July 4: Our Independence Versus Today’s Emergency Powers

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When Thomas Jefferson formed our Declaration of Independence in 1776, he did so to attack King George III of England’s dictatorship over the American colonies, and to state Americans’ opposition to and separation from England’s oppression and possession.

Jefferson accused the king of “the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

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He went on to list 27 offenses, engaging accusatory active verbs-such as “has obstructed,” “cutting off,” “depriving,” “abolishing,” “has abdicated,” “has plundered”-in such a forcefully progressive column of charges that any reasonable human would concur that, indeed, the king was a tyrant and the colonies must break free.

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And so we have progressed to America today. Which leads to this question: In America today, when can our country’s chief executive–with Congress’s concurrence–most likely become a tyrant? It would appear to occur if the President of the United States ever takes possession of all authorities granted under the National Emergencies Act, passed and signed in 1976.

Presidents have declared limited states of emergency before and since that time. We have been under a limited, but ongoing, emergency since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. George W. Bush declared a limited national emergency on Sept. 14, and then extended it yearly. Barack Obama has annually continued the national emergency declaration regarding terrorism on September 10, 2009, on September 10, 2010, and on September 9, 2011.

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The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has analyzed the National Emergencies Act on various occasions. The latest updated analysis appears to have been prepared and submitted for Congress on Aug. 30, 2007 by CRS’s Harold C. Relyea, a specialist in American national government. Simply titled “National Emergency Powers,” the report describes the vast authorities allowed the president during declared emergencies. It also cites Congress’s power in regulating the president.

The 25-page study notes four aspects to an emergency condition: (1) “sudden, unforeseen, and of unknown duration;” (2) “dangerous and threatening to life and well-being;” (3) “in terms of governmental role and authority…who discerns this phenomenon?” and (4) requires immediate action that is not always “according to rule.”

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Presidents have jumped at the chance to solidify their dictatorial powers during times they determined to be national emergencies. And the CRS report notes the startling vastness of these powers:

Under the powers delegated by such statutes, the President may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens. Furthermore, Congress may modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority.

While extending the national emergency from 2009 through Sept. 9, 2012, Obama has approved–with Congress’s voted support or unopposing observance–a number of actions extending his and the federal government’s powers. Here are four of the major ones:

1. In May 2011, he signed a law extending for four years the controversial counter-terrorism search and surveillance powers at the heart of the Patriot Act.

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“The provisions allow authorities to use roving wiretaps to track an individual on several telephones; track a non-US national suspected of being a “lone-wolf” terrorist not tied to an extremist group; and to seize personal or business records or “any tangible thing” seen as critical to an investigation,” according to Agence France-Presse. “The law had drawn fire from an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and Republicans tied to the arch-conservative ‘Tea Party’ movement, who say it grants the government too much power and infringes on individual liberties.”

2. On Dec. 31, 2011, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the military to place anyone, including American citizens, under worldwide indefinite detention without charge or trial.

“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” according to Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

3. On March 16, 2012, he signed an executive order on “National Defense Resources Preparedness.”

Edwin Black in The Huffington Post says that the order “renews and updates the president’s power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country.”

Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger, in her March 30 newsletter, states:

This order gives an unprecedented level of authority to the President and the federal government to take over all the fundamental parts of our economy – in the name of national security – in times of national emergency.

This means all of our water resources, construction services and materials (steel, concrete, etc.), our civil transportation system, food and health resources, our energy supplies including oil and natural gas – even farm equipment – can be taken over by the President and his cabinet secretaries. The Government can also draft U.S. citizens into the military and force U.S. citizens to fulfill “labor requirements” for the purposes of ‘national defense.’ There is not even any Congressional oversight, only briefings are required.

By issuing this as an Executive Order the President puts the federal government above the law, which, in a democracy, is never supposed to happen.

4. In early May, with Obama’s blessing, the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated it’s planning to eventually take control of the Internet, according to a DHS counsel. Such a move by government logically would end citizens’ Constitutional right to freedom of expression, including limiting them to sharing only government-approved information.

Bruce McConnell, a senior cybersecurity counselor with DHS, reported to a cybersecurity gathering in Washington on May 2 that DHS will establish “institutions” on the Internet to govern it, including working with other nations to determine what content is “proper.” McConnell led his presentation by explaining that Obama has instructed DHS to protect the Internet because it is a “civilian” agency.

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Jefferson said in our Declaration, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

If you feel the continuing activation of government powers listed above will secure your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, then…as you were. If you consider them an infringement, then it would be wise to get organized, get educated and get active. And demand your president, U.S. senators and Congress members do their jobs, move away from growing government control, and protect our nation’s freedoms.