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Wednesday, 16 March 2011 15:07

Legislated Dictatorship: Coming to a State Near You?

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STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

In the past, modern dictatorships have been established in a variety of ways.  In 1919, in response to a short-lived communist revolution, the King of Hungary appointed the first modern civilian absolute ruler, Admiral Nicholas Horthy, who became the first fascist dictator in history.  In 1922, after much maneuvering, Benito Mussolini organized the "March on Rome" by his unofficial "Black Shirt" militia.  King Vittorio Emmanuel III acquiesced in replacing the sitting Prime Minister chosen by Parliament with Mussolini.  By 1924, with the acquiescence of Italian ruling class, Mussolini had established himself as dictator and in fact coined the modern meaning of the word "fascist" to describe his form of absolute rule.

In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany by the President, Paul von Hindenburg.  Just about two months later, following the Reichstag Fire (which had been set by men under the command of Hitler's then number-two, Hermann Goering, [see "The Reichstag Fire Trial, 1933-2008" (Tigar, M.E. and Mage, J., The Monthly Review, Vol. 60, No. 10, March 2009]), in a rigged Reichstag [parliament] Hitler gained absolute power with the passage of the Enabling Act.  (It was rigged because the elected Communist deputies and many of the elected Socialist deputies had been expelled, some exiled and some of the former arrested by Hitler.)  Thus although he seemed to have been voted into his dictatorship, the vote was hardly democratic according to the former rules of the Reichstag. 

In 1936, with the full active cooperation of the Catholic Church and the material support of the two major European fascist powers, Germany and Italy, Gen. Francisco Franco led an invasion of Spain to overthrow the democratically elected government (with his initial mainly Muslim strike force flown from North Africa to Spain in German planes).  The Western "democracies" continually ignored the legitimate Spanish government's pleas for help.  It was eventually defeated and April 1, 1939, Franco's fascist dictatorship was established, by conquest.  It proved to be one of the longest-lived, ending only when Franco died in 1975.

There were a number of other dictatorships established in the 20th century in countries ranging from major world powers like Japan to very minor ones, like the land-locked Paraguay.  But none of them arrived on the scene through legitimate parliamentary means.  In the 21st century, in the United States, the scenario for just such an advent of dictatorship may be unfolding, at least at the state/local level.  This is one that bears watching.  In Wisconsin what has gained much well-deserved publicity is the crushing of the public employee unions by the GOP Gov. Scott Walker, using parliamentary means.

What some might consider to be even worse is a proposal by the Governor to grant himself what amounts to dictatorial powers in two particular arenas of government (http://nationaljournal.com/is-scott-walker-s-budget-plan-a-bait-and-switch--20110223; http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27664.htm).  He has proposed a law that would give him the sole power to sell Wisconsin public utilities to private corporations, under no-bid contracts, with the explicit exclusion of any of the review processes governing such transactions currently on the Wisconsin books.  He has also proposed that his appointed state Commissioner of Health could change any law regarding medical assistance, on his/her own authority.

But hey, one might say, those provisions would apply to only two relatively narrow sectors of the state's economy.  But hey, one might also say, the establishment of one dictatorial power, to ignore regulations, and then another, to ignore the law, could lead to the establishment of others, could it not?

And then, let's look at Michigan. There is now in place a law that gives the governor the power to take over democratically elected local governments, functionally disband them in fact, and replace them with "corporate managers" selected by himself, entirely on his own authority (http://blogs.forbes.com/erikkain/2011/03/11/michigan-governor-plays-fast-and-loose-with-democracy-invokes-radical-new-powers/).

Further the governor apparently has the authority to reduce state aid to localities, in essence giving himself the power to pick and choose which ones he would like to place in the condition of "fiscal exigency" so that he can arrange for the corporate takeover.  Once in place, the corporate "emergency managers" can fire public employees at will (oh yes, the public employee unions in Michigan have also been attacked) and also remove elected officials.  Then can even decide to eliminate a city's government entirely.  Can't get too much more dictatorial than that.

These are, to date, state and local government matters and to date they exist in only two GOP-controlled states.  In both states, the laws were arrived through the democratic process.  GOP governors were elected as were GOP-majority legislatures.  But there is apparently much interest among other GOP-controlled states in adopting similar measures, with either greater or lesser scope.  The fact that neither governor ran for office on such platforms would seem to be immaterial.  Most folks pay little attention to electoral platforms anyway unless an opponent picks out a particular feature of it/them and makes an issue of it.

The GOP likes to bleat that it is the party of new ideas (although most of them, like "lower taxes" and "smaller government" - except in matters of religious belief and personal choice, of course - are rather old).  Well these ideas are surely new, both in American history and also on the world stage.  So far the dictatorial powers achieved legislatively by two state GOP administrations are relatively narrow (although not so for the affected parties).  But they are dictatorial in the sense that the executive branch operates on its own authority, with no checks and balances.  And yes indeed, unlike the powers seized in one way or another by dictators in the past, these weren't seized either militarily or on the authority of a monarch or through a rigged parliament, but were created as the outcome of the democratic process (at least on paper).  One can only say, look out, USA.  Here comes the GOP and it seems to have dictatorship on its mind.

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This is Dr. Jonas' Commentary No. 170 for BuzzFlash, now at Truthout.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout (http://www.buzzflash.com, http://www.truth-out.org/), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine (http://tpjmagazine.us/); a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad (http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/); a Senior Columnist for The Greanville Post (http://www.greanvillepost.com/); a Contributor to The Planetary Movement (http://www.planetarymovement.org/); a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com (http://www.opednews.com/), and a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter.