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The ISIS War Authorization: A Blank Check
26 February 2015 - 12:42pm
Perpetual War
24 February 2015 - 12:44pm
Did the GOP Just Give Away $130 Billion in Public Property?
23 February 2015 - 4:55pm
The 1st Standing Ovation in the History of Real Time
2 February 2015 - 2:27pm
Gay Marriage Foes: Mind Your Own Business
30 January 2015 - 4:28pm
The ISIS War Authorization: A Blank Check
26 February 2015 - 12:42pm

So we had a hearing a week ago on ISIS (“we” being the House Foreign Affairs Committee), and the witnesses were three experts on U.S. policy in the Middle East, all dues-paying members of the Military-Industrial Complex. They were James Jeffrey, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at our embassy in Iraq; Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the Rand Corp.; and Dafna Rand, who was on the National Security Council staff. The White House had just released the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS, and I felt that I needed a good translator, so I asked them what the ISIS war authorization meant. Their answers were chilling: the ISIS war authorization means whatever the President wants it to mean. If you don’t believe me, just listen to them: 

GRAYSON: Section 2(c) of the President’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force reads as follows: “The authority granted in subsection A [to make war on ISIS and forces ‘alongside’ ISIS] does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Ambassador Jeffrey, what does ‘enduring’ mean?

JEFFREY: My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one: “Whatever the Executive at the time defines ‘enduring’ as.” And I have a real problem with that. 

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan? 

BRENNAN: I have real problems with that also. I don’t know what it means. I can just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this. But more importantly, if you’re looking at committing forces for something that you are saying is either [a] vital or important interest of the United States, and you get in the middle of a battle, and all of a sudden, are you on offense, or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems? Wars never end the way that they were envisioned. And so I think that that’s maybe a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF. 

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand? 

RAND: Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness, it specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand. 

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand, is two weeks ‘enduring’? 

RAND: I would leave that to the lawyers to determine exactly. 

GRAYSON: So your answer is [that] you don’t know, right? How about two months? 

RAND: I don’t know. Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective, ‘enduring’ in my mind is not having a particular military objective in mind. 

GRAYSON: So you don’t really know what it means. Is that a fair statement? 

RAND: ‘Enduring,’ in my mind, means open-ended. 

GRAYSON: All right — Section Five of the draft of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force reads as follows: “In this resolution, the term ‘associated persons or forces’ means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Ambassador Jeffrey, what does “alongside ISIL” mean? 

JEFFREY: I didn’t draft this thing. 

GRAYSON: Nor did I. 

JEFFREY: Nor did you, but I would have put that in there if I had been drafting it, and the reason is, I think they went back to 2001, of course this is the authorization we’re still using, along with the 2002 one for this campaign, and these things morph. For example, we’ve had a debate over whether ISIS is really an element of Al Qaeda; it certainly was when I knew it as Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 to 2012, and these semantic arguments confuse us and confuse our people on the ground, in trying to deal with these folks. You’ll know it when you see it, if it’s ISIS or it’s an ally of ISIS. 

GRAYSON: How about the Free Syrian Army, are they fighting alongside ISIL in Syria? 

JEFFREY: No, they’re not fighting alongside ISIL, in fact often they’re fighting against ISIL, and ISIL against them in particular. 

GRAYSON: What about Assad, is he fighting “alongside” or against? It’s kind of hard to tell without a scorecard, isn’t it?

JEFFREY: It sure is. 

GRAYSON: Yes. What about you, Dr. Brennan, can you tell me what “alongside ISIL” means? 

BRENNAN: No, I really couldn’t. I think that, what, you know, it might be. The 9/11 Commission uses the phrase “radical islamist organizations.” I think maybe if we went to a wording like that, it includes all those 52 groups that adhere to this type of ideology, that threaten the United States. But we’re putting ourselves in boxes and as you said Senator – Congressman — I’m trying to understand what that means, what the limits are … who we’re dealing with, and it’s very confusing.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand? 

RAND: Well, first of all, I believe that the confusion is probably a function of the fact that this is an unclassified document, so it’s not going to specify exactly which groups are considered associates; that would be for a classified setting. But second, as I said in the testimony, the nature of the alliances within ISIL are changing and are fluid, and those who are targeting, the military experts, know exactly who is a derivative or an associate or an ally of ISIS, at any given moment. 

GRAYSON: Why are you so confident of that? It seems to me that it’s a matter of terminology, not a matter of ascertainable fact. 

RAND: Based on my public service, I’ve seen some of the lawyers, and some of the methodologies, and … . 

GRAYSON: Okay. Here’s the $64 billion question for you, Ambassador Jeffrey, and if we have time, for you others. If you can’t tell us — you three experts can’t tell us — what these words mean, what does that tell us? Ambassador Jeffrey? 

JEFFREY: That it’s very difficult to be using a tool basically designed to declare war or something like war on a nation-state, which has a fixed definition, against a group that morphs, that changes its name, that has allies, and other things. Do we not fight it? We have to fight it. Are we having a hard time defining it? You bet. 

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan? 

BRENNAN: I’d agree with the ambassador. I think the issue we that need to be looking at is trying to broaden terminology and understand that it is a tenet, or organizations and groups that adhere to this ideology, and make it broad enough that if one pops up in a different country that is doing the same thing, that is a sister of this organization, the President has the authority to act. 

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan, I think that you just described a blank check, which I’m not willing to give to the President or anybody else. But thank you for your time. 

So that’s what the experts had to say. Now I have a question for you: How do you spell the word “quagmire”? Answer: I-S-L-A-M-I-C S-T-A-T-E. 

Courage, 

Rep. Alan Grayson 

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” 

- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass ch. 6 (1871). 

Perpetual War
24 February 2015 - 12:44pm

A week ago, I was on national TV, discussing President Obama’s draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS. Here is what I said:

Thom Hartmann: Joining me now to talk more about the President’s proposed authorization is Congressman Alan Grayson, who represents Florida’s 9th [congressional] district, and does so brilliantly, I might add. Congressman Grayson, it’s always great to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.

Alan Grayson: Thank you, Thom.

TH: I wanted to get your take on the President’s proposal, but first can you explain something for our audience: If we’re just now getting authorization for the ISIS fight, what authority have we been acting under since August?

AG: Well, the President claims authority as Commander in Chief, which is generally interpreted as defensive -- and also very short-term. And the President has also made it clear that he thinks he has the authority [to attack ISIS], even today, under the 2001 authorization to use military force. That’s counterintuitive, because ISIS didn’t even exist in 2001, or in 2005, or in 2010. But that, in fact, is what the President is claiming as a legal basis. A lot of people like me are skeptical.

TH: And to that, to that new AUMF, the major criticism we’re hearing is that it’s too vague. Do you agree with that criticism? And what do you see as the major problems with the President’s plan?

AG: Well as you said [earlier in the show], this AUMF is a recipe for perpetual war. But I think the problems actually go deeper than that. When I look at something like this, I say to myself, ‘I’m not just voting for a bunch of words here.’ If I vote for an AUMF, I’m voting for war. And there are far deeper questions that we need to address, that seem to have no good answers in this circumstance. The first question is: Is there actually a threat to U.S. people or U.S. property? Does ISIS represent a threat, a substantial threat, to U.S. people and U.S. property? We could answer that question well [if we] were talking about the Nazis or Soviet Union. I think the answer with regard to ISIS is clear: We have the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans that protect us -- our greatest allies, by the way. And the fact is that ISIS is a very limited force that doesn’t even come close to having the military capability of any actual country in that region, even a weak country like Yemen. So there are actually no direct threats, even to U.S. property, like for instance U.S. embassies that are nearby. And the fact that they have been able to pick off four U.S. citizens, who frankly put themselves in a dangerous place, does not mean that they represent a significant threat to U.S. persons or U.S. properties on any major level. The second question to ask is: If they did – which they don’t – then would our response be commensurate? Would it be proportionate? And there again, we completely fail that common-sense test. We are going into perpetual war, involving literally thousands and thousands of sorties and air strikes against ISIS, on the basis, frankly, of their having killed four Americans. [They] also committed atrocities, which are unfortunate, and have stunk up our TVs and our Internet access, and it’s offended us on some deep level. But nevertheless, we have to get past the point that every time we see something on our computer screens that we don’t like, we go ahead and bomb it. That is a recipe for national bankruptcy, as well moral bankruptcy. And the third question that I think needs to be asked is this: If this were actually a threat to the United States, and if our response were proportionate, do we have a path to victory? And the answer, here again, is “no.” I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I listen to a lot of briefings, and I will tell you that I haven’t heard the Administration come with anything resembling a sensible proposal to remove ISIS from Syria. Now Iraq is something of a closer case. There are people on both sides of that argument. But I know a bit about that [country] (I prosecuted war profiteers in Iraq), and I don’t think the Administration has a credible war plan to remove ISIS from Iraq either. So on every conceivable basis, every rational basis, this is what a great State Senator 13 years ago referred to as a “dumb war,” [State Sen. Barack Obama – ed.] and we should stay out of it.

TH: Wow. Do you think there are enough restrictions contained in this AUMF to prevent another ground war in the Middle East, to prevent a metastasis of this beyond or outside of ISIL?

AG: Not in the least. In fact I think the AUMF is deliberately — deliberately — drafted in a bad way. It doesn’t give us anything resembling an actual military plan: Who we’re attacking; when we’re attacking them; how we’re attacking them. It doesn’t have any geographical limitation whatsoever. The President literally could use this AUMF to justify military action within the United States, or Canada, or Belgium, or any number of other places. . . . The only specific limitation is that it says the President won’t employ U.S. ground forces in offensive capacity in an “enduring” manner. Now, to give you an example of how much leeway that gives him: Operation Enduring Freedom is now in its fourteenth year, with no end in sight; so much for “enduring.”

TH: There are some who are suggesting that ISIL was funded by Saudi Arabia, in part anyway, [and it] was created by Saudi Arabia. Bernie Sanders yesterday was saying this is their [Saudi Arabia’s] fight, going back to Prince Bandar: Was it prescient or beyond the pale?

AG: Well it actually is disturbing to me to see how the Administration has botched anything resembling a decent war plan here [involving Saudi Arabian ground forces], because of its obsession to prop up the state of Iraq, the so-called central government of Iraq. Secretary Kerry told me last year that he had not even bothered to ask the other countries in the Middle East to provide ground forces to fight ISIS. So I went ahead and asked. And I found that the answer was ‘yes’ for the UAE. The answer was ‘yes’ for Egypt, if the U.N. authorized it, which it has. And now we find out the answer is also ‘yes’ for Jordan. I think if we wanted to win the war [against ISIS], we would put together an international fighting force, either under U.N. auspices, or under Arab League auspices, which would take advantage of the fact the Saudis spend a fortune on their so-called defense. The Saudis are actually very unhappy with ISIS. I can tell you that for a fact. And what we would do is put together a force that spoke the local language, that looked like the local people, and that understood the local customs – unlike our young men and women, whom we send over there with nothing resembling those advantages, to do the same kind of fighting, and the same kind of dying.

TH: That’s essentially what Dana Rohrabacher said . . . . He said ‘I see no reason why we shouldn’t enlist Assad in the fight against ISIS.’

AG: We don’t need to do that. There is a basic misconception here. As Leader Pelosi often says, ‘Everyone thinks that one more act of violence will end violence for all time, and it never does.’ In fact, there is no way to win this that is something that we would regard as even acceptable to us on a moral level. Of course we have the ability to go ahead and destroy ISIS – we could turn Iraq and Syria into molten glass. But that’s something that’s beneath us. That’s something that shows that the terrorists would have won, because at that point, we would be them. So the answer is, are we willing to involve ourselves in a 1,200-year civil war to the point where we win for one side or the other, or do we simply say, ‘It’s not our problem?’

TH: Very well said. Congressman Grayson, you’re brilliant. Thanks you so much for being with us.

AG: Thank you, Thom.

“Perpetual war?” I’m against it.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

To see the video, or to make a contribution, click here.

“We, the People, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

- President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address (2013).

Did the GOP Just Give Away $130 Billion in Public Property?
23 February 2015 - 4:55pm

Last week, The Nation magazine published this article that I wrote:

Did the GOP Just Give Away $130 Billion of Public Property?

A giant Anglo-Australian mining company is getting the rights to a huge copper reserve—and we don’t know what American taxpayers are getting in return.

By: Rep. Alan Grayson

In December, two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, pushed Congress and the president into giving away what could amount to over $130 billion in public property.

That’s enough to provide every single unemployed American a minimum-wage job for an entire year. That’s enough to pay for a year of tuition at a public institution for every college student in the US.

And yet the GOP big-shots call themselves “fiscal conservatives”! “Fiscal conservatives,” my you-know-what.

I’m talking about the huge giveaway to the mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton in the Defense Authorization Act. It was splayed across ten pages of the bill, pages 441 to 450 (out of 697).

Rio Tinto is a 142-year-old mining company headquartered in London with management offices in Melbourne, Australia. It has a market capitalization of $74-$87 billion. BHP Billiton is a 155-year-old mining company, also run out of Melbourne. It has a market capitalization of $124–$126 billion. Based on market value, they are the two largest mining companies in the world. Rather than actually competing against each other (no chance of that happening!), they joined hands. Rio Tinto owns 55 percent of a company called Resolution Copper Mining LLC, and BHP Billiton owns the remaining 45 percent. And thanks to the maneuvering of GOP senators McCain and Flake, the US government is handing over land with more than $130 billion in underground copper to Resolution Copper.

In a land-swap deal, the Defense Authorization Act took four square miles of Tonto National Forest—public land in Pinal County, just outside Superior, Arizona—and gave it to Resolution Copper, so that Resolution Copper can build a copper mine on the site. According to Resolution Copper’s website, the copper resource under that land contains 1.6 billion metric tons of copper-rich ore, which itself contains 1.47 percent copper. (That’s roughly 30 pounds of copper in every ton of ore.) So there are approximately 23.5 million tons of copper sitting under those four square miles of public property.

As I write this, copper goes for $5666 per ton. So the copper under those 2,422 acres of national park land is worth roughly $133.8 billion, at current prices.
The law does say that if the land Resolution Copper gives the federal government in return is less than the federal land they just got, they’ll have to pay the difference in cash. But Resolution Copper gets a say in which appraiser gets chosen, and it’s not clear that the appraisal will fairly incorporate the value of the copper reserves.

(Wouldn’t it have been much simpler to put the land up for competitive sale, with a prescribed mandatory royalty? That’s how oil and gas leases on federal property are handled. But then there would be no way to “throw” the property to Resolution Copper, or to finagle the consideration for it.)

McCain and Flake pressed hard for this rip-off to be included in the Defense Authorization bill, even though it has nothing to do with defense. The Defense Authorization bill is a “must-pass” bill, like appropriation bills and debt ceiling bills. It has passed Congress, and been signed into law by the president, fifty-three years in a row.

Rio Tinto and BHP’s minions had tried to get the Resolution Copper swindle through the House of Representatives as a separate bill. They failed, even when the GOP controlled the House. But when McCain and Flake stuffed it into a huge defense bill, it sailed right through. (I voted against it, by the way.)

There is a certain irony that Senator Jeff Flake, of all people, earmarked this public land for Resolution Copper. During his twelve years in the House of Representatives, Flake was famous for exactly one thing: trying—and failing—to kill other congressmen’s earmarks. 60 Minutes glorified him as a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington character for that. Flake offered 140 amendments to kill individual earmarks. The House voted against Flake on 138 of them. One was ruled out of order. One of them passed, in which Flake blocked a $129,000 grant to a charity in North Carolina.

So Flake kept $129,000 out of the hands of a charity, ran for the US Senate on that basis as an anti-earmark champion, and won. And now he has helped the two largest mining companies in the world to land worth over $130 billion.

And don’t even try to tell me that the government just had to transfer this land to a private company, or it never would have been developed. The ten largest oil and gas companies in the world, by reserves, are all government-owned: the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Iraq, Venezuela, the UAE, Kuwait, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria. (Exxon is number fourteen on the list.) In fact, that one copper mine in Arizona that we just gave away has as much in copper resources as China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) has in oil reserves. And CNOOC trades on the New York Stock Exchange, and has a market capitalization of $63 billion.

Or we could have just auctioned off those four square miles of public land. Of course, with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton colluding rather than competing, we might not have seen anything even remotely resembling fair value that way, either.

Not all is lost, however, or at least not yet. Reading through this ten-page travesty, I saw that there are three things that have to happen before Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton finally get away with this legislative larceny:

(1) The land happens to be an old Native American burial ground. Before things proceed, the secretary of agriculture and Resolution Copper have to find “mutually acceptable measures to address the concerns of the affected Indian tribes.” Maybe they won’t.

(2) The secretary of agriculture has to prepare an environmental impact statement “which shall be used as the basis for all decisions under Federal law related to the proposed mine.” Maybe the project won’t pass environmental muster.

(3) There’s a last resort if the deal isn’t blocked. As noted above, the secretary of agriculture and Resolution Copper, together, have to hire an appraiser who will appraise the value of the federal land, and if the land being given away is worth more than the land being received (which it certainly should, because the land being received is copper-less), then Resolution Copper should pay the full difference, with the value of the mineral rights taken into account.

Note to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: I am begging you to make sure that the appraisal of that Tonto National Forest property fully reflects the copper in it, and I won’t be happy unless I see a figure in the tens of billions of dollars. Just this once, let’s stop this scheme to steal this valuable resource of the people, by the people and for the people away from us.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

The 1st Standing Ovation in the History of Real Time
2 February 2015 - 2:27pm

I'm excited about Bill Maher's visit to Orlando this Sunday (and you can have a chance to join us, if you contribute today). One reason for my excitement is that Bill and I caught lightning in a bottle on his show three years ago, when I earned the first standing ovation for a guest in the (then) 18-year history of the show. To this day, people still tell me how special that moment was for them.

Bill and I, and the other guests, were talking about a question that still perplexes many of the clueless people at the top of the heap today: What is everyone so angry about? At the time, the vessel of that public anger was the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was utterly befuddling to Bill's other guests, especially conservative propagandist P.J. O'Rourke. This is how it went down:

P.J.: Is it that the Occupy Wall Street People, like us, flunked econ?

AMG [to Bill Maher]: No, listen, Bill, I have no trouble understanding what they're complaining about.

P.J.: Oh, did you pass Econ?

AMG: I was an economist for more than three years, so I think so.

P.J.: Oh, I guess you did, no wonder. You were probably the grad student who flunked me in Econ 101.

AMG: No, but I would have, if I had had the chance. Now let me tell you what they are talking about. They're complaining about the fact that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago, and nobody has been held responsible for that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying twenty percent - twenty percent! - of our national net worth, accumulated over the course of two centuries. They're upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the other party caters to them as well. That's the real truth of the matter, as you've said before, [Bill].

P.J.: Get the man a bongo drum. They've found their spokesman. Take your shoes off, get a bongo drum, forget to go to the bathroom, and it's yours.

AMG: Listen, if I am a spokesman for all of the people who think that we shouldn't have 24 million people in this country who can't find a full-time job, that we should not have 50 million people who can't see a doctor when they are sick, that we shouldn't have 47 million people in this country who need the Government's help to feed themselves, and that we shouldn't have 15 million families who owe more on their mortgages than the value of their homes - OK, I'll be that spokesman.

Bill Maher: Oh, look, they're standing in the audience!

It was electric. Maybe something like that will happen again this Friday. And if you contribute to our campaign today - today only - then maybe you'll be there with me to see it.

If you'd like an opportunity to join Bill and me in Orlando this Sunday, then hit that link below, and toss in $20.16 or more. Become a monthly contributor, and you get two chances for the price of one.

Or, if you want to see how the rap group the "99th Problem" took that iconic moment and made it into a beautiful and moving song, then click here, and enjoy.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

 

Gay Marriage Foes: Mind Your Own Business
30 January 2015 - 4:28pm

Central Florida is not exactly a bastion of liberalism. In fact, I am the only Democrat to represent downtown Orlando at any time during the past 40 years. But once in a while, we make some progress. For instance, earlier this month, working together with the Osceola County Commission, the Clerk of the Court and the State Attorney, I helped to bring marriage equality to Central Florida. And then, shortly thereafter, I defended that action on the most-watched news show in my region. I didn’t water it down. Here’s what I said:

WFTV’s Greg Warmoth: Let’s talk about gay marriage. What do you think about the way things have shifted here in Florida? Now, in the next few days, we’ll have gay marriages happening on courthouse steps.

AMG: Well, I’ve been a strong proponent of that. In fact, you’ll see it happening first in Osceola County, because I wrote a letter to the Osceola County Commission a few weeks ago, urging them to acknowledge that a federal judge had ruled that blocking gay marriages was an unconstitutional denial of equal protection and, therefore, we should encourage gay marriage locally to be legal. We were in a sort of gray area, where it wasn’t quite clear if it was legal or illegal. So I sent a letter to the Commission urging them to invite our local and very brave Clerk of the Court to go ahead and defeat the naysayers (who were trying these last-ditch efforts to prevent the U.S. Constitution from taking hold here in Florida), and provide equal protection to people who want to marry equally. A lot of times, one of the best principles of public policy is “mind your own business.” And I invite people who think there’s something wrong with other people getting married to mind their own business.

GW: Why has this taken so long to get to this point?

AMG: I think what we’ve seen is a very dramatic shift in public opinion in the past ten or fifteen years. I think that, in many respects, the public, particularly in Florida, is far ahead of the elected officials in many respects. And the public has shown a certain open-mindedness, a certain respect for the rights of others, that we as public officials need to learn from.

GW: Absolutely. As we speak, we will have gay marriages on the books—as this show runs. What do you think the Republican Party or those against it will try to do?

AMG: I think the Republicans now recognize that gay-baiting is a losing proposition. And I think that what we’ve seen over the past few years, except for extremist groups in the Republican Party and elsewhere, is that it’s dying down. We are, in Florida, people who deeply respect the privacy of others. We are not judgmental people, and we are not a good audience for that kind of hatred. So I think the Republican Party will accept the reality of how people feel, and I think that the same kind of recognition of respect for others, and their privacy and their personal choices, will prevail here as well.

GW: What’s your reaction to those who say, “Well, if we allow this, then who’s to stop someone marrying an animal?”

AMG: (laughing) I think that’s utterly nonsensical! I don’t even know how to respond to that kind of nonsense. I don’t know what to say to somebody who is that confused, except that, if they do covet an animal, they are violating not only our law, but also the Ten Commandments.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

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