Wednesday, November 09, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Just a Question...

Well, maybe a couple... If what Episcopal Rev. Dr. George Regas said in a sermon October 31, 2004, was trying to influence an election, where was the IRS from July through October 2004 when Roman Catholic priests were proudly and very publicly denying John Kerry communion and telling their parishioners that voting for any candidate for any office who supported abortion would send them to hell? If that was not a deliberate attempt to influence an election, what could be? Where are the IRS letters to those churches? Surely they must be coming...

And if an Episcopal sermon suggesting that parishioners should vote for whichever candidate best matched their conscience caught the IRS’s eye, where was the IRS in 2004 when fundamentalist churches were threatening their parishioners with hellfire if they did not vote for George W. Bush? If that was not a deliberate attempt to influence an election, what could be? Where are the IRS letters to those churches? Surely they must be coming...

And when the leadership of both those Christian groups was working mightily, and publicly, to see that George W. got elected? Where was the IRS then? If those were not overt attempts to influence an election, what could be? Where are the IRS letters to those denominational leaders? Surely they must be coming... But we know none of those letters are coming.

The IRS has always been a tool of punishment for the Executive Branch of our government. If you can’t get a mafia mobster on murder charges, you can always get him on tax evasion. But now the IRS is being used for purposes that are a greater threat to democracy than a mere mobster.

There is an obvious disparity between the government’s treatment of churches that favor mr. bush’s policies, including torture, and those that favor other values like peace or social justice. There are rewards for those who support his policies: the funding allocations for faith-based initiatives make that clear. The most recent letter from the IRS to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena makes it clear that mr. bush’s administration will also find ways to punish churches whose pastors speak out for peace and the still small voice of social conscience.

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Resuscitating America

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-- Martin Neimoller, German pastor incarcerated by Hitler.

Maybe I am the oldest guy in America. At least I seem to be the only one who remembers how we derided the Commie-Pinko Atheist Russian Dictatorship back in the Cold War days for their reliance on fear, and the urgency with which they recruited citizens to spy on one another and report any suspicious activity. The pain of those years was multiplied as former Soviet subject nations came into their own, the STASI fell, and their secret files were opened. Fathers or mothers learned their children had turned them in to the secret police, or the files revealed that husbands or wives had turned in their spouses, brothers their brothers, sisters their sisters. First instill fear of the outsider. Then pit individual against individual, family member against family member. Then the fear of the insider also becomes fear for oneself. Then the State can do as it pleases. It was the old Stalinist way.

So here we are now, in this America, and the signs are up near the airports, near schools, around town: “Report any suspicious activity,” as we train our citizens to spy on each other. We have the gulags ready, can make access to an attorney impossible to achieve. American citizens can be “disappeared” as surely – though perhaps not yet as frequently -- as any in Argentina during its worst and saddest years. Secrecy and deceit are not just this administration’s primary tools of governance, they are rapidly becoming a national way of life. Fight Terrorism. Watch what you say. Report any suspicious activities or comments made by your neighbor. Betray your lover. Live in fear. Build a cocoon of secrecy around your words and deeds. Build a cocoon of deceit around your soul. Become the Isolato. The government can then do as it pleases. Its the old bushist way.

We are turning America into someplace else from a time past. It happens every time we turn our eyes away and do not speak out to say, “No, you can’t do that to those people.” G.W. couldn’t have done what he has without a lot of complicity from us. We have only one choice now: to create that other nation -- the one we thought we had, that we can be proud of and feel safe in, that will become a benign force in the world. Resuscitate America and bring it to life. Give it mouth to mouth and get the hope breathing again, jump start its heart, oxygenate its brain, and get it thinking and feeling again. If we don’t, some of us will be saying:

First they came after the trade unionists…
Then they came after gays and lesbians…
Then they came after those who spoke against their policies…
Then they came after the Muslims…
Then they came after the Episcopalians…
And did I speak out?
Then they came after me.