A strategic retreat
The Obama administration is pulling back from America’s disastrous war on drugs by doing away with mandatory minimum sentences. “Tough on crime,” no-discretion terms scored cheap political points in the past, but have clogged jails with non-violent offenders and cost the system billions of dollars. The federal prison population has increased by 800 per cent since 1980—to the point that federal jails are stuffed to 40 per cent over capacity—even as drug use has declined and crime has fallen to historic lows. The changes are a long-overdue move toward a sensible approach to illegal drugs. The Harper government, which introduced its own misguided mandatory minimums just last fall, should take note.
Police in Vancouver put on a textbook show of how to deal with a mentally distraught and potentially dangerous man last week, subduing him with a bean-bag projectile. Their takedown came on the same day that Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair, appointed a retired judge to review his force’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding 18-year-old on an empty streetcar. The inquiry is welcome, but its findings aren’t hard to predict. Police have lots of non-lethal options at their disposal. They just need to use them.
Better than the alternative
Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis—the first in three years—are off to a bumpy start. Israeli hardliners have been enraged by the release of 26 longtime Palestinian prisoners, many of them involved in killings, in advance of this week’s sit-down. And their Palestinian counterparts were outraged by plans for 1,200 new homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Still, having the two parties back at the table at least offers hope, a precious commodity in the Middle East.
The city of London has told a British marketing firm to get rid of smartphone tracking devices it placed on public garbage bins. The idea was to snatch info from passersby and flash custom ads on the high-tech cans’ display panels. Their removal is a privacy win. But maybe London should also think of shutting off some of its 8,000 CCTV cameras.
End of the line?
Struggling Canadian tech giant BlackBerry has hung out the “for sale” sign. Its losses for the last quarter alone were $84 million. And with its latest-generation BB10 smartphone failing to excite consumers and its worldwide market share tumbling to just three per cent, the company appears to be running out of time. If the firm is indeed absorbed by a competitor, it won’t just be a tragedy for investors—shares are now trading at about a thirteenth of their 2008 peak—but the whole country. Canada has too few innovators as it is.
Great Britain’s days as a colonial power are long gone, but now it’s facing pressure to give up its few remaining overseas territories. Argentina has renewed its claims on the Falkland Islands, raising the matter at the UN Security Council last week. And Spain is pushing hard to regain Gibraltar, enacting tough new border checks that mean it now takes hours to enter or exit the peninsula. British PM David Cameron is vowing to take the matter to the European court. He’s also dispatched several Royal Navy ships to the Mediterranean on a “training exercise.” Either way, it’s too late. The sun has set on the Empire.
Fun with numbers
Statistics Canada has delayed the release of the final batch of results from its 2011 National Household Survey after discovering unspecified “problems” with the data. The voluntary survey was supposed to replace the long-form census, axed by the federal Tories for dubious privacy reasons. But it’s increasingly clear it can’t do the job. As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.
Consumers in Ontario have long wondered why they can’t buy beer and wine at corner or grocery stores. One reason is that the province earns so much on its liquor stores, which generated $4.7 billion in sales in 2012. But it turns out that brewers are also making out like bandits. A new study by a University of Waterloo professor compared the price of Ontario suds with Quebec’s, and calculates that the big brewers are making $700 million a year more in Ontario than they would in a free market, thanks to their “Beer Store” monopoly. Take off, eh!