"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
- attributed to Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
- Hermann Goering, Luftwaffe commander and Third Reich official
It's not overstating the case to say that 2007 could be make or break for US democracy.
The Bush administration's cutbacks and rollbacks in 2006 were so frequent and so egregious that many Americans stopped paying attention, gave up hope or else failed to see the onslaught as part of a larger pattern.
Which brings up the f-word.
In 2003, Laurence W. Britt wrote a seminal article comparing fascist regimes, such as Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, to life under Bush. While the term fascism has been widely overused (in August, Rumsfeld even accused war critics of "a new type of fascism") Britt's analysis eerily resonated back then and is worth a second look today.
This three-part series recaps Bush's record in 2006 under the framework of Britt's "fourteen common threads" of fascism and makes predictions for 2007.
***The examples over the fold are more indicative than exhaustive; Project for an Old American Century has a comprehensive links page spanning Bush’s presidency.
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1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
In July, Bush signed the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act so Americans could "express their patriotism here at home without burdensome restrictions."
What burdensome restrictions?
With similar fanfare, he issued a "proclamation" in October noting that patriotism "can help our children develop strength and character."
Less than two weeks later, he authorized the building of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the US-Mexican border.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation. Bush started off 2006 by weakening a new law banning the torture of prisoners. Soon after, the Army shut down a probe into Iraqi prisoner abuse, despite the fact that no Americans involved had even been questioned. In June, the Pentagon decided to strip the US Army Field Manual of Geneva Convention protections which ban "humiliating and degrading treatment." A Brooklyn federal judge ruled that non-US-citizens could be detained and indefinitely held on "the basis of religion, race or national origin."
Bush finally admitted to the existence of secret CIA prisons across the world in September, simultaneously calling for a resumption of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay.
In October, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, handing Bush the power to identify American citizens as "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely without charge. For good measure, the Act eliminated habeas corpus review for aliens and provided retroactive immunity in US courts for officials (such as Bush) who authorized the offending actions.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
In February, the United American Committee organized rallies across the country to fight so-called Islamofascism and to "unify all Americans behind a common goal and against an enemy that is seeking to destroy values we all hold dearly."
Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) stirred up anti-Muslim bigotry by writing his constituents: "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."
CNN host Glenn Beck got into the act by challenging Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress: "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." Rep. Goode also took a swipe at Ellison, by suggesting that without a tough stance on immigration "there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office." Goode failed to note that Ellison's ancestry in the US traces back over 260 years.
In December, the Inter Press News Agency reported: "Recent polls indicate that almost half of U.S. citizens have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have 'extreme' anti-Muslim views ... a quarter of people here consistently believe stereotypes such as: 'Muslims value life less than other people' and 'The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.'"
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
The administration's war spending for FY 2007 is expected to reach $170 billion, with roughly $7 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. That has meant cuts to domestic social and development programs. Bush’s proposed FY 2007 budget, for example, slashed funding for a full 141 programs, ranging from educational grants to maternal/child health services to rural fire assistance. The same budget requested $6.4 billion for nuclear "weapons activities."
The line between war and entertainment blurred further in 2006, with three separate military television channels (The Military Channel, the Military History Channel and the Pentagon Channel) beaming 24/7 into millions of Americans’ homes. In August, the Army revealed plans to build a 125-acre military theme park, designed to help armchair warriors "command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner."
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses. In January, the stridently anti-abortion Samuel Alito was confirmed to the US Supreme Court. Alito had previously argued that the strip-search of a mother and ten-year old girl without a warrant was constitutional.
The following month, the Supreme Court ended an injunction protecting abortion clinics across the country and agreed to reconsider a ban on certain abortion procedures.
In 2005, Bush appointed a veterinarian to handle women's health issues at the FDA, and in 2006, he tapped Eric Keroack for the Health and Human Services Department. Keroack opposes contraception, has described premarital sex as "modern germ warfare," and espouses the bizarre, unscientific belief that casual sex depletes "bonding" hormones, yet is now heading family planning programs for the whole nation. The National Security Department revised its guidelines regarding access to classified government information in 2006 so that "sexual orientation of the individual" more strongly impacted the granting of security clearances. The Pentagon also admitted to spying on groups opposed to the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.
6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.
Tony Snow, an anchor from the slavishly pro-Bush Fox News, became White House Press Secretary. Fox continued featuring propagandist on-screen text, including:
"Attacking Capitalism: Have Dems Declared War on America?"
"Is the Democratic Party Soft on Terror?"
"Dems Helping the Enemy?"
"Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?"
ABC did its pro-Bush part by running a factually-inaccurate miniseries shifting blame for the 9/11 attacks towards Bill Clinton. Intriguingly, an ABC investigative journalist had reported months earlier that the Bush administration was tracking his phone calls to identify confidential sources.
In February 2006, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Bush administration was spending more than a billion dollars each year on PR to promote its dubious policies.
The FCC soon began investigating the administration’s fake news reports, but that didn't stop the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from issuing taxpayer-funded misinformation criticizing the global-warming film, An Inconvenient Truth.
In August, the US military offered a $20 million public relations contract to sanitize the carnage in Iraq. Months later, a Pentagon self-assessment unsurprisingly found that the military’s propaganda program in Iraq was, in fact, legal.
Thanks to Bush's partisan appointments, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (mandated to prevent political interference in public broadcasting) is now run by: CEO Patricia S. Harrison, former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; Chairperson Cheryl Halpern, a Republican fund-raiser; and Gay Hart Gaines, an interior designer "long active in Republican Party affairs … a trustee of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, and a board member and president of the Palm Beach Republican Club."
A recently-declassified Pentagon document entitled "Information Operations Roadmap" states that the Defense Department will "'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system." The document also notes that US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum."
Meanwhile, domestic net neutrality remains under threat.
7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
Congress renewed the US Patriot Act in March, after a well-timed nerve agent scare on Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats spoke of civil liberties yet voted for Patriot II.
Federal agents without warrants continued eavesdropping on the electronic communications of US citizens. While under investigation in the Plamegate CIA leak case, Presidential advisor Karl Rove promised to turn terror into a congressional campaign issue. Schools in many states began conducting terrorism lockdown drills.
In October, Bush signed the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act, weakening the 200-year-old Insurrection Act and increasing the president’s power to deploy troops domestically. According to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), the development "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military’s involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law."
The Senate finished up 2006 by unanimously voting for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), an unwieldy bureaucracy charged with developing drugs and vaccines to deal with a domestic terrorist attack. BARDA is so secret it will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Other pending "biodefense" legislation not only mandates that US citizens take recommended vaccines or drugs during a "public health emergency affecting national security" but also indemnifies both the US government and biodefense manufacturers against any resulting injuries.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
One perk of Bush's pandering to the religious right is the blind devotion he often receives in return. For example, the online Presidential Prayer Team had this "request" for December 28, 2006:
"Pray for President and Mrs. Bush as they spend the Christmas holiday at their Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, TX. Pray for the President as on December 28, he meets with the members of the National Security Council, including Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rice and Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, Stephen Hadley, and J.D. Crouch ... As candidates continue to declare their intent to run for the presidency, pray for God’s guiding of this process, asking Him for godly candidates and for a leader to be elected who will serve Him well."
Bush isn't above blurring the line between divine will and partisan politics himself. In proclaiming a National Day of Prayer this May, he noted: "May our Nation always have the humility to trust in the goodness of God's plans."
God's plans or Bush's plans?
The administration has also broken ground in providing government funding to religious groups - separation of church and state be damned. In FY 2005, for example, religious charities were awarded federal grants totaling $2.15 billion, a 7% increase over 2004. A full eleven federal agencies have now become part of Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program, most recently, the Homeland Security Department.
In February, the IRS reported widespread political activity violations by churches and charities, including using the pulpit to endorse candidates, distributing partisan material and making improper cash donations.
Return of Bush and the F-Word in 2007
Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress. - Thomas A. Edison
The Bush administration’s overall record in 2006 was one of public manipulation for the benefit of crony capitalism and imperial overreach. Can the 110th Congress stop them in 2007?
The pessimistic view is that Bush has nothing left to lose anyway, so will crash and burn the country in the next two years, much as he did many business ventures in the past.
He’ll let the economy melt and watch as Americans struggle to stay afloat. He’ll attack Iran, increase troop presence in the Middle East and bring back the draft. He’ll roll back more civil rights in the name of national security, women’s rights in the name of God. He’ll pin all of the above on the Democrats come 2008.
Possible? Yes, because the Bush administration is far from incompetent. In just a few short years, it has started two wars, dramatically increased military and weapons spending, strongly centralized power within the executive branch, and decreased civil liberties. Dastardly, but no small record of achievement. This crew is on a mission that hasn’t been accomplished yet, and the next few years will be critical.
Part I of this article series, Bush and the F-word in 2006: Police State or Progressivism in 2007? looked at Bush's 2006 record under the framework of Laurence Britt’s 14 points of fascism. We continue here with points 9-12:
9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.
Corporate profits skyrocketed to a 40-year high in 2006 while real wages continued to decline.
Put differently, while corporate profits soared over 21%, labor compensation increased only 5.5% and real disposable income rose just 0.5%.
Consumers faced record gas prices, but oil companies raked in record profits. The Bush administration responded by granting even more favors to big oil, suspending environmental rules for refining gasoline and rejecting a suggested tax on oil company profits.
In secret sessions excluding Democrats, Republican congressmembers altered Medicare legislation, subsequently saving the health-insurance industry $22 billion over the next ten years. Pharmaceutical companies profited not only from the administration’s prescription-drug benefit program, which offered drugs at grossly inflated prices, but also from an FDA decision prohibiting individuals from filing lawsuits against drug companies in state courts.
DuPont paid a $16.5 million fine for withholding the suspected health risks of PFOA, a chemical used in Teflon products and associated with cancer and birth defects. (Drop in the bucket for DuPont, which raked in a billion dollars from related products in 2004.) Rather than immediately eliminating PFOA from household products, Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set up a voluntary pact with the offending chemical companies and gave them until 2015 to implement a solution.
The EPA also began shutting down its 29 regional libraries, thus prohibiting citizens from accessing information on issues such as pollution in local waters and toxic emissions.
Even the protest of 10,000 EPA scientists couldn’t stop the library closures, which went into overdrive after the Democrats won the midterms. In November, EPA staff members were reportedly ordered to throw away critical documents and the agency’s only "specialized research repository on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides" was shut down. The EPA even started removing information from its library websites in December, and sold $40,000 of furniture and equipment in its Chicago office for $350, presumably to ensure that the shuttered office couldn’t easily be reopened by a Democratic Congress.
In May, Bush handed Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte exceptional powers to, as Business Week put it, "exempt companies working on certain top-secret defense projects from portions of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act." In other words, the same Negroponte linked with the Iran-Contra affair and accused of covering up Latin American human rights abuses now gets to "excuse publicly traded companies from their usual accounting and securities-disclosure obligations."
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) altered a bill in order to prohibit states from divesting their public pension funds from corporations doing business with those connected to the genocide in Darfur.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
The heavily-Republican National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) trashed longstanding federal labor laws in September by expanding the definition of "supervisor " to include roughly 8 million more Americans. As it happens, supervisors are barred from forming unions.
The two dissenting NRLB members, both Democrats, noted that by 2012, the number of Americans therefore barred from forming unions "could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the workforce."
Also in September, the Labor Department ended its annual Equal Opportunity Survey focused on identifying contractors potentially guilty of "systematic discrimination against women and people of color."
Happy Labor Day.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney accused Bush of, "the worst labor market performance on record , at this stage in the economic recovery," adding, "Something is really wrong when laid off Northwest Airlines workers are told, as part of a corporate memo on how to cope, 'Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.' Since when did 'dumpster diving' become corporate human resources policy?"
The Republican Congress continued fighting efforts to increase the federal minimum wage, most notably linking any increase to a tax cut for the wealthy. By December, the US had officially gone without an increase in the federal minimum wage for the longest period since 1938.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
In January, the Bruin Alumni Assn. website tempted UCLA students with an unusual offer: "Do you have a professor who just can't stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn't matter whether this is a past class, or your class from this coming winter quarter. If you help expose the professor, we'll pay you for your work."
The following month, conservative commentator David Horowitz published a book describing liberal professors who expressed anti-war views even outside of class as "terrorists, racists, and communists." Sean Hannity offered to broadcast examples of professors’ "leftwing propaganda" that students sent to Fox News.
A school board in Pennsylvania banned the International Baccalaureate program (used in 124 countries and encouraging "students to be active learners, well-rounded individuals and engaged world citizens") as being "un-American" and threatening "Judeo-Christian values." Board members complained that the program "was developed in a foreign country" – Switzerland.
A study comparing the public acceptance of evolution in 34 countries found that only Turkey ranked lower than the US. One of the authors, Jon Miller of Michigan State University, noted: "American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists, which is why Turkey and we are so close." For FY 2007, Bush proposed $460 billion for defense and $56.8 billion for education. Over eight times more money for war than for US students’ educations.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
By December 2005, one out of every 32 Americans was either in jail or on probation/parole. Per capita, the percentage of Americans behind bars was dramatically higher than in other countries: more than six time higher than in China, 12 times higher than in Japan and 23 times higher than in India, for example.
In 2006, the Bush administration continued shipping un-indicted terrorism suspects abroad to be tortured. The Pentagon worked on plans to build a $125 million complex at Guantanamo, complete with multiple courtrooms, restaurants and sleeping areas for 800 people. A brief filed by seven retired federal judges on behalf of detained "enemy combatants" was rejected on a technicality by an appeals court.
Domestic civil rights implications of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror hit home with the October passage of the Military Commissions Act. As Bruce Ackerman noted in The Los Angeles Times, the legislation "authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any protections of the Bill of Rights."
The vague criteria for being labeled an enemy combatant (taking part in "hostilities against the United States") didn't help. Would that include anti-war protestors? People who criticize Bush? Unclear. The Defense Department had earlier admitted to adding peaceful demonstrators, such as Quakers and antiwar groups meeting at churches and libraries, to its antiterrorist database. Denver’s 7NEWS reported that in order to meet quotas, federal air marshals were entering innocent passengers "into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft." The impact on unsuspecting passengers could be serious, including, "They could be placed on a watch list. They could wind up on databases that identify them as potential terrorists or a threat to an aircraft."
In January, the US government awarded a Halliburton subsidiary $385 million to plan detention centers in case of, "an unexpected influx of immigrants or to house people after a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space."
The following month, a Justice Department official said that Bush potentially had the power to order the execution of terrorism suspects in the US.
American citizen Jose Padilla remained imprisoned on trumped up terrorist charges and his lawyers alleged he had been "tortured for nearly the entire three years and eight months of his unlawful detention … He was threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also threatened with imminent execution. He was hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long durations of time. He was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions, without adequate sleep, wherein he would be confronted with false information, scenarios, and documents to further disorient him. Often he had to endure multiple interrogators who would scream, shake, and otherwise assault Mr. Padilla … Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations."
Meanwhile, no charges were filed against Vice President Dick Cheney after he "peppered" a fellow hunter in a hunting accident. Cheney admitted to having had a beer hours before the accident and said, "I am the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."
Look for Part III of this article series. We’ll round out Britt’s 14 points of fascism and talk about what you can do help take back America.
Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now series (listen to Heather's recent interviews on the books with Talk Nation Radio's Dori Smith). Heather can be contacted via her site www.heatherwokusch.com and her book can be purchased from Amazon.com via Atlantic Free Press's Bookstore.
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