Rivalry between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador? I don’t think so.

Ever since Lance Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling, speculation has increased about the potential rivalry between Armstrong and Alberto Contador. lance armstrongI don’t profess to hold any goblets of truth here, so at best this post is just another drop in the speculation bucket.

Let me first get this out of the way. Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador are world class cyclists and champions in their own rights. They both have egos that have for better or for worse made them the champions they are today and both can climb mountains on their roadbikes at speeds and distances that 99% of mortals can’t.

What has made this interesting, of course, is that both of these riders are on the same team — Astana — during the 2009 Tour De France.  The first four stages of this year’s race have caused many pundits to believe that Armstrong is positioning himself ahead of Contador — the team leader — in some strange quest to “steal” the yellow jersey from Contador.

Of course, memories of the rivalry between the elder Hinault and young Le Mond come immediately to mind, although in the Armstrong/Contador debate, Hinault is Contador and Le Mond is Armstrong.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Anyone who has followed the Tour De France at all for the last ten years knows that without question, the race is won and lost primarily in the mountains (in the last few years, it appears the race was won and lost with injections of EPO and blood doping). In that regard, the 19 or so second gap between Armstrong and Contador at this point is, as far as the final results are concerned, insignificant. The placings at this point when it comes to GC mean, and particularly to podium spots, absolutely nothing. 

Armstrong is no fool. He has come here to win, but perhaps not in the way he has done so in the past.

Armstrong is a brilliant tactician. As we have seen in the past, Armstrong will do whatever it takes to win, from weighing everything he put into his mouth to feigning fatigue back in 2001 when Ullrich was his main rival.  Put another way, nothing is by accident when it comes to either Armstrong’s preparation for Le Tour or his cycling conduct during Le Tour. 

I think Armstrong is purposely distracting attention away from Contador, which ultimately benefits Contador. This will be hard to swallow for Armstrong fans, but Contador is the strongest rider out there right now on the Astana team.  Armstrong is making it appear to other teams that he is the strongest rider out there and has aspirations to win.

Cycling, of course, is a team sport, and imagine how these perceptions completely mess up tactics for the other teams in countering Astana.  Armstrong can ride strong now, because frankly its not the mountains. If Armstrong and Astana wanted to be predictable, they’d make Armstrong ride with Contador and Levi, protecting them as they made their way to the mountains. But by displaying attack mode at this stage, teams are going to change their tactics, forcing, for example, GC riders on other teams to expend energy to bring back Armstrong . . .when frankly, Armstrong is not a contender for the number 1 spot. Even if teams know this, they have to have their top guys expend the energy, because you just can’t ever count out a 7 time champion. And that very fact benefits Astana and, particularly, Contador. 

It’s actually quite brilliant on Astana’s part.  This does not mean Contador has an easy ticket to Paris, but it will be made easier by Armstrong’s sacrifice and distraction.

In the end, I think Armstrong will receive more credit in the history books for supporting Contador in his quest for his second Tour win, than trying to win himself and coming up short.

The Coup in Honduras: A Fallacy of Legal Reasoning

Octavio Sanchez, a lawyer and the  former presidential adviser (2002-2005) and minister of culture (2005-2006) of Honduras has apparently been chosen by the Honduran sanchezCongress as its head constitutional scholar.  In that capacity, he has been assigned to provide thorough legal reasons of why it is simply “nonsense” for anyone or any country to call, label, or suggest that the recent events in Honduras amounts to a “coup.”  Apparently, Mr. Sanchez came highly recommended by Iraq’s former information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, also known as Baghdad Bob and Comical Ali.

Before I delve into Mr. Sanchez’s arguments, let’s first look at the definition of a coup.  According to wikipedia, a coup is the “unconstitutional deposition of a legitimate government, by a small group of the State Establishment — usually the military — to replace the deposed government with another, either civil or military.”  According to dictionary.com, a coup is “a sudden and decisive action in politics, esp. one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.”

With that in mind, let’s look at Mr. Sanchez’s arguments about the absurdity of calling the recent events in Honduras a coup (http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0702/p09s03-coop.html):

1) In 1982, Honduras adopted a new Constitution that enabled an “orderly return” to democracy;

2) “Soldiers arrested and sent out of the country a Honduran citizen who through his own actions stripped himself of the presidency”;

3) “When Zelaya published [a] decree to initiate an ‘opinion poll’ about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term.  His actions showed intent . . .and triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.”  Assemblies are convened to write new constitutions.

4) “Article 239 states that ‘no citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be president or vice president.”  Thus, anyone who “violates this law or proposes its reform, as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years.”  “Immediately” means instantly, as in “no trial required” or no “impeachment needed.”

5) Zelaya was detained in Costa Rica because “Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office.  With him inside the country, that would have been impossible.”

6) “We have decided to stand up and become a country of laws, not men.  From now on, here in Honduras, no one will be above the law.”

Sanchez’s own ‘legal’ arguments, particularly the last one, reveal without any interpretation fallicious reasoning.  In that regard, Sanchez would have fit in nicely as an attorney in the former Bush administration. 

Nonetheless, to begin, and as Sanchez points out, Honduran law clearly allows for a constitutional rewrite, but of course the power to do that does not rest with the president.  Instead, an assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by Congress.  Further, and in addition to Article 239 (which was included in the 1982 constitution to essentially bar dictators from the past from running again), Article 374 bars any amendments about the length of a presidential term, among other issues.  Under these circumstances, even if a vote was taken pursuant to Zelaya’s “intention,” it would have had no legal weight whatsoever.

One way to look at it is with this legal analogy.  Just say you purchased a gun legally from the store.  Your intention was to murder to death John Smith.  You go to his office and shoot him in the back of the head.  Little did you know, John Smith had already died of natural causes 2 hours before you shot him.  Modern legal reasoning establishes without question that you are not guilty of murder or attempted murder.  Similarly, the Honduran constitution is so rigid (just take a look, for instance, at Article 42, along with Article 239 and Article 374) that any actions by Zelaya as it related to this “Constitutional Assembly” were meaningless and would be afforded no weight.  It was simply impossible, legally and constitutionally, to do what Zelaya had apparently wanted to do (or at least what the Congress thought Zelaya was going to do) with this “Constitutional Assembly.”

But to Sanchez, it doesn’t matter whether something is legally or constitutionally impossible.  What matters is that the letter of the constitution was violated, particularly Article 239 — without taking into consideration at all the intent behind the inclusion of Article 239:  to prevent dictators from running for office.  Back before 1982, Honduras, as with other Latin American countries, had serious dictator problems.

In any event, even if one agrees that Zelaya’s actions were per se unconstitutional, nothing justifies his forcible removal from Honduras to Costa Rica.  According to Sanchez, his exile was necessary because “Congress needed time to convene and remove him from office,” and with Zelaya in Honduras, “that would have been impossible.”  But with this point particularly, Sanchez neglects to mention anything about the constitution and instead seems to obtain these points out of thin air.  So, with that in mind, I decided to quote some parts of the Honduran constitution:

Article 69: “A persons liberty is inviolable and can only be restricted or suspended temporarily through process of law.”

Article 71: “No person can be arrested nor kept incommunicado for more than 24 hours without being placed before a competent authority to be judged. Judicial detention during an investigation must not exceed six consecutive days from the moment that the same is ordered.”

Article 81: “All persons have the right to circulate freely, leave, enter, and remain in national territory. No one can be obligated to change home or residence except in special cases and with those requirements that the Law establishes.”

Wow.  What about these articles, Mr. Sanchez?  I guess they only apply to some people and not others.  At least to me, such a circumstance certainly doesn’t resonate with a country that adheres to the rule of law.