By Brian Bethune - Monday, May 13, 2013 - 0 Comments
In conversation with Brian Bethune on his new book, America’s best presidents—and his take on China
Conrad Black— British peer and American felon, former newspaper baron and current newspaper columnist—is also the author of two erudite and distinguished biographies of U.S. presidents. Now he’s turned to the broader sweep of the American story with Flight of the Eagle: A Strategic History of the United States. Black, who has already begun a history of Canada, wanted to correct what he saw as a common notion: that America, when it wasn’t being what Richard Nixon called a “pitiful, helpless giant,” was a happy, oblivious one, blundering its way through world history.
Q: Discussion of strategy is normally restricted to military or foreign affairs. What distinguishes a strategic history? Why write it?
A: My effort was to write something different in the vast literature on the history of the United States—if you can’t bring anything to that, you shouldn’t bother. But I think there is a widespread view that the United States just grew and grew as a power because it had half of a rich continent and attracted immigrants and it just happened. There’s some truth to that. But it still wouldn’t have happened if American statesmen had not taken, at decisive points, very important and often imaginative and courageous decisions.
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Gil Kerlikowske on the perils of pot legalization, and how Canada creates drug problems for the U.S.
Gil Kerlikowske is U.S. President Obama’s director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—more commonly known as the U.S. “drug czar.” His long career in law enforcement included serving as police chief in two border cities: Buffalo and Seattle.
Q: In the November elections, two states—Washington and Colorado—voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. President Obama has said that the U.S. government has “bigger fish to fry” than to go after recreational users in states where it is legal. Where do things stand with regard to producers and distributors of marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law?
A: You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined. They will use their limited resources on those groups and not on going after individual users.
Q: You’ve written on the White House website that “coming out of the election, we are in the midst of a national conversation on marijuana.” Is the U.S. headed for a patchwork of policies, state by state? Continue…
By The Canadian Press - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 6:47 AM - 0 Comments
A study called “surprising” by one of its lead researchers has found hard drugs are just 10 minutes away for Vancouver’s young users.
Jeremy Nuttall, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – A study called “surprising” by one of its lead researchers has found hard drugs are just 10 minutes away for Vancouver’s young users.
The study conducted by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that despite decades of efforts to combat drugs, heroin, crack, cocaine, crystal meth and marijuana can be obtained within minutes, particularly by young drug users.
Dr. Evan Wood, an internal medicine physician and senior author of the study, noted the U.S. declared the war on drugs 40 years ago, but that hasn’t helped at-risk youth avoid falling into drug use.
“Their reality in terms of the free and easy availability of drugs is, I think, discordant from your average Canadian’s understanding of just how … available drugs are on the streets of Canadian cities,” said Wood.
The study, to be released today, surveyed two groups of people in 2007; one between 14 and 26 years of age who had used an illicit drug other or in addition to marijuana at least 30 days before joining the study.
The other consisted of adult drug users over 16 years old who injected drugs at least a month before the survey.
Both studies asked “How difficult would it be for you to get drugs right now in the area you typically obtain your drugs?”
They then focused on those who answered they could get drugs in ten minutes and found the small time frame wasn’t just for marijuana, but for hard drugs as well.
“That’s, I think, the most surprising thing,” said Wood.
“I’m in the office right now. It would probably take me more than 10 minutes to go and be able to buy a bottle of wine.”
Vancouver police spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton wasn’t shocked.
“I don’t think it is a surprise to anyone that if someone is motivated enough and has the knowledge on how to obtain illegal drugs, they could probably do it fairly quickly,” wrote Houghton in an email.
“I’m sure if the study was done 5, 10, or 15 years ago the numbers wouldn’t have been much different.”
Houghton hasn’t seen the study yet, but has worked with at-risk youth in the past and said what is important is access to medical care should users have a problem and access to services to help end their addictions.
Wood said the easy access means current drug policies are not succeeding in stopping the availability and use of illegal drugs and Houghton’s comments show police know this.
“While the police are aware, I think your average Canadian is totally unaware of the fact that our streets are so awash in drugs,” said Wood, stressing he doesn’t want to sugest he’s negative about police efforts.
“If supply reduction is the foundation of Canada’s drug strategy, we really need to have an impact assessment and evaluation of what we’re actually getting from that investment.”
He said money spent on prisons and trying to cut the supply of drugs would be more wisely spent on rehabilitation programs and community outreach efforts.
Wood said legalization and regulation would also cut down on incidents where impure products injure users and compared use to that of people going blind drinking homemade booze during alcohol prohibition.
“As an internal medicine physician who not that infrequently sees people who have had a brain injury due to a non-fatal overdose or having to give HIV positive test results to young people, I would love to see a drug-free world,” said Wood.
“I’m just coming at this as a scientist and someone who wants to advocate for appropriate use of tax dollars and the general public being made more aware of alternative effective strategies that could better improve health and safety.”
Walter McKay is a former Vancouver police officer who now is a policing consultant. He agrees with Wood that the current drug prohibition model isn’t working.
“Our most secure prisons, where you have armed guards, you control the environment entirely — drugs still get inside it,” said McKay.
“If we can’t even control that and we have absolute control over these prisons, then how can we expect the greater policies of more policing, more man power, more money to keep drugs out of the country or off the street?”
McKay said, due to the profits of drug dealing, no matter how many drug dealers are taken off the streets there will always be another one ready to fill the gap in the market.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 6:58 AM - 0 Comments
On Mexican drug cartels, movie violence and whether America is getting more pot-positive
Oliver Stone, the Oscar-winning director of Platoon, Wall Street, JFK and Nixon, tackles the drug war in Savages, a thriller based on Don Winslow’s bestseller about a Mexican drug cartel that confronts a pair of primo pot farmers in California—Ben (Aaron Johnson), a philanthropic botanist, and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a ruthless Navy SEAL veteran. Living the high life, they try to retire. But when their shared lover (Blake Lively) is taken hostage, they go to war against the cartel (led by Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek), while a corrupt U.S. drug agent (John Travolta) plays both sides against the middle.
Q: How real is the threat of a Mexican cartel attacking California marijuana growers?
A: Don Winslow has done a lot of research into the drug wars. He wrote a wonderful book called The Power of the Dog, which is pretty documentary-like. This one, he just spun off a fantasy about what could potentially happen with young, attractive growers with a high-end product. It hasn’t happened yet as far as I know. This is a hypothetical fiction. The cartels can sell cheap, ungroomed bud successfully for very little money across the United States, as well as cocaine and methamphetamine. The operation of a small group in California would not be attractive to them. But a cartel like the Tijuana one, if they had some problems, they would look to other markets and it would maybe make sense to partner with a niche deal.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 16, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
“There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people,” Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas. ”I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”
At the same time, he seems to reject decriminalization or legalization.
“There is a willingness to look at the various measures that can be taken to combat that phenomenon, but just in terms of simple answers like legalization or criminalization, let me remind you of why these drugs are illegal. They’re illegal because they quickly and totally, with many of the drugs, destroy people’s lives and people are willing to make lots of money out of selling those products …,” said Harper.
In his response to the issue, Barack Obama ruled out legalization.
By Jamie Dettmer - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:42 AM - 0 Comments
Central American leaders are looking to legalization, to America’s chagrin
The Obama administration has been criticized in the past for not paying enough attention to Latin America. That’s changed abruptly in recent weeks, with senior officials rushing to head off a rebellion that’s threatening to upend the war on drugs.
What has the administration spooked is the rising chorus in Latin America of politicians publicly questioning the sense of the prohibition on drugs. At this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, several Central American leaders will outline their views on what they say is a failed war. And the Obama administration has had no choice but to allow discussion of drug legalization at the summit for the first time, although it tried to forestall it. “We are ready to discuss the issue to express our opinion on why it is not the way to address the problem,” said Mike Hammer, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
Calls for legalizing narcotics have been heard before in Latin America, but they previously came mostly from fringe or retired front-rank politicians. In 2009, the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia blasted the war on drugs and demanded alternative approaches. But in recent months, for the first time, sitting presidents have been questioning the efficacy of continuing with full-scale prohibition, including the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 4:01 AM - 0 Comments
In recent weeks, it seems, adulterated ecstasy (MDMA) has left Alberta and B.C. with a sizable heap of young corpses. A tragedy has thus come home to roost in the West: namely, the tragedy of policy that incentivizes adulteration of drugs that, if manufactured in the open and checked for purity, would kill hardly anybody. Pure MDMA has a larger “therapeutic index”—a wider safety margin for overdose—than alcohol. It would probably make a pretty reasonable substitute for alcohol in many settings if we were to sit down and rebuild a drug culture from scratch. But over the past ten years or so, both Liberal and Conservative governments have worked to increase penalties for and monitoring of the flow of “precursor chemicals” used in the manufacture of MDMA.
It has been their goal to make pure MDMA more difficult to manufacture; when precursors are seized it is hailed as a triumph. But illicit drug factories never do put out the follow-up press release announcing that they’re putting less MDMA in their “ecstasy” and replacing it with other party drugs that have much smaller safety margins, or with drugs that interact dangerously with MDMA. And when rave kids die as a result, the RCMP chooses not to pose imperiously alongside the body bags giving a big thumbs-up. They are eager to take credit only for the immediately visible results of their work. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 4:26 PM - 45 Comments
Christopher Bennett, who claimed that he should be allowed to smoke up to seven grams of marijuana—about 35 joints—every day for religious purposes, argued that Canada’s drug laws infringed upon his religious rights.
But in a 21-page ruling, Judge Michel Shore wrote, “While the applicant has shown that his practice is based on the belief that cannabis is the tree of life, this, in and of itself, does not make it a religious practice.”
Kind of bizarre if you think about it, isn’t it? The idea that “cannabis is the tree of life” could not more obviously be a religious concept, in the ordinary meaning of the term “religious”. What else would you call it? And what would you call an activity predicated on such a belief? If the belief is assumed to be sincere, and Judge Shore specifically concedes this assumption, then it’s a religious practice. The sentence in quotation marks is, when read as plain English, oddly nonsensical. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 29 Comments
Rob Silver wonders if the Liberals might have an opportunity to do something bold on drug policy.
When Bob Rae said Tuesday, in a clear statement of the obvious, that the “war on drugs has failed,” he is also stating that consistent Liberal Party policy (with a minor interruption when we supported decriminalization of marijuana) was a failure. But if we are really reinventing the Liberal Party then why are we in any way bound by the past. Why wouldn’t we take the statement the “war on drugs has failed” to its only logical conclusion, namely that “the Liberal Party of Canada would therefore end the war on drugs. We will legalize and regulate drugs. We were wrong in the past to support policies that based on objective evidence do not work and only have destructive consequences domestically and internationally but we have learned from our mistakes and if Canadians trust us to form government again, we will do things differently.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:40 PM - 1 Comment
A wrongfully convicted woman regains her freedom, while a Boston player gets knocked out of the playoffs by a vicious hit
Boots on the ground
Canada’s combat tour in Afghanistan is entering its final few weeks, but the military is already preparing for its next deployment—wherever it may be. Months after being forced out of their secret staging base in Dubai because of a diplomatic spat, the Canadian Forces have reportedly reached deals to open new bases in Germany and Jamaica, and are in talks with Senegal, South Korea, Kenya and Singapore. As Defence Minister Peter MacKay said, Canada has become a “go-to nation” when it comes to responding to natural disasters and other NATO missions—requiring a much bigger bootprint on foreign soil.
A revamped battle plan
Forty years after Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” a new report has confirmed what police, prosecutors—and traffickers—have long known: we’re losing. Released by a consortium of world leaders, including Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, the report says it’s time to start treating drug abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal one, and consider legalizing certain substances to undercut criminal gangs. The war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and countless lives. But, to borrow a phrase, admitting the old strategy is broken is the first step to recovery.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:37 AM - 21 Comments
I’ve been catching up with the various party platforms, and doing my best to use one of the pet heuristics I developed in my columnist days: looking for the most positive thing I could possibly say about those whose overall philosophies I strongly oppose. In this election, that is pretty well everybody. But I started with the Greens and the New Democrats, because that is where the task of being sympathetic is hardest for a gun-crazed oil-drunk Albertan.
The contrast between the parties’ platforms is interesting: the Green ideas induce slightly more sheer nausea of the “literally everything in here is eye-slashingly horrible” kind, but at the same time there is a consoling breath of radicalism pervading Vision Green, a redeeming Small Is Beautiful spirit. At least, one feels, their nonsense is addressed to the individual. A typical laissez-faire economist would probably like the Green platform the least of the four on offer from national parties, but the Greens may be the strongest of all in advocating the core precept that prices are signals. At one point, denouncing market distortions created by corporate welfare, Vision Green approvingly quotes the maxim “Governments are not adept at picking winners, but losers are adept at picking governments.” (The saying is attributed to a 2006 book by Mark Milke of the Fraser Institute, but a gentleman named Paul Martin Jr. had uttered a version of it as early as 2000.)
The New Democratic platform is more adult and serious than the Greens’ overall, which comes as no surprise. But it occurs to me, not for the first time this year, how much some folks love “trickle-down politics” when they are not busy denouncing “trickle-down economics”. How does Jack Layton hope to remedy the plight of the Canadian Indian? By “building a new relationship” with his politicians and band chiefs. How does he propose to improve the lot of artists? By flooding movie and TV producers, and funding agencies, with money and tax credits. He’ll help parents by giving money to day care entrepreneurs; he’ll sweeten the pot for “women’s groups” and “civil society groups”. One detects, perhaps mostly from prejudice, a suffocating sense of system-building, of unskeptical passion for bureaucracy, of disrespect for the sheer power of middlemen to make value disappear.
There is one specific difference between the platforms that leaps out when they are read together: Vision Green has a section on “Ending the war on drugs.”
In 2008, according to the Treasury Board, Canada spent $61.3 million targeting illicit drugs, with a majority of that money going to law enforcement. Most of that was for the “war” against cannabis (marijuana). Marijuana prohibition is also prohibitively costly in other ways, including criminalizing youth and fostering organized crime. Cannabis prohibition, which has gone on for decades, has utterly failed and has not led to reduced drug use in Canada.
Green MPs, we are promised, would remove marijuana from the schedule of illegal drugs outright. It’s the “legalize and tax” approach, presented mostly without the usual cowardly conditions—though, being Greens, they can’t resist stipulating that regulations should confine production to “small, independent growers”. (There is no earthly reason giant industrial concerns shouldn’t be allowed to get in the game if they want to.)
The NDP platform is silent on the drug war and on marijuana. Jack Layton used to be the favourite son of the single-issue stoners, and decriminalization appeared in past platforms. Now we see the mustachioed one repeating “potent pot” fairy stories on the campaign trail and calling for an “adult conversation”, instead of for policies that treat adults as adults. Note that when the Star‘s reporter asked a follow-up question, Layton immediately started cracking wise; someone should explain to him that “adult conversation” about drug policy does not involve dropping smirking hints about the personal predilections of participants.
It would not be quite so extraordinary for Layton to play the smug ass, of course, were he not a cancer survivor currently reaping a hard-earned harvest of sympathy. As he knows—as some kindly professional has perhaps told him—many people in his plight find marijuana a useful part of their therapeutic regimen, particularly in overcoming the effects of chemical and radiation treatments. I don’t suppose he will have any trouble obtaining marijuana if he decides he should want it; maybe he already has. But what about the less privileged? Have they been altogether forgotten by their social-democratic tribune?
By Colby Cosh with Chris Sorensen and Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 12, 2010 at 6:00 AM - 114 Comments
Ottawa’s storybook young duo suffers a fall from grace
Wearing a navy pinstripe suit, a blue check shirt, and a vibrant yellow and lime-green striped tie, Rahim Jaffer cut a dapper figure in a courtroom in Orangeville, Ont., a sleepy town of 27,000 northwest of Toronto. The former politician, his hair gelled neatly in place, sat near the back of the gallery on the morning of March 9 while the court dealt with its quotidian diet of scandal: a domestic dispute, a 17-year-old arrested for marijuana possession, a woman caught skimming from her employer. For his part, Jaffer, 38, looked confident. With good reason.
Jaffer would shortly plead guilty to a charge of careless driving, and promise to pay a fine of $500; the court was told he had already made a charitable donation of an equivalent amount. As part of the plea deal, the Crown had agreed to drop two more serious charges against Jaffer—drunk driving and possession of cocaine—but did not offer much in the way of explanation. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2009, Jaffer had been pulled over by police for speeding through the village of Palgrave. The OPP officer detaining him was said to have smelled alcohol on his breath; the ex-politician was reported by the OPP to have failed multiple breathalyzer tests, and when he was arrested and searched, an unspecified quantity of cocaine was allegedly found “on his person.” Nonetheless, there were “significant legal issues” surrounding those charges, Crown attorney Marie Balogh told the court, and she foresaw no reasonable chance of conviction. She refused to answer questions from reporters after the trial. Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the attorney general of Ontario, stated later that “there were issues related to the evidence that led the Crown to determine that the most appropriate way to proceed was with the plea resolution.”
Justice Douglas Maund wrapped up the proceedings, telling the accused: “I’m sure you can recognize a break when you see one.” Outside the courthouse, Jaffer did not respond to the judge’s remark or to any questions about the dropped charges. “I know that I should have been more careful,” he said. “I once again apologize for that and I take full responsibility for my careless driving. And that’s really all I have to say this morning.”
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 12:29 PM - 105 Comments
Anyone else think the Star‘s buried revelation about Rahim Jaffer’s criminal case only makes things more confusing?
A rookie Ontario Provincial Police officer failed to follow proper procedures during a strip search of Jaffer, 38, causing the Crown to conclude the case would be open to a Charter challenge, the Star has learned. While the OPP opposed Jaffer only being charged with careless driving, the Crown took a steadfast position, sources say.
If they found cocaine in Jaffer’s possession before conducting the strip search, failing to follow proper procedure wouldn’t impeach that evidence (and it is hard to see how it could impinge upon the impaired-driving charge at all). Under Charter guarantees, the lawyers tell me, you can use fruit gathered from the “evidentiary tree” up until the point at which it becomes “poisoned”. But if the cops strip-searched him before they knew he might be carrying cocaine, why the hell did they do it (and do it carelessly)? Cops are only supposed to conduct strip-searches to protect their own safety or to prevent the destruction of evidence related to the reason for the original arrest.
I’m struggling to arrive at an alternative explanation other than “Some ‘rookie’ cop overstepped his authority and used a strip-search as an instrument of intimidation”, but I’m open to suggestions.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
So far, 650 people have been abducted this year
From the numerous reports of beheadings and execution-style murders, to the 40,000 soldiers deployed in 2006 to reduce the power of drug cartels, Mexico’s war on drugs has grabbed international headlines while becoming a national calamity. This year alone there have been an estimated 3,000 drug-related murders reported across the country, including the recent discovery of about a dozen headless bodies in the Yucatán Peninsula. Yet an equally sinister development has percolated to the surface and is now boiling over. Authorities have reported that a staggering 650 people have been abducted so far this year, a huge increase over the 430 reported in all of 2007. So worried and outraged are Mexicans over their safety that in late August hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest to encourage the government to do something, anything, to protect them.
In response, the Mexican government launched an anti-kidnapping squad consisting of some 300 officers working in five centres, and last week pledged $1 million to all 31 states and the federal district to set up specialized anti-kidnapping units. President Felipe Calderón has also urged congress to pass a bill that would send kidnappers to prison for life without parole, while the country’s national security council is mulling over the idea of erecting high-security prisons for kidnappers, along with standardizing anti-abduction laws.
But the problem may be far worse than it appears on the surface for a country that is second only to Colombia in the overall number of kidnappings reported every year. Human rights groups claim that up to two-thirds of all kidnappings in Mexico go unreported, and they accuse corrupt police officials of aiding criminals in the abductions. To make matters worse, some critics argue that the government’s crackdown on drug activities is the reason why kidnappings are soaring.