Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Is Obama Scared of Tacking Action On Queer Rights?

Alongside healthcare is was pinned as one of the key issues that created chaos for Bill Clinton in his first years, lead to the rise of the right and the eventual Democratic defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. The issue was allowing queer people to serve in the military; a debate that lead to the development of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which allows queer people to serve, but not openly. Now, in 2009, Barack Obama seems to be scared that if he tackles the same issue head on, along with many others important to the queer rights movement, he will also succumb to the same fate of Clinton in the 90’s.

Obama has always had good rhetoric regarding queer rights. Throughout his campaign and presidency he has promised action on a majority of the key issues on the queer agenda, including repealing the two most controversial queer policies; the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) (which federally defines marriage being between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere). Obama has also agreed to sign laws that will enhance hate-crimes legislation, ensure queer adoption rights and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. However, in the first six months of his presidential tenure very little work has been done on achieving these key issues. Not only has there been no legislative action on any of these items (except hate crimes legislation), Obama has also caused frustration through refusing to sign an executive order halting the enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy until it is officially overturned. This leaves open the question, is Obama just talk on queer rights or is he scared that tackling the issue will cause him political problems?

Whilst there are probably a number of reasons for Obama’s inaction, it seems almost certain that the biggest thing holding him back is a fear of a similar backlash to what Clinton received. Although Obama has been positive about queer rights, he often does so in a hidden manner, leaving positive actions largely unannounced and speeches to queer activists out of sight from the media. In other words, Obama is attempting to give the queer community exactly what it wants, but is attempting to do so in a way that won’t outrage his conservative adversaries (who he believes could make a political issue out of it).

Obviously, this is having a number of effects. First and foremost it is now delaying the attainment of extra rights for queer people. Second, and possibly more damagingly, it sends a clear message that discussing queer rights and taking positive action in a strong manner is still a difficult area for progressive politicians, therefore leaving others cautious about taking positive action in the future. By not standing up and fighting loudly for these rights Obama is saying that it is still okay for there to be an opposition to queer rights and is making this opposition legitimate, in turn creating further equality problems in the future. Last, As long as Obama continues to delay, he will be making it harder for him to make the changes as required. With political landscapes changing quickly, opportunities to change policies can often be lost quickly and as long as Obama continues to delay he will make it harder for these policies to be changed. It is therefore important that continued pressure is placed on the Obama administration to affect these changes sooner rather than later, before it becomes too late.

For more information on these issues and to help place pressure on Obama to take action you can visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org

The Courage Campaign (http://www.couragecampaign.org), which is a California based campaign is also doing a lot of work on queer rights, with a special focus on overturning proposition 8 and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

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July 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Monitering the Left | , , | Leave a comment

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Climate Bill An Okay Start

As US legislators debate the content of the biggest climate bill ever introduced into the US congress, debate is raging as to whether this bill will deliver the action required to curb US Greenhouse emissions. Whilst we are not going to know exactly what the bill will look like if and when it passes the US House or Representatives and Senate, probably by the end of this year, we can make some major guesses based on the drafts that are now being discussed in the committees of Congress. These drafts give a picture of something that although may not be perfect is quite dramatic and will see a real shift in the energy policies of the United States. The question still remains however; will this bill provide what is needed for the US to take real action on climate change?

The Bill

There are really three key issues regarding the effectiveness of such a climate bill; the reduction target, the renewable energy target and how much the bill forces polluters to pay for their pollution. Here is how the bill looks regarding these three issues:

Reduction Target: The bill proposes the introduction of a massive cap and trade scheme in the United States, which has the current aim of cutting Greenhouse emissions by 17% by 2020 (based on 2005 levels) and 83% by 2050. The target for 2020 was originally a 20% cut, but this has been watered down due to concerns from some Democrats in the House.

Renewable Energy Target: The bill would also require energy companies to source 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2020, a cut from the original proposal of 25% by 2025.

The price polluters must pay: Whilst the original bill proposed the sale/auction of all pollution permits it looks almost certain that changes intended to gain the support of key Democratic Senators from the greenhouse intensive rustbelt states (i.e. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania) will see at least some of the permits given out for free to greenhouse polluters. For example, Business Green reports that drafts available would see 35% of permits given to the energy industry, 15% to heavy industrial firms and 3% to auto makers, leaving the other 47% to be sold.  At the moment I cannot find any sort of discussion regarding how much these permits would originally be priced at, which is another key point regarding the bill.

The Reaction

There is no doubt that there are people who are disappointed with how the bill is going at the moment. The watering down of the original targets related to emissions reductions and renewable energy targets as well as the fact that many of the permits will be given out for free has many people complaining, some who argue that the bill is now worthless. For example, Greenpeace claims:

“A piece of legislation that started out as a real opportunity for the US to combat climate change has been co-opted by special interests and now threatens to do more harm than good.”

Whilst I believe Greenpeace has succumbed to using a little too much hyperbole, their arguments are fair. Whilst the cuttings of the targets could be considered to be minor (given that the reduction target has only dropped 3%) the fact that permits are now going to be given out for free is a serious concern. Giving out free permits not only takes money away from possible investment to create a ‘green economy’ but also has been proven to be a policy disaster in a range of ways (see the European experience, where the existence of free permits dramatically dropped the price of carbon, making greenhouse reductions extremely difficult).

However, on the other side of the coin one needs to ask whether these sorts of compromises were ones that we should have expected from the US climate deal and if so, can we deal with them? I think there is no doubt that this bill was going to be watered down. In its original form this bill was extremely ambitious, which is great. However, even with the control of the Democrats in both houses of Congress there was always going to be problems, especially from those Democratic Senators from the ‘rustbelt’ area. It seems like these changes will allay the fears of these Senators and will probably ensure the passage of the bill.

So, do these changes compromise the bill and will they stop the it having any effect? Whilst the cuts in the bills targets are extremely disappointing, I don’t believe they create the biggest problem for these bills. Cuts of 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 are quite impressive coming from a US Congress that has historically been dominated by climate sceptics and even though 17% by 2020 is not enough, the bill importantly improves on this by 2050, which is a key date. However, the bigger problem lies in the giving out of free permits. It is very likely that this will cause problems for the bill in the future and it does divert a large amount of money (at current estimates $40 billion) from possible investment in green industries.

I am not sure if I am convinced, however, that this will make the climate bill as useless as Greenpeace claims. It is an unfortunate reality of the US political system (unlike Australia, the EU and other industrialised countries) that having a climate bill with such targets and with such a large amount of money being poured into it is a huge achievement and whilst this bill is definitely not perfect, has been compromised to some extent and should be better we must be happy that it is most likely going to be passed. The US environment movement should and will need to continue to fight for changes in the bill once it is passed (as has occurred in the EU) but it must also be happy with the fact that the country that used to lag behind the rest of the world is now probably going to leapfrog a number of countries (i.e. Australia) when it comes to climate action. This is not the perfect start but it is probably better than I would have expected, which is nice for a change.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , | 4 Comments

A Nuclear Free World Starts with An End to the Hypocrisy

News today that North Korea has tested a nuclear device just north of Pyongyang has sent shivers down the spine of many around the world. The test was confirmed earlier today as a nuclear test from the North Korean Government who stated that it was part of its ‘nuclear deterrent policy’. It was quickly condemned by leaders from around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “blatant violation of international law”. 

Whilst this test is a scary reminder of what the North Korean Government can and may be willing to do in the future, it should also serve as a reminder of the great hypocrisies of the nuclear powers of the world. At the same time this test was completed and its condemnations occurred a total of 8 other countries (The US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, Pakistan and India) continue to posses large stocks of nuclear weapons with none of these countries having formal plans for disarmament (even though Barack Obama has declared it to be a goal).

This post is not designed to condone North Korea’s nuclear test (under the guise of ‘if the US can have them, why can’t North Korea) and in fact I strongly condemn and hope the world does everything it can to stop this nuclear program in its tracks, but is rather here to argue that to stop further nuclear proliferation from nations such as North Korea we must see an end to the hypocrisy of the world’s nuclear powers and the beginning of nuclear disarmament by these powers. 

The logic behind the need for nuclear disarmament is simple. First, there is the obvious threat that nuclear powers pose to the world; a threat that is terrifying when one thinks about it. Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most awful inventions of human kind and an invention that the people of the world should be able to live without. Second to this however, is the mere fact that the continued ownership of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear powers creates a negative feedback, in which more states desire to own nuclear weapons. In other words if state A owns a nuclear weapon and state B, which does not own a nuclear  weapon perceives state A to be a threat, then state B is likely to attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon. When state B obtains this nuclear weapon, it is then likely that state A will boost its stocks to ‘out-muscle’ state B creating a continued cycle. On top of this, if state C perceives state B to be a threat it is likely that state C would desire to become a nuclear power and therefore create a new cycle. It is this sort of situation that originally saw the development of the vast nuclear stocks held by the then USSR and the United States and is seeing the creation of arms races in the Middle East (between Iran and Israel) and Southern Asia (between India and Pakistan) and in this situation the only way to end the nuclear cycle is for state A to act to disarm its nuclear weapons and therefore remove the original threat.

However, there would be people who would disagree with such an analysis and would bring up the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The MAD theory states that if two states hold nuclear weapons, neither would ever dare to deploy a weapon as they would be assured destruction by the weapons of their foe. It is this reasoning that it is theorised stopped the possibility of nuclear war between the US and USSR during the cold war. However, with the end of the Cold War this theory has become defunct. Why? Because with the end of the Cold War we saw an end to a struggle between two large nations that held nearly all of the world’s nuclear weapons and the opening of the nuclear stage to many more countries, some of whom do not have a threat posed to them by other nuclear powers. For example, if Israel determined to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran sometime in the future, which nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon against Israel (given that Iran has no proven nuclear capabilities just yet)? Unlike the US and the USSR in the Cold War, Israel does not have the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

The threat of nuclear weapons is still real and still extremely terrifying and it is about time that the world’s nuclear powers gave up on the hypocrisy and began to take action on disarming their nuclear weapons and ridding the world of human’s most atrocious invention. I congratulate Barack Obama for his call to begin action to start nuclear disarmament and hope it is followed with some serious concrete actions during his term as President. 

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , , | Leave a comment

Obama Coming Closer to Going Further into Interrogations

After a long time rejecting the idea, President of the United States, Barack Obama is now opening up to the idea of having a probe into the Bush administration tactics during the war on terror, focused especially around interrogation methods and torture.

It is good to see that Obama is now opening up to this idea. A full investigation, with the possibility of prosecutions to follow (as Obama has now admitted could occur), will ensure that the United States is given a real opportunity to find out about the horrors of the Bush Administration and properly move on from them. As discussed earlier, the US will not be able to properly move on from these past disgraces and ensure that they don’t occur again until adequate recognition and punishment of those who perpetrated them by society occurs. I hope this talk leads to future action and provides a real opportunity for the US to move away from being a nature that accepts torture.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , | 2 Comments