2.19.2007

you might want to move to canada before it's too late

From the New York Times editorial page:
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration's behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president's use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

The newly enacted provisions upset this careful balance. They shift the focus from making sure that federal laws are enforced to restoring public order. Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any "other condition."

Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate. The president made no mention of the changes when he signed the measure, and neither the White House nor Congress consulted in advance with the nation’s governors.

This week a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star called Chris Hedges's warnings about the rise of fascism in the US "idiotic". According to him, that Hedges is allowed to write and speak proves democracy reigns. I wrote this letter (unpublished) in reply:
Letter writer [name] of Toronto believes that saying the US is turning fascist is "idiotic". Perhaps he is looking for the wrong signs. Just because there are no tanks rolling through the streets and some dissent is allowed does not make a country a democracy.

Right now in the US, there is: overwhelming evidence that the last two presidential elections were fraudulent; the president's legal right to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charging them with a crime; endless war; government propaganda being disseminated through supposedly independent media; the escalating influence of religious fundamentalism in every public institution.

Perhaps we are witnessing something we have not seen before: a fascist state dressed in the trappings of democracy. The danger is not using a word too soon. It's recognizing the threat too late.

Please add this to my list.

22 comments:

Scott M. said...

I know in the US they have a "protect ourselves from the government" mentality, but in Canada we're happy to leave those decisions to our lawmakers.

In this case, the Canadian Military has always had the right to act as law enforcement at the behest of the Minister and orders in council. From the National Defence Act:

273.6(2) The Governor in Council, or the Minister on the request of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness or any other Minister, may issue directions authorizing the Canadian Forces to provide assistance in respect of any law enforcement matter if the Governor in Council or the Minister, as the case may be, considers that
(a) the assistance is in the national interest; and

(b) the matter cannot be effectively dealt with except with the assistance of the Canadian Forces.


More information on how emergencies are dealt with are also contained within the absolutely fun-to-read Emergencies Act.

So, while I'm rarely hesitant to slag the US government, I can't fault them on this one considering, in this one instance Canada is no better or worse.

David Cho said...

So how does this jive with President sending federal troops to enforce civil rights in the 50's and 60's? I'm curious. So what was it that enabled them to do this?

L-girl said...

So how does this jive with President sending federal troops to enforce civil rights in the 50's and 60's?

The students were attempting to exercise their legal rights under Brown v Board of Education. Local law enforcement was refusing to do its job, and in many cases was actively preventing the law from being carried out, as in when the Governor of Arkansas ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black students from entering the school.

That may be the distinction.

The president is authorized to use federal troops to maintain order and protect life. That hasn't always been used judiciously: Kent State.

L-girl said...

in Canada we're happy to leave those decisions to our lawmakers

How nice for you.

while I'm rarely hesitant to slag the US government, I can't fault them on this one considering

Scott, I can only think you're being purposely contrary or obtuse.

You must realize that the concern stems from the person who made this change (Bush), how the change was made (without public knowledge or debate, without the knowledge or consent of Congress) and the growing concern of Bush's further flauting of and erosion of the democratic process.

You also know that the US has a different system than Canada's, and that checks and balances are an important feature of the government, a feature that is increasingly being disregarded.

To compare Canada's use of troops and law enforcement with the US's - completely out of context, as if the two countries have the same history and the same concerns - is ridiculous. And I'm sure you know that.

Scott M. said...

Scott, I can only think you're being purposely contrary or obtuse.

Nope... try again (OK, that comment was purposely snarky, but maybe in retaliation for the "How nice for you" comment {grin}).

As I read it, the fundamental statement of your post and it's title imply that Canada is considerably better than the US in this particular matter. I disagree, and backed that up with legislation that shows that we, indeed, have the same law in this case.

You also know that the US has a different system than Canada's, and that checks and balances are an important feature of the government, a feature that is increasingly being disregarded.

Checks and balances are important in our system too -- they are not an exclusive American ideal.

To compare Canada's use of troops and law enforcement with the US's - completely out of context, as if the two countries have the same history and the same concerns - is ridiculous.

Indeed, their history is quite divergent... such as when Canadian troops rounded up the Japanese and placed them in camps... or when PET rounded up over 400 people thought to be related to the FLQ and held some of them for weeks without charge... These things didn't happen in exactly the same way as they did in the US but they were still atrocities.

You have also commented on the fact that Canada has the system of Security Certificates which has been roundly criticized. What I'm getting at is that, in this case, Canada is not necessarily much better than the US. I don't think it's fair to slag them on that point alone.

On one point I will agree with you however... I think it's horribly deceitful to attach a completely unrelated piece of legislation to a budget or any other bill. It's despicable and, in our system, disallowed. The way our government gets around that is to create an omnibus bill whose goal is to implement wide sweeping changes, though this is rarely used.

L-girl said...

As I read it, the fundamental statement of your post and it's title imply that Canada is considerably better than the US in this particular matter.

Then you are misinterpreting the title and reading more into the post than I have written.

The title implies only that Americans who want to move to Canada might do well to move quickly, as their freedom of movement may be restricted in the future.

That's the only reason Canada is in the title. It's meant somewhat facetiously, and somewhat seriously.

Other than that, the post has nothing to do with Canada.

Checks and balances are important in our system too -- they are not an exclusive American ideal.

Nor did I imply otherwise.

But the Parliamentary system makes law differently. In the US, the president is now usurping the powers of Congress. You said "in Canada we're happy to leave those decisions to our lawmakers", but this was not left to the lawmakers. It was done by the executive branch by fiat.

That is why I mentioned checks and balances. It is also why I said "how nice for you" - because it doesn't matter what Canadians are happy with when it comes to this issue. In the US, this is a flagrant and blatant misuse of presidential power, and one that Americans should be duly concerned about - especially in the context of everything else the Cheney administration has done. This is not one isolated bill. Everyone reading this knows that.

Scott M. said...

The title implies only that Americans who want to move to Canada might do well to move quickly, as their freedom of movement may be restricted in the future.

My mistake then... mea culpa. I guess one reads things from their perspective... as a Canadian I read this as a comparison.

It was done by the executive branch by fiat.
As I mentioned, I hate "sneaking in" things on unrelated bills such as an appropriations bill, but as I read your inital post I am interpreting (perhaps incorrectly) that congress passed the bill and that this wasn't a signing-statement kinda thing.

Don't get me wrong... I agree that the executive in the US is WAY too powerful and doesn't have effective checks and balances. I have that same concern with the Canadian executive as well... but at least the opposition can question him on a frequent basis.

James said...

[W]hen PET rounded up over 400 people thought to be related to the FLQ and held some of them for weeks without charge... These things didn't happen in exactly the same way as they did in the US but they were still atrocities.

The big difference here is that PET's War Measures adventure was quite limited in scope (not that that makes it right, mind); Bush & Co are systematically encoding permanent changes into the Executive Branch's powers that would pretty much eliminate the limitations on such powers.

L-girl said...

My mistake then... mea culpa.

Not a problem. :)

As I mentioned, I hate "sneaking in" things on unrelated bills such as an appropriations bill, but as I read your inital post I am interpreting (perhaps incorrectly) that congress passed the bill and that this wasn't a signing-statement kinda thing.

Even with "sneaking things in", it's usually Congress that does the sneaking. It's dirty, and it's wrong, but it's what Congress does. But Congress was not even informed about this. It's not the same as a signing statement - it's worse.

Here's a piece that explains how it works and includes Senator Leahy's comments in opposition.

L-girl said...

The big difference here is that PET's War Measures adventure was quite limited in scope (not that that makes it right, mind); Bush & Co are systematically encoding permanent changes into the Executive Branch's powers that would pretty much eliminate the limitations on such powers.

Yes. That's the point. Thank you.

L-girl said...

I know in the US they have a "protect ourselves from the government" mentality

It's true that there is an anti-statist streak in the US. But there is also a profound law & order, do-as-your-told, follow authority streak. A fascist streak. It's deep and it's pervasive.

The vast majority of the populace is much more afraid of lawbreakers than lawmakers, and are willing to defer to the law as written, no matter what.

That is a much more prevalent attitude then the scattershot "anti-government" crowd, no matter how much play the militia types get in the media.

Once a law is written, no matter how unconstitutional, unethical or immoral it is, it carries tremendous weight.

As you can see, there is very little danger in the US of mass rebellion against the government, but a very grave danger of blind obedience to it.

Given everything we've seen since 2000, if more Americans had a "protect ourselves from the government" mentality, the country - and the whole world - could be in much better shape. Perhaps the fight couldn't have been won by now, but at least there'd be a more powerful mass resistance.

Nigel Patel said...

Yeah it's scary but not at all surprising.
Reagan drew up Martial Law plans based on his approval ratings and I imagine W. was tinkering with his Declaration of Martial Law speech since the days he was AWOL from dodging the draft in the Air National Guard.
At least since I came back to Metro-Detroit I'm never more than a short drive and a brisk swim from Canada if I ever need to be.

L-girl said...

Michigan is a good place to live in that respect.

And I agree, it's not surprising, given everything else they've done. Fucking scary though.

M@ said...

It seems to me that the best thing to do in the USA is to provoke the government to declare martial law across the nation, or in a state, or even in one big city.

One of the big problems is that a lot of the things Bushco has done are very quiet. Jose Padilla? Wasn't he a terrorist? People in general need a curfew and some tanks tearing up the pavement on Park Avenue to tell them how big the problem is. Otherwise, it's just another little thing that Fox News will ignore or mis-report, and some people nobody's heard of will be put in prison for the rest of their lives.

I agree with the assessment of the mile-wide authoritarian streak in the USA. Not that it doesn't exist here, but can you imagine anyone giving any prime minister the same kind of respect the president gets? I've never even heard of someone suggesting that we not criticise the PM. It would be ludicrous.

Incidentally, Glenn Greenwald pointed to a University of Manitoba prof's new book, available serially online (up to chapter 6 so far), called The Authoritarians. It looks really interesting, and I thought some of the readers here would want to take a look.

David Cho said...

The president is authorized to use federal troops to maintain order and protect life

So what additional powers does Bush have now that Eisenhower didn't? I'm still not seeing it. I suppose Bush can still make an excuse to say that local enforcement is being too easy on some sleeper cells in San Francisco and send federal troops without having passed this law and point to the precedence set by Eisenhower.

The irony of course is that conservatives who had a cow back then and complained of federal intrusion would wholeheartedly welcome the move.

BTW, not to put a damper here, but if an American president declared martial law over the entire nation and became a dictator, I don't think he would leave Canada to its own devices. He would not tolerate having a free country next us with a 3,000 mile long border.

L-girl said...

People in general need a curfew and some tanks tearing up the pavement on Park Avenue to tell them how big the problem is. Otherwise, it's just another little thing that Fox News will ignore or mis-report, and some people nobody's heard of will be put in prison for the rest of their lives.

You have a point there.

But it's hard for me to wish for such a thing, since it was my home for most of my life, and so many people and places I love are there.

Not that it doesn't exist here, but can you imagine anyone giving any prime minister the same kind of respect the president gets? I've never even heard of someone suggesting that we not criticise the PM. It would be ludicrous.

That is a huge difference between Canada and the US. The PM is just a man with a job. The President is... well, you know. He's just a hair beneath god and the pope. When he's a Republican, that is.

That's for the tip on the book. I'd like to know more about that.

L-girl said...

but if an American president declared martial law over the entire nation and became a dictator, I don't think he would leave Canada to its own devices.

Don't for a second think Canadians don't know that.

On the other hand, the US could close its borders and Canada could be a free state, a place of refuge for anyone who could get here. That's not implausible.

Re your Eisenhower (and, I assume, Kennedy and Nixon) question, let me get some info together and get back to you. There's tons of stuff being written about it right now.

L-girl said...

People in general need a curfew and some tanks tearing up the pavement on Park Avenue to tell them how big the problem is.

Also, this is the same idea as why I sometimes wish they'd just institute the draft already - to fuel the peace movement.

However... I have 4 nieces and nephews of draft age, and another about to be.

Of course, I also have a couch, an aerobed, dogs that need walking and a lawn to mow, so a bunch of long-term guests might be nice.

David Cho said...

On the other hand, the US could close its borders and Canada could be a free state, a place of refuge for anyone who could get here. That's not implausible.

We can't even control the US-Mexico border which is about half the length of the Canadian border.

Re your Eisenhower (and, I assume, Kennedy and Nixon) question, let me get some info together and get back to you. There's tons of stuff being written about it right now.

Thanks. I would appreciate it. Having lived through martial law, I often wonder about it. The South Korean government often used the fear of the North invading to keep the country under control.

But I also wonder about the practicality of it here in the US. SK is a lot smaller than that US.

L-girl said...

We can't even control the US-Mexico border which is about half the length of the Canadian border.

By close the border, I mean officially close it. Not let anyone in or out at the official checkpoints. It would be easily done, as far as the usual legal ways of crossing between the US and Canada.

It's the one incentive I have to keep my US citizenship and passport.

But I also wonder about the practicality of it here in the US. SK is a lot smaller than that US.

That's what I always think when the subject of martial law in the US comes up: the country is so big, how would they do it?

But then, it could take a form other than what we immediately think of as martial law. It could happen by increments.

Anyway, I have writing assignments right now (not that you'd know it by how much I'm blabbing here!), but I will look into this over the weekend at work.

The South Korean government often used the fear of the North invading to keep the country under control.

What an interesting perspective that must give you on all the WOT - fear and its uses.

M@ said...

Also, this is the same idea as why I sometimes wish they'd just institute the draft already - to fuel the peace movement.

Yes -- but they can't do that with the general public so much against the Iraq war. They should've done it in the summer of '03, when they had the chance. As it stands, the only thing that's ever mattered to this crowd of loons is keeping and expanding their power, and the draft isn't going to contribute.

Really, my visions of actual martial law will never come to pass. The problem with Bush's unrelenting expansion of the power of the executive branch is that it's used in such quiet, insidious ways.

And my example of tanks on Park Avenue was just the most dramatic example -- I too hope it never comes to pass. New York is too nice to deserve that kind of crap.

L-girl said...

Yes, yes, yes. Yes to everything M@ said.

The problem with Bush's unrelenting expansion of the power of the executive branch is that it's used in such quiet, insidious ways.

Exactly. That's what makes it so difficult to fight against it. Worse, it makes it so difficult to recognize. Most people think the US is still a democracy, a "free country".