Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Only Real When Glenn Greenwald Discovers It

I have had a long-term love-hate relationship with Glenn Greenwald. By and large, I agree with much of what he says. At the same time, he is the first person who would tell you how important Glenn Greenwald is, how intelligent, insightful, and most of all correct Glenn Greenwald is.

He has a new book out. With Liberty And Justice For Some: How The Law Is Used To Destroy Equality And Protect The Powerful is a book whose topic is important, timely, and I would urge everyone concerned over matters of justice under the law to purchase it, read it, and share it with friends.

All the same, reading some of Greenwald's promotional posts in his Salon column leaves me with just one question: Does Greenwald really believe he's stumbled on to something new here?
The book focuses on what I began realizing several years ago is the crucial theme tying together most of the topics I write about: America’s two-tiered justice system – specifically, the way political and financial elites are now vested with virtually absolute immunity from the rule of law even when they are caught committing egregious crimes, while ordinary Americans are subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest and most merciless penal states even for trivial offenses. As a result, law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis: a weapon used by the most powerful to protect their ill-gotten gains, strengthen their unearned prerogatives, and ensure ever-expanding opportunity inequality.


The past decade has witnessed the most severe crimes imaginable by political and financial elites: the construction of a worldwide torture regime, domestic spying perpetrated jointly by the government and the telecom industry without the warrants required by the criminal law, an aggressive war waged on another country that killed hundreds of thousands of people, massive financial fraud that came close to collapsing the world economy and which destroyed the economic security of tens of millions, and systematic foreclosure fraud that, by design, bombarded courts with fraudulent documents in order to seize homes without legal entitlement. These are not bad policies or mere immoral acts. They are plainly criminal, and yet – due to the precepts of elite immunity which were first explicitly embraced during Ford’s pardon of Nixon — none of those crimes has produced legal punishments.(italics added)
Seriously? Greenwald's a really smart guy, the kind of lawyer I would want if my back were up against the wall, not least because of that personality quirk that seems to come across so clearly in both his column and his tweets - he's kind of a jerk, convinced as he is of his own purity and righteousness.

The American legal system has, by and large, always existed to protect the prerogatives of the powerful. This isn't something that only came to pass with the pardoning of Nixon, or was only embraced during the 1970's. Even a cursory understanding of American history makes one familiar with the myriad ways the courts and the law work to maintain the socio-economic status quo. In the middle of the 19th century, there was a German observer of rising bourgeois democratic institutions who noted that they seemed geared toward the protection of privilege. Which is why he didn't really have much faith in democratic and republican institutions to protect the rights of the oppressed classes in society. Marx understood that they were designed and worked precisely the way they were supposed to - to protect the powerful and privileged.

It's the kind of breathless, earnest insistence that he has discovered something new, something that has suddenly burst to full flower around us, rather than the latest iteration of a long-running struggle that bugs me. Again, get the book, read the book, pass on the book. Remember, however, that the phenomena Greenwald discusses is as old as human society, a problem with which any society struggles, a struggle we are currently still losing. Having the information Greenwald provides, the perspective of one dedicated not to any ideology or part but the Constitution is important. He hasn't discovered something new, however, all his pretense to the contrary.

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