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Guest Writer

Definitely not what Jesus would do
It's getting personal
by Joan-Carrol Banks

n case you haven't heard, the Bill of Rights is sick and dying.

The major manufacturer of electronic voting machines, Diebold, has reportedly been caught rigging them to favor Republican candidates. People are getting thrown out of malls or suspended from school for wearing "Give Peace a Chance" T-shirts.

Lawyers are being dragged from chat rooms and arrested for saying "Bush is out of control." Even the Dixie Chicks are being boycotted by radio stations because of an anti-Bush comment made to European crowds, and dissed by Simon himself. Let's not even talk about "freedom fries" or "freedom vanilla ice cream," for heck's sake.

The apple pie has worms.

Worst of all – apart from us bombing the crap out of a country – is that with all the hoopla going on overseas, everybody had better look out. The Domestic Security Enhancement Act (aka DSEA, aka Patriot Act II), is on the horizon. If it passes, it may very well be the final straw that breaks the Constitution's back.

Where to start? I'm already weary with it. My mom sends daily e-mails urging everyone to pray. Oh, I'm praying all right. God help us all.

I'm afraid to my core that all I have in me is ranting and raving. Maybe it will only amount in the end to gibberish and frothy spit, like the Y2K farce. But I'm afraid that if everybody in D.C. goes insane and DSEA passes ... well, given its broad definition of terrorist activities, I could actually find myself deported to Somalia or arbitrarily detained indefinitely without counsel just for writing this article. Or for e-mailing anti-war stuff to friends. Or for looking cross-eyed at John Ashcroft.

If you think I'm kidding, get your hands on the text.

It's getting personal. This means, of course, that someone else will have to raise my three kids, all under age 12. And it's happening already to thousands of Muslims who have been rounded up. This poisonous act has found a window of opportunity, and an uninformed America will be ripping off the duct tape to let it in.

But first, meet a member of my family:

My ultra-right-wing-conservative sister is a pastor's wife. She home-schools her kids, doesn't own a TV or read anything beyond her local paper in small-town Texas. She feels that Bush is chosen by God. That's fine. That's what he says about himself, after all. Lots of people believe that all authority is put in place by God, just as the stars were. She feels that Saddam Hussein is just plain evil (I agree) and that if we don't bomb him first, we'll be coughing on mustard gas before the year is up.

Ahem. For her, it doesn't get any more complex than that. So much for letting God handle it. Or, to be more accurate, God is handling it because God ordained the president to do it.

Don't get me wrong – I've prayed in tongues and laid healing hands on brothers and sisters in Christ with the best of them. I do know where she's coming from. Contrary to popular secular beliefs, one does not get brain damage from the charismatic style of worship. It's actually pretty cool, and gives a corporate sense of immediacy and intimacy with God that can be hard to find in other settings without LSD.

In fact, I have nothing against evangelicals as the term pertains to their devotion, their immense capacity for charitable giving, or their rock-solid sense of tradition and community. I consider myself born-again. But I may well be one of the few evangelical, liberal Democrats out there. I'm not sure if those words even go together. Yeah, as far as "earthly fellowship" goes, it's lonely. Very.

The Republican let's-hit-'em-first politics of fear that seems to dog the majority of evangelicals completely baffles me in light of the amazing, self-sacrificing wonder that is the love of Christ. My favorite, albeit lamest, theory I've heard? Aerosol hairspray. Evangelicals tend to wear it – men and women alike. Liberal Christians ... don't use as much, says one church friend. Not very nice, but I can't help but smile.

Needless to say, my sense of disconnect causes conflict.

So I try to start to explain to my sister, as succinctly as possible, that in the year 2000, the Iraqis decided to switch to the Euro as their only accepted currency for oil instead of the practically universal dollar.

This move has threatened to send the U.S. economy into permanent darkness if other OPEC nations follow suit, especially given the massive trade deficits we've been running. This is but one unpublicized reason our current administration is pissed off at them.

The sober truth is that to be able to take U.S. citizens comfortably into the next 50 years at our current (and still growing) rate of oil consumption, the U.S. needs, ultimately, to be able to control the region. According to "Nightline," this is something that The Project for the New American Century (PNAC, a Washington think-tank that's been around since Father Bush and has since come to power in the form of V.P. Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, recently resigned Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the ideological father of the group) has been plotting for years – long before young Bush's disputed election, long before September 11.

Stay with me here, it gets better.

Add to that a war with Iraq, the perfect opportunity for private companies within the military industrial complex to test out new weapons. You see, the Pentagon won't buy anything that hasn't been "field tested" in actual battle. These companies stand to make, literally, billions of dollars if all goes well – if all are properly "shocked and awed" by the precision-guided carnage.

The war (rumored to ultimately cost upwards of $100 billion ) is, in fact, being underwritten in part by them. That's right. They provide the test weapons for free, we supply the sons and daughters.

Lastly, PNAC has strong financial ties to corporations that have already been granted contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq, particularly with Halliburton. When these guys bypassed Congress in this awards process, a couple of senators huffed and puffed and raised a tiny little stink about "conflicts of interest" and "protocol" but, really, who cares now that we're dropping bombs?

Bottom line? These very powerful guys – whom Eisenhower warned us about way back in the '50s – could care less about anyone, Iraqi or otherwise, being liberated. No one cares, that is, except some well-intentioned Americans like my sister who support the war, and their beloved (sorry Jesus) King Chimp, whom I believe (from the bottom of my heart) believes (from the bottom of his heart) that he actually will be doing them a favor.

Well, it's like trying to explain the multiplication tables to a cage of hamsters, and there's a really loud one that keeps interrupting with: "Why can't you just see: Saddam Hussein is Evil, he's just plain Evil!" so vehemently that I can't finish.

This next part I'm not too proud of. Definitely not what Jesus would do.

We fight. I tell her she's got her head in a bag. She calls me a liberal, a pawn of Satan from the land of the tree-huggers. She has the greater lung capacity, so I break out the biochemicals. I tell her she'll never leave Texas because she's afraid she'll see what a stinkhole she lives in compared to Oregon. But no worries, because at least that way she can have our parents all to herself like she's always wanted.

It's out of my mouth before I can stop it. The check in my spirit is almost immediate. But, in my anger, I ignore it. What can I say? It happens. Not just with evangelicals, either, lest folks start feeling smug. My sister is a nice person. Just very easy to bait.

She lobs her own foul-smelling grenade, that it's fine with her since she doesn't expect much out of me when the time comes to help support the folks, anyway. I tell her to shut her pie hole, she responds with depleted uranium, blah, blah, blah, and before we know it, it's full-scale toxic warfare.

Thing is, we both agree that Saddam is a Really Bad Man.

I mean, let's face it: If all this has to be, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But spare me the "we're liberating the Iraqi people" myth. What are we, aggressively stupid? I could tell her that the weapons of mass destruction we're so determined to neutralize are the very same weapons that we sold to Iraq when we were in conflict with Iran. She wouldn't believe me.

"Saddam is Evil!"

I think it's especially fitting that, at this writing, Bush has just started bombing Iraq for her birthday today, so best wishes to her. Where does she get off calling me a pawn of Satan? I hope I'm not, anyway. Okay, sometimes I'm not entirely sure. I try not to be. And I will too help take care of our parents when the time comes, you cat.

(Sorry Jesus).

Where was I? The war. Yeah. Nothing like beginning a perpetual war with Muslims to engender fear and repression and suspicion at home.

Which brings us back to the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, or, as wags are calling it, Patriot Act's Big Brother. Actually, Big Brother is just a bit too cuddly a term for it (especially for people who haven't read "1984" and happen to have a perfectly wonderful big brother, like I do).

However appropriate in the Orwellian sense, let's call it what it really is – the Abusive Stepfather that Mama married on the rebound after getting raped in Central Park. DSEA hasn't been introduced to Congress yet, but everyone on the hill knows about it, thanks to the Center For Public Integrity, which revealed a leaked draft in February.

Its forebear, the "Patriot Act," hastily passed by Congress sans debate in the days immediately following September 11, gave Homeland Security agencies sweeping new powers for intensified surveillance, detention and prosecution. Remember?

The name implies that anyone who objects to this erosion of privacy must be, of necessity, a traitor.

Now, call me an alarmist, but a careful reading of the DSEA takes this idea exponentially further in a way reminiscent of Nazis gradually whittling down the rights of unsuspecting German Jews. Or, if you prefer, picture the proverbial frog in the pot, unwittingly boiling to death.

What follows is a summary, with many thanks to law professor David Cole's excellent article in The Nation (March 17, 2003).

DSEA, in lethal conjunction with already existing provisions and regulations that have accumulated gradually over the years, gives the government the power to:

  • Strip the citizenship of any U.S. citizen, regardless of birthright, who is caught supporting even lawful activities of a group that the administration has deemed a "terrorist" organization, thereby nullifying the 14th Amendment ("No State may make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of immunities of citizens of the United States: nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."). Wrong political ties? Kiss it all goodbye.
  • Expand deportation powers so these brand-new "aliens," who are now obviously "stateless," can be deported to a country of the administration's choosing, regardless of whether it has a government or not (hello Liberia).
  • Or, detain the noncitizen indefinitely as a "suspected terrorist."
  • This can be done with no charges, no trial, no proof of criminal or harmful conduct, no witnesses – essentially without public or judicial scrutiny of any kind, thereby nullifying the 6th Amendment ("In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him: to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."). Basically, if the attorney general decides anyone is a threat to our "national defense, foreign policy or economic interests," he'll have unlimited authority to deport any noncitizen he chooses, for any reason that satisfies him, no questions asked. To quote the government: You will no longer be a problem.

Up until now, the government has targeted mainly Arabs and Muslims with these consequences. NPR reports that when Arab and Muslim aliens have been required to be registered, fingerprinted and interviewed, even the lawyers of legal resident aliens have been shown the door.

Still think it can't happen to you? DSEA would also:

  • Authorize secret arrests. Hmm, you mean like (gulp) Chile? The former U.S.S.R.? Can you spell "totalitarian"?
  • Reverse court orders that were entered prior to September 11, 2001, that prevented illegal police spying, whether they require individual judicial review or not.
  • Secret government wiretaps and searches? You got it! No warrant? No problem when Congress has authorized the use of force. Let's just cut the bull and call it perfectly legal!
  • Give the government the same access to credit reports as private companies, again with – read my lips – no judicial supervision. In the past, we've guarded this part very carefully because, let's face it, giving the government access to private information like that is like telling a 12-year-old with a bag of ants, a sunny day and a magnifying glass to go play. Private companies generally don't have the time/power/resources or even the motive to abuse the information in the same way.
  • Eliminate the distinction between domestic terrorism and international terrorism for a host of investigatory purposes. But hey, terrorism is terrorism, right? Look, we've always turned a blind eye when our international intelligence folks have played loosey-goosey with ethics. DSEA is telling us we now need to get the deluxe expansion pack for domestic criminal law-enforcement tools that have thus far been reserved for international terrorism investigations. How many times have you watched an international spy movie and thought, "Phew! Good thing we don't run into those folks every day!" Yep, everyday life could get pretty interesting. And with broader definitions of who can be considered a terrorist conveniently in place, it could get downright exciting for the average individual.

No wonder Christ's best advice about dealing with the mighty Roman government was (paraphrasing very loosely here): "In your best interests, just keep your mouth shut as best you can, pay your taxes and, for heaven's sake, don't call attention to yourselves."

Thankfully, we're not there yet. Then again, it's been about a year and a half since we've had a major terrorist attack. What will they force on us if we're getting attacked every day? Do you really trust your favorite politician to stubbornly and bravely swim against the current and risk being made an example for the sake of liberty?

We all need to get our heads out of the bag, stop arguing with friends and family members and get to work. Otherwise, most of us won't know what hit us, because we're all too busy screaming partisan epithets at each other or – sorry – blocking downtown Portland at rush hour with more protest marches.

I know, I'm talking about "church" for activists, and in that light, it certainly has its place. But while we're still mired in the '60s, the rest of the 21st century is going to jump on us like ugly on an ape. Which is just the way certain powers that be want it – and I'm not talking about the guy on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

We can expect DSEA/Patriot Act II to rear its many-horned heads sometime shortly after troops are already deeply committed to war, when public support for the president will be highest.

But everything will be okay, because he's ordained by God.

Sure, why not? Especially after the, er, miraculous way he came to power.

After so many years of blessing ourselves at the expense of the rest of the world, a truly wise, just God may be saying: "OK. Fine. Here's enough rope – do what you will."

And then, as I say, God help us.

Want to let your congressperson know how you feel about this? Click for a complete list of Oregon's members of Congress (with clickable e-mail links), or a listing of national members of Congress. See more from Joan-Carrol in our archives.

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