Totalitarianism Revisited

I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong.
-John Quincy Adams, Letter to John Adams

It is time I set the record straight. I applaud all George Bush has done as president during the past 6 1/2 years and if any one reads anything I have written during the past five years as threatening stabilization efforts in Iraq, attribute it to my impoverished style and not malevolence towards Mr. Bush and his foreign policy for which I have the highest regard. Furthermore, like George W. Bush, I, too, am a big fan of Vladimir Putin and I was delighted to see that at the same time Mr. Bush was signing his most recent executive order, Mr. Putin was strengthening police-surveillance powers and broadening the definition of extremism in Russia giving the Russians the same kind of protection Mr. Bush is giving all of us.

On July 17 Mr. Bush signed one of those executive orders (EO) that enables him to make laws without bothering Congress. In the introduction, EO 13438 explains that it is "in the interests of the United States to take additional steps with respect to the national emergency declared in [assorted executive orders issued in 2003 and 2004]." It says that property and interests of certain defined bad people can be confiscated without advance notice to those bad people. The order doesn't apply to everyone in the United States. It only applies to people who have what is referred to in the EO as a "constitutional presence" in the United States. That term is not defined in the order but presumably it applies only to people who have the complete panoply of constitutional rights accorded citizens. Thus, terrorists and unlawful combatants who lack those rights are probably not affected by the EO.

Here are some of the kinds of bad people who pursuant to the EO may find their property confiscated without notice. People who undermine "efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people." I fear that columns I have written making fun of the failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq or the torture in Abu Ghraib could be considered undermining the efforts of the government to continue engaging in failed reconstruction efforts and that was not my intent.

It is not only we who write for publication who are threatened by the EO. According to the EO, if Condoleeza Rice and Henry Paulson, secretary of the treasury, get together over coffee and decide that Mr. X's conduct undermines efforts to "promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq . . . ." then not only that person's assets but the assets of anyone who provides "services" to that person, such as an attorney or a health care professional, may be blocked. Furthermore, because Mr. Bush worries about the speed with which assets belonging to "bad people" can be transferred, his order concludes by saying that "there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to" the section authorizing blocking of assets. Thus, the lawyer who innocently undertakes to represent Jose Padilla may get home only to find that the home has been "blocked".

It was only a coincidence that just when Mr. Bush was signing his EO a new law in Russia was making its way to the desk of Mr. Bush's good friend, Vladimir ("I call him Vladimir") Putin. On July 27 Mr. Putin signed legislation having similar goals to Mr. Bush's EO. The law expands the definition of extremism to include, among other things, hooliganism that is committed for political, social hatred or ideological reasons. It prohibits the media from referring to organizations banned as extremist without saying they are subject to the ban. It imposes fines on printers and publishers who disseminate literature deemed extremist.

Although both laws seek to control those who oppose actions of their respective governments, the birth of the two laws was different. In Russia the legislation went through both houses of parliament in a legislative process and was then sent to Mr. Putin for signature. In the United States Mr. Bush created the law.

To reassure Russians that the new law is not a move towards totalitarianism, Mr. Putin said: "All political parties have the right to express their opinion, to stage rallies, and marches. They should enjoy freedom of expression, but only within the framework of the law and without disturbing other people or provoking law enforcement agencies. If the goal is provocation, that is bad." Mr. Bush made no effort to reassure his subjects. Aside from being completely inarticulate and incapable of reassuring anyone about anything, reassurance from Mr. Bush was unnecessary. It is found in the EO. The EO can be read on line. It becomes effective August 19, 2007.

Christopher Brauchli
For political commentary see my web page

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