Alan Grayson's Journal
Member since: Sat May 22, 2010, 01:02 PM
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When I was on national TV a week ago, I not only talked about what’s wrong with our trade policy, but also about the demented GOP decision to embed in the Rules of the House of Representatives a new provision that may end up cutting off Social Security payments to the disabled.
Thom Hartmann: It took less than a day in the new Congress for Republicans to attack Social Security. They introduced a new rule for the House you’re part of that puts millions of Americans at risk of losing Social Security benefits, specifically the Social Security Disability . It seems like that’s where they’re starting, like it’s always easiest to start with the most fragile, the most poor. “Let’s go after welfare!” What’s going on here? How is this going to play out?
Alan: Well, I think we need to examine this from the Republicans’ perspective. The situation you’re describing is that they’re cutting off funds for the Social Security payments that are made to the disabled, as opposed to senior citizens. And, to be fair to the Republicans, I think their rationale can be described this way, Thom: Essentially, they’re saying that if you’re disabled, you shouldn’t have asked to be disabled. It’s your own fault, and if you clicked your heels together three times, your disability would go away. So the Republican basic philosophy of self-reliance suggests to them that the disabled should raise themselves up by their bootstraps, assuming they have any legs.
Thom: Isn’t there also a variation on that? “You know, you really should have been born to richer parents. They can take care of you rather than the state.”
Alan: That’s right, and it shows their contempt, their absolute contempt for anyone in need, anyone in need. And frankly, it’s disgusting. It shows the underside of the right wing. Why would any rational, decent person want to prey on the disabled, of all people? And yet they’re proposing to cut off payments to the disabled. Nine million Americans will go without the Social Security payments that they earned through their paychecks. These are earned benefits; they paid for them. And the Republicans want to take them away.
Thom: Yeah. Speak to how this addresses the larger issue of the entire social safety net. For example, a year ago Christmas, Republicans blocked, in the House of Representatives – John Boehner personally blocked – a bill that was passed in the Senate that would have extended long-term unemployment benefits. You know, in the minute-and-a-half or so that we have left, I’m just curious about your thoughts on (a) where the Republicans are going to go with a whole wide variety of things in the social safety net, and (b) what you and the Democrats are going to try and do to stop that or even expand the social safety net.
Alan: Thom, all you need to do is look at the Ryan budget, which was passed by overwhelming majorities among Republicans, several years now in a row in the House of Representatives – I believe we’re up to four years in a row at this point – to see exactly what the Republican blueprint is. They want to shred the social safety net. They want to destroy it. They want to privatize Social Security, and thereby eliminate it. They want to privatize and voucherize Medicare, and thereby eliminate it. They want to do the same thing to unemployment insurance, to disability payments – essentially to anything that’s any good to ordinary people in this country – so the government consists entirely of defending the borders and corporate welfare.
Thom: Yeah, and even “defending the borders” is really code for something else, it seems.
Alan: The military-industrial complex pays off their that’s something the Republicans see true value in. But when it comes to helping the disabled, the blind, the halt – they couldn’t care less about that. And these people claim to be Christians.
Thom: Yeah, it’s truly tragic. Alan Grayson, Congressman Alan Grayson, thank you so much for being with us, and for the great work you’re doing in Congress.
Alan: Thank you, too, Thom.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Jan 27, 2015, 02:45 PM (11 replies)
A week ago, I was on national TV talking about how the pending request for “Trade Promotion Authority” is the “Fast Track” to Hell. But before I get into that, I wanted to remind you that Bill Maher will be performing in Orlando on February 8, and two of my supporters will join us.
There are two ways to get in on this:
(1) Contribute $20.16 or more to our campaign during the next 7 days.
(2) Be, or become, a monthly contributor to our campaign.
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
So “trade promotion authority” is something that’s about to be proposed again in Congress, and I was on TV recently explaining:
(a) What the heck that is, and
(b) Why it’s really bad.
Thom Hartmann: In “Screwed” news, some lawmakers in Washington want to give the Obama Administration so-called “fast-track” trade authority to approve so-called “free-trade” deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. That’s a terrible decision. A new report from the Public Citizens Global Trade Watch shows just how devastating fast-track trade deals have been for the American people, and the economy. According to the report, thanks to fast-track trade deals, over the past twenty years, trade deficits have ballooned, millions of American jobs have been shipped overseas, wages have stagnated, and inequality has exploded. So, given all of the destruction to our economy and our middle class over the last two decades, how can Washington be considering approving fast-track trade authority and signing on to yet another so-called “free trade” deal? Let’s ask Congressman Alan Grayson, representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District, the Congressman with Guts. Congressman, welcome back!
Congressman Alan Grayson: Thank you, Thom.
Thom: It’s always great having you with us. What’s your take on this new report from Global Trade Watch about the damage fast-tracked trade deals have done to our country?
Alan: Well, frankly, it’s stating the obvious. The basic problem is very simple. Trade is supposed to “You sell me yours, and I’ll sell you mine.” But it’s transmogrified into something very different in the United States, ever since NAFTA went into effect. For every year, before NAFTA went into effect – 200 years of American history – we never had a trade deficit as large as $140 billion. Now, every single year since NAFTA’s gone into effect, our trade deficit has been $140 billion or more. In fact, in the last 14 years, we’ve run the largest trade deficits in human history, larger than any other country anywhere in the world, larger than any country in history, larger than in our own history. It’s a disaster, and it’s not simply an abstraction.
Let me explain what’s really happening here. What’s happening is that American consumers are buying goods and services from other countries, putting tens of millions of people in other countries to work. That would be fine if they bought an equal amount of our goods and services. The trade deficit reflects the fact that they are not; they’re not, to the tune of half a trillion dollars every year. So what’s happening is that they’re taking those rectangular green pictures of dead presidents that they’re getting from us when we buy their stuff and, instead of buying our stuff, they’re buying our assets. They’re driving the price of our assets higher and higher, benefiting the 1% only, not creating any jobs in this country, and pushing us deeper and deeper into debt. In fact, at this point, on the basis of these trade deals, one seventh of all the assets in America – all the farmland, all the homes, all the cars, all the stocks, all the bonds, all the real estate, all the small businesses – 1/7th of all our assets are now foreign-owned. And the end game is that they will all be foreign-owned, and we will have to declare national bankruptcy. That’s where this is headed, and NAFTA and Fast Track want to grease the skids.
Thom: You know, we’ve been well-trained over the last, God, 30 or 40 years, with increasing levels of Republican hysteria about our federal deficit—although they were notably silent during the Reagan years… . In my lifetime, there’s never been a serious debate, outside the 1992 Ross Perot-Bill Clinton-George Bush debate, about trade deficits. Why do you think it is that the average American knows about budget deficits and our national debt, and has no clue either that we have a trade deficit, what a trade deficit is, or the consequences, those horrible consequences that you just described of our trade deficit?
Alan: Because, Thom, people don’t understand that one causes the other. You’ve got a $14 trillion economy. Take out half a trillion dollars so we can buy foreign goods and services, and you’re left with $13.5 trillion. We have to make up that half a trillion dollars somehow. The way we make that up is called “the federal deficit.” That’s the federal government borrowing and spending, to make up for the fact that foreigners are not buying our goods and products and services, so the federal government has to make up the difference. One causes the other. One often equals the other.
Thom: Wow! … Fast Track is almost certainly coming, TPP (I prefer to call it the “Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement” S-H-A-F-T-A). In any case, how do you see this playing out? Because it looks to me like there’s a coalition forming between progressive Democrats like yourself and conservative Republicans, who are concerned about the surrender of sovereignty associated with these things.
Alan: Well, we see it differently. I mean, progressive Democrats recognize that, because of these trade giveaways, this trade treachery, because of this we’ve lost five million jobs in manufacturing in the past twenty years, and maybe 15 million other jobs. So that’s why progressive Democrats are against this. Republicans are against Fast Track because they recognize it as a power grab by the President. The Fast Track legislation prohibits subcommittee debates, subcommittee hearings, subcommittee markups, full committee debates, full committee hearings, full committee markups, and it limits us in the House of Representatives to 88 seconds of debate for each one of us. Eighty-eight seconds to extend to 40 other countries (if we count both trade deals the President is working on), the disaster that’s been visited upon the U.S. economy simply by having a dozen existing countries with these deals in effect. They want to put our $30/hour workers directly in full head-to-head competition with the $0.30/hour workers in Vietnam and Brunei and in other places like that, who have no environmental protection, no labor rights, and in many cases are slave labor. That’s what these deals are trying to do. It’s the Fast Track to Hell.
“Fast Track” – a bill that only Snidely Whiplash could love.
Rep. Alan Grayson
To see the video, or to make a campaign contribution, click here.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Sun Jan 25, 2015, 04:55 PM (5 replies)
This is a statement that I made at a D.C. news conference on trade policy last Thursday:
Trade is a simple concept. You sell me yours, and I’ll sell you mine.
That’s not what’s happening.
What’s happening is that day after day, month after month, and year after year, Americans are buying goods and services manufactured by foreigners, and those foreigners are not buying goods and services manufactured by Americans. We are creating millions — no — tens of millions of jobs in other countries with our purchasing power, and we are losing tens of millions of jobs in our country, because foreigners are not buying our goods and services.
What are they doing? They’re buying our assets.
So we lose twice. We lose the jobs, and we are driven deeper and deeper into national debt – and, ultimately, national bankruptcy. That is the end game.
This is not free trade; it’s fake trade. We have fake trade.
That’s why before NAFTA was enacted and went into effect, this country never had a trade deficit as much as $140 billion a year, while every single year since then — for 20 years now — we have had a trade deficit of over $140 billion a year.
We have had a trade deficit of half a trillion dollars now, for the past 14 years.
Look back all across history. Look all across Planet Earth. You will see that the 14 largest trade deficits in the history of mankind are – all — the American trade deficits for the last 14 years.
(I cannot rule out the possibility that somewhere on Alpha Centauri there might be a country that has a larger trade deficit. But here on Planet Earth, no.)
Listen, we are in a deep, deep hole, thanks to fake trade. Thanks to fake trade, right now, 1/7th of all the assets in this country — every business, every plot of land, every car – 1/7th of all the assets in the country are now owned by foreigners. And ultimately, if we keep going the way we’re going, they all will be.
That’s why we have the most unequal distribution of income in our country, the most unequal distribution of wealth in our history.
We’re in a deep, deep hole. And there’s a simple rule about holes: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Stop digging!
So I’m calling upon our leaders. I’m calling upon the American people. Let’s stop digging.
Let’s not only have a trade policy. For once, let’s also have a trade deficit policy.
Let’s deal with the reality that has robbed the American Middle Class now for decades. Let’s address it, and let’s defeat it. That’s what I’m calling , right now.
Let’s stop digging deeper. Let’s raise ourselves up, let’s climb out of this hole, and rebuild the American Middle Class. Thank you very much.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Jan 12, 2015, 08:54 PM (12 replies)
Following decades of forceful advocacy and exhaustive legal battles, marriage equality finally arrived in the State of Florida this week . Pursuant to an equal protection court ruling that went into effect at the end of the day on Jan. 5, I persuaded the Osceola County Commission to direct the Osceola Clerk of the Court to open his doors at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 6, and license the first same-sex marriages in the history of Central Florida . When desperate right-wing groups urged prosecution – yes, prosecution – of Court Clerks who carried out their Constitutional duties, I obtained a commitment from our local prosecutor that no such prosecutions would take place. And then, at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 6, I joined the first couple, my friend County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb and her partner of 22 years, as their ring-bearer . As we waited for the clock to strike 12, I made a brief speech that night, and I’d like to share it with you. Feel free to share it with whomever you love – no matter what gender they may be.:
We’re here tonight for one of the most special of all special occasions. Going back through all of human history, we know that when a couple comes together, it’s not just a celebration for them, but at a celebration for the entire community. Tonight we celebrate equality for all . It’s bringing people together so that they can be joined in matrimony, and witness two, becoming one. For the first time in Central Florida, that applies to everyone, each one of us.
One of the greatest blessings that any elected official could ever possibly give to his constituents is equality. Justice, peace, and equality.
Tonight, a friend of a friend texted me, and said that she wasn’t going to get married here tonight. But she’s glad that she has the right to do that now.
And there’s are a lot of people tonight who are going to get married, and a lot of other people who are joined now, in equal protection under the law . They are no longer second-class citizens, but first-class citizens, like everyone else.
Tonight we see the fulfillment of the real American dream .
The real American dream is not a house, a job, or a 401(k) plan.
The real American Dream is to be all that you can be, no matter what you look like; no matter where you’re from; no matter what language you speak; and tonight, no matter whom you love.
Everyone is equal tonight.
Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and all of us can achieve that sanctity in their relationship, that up until tonight has been limited only to some. Starting tonight, it is now open to all.
This is a special time, and we want to recognize the fact that special people have made this a special time. In fact, it took courage to bring us here tonight.
I don’t think that anyone could have reasonably expected that running for the position of Clerk of the Court would drop one into the maelstrom that we’ve seen during the past few weeks. Armando Ramirez is a man of courage, a former police officer in New York City, chosen by fate or destiny to be the Clerk of Court, and stand here with courage tonight, to carry out these functions.
I want to thank the Osceola County Commissioners. I asked them if they would make this possible tonight. They rose to the occasion. They asked the Clerk of Court to open the offices at midnight, to give our people the earliest opportunity to make this happen, the earliest anywhere in the state.
Equality under the law starts here in Osceola County tonight, and that is something we can all be proud of.
I also want to thank State Attorney Jeff Ashton. When the clouds of litigation started to gather last week, I asked the State Attorney to state clearly that there would be no adverse legal consequences for this man the Clerk of Courts to carry out his constitutional duties, and to honor his oath of office, to uphold the constitution, not only of Florida, but the constitution of the United States. State Attorney Ashton rose to the occasion, and confirmed that. And that’s helped to make this evening possible, without conflict.
I know that there are some people who see it otherwise . And I ask them: Who are you to judge? The Pope himself asked that question a few weeks ago: “Who am I to judge?” It’s a good question for all of us.
I would say to those who cherish equality, “tonight is your night.” I would say to those who don’t cherish equality, who have reservations about this, I would say to them this: “Sometimes the best principle of public policy is for everyone to tend their own garden, and stop judging others.”
So tonight is a night for everyone to celebrate an enormous accomplishment, an accomplishment for the ages.
It’s an accomplishment that in some respects echoes the accomplishments of our parents and grandparents, from the civil rights movements in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Tonight, we not only get to see the mountain, we get to be . . . on top of the mountain.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Jan 9, 2015, 06:22 PM (2 replies)
Yesterday I had the temerity, the gall, the (dare I say it?) chutzpah to point out that for the past five months, every single elected Republican in Congress was a white Christian.
The Nazis are not pleased. Frankly, I have never been a favorite of theirs, but now they are really pissed off.
The “white nationalists” congregate at an online watering hole called Stormfront.org. The home page, in Fraktur font (look it up), proudly boast that “Every Month is White History Month”. Stormfront.org is famous for, among other things, trying to dictate the results of a Fox News online poll on racial segregation, because it takes one to know one, or something like that.
Lest you think that this is a non-serious matter, please be advised that according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Stormfront members have murdered almost 100 people during the past five years alone. No Members of Congress yet, though.
So yesterday at Stormfront, under the heading “News,” subheading “Politics & Continuing Crises,” there popped up a report called “Jew revealed: Florida Rep. Alan Grayson attacks GOP as the party of white Christians.”
The writer explained his sad tale: “I tried to unsubscribe before yet this Jew keeps sending me his lunatic Europhobic and anti-Christian rant that reeks of atavistic hatred.”
Talk about “atavistic hatred.” He didn’t call me a schweinhund. But he wanted to. I could tell.
The author’s signature line asserts that the “U.S. was founded as an exclusive Anglo-Saxon nation, according to Founding Fathers’ preference.” He overlooks more than 600,000 slaves, who made up 42% of the population of South Carolina, 39% of the population of Virginia, 35% of the population of Georgia and 32% of the population of … Maryland. Not to mention leftover colonists from France, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden. And the “Injuns,” too.
Someone else posted my missive as a picture file, with the file name “jew white hate.”
I feel constrained to mention that I did not actually “attack” the GOP for being the party of White Christians. I simply observed that for the past five months, every single elected GOP Member of Congress (all 250+ of them) has been a White Christian. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Let’s see: 27% of all Americans are black, mixed race or Asian. 24% do not identify themselves as Christians. Let’s suppose that half of all Americans are white, self-identified Christians, and half are not. What are the chances that 250 of the white Christians just randomly would end up as the Republicans in Congress, and 0 of the others?
Answer: 0.28 percent. There is a 0.28% chance that it’s all just a terrible misunderstanding. And a 99.72% chance that it’s not.
Listen, Nazis: Achtung! The leitmotif of the GOP is not simply that when it comes to choosing GOP kommandants, all others are told Raus! It’s that the GOP says ja! – nein,Wonderbar! – to every bigoted policy that comes down the autobahn. Blocking immigration reform: Ja! Gutting affirmative action: Ja! Suppressing the vote: Ja! Denying a woman’s right to choose: Ja! Denying the pink triangles the right to get married: Ja!
Am I attacking the GOP tribe for all of that? Ja. Because that creates a weltschmerz that I loathe.
There are two planks in the GOP’s platform today. One is hatred. The other is fear. As I listen to their “debate” on the Floor of the House each day, I think of Rodney King’s very pertinent question: “Can we all get along?”
Rep. Alan Grayson
“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”
- Martin Niemoller (1946).
Posted by Alan Grayson | Wed Jan 7, 2015, 07:49 PM (6 replies)
For a five-month period that ends this week, every single elected Republican in Congress was a white Christian.
Let me repeat that: every elected GOP Member of the House and Senate was a white Christian.
Eric Cantor is Jewish. He left office on August 1 last year. Since then, the entire elected GOP caucus, in both the House and the Senate, has comprised only white Christians.
13% of America is African-American. 9% is of mixed race. 5% is Asian. 24% does not identify itself as Christian. 0% of those groups served as elected Congressional Republicans during the past five months.
GOP motto: “We’re monochromatic!” The GOP: Is it a political party, or is it a tribe?
Tim Scott was sworn into the Senate yesterday, and Mia Love and Will Hurd are being sworn into the House today. That makes three elected African-American House Republicans, up from zero. They join 43 African-American Democrats.
Lee Zeldin also is being sworn into the House today. That makes one elected Jewish House Republican, up from zero. He joins 27 Jewish Democrats, two Muslim Democrats, two Buddhist Democrats and one Hindu Democrat.
I’m not talking about 13 years ago, when GOP Leadership Rep. Steve Scalise addressed a racist “European-American” group. I’m talking about the last five months.
The conclusion is obvious: Judging by whom it elects to Congress, the GOP is now the White Christian Party.
And that appears to dictate the GOP position on a wide variety of important public policies: Immigration reform. Affirmative action. Voter suppression. Abortion. Even marriage equality.
Which is a shame. Because pluralism and diversity are uniquely and fundamentally American values. Those are values that should be shared by both parties, and by every party, not just by one party.
Variety is the spice of life. I strive for an America where you can be all that you can be, regardless of where you’re from, what you look like, what language you speak, and whom you love.
Reach into your pocket. Take out a coin, any coin. On it, you will find the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum.” Which means, “Out of many, one.”
That’s my America. That’s America.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Jan 6, 2015, 05:13 PM (20 replies)
Earlier this month, we filed our 2014 “Post-Election Report” with the Federal Election Commission. On line 11(a)(ii), column B, was the figure $1,733,841.95. On line 6(a), column B, was the figure $2,938,217.45. Which means … .
Woohoo!! We’ve done it again. The majority of our 2014 campaign funds came from small donors.
Allow me to explain.
Following the 2012 election, the Houston Chronicle undertook a study of these Post-Election Reports. It found that out of the 435 candidates elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, there was one – only one! — who had raised most of his campaign funds from small donors (contributors who gave less than $200 for the entire election cycle). That was – drum roll, please! – me.
There was only one Senator: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
There was only one Presidential candidate: Michele Bachmann, God help us all.
Everyone else devoted their waking hours (and possibly their dreams, as well) to kissing rich butts, hoping for cash in return. While Bernie and I did The People’s Business, thanks to you. While I pushed through 33 amendments on the Floor of the GOP-dominated House, thanks to you. Etc., etc.
That was 2012. Well, what about 2014? Let’s find out. If you divide that figure in line 11(a)(ii), column B, by that other figure in line 6(a), column B, $1,733,841.95 divided by $2,938,217.45, you find that 59% of our 2014 campaign funds came from small donors.
We did it again!
And the best part of it is that when 100,000 donors come together this way, you end up with a Member of Congress who is unbought and unbossed. I don’t owe nothin’ to nobody. I can tell every lobbyist and fat cat to go to hell, and I often do – just for the fun of it. Sometimes, I even draw them a map:
Why not? They’re all going to end up there, anyway.
But enough about them. Let’s talk about you.
If you are one of our small donors, then you are our catalyst. Our enzyme. Our adjuvant. Our dynamo.
You are our stimulus and our stimulant. Our pick-me-up and our shot-in-the-arm. Our mover, and our shaker.
You are our instigator, our agitator and our motivator. You are the straw that stirs the drink. You put the meat in the seats. (You and Reggie Jackson both.)
If that sounds good to you, then do it. And if you’re already doing it, do it again. Please pledge $20.16 each month toward our 2016 campaign, and then just step back and watch the amazing.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Dec 30, 2014, 11:12 AM (4 replies)
Congress passed 296 bills during the past two year. There are 435 Congresspeeps.
Do the math.
Yes, that’s correct. During those two years, many, many Members of the House drew $348,000 in salary, plus free rhinoplasty (just kidding) and passed no bills. None.
So how did I get nine of my bills passed, verbatim, in the order in which I introduced them, as part of H.R. 5771?
I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how.
Back in the 111th Congress, when the Democrats were in charge, if you had a bill that would make things better, there was a darn good chance that it would get passed, and passed quickly. For instance, my Pay for Performance Act, which prohibited Wall Street from using bailout money for bonuses. That passed – in nine days.
That’s not the way it works anymore. Essentially, the GOP has instituted caretaker government. We’ve put Henry David Thoreau in charge: “That government is best which governs least.” Or more specifically: “That government is best which governs laziest.” Only a deadline, an unalterable deadline, generates action, and even then, only at the last minute.
Old fashioned is in. Newfangled is out.
So a year ago, realizing this, I started looking at deadlines. Specifically, expiration dates in legislation.
There are a lot of them. And, frankly, a lot of legislation deserves to die. For that stuff, you won’t see me engaging in life extension. I’m in favor of euthanasia.
But some of it doesn’t deserve to die. Some of it actually helps jus’ plain folk. And that good stuff needs a champion. Because if you don’t push, and push hard, then nothing gets done. Entropy wins. As William Butler Yeats said, “Things fall apart.” That gyre just gets wider and wider.
So I combed through expiring provisions, and I made entirely subjective judgments about what was good and what was bad. Then I introduced bills to keep the good stuff. And then the fun started.
The law is a big place, so certain people have responsibility for certain domains within the law. Unfortunately, in the U.S. House of Representatives, now all of those people are Republicans, but that’s the way it goes. I spend an awful lot of time talking to Republicans, because there is no other way right now to get my stuff done. My stuff being your stuff.
Twelve of the bills that I introduced back in January were bills to keep various tax provisions from kicking the bucket, cashing in the chips, buying the farm and biting the dust. There were a lot more that were due to go belly up – maybe almost a hundred. But those dozen were ones that mattered to me, because they matter to you.
So after I introduced those bills, I chatted it up with The Powers That Be. “Hey pal, did you see the Super Bowl? Helluva game. What a blowout! The Seahawks look like a dynasty. I almost forgot to ask, have you heard about those bills that I just put in? You mind taking a look at them?”
Oh, and memos. I gave them memos. Not because they read them. Because they put them in their vest pockets, and hand them off to staff, with instructions.
(Except for one GOP Chair. His vest pocket is like the Sargasso Sea. Nothing ever comes out of there.)
Thanks to a quirk in the oft-quirky U.S. Constitution, tax bills have to start in the House. That gave the House GOP the action, even with the Democrats in charge of the Senate. The original GOP plan was just to extend all the corporate handouts, rather than anything useful for thee and thine. You don’t have to take my word for it – just look at the bills that they filed, both before and after committee markups.
But I just kept pitchin’ and pitchin’ and pitchin’. I had a whole year to do it.
I did have help. The White House intimated that it would veto a bad bill. This year, in the House, those White House veto threats were like smelling salts. People came to their senses.
As the year went on, I started to see my bills creeping into play. More and more, over time. So I just kept pitchin’ and pitchin’ and pitchin’.
“Hey, bud, did you see that guy Bumgarner in Game Seven last night? He was amazing! I don’t know how he got the Royals to keep swinging at all of that crap he was throwing. And on two days of rest! It was like Mickey Lolich in ’68 – remember him? Oh, hey, are you going to be able to help me out on those energy efficiency tax breaks?”
And so on.
When the GOP finally reached out for some balance in their tax bill – balance between their welfare for billionaires and something resembling a break for Middle Class America — there were my bills, right within their grasp, all ready to go. With the extra satisfaction of knowing that if they put those bills in, then I would stop bugging them.
So the final score in our own little Super Bowl-World Series was this: I introduced 12 tax bills. As I said above, nine of them ended up in H.R. 5771, exactly as I wrote them, and in the order in which I introduced them. Two more also ended up in the bill, with tweaks. One didn’t make it.
Hey – nobody’s perfect. Not even Madison Bumgarner in the World Series. In 21 innings, he did give up that one lone earned run.
So that’s how you legislate, circa 2014. Look, I’m not asking you to like it. As John Godfrey Saxe said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” And now you know.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Dec 29, 2014, 04:18 PM (2 replies)
This year, during this holiday season, I am extending to you, John or Jane Q. Public, the same Christmas gifts that the millionaires and the billionaires and the multinational corporations get from our public servants in Washington, DC, each and every year:
Do you have a mortgage that exceeds 80% of the value of your home? I got you a tax break on your mortgage insurance. That was my bill H.R. 3941.
Do you live in a state that taxes sales more than income? I got you tax break on your state and local sales taxes. That was my bill H.R. 3942.
Are you in college, or do you pay for a family member in college? I got you a tax break on tuition. That was my bill H.R. 3943.
Do you want to make charitable contributions from your IRA? I got you a tax deduction for that. That was my bill H.R. 3944.
Are you a business owner who employs our active-duty soldiers and sailors? I got you a tax credit for that. That's my bill H.R. 3946.
Are you a retailer who has made improvements in your stores? I got you accelerated depreciation for that. That was my bill H.R. 3948.
Are you a restaurant owner, farmer or food manufacturer who contributes food to the hungry? I got you an extra charitable deduction for that. That was my bill H.R. 3949.
Are you a homeowner who has made home improvements to cut your energy costs? I got you a tax credit for that. Those were my bills H.R. 3950 and H.R. 3951.
Waaaaaaaaay back in January 2014, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I introduced those nine bills to extend important middle class tax breaks. Earlier this month, after a year of incessant badgering by me, the Powers That Be lumped them all together in H.R. 5771, using my exact words in each case, and placing them in H.R. 5771 in the same order in which I had introduced them. There were 52 sections to H.R. 5771. I wrote nine of them - the nine sections that might actually make a difference in your life, assuming that you are neither David Koch nor Charles Koch.
H.R. 5771 passed the House on Dec. 3. It passed the Senate on Dec. 16. The President signed my nine middle-class tax breaks into law last Friday.
If you are a beneficiary of any of those nine Grayson tax breaks, you're welcome.
By the way, when was the last time that you heard any progressive Democrat say these words: "I got that passed. I got that signed into law." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
You may wonder how a second-term Congressman, in the minority party, who does not sit on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, managed to get nine different tax breaks passed in a single year. Good question. I'll answer that next time.
In the meantime, please enjoy your Grayson Christmas gifts. Your Chanukah gelt. Your Kwanzaa karamu.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Thu Dec 25, 2014, 02:22 PM (9 replies)
There was a filibuster in the U.S. Senate last week. Yes, I know, that’s hardly news. And a cloture vote to end that filibuster. That’s hardly news, either. And the cloture vote failed. Not news.
The vote was, among other things, to end the National Security Agency’s collection of records of every phone call that you make. Which, sadly, also is no longer news. What would be news is if someone did something about it.
Fifty-eight senators voted in favor of ending the filibuster, and the “bulk collection.” Only forty-two voted against. But we no longer live in a country where the majority rules, so every single time you make a phone call, the NSA will know to whom you spoke, and for how long.
Regarding the failed vote against the filibuster, the D.C. newspaper Roll Call opined that: “It’s probably going to take another series of revelations about NSA programs for strict legislation to get momentum again.” But I’m wondering how much of the last series of revelations has been absorbed by the body politic. So I’m offering to you excerpts from a little-noticed interview that Edward Snowden did with The Guardian a few months ago, complete with British spelling. File it under the category of “read it and weep.”
Yes, the NSA Shares Your Sexy Photos… And Other Observations from Edward Snowden
On NSA culture, sharing sexually compromising material
SNOWDEN: When you’re an NSA analyst and you’re looking for raw signals intelligence, what you realise is that the majority of the communications in our databases are not the communications of targets, they’re the communications of ordinary people, of your neighbours, of your neighbours’ friends, of your relations, of the person who runs the register at the store. They’re the most deep and intense and intimate and damaging private moments of their lives, and we’re seizing (them) without any authorisation, without any reason, records of all of their activities – their cell phone locations, their purchase records, their private text messages, their phone calls, the content of those calls in certain circumstances, transaction histories – and from this we can create a perfect, or nearly perfect, record of each individual’s activity, and those activities are increasingly becoming permanent records.
Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys and … 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: “Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.” And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. Anything goes, more or less. You’re in a vaulted space. Everybody has sort of similar clearances, everybody knows everybody. It’s a small world.
It’s never reported, nobody ever knows about it, because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. Now while people may say that it’s an innocent harm, this person doesn’t even know that their image was viewed, it represents a fundamental principle, which is that we don’t have to see individual instances of abuse. The mere seizure of that communication by itself was an abuse. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorisation, without any specific need, is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in the government database?
I’d say probably every two months you see something like that happen. It’s routine enough, depending on the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.
Why He Gave the Documents to Multiple Journalists
SNOWDEN: As an engineer, and particularly as somebody who worked in telecoms and things like that on these systems, the thing that you’re always terrified of when you’re thinking about reliability is SPOFs – Single Point of Failure, right? This was the thing I told the journalists: “If the government thinks you’re the single point of failure, they’ll kill you.”
Whether Spying on Everyone Stops Terrorism
SNOWDEN: The White House investigated those programs (which allowed mass surveillance) on two separate occasions and on both occasions found that they had no value at all, and yet, while those panels recommended that they be terminated, when it actually came to the White House suggesting action to legislators, the legislators said: “Well, let’s not end these programs. Even though they’ve operated for 10 years and never stopped any imminent terrorist attacks, let’s keep them going.”
Life at the NSA
SNOWDEN: I began to move from merely overseeing these systems to actively directing their use. Many people don’t understand that I was actually an analyst and I designated individuals and groups for targeting.
I was exposed to information about the previous programs like Stellar Wind (used during the presidency of George W Bush) for example. The warrantless wire-tapping of everyone in the United States, including their internet data – which is a violation of the constitution and law in the United States – did cause a scandal and was ended because of that.
When I saw that, that was really the earthquake moment because it showed that the officials who authorized these programs knew it was a problem, they knew they didn’t have any statutory authorization for these programs. But instead the government assumed upon itself, in secret, new executive powers without any public awareness or any public consent and used them against the citizenry of its own country to increase its own power, to increase its own awareness.
We constantly hear the phrase “national security” but when the state begins … broadly intercepting the communications, seizing the communications by themselves, without any warrant, without any suspicion, without any judicial involvement, without any demonstration of probable cause, are they really protecting national security or are they protecting state security?
What I came to feel – and what I think more and more people have seen at least the potential for – is that a regime that is described as a national security agency has stopped representing the public interest and has instead begun to protect and promote state security interests. And the idea of western democracy as having state security bureaus, just that term, that phrase itself, “state security bureau”, is kind of chilling.
The relationship between the NSA and telecom and internet companies
SNOWDEN: Unusually hidden even from people who worked for these agencies are the details of the financial arrangements between (the) government and the telecommunication service providers. And we have to ask ourselves, why is that? Why are their details of how they’re being paid to collaborate with (the) government protected at a much greater level than for example the names of human agents operating undercover, embedded with terrorist groups?
What Happens If You Report Wrongdoing Through the Proper Channels
SNOWDEN: Thomas Drake, an American who exposed widespread lawlessness … (he was a senior NSA employee who raised concerns about agency programs and their impact on privacy) … rather than having those claims investigated, rather than having the wrongdoing remediated, they launched an investigation against him and … all of his co-workers.
They pulled them out of the shower at gunpoint, naked, in front of their families. They seized all of their communications and electronic devices, they interrogated them all, they threatened to put them in jail for life, for years and years and years, decades, and they destroyed their careers.
“The public should not know about these programmes. The public should not have a say in these programmes and, for God’s sake, the press had better not learn about these programmes or we will destroy you.”
Compromising the Security of the Web Itself
SNOWDEN: A back door in a communications system, in an internet system, in an encryption standard is basically a secret method of getting around the security of those communications. It’s a way of subverting all of the privacy claims, all of the security claims that a company or a standard makes to the people who use a product or service.
The danger of building back doors like that, for example the Bullrun program where the NSA and GCHQ were shown to be collaborating and weakening the encryption standards that the entire internet relies on, means that when you’re accessing your bank account online there could be a secret weakness there that allows our western governments’ security services to monitor your bank details.
What people often overlook is the fact that when you build a back door into a communication system that back door can be discovered by anyone around the world. That can be a private individual, that can be a security researcher at a university, but it can also be a criminal group. It can also be a foreign intelligence agency but, say, the NSA’s equivalent in a deeply irresponsible government in some foreign country. And now that foreign country can scrutinise not just your bank records, not just your private transactions but your private communications all around the internet and in every institution … that relies upon these standards – whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s Gmail, where it’s Skype, whether it’s Angry Birds. Suddenly you’ve been made electronically naked as you go about your activities on the internet.
That decision wasn’t debated by any public body, it wasn’t authorised by any legislator. In fact, at least in the United States in the 1990s, law enforcement agencies asked specifically for this sort of back door access to internet communications. And our elected representatives in Congress rejected it. They said it was a violation of our civil rights and it was an unnecessary risk to the security of our communications, and so they shut it down.
But what we see is that 10 years later, instead of going back to Congress and asking again, they simply went ahead, and the intelligence community … said: “We’re going to do this. It doesn’t matter what Congress says. It doesn’t matter what the public thinks. We’re going to do this because it provides us an advantage.”
And the consequences of that today are unknown because we could have foreign adversaries exploiting those back doors that intelligence agencies in countries like the United Kingdom, intelligence agencies like GCHQ, put into our communications … and we have no idea that it’s occurring.
What last year’s revelations showed us was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the internet are no longer safe and cannot be trusted. Their integrity has been compromised and we need new security pro to protect them. Any communications that are transmitted over the internet, over any networked line, should be encrypted by default. That’s what last year showed us.
Privacy and Liberty
SNOWDEN: Most reasonable people would grant that privacy is a function of liberty. And if we get rid of privacy, we’re making ourselves less free. If we want to live in open and liberal societies, we need to have safe spaces where we can experiment with new thoughts, new ideas, and (where) we can discover what it is we really think and what we really believe in without being judged. If we can’t have the privacy of our bedrooms, if we can’t have the privacy of our notes on our computer, if we can’t have the privacy of our electronic diaries, we can’t have privacy at all.
* * *
The NSA claims that Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes bulk collection. Section 215 expires on June 1, 2015. Watch as the storm clouds collect.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Wed Nov 26, 2014, 04:55 PM (11 replies)