Quietly Passing Away
By Sheila Samples
the mid 1930s, my father-in-law ran a cotton gin in southwest
Oklahoma. Cotton harvest was busy - trucks and trailers bulging
with freshly picked cotton bumped and weaved in slow, continuous
convoys along mostly dirt roads to the one cotton gin in the
county. Farmers waited for long, hot hours, even overnight,
or as long as it took to collect meager dollars for their
baled cotton - money that in no way paid for months of work
in the fields, but was critically needed to "put food on their
families" until the next crop.
On one particularly hectic day, the ginner - the man who
runs the "stands," which are contraptions with saws separating
the lint from the seed - stuck his hand inside a stand that
had momentarily clogged. The saw suddenly jumped into motion
and, before the ginner could jerk free, its rapidly moving,
razor-sharp teeth shredded his hand beyond recognition. The
sight of this bloody stub was so ghastly that his helper -
an older man - took one look, recoiled in horror, and fainted.
Instantly, the gin became a chaotic madhouse. Men ran in
all directions, bumping into each other while trying to stem
the flow of blood and to prepare the ginner - now in shock
- for the 11-mile trip to the nearest hospital. Back then,
11 miles was a long way; and speed was not an option when
trying to maneuver the six-inch ruts in the "road" to town.
Finally, however, the ginner was on his way, and the excitement
died down. But when the men turned their attention to the
old fella who had fainted, they discovered to their amazement
that he was dead.
"He just laid (sic) there and died while nobody was looking,"
my father-in-law recalled sadly. "Things mighta been different
if we'd only looked around - if some of us had paid attention..."
The emotional exhaustion of dealing with the ginner's ordeal
- the blood - the anxiety - the scurrying around to cope with
it, was so vivid that all they could manage for their old
friend was a momentary flash of guilt, followed by years of
I've thought of that incident many times since the sudden
catastrophe of 9-11 when the nightmarish "bloody stub" of
terrorism was rammed so crudely into the heart of the American
Dream. I've also thought about the just-as-swift, dead-of-night
assault by attorney general John Ashcroft, who "soared like
an eagle" to sink his razor-sharp talons into democracy and
its attendant freedoms with his hellish USA Patriot Act. This
destructive, 342-page legislation was rushed feverishly and
mostly unread through Congress one month after 9-11, and pretty
much dispensed with constitutional protections, especially
for all those who are "not like us."
It was almost too easy. Teaching the Congress to "heel"
was a no-brainer - a few anthrax-laced doggie treats and its
members were not only happy to heel, but gladly demonstrated
they could "sit" and "stay" as well. The lone dissenter, Democrat
Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, one of the few legislators who
actually read the USA Patriot Act, was perceptive enough to
realize that our Constitution - our Bill of Rights - would
likely go into shock from such an attack and - if unattended
- the wounds could be fatal.
Feingold sounded the alarm on the Senate floor during the
Oct. 25, 2001 debate, which fell on mostly deaf ears. His
remarks were published the next
day, wherein Feingold said, "...there is no doubt that
if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch
terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police
to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived
in a country that allowed the government to open your mail,
eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email
communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the
government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what
they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they
are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover
and arrest more terrorists."
"But," Feingold continued, "that probably would not be a
country in which we would want to live. And that would not
be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our
young people to fight and die. In short," he said, "that would
not be America."
Alas, that America - Ashcroft's America - is where we now
live. We have plunged headlong into the past. America cringes
under the shadow of a militant Homeland Security Act - a ghostly
doppleganger of Adolph Hitler's 1933 "Enabling Act," which,
to ensure security of the homeland, effectively cancelled
constitutional freedoms of German citizens. Like Germany of
70 years ago, America is a nation so mesmerized by fear -
so uninformed by its corporate media - that our bipartisan
Congress transferred with nary a whimper, and without public
debate, all military, police, law enforcement, judicial, and
surveillance powers to the executive branch, or Reich.
There's enough blame to go around, but the media is a major
player in shaping the atrocities of Ashcroft's brutish world.
Because George Bush is obviously the media's "charge to keep,"
John Ashcroft is allowed to rise from morning prayer fests
and move freely beneath the national radar - unapologetic,
hard-eyed, a man on a mission to dismantle the civil liberties
of Americans, and bestow astonishing unchecked powers on himself.
Not content with "protecting the American people" by eliminating
their freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches,
freedom of information, freedom of association, and the right
to liberty, legal representation or to speech and public trials,
Ashcroft is back with his Orwellian Domestic Security Enhancement
Act of 2003, already dubbed "Patriot Act II." Ashcroft Initially
denied even thinking of such a thing (who - Moi?), but after
some terrified department minion leaked the draft to the public,
he was forced to admit that it was in the works - in the hands
of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney
- and would soon be in our faces.
Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul recently sounded the alarm.
He said, "Rather than effectively fight threats to our national
security and safety, Patriot Two would endanger the liberty
of every American citizen and destroy what remains of America's
constitutional republic." Paul claimed that the "most disturbing
portion of the draft is the provision that would give the
government the power to revoke United States citizenship for
engaging in political activity."
Paul is correct. Taking a look at Patriot Act II (Section
304), Ashcroft and defense secretatary Donald Rumsfeld will
have the authority to strip you of your citizenship if "they
have reason to believe" you belong to, or support, any group
that falls into their disfavor. Oh, yes they can - and they
will. You know they will.
Cruising on over to Section 423, you need to know that a
"designated terrorist organization" can also be any individual
listed in an Executive Order as "supporting" terrorist activity.
If you have any lingering doubts about the destruction Bush
can wreck with his Executive Orders, check out the more
than 150 he has issued. Does this mean that the New York
Times is a "terrorist organization" because it harbors Paul
Krugman, clearly a terrorist whose clarion call of truth rings
across this land twice a week? Are we "enemy combatants" for
supporting either of them?
Media shouts of "Terrorists at the gate!" take on new and
ominous meaning when we hear that Bush and Rumsfeld are considering
turning Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay into a death
camp, complete with its own death chamber wherein about
680 enemy combatants can be disposed of sans legal representation
or civil trials. Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed
without leaving Gitmo's boundaries, without a jury and without
right of appeal. A real Texas Tribunal wet dream.
This is not 1933 - it's 2003 - but it's time we paid attention.
It's time we stopped and looked around at what is lying in
shock at our feet. Because, by the time we realize we were
rushed into trading real freedom for false security, we might
discover too late that because nobody noticed, democracy -
our old friend - just laid there and died.
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and a former
US Army Public Information Officer.