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Alan Grayson

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Member since: Sat May 22, 2010, 01:02 PM
Number of posts: 400

Journal Archives

Peace, and Eric Clapton

On issues of war and peace, it looks like there's going to be this whole new thing from now on, called "democracy." Remarkably, we seem to have seized this authority away from the Permanent Foreign Policy Establishment, and the Military-Industrial Complex. It's hard to believe, but going forward, "We, The People" may have a chance to weigh in on war and peace – at least through our elected representatives in Congress. Which makes it very important that those representatives are pro-peace.

Here's a funny thing: before someone actually is elected to Congress or the White House, he or she never actually has to make a decision on whether to go to war. The most experienced state representative, county commissioner, school board member, lawyer, businessman, doctor or even general never has to make that call. So it's a conundrum: how do you know whether a candidate for Congress will be pro-peace, when they've never had to vote on it?

All we've got to go on is what they say. But sometimes, that's enough.

There will be a special election soon in Massachusetts to replace Rep. Ed Markey, who has taken a seat in the U.S. Senate. There are seven candidates. During the recent debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, six of those candidates decided that the safe thing was to avoid taking any position on the issue, apparently concluding that the shortest route to immense popularity is to stand for nothing. (This "logic" is all-too-common in public life, unfortunately.)

There was one exception: State Rep. Carl Sciortino. Carl Sciortino held a news conference, with me, to announce his opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria. That news conference received very wide coverage, including a prominent story in the Boston Globe.

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. In Carl's case, that sleeve is embroidered with a peace sign.

Here's another funny thing: after Carl Sciortino held that news conference, the other candidates in the race announced that they, too, were against U.S. military intervention in Syria. Maybe they did that to try to demonstrate that they are right on the issue. But what they actually demonstrated is that Carl Sciortino is a leader – a leader on war and peace.

I hope that that is enough to motivate you to support Carl Sciortino's campaign. But in case it is not, there is something more: a chance to receive the custom plaque for Eric Clapton's diamond album, "Unplugged." Here is Blue America's Howie Klein, explaining how that works:

"Contribute any amount – no amount is too small – to Carl's campaign here and you will become eligible to win. You probably know what a gold record is – an award for 500,000 RIAA-certified sales in the U.S. For a platinum award, the number is a million. In recent years, the music industry created a new category: diamond, to mark 10,000,000 in domestic sales. Eric Clapton's ‘Unplugged' album was one of the first – and only – albums to achieve that status. What we're giving away is one of the original award plaques for 10,000,000 sales of ‘Unplugged,' which was made for the President of Eric Clapton's record company, who is a big fan not just of Eric Clapton, but also of Carl Sciortino. This stunning 30" x 30" custom plaque isn't something you can buy in a store, no matter how much money you have. Only a handful were ever made, and they were never sold."

So that's the deal. I'm asking you to contribute to Carl Sciortino's campaign because he is a champion for peace. Or because you like Eric Clapton. Or both.

Will you help?


Alan Grayson

How We Stopped a War - For Now

After three frenetic weeks, during which time Team Grayson was burning the midnight oil every night, it's time to take stock of what we've accomplished.

Here were the headlines in late August, just before we started our campaign against U.S. military intervention in Syria.

"Syria crisis: UK and US finalise plans for military strikes" - The Guardian, August 27.
"Syria strike due in days, West tells opposition - sources" - Reuters, August 27.
"Strike Against Syria is Imminent" - Reuters, August 27.
"Obama Will Bomb Syria" - Politico, August 26.
"U.S. military ‘ready’ to attack Syria, Hagel says" - CBS News, August 27.

And here are the headlines, now:

"Obama to explore diplomatic route on Syria," - Reuters, September 10.
"U.S. to Work Through U.N. on Syria Arms Proposal"The New York Times, September 10.
"Obama Agrees To U.N. Discussion Of Putting Syria Chemical Weapons Under International Control" - Associated Press, September 10.
"Syria Will Sign Chemical Weapons Convention, Declare Arsenal, Foreign Ministry Says" - Reuters, September 10.

Let's go behind the headlines, to the numbers in Congress. Bloomberg News just came out with its own count of how every single member of the U.S. House and Senate would vote on war with Syria. In the U.S. Senate, which is institutionally designed to favor war and bailouts, the war vote is losing 34-22. That's shocking - the Senate is voting for peace!? In the U.S. House of Representatives, it's even better. House members oppose war by a 10-to-one margin. The Washington Post has it at 26 in favor, 251 against.

In other words, we are winning. Peace is winning.

How did this miracle happen?

To answer that question, look in the mirror.

You did this. Your calls and e-mails. Your pressure. The military industrial complex, the neoconservatives like Dick Cheney, the foreign policy corporate-funded think tanks in D.C., the warmongers at the State Department - they wanted war, but you wouldn't let them. We stood up for peace.

Now, what's interesting is not just that we averted military action (so far). It's also what has happened, because we averted military action. We showed that successful diplomacy, shunted aside just a week ago as irrelevant, is actually possible.

Think about this. We are on the verge of a solution that:
- Removes chemical weapons from Syria, preventing another attack and putting them out of the reach of both the Assad regime and Al Qaeda,
- Does not require the use of dangerous military force by the United States,
- Compels Syria to become a signer to the Chemical Weapons Convention,
- Restores the role of Congress in matters of war and peace, and
- Rejuvenates the United Nations as a platform for peace.

This happened only because of our work. To his credit, President Obama listened. He listened to Congress, to the voices of allies around the world asking us to pause, and most importantly, to We the People of These United States. But you spoke, President Obama listened, and now peace may bloom.

Of course, we may still go to war - the war lobby is fierce and relentless. Even as we speak, warmongers in Congress are writing new war resolution language, thinking that if they tweak this word or that word, making it an itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy war, it can pass. To that, we say, “a big, fat NO.”

We have shown that Peace can be more powerful than War.

And hopefully, one day soon, we will not be arguing about where to direct our bombs. If you and I keep working together, we will be trying to figure out what to do with the fruits of peace – the Peace Dividend.


Rep. Alan Grayson

Let's Stop a War, Before It Starts

The United States should not attack Syria. And I need your help to make sure that we do not.

The White House is seeking permission from Congress to attack Syria. Let’s make sure Congress says “NO.”

Ask your Member of Congress to vote NO on ANY legislation authorizing a U.S. attack on Syria. You can call here: 202-224-3121

Right now, calls to Congress are running 100:1 against intervention.

And Members of Congress are listening. More than half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives have said they are leaning against authorizing an attack. But we need more than that. We need them to say “NO,” loud and clear.

So call! Ask your Member of Congress to vote NO on ANY legislation authorizing a U.S. attack on Syria, under current circumstances. You can call here: 202-224-3121

Or you can e-mail your member here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

This is when it matters.

After you’re done with your call or e-mail, please tell me what you heard from your Member’s staff by going to this website: http://dontattacksyria.com/call-congress-now-dont-attack-syria/

Using the information you give me, I will be compiling a list of Members to whom I need to talk about this.

Finally, get your friends and family to sign up at DontAttackSyria.com. More than 60,000 people are working together RIGHT NOW to stop this attack on Syria. Let’s add more and more. Share this on Twitter and Facebook, and forward it to your friends.

We’re all in this together. And we’re going to win.


Alan Grayson

Grayson on Syria: "We Have Our Own Problems To Deal With"

As we head toward a Congressional vote on a U.S. military attack on Syria, Sunday was a national TV doubleheader for Congressman Alan Grayson - he argued forcefully against war on both CNN and MSNBC. Here is what he said on MSNBC:

MSNBC's Alex Witt: Joining me right now is Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee. Representative Grayson, thank you for being here.

Congressman Alan Grayson: Yes, thank you for having me.

Alex: So you've been very vocal, sir, in your opposition to any kind of intervention . What is your argument against this?

Alan: Well first, it's not our responsibility. Secondly, whatever we do won't actually accomplish anything useful. Third, it's expensive. And fourth, it's dangerous.

Alex: Okay. You're pretty definitive in that. How much pushback are you getting from any of your constituents, or from fellows in the House?

Alan: None. My position is actually the popular position here . We set up a website called DontAttackSyria.com, and within less than 24 hours, we had 10,000 signatures in our petition to the President against this action. The polls now show, and will continue to show, that Americans understand that this is simply not our responsibility. We are only one country out of 196. We have our own problems to deal with. We are not the world's policeman, nor are we the world's judge, jury, and executioner.

Alex: All right. I'm curious if there's any debate on this though, in your mind, because you have said that you don't even think it's clear a chemical attack occurred. Now, Doctors Without Borders, which is a completely impartial group, says that its partners have treated 3600 people with chemical weapons symptoms. Do you not believe them?

Alan: You're misquoting me, and quoting me out of context. I said that several days ago, before that evidence came in.

Alex: Okay, so where do you stand on it now?

Alan: Now I think that there is substantial evidence that there was a chemical attack. That doesn't change my mind about anything that I said, though. I still think that it's not our responsibility, that it's expensive and dangerous, and that our attack won't do any good. I have yet to hear anybody explain to me why our attacking Syria will take away their ability to commit such an attack in the future.

Alex: Do you question, sir, the President saying that this is a threat to our national security, the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

Alan: Absolutely. We haven't been attacked at all. Not a single American has been attacked during the course of the Syrian War, and I think that Americans understand that. Let's tend our own garden.

Alex: Okay. Then what about our allies? What about Jordan?

Alan: They haven't been attacked.

Alex: Turkey?

Alan: They haven't been attacked.

Alex: Israel?

Alan: They haven't been attacked, either.

Alex: What if they were to be attacked?

Alan: Oh, if they were, then that's an entirely different story. Turkey is a member of NATO. We have collective responsibilities with Turkey. If Turkey were to be attacked by Syria, then we would have to act under our NATO treaty. That's not this situation.

Alex: Would you feel better if the U.N. weapons inspectors come back with a report confirming, as anticipated, the use of chemical weapons in the region, and were able to point (even though this isn't their mandate) or if others were able to find proof to point to President Assad's regime as those being the ones who launched this chemical attack, would that change your mind at all?

Alan: No. What would change my mind is somebody explaining to me what the heck this has to do with us.

Alex: Well the President spoke directly to you and your colleagues yesterday. Let's take a listen.

--begin clip of President Obama--

President Barack Obama: Here's my question for every Member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
--end clip of President Obama--

Alex: So what's your response to that?

Alan: Well first of all, not a single other country feels that way. Just a few days ago we had the British Parliament reject that argument.

Alex: France does, I believe.

Alan: Well no, France is saying, "We'll wait and see." So that's not the case at all. How is it that this is always our responsibility? And by the way, the treaty that the President is citing says that in case of violations of that treaty, you take the violators to the International Court of the Hague; you don't just bomb them.

Alex: Okay. Representative Alan Grayson, thank you for your time.

Alan: You're welcome.

Congressman Alan Grayson - you know where he stands. If you want to make your voice heard, then join our petition at www.DontAttackSyria.com. Tell your friends and neighbors, too. Time is running out.

Grayson on Syria: "This Literally Has Nothing to Do With Us"

As the debate regarding a U.S. military attack on Syria shifts to Congress, Congressman Alan Grayson was back on national TV on Sunday, forcefully arguing against war:

Fredricka Whitfield: Joining me from Orlando, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson opposes any intervention in Syria at all. So, after hearing the President yesterday, Mr. Congressman, did the President say anything to change your mind?

Congressman Alan Grayson: No. It’s not our responsibility. It’s not going to do any good. It’s dangerous. And it’s expensive.

Fredricka: And what do you mean by that, when you say it won’t do any good, when you hear Secretary Kerry spell out that letting a dictator like Assad go with impunity means that it sends a message to other dictators who might have chemical weapons that they could harm their people as well?

Alan: Well, actually, there are only four countries in the world that have chemical weapons, and the largest is the United States. So are we trying to “send a message” to ourselves? That’s not logical. I’ve heard that theory before, that somehow one country’s actions will affect another country, and another country, and another country. It’s just the “domino argument” (from the Vietnam War) again. We’ll call it the “bomb-ino argument” here. It’s just not logical. It doesn’t make any sense.

Fredricka: So when the President and Secretary of State say that Syria threatens national security and that it behooves the United States to do something, you still say that this is not a national security issue?

Alan: Absolutely not. And there are a huge number of Americans who agree with me. We set up a website called “DontAttackSyria.com," and got over 10,000 signatures in less than 24-hours. The polls show that people understand that this literally has nothing to do with us. We are not the world’s policeman. We can’t afford this anymore, these military adventures that lead us into more than a decade of war. It’s wrong. We need to cut it off, before it even happens.

Fredricka: Is it at least comforting then to you, that the President, though he said he thinks justifiably that the U.S. should strike, still wants to hear Congressional approval? Is that any comfort to you, that he wants Congress to be thoughtful about this, and to give the green light or not?

Alan: Yes. In fact, the British went through the same process a few days ago and they came to the right conclusion. We’re not the world’s policeman. We’re not the world’s judge, jury, and executioner. No one else in the world does things like this, and there’s no reason why we should. We’ve got 20 million people in this country who are looking for full-time work. Let’s tend our own garden, for a change.

Fredricka: Now, you mention your website DontAttackSyria.com and that there are a number of signatures, a number of people on board with your point of view, but what about fellow Members of Congress? Where do you believe their allegiance will fall?

Alan: Their allegiance will fall with what makes sense for them in representing their districts. In my district, if you ask people, “Where does Syria fall in your list of concerns?” it wouldn’t even be in the top 100. We would have to spend the billion dollars that this attack will cost, according to British authorities. The billion dollars that this attack will cost, that money is better spent on our schools, our roads, our bridges, our health care, and so on and so forth.

Fredricka: So if you had the opportunity to make your case to the President, what would it be? We understand that Senator McCain will be spending some one-on-one time with the President tomorrow. Senator McCain has been saying for a very long time that the U.S. needs to act. If you had that kind of face-to-face time with the President, what would you say to him as to why the U.S. should not go through with this – whether it has allies or whether it means going in alone?

Alan: Well, in fact, all the indications are that we will be going in alone. Even French public opinion is overwhelmingly against this, and the French were the only ones entertaining this possibility. It should tell the President something that when he is trying to vindicate so-called “international norms,” that there are 196 countries in the world and no one else, NO ONE, wants to do anything like this. But what I would tell the President is, first, that no Americans have been attacked. None of our allies have been attacked. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but there are lots of unfortunate circumstances in the world. In Burma, for example, there is now a civil war that started 10 years before I was born, and twelve Presidents have resisted the impulse to interfere in the Burmese Civil War, even though far more people have died in the Burmese Civil War than in the Syrian Civil War. And I could give you countless other examples. Sometimes the highest international norm, the one to respect the most, is to mind your own business. And in this case, military intervention simply won’t do any good. No one thinks that we’re going to determine the outcome of the Syrian Civil War by lobbing a few missiles into Damascus. No one thinks that we will degrade or even eliminate the possibility of future chemical attacks by doing so. And in doing so, we’ll be wasting a lot of money, and we’ll be opening ourselves up to a counterattack. People forget this, but the U.S. Embassy in Beirut is 15 miles away from the Syrian border, and just down the block from Hezbollah. So if we attack them, and then they attack us, I think people can see where this is headed.

Fredricka: Congressman Alan Grayson, thanks so much, from Orlando today. We appreciate it.

Alan: Thank you.

Congressman Alan Grayson – you know where he stands. If you want to make your voice heard, then join our petition at www.DontAttackSyria.com. Tell your friends and neighbors, too. Time is running out.

Grayson on Syria: "We Are Not the World's Policeman"

Bombing Syria is a bad idea. If you agree, sign our petition at DontAttackSyria.com.

A possible U.S. attack on Syria is in the news, and on people's minds today. Here is what Congressman Alan Grayson had to say about it, in an interview on national radio this morning:

Ari Rabin-Havt: I am very pleased to welcome, to the program, Congressman Alan Grayson. Congressman Grayson, welcome back to The Agenda.

Congressman Alan Grayson: Thanks very much.

Ari: So just to be very general about it, what are your thoughts on what seems like the imminent conflict in Syria at this point?

Alan: Well, I'm against it.

Ari: Do you feel like the President needs to come to Congress? What do you feel like the conversation needs to be? Does the President need to - well, he doesn't need to - but should he go to Congress for permission, basically?

Alan: I don't think that's the more important question. I think the more important question is whether this is the right decision on the merits, and it's not.

Ari: Why not?

Alan: Because there is no vital national security interest of the United States involved, even if the Syrian government is proved to have deliberately used chemical weapons. Which is, at this point, a big "if".

Ari: What do you think this rush, and the media's kind of push to war, is all about?

Alan: Well, I think the President inadvertently boxed himself in by using a very vague phrase, in saying that the Syrian Government would be "crossing a red line" if it used chemical weapons. I don't know what that means. You know, in the world I live in, you can say, "If you do X, I'll do Y," but "crossing a red line" is a very vague remark. And now the President apparently feels that based on the evidence he's heard, which I still maintain is ambiguous, he needs to do something. And that's one of the failings of modern diplomacy. The world would be a much better place if people were clear about their intentions, rather than saying something like "crossing a red line."

Ari: Now it seems odd that we turn our national security focus to Syria, and recognizing chemical weapons is a unique threat, when there are so many hotspots around the world. What is it about chemical weapons that get this conversation going, when millions of people around the world are dying of various causes?

Alan: Well, I don't know. To me, a corpse is a corpse. I don't want to sound flip, but when you're dead, you're dead. In this case, the 200 or so people who alleged to have been killed by chemical weapons, on very ambiguous information, those 200 people join the 40,000 who died in the Syrian Civil War last year, the roughly 25,000 who died this year, and the ones who died the year before. That's a lot of corpses. I don't really understand exactly why people regard it as being different if you blow up someone with a bomb, versus killing them with gas. Historically, the reason why countries banded together to prevent the use of gas attacks is because, among other things, it ended up being used inadvertently against your own troops. The first widespread use of chemical warfare, in fact the only really widespread use of chemical warfare, was during World War I, almost 100 years ago. And what happened during World War I is, first of all, many of the gas attacks that were used ended up blinding or killing the troops that they were meant to protect, because the wind changed. And secondly, there was a very high level of injury without mortality, which left a lot of soldiers and civilians blind or otherwise permanently impaired. This, at the time, was in some respects worse than being dead. So, historically, that's why countries banded together against poison gas. At this point, the evidence seems to be that there are only four countries in the world that have chemical weapons, and we happen to be one of them. In fact, arguably, the United States has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world. So on the basis of that, I'm not sure we're in the best moral position to be indicating to others what to do about chemical weapons.

Ari: And what about other weapons we have in our stockpile? For example, depleted uranium ammunition?

Alan: Yes, I mean, the examples can go on and on about weapons that are generally regarded as abhorrent, that are still employed by the military-industrial complex in the United States. For example, that would be land mines. Another example of that would be cluster bombs. I mean, it's really not my desire to indict the military-industrial complex. For the purpose of this interview, I do think that unless there is absolutely unequivocal evidence that the Syrian military deliberately used these weapons, I don't even know why we are having this conversation. And if we did have this conversation on that basis, then I think I would have to come back to the question of, where is the vital interest of the United States? When it comes to intervening in yet another country, can't we just finish our wars? Why do we have to start new ones, before we even end the old ones? It seems really odd to me; I don't know.

Ari: Well, it seems like we can't wind down anything without starting a new one up.

Alan: Right, and you know that there could be consequences, or as they like to use the term in the military industrial complex, "blowback." Let's suppose that the President goes ahead and uses military forces in Syria. Then let's suppose that Syria stages some attack against, oh, I don't know, U.S. tourists, journalists; I don't know what exactly the best possibilities from their perspective might be. How are we then going to condemn them for that?

Ari: Well what is strange to me is the people who seem that think that this decision is easy, "Oh, we'll just lob some cruise missiles and be done with it." When in fact the author of that strategy was interviewed by ForeignPolicyMagazine.com today and said that's not a good strategy for dealing with this -- the very author of the strategy.

Alan: Well, right. Some people scratch their heads and wonder why we have to shut down a dozen different embassies through the Middle East, without ever questioning whether there might be some link between that and over a hundred drone attacks in Yemen alone.

Ari: And then you get people like John McCain who are out there saying, "Well, whatever the President does, it's not enough, we have to do more." Why can't we stop - after the debacle that was Iraq? And, look, you have personal experience in that debacle; you prosecuted some of the war profiteers in court. Why do we still listen to these people?

Alan: I don't know. Again, one could make arguments in favor of and against whether the United States should somehow be involved in the Syrian Civil War. I can see that, and I can understand why McCain feels the way he does. He thinks that the freedom fighters a brutal dictatorship. I understand that. But what's actually happened is, first, an enormous amount of muddy thinking about what U.S. interests are involved here or not involved here. And that's been framed by the President making a very vague statement about red lines being crossed, which really doesn't help anybody decide what to do about the situation. And secondly, when you actually delve into the evidence, the evidence is genuinely ambiguous. I'll just give you an example. One example of this is that if, hypothetically, the Syrian government wanted to terrorize its own population into submission, it would say that it was using gas. In fact, the Syrian government has adamantly denied that it's using gas. There's no particular benefit to the Syrian government in killing these specific 200 victims. In fact, the victims, to some degree, look like they're literally innocent bystanders. The reason why people think that gas might have been used is because there's no indication of any exterior wounds, so it looks like they suffocated. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were the victims of a gas attack. There are, in fact, other possibilities. Another possibility is that the Syrian Army simply made a mistake. They loaded the wrong canister into the wrong cannon, and that happens. If they wanted to use poison gas, they'd be using it every day, they'd be using it every hour, and they wouldn't be hiding it. And instead what you have, at this point, isolated situation which has all sorts of other potential explanations. It doesn't seem to serve any strategic purpose on their part to do one attack against these 200 people and then say they didn't do it, that it was something else, and then not doing anything else. That's a very strange pattern of conduct, even for the Syrian government. Second, as I indicated, there are other explanations that actually fit the evidence as well, or better. When you use chemical warfare agents, the victims themselves are dangerous to the people around them, because of the residue of the chemical agents, for quite some time to come. There have been, at this point, numerous contacts between the victims and people who came to rescue them. I'm not aware of reports at this time that there were a substantial number of the rescuers who themselves were hurt by the agents. That implies that it wasn't actually chemical agents that were used. By the way, I haven't heard any of these reports from the Administration, and that itself causes me some concern. It seems the Administration is only putting out information that would lead one to believe that the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons, rather than what seems to be the intrinsic ambiguity of the situation. I think that's puzzling and, to me, disturbing.

Ari: Have you been in touch with any members of the Progressive Caucus about any type of action on behalf of Members of Congress who are opposing - would oppose a military action?

Alan: I understand Rep. Barbara Lee is circulating a letter. The letter doesn't oppose military action, but it does call for consultations with Congress beforehand.

Ari: Well, one can hope there can be some breath before we get involved in yet another war, because these things are never as simple as those promoting them would like them to be.

Alan: You know, one thing that is perfectly clear to me in my district, and I think is true in many other districts from speaking to other members, is that there is no desire, no desire, on the part of the American People to be the world's policeman and for us to pick up this gauntlet, even on the basis of unequivocal evidence of chemical warfare by the Syrian Army deliberately against its own people. Even if there are unequivocal evidence of that, that's just not what people in my district want. I take the title of Representative seriously. I listen to people. I hear what they have to say. At a time when we are cutting veterans benefits, cutting education student loans, cutting school budgets, contemplating cutting Social Security and Medicare, I don't see how we can justify spending billions of dollars on an attack like this. I did notice, for what it's worth, that the manufacturer of the missiles that would be used has had an incredible run on their stock value in the past 60 days. Raytheon stock is up 20 percent in the past 60 days, as the likelihood of the use of their missiles against Syria has become more and more likely. So I understand that there's a certain element of our society who does benefit from this, but they're not the people who vote for me, nor the people, by the way, who contribute to my campaign.

Ari: Not many Raytheon shareholders in your district?

Alan: Right. Nobody wants this, except the military-industrial complex. I think that, if the President is being used by others for their own personal interests, he should recognize that, and rise above it.

Ari: Congressman Grayson, thank you so much for joining us today on The Agenda, and giving us your perspective on this.

Alan: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Congressman Alan Grayson - telling it like it is. Someone sure needs to.

Sign our petition at DontAttackSyria.com.

How to Get Two More Votes Against "Big Brother"

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives came very close to ending the National Security Agency's unconstitutional and illegal surveillance of every American. An amendment to do just that fell a few votes short.

The "intelligence community" pulled out all the stops to defeat this amendment. Members of Congress were told that if we did not allow the military to collect enormous quantities of data on every single American citizen, the next "9/11" would be on our conscience. NSA General Keith Alexander held four hours of secret briefings on the Hill, just before the vote. Republicans Michele Bachmann and Tom Cotton treated the amendment as though it were the End of Days. Bush-era counterterrorism officials who failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks swore that domestic spying is necessary to prevent new 9/11 attacks. (In the world of counterterrorism, apparently, failure makes you an expert.) Even the White House, sadly, weighed in in favor of continued pervasive domestic surveillance.

Despite this, 111 Democrats -- a majority of all the Democrats in the House -- joined 94 Republicans and voted to end domestic spying. That's 205 votes against the secret surveillance state. Among the votes against surveillance was Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, and highly respected among right-wing Republicans on national security issues. Even some of the Members who voted wrong on this amendment clearly were with us in spirit, but they were cowed by the fear of being blamed for some hypothetical future terrorist attack.

This large number of House Members voting against the NSA was a stunning rebuke to the "intelligence community". This was the first vote on this issue, but not the last. To win, we need just 11 more House Members with the courage to stand up for our rights.

And I know how we can get two more: by electing them. One can come from a district in Massachusetts, which was vacated when former Congressman Ed Markey was elected to the U.S. Senate. Another can come from a district in Pennsylvania that is being vacated because the current officeholder is running for Governor.

I know candidates in both districts who have a realistic shot at winning these seats. Both candidates strongly oppose unconstitutional domestic surveillance, and both have said they would have voted with me in favor of ending it. I have mentioned one already -- Daylin Leach, from Pennsylvania. The other candidate is Carl Sciortino in Massachusetts, a state legislator who has opposed the expansion of state wiretapping authority.

Help me get two more votes for privacy and constitutionality. Donate to "Democrats Against Big Brother."

And here's Leach on domestic spying:

"The NSA policy that the Amash Amendment attempted to rein in is an outrageous shifting of the historic balance between liberty and security. It abandons not only the requirement of individualized suspicion, but of any suspicion at all. It allows the government just to collect, en masse, the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans. It allows the government to know who we call, when, and for how long we speak, every time we use the phone."

And here's Sciortino:

"I have opposed pointless wiretapping in Massachusetts, and I will fight against it in Congress. Protecting individual liberties is something progressives must stand up and fight for. Unwarranted spying on law-abiding Americans is a violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. I would have been proud to have voted in favor of reining in the NSA. Putting aside the fact that it is not even clear that this NSA policy is, in fact, making us safer, that broad justification is insufficient. The noble end does not justify ANY means. We as a people must be wary, not only of those who would make us less safe, but also those who would make us less free. We must defend our borders, and our liberties. And we must do so in an open, transparent and thoughtful way."

If we help elect Leach and Sciortino, that's two more votes to stop the NSA from spying on us. But more than that, if we can demonstrate to current Members of Congress that there is real support by voters and donors against this illegal surveillance, then we can win those Members over to our side. Right now, all too many of them get their campaign money from the Spying Industrial Complex ("SIC"). Let's prove that there are both money and votes on our side of this important issue.

Please contribute to the Leach and Sciortino campaigns today. Let's put more people in the People's House who will stand up for our freedoms.

Now, these are True Blue Democrats.


Rep. Alan Grayson

MSNBC Says Grayson is "An Incredibly Effective Legislator"

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.

—end video—

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.

—end video—

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.

Recap: We Won 5 Amendments to the Defense Bill

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.

Go Team!


Rep. Alan Grayson

Let’s Put A True Blue Democrat in Congress

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
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