LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Declaring a state of emergency should not be a formality

USA Today has reported that President Obama has declared or renewed 32 different states of national emergency during his presidency. Whether it has manifested or affected itself to us or not as a huge problem, states of emergency are a huge problem. These states of emergency allow the president extraordinary power to impose sanctions, freeze assets, or blockade other nations. We have seized the assets of citizens of the United States with no due process at all.

They come with ominous-sounding warnings, “that foreign governments and terrorists groups or criminal organizations pose” an unusual extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States. The point of states of emergency is [that] they’re supposed to be reserved for extreme cases, unusual and extraordinary threats to national security.

Only through unusual and extraordinary threats to national security is the president supposed to have an invoked power of the commander-in-chief. These declared states of emergency, temporarily expanding the president’s power, by his own declaration are only supposed to be temporary expansions of executive power and remain in effect for only a maximum of six months because, within that six-month period, Congress is supposed to meet, consider, vote and determine whether the emergency shall be terminated. That meeting by Congress has never happened.

Now we’re entering in an era of states of national emergency that’s going to be critical and should make our hair stand on end. The office of the White House has announced there’s really no need to be alarmed over these states of emergency. The dire warnings are really just formalities. The wording of presidential emergency declarations is just language that’s routine so that it’s not a big deal. There really isn’t a huge threat; that’s just the language we have to use in order to declare emergency to expand the power of the president. This is their statement. Are you kidding me? Really, there’s no need to be alarmed, just formalities, we’re expanding our power. We’re supposed to be OK with this?

This rolls off their tongue like it’s no big deal: we have declared a state of emergency that expands the power of the president beyond constitutional recognition; you don’t need to worry about that; it’s not a big deal; it’s just something that we have to do in order to formalize these executive orders. That’s where we are, America. The office of the president can use the words “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” to describe a formality necessary to expand his power.

Jen Psaki (State Department): “This is how we describe the process of naming a sanction. There are 20 to 30 other sanction programs that we have. I understand people look at the context of what’s happening on the ground, but it’s consistent with how we announce and how we describe putting sanctions and putting these executive orders in place.”

What they’re saying is, we realize you’re looking around and you’re not seeing these dire and unusual extraordinary threats to national security because the reality doesn’t reflect that; you have to understand it’s OK because that’s just the precedent we’ve been following; that’s just how it goes; that’s just what we need to do in order to operate under the International Emergency Economics Power Act. Really? This is how we describe sanction programs and presidential power.

Declaring a state of emergency should not be a formality. A state of emergency is supposed to be something that is extreme and unusual. It triggers a great deal of power to be conveyed upon the president by these declarations. There needs to be a reason to do that. Under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, Congress is required to review each of these national emergencies every six months. That has never happened.

In February 2015, Obama extended a 19-year-old state of emergency against Cuba, suggesting the Castro regime has threatened to shoot down U.S. airplanes or sink U.S. ships in the waters of the north islands of Cuba. “This is just a pro forma announcement,” the White House press secretary says. We’re just following formality; we’re just extending this; the emergency really has no bearing on whether the State Department decides to remove Cuba from the states sponsors [of] terrorism list. Our policy will remain in place until a decision is made to change it. That’s essentially what that reflects.

The president will continue to use power until he decides not to use it any more. We have become a place of perpetual state of national emergency. The post-911 state of national emergency declared by George W. Bush, renewed six times by President Obama, forms the legal basis for all of these attacks on our liberty, and it’s just a formality, the White House says. These declarations give the president a magic wand with very little constraint whatsoever.

If a public health emergency is invoked, it could allow hospitals to seize people’s property and quarantine people without any due process. What about our food industry? That could decide who gets to come in and get or not get food. How it’s produced, how it’s transported. Look at California: what if there is an emergency for water? Who will be important enough to receive water? What are we to do when the president has the power to unilaterally expand his own power and Congress refuses to do absolutely anything about it?

Robert Duff



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