Saturday, October 29, 2011

Glenn Greenwald On the True Nature of Law, Justice, and Civil Liberties in the United States Today

Glenn Greenwald, author of "With Liberty and Justice for Some" Photo: Wikimedia)

Glenn Greenwald: Why Is the Elite Class Protected Under America's Justice System?
25 October 2011
by Mark Karlin,
Truthout | Interview

Mark Karlin: Although your book, "With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful," is primarily on the increasingly adverse climate for civil liberties at the federal level, needless to say, your title seems made to order for what is happening with Occupy Wall Street. Protesters are getting arrested, while the elite perpetrators of Wall Street malfeasance and fraud go free. Is this a localized application of "how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful"?

Glenn Greenwald: Actually, what is happening with the Occupy Wall Street protests is as perfect an illustration of the book's argument as anything I could have imagined. The book's central theme is that law is no longer what it was intended to be - a set of rules equally binding everyone to ensure that outcome inequalities are at least legitimate - and instead has become the opposite: a tool used by the politically and financially powerful to entrench their own power and control the society. That's how and why the law now destroys equality and protects the powerful.

What we see with the protests demonstrates exactly how that works. The police force - the instrument of law enforcement - is being used to protect powerful criminals who have suffered no consequences for their crimes. It is simultaneously used to coerce and punish the powerless: those who are protesting and who have done nothing wrong, yet are subjected to an array of punishment ranging from arrest to pepper spray and other forms of abuse.

That's what the two-tiered justice system is: elites are immunized for egregious crimes while ordinary Americans are subjected to merciless punishment for trivial transgressions.

MK: In your columns on Salon, you have been a relentless upholder of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties regardless of what political party is in power. This has put you at odds with both the Bush and Obama administrations. To many progressives, your dissection of the current White House's growing constraint on civil liberties is shocking. To what do you attribute the Obama administration's actions to go further than the Bush administration did in curbing civil liberties?

GG: It's difficult to assess motives, but one major difference between Bush and Obama is that Bush at least had one major political party pretending to find his abuses objectionable. By contrast, Obama has very little opposition: Republicans are being consistent by cheering for limitless executive power and civil liberties abuses carried out in the name of fighting Terrorism, but now, Democrats are either indifferent to those actions or outright supportive because they're now being carried out by their own party's leader. Bush's radicalism was seen as controversial right-wing dogma, but Obama has transformed it into bipartisan consensus, and thus strengthened it.

Part of what is happening is likely political: Democrats have often been accused of being soft on Terror, and if Obama were to abandon Bush's policies - the ones he promised to reverse when campaigning - he'd likely be politically vulnerable if there were another terrorist attack on US soil. Embracing the Bush/Cheney template is a means of immunizing himself from those attacks.

Finally, people convinced of their own Goodness often view restraints on their own power as unnecessary. After all, he's a Good Progressive and well-intentioned - unlike those evil Republicans - and we should therefore trust him to do things in total secrecy, without oversight and accountability. I think that extremely flattering self-image is part of what motivates these actions as well.

MK: There has been much speculation on this, but why do you think the Obama administration did not prosecute Bush officials who violated US and international standards of law?

GG: Both parties - and successive Presidents - benefit from elite immunity. They know that if they protect each other, then they, too, can commit crimes with impunity. A November, 2008 New York Times article was incredibly telling in this regard. It reported on Obama's opposition to investigations into Bush crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping - opposition revealed only after he was safely elected - and it explained that "because every President eventually leaves office, incoming chief executives have an incentive to quash investigations into their predecessor's tenure." As I wrote in the book about this article: "In other words, by letting criminal bygones be bygones within the executive branch, presidents uphold a gentleman's agreement to shield either other from accountability for any crimes they might want to commit in office."

It's the same reason that media elites and others are so opposed to these investigations as well: elites obviously benefit from elite immunity, and so have an interest in not subverting it when other elites commit crimes. I have no doubt that part of Obama's reluctance was political - a belief that applying the rule of law to Bush, Cheney and others would create political turbulence for him - but a significant motivating factor was undoubtedly the desire not to have his own actions investigated once he leaves office if the GOP controls the Executive Branch (and, thus, the Justice Department).

MK: The Iran-contra scandal is an excellent example of how officials at the highest levels of the US government broke the law (although Reagan had the excuse of "not remembering" what he authorized). Special Prosecutor Walsh had a pretty tight case. But ultimately, John Poindexter and Oliver North had their convictions reversed on a questionable legal technicality by partisan GOP judges. The "smoking gun" was found in the Iran-contra case, but still the perpetrators got off. How come?

GG: The Iran-contra travesty was the first time the template of elite immunity - solidified by Ford's pardon of Nixon - was applied to a new case. Basically, just a month before he was to leave office after being defeated by Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush pardoned his Defense Secretary, Casper Weinberger, and four other defendants, just as they were about to go on trial. What made that so remarkable was not only, as you say, that the case against them was so airtight: Weinberger got caught red-handed telling multiple lies to investigators in order to protect himself and Reagan when a diary he never turned over was found. Far worse was that Bush himself was implicated in many of these crimes, so these pardons were really a way of ending the investigation and thus protecting himself.

But no matter. Most media stars and outlets banded together to praise the pardons. After all, Cap Weinberger was one of them: a member in good standing of Washington's elite class. He did not belong in prison, even if he committed serious crimes. Of course, the fact that they live in a city - Washington, D.C. - where huge numbers of mostly poor and minorities are consigned to prison every day for far less serious infractions (such as minor drug offenses), and they never object to any of that, isn't something that concerned them. That's the two-tiered justice system personified.

The special prosecutor in charge of Iran-contra, life-long Republican Lawrence Walsh, warned that the Weinberger pardon "undermines the principle that no man is above the law" and "demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office." That's exactly the principle this episode entrenched, and our "watchdog press" led the chorus cheering it, just as they did the Nixon pardon.

MK: What role does the Republican domination of so many federal benches play in protecting the political and oligarchical elite from accountability?

GG: In general, those who get appointed to the federal bench, and then get approved by the Senate, are basically establishment-serving conservatives. With some exceptions, that's true whether they are appointed by Democratic or Republican Presidents, though obviously, the GOP appointees are more extreme in this regard.

Many of them have spent their whole careers as lawyers serving power. They are corporate lawyers, or prosecutors, or party activists. So their empathy and understanding is reserved exclusively for those in their circles: the powerful. They also know that their future career aspirations as judges - especially lower court judges looking to advance - depend on their not alienating those in power. That produces high levels of deference to the powerful and an instinct to protect large institutions over powerless individuals. Again, there are some exceptions, but this is largely what the federal judiciary has become, and that is the opposite of what it should be: it was meant to level the playing field by applying blind justice, not exacerbating it through insular, self-regarding socio-economic biases.

MK: Continuing with the issue of the courts, aren't they essential in sanctioning this double standard of justice? Can the 2000 Bush Supreme Court decision be fit into this model?

GG: They are absolutely essential. Courts are supposed to be the last resort to correct injustice. They are supposed to be immunized from political influences - that's why federal judges have life tenure and aren't elected - and thus able freely to vindicate the rights of the powerless over the powerful when the law calls for that. Few institutions have abdicated their institutional duties as much as the federal courts. I see Bush v. Gore more as naked partisanship in a war between two competing power factions (the 2 political parties) than I do as a double standard of justice, but it does reflect how corrupted the judiciary has become and how far astray they are from how they are supposed to function.

MK: In your introduction, you state: "The central principle of America's founding was that the rule of law would be the prime equalizing force, the ultimate guardian of justice." We may be a nation of inequality in other areas of life, but we are supposed to be equal before the law - regardless of wealth or power. When did that concept start to deteriorate in the United States?

GG: It has, of course, always been the case that being rich and powerful bestows advantages in every aspect of American life, including in courts and under the law. The nation was founded steeped in extreme inequality. But even when that was true, we at least affirmed the principle of blind justice - of equality under the law - as an aspiration, even when we violated it. It was affirming that principle which enabled the advances of the last century in terms of legal equality.

What has changed is that we no longer even affirm the principle. It is common to find arguments from political and media elites explicitly arguing that elites should not be subjected to the rule of law. I highlight many examples of that in the book. And the book documents that the genesis of this express repudiation of the rule of law was Ford's pardon of Nixon; that is when the country for the first time explicitly declared that one's status as a political elite meant they should be exempt from the legal precepts and punishments applied to ordinary Americans. That has now spilled over into not only the political class generally, but especially private-sector elites as well.

MK: How did it happen that there were no high-level prosecutions after the most recent near-catastrophic collapse on Wall Street, just a few lower-level targets? In fact, not only were there no high-level prosecutions, these guys are still running a good part of the nation's economy.

GG: Financial elites own and control the government, so it's not surprising that the government they own and control failed to hold them accountable for their crimes. As I say in the book, expecting the government to prosecute their Wall-Street-owners is like expecting a tenant to evict his landlord.

Beyond that, the ethos of elite immunity is that the more important someone is, the more urgent it is that they not be subjected to things like investigations, prosecutions, and especially prison, even if they were caught committing serious crimes. After all, this propaganda teaches, we need Wall Street tycoons (or CIA torturers, or NSA eavsdroppers) for our own security and prosperity, so shielding them from punishment is in the common good. The rationale for elite immunity is really that Orwellian.

Geithner said, just a few days ago, that there were Wall Street prosecutions and that more are coming, "stay tuned." Can he be taken even remotely seriously?

Absolutely not. Periodically, the U.S. Government will commence civil enforcement actions against Wall Street firms, and they almost always end with some absurdly low amount in payments that the firms simply write off as the cost of doing business. This is designed to cast the appearance of accountability, but given the magnitude of the fraud and other crimes, the "penalties" are negligible. The last thing the Obama administration is going to do heading into an election year is meaningfully sanction the industry that played such a key role in funding the President's 2008 campaign and which they want to fund his re-election bid.

MK: If the rule of law is split into two levels - one for the elite and one for the rest of us - doesn't democracy as we know it cease to exist? Doesn't it then become an oligarchy with the veneer of democracy on it to give it credibility?

GG: Absolutely. This is the key point. That's why I began the book highlighting how central was the rule of law in all of the Founders' writing. And by "rule of law," they meant equal application of law to all. Jefferson wrote that the essence of America would be 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." Benjamin Franklin warned that creating a privileged legal class would produce "total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections" between rules and those they ruled.

One of their principal grievances against the British King was his power to exempt his cronies from legal obligations. Almost every Founder repeatedly warned that a failure to apply law equally to the politically powerful and the rich would ensure tyranny; in many ways, that is the definition of tyranny. That failure - to apply law equally - has clearly come to define the core of American justice. That's what motivated me to write this book.



Immunity and Impunity in Elite America
26 October 2011
by Glenn Greenwald
TomDispatch | Op-Ed

How the legal system was deep-sixed and Occupy Wall Street swept the land.

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding -- indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression. This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades. As journalist Tim Noah described the process:

“During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth -- the ‘seven fat years’ and the ‘long boom.’ Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20%. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.”

The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend, but not radically: the top 1% of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.

In addition, substantial wealth inequality is so embedded in American political culture that, standing alone, it would not be sufficient to trigger citizen rage of the type we are finally witnessing. The American Founders were clear that they viewed inequality in wealth, power, and prestige as not merely inevitable, but desirable and, for some, even divinely ordained. Jefferson praised “the natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature” for the “government of society.” John Adams concurred: “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the… course of nature the foundation of the distinction.”

Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept, but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.

In the 1980s, this paradox -- whereby even those most trampled upon come to cheer those responsible for their state -- became more firmly entrenched. That’s because it found a folksy, friendly face, Ronald Reagan, adept at feeding the populace a slew of Orwellian clichés that induced them to defend the interests of the wealthiest. “A rising tide,” as President Reagan put it, “lifts all boats.” The sum of his wisdom being: it is in your interest when the rich get richer.

Implicit in this framework was the claim that inequality was justified and legitimate. The core propagandistic premise was that the rich were rich because they deserved to be. They innovated in industry, invented technologies, discovered cures, created jobs, took risks, and boldly found ways to improve our lives. In other words, they deserved to be enriched. Indeed, it was in our common interest to allow them to fly as high as possible because that would increase their motivation to produce more, bestowing on us ever greater life-improving gifts.

We should not, so the thinking went, begrudge the multimillionaire living behind his 15-foot walls for his success; we should admire him. Corporate bosses deserved not our resentment but our gratitude. It was in our own interest not to demand more in taxes from the wealthiest but less, as their enhanced wealth -- their pocket change -- would trickle down in various ways to all of us.

This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It’s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality as legitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimizing anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law -- that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all -- has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.

While the Founders accepted outcome inequality, they emphasized -- over and over -- that its legitimacy hinged on subjecting everyone to the law’s mandates on an equal basis. Jefferson wrote that the essence of America would be 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.” Benjamin Franklin warned that creating a privileged legal class would produce “total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections” between rulers and those they ruled. Tom Paine repeatedly railed against “counterfeit nobles,” those whose superior status was grounded not in merit but in unearned legal privilege.

After all, one of their principal grievances against the British King was his power to exempt his cronies from legal obligations. Almost every Founder repeatedly warned that a failure to apply the law equally to the politically powerful and the rich would ensure a warped and unjust society. In many ways, that was their definition of tyranny.

Americans understand this implicitly. If you watch a competition among sprinters, you can accept that whoever crosses the finish line first is the superior runner. But only if all the competitors are bound by the same rules: everyone begins at the same starting line, is penalized for invading the lane of another runner, is barred from making physical contact or using performance-enhancing substances, and so on.

If some of the runners start ahead of others and have relationships with the judges that enable them to receive dispensation for violating the rules as they wish, then viewers understand that the outcome can no longer be considered legitimate. Once the process is seen as not only unfair but utterly corrupted, once it’s obvious that a common set of rules no longer binds all the competitors, the winner will be resented, not heralded.

That catches the mood of America in 2011. It may not explain the Occupy Wall Street movement, but it helps explain why it has spread like wildfire and why so many Americans seem instantly to accept and support it. As was not true in recent decades, the American relationship with wealth inequality is in a state of rapid transformation.

It is now clearly understood that, rather than apply the law equally to all, Wall Street tycoons have engaged in egregious criminality -- acts which destroyed the economic security of millions of people around the world -- without experiencing the slightest legal repercussions. Giant financial institutions were caught red-handed engaging in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose on people’s homes and the reaction of the political class, led by the Obama administration, was to shield them from meaningful consequences. Rather than submit on an equal basis to the rules, through an oligarchical, democracy-subverting control of the political process, they now control the process of writing those rules and how they are applied.

Today, it is glaringly obvious to a wide range of Americans that the wealth of the top 1% is the byproduct not of risk-taking entrepreneurship, but of corrupted control of our legal and political systems. Thanks to this control, they can write laws that have no purpose than to abolish the few limits that still constrain them, as happened during the Wall Street deregulation orgy of the 1990s. They can retroactively immunize themselves for crimes they deliberately committed for profit, as happened when the 2008 Congress shielded the nation’s telecom giants for their role in Bush’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping program.

It is equally obvious that they are using that power not to lift the boats of ordinary Americans but to sink them. In short, Americans are now well aware of what the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, blurted out in 2009 about the body in which he serves: the banks “frankly own the place.”

If you were to assess the state of the union in 2011, you might sum it up this way: rather than being subjected to the rule of law, the nation’s most powerful oligarchs control the law and are so exempt from it; and increasing numbers of Americans understand that and are outraged. At exactly the same time that the nation’s elites enjoy legal immunity even for egregious crimes, ordinary Americans are being subjected to the world's largest and one of its harshest penal states, under which they are unable to secure competent legal counsel and are harshly punished with lengthy prison terms for even trivial infractions.

In lieu of the rule of law -- the equal application of rules to everyone -- what we have now is a two-tiered justice system in which the powerful are immunized while the powerless are punished with increasing mercilessness. As a guarantor of outcomes, the law has, by now, been so completely perverted that it is an incomparably potent weapon for entrenching inequality further, controlling the powerless, and ensuring corrupted outcomes.

The tide that was supposed to lift all ships has, in fact, left startling numbers of Americans underwater. In the process, we lost any sense that a common set of rules applies to everyone, and so there is no longer a legitimizing anchor for the vast income and wealth inequalities that plague the nation.

That is what has changed, and a growing recognition of what it means is fueling rising citizen anger and protest. The inequality under which so many suffer is not only vast, but illegitimate, rooted as it is in lawlessness and corruption. Obscuring that fact has long been the linchpin for inducing Americans to accept vast and growing inequalities. That fact is now too glaring to obscure any longer.

Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional and civil rights litigator and a current contributing writer at Salon....

"We Are the 99%!": Keith Olbermann and Paul Krugman in Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street Movement Nationwide


'Occupy' Movement Under Police Assault throughout U.S., including Oakland, CA. --INTERVIEW with Fatima Mojadiddy on 'Countdown'


Paul Krugman and Keith Olbermann telling us the the straightup truth once again...


The Pivotal Role of Race, Class, and the Corporate State in the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Occupy Wall Street: Day 14, September 30, 2011. (Photo: ©wendyannibell photos [4])


As usual the always politically insightful, morally courageous, and truly provocative Chris Hedges cuts through all the bullshit, lies, and cowardly equivocations to properly identify and talk about what really matters. This is another excellent and very necessary piece that deals directly and honestly with the eternally brutal contradictions of race and class in this society and culture--especially as they pertain to political mass struggle and grassroots organizing. The crucial issues he raises and discusses here can't be addressed too often...


Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99 Percent
by Chris Hedges
24 October 2011
News Analysis

The occupation movement’s greatest challenge will be overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color.

Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected. This distrust is not the fault of the movement, which has instituted measures within its decision-making process to make sure marginalized voices are heard before white males. It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics.

The civil rights movement, after all, achieved a legal victory, not an economic one. And for the bottom two-thirds of African-Americans, life is worse today than it was when Martin Luther King marched in Selma in 1965. King, like Malcolm X, understood that racial equality was impossible without economic justice. The steady impoverishment of those in these marginal communities, part of the Faustian deal worked out between the Democratic Party and its corporate sponsors, has been accompanied by draconian forms of police control, from stop-and-frisk to militarized police raids to the establishment of our vast complex of prison gulags. More African-American men, as Michelle Alexander [5] has pointed out, are in prison or jail or on probation or parole than were enslaved [6] in 1850, before the Civil War began. The corporate state keeps some two-thirds of poor people of color in the United States trapped in internal colonies—either in the impoverished inner city or behind bars. And the abject failure on the part of the white liberal establishment to stand up for the rights of the poor, as well as its decision to throw its support behind Democratic politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who abet this institutionalized and economic racism, has left many in these marginal communities disdainful of protesters from the newly dispossessed white middle class.

“The black community and the community of color have been dealing with these issues for decades,” the Rev. Raymond Blanchette, an African-American preacher from Queens, said in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan one day last week as we closed our jackets against a chilly wind whipping down the canyons of the financial district. “Now the white community around the country is beginning to see it and experience it firsthand. It’s pretty shocking to them. The African-American community and other communities of color are saying, ‘Welcome to the world I live in.’ That’s why you don’t see that many of those [nonwhite] faces here. It’s like, OK, now you decided you are going to speak up because now you’re the one that’s affected by it. One of the reasons I’m here is because I see the viability of this movement. I want to bring those communities together.”

The power elite have desperately tried to tar the movement with a series of calumnies, branding protesters as hippies, anti-Semites, drug addicts, leftists, anarchists and communists. They have so far been unable to blunt the fundamental truth the movement imparts: We have undergone a corporate coup. It has to be reversed. But this truth has yet to resonate among those who for decades have been betrayed and ignored by white liberals.

The decision by protesters from Occupy Wall Street to join Cornel West in Harlem last Saturday to protest the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy was an important step in taking the message of the occupy movement to our impoverished internal colonies. West, who led the protest outside the 28th Precinct at West 123rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and who was arrested along with about 30 others, was part of a crowd that chanted: “Stop-and-frisk don’t stop the crime. Stop-and-frisk is the crime.”

The power elite are frantically searching for the ideological weapon that will discredit the movement. But the clarity of the protests, the painful personal stories of dislocation that are the heart of its message, and, most important, the self-discipline, despite police provocation, which has kept these protests nonviolent have advanced the movement and discredited the forces of control. The power elite, held together by the glue of force and fraud, are seeking ways to communicate in the only language they know they can master—unrestrained force. And as we enter the second month of demonstrations, the power elite fear that the core message and the calls for resistance, which resonate with a majority of Americans, will lead to a direct confrontation with the corporate state. If the movement starts to pull hundreds of thousands of people together, if it leaps across class lines, as I saw during the peaceful revolutions in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, then the corporate state is probably finished. Our corporate overlords know this. And they are doing everything in their power to make sure this does not come to pass.

The divisions between the poor and the working class on the one hand and the white, liberal middle class on the other reach back to the Vietnam anti-war movement. The New Left in the 1960s was infused with the same deadly doses of hedonism that corrupted earlier 20th century counterculture movements such as the bohemians and the beats. The antagonism between the New Left during the Vietnam War and the working class and the poor, whose sons were shipped to Vietnam while the sons of the white middle class were usually handed college deferments, was never bridged. Working-class high schools, including many high schools with large numbers of African-Americans, sent 20 to 30 percent of their graduates to Vietnam every year while college graduates made up only 2 percent of all troops sent to Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. Anti-war activists were seen by those locked out of the white middle class as spoiled children of the rich who advocated free love, drug use, communism and social anarchy.

The unions and the white working class remained virulently anti-communist. They spoke in the language of militarism and the Cold War and were unsympathetic to the anti-war movement as well as the civil rights movement. When student activists protested at the AFL-CIO’s 1965 convention, chanting “Get out of Vietnam!” the delegates taunted them by shouting “Get a haircut.” AFL-CIO leader George Meany ordered the security to “clear the Kookies out of the gallery.” United Automobile Workers President Walter Reuther, once the protesters were escorted out, announced that “protesters should be demonstrating against Hanoi and Peking … [who] are responsible for the war.” The convention passed a resolution that read: “The labor movement proclaim[s] to the world that the nation’s working men and women do support the Johnson administration in Vietnam.”

Those that constituted the hard-core New Left, groups like Students for a Democratic Society, found their inspiration in the liberation struggles in Vietnam and the Third World and figures such as Mao and Leon Trotsky rather than the labor movement, which they considered bought off by capitalism. They saw the working class as part of the problem. Many came to embrace the cult of violence. The Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam and the Weather Underground Organization became as poisoned by this lust for blood, quest for ideological purity, crippling paranoia and internal repression as the state system they defied.

The bulk of the white protesters in the 1960s found their ideological roots not in the moral imperatives of King or Malcolm X but the disengagement championed earlier by beats such by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs. It was a movement that, while it incorporated a healthy dose of disrespect for authority, focused on self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment. The use of hallucinogenic drugs, advocated by Timothy Leary in books such as “The Politics of Ecstasy,” and the rise of occultism that popularized transcendental meditation, Theosophy, Hare Krishna, Zen and the I-Ching were trends that would have dismayed older radical movements such as the Wobblies [8] and the Communist Party. The counterculture of the 1960s, like the commodity culture, lured adherents inward. It set up the self as the primary center of concern. It offered affirmative, therapeutic remedies to social problems and embraced vague, undefined and utopian campaigns to remake society. There was no real political vision. Hermann Hesse’s novel “Siddhartha [9]” became emblematic of the moral hollowness of the New Left. These movements and the celebrities who led them, such as the Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, catered to the stage set for them by television cameras. Protests and court trials became street theater. Dissent became another media spectacle. Anti-war protesters in Berkeley switched from singing “Solidarity Forever” to “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine.”

The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it has not replicated the beliefs of the New Left. Rather, it is rooted in the moral imperatives of justice and self-sacrifice, what Dwight Macdonald [10] called nonhistorical values, values closer to King than Abbie Hoffman. It seeks to rebuild the bridges to labor, the poor and the working class. The movement eschews the hedonism of the New Left; indeed it does not permit drugs or alcohol in Zuccotti Park. It denounces the consumer culture and every evening shares its food with the homeless, who also often sleep in the park. But, most important, it eschews, through a nonhierarchical system of self-governance, the deadly leadership cults that plagued and ultimately destroyed the movements of the 1960s. The political and moral void within the New Left meant that, like the counterculture of the beats or the bohemians, it was seamlessly integrated into the commercial culture. At its core the New Left shared the same hedonism, entrancement with mass entertainment, love of spectacle and preoccupation with the self. And the degeneration of the New Left is personified by politicians such as Clinton, who mouthed the usual platitudes about the poor and working men and women while he and both major political parties, awash in corporate dollars, betrayed and impoverished them.

Murray Bookchin wrote [11]: “Radical politics in our time has come to mean the numbing quietude of the polling booth, the deadening platitudes of petition campaigns, carbumper sloganeering, the contradictory rhetoric of manipulative politicians, the spectator sports of public rallies and finally, the knee-bent, humble plea for small reforms—in short, the mere shadows of the direct action, embattled commitment, insurgent conflicts, and social idealism that marked every revolutionary project in history. … What is most terrifying about present-day ‘radicalism’ is that the piercing cry for ‘audacity’—‘L’audace! L’auduce! Encore l’auduce!’—that Danton voiced in 1793 on the high tide of the French revolution would simply be puzzling to the self-styled radicals who demurely carry attaché cases of memoranda and grant requests into their conference rooms … and bull horns to their rallies.”

Macdonald argued that those who wanted change had to base all actions on the nonhistorical and more esoteric values of truth, justice and love. They had to retain Danton’s call for audacity. Once any class bows to the practical dictates required by effective statecraft and legislation, as well as the call to protect the nation, it loses its moral authority and its voice. The naive belief in human progress through science, technology and mass production, which this movement understands is a lie, erodes these nonhistorical values by placing faith in state power and fantasy. The choice is between serving human beings or serving history, between thinking ethically or thinking strategically. Macdonald excoriated Marxists for the same reason he excoriated the liberal class: They subordinated ethics to another goal. They believed the ends justified the means. The liberal class, like the Marxists, by serving history and power capitulated to the state in the end. This capitulation by the liberal class, as Irving Howe noted, “bleached out all political tendencies.” Liberalism, he wrote, “becomes a loose shelter, a poncho rather than a program; to call oneself a liberal one doesn’t really have to believe in anything.”

In line with the occupy movement, we must not extol the power of the state as an agent of change or define progress by increased comfort, wealth, imperial expansion or consumption. The trust in the beneficence of the state—which led most liberal reformers to back the wars in Vietnam and Iraq at their inceptions, as well as place faith in electoral politics long after electoral politics had been hijacked by corporate power—ceded uncontested power to the corporate state. Liberals and liberal groups, such as MoveOn, which urge us to appeal to formal structures of power that no longer concern themselves with the needs or rights of citizens have become forces of disempowerment.

The only effective tool for change will come through movements such as those that stand in direct opposition to state power and seek through the sheer force of numbers and civil disobedience to discredit and weaken the corporate state. The corporate state cannot be the repository of our hopes and dreams. And the liberal establishment has, by making concession after concession, merged itself into the corporate apparatus and has nothing left to say to us. It is part of the elaborate and hollow political theater that has replaced genuine political participation. The dismantling of our radical social and political movements in the early and even middle part of the 20th century in the name of anti-communism left the liberal class, as well as the wider society, without a repository of new ideas. The utopian fantasies of globalism and naive acceptance that the dictates of the marketplace should be permitted to determine human behavior became not just the creed of the corporatists but finally the creed of liberal apologists such as Thomas Friedman and most professors in university economic departments. And the strength of the new movements is that they have exposed this lie.

What we are witnessing in parks and squares across the United States is not simply widespread revulsion over the greed and cruelty of corporate capitalism, but the articulation of a new and potent radicalism. This radicalism challenges the right of corporations to poison our ecosystem and turn greed and self-promotion into the highest good at the expense of human life. If this movement can cross class lines, if it can articulate its vision to those in marginalized communities, especially poor people of color, it can tap into a force and power that was never part of the New Left. It can make possible the shaking of the foundations and, let us hope, the toppling of the corporate state.