Posts Tagged ‘United States Secret Service’

Does anyone else think the ” scandal” of numerous members of President Obama’s Secret Service detail employing prostitutes while on an away trip to Colombia is really rather silly, and painfully revealing of the double standards in Western society?

After all, in many countries prostitution has now been de-criminalised at least, and often made entirely legal, regulated (so that hopefully, for example, its participants can be cared for by the health services, counselled, and protected from both sex slavery and violence), not to mention taxed, including parts of the US and many Western countries.

Why should using a prostitute’s services be more reprehensible than a quick hour or so in the hotel gym or a brisk walk round the lake?

Was their real crime that they deviated from single-mindedly worrying about the President’s up-coming arrival, (in which case do these people not get any down time during their working lives, with which they can presumably do whatever they like?, or was it really that they revealed what millions of men (and a smaller but significant number of women) know full well – that people on business trips, especially young, fit, hardy and horny people, often employ sex workers to fill in their time.

This runs everything from the notorious “Happy Ending” at the culmination of a massage in many Asian countries – allowing the participant to declare, presumably, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss LotusBlossom Wu”, through to full-blown sexual escapades followed by a discrete cheerio at the hotel door before a rushed shower and breakfast with one’s colleagues, smiling innocently or sharing the gory details, depending on one’s personal disposition. (I have witnessed both.)

The faux-shock that has greeted this story becomes especially puerile when it is revealed that the scandal only broke when the very attractive young lady at the heart of the matter complained vociferously that she had been dudded by one of the security detail, who refused to pay her pre-agreed fee of some $800, promoting some organs of the American media (ahem) to publish swimsuited photos of her with the headline “C’mon! She’s worth $800”

April 20th, the "scandal" breaks, much to the relief of newspaper owners the world over, no doubt

Around the world, newspapers of all colours, and not just the tabloids, fell over themselves to publish photos. Presumably this reflects their certainty that sales will go up when polite, well-spoken people can secretly snigger at what a real prostitute looks like … “Ooh look, dear, she’s quite pretty, but honestly, what a minx! And she’s got a nine year old son. Lawks a mercy, what is the world coming to?” as they chow down on their Weetbix and gargle their instant coffee. It reminds me of when, back in a different era, a very good friend who worked for Gay Liberation used to get plenty of people along to his fund-raising discos by sticking up posters announcing “Come and see a real live Queer!”

Anyhow: how it is possible to maintain one’s view that the mens’ behaviour was reprehensible while simultaneously laughing behind one’s hand over the details of the stormy teacup is an especially perfect demonstration of the hypocrisy of much of the western middle class, and America especially. This is the society that tunes in its millions to Jersey Shore, remember, the entire content of which appears to be based on someone’s efforts to get shagged by someone else, let alone everyone acknowledging that it is also the society that produces the majority of the world’s pornography, an industry which now ranks as the largest in turnover in the whole country.

It’s easy to make sweeping statements about the sex trade. What we know is that some of its participants are enthusiastic about what they do, earning good money and enjoying the way they earn it. Some – perhaps most – end up in it because they are poor, marginalised, addicted or desperate.

Transvestite/transgender street prostitutes in Colombia, photo Niels Van Iperen

That virtually none of the coverage of this matter – except in Colombia itself – has focused on why so many people in that country are available for hire, or on the danger of people (mainly men) returning to their more normal sex lives carrying diseases picked up through casual sexual encounters, is, however, the true scandal in this story.

Sadly, Dear Reader, neither topic sells newspapers.

I don’t often simply reproduce other people’s work, but I think this story from CutDC.com is not only well-written but it raises vital questions about freedom in America. We need to remember that freedom is rarely lost in dramatic moments, but in innumerable little restrictions on freedom to organise, free assembly, free speech, and freedom of thought.

Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal

Published: 29 February, 2012, 02:13

White house activist arrested

Washington: US park police detains a Christian religious activist during a pro-life demonstration in front of the White House in Washington on February 16, 2012. (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad). I hate what she's campaigning for, but I will defend to the death her right to say what she thinks somewhere she can actually be heard.

Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further, the House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books.

The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.

Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidentally disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, for example, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.

In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offence, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.

Outside of the current presidential race, the Secret Service is responsible for guarding an array of politicians, even those from outside America. George W Bush is granted protection until ten years after his administration ended, or 2019, and every living president before him is eligible for life-time, federally funded coverage. Visiting heads of state are extended an offer too, and the events sanctioned as those of national significance — a decision that is left up to the US Department of Homeland Security — extends to more than the obvious.

While presidential inaugurations and meeting of foreign dignitaries are awarded the title, nearly three dozen events in all have been considered a National Special Security Event (NSSE) since the term was created under President Clinton. Among past events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list are Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring. (My note – what would disruptive be – too noisy?)

When thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Chicago this spring for the 2012 G8 and NATO summits, they will also be approaching the grounds of a National Special Security Event. That means disruptive activity, to whichever court has to consider it, will be a federal offence under the act.

And don’t forget if you intend on fighting such charges, you might not be able to rely on evidence of your own. In the state of Illinois, videotaping the police, under current law, brings criminals charges. Don’t fret. It’s not like the country will really try to enforce it — right?

On the bright side, does this mean that the law could apply to law enforcement officers reprimanded for using excessive force on protesters at political events? Probably. Of course, some fear that the act is being created just to keep those demonstrations from ever occurring, and given the vague language on par with the loose definition of a “terrorist” under the NDAA, if passed this act is expected to do a lot more harm to the First Amendment than good.

United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal.”

“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.

Now that the act has overwhelmingly made it through the House, the next set of hands to sift through its pages could very well be President Barack Obama; the US Senate had already passed the bill back on February 6. Less than two months ago, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, essentially suspending habeas corpus from American citizens. Could the next order out of the Executive Branch be revoking some of the Bill of Rights? Only if you consider the part about being able to assemble a staple of the First Amendment, really. Don’t worry, though. Obama was, after all, a constitutional law professor. When he signed the NDAA on December 31, he accompanied his signature with a signing statement that let Americans know that, just because he authorized the indefinite detention of Americans didn’t mean he thought it was right.

Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.