NEW YORK (CNN) - Everybody is focused on the election, but I want to digress a bit.
But maybe it isn't a total digression because my subject today involves a basic tenet of our democracy -- one that may be just as important as the right to vote. I'm talking about freedom of expression.
What brings this to mind is a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department filed last week by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year but cannot publish her memoirs in this country.
It's almost a Catch 22 situation, with overtones of Kafka.
Here's what's happening:
Ebadi wants to write her memoirs for an American audience, but because she is not fully fluent in English, she would need the assistance of an American editor or even co-writer.
There's the catch. U.S. trade sanctions against several countries, including Iran, prohibit providing services to anyone in those embargoed countries. Editorial, marketing and translation are among those prohibited services.
Ironically, if the book were issued in Iran, publishing a translation here would be okay. As if that authoritarian regime would permit it to be published there.
But we're a democracy, right? It boggles the mind that sanctions put in place against dictatorships and terrorist threats should prevent someone -- who, by the way, was once imprisoned by the Iranian regime because she was a proponent of women's and children's rights -- from publishing a book in this country.
So she, and several American writer and publishing groups, are suing the Treasury, which oversees the sanctions, for what they assert are regulations that cut off Americans from the work of scholars, dissidents and scientists in regions that we need to know more about.
It's a disgrace. And it's an example of how government can misuse its powers. Those rules need to be changed. If enough people raise loud enough complaints, maybe they will be. Let's hope so.