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Russia: Has Anything Changed?
Following are some amazing testimonies delivered by persecuted Christians in Russia as interviewed by our youngest son, Brett. The results of his enquiry have proven to be very revealing.
An interview via email, on May 4th, 2000 with Mr. Timothy Ha from Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia. (Timothy and his wife Natasha Ha on the right).
Dear Mr. Ha,
My name is Brett Skinner, son of Don Wigton with Wigtune Company who sent you a number of chord charts of worship songs in January 2000. I am in 8th grade and am doing a report in my History class on the Soviet Union. I would appreciate it if you have the time, to answer the following questions for my report:
Timothy) Dear Brett, of course I would like to help you. Also one of my friends, Vlad Petrusevich is a native Russian. I believe he will also be happy to answer you. Just tell him it was me who told you to ask.
Brett) How do you say "The Beginning of the end of the Soviet Union", in Russian?
Timothy) Nachalo zakata Sovetskogo Sayuza. (the beginning of Soviet Unions sunset?)
Brett) What was it like living in Russia before Gorbechevs reign and after his reign?
Timothy) Before Gorbachev there was no market economy, so everybody lived on salary (if they were not criminals). Now there is much freedom but many people do not enough initiative to earn more for themselves. Also the law is not recognized, so many people fall into poverty easier than before.
Brett) What changes have taken place for Christians in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union? (good & bad)
Timothy) Of course, the greatest thing is freedom to preach. There is some offence from Russian Orthodox Church. Its the offical and state-supported religious institution in Russia but its activities are bad to other protestants and other denominations.
Brett) Thank you for your time, I appreciate anything you may be able to share with me for my report.
Timothy) You are welcome. I hope that I could help a little. Please dont forget to ask Vlad on the matter. Please say thanks once again to your father who helped me.
The First interview via email, on May 5th, 2000 with Mr. Vladislav Petrusevich, from Alexandrov, Russia.
From: Vlad & Nadya Petrusevich [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, May 04, 2000 11:27 PM
To: Brett Skinner
Subject: Re: Timothy Ha/referral
Greetings of love to you from Alexandrov, Russia. I got your E-mail and gladly reply on it.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Vladislav Petrusevich. Nadezhda (that means "hope" in Russia) is my wife. My wife and I are memebers of Alexandrov Mennonite Church - a congregation of the Church of God in Christ (Mennonite). You can learn more about our Anabaptist faith from the following site I put on the web: Mennonite Ethereal Library http://www.freebible.com/mennonite We have 4 children - 2 boys and 2 girls. Im working as a researcher at Moscow University, Phys.Dept.
Your questions are quite interesting because we were eyewitnesses of the decay and fall of the Soviet Union.
My wife in her young years lived in a different town and was a member of the underground church. They gathered at private homes (we still do that here) and police often times came and disturbed the services arresting or fining the leaders and members. The fines were very high maybe half of monthly wage. You can imagine how hard it was for those who had a big families.
But they didnt give up. My wife being a young girl helped her aunt (also a Christian) to bind books for the underground press. It was a dangerous task.
I personally got converted later. I was raised in non-Christian family of educators. But my dad wasnt much excited of Communism. He was listening secretly BBC and other Western radio stations/ Communist do their own best to jam the Western radio broadcasts.
Well, maybe I need to go back to your questions:
Brett: 1) What does "RODINE PARTII KLYANEMSYA" mean, translated into English?
Vlad: It means "We swear (klyanemsya) to the motherland (rodine) and to the party (partii) (Communist of course)". BTW Jesus said: "But I say unto you, SWEAR NOT AT ALL" (Matthew 5:34) and James: "But above all things, my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, NEITHER BY ANY OTHER OATH: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation" (James 5:12). So Russian Christians following that commandment of Jesus oftentimes get into trouble and met much opposition and persecution from the government and the common people. My wife was boycotted (students in the College refused to talk with her) because she was a Christian and didnt followed the crowd.
Brett: 2) What was it like in Russia before Gorbechevs reign and after his reign?
Vlad: Its hard to explain. You should keep in mind that the same people that reigned during the communist time are still in power. They just changed the labels and called themselves Democrats. There is almost nobody in the government who used to be a dissident during the Communist era. All of them were high Communist officials. They became Democrats only because thus they can much easier get more money (nobody still controls them) and rob the country. In the Communist time the Christians were persecuted by the Atheists and now they are persecuted by the Russian Orthodox church, because the government has a close friendship with that church. Even in Russian law on religion is mentioned that that Church has a special role in Russia. I know from my own experience what that special role is. An Orthodox priest called police and they arrested me when I was giving out free literature and tracts on the street of a neighboring town. BTW that priest is a former communist. Last year my wife was interviewed by a secret police (FSB - former KGB) officer who told her that the Orthodox church urges them to restrict the "sects" (all non-Orthodox churches). And that officer wanted to get information from her, but she refused to tell them anything sufficient. So the same guys that were oppressing Christians in the Communist times are ready now to be helpful for the Orthodox church. Of course people in the West are soothed by the words that there is a "democracy" in Russia right now.
Economically the life was a little bit different that time too. There were less crime. And criminals didnt control the economy like they do it now. The economy was more stable and controlled by the government. The wages of workers, teachers, researchers and doctors were many times more than it is now. But for a Christian it was quite hard to get the higher education because they didnt let a person to join a college or University if he isnt a member of the Communist organization.
Brett: 3) What was it like living behind the Berlin Wall, and now after the wall is down?
Vlad: You know there were few other countries behind the Berlin Wall and in some of them there were more freedom of religion (like in East Germany) and in others there were horrors of Communist inquisition (like in Romania) and in the third ones the life of Christians were quite tough (Russia). In Russia a great advantage for spreading the Christian faith was a Cheap transportation. Christians could travel much, print literature one place, store it another, visit secret conferences in various parts of the country, visit the prisoners of faith, etc. Now they cant do that because most of them are common people and very poor. And their activity is much choked by that right now. On other hand during the communist time there were no unemployment and every men was supposed to work at government owned factory, farm or institute. Thus a person had less free time and he could travel only on weekends and when he had a furlough. Now there much unemployment and many people sit at home idly - but they cant travel because they have no money. And those who work they have to have a side job to make a living. So there were some hardships during that time and there is other kind of them now.
Hope that information will be interesting and noteworthy. I just tried to give it from a Common people viewpoint. You are welcome top ask more questions.
Vlad: Quote of the day: "We cannot hand our children a package of convictions, insuring them an entrance to heaven."
The Second interview via email, on May 8th, 2000 with Mr. Vladislav Petrusevich, from Alexandrov, Russia.
From: Vlad & Nadya Petrusevich [email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, May 08, 2000 12:37 AM
To: Brett Skinner
Subject: Re: Timothy Ha/referral
Greetings of love to you. Its really nice to hear from you again. Im glad to hear that you found my notes noteworthy. Im a man and my viewpoint can be subjective.
Brett: There is Christian persecution in America, but not like you have described. We openly go to church and worship without being bothered by our government or other churches.
Vlad: Yes, thats true. Bible tells us:Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Brett: My Aunt is a very good singer and is in the choir. Mom and Dad will be singing in a few weeks, and my sister, Jacqulene, is thinking about singing with a young girls choir. (She is a junior in High School.)
Vlad: I really enjoy singing acappella. We sing that way at our small church. God gave us voices - the perfect instrument to glorify him.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)
Brett: My Dad has a music website that is used by a lot of churches. He was wondering if it would be possible to put your testimony on his site to let American Christians know what is really going on in Russia.
Vlad: Yes he can put my testimony on his site. Maybe it will be helpful for others to understand things better. (For reference please use my alternative E-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org )
Brett: 1) What is your or your country's impression of our Presidents, Reagan, Bush and Clinton?
Vlad: Hmm. Im not an expert in politics. Of course Im not excited about the things are going with morals. As far as I know Reagan was the first divorced president and Clinton was the one who didnt show a good example in that area either.
I have more respect toward the president Carter (I think it was he) - who was more peaceful and openly called himself a fundamental Christian. Of course he maybe didnt make much great works but it seems to me there were no serious military conflicts during his reign. Maybe Im wrong.
Brett: 2) What affect have they had on Russian politics?
Vlad: Im sure these 3 presidents had a certain impact on Russian politics. Because during their reign the Russian empire collapsed and still going downhill. Of course there are people in Russian that would blame America or other countries in all these problems, but Im not one of them. I inclined to think that the actual situation is much more difficult than its written in the newspapers (usually there is no truth in the news).
Brett: 3) Is there anything Christians in America can do to help Christians in Russia?
Vlad: I really dont know right now what to say. Maybe I need to meditate more on these three questions. It would be nice to know what do you personally think about that.
Brett: Also, do you possibly have a picture you could send back with your reply, or a website that I could down-load a picture from?
Vlad: I have picture from my driving licence at hand. I can send it to you right now.
Brett: Thank you again, and we will be praying for you and your wife, Nadezhda.
Vlad: Thank you. May God bless you. And keep on writing. I enjoy hearing from you.
Vlad and family
Vlad: Quote of the day: "Love and submission are key words around which the home is established."
The Third interview via email, on May 9th, 2000 with Mr. Vladislav Petrusevich, from Alexandrov, Russia.
Subject:Good morning to you
Date:Tue, 9 May 2000 11:36:46 +0400 Status:High
From:Vlad & Nadya Petrusevich <email@example.com
Good morning to you. I'm very glad to hear from you this morning. I just forgot to tell you yesterday that there is an interesting historical book about Russian evangelical Christians after WW2 -Soviet Evangelicals Since World Word War II by Walter Sawatsky, 1981. Herald Press, Scottdale PA 15683, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 80-84856 It's very interesting book to read. It was published by MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) in Russian too. I've read it with great interest. And it seems to me enough objective.
Also you asked what does Russians think about the last 3 US presidents. I remembered that Russians call second-quality imported chicken legs - Bush-legs. :
Brett 1) In my last question when I asked what American Christians could do to help Christians in Russia, you wrote that it would help if I told you what I personally think about it. My dad has told me that the Republicans in the US Congress want to put pressure on governments that persecute Christians, but President Clinton is not in favor of that. The churches in our country are not persecuted like yours. So many of them dont think they need to get involved with political things. My dad says, though, that the American Church is so big that it could change a lot of things in our country. People can have a lot of effect on the government in America. If Christians would take a stand for their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world our government officials would respond because they need Christian votes. Do you think that pressure from the American government on your officials could help out Christians in your country to worship more freely without persecution?
Vlad: You know the pressure and restrictions have two sides. Of course they affect the target and make life worse. I don't think it would cause much trouble to the officials - they always have means to have enough for themselves. It would make life harder only for common people (and Christians among them too). So you can see who would actually suffer because of restrictions. But also I can admit that sometimes the restrictions can reach their goal.
Also I'm not sure that God calls us as Christians to be involved in politics. Christians in Russia usually kept themselves avay from politics. That helped them to survive. They were ready to suffer for their faith but not for political strife.
Brett 2) When I asked you what you thought of our presidents you were very concerned about their morals. The men who wrote our US Constitution said that democracy cannot survive without godly and moral people to run it. Our morals are getting worse and worse. Now, just like your country, our newspapers are telling us what they want us to hear and they talk against Christians a lot. So it is hard to find the truth. Our country is getting more socialistic every year and our freedoms are disappearing one by one. Is there a lack of morals in your government too? Could this be one reason why democracy is not working very good in Russia?
Vlad: I inclined to think that the general problem of the mankind in the following one "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). I think what people really need - it is repentance and new holy life of discipleship in Jesus. I believe the Christians in the US could do more if they live holy life in obedience to the commandments of Jesus. I think the same is true for the Christians in Russia too. There is a good song in English you probably know - "You need to live your religion every day".
We learn from the Bible: This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) We see these words fulfilled in our days too [even there were times in the past (Roman Empire, Dark Ages, Reformation) when people were also of that condition].
Brett: 3) When you said that the Russian empire is going downhill it made me wonder: Do Russians want to stick with democracy or would they rather go back to the way things were before the fall of the Soviet Union?
Unfortunately many non-Christian people here cherish the memories of the old good life and want "to dig out Brezhnew and live again that way". The life was always difficult for Christians in this country.
Even before Revolution they suffered much persecution from the Orthodox Church. Then from Communists. And now again the Orthodox Church wants to restrict other churches activity.
Brett: Your help has made a great difference in my report and Im sure that when my dad puts your testimony on his web page that a lot of Christians in America are going to read it.
Vlad: I hope this will help you some. Well I need to go and eat my meal and I need to meditate more about your questions to write you more. (BTW here in Russia Secret police issued regulation to monitor all the Internet traffic in Russia. So probably somebody is reading our correspondence :)
Vlad and family
Quote of the day: "Satan cannot overcome you unless you give him your tools to use."
The Fourth interview via email, on May 9th, 2000 with Mr. Vladislav Petrusevich, from Alexandrov, Russia.
Date:Tue, 9 May 2000 13:44:03 +0400 Status:Normal
From:Vlad & Nadya Petrusevich <firstname.lastname@example.org>
...Just a food for thought...
Can you imagine working at the following Company?
It has a little over 500 employees with the following statistics:
29 - have been accused of spousal abuse
7 - have been arrested for fraud
19 - have been accused of writing bad checks
117 - have bankrupted at least two businesses
3 - have been arrested for assault
71 - cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 - have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 - have been arrested for shoplifting
21 - are current defendants in lawsuits
In 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving. Can you
guess which organization this is?
It's the 535 members of your United States Congress. The same group that perpetually cranks out hundreds upon hundreds of news laws designed to keep the rest of people in line.
Note from Vlad: The same can be told about Russian Duma. Today I got a news from Keston College where they list the members of the Russian Religious affairs committee. Of 7 members - 4 are former Communists, another one is a former criminal who was sentenced for rape, robbery, illegal keeping of guns, etc.
The Fifth interview via email, on May 9th, 2000 with Mr. Vladislav Petrusevich, from Alexandrov, Russia.
Date:Tue, 9 May 2000 12:16:55 +0400 Status:High
From:Vlad & Nadya Petrusevich <email@example.com>
I enclose an interesting article I scanned from the newspaper.
I hope you will found it interesting and yet alarming.
Quote of the day: "Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him."
The Moscow Times #1901 Saturday, February, 19, 2000
State Discloses Surveillance of Internet
By Jen Tracy
SORM, a government program to monitor e-mails and other electronic or Internet communications, has long been a matter for public debate. But this week marked the first time the secretive program was ever publicly acknowledged by the government.
Alexei Rokotyan, head of the electronic communications department of the Communications Ministry, on Thursday told a televised round-table discussion that through SORM the government now has access to all information transmitted via Russian Internet service providers.
"Speaking about the incorporation of SORM into the Russian communications network, we are speaking not about establishing a system of global surveillance of the Internet, or total control of the information that is transmitted via the global network. Instead, we are speaking about [monitoring] individual cases according to the law," Rokotyan said.
"Security organs and special forces have the right - and now the capability - to monitor private correspondence and telephone conversations of individual citizens in the name of establishing legal order."
SORM - which stands for Sistema Operativno-Rozysknykh Meropriyatii, or System for Operational-Investigative Activities - was first born in a 1995 government regulation that gave the security services the right to monitor telecommunications transmissions, provided they first obtained a warrant.
SORM-2 was an additional regulation issued in July 1998 by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and by the State Communications Committee. It mandated that Internet service providers install, at their own expense, technology to link their computers to those at FSB headquarters - allowing the agency to monitor select electronic transmissions, from private e-mails to e-commerce purchases, in real time.
The costs to the Internet service provider are estimated from $10,000 to $30,000, not including any future upgrades.
That's enough to shut down some smaller providers, and some SORM-watchers argue that the big Internet players actually welcome SORM as it helps them shore up their market shares.
SORM-2 listening devices route copies of all Internet traffic to FSB computers, warrant or no. In theory, a warrant is needed to actually read any of the documentation piling up in the FSB's hands.
But in practice, human rights groups say, the FSB is unlikely to worry about such legal niceties when the information it wants is just a mouse click away.
Human rights activists equate this with a loss of Internet privacy for the more than 1 million people in Russia who use the Internet, and for tens of thousands more who use credit cards or other electronic banking instruments here.
Rokotyan was careful to point out that SORM would not breach the Constitution, which grants citizens the right to private correspondence, and that citizens would be "safeguarded" against any abuses by the security organs of their new powers.
But Yury Vdovin, vice chairman of the St. Petersburg-based Citizens' Watch human rights group, was less than convinced.
"They always say that it's all under control and there's no reason to be afraid," he said. "But no one will be monitoring them, and there are no safeguards."
May 9, 2000: I sent the following article back to Vlad. Do you notice the similarities between this article and the article from the Moscow Times?
Rise of the Surveillance State
High-tech whets all the wrong government appetites.
by James Bovard
While high-tech breakthroughs make business more productive and life more pleasant, progress also has a dark side. Technology designed for benign purposes can be used for ill ones too. The Clinton administration has led the way, acting as if every new computer and telephone should have a welcome mat for federal wiretappers. A 1998 American Civil Liberties Union report noted, "The Administration is using scare tactics to acquire vast new powers to spy on all Americans."
On April 16, 1993, the White House revealed that the National Security Agency had secretly developed a new microchip known as the Clipper Chip. The press release called it "a new initiative that will bring the Federal Government together with industry in a voluntary program to improve the security and privacy of telephone communications while meeting the legitimate needs of law enforcement." This was practically the last time that the word "voluntary" was mentioned.
The Clipper Chip's developers presumed it should be a crime for anyone to use technology -- such as encryption -- that frustrates government agents. Encryption software allows individuals to send messages between computers that cannot be read by third parties. It is vital to prevent fraud or abuse of financial transactions and is widely used both here and abroad. Encryption has a long history -- Thomas Jefferson used secret codes in his correspondence to avoid detection by the British.
"The Clipper Chip proposal would have required every encryption user (that is, every individual or business using a digital telephone system, fax machine, the Internet, etc.) to hand over their decryption keys to the government, giving it access to both stored data and real-time communications," the ACLU noted. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, observed: "You don't want to buy a set of car keys from a guy who specializes in stealing cars." When the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology formally published the proposal for the new surveillance chip, fewer than one percent of the comments received from the public supported the Clipper Chip plan.
Although it eventually abandoned its effort to impose the Clipper Chip, the administration did not give up on trying to tap the nation's telephones. In 1994 it railroaded through Congress a law to dumb down phone technology in order to facilitate government wiretapping. On October 16, 1995, the telecommunications industry was stunned when a Federal Register notice appeared announcing that the FBI was demanding that phone companies provide the capability for simultaneous wiretaps of one out of every hundred phone calls in urban areas. The FBI notice represented "a 1,000-fold increase over previous levels of surveillance." FBI Director Louis Freeh denied that any expansion of wiretapping was planned.
The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement law led to five years of clashes between the FBI and the communications industry over the new standards. The Federal Communications Commission was the bill's designated arbiter; in August 1999, the FCC caved and gave the FBI almost everything it wanted. The FCC ordered that all new cellular telephones become de facto homing devices for law enforcement by including components which enable law enforcement to determine the precise location from which a person is calling. As Electronic Design magazine noted, "Unlike the location feature being created for 911 emergency services, this capability will apply to all calls and users won't be able to turn it off." Attorney General Janet Reno hailed the decision: "The continuing technological changes in the nation's telecommunications systems present increasing challenges to law enforcement. This ruling will enable law enforcement to keep pace with these changes." The New York Times noted, "Law-enforcement officials have asserted that since the location of wired telephones is already public information, there is no intrusion of privacy in determining the location of wireless phones." This is like saying that since police can determine a person's home addresses by checking the phone book, it is no violation of privacy to let police follow the person around every place he goes once he leaves his house.
In addition to telephones, the security of computer software and the Internet have also been targeted. The administration spent three years hounding Phil Zimmerman, the inventor of Pretty Good Privacy, software designed to protect computer data and messages from surveillance. Someone placed PGP on an Internet site, thus making it available free to anyone in the world who chose to download it. For this the feds threatened Zimmerman with a five-year prison sentence and a million-dollar fine for exporting "munitions." Noted Zimmerman in a 1999 interview: "In a number of countries with oppressive regimes, PGP is the only weapon that humanitarian aid workers have to prevent hostile dictatorships from monitoring their communications."
Last August the Justice Department submitted the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act to Congress. The bill would make it easier for government to intrude on private communications by allowing law enforcement to obtain search warrants "to secretly enter suspects' homes or offices and disable security on personal computers as a prelude to a wiretap or further search." Average Americans would face to "black bag jobs" previously restricted to espionage or national security cases. Janet Reno justified the new powers thus: "When criminals like drug dealers and terrorists use encryption to conceal their communications, law enforcement must be able to respond in a manner that will not thwart an investigation or tip off a suspect." But such searches pose special dangers because of the opportunities for government agents to tamper with evidence while manipulating software on a target's computer.
In October 1999, members of the international Internet Engineering Task Force revealed that the FBI was pressuring them to create a "surveillance-friendly" architecture for Internet communications. The Bureau wanted the Task Force to build "trapdoors" into e-mail communications programs to allow law enforcement easy access to supposedly confidential messages. Several high-tech experts publicly warned: "We believe that such a development would harm network security, result in more illegal activities, diminish users' privacy, stifle innovation, and impose significant costs on developers of communications." The ACLU's Barry Steinhardt said, "What law enforcement is asking...is the equivalent of requiring the home building industry to place a 'secret' door in all new homes to which only it would have the key." Although the task force managed to rebuff the pressure, the fact the FBI even attempted to have software engineers sacrifice e-mail reliability for the sake of government intrusions is a warning as to how audacious the feds have become.
Last fall news broke about the existence of Echelon, a spy satellite system run by the National Security Agency along with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Echelon reportedly scans millions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and faxes each hour, searching for key words. The European Union and the governments of Italy and Russia loudly protested Echelon's intrusions into their sovereign domains. European Parliament Speaker Nicole Fontaine harumphed: "We have every reason to be shocked at the fact that this form of espionage, which has been going on for a number of years, has not prompted any official protest." One Portuguese paper complained that Echelon is "like a technological nightmare extracted from the crazy conspiracy theories of 'The X-Files.'"
Rep. Bob Barr, a former CIA employee and the most vigilant congressman regarding federal high-tech intrusions, attached a rider to an appropriations bill last year that required the NSA and the CIA to report to Congress on the standards Echelon used to tap Americans' communications. In a February letter, the NSA assured members of Congress that "the NSA's activities are conducted in accordance with the highest constitutional, legal and ethical standards, and in compliance with statutes and regulations designed to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons.'' Even as it professed it would never act unconstitutionally, the NSA sought to block further House inquiries into Echelon's operations.
A February report by the European Union alleged that Echelon has been used for economic espionage. Former CIA Director James Woolsey told a German newspaper in early March that Echelon collects "economic intelligence." One example Woolsey gave was espionage aimed at discovering when foreign companies are paying bribes to obtain contracts that might otherwise go to American companies. Woolsey elaborated on his views in a condescending March 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed, justifying Echelon spying on foreign companies because some foreigners do not obey the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. To add insult to injury, Woolsey noted there's no reason for U.S. companies to steal backward Europe's secrets.
The most egregious examples of governmental invasion of privacy relate to two of the most intimate areas in life -- your money and your body. In September 1999, Marvin Goodfriend, a senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, proposed that government use new technology to penalize citizens who do not spend their cash as fast as government wanted. "The magnetic strip [in new U.S. currency] could visibly record when a bill was last withdrawn from the banking system. A carry tax could be deducted from each bill upon deposit according to how long the bill was in circulation." Wired News noted that a federal "carry tax" would "discourage 'hoarding' currency, deter black market and criminal activities, and boost economic stability during deflationary periods when interest rates hover near zero." Rep. Ron Paul, a member of the House Banking Committee, denounced the proposal: "The whole idea is preposterous. The notion that we're going to tax somebody because they decide to be frugal and hold a couple of dollars is economic planning at its worst."
Lastly, the Customs Service recently began deploying BodySearch equipment that allows Customs inspectors to see through the clothes of designated lucky travelers. The ACLU's Gregory Nojeim warned that the new body scanners could show "underneath clothing and with clarity, breasts or a penis, and the relative dimensions of each. The system has a joystick-driven zoom option that allows the operator to enlarge portions of the image." Customs spokesman Dennis Murphy explained: "What [BodySearch] does is alleviate the need for us to touch people, because people don't like to be touched, and we don't blame them, because our inspectors also feel uncomfortable touching people." The BodySearch system has a feature that can potentially violate travelers more than a pat-down from a Customs agent: the capacity to save images of what it views. Travelers can now look forward to a new kind of trip souvenir: a picture of their privates on file at a federal agency.
James Bovard is the author of Freedom in Chains (St. Martin's Press).
This article also appears in the May 2000 issue of The American Spectator.
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