Executive Orders: Their Use and Abuse by Many U.S. Presidents
By Victor Thorn
President Barack Obama is following on the heels of previous presidents such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, whose disdain for constitutional checks and balance was often evident in the flurry of executive orders (EOs) and presidential decision directives (PDDs) signed in an effort to get around Congress.
Once used as a way to establish schedules for executive office employees or to help agencies under the White House carry out their duties, EOs and PDDs are increasingly being used as a means to bypass the due process of proper legislation.
Through these, Obama is following the precedent set by his predecessors, bypassing the legislative process and instead relying on making up the rules himself through various governmental agencies and hand-selected czars. And while Obama, who has issued 134 EOs, does not hold a candle to past presidents like FDR, who issued an incredible 3,522 EOs, or Woodrow Wilson, who signed 1,807 EOs, his use is pushing the bounds for which they were originally intended.
By comparison, George Washington issued eight EOs, and Thomas Jefferson signed only four.
In Obama’s case, his views about the proper role Congress should play in creating or challenging laws were made clear in a March 6 press conference when he said, “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”
For instance, since Congress wouldn’t pass a cap-and-trade environmental bill, he used the Environmental Protection Agency to make its own rules through the Clean Air Act. Cap and trade refers to a complicated system that involves setting pre-determined limits on carbon emissions produced by factories.
When the American people resisted the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, Obama turned to an EO that granted blanket immunity for a million illegal aliens. And rather than going to Congress to get approval under the War Powers Act prior to last year’s Libyan invasion, the White House went to the United Nations (UN) to get approval for war.
But while Obama’s frequent use of EOs is not unprecedented, the scope of the new rules he makes pushes the envelope for just how far a president can go in making his own decrees.
There is a long history of presidents signing EOs that grant them unprecedented powers during national emergencies such as wars. But on March 16, Obama’s National Defense Resources Preparedness EO bestowed governmental authority over wide sections of the economy not only during war but also in times of peace.
On July 6, Obama signed another EO called the Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions that granted the White House the power to take control and operate—or shut down, if he so decided—any telecommunications station in the country.
Finally, as an act of unbridled power reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” Obama took control of a secret “Kill List” of so-called enemy combatants.
Obama recently released a policy directive wherein he overturned Clinton’s monumental welfare reforms. Under the guise of shifting responsibility to the states, Obama waived all previous requirements like showing a work history to qualify for welfare in order to obtain monthly cash payments or food stamps.
A Short History of Executive Orders & Abuse of Power
By Victor Thorn
Despite President Barack Obama’s relatively low number of EOs in his first four years, he has become well known for brazenly thumbing his nose at Congress. Still, Obama is not alone. Over the years, several presidents stand out for how far they have been willing to go with EOs.
A host of intriguing EOs have come down the pike since our country’s entry into World War II.
Most famously, FDR prohibited the possession of gold coins and bullion. He also allowed the forced relocation and imprisonment of Japanese citizens living in the United States while condemning Germany for doing the same thing to Jews.
In terms of conspiracies, no single order approaches John F. Kennedy’s EO 11110 where, supposedly, he sought to undermine the Federal Reserve by issuing $4.2 billion in U.S. notes backed by silver. Proponents claim this was one of the reasons why the president was assassinated, although many researchers have debunked this as disinformation.
Upon entering the Oval Office, Lyndon B. Johnson used EO 11130 to create the cover-up Warren Commission. Gerald Ford issued EO 11905, which read, believe it or not, “No employee of the U.S. government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassinations.” It’s a good thing he got that matter settled once and for all. Now we can all sleep a little bit easier at night.
His successor, Jimmy Carter, capitalized on his presidential power by establishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency—which would later be used to target 1980s militia members—as well as seizing all Iranian assets in the U.S. following the hostage crisis.
When abuse of the office is considered, George W. Bush went to deplorable lengths with wiretapping, detainment and overall secrecy. One clear-cut example was EO 13233, which gutted the Presidential Records Act. Transparency went out the window with that EO as Bush tried to prevent internal documents from becoming part of the public record.
Bill Clinton similarly wandered into dangerous territory with EO 13107 that set up a new federal agency that implemented UN treaties within the U.S. even if the Senate didn’t approve them.
Far worse than Clinton’s EOs was what came to be known as “Pardongate.” During his final days in office, Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 Puerto Rican terrorists who had exploded as many as 120 bombs around the United States. He also pardoned extortionists, cocaine traffickers, money launderers, those involved with child pornography, his drug-abusing half-brother Roger, Chicago political thug Dan Rostenkowski, two violent Weather Underground terrorists and Susan McDougal, who served prison time for her involvement in the underhanded Whitewater real estate deal.
The absolute worst move Clinton made involved Marc Rich, a notorious Jewish tax felon who fled the U.S. owing $48 million to the Internal Revenue Service. As an incentive for leniency, Rich’s wife Denise donated significant amounts of money to both the Clinton library and Hillary’s senatorial campaign.
Can Obama Resurrect ‘Backdoor Wiretaps?
By Victor Thorn
Due to the Cybersecurity Act (CSA) of 2012 being defeated in the Senate on August 2 by a vote of 52-46, government spook agencies and corporations that operate social media networks will be unable to pry any further into our private lives, at least not any more than they already do. Computer users, who are increasingly suspicious of government cyber-invasions, should view this move by GOP lawmakers—in addition to liberals and independents such as Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—as good news.
During an August 9 interview, Mark Stanley, a campaign and communications strategist with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told AMERICAN FREE PRESS about his privacy concerns.
“Privacy worries are well-founded. In the digital age, we have all these technologies in our lives and we store plenty of information with third parties, such as old emails. Unlike a standard letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service that receives full Fourth Amendment protection, the government argues that it shouldn’t need a warrant to inspect any email stored for over 180 days. This stance obviously violates our right from unreasonable searches,” he said.
One of Stanley’s colleagues at CDT, Greg Nojeim, voiced the following concern about privacy issues in a speech on April 4.
“We don’t want cybersecurity to become a backdoor wiretap,” he said.
The CSA would have granted vast new authorities to agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security.
In an August 2 column in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Mark Jaycox referred to the CSA as a surveillance bill in disguise.
“The bill granted companies new powers to spy on users, share [personal] information with the government, and claim broad legal immunity for their actions,” Jaycox wrote.
In an attempt to frighten the populace, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Shawn Henry fell back on a tried-and-true method by utilizing the threat of external attacks. In this instance, Henry warned of Russia or China being behind a massive cyber-attack. Yet, to date, the two most well-known acts of digital sabotage—Stuxnet and Flame—originated from the U.S. and Israel.
Another fear-mongering tactic involves the use of faceless entities such as hacker groups “Anonymous” and “LulzSec,” who, like al Qaeda or Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984, always seem to be lurking in the shadows. But, the NSA openly recruits hackers—as AFP has previously reported—who appear to create or are responsible for many of the attacks, viruses and backdoor invasions. It’s not difficult to decipher their modus operandi. Create a problem, which then conveniently provides the opening for a government “solution” in new legislation.
Americans should be particularly concerned with the NSA’s role in this matter. Not only would their covert actions be exempt from freedom of information disclosures, because of alleged national security concerns, this is the agency that engaged in sweeping unwarranted wiretaps during the Bush administration following 9-11.
As the privacy watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation proclaimed in a July 31 release, “The NSA has proven it can’t be trusted . . . [Their] dark history of repeated privacy violations, flouting of domestic law, and resistance to transparency makes it clear that the nation’s cybersecurity should not be in its hands.”
However, this issue isn’t completely settled. On August 6, Susanne Posel of the website Occupy Corporatism revealed that a presidential “trap door” might be in the making. She cited White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s claim that “Obama may write an executive order to ensure his cybersecurity agenda is implemented.”
By sidestepping Congress and the constitutional balance of power, Ms. Posel highlighted a key point: Obama’s concerns don’t involve the security of everyday citizens, but instead large corporations and government agencies.
“Obama could enact any or all of the provisions in the CSA by [executive order],” she wrote. “This would enable federal agencies to regulate any authorities needed to take down the free flow of information on the Internet in the name of protecting the private corporate sector.”
These three words are crucial in understanding the president’s motives. When asked about the use of an EO order in regard to cybersecurity, CDT’s Stanley responded, “We don’t know what the White House is going to do, but there seems to be a sense of urgency within this administration.”
Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 50 books.