March 07, 2009

 

Why we need a majority...

From: The Toronto Sun
http://www.torontosun.com/comment/2009/03/09/8678446-sun.html

Harper driving Conservatives the wrong way
By: MICHAEL TAUBE

Last Updated: 9th March, 2009

In March 2006, I left the Toronto Sun to become a speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In those early days, after an exciting election result and a shock to the political system, the re-emergence of Canadian conservatism - and Canada's future - looked pretty positive.

How wrong I was.

The federal Conservatives have increasingly become a centrist, non-ideological government. While there have been some incremental steps toward conservatism - including tax credits, GST reduction, and cracking down on crime - they've been few and far between.

Instead, the Harper Tories have spent more time propping up bloated social programs they previously opposed, and tearing down political positions they formerly supported.

For example, the government introduced a federal budget in January that only a drunken sailor could be proud of. Sure, there were some new tax cuts totaling about $2 billion, but so what? They were completely offset by massive spending deficits of close to $85 billion on wasteful infrastructure, social housing and cultural programs.

Yes, both the global economic crisis and last December's political stand-off played a role in this budget's evolution.

But a true Conservative government - in either a majority or minority position - would still be fiscally prudent even in the face of political and economic turmoil. This so-called economic recovery plan won't get our economy rolling again.

And just this week, the PM admitted defeat in Afghanistan. He told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, "We are not going to ever defeat the insurgency."

In one fell swoop, Harper wiped out the Canadian military's accomplishments during this mission, including building roads, providing fresh, clean water and improving women's rights.

Even worse, he brushed aside the memory of the brave 111 Canadian soldiers who died in war-torn Afghanistan fighting for freedom and democracy.

Yes, I recognize Harper may be trying to make the best out of a bad situation. But ascribing to the culture of defeat with respect to an ongoing military mission is hardly a case study in strong leadership. It's disrespectful to our men and women in uniform, not to mention their families and friends.

And to put it bluntly, it's not a very right-wing thing to do.

As the Conservatives sink further and further away from ideological purity, their support base keeps crumbling. In fact, some conservatives are strongly considering voting for the Liberals in the next federal election.

They appear to be dissatisfied with Harper's leadership and policies, and are relatively content with Michael Ignatieff's economic positions and support for a greater international role for Canada. They believe he has the makings of a future prime minister.

If some conservatives now believe there's no difference between Ignatieff and Harper, this government has a real identity problem. It's up to the PM to re-establish a clear distinction between the Conservatives and Liberals.

Here are some ways to do it:
  • Support across-the-board tax cuts for all Canadians instead of targeted tax credits for a few.
  • Increase private sector opportunities in job and wealth creation, and reduce - not revisit - government waste.
  • Resist the short-term public relations temptation to follow U.S. President Barack Obama's destructive path of social engineering.
  • Stop throwing away taxpayer money on ineffective social programs like universal health care, and utilize market-based approaches to reform them.
  • Relax foreign ownership rules and give our economy a real jolt.
I, and many other conservatives, didn't come to Ottawa to promote the twin causes of centrist government and tax-and-spend liberalism. Unfortunately, Harper has found a political formula that he's comfortable with, and isn't about to change so fast.

Hopefully Harper will wake up from his political malaise and re-embrace a free market-oriented approach. It would show real initiative and leadership in these difficult economic times, and prove he's not in office to simply maintain power.

Conservatives and Canadians are waiting, prime minister. But I sense not for much longer.

Taube is a public affairs analyst and commentator, and a former speechwriter for PM Stephen Harper.

Copyright 2009 - The Toronto Sun

 

The government model Harper needs to follow...

From: The Wall Street Journal

John Key: You Can't Spend Your Way Out of the Crisis
New Zealand's prime minister wants to give his country a competitive advantage instead.
By:
MARY KISSEL
MARCH 7, 2009

Wellington, New Zealand - These days, you have to travel far to find a national leader who is talking about market-based approaches to the global recession. All the way to the other side of the world.

"We don't tell New Zealanders we can stop the global recession, because we can't," says Prime Minister John Key, leaning forward in his armchair at his office in the Beehive, the executive wing of New Zealand's parliament. "What we do tell them is we can use this time to transform the economy to make us stronger so that when the world starts growing again we can be running faster than other countries we compete with."

That idea - growing a nation out of recession by improving productivity - puts Mr. Key and his conservative National Party at odds with Washington, Tokyo, and Canberra. Those capitals are rolling out billions of dollars in stimulus packages - with taxpayers' money - to try to prop up growth. That's "risky," Mr. Key says. "You've saddled future generations with an enormous amount of debt that then they have to repay," he explains. "There is actually a limit to what governments can do."

The 47-year-old Mr. Key, a pragmatist by nature, knows a thing or two about how the public sector works. The youngest of three children, he was raised in state-owned housing in Christchurch, on New Zealand's South Island, after the death of his father. His mother worked at blue-collar jobs to keep the family afloat. Mr. Key earned a bachelor's degree in commerce from the University of Canterbury, took a job the next day at a local accountancy firm, and married his high-school sweetheart. After seeing a TV advertisement about a foreign-exchange trader, he started canvassing banks for a job. That kicked off a career as a foreign-exchange trader, with postings in Singapore, London and Sydney - most recently at Merrill Lynch. "Bank of America," he says, with not a little mirth, "it's probably soon to be owned by Barack Ob-ah-ma!" - emphasis on the "ah" in Kiwi-speak. His press secretary rolls her eyes.

Mr. Key's coalition government, which includes parties to the right and left of the Nationals, has moved fast to implement a program of tax cuts, regulatory reform and government retooling. He won't label it supply-side economics and smiles when I ask if he's a Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek acolyte. "I'm not deeply ideologically driven," he says. "I believe in good center right politics."

Mr. Key is returning the country to a formula for prosperity that's worked in the past. As in Britain, the U.S., and Australia in the 1980s, New Zealand's government implemented a wide-ranging program of economic liberalization, including deep reductions in tariffs and subsidies, and privatization of state-run industries. The plan, nicknamed "Rogernomics" after then-Finance Minister (now Sir) Roger Douglas, was akin to Reaganomics, and the island nation grew smartly.

But while the U.S. and Australia broadly continued their economic liberalization programs under both right- and left-wing governments, New Zealand didn't - until now. Over the past nine years, Helen Clark's left-wing Labour government rode the global economic expansion and used the revenue surge to expand government welfare programs, renationalize industries, and embrace causes like global warming. As a result, the economy stagnated while Australia took off.

"We have been on a slippery slope," Mr. Key says, pointing to the country's slide to the bottom half of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's per-capita GDP rankings. "So we need to lift those per-capita wages, and the only way to really do that is through productivity growth driving efficiency in the country." He talks at length about how to attract and retain talented workers. What does he think about populist arguments about the end of capitalism? "Nonsense!"

Mr. Key's program focuses first on personal income tax cuts, which - given that the new top rate, as of April 1, will be 38% - are still high, especially when compared to Hong Kong and Singapore. "We just think it's good tax policy to lower and flatten your tax curve," he says. "People will move in labor markets and they look at their after-tax incomes."

Cutting the corporate tax rate - which is now 30% - isn't as crucial just now as keeping liquidity flowing, Mr. Key argues. "A lot of [companies] won't pay tax if they don't make money," he reasons. "So they might be slightly less focused on corporate tax in the immediate future. Longer-term, they will be." Why? Corporate money is "mobile." "If you really are out of whack with the prevailing corporate tax rates, and there's been a global shift toward countries lowering their corporate tax rate, then you're not likely to attract capital, or you're likely to lose capital." Mr. Key and his coalition partner, the ACT Party - Mr. Douglas's party - want to eventually align personal, trust and company tax rates at 30%.

For now, the prime minister is focusing on chipping away entrenched regulations that drive away foreign capital - a contrast to the U.S. and Australia, which are reregulating their markets in the wake of the financial crisis. "Good regulatory reform can be an important catalyst toward driving economic growth and coming out of the recession faster," Mr. Key says. His government is revising legislation meant to protect New Zealand's pristine environment from private-sector development but misused by greens to stymie all stripes of business plans.

Big government is also coming under the gun. Mr. Key launched a "line-by-line review" of every government department, and committed the government to cap new spending in its May budget. "If we want to fund new initiatives, we by definition have to stop [funding] some of the things we don't think were working... We're just getting better value for money."

The Key government also is wary of climate change orthodoxy. "Half of all of our emissions come from agriculture," he says, meaning cows "burping and farting." "We don't have an answer to that... So at the moment, we either become more expensive or we cut production. And neither of those options are terribly attractive." Mr. Key is reviewing the economic impact of the previous government's cap-and-trade plan. "New Zealand needs to balance its environmental responsibilities with its economic opportunities, because the risk is that if you don't do that - and you want to lead the world - then you might end up getting unintended consequences."

Much of Mr. Key's reform agenda hinges on his belief that he has to prepare his country to compete in the global economy. "The world, whether we like it or not, will become more and more borderless," he says. That means Wellington is planted firmly behind free trade. "The sooner Doha is completed," Mr. Key says, referring to stalled global trade talks, "the better from our point of view."

Mr. Key chuckles when I ask him about the "Buy American" provision tucked into the Obama administration's stimulus package. The previous government's "Buy New Zealand" campaign got a "lukewarm" reception, he recalls. "There are so many component parts manufactured in different parts of the world, you're chasing your tail the whole time about where something's actually made."

New Zealand last year inked a free-trade agreement with China, recently signed a deal with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and announced the start of negotiations with India and South Korea last month. Korea "obviously" wants an FTA with the U.S., he says.

Does New Zealand's model hold lessons for the Obama administration? Mr. Key says that might be "presumptive." But he does outline a few general lessons: "Your citizens are entitled to expect you to be realistic... to be specific about what it is you're going to do, what you can or can't do. And finally, I think, to be confident that you can get through it. Now there's plenty of doom and gloom merchants out there. But the single biggest risk is that everyone believes them and stops doing anything. I can't see how that helps us." What did he learn in his former trade? "It taught me not to panic."

Going forward, he worries about, among other things, the U.S. dollar's path. Like most other trading nations, the bulk of New Zealand's exports is denominated in dollars, and the country's private sector borrows heavily from offshore markets. Says Mr. Key: "For anyone trying to manage currency risk, and indeed often interest-rate risk, you know, it's not generally the absolute level, it's more the volatility that becomes the determining factor." A strong and stable dollar policy out of the Obama administration would be helpful.

But ultimately, Mr. Key says his biggest fear is rising inflation on the back of rising money supplies. "Economic theory will tell you that inflation is going to rise - and that inflation will be exported around the world... In the short term, I'm not criticizing U.S. policy: I think inflation is probably the thing that's going to be necessary to get them out of the current issue. [Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke sort of signaled that. But longer term, inflation is cancerous to your economy."

So would Mr. Key, the onetime foreign-exchange trader, buy or sell the U.S. dollar? As we move toward the door, the press secretary steps in: That's one call that's off the record.

Ms. Kissel is editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Asia.

Copyright 2009 - The Wall Street Journal

 

He's still the man...

From: The Wall Street Journal

Stephen Harper: A Resolute Ally in the War on Terror
Canadians are with us in Afghanistan. We should be with them on free trade.
By:
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
FEBRUARY 28, 2009

"If we as the major countries of this hemisphere cut an ally off at the knees we will pay a tremendous price for it."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been fielding questions for more than 30 minutes in a meeting with the editorial board at The Wall Street Journal's New York office. Up to now his answers, on everything from war to how to confront an economic tsunami, have been delivered in the low-key monotone of a plainspoken Western Canadian conservative.

But the mention of Canadian and American political opposition to free-trade agreements with Colombia has sparked a change in the PM's unflappable manner. For a fleeting moment, what sounds a lot like frustration emerges. "I'm not going to say it's a perfect government, but we have a government in Colombia that is democratically elected, that has increased democratic norms, that has taken on the insurgency, that is moving that country forward economically and politically. And it is in a hemisphere where we have an increasing number of real serious enemies and opponents."

Then he adds what is the cornerstone of Harper foreign policy: "If you don't support your friends," he says, looking around the room and turning up the volume every so slightly, "you... are... not... going to have many friends."

Mr. Harper says he has come to New York because the visit to Ottawa by President Barack Obama last week, his first outside the U.S., drew rare media interest to the North. "We thought we would follow up by trying to cash in on the opportunity," the prime minister dryly jokes, as Canadians often do, about how their country gets ignored by Americans. But not long into our meeting, I begin to get the feeling that the Canadian prime minister may have another reason for his road trip.

Since establishing a minority government in January 2006, this prime minister and his Conservative Party have restored Canada's international prestige by increasing military funding and tenaciously supporting Canada's dangerous NATO mission in the Afghan province of Kandahar. No NATO ally has put more on the line against the Taliban, and Mr. Harper seems to sense not just the opportunity but the need for Canada to capitalize on it. There is a vacuum in conservative leadership in North America and on the world stage, and Mr. Harper is stepping into it. His objective would appear to be the restoration of liberal-democratic resolve against tyranny.

Afghanistan is on the PM's mind. Even the most patient electorate tends to wear down through long wars, and Canadian troops have been slugging it out in this one since 2002. "When we went into Kandahar province in late 2005, before I took office, I think very few Canadians were aware of the implications that would have on our level of involvement. Since that time we have tripled our troop commitment. I don't even want to calculate how many times our budget has increased as a consequence."

Mr. Harper secured a parliamentary resolution last year that commits the Canadian military to the Afghan effort through 2011, and he maintains that "for the most part Canadians remain supportive of the mission, that we went in there for the right reason and that we are trying to do a good thing." But he warns that "we have become increasingly aware of the cost of it and of the difficulty of long-run success in a country like Afghanistan. What Canadians are looking for is some sense that we will be successful and that we will pass off responsibility at some point."

After all, he says, it is a country that has been "in some state of war or insurrection for a large part of its existence." And the opium trade doesn't help. "I thought from my first visit to Afghanistan that the dependence of the economy on drugs was probably a far greater complicating factor for security in the long term than even the insurgency, and I think we've seen growing evidence that the two are increasingly linked."

What would seem to set Mr. Harper apart from numerous other NATO leaders is that he cares deeply about achieving results. But he is no Pollyanna. "We are not going to 'defeat' the insurgency. The best we can do is train the Afghans so that they are able to manage the insurgency themselves and create, not a Western liberal democracy, because Afghanistan is not going to look like that any time soon, but at least a government that has some democratic and rule-of-law norms that is moving in a positive direction."

What will it take? For starters, he says it needs a return of U.S. focus which has been lost because of Iraq. He is encouraged by President Obama's decision to increase troop numbers in Kandahar. But he also believes the U.S. strategy needs rethinking. "I would encourage the [Obama] administration to really assess what its objectives are and to make sure they are realistic and achievable."

The implications of failure there would be large. "Afghanistan is a serious test for NATO," he warns. "NATO has taken on a United Nations mission and NATO must succeed or I do think the future of NATO as we've known it is in considerable doubt."

The disjointed effort in Afghanistan has exposed cracks in NATO. He praises allies who have delivered more than their fair share, "the East European countries, the Danes, Australia - not even a NATO member." France has also "stepped up its contribution" since Nicolas Sarkozy became president. He skillfully sidesteps a question about Germany. But there is no equivocating on the risk of failure. "We have to get our act together... or NATO will not be able to undertake these kinds of missions in the future. There may be some around the NATO table who don't think it should. But if that's their position, that's not what they are saying."

An unreliable NATO has implications for Canada not least because Russia is once again becoming a menace. The Kremlin's claim to the Arctic seabed can be discounted, he argues, because it is being pursued through the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. But other provocations are worrisome. "They are testing our airspace more frequently than they have been doing in a long, long time," he says. "It's the aggression in the Arctic, aggression more generally, an aggression that is increasingly troublesome just to be troublesome."

You're not supposed to say such things in public these days, even when they are known to be true, which is one reason why hearing Mr. Harper say them is so refreshing. His assessment of the Iranian government borders on the Reaganesque. "It concerns me that we have a regime with both an ideology that is obviously evil, combined with a desire to procure technology to act on that ideology... My government is a very strong supporter of the state of Israel and considers the Iranian threats to be absolutely unacceptable and beyond the pale."

The global economy is also a hot topic for Mr. Harper. Canada is connected at the hip to the world's largest market, and collateral damage coming from the housing and financial meltdown in the U.S. can't be ducked. Tax cuts in 2007 softened the blow and kept Canada out of recession. "We had net job creation until November [2008]," Mr. Harper says. And the tax cutting is continuing. "We are moving our national corporate tax rate to be the lowest in the G-7 [15%] and we will achieve that by 2012." If the provinces cooperate, he says, the total corporate rate will get down to 25% - a full 10 percentage points below the U.S. rate. Did I mention that the prime minister seems fiercely competitive?

Mr. Harper was once viewed as a messianic small-government reformer sent to slay monster Ottawa. That was before his minority government late last year faced the threat of an overthrow, and the economy began to take on water. Now Canadians are getting ready to eat a rather large stimulus bill - and conservatives there are sore. He won't tell us how much of an economic jolt he expects the bill to deliver. But he does admit that the bailout of the auto sector is a "second best" option and only came about when the U.S. decided to intervene in Detroit. We concluded, he says, that if "we did not put our 20% skin in the game, we would end up with an industry that didn't exist in Canada. It would simply be restructured to the United States." Some analysts think that is going to happen anyway.

What is really worth worrying about, in the PM's view, is a return to global protectionism. Though the G-20 in November produced ample rhetoric against it, he predicts that "there will be substantial political pressure, especially as the recession continues in all major countries, whether developing or developed, to widen protectionism as a way of responding. It's an enormous risk," he cautions, and if it happens it "will without a doubt make this recession far deeper and far longer than it would be otherwise."

The U.S. is not the only danger zone, but it's the one Canada has to worry about the most. "We are your biggest trading partner by far and biggest supplier of energy products, which are pretty critical." (Canada is the U.S.'s largest supplier of crude oil and natural gas.) Despite that, he says, the North has experienced a "thickening of the border" since Sept. 11, 2001. The American pretext is "security." Canada doesn't buy this explanation. Its incentives to keep out the bad guys are as big as they are for the U.S. and "enormous investments" have been made to deal with the problem. Regrettably, the Canadian effort has not prevented the U.S. from adopting "purely protectionist measures" in the name of security. One example: "Additional inspection fees on agricultural products. That's just not a security measure," Mr. Harper says flatly.

Does the PM think Mr. Obama will become part of the problem? His conversations with the president, Mr. Harper says, have "convinced me that he and his administration get how dangerous protectionism truly is."

But then there is Mr. Obama's opposition to the Colombia free-trade deal. Has Mr. Harper spoken to the president about that matter? Yes. "I'm not going to tell you that the president said anything different than what he said publicly," says Mr. Harper, smiling. We'll take that as a sign of hope.

Ms. O'Grady writes the Americas column for The Wall Street Journal.

Copyright 2009 - The Wall Street Journal

 

Government only makes things worse...

From: Marketwatch.com
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/maybe-meltdown-not-you-think-everyone

Maybe the meltdown wasn't what you think
By:
Peter Brimelow
Feb 23, 2009, 1:03 a.m. EST


NEW YORK - Everyone knows the crash of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation except Thomas E. Woods, who blames financial regulation, in the shape of the Federal Reserve.

Wood's new book, "Meltdown: A Free Market Look At Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse" (Regnery), has just made it to the New York Times best-seller list without the benefit of any major reviews.

That's par for the course for Woods, a fellow of the Auburn, Alabama-based Ludwig von Mises Institute, advocates of "Austrian economics," a particularly embattled faction of free market economists - all of whom are pretty embattled, or out of fashion, right now.

The Austrian school argues that business cycles are driven by central banks keeping interest rates too low, expanding credit and encouraging uneconomic investments, creating an unsustainable boom, inevitably followed by a bust.

That's what happened here, says Woods, most recently with the Fed's multiple interest rate cuts to stave off the 2000-2002 slowdown.

Certainly debt levels had reached historic highs before the crash. (See June 1, 2008 column).

Woods argues the crash of 2008 was a perfect storm. Other elements included immense government pressure on mortgage lenders to loosen standards and make loans to questionably credit-worthy but politically favored demographic groups; and securitization, which spread the effects of bad mortgage lending around the world.

Recovery from even serious business cycle downturns can be swift, says Woods, citing the almost-forgotten 1920-1921 slump. But that's because the federal government did not step in. It allowed excesses to correct themselves. In contrast, the federal government did step in after 1929, as Japan's government did in a similar downturn after 1990. Result, according to Woods: the Great Depression in the U.S.; 18 years of stagnation in Japan.

If Woods is right, public policy is on exactly the wrong course right now in trying to sustain demand and asset prices, just as it was in the early years of the Depression. Ironically, this wrong course is bipartisan. Both Hebert Hoover and George W. Bush, Woods notes, were highly interventionist presidents just like their successors, contrary to myth.

Woods' cheerful prediction: prolonged stagnation, eventual inflation and an even bigger collapse.

Nobody wants to hear this argument, least of all Wall Street, which has benefitted enormously from the boom and now appears to be benefiting (some of it) from the bust. I've argued before that a second Pujo Committee is needed to look into some of the suspect stuff that's gone on.

Of course, you have to be careful. The Pujo Committee led to the creation of the Federal Reserve.

I do have a couple of questions about Woods' work:

Why didn't this decade's credit expansion show up in consumer price inflation?

(Wood's suggestion: something similar happened in the 1920s. Expansionary monetary policy met a supply surge - just like the recent falling price of computer power - resulting in apparently stable prices.)

What about the U.S. dollar-Chinese yuan peg? Arguably, China's determination to keep its currency underpriced relative to the dollar has been a statist intervention in the global economy to match that of the Fed in the U.S. domestic economy. (See Oct. 19, 2006 column)

China's motive may be "exchange-rate mercantilism" - maximizing its manufacturing capacity rather than living standards. Washington's complaisance may be because China buys U.S. Treasury bonds, thus bankrolling federal government spending (while bankrupting U.S. manufacturers).

Yet it could strengthen his case - an undervalued yuan would have meant lower import prices, which would have masked inflation by keeping U.S. consumer prices low.

Copyright 2009 - Marketwatch.com

 

A "safehouse" here, it seems...

From: The National Post
http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/02/15/steven-edwards-would-you-want-these-guantanamo-suspects-living-next-door.aspx

Would you want these Guantanamo suspects living next door?
By:

Posted: February 15, 2009

The latest way to seek an immigration pass into Canada appears to go like this: Act suspiciously like a terrorist or even become one; spend a few years at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; get your name on a refugee-status claim form for review by Canadian immigration officials based in Jamaica.

Canadian church groups and others have filed to "sponsor" five Guantanamo Bay detainees for immigration to Canada as refugees.

Three Uyghur separatists of China are among the group. The U.S. has formally cleared them of having terrorism intentions - against the West, at least. An Algerian and a Syrian - the latter the Canadian sponsors made public just this week - are the others. Interpretations of their backgrounds vary according to who is making them.

What should the average Canadian make of this?

Generally, the anti-Guantanamo crowd has argued many - if not a majority - of those who’ve passed through or remain at the detention camps fell into U.S. custody because they were in the "wrong place at the wrong time."

One such case of "mistaken identity" was that of Ugandan-born Jamal "Tony" Kiyemba. He spent his teen years in London before becoming a pharmacy student at a university in Leicester. He decided in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks that Pakistan would be a good place to visit to "study Arabic and the Koran." Following his arrival, his "vacation" took him to the Afghan-Pakistan border, where Pakistani forces nabbed him. In exchange for a "bounty" the Americans were paying for terror suspects, the Pakistanis gave him up to U.S. forces, who eventually transferred him to Guantanamo.

What terrible bad luck when you’re only trying to get a bit of R and R – with a view of Tora Bora.

The U.S. released Kiyemba in 2006 without ever having charged him with anything. To many on the left, that’s proof of his total innocence. Yet Britain refused to take him back because of security concerns, and it's believed he is now kicking his heels back in Uganda.

Oh how Britain was criticized in a string of media reports in which Kiyemba proclaimed his benign intentions regarding his far eastern excursion. After all, what’s odd about quitting a university campus in the British Midlands to learn Arabic and study the Koran in Urdu-speaking Pakistan - as war raged in the region?

Cynics might wonder why he couldn’t find a Koran-study class a bit closer to home - like on one of the numerous British Midlands street corners with a mosque. And as for a claim he made that Pakistan was a "very cheap" place to study - how can you get cheaper than welfare-infused Britain, where anyone who’s determined to remain bone idle can live off the state all their life?

One of the advantages the left has when pushing cases like those of the would-be Canadian-bound detainees is that public knowledge of the infamous side of Guantanamo’s reputation is far more widespread than that of its utility as a tool to hold terror suspects.

Few would now deny the Bush administration committed excesses by Western standards in search for intelligence in 9/11’s aftermath - especially in the early days when the fear of follow-up attacks was acute.

But the reality is that, since Guantanamo opened in 2002, the United States has released more than two-thirds of the 779 people it has detained there.

So there has been a massive thinning.

Of the 242 who remain, about 60 are slated for release, or transfer under some sort of continued supervision deal with a receiving country.

Matthew Waxman is among scholars of Guantanamo’s human flows who concludes the number of mistaken-identity cases still there is "likely to be quite small."

In other words, most of those who remain may not be your ideal choice of neighbour.

"There are a number of detainees [remaining] who have been approved for release because they were found not to qualify technically as enemy combatants... but that’s not to say they [didn’t receive] training or [haven’t] participated in al Qaeda-related activities," Waxman, author of Closing Guantanamo Is Way Harder Than You Think, which recently posted at ForeignPolicy.com, said during a Council on Foreign Relations briefing last week.

"So that brings you to the second category of individuals who are deemed not so dangerous that the United States feels the need to continue to detain them, but continue to pose some residual risk."

The three Canadian-sponsored Uyghurs are among 17 held at Guantanamo who appear to be an exception. Yet the United States has been unsuccessful with requests to more than 100 countries to take them, U.S. Navy Cmdr. J. D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, told me.

Washington has been unable to return them to China because that country considers them terrorists and is likely to subject them to torture or other abuse.

So shouldn’t the three Uyghurs, at least, enter Canada?

I reported last week that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has "no plans" to issue special fast-track entrance permits to the trio.

This would seem folly because taking the apparently harmless Uyghurs is surely an ideal way to display a willingness to cooperate with President Barack Obama - as he seeks to fulfill a pledge to close the detention camps within a year - and not take on a significant security risk.

Yet Canada must also be concerned about any "thickening" of controls at the border with the United States, over which almost 80% of all Canadian exports pass.

While the Obama administration may express appreciation to Canada for helping him out with the Uyghurs, certain folks in Congress - or certain guests on the likes of Fox television news - may misinterpret such a gesture.

That is to say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t want to give any reason for anyone to allege that Canada is soft on security.

It’s not an idle consideration: after 9/11 the misperception persisted for the longest time that the terrorists had entered the United States through Canada.

Canada’s then ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker, even wined and dined (well, lunched, actually) a number of key U.S. media representatives in a bid to set the record straight.

In August 2005, Frank McKenna, then Canadian ambassador to the United States, wrote to Fox TV hosts Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes to stress Canada’s anti-terrorism efforts after then U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth Jr. of Arizona stated on their show that "Canadians now basically let anyone into their country."

There’s an additional concern within the Conservative government that letting in even the Uyghurs could be the thin edge of the sword.

"We’re worried that those backing entry to Canada for the Uyghurs would try to use any success in that endeavour to press for entry of detainees Canada considers far more dangerous, such as those with a history of ties to the al Qaeda network," one government official told me.

With Kenney having ruled out their entry on a "political" pass, the three Uyghurs must wait for a decision by Canada’s immigration bureaucrats in Jamaica - the nearest office to Guantanamo - who are assessing their claims in light of Canadian immigration law for refugees.

While the government has the power to override the system to rule in favour of admittance, it can’t negatively influence the claim.

Likewise for the two other Guantanamo detainees backed by the Canadian sponsoring groups. Both Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian who lived in Montreal from 1995 to 2000, and Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad, a Syrian Kurd, have been detained at Guantanamo since 2002.

Canada refused Ameziane’s application for refugee status in 2000, leading him to travel to Afghanistan as "one of the few countries he could enter without a visa," says a profile of the 41-year-old issued by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

His U.S. Combatant Status Review Board report offers a different account, saying a Tunisian man paid him up to $1,500 and "encouraged him to travel to Afghanistan." Once there, he allegedly stayed at a terrorist "guesthouse."

The refugee council’s profile of Mouhammad says he was living in Kabul, the Afghan capital, at the time of the U.S.-led invasion of that country. He had left Syria for Afghanistan to "look for work and in order to find a wife," says the profile.

He apparently "could not afford the price of a dowry in Syria."

Because "dowry" is the money a woman brings to her new husband, the profile writer was perhaps meaning to say "bride price" or "dower," both of which the groom pays.

In any event, surely the cost of travel to Afghanistan, and setting up home there, would have been more than enough to placate the average Syrian in-laws or their daughter – depending on which payment we’re talking about.

Anyway, despite Mouhammad’s mission in Afghanistan being primarily one of love (according to the refugee council profile), we’re next told he and three fellow Syrians fled to Pakistan as the American-led forces approached.

They skipped, the profile explains, out of "fear of being targeted as foreigners."

Mouhammad’s U.S. Combatant Status Review Board report says he operated a "safe house" where "5-20 personnel armed with AK-47 rifles could be found at any given time."

The U.S. authorities’ accounts for both men are of course handicapped for having been produced by a system human rights groups say employed coercive interrogation techniques.

But are the refugee council’s profiles of the men believable? Think about it. One or both of these fellows could one day be living next door to you.

Steven Edwards is Canwest News Correspondent in New York

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