Democratic Underground  

Democracy: Quietly Passing Away
June 27, 2003
By Sheila Samples

In 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 regret.

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.

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