Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Last Friday, March 16, President Obama issued a creepy Executive Order.
Entitled “National Defense Resources Preparedness,” it authorizes the President and cabinet officials to take over crucial aspects of the national economy not only during emergencies but also in peacetime.
The order relies on a Korean War-era statute, the Defense Production Act of 1950, to further entwine the domestic industrial economy with the military. It talks of fostering “cooperation between the defense and commercial sectors.”
The stated purpose is to strengthen “the domestic industrial and technological base” so as “to ensure it is capable of responding to the national defense needs of the United States.”
This amounts to putting the economy on permanent war footing, even when there isn’t an emergency.
For instance, the Executive Order talks of the need for the economic base “to satisfy [defense] requirements in peacetime and times of national emergency.” And cabinet officials are authorized to “issue regulations to prioritize and allocate resources . . . to promote the national defense, under both emergency and non-emergency conditions.”
It amounts to a sweeping reassertion of Presidential authority. It reasserts the President’s authority “to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders . . . to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders.”
And it then delegates this extraordinary power to cabinet heads.
The Secretary of Agriculture has this authority “with respect to food resources, food resource facilities, livestock resources, veterinary resources, plant health resources, and the domestic distribution of farm equipment and fertilizer.”
The Secretary of Energy has this authority “with respect to all forms of energy.”
The Secretary of Defense has this authority “with respect to water resources.”
The Secretary of Health and Human Services has this authority “with respect to health resources.”
The Secretary of Transportation has it “with respect to all civil transportation.”
And the Secretary of Commerce has it “with respect to all other materials, services, and facilities.”
Perhaps scariest of all, the Executive Order grants to the Secretary of Defense the authority to force a private person to assist in making chemical and biological weapons. Section 204, entitled “Chemical and Biological Warfare, states: “The authority of the President conferred by section 104(b) of the Act, 50 U.S.C. App. 2074(b) is delegated to the Secretary of Defense.”
Here is section 104(b):
“No provision of title I of this Act [sections 2071 to 2078 of this Appendix] shall be exercised or interpreted to require action or compliance by any private person to assist in any way in the production of or other involvement in chemical or biological warfare capabilities, unless authorized by the President (or the President's designee who is serving in a position at level I of the Executive Schedule in accordance with section 5312 of title 5, United States Code) without further redelegation.”
So now not only may the President conscript scientists. The Secretary of Defense may, too.
This executive order extends the power of the Presidency along lines similar to those sketched out by George W. Bush in his "National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20” of May 2007.
Obama’s executive order, like Bush’s, demonstrates the enormous accretion of power in the Executive Branch.
And Obama’s order, in particular, shows how the entire economy is now in service to the military.
This is the military-industrial complex on steroids, and it’s devouring our democracy.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Romney May Fall Into Trap of Picking Santorum for VP."
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