Posts Tagged ‘Imperial Presidency’

When did American democracy lose its way?

August 28, 2019

The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use, and be authorised to use, in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.  

He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.  He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call the Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts.

==Dick Cheney, Fox News, Dec. 21, 2008

We Americans live under a government whose executive has the power to attack foreign countries, order assassinations and kidnapings, imprison people without trial, commit crimes and prosecute those who reveal those crimes.

When did this start?  The historian Garry Wills, in his 2010 book BOMB POWER: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, argued that it began with the Manhattan Project.  The creation of the atomic bomb set the pattern for exercise of vast power in secret, without legal authority, with national security as the justification.

General Groves, the organizer of the project, operated without authorization from Congress and outside the norma military chain of command.  He spent billions of dollars back when that was real money.  He authorized major industrial facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, plus the research and test facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  All this was done without knowledge of the public (although spies told the Soviet government about it.)

The original purpose was to develop an atomic weapon before Hitler’s scientists did.  When Germany was defeated, that purpose became moot. The purpose became the justification of the project’s existence.

If Groves had not had a uranium bomb to drop on Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb to drop on Nagasaki, he might have been court-martialed, or at the very least, subjected to a congressional investigation, for usurping power and wasting the government’s money.

On the contrary, the atomic bomb became the core of postwar American military strategy.  Congress lost its authority to declare or refuse to declare war.  A decision to respond to an attack, nuclear or otherwise, had to be made within minutes.

Only the President controlled the Bomb and, by extension, the fate of the world with no Constitutional check.  The President came to be regarded not as Chief Executive of one of three branches of government, but as Commander in Chief of the whole nation.

The secret Manhattan project set a precedent for the vast secret powers of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the rest of the national security state.  Congress’s power of financial oversight was shut off by a veil of secrecy..

It is true that the U.S. government has a history of suspending civil liberties in times of war, but, prior to World War Two, life returned to normal after the war ended.

 In the nuclear age, the shooting war against Germany and Japan morphed into a global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.  And when the Soviet Union fell apart, the Cold War morphed into a supposed war against terror that had no defined enemy.

The wartime footing became a constant in American life.  Only the designated enemies changed.


The weak and helpless yet imperial Presidency

January 22, 2016

I’m reading THE DEEP STATE:  The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government by Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staff member.   He wrote the following on pages 32-33:

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LOther than the two-year period after his inauguration, when Democrats held both the House and the Senate, President Obama has not been able to enact most of his domestic policies and budgets.  Because on incessant GOP filibustering, not only could he not fill numerous vacancies on the federal judiciary, he could not even get some of his most innocuous presidential appointees into office.  Democrats controlling the Senate during the 113th Congress responded by weakening the filibuster, but Republicans inevitably retaliated with other parliamentary delaying tactics.

Despite this apparent impotence—and defenders of the President are quick to proclaim his powerlessness in the face of ferocious Republican obstruction—President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due process, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct “dragnet” surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented—at least since the McCarthy era—witch-hunts against federal employees through the so-called Insider Threat Program.

Within the United States, we are confronted with massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement.

Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, including the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory.


How can anti-LBJ protesters be for Obama?

October 29, 2012

Back in the 1960s, I was, to my shame, a supporter of U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  I saw U.S. intervention as an unfortunate but necessary move in the global duel between the United States and the Soviet Union.  I continued to defend U.S. policy right up until the time President Lyndon Johnson was defeated in the New Hampshire presidential primary, and announced that he would not run for re-election.  I saw that U.S. policy was unsustainable, although I continued for many years to think of the Vietnam intervention as no more than a bad mistake.

I don’t regret being anti-Communist.  I still am.  The Soviet Union really was an evil empire.  Soviet Communism was an anti-human, totalitarian ideology.  Where I went wrong was in thinking that opposition to Communism outweighed all other considerations, both practical and moral.

I respect the New Left protesters of the time.  They had better moral priorities than I did.  Lyndon Johnson was the greatest civil rights President of the 20th century, and the only President since Franklin Roosevelt who seriously attempted to help poor people in the United States.  But people such as Martin Luther King Jr. this was outweighed by the death and suffering caused by the quagmire war in Vietnam.

I am taken aback when I meet former New Leftists who say they support President Obama for re-election—Obama, who has done virtually nothing for civil rights, virtually nothing for poor people and taken the abuses of power of the imperial Presidency to lengths that even Richard Nixon, let alone Lyndon Johnson, never dreamed of.

They accept endless war, a Wall Street oligarchy and the destruction of civil liberties as facts whose reality it is necessary to accept, but argue that within this framework, Obama is better than Romney or any of the other Republicans—more willing to extend unemployment compensation benefits, for example, or to appoint judges who favor abortion rights.  This is a moral arithmetic that I don’t understand.

The legacy of Barack Obama

October 26, 2012

Barack Obama leaves a rich legacy.  He has established a bipartisan consensus that the powers of the President of the United States include the signing of secret death warrants based on secret criteria, and created a secret paramilitary force using flying killer robots to carry it out.  He has established a bipartisan consensus of never-ending warfare with no criterion for victory that could ever bring that warfare to an end.  He has established the principle that the government has a right to operate in secrecy and that insiders who reveal wrongdoing deserve to go to prison.  What other powers would a fascist dictator lack?

Obama has acted pro-actively to protect Wall Street bankers from prosecution for financial fraud, and to prevent the
“too big to fail” banks from being broken up.  He has offered to bargain away Social Security and Medicare in return for tax changes that could be achieved simply by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire.

When I think of Obama, I think of Bradley Manning stripped naked in his solitary cell.  I think of a 16-year-old boy sitting by the side of a road, suddenly turned into a “bug splat” because of the actions of his father.  I think of young black men going to prison for years for trivial drug offenses that Obama himself committed as a young man.  I think of Obama’s former chief of staff saying that everyone who expected Obama is keep his campaign promises is a “retard,” and his press secretary saying they should be drug-tested.

I will not vote for Barack Obama.  I will vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party, but almost all the alternative parties have a better platform than Obama’s.  It is a foregone conclusion that New York state will go for Obama, but if some of us show we want a better choice, that may have some effect in the long run.  Like the late Eugene V. Debs, I think it is better to vote for what I want, and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want, and get it.

Even if I lived in a swing state, I still would not vote for Obama.  It is not a foregone conclusion that a Romney administration would be worse.  If Romney is elected, some Democrats may remember they are liberals.  There might be opposition to the Wall Street oligarchy, the Homeland Security state and perpetual war, which there was under the Bush administration, but which has been neutered under the Obama administration.

Click on the following links for more.

The Obama Contradiction by Tom Engelhardt.

Obama moves to make the war on terror permanent by Glenn Greenwald.

The Question That Makes Most Obama Supporters Nervous and Evasive by Conor Friedersdorf.

President Romney Can Thank Obama For His Permanent Robotic Death List by Spencer Ackerman.

Symptoms of the Bush-Obama Presidency by David Bromwich.

Obama’s Betrayals: First the Base, Then the Party by Dave Lindorff