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Tomorrow’s News Today: The GOP on “How We Lost the House”

11:43 am in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

Immigration

Republicans risk future elections for ignoring immigration reform

This is a leaked copy of a secret memo [from the future] written by the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, dated Nov. 10, 2014:

Dear Fellow Republicans:

I hate to say that I told you so, but I told you so.

I warned you almost two years ago that the Republican Party had to extend its appeal to Hispanics. Instead, we kicked up a s**tstorm over stalling on immigration reform, and we lost the House because of it. And now, we’ve got a big, fat load of nothing.

Perhaps I’m the only who noticed that:

(a) The Hispanic vote is the fastest-growing part of the electorate, increasing its percentage of the total vote by 1% every year;

(b) The Hispanic vote is concentrated in states like Texas and Florida that we must hold in order to be considered a national party; and

(c) In the 2012 Presidential election cycle, we lost the Hispanic vote by a ridiculous 68% to 30%.

So we already were skating on thin ice, going into the 2014 mid-term elections. And what did we do? We started jumping up and down on that thin ice, we crashed through it, and we drowned.

It should have told us something when Senators like Rubio, McCain and Flake, Republicans representing states with lots of Hispanic voters, said that we needed immigration reform. The Tea Party kept yelling that we would lose big if the undocumented won a path to votership. Yet the Republican Senators who supposedly had the most to lose from this, those very ones, spoke out for immigration reform.

And it should have been obvious what we had to do, when a substantial number of Republican Senators came out in favor of a sane and rational immigration bill. The Tea Party was hoping that the immigration bill would meet the same fate as the April 2013 gun control bill – death by filibuster. They were wrong. Sen. McConnell couldn’t hold the Republican Senators together in a filibuster, because even at that early point, the polling showed that there were a lot more single-issue pro-immigration voters than there are single-issue pro-gun-control voters. And that was before all the fun started, in 2014, in the House of Representatives.

Boehner told us, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” And then he went into the usual Orange Man routine: lots of bills, lots of hearings, lots of meetings with “stakeholders,” lots of letters back and forth between House Committee Chairs and Obama Administration officials, lots of amendments, mark-ups in three different committees, etc., etc.

All while the Hispanic vote was coming to a slow boil.

And then the party-line House Floor vote, and Boehner’s refusal to put any Senate bill up for a vote, and Boehner’s refusal to appoint House-Senate conferees. At which point, the Hispanic vote boiled over.

For once, the White House communications staff got it right. Instead of the President assailing “Congress,” the President assailed the Republicans. And he hit us where it hurt, calling out Republicans as heartless and soulless. The “Mean Party.” I particularly well-recall when our supposedly “Muslim” President quoted Matthew 25:40 from the King James Bible: “Truly I say to unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Plenty of Hispanics came right out and called us racists.

And then, as the clock ticked down, the protests – Oh God, the protests. Undocumented workers saying that they had worked for weeks and never been paid. That they had worked 70 hours each week in the hot sun, and hadn’t been paid enough to feed their hungry babies. Teenagers pleading for the chance to remain in the only country that they could remember, and not be exported like farm animals to a place that they had never known. Women testifying that they had been raped, but were afraid to go to the police, because they feared deportation and permanent separation from their own families.

And then the Tea Party lunatics started showing up at the protests with guns, and threatening “citizen arrests.”

And then crazy Sheriff Arpaio started making real arrests.

Every night, on the news. For weeks. Then months. While the House Republicans engaged in vigorous onanism.

We thought that we had a lock on the House of Representatives. We had that huge 10-to-1 post-Citizens United advantage in sewer money. We had the ridiculously gerrymandered congressional boundaries that in 2012 had delivered lopsided Republican House delegation majorities of:

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Uncle Sam = Big Brother?

11:28 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, “Big Brother” is the dictator of Oceania. No one knows whether Big Brother is a real person, or simply the personification of the dictatorship. Big Brother spies on every citizen through “telescreens.” Everyone is reminded constantly, “Big Brother is Watching You.”

Uncle Sam I Want You - Poster No Words Centered

Uncle Sam

Let’s compare that to the recent revelations about the Orwellian-named National Security Agency (NSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. News reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post have uncovered a secret court order dated April 23, 2013, issued to Verizon. Verizon is the largest cell phone company in America. The court order requires Verizon to give to the NSA “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” “Call detail records” are records of who you called, when you called, and how long you spoke.

The court order in the news reports is classified, and it’s marked “Declassify on: April 12, 2038.”

There is no reason to think that the NSA singled out Verizon. So that implies that the NSA is collecting records of every telephone call that you and I make, even local telephone calls. In fact, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who worked at the NSA, told reporters that he could get the records for the calls from the President’s own personal cell phone.

The NSA has not denied that it is collecting call records on every America. On the contrary, the NSA sees nothing wrong with it.

I see three fundamental problems with this:

  1. This is worse than the proverbial “fishing expedition”; this is like putting the entire ocean through a sieve. It makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that government searches be “particular.”
  2. This assumes not only that everyone is guilty until proven innocent, but that everyone is guilty. The Fourth Amendment limits searches to cases of “probable cause,” meaning that a prudent and cautious person would reasonably believe that the search will yield evidence of a crime. Obviously, most phone records have absolutely nothing to do with the commission of any crime.
  3. Providing this information to the Department of Defense violates the fundamental principle that our military does not operate on American soil, against American citizens. That principle has been embodied in law since the 1870s. From this perspective, providing this personal call record information to DoD is no different from providing it to the CIA – another agency that is not allowed to operate on US soil.

The news reports also reprinted five pages from an NSA PowerPoint presentation about the NSA’s “Prism” program. According to that NSA presentation, the NSA collects information “directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” “What information?”, you may wonder. This information, according to the NSA presentation: “E-mail, Chat-video, voice, Videos, Photos, Stored data, VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol], File transfers, Video Conferencing, Notifications of target activity – logins, etc., Online Social Networking details [and] Special Requests.”

The PowerPoint presentation in the news reports is classified, and it’s marked “Declassify On: 20360901″ (Meaning Sept. 1, 2036.)

The plain meaning of this, in the context of the presentation, is that the NSA is pulling unlimited amounts of e-mails from Microsoft’s hosted Hotmail accounts, e-mails from Google’s hosted Gmail accounts, search records from Google’s search servers, private “friend” communications from Facebook’s servers, the content of telephone calls from Skype’s VoIP service, etc., etc.

Regarding the Prism program, despite what the presentation specifically states, the NSA contends that it cannot actually collect information directly from the servers of all those internet service providers. The NSA also has put out that it collects such information (e-mails, photos, call content, etc.) only for foreigners not residing in the United States. Honestly, I don’t know how the NSA could do that in any reliable manner, because Google, Microsoft, Facebook and all the others have no way of knowing your citizenship or your residence. But that’s what the NSA is saying.

The bottom line is that the NSA evidently is getting call information on virtually every phone call by virtually every American, it is definitely getting the e-mails and call content of foreigners, and it may or may not be getting the e-mails and call content of Americans.

So is Uncle Sam actually Big Brother? I won’t dwell on the convoluted intimate relations that would be necessary to make your uncle also your brother. Rather, as noted above, the essence of Big Brother was that “Big Brother is Watching You.” Uncle Sam isn’t physically observing you at all times – that much is true. But if Uncle Sam is receiving information about every phone call that you make (as the NSA concedes), and Uncle Sam has access every other electronic communication of yours, including your e-mails and web browsing and storing it all (which the NSA disputes), then yes, Big Brother is Watching You.

I think that it’s wrong, and it has to end. As do the 13,000 people in 24 hours who signed the petition supporting our legislation at www.MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com

. Because we can’t protect our freedom by destroying it.

I understand that there may be some people who see no problem in the Department of Defense monitoring their communications. I also understand that there are some people who have been so traumatized, so terrorized, by terrorism that they are willing to give up all of their freedom – all of everyone’s freedom – for the promise of some safety.

I am not one of those people.

Click here for freedom: http://MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com/

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

“Ain’t the pictures enough, why do you go through so much,
To get the story you need, so you can bury me.
You’ve got the people confused. You tell the stories you choose.
You try to get me to lose the man I really am.

-Michael Jackson, “Privacy” (2001).
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What If Richard Nixon Had Had Your E-Mail Password?

8:28 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

If he were President right now, Richard Nixon would absolutely adore today’s National Security Agency. Nixon would be able to snoop, shadow and spy at will. He could read your e-mail; see what you’ve googled; check out your browsing history; find out whom you called, who called you, when you spoke and for how long; and know where you are at every moment, because of that GPS chip in your phone.

And he wouldn’t have to offer that lame, barefaced excuse that there was a Communist hiding under your bed. No, all he’d have to say is that there is a terrorist hiding under your bed.

(Maybe you need a bed that’s closer to the floor. But then you’d have to watch out for the rats.)

When I was a kid, I sure didn’t trust Tricky Dick. But as I grew up, I realized that the problem went well beyond The Trickmeister. He was simply exploiting spytech to its fullest. I learned that President Eisenhower had spied on Eleanor Roosevelt, that J. Edgar Hoover had recorded Martin Luther King Jr.’s private conversations, and that Lyndon Johnson had enlisted the FBI’s assistance during his 1964 campaign. For almost a century, the federal government has used surveillance to keep tabs on civil rights, environmentalist, and antiwar activism. Spying on us: it’s the one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. It’s bipartisan. It’s as American as apple spy.

That’s one reason why the revelations over the past few days of near-universal government surveillance are so disturbing.  Microsoft, Google, Apple – they’re all in on it. Former NSA official William Binney has said that we are “on a slippery slope to a totalitarian state.” I don’t know what’s worse: that I’m not sure he’s right, or that I’m not sure he’s wrong.

Fortunately, I’m a Member of Congress, so I can do something about it. And you are likely an American citizen and voter, which means that you can help.

I’m introducing a bill that I call the “Mind Your Own Business Act”. This bill prohibits our government from spying on us, or collecting data on us, unless there’s probable cause that you have committed or you will commit an act of terrorism or similar criminal offense.

I submitted this provision as an amendment to the House Rules Committee today. I am attempting to attach it to the National Defense Authorization Act, which will come up for a vote in the House later this week. Sign your name here to show your support for the Mind Your Own Business Act:

http://MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com/

You’d have to be nuts to think that it’s necessary to inquire into the personal web browsing habits, telephone calls and physical location of 320 million Americans in order to keep us safe. What’s next – are we going to try to prevent hijackings by all flying naked?

Are we going to ban forks and knives? And if so, then how will we eat spaghetti?

Mass indiscriminate surveillance is a necessary ingredient in tyranny. It’s also an utterly inefficient means to protect us.  Osama Bin Laden routinely sent e-mails for years, completely evading the NSA. Here’s how he did it (pay attention, would-be terrorists): He wrote up e-mails, saved them on a $10 thumb drive, and had some lackey send them from a web cafe in Pakistan. Maybe the reason why the NSA couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden’s e-mails was that they were too busy spying on everyone else in the world. They’re the gang that couldn’t snoop straight.

Ben Franklin said that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Leaving aside those quirky initial caps, I agree wholeheartedly.

We didn’t give up our constitutional rights 150 years ago, when 1,000,000 heavily armed soldiers rose up in rebellion.  Those rebs had cannon, the nuclear weapon of the 19th century. Why should we give up our constitutional rights when a small number of barely armed men on the other side of the world, garbed in sheets, try to threaten us?

We have preserved our freedom and our rights for the past half-century, with over 10,000 nuclear warheads pointed right at us – enough to kill all of us even if we were like cats, and had nine lives. Why should we forsake our freedom and our rights now?

This is not North Korea. This is not Maoist China. This is not East Germany. This is the United States of America. If we put the word “Freedom” on our stamps, then we should put it in our lives, too.

For God’s sake, we are not cattle. We Are Human Beings!

You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty, and therefore you ought to be un-snooped until you do something wrong. Let’s force the NSA to stop snooping — join me:

http://MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com/

Click here for freedom.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

“Everybody knows the scene is dead.

There’s gonna be a meter on your bed.

That will disclose

What everybody knows.”

-Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows” (1988).

P.S. Please, please, please forward this to your friends, and urge them to sign the petition.

A Day in the Life of a Congressman

6:59 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

One of the interesting things about this Congressjob is that at any given moment, there are three or four different things to do. What one has to show for one’s time in Congress is, more than anything else, a question of time management.

Last Wednesday posed an interesting choice for me. I was invited, like all Members of Congress, to the Radio/TV Correspondents Association annual dinner. This is a spectacular opportunity to “network with” (i.e., suck up to) major figures in the national news media, like network news anchors, national radio show hosts and White House correspondents.

To make the dinner extra-special, Emeril Lagasse, a world-famous chef, prepared a unique New Orleans-inspired menu. It featured olive and goat cheese hors d’oeuvres, fried oysters, Creole shrimp and stuffed quail.

I didn’t go. I had something else that I needed to do.

Also on Wednesday night was the annual Bipartisan Congressional Baseball Outing. (As President Obama would say, “Baseball is not a Democratic game. It’s not a Republican game. It’s an American game!!” <<wild cheers>>) Members of Congress were invited to go see the game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Congressional staffers were to sing the national anthem, but I wanted to go anyway. (Just kidding, Congressional staffers. You know I love you.) I have a great deal of fondness for the Amazin’ Mets, going back to the Tom Seaver/Jerry Koosman era, when Nolan Ryan was a fifth starter with a very wild arm. I used to watch Mets games on a 21″ black-and-white TV screen, on Channel 9, WOR-TV. (Note to my children: “TV” is something that people used to watch before there was Netflix and YouTube.) If I had gone, I would have been one of the few people in the ballpark to enjoy that game, since the Mets won by a score of 10-1.

I couldn’t make it. I was too busy doing something else.

On Wednesday night, there also was a four-alarm fire three blocks from my office in the Cannon House Office Building. Having grown up in New York City, I know that nothing draws a good crowd like a fire.

I was in the Capitol Building the whole time, so I didn’t see it. Plus I have an alibi.

So what was I doing all night on Wednesday? Passing three amendments in the Homeland Security appropriations bill:

  1. An amendment prohibiting federal contract awards to contractors that commit numerous crimes;
  2. An amendment requiring Homeland Security to respect our constitutional rights under the 1st, 2nd and 4th Amendments (think racial profiling); and
  3. An amendment prohibiting Homeland Security from acquiring and using military or weaponized drones in the United States. (Hats off to Rep. Rush Holt, who came up with this amendment but couldn’t offer it on Wednesday – not because he was at a dinner or a ballgame, but because he was at Senator Lautenberg’s funeral.)

To get these amendments passed, I had to sit down with the House Parliamentarian, and make sure that they would not be ruled “out of order” on procedural grounds (as many are). Then I had to discuss the amendments individually with Democratic and Republican Members and staffers – a very dicey game, because the Republicans have enough votes to vote down any amendment at will. (And, duh, I’m a Democrat.) Then I just had to sit, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Until we reached the part of the bill when I could offer my amendments, and it was my turn to offer those amendments.

So I could have spent Wednesday night in gastronomical paradise, or being honored at a ballgame between two teams that I love. But instead, I did my job as a lawmaker, which is to make laws. To make the world a better place.

Isn’t that what you deserve?

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Letter from Birmingham Jail

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” King was jailed for campaigning against racial segregation in Birmingham, in violation of an injunction against anyone “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.” His letter was written on the margins of a newspaper, scraps of paper that another prisoner gave to him, and then a legal pad that his attorney left behind. It has been an inspiration to millions of people; I am one of them. Here are some excerpts:

MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN: . . . .

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly….

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff[ly] creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Fu town is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience….

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists….

I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, and all over the nation, because the goal of America [is] freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands….

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?…

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trade Sell-Out: Out of the Mouths of Citizens….

7:53 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

If you have received my e-mails for a while, you know that I sometimes refer to you all, affectionately, as “Alan’s Army.” You are passionate, smart and dedicated. But last week you were something else: Amazing.

I told you about a proposed partnership between multinational corporations and their sellout tools in government (a/k/a the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). The TTIP features “investor-state” dispute resolution, which invites huge corporations to file lawsuits to prevent government actions that they just don’t like, such as health and safety regulations. Similar trade agreements have allowed the World Trade Organization to strike down country-of-origin meat labels, dolphin-safe tuna labels and limits on candy-flavored cigarettes marketed to kids.

I asked you to send your thoughts to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), who will help decide whether to enter into this corrupt abridgement of American sovereignty.

Alan’s Army responded – and how! In all, 9,625 of us submitted comments. Let me tell you how our response stacks up. Before we got involved, the USTR received only 113 comments in 88 days – many from corporate lobbyists. We added almost 100 times that amount, in a little more than 24 hours. Again, amazing.

Now, let’s make our voices heard again. Tomorrow the House Ways and Means Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over trade, will hold a hearing on the TTIP. I plan to deliver a letter to the Committee expressing my disdain for this betrayal, and more specifically, that 30-pieces-of-silver investor-state dispute resolution clause. You can join me.

Click here to sign my letter opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

I would love to have 10,000 citizen soldiers of the Alan’s Army on board. You did it once. Can you do it again?

And please, share this with your friends. We want ourArmy to grow.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

P.S. Some of you responded with eloquence. Others with anger. And a few of you were just plain nasty (and you know how much I enjoy that). Here are a few of my favorite comments:

As Thomas Jefferson put it, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” – Paul from Sharon, MA

Corporations are running this world already. They need to be severed at the knees. This is Fascism, plain and simple. – Ralph from Blackduck, Minnesota

SERIOUSLY? YOU MUST BE COMPLETELY CRAZY TO CONSIDER ALLOWING CORPORATIONS TO SUE GOVERNMENTS! CRAZY OR EVIL. – Georgia from Novato, CA

I am opposed to this misnamed trade agreement in its entirety. It should more properly be called a cowardly corporate surrender document. – Jim from Ballston Spa, NY

American citizens can afford no further capitulation to greed-driven economics and legislation. It is time for those who have always bought their solutions to finally learn the word “No” lest we slip further into ownership by corporate powers and cease to be a nation of the people for the people. – Christina from Maplewood, MN

I am dead set against this agreement and the Trans Pacific agreement as well. What the hell are you guys smoking, anyway? – Bryan from West Linn, OR

I smell NAFTA (NO AMERICAN FACTORIES TAKING APPLICATIONS) and GATT (GANGSTERS AGREEMENT ON TRADE AND TARIFFS). – Mike from Seattle, WA

This is unconscionable! Why are we even considering this? Oh, I forgot…corporations are now more important than people. NOT!!! – Dee from Madison, WI

This is the worst of all the stupidest things I have ever heard of. – Stephen from
Rochester, NY

If this insanity continues I will start pledging allegiance to the United Corporation of America! – Cornelius from West Amherst, NY

Unbelievable. Did Mitt Romney start this piece of crap? – Thomas from Phoenix, AZ

Sequester Threatens Top-Secret Military Research

6:10 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

BWSO (representation)

One of the nice things about being a Member of Congress is that I have security clearance, and you don’t. (Sorry!) So I know about the threat that the looming sequester poses to a crucial top-secret military research project. Since we’re friends, I’ll tell you about it.

The U.S. Army has discovered that a small round white object, when hurled from close range at the upper extremities of an enemy combatant, can have a devastating impact, sometimes inducing unconsciousness. Deploying this weapon often results in immediate disorientation in the enemy combatant, reflected in his abrupt non-vertical motion and transient imbalance. The Army refers to these powerful weapons as “Ballistic White Spherical Objects,” or BWSOs.

Although it packs quite a wallop, the BWSO is surprisingly compact. It measures only nine inches in circumference, small enough for a properly trained U.S. soldier to hold one in each hand. A fully-functional BWSO weighs only five ounces, making it practical for a U.S. soldier deployed on the battlefield to carry several of them, simultaneously, in his kit.

Remarkably, U.S. military experiments have demonstrated that the BWSO is completely resistant to electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), and other advanced electronic countermeasures. In the wake of an EMP caused by a nuclear blast, BWSOs evidently will continue to function in the prescribed manner, unless they are vaporized.

BWSOs are especially useful in close combat, demonstrating the ability to project substantial force over small distances. Yet the effective range of BWSOs is proving to be very similar to that of grenades (for reasons as yet unknown). The effective range of BWSOs has been ascertained to be substantially greater than that of bayonets.

Currently, our entire supply of military-grade BWSOs comes from Costa Rica. Recognizing the obvious wartime threat, Pentagon military planners have considered the scenario in which the Chinese Navy blocks both the Pacific and the Caribbean sea lanes. The planners have assured the Joint Chiefs of Staff that we will nevertheless be able to maintain our supply of BWSOs because, since Costa Rica has no military, we can just take whatever we want.

(A nation without a military – imagine that. But I digress.)

BWSOs are white objects, as the acronym implies. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is, however, in the midst of a year-long study at a secret location to determine whether BWSOs remain effective when they are red, green, blue or even purple. If these tests prove successful, then next year, DARPA will test striped BWSOs, and in the following year, plaid.

Every BWSO features 216 pieces of red thread, or “stitches” (not to be confused with the medical treatment for combat wounds).  These “stitches” sometimes cause a completely unexpected feature upon deployment – a curvature in the arc of the BWSO’s trajectory. At first this was believed to be an optical illusion, or perhaps a gravitational lensing effect, in accordance with general relativity.  However, detailed telescopic studies performed by orbiting military satellites, in both the visible light and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, have confirmed that this effect is genuine.

Properly trained , a soldier can deploy the BWSO with mind-boggling speeds approaching 100 mph, or almost twice the velocity of a car on an interstate highway adhering to the national speed limit (if such a thing can be imagined). Interestingly, this is true of both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking drivers, and both automatic transmissions and “stick shifts.” At such velocity, scientific studies at Guantanamo Bay and certain “black ops” CIA locations have demonstrated that the impact of a BWSO upon the skull of an enemy combatant is devastating, especially when the enemy combatant is in chains.

Because BWSOs are usually non-lethal, they are also being studied for usage by internal security forces. One advanced concept is to deploy them from domestic drones. In the United Kingdom, tests are being conducted to see whether they can be integrated into the existing complement of equipment used by English “bobbies,” whereby one “pitches” and the other one “hits.”

The U.S. Army’s current BWSO research program – placed directly at risk by the sequester — focuses on the maximum speed with which BWSOs may be deployed.  In this key project, the Army has identified and procured the services of certain experts in the field. These experts cannot be identified, for obvious reasons, but they definitely aren’t not named “CC Sabathia,” “Johan Santana” or “Barry Zito.” (Disturbingly, intelligence reports conclusively demonstrate that “Justin Verlander” may or may not be cooperating with foreign military forces in a similar manner, thus posing the very real threat of an “arms race.”)

Due to earlier budget cuts, the Army found that it could not pay the normal daily rate for these experts, which is $600,000 for approximately two hours of work. The Army found, however, that it could procure these services for half-price, or only $300,000 for each two-hour “start,” if it conducted these tests between mid-October and late March.

These essential tests are being threatened by the sequester. If the sequester goes into effect at the end of this month, then we may never understand why Army test data indicate that Santana’s deployment of the BWSOs appears to be slowing. (Could it be a gradual increase in the strength of the Earth’s gravitational field?)  Or why Zito’s declining ability to force the BWSO trajectory to arc occasionally seems to leave the BWSO hanging in the air, much like a ripe pumpkin.

We cannot leave America defenseless. We cannot let the terrorists win. Remember, they hate us because we are free. But the cost of that freedom is precisely whatever the current military budget happens to be, before any terrorist-coddling sequester cuts.

Virtually all of the media coverage of the impact of the sequester on the US military-industrial complex has focused on the loss of jobs, as if hiring people to kill other people is some kind of national full-employment program. But having read all the way down to here, at least you, Dear Reader, you understand that there is a lot more at stake.

Oh, and we’re also cutting the air traffic control budget by nine percent. That should have some interesting consequences.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

P.S. Please sign our petition against Social Security and Medicare cuts at www.no-cuts.com, if you haven’t already. Read the rest of this entry →

Aaron Swartz, R.I.P.

3:42 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

Aaron Swartz was an internet leader and free-speech advocate. He helped organize the worldwide movement to keep the internet free from censorship and corporate control. After Aaron downloaded a large number of scholarly articles from the JSTOR website without JSTOR’s permission, he was indicted for violating JSTOR’s terms of service. Facing long years in prison, Aaron committed suicide last month, at the age of 26. At a recent memorial service for Aaron in Washington, DC, Congressman Alan Grayson was invited to speak. Here is what he said:

CONGRESSMAN GRAYSON: Aaron worked in my office as an intern. He had a quality that I found unnerving. He could come up with better things for him to do than I could come up with for him to do. Time and time again, I would give him something to do, and he’d say, “Is it okay if I also work on this other thing?” And “this other thing” turned out to be much more important than anything that I could come up with.

I learned to live with that. I learned to live with that shortcoming, which I took to be a shortcoming of my own, not one of his.

The other unnerving quality that I found in him was the fact that when he would conjure these assignments, they actually came to fruition — an unusual phenomenon here on Capitol Hill. [Laughter.] He’d give himself something to do, I would recognize that it was very worthwhile, I let him do it, and it got done! He was a remarkable human being.

Another thing that I found unnerving — but also very endearing — about Aaron was that Aaron wanted to rock the boat. Now, we all hear from a very, very young age, “Don’t rock the boat.” I would venture to say that of the 2000 languages spoken on this planet, probably every single one of them has an idiom in that language for that term: “Don’t rock the boat.” And yet Aaron wanted to rock the boat. Not just for the sake of boat-rocking, but for the sake of improving the lives of ordinary people. And that’s a beautiful, a wonderful quality.

We’re talking about somebody here who helped to create Reddit, an important world-wide service, at the age of nineteen. Honestly, somebody who probably could have spent the rest of his life in bed, ordering pizzas, and left it at that. And yet he didn’t. He continued to strive to do good — good as he saw it. And that’s a rare quality in people. Many of us, we just have to do our best to get through the day. That’s the way it is. Many of us struggle to do just that. Very few of us actually can think big thoughts, and make them happen. But Aaron was one of those rare people.

And he was willing to take the heat for rocking the boat. Now, you know, sometimes when you rock the boat, the boat tries to rock you. That is exactly what he encountered, right up until the end.

And it’s a sad thing, that that’s the price you have to pay. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our property. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our freedom. For some of us who rock the boat, we end up losing our families. And in Aaron’s case, his life.

And yet, he was willing to face the facts, and to let that happen. To keep striving, to keep struggling, to keep trying to shake things up.

Aaron’s life reminded me about a different life that came to the same end. It’s the life of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician. He lived in England, and was born one hundred years ago. Alan Turing was the greatest mathematician of the 20th Century. He not only invented the Turing Machine, which is the basis for all modern computing, but Alan Turing also broke the Nazi codes during World War II, and allowed the English and the Americans to defeat the Nazis.

You would think that someone like that would be cherished. Someone like that who, if he had managed to have a full life, might have won one, or two, or even three, Nobel Prizes. But in fact he was vilified, because he was a homosexual, which, at that point in England, in those days, was illegal. And I’m sure that at that point in England, in those days, there were people who said, “Well, the law is the law. And if you disobey the law, then you should go to prison.” Because of that, because his boyfriend turned him in, Alan Turing was convicted of perversity, and sentenced to prison.

Given the choice between spending hard time — years and years of his life — instead of doing the mathematics that he loved, or alternatively, to accept estrogen injections, well, Turing took the estrogen injection choice. And that broke not only his body, but his mind. He found that he could not do the thing he loved the most, mathematics, any longer. So after two years of this, Alan Turing committed suicide.

And who lost, out of that? Well, Alan Turing lost. But so did all of we. We lost as well. All of us who would have benefitted from that first, and second, and the third Nobel Prizes that Alan Turing had in him. And that Aaron Swartz had in him.

We’re the ones who lose.

If we let our prejudices, our desires to restrain those with creativity — if we let that lead us to the point where that creativity is restrained, then going back all the way to the time of Socrates, what we engage in is human sacrifice. We sacrifice their lives, out of the misguided sense that we need to protect ourselves from them, when in fact it’s the opposite.

Our lives have meaning, our lives have greater meaning, from the things that they create. So we’re here today to remember Aaron — and also to try to learn from the experience. To understand that prosecution should not be persecution.

This morning I reached into the closet, randomly took out this tie [showing necktie], and wore it. And I have a sense that sometimes, things are connected in ways that are not exactly obvious. It happens that this tie is a painting of “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh, someone else whose life ended all too soon.

In a Don McLean song about Vincent Van Gogh, it ends this way: “They would not listen. They’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will.”

It’s time to listen.

SEE THE VIDEO

“And when no hope was left in sight,
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
 But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.” 

-Don McLean, “Starry, Starry Night” (1971).

“Would You Like To Buy A Pen?” She Asked Me

2:40 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

As we approach the self-immolation known as “The Sequester,” I find myself thinking about a woman in West Africa, asking people, “Would you like to buy a pen?”

She was a middle-aged woman, wearing a bright-colored dress. Judging by wear and tear, it may have been the only dress she owned.

She was standing on the steps in front of a small department store, which was selling pens by the dozen. She repeated softly, in French, to passers-by, “Voulez-vous acheter une plume?” And she held up a pen.

I didn’t need a pen, but I did need to know what she was up to. I asked her how much her pen cost. She quoted a fair price. I gave her that much, plus some more. She gave me a pen that I didn’t need. And she had enough money to eat something that day.  Or so she said, en francais.

Back to “The Sequester,” the 12% budget cut for the military (leaving aside soldier pay and benefits), and the 9% budget cut for other federal programs (leaving aside Medicare and Social Security). Opponents of The Sequester are focusing on the military cuts. Their theory seems to be that the American public has been signing blank checks made out to “DoD” for so long that there is no way that we’ll stop now. Or maybe they think that we will subliminally translate the words “defense cuts” into “some crazy Arab is going to blow me up” without anyone actually having to say that, much less make the case for it.

I have a nodding acquaintance with polling, so I understand that foreign aid might be the least popular federal program right now, second only to black helicopters. But our immunization program alone saves three million lives each year. Our emergency food assistance program fed more than 66 million starving people last year. Possibly including the lady who sold me that pen.

And the total cost of all that food was equal to one-sixteenth of a new aircraft carrier. In fact, for the cost of one aircraft carrier, we could feed every hungry person in the entire world.

So let’s see. A nine percent cut in the foreign aid budget means that six million more people go hungry. And American taxpayers save 44 cents a month. Not even enough to buy one hamburger.

Further translating this into Americanese, give some thought as to what The Sequester will do to the food stamp program, or the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. A lot of Americans will be going to bed cold and hungry.

I know that I will never see that lady with the pen again. Even though I remember her, she probably doesn’t remember me – if she is still alive. She is not going to vote for me, and she is not going to contribute to my next campaign. Nor will her relatives, nor will her friends. I’m not sure why I cared whether or not she was hungry, but I did, and I do. It’s just part of being human, I guess.

So here is one argument against The Sequester that you’re not hearing elsewhere – it will cause a lot of pain. A lot of hunger, a lot of disease, a lot of death. I understand that this argument is hopelessly unfashionable, and completely contrary to the zeitgeist of fear and hatred that dominates our political discourse. But there it is, nevertheless. I sure see it. Maybe you do, too.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

Humpty Dumpty Constitutionalism

5:43 pm in Uncategorized by Alan Grayson

A few days ago, I pointed out that the House Republicans’ five-page bill to raise the debt ceiling offends two different provisions in the Constitution.  I wish this were an isolated instance.  It’s not.

Most House Republicans are Tea Partiers, and Tea Partiers are in love with three things:

  1. those three-sided felt hats;
  2. those overly snug vests with lots and lots of brass buttons; and
  3. calling themselves “constitutional conservatives.”

In my last campaign, the loser (in every sense of the word) who ran against me painted himself as a “constitutional conservative.”   He swore that his only goal was to return to the governing principles of our Founding Fathers.  But as far as I could tell, the only part of the original Constitution that he liked was the part about black slaves counting as only three-fifths of a human being.

For months, I had to listen to the unhinged “constitutional” rants of that right-wing crank.  Here is a list of some of the all-too-familiar Tea Party proposals he made that are blatantly unconstitutional:

  1. banning abortion;
  2. mandatory school prayer;
  3. a national sales tax;
  4. Congressional term limits;
  5. state rejection of federal laws;
  6. forcing criminal defendants to speak English;
  7. taxpayer dollars for religious schools;
  8. drug testing for federal benefits;
  9. discrimination against naturalized citizens; and
  10. state-by-state immigration policies.

The worst part of this is that he fancied himself quite the constitutional scholar, thank-you-very-much.  But he must have slept through his law school course on constitutional law.  Every single one of these proposals is unconstitutional, and unequivocally unconstitutional, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But this same Tea Party acolyte did not hesitate to declare Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, federal aid to schools, student loans, paper money and – of course – Obamacare all unconstitutional.  Why?  Because he said so.

And don’t even get me started on his obsession over the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  Apparently, he never noticed that under our Constitution, the federal government can:

  1. force you to fill out a census form;
  2. force you to serve on a jury;
  3. force you to hand in your gold;
  4. force you to give 91% of your income to it (under the Republican Eisenhower Administration);
  5. force you to hand over your property in return for what it considers “just compensation”; and
  6. select you on the basis of your birthday (!), drag you halfway around the world, and then force you to get your legs blown off, fighting the Vietnamese.

And I’m supposed to believe that this same government can’t get you to pay for your own emergency room care, or charge you what it costs if you don’t?  Come on.

Look, they don’t own the American flag, they don’t own God, and they don’t own Constitution, either.  It’s our Constitution.

I invite my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to sit down and read – at least those who know how to read – the document that they have sworn to uphold.  In less time than they would waste listening to Sean Hannity’s errant nonsense one evening, they can get through the whole thing.

There’s some interesting stuff in there.  For instance, it’s pretty clear that the Founding Fathers did not contemplate a standing army, much less an army standing in Kabul.  And I invite you to show me exactly where it says in there that our military can occupy a foreign country.

But that’s the real Constitution, not the fake one in their heads.  Their version reads like Humpty Dumpty’s:  “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’”

Courage,

Congressman Alan Grayson

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. – The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, ch. 5 (1871).