Book Review: With Liberty and Justice for Some

Editor’s Note:  Prefacing a book review, two years ago we said: “There are many issues demanding citizens’ attention to improve our world, government, and democracy in the direction of the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The two most basic issues upon which all others depend are media reform and election integrity. If I could waive a wand and magically choose just one, it would be media reform – with media reform election integrity would be possible and likely, without it election integrity is of little consequence.  I spend my time on election integrity because the problems and workable solutions come naturally to me based on my knowledge, education, and experience.” Today, I would add a third basic issue upon which all others depend, the rule of law and not of people [or corporations])

I highly recommend reading With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, by Glenn Greenwald.

I have two complaints and a compliment:

First it is DEPRESSING. But like getting a diagnosis from your doctor, knowing the problem can help lead to rational action. While reading, and since, I keep noticing the sad lack of accountability and its consequences everywhere in the news.

Second its title is MISLEADING. It is too generous suggesting justice for some. It is not justice when the rich, politicians, and insiders get away with significant crime at almost everyone’s expense on the planet. Yes, retail murderers and their victims’ survivors often get justice, but even then many are wrongly convicted or escape justice.

Finally it is refreshingly SHORT. Glenn packs a lot into less than a couple hundred pages. It is a simple concept yet the book is packed with examples that drive the point home. We must be a nation of laws, or all is lost.

We are in the words of John Adams, “a nation of laws, not men.” For Adams, either the law is supreme in all cases, or the arbitrary will of rulers is. Adams and the other founders viewed the preeminence of law or individuals — all individuals —  as the only protection against the tyranny that American colonists had launched…Alexander Hamilton did not often see eye to eye with Paine, but on this he heartily agreed. “The instruments by which [government] must act are either the AUTHORITY of the laws or FORCE.” he wrote in 1794 “If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government there is and end to liberty!”…

To Paine, a system of legally enforced inequality would enable the elite to exploit the law to entrench unearned prerogatives or shield ill-gotten gains.

This week and in recent weeks we see examples of this potentially happening. Perhaps each of these examples unfolds we will see the extent to which we actually have a rule of law or of the elite:

  • The LIBOR scandal where Barkleys Bank was fined about .5 Billion for cheating on the rate which underlies all loans. A crime against us all, possibly reaching in the Trillions of dollars. Nobody charged yet with a crime. Now most big banks are under investigation, perhaps even the U.S. Treasury Secretary. Will there be an investigation, criminal trials, jail time?
  • The F.D.A. caught spying on whistle-blowing employees, spying on Congress, and creating an enemies list. In CT a medial doctor was convicted last week of spying on his ex and paid a tort of 2 Million. Will the F.D.A perpetrators be brought to Justice? If not will Representatives and staffers consider civil court?
  • We note the prosecution of an Army Private, with cruel and hopefully unusual punishment prior to conviction, along with pronouncements of guilt before trial, accompanied by no actions against crimes exposed by the whistle-blowing itself.
  • A presidential candidate held a campaign strategy session, inviting super PAC leaders, who are barred from colluding with the campaign.  Will there be any investigation? Will there be any sanction that hurts the chances of the candidate, if they violated the law. If the law was not violated, what would actually constitute collusion?

In Greenwald’s words:

Over the past several decades we have witnessed numerous examples of serious lawbreaking on the part of our most powerful political and financial leaders with no consequences of any kind. It is no exaggeration to state that the current consensus among journalists and politicians is that except in the most blatant and sensationalistic cases (typically ones in which powerful factions are aggrieved — a Bernie Madoff, here a Rob Blagojevich there), criminal prosecutions are simply not appropriate for the country’s elites. Courtrooms, indictments, and prisons are there for ordinary Americans, not for the ruling classes, and virtually never for our highest political leaders.

We can have access to complete information from a free and robust media, have the cleanest elections possible, yet without the rule of law, we do not have democracy. Without the rule of law, journalists and whistle-blowers will not be protected, and election integrity would be unlikely.

Update:

  • Another example of justice denied. This tax scandal and election scandal would pay for itself in tax revenue.
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