Monday, January 08, 2007

Return of Bush and the F-Word (FASCISM) 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.

Pessimistic? Yes.

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 &ldots; 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 &ldots; 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 on Monday. We'll round out Britt's 14 points of fascism and talk about what you can do help take back America.

Note: Originally published: January 4, 2007