February 11, 2013

Senate report calls for tariff cuts

In the Financial Post, Terence Corcoran looks at the good and not-so-good aspects of a recent Senate report on the reasons Canadians pay so much more for goods than Americans (even when the goods are identical and the currencies are trading at par):

Retail prices in Canada, seemingly across the board, are higher. Even with the Canadian dollar at par, the price of everything from running shoes to televisions and Chevy Camaros to books is said to be above U.S prices. One bank report once put the Canada-U.S. price gap at 20%.

Somebody’s gotta do something, everybody agrees. Enter the Senate committee with one of the most hard-nosed, market-driven overviews of how and why Canadians pay more for goods at retail. The report dodges and fudges some key issues, especially farm product supply management, which was seen by the committee and the retail industry as too politically hot to handle.

[. . .]

Even in this, however, the committee pulls its first punch. The recommendation to “review” such tariffs — watery phrasing in itself — also suggests “keeping in mind the impact on domestic manufacturing.” Sorry, folks, but you can’t have it both ways. Tariffs are protectionist devices for manufacturers that consumers pay for. If you want to reduce the price to consumers, the $3.9-billion in protection for manufacturers has to go. End of discussion.

What makes The Canada-USA Price Gap even more valuable is its compact insights into the many causes of higher retail prices in Canada. The economy is a complicated and often unfathomable series of market and price relationships beyond the power and even understanding of policy makers. The report recognizes that fact time and again.

Police dogs as “probable cause on a leash”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:19

Jacob Sullum on how credulous courts have granted police dogs the power to circumvent Americans’ right to be free from intrusive search and seizure by police officers on fishing expeditions:

The deputy and another officer who arrived during the stop nevertheless went through Burns’ truck for half an hour or so, reaching up into the boat, perusing his cargo, looking under the seats and the hood, examining the gas tank and the undercarriage. They found no trace of drugs, although they did come across the loaded pistol that Burns mentioned to them once it was clear they planned to search the truck.

“They were cool with the gun,” Burns says. “If it had been California, God knows what would have happened.” He was so relieved that he barely minded the delay and inconvenience, which stretched a brief traffic stop into more than an hour. “I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a super-libertarian,” Burns says. “Once I realized that the pistol was not going to be an issue, man, they could have spent all day going over that car and under that car. My only concern was that one of the guys might have slipped something in to cover up for the fact that they didn’t find anything.”

That’s one way of looking at it. But even if you are neither a lawyer nor a super-libertarian, you might wonder 1) how often this sort of thing happens, 2) how it came to be that police can get permission from a dog to rifle an innocent man’s belongings, and 3) whether that state of affairs is consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The answers, in brief, are 1) fruitless searches based on dog alerts happen a lot more often than commonly believed, 2) dogs acquired this authority with the blessing of credulous courts mesmerized by their superhuman olfactory talents, and 3) this dog license is hard to square with the Fourth Amendment, unless it is reasonable to trust every officer’s unsubstantiated claim about how an animal of undetermined reliability reacted to a person, a suitcase, a car, or a house.

All of these issues come together in two cases the U.S. Supreme Court heard a few weeks after Bob Burns was pulled over. Florida v. Harris raises the question of how a judge knows that a dog’s alert is reliable enough to justify a search. Florida v. Jardines asks whether police need a warrant to use a drug-sniffing dog at the doorstep of a home. These cases, which will be decided by this summer, give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider its heretofore unshaken faith in dogs, or at least limit the damage caused by the amazing canine ability to transform hunches into probable cause.

A boxplot of First Nations misery

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

Over the weekend, Colby Cosh posted this depressing box-and-whisker plot (aka “boxplot”) from statistical data on First Nations communities:

First Nations boxplot

Why did I want to look at this information this way? Because Canada actually performed an inadvertent natural experiment with residential schools: in New Brunswick (and in Prince Edward Island) they did not exist. If the schools had major negative effects on social welfare flowing forward into the future we now inhabit, New Brunswick’s Indians would be expected to do better than those in other provinces. And that does turn out to be the case. You can see that the top three-quarters of New Brunswick Indian communities would all be above the median even in neighbouring Nova Scotia, whose FN communities might otherwise be expected to be quite comparable. (Remember that each community, however large, is just one point in these data. Toronto’s one point, with an index value of 84. So is Kasabonika Lake, estimated 2006 population 680, index value 47.)

On the other hand, and this is exactly the kind of thing boxplots are meant to help one notice, the big between-provinces difference between First Nations communities isn’t the difference between New Brunswick and everybody else. It’s the difference between the Prairie Provinces and everybody else including New Brunswick — to such a degree, in fact, that Canada probably should not be conceptually broken down into “settler” and “aboriginal” tiers, but into three tiers, with prairie Indians enjoying a distinct species of misery. (This shows up in other, less obvious ways in the boxplot diagram. You notice how many lower-side outliers there are in Saskatchewan? That dangling trail of dots turns out to consist of Indian and Métis towns in the province’s north — communities that are significantly or even mostly aboriginal, but that aren’t coded as “FN” in the dataset.)

I fear that the First Nations data for Alberta are of particular note here: on the right half of the diagram we can see that Alberta’s resource wealth (in 2006, remember) helped nudge the province ahead of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in overall social-development measures, but it doesn’t seem to have paid off very well for Indians. This isn’t a surprising outcome, mind you, if you live in Alberta; we have rich Indian bands and plenty of highly visible band-owned businesses, but the universities are not yet full of high-achieving members of those bands, and the downtown shelters in Edmonton, sad to say, still are.

“I don’t want to use the word buffoonery but it really is unbridled police lawlessness”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

There’s more than a little bit of “explaining” due from the LAPD over these incidents:

David Perdue was on his way to sneak in some surfing before work Thursday morning when police flagged him down. They asked who he was and where he was headed, then sent him on his way.

Seconds later, Perdue’s attorney said, a Torrance police cruiser slammed into his pickup and officers opened fire; none of the bullets struck Perdue.

His pickup, police later explained, matched the description of the one belonging to Christopher Jordan Dorner — the ex-cop who has evaded authorities after allegedly killing three and wounding two more. But the pickups were different makes and colors. And Perdue looks nothing like Dorner: He’s several inches shorter and about a hundred pounds lighter. And Perdue is white; Dorner is black.

“I don’t want to use the word buffoonery but it really is unbridled police lawlessness,” said Robert Sheahen, Perdue’s attorney. “These people need training and they need restraint.”

That incident is pretty bad, and thank goodness that David Perdue wasn’t shot in the Keystone Kops re-enactment. In this earlier incident, however, the innocent civilians didn’t get off without injury:

As the vehicle approached the house, officers opened fire, unloading a barrage of bullets into the back of the truck. When the shooting stopped, they quickly realized their mistake. The truck was not a Nissan Titan, but a Toyota Tacoma. The color wasn’t gray, but aqua blue. And it wasn’t Dorner inside the truck, but a woman and her mother delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times.

Pickup shooting by LAPD

In an interview with The Times on Friday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck outlined the most detailed account yet of how the shooting unfolded. Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the victims of “a tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension,” he said. Just hours before, Dorner allegedly shot three police officers, one fatally. And, in an online posting authorities attributed to him, Dorner threatened to kill more police and seemed to take responsibility for the slaying over the weekend of the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiance.

Beck and others stressed that the investigation into the shooting is in its infancy. They declined to say how many officers were involved, what kind of weapons they used, how many bullets were fired and, perhaps most important, what kind of verbal warnings — if any — were given to the women before the shooting began.

H/T to Jon, my former virtual landlord, for the links to both articles and the urgent advice “You might want to park the Tacoma in the garage for awhile”.

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