The text of this is seen at so many places and linked by them that it is almost superfluous to link to it, but here is the link from the White House. My basic take is similar to that of Glenn Reynolds, which is in part:
It’s not that such powers are necessarily a good idea, but they’re not new. That reminds me of what I wrote back during the Bush Administration: “Some of the backlash against things that the Bush Administration has been doing probably stems from a lack of understanding of just how bad the law has always been in many areas, leading to a false impression that things represent shocking new departures from the Constitution when they really represent . . . er, . . well-settled departures from the Constitution. Search, seizure, and privacy law, of course, was already seriously damaged by the Drug War long before Bush ever took office, something that tends to be forgotten in discussions of FISA or the Patriot Act. But it goes beyond that sort of thing. Sweeping Executive authority, for example, is nothing new.”
To reiterate: these are old Korean War ideas that later became part of the US government's continuity of government plan or, as I came to know it in my area, the Continuation Of Operations Plan (COOP) which was the DoD terminology at the time. The COOP is part of the larger continuity plan that the Executive Branch runs in case of a National Emergency.
There are some key concepts that were put forward 73 years ago, during the Korean War which, itself, was part of the larger Cold War, and that was the idea that a sudden nuclear first strike by the USSR demanded a response and then some ability to find out just what was left after such a first strike. This concept grew out of the post-WWII experience in trying to stand up the economies of West Germany and Japan, as well as giving a boost to France, Italy and a few other Nations that had bombed out infrastructure and needed a boost to get back on their feet to feed people. This was due to the idea of Total War done at the Nation State level having reached the conclusion that military machines are just representative of the true power of a Nation which is its manufacturing base. A long-term military organization can't survive in the field by scavenging and must have an industrial base to support it, which is an outcome of technological growth in capacity, output and efficiency. To efficiently neutralize a Nation's war making capability, then, you target its industrial and natural resources base so that it can't make war any more, and the best way to do that is with single devices delivered with assurance to such industrial targets. Hence nuclear tipped ballistic missiles become the prime devices for Total War.
On the aftermath side of Total War, experienced by the soldiers put in charge of getting reconstruction going in Nations torn by war and lacking an industrial base, some of the basics of organization and regimentation that is part and parcel of military doctrine comes to the forefront, as the very organization that is made to destroy capacity is also an organizing system for rebuilding. Or so it says here in fine print at the bottom of the last page...
The major problem is that this only works with societies used to having a regimented system of authority over the civilian population which, to a large degree, describes Germany, Japan and to a lesser degree Italy and France. The post-WWII era and early Cold War were shaped by this experience, the ability of the US military to accomplish a lot in a little amount of time, and with the looming nuclear threat the idea of a fast ramp-up to rebuilding led by the military controlled by a civilian government seemed like a good idea at the time. And the President, as Commander of the Armies and the Navies, gets the job of doing all that organizing.
See how that works?
Now, fast forward to the era in which I was involved in minor ways at a sub-agency level in the COOP and our directives were to find ways to continue operations under various threat scenarios which included loss of one or both of our production sites. Because of the way that procurement went in the 1980's and the proprietary nature of the information we dealt with (which is industrial proprietary, not secret or anything) the conclusion was that we would have to go to a pre-automated mode to continue operations. In other words get things done by hand. Yes we made provisions to have duplicate equipment (which had the Y2K problem and was thus going to be obsolete by the time we finished with the COOP) but the realization was that once the knowledge base of living personnel was lost, there was no way we were going to do more than just limp along until new people were trained and since some of the skills necessary were process skills (done while making the information) getting that set of skills back would take longer than some of the analytical skills as it is highly specialized in the manual field.
Throughout the COOP we kept concepts of terror attacks in mind either those that had spill-over to our agency or those directed at our agency, or those directed at leadership command and control centers. The determination was to defend our data in-depth at the agency level and keep a final work product back-up with DoD safe sites which made for a five-tiered data storage system. It was the best we could think of at the time as no one was putting known and speculated asymmetrical threats into the system for drafting the COOP.
Looking back from 2012 the flaws in the entire continuation of government to utilize the military to rebuild the Nation has obvious flaws which are absolutely striking today.
First is that we are not a people with a highly regimented society. Take a look at any disaster in US history and tell me which one depended on a centralized recovery system for it. Good luck on that! Never happens, even with Katrina by the time the federal government got off its but it was OBE at the local level. In fact people in FL who had multiple hurricanes run through the State five years BEFORE Katrina were STILL waiting for federal help when Katrina struck NOLA. This is not just true of the present-day America but can be seen in such things as the 1903 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the burning down of Chicago, the Great Molasses Disaster in Boston, the Great Winter of NYC... from tornadoes to black outs to earthquakes to floods the first place Americans turn to? Each other. To churches and civic groups. To Americans coming out of the disaster zone to help people pick up the pieces, get through the hardship, mourn the dead and rebuild their lives. America, for all of those who want freebies and goodies and handouts, still does this, but the requirement is that unless your body is broken that you get up and help your fellow man. Government comes in as an after-thought, and usually a burden by the time it gets to any disaster.
Second is the spread of useless bureaucracy over time. This adheres to Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy:
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
This law was not written in 1959, but the effect of it was obvious to anyone who studied bureaucracy of any sort at any point in mankind's history. China had used this under the Sun Kings so as to keep a smoothly running State apparatus during times of problems for the King and ruling class. Over time they became a hidebound reactionary force to inhibit invention and promulgation of ideas and sequestered power into the hands of the State. At that point wars became rather nasty as minor technological innovations could prove out to be a major problem, sometimes one in which superior manpower was not a sure solution. You can start out with a nice organization with, say, a nice 15% overhead of management rate (which is to say 15% of the organization is managers) and in three generations this will increase and while there is no set amount of percentage change, the one thing that can be predicted is that 15% will seem like a dream of efficiency in three generations as new internal edicts, internal compliance and other internal bureaucracy eat up more of an organization all in the name of 'efficiency'. When I tell people that the most efficient parts of the US government have a 35% overhead in terms of cost, they don't seem to get it until I point out that a typical industrial set-up has a 15-20% overhead rate, and most charities hit in the 10% range with (outliers up and down, of course). At the time I was in the US government the worst parts had a 65% overhead, which meant they spent more time in internal management than they did in doing a job.
Third is the growth of bureaucracy over time. This is guided by Parkinson's law:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
When a bureaucracy increases internal workload via Pournelle's Iron Law, the work time does not come out evenly and, when one has to adjust for workforce numbers (which is to say warm bodies in the job pool) extra personnel are added to cover for partial shortfalls in meeting work time estimate requirements. These individuals then require additional work to do and those most ready to give them work are those running the internal bureaucracy of an organization. For government agencies this is an increase on burden rate and an increase in non-productive time versus the marginal increase in productive time. No bureaucracy ever asks for fewer people and resources (indeed the US Congress punishes agencies that don't spend all their money) and so the impetus is to spend freely, quickly and expand organizational requirements to meet any increase in budget and then add that increase rate of change into future budgets. What starts out with efficiency in mind gets co-opted by the internal systems that run the bureaucracy to marginalize actual work and increase non-productive work. When more work is required the added personnel have, as part of their workload, the internal bureaucratic overhead of the organization itself which is leveraged on the individual, so that there is less return per person in actual work.
Fourth is bureaucratic mission creep which Pranay Gupte and Bonner R. Cohen described in Forbes magazine on 20 OCT 1997 as the following:
Mission creep is to a taxpayer-supported organization what new markets are to a business organization. It involves a gradual, sometimes authorized, sometimes not, broadening of a bureaucracy's original mission. It is a way to accrete money and power beyond what Congress originally approved when it funded an agency.
This works in conjunction with Pournelle's Iron Law and Parkinson's law as any bureaucracy seeks to not only justify their expansion via internal bureaucratic motivation, but to expand their work area so as to reward those who gain their agency or department extra funds via mission creep. Thus mission creep works to bolster the bureaucracy via expanding work areas (be it legal or not to do so) as the incremental amount of work must then be supported by more staff and funding. This isn't only an external power directive, but an internal one that may actually be larger than the external mission expansion which is used as a pretext to garner more funds and power to any bureaucratic organization. This at once both expands the power of a bureaucracy (by mission expansion) and makes it less able to carry out its expanded role (by Pournelle's Iron Law), thus requiring the bureaucracy to be bigger so as to meet its new mission goals (by Parkinson's law). The result is an authoritarian bureaucracy that caters more to its internal bureaucracy than its external mission and does worse, over time, at its mission (both original and expanded) while becoming less efficient due to that expansion. This has been done by the EPA, for example, which has changed areas of dry lands into 'wetlands' by claiming that their periodic inundation or high ground water amounts makes an impact to navigable waterways (the original mission). Thus their mission can expand to any puddle of water, anywhere, by claiming that while there is water present it is part of the navigable waterways. Places that are known as un-navigable swamps for commercial use can and do, via mission creep, fall into navigable waterways because they happen to drain into such waterways. Mind you, all water in a drainage basin drains into waterways, so the actual justification for the 'wetlands' expansion can then be a pretext to further expansion to cover such things as rainwater. Once you accept the premise, then the room for expansion is nearly infinite. And since you are mostly water, the navigable waterways expansion for mission creep will mean the EPA can regulate all the water in your body, as well. These things do not happen at one large jump, but in pieces, thus an original set of directives for the Cold War drafted during the Korean conflict (under a cease fire at this point in time) can and will expand over decades as the Executive power, itself, is prone to the laws of bureaucracy.
Fifth is technology change over time and it is important due to the drafting date of the original set of emergency procedures that were set-up under bureaucratic guidance. To put it simply, the world of the late 1950's while not as technologically advanced as our current technology base, was actually more robust in many ways. The main way was the use of vacuum tube technology which is resistant to Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attacks. While one of the Bikini Atoll tests did cause lights to flicker and burn out a transformer in Hawaii, it was not seen (in that era) as the major part of nuclear device destructiveness. It wasn't a well understood effect, either, and once there was an above ground ban on nuclear testing the ability to garner data on an EMP was slim, to say the least. Once the effect of a low yield nuclear device at high altitude could finally be understood and modeled properly, the entire technology base had moved from a resistant one to one that was susceptible to the effects of EMP. Even with that, only the military hardened its infrastructure and the civilian uses of more complex electronics was done without any capability to resist an EMP or have safe back-ups that were not susceptible to EMP. Much of the COOP I worked on had assumptions on surviving industrial capacity even if our main sites were taken out: our back-up data would be put to use at other facilities to at least get old (but very useful data) out to the military.
Unfortunately if an EMP attack happened our agency would be able to continue on some operations due to robust systems and back-ups in safe locations, but the ability to actually get information out would be limited, severely. And as our industrial surge capacity would be gone, completely, there would be no way to actually expand output. At this point in time it is fine and dandy that the military could continue on for, say, a year (maybe) with its internal resources after an EMP, but the situation outside of those dots of light on a dark map would soon engulf the points. There is no industrial build-out capacity of a government, none at all. All the lovely assumptions about what to do with certain kinds of attack leaves the entire infrastructure of the US vulnerable outside of a few hardened data centers. Take out modern and timely transportation, modern agriculture, modern high tech, and the amount of food on the shelves that you have is IT. There are reserves held by the government, yes, but they are measured in months and their transportation depends on the refining and shipment capacity of the civilian infrastructure.
A harder hit can (and at some point will) be done by our sun via a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). A CME on the equator of the sun that is directed at Earth will have an initial effect like an EMP but also put impingement waves into the Earth's magnetic field which will set up long wave electromagnetic waves that will propagate over conductors of their wavelength. This will mean a power overload on the long-line power cables that get power from transmission stations to sub-stations across the continent. Any continent. A CME does this globally, so it is actually worse than an EMP attack which is only within a few thousand miles of a nuclear high altitude explosion. Such a CME event would also take out the few, critical transformers for the high energy production areas and, as no one makes them any more, the ability of the US to recover would be measured in decades if not a century or more. Even Nations that make such transformers (China, say) will be faced with mass starvation and a huge population die-off due to the lack of agricultural capacity or the capacity to import food. The US government might hold together for a bit after an EMP, but a CME will be a multi-day to multi-week affair that renders all but the most resistant or protected of electronics inoperable.
Do note that if there was a 'power grab' during such a time of a CME, it wouldn't amount to much as the very same long line copper that is required for safe transmission of data also gets effected. Satellites are very hard hit by a CME and there is some question of survivability for any but the most robust of military satellites and with the amount of static during the CME, they still aren't useful for comms or control. Because of the lack of a robust system infrastructure on a global scale, a CME may not end civilization, but it will put the one we have out of business for a long, long period of time.
In other words the proposed bureaucratic means to deal with a military threat that was boosted by technology now has a technology base that, itself, is at risk and puts forward no warnings, means nor methods to deal with the sudden absence of it. The old society that had first sanctioned the limited bureaucratic powers for a known (and quite awful threat) are now facing a huge bureaucracy that can't deal with the changes that have happened. Bureaucratic power and expansion of same, with the internal bureaucratic rules and external 'regulations' are now the primary threat to dealing with the underlying problems: the continuation of government concept no longer works due to the nature of the vulnerability of the civilian and domestic systems.
All of this is made worse by...
Sixth is what I call The Process, which is the methodology to accumulate unconstitutional powers via the agglomeration of powers that are distinct in the federalist and republican concepts of government under which this Nation is chartered. Bureaucracy has expanded by not just internal methodology (bad enough) but has been aided by an incompetent legislative branch that sees a bureaucratic 'fix' to every ill. The 'fix' usually consists of inventing new agencies to address problems that should have been addressed elsewhere (really, what is the TSA but a cover for an incapable FAA which, in turn, is rendered obsolete by technology) or that will be 'fixed' by blurring lines between distinct organizations by creating larger ones with diffuse boundaries (DHS and DNI come to mind, as does HHS). By removing 'walls', which are to say distinct boundaries put in to keep any single agency's reach from becoming over-broad, the resultant larger agency then breaches the restrictions that the smaller sub-parts had by the larger, and more inclusive charter. The driver behind this is the strange belief that more regulations to address a 'problem' (like a terrorist event) after it happens will magically prevent future occurrences of such events.
Further when the government moves in to establish power and regulations, it removes necessary accountability from private and commercial entities and actually begins a process of shielding them to the benefit of the bureaucracy. This does not lead to an environment that addresses problems proactively (because of the threat of negligence) but protects negligence via government 'oversight' and 'regulation' thus making for a cost and burden shifting from private entities to public ones. This increases the cost of the oversight bureaucracy (due to the regulation enforcement system and the procedures and protocols to carry it out) while giving only the appearance of dealing with a 'problem' while leaving wide swaths of new problems the ability to crop up and get lax or tardy accountability, if accountability happens AT ALL.
This process makes for a more authoritarian government that is very good at enforcing its aims on the law abiding and yet, at the same time, becomes an incapable actor in enforcing the actual authority on those crossing it. At each turn that government is used to enforce a positive moral good via restriction, the actual addressing of the positive morality is no longer done by the population as a whole and becomes a lost art amongst the population. One does not do good just not doing evil, and if one cannot identify evil (or good) then one is no longer a moral actor in life. The problem of enforcing morality (instead of punishing crimes that restrict liberty and freedom to do good) is that it doesn't work. Punishment of those depriving their fellow man of liberty and freedom is a proper use of negative liberty in that it is restricted to those who seek to harm society by harming other citizens. The State can (and does) make suicide illegal, and if that was enough to stop it from happening (creating a moral good) then we would no longer have suicides. Similarly if removing alcohol by government power is enough to create a moral good, then we would have been rid of the abuse of alcohol in the 1920's.
When this procedural concept is stepped up to the entire Nation, as a whole, where government takes a positive stance to create anything it is removing the responsibility for the creation from citizens. The positive good of creating a just and worthwhile society to live in are handed off to the punisher of crimes, not retained by the creators of value. By thinking that the continuity of government is a worthwhile object, it misses the point of relieving the citizenry the goal and objective of having a government that is worth continuing. When this happens you not only get a government not worth having, but you also have a citizenry that see no value in having such a government because they cannot conceive of creating a good society to sustain a government any more.
This era is now ending.
Those seeking to reshape the world are finding that the world has changed to the point that it can no longer be guided by elites, no longer sees value in elites, and has no faith in government by elites. By making people dependent on government by elites those very same elites are spelling their own doom because any government with enough power to be so broadly authoritarian can no longer wield that authority competently, well or even enough to protect the elites at the top. Those who saw power coming to an end in the old Communist Bloc Nations had a choice of stepping down peacefully, or to be shot in the streets like common gangsters. Rich gangsters, yes, but still gangsters. That is what the West is now facing as well as China and to a certain degree every Nation that has bought into the over-broad reach of government that has been promulgated for over 100 years. It is a bankrupt system living on borrowed time and money and both are just about ready to run out.
You decide what comes next.
To be civilized one must be free and self-governing.
The elites fear that, just as they fear civilization and they do not seem to realize that without civilization their life spans are not very long, at all. In a global realm you can run, but there is no longer anywhere to hide and power becomes a target not to take, but to remove.