With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

by Glenn Greenwald

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From "the most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years" (Bill Moyers) and the journalist who broke the story on NSA spying programs comes a scathing critique of the two-tiered system of justice that has emerged in America

From the nation's beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the country's political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, licensed to act without restraint, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbers than in any other country in the world.

Starting with Watergate, continuing on through the Iran-Contra scandal, and culminating with Obama's shielding of Bush-era officials from prosecution, Glenn Greenwald lays bare the mechanisms that have come to shield the elite from accountability. He shows how the media, both political parties, and the courts have abetted a process that has produced torture, war crimes, domestic spying by the NSA, and financial fraud.
Cogent, sharp, and urgent, this is a no-holds-barred indictment of a profoundly un-American system that sanctions immunity at the top and mercilessness for everyone else.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250013835
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 07/03/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 549,094
Product dimensions: 5.62(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

GLENN GREENWALD is the author of several best sellers, including How Would a Patriot Act? and With Liberty and Justice for Some. Acclaimed as one of the 25 most influential political commentators by The Atlantic and one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013 by Foreign Policy, Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights attorney. He was a columnist for The Guardian until October 2013, and is now building a new media organization. He is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, and various other television and radio outlets. Greenwald's NSA reporting in 2013 has won numerous awards, including the top investigative journalism award from the Online Journalism Association, the Esso Award for Excellence in Reporting (the Brazilian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize), and the 2013 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was also the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2009, and the Online Journalism Association Award in 2010 for his investigative work on the arrest and detention of Bradley Manning. Greenwald is a frequent guest lecturer on college campuses and his work has appeared in many newspapers and political news magazines, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The American Conservative.

Read an Excerpt


As a litigator who practiced for more than a decade in federal and state courts across the country, I've long been aware of the inequities that pervade the American justice system. The rich enjoy superior legal representation and therefore much better prospects for success in court than the poor. The powerful are treated with far more deference by judges than the powerless. The same cultural, socioeconomic, and demographic biases that plague society generally also infect the legal process. Few people who have had any interaction with the justice system would dispute this.

Still, only when I began regularly writing about politics did I realize that the problem extends well beyond such inequities. The issue isn't just that those with political influence and financial power have some advantages in our judicial system. It is much worse than that. Those with political and financial clout are routinely allowed to break the law with no legal repercussions whatsoever. Often they need not even exploit their access to superior lawyers because they don't see the inside of a courtroom in the first place—not even when they get caught in the most egregious criminality. The criminal justice system is now almost exclusively reserved for ordinary Americans, who are routinely subjected to harsh punishments even for the pettiest of offenses.

The wiretapping scandal of 2005 provides a perfect illustration. In December of that year, the New York Times revealed that officials in George W. Bush's administration were eavesdropping on Americans' telephone calls and e-mails without warrants or judicial oversight: a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a ten-thousand-dollar fine for each offense. The lawbreaking could not have been clearer, yet virtually nobody in the political and media class was willing to call those acts "criminal," much less to demand legal investigations or prosecutions.

This was a depressingly familiar pattern for several decades and became particularly pronounced over the last one. America's political and business establishment presided over a series of extraordinary crimes that brought the United States political disgrace and financial ruin: the creation of a global torture regime; the systematic plundering by Wall Street, leading to the 2008 economic crisis; the serial obstruction of justice by high-ranking political officials; the fraudulent home foreclosures by the nation's largest banks. Yet in almost every instance, the perpetrators were shielded from any legal consequences. As these events clearly demonstrate, America's political culture not only provides strategic advantages in the legal system to political and financial elites, but now actually grants them immunity when they knowingly break the law. This license—awarded by the same political class that created the world's largest and most merciless prison state for its poorest and most powerless citizens—represents not just a departure from the rule of law but a fundamental repudiation of it.

The central principle of America's founding was that the rule of law would be the prime equalizing force, the ultimate guardian of justice. The founders considered vast inequality in every other realm to be inevitable and even desirable. Some would be rich, and many would be poor. Some would acquire great power, and many would live their entire lives virtually powerless. A small number of individuals would be naturally endowed with unique and extraordinary talents, while most people, by definition, would be ordinary. Due to those unavoidable circumstances, the American conception of liberty was not only consistent with, but premised on, the inevitability of outcome inequality—the success of some people, the failure of others.

The one exception was the rule of law. When it came to the law, no inequality was tolerable. Law was understood to be the sine qua non ensuring fairness, a level playing field, and a universal set of rules. It was the nonnegotiable prerequisite that made all other forms of inequality acceptable. Only if everyone was bound to the same rules would outcome inequality be justifiable.

So central is this founding principle that most Americans absorb it by osmosis via numerous clichés: All are equal before the law. Justice is blind. No man is above the law. 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 over individuals—all individuals—as the only protection against the tyranny that American colonists had launched a revolution to abolish. For that reason, American political liberty was always inextricably bound to the notion that law reigns supreme.

It would be difficult to overstate the essential place of the rule of law in the American political tradition. A principal grievance against King George III was his unilateral power to vest in himself and those he favored the right to act outside of the law. The goal of the American Revolution was to replace this arbitrary will of the monarch with unbending equal application of law to everyone. "Where, say some, is the King of America?" Thomas Paine, the great American revolutionary, asked in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense. His answer:

Let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the Law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.

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 an end to liberty!" Like Paine and Hamilton, Adams, in his 1776 Thoughts on Government, put the rule of law at the top of his list of core principles for a free and legitimate government: "The very definition of a republic is ‘an empire of laws, and not of men.' . . . Good government is an empire of laws."

That last line may at first glance appear simple and even trite, but it contains a critical insight. The supremacy of law is not just one among many instruments of good government; it is good government itself. The converse is equally true: in the absence of the rule of law, good government cannot be said to exist.

To be sure, there may be exceptional situations where the rule of men might produce better outcomes than the rule of law. A truly magnanimous tyrant, a benevolent dictator, might conceivably lead to more positive results than a regime of unjust laws rigidly applied. Historians can point to emperors who exercised absolute power while advancing the interests of their subjects and the territories they ruled. Nevertheless, such societies should not be confused with "good government," dependent as they are on the fortuitous emergence of an unrestrained leader who is both well-intentioned and relatively immune from the corrupting effects of power (and, even less plausibly, immune from the absolutely corrupting effects of absolute power). A country that prospers by vesting absolute power in a leader who happens to be benevolent could just as easily come under the control of a malevolent leader the next time around. And when that happens, as at some point it surely will, a society without the rule of law will have no means of redress short of violent revolution.

What's more, even the most well-intentioned leader will eventually abuse his power if he is not constrained by law. Indeed, and somewhat paradoxically, a ruler's belief in his own virtue actually renders abuses of power more likely, since he can rationalize all manner of arbitrary and capricious measures: I am good and doing this for good ends, and it is therefore justifiable. Power exercised corruptly inevitably degrades and destroys even genuinely benevolent intent.

The founders understood that magnanimity is very rarely an enduring safeguard against the corrupting influences of power, and because they understood this, they insisted on the rule of law as the only effective weapon against such temptations. "Why has government been instituted at all?" Hamilton asked in Federalist 15. "Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint." Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1798: "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." Adams, in 1772, put it this way: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." Four years later, his wife, Abigail, memorably echoed the same sentiment in a letter to him: "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."

The rule of law does not guarantee good government: an empire of unjust laws can be as tyrannical as an empire of men, perhaps even more so. But though the rule of law is not sufficient by itself to ensure a just and free society, it's absolutely necessary for it. For that reason, a nation that renounces the rule of law has rendered tyranny not only likely but inevitable.

The fundamental requirement of the rule of law is equality: the uniform application of a set of preexisting rules to everyone, including the rulers. But like the term rule of law, equality under the law has become merely a platitude, a phrase recited without much appreciation of its significance. Everyone claims to believe in it, but hardly anyone remembers what it means. And yet the demand that all be treated equally under the law was no secondary concept to the founding of the United States, but its crux, and it is not difficult to understand why.

What the founders feared most was that a centralized federal government would unwittingly replicate the abuses they had suffered under the king. Unless aggressively constrained, a federal government could erode every precept of liberty that they were attempting to enshrine. It could forcibly override local rule, obliterate self-governance, and, through its sheer weight, transgress every limit. Preventing the government from succumbing to the temptations inherent in its power was the founders' central concern when they were creating the Constitution.

Of course, the law itself also wields tremendous power. The legal system's reach is unparalleled: it can deprive a person of property, liberty, even life. It may compel people to transfer their material goods to others, block them from engaging in planned actions, destroy their reputations, consign them to cages, or even inject lethal chemicals into their veins. Unequal application of the law is thus not merely unjust in theory but devastating in practice. When the law is wielded only against the powerless, it ceases to be a safeguard against injustice and becomes the primary tool of oppression. Unjust acts perpetrated in defiance of the law are relatively easy to fight against, but unjust acts perpetrated under cover of law are much harder to challenge. Thus, not only does unequal application of law result in the loss of something good and necessary; it becomes a potent means for entrenching and protecting exactly that which law is designed to prevent.

In his 1795 essay Dissertations on First Principles of Government, Paine thus insisted that "the true and only true basis of representative government" is equal application of law to all citizens: rich and poor, strong and weak, powerful and powerless, landowner and tenant. Without equal application of the laws, Benjamin Franklin warned in his 1774 Emblematical Representations, society would fracture into two tiers: the "favored" and the "oppressed." The result, he said, would be "great and violent jealousies and animosities" between these classes, and a "total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened."

Revealingly, the central function of the Constitution as law—the supreme law—was to impose limitations not on the behavior of ordinary citizens but on the federal government itself. The government, and those who ran it, were not placed outside the law, but expressly targeted by it. Indeed, the Bill of Rights is little more than a description of the lines that the most powerful political officials are barred from crossing, even if they have the power to do so and even when the majority of citizens might wish them to do so.

The vital aim of law, then, was to ensure that the powerful were subjected to its dictates on equal terms with the powerless. As Jefferson put it in an April 16, 1784, letter to George Washington, the foundation on which any constitution must rest is "the denial of every preeminence." In his 1786 Answers to Monsieur de Meusnier's Questions, Jefferson argued that the essence of America was that "the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar." Even Hamilton, who made no attempt to conceal his belief in a strong executive, argued in Federalist 71 that the president had to be "subordinate to the laws." The notion of law simply makes no sense, and has no good purpose, unless all are bound by its dictates.

The dangers of abandoning this principle were well recognized. In Federalist 57, James Madison emphasized that equal application of the law to political elites was a prerequisite for a free and cohesive society ("one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together"), and warned that in its absence "every government degenerates into tyranny." Perhaps most tellingly of all, the founder who was the least philosophically inclined but the most practiced in the exigencies of governance—George Washington—vowed, in a letter written in December 1795, that there would never be immunity for wrongdoing by high government officials on his watch: "The executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity."

What the founders recognized was that unless the law were applied equally, subjecting all citizens to its mandates, the Constitution would simply consist of a set of guidelines or suggestions, compliance being optional. In view of that danger, equal enforcement was embedded in formal American jurisprudence from early on as the linchpin of the rule of law. The seminal 1803 Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison is widely remembered for having established the foundation for how the U.S. government functions: Congress enacts laws, the president executes them, and the courts "say what the law is." But the Supreme Court's ruling was just as meaningful for what it signaled about how the principle of equality under the law would work in practice. The central dispute in Marbury was whether the courts had the authority to subject officials in the executive branch to their rulings—that is, whether officials who violated the law could be compelled to submit to judicial decrees. The court's unanimous decision announced that the judicial branch had not only the right but the duty to enforce the law on all citizens, including high-level officials in the executive branch. "The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws," the chief justice wrote.

What makes the founders' insistence on equality under the law all the more striking is that none believed in equality as a general proposition. Indeed, the opposite is true: they considered inequality on every level, other than in law, to be the natural, inevitable, and just state of affairs. Even Jefferson, one of the most egalitarian of the founders, held that there was "a natural aristocracy" among men, based on "virtue and talents." And he saw its existence as not only inevitable but desirable: "The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society." Similarly, for Adams, inequality was both inevitable and natural, even divinely ordained: "It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the constitution and course of nature the foundations of the distinction." Yet the founders concurred that nothing constituted a greater threat to the Republic than to allow this inequality of wealth or political power to determine the treatment of citizens before the law. In particular, they disdained superior and inferior positions imposed by the state rather than determined by merit. Paine, for instance, loathed inherited titles on the ground that they doled out rewards based on assigned status rather unrelated to entitlement. He declared:

Nature is often giving to the world some extraordinary men who arrive at fame by merit and universal consent, such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, etc. They were truly great or noble. But when government sets up a manufactory of nobles, it is as absurd as if she undertook to manufacture wise men. Her nobles are all counterfeits.

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. And those counterfeit nobles would turn the law into a tool to promote and protect injustice rather than to correct it. Though Paine's liveliest polemics were devoted to scorning the accumulation of wealth, he had no quarrel with income inequality provided that there was no such inequality under law. The rich could buy what they desired, dress and eat as they wished, and wallow in the most effete comforts and luxuries. But the law was the one realm where their money and property would count for nothing.

One point is vital to acknowledge: like all of the other principles espoused by the founders, equality under the law was not always observed in practice. Indeed, it was often violently breached from the very beginning of the Republic. Slavery, the dispossession of Native Americans, the denial of voting rights to women, and the granting of superior legal rights to property owners are a few of the most glaring deviations.

But even when the principle of equal treatment was betrayed, American leaders in every era have emphatically affirmed it, not so much out of hypocrisy as out of aspiration. Indeed, for those who were devoted to justice, the persistence of inequality was precisely what made equality before the law so imperative. Over time, this principle would provide the road map for eradicating injustice. It was the impetus for the abolition of slavery; the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, with its overarching guarantee of "equal protection of the laws"; the enfranchisement and empowerment of women; the civil rights movement; enhanced protections for the poor in the criminal justice process; and numerous other legal and social reforms of the last two centuries.

Today, equal application of the law remains a sacrosanct principle among virtually all legal theorists. Contemporary scholars routinely emphasize that the rule of law cannot exist without legal equality. As the constitutional legal scholar Michel Rosenfeld argues, the rule of law is not merely weakened if the ruler and his or her associates consistently remain above the law"; it ceases to exist by definition. When the powerful can effectively exempt themselves from law's punishments, we live under "the rule of men," even if we maintain a facade of laws and other trappings of a legal system, such as courts, legislatures, and judges. Indeed, it's nearly impossible to find a definition of the rule of law that does not contain some requirement that the law be applied equally. As Judge Diane Wood, of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, observes, the consensus view is that "there is no one in a society governed by law who is above the law or immune from some form of legal constraint."

This conception is practically universal, certainly in the West. In the early 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced that any states wishing to receive financial assistance were required to respect the rule of law, prompting debate over what exactly that entailed. In a 1998 essay in Foreign Affairs, Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace articulated the standard used by the Western world to dictate to developing nations what the rule of law minimally demands. The rule of law, he wrote, is "a system in which the laws . . . apply equally to everyone." Unless the political and financial elites are subject to the same laws as everyone else, he argued, there could be no rule of law—only its trappings. He cited Latin America, Asia, the former Soviet Union, and parts of the former Eastern bloc as examples of "the ruling elite's tendency to act extralegally" wherever "legal systems remain captive of the powers that be." The most crucial challenge in developing countries, as Carothers put it, is that elites "must give up the habit of placing themselves above the law."

We face a similar challenge in the United States today. For all the homage we pay to equality under law, we have virtually abolished it in practice. Indeed, beyond isolated, politically motivated rhetoric, we hardly even pretend to believe in its validity any longer. Instead, the United States now has the exact opposite of a single set of laws before which everyone is equal. It has an entrenched two-tiered system of justice: the country's most powerful political and financial elites are virtually immunized from the rule of law, empowered to commit felonies with full-scale impunity and to act without any constraints, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in far greater numbers than in any other country on the planet.

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 other powerful factions are aggrieved—a Bernie Madoff here, a Rod 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.

The central promise of the American founding—that all would stand equal before the rule of law no matter what other political and economic inequality was allowed—has been abandoned. Two features of contemporary American political life are particularly significant in this regard. First, the elites' exemption from the rule of law has been strengthened at exactly the same time that the law has become an increasingly draconian instrument of punishment for the rest of Americans—particularly the poor and racial minorities. Not only does the law fail to equalize the playing field; it perpetuates and even generates tremendous social inequality.

Second, though unequal application of the law has always been pervasive in American society, until recently such inequality was regarded as a problem: something to be deplored and, if possible, corrected. Today, however, substantial factions in our political culture explicitly renounce the principle of legal equality itself. It is now quite common for American political discourse to include arguments expressly justifying the elites' legal impunity and openly calling for radically different treatment under the law for various classes of people based on their power, status, and wealth.

Historically, our collective insistence on the principle of equality under law has been principally responsible for our forward progress, our ability to identify and eliminate major and minor transgressions. Conversely, our abandonment of that principle precludes such progress and, worse, shields legal inequality from reform. A society that demands equality under the law will move inexorably toward it. A society that renounces this virtue will move in the opposite direction. We have, manifestly, become a society that no longer even rhetorically affirms the necessity for this equality, and the outcome is exactly as dangerous, oppressive, and antidemocratic as the American founders warned it would be.

Copright © 2011 Glenn Greenwald

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With Liberty and Justice for Some 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
jamie123 More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of the year. Greenwald pulls no punches and eloquently describes the real differences between the rich and powerful; and everyone else. Almost every page delivers an assault on how corrupt and lop-sided our criminal justice system has become. There are no happy endings in this book, and all the better; for it depicts the reality all too well.
StephanieMullany More than 1 year ago
Masterful review of the slippery slope to oblivion of the American heritage for which so many have sacrificed and died. My earliest ancestor who came in 1717 was one of 9 CT men who wrested Cape Breton from the French, and fought in 2 campaigns in the French and Indian War. I am the 9th generation and have an Army son who has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, which allowed me to see the principled idealism of these officers and their men who put their lives on the line to defend the Constitution. Life according to its precepts has been increasingly squandered until it is no longer recognizable. Probably the most painful thing I experienced in my life was shortly before my WWII veteran-father's death, when he said, "I used to believe in the US, but I no longer do." This is not partisanship or politics. It's about the peril of principle and call to personal commitment [sacrifice] for preservation of basic egalitarian values for which so many others have sacrificed. I appreciate Mr. Greenwald's passion and fine work. This book should be required reading for all US citizens.
Jon3 More than 1 year ago
If you want the honest truth then read this book.
peptastic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a profoundly relevant and necessary book about the two tiered justice system in American politics.Greenwald's take is that todays gross misconduct to protect the politically powerful started when President Ford pardoned President Nixon. He used the same line about looking forward not backwards that President Obama used to not only condone but retroactively immunize President Bush wiretapping , banking crisis, mortgage crisis and torture crimes and the Obama administrations own crimes. For make no mistake the waterboarding continues.This chain of events eventually led to how the private banking sector as well as the telecoms received immunity.The way the auto companies were given strict regulations for bailout money but the banking sector couldn't be stopped giving large bonuses. Why were the auto employees benefits taken then?Greenwald makes a very strong case in his explanation with direct quotes from Eric Holder, the press and politicians WHY the political and financial elite escape with no attempt of justice. Apparently in the spirit of bipartisanship you don't want the next political office to investigate your own administration.The hypocrisy doesn't end there as the not looking back but forward doesn't hold true for other nations who give their powerful immunity.Then you can't move forward without charging criminals.Greenwald also covers America's vast prison state and increasingly harsher sentencing that is "bipartisan" and the financial sector who runs the prisons which has a hand in shaping our drug laws.Last but not least the vast disparity in the Obama administration to go after whistleblowers but never the criminals themselves.If you follow his blog at all you'll be familar with this topic but despite some criticisms that he repeats himself people need to read this. Too many people actually aren't aware of torture convention and really do think torture of non prisoners of war is legal because of the Geneva convention.I recommend this book to everyone. I'm a regular follower of Greenwald's column at salon.com. He's fair, well researched and never gives over to hyperbole. America never had a problem with a rich class but when the laws don't apply to them and they write the laws with an agenda to lengthen prison sentences then we are no longer a country of laws but rule of man.
TLCrawford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We screwed up with Bernie Madoff. Instead of looking backward, wasting our time with vengeance we should have been looking forward, striving to fix whatever problems existed. If that is not BS nothing is. However, according to Glenn Greenwald in his book ¿With liberty and justice for some : how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful¿ that is exactly what we have been doing for the most powerful American criminals. Bernie Madoff is not in prison because he is a thief, dozens of bank and mortgage company executives are also thieves and they are not in prison even though they deserve it as much ans Madoff does. Madoff was prosecuted because he stole from his fellow elites and not from powerless citizen home owners. Greenwald explains, in detail, the unraveling of the rule of law in the United States. It begins with President Ford pardoning former President Richard Nixon right up to, and including, President Obama. Interspersed in his story of forty years of executive and corporate lawlessness is several historical examples that show it does not need to be like this. Samuel J.Tilden brought down his own political parties most powerful machine, Tammany Hall, and when on win the 1876 Presidential Election. (only to loose the office in a backroom deal) Reformer Theodore Roosevelt was pushed to run as President Garfield¿s vice president in order to stop the reforms he was backing as Governor of New York, and Progressive Party Senator Robert La Follette who helped expose the Tea Pot Dome scandal. (The only factual error I found in the book was identifying La Follette as a Republican. Although La Follette was first elected to office as a Republican he changed his affiliation long before becoming governor of Wisconsin or a US Senator. Because I read an advance copy I can hope that this is corrected before publication)The final section of the book covers the flip side of a lawless elite, the persecution of the common man. I knew that we have a lot of Americans in prison but I had no idea just how many. I was not aware how far we are from the international norm nor how quickly it became this bad.The Introduction and Afterword are the most powerful parts of the book. Here Greenwald looks at what the Founding Fathers had to say about the importance of the Rule of Law and how badly we have failed them and ourselves and our descendants. I follow the news, I was aware of most of the incidents Greenwald discusses but, not being a lawyer, or intimately familiar with the Anti-Torture Treaty that President Reagan signed into law, or, I am ashamed to say, as familiar with the Constitution, I failed to see the big picture. His book is truly an eyeopener.
cvanhasselt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I voted for Barack Obama, and, judging by the clown posse on the right, I'll vote for him again. But this time, there will be no enthusiasm, particularly after reading this book, due in no small part to this book. Greenwald is scathing in his critique of Bush era policies, particularly warrantless wiretapping of ordinary Americans, and the extraordinary justice system that allows us to keep prisoners at Guantanamo. But he is equally scathing in condemning Obama, for not seeking accountability for Bush and his cronies, for continuing the Bush era abuses of justice at Guantanamo, and for absolving Wall Street for any criminality in the recent financial crisis. To anyone following these issues closely, I'm sure Greenwald's book will offer few surprises. But, let's face it, the majority of Americans, and I include myself, don't follow issues of justice closely enough. Every patriotic American should read this, and understand how our constitution is being assaulted from the left and the right, on behalf of the 1% who seem to get all the breaks. Our country is being sold down the river, and if you don't believe that, read this book.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like the so called "Bourgeois of Paris" chronicled the horrors of the Hundred Years War in early 15th century France, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald provides poignant, shocking and voluminous testimony about the widespread failings and corruption of the US government and judicial system as well as the terminal intellectual decay of the American corporate media.The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 tries to trace the origin of American elite corruption to the unpunished crimes of Richard Nixon. It is certainly true that a culture of corruption grew among Nixon's apprentices such as Rumsfeld and Cheney, but Greenwald's Disneyland version of the just and saintly founding fathers differs from historical fact. Study history, young man, as Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky used to say. The American Revolution marginalized the non-plutocrat founding fathers. The history of crooked vice presidents started early. The heinous Alien and Sedition Act is an intellectual ancestor of the Bush regime's domestic war on terror. The history of the United States (like most other countries') is a history of corruption and abuse. Glennwald's youth and narrow education (like most lawyers) makes him judge the current abuses much more blatant than they actually are in historical comparison. Still, Glennwald's (unfortunately mostly futile) fight to stop them is commendable.Chapter 2 is a recap of the sorry retroactive immunity for telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration spy on ordinary Americans, explicitly prohibited by FISA. The affair was also one of the first cases of Barack Obama siding with the corporate sector against the people and the law. The chapter's title and content "Immunity in the Private Sector" gives a wrong impression of the affair. The law-breaking was triggered by the Bush administration. The immunity offered to the companies is only a means to shield the crimes of the Bush administration. While Greenwald presents a strong case against the pliant telecom managers, it is a weak case to highlight the protection of corporate cronies. Barack Obama's shielding of BP for the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster would have been a better case of protecting a guilty private company. Greenwald later on discards the distinction of private and public sector for an integrated military-industrial complex view.Chapter 3 is a recap of the immunity from prosecution accorded to the Wall Street robber barons by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Greenwald, lacking a business background, basically follows the tracks of Yves Smith and Matt Taibbi. This is clearly the weakest chapter of the book.Chapter 4 is a recap of the pernicious pardons granted by American presidents to their own subordinates. The (Republican) rot from Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon to George H. Bush pardoning the Iran-Contra criminals to George W. Bush pardoning treasonous Scooter Libby is breathtaking. The hypocrisy of the law-and-order party is unbound. At least Bill Clinton pardoned only his cronies.The final chapter 5 suddenly shifts the frame to the other America. Greenwald's account of America's huge prison population caused by the failed War on Drugs makes a clear case that American justice is not blind. It is clearly aware of both the skin color and the wealth of the defendant. With one third of black males having to endure prison during their life, the United States of America has installed a temporary form of chattel slavery. Together with the Gulags for foreigners, the creeping totalitarian reach of government is frightening.While the messages in these chapters are important, even a casual read of Greenwald's blog will provide equal if not superior information about these topics. One of the quirks of this book is that, in stark contrast to the meticulous sourcing on his website, this book often provides incomplete or no source for his quotes. "As Time reported in October 1974" is a typical lazy attribution in this b
steve.clason on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This isn't a great book, but it's a good book with great content about an important subject, and so, despite its shortcomings, deserves maximum start.Greenwald, a former civil rights attorney, author of How Would a Patriot Act and A Tragic Legacy, a contributing writer at Salon and a respected blogger, describes how a two-tiered legal system has arisen in the U.S., in which the wealthy and powerful have received immunity for most crimes while the poor and powerless face increasingly harsh punishments for an increasingly broad range of crimes., a legal system that has led us to out current condition, with the largest prison population in the world and an upper class of the wealthy and powerful who kill, torture and loot with brazen impunity.Greenwald charts the rise of this system starting with the Nixon pardon, then working through the retroactive immunity granted to the Telecoms for their complicity in illegal wiretapping, the absence of criminal investigations into the 2008 financial meld-down, and finally the unwillingness to pursue criminal charges against fraudulent practices in the mortgage crisis. He ends with a quick overview of how the lower classes, meanwhile, have been subjected to increasingly harsh treatment in the name of "law and order".Certainly worth reading, the book suffers from a failure to modulate the outrage, so that its very tiring to read. Not that he should be cracking a joke here and there to lighten the mood, but some factual explanation without the "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE" tone would be welcome. Even though yes, it is an outrage.Highly recommended.
Tyllwin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In With Liberty and Justice for Some, Glenn Greenwald concerns himself primarily with the phenomenon of American public officials setting themselves and each other above the law. He begins with the pardon of Richard Nixon and traces it through the Bush administration, and finally Obama's administration. I'm basically in agreement with Greenwald both in his perception that it occurs and in his concern, so I'm well within the target market for a book which I think is largely preaching to the choir. But even so, I think he executes it poorly. Primarily, it's a laundry list of actions (or inactions) on the part of public officials that he finds disturbing. Since Greenwald is decidedly left of center, even though he makes an effort to be even-handed, it's tilted towards indicting the right wing. I think that's tolerable: everyone brings their own viewpoint. However, I see a couple of other, greater, failings on his part. The first is that he doesn't really make the argument showing why ordinary citizens should care, he simply takes it as a given that others will feel the way he does. But even more important is his failure to move beyond his narrow focus. He admits that the problem goes beyond only unaccountable political officials and into the realm of unaccountable corporations and citizens, but he doesn't spend more than a couple of chapters there, which isn't, I don't think, enough of his focus. The book, in general, is long on recitations of facts, and short on weighing and analysis. In short, lots of paragraphs and pages that people already on his side will agree with, but not much of a powerful and cohesive argument reaching out beyond that group.(Disclosure: Review copy was provided to me free as a part of LTER)
dono421846 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a depressing book. Greenwald's primary, well-argued and substantiated point, is that ever after Ford's pardon of Nixon, the politically power and wealthy elite have enjoyed a growing exemption from the ordinary rules of law that apply to the "little people." Making his argument especially convincing is the manner in which he shows how, from that initial act of betrayal to the rule of law, the exceptionalism has incrementally radiated outward: first to politicians who should not be prosecuted because it would "traumatize" the nation; then to their subordinates who acted in "good faith" and out of a sense of patriotic duty; then to corporations who commit illegal acts at the behest of governmental officials, until, finally, it is just anyone with enough wealth and influence. All while never breaking for a moment the cant of devoted commitment to the rule of law. The hypocrisy is staggering. I knew the book had something relevant to say to these times because, without intention, it offers a true insight into the provocations that created the Occupy Wall Street movement. Our system, Greenwald explains, allows and even encourages inequality in almost every way. "The one exception was the rule of law. When it came to the law, no inequality was tolerable." With that lever, the other vicissitudes of fortune could be borne with dignity. But that social contract has been broken, and now the wealthy claim immunity from even the law, while striving at every turn to use it increasingly as a weapon to control the lower classes. Under that condition, the duty to tolerate stark and irrational economic inequality no longer applies. Thus emerges OWS. The participants may not be fully aware of the genesis of their discontent, or why it emerges now rather than earlier, but Greenwald has here framed a viable explanation. When a book does more than the author intended, you know you have a book worth reading.
ClifSven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An exceptionally good look at the current political system in the United States. Mr. Greenwald spares no one in his often scathing account of the current climate in politics. At times, skewed leftward; he does not, however, reserve his criticism for the right-leaning crowd. An excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honestly, we all are aware that there something rotten in our justice system, but the behind the door extent the corruption and illegalness of our system is entirely revealed and unpackaged by this author. We cannot ask for change without the facts, and thus this book certainly will fill us in so that we can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Glenn's book was incredible! Goes to the deep roots of the problems with the political system the U.S. If you read his blog such as I do daily, or wether you are new and would like to get a better understanding of our country, this is the book for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well researched and written. The founding fathers would be appalled at the overt and brazen efforts of our politicians, on all sides, and the wealthy business elite to rig the system to their advantage, and at the same time rewrite the rules of justice to ensure that they will avoid any punishment for outright crimes. This book is very sad, but a necessary read and wake up call to all Americans.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago