Baloney Budget (Planes and Prisons)

I am indebted for the above title to the Star, which has an article in today’s issue on this topic.

We should be outraged. We have a leader signalling from halfway around the world that he is going to tinker with our pension system. A courageous, perhaps foolish, politician might have given this signal in his own country, perhaps even as an election platform plank.

What’s really wrong with our budget is mostly special interests. Planes and Prisons come to mind. Let’s deal with planes first.

We are going to purchase planes from the USA. We need to have these planes. We need to have these newest, most wonderful, planes. These planes, F-35’s, do have the following small drawbacks:

  • They don’t exist yet. The project is over budget and late. Interestingly, Secrecy News at www.fas.org just published a CRS report on The Nunn-McCurdy Act. This spells out what happens when a Department of Defense (DOD) project goes way over budget. I suspect Congress is very interested in the F-35.
  • The first ones have serious problems.
  • They may not be available until 2018.
  • They are single-engined.

Interestingly, a key US ally, Saudi Arabia, just purchased a large number (84) F-15 fighter jets. This plane is about thirty years old, but the US seems to intend to keep it in service past 2025.

The Saudis seem to be getting 84 new F-15 planes, plus upgrades to 70 old ones, plus helicopters and other gear, for about $30billion USD. The plane is twin engined. When lightly loaded it can accelerate vertically.

The F-35 seems to cost about $300million USD each. Nobody knows when this number will stop rising.

To summarize the points on the F-35 planes:

  • They are expensive
  • They are as yet untested
  • They pander to the United States by guaranteeing purchases of an untried weapon.

Prisons next.

Crime rates are dropping in Canada. Despite various attempts to take credit for this, I believe it has nothing to do with improved policing, let alone jails or longer sentences. I think it is a demographic shift: the desperately poor are now mostly marginalized: the aged, the infirm, and the street people. This is different from young family heads with mouths to feed and no income. I think there has been a gradual population shift from the latter to the former, enough to change the violence and frequency of some kinds of crime. Drug crimes seem to be on the upswing, but often marijuana grow-ops; murders outside of gangs, on a downturn.

Given this, spending money on prisons seems utterly stupid. The only thing in the Harper government’s plan that makes any sense is that it will push cost onto the provinces, especially Ontario, which means Toronto as well; I believe Harper hates Toronto. Look at the G20 he gifted us with, for example. Look at health care reductions, read the newspaper.

What we do need is a real improvement to the handling of court cases, of all kinds. I have ranted here before on long wait times, queueing theory indicating that it only requires a small increase in server capacity to reduce a lineup.

Justice delayed can be justice denied. Accused police officers can try, and sometimes succeed, in having their cases thrown out because of delays. (one recent case did go to court, but I recall an earlier one that did not – convenient for the accused, eh?) One could make a case that a long delay in coming to court is punishment without a trial.

So, Mister Harper, here is some free advice.

Forget the F-35. Get a handful of F-15’s and be as up to date as those poor, impoverished rulers in Saudi Arabia.

Forget the prisons. Do put some dollars into court case times, into pro bono lawyers, and more judges. Let’s have verdicts, and let the judges decide the sentences – in a timely fashion.

While you’re at it, let’s have some improvement in detective work as well: about half the murders in Toronto go unsolved. Every year.

You’re welcome.

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