According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, fascism is:
1. a system of government practiced by Benito Mussolini in Italy between 1922 and 1943 that was characterized by dictatorship, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of opposition, and extreme nationalism, and 2. ... any movement, tendency, or ideology that favors dictatorial government, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of all opposition, and extreme nationalism
Lately, I have heard the word "fascism" enter into American dialogue. Thus, I thought it would be interesting to see how 2008 America stacks up, in admittedly my own view. I certainly use the word with caution since a mere mention inflames any discussion of politics or philosophy.
First, I must admit to a personal history of confrontation of authority. Sometimes, I have found it useful and necessary to raise my voice just to get their attention. I know that often brings a hostile response as I question seemingly selfish promotion that serves no public purpose.
But over the last few months, I have seen an acceleration of the destruction of our rights as citizens in favor of increasingly "centralized control of free enterprise."
Numerous examples can be found at both national and state levels.
EPA unilaterally rejects proposals when states want to control carbon dioxide emissions themselves. Not only was this completely against precedent, it also reeked of federal government control over what was considered "states' rights."
Further, the Federal Communications Commission arrogantly ignored the collective wishes of a wide majority of the public as well as the demands of Congress to cease and desist on new rules allowing the greater concentration of media around the country.
A few months ago EPA dismissed the scientific advice of its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee in setting new standards for fine particle pollution, thus allowing increased health impacts of a controllable air pollutant.
Regionally, state governments are taking a similar tack by restricting the public's right to participate in their government and the decisions it makes.
Lately, Kentucky acts as if the Clean Air Act does not apply to the Commonwealth. The state issues permits that do not follow rules, regulations or laws. And, just last month, Kentucky officials issued a permit without even acknowledging they received written comments that outlined several points requiring state response prior to giving approval to increase pollution.
In Indiana, it may be worse.
Indiana issued permits to increase pollution levels of Lake Michigan, ignoring the pleas of surrounding states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Even the weakling U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning an Indiana permit to BP (the oil company) that would increase toxics and solids the company dumps in the Lake. Apparently, BP convinced Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels that polluting less would be an economic hardship, although BP had some $16.5 billion in profit through the first three quarters of 2007.
Then, Indiana, in a rush to build an expensive coal plant, rejected repeated requests for additional time for comment on the first new plant to be proposed for the state in more than 20 years. Indiana's air agency took more than two years to review and issue the permit but gave the public a comment period from just before Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, with a single hearing on December 20.
But the clearest instance of the government-private sector partnership that constitutes fascist behavior came Jan. 3, during a hearing on whether Alcoa, the nation's largest aluminum producer, should get bond money back on land they strip mined in the late 1970s.
Alcoa admits backfilling huge amounts of toxic waste from its aluminum manufacturing in southern Indiana after coal had been removed. Miners who worked there claim to have suffered death and disease from the chemical dumping.
Evidence submitted early in the hearing suggested that one of many health impacts was the advent of a rare form of bile duct cancer in at least three people who had come into contact with the dumped waste. There are only 2,500 cases in the entire nation.
Unfortunately, the hearing was unlike any ever conducted in Indiana for such purposes.
Usually, public hearings allow citizens to offer their thoughts on the subject at hand, often with some sort of time limitation if enough people wish to speak. Sometimes, speakers are asked to take an oath of truthfulness, most of the time, they are not.
This particular hearing was conducted by, Adam Warnke, legal counsel for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The room was not set up like a normal hearing. It was set up so that only Warnke and a few people nearby could hear what was being said, even though the room had accessible audio equipment. Citizens who spoke had to sit across a small table in front of Warnke, who served as hearing officer, Alcoa and DNR attorney and "decider" of what was said.
Warnke disallowed any anecdotal evidence from afflicted miners and would accept only testimony he personally believed was sufficiently "scientific." Anything else was considered unworthy of the hearing, regardless of its veracity or relevance.
I had signed up to speak and hoped to make a quick point about how the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), required land to be restored to a relatively natural state, similar to what was there prior to mining. Obviously, hundreds of tons of hazardous chemicals being dumped is nothing near the natural state prior to mining.
As I made my point, Mr. Warnke interrupted my testimony, asking if I had any personal knowledge of either the dumping or exactly where the dumping took place. It had been well documented that Alcoa had dumped the chemicals, but I had not seen them do it. Warnke reminded me that I was "under oath" and that if I lacked personal knowledge of the dumping then I was somehow exceeding the limits he had placed on my testimony.
When I challenged him to tell me if he had personal knowledge that the dumping did not take place on the site, he told me to "stop." To Warnke, the "hearing" was to be conducted like a deposition, but he was the only person who could examine and cross examine witnesses and if he did not like what they were saying, he would shut them up.
As someone who has attended hundreds of public hearings and meetings in my 61 years, I knew something was amiss. Warnke's whole demeanor disallowed sharing of information. It was designed to keep information to a minimum and deny people their rights to participate in a public process.
Disrespectful of my testimony, Warnke demanded that his own personal police, the DNR Conservation Officers present, make me leave the meeting when I called him out on his sham event.
A video of my testimony is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_SaHh9_lPs
Any one of the exhibits I offer might be taken as the misguided behavior of some bureaucratic zealot, eager to impress his boss. But combined with other evidence, a pattern emerges showing we have finally passed the threshold where the only word to describe what is happening is Fascism.
While I agree that there will be an election this year, I need to remind all that the current regimes have essentially ignored both our constitution and our laws when it was in their interests to do so. Some could argue that their actions are, indeed, dictatorial.
Second, it is also clear that private enterprise has seized the government through both corrupt and legal means, just as fascism requires. That evidence is everywhere, in all three branches of government, at every level.
Third, increasingly the opposition to government policies is oppressed, like getting kicked out of a hearing because you spoke the wrong line, or being arrested for carrying a sign at a political rally, which has happened repeatedly during the Bush years. In fact, it happened to me in 2002 when I carried a sign to a Dick Cheney political rally and stood quietly across the street.
The cops did not know what to charge me with but came up with fraudulent reasons for my arrest. I challenged the arrest and detention in Federal Court and won on both First and Fourth Amendment grounds But that is another story. See Criticize Cheney, go to jail.
But those are only personal experiences of a single activist. The sad fact is that oppression is taking place all over the country against opponents of the new order. Question their authority and you may find yourself in jail. That is clearly oppressive and chilling to all but the most courageous amongst us.
The last test to meet the definition of fascism is the one of "extreme nationalism."
Who can deny that we are almost required to wear our patriotism on our sleeve? Just look at the flack Barak Obama had to endure when he decided to no longer wear his Chinese made, probably lead painted American Flag pin on his lapel.
For instance, while the facts indicate that American healthcare is far from the best in the world, we require political candidates to delusionally claim that it is, in some sort of declaration of allegiance to American health insurance companies. That fits the philosophy of fascism well.
We all know that corporations have made government their own dominion. People are mere resources to be exploited for corporate gain with the expressed consent of their puppet government(s).
If those who really are free entrepreneurs act for themselves but outside the perceived interests of the corporate cabal, they are quickly reeled in and either forced from business or required to toe the corporate line.
So, what do we do about it? How do freedom loving people counter the onslaught of fascism in the United States.
There is only one real way to stop this juggernaut. Stand up to it. Face it down. And, like Winston Churchill said when confronted with fascism in Europe, "Never, never, never give up!"
Fascism creeps, oft needing a sequence of events. First, it requires something that scares people so they will become docile and compliant, like 9/11. Then laws are passed that seem reasonable, to protect personal safety. Laws like the Patriot Act that may be interpreted to restrict more and more of our freedoms.
Then, almost without seeing it happen, those who dissent are considered suspect, unpatriotic and even treasonous.
In Michael Moore's recent movie, SICKO, there is a scene in which a Frenchman notes the difference between France and the US. He says "in France, the government is afraid of the people...in America, the people are afraid of the government."
It is no longer an abstract question of whether the United States could become fascist, it already has.
But like the previous ventures into that dark condition, people will stand firm against it and use their collective power and will to overcome the ravages fascism begets. We really have no other choice.
John Blair is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer from Evansville. He is president of Valley Watch and advocates for environmental and public health protection across the United States. He can be reached at .