Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Two-Tiered Rule of Law


In his article today in OpEdNews Craig Paul Roberts refers to several egregious actions by law enforcement authorities in the US to make his point that "In America The Rule of Law Is Vacated".  Just a few recent but ripe examples to prove the larger point.  

Well, of course the rule of law is vacated, as it is increasingly in many other countries around the world.  We'll go beyond the US borders in a minute, but first a summary of the Roberts article.

I was immediately drawn into the piece by the opening line that cited the Gibson Guitar Company as one of the targets of unwarranted police action.  I've known Gibson since I was 12 years old (a long long time ago) from when I first began to play.  What could they possibly have done?  Turns out the company broke no law -- at least no American law -- but they did contravene one in the books in India.  Turns out the Indians launched no complaint but, according to Roberts the feds took it upon themselves "to both interpret and to enforce on US citizens the laws of India".  The feds claim that Gibson's use of wood from India in its guitars is illegal, because "the wood was not finished by Indian workers." 

Roberts says that this is clearly not India's interpretation of the law, as it allowed the exportation of the unfinished materials.  He goes on to say,
"Perhaps the feds are trying to force more layoffs of US workers and their replacements by H-1B foreign workers.  Gibson can solve its problem by firing its Tennessee work force and hiring Indian citizens on H-1B work visas."
You might ask why a blog devoted to corporate abuse would shed a tear for any corporation.  Well, for starters, they make fucking guitars fer chrissakes!  Its not like they're armaments manufacturers -- you'll never see the likes of Boeing, Bushmaster, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon or United Technologies clipped for not breaking an American law.  No, these poor buggers make musical instruments, and you know that's an industry that's gotta be closely monitored!

It turns out Gibson is being investigated for violating something called the Lacey Act, which requires importing companies to -- among other things -- purchase legally harvested wood and follow the environmental laws of the producing countries regardless of corruption or lack of enforcement.  Now, Gibson is not blameless as a corporation, and has recently been ranked the 5th worst place to work according to glassdoor.com.  It does appear, however, that charges of politicization can be linked in this instance to the enforcement of the Lacy Act.  It seems that the charges followed Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz's criticism of the federal government, and it was later revealed that Juszkiewicz had donated more to the Republicans during the previous election cycle, whereas the CEO of the C.F. Martin & Company (a major competitor to Gibson) had supported Democratic candidates. Yet, Martin was not targeted despite reportedly using the same wood products.  I know what you're thinking, this couldn't possibly be politically motivated.

If this seems a little arcane, I apologize for the brief digression, but I was interested in exploring some details not provided in the Roberts article.  In that piece he moves on from Gibson to another trivial enforcement of another small corporate entity, as well as cases of innocent individuals murdered in the course of FBI raids.  The examples of this kind of action (without any subsequent sanction or redress by government) betrays an utter lawlessness in the American system that is at the heart of Roberts' article.  As he says.
"I have seen studies that show that police actually commit more acts of violence against the public than do criminals, which raises an interesting question: Are police a greater threat to the public than are criminals?  On Yahoo I just searched "police brutality" and up came 4,840,000 results."
Stop for a moment and ponder this: the police commit more violent acts than do criminals, but the overwhelming criminal actions of corporate crime then dwarfs even police actions.  Go to Corporate Crime Reporter and its link for Twenty Things You Should Know About Corporate Crime

But where Roberts really wants to go in his commentary is to compare and contrast his examples of so-called law enforcement with the travesty of justice that is Dick Cheney.  It coincides with Darth Vader's just released memoir, rightly panned in the media as another example of revisionist writing and a sad attempt to burnish an image destined for history's trash heap.  Roberts repeats Cheney's claim that breaking laws against torture, for example, "is the right thing to do".  And then Roberts asks,
"why does Cheney think the office of the Vice President, President, or Attorney General has the power to "authorize" breaking a law?  Our vaunted "rule of law" disappears if federal officials can authorize breaking laws."
I can answer his question.  Perhaps you can recall that President Nixon famously said to David Frost "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."  It so happens that Dick Cheney worked for Nixon, and felt to his very core that he must right the wrongs done to, and the limitations imposed on, the office of the presidency in the aftermath of Nixon's resignation.  Cheney dedicated himself to the task of retaking that lost ground.  A glorious opportunity to do so presented itself when the dimwit George Bush tasked Cheney with finding a Vice President, a position he happily took for himself.

And Cheney certainly had success in recovering that lost ground.  The power of the office of the presidency has grown substantially and steadily through the 20th century through to today, and Cheney is recognized for his part.

As for how Dick Cheney remains a free man -- another burning question for Roberts -- I might ask how Henry Kissinger remains free, or Bill Clinton, or George W Bush or George HW Bush or any of the hundreds and thousands of their officials who would be tried for war crimes were the statutes actually enforced.  These men (women in this group, too, and that means you Madeline, Hillary and Condoleeza, just for starters) are war criminals and should be held to account.  They will not be, however, at least in the United States, because to do so would curtail the freedom of action that each new administration feels it must have -- to do so would undermine the illusion of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism that provides some minimal cover for continued criminal actions by successive US governments.

Barack Obama famously said that he chose to look forward, and not back on all the Bush administration misdeeds (such as the hundreds of thousands of dead in Iraq).  He wished to avoid what he called "partisan rancor" in the aftermath of Bush.  And look how that strategy has rewarded him in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and perhaps Iran -- he in his turn will escape the scrutiny of his successor for war crimes, and will live a life of honor and prestige as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  He may, however, like Kissinger and Bush and Cheney, be limited in his ability to travel for fear of prosecution. 

Roberts' view is correct -- America is lawless from the top down.  He ends the commentary this way,
In America we have the rule of law -- only the law is not applied to banksters and members of the executive branch, but, as Greenwald says, is only applied to 'ordinary citizens and other nations' (unfriendly) rulers.'
A country this utterly corrupt is certainly no 'light unto the world.'          
And this brings us, dear and patient reader, to my commentary on the nature of the two-tiered justice system beyond America's borders.

The term "two-tier", of course, reflects the mostly favourable outcomes won by those with power and the generally less favourable outcomes handed down to those without power, economic and otherwise.  Roberts' article does a good job of showing that inequities exist, and that they are based on a class-related structure of rich and poor, elite and common, the connected and the disenfranchised.

And my insight to his argument is that these inequities in the justice system reflect the broader condition of inequality in society as a whole.  As the gap in wealth distribution widens ever further -- as it is in the US, Canada and Britain -- it will be mirrored by the two-tiered nature of the justice system.  The elite are feeling both a growing sense of entitlement as this gulf widens, but also a growing sense of fear as the masses are left to fight for its diminishing share.  Trends support this condition beyond the US, into Canada and Britain, where Google searches of "police brutality" yield similar results to those reported by Roberts for America.  This does not, by the way, preclude or ignore the growing disparities elsewhere in the world, as the summer of discontent in Europe, Israel and Greece dramatically demonstrates.

Here in Canada, the Harper government has embarked on a draconian program of changes to the criminal code that that have been roundly denounced as being well out of step with trends in other countries.  His government plans to spend $billions on the construction of new prisons even as rates of crime continue to fall, and his justice minister has recently put forward tough new mandatory sentencing guidelines for judges that has caused considerable pushback from the legal community.  He has also suggested that judges need to be more pliant and responsive to the government, a direct contradiction to the universal standard of an independent judiciary.

Then, of course, there is the festering sore that is the Toronto G20, where a thousand protesters were arrested and detained without due process, in what the Ontario Ombudsman described as the "single greatest abuse of civil liberties in Canada's history", where the government conferred wartime powers on the police in peacetime. Police-state tactics were used against lawful public protest, at a cost of $millions.  And still, the government has stonewalled any serious investigation into the methods and accountability related to this most sorry event in Canadian history.

As in the US, the tactics and budgets of most Canadian metropolitan police forces are being beefed up to near military standards, and our own internal security apparatus is growing at an alarming rate.  One might ask Mr. Harper what kind of trouble he is expecting.  We can readily see the answer, as the wealth gap increases and greater austerity measures are planned -- just prudent planning on his part to the inevitable response of the dispossessed. 

Without extending this post beyond a reasonable attention-span (too late!) the same story can be told of Britain.  The recent rioting in and around London has generated considerable commentary.  It is a country that is heavily monitored, and where an underclass has been festering for many years.  The recent Conservative government initiatives to impose austerity (there's that word again) and the general police-state approach to internal security, are sure to find their ultimate outcome in renewed street demonstrations and rioting.

One question does still bother me, though, while we're on the subject of two-tiered justice systems; referring to a high-profile event in Britain, what was the outcome of the public execution of Jean Charles de Menezes in July of 2005?

I understand the chief of police was very sorry.

Postscript.  To put an exclamation point on the de Menezes murder, he was shot three times point-blank in the head by police while he was handcuffed and kneeling on a train station platform.  He was wrongfully targeted, a casualty of racial profiling, and he was executed in public while in police custody.  After the incident, the Met Police Chief Sir Ian Blair said he could only offer his deep apology, but then went on to say that further shootings could happen and defended the shoot-to-kill orders then in place.  No one was ever charged, least of all the officer who executed Charles Jean de Menezes.

As I've stated above, the two-tier justice system that exists in America, Canada and Britain mirrors the economic stratification that has emerged there.  It will likely expand as a response to public unrest growing out of the inequities that are sure to arise from a new round of government-imposed austerity measures.

This notion of a two-tiered system of justice could be extended, at some considerable length, to a discussion of the inequity between countries.  The acts of war committed by America and its Nato allies have been well documented, but the relative silence of the world community to these atrocities shows that the Golden Rule of money and power holds as much sway internationally as it does domestically.

Update.  The inequity between countries was highlighted in Friday's Washington Post, and an excerpt from Dana Priest's new book.  A secret force created in the aftermath of 9/11 has grown considerably in both size and actionable power.  The quotation from a member of this force summed up very well the state of perpetual war in which the United States is now engaged,
"We're the dark matter.  We're the force that orders the universe but can't be seen." 
An interesting turn of phrase, that, dark matter.  It is clear that the growth of this force is mirrored by the growth in size and execution of internal security services in most countries around the world, including Canada.  Two-tiers of justice for the haves and the have-nots, waged on two fronts, domestic and international.

Update No. 2. I came across anteresting post long after my first commentary.  This from the night of the presidential speech on jobs (September 8).  Who but Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was seen sitting as an invited guest of John Boehner as Obama delivered his tepid response to the employment issue.

By David.

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Your musical accompaniment for the day:  Mediterranean Sundance, by Al DiMeola, from Elegant Gypsy.  Enjoy.

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