Saturday, July 29, 2006

Review: Glenn Greenwald, How Would a Patriot Act?

Actually as I was reading How Would a Patriot Act?, Mel Gibson, the star of The Patriot, was arrested for drunk driving. He resisted arrest, shouted that he owned Malibu and that the Jews were responsible for all the wars. So, evidently,
that’s how a patriot would act. Now you don’t have to buy Glenn Greenwald’s book.

Which at $12 clocks in at nearly 10¢ a page for a paperback with what looks to me like a rather weak spine, although you may buy it for $9.24 through my Amazon link or better yet $8.40 through my Powell’s link.

Thing is, it’s more or less a dumbed-down version of Greenwald’s blog, Unclaimed Territory. If you’re a fan of that blog, as I am, you’re likely to be disappointed, and not to learn anything from its scant 129 pages that you didn’t already know. He castigates and dissects Bush’s “ideology of lawlessness,” focusing on warrantless eavesdropping and detention without trial, and the arguments used to justify those practices. He argues for the restoration of a balance of powers and legislative oversight of the executive branch, with some instructive quotations from the Federalist Papers. He argues that Bush’s politics of fear is corrosive and that “The administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian idea that fear is the hallmark of courage, and a rational and calm approach is a mark of cowardice.”

The most interesting part of the book tells how Bush signed orders for the NSA to violate the FISA Act while simultaneously asking Congress to pass the Patriot Act, saying it would give him all the tools he needed to track the communications of terrorists. This suggests, although Greenwald does not go in for such speculation, that the Patriot Act was an elaborate deception designed to lure the terrorists and the American people into a false sense of security. But when the NYT revealed in December 2005 the extent of warrantless surveillance, “The president plainly broke the law, which is why the only defense available to him and his supporters is to claim that he has a right to do so.” I rather like the notion that the Bushies’ claim of unlimited “inherent” presidential powers was a cynical act, a desperate maneuver when they were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, but I’m unconvinced. I fear they really do have that little understanding of the American system of government, that little of the healthy fear of the unencumbered exercise of governmental power that led the Founding Fathers to devise a system of checks and balances and separation of powers.

So it’s not a bad book, it just didn’t do what I’d have expected Greenwald to do at book length, it doesn’t present deeper, more sophisticated analysis than his average blog entry. Rather the reverse. Possibly it’s intended for blog readers to buy not for themselves but to give to their apolitical relatives who’ve never really understood what so scares us about the Bush administration.

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