November 04, 2011

Glenn Greenwald at the Hillside Club

Went to see Glenn Greenwald in Berkeley last night. He was speaking at the Hillside Club on Cedar Avenue on the north side. It was a very packed house, all come to hear Glenn talk about his new book With Liberty and Justice for Some. Or at least that was the ostensible reason. Glenn is something of a folk hero of the civil liberties Left, and I am one of his admirers.

He's a little shorter than I imagined, a little stockier, and I had the strange, slightly out-of-body perception as I listened to his hard-driving, uncompromising style of oration (he is hyper-articulate, and forms complete sentences together in his head as he speaks so that it is almost like reading a ticker tape from the brain), that this must have been a little like things were about 235 years ago when the somewhat nervous Revolutionaries of the Colonial Period heard John Adams get up and give the Brits hell. Which is to say, this guy is a formidable intellectual presence, and infused with passion for what he does.

One interesting aspect for me particularly was that Mr. Greenwald began blogging about the same time I did, and apparently for many of the same reasons. That is, he was a lawyer concerned with civil liberties, and he simply could not believe that the country was sitting idly by while the Bill of Rights was torn utterly to shreds, amendment by amendment, right by right, with the lamest possible excuses given by Congress and Big Media for letting it all go by. That the years after 9/11 were now so "special," that we were in such mortal peril, that a country which had nurtured the founding precept of a "government of laws and not of men" since the Declaration of Independence could now let it all safely go in favor of an arbitrary, case-by-case, subjective rule by elites, who could grant or withhold Due Process at their whim.

That process has continued unabated since the arrest, imprisonment, denial of counsel, and merciless torture of Jose Padilla, an American citizen detained on American soil and abused to the point of insanity by the Bush Administration, all while Congress sat idly by, afraid to challenge any injustice taken in the name of the Holy War on Terror. I wrote at the time that the Bush/Cheney Administration knew that Padilla had not credibly been involved in any "dirty bomb plot," and that the sole purpose of violating every known precept of the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments with respect to Padilla was to see, quite simply, if they could get away with it.

Well, they did get away with it, and after that illegal wiretapping (another felony, committed thousands, maybe millions of time), torture, denial of habeas corpus, indefinite detention and now White House-sanctioned murder of American citizens were very easy to get away with. Once the populace gets used to the idea that there are simply no rules, they take the next logical step: they look out only for themselves, and the State simply becomes something to protect yourself from. If that sounds more or less like the stories we used to hear of life behind the Iron Curtain, the resemblance is not coincidental. Both Hitler's Gestapo and Stalin's NKVD were unconstrained by principles of Due Process; whatever the state wanted to do to you, it could do, and it was pointless to talk about "rights." Why is it that Americans cannot see that starting down a road where the President is given an unquestioned right to murder fellow citizens, without presenting any evidence, let alone an indictment or conviction, is already a long way down the road toward a similar tyranny? I simply do not understand the naivete that permits such a devolution.

As Mr. Greenwald relates, America has 5% of the world's population yet incarcerates 25% of the world's prison inmates. Although the United States is always careful never to inconvenience the political, military or economic elites with prosecution or even investigation. The greatest financial crimes in the history of the world (systematic violations of the criminal aspects of Rule 10-b5 of the Securities & Exchange Act, to give a specific example) were committed on a massive scale in the previous decade, but not a single Wall Street banker has ever faced prosecution or imprisonment.

Mr. Obama says it is because what the banksters did was "immoral but not illegal," but in this Mr. Obama, as in so many things, is just completely, absolutely wrong, leaving one with one of two (and only two) unpalatable choices: he is either (1) in way over his head or (2) a complete stooge. That he might be both is, of course, not logically eliminated. Whatever the reason, Mr. Obama, with his mantra of "Looking Forward, Not Backward" as the "answer" to all questions about why we never did anything about financial crimes, or war crimes and violations of the Convention Against Torture which were admitted on the record, before Congressional panels, and in television interviews, is, as Mr. Greenwald sadly relates, simply part of the problem.

Thus, Glenn's enthusiasm for the Occupy Everything movement. With his rigorous logic, Mr. Greenwald points out that if the Occupy movement had anything to do with support for Obama, the assemblers would take the much easier, nicer step of going door-to-door and canvassing for Mr. Hope&Change, sending him those frequent donations as in 2008, and not facing down billy clubs and cold weather. The Occupy Movement is all about a rejection of that, a statement that the Commoners are not going to be taken again by a smooth-talking phony, a bag man for Big Money, without an ounce of sincerity in his body, nor a spark of fire in his belly. Deficiencies not shared by Glenn Greenwald.

Leaving the question, of course, what's left? Personally, I don't think there needs to be an answer right now. Grasping at "answers" has accomplished nothing except to change the oversight of the economic and constitutional destruction of the country, as the voters, in bipolar spasms, throw out first one group of scoundrels and replace them with another, then grow restive and disappointed and do it all over again in two-year cycles.

Something else needs to happen, which is why it's so interesting to listen to a mind as protean and resourceful as Mr. Greenwald's. Real hope, real change, begin with first realizing where you are.