Books for Freedom

With the motto, Opening Minds for a Better Tomorrow, this non-profit organization supports library development and public availability of books in developing nations in order to promote literacy, the freedoms of speech and thought, and the free exchange of ideas. The idea for Books for Freedom began in January 2002 when NPR aired a report from Anne Garrels on the National Library of Afghanistan about how the library's contents have been destroyed over the years of war and strife in Kabul. Most of the books have been stolen and sold, the paper torn out and used to wrap food. Among the collection of current books in the library are a few of Lenin's works and books on US foreign policy from 1962. Due to lack of power and funds the library is only open a couple of hours a day. Its no wonder that only 30% of the population of Afghanistan is able to read and write. The response to Garrels report was amazing. The e-mails streamed in from people who wanted to donate books, money and time. Melissa Street, and her father, Chriss Street, who had both heard the NPR report, wanted to collect books and send them to Afghanistan. They connected with Anne Garrels, who in turn, connected them with others who wanted to help. They realized an organization was needed to bring people together to accomplish the task of sending books to Afghanistan. Thus, Books for Freedom began, gathering donated books and raising money for transportation and handling at the destination. Most recently, in June of 2005, a shipment of 10,000 children’s books went to US Protectorates in Micronesia that were effected by the Tsunami.

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An Unpatriotic Threat to Intellectual Freedom

New Book Points Out “Tactics of Fear” Behind USA Patriot Act
Just 45 days after 9/11 attacks, in a patriotic fervor and with virtually no debate, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act. It was a major setback for personal freedom in America.

According to groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Library Association, there are dangerous flaws in the Patriot Act that threaten our fundamental freedoms by giving government the power to access medical and tax records, get information about the books we buy or borrow, and even break into our homes to conduct secret searches without telling us why.

There were cries of protest from the start, some of the loudest coming from the bookselling and library communities. Thanks to the Campaign for Reader Privacy and the efforts of Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Senate passed a bill on July 30 (S. 1389), adding reader safeguards to the original legislation that allowed the FBI to search the bookstore and library records of anyone, including people who are not suspected of a crime, whenever they are "relevant" to a counter-terrorism investigation. The new bill limits searches to the records of “people who are suspected terrorists or spies and people who are in contact with them.” Congress had earlier passed their own, weaker version of the bill, and the House and Senate bills will go to a conference committee for reconciliation after the summer recess.

On August 25th the ACLU proved just how timely this debate has become by announcing that the FBI has used Patriot Act power to demand records from a Connecticut library. Described as “a wide array of sensitive information about library patrons, including information about the reading materials borrowed by library patrons and about Internet usage by library patrons,” further details and the identity of the library are unavailable due to a heavy FBI gag order. ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to lift the gag so that its client can participate in the public debate about the Patriot Act as Congress prepares to reauthorize or amend it in September.

Regardless of this battle’s outcome, many advocates of free speech and free press have warned that the threat to reader privacy is just part of the Patriot Act-era Bush–Cheney administration’s philosophy of legal obstruction, reduction of public information, distrust and resentment of the press, and a curtailment of civil liberties.

In his book America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights, syndicated columnist and university journalism professor Walter Brasch presents a carefully documented indictment against the “tactics of fear” that resulted in the original PATRIOT Act and the government’s subsequent use of the Act to skirt the Bill of Rights and promote its political agenda.

“Congress would have passed just about anything at that time, and the Justice Department saw the opportunity to push its own agenda,” says Brasch. “They loaded the Patriot Act up with a ‘wish list’ of powers that must have our founding fathers spinning in their graves.”

For example, he tells how in Des Moines, Iowa, the FBI ordered Drake University to identify the membership of an organization of law students who had organized a seminar about the war against Iraq, including a session on nonviolent protest. Brasch relates how several peaceful antiwar activists were kept under constant surveillance before the national political conventions in summer 2004, and, claiming a violation of the First Amendment, recalls how during the 2004 campaign, anyone with a message not in agreement with the administration’s beliefs were forcibly removed from rallies or were isolated, some as much as a half-mile away, during presidential and vice presidential public appearances.

In the book’s preface, he summarizes the campaign:   
“At every Bush or Cheney appearance, official or political, persons are prescreened, allowed into rallies if they aren’t vocal critics of the administration, and then expected to follow the Republican agenda. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, persons wanting to hear Dick Cheney had to sign loyalty oaths. In Saginaw, Michigan, a woman was thrown out of a Bush rally because she had a rolled-up pro-choice T-shirt. On Independence Day, 2004, at an official presidential appearance, two people were arrested when they refused to turn their T-shirts inside out so an anti-Bush message didn’t appear. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, a woman was ordered to remove a small metal peace button from her lapel. In Hamilton, New Jersey, where Laura Bush was rallying the faithful to support the war in Iraq, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq was escorted out because she wore a T-shirt that declared, ‘President Bush You Killed My Son,’ and had the audacity to ask what the Republicans believed was a hostile question. Outside the auditorium, while talking with a reporter, she was ordered to leave, didn’t do so, and then was handcuffed and arrested on defiant trespass charges. In Medford, Oregon, three peaceful women were thrown out of a campaign rally, and then threatened with arrests. Their offense? They wore T-shirts that said, ‘Protect Our Civil Liberties.’ Their cases are just a few of thousands throughout the country.” Read the entire preface.

Both liberal and conservative critics have praised Brasch’s book. Noam Chomsky calls the book “a lucid and well-documented study of the PATRIOT Act that reveals in meticulous detail how far we have traveled down that road” to giving up Constitutional rights in the name of security. Alan Caruba, whose column appears in more than 50 conservative publications and is a frequent talk-radio guest, says the book “examines the abuses that have occurred since the passage of the Patriot Act and anyone, be they politically liberal or conservative, will find ample cause for concern, if not outright fear.”

Brasch interviewed dozens of civil rights advocates, Congressional members and staff, executive branch staff, citizens caught up in the Act’s web, members of the judiciary system, and others. “The ‘war on terrorism,’ like Lyndon Johnson’s ‘war on poverty’ and Ronald Reagan’s ‘war on drugs,’ may never end,” says Brasch. “But Americans must ask themselves if the way America has chosen to fight this war is worth the cost to their Constitutional rights and if the greatest subversion to our country may not be foreign terrorists but our own fears. When the people allow intrusions upon the Bill of Rights, they effectively destroy the foundation that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and the other Revolutionaries fought so hard to build. We’re not really safe when we lose the liberties that give us safety from government intrusion.”

Brasch published his book with Peter Lang Publishing, a New York independent whose editor, Damon Zucca, strongly supported the book and its author and “backed me up and gave me whatever I needed,” he says. “I knew a conglomerate publisher wouldn’t touch this.”

“It’s not just the booksellers and book buyers who are acting out of fear. It’s even more frightening when writers are afraid to write what they should be writing, and publishers won’t publish what they should be publishing. I really believe in independent presses for this reason.”

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How to get involved:

The Campaign for Reader Privacy goes on red alert as Congress returns from its August recess. The American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American urge everyone to continue to pressure their representatives in the House and Senate to restore the safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records. Action on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act could come quickly, according to reports that President Bush hopes to sign the reauthorization act on the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Contact information for House members and for members of the Senate.

More information about the Campaign for Reader Privacy.

ACLU’s “The PATRIOT Act's Impact on Your Rights.” An interactive feature webpage.

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America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights
by Walter M. Brasch
CONTACT: Walter Brasch (570-389-4565 /