Alan Grayson's Journal
Member since: Sat May 22, 2010, 01:02 PM
Number of posts: 393
Number of posts: 393
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As the U.S. House of Representatives spreads for the Four Winds for August recess, Rep. Alan Grayson remains its legislative champion, with 13 Grayson amendments passed on the Floor of the House this year, and 33 more passed in his two committees. Grayson successes just last week include increased funding for bilingual housing programs, and extension of Grayson's "corporate death penalty" against crooked government contractors to State Department programs. A week ago, MSNBC took note of Grayson's prolific record, in this interview by Chris Hayes:</p>
—cut to video of Congressman Grayson's "Republican Healthcare Plan" floor speech—
Congressman Alan Grayson: "Just don't get sick." That's what the Republicans have in mind for you, America. That's the Republicans' healthcare plan. But I think that the Republicans understand that that plan isn't always going to work. It's not a foolproof plan. So the Republicans have a backup plan, in case you do get sick. If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick, America, the Republican healthcare plan is this: "Die quickly." That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.
Chris Hayes: That was Congressman Alan Grayson, who was best known during his first term in Congress for his blistering, but cable-news- friendly, attacks on his political opponents. That didn't go over too well in his home district, where he was unseated by a Republican challenger after one term by 18 points. Thanks to redistricting, Grayson was able to run in a much more Democratic district outside Orlando in 2012 and he won, sending him back to Congress for a second try. In a fascinating new profile, Slate's Dave Weigel pronounced Grayson "the most effective Member of the House." What emerges is the picture of a former firebrand, who's making his mark as a quiet, forceful, and incredibly effective legislator. Since returning to Congress, Grayson has launched dozens of under-the-radar campaigns to win over his Republican colleagues. Grayson gets their support on amendments to pieces of legislation that accomplish small, but concrete, progressive goals. He's already passed 31 amendments in committee this year. In one instance, Grayson attached a ban on funding for "unmanned aerial vehicles," also known as drones, to the Homeland Security bill. This is the kind of thing he's getting Republican votes on. Right now Grayson is working the chamber, trying to win support for an amendment that would restrict NSA surveillance. He says he only needs four more Republicans. It's all pretty impressive. In this Do-Nothing Congress, the lawmaker who is actually doing something is the last guy you'd expect. Joining me now is Congressman Alan Grayson, Democrat from Florida. And you're chuckling at the "last guy you'd expect," I imagine, because you think we'd expect that you would do something. But Congressman, my question to you is this: really do we see an "Alan Grayson 2.0," that you learned things from your first term in Congress, and that you are taking a different approach? Am I misreading it? Are you just the same guy, is the approach the same, or did you really learn something from that first go-around?
Alan: Well, remember that the only bipartisan accomplishment of substance in the 111th Congress, during my first term, was when I joined with Republican Ron Paul to pass a bill to audit the Federal Reserve, something that had not been done independently for 100 years. He lined up the Republican; I lined up the Democrats. I picked up a bill that had languished for 26 years, had not even gone to a committee hearing, and we got it passed. So this is a winning formula.
Chris: So you've been going through bills, looking at actually what comes actually out of the majority, looking at amendments that have passed before but have died along the way, and going and talking to your Republican colleagues. I want to play an interview with you, you did with Rachel Maddow in 2009, about the Republicans. Take a listen.
—cut to video of Congressman Grayson's interview with Rachel Maddow—
Alan: The Republicans have nothing. They simply stick their heels in, they dig their heels in; they won't let anything get done -- time and time again. It's not just the health bill, it's everything. They simply block everything. That's not what America sent us to Congress to do.
Chris: That's more or less my understanding of the current Republican majority. Do I have it wrong?
Alan: Well, the fact is that we're able to win just by picking off 18 of them. And what we do is we frame things that they find very difficult to say "no" to. Now they don't always look at it the same way that we do. You know, for instance, I introduced an amendment recently that they considered to be a states' rights amendment, and Democrats considered to be an environmental amendment. So we picked off just enough Republicans to get to a tie vote. That's the kind of thing you can do. I think that most members of Congress look at legislation like "The Blind Men and The Elephant." They think of the bill as whatever the part is that they're touching, that they can't see. And we take advantage of that. We take advantage of that through framing it so that Republicans see something good in our amendments and Democrats see something good in our amendments too, and therefore we end up with practical results that foster progressive goals.
Chris: If you go and talk to your Republican colleagues when you're trying to get these 18 members to come over and vote for an amendment you're proposing, do they look at you and say, "Oh that's the guy who said our health care plan was die quickly, and I saw him on MSNBC saying nasty things about us." Is there a kind of reputational gap you need to overcome?
Alan: Listen, they could call me the guy who calls them "callous, bigoted tools," too, but the fact is that they vote their districts, they vote what they regard as in their self-interest, and every once in a while they vote for what's good for America -- as they see it. So if we can explain to them why something's good for their districts, why something is good for America, I have an audience.
Chris: So the big question, though, here is, ok, you're getting some stuff into , and some of these amendments are very interesting. The Department of Homeland Security cannot receive funds for programs that infringe on the Constitution. Seems like a reasonable amendment, given that everyone's sworn to uphold it. No government contracts to corporations convicted of fraud, which also seems like a fantastic idea. Department of Defense must submit a report on vulnerabilities in the military supply chain. My question to you is, is there a way to transform the little model that you've found on these kind of discrete goals into something that can, say, get the immigration bill through this House of Representatives that seems massively hostile to it.
Alan: I think so. I think that some of the Republicans could look at the immigration bill and they say, "This is a bill that makes our borders secure." Other Republicans can look at an immigration bill and they can say to themselves, "This is a bill that forces people who are not paying taxes now, not paying their fare share of taxes, to pay taxes." I think this is a winning formula for getting things done in Washington, and we badly need it. You know, many people now run – successfully -- for Congress by saying, "nothing can get done in Washington." I think those people, personally, they shouldn't run for Congress. But in fact the public is convinced that nothing can get done. We have to show that things can get done, and that's what we're doing -- by working this way, and getting so many amendments passed that promote progressive goals.
Chris: Congressman Alan Grayson from Florida -- a surprisingly can-do kind of Congressman. Thank you very much.
Alan: Thank you, too.
If you would like to show your support for our "can-do Congressman" by contributing to his re-election campaign, or if you would like to see the video of Chris Hayes's interview, then click here. And thanks – for being part of the Grayson Team.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Aug 5, 2013, 06:46 PM (22 replies)
We need to keep you better informed. Because stuff is happening. And we're making it happen.
A week ago, I told you that we were proposing 20 serious amendments to the annual Defense Department Appropriations bill, which spends more than half a trillion dollars of our money each year. I'm talking major progressive amendments -- not an amendment to rename a military base, or to award a no-bid contract to some needy, deserving and sadly impoverished defense contractor (excuse me, as tears well up in my eyes).
Here's what happened:
Three of our amendments were very similar to amendments submitted by other Members. We pulled those. We've got plenty to do; we don't need to step on anyone else's toes.
Twelve of our amendments were stuffed, unfortunately, by the Republicans on the House Rules Committee. The Republicans outnumber the Democrats on the Rules Committee by nine to four. It's like the Indians versus General Custer at Little Big Horn. We do sometimes win at the Rules Committee, but it's always a struggle. So at the Rules Committee, we bid farewell to amendments on:
- suicide prevention for U.S. troops;
- an end to Pentagon censorship of news sources for U.S. soldiers;
- a ban on charging military families to enroll in health coverage;
- a prohibition on employing the U.S. military to steal Afghan oil; and
- prevention of no-bid contract awards to foreign contractors.
Among others. One of the Grayson amendments that the Rules Committee deep-sixed was a ban on DOD surveillance of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, unless there is probable cause demonstrating their involvement in terrorism -- the "Mind Your Own Business Act" in the form of an amendment. Something similar, the Amash-Conyers Amendment, did come up for a vote, and was barely defeated, by a vote of 217 to 205.
Do the math: twenty minus three minus twelve equals . . . five. We maneuvered five amendments to the DOD Appropriations Act through the House Rules Committee. That was more than any other Member of the House, Democrat or Republican, despite the fact that the Republicans dominate the Rules Committee, and I'm a . . . Democrat. But you knew that already.
Here are our Fabulous Five amendments:
1.) Subtract $10 million from the war budget, and spend it instead on research to find a cure for the 250,000 victims of "Gulf War Syndrome" -- a 50% increase in that research budget.
2.) Subtract another $10 million from the war budget, and spend it instead on prostate cancer research.
3.) No defense contracts to any contractor convicted of fraud, bribery, and ten other major offenses.
4.) A cap on the number of generals and admirals, because there are 25% more today than there were at the height of the Cold War (when there were far more U.S. soldiers to command), and because each general costs more than $1 million in staff costs alone.
5.) A BAN ON TORTURE. (I put this in capital letters, because it deserves it.)</ol>
They all passed. To repeat, all five of these Grayson Amendments passed, and they are now part of the DOD Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014.
Because I had more amendments to the bill ruled "in order" by the Rules Committee than any other Member of the House, and because every single one of them passed, we had more amendments to this bill than any other Member -- by a wide margin.
Not bad, huh? Is it OK to brag a bit? Because this week, Team Grayson has something to brag about.
And why did the Republicans refrain from voting these amendments down? I don't know; you'd have to ask them. Maybe they felt a little queasy about defending crooked defense contractors, or torture. Maybe it bothers them that there is still no treatment for Gulf War Syndrome, 22 years after the Gulf War ended.
It doesn't matter. We got the job done.
And by "we," I don't mean the "royal we." I mean you and me. You are part of Team Grayson. You are one of the Boys (and Girls) in Blue. If you have ever signed one of our petitions, if you have ever made a phone call or sent an e-mail because we asked, if you ever sent a dime to our campaign, then you helped to make this happen.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Sun Jul 28, 2013, 04:36 PM (26 replies)
Backbone: I've got it. And you've got it. It's what makes us "True Blue" Democrats.
And I want Democrats with backbone to join me in Congress.
That's why, over the next few months, I'll be introducing you to a slate of Congressional candidates who share our values. They're progressive, they have backbone, and they have local support. When they join me in Congress, then together, we'll be a team – a team of aggressive progressives.
Let me tell you a little bit about the situation facing our first True Blue candidate: Daylin Leach. (Admittedly, that’s an unusual name for a candidate for public office, but then again, so is "Barack Hussein Obama.") Leach is running for Congress in a Pennsylvania district where the incumbent, Democrat Allyson Schwartz, is running for Governor of Pennsylvania. This district votes 16% more Democratic than the nation as a whole, so a Democrat is very likely to win. I think that that Democrat should be one of us, a True Blue Democrat.
There's a primary election to choose the eventual Democratic nominee, and several candidates are running. Daylin is one of them. A small number of votes and a small amount of support can make the difference. You can make the difference.
Make a contribution to Daylin Leach's campaign today!
We invited Grayson supporters from Pennsylvania to tell us what they think about Daylin Leach. Here is what they said:
"Daylin Leach is a rare politician who has not just a sense of humor or a sense of justice, but both in abundance."
"Daylin Leach is as progressive as they come, even when it's difficult and unpopular."
"Daylin Leach is a man who CARES about his constituents. I have personal experience with Mr. Leach and his staff. When the economy crashed in 2008, I lost my job of 5 yrs. at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some red tape was holding up my unemployment benefits and I had NO income. I spent all day, every day, looking for a job. There just weren't any to be had. Mr. Leach got through to the PA Dept. of Labor & Industry, TWICE, when for no reason, my benefits were stalled. Daylin Leach literally kept me from becoming homeless. He is a great man."
Here is one more reason why you should support Daylin Leach: If you donate today, my friend Howie Klein of Blue America will enter you in a contest to receive the original Double Platinum Award for the great Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" album.
So let's make this happen.
Let's put another True Blue Democrat in Congress.
Make a contribution to Daylin Leach's campaign today!
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Sun Jul 14, 2013, 07:37 PM (18 replies)
Today, the Supreme Court struck down bigotry, and said that justice for all includes justice for gays. This is a beautiful, historic day. Now there is a chance that my eight-year-old twins will grow up in a world without prejudice against gays and lesbians.
It's worth taking a moment to remember who made sacrifices to give us this world, one that is a little more equal and a little more free. It was tens of thousands of activists, from those at Stonewall in 1969, to those who fought for treatment of individuals living with AIDS alongside ACT UP, to the hero of the day, Edith Windsor. But there's one who deserves special mention above all - his name was Harvey Milk, and he had guts.
In 1977, Milk became the first openly-gay elected official in the United States. When he ran for office, America wasn't far removed from the time that Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover were blackmailing and purging homosexuals from the government. Most Americans didn't know or didn't want to know that they knew gay people, that there were gay people in their families. Anti-gay laws were legislated all over the country, and would continue becoming laws, for 30 more years. Legal state-sanctioned gay marriage seemed like an unreachable dream.
But with courage, and love, and guts, Milk acted. He spoke, he agitated, he legislated. He passed a gay rights plank for the City of San Francisco. He hit back against the hate-mongers on the other side. He encouraged gay men and women to run for office, to come out, to be who they are and to love openly whomever they love. He fought for union rights, for women's rights, and against the South African Apartheid government.
Milk knew that we are all in this together, and the movement he helped to lead has continued. Sadly, just 11 months after being elected, Milk was assassinated. Though he is not with us today, Harvey Milk's vision is.
Courage. Guts. Fearlessness. Love.
That's what Milk showed. That's what brought us justice. That's why our world is a little brighter, a little better, today.
Over the next few days, I'm going to be asking for your support. Thousands of you have already given to my campaign.
You have showed that you want a world of equality, of love, of human dignity, and that you will join me in working to achieve it.
I'm going to continue fighting for justice, equality, and peace, for the common good, against spying, against secret corporate trade agreements, for Medicare and Social Security, and for all of us.
Change is possible. We saw it happen today. Harvey Milk never saw the justice handed down by the Court. But he knew justice was coming, when he started his campaign for equality. He said, "Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice." And that's what he did.
That's what we're doing. It doesn't matter what you look like, where you’re from, what language you speak, or whom you love. Each of us deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.
Congressman Alan Grayson
"All young people, regardless of sexual identity or orientation, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential." - Harvey Milk
Posted by Alan Grayson | Wed Jun 26, 2013, 10:52 PM (12 replies)
On Saturday, Congressman Alan Grayson returned to MSNBC for a wide-ranging discussion of the week's events in Washington, DC: the failure of House Republicans to pass a farm bill, progress on immigration reform, and threats to John Boehner's position as Speaker of the House. Here's how it went down:
Steve Kornacki: I want to bring in Florida Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, who's joining us from Orlando. Congressman, you voted "no" on this on Thursday, and we've been talking about the last-minute amendments. We've been talking about the negotiations really for the last few months. What was the breaking point for you, when you said, "No way, I'm not supporting this bill"?
Congressman Alan Grayson: the $20 billion they took away from hungry people, from hungry children, from the unemployed, from the working poor. Why are we doing that? And what kind of bill would it take for the Republicans to support feeding the hungry? Would we have to limit farm aid to loaves and fishes? Is that what it would take? It's a travesty. We've known for 3,000 years that a just society is one that shelters the homeless, that feeds the hungry, that heals the sick. Why are they always against that?
Steve: There were, first of all, we should say, there were twenty-four Democrats who did end up voting for this. And Collin Peterson , again as I said, the Democrat who was kind of managing it to get those forty votes, well he could get forty votes. What do you make of the fact that there were a couple dozen people in your own party who were willing to sign-off on $20 billion in food stamp cuts?
Alan: It's meaningless. It was a GOP bill. The GOP struck down a GOP bill. That's what it comes down to. They're the gang that couldn't vote straight. They can't even get their own stuff right.
Josh Barrow: Congressman, I want to ask you about one of the other amendments that was voted on in the bill this week. I'm Josh Barrow with Business Insider. Sugar is one of the most heavily regulated commodities in the U.S., and there's a program where we put tariffs on foreign sugar in order to drive up the price, which raises consumer prices, and also encourages people to use corn syrup instead of sugar in consumer foods. It's basically a sop-the-floor to sugar farmers, who are also harming the Everglades by growing sugar in a place that's not really suitable, climate-wise. Why did you vote to maintain that program when one of the things at issue was whether we would deregulate the sugar market and lower food prices?
Alan: Well, I didn't. You're misinformed. We didn't vote on the tariffs at all. That's something that comes out of the Ways and Means Committee, not out of the Agriculture Committee.
Josh: There was a vote on the reform of the sugar subsidy program, though, in the bill.
Alan: Well, no. The bill itself reforms the sugar subsidy program, and eliminates the subsidy and replaces it with a minimum price. You're really off-base here.
Steve: The other thing I wanted to get in there, though, is what will happen next now? Okay, we do not have a new farm bill that's been agreed on. Right now, we're kind-of existing on this temporary reauthorization that went through last year. Is that the next step here, is there going to be another temporary, you know, patch-up job? Is there still hope in your mind for a real, a long-term reauthorization of the Farm Bill? What is actually going to happen now?
Alan: I think that what will happen is that we'll end up taking up the Senate bill. The Democrats passed a bipartisan bill with overwhelming support. They know how to get the job done. It's the only way forward now. And that bill only cuts food stamps a little bit—something I'm still sad to see, but something that many Democrats will be willing to live with, given the alternative, which is to end the program entirely.
Maya Wiley: Representative Grayson, this is Maya Wiley from the Center for Social Inclusion. I wanted to ask whether you thought there was any possibility of just doing what happened in December, which was an extension. For many groups, just having this extension was problematic because so many of the programs that were not included hurt so many low-income people, particularly farmers and in communities. Is that something you see possibly happening again?
Alan: It may, but at this point it's not what the industry wants, either. The industry wants to shift away from direct subsidies to floor prices, and that's what this bill would have accomplished. If we keep extending the status quo, that's not what the special interests want, so I think you'll see movement toward the Senate bill.
Steve: And there's been a lot of talk, Congressman, about what this could mean for the other big legislative item on the agenda in Washington, and that's immigration reform. And you know, we were talking about it here a second ago, this idea that the Senate bill on immigration, if one does get through (and it's looking more likely one will), that the best hope for enactment would be for that bill to be taken up by the House, with, you know, Conservatives screaming that Boehner is violating the so-called "Hastert Rule" . Is there a lesson for immigration reform that you see coming out of what happened with the farm bill this week?
Alan: I very much want to see immigration reform pass. We have about 80,000 undocumented in my district alone, and it's just a shame to see how these people have to live. When there's a crime committed against them they can't go to the police; they're afraid to. When they don't get paid their wages, they can't sue or even tell the government about it; they're afraid to. They live in horrendous conditions. So I very much want to see this happen. But the fact is that the Republicans don't want to see it happen, because they're concerned that they'll create, at least fourteen years down the road , more Democratic voters. That's what they're concerned about. To them it's all about politics, not about 11 million people living in the shadows. And frankly, there's a certain undercurrent of racism on the other side as well. They don't want to let these people become citizens because they're Hispanic, and they speak Spanish. I ran against someone in the last election who insisted that English has to be the official language of the United States. There is that strong undercurrent on the other side. They don't want to do anything that would help brown people.
Steve: Well, okay, but the question then is, how do you get something through the House? What we just saw this week – nobody saw this coming, nobody saw this Farm Bill failing, and it failed. And so if something gets through the Senate on immigration, how do you get it through the House under these circumstances?
Alan: I don't know. I'm skeptical that it's even possible, as unfortunate as that may be. I think that Hispanic voters are going to remember that it was the Republican majority in the House that ended up torpedoing a fair immigration bill that actually strengthened borders, and delivered fairness to people who are living under horrendous conditions don't even get the minimum wage in some cases. People are going to remember that. I don't take any pleasure in saying that, but I think that the Republicans in the House may be unable to pass this bill. And Boehner doesn't care one way or the other. The only thing that Boehner cares about is keeping his job. And that's why he's so incredibly ineffective as Speaker, because all he cares about is being Speaker. He doesn't want to do anything; he just wants to be something. That's the worst kind of person to have in a position of power.
Steve: Like I said, I can't figure out why he wants the job anyway. My thanks to Congressman –
Alan: Well I'll tell you this: when the time comes, and he is stabbed by all the other members of his party, it's not going to be, "Et tu, Brutus?" It's going to be, "Et tu, Everyone?" They're all going to be against him.
Steve: All right, my thanks to Congressman Alan Grayson.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Jun 25, 2013, 07:45 PM (2 replies)
Who cares about climate change? Ed Markey does.
Ed Markey served as the one and only Chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, during its four years of existence. Let me explain to you what an utterly thankless job that is. If you are the Chair of a committee on global warming, you've got Big Oil against you. You've got the electrical utilities against you. You've got the auto manufacturers against you. You've got the pipeline and tanker and drilling companies against you. What kind of person would want all of those headaches, just for a shot at saving Planet Earth?
Ed Markey. That kind of person.
After the Democrats took over the House in 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted action on climate change, so she chartered a new House Committee, and put Ed Markey in charge of it. The Republicans named Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) as their Ranking Member. Sensenbrenner has said that the science of climate change is a "global conspiracy." Sensenbrenner has said that labeling carbon dioxide as a pollutant is "propaganda." Mocking concerns over climate change, Sensenbrenner once suggested that we "put catalytic converters on all our noses." Ignoring the havoc that climate change and extreme weather have wrought, Sensenbrenner suggested that climate change might help "crop yields go up." When Nobel Prizewinner Paul Krugman called climate denial "treason against the planet," Sensenbrenner boasted, "I plead guilty as charged."
For almost four years, Markey and Sensenbrenner battled it out, through 80 committee hearings and briefings. Markey gamely publicized clean energy technology, and the risks caused by climate change. Markey pushed forward legislation like H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (which passed the House, and then Republicans filibustered it to death in the Senate). Markey's Committee educated the nation about global warming facts both horrifying (according to the World Health Organization, climate change already causes 150,000 deaths each year) and ironic (by 2030, there will be no glaciers in Glacier National Park). Markey faced down Big Oil, and ignored the steady drumbeat of nonsense and distraction from the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-evil Republican tools and zealots on the Committee.
With enemies like that, Ed Markey needs friends. And deserves them.
When the Republicans took over the House of Representatives after the 2010 election, they shut down Ed Markey's Committee. But Ed Markey remains the leading environmentalist in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Who speaks for the trees? Ed Markey does.
Ed Markey is the Democratic nominee for the open U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. He is my colleague and my friend. The U.S. Senate desperately needs someone like Ed Markey. As does America. As does Planet Earth.
Please show your support for Ed Markey today. Or at least tomorrow. Definitely before Wednesday -- that will be too late.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Sun Jun 23, 2013, 12:20 PM (9 replies)
This past week, controversy raged over the revelation that under the guise of "foreign surveillance," the Defense Department is obtaining information about every telephone call in America. As if that weren't enough, DoD also is collecting information on e-mails, videos, stored data, log-ins, etc., from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, AOL and Skype. Congressman Alan Grayson took to the airwaves to condemn that invasion of our privacy, and that trampling on the Fourth Amendment, in this interview on national TV:
Thom Hartmann: In the best of the rest of the news, yesterday the House Committee on Rules blocked an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have drastically cut back the NSA's ability to collect data on American citizens. An amendment was proposed by Congressman Alan Grayson from Florida. It would have prohibited the Defense Department from collecting information on U.S. citizens without probable cause of a terrorism or criminal offense. Congressman Grayson's amendment, of course, comes on the heels of reports that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the telephone records and internet information of U.S. citizens. So while the House Rules Committee may have rejected the Congressman's amendment, what else can be done now to stop the national security state from invading the privacy of U.S. citizens? Joining me now for more on that is Congressman Alan Grayson, representing Florida's 9th district. Congressman, welcome.
Congressman Alan Grayson: Thank you.
Thom: Or welcome back. First of all, I'm rather astounded by the Rules Committee knocking down your amendment, which seems like it echoes the Fourth Amendment.
Alan: Well the Rules Committee consists of nine Republicans and four Democrats. But I think that there are Members of Congress even now who aren't aware of the severity of this problem. It's been a week since we learned that every single call that Verizon carries – Verizon being the largest cell phone carrier in the United States -- every single call has call details – who is calling whom, when they're talking, how long they're talking – and that's all given to the Department of Defense. Every single call. Not only that, but there's no reason to think that if Verizon's doing this, that AT&T is not doing it. So we have to assume that every call that we make in America – even local calls, even calls to your grandmother – all those calls are being handed over to the government, in terms of the call details. In addition to that, the PowerPoint presentation internal to the NSA that was also leaked, at the same time, indicates that the NSA, according to that information, can pull from AOL servers, from Microsoft servers, from Google servers, from virtually every single Internet provider in the country, information that hosts e-mails, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, which is basically the contents of telephone calls), and a whole host of other information that people regard as personal. Now, that's where we are right now. I think many Members of Congress are not aware of that. I think many members of your audience were not aware of the fact that the government's getting information on every single call they make. Now the question is, "What do we do about it?" The Rules Committee decided to do nothing. The Republicans outnumber the Democrats nine to four on the Rules Committee, so that doesn't surprise me.
Thom: But the Fourth Amendment is pretty unambiguous. I mean basically we're supposed to be secure in our persons, papers, home, property, unless somebody goes before a judge and swears under oath that they have reason to believe – you know, probable cause to believe – that a crime is being committed. Then the judge issues a very specific warrant defining the place and things to be seized, or persons to be – you know I'm badly paraphrasing the Fourth Amendment, but you know it. How is it that this is partisan?
Alan: Well, what relying on is a decision from something like thirty or forty years ago that indicated that "pen register" information, the calling record of one person, could be released without any Fourth Amendment violation by the government, because said that pen register information was not something that the Fourth Amendment constrained. Now, what they've decided is that because they could do it to one person, they can do it to every person. The document that was leaked, the court order that was leaked, is in fact a court order to Verizon that claims to be based upon applicable law. It happens to be signed by a right-wing judge who also declared that Obamacare was unconstitutional. But leaving that aside, what the agency is doing is it's purporting to rely upon this ancient string of irrelevant legal applications, in order to spy on every one of us.
Thom: I just said, "How could this be partisan?" You were talking about the Republicans on the committee blocking this. You're basically bringing the Fourth Amendment into this. And yet it's a democratic administration that's doing it. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense, which is part of the Obama Administration. Are you hearing anything from the Obama Administration that they might be having second thoughts about what they're doing?
Alan: Well, the NSA, DoD, and other figures are part of the Administration . Not the President himself, though, yet. Other figures have launched a vigorous defense of this practice, saying there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Department of Defense getting telephone records about every single human being in America. Bear in mind that we've had a law going back to the 1870s, called the Posse Comitatus Act, that prevents DoD from having any operations in the United States. Now it turns out that DoD is getting all records of all of our telephone calls, and yet somehow that's defensible. You're right -- this shouldn't be a partisan issue at all, because we have Republicans who are getting their telephone records turned over, Democrats, everyone. And therefore everyone should be up in arms. We had over 10,000 people go to our website our bill . The website is MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com. Ten thousand people came to the website, and became citizen co-sponsors of my bill, in the first 24 hours. Eventually, sooner or later, we're going to see that bill heard.
Thom: That's marvelous. MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com is the website. Congressman, we have just about a minute left. I'm curious, your thoughts on where we're going to go from here? What's next?
Alan: What's next is for people who respect privacy, people who respect liberty, people who respect freedom, to state, clearly, that we don't protect our freedom by giving it away. There has to be a constant, consistent effort. There certainly will be on my part. I hope there'll be the same on the part of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others, to make sure that we put an end to this pernicious practice, and protect our cherished freedom.
Thom: But how do you respond to people who say, "But oh, I'm so afraid of terrorists"?
Alan: Oh look, you know. If somebody can explain to me how tapping your phone will prevent terrorism, Thom, then at that point I'll start to be convinced.
Thom: Ok, I got it, and totally agree with you. Once again, the website was –
Thom: MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com. Congressman Alan Grayson, great work.
Alan: Thank you.
Thom: Thank you so much for being with us today.
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you
- The Police, "Every Breath You Take" (1983).
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Jun 21, 2013, 01:55 PM (12 replies)
In George Orwell's novel 1984<, "Big Brother" is the dictator of Oceania. No one knows whether Big Brother is a real person, or simply the personification of the dictatorship. Big Brother spies on every citizen through "telescreens." Everyone is reminded constantly, "Big Brother is Watching You."
Let's compare that to the recent revelations about the Orwellian-named National Security Agency (NSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. News reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post have uncovered a secret court order dated April 23, 2013, issued to Verizon. Verizon is the largest cell phone company in America. The court order requires Verizon to give to the NSA "all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." "Call detail records" are records of who you called, when you called, and how long you spoke.
The court order in the news reports is classified, and it's marked "Declassify on: April 12, 2038."
There is no reason to think that the NSA singled out Verizon. So that implies that the NSA is collecting records of every telephone call that you and I make, even local telephone calls. In fact, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who worked at the NSA, told reporters that he could get the records for the calls from the President's own personal cell phone.
The NSA has not denied that it is collecting call records on every America. On the contrary, the NSA sees nothing wrong with it.
I see three fundamental problems with this:
1. This is worse than the proverbial "fishing expedition"; this is like putting the entire ocean through a sieve. It makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment's requirement that government searches be "particular."
2. This assumes not only that everyone is guilty until proven innocent, but that everyone is guilty. The Fourth Amendment limits searches to cases of "probable cause," meaning that a prudent and cautious person would reasonably believe that the search will yield evidence of a crime. Obviously, most phone records have absolutely nothing to do with the commission of any crime.
3. Providing this information to the Department of Defense violates the fundamental principle that our military does not operate on American soil, against American citizens. That principle has been embodied in law since the 1870s. From this perspective, providing this personal call record information to DoD is no different from providing it to the CIA - another agency that is not allowed to operate on US soil.
The news reports also reprinted five pages from an NSA PowerPoint presentation about the NSA's "Prism" program. According to that NSA presentation, the NSA collects information "directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple." "What information?", you may wonder. This information, according to the NSA presentation: "E-mail, Chat-video, voice, Videos, Photos, Stored data, VoIP , File transfers, Video Conferencing, Notifications of target activity - logins, etc., Online Social Networking details Special Requests."
The PowerPoint presentation in the news reports is classified, and it's marked "Declassify On: 20360901" (Meaning Sept. 1, 2036.)
The plain meaning of this, in the context of the presentation, is that the NSA is pulling unlimited amounts of e-mails from Microsoft's hosted Hotmail accounts, e-mails from Google's hosted Gmail accounts, search records from Google's search servers, private "friend" communications from Facebook's servers, the content of telephone calls from Skype's VoIP service, etc., etc.
Regarding the Prism program, despite what the presentation specifically states, the NSA contends that it cannot actually collect information directly from the servers of all those internet service providers. The NSA also has put out that it collects such information (e-mails, photos, call content, etc.) only for foreigners not residing in the United States. Honestly, I don't know how the NSA could do that in any reliable manner, because Google, Microsoft, Facebook and all the others have no way of knowing your citizenship or your residence. But that's what the NSA is saying.
The bottom line is that the NSA evidently is getting call information on virtually every phone call by virtually every American, it is definitely getting the e-mails and call content of foreigners, and it may or may not be getting the e-mails and call content of Americans.
So is Uncle Sam actually Big Brother? I won't dwell on the convoluted intimate relations that would be necessary to make your uncle also your brother. Rather, as noted above, the essence of Big Brother was that "Big Brother is Watching You." Uncle Sam isn't physically observing you at all times - that much is true. But if Uncle Sam is receiving information about every phone call that you make (as the NSA concedes), and Uncle Sam has access every other electronic communication of yours, including your e-mails and web browsing and storing it all (which the NSA disputes), then yes, Big Brother is Watching You.
I think that it's wrong, and it has to end. As do the 13,000 people in 24 hours who signed the petition supporting our legislation at www.MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com. Because we can't protect our freedom by destroying it.
I understand that there may be some people who see no problem in the Department of Defense monitoring their communications. I also understand that there are some people who have been so traumatized, so terrorized, by terrorism that they are willing to give up all of their freedom - all of everyone's freedom - for the promise of some safety.
I am not one of those people.
Click here for freedom: http://MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com/
Rep. Alan Grayson
"Ain't the pictures enough, why do you go through so much,
To get the story you need, so you can bury me.
You've got the people confused. You tell the stories you choose.
You try to get me to lose the man I really am.
-Michael Jackson, "Privacy" (2001).
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Jun 14, 2013, 11:23 PM (55 replies)
If he were President right now, Richard Nixon would absolutely adore today's National Security Agency. Nixon would be able to snoop, shadow and spy at will. He could read your e-mail; see what you've googled; check out your browsing history; find out whom you called, who called you, when you spoke and for how long; and know where you are at every moment, because of that GPS chip in your phone.
And he wouldn't have to offer that lame, barefaced excuse that there was a Communist hiding under your bed. No, all he'd have to say is that there is a terrorist hiding under your bed.
(Maybe you need a bed that's closer to the floor. But then you'd have to watch out for the rats.)
When I was a kid, I sure didn't trust Tricky Dick. But as I grew up, I realized that the problem went well beyond The Trickmeister. He was simply exploiting spytech to its fullest. I learned that President Eisenhower had spied on Eleanor Roosevelt, that J. Edgar Hoover had recorded Martin Luther King Jr.'s private conversations, and that Lyndon Johnson had enlisted the FBI's assistance during his 1964 campaign. For almost a century, the federal government has used surveillance to keep tabs on civil rights, environmentalist, and antiwar activism. Spying on us: it's the one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. It's bipartisan. It's as American as apple spy.
That's one reason why the revelations over the past few days of near-universal government surveillance are so disturbing. Microsoft, Google, Apple – they're all in on it. Former NSA official William Binney has said that we are "on a slippery slope to a totalitarian state." I don't know what's worse: that I'm not sure he's right, or that I'm not sure he's wrong.
Fortunately, I'm a Member of Congress, so I can do something about it. And you are likely an American citizen and voter, which means that you can help.
I'm introducing a bill that I call the "Mind Your Own Business Act". This bill prohibits our government from spying on us, or collecting data on us, unless there's probable cause that you have committed or you will commit an act of terrorism or similar criminal offense.
I submitted this provision as an amendment to the House Rules Committee today. I am attempting to attach it to the National Defense Authorization Act, which will come up for a vote in the House later this week. Sign your name here to show your support for the Mind Your Own Business Act:
You'd have to be nuts to think that it's necessary to inquire into the personal web browsing habits, telephone calls and physical location of 320 million Americans in order to keep us safe. What's next – are we going to try to prevent hijackings by all flying naked?
Are we going to ban forks and knives? And if so, then how will we eat spaghetti?
Mass indiscriminate surveillance is a necessary ingredient in tyranny. It's also an utterly inefficient means to protect us. Osama Bin Laden routinely sent e-mails for years, completely evading the NSA. Here's how he did it (pay attention, would-be terrorists): He wrote up e-mails, saved them on a $10 thumb drive, and had some lackey send them from a web cafe in Pakistan. Maybe the reason why the NSA couldn't find Osama Bin Laden's e-mails was that they were too busy spying on everyone else in the world. They're the gang that couldn't snoop straight.
Ben Franklin said that "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Leaving aside those quirky initial caps, I agree wholeheartedly.
We didn't give up our constitutional rights 150 years ago, when 1,000,000 heavily armed soldiers rose up in rebellion. Those rebs had cannon, the nuclear weapon of the 19th century. Why should we give up our constitutional rights when a small number of barely armed men on the other side of the world, garbed in sheets, try to threaten us?
We have preserved our freedom and our rights for the past half-century, with over 10,000 nuclear warheads pointed right at us – enough to kill all of us even if we were like cats, and had nine lives. Why should we forsake our freedom and our rights now?
This is not North Korea. This is not Maoist China. This is not East Germany. This is the United States of America. If we put the word "Freedom" on our stamps, then we should put it in our lives, too.
For God's sake, we are not cattle. We Are Human Beings!
You're innocent until you're proven guilty, and therefore you ought to be un-snooped until you do something wrong. Let's force the NSA to stop snooping -- join me:
Rep. Alan Grayson
"Everybody knows the scene is dead.
There's gonna be a meter on your bed.
That will disclose
What everybody knows."
-Leonard Cohen, "Everybody Knows" (1988).
P.S. Please, please, please forward this to your friends, and urge them to sign the petition.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Jun 11, 2013, 08:36 PM (235 replies)
One of the interesting things about this Congressjob is that at any given moment, there are three or four different things to do. What one has to show for one's time in Congress is, more than anything else, a question of time management.
Last Wednesday posed an interesting choice for me. I was invited, like all Members of Congress, to the Radio/TV Correspondents Association annual dinner. This is a spectacular opportunity to "network with" (i.e., suck up to) major figures in the national news media, like network news anchors, national radio show hosts and White House correspondents.
To make the dinner extra-special, Emeril Lagasse, a world-famous chef, prepared a unique New Orleans-inspired menu. It featured olive and goat cheese hors d'oeuvres, fried oysters, Creole shrimp and stuffed quail.
I didn't go. I had something else that I needed to do.
Also on Wednesday night was the annual Bipartisan Congressional Baseball Outing. (As President Obama would say, "Baseball is not a Democratic game. It's not a Republican game. It's an American game!!" <<wild cheers>> ) Members of Congress were invited to go see the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Congressional staffers were to sing the national anthem, but I wanted to go anyway. (Just kidding, Congressional staffers. You know I love you.) I have a great deal of fondness for the Amazin' Mets, going back to the Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman era, when Nolan Ryan was a fifth starter with a very wild arm. I used to watch Mets games on a 21" black-and-white TV screen, on Channel 9, WOR-TV. (Note to my children: "TV" is something that people used to watch before there was Netflix and YouTube.) If I had gone, I would have been one of the few people in the ballpark to enjoy that game, since the Mets won by a score of 10-1.
I couldn't make it. I was too busy doing something else.
On Wednesday night, there also was a four-alarm fire three blocks from my office in the Cannon House Office Building. Having grown up in New York City, I know that nothing draws a good crowd like a fire.
I was in the Capitol Building the whole time, so I didn't see it. Plus I have an alibi.
So what was I doing all night on Wednesday? Passing three amendments in the Homeland Security appropriations bill:
An amendment prohibiting federal contract awards to contractors that commit numerous crimes;
An amendment requiring Homeland Security to respect our constitutional rights under the 1st, 2nd and 4th Amendments (think racial profiling); and
An amendment prohibiting Homeland Security from acquiring and using military or weaponized drones in the United States. (Hats off to Rep. Rush Holt, who came up with this amendment but couldn't offer it on Wednesday – not because he was at a dinner or a ballgame, but because he was at Senator Lautenberg's funeral.)
To get these amendments passed, I had to sit down with the House Parliamentarian, and make sure that they would not be ruled "out of order" on procedural grounds (as many are). Then I had to discuss the amendments individually with Democratic and Republican Members and staffers – a very dicey game, because the Republicans have enough votes to vote down any amendment at will. (And, duh, I'm a Democrat.) Then I just had to sit, and wait.
Until we reached the part of the bill when I could offer my amendments, and it was my turn to offer those amendments.
So I could have spent Wednesday night in gastronomical paradise, or being honored at a ballgame between two teams that I love. But instead, I did my job as a lawmaker, which is to make laws. To make the world a better place.
Isn't that what you deserve?
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Jun 10, 2013, 06:37 PM (22 replies)