The American political system provides many, many, many veto points at which change can be blocked—a major bill needs concurrent majorities in several committees along with a majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate. This can be beneficial at times, but in general it provides many opportunities for special interests to block measures that serve the public interest.
As Maddow reported, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach defended America’s skies in the days after 9/11, and flew combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, for which he won the Air Medal for heroism. He has logged over 2,000 hours in the air, over 1,400 of those in fighters, and over 400 of those in combat. Fehrenbach has eighteen years’ worth of experience flying fighter jets.
To put the rank stupidity of the military’s anti-gay policy in dollars and cents terms, the amount of taxpayer investment represented by Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is enormous. In firing him, not only do the U.S. taxpayers lose the money that was spent training him, we lose the money we have to spend training someone else to replace him, as well as the hundreds of other pilots he could have trained. It’s like flushing tens of millions of dollars down the toilet.
Since 1994, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 military personnel across the services, including approximately 800 with skills deemed “mission critical,” such as pilots, combat engineers, and linguists. These are the very specialties for which the military has faced personnel shortfalls in recent years.
In 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the cost of discharging and replacing service members fired because of their sexual orientation during the policy’s first 10 years totaled at least $190.5 million. This amounts to roughly $20,000 per discharged service member.
Analysis of GAO’s methodology, however, shows that the $190 million figure may be wildly off the mark. A recent study by the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that GAO’s analysis total left out several important factors, such as the high cost of training officers — commissioned soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen with several years of service experience — who were discharged due to their sexual orientation. When these costs were factored in, the cost to the American taxpayer jumped to $363.8 million — $173.3 million, or 91 percent, more than originally reported by GAO.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong in any era, but in a financial climate like today’s, it’s just staggeringly irresponsible.
Conservatives have criticized many of the choices Secretary Gates has made in regard to key defense programs and expenditures — yet here we have a way to save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in defense costs, by repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s interesting that when offered a choice between service to fiscal responsibility and service to their own discomfort with homosexuality, some choose the latter.
Yesterday, President Obama sat down with members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board to discuss the pending Waxman-Markey energy reform legislation. One of the advisers is James Owens, who is the CEO of Caterpillar and also a member of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the right-wing trade group that has taken a hard-line approach against any energy reform that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the President asked Owens if he saw a “competitive disadvantage” as a “big manufacturer” in dealing with energy reform, Owens said placing a cap on carbon would actually spur innovation:
OWENS: I agree with Jeff. I think we have the technology, we have the smarts here, and the product technologies, the economic incents of what’s needed. And that’s why I think of us in industry support a clarity around a carbon price, because that’s going to drive a lot of innovation and a lot of efficiency and will get with the program of reducing carbon emissions.
Owens continued laying out his support of clean energy legislation, noting most of Caterpillar’s renewable energy related products are currently sold “outside the United States…partly because of the way we regulate emissions site-specific, as opposed to looking at combined emissions and energy efficiency.” He also emphasized that giving the markets a price for carbon would “help our country be more competitive using the technologies that are out there.”
Owen’s increasingly outspoken tone comes at a time of tectonic shifts in the business community on clean energy. Currently, some of the most powerful traditional business trade groups — the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — are devoting their efforts to “kill” clean energy reform legislation. But member corporations of these groups are at odds with this approach. The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a study of the Chamber’s board members’ position on climate change legislation and found:
And out of the group of businesses that have publicly stated their positions, 19 favored federal action and only four opposed it. And three of those four are coal-mining companies.
Earlier this month, the utility company Duke Energy announced it would abandon its membership to the NAM over the trade group’s radical opposition to climate change legislation. When ThinkProgress asked NAM’s chief energy lobbyist about Duke Energy’s departure, NAM cowered and tried to hide its position. Similarly, member corporations such as Nike and Johnson and Johnson have applied pressure to the Chamber to drop its opposition to clean energy legislation.
With Caterpillar and other corporations calling for action on clean energy, the question becomes: will the NAM and other trade groups continue to lobby and fund ads opposing this legislation, or will member corporations find more relevant trade groups that will advance their interests in Washington?
NOTE: Unexpectedly, Rep. Bono Mack (R-CA) voted “yes” — and the bill passed 33-25! She later said, ““While I still have significant concerns about this bill, particularly with regard to its cost and its failure to recognize innovative technologies like advanced nuclear energy, I believe this is the right direction for our district, for our nation and for our future.”
Every journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step — including stopping human-caused global warming at “safe levels,” as close as possible to 2°C. Many people have asked me how I can reconcile my climate science realism, which demands far stronger action than the Waxman-Markey bill requires, and my climate politics realism, which has led me to strongly advocate passage of this flawed bill.
The short answer is that Waxman-Markey is the only game in town. If it fails, I see no chance whatsoever of stabilizing anywhere near 350 to 450 ppm since serious U.S. action would certainly be off the table for years, the effort to jumpstart the clean energy economy in this country would stall, the international negotiating process would fall apart, and any chance of a deal with China would be dead. Warming of 5°C or more by century’s end would be all but inevitable, with 850 to 1000+ ppm. If Waxman-Markey becomes law, then I see a genuine 10% to 20% chance of averting catastrophe — not high, but not zero.
Today was the first genuine step that the U.S. House of Representatives has ever taken on climate. And since the Committee is stuffed with members representing traditional (i.e. polluting) energy industries, it shouldn’t be harder for the full House to pass this bill than it was for the committee. That said, the House GOP leadership is certainly much savvier than Joe Barton (see here) — and agricultural and other interest groups have yet to flex their muscle. Much work remains keep the bill as strong as possible even in the House.
For climate politics realists, it will be a staggering achievement if, in 12 months or so, an energy and climate bill that looks something like Waxman-Markey is signed into law by President Obama. After all, the United States hasn’t enacted a major economy-wide clean air bill since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. And that bill had a cap-and-trade system where 97% of the permits were given to polluters. And it focused on direct, short-term health threats to Americans.
The forces that are lined up against serious climate action today are incredible:
Blogging at The Corner today, Mitt Romney panned President Obama’s speech on national security, saying that Vice President Cheney’s “response” to Obama was “direct, well-reasoned, and convincing.” Romney mocked Obama’s speech condemning torture as being worse than Bush’s torture tactics:
He struggles to explain how he is keeping faith with the liberal advocates who promoted his campaign but in doing so, he breaks faith with the interests of the American people. When it comes to protecting the nation, we have a conflicted president. And his address today was more tortured than the enhanced interrogation techniques he decries.
Obama “said that the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night is keeping America safe. That’s a big difference with Vice President Cheney — when it came to protecting Americans, he never went to sleep,” Romney concluded. This would be news to Cheney. In October 2007, Cheney dozed off during a briefing on the California wildfires and also during his boss’s farewell address in January 2009. Watch it:
Earlier this month, President Obama released his plan for cracking down on corporations that use overseas tax havens, a practice that costs the U.S. billions in lost tax revenue every year. “Within minutes” of Obama’s announcement, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) was putting on the brakes by calling for “further study” of Obama’s proposals.
Baucus continued his waffling on tax havens today, rebutting a push by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) to hold off on a free trade agreement with Panama until the Panamanian government makes more of an effort to stop tax avoidance within its borders. At the moment, “Panama is one of only 13 countries – and the only current or prospective FTA partner – that is listed on all of the major tax-haven watchdog lists.”
Noting calls by some Democrats for the White House to address worries about Panama’s banking secrecy before sending the [free trade agreement] to Congress, Baucus said he is concerned about the issue, too — but not enough to delay action. “I want to see progress on tax issues in Panama,” Baucus said at a hearing on the pact, “but we can and should move ahead on a trade agreement right now.”
Baucus seems to be perfectly content with punting the tax issue further and further down the road. But as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) wrote today in Politico, the free trade agreement presents a great opportunity for pressing Panama to address tax havens:
Just as with every similar country, we need to protect against efforts by U.S. citizens to evade taxes and to stop terrorist organizations, drug cartels and other criminal groups from exploiting bank secrecy havens. In Panama’s case, we have an opportunity to use the prospect of opening our vast markets as leverage to win the long-sought commitment from the Panamanian government to sign and implement a tax information exchange agreement with the United States and to bring its banking laws into compliance with international standards.
The non-profit group Public Citizen found that the proposed free trade agreement with Panama “would remove key policy tools” for fighting tax avoidance and “would also conflict with U.S. government efforts to combat the global economic crisis by re-regulating finance.” It’s all well and good that Baucus keeps acknowledging that tax havens are a problem, but his actions make it seem like he’s hoping the havens will simply disappear on their own.
Last week, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced the two-year Foreign Relations Authorization Act. One of the provisions he included was to end the workplace discrimination against gay State Department employees, whose partners are excluded from the benefits provided to spouses and children of officers serving abroad. Here is the language from the legislation (right).
However, yesterday, Berman dropped the provision. He explained that he struck it because he felt “confident that this would be taken care of by the Administration.” According to an e-mail sent by an LGBT community leader who was familiar with yesterday’s proceedings, Berman received a call from John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management, who promised that the benefits issue would be addressed through regulatory changes.
Another person who spoke with Berman before yesterday’s hearings was Amb. Michael Guest, the first publicly gay man to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a U.S. ambassador and a strong advocate for expanding partner benefits — such as medical access and security training. In 2007, Guest resigned because he was frustrated by the State Department’s unwillingness to redress the discrimination against LGBT employees. Today, ThinkProgress spoke with Guest, who said that he believed there would be changes for LGBT employees at the State Department within weeks:
GUEST: So when I went to the hearing and he [Berman] asked me in advance to come back, he explained communications that he had had that led him to believe that there was every expectation that there will be movement. And I take him at his word and have to assume that he would not have been told the things that he’s been told without them being true. So I’m quite confident that there will be action and I simply hope that it will be very soon.
Q: Did you get a sense of the timeline at all? Would it be the next year, the next few months, weeks even?
GUEST: I think on the latter end. I think it will be more in the question of weeks, certainly not years. I mean, if it were a question of years, I would have pushed back because I feel for the gay and lesbian foreign service officers who are about to enter the transfer season.
Guest added that he never felt any discrimination while working at the State Department and believes that employees there would have no problem with benefits being extended to same-sex partners. Indeed, a poll earlier this year found that 71 percent of foreign service officers support “official recognition and benefits for same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members.”
Guest expressed frustration at former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s lack of willingness to do anything on this issue:
GUEST: [C]ertainly in terms of leadership skills, I found her lacking. She spoke very frequently about discrimination she witnessed as a child, and I don’t want to take away from that at all. [...]
But I don’t understand how she couldn’t see that this was also an issue of discrimination. She really was not attached to the building, she had a very small circle of people around her, and she served up the President. She didn’t act as the leader that the State Department needed for its workforce.
Guest also said that the Obama administration’s movements on LGBT issues so far has been “pretty sparse.” “That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be working on say, economic stimulus and ending the war — those are important issues for all Americans,” said Guest. “But the President himself has said, ‘Hey, we can do more than one thing at once.’ And I don’t accept that we can’t move forward on this area.” Listen to portions of ThinkProgress’s interview with Guest here: