I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, March 20, 2006

How Would a Patriot Act?

As readers of this blog know, I have been very excited about a project I have been working on but which I have not been able to talk about. I now can:

Roughly six weeks ago, I was approached by an editor with a proposal to publish a book based on the ideas and arguments which have been the subject of this blog for the last several months. The idea was to get the book to the market quickly in order for it to have as much of an impact as possible on the current, ongoing and now (thanks to Russ Feingold) intensifying debate over the NSA scandal specifically and, even more so, the radical theories of law-breaking power embraced by the Bush Administration generally.

I have been writing the book for the last five weeks and am about 80% done. The book is entitled How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. It is going to be released in early May -- roughly six weeks from now, and will be available on Amazon for pre-ordering shortly. Here is the cover:

The principal reason I am so excited by this book is because, as I have said from the time this scandal first emerged, what will determine the outcome of this law-breaking scandal specifically, and the crisis of lawlessness which we have in our government generally, is whether the public realizes how radical and dangerous this Administration has become and demands that it be held accountable. I have always emphatically believed and have repeatedly said that if Americans are truly informed about how radical and extreme this President has become with regard to the powers he claims he possesses, most Americans will find it intolerable.

At its core, this scandal is not and has never been about the scope of eavesdropping powers which the Government ought to have. It is much more significant than that. We face a genuine and profound crisis as a country because we have a President who has continuously exploited the threat of terrorism and engaged in rank fear-mongering in order to expressly claim the power to act without any checks or limits at all -- including, literally, the power to break the law. And he has been exercising that law-breaking power aggressively and enthusiastically in numerous ways, all of which are radically changing our national political character and the system of government that we have had since our founding.

It is that belief in his own monarchical power that led the President to eavesdrop on Americans in precisely the way that our country, thirty years ago, made it a criminal offense to engage in. And the President's illegal warrantless eavesdropping is but one example which arises out of these truly radical and decisively un-American theories of power which this Administration has adopted and put into practice. The Administration's ideology of lawlessness, in every respect, is contrary to the most basic and fundamental values on which our country was founded and which have defined who we are as a nation for the last 225 years.

Rather than pursue the opportunities that were presented to publish this book through a large publishing company, I am, for many reasons, working instead with an independent publisher. They believe in the arguments advanced by the book, have committed sufficient funding to this project to ensure that the book is aggressively marketed and publicized, and are dedicated to doing everything possible to enable this book to have a real impact on the NSA scandal and, more broadly, on the perception of Americans of this Administration's radical theories of power.

The project editor for the book, Jennifer Nix, was the editor responsible for the publication of George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which was published independently and, as a result of Nix's marketing strategies, became one of the best-selling books of 2004, spending weeks on the New York Times' bestseller list. Jennifer also was the acquiring editor for Crashing the Gate, the new book by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. And the editor of Crashing the Gate, Safir Ahmed, is editing my book as well.

There are some costs and sacrifices involved in publishing a book with an independent publisher rather than a corporate publisher. The advance I received was negligible, which means having to spend several months writing a book and then publicizing it with very little compensation. But I really believe that having a publisher who is motivated by the books' ideas and objectives -- and which is devoted to publishing the book quickly and in a way that ensures the maximum impact on the political conversation and on the resolution of these issues -- will produce the best results on every level. It was not a difficult choice.

The primary value in publishing a book this way is that it enables direct communication with fellow citizens about these issues. It has been clear for some time that our national media -- the entity which has as its function informing citizens about what the Government is doing -- is largely dysfunctional. Due to innumerable factors, it simply does not and cannot perform that critical role any longer. Regardless of one's views of the propriety of the Administration's actions, it is beyond dispute that the theories of executive power which the President has adopted are, to put it mildly, a matter of great controversy and great importance. And yet, it is truly astonishing how little Americans know about any of that because the media has barely discussed any of it.

None of those failures is surprising. After all, the single most significant fact of the last 6 years, in my view, is that we are a country which went to war in 2003 with the overwhelming majority of the country -- 70% -- believing in a complete myth: that the leader of the country which we were invading personally participated in the 9/11 attacks. And they continued to believe it even months after the invasion. The media completely failed to expose the falsity of our government's claims or to even minimally inform the country about what was real and what was not. That fact, by itself, is irrefutable proof that we cannot rely on our national media to inform Americans as to what our Government is doing or to expose the dangers of their actions or even the deceitful nature of their statements.

All of these developments signify just how desperately our country needs new and alternative media for citizens to communicate with one another and to be informed about what our Government is doing. The first order of business, in my view, is creating venues for information and analysis which do not depend upon the rotting, corrupted government-media Beltway vortex. The blogosphere is a critical prong in achieving that. So, too, is creating a mechanism for delivering quick-to-the-market books on current issues of controversy which can convey information and inform citizens outside of the distorting lens of the establishment media.

With her work on publication of both Lakoff's book and Crashing the Gate, Jennifer is a pioneer in those efforts and that is one of the primary reasons I found her proposal so appealing. She has written extensively about the value of publishing books independently as a way of creating alternative publishing systems, and she will post here today on her thoughts and strategies in that regard specifically for this book project.

This law-breaking scandal has never been about liberal or conservative political ideology because the Administration's actions, at their core, are really on assault on the most basic American political values -- values which transcend contemporary political disputes between liberals and conservatives. Just as Al Gore arranged for former Republican Congressman Bob Barr to introduce Gore's inspired speech on the dangers of the Administration's law-breaking, we are currently negotiating with a prominent conservative to write the book's Foreword, in part to illustrate that the dangers posed by the Administration's truly radical seizure of unchecked power ought to alarm all Americans regardless of partisan loyalty or ideology.

Ever since the illegal NSA program was revealed, Republicans, most Beltway Democrats, and virtually all of the national media have collectively insisted that this scandal will have no lasting effect, that it will simply fade away because "the public" does not care about any of it. They repeatedly maintained -- even in the face of all available evidence -- that the public supports the Administration's decision to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial oversight and in violation of the law and will not care if the President breaks some laws here and there in order to "protect" them.

But to all but the most jaundiced and corrupted eyes, these issues have always been far too self-evidently significant for any of that to happen. Right before everyone's eyes, the President got caught breaking the law - deliberately and continuously. He ordered the Administration to engage in conduct which the law, since 1978, has made it a criminal offense -- a felony -- to engage in.

And when he got caught, rather than apologize or express remorse, the President defiantly proclaimed that he would continue to break the law because he believes he has the power to act without restraints, including the restraints of the law. And in response, the Congress, controlled by the President's party and long loyal to him, did nothing other than begin to look for ways to protect the President by rendering legal the very behavior which the law makes it a criminal offense to engage in.

All of that is far too extreme, and far too violative of the deeply instilled political values which even those Americans who are otherwise apathetic instinctively believe in, to allow these issues to simply fade away. Despite the oh-so-sophisticated and all-knowing assurances from our pundit class that this scandal would have no effect (other than to somehow actually help the law-breaking President), and despite the concerted efforts of the Congress to block every investigation into what has occurred, this scandal has not faded away. Quite the contrary, as the events of the last week demonstrate quite conclusively, it is stronger than ever.

As I have pointed out many times, scandals which reveal presidential corruption do not unfold overnight. This post I wrote a few weeks ago sums up my views on what can be done and what needs to be done:

One of the many brilliant attributes of our system of government is that citizens really do serve as a meaningful check on government abuses, and they do so in endless, ever-changing ways. To recognize that fact does not require optimism -- just reality.

Throughout our history, Americans have figured out methods for destroying corrupt institutions and smashing even the most ingrained practices and laws -- and when they could not find ways to do so, they invented new ones. Seemingly invulnerable and omnipotent political figures and movements have been destroyed, all as a result of the actions of citizens who have made large numbers of Americans aware of the need to act.

Whatever systems are in place are in place because they were constructed by human beings. Any systems built by human beings can be torn down and replaced just as easily as they were built. There is nothing invulnerable or omnipotent about the Bush movement or the systems which they have erected in order to fuel their agenda. It can be brought down just as easily as others like it have been destroyed.

All that is needed is for citizens to become aware of just how radical and dangerous their conduct is. It’s happening already, and there is no reason whatsoever to convince oneself of the futility of battling against it. Quite the opposite. There is every reason to believe that it is starting to teeter and just needs a good, hard push to fall and shatter.

Even highly unpopular Presidents are afforded the benefit of the doubt when accused of wrongdoing and it requires significant work, which takes time, to persuade the country that the President really has engaged in serious wrongdoing for which serious consequences are warranted. The President has broken the law repeatedly because, incredibly, he believes he has the power to do so. That development in our country requires serious debate. Sen. Feingold's Censure Resolution has catapulted that debate back into the limelight, where it belongs, and it is my hope that this book can help to inform and advance that debate even further.

My Ecosystem Details