Anti-Occupy Bill Signed by President Obama

Amidst all the hooplaw over Rush Limbaugh’s comments last week the President quietly signed HR 347 into law:

Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 – Amends the federal criminal code to revise the prohibition against entering restricted federal buildings or grounds to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly enters any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Defines “restricted buildings or grounds” as a posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of: (1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.

House Vote 2011-149 taken on 2/28/2011:  399-3
Passed in the Senate on 2/6/2012 by “Unanimous Consent 
House Vote 2012-73 taken on 2/27/2012 to accept Senate Amendment: 388-3
Signed by Presented to the President on 3/8/2012 

HR347 would make it a felony, punishable by lengthy terms of incarceration, to participate in many forms of protest associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests of last year. Several commentators have dubbed it the “anti-Occupy” law, but its implications are far broader.

As you can see from the vote tallies list above, H.R. 347, or the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011” was pretty much espoused across the board by members of both parties.  Despite all their posturing, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in support of their corporate benefactors who sought to restrict our ability to seek redress

Among the central provisions of H.R. 347 is a section that would make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted” — defining that term rather vaguely and broadly.  You might want to re-read the description above and think about that in terms of who is provided secret service protection.

The Secret Service provides bodyguards not just to the US president, but to a broad layer of top figures in the political establishment, including presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries.

Even more sinister is the provision regarding events of “national significance.” What circumstances constitute events of “national significance” is left to the unbridled discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. The occasion for virtually any large protest could be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an event of “national significance,” making any demonstrations in the vicinity illegal.

For certain, included among such events would be the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as National Special Security Events (NSSE), a category created under the Clinton administration. These conventions have been the occasion for protests that have been subjected to ever increasing police restrictions and repression. Under H.R. 347, future protests at such events could be outright criminalized.

The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury is involved, the penalty may be increased to up to ten years.

Also criminalized by the bill is conduct “that impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” and “obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds.” These provisions, even more so than the provisions creating “restricted areas,” threaten to criminalize a broad range of protest activities that were previously perfectly legal.

In order to appreciate the unprecedented sweep of H.R. 347, it is necessary to consider a few examples:

  • A wide area around the next G-20 meeting or other global summit could be designated “restricted” by the Secret Service, such that any person who “enters” that area can be subject to a fine and a year in jail under Section 1752(a)(1) (making it a felony to enter any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so).
  • Senator Rick Santorum, the ultra-right Republican presidential candidate, enjoys the protection of the Secret Service. Accordingly, a person who shouts “boo!” during a speech by Santorum could be subject to arrest and a year of imprisonment under Section 1752(a)(2) (making it a felony to “engag[e] in disorderly or disruptive conduct in” a restricted area).
  • Striking government workers who form a picket line near any event of “national significance” can be locked up under Section 1752(a)(3) (making it a crime to imped[e] ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds).

Under the ancien regime in France, steps were taken to ensure that the “unwashed masses” were kept out of sight whenever a carriage containing an important aristocrat or church official was passing through. Similarly, H.R. 347 creates for the US president and other top officials a protest-free bubble or “no-free-speech zone” that follows them wherever they go, making sure the discontented multitude is kept out of the picture.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is plainly in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which was passed in 1791 in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The First Amendment provides: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (The arrogance of the Democratic and Republican politicians is staggering—what part of “Congress shall make no law” do they not understand?)

H.R. 347 comes on the heels of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed by President Obama into law on December 31, 2011. The NDAA gives the president the power to order the assassination and incarceration of any person—including a US citizen—anywhere in the world without charge or trial.

The passage of H.R. 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the unprecedented nature of the bill, which would effectively overturn the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent. The media silence therefore represents a conscious effort to keep the American population in the dark as to the government’s efforts to eviscerate the Bill of Rights.

The bill would vastly expand a previous law making it misdemeanor to trespass on the grounds of the White House. An earlier version of the bill would have made it a felony just to “conspire” to engage in any of the conduct described above. HR347 was quietly signed on 3/1/2011 by President Obama and as such is now the law of the land.

What lies behind the unprecedented attack underway on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is a growing understanding in the ruling class that the protests that took place around the world against social inequality in 2011 will inevitably re-emerge in more and more powerful forms in 2012 and beyond, as austerity measures and the crashing economy make the conditions of life more and more impossible for the working class. The virtually unanimous support in Congress H.R. 347, among Democrats as well as Republicans, reflects overriding sentiment within the ruling establishment for scrapping all existing democratic rights in favor of dictatorial methods of rule.

This sentiment was most directly expressed this week by Wyoming Republican legislator David Miller, who recently introduced a bill into the state legislature that would give the state the power, in an “emergency,” to create its own standing army through conscription, print its own currency, acquire military aircraft, suspend the legislature, and establish martial law. “Things happen quickly sometimes—look at Libya, look at Egypt, look at those situations,” Miller told the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming. Repeating arguments employed by every military dictatorship over the past century, Miller declared, “We wouldn’t have time to meet as a Legislature or even in special session to do anything to respond.” Miller’s so-called “doomsday law” was defeated in the Wyoming legislature Tuesday by the narrow margin of 30-27.


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Twisting a Rite to Deny Rights

Yesterday, presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted the ruling put forth by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage,” Romney said. “This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.”

And like Romney, conservative media pundits piled thickly on that theme claiming the court had “no” right to overturn a majority of the voters. Excuse me? Apparently conservatives believe that if a majority of Americans voted to say that black Americans had no right to vote, or that women had no rights to property that would be acceptable to them as well?

I’m sorry Mr. Romney, but I agree with the 2-1 ruling of the Circuit Court Panel which said, “Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” Proposition 8 may have been approved by 52% of California’s voters, but a majority vote should never be the standard for denying equality of rights to any of American’s citizens. “Proposition 8 served no purpose and had not effect, other ban to lessen the status and human dignity of gays-and-lesbians, in California.” As such, the Panel declared Proposition “unconstitutional” under the U.S. Constitution.

The whole issue of “marriage” is a tricky thing. If marriage were just a religious rite, that would be one thing, but marriage goes far beyond just a religious rite. Marriage is a legal construct recognized within our tax code that bestows beneficial tax privileges to such couples, not just annually, in terms of what couples jointly are required to pay, but in terms of property inheritance rights as well. There are also other legal ramifications relative to who can or cannot speak for your interests when you’re incapacitated, and even who might be handed this country’s flag when one’s partner makes the ultimate sacrifice for this country.  Denying the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples legalizes discrimination against them in the following ways:

  • Denying more preferential “joint income” tax rates by the IRS and state taxing authorities
  • Denying them the ability to create “family partnerships” which would allow them to divide their small business income amongst family members
  • Denying them the ability to “inherit” a share of a spouse’s estate without tax consequence.
  • Denying them any exemptions from estate and gift taxes
  • Denying them the ability to set up estate trusts that are restricted to just “married” couples
  • Denying them priority in being appointed as a “conservator” for your partner’s (spouse’s) affairs when he/she is incapacitated
  • Denying them the ability to obtain spousal benefits under government Social Security, Medicare, or disability programs
  • Denying them the ability to obtain veterans/military benefits as spouses
  • Denying them the ability to draw spousal retirement plan benefits as the spouse of the deceased plan member
  • Denying them the ability to take bereavement leave for the death of their partner (spouse).
  • Denying them the ability to be considered as “immediate family” for purposes of being able to visit in an ICU
  • Need I go on?

Gay and Lesbian couples had been given, by law, the right to marry. Then in 2008, a majority of voters participating in the 2008 election decided they wanted to take that fundamental, given right away for no reasonable and necessary reason. In addition, it would have “legalized” discrimination in terms of taxation and other allowable rights against an entire class of people in our society. If we permit this type of discrimination and taking of rights for this one class of citizens, who or what is next? How long would it take for our nation to approach they type of tyranny that was every present in pre-WWII Nazi Germany where millions of it’s citizens were ultimately condemned and went up in the smoke of a large number of incinerators.

Well, Mr. Romney, who’s the Nazi now?

Read more about the Rights and Benefits of Marriage the Right wants to deny to Same-Sex couples here