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Yesterday, President Obama acted to restrict the Defense Department and other federal agencies from providing military equipment to local police departments. In essence, the President adopted, by Executive Order, the Grayson Amendment that I introduced last year in the House of Representatives. My amendment was defeated, but shortly thereafter, we all saw militarized police occupy the streets in Ferguson, Missouri. Live and learn. I thank the President for adopting my amendment. It will help us take a giant step back from the militarization of Main Street, and let us remain the Land of the Free, as well as the Home of the Brave.

Ferguson made the difference, changing attitudes and changing minds. Who can forget what it looked like to see an American community occupied by paramilitary police forces, in military vehicles, pointing military weapons at innocent Americans? It looked like a nightmare. And the fact that in Ferguson, it was a largely white police force deploying military weapons against a largely black community made it even worse.

Our Founding Fathers were concerned about militarized police. The Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the quartering of troops in people’s homes. From the very beginning, we have established and maintained a clear line between police and military forces. In the 1870’s the Posse Comitatus Act confirmed the fundamental principle that our armed forces operate outside of our borders, and the police operate within.

The result has been peace and security, in the lives of ordinary Americans. Apart from the Japanese occupation of part of the remote Aleutian Islands in Alaska during World War II, no foreign forces have occupied this country since the War of 1812, when British soldiers burned my present workplace, the Capitol, to the ground. The two-century absence of military forces from our streets is an enormous accomplishment that few other countries have matched. It’s the foundation of American prosperity, and a fundamental tenet of our freedom. We live in peace, and therefore we can do great things. That’s America. Having a military or paramilitary presence in our streets is, in a fundamental sense, un-American.

The militarization of American police is recent. The Section 1033 Program authorizes the free transfer of military equipment, including tanks, missiles, machine guns and weaponized drones, both new and used, to local police forces. For many years, it was tiny. In 1990, the DoD gave only $1 million in military equipment to local police authorities. In 2013, the amount was almost $450 million.

The mission of our police is to serve and protect, not unnerve and disrespect. We have a delicate balance in the United States between public authority and individual rights. Every time that we occupy a neighborhood with military force, not only are we attacking those who threaten mischief, but also those who are innocent.

Whenever we militarize the police, we run the risk of igniting a spiral of violence between the police and the populace. In a sense, it has already started. Last year, police officers killed 623 Americans. Contrast that with the United Kingdom, where in the last 10 years, officers killed only 20 people – even in the aftermath of the civil war in Northern Ireland.

Demilitarization will make police officers safer as well. Police officers have told me that the friction between them and the general public makes their job very difficult. Some of them have stopped wearing clothes or insignia that identify them as officers when they are off-duty. By presenting a friendly face toward the innocent public, the police can turn to them for help, and at the same time, feel safer themselves.

The President has taken a solid first step toward unwinding the cycle of violence. But the underlying program that the President has throttled back still exists. The Department of Defense still has the legal authority to buy and deliver military equipment to police forces. What one President stops, another one can re-start.

I’ll be introducing my amendment again this year, and I’m hoping for wide, bipartisan support. If freedom means anything, it means that our streets are not war zones.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

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 [in this documentary].

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. [Laughter.]  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 [about such people] 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 [in the documentary].

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 [portray] 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? [Audience responds.]. 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.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 07:02 AM PST

Our Trade Policy is Insane

by Alan Grayson

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[n average annual] 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 [of them] — 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 [among all industrial nations] in our country, [and] 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 [for], 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.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 05:04 PM PST

Now the Nazis REALLY Hate Me

by Alan Grayson

Yesterday I had the temerity, the gall, the (dare I say it?) chutzpah to point out that for the past five months, every single elected Republican in Congress was a white Christian.

The Nazis are not pleased. Frankly, I have never been a favorite of theirs, but now they are really pissed off.

The “white nationalists” congregate at an online watering hole called Stormfront.org. The home page, in Fraktur font (look it up), proudly boast that “Every Month is White History Month”. Stormfront.org is famous for, among other things, trying to dictate the results of a Fox News online poll on racial segregation, because it takes one to know one, or something like that.

Lest you think that this is a non-serious matter, please be advised that according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Stormfront members have murdered almost 100 people during the past five years alone. No Members of Congress yet, though.

So yesterday at Stormfront, under the heading “News,” subheading “Politics & Continuing Crises,” there popped up a report called “Jew revealed: Florida Rep. Alan Grayson attacks GOP as the party of white Christians.”

The writer explained his sad tale: “I tried to unsubscribe before[,] yet this Jew keeps sending me his lunatic Europhobic and anti-Christian rant that reeks of atavistic hatred.” [Note to neo-Nazis: Punctuation has a purpose. Use it properly.]

Talk about “atavistic hatred.” He didn’t call me a schweinhund. But he wanted to. I could tell.

The author’s signature line asserts that the “U.S. was founded as an exclusive Anglo-Saxon nation, according to Founding Fathers’ preference.” He overlooks more than 600,000 slaves, who made up 42% of the population of South Carolina, 39% of the population of Virginia, 35% of the population of Georgia and 32% of the population of … Maryland. Not to mention leftover colonists from France, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden. And the “Injuns,” too.

Someone else posted my missive as a picture file, with the file name “jew white hate.”

I feel constrained to mention that I did not actually “attack” the GOP for being the party of White Christians. I simply observed that for the past five months, every single elected GOP Member of Congress (all 250+ of them) has been a White Christian. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Let’s see: 27% of all Americans are black, mixed race or Asian. 24% do not identify themselves as Christians. Let’s suppose that half of all Americans are white, self-identified Christians, and half are not. What are the chances that 250 of the white Christians just randomly would end up as the Republicans in Congress, and 0 of the others?

Answer: 0.28 percent. There is a 0.28% chance that it’s all just a terrible misunderstanding. And a 99.72% chance that it’s not.

Listen, Nazis: Achtung! The leitmotif of the GOP is not simply that when it comes to choosing GOP kommandants, all others are told Raus! It’s that the GOP says ja! – nein,Wonderbar! – to every bigoted policy that comes down the autobahn. Blocking immigration reform: Ja! Gutting affirmative action: Ja! Suppressing the vote: Ja! Denying a woman’s right to choose: Ja! Denying the pink triangles the right to get married: Ja!

Am I attacking the GOP tribe for all of that? Ja. Because that creates a weltschmerz that I loathe.

There are two planks in the GOP’s platform today. One is hatred. The other is fear. As I listen to their “debate” on the Floor of the House each day, I think of Rodney King’s very pertinent question: “Can we all get along?”

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”

- Martin Niemoller (1946).

Discuss

Tue Jan 06, 2015 at 02:06 PM PST

What's Really Wrong with the GOP

by Alan Grayson

For a five-month period that ends this week, every single elected Republican in Congress was a white Christian.

Let me repeat that: every elected GOP Member of the House and Senate was a white Christian.

Eric Cantor is Jewish.  He left office on August 1 last year.  Since then, the entire elected GOP caucus, in both the House and the Senate, has comprised only white Christians.

13% of America is African-American.  9% is of mixed race.  5% is Asian.  24% does not identify itself as Christian.  0% of those groups served as elected Congressional Republicans during the past five months.

GOP motto:  “We’re monochromatic!”  The GOP: Is it a political party, or is it a tribe?  

Tim Scott was sworn into the Senate yesterday, and Mia Love and Will Hurd are being sworn into the House today.  That makes three elected African-American House Republicans, up from zero.  They join 43 African-American Democrats.

Lee Zeldin also is being sworn into the House today.  That makes one elected Jewish House Republican, up from zero.  He joins 27 Jewish Democrats, two Muslim Democrats, two Buddhist Democrats and one Hindu Democrat.  

I’m not talking about 13 years ago, when GOP Leadership Rep. Steve Scalise addressed a racist “European-American” group.  I’m talking about the last five months.

The conclusion is obvious:  Judging by whom it elects to Congress, the GOP is now the White Christian Party.  

And that appears to dictate the GOP position on a wide variety of important public policies:  Immigration reform.  Affirmative action.  Voter suppression.  Abortion.  Even marriage equality.

Which is a shame.  Because pluralism and diversity are uniquely and fundamentally American values.  Those are values that should be shared by both parties, and by every party, not just by one party.

Variety is the spice of life.  I strive for an America where you can be all that you can be, regardless of where you’re from, what you look like, what language you speak, and whom you love.  

Reach into your pocket.  Take out a coin, any coin.  On it, you will find the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum.”  Which means, “Out of many, one.”

That’s my America.  That’s America.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

Mon Dec 29, 2014 at 01:21 PM PST

Legislating, circa 2014

by Alan Grayson

Congress passed 296 bills during the past two years. There are 435 Congresspeeps.

Do the math.

Yes, that’s correct. During those two years, many, many Members of the House drew $348,000 in salary, plus free rhinoplasty (just kidding) and passed no bills. None.

So how did I get nine of my bills passed, verbatim, in the order in which I introduced them, as part of H.R. 5771?

I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how.

Back in the 111th Congress, when the Democrats were in charge, if you had a bill that would make things better, there was a darn good chance that it would get passed, and passed quickly. For instance, my Pay for Performance Act, which prohibited Wall Street from using bailout money for bonuses. That passed – in nine days.

That’s not the way it works anymore. Essentially, the GOP has instituted caretaker government. We’ve put Henry David Thoreau in charge: “That government is best which governs least.” Or more specifically: “That government is best which governs laziest.” Only a deadline, an unalterable deadline, generates action, and even then, only at the last minute.

Old fashioned is in. Newfangled is out.

So a year ago, realizing this, I started looking at deadlines. Specifically, expiration dates in legislation.

There are a lot of them. And, frankly, a lot of legislation deserves to die. For that stuff, you won’t see me engaging in life extension. I’m in favor of euthanasia.

But some of it doesn’t deserve to die. Some of it actually helps jus’ plain folk. And that good stuff needs a champion. Because if you don’t push, and push hard, then nothing gets done. Entropy wins. As William Butler Yeats said, “Things fall apart.” That gyre just gets wider and wider.

And wider.

So I combed through expiring provisions, and I made entirely subjective judgments about what was good and what was bad. Then I introduced bills to keep the good stuff. And then the fun started.

The law is a big place, so certain people have responsibility for certain domains within the law. Unfortunately, in the U.S. House of Representatives, now all of those people are Republicans, but that’s the way it goes. I spend an awful lot of time talking to Republicans, because there is no other way right now to get my stuff done. My stuff being your stuff.

Twelve of the bills that I introduced back in January were bills to keep various tax provisions from kicking the bucket, cashing in the chips, buying the farm and biting the dust. There were a lot more that were due to go belly up – maybe almost a hundred. But those dozen were ones that mattered to me, because they matter to you.

So after I introduced those bills, I chatted it up with The Powers That Be. “Hey pal, did you see the Super Bowl? Helluva game. What a blowout! The Seahawks look like a dynasty. I almost forgot to ask, have you heard about those bills that I just put in? You mind taking a look at them?”

Et cetera.

Oh, and memos. I gave them memos. Not because they read them. Because they put them in their vest pockets, and hand them off to staff, with instructions.

(Except for one GOP Chair. His vest pocket is like the Sargasso Sea. Nothing ever comes out of there.)

Thanks to a quirk in the oft-quirky U.S. Constitution, tax bills have to start in the House. That gave the House GOP the action, even with the Democrats in charge of the Senate. The original GOP plan was just to extend all the corporate handouts, rather than anything useful for thee and thine. You don’t have to take my word for it – just look at the bills that they filed, both before and after committee markups.

But I just kept pitchin’ and pitchin’ and pitchin’. I had a whole year to do it.

I did have help. The White House intimated that it would veto a bad bill. This year, in the House, those White House veto threats were like smelling salts. People came to their senses.

As the year went on, I started to see my bills creeping into play. More and more, over time. So I just kept pitchin’ and pitchin’ and pitchin’.

“Hey, bud, did you see that guy Bumgarner in Game Seven last night? He was amazing! I don’t know how he got the Royals to keep swinging at all of that crap he was throwing. And on two days of rest! It was like Mickey Lolich in ’68 – remember him? Oh, hey, are you going to be able to help me out on those energy efficiency tax breaks?”

And so on.

When the GOP finally reached out for some balance in their tax bill – balance between their welfare for billionaires and something resembling a break for Middle Class America — there were my bills, right within their grasp, all ready to go. With the extra satisfaction of knowing that if they put those bills in, then I would stop bugging them.

So the final score in our own little Super Bowl-World Series was this: I introduced 12 tax bills. As I said above, nine of them ended up in H.R. 5771, exactly as I wrote them, and in the order in which I introduced them. Two more also ended up in the bill, with tweaks. One didn’t make it.

Hey – nobody’s perfect. Not even Madison Bumgarner in the World Series. In 21 innings, he did give up that one lone earned run.

So that’s how you legislate, circa 2014. Look, I’m not asking you to like it. As John Godfrey Saxe said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” And now you know.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

This year, during this holiday season, I am extending to you, John or Jane Q. Public, the same Christmas gifts that the millionaires and the billionaires and the multinational corporations get from our public servants in Washington, DC, each and every year:

Tax cuts.

Do you have a mortgage that exceeds 80% of the value of your home? I got you a tax break on your mortgage insurance. That was my bill H.R. 3941.

Do you live in a state that taxes sales more than income? I got you tax break on your state and local sales taxes. That was my bill H.R. 3942.

Are you in college, or do you pay for a family member in college? I got you a tax break on tuition. That was my bill H.R. 3943.

Do you want to make charitable contributions from your IRA? I got you a tax deduction for that. That was my bill H.R. 3944.

Are you a business owner who employs our active-duty soldiers and sailors? I got you a tax credit for that. That's my bill H.R. 3946.

Are you a retailer who has made improvements in your stores? I got you accelerated depreciation for that. That was my bill H.R. 3948.

Are you a restaurant owner, farmer or food manufacturer who contributes food to the hungry? I got you an extra charitable deduction for that. That was my bill H.R. 3949.

Are you a homeowner who has made home improvements to cut your energy costs? I got you a tax credit for that. Those were my bills H.R. 3950 and H.R. 3951.

Waaaaaaaaay back in January 2014, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I introduced those nine bills to extend important middle class tax breaks. Earlier this month, after a year of incessant badgering by me, the Powers That Be lumped them all together in H.R. 5771, using my exact words in each case, and placing them in H.R. 5771 in the same order in which I had introduced them. There were 52 sections to H.R. 5771. I wrote nine of them - the nine sections that might actually make a difference in your life, assuming that you are neither David Koch nor Charles Koch.

H.R. 5771 passed the House on Dec. 3. It passed the Senate on Dec. 16. The President signed my nine middle-class tax breaks into law last Friday.

If you are a beneficiary of any of those nine Grayson tax breaks, you're welcome.

By the way, when was the last time that you heard any progressive Democrat say these words: "I got that passed. I got that signed into law." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

You may wonder how a second-term Congressman, in the minority party, who does not sit on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, managed to get nine different tax breaks passed in a single year. Good question. I'll answer that next time.

In the meantime, please enjoy your Grayson Christmas gifts. Your Chanukah gelt. Your Kwanzaa karamu.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

Fri Nov 21, 2014 at 05:18 PM PST

The Womb Lottery

by Alan Grayson

I'm happy that President Obama finally has moved forward with immigration reform. But the six-year-long White House Bad Messaging Plague (WHBMP) continues unabated. We’re in danger of losing the public on this issue even before the first work permit is issued.

President Obama's executive order removes the loaded guns pointed at the temples of five million human beings, who also happen to be undocumented U.S. immigrants. It is a sincere act of compassion and mercy that has eluded House Speaker John Boehner for years, Boehner's utterly hypocritical nattering about the urgent need for immigration reform notwithstanding. If Boehner had ever looked up from his shot glass, he might have seen their sad eyes, and felt some urge to confer simple dignity on them.

But that's not how the White House staff is telling it. Last night, I received the White House staff's talking points, embargoed until 6 pm. (I received them at 6:03 pm, but nevermind.)

● The President will "help secure the border." (This is the first thing – the very first thing! – that they said.)

● The President will hold undocumented immigrants "accountable." How is he holding them “accountable” for entering or remaining in America without permission? By letting them stay.

● The President will "fix our broken immigration system." How will he fix it? By not enforcing it.

● The President will "prioritize deporting felons not families." Just as he has deported commas from that phrase, I guess. (Good alliteration, though.)

Please understand: I'm in favor of President Obama's action – very much so. But this framing by the White House staff just . . . stinks.

Here is a test for you: Is there anything in these talking points that could not have come out of the Bush White House? Answer: No.

I've seen a poll or two in my life, so I understand that the terms "secure the border," "accountability," "fixing the broken [fill in the blank]" and "families" poll very well. Families, yay! Felons, boo! I'm very happy, and indeed relieved, that we Democrats now have established our bona fides as the anti-felon party.

I noted that the White House's very lengthy (i.e., numbingly repetitive) talking points never mention Boehner or the Republicans – not even once. Instead, the White House extends its devastating six-year-long attack on "Congress," which has succeeded in: (a) driving Congress's approval rating down to single digits; (b) delivering the House to the Republicans in 2010; and (c) delivering the Senate to the Republicans in 2014. If some Higher Being did a retroactive global search and replace on every White House statement since Jan. 20, 2009, searching for "Congress" and replacing it in each instance with "Republicans in Congress," Democrats would have supermajorities right now in both Houses.

Here is the basic problem: Fox News has gotten into their heads. If you think that the primary purpose of immigration reform is "securing the borders," then your name is Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, not Robert Gibbs, Jay Carney or Josh Earnest.

With all due respect, these White House staff talking points are a pitiful effort to put a right-wing mask on a left-wing policy – and a meritorious and virtuous left-wing policy at that. But as Professor George Lakoff has demonstrated, even when you rebut the right wing's arguments, you’re inadvertently reinforcing them. (As he puts it, "Don’t think of an elephant!" You can’t. Once the subject of elephants comes up, you’re going to think about elephants, whether you like it or not.)

Look, this is important. The basic rules of existence for five million people are in play. Please, just this once, can't we be progressives? What is so wrong with that?

Let's try it this way: Every one of us draws a ticket in the womb lottery. Six Waltons had winning tickets; they were born billionaires. The victims of fetal alcohol syndrome have losing tickets; they suffer from terrible physical and mental disabilities.

There are seven billion people alive today. Only a quarter of a billion of them won the womb lottery, and they were fortunate enough to be born in the United States. Almost fifty million more worked the system well enough to acquire U.S. citizenship. But there are over ten million people who love America so much – so very much – that they left behind their communities, their families, their property, their jobs, and they came here or remain here without the permission of our government. They didn't win the womb lottery, so it's too late for them to be born here. They feel that they were born in the wrong country. Their passports are not blue. But they want to fix that problem. They want to make it right. They can't be American citizens by birth, but instead, they desperately want to be American citizens by choice.

Isn't that a good thing? That people love what we have created so much that they want to be a part of it, and contribute to it. This isn't a threat, it’s a heartfelt compliment.

My mother is an immigrant. My grandparents were immigrants. We are all the sons and daughters of immigrants, and we are all the children of God. Can we please, please respect each other, and live together in peace and dignity?

Think of it this way: For whatever reason – lax enforcement of immigration laws, oppression in other countries, the need to survive, whatever – these five million people are our new sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law. The polite thing to do is to welcome them. Repeat after me: "Welcome to the American Family, and thank you for contributing to the American Experience."

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson



Discuss

Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 12:39 PM PST

The "Issue" Was Obama-Hatred

by Alan Grayson

 photo 111214obamahate.jpg

The 2014 GOP Platform

Last Wednesday, at EPCOT Center in Disney World, I heard a father shout this at a crying child in a stroller:  "€œBlame Obama, Shawn.  It'€™s all Obama'€™s fault."

And there, in a nutshell, is the story of what happened on Election Day 2014, the day before.  "€œBlame Obama."  For what, I'€™m not sure.  But blame him.

(A little background: Since 1987, Disney has run Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and American Idol ads where the winner is asked "€œWhat are you doing next?" and the reply is "€œI'€™m going to Disney World!"€  I represent part of Disney World.  On Election Night 2014, my first re-election, several local reporters asked me "What are you doing next?"€  The imp in me replied, "€œI'm going to Disney World!"€  So I did.)

For the record, the high temperature in Orlando last Wednesday was 82 degrees.  It was sunny.  EPCOT was holding its annual Food and Wine Festival, which is spectacular.  It didn'€™t seem like there was much to cry about.  But kids being kids, there must have been something that upset little Shawn.

Maybe Shawn was angry that Goofy had never said a word to him.  Maybe he wanted to go on Space Mountain again -€“ which, unfortunately for him, is located in the Magic Kingdom, not EPCOT.  Maybe he wanted one of those Mickey-shaped popsicles, and he didn't get one.  I'm not sure why Shawn was crying, but I am sure - absolutely certain -- that President Barack Obama was not the cause of little Shawn'€™s grief.  Yet that'€™s what Daddy told Shawn.  Shouted at Shawn, actually.

When I heard this, my first reaction was that maybe they were pulling MY leg.  My name recognition in Orlando is roughly 117%, and whenever I go to Disney World or anywhere else, mostly nice people say mostly nice things to me.  But they were not pulling my leg.  I was behind Shawn's family, by around 30 feet.  I never saw their faces, and they never saw mine.  They never looked back at me, either before or after.  If it had been a gag on me, they would have looked back, to see my reaction.

Nope, this is simply how certain people raise their children today, in America, in the year 2014. "€œWe hate President Obama, and you should, too."

That was the "€œissue" last Tuesday, and it proved to be a very powerful motivator.  Hatred often is.

It has been noted widely that the Democrats ran an issueless, issue-phobic campaign.  For them, this campaign was like the Jerry Seinfeld Show – a show about nothing.  The primary issue put forth by the House Democrats was that there should be a law against lower pay for women doing the same work as men.  Well, there already is such a law.  It'€™s called the Equal Pay Act, and it was enacted in 1963, when I was five years old.  When this was pointed out to some Democrats, they gave the Emily Litella response:  "Nevermind."€

Less noticed, however, was the fact that the Republicans also ran an issueless, issue-phobic campaign.  I don't remember any of them promising to suppress voting, prohibit all abortions, indulge polluters, give huge tax breaks to billionaires and multinational corporations, gut Social Security and Medicare and shred the right to organize – even though that’s exactly what they're going to do.  Instead, the Republicans said "Obama stinks, and we'€™re against him."€   In fact, that was all they said.

There was an oft-circulated post-election chart pointing out that Obama had slashed the federal deficit, slashed unemployment, increased consumer confidence, etc., etc.  But I would venture to say that none of that matters to those voters who had become convinced that Obama is Beelzebub.  Or Mephistopheles.  Maybe both.

Obviously, there are other lessons to be learned from the 2014 election.  One could, for instance, compare the 18-point loss of Mark Pryor, who campaigned as the Most Conservative Democrat in the Senate™, to the 11-point victory of, uh, me.  Surely there are plenty of lessons to be learned from that compare-and-contrast.

But the only lesson that matters to the GOP is this:  What President Clinton called "€œthe politics of personal destruction" works for them - big time.  Which is why I can predict, unfortunately, that over the next two years, we'€™ll be seeing a lot of this:

 photo 111214hillaryhate.jpg

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson


Discuss

Last year the House Foreign Affairs Committee “marked up” an Iran Sanctions bill, taking amendments from committee members before sending the bill to the “Floor” for a House vote.

I offered five amendments.  They all passed.

It’s hard to believe, I know, but there actually is a spirit of bipartisanship on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so things went smoothly -- until it was Tom Cotton’s turn.

Some background on Cotton:  The Bush Administration created a secret program, of questionable constitutionality, that aggressively monitored the finances of alleged terrorists.  The New York Times uncovered the program, and reported it.  Tom Cotton, private citizen, called for the arrest, conviction and incarceration of the editor and two reporters who reported on the secret program.

In a deep red district in Arkansas, that soapboxing was good enough to get Cotton elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Which plopped him down on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with me.

No matter what the subject before our committee might be, Cotton always has to hold forth on how much he loves America.  According to Cotton, he really, really loves America.  Almost in the biblical sense.

Let me put it this way:  When I hear Cotton, I think of Lady Macbeth, another great patriot.  “Out, damned spot!  Out, I say!”

Which, in Arkansas, qualifies Cotton for the U.S. Senate.  Yes, Tom Cotton is running for the U.S. Senate.

So anyway, there we were, trying to pass a bill that would keep Iran from getting nukes, and Cotton thought that he had come up with the perfect idea:  imprison all of the Ayatollah’s relatives.  Not the Ayatollah himself, just his relatives.

Cotton offered an amendment that would extend sanctions under the bill not only to the high government officials of Iran, but also to their relatives “to the third degree of consanguinity.”  In case you missed the quiz on consanguinity, that’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, grandparents and great-grandparents.

But somehow, not second cousins twice removed.  It must have been an oversight.

The enforcement mechanism for our sanctions is a criminal penalty.  Specifically, five years in a federal prison.  So if the Ayatollah violated our sanctions law, and his entirely innocent niece visited the United States, she’d get five years in the slammer under the Cotton Amendment.  Just for being the Ayatollah’s niece.

By the way, the Cotton Amendment is a constitutional threefer: it violates three different provisions of the U.S. Constitution at the same time.  They are the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the very rarely heard of “Corruption of Blood” clause.  It’s rarely heard of because almost no one is so stupid as even to contemplate punishing the relatives of wrongdoers.

Except for Tom Cotton.

When Cotton offered his amendment, I was tempted to say, “Now wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute.”  But that would have been disrespectfully to Bugs Bunny and possibly others, so I didn’t.  Instead, I patiently pointed out the constitutional infirmities of the Cotton Amendment.

To their credit, the Republican Members of Congress have some regard for the oath that they took to preserve the Constitution (as they see it), so there were certain murmurings on the other side of the aisle.  The GOP Chairman asked Cotton to withdraw his amendment, and he reluctantly did so.

I thought that that would be the end of it.  But no.  Cotton came to me afterward, and offered to “work with me” to put his amendment back in the bill before the House voted on it.  As one Harvard Law School graduate to another, I asked Cotton how he thought that imprisoning nieces for the acts of their uncles was constitutional.  He told me, “they’re just foreigners; they have no rights.”

I think that he pronounced it “feriners.”

If Tom Cotton lived in Gotham City, he would reside at the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.  But since Cotton’s home is Arkansas, not Arkham, that makes him a Congressman instead, and now a U.S. Senate candidate.

Cotton’s opponent is Senator Mark Pryor.  Pryor is not my favorite Senator, but Tom Cotton makes Mark Pryor look like Mother Theresa.

There have been four polls of the Cotton-Pryor race this month.  Three of them have Cotton ahead.  Cotton’s average lead is four points, with a huge 14 percent undecided.  In other words, it’s a very tight race.

And, of course, the fate of the Senate hangs in the balance.  But you knew that already.

When I wake up on Wednesday, November 5th, I want it to be with two thoughts on my mind:

(1) We won.
(2) Tom Cotton lost.

Contribute.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Discuss

Flashback, 2000:  At a military checkpoint on the side of a road in Lesotho, an officer pointed an automatic weapon at me, and asked for $20.  I took out my business card, I handed it to him, and I told him that I worked with the US government and I didn’t need to give him $20.  He pretended to read the card (he was obviously illiterate), he smiled, and with his machine gun, he then waived me back to my car.  Perhaps he said “Have a nice day”; I don’t recall specifically.

Flashback, 2001:  On a street in Myanmar, I negotiated with a shopkeeper over a curio.  There were some soldiers leaning against a wall down the block.  When we had a deal, he told me that I had to pay him in the alley, not in the street.  I did so, and then asked him why.  He explained that if the soldiers had seen me handing him money, they would have come and taken it away from him. They wouldn’t take it away from me, but they would take it away from him.  

Because that’s what soldiers do, in most countries.  Like fish gotta swim.

For the past decade, we have purported to “train” the Iraqi military and police, at the cost of at least $24 billion.  That’s almost $100 for every man, woman and child in America.  We have undertaken this training even though in the Middle East, many millennia ago, the Iraqis’ ancestors invented the concepts of both the military and the police, at a time when our ancestors were drawing pretty pictures on cave walls employing colored dirt.

Such training consisted primarily of a one-month paid vacation to the neighboring country of Jordan.  American instructors who did not speak a word of Arabic were paid roughly $170,000 per year to teach “ethics” – ethics! – to these trainees.  For sure, a good time was had by all.

We used to be good at training bloodthirsty killers.  Google “School of Americas,” and see what I mean.  In the old days, we trained the caudillos of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and, in Africa, Gambia.  When did we lose our touch?

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time observing soldiers and police officers in Third World countries like Iraq and Syria will tell you that it’s ridiculous to think that any amount of “training” will make them want to put their head into the meat-grinder called “war.”\ That simply is not the gig.  

Here is the gig:  In countries like Iraq with vast amounts of unemployment, being in the military or police (not a big difference between the two, in their minds) means a steady income – in Iraq, around $500 a month.  In addition to that, if you are posted somewhere other than in your hometown, you can steal whatever you get your hands on.  That’s it.  That’s the job.  It has nothing to do with shooting at people, much less killing people. And for sure, absolutely for sure, it has nothing to do with being shot at.  That sounds dangerous.

And no amount of training is going to change that.  You can’t train people to commit suicide.

But what about our military, you ask?  Well, our military has gotten very good at killing without dying.  Take drone warfare, for instance – thousands of kills, no US military deaths.  In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death rate for US soldiers was just above 1% -- which is just above the death rate each year for the US population as a whole.  Moreover, our military doesn’t have anything else to do except “the mission”; it doesn’t enjoy the same opportunities for . . . “enrichment” . . .  that attracts young men in countries like Iraq.

Let’s compare that to the death rate for Iraqis who counterattack against ISIS.  It’s roughly the same as the death rate from Ebola disease.

Everyone recognizes that ISIS cannot be defeated by bombing and missile strikes alone.  It just doesn’t work that way.  ISIS now controls a population of nine million people, including the second-largest city in Iraq.  When it comes to ground forces occupying urban territory, you can’t defeat somebody with nobody.  

So then what is the “plan” from our leadership?  To try to reanimate the dead corpse of the Iraqi Army.  Also, to assemble a ferocious regiment of orthodontists and bookkeepers to take back eastern Syria from ISIS.  And how will we assemble such a force?  By giving them a one-month paid vacation – not in Jordan this time, but in Saudi Arabia.

Not going to happen.  I regret to say this, but even with US air support, there is no way that the Iraqi Army or the “moderate Syrian rebels” are going to defeat ISIS. And by the way, there are no “moderate Syrian rebels.”  We might as well arm leprechauns riding bareback into battle on unicorns.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the CIA.  

So realistically, the current strategy is nothing but air strikes.  And how effective are these air strikes against ISIS?  Well, the first ones destroyed some oil refineries in ISIS-controlled territories.  Those attacks increased the price of oil by approximately three dollars a barrel this week.  And the United States imports almost eight million barrels a day. So these attacks have cost us $24 million a day in higher gasoline costs alone – almost 10 cents a gallon.  That’s showing them!

Oil powers Saudi Arabia and the UAE bravely joined in these air attacks that increased the price of oil.  Surprise, surprise.   Are they laughing at us?

But not all is lost.  Assuming for the sake of the argument that ISIS is something more than a band of theatric psychopaths, and actually does represent a threat to some fundamental US strategic interest, here is how you could defeat ISIS militarily. Right now, Iraq says that it wants no foreign soldiers fighting ISIS in Iraq.  So you give Iraq a firm deadline to defeat ISIS and take back western Iraq under international air cover.  Let’s say six months, which is how long it took for ISIS to occupy the territory.  

If that fails – and it very, very likely would – then you acknowledge that the government of Iraq is unable to control its own territory, which is most basic function of any national government.  Under the auspices of the UN and the Arab Leagu – both of which have already authorized military action against ISIS – you then assemble an international Sunni fighting force and deploy it against ISIS.

Now, let’s suppose that the neighboring Arab League countries refused to provide such a force.  What does that tell us? Why should we defend them, when they won’t defend themselves?

But that’s unlikely, because three Sunni Arab countries already have said that they would populate such a force, and with prodding from the United States, more would join.  That force largely would consist of soldiers who speak Arabic, who look like the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, who understand the religion and the customs, and who would not be regarded by the locals as invaders. Unlike the Iraqi Army, they have responsibilities other than cashing paychecks and looting from the locals, and they would be able to keep their own casualties down to what modern military forces view as acceptable levels.  

That is how you defeat ISIS.

Is this realistic plan to defeat ISIS with Arab League forces ever going to happen?  Probably not. Our present leaders have no interest whatsoever in action orchestrated by the United Nations or the Arab League.  They don’t have the chutzpah to tell Iraq, “look – you’ve failed to defend your territory from a terrorist group, why don’t you give the other Arabs a shot at it?”  And it would take too much effort to assemble a real fighting coalition, not a Potemkin-village “Coalition of the Willing” or a “Core Coalition” or whatever the polling says that they should call it these days.  

I hope that I’m wrong, but I predict that our air attacks, without international Arab League “boots on the ground,” will not defeat ISIS in western Iraq or in eastern Syria.  I also predict that this war will fade from the news, just as the earlier war in Iraq did.  I also predict that we will continue to throw half a trillion dollars each year at the military-industrial complex, which has now successfully transitioned from Osama bin Laden’s corpse to a new bogeyman.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. Peace, anyone?

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

“Naturally the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany.  That is understood.  But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy.  It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.   Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their masters.  That is easy.  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in any country.”

-         Hermann Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials

Discuss

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 10:07 AM PDT

Abortion and Incest

by Alan Grayson

This is the only note that you will receive from a Democrat during this election season regarding abortion. The only one. Because I may well be the only Democratic candidate who is willing to undertake a mature conversation on this subject, and not just fling trite clichés in your general direction. So you might as well enjoy it, right?

A few months ago, I was reading the appropriations bill for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. (Yes, I actually read the bills. As Yogi Berra once said, “You can see a lot by just looking.”) I noticed something odd. Since 1976, federal appropriations bills often have forbidden the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion, except in cases of incest or rape. This is known as the Hyde Amendment, after its author Henry Hyde (R-IL). It was an anti-choice response to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

So what was odd? That this appropriations bill forbade the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion, except in the case of rape only. Only rape. Not incest. (There also was a provision regarding the life of the mother.)

There isn’t a lot of time to goof around over appropriations bills. We generally see them with barely 24 hours’ notice. So I wrote a quick corrective amendment, to allow federal funds for abortions in cases of both incest and rape. Obviously, since I’m pro-choice, I regard that as far too narrow. However, in the Tea Party’s House, I didn’t think that I was going to win that battle that day. I just tried to correct an obvious error.

Why bother? I’ll tell you why. Because if you are the victim of incest, and while you are pregnant you end up in federal prison, you can’t just flag a taxi and drive over to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic. Prison wardens frown on that.

So I walked across the street (something else that federal prisoners can’t do), and waited patiently until it was my turn to offer my amendment. I didn’t think that it was going to be a big deal.

It was.

Quite to my surprise, the GOP’s “floor manager” expressed bitter opposition to the very notion that incarcerated victims of incest might want to terminate their pregnancies. It was intolerable! It was despicable! Had I no respect for life itself???

Well, I lost that vote. That wasn’t one of the fifty or so floor amendments that I have pushed over the finish line during the past two years.

I felt bad about it, because I couldn’t stop thinking about those female prisoners. It was hard enough that they were being denied control over where their bodies were, but even worse that they were being denied control over what was in them. And control over your own body is the most fundamental human right of all.

Later that day the GOP floor manager, to his credit, came over to me and told me that I had made a good point, and that he would “fix it” next year. So why couldn’t he concede that point, and give me my amendment? Because politics, that’s why.

I was reminded of this recently because I looked at some video clips of my GOP opponent. My opponent says that she is opposed to all abortions, under any circumstances, period. And then exclamation point.

Here is her “reasoning”: When she was born, in North Carolina 57 years ago, abortion was a felony. (As it was in every state except New Jersey, where it was a misdemeanor.) North Carolina did not legalize abortion until 1970. She is concerned that if abortion had been legal in North Carolina when she was conceived, then she might have been aborted. “Therefore,” all abortion should be illegal, she says.

Whoa.

Philosophy majors will recognize this as a bizarro, twilight version of Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative.” Immanuel Kant might have made that argument, had he not been a great philosopher but rather, an idiot.

Anyway, in just six weeks, the voters in FL-9 will have a choice. They can vote for a candidate who feels some degree of concern about women who are the victims of incest, who are incarcerated, and who then are forced to bear, and then bear, the consequence of that incest. Or they can vote for a candidate who fears that she might be retroactively aborted, and then incorporates that fear into her political platform.

I seriously hope that they vote for me.

Discuss
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