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Do new federal laws suggest a move away from American freedom toward fascism?
Let’s have some fun. Go to Google, type in the word“fascism” and then click “images” on the left-hand column.
You might see an image that frequently makes its way around social media like Facebook. It’s one of those type-style posters, often white type on a black background or a black type on white background. Sometimes it’s fancier than that, antiqued or with that Gothic blackletter typeface that was so popular in Nazi propaganda. It’s usually titled “Early Warning Signs of Fascism,” and it’s a shortened version of a report done by a writer Lawrence W. Britt. (Britt is also described as a political scientist, and sometimes has a Dr. before his name, but I’m not having much luck backgrounding him. I’ll also note that other sources attribute these points to a 1955 book written by Milton Mayer, “They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45.”)
According to Britt’s article, he studied the fascist regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile and Suharto’s Indonesia. It was published in Free Inquiry magazine, Spring 2003, under the title “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism”. It’s short. Check it out.
For those without access to a computer or a smart phone, here are the 14 characteristics:
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
5. Rampant sexism.
6. A controlled mass media.
7. Obsession with national security.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
9. Power of corporations protected.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
14. Fraudulent elections.
I don’t want to violate anyone’s copyrights, so I’m not going further into the Britt article, but each of the tenets has a paragraph of description.
It’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this: I’m worried about creeping fascism, the idea that our government has moved away from its founding ideals of individual liberty to a political philosophy with a centralized autocratic government headed by dictatorial leaders, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
And while the basis of the word came from the far right regimes of the early 20th century, it’s easy to see that the far left—for example, Communist China—has learned the lessons well, and technology has enabled surveillance and personal information gathering and data-basing well beyond anything George Orwell imagined in 1984. All anyone has to do is take a look at those image results from the Google search, and they’ll see that George W. Bush and Barack Obama, conservatives and liberals, are represented about equally.
I’m concerned about recent federal laws that have been passed—one in particular, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I’m concerned about laws that our federal representatives are considering, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
I’m concerned about recent actions our government has taken, particularly the assassinations-by-drone of American citizens Anwar Awlaki, Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and the fact that our government continues to imprison people without trial at Guantanamo Bay, even people like Shaker Aamer, a Briton who was cleared for release in 2007. I guess the idea is that after years of wrongful imprisonment, some detainees can’t be expected not to want some payback—in other words, they’re now guilty of the thought-crime of being potential terrorists.
Look, I’m not all that thrilled with associating myself with the lunatic conspiracy fringe who get all heated about perceived losses of American liberty—those Trilateral Commission, chemtrail, birthers, anti-Fed, Posse Comitatus, Bilderberg, liberal/conservative media, Skull & Bones, Jewish banking cabal types. You know, the ones who write me letters.
But man, somebody’s got to talk about this stuff.
On Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA allows the government to imprison American citizens—or any other citizens for that matter—without trial, forever, simply on a government accusation of terrorism. I should mention that I’ve seen the word “terrorism” applied to many behaviors in this country.
I see the timing of his signature as a frank recognition of the failings of the media to cover news. What news organization has its most senior reporters on duty on New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day, for that matter? As expected, despite the fact that this bill was a national controversy as it made it way through the House and Senate, its signing barely made media reports, as there were lovely pictures of fireworks or anniversaries of floods to run above the fold. Obama, after all, had plenty of other opportunities to sign it since it passed the Senate on Dec. 16, but instead he chose to sign it while he was ostensibly on vacation in Hawaii.
It’s possible that it took the president’s crack legal team two weeks to come up with the “signing statement” to interpret the new law that the president put his name on when he signed the crime into law. The entire, rather lengthy, statement can be read on the White House website. Those who’d like to read the statement Obama made to the Boston Globe in which he stated, “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law,” can look here .
It’s irrelevant whether he was obfuscating his interpretation of the validity of signing statements or if he made the signing statement out of political expediency. The fact is that American citizens can now be disappeared forever, without trial, on an accusation. Signing statements are not given the power of law in the Constitution.
Glenn Greenwald wrote a scathing report. on the bill for Salon.com, in which he debunked these three myths about the NDAA: 1) The bill does not codify indefinite detention. 2) The bill does not expand the scope of the War on Terror as defined by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. 3) U.S. citizens are exempted from this new bill. All those claims are false.
And now, as avid sports fans will recall, Obama had threatened to veto the bill at various times in its voyage through Congress. For some reason, the power-aligned media presented this as though Obama was defending the Constitution, civil liberties and the Constitution’s amendments. Wrong. Dead wrong. Obama was threatening to veto the bill because it didn’t do enough in his pursuit of executive power. He never said that indefinite military detention was inherently wrong, just that it should be the president, not Congress and not the courts, who decides who should disappear. (And how about the use of that word “detain”? I remember when it meant that the waiter wouldn’t be able to seat you immediately. Whatever happened to arrested or in custody or kidnapped?)
The plan was in development for some time. On May 21, 2009, Obama made a speech in the National Archives Museum, the building that houses the U.S. Constitution, in which he outlined his rationale for the elimination of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Here’s a YouTube MSNBC video report on the speech. Here’s the whole speech, from the National Review’s website.
Here’s the argument, as I understand it. George W. Bush wrongly imprisoned people without a legal framework. We live in a nation based on rule of law. Therefore, we better create a legal framework that allows us to imprison people without trial—forever.
In Obama’s speech, he was not arguing the morality of forever imprisonment (and since we were already assassinating and torturing individuals to death overseas, forever might not be a very long time); he just wanted to cover his own ass by having it written into the law.
“And that is why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people,” he stated in his speech. “First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America. The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. … Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained. So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security.”
The first 20 prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Jan. 11, 2002. In signing the 2011 National Defense Authorization Bill, Obama banned moving Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. mainland or to other countries, which prevents the closure of the detention camp.
Happy anniversary, Guantanamo.
It is one crazy world. Why, just last week, the planet exploded in outrage because four marines pissed on three allegedly Taliban corpses in Afghanistan. It appears that in real world logic, peeing on dead people is considered an indignity, but shooting them dead is not. Not to be indelicate, but I’d rather swim in those marines’ urine than take a single mortal bullet.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate are kind of like that. The real indignity—the death of the open internet—comes before the fake desecration, someone illegally downloading a movie. Unlike the NDAA, they haven’t actually been made law, but they’re coming up fast. SOPA and PIPA allow the entertainment and software industries and the government to censor the internet by blocking infringing domain names and cutting off money paid to U.S. based websites. According to some sources, like Lifehacker.com, government and industry could block any site in the world, just for having a single offensive link.
“Sites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook would have to censor their users or be shut down, since they would become liable for everything users post. … And ordinary users could go to jail for five years for posting any copyrighted work—even just singing a pop song,” said Lifehacker.
And the thing is, most people—with notable exceptions—accept that it’s not just illegal to infringe on copyrights, it’s immoral. These bills have a certain good intention behind them—to decrease online piracy—but they go so far beyond their stated intent that it’s impossible not to question the motives of those who promote them. Intellectual property rights must be protected, but targeted effectiveness must be the standard of any legislation. Ultimately, this legislation allows the government and corporations to control the information disseminated in the most important medium of our time: The internet. The pro-democracy Arab Spring simply couldn’t have happened if those dictatorial governments had the kind of control over communication that our government craves.
Now, here’s the really crazy thing about these bills. They won’t actually stop piracy or even access to sites. In fact, there are already browser addons being developed to get around proposed “solutions.”
While the people who support this bill appear truly ignorant, they’re not. Not to sound paranoid, but I can only imagine this as just the first step in a long-range, incremental plan. I don’t know how easy it is to censor the internet, but China’s been doing it pretty effectively for a while now—just ask Google.
So what does that authoritarian government in China censor anyway?
Wikipedia, one of the large websites that planned to black out on Jan. 18 to protest the legislation, reports: “The governmental authorities not only block website content but also monitor the Internet access of individuals. Amnesty International notes that China ‘has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.’ The offences of which they are accused include communicating with groups abroad, signing online petitions, and calling for reform and an end to corruption. The escalation of the government’s effort to neutralize critical online opinion comes after a series of large anti-Japanese, anti-pollution, anti-corruption protests, and ethnic riots—many of which were organized or publicized using instant messaging services, chat rooms, and text messages. The size of the internet police is rumored at more than 30,000. Critical comments appearing on Internet forums, blogs, and major portals such as Sohu and Sina usually are erased within minutes.”
Information and dissent, baby.
In fact, the only things the Chinese government appears not to censor is the pirating and sale of foreign-made movies, software, music and designer handbags.
In another Saturday press release this past weekend, commenting on a couple of online petitions against the U.S. legislation, three technology experts on the Obama team—Victoria Espinel, Aneesh Chopra and Howard Schmidt—declared opposition to the bills as currently written.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet,” they said.
Essentially, these members of the Obama administration said exactly what opponents of this legislation have said all along. The problem is, this is not a promise of a veto. In fact, the part that they seemed most alarmed by, the DNS blocking (which appears may be removed from the legislation), could make surveillance of individuals more difficult. Not to mention that our government develops software to help dissidents in authoritarian countries get around DNS blocking. This software would be made illegal for American citizens’ use.
This press release does, however, have many similarities to other double-speak statements advanced by this administration, as when Obama pledged to have the most transparent administration in history, to honor state laws with regard to medical marijuana, to develop bipartisan immigration reform or to bring the white collar criminals who fomented the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession to justice.
I don’t know if any of this stuff is proof of creeping fascism in this country. I do know there are people representing nearly every political stripe who say they are. I look at those purported “14 Characteristics of Fascism,” and I can think of concrete examples for every tenet that have been embraced by our government in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. The problem is, I can’t think of a single area where we average Americans have actually become more free.