Megapundit: Saving Omar Khadr

Must-reads: Dan Gardner on Omar Khadr; Terence Corcoran and Jeffrey Simpson on agriculture subsidies; Janet Bagnall on press freedom in China.

Very bad ideas
From milk cows to ethanol to carbon taxes, Canada is awash in poor policy.

“It would be folly to pin the Doha [trade agreement] collapse on any one nation or group,” says the Financial Post‘s Terence Corcoran, but he’ll nevertheless take the opportunity to lambaste Canada’s commitment to agricultural supply management as “indescribably destructive,” as “a genuine monopoly rip-off of all Canadian consumers, an assault on sound economic principle and a tool of economic oppression,” and as a powerful symbol of “the aggressive farm lobby takeover of Canadian trade policy.” Your new Conservative government “supports all this,” Corcoran fumes, “right to the point of helping to destroy a trade agreement.”

Ethanol as an emissions-reducing mechanism is a comprehensive and expensive failure, The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson declares, and if scientific evidence ever trumped “political optics” in this country, that would already have been acknowledged. Ethanol isn’t even good for farmers, he notes, if those farmers’ animals happen to eat corn, of which there’s ever less for animal and human consumption. “It’s the classic case of subsidies distorting markets,” he concludes. “One group gains and mobilizes all of its resources to protect its gains, insisting these gains reflect the public good; whereas in reality almost everyone else loses but doesn’t complain.”

Neil Reynolds, writing in the Globe, compares the idea of carbon emissions reductions through massive government action and subsidies to the Canadian and American governments’ disastrous policies of directly subsidizing railroad production in the 19th century. “All of these transcontinental railways … went bankrupt, or almost went bankrupt, several times,” he writes. “Bailout followed bailout.” The successful old-timey railroad model was that of Canadian James Jerome Hill, says Reynolds, who turned the struggling St. Paul and Pacific into a juggernaut without the government’s help thanks to hands-on management, building “routes that made economic sense,” and using high-quality materials. (He does not suggest an analogous approach to emissions reductions, and we don’t seem to be smart enough to extrapolate one ourselves.)

The national miscellany
Stephen Harper clearly believes he’s in a good election position with Stéphane Dion’s tough-to-sell carbon tax, Don Martin argues in the Calgary Herald¸ which would explain why the government has “lurched sharply into election hawk territory in the past week, officially declaring there is no throne speech plan to extend the summer recess” and generally declaring itself ready to duel. Dion will find it even more difficult than before to deny Harper satisfaction, Martin believes, despite the advantages to his own leadership prospects were he to delay until after the party’s fall convention. And Dion has some things on his side too: job losses, a tanking economy and, uh, “giant slabs of Arctic ice break[ing] free.” That’s what we call doorstep appeal!

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner compares the Canadian attitude to Omar Khadr to the audience’s bloodthirsty reaction to Saving Private Ryan—specifically the scene where Upham, the translator, kills a surrendering German whom the Americans had earlier set free. “It is one of the most obscene moral inversions ever to appear in a film and yet it sparked no controversy,” Gardner argues, because the enemy’s goals—i.e., Nazism and the Holocaust—are so “demonized” in the film that the perspective of any individual enemy soldier becomes irrelevant. We assume the German soldier, like Khadr, had some recourse other than to fight for the cause into which he was conscripted, but we have no evidence of that at all. Child soldiers receive naught but pity when they aren’t fighting us, Gardner notes, and are then free to become bestselling authors.

In Kabul, the Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson examines the efforts of the Canadian-supported Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which runs a successful school teaching traditional Afghan crafts like “woodworking, ceramics, calligraphy and jewellery making.” Some of its students are working on a project to save the Murad Khane district of old Kabul from “decades of filth, garbage and neglect,” removing excess earth (which raised “the floor level of aged courtyards so high that people had to stoop through doorways”) and using it to make cement to fortify buildings. The future of Afghan redevelopment lies in such small, “discreet” projects, Turquoise Mountain believes.

Countdown to Beijing
The Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall enumerates the many ways China has already fallen short of its promise, made in 2001, of “complete freedom” for foreign media at the Beijing Olympics. “Will we learn the fate of the thousands of migrant labourers forced to build Games venues without adequate on-the-job protection?” she asks. “And what of the forced evictions of thousands of residents of Beijing?” She urges the IOC—who “got us into this mess,” after all—to use whatever leverage it has left to force the issue.

On somewhat less important Olympics matters, the Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham reports on local chef Dale MacKay’s efforts to create simple, elegant, locally sourced menus he can serve to various bigwigs in Beijing.

Duly noted
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington declares positive crime statistics “misleading,” arguing the city’s thousands of unclaimed, unreported stolen bicycles emblemize Canadians’ hesitance to report crimes, knowing they’ll not be properly redressed by police or the justice system. Unless the mayor comes to his senses and realizes shooters, not guns, are the problem, and unless police are allowed to focus their attentions on troubled communities without fear of being labelled racist, Worthington sees little hope for improvement.

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson attempts to determine just what John McCain’s playing at with his recent statements about nothing being “off the table” when it comes to raising payroll taxes to fund social security—a position that grates against his blanket no-new-taxes promise. “Part of Mr. McCain’s problem is that he is being crowded on this issue by Mr. Obama,” Ibbitson says, who shares the conservative belief that social security is in crisis and cheerfully proposes tax hikes to compensate. As such, he says, McCain is likely hoping he can “persuade Americans that he can rescue Social Security without actually telling them how.”

You’ll pry the ICBC “chop-shop” scandal file out of Vaughn Palmer‘s cold, dead hands. In today’s Vancouver Sun, he recounts his efforts to hound a straight answer out of John van Dongen, the minister responsible for ICBC. Insteadm he received only the party line: he can’t talk about who was let go, why, or whether any compensation was paid, for legal reasons. We know the names of the people who sank the Queen of the North, Palmer retorts, and that they were fired—so why not ICBC? Predictably, this attempt at logical argument was met with a blank stare.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.