Monday, June 4, 2012

Looking Forwards to the Banana Republic


“With Liberty & Justice for Some – How the Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful,” by Glenn Greenwald, 2011.

Greenwald writes a column for Salon.com on law, politics and journalism.  He is one of the top bloggers in the U.S.  As a former Constitutional attorney, he frames his argument on the words and intent of the founders of the U.S. and the Constitution itself.  His assertion is that since the pardon of Richard Nixon, the top political and economic classes are now above the law in a real sense.  Given the importance of ‘a nation of laws, not men’ and ‘equal application of the law’ to the essential nature of the U.S., the republic that used to exist no longer does.  Implicit in this argument, of course, is the right of revolution given this state of affairs, though Greenwald does not mention it.

Greenwald pays particular attention to the broad swathe of pundits at the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the New York Times and other establishment presses that consistently uphold the right of the rulers to break laws.  They say if this is done, than we can all concentrate on a ‘future’ time of corrective action, not vindictive ‘looking back.’ Of course, why would anyone obey any law if there is no punishment?  You can see the problem with this argument. It actually encourages lawbreaking. Yet that is the heart of the argument by politicians and their pundits.

Greenwald first takes us through a short history of executive pardons and protections.  The one that started it all - of Nixon by Ford; the pardon of the Iran/Contra crowd like Ollie North by Reagan; the protection of the Iraq-gate perpetrators like Donald Rumsfield by Clinton; the pardon of Cap Weinberger re Iran/Contra by Bush41; and the pardon of Scooter Libby for the outing of Valerie Plame by Bush43.   The wholesale protection by Obama of the Republican authors (and Democratic Party collaborators) of the illegal torture-kidnapping-imprisonment regime, the illegal Iraq War, obvious perjurers like Alberto Gonzalez, evidence destruction, and domestic spying is only the latest phase in this decades-long development.  As Greenwald puts it, ‘To date, Obama has succeeded in blocking and suppressing virtually every investigation into Bush crimes.”   Greenwald contends the political rulers do this to protect themselves in the future – the behavior is self-serving and self-perpetuating. 

Ford’s pardon of Nixon set the stage, by using the phrases, ‘look forward, not back’ – a phrase that every single president has used since to justify elite law-breaking. (as Greenwald put it, try that on a cop next time you get a ticket!)   Libby was indicted, then pardoned, and the right and center went ape-shit just because of the indictment.  Of course, the reason he was even indicted was because he had crossed the CIA.  The lesson there is that the only people the elite have to fear is the other people in the ruling elite - certainly not the laws of the U.S. or the general population.   

It should be noted that the increasing lawlessness of the elite corresponds quite well with developments in the so-called ‘private’ sector.  The merger of government and corporate capital has become closer and closer over the years.  Greenwald’s prime example is the struggle over telecom immunity during the Bush administration.   Only one major telecom stood up to Bush’s request for illegal surveillance and warrantless spying – Qwest.  AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Bell South, etc. all cooperated.  When the program was revealed to be illegal, and lawsuits against the telecoms began to successfully move through the courts, Dick Cheney and the Democratic Party leadership crafted a ‘telecom immunity’ bill, which, after initially being rejected due to immense pressure from the base, was finally signed into law by Bush, and, in opposition to prior statements, also supported by Obama.  Greenwald looked through the case law and found only one other example of ‘retroactive immunity’ – related to some banks in the 60s.  That is how rare this was. 

Greenwald pays special attention in this matter to a guy named Michael McConnell – the ultimate insider moving between the lobbying firm Booz Allen, the telecoms and the intelligence agencies in the government, advocating privatization of all security and intelligence functions while in both positions.  A mountain of telecom cash found its way to the Democratic Party during this debate, culminating in the obscene spectacle of Democratic Party delegates in Denver in 2008 carrying bags emblazoned with the AT&T logo.  Or, as I read it, “Your Convention, sponsored by Crooked Shit-Bags.” 

The legal immunity of the private sector continued after the 2007-2008 market crash, when not one firm or corporate individual was indicted, let alone gone to jail.  (See review of the book, “Griftopia” below.) Massive illegal practices – by the ratings agencies, the capital markets firms, the insurance and mortgage companies – were topped off by in incredible scandal in which banks fabricated documents in order to foreclose on homeowners, basically stealing their houses illegally.  Small fines were paid, and business went on as usual.  As they say, ‘that is the cost of doing business.”   Oddly enough, Greenwald starts this chapter about a hedge fund manager running over and killing a bicyclist in Vail, Colorado, and only being charged with a misdemeanor. (Amy Senser, you should have lived in Colorado and been a fund manager.)  Greenwald calls the chapter, “Too Big To Jail.”

Greenwald has a long chapter on how Obama has deepened the Bush regime behavior (just as Clinton carried on the legacy of Ronald Reagan in his own way…).  Obama continued to maintain Guantanamo and the military court system, even though most people in it were known to be innocent.  His treatment of U.S. citizen Bradley Manning, following on the heels of Bush's cruel treatment of Jose Padilla, was especially brutal.  Obama has now made a specialty of increased drone attacks, which by any international law are illegal.  And now most radically, he claims the right to kill U.S. citizens without a judicial warrant and without review of his actions.  I.E. the President is now judge, jury and executioner, all in one. Whistle-blowers are now more hounded than under Bush.  The Obama DOJ has gone after Spain, Italy and the U.K. for trying American secret police for violations of the International Convention on Torture, intimidating them into not proceeding.  The Obama State Department under Hillary Clinton endlessly lectures other countries on how they must come to terms with their own historical crimes, exempting America of course - remember, 'look forward, not back!"  Obama has deported more people than Bush ever did.  The Obama DOJ’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange and to prosecute Wikileaks as ‘terrorist’ supporters are more of the same.  And this from a guy who ran on a platform of bringing lawfulness back to the centers of power.


Can I say it?  Obama has no peer among presidential candidates for promising one thing, and doing a 180 once in office.  Except for the Afghan war.  There he carried out his campaign promise. 

Greenwald points out that while the law is in abeyance for the ruling class (or can be changed by Congress conveniently), laws increasingly are applied to the general population, and especially the black and Latino poor.  The flip side of attacking whistle-blowers, claiming executive privilege and exempting private capitalists and their politicians from the law is to bear down on the rest of the population.  The U.S. has the largest prison population of any nation in the world, by percentage and by numbers.  It has the most people locked up for non-violent crimes and for victimless crimes.  The ‘law and order’ mentality first developed by Goldwater, then Nixon, was instituted on a bi-partisan basis by Bill Clinton.  Can we forget his enthusiastic support of the execution of a retarded black man as one of the first acts of his campaign?  The private prison industry lobbies for more prisoners.  And at the heart of the whole mess is the reactionary drug ‘war’- aimed squarely at young black and Latino males.  Given this group might be the most susceptible to revolutionary impulses, it only makes sense that the government concentrates on incarcerating millions of youth under the excuse of drugs.  This, as they said in the 1960s, is institutional racism. 50 years later, nothing has changed.

And if you are leftist then you get treated like you are the lowest of the low.  Recently a supporter of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression in Los Angles was arrested for allegedly throwing a can of pop at a cop almost 40 years ago, and charged with 5 felonies. (He won this one, however, on Tuesday!)  Who can forget the ‘cold case’ mentality that went after Sarah Jane Olson?  Eric Holder, of the Obama DOJ, and their front woman, Elena Kagan, now of the Supreme Court, used the implementation of Bush’s Patriot Act in “Humanitarian Law Project v Holder” (See analysis of Humanitarian Law Project case, below) to go after local anti-war and socialist activists as ‘terrorist supporters.’ And lets not forget the epidemic of entrapment by the FBI - they almost wouldn't have caught anyone without providing the bombs themselves.

What to do?  Well, Greenwald has few solutions.  He’s been a supporter of left-Democrats in the past.  But here, I think, is the key sentence – “Democratic activism is no match for the army of corporate money, lobbyists, national security officials and media servants.  Ordinary Americans, even when united in a coordinated campaign, may be able to delay or disrupt this limitlessly funded onslaught, but they eventually will be steamrolled by it.”  Think back to the mass opposition to the second Iraq war, the stopping of the first bailout, or the stopping of the first attempt to get telecom immunity.  The population won for a short time, then lost.  Even the Vikings stadium debate is an example on a local level.  We need a mass organization that does not go away, that has people in Congress, in the communities and in workplaces, that will not compromise on essential points, and is based on the majority of the population.  The Democratic Party is not it.  Nor are small, temporary, local committees, working on isolated issues.  Short of a major mass movement or a revolution, the situation of unequal application of law is not going to change.

And I bought it at May Day books!
Red Frog
June 4, 2012

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