Friday, September 30, 2011

Trost and Vellacott should be calling for end to abstinence only sex education

There are about 50 million abortions performed every year. The highest rates are in the former Eastern Bloc countries. The developing world is next followed by the developed world. As a general rule of numb, the higher the number of pregnancies the greater the abortion rate. This holds for the developing world as well as developed world as well. Access to legal abortion is not a very good predictor of the abortion rate. Abortion in Brazil, for example, is illegal, but the abortion rate there is several times higher than the abortion rate in Canada.

A recent UN report noted that "meeting the world's needs for modern birth control would reduce maternal deaths by 70 per cent, family planning would eliminate two-thirds of unintended pregnancies and three-quarters of unsafe abortions." However, until such time as women in developing countries have access to education and contraception, abortion is an issue aid agencies will have to deal with on a daily basis. Talk to any aid agency and you will get the same response. The Harper government's policy will mean worse health outcomes and will not result in any cost savings. It is far more cost effective to provide a woman with a safe legal abortion than it is helping her recover from a backstreet one.

Changing subjects, the delicious irony of the abstinence only sex education programs in the States is that not only do they contribute to teen pregnancy rates that dwarf anything found in Europe, the percentage of US teens having abortions is several times greater than the rate at which European teens are getting pregnant. For example, whereas the rate of US teenage girls getting pregnant is 79.8 and the abortion rate 27.5 per thousand, the rate at which teenage girls are getting pregnant in Holland is 8. 7 and abortion rate is 4.2. Just once I want to hear a anti abortion activist call for robust sex education programs in the States so as to cut down on the number of abortions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Liberals should Promise to Legalize Marijuana: Robert Silver is Right

Silver has suggested that the Liberals should promise to legalize marijuana. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/silver-powers/how-liberals-should-reframe-crime-bills/article2173190/comments/ Damn skippy. I have been calling for this for as long as I have been blogging.


Legalizing marijuana would be good policy and for that reason alone the Liberals should consider it. However, beyond that legalizing marijuana would be good politics. The reason it is good politics has no more to do with the untapped stoner vote then same sex marriage had to do with the untapped gay and lesbian vote. I can assure you there is not there is no drug vote to grab. The reason it is good politics is there is significant ground swell of public support for the issue. Since 2004 polls put support between 50 to 55%. More importantly, opponent's arguments are a house of cards. See below. Just as with gay marriage the Liberals would benefit from having the Conservatives trout out stupid arguments for extended period of time. Just as with SSM the Conservatives are on the wrong side of history on this one. Let history steamroll them.


Potent Pot

Potent pot is more myth than reality.

However, even if one assumes that potent pot is a reality it is certainly nothing to be concerned about. Indeed, saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. It makes no sense. The pharmacological affects of consuming 1 "chemically supercharged" joint, as various US attorneys like to say, versus x number of "dad's joints" would be no different if the amount of THC consumed is the same. As for consumption, just as people do not drink the same volume of gin as beer, the higher the THC level in pot the less people consume. Hence, ironically more potent pot may be a welcome development. After all, one of the most prominent health effect related to marijuana, if not the most, is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School concurs, so does Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California and so does UCLA's Mark Kleiman.

That said, if potency is the concern, then it should be legalized. After all, the only way to regulate the potency of pot is to legalize it. Moreover, so long as the drug is illegal, producers will seek to increase potency. The higher the potency the smaller the package the smaller the package the less likely they will get caught.

Finally, the attempt to scare parents that have grown up on marijuana by distinguishing between potent pot and “your dad's marijuana” is too clever by half. After all, it begs the following question. If today's marijuana is truly different in kind from "dads marijuana", would it be ok to legalize "dad's marijuana", i.e., low potency pot?


The US will Never Let it happen

Proposition 19 failed, but the issue will likely be revisited in 2012 and this time it stands a very good chance of passing. Voter turn for mid term elections is always significantly less than when the presidency is up for grabs. For proposition 19 to have stood any chance of winning Democrats, and the young needed to be energized. They were not and stayed away in droves. Even with everything stacked against them, though, the yes campaign still garnered 46% of vote.

Legal production of marijuana in California will make the legislation of marijuana elsewhere in the US all but inevitable and extension in Canada as well. Obama is not going to go to war with California in order to maintain a federal prohibition. Indeed, it was Obama that set the wheels of legalization in motion by declaring that he would not crack down on medical marijuana. For you see, unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible for medical marijuana. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, such a system is ripe for abuse and the Bush administration was right to see medical marijuana program as a potential Trojan horse. But Obama let wooden horse to be wheeled into California and other States anyway. In so doing, Obama has allowed the medical marijuana industry in California and elsewhere to grow to the point there is no saving prohibition from Odysseus. There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks.

The Black Market will live on

It is one thing to illegally sell a legally produced product and make a profit, e.g., black market cigarettes. It is quite another thing to illegally produce and sell a product (e.g., moonshine) in market where there is legal competitors. The reason is simple. People want to know that what they buying and consuming. So when given the choice of buying an illegally produced product versus a legally produced product they are going to go with the later. (There is one notable exception and that is when an illegally produced product is successfully passed off as a legal one, e.g., fake brand name goods). That is why no matter how much Canadians drank during the time of American prohibition, I am sure that it never crossed the RCMP’s mind that American moonshine might become a competitor of Molson’s.

The gangs can not walk and chew gum at the same time

One of the arguments that I have repeatedly come across recently is that should marijuana be legalized then the gangs will move onto other things. I prefer to call this the gangs can not walk and chew gum at the same time argument.

The problem with this argument is that the gangs are already into other things and it is profits from marijuana that are helping them do that. In the context of Canada, marijuana profits and sometimes even marijuana itself are providing the seed capital the gangs need to expand operations into the States, for example, and to diversify operations (e.g., cocaine, heroin, human trafficking and guns). This is one of the main reasons why we need to nip this in the bud.


Gateway Drug

Researchers have rightly noted that people who have try marijuana are statistically more likely try other illicit drugs. This gave raise to the theory that there was something about marijuana that encouraged drug experimentation. Marijuana, it was alleged, is a gateway drug. This, in turn, was given as one more reason to keep the drug illegal.However, the gateway drug theory has until recently fallen on hard times for lack of an intelligible mechanism. The problem was that there was no coherent explanation for why marijuana would lead people to experiment with other drugs. Without this explanation doubt was cast relationship being more than mere correlation.That said, in recent years researchers have breathed new life into the theory, albeit with a sociological twist. According to the new version, it is not marijuana's pharmacological properties that serve as a gateway, but rather marijuana's illegal status. Specifically in the process of illegally procuring marijuana, users are introduced to the criminal elements with access to other illicit drugs and hence it is the forged blackmarket relationship between dealer and buyer that serves as gateway. Ironically the gateway drug theory has been turned on its head and used as reason for legalizing the drug. The Canadian Senate employed the new and improved version of the gateway argument as a reason for legalizing the drug.

In this context it should be noted that when the Dutch partially legalized the sale of marijuana, heroin and cocaine use went down despite an initial increase in marijuana use. Dutch use of hard drugs remains well below the European average.


Schizophrenia Marijuana

Epidemiological studies have consistently failed to show a positive correlation between marijuana use and schizophrenia and there is no causation without correlation. Specifically, should there be a causal link between marijuana and schizophrenia, there should be a positive correlation between marijuana consumption and schizophrenia, but such a correlation is conspicuous by its absence. Despite a massive increase in the number of Australians consuming the drug since the 1960s, Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland found no increase in the number of cases of schizophrenia in Australia. Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California similarly found the same with regard to the US population and Oxford's Leslie Iversen found the same regard to the population in the UK. According to Dr. Alan Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University,


"If anything, the studies seem to show a possible decline in schizophrenia from the '40s and the ‘ 50,"


Much of the evidence linking marijuana to schizophrenia suggests not that it causes schizophrenia but rather that it may cause the earlier onset of symptoms in people who would sooner or later develop schizophrenia. Much to Gordan Brown's dismay, this was the opinion of Dr Iddon.



Dr Iddon, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drugs misuse [Britain], said the study did not convince him it was time to return cannabis to class B. "I don't think the causal link has been proved. I think cannabis might - possibly for genetic reasons - trigger psychosis at an earlier age." The MP, who is also a member of the science and technology select committee, said there was a danger of criminalising "hundreds of thousands of young people" if the status of the drug was changed. "If Gordon Brown changes the class of the drug, it won't be evidence-based but for political reasons," he said.


Lastly, it would be a welcome respite from the Liberals shamelessly taking inherently contradictory policies in hopes of capitalizing on both sides of this issue.


Indeed, on the one hand the Liberals have long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is this light that Chr├ętien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.” On the other hand, just as they long downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana they have long stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Both positions are popular with the public, but run the two positions together and it is as if Chr├ętien said this instead. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me in put him in jail for a very long time.” If the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to mix an acknowledgment on behalf of the Liberal party that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

Far from helping the Liberals such an approach probably harmed them. It pissed off the ardent supporters of both sides of the political divide at the same time and prevented them from saying anything intelligent about the issue.

Household debt Government Debt Analogy is Stupid

It is often said that just as households must live within their means so too do governments; spending must not exceed income or there will be trouble. The problem is that analogy is stupid. It leaves out everything relating to monetary policy and over looks the simple fact that governments control the money supply. Households can not print money to cover their debts, but central banks can and sometimes do. Households can not print money in the hopes of inflating away some of their debt, but central banks can and sometimes do. On the flip side of things, no one in their right mind is going to purposely seek out higher interest rates to pay, but that is precisely what governments do when they try to cool off inflation. A great case in point is Canadian and American attempts to quell inflation during the 1980s.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Abolish the Senate do not Reform it

Constitutionally senators have all kinds of power and every once in a blue moon the Senate has stalled major pieces of legislation (e.g., free trade and the GST). However the aforementioned instances of stalling are so rare they are the exceptions that prove just how "ineffective" the senate truly is. Moreover, no senate I can think of has pursued a legislative agenda of its own accord; opposing legislation is one thing; purposing legislation is quite another. The reason the senate is not an "effective" body is that senators are not elected and as such lack legitimacy. Furthermore, senators are members of legitimate federal political parties and the parties that they belong to are loath to have their unelected members exercise real authority least their actions undermine the party. Finally, the fact that it is the ruling federal party and not, say, provincial governments that appoint senators defines a clear pecking order, with the Senate answerable to the House.

Harper, of course, wants to reform the Senate. Being unable to reform the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing Senators piece meal. Under the Conservative plan, new senators would be elected and would be limited to serving out a 8 year term. The elephant in the living room is that if the senate's lack of effective powers flows from the senate's lack of legitimacy, then electing senators might provide the senate with a degree of legitimacy it currently does not hold. One problem with proceeding thusly is that current senators are free to serve until the age of 75. As a result, Harper's actions could either transform an unelected political body with no real power into a largely unelected political body with real political power or commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power. Always content to play the Tin Man and Lion to Conservatives scarecrow, the Liberals remain largely mum on the subject.

Setting aside problems associated with implementation, is the cause of democracy even served by reforming the Senate? Well, the Reformers always held that the regions needed more say and an “equal” “effective” and “elected” senate is the best way of achieving a balance between population centers in Eastern Canada and the rest of us. However, such a conception, and for that matter an "effective" version of the current senate, does not stand up to scrutiny. The problem is fivefold.

First such an argument rests on a false contrast; seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on basis of population, but in actuality that is not the case. Consider the 905. There are currently 4 plus million living in the 905 and there are currently 32 seats for an average of just over 127,000 people per riding. There are 6 ridings with over a 140,000 people in the 905, Bramalea - Gore - Malton (152,698) Brampton West (170,422) Halton (151,943), Mississauga - Erindale (143,361) Oak Ridges - Markham (169,642) and Vaughan (154,206). By contrast there are 4.5 million people in Sask, Man, NWT, Nuv, Yuk, PEI, NS, NFLD, and NB and there are 62 seats for an average of 72,000 people per riding. Moreover, there is but one riding in the 9, Selkirk Interlake (90,807), with over 90,000 people. Given current growth trends, the 2011 census might show there to be more people in the 905 than the aforementioned provinces and territories. Given population growth, Harper would have to give Ontario alone another 70 seats to make things half way equal.

Second, simply by virtue of having provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation people living in Canada’s less populated provinces already have a means of leveraging far more attention and support from the Federal government than their numbers warrant. Danny Williams had the government's attention in ways that the mayors of Surrey, Red Deer, Brant, Fredericton and Churchill did not even though we are talking about equal number of seats in both cases. There is more. There is also the typically asinine Canadian tradition of handing out cabinet posts based not on talent but region.

The third reason is that while one person one vote is bedrock principle of any democracy, one province one senate vote is something else entirely. People, not provinces, deserve equal representation. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 135,851 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while giving the 170, 422 residents of Brampton West one MP is bad enough as it is. Piling on and giving the 135,851 people in PEI the same number of “effective” senators, as per the American Triple E Senate model, as 12,160,282 Ontarians is beyond stupid and grossly undemocratic. Equally silly is having one "effective" Senator for every 72,997 New Brunswick residents (10 senators in total) versus one Senator for every 685, 581 BC residents (6 senators in total). And that is what the current configuration gives us.

Four, as Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. Having two houses is not only a lobbyists dream, it is a recipe for political gridlock and pork barrel politics. The only thing that would be worse is if one needed 60% of the votes in the senate to overcome a filibuster.

Five, leaving aside the fact that no province has a second chamber, most having abolished them long ago, and that there are numerous examples of unicameral nation states (e.g., New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Sweden, Iceland, Liechtenstein, South Korea and Portugal), we already have a de facto unicameral state as it is -- just ask the supporters of a Triple E senate. After all, one can not argue on the one hand that the current senate is undemocratic and so contributes to the "democratic deficit" and on the other hand argue that the senate is “ineffective”. A body that adds nothing to the genuinely "effective" process can not take away anything either.

Bob Rae is emblematic of what is wrong with the Liberal Party

A common lament is that if not for his record as premier of Ontario, Bob Rae would make a great leader. It is said in this regard that he a good debater, charismatic, well spoken, and funny. He is all that and his decision to focus on the big issues rather than minor scandals is a freshening change and one that the Liberals urgently needed to make. But Rae is also emblematic of everything that is wrong with the Liberal party.

Rae has always been an enthusiastic backer of a asymmetrical federalism, collective rights, and equity, i.e., affirmative action. His support for all three shape his ideas about what the Liberal party is and should continue to be.

The first two are wholly inconsistent with Pearson Trudeau tradition and make a mockery of the Liberal's attempt to draw a line from them to present times. Worse, support for both has real political consequences that the Liberals are blissfully unaware of.

Indeed, the Liberals have never fully absorbed what happened to Liberal level of support in Western Canada following the 1974 election. Some blamed the NEP and others have even claimed the gun registry played a part. The latter claim is ridiculous. The gun registry had no impact on the Liberals share of the popular vote or their seat totals. Most important of all it was passed 16 years after the Liberals first showed a significant decline in their level of support. As for the former, the chronology is also wrong. It was the fact that the Liberal vote collapsed in Western Canada in 1979 that paved the way for the NEP politically and not the other way around. The NEP was introduced after the 1980 election. The Liberals took 1 seat in the three most western provinces in 1979 election and 0 in 1980.

The source of the collapse was the more emphasis Trudeau placed on individual rights and a commitment to linguistic equality the more the rest of the country, particularly the West, resented the Liberals' inability to put a stop to bill 178 and and 101 and its willingness to make special accommodations for Quebec. Quebec's Official Language Act spelled doom for the Liberals in Western Canada from the mid 70s until collapse of the Progressive Conservatives in 1993. Ironically, it was the Mulroney's willingness to go even further in pandering to Quebec, particularly the Charlottetown Accord, that gave the Liberals some life again. 60.2% Albertans voted against the Charlottetown Accord, and 68.3% of British Colombians did. The later figure was by far the highest in country and the voter turn out in BC was second only to Quebec.

Let the "coalition" be a warning to the Liberals; these feelings are still deeply felt in "Western" Canada. The Liberals need to learn from history. They need to vigorously oppose the NDP's flirtation with extending bill 101 to federal intuitions in Quebec and their suggestion that Quebec's share of the House of Commons be fixed at 25%.

As for the third, it is terrible policy -- albeit not nearly as stupid or destructive as the asinine concept of "collective rights". As it does nothing to address underlying causes of inequality, equity does little to advance equality. A National daycare care system, for example, would do far more in a year for women's wage equality than 25 years of the putrid Employment Equity Act has. The former addresses the underlying causes of the wage gap, the later hurts the cause of young white males because 50 something white males earn more than than their 50 something female colleges. Equity sows division within Canadian society and is an anachronism given Canada's rapidly changing demographic profile. Worst of all, the focus on equity has meant that instead of trying to move the case of all workers forward, something that is desperately needed, liberals have instead devoted virtually all their energies to shuffling the deck. Calls for a bigger share of the pie has been abandoned for sake of each of the ever smaller pieces having an equal amount of fruit.

Equity is also bad politics. Whether it be the funding for religious schools in Ontario, or special treatment of Quebec many Canadians are deeply offended by the very suggestion that government monies and policy should be used to protect and or foster minority interests. Furthermore, whether employment equity, for example, actually makes the government less efficient is beside the point. A commitment to equity is incompatible with the liberal notion of a government built around merit. Hiring the "best" person for the job is a far cry from using the government as a counterpoint to perceived or actual deficiencies in the private sector employment. Government can not be seen or indeed be an affirmative action program. Government exists to further the public good and it furthers the public good not by who it hires but by what functions it carries out. So long as the philosophy of equity rules, Canadians will not have any faith that government is actually committed to that end and conservatives will have an easy time claiming that government hurts, as little more than a make work project for disadvantaged groups, more than it helps.