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February 11, 2010

The World in Ten Words or Less

By: Aaron Datesman

Because the United States is a very wealthy country, I like Jon’s opinion that most political conflicts here boil down to a fight between two factions: the Sane Billionaires and the Insane Billionaires. I thought of this when I read the following passage from the book Hard Times by Studs Terkel:

In the Depression. . .[the rich] were so God-damned scared they’d have a revolution. They damn near did, too, didn’t they? Ooooohhh, were they scared! What’s more scared than a million dollars?

“What’s more scared than a million dollars?” I like this for its Zen-like brevity, to roll it over in my mind and consider whether the answer is “Nothing” or nothing. In my opinion, right there rolled up in seven words is nearly everything one needs to know about people, wealth, power, history, and politics.

However, after listening to a recent episode of Democracy Now!, I am beginning to revise my opinion.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, Congress has the authority, under a joint resolution, to challenge any presidential directive. It’s not widely known, Amy, but there are at least three states of national emergency that we’re operating under right now by presidential declaration: one relating to 9/11, another one relating to the war on terror, and a third one relating to Iran.

Three states of national emergency?!? Holy smokes! We should all be sleeping in bomb shelters!

Or, should we? You have to be able to stretch reality like taffy in order to conclude that 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran even all rolled together into one could possibly constitute an existential threat to the US, buffered as we are by our wealth, power, two oceans, and stupefying prime-time TV.

“What’s more scared than a million dollars?” I’m afraid that the answer seems to be, “The United States of America”.

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at February 11, 2010 10:15 PM

My favorite national emergency is this one:

"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including but not limited to section 203 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (‘‘Act’’) (50 U.S.C. 1702), I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that the unrestricted access of foreign parties to U.S. goods and technology and the existence of certain boycott practices of foreign nations, in light of the expiration of the Export Administration Act of 1979, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2401 et seq.), constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and hereby declare a national emergency with respect to that threat."

- Executive order 13222, Aug. 17, 2001

The emergency in this case is that some national security related law expired and Congress didn't care enough to renew it. So the President kept the expired law in force under his "emergency" national security powers. (Clinton did this too, and this was pre-Terrorism Bush.)

The "certain boycott practices" mentioned in the Order are boycotts of Israel by foreign countries. I'm sure we can all agree that foreign countries boycotting Israel is an "unusual and extraordinary" threat to US national security, necessitating the exercise of any and all emergency Presidential powers.

Posted by: so very many emergencies at February 11, 2010 11:51 PM

Be afraid, be very afraid.

You gotta love Studs Terkel. He graduated from the University of Chicago law school but said he wanted to be a concierge in a hotel instead of practicing law.

Posted by: N E at February 12, 2010 12:00 AM

Your snarky tone makes me think you missed Kucinich's point. It is not that he or we should be cowering in fear of 'big gov' coming to get us but that these directives are both extra-constitutional and that they allow the executive to avoid congressional approval and oversight of foreign affairs. Kucinich is one of the few congress persons who consistently stands up to executive overreach, regardless of the party in power. He is the opposite of fearful. he is angry and fighting back.

Posted by: john in california at February 12, 2010 12:33 AM

“What’s more scared than a million dollars?” I’m afraid that the answer seems to be, “The United States of America”.

-What's more scared than a buck?" I'm afraid that the answer seems to be Equitorial Guineau and beyond. His arm swept and I was lost over the boat...'


Posted by: john at February 12, 2010 12:38 AM

Your snarky tone makes me think you missed Kucinich's point.

I think you need to think again.

Posted by: NomadUK at February 12, 2010 03:28 AM

john in california

NomadUK is right that I didn't mean to snark Kucinich or Terkel. I like them both a lot.

Keeping everyone afraid is an old game, but so much more can be done with television and film than with billboards. Being trapped with Fox or CNN or MSNCB on in the background for any length of time is enough to disorient anyone. And disorientation is itself frightening, as those with experience with Alzheimers especially know. (But it must be addictive, because people seem to miss it once they get used to it.)

It's great that Kucinich points out the "national emergency" racket. Most in Congress are too busy fundraising and/or too empty-headed and/or apathetic to notice.

But my favorite for today is 'so very many emergencies' just for that priceless pseudyonym, though the comment is good substantively too.

Posted by: N E at February 12, 2010 12:06 PM

Excellent post. Fear the key that unlocks the door into the collective unconscious.

But the fear-mongers in the national security apparatus, and their fainting media handmaidens, are not "The United States." The people are the United States. And most people are far more afraid of their own government overseers than any ginned-up foreign bogeyman.

Like telling a plantation slave that it's not the guy with the bullwhip he should worry about, but Napoleon.

Don't confuse the tick for the dog.

Posted by: Oarwell at February 12, 2010 02:15 PM

I think states of national emergency have been fairly common for many years (at least since Reagan - I think we had a national emergency due to the Sandanistas). The reason is simple - many laws have exceptions for national emergencies, and leave it to the president to decide when we're in one. So if the president wanted to do something that was against the law, but didn't want to bother to get Congress to change the law, he declared a state of national emergency. Generally most people never hear that we are in an state of emergency, because we are only in the technical sense.

Posted by: Mike B. at February 14, 2010 01:53 PM

Mike B

I don't know much about this, but if you or anyone else wants to know all about it, The Google has identified the following Congressional Research Service report on National Emergency Powers:

Posted by: N E at February 14, 2010 02:38 PM


According to that list (if I read it correctly), we are not now under 3 states of emergency, but about 20.

Posted by: Mike B. at February 15, 2010 08:09 AM

Mike B

I counted 19 that hadn't been revoked as of the publication of that 2007 CRS Report. I haven't studied this and don't understand why it's necessary. To me, it does smack of a way for Congress to pass any hot potato it wants to the executive branch without having responsibility or accountability, and for the executive branch to cut Congress out of the loop. That seems to be how 'checks and balances' actually works a lot of the time.

Posted by: N E at February 15, 2010 02:51 PM

I still cannot decide if the problem is:

i. The great success of the Bush regime was in turning a sizable portion of the American people into ignorant fear-crazed hate-filled bigots, or

ii. The great success of the Bush regime was in making it acceptable for a sizable portion of the American people to admit that they were ignorant fear-crazed hate-filled bigots, or

iii. The great success of the Bush regime was in finding policies that made a sizable portion of the American people pretend that they were ignorant fear-crazed hate-filled bigots, because they really liked the policies that were predicated thereupon.

Posted by: Bill Jones at February 16, 2010 08:50 PM

bill jones

You forgot 'all of the above'. The funny thing is, i'm not even trying to be funny.

Posted by: N E at February 17, 2010 12:13 AM