Friday, July 13, 2007


Waving the banner of "sacred property rights"

I know a guy down in Arizona who’s pretty far to the right, politically. Maybe as far to the right as I am to the left. But, we have some similar interests and exchange photos stories and occasional jokes.

My friend, who’s a realtor, got me interested in the right-wing think tank in California, The Pacific Legal Foundation. I’m on their mailing list: it’s kind of advance notice notice of shit the lefties are going to write and yak about. "Property rights" is one of P.L.F.’s big issues. Along with anti-affirmative action, of course—and anti-desegregation of schools. I mean, they are right-wing.

I’m interested in property rights, too. But more as the cause represents a sort of American fetish. Property rights just about trumps everything else in this country. Want to pollute your stretch of the river? Sure, and if someone downstream complains, mention “property rights” in a reverent but strident tone and the right- wingers will come running. Want to dig a strip mine on the rim of Crater Lake? Wave the flag and a banner saying “Property Rights” and people will love to donate money for a court fight.

Here in Oregon, the sancity of private property has risen again, in terms of defeating attempts at land use planning. Even wanting to erect billboards is portrayed to be upholding a god-given right.

And the Pacific Legal Foundation, though with a much lower profile, is about as cozy with the Bush-Cheney junta as is the American Enterprise Insititue—or one of those whacked-out “family values” religious organizations.

Strange Bedfellows

Bush fires U.S. representative to International Boundary Commission

In a bizarre twist to a dispute over a four-foot-high fence near the U.S.-Canada border in Whatcom County, President Bush on Tuesday fired Dennis Schornack as U.S. Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission and member of the International Joint Commission.

"I would like to extend my best wishes in your future endeavors," wrote presidential assistant Liza Wright in conveying Bush's order. The letter told Schornack that he is "terminated effectively immediately."

The firing came without warning. The legal counsel to the International Boundary Commission described Bush's order as improper. He argued that Schornack holds a quasi-judicial position with an international body.

"First of all, he can't fire him: He can appoint him but he can't fire him," said Elliot Feldman, the IBC's legal counsel.

Schornack was in Michigan and not available for comment. But Feldman had plenty to say when interviewed by the P-I.

"The President has a fight on his hands," he said. "There has been quite a lot of threats and bullying to the commissioner. We thought it was all rather hollow."

The IBC and IJC are low-key bodies, composed of commissioners appointed by the U.S. and Canadian governments.

They are charged with overseeing the world's longest peaceful border, and working out trans-boundary disputes between the two countries.

They're best known for midwifing settlement of a longstanding dispute between the city of Seattle and British Columbia over the raising of Ross Dam, and for intervening when the pollution from the Trail Smelter in B.C. killed trees on the U.S. side of the border.

But Schornack appears to have run afoul of a powerful right-wing legal group with deep, longstanding ties to the Republican Party.

Herbert and Shirley-Ann Leo of Blaine, who live just south of the border, built on their property a four-foot-high, 85-foot-long concrete wall. The wall intrudes into a 10-foot-wide "clear boundary vista" maintained at the 5,000-mile-long border.

The boundary vista area has been maintained for a hundred years, but has assumed additional importance due to an upsurge of smuggling of illegals and "B.C. Bud" marijuana across the border.

According to the commission, the wall was "severely hampering the ability of the U.S. Border Patrol and Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the border." The IBC asked the Leus to remove the wall.

The couple refused, and have received assistance from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation on grounds their private property rights have been violated.

After being refused legal help by the U.S. Department of State, the Commission retained private legal counsel, which filed papers in the case in Seattle defending the Commission's right to protect the border.

At that point, however, a dispute broke out between agencies.

The U.S. Justice Department asked to take over the case, and negotiate a compromise that concedes the couple's private property complaints. But the Commission argued that it is an international body.

In its defense, the IBC said in a statement: "Sooner rather than later, the Administration will be seen to prefer private property rights over national security and ready to undo an international treaty with Canada to serve that preference."

Schornack has impeccable Republican credentials. He was a longtime aide to Michigan's longtime (1990-2002) Republican Gov. John Engler. But he became outspoken in the case of the four-foot border fence.

"We are not interested in taking the Leus' property," Schornack said. "We are only interested in keeping permanent obstructions, such as walls, away from the border site lines, a mere 10 feet."

The Treaty of Washington between the U.S. and Canada directs the Commission to keep the boundary vista clear. The 1925 treaty was ratified by Congress, making it a law of the United States.

The Commission offered to remove the Leus' wall at its own expense.

Feldman said he believes the Department of Justice and White House made a backstage deal with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

"We believe they have made a deal and are selling out the national security of the United States," he argued. "We know there is someone in the White House who went there from the Justice Department. This has all the same features and it involves the same people as the firing of the U.S. attorneys."

The Justice Department could not be reached for comment.


The US federal government has yet to define "vista" as it relates to the Canada-USA border. Mr. Schornack does not know the concept of reasonable either nor the limit of his position.

Mr. Schornack is a "bully" just ask the IJC staffers or the environmental/scientific community around the Great lakes. He got what he really deserves.

To bad the federal government will not pay for his next pleasure trip overseas.
You're missing the bigger issue. This is much less about property rights and much more about executive branch power grabbing.

The IBC was create by treaty to be "outside" the purview of US or Canadian politics... to keep and maintain the border. That's how the treaties were written... that's how they were signed and that's how, for nearly 100 years, we've maintained them. The US president appoints a commissioner and that's it.

Now comes the Justice Department, a la the Bush Administration, saying "we're taking control of the IBC because we don't like what it's doing". Not only is this contrary to the treaties that established the IBC, it's part of exactly what the treaties were meant to prevent... usurpation of the commission's executive power by either the US or Canada.

This is a further example of the Bush Administration's goal to rule by executive decree... to create its own little dictatorship.
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