Reviews

We Need Glenn Greenwald's 'With Liberty and Justice for Some' for Its Courage

America's legal and political system is sweet for the rich, putrid for the poor.


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

Publisher: Picador
Length: 290 pages
Author: Glenn Greenwald
Price: $16.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-07
Amazon

See this book? Then grab it. Read it. Shove it into everyone’s face. Because this is the kind of text supporters of progress and justice urgently need. We need its honesty and clarity; its focus on what matters; and its expertise -- the author, Glenn Greenwald, is a former constitutional law and civil rights attorney.

We also need its courage, for it tells us what many suspect, but few dare to shout out. That the laws and policies of America -- a nation that prides itself on respect for due process, democracy, and opportunity for all -- are stacked, deliberately, in favor of the elite.

It isn’t just that said elite can wield vast resources to bend the rules in its favor -- by, for example, spending millions on lawyers, lobbyists, and campaign contributions. It’s worse than that. As Greenwald demonstrates, the highest ranks of American society are now openly declaring themselves to be above the law whenever it fracking suits them.

The iconic example of self-declared elite immunity -- one that Greenwald regards as a historic turning point -- is, of course, Watergate. Not because of the actual import of the crimes committed -- break-ins, theft, obstruction of justice, etc. -- but because it established, in Nixon’s own turn of phrase, that ‘when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal’.

It certainly isn’t. Nixon was pardoned by his chosen Vice President, Gerald Ford -- a stroke of luck not granted to any of the millions of ordinary criminals languishing in American jails. (As Greenwald reminds us, the US now houses nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners.)

More recent cases discussed in this book -- the Iran-Contra scandal, Iraqgate, warrantless eavesdropping, and more -- are hardly news, but by pulling them together Greenwald shows us a pattern. Here before our eyes are not just a few slip-ups, but systematic law-breaking at the very summit of American society.

Thus every administration since Nixon, Democratic as well as Republican, has turned a blind eye to the crimes of its predecessors; while simultaneously ramping up law-and-order rhetoric and incarcerating a growing number of the poor.

At least Nixon tried to hide stuff, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid releasing the incriminating tapes. We have now reached the point where, in his published memoirs, George W. Bush can openly boast of authorizing waterboarding -- a crime under both American and international law -- in full confidence that he will go untried and unpunished.

The pattern, Greenwald also shows, spreads beyond politics and deep into the private sector, which often -- as in the case of the telecoms firms involved in secret and illegal domestic electronic surveillance -- aids government in exchange for fat contracts and preferential treatment. The incestuous relationship between the public and the private sector in the US is nothing short, as he puts it, of ‘banana-republic-like corruption’ (87). It isn’t surprising, then, that hardly anyone has been held legally accountable in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash -- not even after banks were found in 2010 to have illicitly foreclosed on the homes of hundreds of thousands of Americans. The corporate elite, it appears, is ‘too big to jail’ (101) -- though not too big for bail.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the social pile, things are different. The last chapter of this book shows in stark contrast what life is like for the most justice-deprived segments of the American population: the poor and racial minorities. Here, rapidly growing inequality at the economic level (the ‘richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of the nation’s income, up from less than 9 percent in 1976’, p.270) feeds into, and thrives on, legal inequality.

Many readers will be shocked to hear that American law now criminalizes so many instances of everyday behavior -- from smoking marijuana to making a mistake on a tax return -- that virtually every citizen is a criminal. Only, you are far more likely to be treated as one if you happen to look a certain way or live in a certain sort of neighborhood.

In other words, it’s not what you do that counts, but who you are -- the very definition of privilege and tyranny. How Americans feel about all this is hard to gauge, but in any case Greenwald says that public anger today ‘is impotent; it has no mechanisms to produce consequences’ (152).

Eventually, though, he warns, social unrest will result ‘when a population is forced to suffer mass joblessness and deprivations of every kind while it sees a tiny sliver of elites enjoying gilded prosperity; when ordinary people are threatened with imprisonment for petty offenses while they see elites illegally spying, invading, torturing, and plundering with nearly total impunity’ (274).

It remains to be seen whether the good people of America ultimately prevail against this gross injustice, as they have done in the past.

9

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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