Alan Grayson's Journal
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Last week, Congressman Grayson joined the inaugural installment of “Watching the Hawks,” a new national cable news show. In a far-ranging interview, he discussed what is wrong with Congress, why even many Democrats are afraid to take on the military-industrial complex, whether military spending actually creates jobs, the division of authority between the President and Congress regarding military action, the likelihood of more infrastructure spending, and more. Enjoy:
Tyrell Ventura: “Whether you love him or hate him, the Representative from Florida’s 9th District definitely isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Congressman Grayson, thank you for joining us today, and stepping into the Hawk’s Nest, on our inaugural show. Thank you, sir.”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “You’re welcome. I’m hoping that by the end of the show, you’ll all love me.”
TV: “Well, Congressman, recently we’ve see some pretty amazing stories of alleged corruption coming out of Congress, from the Wall Street Journal announcing today that federal investigators are possibly preparing criminal charges against Robert Menendez of New Jersey, to the wild tales of Aaron Schock, and his somewhat hilarious and, well, shocking political expenditures. You know, with congressional approval at this all-time low, and people looking at Congress and saying, ‘You guys can’t get along, and now you’re using your campaign money and everything else for fraud,’ how can Congress start cleaning up these messes?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “Let’s look at the system. The system is that we have a lot of career politicians, who move up the ladder, one rung after another. If they get the nomination of their party, and they are in a district where 60 percent of the voters are from their party, they’re going to get to the next rung. That’s the system that we have. It doesn’t bring us the best or the brightest. It brings us the hacks. And some of those hacks turn out to be corrupt hacks. That’s the fundamental problem. We have many, many districts that are not competitive. And we have many voters who don’t have the time or the interest to learn about the candidates. They simply vote their party. The result of that, with the gerrymandering and the unlimited supply of money that the Republican Party has today, is what you see, which is a Republican-controlled Congress full of hacks.”
Tabetha Wallace: “As a Democratic member of Congress, how prevalent is this fear, and how does it play into decision-making when it comes to the defense budget?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “It’s crucial. We have Democrats who have been running scared of the idea that their weak on defense since at least McGovern . And you remember how hard President Kennedy had to overcome that stigma in the 1960 election. So it’s been a real problem for us, ever since the Communists lived under our beds each night, and came out each night around three o’clock in the morning. This is a chronic problem, and we have to get past it by realizing that not every problem in the world has a military solution. Sometimes the military makes things worse. For instance, let’s take Iraq. That’s a good example of that. Things are far worse today than they were under Saddam Hussein’s regime. It’s not even a close question. Ordinary people are living lives of utter depredation and fear every day. We didn’t solve that problem. And we just have to get over this idea that every time we see something in the world that we don’t like, we bomb it.”
TV: “Some defend military spending, by justifying the jobs it produces. So how do separate job cuts from military spending?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “Well, there is a simple answer to that, and I’m speaking as a former economist. I was an economist for almost four years, and the only member of Congress who can actually say that. When you put people to work making bombs, what you end up with is bombs. When you put people to work making bridges, what you end up with is bridges. When you put people to work making schools, you end up with educated children. Military spending to create employment is an utter dead end. You might as well have half the population digging ditches, and the other half filling them in. The important thing is to unleash people’s work, their time, their creativity, what they have to offer, so that they can serve others.”
Sean Stone: “What’s happening in Syria now? Is this being done with the oversight of Congress?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “Well at this level, frankly, the President often acts unilaterally. But we do have to authorize wars. And the President has been edging up into territory now for several years. Somehow or other people have gotten comfortable with the idea of drone strikes in areas where we are not at war, like a place like Yemen. We have not declared war against anyone in Yemen. And yet people seem to think that it’s okay for us not only for us to arm one side or the other, but actually to launch weapons of destruction from U.S. drone planes. We kill many people, including at this point a list of over 200 children, available on the Internet. So, in fact, a lot of these situations are ones where the President is going right up to the very edge of what he can call his constitutional power, and often making mistakes. Because, frankly, the rest of the world is playing chess and we’re playing checkers. I was one of the few people who recognized two years ago that if we went to war against Syria, and we destroyed the command and control structure of the chemical weapons being held by the Assad regime in Syria, they would fall into other hands. So if that had actually happened, that misguided misconception that by bombing we’d make things better, if that had actually happened, then today we wouldn’t be watching ISIS beheading people on our TVs, we’d be watching them gas people.”
TW: “Is there any talk in Congress of addressing crumbling infrastructure needs with job creation?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “Yes. In fact, this week you will see the Progressive Caucus’s budget voted on, and it will draw its usual 100 votes, out of 435 of us. But the Progressive Caucus budget does exactly that: It puts people back to work in America not making bombs, or as Eisenhower said, robbing from children (that’s what Eisenhower called military spending: robbing from children) but instead puts them to work meeting human needs. Whether it’s taking care of seniors, whether it’s rebuilding our bridges and our schools (the way we promised to do in Afghanistan), whatever it might be, whether it’s health needs, education needs — whatever it might be. It’s an honest budget that takes the unemployed and puts them back to work doing things that are useful and beneficial to all of us, meeting our human needs.”
TW: “What should the average American know about how their Congress works, and what they can do to make it work for them?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “The answer is that the one or two people at the top determine the entire agenda. When Nancy Pelosi was in charge here in the House, every week we had a major bill that actually was going to pass the Senate, going to be signed by the President, and would make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. She always believed that if you improve people’s lives, you’ll get more votes. You do it on its own merit, but in fact, you’ll get more votes. That’s the way this place was organized by the people at the top then. Since John Boehner took over, it’s been one wasted week after another, putting out “messaging” bills. Whether it’s repealing Obamacare, whether it’s authorizing the Keystone Pipeline for the 35th time, whatever it might be, it’s basically just trying to placate the baying wolves of the right wing, rather than doing anything constructive or anything that might actually become law. We’ve almost reached the point where we have forgotten that we are legislators, that we’re supposed legislate, we are supposed to make laws, not send messages.”
SS: “Why did so few lawmakers show up for the 2013 drone strike victim hearing?” ad hoc hearing on drone strikes.]
Rep. Alan Grayson: “I think people try to avoid the things that are unpleasant. In fact, a great deal of self-deception takes place in everyone’s lives, and not just people up here in Washington D.C. If it’s a bad thing, and we don’t think we have a solution for it, we simply stop thinking about it — unless of course it’s ISIS, and then we can’t stop thinking about it. But the fact is that it’s sad. It’s sad that I had to do that , because every committee in Congress completely ignored all the drone wars that we were conducting in one country after another (some of which is classified and I’m not even allowed to tell you about it). A high U.S. official said that for every single person whom we kill with a drone strike, all these intended victims, the ones who are these “insurgents” (or whatever they’re calling them these days), for every single one of them, we make 50 more enemies that join these forces against us. Think about that. Does that seem like a good ratio? Does that seem like a winning strategy?”
TV: “One last question: Have you made a decision about running for the Senate?”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “No I haven’t. I’m waiting to see what The People want.”
TW: “I think that The People would be very pleased to see you .”
Rep. Alan Grayson: “You move to Florida; I want your vote. It’s a great show, thank you very much.”
To see the video, or contribute to Congressman Grayson’s campaign, click here and now.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Mar 30, 2015, 11:23 AM (5 replies)
Last month, I gave this tribute to Aaron Swartz, an internet activist, when I hosted a special Capitol Hill showing of the documentary Killswitch. Aaron was targeted for prosecution for his political views and, facing decades in prison, he killed himself. The documentary not only demonstrates how modern technology threatens our privacy and freedom, but it also recognizes the sacrifices that Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden made on behalf of those fundamental principles. Aaron used to work for me. So when I introduced the film, I had a few personal things to say:
I’d like to begin by sharing my war experience with you. I remember when I was under fire ... Confederate fire. And Oliver Wendell Homes turned to me, and he said to me, “Get down, you fool.”
I’m sorry, no, that wasn’t me; that was actually Abraham Lincoln. I’ll confess: I’m not Abraham Lincoln, nor am I Bill O’Reilly. But the nice thing about living at this point in time, in the early 21st Century, is that you can actually check my story, right? You can go on the Internet, and find out whether Oliver Wendell Holmes actually ever said that to me. (By the way, he did say it to Lincoln.)
We need to do what we can to preserve that freedom, the freedom to find things out. The freedom to have that magical machine that people started to write about in the mid-20th Century, that magical computer where you could ask any question you wanted, and out came the answer.
That’s a magnificent accomplishment for humanity. But there is another even more important, magnificent accomplishment, which is that the Internet lets us find each other. Not just find out facts, not just find out numbers, but find other spirits, other souls who, in some way that matters to us, are like us. Kindred spirits. That’s a space humanity has created for itself now, that never existed before. It lets you connect with somebody in Bombay, or Tokyo, on very deep levels, when just a short time ago, they were not even a part of your imagination. And that’s something that we have to work hard to protect, because it will always be the case that selfish interests -- whether it’s multinational corporations, the military-industrial complex, the spying-industrial complex, whoever it might be -- they will try to take that freedom away from us. It’s happening right now. That’s what you’re about to see.
Now, we’re going to hear about two people. I never met Edward Snowden, but I did know quite a bit about Aaron Swartz. In fact, he worked for me, for a period of time, a few years ago. And he was brilliant, as you’ll see for yourself. I’m sure that whatever this film may say about him, it can barely do justice to what a special human being he was.
There were a couple of things about Aaron that, I have to tell you honestly, I found disconcerting. One this was that Aaron would always come up better assignments than any assignments that I could come up with. I’d tell Aaron, “Would you please do this?” And Aaron would say, “Well, sure, but do you mind if I also do that?” And always, ‘that’ turned out to be much more important than ‘this.’ Every single time.
Another interesting thing that disturbed me about Aaron was that he really got things done. Now here, in Washington D.C., that’s a lost art. People really don’t know how to do that anymore. Time after time, after time, we wait ‘til the very last minute, and we somehow manage, often but not always, to somehow get through it, without actually accomplishing anything, but actually just barely avoiding disaster. Aaron wasn’t like that at all. Aaron would think of this amazing thing -- I was stunned by his audacity that he’d even think of it -- and then a few weeks later, it’d be done. He was magnificent that way.
And over time I realized that my reluctance that I had, my frustration that I couldn’t give him assignments that were better than what he’d come up himself, it really reflected more on me than on him. So I stopped thinking about it, entirely.
Now he had a very special quality, which some of you may have, yourselves. Aaron liked to rock the boat. He didn’t mind rocking the boat. And that’s a unique quality in human beings. All over the world, I think, you’ll find that there’s a deep resistance and hesitation to rocking the boat. I’ve said that there are roughly 2,000 human languages on this planet, and I would venture to say that in every single one of those languages, there’s an idiom for the phrase: “Don’t rock the boat.” Well, he rocked the boat. Not only by creating Reddit at the age of 19, something which by itself would have given him the freedom to stay in bed for the rest of his life, and order in pizzas, to be delivered, never having to move beyond the bathroom. He could have had that life. But instead he wanted more. He wanted to go out and, as you’ll see, he wanted to imprint on the world his own sense of freedom -- the freedom I just talked to you about -- the freedom to be able to connect with other people.
Now, here’s the funny thing about what happens when you rock the boat. Sometimes when you rock the boat, the boat rocks you. It rocks back. And Aaron actually understood that, and he took it in good spirits. You have to pay a price for orienting your life in that manner. For some of us who try to rock the boat, we lose our family. For some of us who try to rock the boat, we lose our property. Some of us go to prison. In Aaron’s case, he lost his life. But he always understood that that’s the price that sometimes you must pay if you were that kind of person; if you have the impulse to go ahead and make a difference.
He was a person of enormous talent. And sometimes we are very hard on people with enormous talent. At a memorial service for Aaron, I mentioned Alan Turing, whose story since has become famous in a Hollywood movie. I think that there is a very deep and important point in talking about Aaron, in talking about Alan Turing, in talking about Oscar Wilde, who suffered for his greatness, too. In talking all the way back to Socrates. These are people whom we made to pay a price because they were so good at what they did that it disturbed us, it got under our skin. We look at them with some degree of, I don’t know, maybe you could call it guilt. Maybe you’d call it jealousy. But we took their lives, and we crushed them. They became human sacrifices, as you are about to see .
And that’s a pity, because people of talent make our lives better. And although we may think that we have to protect ourselves from them, in reality, it’s they who need protection from us, as we’ll see in this movie. And far from our needing protection from them, they’re the ones who make our lives better. If Alan Turing had lived, he would have won two or three Nobel Prizes after cracking the Nazi codes, and inventing the Turing machine, which is the basis for all of modern computing. If Oscar Wilde had lived, we’d not be enjoying only three or four major plays, we would be enjoying ten, or twelve or fifteen of them. And of course if Socrates had lived, then Plato wouldn’t have been such a bad guy after all.
So we have to learn to cherish those people who stand out; not to hate them, not to be jealous of them, not to punish them, not to ridicule them; and for sure, not to kill them. But rather to understand that the things that make us special are in fact the things that make us different, not the things that make us the same. And that any well-organized society takes advantage of our differences; doesn’t try to undermine them or hide them; doesn’t try to get over them, or overcome them; but rather seeks to cherish them. And make sure, in any event, that the prosecution that Aaron faced doesn’t become a persecution for the way he was.
Because, as Margaret Meade said, it’s people like that, those few people who can organize, who can assert themselves, who actually achieve advancement for all us, the entire human race. It’s the only thing that ever has.
So with that, I’d like to turn you over to the film. I would like to mention that you’ll be enjoying a Q&A after the film with Professor Lessig. Professor Lessig actually joined me in that memoriam for Aaron Swartz a few years ago. Here’s a couple things you may not know about Prof. Lessig. Unaccountably, Christopher Lloyd once depicted him in a film, but not me. I don’t know why. It seems that he’d be a natural to me, but that’s never happened yet. Professor Lessig is also the sixth most famous former University of Chicago law school professor. Who can name some of the others? Anybody? . Barack Obama, yes. Barack Obama, three Supreme Court justices and Judge Douglas Ginsburg – my thesis advisor at Harvard – who somehow neglected to invite me to any of his pot parties. I feel very bitter about that to this day, obviously.
Anyway, understand that the film that you are about to see, which focuses on two incredible people, focuses not only on their personal bravery and the sacrifices they made, but also is a hallmark for our time. It is a landmark, on the road to either heaven or hell. And that decision is ours. Thank you very much.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Mar 27, 2015, 03:17 PM (2 replies)
So we had a hearing a week ago on ISIS (“we” being the House Foreign Affairs Committee), and the witnesses were three experts on U.S. policy in the Middle East, all dues-paying members of the Military-Industrial Complex. They were James Jeffrey, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at our embassy in Iraq; Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the Rand Corp.; and Dafna Rand, who was on the National Security Council staff. The White House had just released the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS, and I felt that I needed a good translator, so I asked them what the ISIS war authorization meant. Their answers were chilling: the ISIS war authorization means whatever the President wants it to mean. If you don’t believe me, just listen to them:
GRAYSON: Section 2(c) of the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force reads as follows: “The authority granted in subsection A does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Ambassador Jeffrey, what does ‘enduring’ mean?
JEFFREY: My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one: “Whatever the Executive at the time defines ‘enduring’ as.” And I have a real problem with that.
GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?
BRENNAN: I have real problems with that also. I don’t know what it means. I can just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this. But more importantly, if you’re looking at committing forces for something that you are saying is either vital or important interest of the United States, and you get in the middle of a battle, and all of a sudden, are you on offense, or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems? Wars never end the way that they were envisioned. And so I think that that’s maybe a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF.
GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?
RAND: Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness, it specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand.
GRAYSON: Dr. Rand, is two weeks ‘enduring’?
RAND: I would leave that to the lawyers to determine exactly.
GRAYSON: So your answer is you don’t know, right? How about two months?
RAND: I don’t know. Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective, ‘enduring’ in my mind is not having a particular military objective in mind.
GRAYSON: So you don’t really know what it means. Is that a fair statement?
RAND: ‘Enduring,’ in my mind, means open-ended.
GRAYSON: All right — Section Five of the draft of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force reads as follows: “In this resolution, the term ‘associated persons or forces’ means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Ambassador Jeffrey, what does “alongside ISIL” mean?
JEFFREY: I didn’t draft this thing.
GRAYSON: Nor did I.
JEFFREY: Nor did you, but I would have put that in there if I had been drafting it, and the reason is, I think they went back to 2001, of course this is the authorization we’re still using, along with the 2002 one for this campaign, and these things morph. For example, we’ve had a debate over whether ISIS is really an element of Al Qaeda; it certainly was when I knew it as Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 to 2012, and these semantic arguments confuse us and confuse our people on the ground, in trying to deal with these folks. You’ll know it when you see it, if it’s ISIS or it’s an ally of ISIS.
GRAYSON: How about the Free Syrian Army, are they fighting alongside ISIL in Syria?
JEFFREY: No, they’re not fighting alongside ISIL, in fact often they’re fighting against ISIL, and ISIL against them in particular.
GRAYSON: What about Assad, is he fighting “alongside” or against? It’s kind of hard to tell without a scorecard, isn’t it?
JEFFREY: It sure is.
GRAYSON: Yes. What about you, Dr. Brennan, can you tell me what “alongside ISIL” means?
BRENNAN: No, I really couldn’t. I think that, what, you know, it might be. The 9/11 Commission uses the phrase “radical islamist organizations.” I think maybe if we went to a wording like that, it includes all those 52 groups that adhere to this type of ideology, that threaten the United States. But we’re putting ourselves in boxes and as you said Senator – Congressman — I’m trying to understand what that means, what the limits are … who we’re dealing with, and it’s very confusing.
GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?
RAND: Well, first of all, I believe that the confusion is probably a function of the fact that this is an unclassified document, so it’s not going to specify exactly which groups are considered associates; that would be for a classified setting. But second, as I said in the testimony, the nature of the alliances within ISIL are changing and are fluid, and those who are targeting, the military experts, know exactly who is a derivative or an associate or an ally of ISIS, at any given moment.
GRAYSON: Why are you so confident of that? It seems to me that it’s a matter of terminology, not a matter of ascertainable fact.
RAND: Based on my public service, I’ve seen some of the lawyers, and some of the methodologies, and … .
GRAYSON: Okay. Here’s the $64 billion question for you, Ambassador Jeffrey, and if we have time, for you others. If you can’t tell us — you three experts can’t tell us — what these words mean, what does that tell us? Ambassador Jeffrey?
JEFFREY: That it’s very difficult to be using a tool basically designed to declare war or something like war on a nation-state, which has a fixed definition, against a group that morphs, that changes its name, that has allies, and other things. Do we not fight it? We have to fight it. Are we having a hard time defining it? You bet.
GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?
BRENNAN: I’d agree with the ambassador. I think the issue we that need to be looking at is trying to broaden terminology and understand that it is a tenet, or organizations and groups that adhere to this ideology, and make it broad enough that if one pops up in a different country that is doing the same thing, that is a sister of this organization, the President has the authority to act.
GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan, I think that you just described a blank check, which I’m not willing to give to the President or anybody else. But thank you for your time.
So that’s what the experts had to say. Now I have a question for you: How do you spell the word “quagmire”? Answer: I-S-L-A-M-I-C S-T-A-T-E.
Rep. Alan Grayson
“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass ch. 6 (1871).
Posted by Alan Grayson | Thu Feb 26, 2015, 11:36 AM (5 replies)
A week ago, I was on national TV, discussing President Obama’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS. Here is what I said:
Thom Hartmann: Joining me now to talk more about the President’s proposed authorization is Congressman Alan Grayson, who represents Florida’s 9th district, and does so brilliantly, I might add. Congressman Grayson, it’s always great to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.
Alan Grayson: Thank you, Thom.
TH: I wanted to get your take on the President’s proposal, but first can you explain something for our audience: If we’re just now getting authorization for the ISIS fight, what authority have we been acting under since August?
AG: Well, the President claims authority as Commander in Chief, which is generally interpreted as defensive -- and also very short-term. And the President has also made it clear that he thinks he has the authority , even today, under the 2001 authorization to use military force. That’s counterintuitive, because ISIS didn’t even exist in 2001, or in 2005, or in 2010. But that, in fact, is what the President is claiming as a legal basis. A lot of people like me are skeptical.
TH: And to that, to that new AUMF, the major criticism we’re hearing is that it’s too vague. Do you agree with that criticism? And what do you see as the major problems with the President’s plan?
AG: Well as you said , this AUMF is a recipe for perpetual war . But I think the problems actually go deeper than that. When I look at something like this, I say to myself, ‘I’m not just voting for a bunch of words here.’ If I vote for an AUMF, I’m voting for war . And there are far deeper questions that we need to address, that seem to have no good answers in this circumstance. The first question is: Is there actually a threat to U.S. people or U.S. property? Does ISIS represent a threat, a substantial threat, to U.S. people and U.S. property ? We could answer that question well were talking about the Nazis or Soviet Union. I think the answer with regard to ISIS is clear: We have the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans that protect us -- our greatest allies, by the way. And the fact is that ISIS is a very limited force that doesn’t even come close to having the military capability of any actual country in that region, even a weak country like Yemen. So there are actually no direct threats, even to U.S. property, like for instance U.S. embassies that are nearby . And the fact that they have been able to pick off four U.S. citizens, who frankly put themselves in a dangerous place, does not mean that they represent a significant threat to U.S. persons or U.S. properties on any major level. The second question to ask is: If they did – which they don’t – then would our response be commensurate? Would it be proportionate ? And there again, we completely fail that common-sense test. We are going into perpetual war, involving literally thousands and thousands of sorties and air strikes against ISIS, on the basis, frankly, of their having killed four Americans. also committed atrocities, which are unfortunate, and have stunk up our TVs and our Internet access, and it’s offended us on some deep level. But nevertheless, we have to get past the point that every time we see something on our computer screens that we don’t like, we go ahead and bomb it . That is a recipe for national bankruptcy, as well moral bankruptcy. And the third question that I think needs to be asked is this: If this were actually a threat to the United States, and if our response were proportionate, do we have a path to victory? And the answer, here again, is “no.” I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I listen to a lot of briefings, and I will tell you that I haven’t heard the Administration come with anything resembling a sensible proposal to remove ISIS from Syria. Now Iraq is something of a closer case. There are people on both sides of that argument. But I know a bit about that (I prosecuted war profiteers in Iraq), and I don’t think the Administration has a credible war plan to remove ISIS from Iraq either. So on every conceivable basis, every rational basis, this is what a great State Senator 13 years ago referred to as a “dumb war,” (State Sen. Barack Obama – ed.) and we should stay out of it.
TH: Wow. Do you think there are enough restrictions contained in this AUMF to prevent another ground war in the Middle East, to prevent a metastasis of this beyond or outside of ISIL?
AG: Not in the least. In fact I think the AUMF is deliberately — deliberately — drafted in a bad way. It doesn’t give us anything resembling an actual military plan: Who we’re attacking; when we’re attacking them ; how we’re attacking them. It doesn’t have any geographical limitation whatsoever. The President literally could use this AUMF to justify military action within the United States, or Canada, or Belgium, or any number of other places. . . . The only specific limitation is that it says the President won’t employ U.S. ground forces in offensive capacity in an “enduring” manner. Now, to give you an example of how much leeway that gives him: Operation Enduring Freedom is now in its fourteenth year, with no end in sight; so much for “enduring.”
TH: There are some who are suggesting that ISIL was funded by Saudi Arabia, in part anyway, was created by Saudi Arabia. Bernie Sanders yesterday was saying this is their fight, going back to Prince Bandar: Was it prescient or beyond the pale?
AG: Well it actually is disturbing to me to see how the Administration has botched anything resembling a decent war plan here , because of its obsession to prop up the state of Iraq, the so-called central government of Iraq. Secretary Kerry told me last year that he had not even bothered to ask the other countries in the Middle East to provide ground forces to fight ISIS. So I went ahead and asked. And I found that the answer was ‘yes’ for the UAE. The answer was ‘yes’ for Egypt, if the U.N. authorized it, which it has. And now we find out the answer is also ‘yes’ for Jordan . I think if we wanted to win the war , we would put together an international fighting force, either under U.N. auspices, or under Arab League auspices, which would take advantage of the fact the Saudis spend a fortune on their so-called defense. The Saudis are actually very unhappy with ISIS. I can tell you that for a fact. And what we would do is put together a force that spoke the local language, that looked like the local people, and that understood the local customs – unlike our young men and women, whom we send over there with nothing resembling those advantages, to do the same kind of fighting, and the same kind of dying .
TH: That’s essentially what Dana Rohrabacher said . . . . He said ‘I see no reason why we shouldn’t enlist Assad in the fight against ISIS.’
AG: We don’t need to do that. There is a basic misconception here. As Leader Pelosi often says, ‘ Everyone thinks that one more act of violence will end violence for all time, and it never does. ’ In fact, there is no way to win this that is something that we would regard as even acceptable to us on a moral level. Of course we have the ability to go ahead and destroy ISIS – we could turn Iraq and Syria into molten glass . But that’s something that’s beneath us. That’s something that shows that the terrorists would have won, because at that point, we would be them . So the answer is, are we willing to involve ourselves in a 1,200-year civil war to the point where we win for one side or the other, or do we simply say, ‘It’s not our problem?’
TH: Very well said. Congressman Grayson, you’re brilliant. Thanks you so much for being with us.
AG: Thank you, Thom.
“Perpetual war?” I’m against it.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Tue Feb 24, 2015, 11:48 AM (2 replies)
Last week, The Nation magazine published this article that I wrote:
Did the GOP Just Give Away $130 Billion of Public Property?
A giant Anglo-Australian mining company is getting the rights to a huge copper reserve—and we don’t know what American taxpayers are getting in return.
By: Rep. Alan Grayson
In December, two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, pushed Congress and the president into giving away what could amount to over $130 billion in public property.
That’s enough to provide every single unemployed American a minimum-wage job for an entire year. That’s enough to pay for a year of tuition at a public institution for every college student in the US.
And yet the GOP big-shots call themselves “fiscal conservatives”! “Fiscal conservatives,” my you-know-what.
I’m talking about the huge giveaway to the mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton in the Defense Authorization Act. It was splayed across ten pages of the bill, pages 441 to 450 (out of 697).
Rio Tinto is a 142-year-old mining company headquartered in London with management offices in Melbourne, Australia. It has a market capitalization of $74-$87 billion. BHP Billiton is a 155-year-old mining company, also run out of Melbourne. It has a market capitalization of $124–$126 billion. Based on market value, they are the two largest mining companies in the world. Rather than actually competing against each other (no chance of that happening!), they joined hands. Rio Tinto owns 55 percent of a company called Resolution Copper Mining LLC, and BHP Billiton owns the remaining 45 percent. And thanks to the maneuvering of GOP senators McCain and Flake, the US government is handing over land with more than $130 billion in underground copper to Resolution Copper.
In a land-swap deal, the Defense Authorization Act took four square miles of Tonto National Forest—public land in Pinal County, just outside Superior, Arizona—and gave it to Resolution Copper, so that Resolution Copper can build a copper mine on the site. According to Resolution Copper’s website, the copper resource under that land contains 1.6 billion metric tons of copper-rich ore, which itself contains 1.47 percent copper. (That’s roughly 30 pounds of copper in every ton of ore.) So there are approximately 23.5 million tons of copper sitting under those four square miles of public property.
As I write this, copper goes for $5666 per ton. So the copper under those 2,422 acres of national park land is worth roughly $133.8 billion, at current prices.
The law does say that if the land Resolution Copper gives the federal government in return is less than the federal land they just got, they’ll have to pay the difference in cash. But Resolution Copper gets a say in which appraiser gets chosen, and it’s not clear that the appraisal will fairly incorporate the value of the copper reserves.
(Wouldn’t it have been much simpler to put the land up for competitive sale, with a prescribed mandatory royalty? That’s how oil and gas leases on federal property are handled. But then there would be no way to “throw” the property to Resolution Copper, or to finagle the consideration for it.)
McCain and Flake pressed hard for this rip-off to be included in the Defense Authorization bill, even though it has nothing to do with defense. The Defense Authorization bill is a “must-pass” bill, like appropriation bills and debt ceiling bills. It has passed Congress, and been signed into law by the president, fifty-three years in a row.
Rio Tinto and BHP’s minions had tried to get the Resolution Copper swindle through the House of Representatives as a separate bill. They failed, even when the GOP controlled the House. But when McCain and Flake stuffed it into a huge defense bill, it sailed right through. (I voted against it, by the way.)
There is a certain irony that Senator Jeff Flake, of all people, earmarked this public land for Resolution Copper. During his twelve years in the House of Representatives, Flake was famous for exactly one thing: trying—and failing—to kill other congressmen’s earmarks. 60 Minutes glorified him as a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington character for that. Flake offered 140 amendments to kill individual earmarks. The House voted against Flake on 138 of them. One was ruled out of order. One of them passed, in which Flake blocked a $129,000 grant to a charity in North Carolina.
So Flake kept $129,000 out of the hands of a charity, ran for the US Senate on that basis as an anti-earmark champion, and won. And now he has helped the two largest mining companies in the world to land worth over $130 billion.
And don’t even try to tell me that the government just had to transfer this land to a private company, or it never would have been developed. The ten largest oil and gas companies in the world, by reserves, are all government-owned: the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Iraq, Venezuela, the UAE, Kuwait, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria. (Exxon is number fourteen on the list.) In fact, that one copper mine in Arizona that we just gave away has as much in copper resources as China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) has in oil reserves. And CNOOC trades on the New York Stock Exchange, and has a market capitalization of $63 billion.
Or we could have just auctioned off those four square miles of public land. Of course, with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton colluding rather than competing, we might not have seen anything even remotely resembling fair value that way, either.
Not all is lost, however, or at least not yet. Reading through this ten-page travesty, I saw that there are three things that have to happen before Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton finally get away with this legislative larceny :
(1) The land happens to be an old Native American burial ground. Before things proceed, the secretary of agriculture and Resolution Copper have to find “mutually acceptable measures to address the concerns of the affected Indian tribes.” Maybe they won’t.
(2) The secretary of agriculture has to prepare an environmental impact statement “which shall be used as the basis for all decisions under Federal law related to the proposed mine.” Maybe the project won’t pass environmental muster.
(3) There’s a last resort if the deal isn’t blocked. As noted above, the secretary of agriculture and Resolution Copper, together, have to hire an appraiser who will appraise the value of the federal land, and if the land being given away is worth more than the land being received (which it certainly should, because the land being received is copper-less), then Resolution Copper should pay the full difference, with the value of the mineral rights taken into account.
Note to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: I am begging you to make sure that the appraisal of that Tonto National Forest property fully reflects the copper in it, and I won’t be happy unless I see a figure in the tens of billions of dollars. Just this once, let’s stop this scheme to steal this valuable resource of the people, by the people and for the people away from us.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Feb 23, 2015, 04:03 PM (3 replies)
I’m excited about Bill Maher’s visit to Orlando this Sunday (and you can have a chance to join us, if you contribute today). One reason for my excitement is that Bill and I caught lightning in a bottle on his show three years ago, when I earned the first standing ovation for a guest in the (then) 18-year history of the show. To this day, people still tell me how special that moment was for them.
Bill and I, and the other guests, were talking about a question that still perplexes many of the clueless people at the top of the heap today: What is everyone so angry about? At the time, the vessel of that public anger was the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was utterly befuddling to Bill’s other guests, especially conservative propagandist P.J. O’Rourke. This is how it went down:
P.J.: Is it that the Occupy Wall Street People, like us, flunked econ?
AMG : No, listen, Bill, I have no trouble understanding what they’re complaining about.
P.J.: Oh, did you pass Econ?
AMG: I was an economist for more than three years, so I think so.
P.J.: Oh, I guess you did, no wonder. You were probably the grad student who flunked me in Econ 101.
AMG: No, but I would have, if I had had the chance. Now let me tell you what they are talking about. They’re complaining about the fact that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago, and nobody has been held responsible for that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying twenty percent — twenty percent! — of our national net worth, accumulated over the course of two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the other party caters to them as well. That’s the real truth of the matter, as you’ve said before, .
P.J.: Get the man a bongo drum. They’ve found their spokesman. Take your shoes off, get a bongo drum, forget to go to the bathroom, and it’s yours.
AMG: Listen, if I am a spokesman for all of the people who think that we shouldn’t have 24 million people in this country who can’t find a full-time job, that we should not have 50 million people who can’t see a doctor when they are sick, that we shouldn’t have 47 million people in this country who need the Government’s help to feed themselves, and that we shouldn’t have 15 million families who owe more on their mortgages than the value of their homes – OK, I’ll be that spokesman.
Bill Maher: Oh, look, they’re standing in the audience!
It was electric. Maybe something like that will happen again this Friday. And if you contribute to our campaign today – today only — then maybe you’ll be there with me to see it.
If you’d like an opportunity to join Bill and me in Orlando this Sunday, then hit that link below, and toss in $20.16 or more. Become a monthly contributor, and you get two chances for the price of one.
Or, if you want to see how the rap group the “99th Problem” took that iconic moment and made it into a beautiful and moving song, then click here, and enjoy.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Mon Feb 2, 2015, 01:30 PM (28 replies)
Central Florida is not exactly a bastion of liberalism. In fact, I am the only Democrat to represent downtown Orlando at any time during the past 40 years. But once in a while, we make some progress. For instance, earlier this month, working together with the Osceola County Commission, the Clerk of the Court and the State Attorney, I helped to bring marriage equality to Central Florida. And then, shortly thereafter, I defended that action on the most-watched news show in my region. I didn’t water it down. Here’s what I said:
WFTV’s Greg Warmoth: Let’s talk about gay marriage. What do you think about the way things have shifted here in Florida? Now, in the next few days, we’ll have gay marriages happening on courthouse steps.
AMG: Well, I’ve been a strong proponent of that. In fact, you’ll see it happening first in Osceola County, because I wrote a letter to the Osceola County Commission a few weeks ago, urging them to acknowledge that a federal judge had ruled that blocking gay marriages was an unconstitutional denial of equal protection and, therefore, we should encourage gay marriage locally to be legal. We were in a sort of gray area, where it wasn’t quite clear if it was legal or illegal. So I sent a letter to the Commission urging them to invite our local and very brave Clerk of the Court to go ahead and defeat the naysayers (who were trying these last-ditch efforts to prevent the U.S. Constitution from taking hold here in Florida), and provide equal protection to people who want to marry equally. A lot of times, one of the best principles of public policy is “mind your own business.” And I invite people who think there’s something wrong with other people getting married to mind their own business.
GW: Why has this taken so long to get to this point?
AMG: I think what we’ve seen is a very dramatic shift in public opinion in the past ten or fifteen years. I think that, in many respects, the public, particularly in Florida, is far ahead of the elected officials in many respects. And the public has shown a certain open-mindedness, a certain respect for the rights of others, that we as public officials need to learn from.
GW: Absolutely. As we speak, we will have gay marriages on the books—as this show runs. What do you think the Republican Party or those against it will try to do?
AMG: I think the Republicans now recognize that gay-baiting is a losing proposition. And I think that what we’ve seen over the past few years, except for extremist groups in the Republican Party and elsewhere, is that it’s dying down. We are, in Florida, people who deeply respect the privacy of others. We are not judgmental people, and we are not a good audience for that kind of hatred. So I think the Republican Party will accept the reality of how people feel, and I think that the same kind of recognition of respect for others, and their privacy and their personal choices, will prevail here as well.
GW: What’s your reaction to those who say, “Well, if we allow this, then who’s to stop someone marrying an animal?”
AMG: (laughing) I think that’s utterly nonsensical! I don’t even know how to respond to that kind of nonsense. I don’t know what to say to somebody who is that confused, except that, if they do covet an animal, they are violating not only our law, but also the Ten Commandments.
Rep. Alan Grayson
P.S. You, me and Bill Maher. Interested? Click here.
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Jan 30, 2015, 03:33 PM (2 replies)
In one of Philip Dick’s novels, I think possibly Our Friends from Frolix 8, two guys are sitting in a bar on another planet, talking to each other. The first one says to the second one that he remembers him fondly. The second one, embarrassed, confesses to the first one that he doesn’t recognize him. The first one explains that that’s because when they were together previously, he had a different head.
I had that on my mind when I was introduced on local TV recently by a news anchor who had invited me to do something that I often am asked to do, to wit, defend Obamacare. The anchor said that I had a reputation for speaking that aforesaid mind. With that in mind, the following speaking ensued:
Greg Warmoth: Hi folks, and welcome back to Central Florida Spotlight. Today, I’m joined by Congressman Alan Grayson, an Orlando Democrat from Florida’s 9th Congressional District with a reputation for speaking his mind, and being very clear about his position on the issues. Congressman, thanks for joining us again today. With that intro, would that be accurate?
AMG: Thanks. You know, I speak my mind because who else’s mind would I speak, right? It’s got to be my mind, nobody else’s.
GW: Having that outspoken nature, has that gotten you good publicity? Bad publicity? The publicity you want?
AMG: I don’t think that much about it, but I do think people appreciate someone who’s a straight talker. That much is clear. I think that voters are entitled to know what’s on your mind. If you’re going to ask for their vote, they need to know what’s honestly on your mind, what you’re going to do for them. And people know that, when I make a promise, I’m going to keep it.
GW: Let’s talk about what happened . Congratulations on being re-elected, by the way.
AMG: Thanks -- by a double-digit margin, in a very bad year for my party.
GW: That’s my next point.
GW: It was not a good year. Republicans are now solidly in control. How will you reach across the aisle?
AMG: The same way that I have . Slate magazine said that I was the most effective Member of Congress, Democratic or Republican, in the past two years. And I passed more amendments on the Floor of the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, than anyone , either Democratic or Republican. Over thirty amendments in the course of two years.
GW: It was not a good run for the Democrats. A lot of your fellow Democrats are not back in Washington now. a wake-up call?
AMG: No, I don’t think so. I think the other side successfully vilified the President and made it seem like the President had been ineffective, when in fact the country is better off than it was when it was on the precipice of a Great Depression six years ago. And now we have 10 million people who have health coverage who didn’t have it a year ago. So there was a lot that was accomplished, but the Republicans, without putting forth any positive program of their own, nevertheless vilified the President, and they did so successfully.
GW: Let’s talk about that, Obamacare. Some would call it successful, from your vantage point. Others would say it’s nothing but an expensive way of forcing people into health care, and yet there’s a gap with millions of people still uninsured.
AMG: Well, let’s look at some of the things that have been accomplished. There are 40 million people who had a pre-existing health condition and couldn’t get private insurance. Now they can. We have 170 million women in the population; they used to have to pay more for their health coverage, because they are women. Now they don’t have to pay more for their health care any longer. We have dramatically expanded Medicaid in those states that were open to it, and we’ve put, as I said earlier, 10 million people in a position where now they can see a doctor when they’re sick, and before, they couldn’t afford to do so. I think those are very important accomplishments. If you can show me someone who has been forced to buy health care, I’d like to meet that person. I think that’s a bum rap.
(file footage of “Die Quickly” speech plays in background)
GW: You had that outspoken moment on the Hill with your sign, the Republicans’ plan. I saw you smile when I brought that back up. It became a viral moment for you.
AMG: Oh, without any question, sure. And the reason why it was is because it hit on a deep truth. Republicans need to learn that you can’t fight something with nothing. And one of the most offensive elements of their continuing obsession with repealing Obamacare is the fact that they want to replace it with nothing. We need to make health care universal in this country. We need to make sure that sick people can see a doctor. We need to make it affordable. We need to make it comprehensive, so that it actually covers the things that you need to have covered.
GW: You’ve also worked with taxes. How are you going to ensure the extension of certain tax provisions?
AMG: I think that’s one of our big accomplishments, one of my big accomplishments. . . . I passed nine bills in the last week , unchanged from the form that I had submitted them, in a Republican-controlled legislature, to dramatically extend middle-class tax cuts for Americans. Let me give you an example: a lot of people don’t realize this, but as of , we were facing repeal of the tax break that you get on your taxes because we have state sales taxes but not income taxes. That was going to end as of December 31st. I extended that. Let me give you another example. Do you own a home?
AMG: Okay. Do you pay mortgage insurance?
AMG: Okay. Many people do. There is a deduction for mortgage insurance that was due to lapse, expire on December 31st. I extended that for a year.
GW: That’s the PMI?
AMG: That’s right. We passed a total of nine of these that I introduced back in January, after lobbied heavily with the Republican majority in order to get them extended. The Republicans were initially resistant; they wanted to have tax cuts only for businesses. Eventually they relented, and we saw nine of those passed in the order that I introduced them back in January, unchanged word for word. That was a tremendous accomplishment.
I mention these things as often as I can because I’m trying to make a point: You can be a Progressive, and you can win. Not just win elections, but also make the world a better place.
You won’t find me feeling sorry after a bad election. You will find me scratching and clawing, with all ten fingers, to improve the lives of ordinary people, any way that I can.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Fri Jan 30, 2015, 09:06 AM (5 replies)
Good news and bad news. First the bad news.
The bad news is that I am virtually the only “Anglo” official in Florida who is prepared to explain why providing a path to citizenship for the undocumented would benefit everyone – especially to an Anglo audience, which may not be immigrant-friendly.
The good news is that because I’m almost the only one, I am often asked to do so. In fact, it happened just a week ago, on the most-watched Anglo TV news channel in Central Florida. Here is what I said:
Greg Warmoth: (This is) Central Florida Spotlight, joined again by Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson. Again, thank you for being here. Let’s talk about immigration. What do you envision on the immigration front for the New Year?
AMG: Not much. I thought the President (already) did what he felt was right, and I think it will cause a great deal of alleviation of suffering here locally. But I don’t expect any further steps along the same lines. I don’t expect Congress to take any action. But as for (the President’s) immigration reform, I think that we’ll see some benefits from the President’s action rather quickly. We have a lot of people here locally who are undocumented and not paying taxes; now they’ll have to pay taxes. We have a lot of people here locally who drive on the roads without any form of insurance for their cars; now they’ll have to get insurance for their cars. That’s (been) a danger to you, to me, to everybody else. So as we make progress in normalizing the lives of these people – whose only real crime is that they love America so much they want to live here – we’ll find benefits to the whole community.
GW: What do you say to those who are on the opposite side of this? I’ve seen posts (saying that if we provide a path to citizenship,) “Well, if we do this, then who’s going to work on our farms?” And I think a lot of people are critical of that comment or that statement, because (it implies that) therefore, you like the fact there are people that are undocumented, not paying taxes (and) stuck in the minimum wage. It’s not even that (much).
AMG: Well, in fact, what’s happened is that the undocumented have eroded labor standards throughout the entire local economy, and that is unfortunate. There’s no practical way to solve that problem except to bring them into the local economy in the same way that everyone else is. We don’t treat them as second-class citizens; we treat them as non-citizens. And the result of that is that they’re often not paid the minimum wage; that drags down labor markets for everyone else. They work without benefits; that drags down the labor market for everyone else. And in general, because of their undocumented legal status, they provide unfair competition to everyone else. Now we’ll see an end to that, as they become normalized and legalized.
GW: So you think, for both sides, this is what needs to happen? This is good for the country?
AMG: I think that there’s no doubt about it. If you look at the billions and billions of dollars that will come into the national economy and the local economy simply because we’re normalizing the status of these five million or six million people, I think it will be a dramatic improvement for everyone involved.
I’m not sure that my Anglo audience would have wanted to hear this, but there is another fundamental rationale for a path to citizenship for the undocumented: We are all the sons and daughters of immigrants, and we are all the children of God. Let’s treat each other with dignity and respect.
Rep. Alan Grayson
Posted by Alan Grayson | Wed Jan 28, 2015, 09:57 PM (1 replies)
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)