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Speak now or forever hold your peace - Diane Wagner

This is how bad the Patriot Act II is: Even the people who support it won't admit that it exists.

Attorney General John Ashcroft says it's just a few scribbled thoughts about how to increase our homeland security, but the document posted on the Web at www.publicintegrity.org says "Hello, Mother Russia."

It's so bad that both Bob Barr and Bill Clinton are crying foul.

In the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Congress managed to push through the first Patriot Act, giving federal law enforcement officials Gestapo-like investigative powers in the name of protecting citizens.

The USA Patriot Act passed when the country was apparently busy cowering in its basement. It is mostly aimed at foreign nationals and is so scary that Canada even issued a travel advisory to the United States for a while.

Under the Patriot Act II, tentatively titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, American citizens could be easy targets and the government won't need no stinkin' secret court approval. They'll just need Ashcroft's OK.

You may think your Constitutional rights will protect you, but the Act contains a provision that will allow Ashcroft to strip you of your citizenship if you become a member of or provide "material support" to any group designated a terrorist organization.

During the McCarthy era, a whole range of organizations n including unions n were secretly listed as communist fronts, unbeknownst to the members.

Since 9-11, our government has frozen the assets of several groups purporting to provide aid to starving children in Mideast countries. More than likely, these organizations actually are terrorist fronts. But I bet at least some of their donors were unaware of the connections, and you know what they say about ignorance as a defense.

Other provisions of the Patriot Act II include a free hand in obtaining bank statements and phone records, and local police surveillance of political and religious gatherings. Oh, if only Richard Nixon were alive to revel in this day.

The best part, from Ashcroft's view I assume, is that anyone who told someone about the surveillance could be thrown in jail.

This proposal is so far-reaching that nobody really believes it could be adopted, but all it will take is another terrorist attack and the sucker will slip in under the radar while we're down in the basement again.

I urge everyone to speak out now, to tell Congress that we're never going to be that afraid. Use these addresses, and say you're a constituent right off the bat:

* Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Macon, 6501 Peake Road, Building 950, Macon, Ga. 31210 or saxbychambliss@chambliss.senate.gov

* Sen. Zell Miller, D-Young Harris, 100 Colony Square, Suite 300, Atlanta, Ga. 30361 or http://miller.senate.gov

* U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, R-Jackson, 1125 Meredith Park Drive, McDonough, Ga. 30252 or mac.collins@mail.house.gov

* U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, 173 N. Main St., Jonesboro, Ga. 30236 or David.Scott@mail.house.gov

And I encourage those of you who support the Act to speak out as well. I'm all for a healthy, open debate. Are

you?

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.