31 July 2010

Conservatives and the mistrust of science

The federal government's scrapping of the mandatory long form census has been ascribed to various reasons, from Stephen Harper's selective libertarian philosophy to a sop for the Conservative hard core. Possibly all of these reasons apply to some degree or other, but not to be overlooked is the Conservatives' awkward disconnect between their policies and what science tells us about those policies. Areas of interest that serve as examples include climate change, justice and social health.

That we live on a warming planet has now been firmly established by climate change science. Yet another massive study, this one by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has established this fact. "Unmistakable" is the word used by Derek Arndt , co-editor of the NOAA report. Nonetheless, the federal government continues to drag its feet in responding to this, the greatest challenge humanity faces. Reports like this must be inconvenient indeed for the foot-draggers, particularly in light of their unequivocal support for tar sands production.

And then there's the justice portfolio. The Conservatives propose a tough law and order regime of longer sentences and bigger prisons. Yet experts in the area tell them this is only marginally useful in keeping the public safe from crime, that there are far more effective and cheaper ways. The data that supports the experts is not welcome in the federal cabinet room.

And then there's the long form census. This presents conservatives with a particularly sticky problem. Analysis of the demographics of  a host of countries increasingly tells us that a more equitable society is a healthier society. Extensive research shows that not only do more equal societies have lower rates of heart disease, crime, drug abuse, obesity, mental illness and other social ills than less equal societies, but the rates are lower for all classes in society, the rich as well as the poor. This is graphically illustrated in the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Furthermore, Wilkinson and Pickett show that the rates aren't determined by absolute levels of poverty but by relative levels within a society. These statistical relationships are not good news for conservatives. Privilege is, after all, a fundamental tenet of conservative philosophy.

That the Harper government would sabotage the integrity of the long form census is therefore hardly surprising. What political party would want government paying for knowledge that not only undermines its policies but undermines its basic philosophy into the bargain?

29 July 2010

Of course Pakistan entertains the Taliban

WikiLeaks has, you might say, put the cat among the pigeons. One of the more disturbing elements to the powers involved in the Afghan war is the suggestion of a cozy relationship between the Pakistan military and the Taliban. This suggestion is not new of course, but it is a confirmation that is doing a pretty good job of cranking up tensions between the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What surprises me is not that Pakistan is maintaining a rapport with the Taliban but that anybody would expect them not to. After all, back when the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were supporting the Mujaheddin in their insurgency against the Soviet Union, extremist elements were favoured because of their virulent anti-communism. And among these extremists were the future Taliban. That ties were maintained is hardly surprising.

But more to the point, Pakistan has to consider its own interests. We can wreak our havoc in Afghanistan and then go home, like the U.S. did in Vietnam. But Pakistan is at home, it has nowhere else to go. It is stuck with a rather large neighbour along a highly contentious border, and it's going to be stuck with that neighbour for a very long time. If it doesn't want to be facing a hostile government across that border, it has to prepare itself for any winner of the current civil war. And the Taliban might win. Of course, entertaining the Taliban will in turn offend Afghan President Karzai, who might also win, but the odds for the "Mayor of Kabul" don't look too good at the moment.

The rest of us are not amused. Our motives in Afghanistan are so pure, how can Pakistan not surrender itself unequivocally to our goals? Furthermore we, particularly the United States, have given billions to Pakistan and we expect loyalty in return. Haven't we paid full measure for it? Unfortunately, our expectations are simply unrealistic.

The Pakistanis have a lot of balls to juggle. Dealing with the various forces in Afghanistan, managing their own rebellious tribesmen, countering the influence of India in the region, and placating the Americans while keeping in mind the rampant hostility toward the United States among their people. They will juggle these balls to satisfy their own interests, not the Afghans', and certainly not ours. If we don't recognize this, we will set ourselves up for ever more grief.

Bull-y for Catalonia

We Calgarians have a long history of tormenting animals for entertainment. Once a year we endure the ritual of rodeo at the Calgary Stampede. Progress toward ending this primitive "sport" is glacial. I was greatly pleased therefore to read that Catalonia, a semi-autonomous region of Spain, has banned bullfighting. The Catalonia parliament voted 68 to 55 to become the first region of mainland Spain to outlaw the spectacle.

The popularity of bullfighting in Catalonia has been in decline for years. Only one bull ring remains - in the capital, Barcelona. It stages only 15 fights a year and they rarely sell out. Nonetheless, the ban is a signal victory for both animal rights and human decency.

Like rodeo, bullfighting is often defended on the basis of tradition. But tradition should never justify cruelty. According to centre-right politician Josep Rull, most Catalans agree. "The suffering and death of a living being," he said, "cannot be turned into a public spectacle."

If only we could convince Calgarians of that.

27 July 2010

China rates the world

In yet another sign of China's emergence as an economic powerhouse, the top China-based credit rating agency, Dagong International Credit Rating Company, is challenging the dominance of the big three - Fitch, Moody's and Standard and Poor's. According to Dagong CEO Guan Jianzhong, “Intrinsically, the reason [for] the global financial crisis and debt crisis in Europe is that the current international credit rating system does not correctly reveal the debtor's repayment ability and provides the wrong credit rating information to the world." Chinese president Hu Jintao has expressed similar concerns.

Reflecting this criticism, Dagong has concluded that certain leading Western nations are no longer worthy of AAA ratings and has brought them down a peg. In its rating of 50 countries that make up 90 per cent of the world's economy, Germany has been downgraded to AA+, The United States to AA, and Britain and France to AA-. Dagong limits the top rating of AAA to Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Canada rates AA+, along with the Netherlands, China and Germany.

Given the failures of Western agencies in the run-up to the recent financial collapse, the Chinese seem justified in their concerns. Time will tell whether Dagong will do any better. In any case, the odds are good that it and other China-based agencies will be increasingly influential.

19 July 2010

Whoa, Mr. Prentice, I'm not oblliged to shill for the tar sands

Recently the American organization Corporate Ethics International admitted to an embarrassing error in an anti-tar sands video they had made. The video claimed that tar sands development in Alberta was destroying an area twice the size of England. That, to put it mildly, was an exaggeration. They insisted they had meant to say just the size of England, not twice the size, although that too may be a bit of a stretch.

Naturally, and quite reasonably, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice took umbrage. "I think they're unfair," he said, "They're disappointing, and as all other Albertans and Canadians, I'm angry about them."

Fair enough to a point but he really shouldn't presume to speak for "all other Albertans and Canadians." He then went on to say, "All Canadians really have an obligation to speak up about this and point out that we are an environmentally responsible producer of the resource." Now there he went too far. All Canadians are not obliged to defend tar sands production and a great many don't. In fact, I suspect a great many are more favourably disposed to Corporate Ethics International, despite its faux pas, than they are to tar sands producers. As an Albertan and a Canadian, that's where my sympathies lie.

I shouldn't be too harsh on Mr. Prentice. Politicians generally are all to fond of the editorial "we," but on matters affecting the future of our planet, I would prefer to speak for myself.

17 July 2010

U.S. military spending: ensuring security or threatening it?

The U.S. defence budget for 2010 is $680-billion, an amount almost equal to the rest of the world's military spending combined. And this doesn't include such items as nuclear weapons research, pensions for military retirees and their families, interest on debt incurred in past wars, or financing of foreign arms sales. But does lavishing all these billions on armaments help to ensure Americans' security or does it undermine it?

It is hard to believe that any other nation is so threatening to the United States that this kind of muscle is justified. The only country that might be considered a great power competitor is China, and its military budget is one-ninth as large. Indeed, the major threats to the U.S. don't come from other nations, but rather from extremists groups and dealing with them doesn't require massive armaments. 9/11 didn't happen because the Americans were insufficiently armed, it happened because of a lack of intelligence. The best weapon against terrorism is good intelligence - and good police work. In fact, most of the terrorist threat against the U.S. would fade away if the Americans minded their own business a little more and interfered in other peoples' affairs a little less. There is clearly room for dramatic cuts in U.S. military spending without compromising American security.

A more important concern is the threat this excessive spending poses to the country domestically, particularly the threat to Americans' security when ill, or aging, or unemployed, or when poverty strikes. Congressman Barney Frank nicely expressed this concern when he recently said, "If we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget ... it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity ... [American] well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face."

This threat to American well-being is already showing up in various areas. For example, maternal mortality in the U.S. is higher than in 40 other countries, and has been increasing for 20 years. The U.S. also has the highest infant mortality rate among Western nations.

Cash-strapped states such as California, threatened with mass layoffs of police, teachers and other public workers, could be greatly assisted by federal funding but enabling legislation is held up by a Senate reluctant to inflate federal debt. A bill to extend unemployment benefits is also stalled, even though the number of American workers who have gone without a job for six months or more is the highest since WWII. Defence spending rarely encounters such thrift.

Despite the deteriorating domestic scene, military spending increased this year to its highest level in 50 years. Meanwhile, from women seeking secure childbirth to people seeking a secure job, the situation worsens. If a large chunk of that defence budget were switched to domestic programs, Americans' security just might be considerably enhanced.

15 July 2010

The clothing issue - bikini or burka?

With the French National Assembly voting 335 to 1 to deny people the right to cover their faces in public, and rumours of something similar in Quebec, the issue of appropriate dress for public appearance arises.

Personally, I don't really care what anyone wears - or doesn't wear. If someone wants to walk naked down the high street, I have no objection. The law does, however. Section 174 (1) (a) of the Criminal Code reads, "Every one who, without lawful excuse, is nude in a public place ... is guilty of an offence." Apparently the courts are tolerant in interpreting this section, however, excluding for example sunbathing at nude beaches.

One might reasonably say that Canada is quite tolerant at this end, the naked end, of the spectrum. You can't wear nothing at all, but you can wear very little. At the other end, we are even more tolerant. You can cover everything up. So is it reasonable to forbid covering everything up? Once again, I don't much care. If someone wants to walk down the high street covered in a black tent on a sweltering hot day, that's her (I must assume it's a her) burden, not mine. I just hope for her sake she's taking vitamin D supplements.

However, I don't think it's unreasonable to ban the burka. After all, if it were disallowed in Canada, we would still have an impressive range of tolerance, from almost everything uncovered to almost everything covered.

The argument of course gets all philosophical, one side saying veiled faces may be a religious imperative, the other side saying they are a symbol of the oppression of women. The latter is a strong argument, the former not so much - I suspect that, like female genital mutilation, wearing the veil is more tribal than religious. But so few women wear it that, as long as it is genuinely their choice, then what the hell, live and let live. Making a law to target a few harmless women seems like bullying to me. So although banning the burka isn't entirely unreasonable, I say let the ladies in black do their thing. And if somebody wants to stroll naked down the high street ... well, them too.

Why do we need a veterans affairs department at all?

Apparently the federal government is considering downsizing the Department of Veterans Affairs as more veterans die off and their numbers shrink. One wonders why we need such a department at all.

The usual justification is well presented by Brian Lee Cowley of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy, who says, "If there is one group to whom the country owes an undeniable debt of gratitude that should be manifested in solicitous attention to their needs, it would be those who risked their lives on behalf of the country." Interesting point, but the "one group" that risk their lives on behalf of the country includes more than soldiers, sailors and airmen. Many others risk their lives in the service of Canada. For example, dozens of construction workers die on the job every year, and they are literally building the future of our country. Are their lives worth less? If they are disabled on the job, as many are, do they deserve less care?

If we are a compassionate society, we should take good care of all those in need. If someone is handicapped, it shouldn't matter whether they were injured in war or when hit by a bus, the degree of support they receive should be generous and it should be equal. If an old person needs assistance, that assistance should be the same whether the recipient served in war or simply spent her entire adult life as a housewife.

Favouring war veterans over other Canadians is yet another salute to militarism, to the macho culture of warrior-worship. In an age when military toys include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, it's time to get beyond the warrior ethos and treat all citizens equally.

14 July 2010

A new noise bylaw for Calgary ... finally!

Finally, Calgary City Council is considering a new noise bylaw. As an inner-city resident, living on the very busy 25th Avenue SW, I am very familiar with urban noise. I accept almost all of it as part of the hustle and bustle of inner city life, the life I enjoy. Trucks can be noisy but they are engaged in the commerce of the city and, therefore, are generally tolerable. Construction can be annoying, but it too is an essential part of city life and, in any case, is generally limited to working hours. My only beef is with motorcycles.

The noise generated by motorcycles is uniquely offensive. It is exceptionally loud, particularly harsh and threatening, and often explodes with heart-stopping suddenness. And, as if all this wasn’t enough, it is completely unnecessary. Motorcycles can be effectively muffled, just as cars and trucks can. Unmuffled motorcycle noise constitutes nothing less than an assault - and should be treated as such.

I go out almost every day for lunch or coffee, most often to the cafes and pubs along 17th Avenue SW. I particularly enjoy the patios in the summer. Or at least I do until the motorcycles show up. Their ear-shattering noise ruins the patio atmosphere for everyone and almost has an older person like me worrying about a heart attack.

When Edmonton brought in a new noise bylaw, bikers complained of discrimination because it specifically mentioned motorcycles. And so it should have. If bikers don’t want to be singled out, they simply have to muffle their machines. Don't want to pay the fine, don't do the crime. Indeed I wonder if Calgary wouldn’t do better to enact a muffler bylaw rather than a new noise bylaw. Any vehicle without an appropriate muffler would be ticketed and severely fined. This would, I expect, be easier to enforce.

Many men love big, noisy machines but most seem to retain some respect for the rest of society. Those that don't make up one of society's most obnoxious minorities, a minority that deserves to be discriminated against for gratuitously inflicting their obnoxious racket on others: motorcycle racket on urbanites trying to enjoy the street life, power boat racket on cottagers trying to enjoy their lake, and snowmobile racket on hikers trying to walk peacefully in the woods. When confronted about their behaviour, as they were with the Edmonton noise bylaw, they whine that they have a right to enjoy the street, or the lake, or the woods, as much as anyone else. And of course they do, but the right to wreck everyone else's pleasure at the same time isn't necessarily included.

But I'm digressing - back to motorcycles in Calgary. I strongly support Council's initiative and encourage them to develop an effective bylaw with punitive measures sufficient to maintain 17th Avenue as the enjoyable people place it ought to be.

13 July 2010

Omar Khadr - why is our government deaf to the truth?

"I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfill its goal. I have been used too many times when I was a child, and that's why I'm here - taking blame for things I didn't have a choice in doing, but was forced to do by elders."

With those words, Omar Khadr described his situation precisely. He was indoctrinated by his elders, by his own parents, from the time he was born, into an extremist ideology and then sent at the age of 14 to Afghanistan and placed in the hands of the Taliban. There he had no choice but to do their bidding. He is, in other words, a classic example of a child soldier. And it is because of this sordid exploitation of children's total vulnerability that civilized people do not punish child soldiers. We rehabilitate them.

I am saddened that our government refuses to recognize this truth and defend Omar's rights as a child soldier and, of course, as a Canadian. Why are they so determined to see this young man suffer? Is it to placate the Americans? Or do they share the Americans' blood lust for revenge?

Whatever their motives, they shame this country. They implicate all Canadians in this egregious injustice. And, worst of all, they unnecessarily extend the suffering of Omar Khadr.

12 July 2010

Germany - king of green

Germany just keeps impressing. First, it reaches the semi-finals of the World Cup. Then we read in The Globe and Mail that its economy is roaring back from the recession with BMW announcing 5,000 new jobs and Daimler-Mercedes and Siemens adding thousands more. On Friday the Guardian carried a story about Germany's pace-setting progress in going green, saying it will probably "become the world's first major industrial nation to kick the fossil-fuel habit."

Jochen Flasbarth, president of the country's Federal Environment Agency claims, "A complete conversion to renewable energy by 2050 is possible from a technical and ecological point of view." Germany plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2020, and by 80-85 per cent by 2050. The European Union as a whole has only committed to 20 per cent reduction from 1990 to 2020 but even that is far greater than our pathetic 17 per cent from 2005 to 2020.

Commitments are fine, but it's achievement that counts, and Germany is achieving, leading the world in sustainable energy. From 1990 to the end of 2007, it had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 per cent. It has tripled the amount of electricity it gets from wind, solar and other renewable sources over the past 15 years, and in the last decade has created 300,000 renewable energy jobs.

We insist on taking our cue from our southern neighbour when it comes to greening our energy use. We should be looking to Europe.

08 July 2010

Vandalism justified

The mindless vandalism engaged in by "anarchists" at the G20 Summit raises the question of violence against property ever being justified as a means of protest. This question arose at a recent trial in the U.K.

In January, 2009, during the Israeli invasion of Gaza, a group of British peace activists gained entry to the EDO MBM arms factory in Brighton and systematically destroyed records and smashed computers and machinery, causing £180,000 worth of damage. They then lay down on the floor and waited to be arrested. Prior to the attack, the activists had recorded their justification on video.

At their recent trial, they were all found not guilty, acquitted on the basis of "lawful excuse." Under British law, damaging property is lawful if carried out in an honest belief that it is preventing even greater damage. The activists argued - successfully - that they had a "lawful excuse" to smash up the factory because it was manufacturing military equipment for Israel which was illegally killing Palestinian civilians, including children. In activist Chris Osmond's words, "During Operation Cast Lead 1,400 people were killed, 350 of which were children. The international community appeared to be completely helpless. The UN could not even protect its own compounds. The only light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Palestine is if ordinary people like us take direct action on their behalf."

The method of these activists was fundamentally different from that of the G20 Summit vandals. They had a specific, appropriate target and a clearly moral objective. They didn't hide behind masks or run away. Like adults, they stood accountable for their actions. And further, as it turns out, they were supported by the law, specifically by Section 5 of Britain's Criminal Damage Act.

Perhaps most importantly they acted on a moral imperative that ordinary people can understand. Decent people are appalled by the killing of civilians, particularly children, and can therefore easily sympathize with those who take action against it. (Given the behaviour of our leading politicians during the Gaza invasion, one might question this, but I take it to be true nonetheless.) Random vandalism, on the other hand, tends to be treated with contempt even by many who may support the cause, whatever the cause of the G20 Summit vandals may have been.

When all is said and done, this is critical. A cause will not progress unless its proponents can convince their fellow citizens of its validity. The activists who wrecked the EDO MBM arms factory were able to convince a jury of ordinary British people that their actions were just. I suspect the G20 vandals would have trouble convincing a jury of their fellow protesters.

07 July 2010

The Israel tail once again wags the American dog

The routine seems almost choreographed. The Israelis do something outrageous to the Palestinians. The Americans huff and puff. The Israeli prime minister visits Washington (it took two visits this time), tactfully reminds the president that the Israeli Lobby has more influence on Congress than he does, and all is forgiven. Once again, the tail successfully wags the dog. As for the Palestinians ... well, they don't have much influence in Congress.

Benjamin Netanyahu's little chat with Barack Obama yesterday has been declared an unqualified success for the Israeli prime minister. He is reported to have gotten everything he wanted from the president, including turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons while opposing Iran's possession of same and forgiveness for the entrenchment of settlements on Palestinian land. With Congressional elections coming up in November, no one should be surprised at Obama's subservience.

But, as the American military has pointed out, this continued servility toward Israel may not be healthy for American interests. It undermines American relationships with Arab countries while fueling support for those who resort to violence against the great power that unequivocally supports the Palestinians' oppressor. In short, it puts American lives at risk, both civilian and military. But that's long term and there are elections to be won in the short term. Security is a huge issue in the U.S., but this apparently is one area where it can safely be sacrificed for political gain. And that in itself testifies to the power of the Israeli tail.

06 July 2010

Obama's financial reform bill and how democracy doesn't work

U.S. President Barack Obama had hoped to get his financial reform legislation passed before the G20 meeting in order to impress the world with American leadership on the troublesome economic front. Didn't happen. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have produced bills but reconciliation of the two is not going well.

Not only the politicians have gone over the proposed bills with great care. The financial industry is watching closely and squeezing hard. It expects to be well served by those whose election campaigns it finances and whose districts it enriches. Senator Dick Durbin admits, "Hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created [that they] are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place." Economist Simon Johnson of MIT suggests that Obama is in fact doing Wall Street's bidding while claiming the opposite. He says that after signing off on "the most generous and least conditional bailout in world financial history," the President is scrambling for political cover but the cover is without substance.

Insiders claim the proposed independent Consumer Protection Agency will be buried in the Federal Reserve Bank, the too big to fail provisions are gone, tough rules on derivatives are threatened by New York liberals who fear the banks will move business overseas, exemptions are being made for mutual funds, and so on and on. The teeth are being pulled.

The financial industry has 25 lobbyists for every member of Congress, scrupulously supervising with expert eyes the behaviour of each. This is an influence the American public, with its limited knowledge of the arcane world of finance, can't begin to match. Americans will simply have to accept the financial reform the industry, and politicians heavily dependent on that industry, give them. Their interests are subordinated to those of the bankers. I suspect President Obama would have it otherwise, but he too is a victim of the capitalist system and must tailor his goals accordingly.

Reflections on the G20 shenanigans: anarchist flakes, dumb cops and isolated politicians

We might make allowances for the vandals in black who performed their now clich├ęd window-smashing gig at the G20 Summit. They are, after all, young and may eventually grow up and leave their macho tomfoolery behind. The police aren't so easy to forgive. They are adults and adults with a very special responsibility.

The "anarchists" show up at every conference of international leaders and run out the same stupid routine: don face masks, smash property, hide in the crowd. And they do all this in front of hundreds of officers. Yet every time it seems the police are surprised. Are they incapable of learning?

The answer seems to be no. So allow a mere layman to offer a suggestion or two. To begin with, they might rethink the whole idea of erecting barricades, decking themselves out in armour, and arraying themselves in serried ranks against the people. In other words, they might behave more like police and less like military. They should have officers in conventional police uniforms - without the guns - mixing with the crowds. Let the demonstrators and the police look each other in the eye and recognize each other as fellow humans and fellow citizens. Have a chat, for heaven's sake, get in the spirit of peaceful protest.

With police in the crowd, vandals would have nowhere to hide. How awkward for them. Indeed, if the police and the demonstrators had some rapport going, some demonstrators at least might feel inclined to help a policeman who was wrestling with a juvenile delinquent in black. There is certainly no incentive to help when the police display themselves as an alien force, a force intent on intimidation.

The politicians could do their bit as well. Instead of hiding behind the barricades, they might try mixing with the crowds a little. They might also try mediating between the police and the demonstrators before the event to try for a civilized atmosphere. That would include a discussion about how to handle the miscreants whose mode of expression is smashing things. And then of course they might use good sense and not hold an event like this in the middle of a large city.

And let's not excuse the demonstrators from responsibility. Can they not at least shame the strutting, black-clad fools in their midst into a semblance of mature behaviour? The legitimate messages of the constructive majority are being seriously undermined by the mindlessly violent actions of a very few, so they have a great deal to gain by leashing them. Or just turning them over to the cops.

The arranging of this G20 was a fiasco. Terrible choice of location. Ridiculously expensive. Simple-minded approach to security. South Korea can hardly do worse in November.

03 July 2010

Crime, prisons and enlightened Tories

Although it may seem a little surprising to Canadians, not all conservatives want to throw ever more people into prison. Britain's Conservative secretary of state for justice, Kenneth Clarke, has strongly criticized the "Victorian bang 'em up" approach to incarceration that has prevailed in the U.K. for the past 20 years. In contradiction to his party's orthodoxy, he argues that, "In our worst prisons, it produces tougher criminals," and, "Many a man has gone into prison without a drug problem and come out drug dependent." And all this, he insists, without leaving the public any safer.

Clarke was in charge of prisons as home secretary in the early nineties, and finds the doubling of the prison population since then astonishing, saying he would have dismissed it "as an impossible and ridiculous prediction if it had been put to me in a forecast in 1992." He is particularly concerned about the 60,000 prisoners serving short sentences and their 60 per cent and rising recidivism rate. "Many of them end up losing their jobs, their homes and their families during their short time inside," he observed.

He suggests a far more constructive approach would be to make prisons places of education, hard work and change, and to provide rigorously enforced community sentences that get offenders off drugs and alcohol and into jobs. To achieve this, he supports Conservative plans for a "rehabilitation revolution" which would involve the non-profit and private sectors in programs to change offenders inside and outside prison, and paying them for results.

Given that Britain has the largest prison-building program in Europe at a time when his government is budget-cutting, Clarke may be principally concerned about saving money. Nonetheless, his concern should lead to a greater emphasis on restorative justice. Now if only our government will take a cue from its Conservative brother.