Thursday, May 24, 2007

On the kind of power that doesn't come from a radioactive spider

Oh, fine, have at it. We know you're going to anyway.

Okay, so like many a Marvel superhero, President Bush has an amazing talent for acquiring new powers:
President Bush has signed a directive granting extraordinary powers to the office of the president in the event of a declared national emergency, apparently without congressional approval or oversight.

…The directive establishes under the office of the president a new national continuity coordinator whose job is to make plans for “National Essential Functions” of all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, as well as private sector organizations to continue functioning under the president’s directives in the event of a national emergency.

“Catastrophic emergency” is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”

Basically, the directive establishes an office under the direct authority of the president to oversee the running of the government following a catastrophic emergency. What is a catastrophic emergency? Whatever the president says it is. When is the catastrophic emergency over, and the localized government allowed to regain authority in their area? When the president says it is.

Bush has established this new office, that of "national continuity coordinator," without approval or oversight of Congress, apparently superseding the National Emergency Act, which would require just that.

According to the directive, the job of the national continuity coordinator would be to insert "continuity requirements" into the day-to-day business of all executive departments and branches to ensure the continued functioning of all branches of the federal government and all forms of localized government. If the "catastrophic emergency" comes in the form of a terroristic threat, national security requirements mean that no warning or evidence of the threat has to be provided; the "national continuity coordinator" would just get to take over.

Even in the case of legitimate emergencies, I don't want President Bush unilaterally assigning someone to be in charge; I doubt anyone has forgotten Heckuvajob Brownie (and successor Ellen Sauerbrey). But that, disturbingly enough, pales in comparison to the fact that the president has the power to declare, without providing justification, a state of emergency and assume unchecked unitary executive authority over all functions of government until he decides to give it up again.

Now, I'm by no means surprised at this development. This is, after all, the man who has declared that he has the right to tap your phone and search your computer without legal oversight. Hell, it's the man who has taken for himself the power to declare any American citizen a legal combatant and detain them indefinitely. If anyone is surprised about this, they haven't been paying attention.

And as always in these situations, I have to wonder: Is that the kind of power that the neocons want to see in the hands of, for instance, President Obama? Or (gasp) President Clinton?

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