Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We Are All Bozos on This Bus

Three recent events resurrected late night college memories of listening to the albums of “Firesign Theatre,” an off the wall comedy troupe.

First, a U.S. investor served notice of intent to file an international arbitration claim against Canada under NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, for the actions of Newfoundland and Labrador, an allegedly developed and democratic province. The investor alleges that the government seized its property after the company gave notice that it had to shut down one of its newsprint making plants due to the world wide collapse of the need for newsprint. Unhappy that the company’s shut down would result in hardship to the locals, the government acted within weeks of the announcement by enacting new laws simply taking the investor’s property without compensation and barring recourse to the courts.

Second, an international arbitration tribunal awarded Dutch farmers substantially their entire claim against Zimbabwe, which seized their farm lands and never paid any compensation. The tribunal was appointed pursuant to an investment treaty between Zimbabwe and The Netherlands. There, too, Zimbabwe sought to cloak its seizure with law by enacting Constitutional amendments permitting the seizures.

And then, Philip Stephens, writing in the April 24, 2009 edition of the Financial Times, notes that the Bush administration’s memos justifying “harsh” interrogation “remind us how legal bureaucratese can empty the law of any real meaning.”

The common thread in these three unrelated events is the abuse of law by government, and I can now say with confidence that we are all bozos on this bus.