms, much as the Liberals did in the 1997 election. These numbers point to the Liberals winning all but a handful of the 32 seats in the region.

And it's not just the regions that are turning against the Harperites. Demographics show that the political winds are changing:

Not only do the Liberals lead the Conservatives among men (40-28, with the NDP at 20 per cent), the Tories fall to third place among women (Libs 37, Dippers 27, Cons 23). And the Liberals lead in every age demo — even in the 45-64 and 65+ segments, traditional Tory strongholds.

So far, the Harper Party seems not to be concerned. They apparently believe that marijuana will be the wedge issue that brings Justin Trudeau down. But when party loyalists like MacDonald start to worry publicly, you know there is a bad moon rising.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

They Call That Stupid



Droves of baby boomers -- myself included -- have lamented the political disengagement of the young. But, in the light of Michael Sona's conviction for election fraud last week, it strikes me that perhaps the young are on to something. Chantal Hebert writes:

Electoral politics is a blood sport and an intoxicating addictive one at that, especially in an era of permanent campaigning.

To work in federal politics these days is to breathe in partisan helium 24/7. Short-term strategic gaming matters more than long-term policy outcomes and consensus has become a poor cousin to finding a wedge to pry voters off a rival.

In public, that translates into a culture of mutual disrespect that is on exhibit daily in question period.
In private, it leads to an adversarial climate that makes it easier to rationalize making the most of the grey zone between what is ethical and what is legal.

Justice Gary Hearn wrote that Sona's arrogance -- and his willingness to talk about it -- got him into trouble. Arrogance is not confined to the young. But it's clear that Sona's arrogant elders got away scot free.

Perhaps the young have figured out that, when they get involved in politics, they will be used by their elders and then abandoned when they become a liability.

Smart folks -- young or old -- call that stupid.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Very Dark Place

                                                                           http://online.wsj.com/

Gerry Caplan has a sober piece in this morning's Globe and Mail. Its thesis is bleak: "No matter what leaders do, there won't be peace in the Middle East." There will be no two state solution, he writes, because both sides are not prepared to give what would be required for peace:

Whatever outsiders think, in practical terms none of the Middle East disputants are in a position to offer the others anything like an acceptable peace deal. Or, to put it the other way, no one is likely to buy a deal the other offers. If Israel offers a certain set of proposals, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, not to mention even more radical Palestinian groups, are certain to find it too pro-Israel. And from their perspective they’d be right. For given the politics of Israel, no Israeli government, now or ever, would consider offering anything that wasn’t in the best interests of Israel.

And, so, the region is in perpetual conflict:

The present confrontation, seen in proper perspective, is just another in the endless violent conflicts between Israelis and Arabs that began when Israel was first created as a nation 66 years ago and has never stopped: 1947-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1991, 2006, 2008-9, 2012, 2014. Why should they stop now – or ever?

Over all that time, positions have hardened and hate has exploded:

It was equally predictable that over time Israeli-Palestinian attitudes towards each other would steadily harden. Instead of making good neighbours, virtually all circumstances conspired to turn the two peoples into irreconcilable enemies. Some time back, renowned Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer told me that he believed about 25 per cent of each people held genocidal attitudes towards the other. It seems a safe guess that these shocking figures are now considerably higher on both sides. When you dehumanize the other, the potential for evil knows few boundaries.

If Caplan is right, we are in a very dark place.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Not Just One Bad Apple

                                                               nigelroberson.blogspot.ca


So Michael Sona is guilty of election fraud, even though the crown prosecutor and the judge both agree that he did not act alone. The Harperites will continue to insist that Sona was just one bad apple. But that meme has become the punchline of a national joke. Michael Den Tandt writes:

There was the “in and out” affair in 2007, related to spending-limit violations in the 2006 election, which the Conservatives minimized for years but to which the party ultimately pleaded guilty.

In-and-out amounted to a series of money transfers in which central campaign ad dollars were routed through accounts belonging to dozens of MP candidates. Elections Canada’s investigation, Mr. McGregor and Mr. Maher later reported, cost taxpayers more than $2-million.

There was former intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue, who was found to have overspent and accepted illegal contributions in his winning 2011 campaign in Labrador. Mr. Penashue eventually resigned his seat, sought re-election, and lost in a 2013 byelection to Liberal Yvonne Jones.

There’s Dean Del Mastro, formerly Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary and a key player for the Conservatives on the Commons floor, now an independent on trial for exceeding spending and donation limits, and filing a false return. Mr. Del Mastro has pleaded not guilty. Closing arguments are expected in September.

The Harper Party rode into Ottawa full of sound and fury, outraged by the Adscam affair. However, all this putrefaction makes Adscam look like small potatoes.

Mr. McGregor and Mr. Mahar -- rest assured -- will keep digging. And Senator Duffy will be hell bent on revenge. There are all kinds of rotten apples in the Tory silo.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hot Air And Bad Law

                                                                                  http://o.canada.com

Steve Sullivan writes that Stephen Harper's obsession with PR makes for bad laws. Consider the recently passed "Increasing Offenders Accountability For Victims Act:"

The latter bill, which came into effect in October 2013, requires judges to impose $100 or $200 surcharges on convicted offenders. Prior to the law, judges had the discretion to waive the surcharge for offenders who could not pay. Across the country, provincial governments rely on surcharges to fund services for victims of crime, such as sexual assault centres.

Recently, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco convicted Shaun Michael of nine offences, including theft, assault and breaching probation. Michael is a drug-addicted alcoholic Inuit man; he had to steal food before he was 10 and started abusing alcohol when he was 13. He lives on $250 a month.

Paciocco could have imposed $900 in victim surcharges but he noted that each of the surcharges represents 40 per cent of Michael’s monthly living allowance. Paciocco found the mandatory surcharge law to be “cruel and unusual” punishment and ruled it unconstitutional. He will no longer impose the surcharge in any cases, even when an offender can pay. Although the ruling is not binding, other judges are following suit; an offender who volunteered to pay the surcharge was told he did not have to.

By removing judicial discretion in the application of the law, Mr. Harper is crippling services for the very people he says he is working for. As is the case with so many other files, the prime minister's take on criminal justice makes things worse.

Hot air makes for bad law.