Over the weekend, we had a lot of questions regarding a new Executive Order that was signed by President Obama on Friday, March 16. Reportedly, this order would allow the government to seize food and water storage from citizens.
Allegedly, the order expanded presidential power to allow this type of action during peacetime and wartime.
We wanted to address some of these concerns:
The order is titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” The document is an updated version of the Defense Production Act of 1950. This same document has been updated many times since 1950 including by Presidents Clinton and Bush.
The act in 1950 allowed the president to require business’ help deemed necessary for national defense, establish agencies to allocate materials and control the civilian economy to distribute scarce or critical materials. The original act was a response to the beginning of the Korean War.
The updated document gives the executive department and national defense agencies the order to do five things:
- Identify requirements for emergencies;
- Assess the capability of the country’s industrial and technological base to satisfy requirements in peacetime and times of national emergency;
- Be prepared to ensure the availability of critical resources in time of national threat;
- Improve the efficiency of the industrial base to support national defense;
- Foster cooperation between commercial and defense sectors to enhance efficiency and responsiveness. (Read the Executive Order)
While many people are saying that this order will give the government power to take anything they want, the order is actually more of a preparedness measure. The president has basically asked his cabinet to make plans in case of a national defense emergency.
The new order also redistributes existing power to new cabinet members - like the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Food & Water Storage
It is true that the updated order gives the government authority to redistribute food. However, this doesn’t mean that the government can take your food storage.
The order is made to make preparations before an emergency and gives the government power to redistribute food during a crisis.
Food resources is defined in the order as “all commodities and products, (simple, mixed, or compound), or complements to such commodities or products, that are capable of being ingested by either human beings or animals, irrespective of other uses to which such commodities or products may be put, at all stages of processing from the raw commodity to the products thereof in vendible form for human or animal consumption.
'Food resources' also means potable water packaged in commercially marketable containers, all starches, sugars, vegetable, and animal or marine fats and oils, seed, cotton, hemp, and flax fiber, but does not mean any such material after it loses its identity as an agricultural commodity or agricultural product.” (Read the Executive Order)
That last part is key. The food resources that can be distributed will be agricultural products - not market commodities - like food storage items you purchased.
In other words, it would be much like the WWII rations - the government distributing certain types of foods and materials to make sure that national defense did not suffer. In fact, the Huffington Post cited the executive order as a measure by President Obama to prepare for wars in other parts of the world and the resulting economic impact on the United States.2
Something to worry about?
There were a lot of rumors flying around this weekend about what the Executive Order would do.
Filled with language about “government-owned equipment” and a “defense executive reserve,” among other vague statements, rumors began to spread that the executive order expanded the president’s power to do everything from seizing whole industries to drafting private armies.
A Canada Free Press article titled “Obama Executive Order: Peacetime Martial Law!” spread concerns of gasoline ration cards; while an Examiner article declared the order would “nationalize everything” and “allow for a civilian draft.” Facebook, email and Twitter were suddenly abuzz, and even the extremely popular Drudge Report posted a link to the White House release under the title “Martial Law? Obama Issues Executive Order.” ...
Despite the vague nature of the functions, none mention anything about martial law or seizing private property. The five functions are also identical to those identified in Clinton’s EO 12919.1
Many critics, including Cornell Law professor William A. Jacobson, agree that this is not an expansion of presidential power.
“There is enough that Obama actually does wrong,” he said. “If someone wants to make the argument that this is an expansion of presidential powers, then do so based on actual language.”
There were some good points brought up over the weekend. In particular, Doug Mataconis of “Outside the Beltway” made a good point:
There are, perhaps, some issues worth discussing that this EO raises. The fact that the President of the United States is still exercising authority granted during the Korean War and the height of the Cold War is yet another reflection of how power, once assumed by the Imperial Presidency, is never surrendered.
The fact that an Executive Order like this was released on a Friday afternoon and has been largely ignored by the traditional media is an indication of just how easy it is for politicians to manipulate the news cycle. And the idea that the government has authority like that described in this document, even only in theory, and that most Americans aren’t even aware of it, is a reflection of just how little we know about the things that are done in our name. Those are all legitimate issues, but they go far deeper than this one relatively innocuous Executive Order.
We hope that this article has provided a little insight into the updated Executive Order. While this doesn’t necessarily expand the president’s power, it does shed light on the fact that power given is hard to take away.
Overall, it comes down to whether or not you trust the person in power.
1. Zahn, Drew. 2012. "Executive Order Panic: Martial Law in U.S.?" WND News. Available online at http://www.wnd.com/2012/03/executive-order-panic-martial-law-in-america/
2. Black, Edwin. 2012. "Barack Obama Prepares for War Footing" The World Post. Available online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edwin-black/obama-national-defense-resources-preparedness_b_1359715.html