What a Lovely Day for the Total State

Ah, what a weekend, with blue skies, singing birds, budding cherry blossoms and the government’s announcement that it has totalitarian control over everything. Wait, what was that last thing? It was an Executive Order released late Friday that no one on the planet seemed to notice until about 30 hours later. It is unnumbered, but called “National Defense Resources Preparedness.”

Let’s call it NDRP. The first I heard of it was Sunday morning. Something called The Examiner had a write-up about this order in which President Obama would, in the event of an emergency or even in “peacetime,” assume control of all energy, food, water, people — the whole of the material and natural world as we know it! — and claim the right to requisition professions to serve the state.

Nuts, right? Some more of the conspiracy stuff that has lately been clogging up the web. By 6 a.m., there was still only that one news story, but there were 463 forum discussions and 1,410 blog commentaries. Six hours later, there were eight news stories (none of them from a mainstream source), plus 712 forum discussions and 3,640 blog commentaries. Oh, and an uncountable number of Tweets.

How could all these paranoids be yammering on about something that hadn’t even been conformed by The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC? No wonder the government has such trouble governing this nation of gullible oddballs.

There was only one problem: this link. Here is the order itself as hosted by the White House. You can read it with your own eyes. It was issued Friday evening, March 16, 2012, the last day of spring break for many colleges, just as most news shops had closed up for the week and people were otherwise planning barbecues and outings.

Here at Whitehouse.gov we find the announcement that “The United States must have an industrial and technological base capable of meeting national defense requirements and capable of contributing to the technological superiority of its national defense equipment in peacetime and in times of national emergency,” and so therefore it must assume all control of energy, food, water, health care, equipment and, of course, people

Yes, you read that last one correctly. The executive branch claims it can perform a civilian draft of people of “outstanding experience and ability without compensation and to employ experts, consultants or organizations.” (Emphasis mine.)

The authority cited in the document is the Defense Production Act of 1950, another dictatorial imposition, but which happened to have congressional approval. The dictator this time was President Truman. It allowed him to requisition every manner of resource to fight the Korean War: to draft people into war and to enable the executive to impose wage and price controls at will.

This was the Act that Sen. Robert Taft spoke about on the campaign trail in 1952. He regarded it as unconstitutional, illegal and totalitarian, nothing more than an attempt to reclaim the total state of World War II as part of the regular powers of the state in all other times. He said it was the surest sign that we had lost our moorings as a nation.

Historians of the period regard this act as the thing that cemented in place the political culture of the Cold War, in which the government accumulated ever more weapons of mass destruction, instituted the draft, went to war with whomever and wherever and presumed total control over all industry, all while the civilian population lived in fear of nuclear holocaust.

It is no different today: an unconstitutional power grab piled on top of a previous unconstitutional power grab piled on top of previous cases. So far as I can tell — and the real experts really need to get involved here to explain the details — there is very little new here at all except that perhaps the claim that the government can force everyone into slavery without compensation, plus the addition of a strange role for the Federal Reserve.

Part III, Sec. 301(b) says: “Each guaranteeing agency is designated and authorized to: (1) act as fiscal agent in the making of its own guarantee contracts and in otherwise carrying out the purposes of section 301 of the Act; and (2) contract with any Federal Reserve Bank to assist the agency in serving as fiscal agent.”

This suggests that any federal department that is part of the executive branch can make a separate deal with the Fed to print as much money as the agency needs to do whatever it wants, without having to ask Congress for any kind of special allocation. It is also possible that this power already existed.

As the day progressed, a number of people from the “responsible” portion of the blogosphere began to say pretty much the same thing. This is nothing new. It is merely an update of what existed previously. There was an update in 1994 and one under every previous administration. There is nothing to see here: This is business as usual for the executive branch.

It’s been going on for sixty years. Make that eighty. Make that 100 if you count the wartime central planning of World War I. Actually, take it back further to the Civil War, when Lincoln assumed dictatorial powers. Or go back to the Adams administration, which criminalized sedition during a war fever over France.

True, the water in which the frog is being boiled is perhaps slightly hotter than before, but don’t blame Obama for coming up with the idea for frog soup! True, this point has some relevance for those who would try to score some political victory at the expense of the Democrats alone. What I don’t get is why this background is supposed to bring comfort to anyone who has in mind the broad interest of human liberty.

What is true now was true in 1994 and true in 1950 and true in 1932 and true in 1917. Anyone with a love of human liberty should be alarmed by the presumption of totalitarian control anytime, and especially during our own times, when there might be something we can do about it.

These powers might be old as the hills, and the battle between power and liberty is the core drama of human history, but there is a major difference this time: We have digital media that allow us to see this stuff with our own eyes.

That’s what makes the difference.

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