Monday, July 23, 2007


[Update below]

The march to plenary executive power by this Cheney administration has proceeded apace since 9/11. We have witnessed this, mostly in an ad hoc fashion, as various stories appeared detailing an inexorable assault on conventional rule of law: illegal wars, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, torture, indefinite detention, warrantless domestic surveillance, summary arrests, politicization of prosecutorial prerogative, crony no-bid contracting, criminally inept crony appointments. Indeed, the list seems nearly inexhaustible. I say "nearly" only in deference our own ignorance about what else this White House and its apparatchiks in the GOP could have been doing these last several years.

A number of recent, extraordinary behaviours exhibited by this extraordinary administration are all describing a convergence of events that are painting a very bleak picture about the future of this country. The current wave of executive assertions began back in May, with the "Homeland Security Presidential Directive," which circuitously described how Bush will
ensure the continuity of Federal Government structures and operations and a single National Continuity Coordinator responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of Federal continuity policies,
which will obviously
enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.
We're from the government and we here to enhance the credibility of our national security posture for you.

The evil genius of such gobbledygook is that it can be used to justify anything for almost any reason. For example, despite the fact that the directive claims that it will produce a
cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches,
the Bush administration has already seen fit to deny Peter DeFazio of the House Homeland Security Committee any access to their plan on how to respond to a terrorist attack, because "information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive." Says DeFazio,
I just can't believe they're going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack.
Don't stop believing Peter.

Now the White House has openly admitted that the Justice Department will be ordered not to pursue any contempt of Congress charges that maybe filed against any former or current White House officials.
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
Breathtaking, indeed, and entirely conceivable with the trusty pup Gonzales taking the orders. But a mere two days before this ballsy statement, George Bush signed an executive ordering giving broad powers to seize "all property and interests in property" of persons who may have committed or "pose a significant risk of committing" some act that impedes Bush's imperial mission in Iraq. Crucially, this pertains to persons in the United States. There's a lot of legalistic bombast in the EO, but the astoundingly general and vague description of who, exactly, might be subject to such seizures surely indicates that, with 70% of the country opposed to the war in Iraq, almost anyone could be so designated.

Sec. 1, par (a), subpar (i)(A) tells us that Bush's Treasury Department can confiscate property from "persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons" and who might be
A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;
This is readable on a variety of levels, many of which would indict the current occupants of the White House. But we know that won't be the focus of this EO. More interestingly, Congress, in threatening to cut off funding for the war, would most certainly fall under this broad description, as would almost anyone protesting the war and calling for its end. Most folks could not imagine that a US government could ever do such things -- which is one of the advantages of keeping the vast majority of the American public incredibly ignorant of the all the despicable horrors that the US government has been capable of doing. But then, this is not your typical American government, one that has never displayed the slightest compunction about airing their dirty laundry and telling everyone that it's April fresh.

These recent executive assertions of unbridled dictatorial power can certainly be viewed in concert with the odious Military Commissions Act, which awarded Bush the power to designate anyone so desired an "unlawful enemy combatant" and hence subject to shipment to Gitmo or some secret prison of his choosing. The vast majority, if they are aware of any of this, scoff, dismissing it with a "it can't happen here" rolling of the eyes. But as former Reaganite, Paul Craig Roberts notes,
Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of "executive orders" that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency,
and that given the grim picture Republicans see for their own political prospects,
The Bush administration desperately needs dramatic events to scare the American people and the Congress back in line with the militarist-police state that Bush and Cheney have fostered.
Hence, we heard Chertoff's gut acting up and the White House-leaked portions of the NIE promising that al Qaeda was stronger than ever, preparing us for the coming storm and promises by raised-from-the-dead Rick Santorum that
between now and November, a lot of things are going to happen.
I'm not entirely sure how much weight one should lend to the statements of the man who found WMD in Iraq, but nonetheless, Republicans in general seem to be placing their faith, hope and lack of charity in what they believe is their only ticket to power: scaring people shitless. The country has grown weary of their yapping, and they know it, which spells only one possible recourse: an actual terrorist attack, not the phony, trumped-up dummy plots we have seen to date.

If something like that does happen, it is going to have the smell of Operation Northwoods and Operation Gladio all over it. Outrageous? Of course. But how could we be surprised that any of these war criminals, whose lies have already led to several thousand American dead and untold numbers of Iraqis, would resist what must surely appear to be their only solution to a failing political climate. US governments have done these things before. It is hardly anything new.

Update: Mentarch stopped by and linked to his excellent post at SuzieQ (and elsewhere) about Bush administration authoritarianism and, more generally, authoritarianism as a psychological symptom of the cult of personality and what that inevitably leads to. Great piece, so check it out.

Beyond the social inertia granted legacy, I still find it amazing that a mean-spirited, spoiled brat, known liar and obvious moron could attain a cult of personality at all. It is truly one of the great media propaganda successes of the modern age. If turning a fatuous, incurious numbskull into the president of the United States can be considered a success, that is.


Blogger Mentarch said...

Excelleny post!

Here's my own take:

Looks like this is a case of thinking the same thing at the same time, albeit with different flavors ;-)

4:56 AM  
Blogger Mentarch said...

ooops - I meant "excellent", of course ...

4:56 AM  
Blogger Mentarch said...

"Beyond the social inertia granted legacy, I still find it amazing that a mean-spirited, spoiled brat, known liar and obvious moron could attain a cult of personality at all. It is truly one of the great media propaganda successes of the modern age."

That and ... f-e-a-r.


3:50 PM  

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