Report from the Badlands

Sucker Punched by the Patriot Act

Don’t look now, but the federal government just gutted your most fundamental Constitutional rights.

The Patriot Act is anything but patriotic. In fact, it’s fascism at its worst when the stripping of the Bill of Rights is dressed up to look like a safe, smart move for national interests, and anyone who opposes it is made to look like a disloyal enemy of this country.

In case you missed it, the Patriot Act allows police to arrest and detain indefinitely any American suspected of terrorism as well as any immigrant, without disclosure of their names. We’re not just talking about foreigners who are here illegally. It also allows “sneak and peek” searches of suspects’ homes without subsequent notification of the searches, collection of personal information such as Web surfing habits and the forcing of librarians, booksellers and video shop proprietors to turn over patron records to federal investigators when asked. It allows wiretapping on ANYONE – without reason or proof of suspicious activity.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has arrested hundreds, perhaps thousands of people (and since the arrests are classified we don’t have a reliable headcount) and held them incommunicado. The “detainees” (why don’t they just call them “hostages”?) are denied access to friends, family and legal counsel. Ashcroft claims the right to indefinitely imprison these people, even though the Justice Department admits they are innocent because they have not been charged with a crime.

And now I hear Ashcroft wants to arrest and sequester into camps people who are considered terrorist suspects.

Is it just me, or does anyone else see something wrong with this picture? Does anyone see a blatant repeat of that embarrassing 1941-42 time in American history when we illegally rounded up Japanese-Americans? Or how about a repeat of Nazi Germany?

But let’s face it: not many American citizens seem to give a rat’s ass about this alarming situation. Frankly, I don’t know what disturbs me more — the fact that our moronic greedy lawgivers passed the Patriot Act or the fact that this entire nation would rather watch a TV sitcom than rail against the illegal destruction of their 200-plus-year-old rights.

Hey, don’t think I’m excusing myself on this one either. I’m just as guilty as everyone else of being wrapped up in my own microcosm of life. I’ve been paying more attention to matters at hand – albatross cars, cigarettes, paying bills, cigarettes, local politics and cigarettes – than I have to the crimes of the federal government.

People are far more interested in, say, who will be Hollister’s next mayor than they are in the possibility of being locked up indefinitely for no cause. Even in New Idria, we are more mesmerized by a local grassroots effort to overthrow Mayor Orange the Cat. Cousin Phony BooHoo is spearheading a recall effort on Orange so that he can become mayor himself, and hopes to do away with elections in favor of the same weak-mayored rotation system that Hollister has.

Who’s got time to think about those pesky Constitutional rights? – which are now mere shadows of their former selves. We’d rather stuff ballot boxes.

(Phony hates Orange. I think he is jealous of that cat’s popularity. After all, Mayor Orange won the Best Local Politician vote from the citizens of San Benito in The Pinnacle on Thanksgiving. I heard Phony himself didn’t do so great in that poll.)

By the time us insulated rubes of New Idria realized the federal government had gone ape with our Constitution when we weren’t looking, it was too late. When we heard about how far the Patriot Act sweeps away our civil liberties, we all started acting like raving paranoids – and for good reason!

My sister Mel, the Tambourine Virtuoso, has been reluctant to shake out a tune on her instrument for fear it will be misconstrued as “subversive.” Even innocuous standards like “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” and “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” have been scrapped from her once diverse repertoire.

My brother, former Councilman Kemp, has made a new institution at Orange Acres City Council meetings. Every week he announces the local “Jack-Booted Thug of the Month.” This month it was Councilman Cousin Phony BooHoo for wanting to take away local elections (and our longtime practice of election fraud).

I myself have been walking around with a “Pope Scope,” which is something like a cardboard periscope so you can see over the heads of people in a crowd. I use it to see in back of my head.

And Orange the Cat? He’s been a one-man spraying machine, sabotaging everything in his wake, especially where he thinks federal “men in black” have installed listening devices. We have to pick up the phone receivers with barbeque tongs now.

So even us far-flung hillbillies of New Idria are affected by the brave new world of the George Dubya administration. Remember what Ben Franklin said, folks! “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.”

San Carlos Creek Update: The creek has been unusually milky-murky lately, which is an indicator that the recent rains have churned up a chemical reaction with all the heavy metals of alum, boron, methylymercury, iron-sulfide, manganese, and on and on that pour out of the old New Idria mine shafts.

We were lamenting it the other day from the Bridge Over Troubled Water.

“It’s too bad the government can’t concentrate on cleaning up this mess, instead of stripping away our rights,” I clucked, tisk-tisking it all and wagging my finger at the waterway.

Kemp was observing that two-headed mutant, hermaphradite frog, and said, “It’s doubleplusungood.”

Now where have I heard that before?

Comments about the Badlands? Email Kate “Minister of Propaganda” Woods at [email protected]

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