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June 11th, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

Rocking the boat in Mayberry.

     
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The Mayberry Machiavellis of the Bush Administration are finding resistance in the darndest places.
The Nose has never met Barbara Comstock, but he wants to take her out on a date.

The Nose became aware of Comstock, a U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman, Monday morning while listening to a National Public Radio report about the backlash against the Patriot Act. Comstock was downplaying the fact that 120 U.S. cities (and three states) have passed resolutions opposing the Act. Comstock stressed that the cities were clustered in liberal New England or around universities.

"The usual enclaves," she told NPR's Juan Williams, "where you might see Nuclear-Free Zones."

That's why the Nose would like to treat her out to a night on the town in beautiful Gaston, Ore., a sleepy burg of 600, just 30 miles west of Portland on the edge of Washington County. We'd start at Cooper D's diner for a Bison Deluxe Burger, then grab a soft-serve ice cream cone at the Gaston Market (a.k.a. Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery) before ending with a glass or two of Hamm's at Crickett's Tavern.

Comstock would see that that the guys who buy their Carhartt overalls and Bailey hats at Gaston Feed & Hardware aren't making a fashion statement. And it's neither a Vermont socialist enclave nor a radical college town, but a pretty typical rural outpost of America, where George Bush beat Al Gore 97 to 71. And two months ago, this city told Comstock's boss, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, to shove it.

On April 9, the nonpartisan Gaston City Council passed a resolution, crafted by councilor Michael Slocum, that forbids city employees, including police, from apprehending people solely because of immigration violations or helping investigate anyone not suspected of a crime.

Slocum, a Democrat, says he was nervous about broaching the topic with his fellow councilors, who include a Republican, a Libertarian, three Democrats and an independent. "I was a bit worried about rocking the boat in Mayberry," he says. But his colleagues were as eager as a heifer in heat. The council voted 7-0 in favor of Slocum's resolution stating that the U.S.A. Patriot Act threatens "fundamental rights and liberties."

The 342-page act, passed by Congress just a month after 9/11, creates the crime of "domestic terrorism," gives the federal government unprecedented access to financial, medical and library records of U.S. citizens, and makes it easier for agents to tap phones and intercept email. Non-citizens face the prospect of deportation or indefinite detainment (without judicial appeal) even if not charged with any crime.

"It's like gun control," says Gaston councilor Richard Sager. "It's the first step toward tyranny."

Last week, Ashcroft's own inspector general, Glenn Fine, released a report showing that there were "significant problems" in the detention of many of the 762 foreign nationals held on immigration charges since 9/11. None has been publicly charged with terrorism, and yet they spent an average of nearly three months behind bars while the feds snooped around, many going weeks before seeing a lawyer.

You'd think Ashcroft might have been contrite. But, instead, he got pushy, last week telling Congress he needs more powers. While he limited his requests to efforts to keep tabs on actual terrorism suspects and harsher penalties for convicts, many reckon he wants even more. A draft bill to expand the Patriot Act, which surfaced in February, would allow Ashcroft to keep secret the names of people he detains until criminal charges are filed, collect DNA evidence from suspects and strip citizenship from anyone who "becomes a member of, or provides material support" to a "terrorist organization...engaged in hostilities against the U.S."

Maybe that's why the act has united the NRA crowd with the NPR crowd.

"You can't let government erode your rights," says Sager, a registered Libertarian. "They don't repeal taxes, and they don't restore liberties."

 
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