AUSTIN, Texas -- By George, we need honest, reasoned debate around here and not fear-mongering, so anyone out there who suspects Attorney General John Ashcroft of being a nincompoop is clearly aiding terrorists and giving ammunition to America's enemies. Ashcroft says so, and if that's not reasoned debate, what is?

Under the high standards of reason set forth by Ashcroft, we are allowed to present CORRECT information (those who present incorrect information, like some people in government, erode our national unity and diminish our resolve) as to what the attorney general is up to. While Operation Enduring Freedom continues in Afghanistan, enduring freedom is not looking so good here at home -- and like the A.G., I would be the last to encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil.

Here is some CORRECT information about enduring freedom:

-- Ashcroft's urpily named PATRIOT Act permits government agents to search a suspect's home without notification. In J. Edgar Hoover's day, this was known as "a black-bag job." As Nat Hentoff reports in The Progressive: "A warrant would be required, but very few judges would turn a government investigator down in this time of fear. Ashcroft's 'secret searches' provision can now extend to all criminal cases and can include taking photographs, the contents of your hard drive and other property. This is now a permanent part of the law, not subject to any 'sunset review' by Congress."

Many of our tough-minded brethren, to whom it is perfectly clear that less freedom equals more security, have dismissed complaints by saying, after all, these measures only apply to non-citizens, and besides, the worst parts of it will sunset in four years. Wrong. This means you, fellow citizens -- if you happen to know someone whose brother-in-law rented a garage apartment to a guy who knew someone who might be a terrorist. Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety." But I'm pretty sure Franklin didn't mean to aid terrorists, so please don't report him to he A.G.

-- The expansion of wiretapping authority to computers simply puts privacy in cyberspace in jeopardy without any concomitant gain to law enforcement. According to James X. Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, neither Congress nor the media have put all this together to see the breadth of the dragnet.

The government can now delve into personal and private records of individuals even if they cannot be directly connected to a terrorist or foreign government. Bank records, e-mails, library records, even the track of discount cards at grocery stories can be obtained on individuals without establishing any connection to a terrorist before a judge. According to the Los Angeles Times, Al Qaeda uses sophisticated encryption devices freely available on the Internet that cannot be cracked. So the terrorists are safe from cyber-snooping, but we're not.

-- Ashcroft and Co. essentially say, "Trust us, we won't misuse these new laws." But in fact the FBI and the CIA have repeatedly violated such trust to spy on everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Jean Seberg. That's why the checks were there to begin with.

-- According to an analysis of PATRIOT by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the government made no showing that the previous powers of laws enforcement and intelligence agencies to spy on U.S. citizens were insufficient to allow them to investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism: "Many provisions that, instead of (being) aimed at terrorism, are aimed at nonviolent, domestic computer crime. In addition, although many of the provisions appear aimed at terrorism, the government made no showing that the reasons they failed to detect the planning of the recent attacks or any other terrorist attacks were the civil liberties compromised by the bill. The government may now spy on web-surfing of innocent Americans, including terms entered into search engines, by merely telling a judge anywhere in the U.S. that the spying could lead to information that is 'relevant' to an ongoing criminal investigation."

The person spied on does not have to be the target of the investigation nor is probable cause required.

-- The military tribunals idea is so bad the administration has been backing up on it steadily, especially since Spain has already announced it won't turn over its Al Qaeda suspects to a system so violative of international standards. The Spaniards, who have been fighting Basque terrorists for years, are not noticeably "soft on terrorism."

-- Lest you think our only attorney general does not care about rights, I point out that when it comes to the 550 he has "detained" since September, without evidence, without charges, without identification and without legal counsel, he so fully respects the Second Amendment rights of these non-citizens that he has reversed the Justice Department's previous stand to forbid the FBI to check on their gun-purchase records in order to protect their privacy. Also, Ashcroft fully believes in the rights of the unborn. The born are on their own.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.