Trust Machiavelli to get to the heart of it: “There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others. The first is the most excellent. The second is good, and the third is useless.”
Ah, but where to look and how to identify them: that is the question. The call-in shows might be a good place to start looking. The first category of intellect, alas, tends to stay away. However, once in a great while a particularly brave soul will be heard gingerly proffering in the fashion of the Socratic dialogues, an idea so commonplace as to sound clichéd in all ears save on this Rock of Sages.
Before you know it, this caller’s love for our exciting traditions will be put into question, as will his sense of nationalism and his political aspirations. Count on it, he will be also ominously accused of “copying de white man” and of being a traitor to his own kind—which is why intelligent contributions to call-in debates are in our particular neck of the woods as much a rarity as snow in William Peter Boulevard.
Of course, the absent intelligent contributor to national discourse is never missed. Not when there are so many who appreciate only what others comprehend and can hardly wait to show off.
Last week, it seemed every caller to every call-in show was determined to demonstrate his proficiency at interpreting words and phrases from the Saint Lucia Constitution. Totally lost on these Category-3 intellects who live only to echo the noise from political platforms is that “it is very useful in the construction of a statute to adhere to the ordinary meaning of the words used, and to the grammatical construction, unless that is at variance with the intention of the legislation to be collected from the statute itself, or leads to any manifest absurdity or repugnance, in which case the language may be varied or modified so as to avoid such inconvenience but no further.”
The quoted words were spoken by Justice Parke in the English case Becke v Smith. The judge later advised: “In construing statutes, and all written instruments, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument, in which case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words may be modified so as to avoid that absurdity or inconsistency, but not farther.”
Now consider the following from a discussion of the plain meaning rule in Carminetti v United States: “It is elementary that the meaning of a statute must in the first instance be sought in the language in which the act is framed and if that is plain . . . the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms.” And if a statute’s language is plain and clear, the court further warned that “the duty of interpretation does not arise, and the rules which are to aid doubtful meanings need no discussion.”
Is there anything in the above that might discourage further casual invention of extraordinary meanings for ordinary words such as “immediately” and “as soon as possible” and “as soon as practical” and “as soon as convenient?” Alas, I doubt it. Not when so many of us take obvious pride in our Category-3 intellect and neither comprehend by ourselves nor by the showing of others.
And just in case some might say otherwise, then let us examine the latest brouhaha that seems to take sustenance from the US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9, which states, under Revocations That May Have Repercussions: “Consular officers should be alert to the political, public relations, and law enforcement consequences that can follow a visa revocation, and should work with the department to ensure that all legally available options are fully and properly assessed. The revocation of the visa of a public official or prominent local or international person can have immediate and long-term repercussions on our political relationships with foreign powers and on our public diplomacy goals in a foreign state. The visa laws must be applied to such persons like any others, recognizing that certain visa categories, particularly As and Gs, are not subject to the same standards of inadmissibility as others. Consultation both within the mission and with the department may result in a decision that the department, rather than the consular officer, should undertake the revocation, since department revocations pursuant to the secretary’s revocation authority provide more flexibility in managing the relevant issues.” (My italics)
I am especially attracted to the line about the State Department’s awareness of the political consequences associated with the revocation of a politician’s visa— especially on the eve of elections!
Was Richard Frederick afforded the opportunity to “dialogue” with embassy officials prior to the revocation of his diplomatic and visitor’s visas? The answer—if you can believe Richard Frederick—is no.
The prime minister seemed to be saying in his statement on Monday that he was informed only after the visas had already been withdrawn, without prior notification. So are both gentlemen-politicians lying? Is there evidence of such prevarication?
A visiting US Embassy official this week restated the official policy that requires the State Department’s consular office to first offer holders the opportunity to dialogue before their visas are pulled. Actually, this is how the policy—and its intent—are stated in the Manual:
“22CFR 41.122(b) requires the consular officer to notify the alien of the intent to revoke a visa if such notification is practicable. The notice of intent to revoke a visa affords the alien the opportunity to demonstrate why the visa should not be revoked. An after-the-fact notice that the visa has already been revoked would not be sufficient, unless prior notice of intent to revoke was found not to be practicable in the particular case.” (Itals mine)
Does anything in the above automatically mean Richard Frederick was notified? And what if such notice was after-the-fact?
Nicole Thompson, a spokesperson for the US State Department in Washington DC, when asked whether she could confirm Richard Frederick was invited to discuss his case before his visas were revoked replied: “I don’t know about this specific case but we do try to notify the visa holder and to physically cancel the visa.”
As for the recent visitor from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, he stubbornly refused to comment specifically n the Frederick notification and insisted on answering related pointed questions only in general terms.
Let us now turn to Frederick. How solid is his reputation for speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What about the Americans? Politicians, whether government ministers or consular officials, are as notorious as are lawyers for speaking only such truth as serves their purpose. Richard Frederick is not only a lawyer. More importantly, he is also a minister of government and at all times accountable to the people. Rightly, his every word demands intense scrutiny—and corroboration!
I need not discuss at great length the reputation of American politicians as truth tellers and as manufacturers of impeccable evidence supportive of their truth.
We need only recall Colin Powell’s Oscar-performance before the United Nations Security Council, and the world via TV, on the eve of America’s attack on Iraq. If Powell’s assurances that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal that he planned imminently to unleash on other Middle East States, and possibly on Americans, speak volumes about American credibility. Even more important is the fact that what the former Secretary of State said on that unforgettable day at the U.N. does not even begin to count as America’s best demonstration of its indisputable special talent for inventing persuasive truth. Doubtless my old buddy Matthew Lubin, Saint Lucia’s unofficial Cuban ambassador, would attest to that. Even Kenny Anthony, by all a U.S. ambassador reported to the State Department, has his lingering doubts about American foreign policy, especially in relation to Article 98!
But then you may rightly ask, dear reader, why would the US Embassy in Barbados—despite its warning that while “the revocation of the visa of a public official can have immediate and long-term repercussions . . . the visa laws must be applied to such persons like all others” have turned around and treated Richard Frederick differently from any other visa holder? Doubtless it is a question that might easily be answered by the great USA’s former close friends, from Noriega to Saddam Hussein (if he were still around) to Osama bin Laden (who is in no position to tell tales) to Papa and Baby Doc to near comatose Hosni Mubarak.
But let us revisit Nicole Thompson at the State Department. When asked if there was even a remote chance Richard Frederick’s visas were revoked without prior notification or discussion, said: “I cannot say yes or no to that!”
What is without question is the unexplained fact that the visas in Richard Frederick’s passports, regular and diplomatic, remain pristine—unmarked by a revocation stamp—despite that he had recently traveled to the United States. Had he been earlier notified of the embassy’s intention to revoke his visas, would Frederick not have moved hell and high water to save them, including a quick visit to Barbados or Washington on the first available flight out of Saint Lucia, perchance to avert the worst? Are we ready to believe Frederick received notification of his visa cancelation yet ignored the opportunity to dialogue with embassy officials—despite that he has family commitments in the United States that require periodical visits?
Again I refer to the Manual where it speaks of informing an alien of an intent to revoke a visa: “22CFR 41.122 requires the consular officer to notify the alien of the intent to revoke a visa, if such notification is practicable. The notice of intent to revoke a visa affords the alien the opportunity to demonstrate why the visa should not be revoked. An after-the-fact notice that the visa has already been revoked would not be sufficient, unless prior notice of intent to revoke was found not to be practicable in the particular case.”
Further: “If a decision to revoke the visa is reached after the case has been reviewed, the consular officer must print or stamp the word ‘REVOKED’ in large block letters across the face of the visa. The consular officer must also date and sign this action and enter any new ineligibilities or derogatory information into the Consular Lookout and Support System.”
If as some continue conveniently to insist without evidence Frederick was notified of an intention to cancel his visas, and if indeed he dialogued unsuccessfully with embassy officials, then why is there no ‘REVOKED’ stamp on his passport visas as demanded by the State Foreign Affairs Manual?
The public has understandably been asking: “Why only now?” Might the question be usefully extended to: Why now, just before elections? Consider this State Department cable dated a couple years ago, and released courtesy Wikileaks:
“Terrence Lenard, controller of customs, still plans to charge Frederick with customs evasion as soon as he receives evidence requested under the US-St. Lucia-Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. Although a successful conviction might merely result in a fine, Lenard hopes this would be enough to derail Frederick and block his rise to power.” (Emphasis mine)
Is that what Frederick’s arrest in the full glare of press publicity was about? The suspicion that unless stopped in his tracks by whatever means necessary he could end up in the prime minister’s chair?
Is that why on the recalled occasion the police chose not to interview him at his ministry or at his Castries office or at his private residence? Is that why Frederick was held at the Gros Islet police station for some six hours without a charge, with the press in attendance? Is that why the exercise was repeated, then abandoned?
How many others, besides Kenny Anthony, his attorney general and Lenard Terrence, are actively engaged in an evidently on-going attempt “to discredit Frederick and block his rise to power?”
How far are they prepared to go to keep Frederick—described in the Wikileaks cables as “powerful, wealthy, charismatic and popular”—from winning another general election and then supplanting a perceived “weak Stephenson King” and becoming prime minister of Saint Lucia?
I am here reminded of Paul Theroux’s sentiments, taken from his book “Sir Vidia’s Shadow” and reproduced in the first chapter of “Lapses & Infelicities”:
“It is a good thing that time is light, because so much of life is mumbling shadows and the future is just silence and darkness. But time passes by, time’s torch illuminates, it finds connections, it makes sense of confusion, it reveals the truth. And you hardly know the oddness of life until you have lived a little. Then you get it. You are older, looking back. For a period you understand and can say: I see it all clearly. I remember everything!”
Does anyone remember the night in William Peter Boulevard, soon after the 2006 Central Castries by-election, when a winning Richard Frederick ceremoniously and symbolically shed his Independent green tee shirt and replaced it with the UWP’s yellow version?
Does anyone recall the words of a humbled John Pilate Compton on the occasion? “You asked for him, I give him to you!” Remember?
Meanwhile, with bated breath, St Lucia and its prime minister await from the State Department details of the housing minister’s visa revocation. Will the department refuse to divulge the information or will it cooperate with the prime minister who according to Wikileaks, it considers “weak” and at the mercy of Frederick and his perceived supporters in Cabinet?
Will the State Department refuse to cooperate, even if it means leaving the country exposed to serious security risks?
Ah, how the plot thickens!