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By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Faces Fear to Rant Against Portions of the Patriot Act

    All the More Reason to Say It Like It Is

      I am writing this column in spite of the fact that I am a little bit fearful. I am not the only one who should be apprehensive. Readers should be a little afraid, too. Because of a small section in the recent so-called Patriot Act, our government agencies--read that FBI, police, CIA--can go nosing around in libraries and bookstores in search of seditious behavior and they don’t have to have probable cause. So, a woman like me who just sent her grandson off to Army Boot Camp, possibly to fight in Iraq, might very well be a target for investigation simply because I am exercising my right to voice my opinion with this article and a reader might be targeted because she walks into a bookstore and buys a stack of books about politics.

      Readers are, indeed, as affected by the concept of freedom of speech and the press as are authors, bookstore owners, librarians and publishers. Each reader benefits from having a full and varied choice of material to read. That these book were written by authors who do not fear saying exactly what they want increases the choices we all find on the shelves of our bookstores dramatically.

      The Patriot Act, or at least the portion of that act (Section 215) that allows our government agencies to snoop into what we write and what books we buy without any other early reason to be suspicious. This section should have gone down in the cleansing fire of our legislative system on July 8th when it was voted for on the floor of Congress. It didn’t.

       I just received a notice that was sent to those associated with ABA, the American Booksellers Association. It was from Oren Teicher and members of the Campaign for Reader Privacy. It seems that their efforts to scuttle the amendment failed in an amazing vote in our House of Representatives--210 to 210. Sounds like a tie, right? Especially when the roll call showed that all members of the house voted! But, by the rules of the House, the effort to keep our private acts private failed as badly as if the vote had been 419 to 1.

       The worse part is that the opposition resorted to what some consider questionable tactics. The vote was kept open 20 minutes longer while arms were twisted to get several members of Congress to change their votes. In other words, the majority was listening to the pulse of our nation who refuses to be intimidated into losing our rights by the few who would terrorize us. Yet, even with the pale yellow light of reason shining some three years after that dreadful day when bills were being passed without the benefit of such a shine, the very basis of what our nation stands for was “voted down.” And it was voted down using what some call compromise (at best) and what some call deceit, bribery and threat (at worst).

      Is this really something that will affect you and me? Well, I didn’t really think so until I received a letter from an author who once shared the stage with me at The Inland Empire Book Fest. He says:

“We met at a San Bernardino book fair where we both did readings. Needless to say, you were a tough act to follow. I share your concern that Free Expression has been endangered by the Patriot Act (see my essay at Say or write the wrong thing and risk imprisonment without trial or worse. The threat is real. My website at has undergone scrutiny by a government agency. They were extremely polite and made no threats. Nonetheless, the fact that they didn't say what they were looking for made me uncomfortable.”

      My guess is that the reason they didn’t say what they were looking for is they didn’t know. The had no idea if Fred was even a likely candidate for investigation. Now, mind you, neither Fred Dungan nor I have any power beyond what the casual citizen possesses. I mean, we are not major political figures nor are our authors’ voices powerful like, say, Bob Woodard’s. Not only were they following a sort of dead-end lead, I wonder what these investigators thought when they started spending tax payer’s money nosing around at Fred’s site? Here is a man whose son is true-blue Westpoint. Mmmmm. It must be because he happens to believe in freedom of the press. Wasn’t that once considered a patriotic thing to do? Good grief. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry are roiling around in their graves! Now there were a couple of patriots! Thinkers. Outspoken. Action-minded.

      Before I really get off on one, I’ll close with a quote from Fred’s site:

"I have been gagged all my life, and whether they are appreciated or not, America needs some honest men who dare to say what they think, not what they think people want them to think." - General George S. Patton, Jr.

      America needs some outspoken women, too. And it needs a few more members of Congress who are unwilling to let their principles be eroded and before, dear readers, we enter into another era of blacklisting. Come to think of it, aren’t we already detaining our own citizens without right to trial?


Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Here is where you can access a stylebook without running off to the library or getting a reporter friend to swipe one from her newspaper’s library? Go to It’s a free alert. Or for $55 you can invest in a guide of your own.

For promoting authors: Go to for leads to radio programs that might be looking for you as an expert. Also, check out www.StarPublish for my new book of nitty gritty promotion ideas.

Here is another site that may interest writers:

Kudos to the SPAN CONNECTION for providing some of these leads. It’s my favorite in-print newsletter. You can only get it by joining SPAN and it’s well worth the membership fee! You can get a trial copy, however, by sending an e-mail to Tell her I sent you.

Readers' Tip: Have you discovered Amazon’s “Listmanias?” Go to to check mine out. And get in the “Listmania” habit! It’s a great way to find out what other avid readers are reading and what they like.

2004 Past Columns

Carolyn Faces Fear to Rant Against Portions of
the Patriot Act

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