Alan Grayson's Journal
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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)
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.
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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)