< [Please welcome Lou Dubose today’s book salon. As always with guests, please be polite and stay on topic — any off-topic remarks should be taken to the prior thread. Thanks! — CHS]
There are any number of times in life where hyperbole is overblown in discussing the accomplishments and impact of someone. Not here.
Molly Ivins was, pure and simple, one of the most talented wordsmiths I have ever read. She could take a political or personal problem and make you laugh, rage and cry about it, all at the same time. She was a genius at a deft turn of phrase, and my greatest regret is that I never got to meet her in person to tell her how much I loved — LOVED — her work.
She and Lou Dubose previously wrote Bushwhacked together, which had me so doubled up in giggle fits on a plane once, the stewardess thought I was choking and tried to heimlich me.
What Molly and Lou have put together in this slim yet powerful tome,Bill of Wrongs, is a detailed, human look at the destruction the Bush Administration has wrought on all of us and on the rule of law. Most of the instances described therein will not be new to our readers, but the level of personal detail that Molly and Lou gained by interviewing the very real people in the center of each legal and personal maelstrom cannot — and should not — be overlooked.
It is the personal stories in Bill of Wrongs that bring these very real problems to life, standing as a cautionary tale to each of us in this country: this could be you.
Molly begins by talking about her speeches regarding the Bill of Rights — which she made every month for more than fifteen years — in communities all over this country.
I say unto you, you do not know what courage is until you have sat in the basement of a Holiday Inn in Fritters, Alabama, with seven brave souls, led by a librarian, who are fixing to form a chapter of the Ay Cee Ell You. They are driven to this extreme by local pinheads who not only don’t get the Bill of Rights but are eager to trash it.
I have been called in through the American Library Association on some bizarre cases: say, the local Christian fundamentalists have decided talking animals are satanic, and consequently, they demand that The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Wind in the Willows be removed from the town library. Town meeting to be held, can I come and explain the First Amendment?
I try to explain what the First Amendment means with good stories, because that’s what John Henry taught me to do. For that matter, Mark Twain and Jesus were both fond of the form, not that I’m putting myself anywhere near there. You’d be amazed at how much even the most sophisticated people still enjoy a good story. And you will find a lot of good stories in this book.
That you will. From the start of the book, the details about everyday Americans being subjected to very un-American treatment from their own government are infuriating.
Bill of Wrongs begins with a t-shirt wearing protest in WV, at a public speech given on the steps beneath the glittering gold-leafed Capitol dome in Charleston on the Fourth of July, wherein the Ranks — husband and wife — expressed their disgust with George Bush with a "not" symbol on their shirts. And were hauled off to jail for wearing their freedom of speech.
Only later do they discover that there had been a systematic written handbook for how to do just that — using the Secret Service and loyal Republican volunteers and local law enforcement bedazzled by the pomp and protection requirements as personal criticism shields for a President too cowardly to face up to anything but abject adoration. Further into the book, we meet Brent Bursey, arrested for holding up a "No More War For Oil" sign on public property. His crime? Picking out a spot where George Bush might actually see him. Or, worse, where the press might snap a picture.
There is Josh Wolf, a blogger jailed for months, with USAtty Kevin Ryan using a little-known legal provision meant to be used for terrorists…for blogging about a video that didn’t even show the allegedly criminal act Ryan was trying to prosecute.
We get a big ole glimpse inside the idiocy that was the Dover school board’s attempt to foist "intelligent design" (or, as Molly calls it "creationism in drag") on an entire school district because too many members of the board decided their version of God was the only way. Anyone wondering about the reasons for "separation of church and state" need look no further. But the vignette about the "battle of the bulge" alone, is worth the cost of Bill of Wrongs:
The call to arms in 2002 came from a social studies teacher reviewing a sample copy of an eighth-grade textbook. She was bothered by a bulge between General George Washington’s legs, as depicted in Emmanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Deleware….She began to worry that eighth graders looing at the nineteenth-century masterpiece might conclude that the nation’s founding father had a penis. (Perhaps he did, but the bulge in Leutze’s painting is a watch fob.)
Sometimes, you have to laugh out loud. Not, though, about the plight of Brandon Mayfield, a Portland, OR, attorney who was held as a material witness against himself based on misidentification of a single fingerprint, despite no charges ever being filed against this American citizen. His home was searched without him being given notice via a warrant using anti-terrorist sneak and peek provisions with little oversight — and his 10 year old daughter’s diary was used as mens rea evidence of his sympathies with Al Qaeda because she questioned bombing Afghanistan. Repeat after me: this could be you. And you would never know until they came to haul you off.
Especially, it seems, if you are Muslim. Ask German national, Murat Kurnaz, who was held in Gitmo for more than five years — and we knew he was likely an innocent man. We waterboarded him, alternately froze and sweltered him, and hung him for days by his hands. This is who we have become in George Bush’s America, where we now also use sneak and peek provisions to intercept and violate attorney client privilege communications under the secret NSA domestic spying program. And where we have an FBI that has abused National Security Letters to librarians and internet providers across the country with no oversight from the DOJ.
As Molly and Lou say:
This has happened before in our history — in fact it’s a pretty predictable reaction to fear. We get so rattled by some Big Scary Thing — communism or crime or drugs or illegal aliens or terrorism — something that scares us so much, we think we can make ourselves safer by giving up some of our freedom. Now, not only does that not hold a drop of water as a logical proposition but it has consistently proved to be an illusion as a practical matter. Empirically, when you make yourself less free, you are not safer, you are just less free….
As Lou reminds all of us in his afterward, Molly passed away after a lengthy and tough battle with cancer, but she was kicking until the end and determined to tell the stories of the brave, everyday Americans who "stand up to the bullies, bastards and ideologues who have hijacked our government and came dangerously close to destroying a document created by colonial subjects resolved to re-create themselves as citizens of a constitutional democracy. The fight ain’t over."
What the Bush Administration began to systematically do to consolidate unilateral executive power from January 2001 forward, we must all continue to work to undo in the years ahead. Bill of Wrongs lays out a solid case of where to start. And, as Molly and Lou say:
And don’t forget to laugh once in a while.
Amen. With that, I open the floor to the discussion of Bill of Wrongs, and the incredible lifetime of work that Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose have put forth fighting for American values, for which we owe them a lot of thanks…and some serious applause. Welcome, Lou!