Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Disturbance In The Force

In the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi “I sense a great disturbance in The Force…I feel something terrible is happening…”

So far as I know, no planet has been destroyed (though perhaps ISIS has committed another massacre). But a constitutional structure is in the process of being destroyed and with it the Rule of Law. Regardless of what you think of how countries ought to treat those illegally within their borders, the upcoming decision by US President Obama regarding illegal immigrants there should worry anyone who believes in the Rule of Law and constitutionally limited government. This is because President Obama’s actions will threaten the constitutional stability of a country built on the rule of law.

For many years, I considered the American political system, through its structure, to be inherently more democratic than the Canadian. This was because the Canadian mutation of “party discipline” (far removed from the British practice) meant that a Canadian Prime Minister with a majority government would have virtually untrammeled power.

The US system, on the other hand, is based upon a dispersal of powers through the combination of separation of powers, federalism and a Bill of Rights whose origin was not conceived to be from other men. At the federal level, the finely disbursed powers among the Executive and legislative branches was designed to prevent any one branch from accumulating too much power. Thus, unlike in Canada, the President’s authority could be controlled and limited by the other branches. But I have changed my mind because what I see now in the US is a form of elected authoritarian because the Executive recognizes no limits and the other branches cannot, or will not, stop him.

The functioning of the US constitutional structure is as dependent upon a basic moral obligation to uphold the system as upon the actual words of the constitution. Those of us growing up during the Cold War marveled at the freedoms granted people under the Soviet constitution. But so what? The application did not reflect the words and, despite the wonderful words of their constitution, Soviet citizens suffered under a grinding, absolute, brutal dictatorship.

Unless the leaders of a constitutionally governed state by instinct comply with their constitutional obligations, then, regardless of the words, the constitution and the rule of law will be in trouble. The leaders must have “virtue”. If the Executive hold the constitution and its structures in complete contempt, then the system of rule of law built upon that structure is in serious trouble.

That is the problem that is being faced by the United States. There is a President who seems to deem irrelevant the restrictions placed on his power by the constitution. Previous actions of President Obama, and his Administration, have flown in the face of constitutional law and democratic practice. 

Some examples are:
  •  Through his Attorney General he has wiretapped journalists.
  •  Through the IRS he has used the Internal Revenue Service to attack and persecute political opponents and prevented them from opposing him in electoral campaigns.
  •  Through various law enforcement agencies he has ordered that numerous laws legally passed and on the books, not be enforced. (DOMA, multiple immigration and drug laws).
  • Even though Congress has, under the constitution, has oversight responsibilities over the Executive branch (the republican equivalent of what Canadians call “responsible government”), Obama and his cabinet have defied Congressional subpoenas. When ordered by courts to comply, they have made spurious “Executive privilege” claims. For example, Attorney General Holder claimed Executive Privilege over emails between his wife and a third party.
  •  Holder has been held in contempt of Congress and still is non-compliant. He doesn’t care.
  •  Waged war in Libya without Congressional authorization (note that in Canada and the UK the government got Parliamentary approval).
  •  Is waging war in Iraq and Syria without Congressional authorization (note that in Canada and the UK the government got Parliamentary approval).
  •  Seeks to enter treaties without Senate consent in violation of the constitution.
  •  Delayed implementation of Health care provisions in violation of clear statutory language  (in fact, I cannot even imagine a legal theory that allowed him to do this, but he has done it multiple times).
  • He has been found by the US Supreme Court to have been acting unconstitutionally multiple times, including the violation of First amendment religious protections (Hobby Lobby), First Amendment Association protections (Harris v. Quinn) and First Amendment speech protections (McCullen et. al  v. Coakley et. Al.).
  • The Supreme Court unanimously found that Obama had acted unconstitutionally when he made recess appointments to the National Labour Relations Board when the Congress was not in recess. Obama tried to simply declare that they were in recess and then make the appointments, but the Supreme Court held he could not do that. (NLRB v. Canning et. al.)

These examples, and others, demonstrate the complete contempt that President Obama has for the Congress, his political opposition and the constitution. There are no moral or ethical governors on his behaviour. What he wants to do, he does. This is aside from the merits of the actual policies he has followed. For example, I agree with trying to blow ISIS back to the Dark Ages, but I do not agree with his process. He ought to follow the constitutional rules.

It is intellectually dishonest if those who defend these actions do so simply because they agree with the policy. The policy is not the issue; this is about the Rule of Law.

Tonight the President will announce that he will order immigration laws not be enforced against many millions of people inside the US illegally. This is despite the fact that there are laws on the books regarding this, and despite the fact that last year when one state tried to enforce immigration rules within the state, the Obama administration opposed this on the grounds that this infringed on federal jurisdiction. Last year they asserted their exclusive right to enforce; tonight he announces his refusal to enforce that exact, binding, law.

The Congress has the constitutional jurisdiction to originate legislation, while the Executive has the obligation to enforce the law. The Legislature has done so. The President has said that the Congress will not act, but that is Congress’ right. They are elected…indeed, much more recently (two weeks ago) than the President. Declining to act as the president demands is, in reality, acting. 

But, no matter. Tonight the Executive will announce its intention to ignore its constitutional obligation to enforce the law.

When the US Constitution was devised, the founders developed a finely tuned balance of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. Each was to have its own powers and role and each was to be balanced off against the powers in the other branches.

The first derogation from this came in 1803 when the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison took upon itself the power to declare unconstitutional, laws passed by the other two branches. In this sense it gave itself a level of superiority over the other two branches that did not exist inside the constitution, but there was some logic to it (there needed to be a referee) and the US has worked through that.

But tonight, the Executive will announce that it has usurped the powers of the Legislative branch. The elected representatives of the people (House of Representatives) and of the States (the Senate) will be relegated to third place. At best.

It is unquestionably unconstitutional. But the media will not question it because they agree with Obama, and the Republicans will do nothing because most are bought and paid for by the Chamber of Commerce (who want low-paid workers) and they all fear the media. They are abdicating their constitutional duty to defend the constitution.

So, tonight the constitution of the United States will effectively be torn up. The President will indicate that he recognizes no effective, external, constitutional or political constraints on his behaviour. He, and by this precedent, future Presidents will be limited only by such restrictions as they, in their personal discretion, choose to apply.

I sense a great disturbance in The Force…I feel something terrible is happening…

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Incidentally, the Renaissance Man has been following the Egyptian situation on Al Jazeera's English language service. They have been playing it straight, it seems. The coverage has been excellent.


The Renaissance Man has mixed feelings about the Egyptian Uprisings.
On the one hand it is a great joy to see a people rise up against a dictatorship. It has been wonderful to see, in my lifetime, Filipinos, Czechs, East Germans, South Koreans and others rise up against those who tyrannized them and claimed their countries for themselves. The state belongs to the people and governments ought only to govern with the consent of those people.
On the other hand, such uprisings often do not result in democracy. Those Russians, for example, who climbed on army tanks to defend Boris Yeltsin must be very disappointed in the resurgence of Russian dictatorship.
Furthermore, in the Middle East, mobs and demonstrations usually seem to be manipulated by religious leaders (or at least by leaders invoking religious reasons) who have no interest in democracy or the rule of law. Such leaders, by merely invoking the Koran, seem capable of manipulating such mobs to do whatever they want.
The most powerful Islamist movement in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Renaissance Man is apprehensive that this organization may, at some strategic point, step in to assert its power and even control. It is virtually a "state within a state" inside Egypt and is well prepared to take over if it thinks its moment has come.
Should the Muslim Brotherhood step in and take over, the joy of the uprising that we see would be transformed into something far different. Potential victims of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover include Egypt's Coptic Christan population. The Copts have been the frequent victims of Islamist inspired (and organized) mass murder including this past Christmas when Al Quaeda bombed a Coptic Church killing dozens. Imagine their fate if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power.
Another great concern involves Israel. Israel has just seen an Islamist terrorist group, Hezbollah, take power on its northern border, in Lebanon. If they then have to confront, on their southern border, an Islamist government in Egypt, their security situation would become very complicated. Add this to the fact that the United States President Barack Obama is not generally seen as supportive of Israel and Israel would seem to be facing a threat of even greater international isolation.
The Renaissance Man is on tenterhooks.

Friday, January 04, 2008


The Renaissance Man wishes everyone a happy and prosperous 2008.


There are some points regarding the failed “rescue” of the three FARC- held hostages.

First, it was a lie when the FARC said that the delivery of their victims to the Red Cross, or to Chavez’ designates could not be complied with because of Colombian military operations in the supposed rescue zone. The true reason was that there were delays in their efforts to re-kidnap Emanuel. “Re-kidnap” is the appropriate verb because Emanuel has already been kidnapped once. According to police Intendant Jhon Frank Pinchao, who escaped from the FARC last year, Emanuel was taken from his mother shortly after his birth. This was the first kidnapping. The second effort was the efforts made in the last two weeks by the FARC to recover the child from Bienestar Familiar (Colombia’s child welfare agency). These failed, but the efforts took time. That is why the release did not take place.

Secondly, Venezuelan President Chavez owes Colombian President Uribe an apology over his incendiary comments after Pres. Uribe announced the Emanuel hypothesis last 31 December.

The Renaissance Man also has some questions.

First: Did Pres. Chavez know that Emanuel was with Bienestar Familiar (ICBF)? The question arises because some days before the release was supposed to take place Chavez, in a speech, went on about how he had a dream in which he saw Emanuel fat, healthy and happy.
The Renaissance Man does not believe that Chavez has visions, thus suspicions arise. Int. Pinchao’s information made it clear that Emanuel was in very bad condition the last time he saw him. Supposedly, Emanuel has been in the jungle since then (late 2005). How was Emanuel, being dragged through the Colombian jungle, to be returned to health? The Renaissance Man wonders whether, in its communications with Chavez, the FARC indicated that the child was with ICBF. If so, then would Chavez not be complicit in the re-kidnap attempt? Just asking.

Second: Will we ever hear an acknowledgement from Chavez that, in fact, the FARC was lying when it propounded that it could not release the hostages because of Colombian military operations in the release zone? Will we ever hear an acknowledgement from Chavez or, for that matter, French President Sarkozy, ex-Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, Brazilian President Lula or anyone else that, in fact, the Colombian government did everything possible to comply with the demands of the FARC and Chavez to achieve the release? It’s doubtful that such an acknowledgement will ever surface.

Third: Are ex-congresswoman Consuelo González de Perdomo and Clara Rojas (Emanuel’s mother) even alive? These questions are only asked because there has been no evidence of their survival provided by the FARC for a number of years. It is known that González is in bad health. The whereabouts of Rojas are completely unknown as she was separated from the group that included Pinchao and the now famous Ingrid Betancourt in 2005 and nothing has been seen or heard of her since. It is the concern of the Renaissance Man that one of these, perhaps González (as a result of her precarious health) may have succumbed recently.

What is eminently clear to the Renaissance Man, and any other fair minded person, is that the FARC are a bunch of animals. Oliver Stone was quoted as saying, when the hostage release fell apart last 31 December, that the fault was that of Uribe. He stated that the FARC had no reason not to release the hostages. Either he is not keeping up on current events, or he was indulging in some of Colombia’s more illicit products because the FARC had EVERY REASON not to release the hostages. The reasons are clear: they do not see their victims as human beings. They are nothing more or less than commodities. They are their currency. They are assets pure and simple, and they are not ever going to freely release anyone. Period.

This brings the Renaissance Man to the final point in this post: the so-called “zona de despeje”. There is too much pressure on President Uribe from sources both inside and outside Colombia to agree to this zone.

The last time such a zone existed was during the term of President Andres Pastrana. That was a previous, failed, effort to negotiate a peace deal with the FARC. Its failure was well recognized by Colombians who, to this day, revile Pastrana. During the time of the zone, which was a large area centred around the city of Florencia (near where Clara Rojas and Ingrid Betancourt were captured, by the way) the Colombian state was absent from the area encompassed by it.
During that time, the population lived in complete terror. Apart from the fact that the FARC used the time to strengthen its military capabilities, to move arms and drugs, most horrendous is what the population was subjected to. Women and girls were raped, people were murdered, many, including children were kidnapped and forced into the military ranks of the FARC, land mines were scattered about (which, to this day, continue to blow the legs off children playing football in the wrong place) and more. And there was no protection for these Colombians from the Colombian state (much less from France, Switzerland or Denmark, all among those pushing for a new zona de despeje) because there were so-called negotiations going on.

It is beyond the comprehension of the Renaissance Man how states such as France, as well as other states, pressure groups, NGOs, and politicians can seek to pressure President Uribe to agree to another such zone. What kind of people can wish Colombians, even one Colombian, to be consigned again to the tender mercies of the FARC? Such individuals cannot care one iota for the Colombian people. The FARC say they want a 45 day zona de despeje (another lie, of course), but think about it. A person can be kidnapped in 30 seconds. A rape can be committed in minutes. Killings can happen in an instant. Imagine what the FARC could to these people even if the time limit were only 45 days.

If there is to be such a zone, the Renaissance Man suggests that it be in Paris.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The news focus on the tragic situations being endured by the kidnapped victims of the FARC is putting a lot of pressure on the Colombian government, and particularly on President Alvaro Uribe Velez, to reach some sort of "humanitarian accord" with the guerrillas. The idea seems to be that thousands of convicted guerrillas held in Colombian prisons should be exchanged for about 50 "exchangables"...prominent hostages held by the FARC.
The pressure on President Uribe is based on a number of factors.
  1. One of the most prominent "exchangeables" is a dual citizen of France and Colombia. Ingrid Betancourt, former Green Party candidate for president was captured by the FARC after entering a "red zone" near Florencia despite repeated warnings from the military that she should not go (and the refusal of her bodyguards to go with her...one said later that his job description did not include suicide). The French government wants her freed and is pressuring President Uribe to do anything necessary to get her out, regardless of what principles have to be ignored, or what notions of national sovereignty must be destoyed...in other words, do what France would do.
  2. The recent photos of Ms. Betancourt show that she is in terrible shape. She looked, to put it in the vernacular, like death warmed over.
  3. Other Colombians also want their loved ones returned. Some of them have been in captivity for almost 10 years. In reality, there may be as many as 3000 hostages, though only the 50 most prominent are usually mentioned.
  4. The FARC wants a "zona de despeje", which means a large area of the country which they can control, in order to "negotiate" the exchange of prisoners/hostages.
  5. The recent rupture in relations between President Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves Frias has created another pressure point because, for some reason, Chavez has taken it personally that he was disinvited from interfering in Colombia's internal affairs. He is threatening to create obstacles to Colombian-Venezuelan trade, which could hurt the Colombian economy (also the Venezuelan economy, but that is a matter of indifference to Chavez as he thinks he can insulate the country from such effects through the use of petroleum revenues).

All of this raises some questions for the Renaissance Man.

  • Why the focus on one hostage? While Ms. Betancourt is important, is she really that much more important than the farmers, police officers and infantry privates who are also held? Their families miss them too. The Renaissance Man finds this focus on but a single hostage distasteful and elitist.
  • If Chavez and President Sarkozy of France (and, for that matter, the other Europeans) are so fond of the idea of a "zona de despeje" why not have one...in Venezuela, France, Switzerland...
  • Finally, given the attitude of moral superiority of France, the Renaissance Man has a question for President Sarkozy. According to recent news reports out of the United States, the practice of "waterboarding" seems to provide fast and accurate intelligence, though some people regard it as torture. My question is whether, if a captured FARC guerrilla knew the location of Ms. Betancourt, would an interrogation that included the use of "waterboarding" be justified in order to ascertain her whereabouts?

Just asking.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Following Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ “gracious” (by his weird standards) concession speech following the Referendum, the Renaissance Man told everyone who would listen to just wait. His pattern is to start out calmly and then, after a slow burn, explode. Just the most recent example, of course, was when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe V. removed President Chavez from the negotiations for a humanitarian accord regarding the hostages held by the FARC. Pres. Chavez, at first, accepted the decision with magnanimity and as the sovereign decision of a sovereign state.

Later in the week (and really up until this minute) he went off the deep end.

As usual, the Renaissance Man was right about what would happen this time. Graciousness has been replaced by vulgarity, rage and threats. On Wednesday of this week, just two days after the concession speech, Chavez attacked the winning “No” side as having had a “shit” victory (it went on like that, but the Renaissance Man sees no need to dirty this blog with additional vulgarities).

Yesterday, Chavez attacked his supporters for not going out and voting. He attacked those who voted “No” as “little Yankees” and castigated his followers for not getting enough “Si” votes out to the polls. He attacked the voters of Caracas saying that they owed him a debt, which they had not repaid by supporting his constitutional reform. He then threatened “We’ll see if the debt is repaid or not”.

The Renaissance Man has a few short points to make here. First, the complete contempt in which Chavez holds not only his opponents but their democratic victory in the referendum is clear and troubling. It is evident that those who regard his acceptance of the results of the referendum as a manifestation of his essentially democratic nature are seriously mistaken. In fact, he clearly holds no respect for democracy, its norms, the right of citizens to disagree with their leaders, or for democratic outcomes that run counter to his wishes.

Secondly, Chavez’ remarks reconfirm his abysmally shallow understanding of democratic, republican and even socialist theories of government. In democratic and republican theory, the people NEVER “owe” any sort of debt, personally, to their leaders. In a republic, the leader is simply a citizen representative and in no democratic or republic style system can an elected leader claim any personal right to be supported by the people. On the contrary, he or she owes their position to the people. The debt, if there is one, runs the other way.

Even socialist theory, which is based upon equality of all, would deny that any leader can be owed a personal debt by his/her subjects. Of course, socialist theory frequently collapses, in practice, into statism and dictatorship.

Chavez reveals, in these comments, his true nature. He is neither republican, nor democrat, nor socialist. He regards the presidency of Venezuela as his personal fiefdom, and his so-called “populism” is merely a convenient tool to buttress what is essentially a dictatorship in waiting.

Thirdly, despite the shrewdness that some people attribute to him, the Renaissance Man is concerned that there is a certain instability about Chavez. The way he ratchets up his anger, for example, is not normal. In some reports, following his Tuesday attack on his opponents, it was posited that he was drunk. After looking at the video, who knows? The Renaissance Man ventures no opinion on Chavez’ sobriety, much less on whether or not an alcohol problem would be better or worse than a mental condition.

All that can be said is that Chavez is dangerous to the world, the region and to Venezuela.

Friday, November 09, 2007


The Renaissance Man has a question.
If a country abandons sovereignty over its territory, or any portion of it, must other states recognize and respect the putative borders, particularly when they are attacked from bases located inside the abandoned territory?
This is the situation as it exists on the Pakistani-Afghani border. Pakistan has "negotiated" arrangements with tribal leaders in the acknowledgedly lawless provinces of North and South Waziristan. The agreement is that agents of Pakistani state authority (i.e. police and armed forces) will withdraw from those provinces provided that the tribal leaders will enforce the "law" and prevent terrorists (such as Al Quaeda and the Taliban) from setting up shop there. Effectively, the Pakistani state writ will be withdrawn from these provinces.
The tribal leaders said "Suuuuuure. No prob." People are complaining, rightly, about the suspension of Pakistani constitutional order as a result of the recently declared "State of Emergency", but what about the abandonment by the Pakistani state of these two provinces?
Consequently, Al Quaeda and Taliban training bases have been established there, Sharia law is enforced in the absence of Pakistani secular law. Meanwhile, Canadian, American, British and Dutch troops are getting killed by attackers raiding into Afghanistan from across the border. (The German, French, and other NATO troops are in Kabul and points north...safely out of harm's way).
This past week we saw the Islamist control expand out of the Waziristans and southward into the region called Swat. Pakistani troops there surrendered to the incoming Jihadists without a fight.
So what do we see: Islamists expanding their areas of control (a la Afghanistan following the departure of the Soviets) and the unwillingness of Pakistani state forces to assert control over their territory.
And so, back to the opening question. Why must Afghanistan recognize and respect the border if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to do so?
The reality is that the mountainous region straddling the Afghan-Pakistani border is one region. The border is an artificial construct. Historically, neither the British, nor the Russians, nor the Pakistanis have been able to assert full control over the area.
The Renaissance Man wonders whether it may be time that Afghanistan and the NATO forces assisting it, recognize the reality and treat the entire area as one region. This would entail and permit, of course, surgical strikes at Taliban/Al Quaeda targets located inside the border of Pakistan. However, such strikes ought to be proportional, and ought not to place in question Pakistan's legal authority to control the area, should it so desire. But, in the absence of the exercise of sovereignty over this region by Pakistan, is it not reasonable that those who are suffering from acts mounted from Pakistani territory be able to defend themselves?
The alternative, it appears to the The Renaissance Man, is that these attacks be attributed to Pakistan, a consequence that it is doubtful the authorities in Islamabad would want.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Apparently, Prime Minister Harper will agree to an NDP proposal for e referendum on the abolition of the Canadian Senate. The sadness is that, as a result of sheer lack of education and/or interest, Canadian journalists will be unable or unwilling to explain the true issues before Canadians.
People are badly served by the media when it comes to getting an explanation of the role of the Senate. As a Federation, some provinces were stronger and more populous than others, when they joined. The straight “rep-by-pop” system of the Commons would have overwhelmed the smaller provinces who had, nonetheless, entered Confederation as equals.
Thus, as in the US, the Senate was designed to provide regional representation. But, because it is unelected, it has become illegitimate. But the need for such representation at the centre of the Canadian state still exists. We have seen jury-rigged procedures such as First Minister’s Conferences and the so-called Council of First Ministers. But there is no substitute for what was really intended…i.e. regional representation in the centre of the government.
The Renaissance Man believes that the real solution is an elected Senate. Unfortunately, journalists who have not studied the foundation of this issue are poorly equipped to explain it to Canadians. Thus we hear a lot of Ontario based complaints that the Senate disproportionately represents the Maritimes. An informed journalist would reply “Of course it does!”