political speech

  • March 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Occupy Wall Street protests helped amplify discussion of the nation’s growing economic inequality. They highlighted the fact that conservative economic policy has made a tiny few in the country extremely wealthy, while shoving many more people into poverty.

    Not surprisingly, however, those demonstrations have also prompted Congress to react with legislation that as The Daily Agenda reports would undoubtedly work to harm free speech. In its first post on the legislation, H.R. 347, The Daily Agenda dubbed the measure the “anti-Occupy law,” because it is aimed at keeping many federal buildings and grounds free of protestors. The measure is not law yet, but it easily passed both chambers of Congress and has been sent to the president.

    The measure, euphemistically dubbed the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act,” would alter federal criminal law barring persons from “knowingly” wandering onto “any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.” Those places include the White House, the vice president’s residence, “a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting,” or federal buildings or grounds that are hosting a “special event of national significance.”

    The anti-free speech measure’s chief sponsor is Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, who has railed against President Obama’s landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. Rooney is also supporting a federal lawsuit lodged by a religious university against a part of the health care reform law that will require insurance companies to pay for contraceptives for workers at religiously affiliated institutions.

  • November 20, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As has been the case for too many involved in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, so it was at UC Davis, where a group of students engaging in peaceful, political assembly was confronted with excessive use of force by authorities.  

    OWS’s website states, in part, “Such incidents are unfortunately common,” and a “daily reality” of the country’s “marginalized communities.”

    As noted here, police actions to suppress OWS demonstrations have turned brutal in New York City, Boston, and Oakland, among others. The pepper-spraying of a group of University of California, Davis students involved in peaceful OWS protests, was captured on video, showing, as The Huffington Post reports, “the students seated on the ground as a UC Davis police brandishes a red canister of pepper spray, showing it off for the crowd before dousing the seated students in a heavy, thick mist.”

    The university’s chancellor, The New York Times reports, suspended some of the campus officers involved in the incident, and that “students and others affiliated with the Occupy U.C. Davis protests have called for the chancellor’s resignation.

    Glenn Greenwald, for Salon, says the “The now-viral video of police officers in their Robocop costumes sadistically pepper-spraying peaceful, sitting protesters at UC-Davis (details here) shows a police state in its pure form.”

    Greenwald says the brutality against OWS protestors, in demonstrations nationwide, is far too common a response, but highlights some “points to note about this incident,” such as:

    Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.

    The country’s history of allowing this type of reaction to political protests has been exacerbated, Greenwald continues, by developments “in the post 9/11 world,” such as the government’s aggressive “para-militarization” of the ”nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons."

    See Greenwald’s entire comments here.

    UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in statement that she feels the students “outrage,” adding she was “deeply saddened that this has happened on our campus ….”

    Meanwhile, others on campus are calling for the chancellor’s resignation. As The Huffington Post notes, an English professor, Nathan Brown, has released an open letter to the chancellor, calling for her resignation. He wrote, "You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt."

    Other commentators note that the brutality against OWS protestors is unlikely to oppress the messages being amplified about the nation’s growing wealth gap and the out-of-control power that Wall Street holds over policymakers.

  • September 2, 2011

    by Jonathan Arogeti

    Those who dissented in Citizens United v. FEC, might have had an unexpected ally in the late former Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, writes Linda Greenhouse in a New York Times Opinionator blog post.

    Greenhouse points to Rehnquist’s 1978 dissent in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which overturned a law that banned corporations from spending money in public referenda in a similar 5-4 split decision. (Read his dissent here.) Although he led the Court’s “federalism revolution” in the 1990s as chief justice, as an associate justice, he held the position that Greenhouse says, “[L]iberals occupy today.”

    Rehnquist did not dispute corporate personhood in Bellotti, but he recognized it as “artificial” and not “natural.” Greenhouse continues, “A corporation’s rights were not boundless but, rather, limited, and the place of ‘the right of political expression’ on the list of corporate rights was highly questionable.” The benefits the state bestows upon a corporation, such as “perpetual life and limited liability,” predicted the dissent, might “pose special dangers in the political sphere.”