Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From "The Decider" to "The Dictator"

Reading the comments in this TAPPED article, this comment intrigued me; specifically,

Soon, however, after the next 9/11 attack (presently in the planing stages in the Bush administration) the Preznit will invoke NSPD 51 and HSPD-20 (google it) and end the Republic once and for all.

Intrigued by the somewhat paranoid, conpiracy-theorist, "the moon landing never occured" tone, I did, indeed, google NSPD-51 & HSPD-20 (go ahead, you should feel lucky). And, I was horrified.

As a brief background, the NSPD and HSPD stands for "National Security Presidential Directive" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive", respectively. Although the name changes for every administration, these are directives to federal agencies regarding issues of national security. An archive of all of the presidential directives is available here, provided by the Federation of American Scientists, which also provides the description of what, exactly, these are:

The National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum for Presidential consideration of foreign policy issues and national security matters. Persuant to policy review directives, the NSC gathers facts and views of appropriate Government agencies, conducts analyses, determines alternatives, and presents to the President policy choices for decision. The President's decisions are announced by decision directives.

If you weren't feeling lucky (I told you that you should), the full text of this particular Prsidential Decision Directive is available from the White House website. Essentially, this directive directs federal agencies under executive control to develop a "continuity of operations" plan (ironically, called COOP - as in, "we will coop the government") and replaces the provisions called for by President Clinton in his directive PDD-65. The actual text of PDD-67, which Bush's directive actually revokes, were never made available nor summarized by the Clinton Administration; however, FEMA's replacement of PDD-67 looks almost exactly like PDD-65.

I don't know all how to express all of the levels of the scariness of this here. Let me start with the actual text itself. In his directive, in stark contrast to Clinton's, Bush calls for:

(2)(e) "Enduring Constitutional Government," or "ECG," means 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, to preserve the constitutional framework under which the Nation is governed and the capability of all three branches of government to execute constitutional responsibilities and provide for orderly succession, appropriate transition of leadership, and interoperability and support of the National Essential Functions during a catastrophic emergency;

Clinton's directive sounds like you are reading a standard office memo telling each agency to be prepared in case of an emergency; Bush's directive, on the other hand is prefaced by declaring the President to be the sole arbiter of the decision when an emergency is occuring, how to lead the nation and only "as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper resect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches." Now, I am reading this to mean that the executive will share in the preparedness plan that is separate from those prepared by the judicial and legislative branches. Yet, just before that, the plan should be coordinated by the President. If this definition of comity is to be believed (when has Wikipedia ever steered us wrong?), then this basically means that the President will be solely in charge of this operation. Sounds like a dictatorship to me.

But, I have come to expect this from President Bush, so pperhaps even more troubling to me is the fact that this is not FRONT PAGE NEWS! I say this for two reasons. First, if this directive actually does grant the President the powers that we all know that he wants (i.e. the unitary executive), this is really scary and should be on the front of every paper in the United States. Is it not the role of the press (or so they say) to be the "fourth branch" to insure that we do not lose our liberty by making sure those in power don't do to our constitution what has been done to so many others? If so, then they are failing while they continue to opt instead for the easy stories.

Second, even assuming that the President actually does respect the autonomy of the three branches and we assume that this story is not noteworthy because there will be no attempt at a power grab, this directive would seem to be important because that emans that it will have taken the President almost six years to come up with the executive branch's version of the disaster preparedness plan. Remember those annoying public service announcements telling the American people to be prepared? Well, then why the hell wasn't our government ready until now? Maybe that explains why the Katrina response was such a disaster.

Which ever of these two stories could be written (and my money is on the first for truthiness), the national media missed both. If, however, you do want to find something about it, I would recommend The Progressive's coverage here.

[update]Following a comment I made over at Obsidian Wings, Gary Farber pointed out that these are, in fact, common and that the Bush Administration has updated them recently; therefore, as he politely admonishes me, there is really no story to report here. If you are more interested, I suggest this article from TPMMuckracker.


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