Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Credit Lieberman on repeal effort
Published: 04:19 p.m., Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A ban on openly gay people serving in the armed forces is not only unfairly discriminatory -- it's bad for national security. It's long past time for it to end.
Records show nearly 13,000 people have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell," the makeshift policy of the past 17 years that allows people to serve providing they keep their homosexuality a secret. The percentage of those 13,000 who might have made meaningful contributions to our national defense is impossible to know, but it's surely higher than zero.
That means security suffers for the sake of discrimination.
To his credit, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is pushing for a repeal that would allow people to serve without secrets or fear of reprisals. It's the right choice for our nation's future, and fellow senators should follow his lead.
Lieberman is not just any senator in this case -- with his strong pro-military reputation, his support could spur other moderates to join him. Lieberman taking the lead is an excellent indicator that a new policy may be in the offing.
Opponents of change say a new policy could have a negative impact on morale. Such concerns are not without merit, but similar worries were raised when the armed forces were racially integrated, and as the role of women in national defense increased over the years. Our military is strong, and can handle this change.
It's a time of great stress for our all-volunteer armed forces, with wars in distant nations taking a heavy toll. To unfairly limit the pool of willing and able citizens ready to fight for their nation is foolish and counterproductive.
Lieberman is taking a courageous stance, and deserves support. His colleagues are encouraged to follow his lead.
Monday, February 22, 2010
On 'ask,' Lieberman answers the call: An exclusive chat about Don't Ask, Don't Tell
New York Daily News
Monday, February 22nd 2010
WASHINGTON - Just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn't frustrate and perplex liberals any further, he is going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year.
Next week, the Connecticut senator will announce that he's taking the lead on repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the 1993 law that prohibits gay people from serving openly in the armed forces. Since implementation of the statute nearly 20 years ago, the military has discharged some 14,000 qualified men and women, many of them serving in critical jobs like Arabic and Persian translation.
It's an unconscionable policy, as it forces individuals willing to die for their country to lie to their comrades and lowers the overall quality of our fighting force.
In recent years, Lieberman has provided no end of frustration to the American left, which views him as a traitor for his outspoken support of the Iraq war, his decision to endorse Sen. John McCain for President in 2008 and his objections to some early provisions of the Senate health care bill. For his heresies, Lieberman has been demonized like few other contemporary political figures.
Now that he's taking such a public stand on a core liberal issue, will the left be able to get over its aversion to the iconoclast in their midst and recognize that Lieberman isn't just the ideal person to front for this effort - given his popularity with Republicans and the trust he has earned from senior military officials - but that he's genuinely sincere in his motivations?
The reasons why Lieberman, who was asked by the White House and gay rights groups to sponsor the legislation, would choose this battle are not hard to divine. Indeed, they strike at the heart of the political tradition of which he is the lonely standard-bearer: Social progressivism married with foreign policy hawkishness.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, Lieberman told me that his commitment to repealing DADT is twofold. First, allowing gays to serve openly fulfills the bedrock American promise of providing citizens with "an equal opportunity to do whatever job their talents and sense of purpose and motivations lead them to want to do - including military service." Second, and no less important for a lawmaker whose commitment to national security the Pentagon can't doubt, is that "When you artificially limit the pool of people who can enlist then you are diminishing military effectiveness."
Lieberman disputes the claim that allowing gay people to serve openly would cause havoc within the ranks. Indeed, to argue that belittles the maturity of our soldiers.
“My own experience as a member of the Armed Services Committee, visiting our troops on bases here in this country and abroad, particularly in war zones, the most remarkable quality you'll find is unit cohesion," he told me. "What matters is not the gender of the other person in your unit or the color or the religion or in this case the sexual orientation. It's whether that person is a good soldier you can depend on. And that's why I think it's going to work."
Like the Cold Warriors of yesteryear, who rightly said that America couldn't win the hearts and minds of people abroad as long as it discriminated against black citizens at home, Lieberman argues that allowing gays to serve is a core American value that will earn us international respect.
"I see this as an extension, the next step of the civil rights movement," he says.
And - this is me speaking - can one think of a better way for homosexual-hating, diversity-fearing Islamofascists to bite the dust than at the hands of openly gay American Marines?
Despite recent polling which shows overwhelming support for lifting the ban, Lieberman does not predict an easy fight. Even McCain, Lieberman's good friend and ally, is opposed, stating: "At a time when our armed forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy."
Sarah Palin echoed the line: "I don't think so right now. ... And I say that because there are other things to be worried about right now with the military."
That doesn't deter Lieberman, who has a reputation for stubbornness and who promises to "work as hard as I have on anything that's been important to me as a senator." It's probably wishful thinking given their habitual vituperation, but now that Joe Lieberman is spearheading one of their signature causes, perhaps liberals will come to appreciate the man they've loved to loathe.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Lieberman Discusses New Iran Sanctions Bill, Says Regime 'Has Sealed Its Fate'
RFE/RL: Senator Lieberman, you and Senator McCain are the chief authors of a new bill being introduced today in the Senate that would require President Obama to draw up a list of Iranian officials who have committed human rights abuses since the June election, and then impose punishments on them. What sort of penalties does the bill lay out and what do you hope the measure will accomplish?
Senator Joseph Lieberman: Today Senator McCain and I, joined by a broad group of colleagues in the Senate -- bipartisan, across the ideological spectrum -- are going to introduce targeted sanctions legislation, and this is different, this is not about Iran's nuclear weapons program. This is targeted at the individuals in the Iranian government who have perpetrated human rights abuses against the Iranian people.
And specifically, the bill will require President [Barack] Obama to draw up and then periodically update a list of individuals who have committed human rights abuses and then [it] imposes targeted sanctions on them. For instance, putting in place a visa ban on them or restricting their ability to conduct financial transactions. And also making the list of human rights abusers publicly available so that other governments, and just ordinary people around the world, including in Iran, can know exactly who these freedom-suppressing people are.
RFE/RL: So your hope for this legislation is to expose these people and the abuses they've committed and to punish them in ways that involve restricting their travel and so forth?
Lieberman: That is absolutely correct. And this is an expression, as I say, from a very broad group of senators, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, conservatives, liberals, [and] moderates. I think we're really speaking for the American people in crying out against the human rights abuses by the Iranian government and telling both the Iranian government and the people of Iran -- the protesters, the Green Movement -- ‘We see you, we hear you.’ In the case of the people of Iran, the protesters, we stand with you.
In the case of the government, which is suppressing the people's rights, [it's saying] we are going to take action against you because what you are doing in suppressing the rights of your people violates a series of international covenants that Iran has signed, including the covenant most particularly on civil and political rights.
RFE/RL: Today's anniversary in Iran has drawn thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators into the streets and, as we've seen before, members of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij Militia to try and brutally stop them. This is a scene the country has seen many times since the June election. How much longer do you see this continuing, and what signs, if any, do you see of the protest movement gaining ground?
Lieberman: I think the fate of the Iranian regime, the fanatical and repressive regime that has governed Iran now for 31 years with increasing brutality, its fate was sealed in the way it handled the people's protest after the unfair election last June.
And this is a tough struggle for the freedom fighters in Iran, as it has always been tough when people stand up and have the courage and principle to stand up against a repressive regime, but in the end, there is no doubt in my mind that the universal demand and yearning for freedom and justice is not going to be extinguished in Iran and ultimately will prevail, as it has prevailed in other places.
So when it happens, we don't know, but I think it is the moral and political obligation of the people of the United States and the people of every other civilized country to stand with the people of Iran when their universal human rights are being suppressed by their own government.
And [it's also our obligation] to say to the government as we negotiate -- or attempt to -- on nuclear weapons development in Iran: How can the rest of the world trust the Iranian regime if you lie to your own people? How can we trust you when you say to the world that you're not suppressing political dissent in your country when we know, because we see it with our own eyes, what you're doing, including now hanging people who are political protesters, jailing thousands who have done nothing more than to express their desire for the freedom that most of the rest of the people on earth enjoy.
I have tremendous regard for the people in Iran who are protesting their government's repression and brutality. There is nothing that separates the people of America from the people of Iran. What separates us only is the government in Iran. And hopefully that will change soon.
RFE/RL: An Iranian scholar in exile recently told a Congressional committee that while Iranians don't want the United States to interfere in their country's internal politics, at this particular moment in history, the desires of the international community and the desires of pro-democracy Iranians are the same, in that both have deep disagreements with the current regime. There's a debate in the White House and Congress, however, over what the United States can and should do to help the opposition Green Movement succeed. What do you think it should be doing?
Lieberman: Well, in the first place, it does seem to me that we have a principled responsibility as signatories to international treaties on civil and political rights to speak loudly when any other signatory to those treaties is violating the rights of its people, as Iran is today. We've done it with other countries and it's not interference. It's upholding the credibility and legitimacy of these international treaties.
Secondly...in my opinion the United States is defined still by its founding documents of 1776. This is a statement that [says] there is a self-evident truth that every human being is endowed by our Creator, by God, with these inalienable rights to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that our foreign policy is at its best when we are true to that founding principle. And it is powerfully so in the case of Iran.
So for instance, some of us [in Congress] have sponsored legislation that has provided a significant amount of money to make sure that the ability of the Green Movement in Iran to communicate with each other and the outside world through cell phones, Internet communications, Facebook, etc., is not suppressed by the government of Iran. To me that's not interference. That's standing by our national principles as Americans and it's also standing by the right of the people of Iran to determine their own destiny. That's not interference.
RFE/RL: Earlier this week President Obama announced that even though "the door is still open for negotiation," a new round of international sanctions is being prepared as punishment for Tehran's refusal to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful. The UN has already imposed three sets of sanctions on the Iranian regime. Do you think this one will work, and if so, why?
Lieberman: First let me say that I think President Obama was absolutely right to reach out to Iran and try to engage Iran, but in response to President Obama's extended hand, the regime in Iran has ultimately done nothing but give him a clenched first. It's been a lot of inconsistent comments -- one day seeming to be open to negotiations, the next day closing the fist again.
So I think President Obama's patience has grown thin now with the regime in Iran and he has, sadly, come to the conclusion that the only way to get the attention of [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad and the others who have put Iran on this course to nuclear weapons development, suppression of its own people, is to impose economic sanctions. In other words, to begin to make the regime hurt.
It's unfortunate but the only way to make diplomacy work here is to put some teeth behind that diplomacy, and it's unfortunate because it's not our chosen course, nor of course is military action, but the consequences of just standing by and letting the regime in Iran go forward are horrific because it will strengthen the forces of extremism and terrorism in the Middle East, it will begin a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, it will end...any hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a two-state solution. So unfortunately, this is the moment we're at and it's not the fault of the United States, it's the [failure of] Iran to take the opportunity that President Obama has given them.
RFE/RL: Is there a message you want to send to the people of Iran?
Lieberman: My message to the people of Iran who may be listening to this broadcast is first one of enormous admiration for the courage you are showing in the face of a government that is repressive and grows more brutal in response to your quest for freedom. Secondly, to say that the people of America stand with you and we hear you, we see you, we will do everything we can to give you the opportunity to determine your own destiny and not to have your destiny be stifled by an extremist government.
So please understand, as tough as the struggle is now, as many who have suffered and even been killed, ultimately your cause -- which is the universal timeless cause of freedom -- will prevail. There will be a new Iran. And I pray to God that it will come as soon as possible.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Click here to see a video of Senators Lieberman and Collin at a press conference to discuss the importance of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.
D.C. support needed to pressure Congress on school vouchersWashington Post
Thursday, February 4, 2010; A16
SENS. JOSEPH I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) haven't given up on their bid to save the federally funded voucher program that allows low-income families in the District to send their children to private schools. We would like to see them succeed, but it's clear that President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress have already written the epilogue to this worthy program. Their disregard for how vouchers have helped children is so complete that it seems that the best chance, perhaps the only chance, for the program's survival is for local officials to step in.The latest evidence of the administration washing its hands of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is seen in the 2011 budget proposal it unveiled this week. It targets $9 million for the program but specifies that this will be "the final request" for federal funding. Administration officials say that the money, combined with unspent reserves, is sufficient to fulfill the president's promise that students currently in the program will be able to graduate from high school. That's disputed by the nonprofit that runs the program, which estimates that at least an additional $7 million is needed, along with a legislative commitment requiring the program's continuation for families currently enrolled. Adding to the uncertainty is the disappointing decision by the Washington Scholarship Fund to drop its administration of the program. No one -- not administration officials or those with the scholarship fund -- could tell us what will happen to the approximately 1,300 students if there is no one to handle their scholarships. Indeed, one has to wonder whether the administration is banking on the possibility that students will drop out of the program. What easier way to get rid of this pesky program that's so despised by the teachers unions and other traditional allies of the Democrats? It's troubling that an administration that supposedly prides itself on supporting "what works" is so willing to pull the plug on a program that, according to a rigorous scientific study, has proven to be effective.
The best solution, of course, is the one sought by a bipartisan coalition lead by Mr. Lieberman for Congress to reauthorize the program. He is set to announce plans Thursday to offer the reauthorization as an amendment to legislation moving in the Senate, and he's hoping for help from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), majority whip and chairman of the subcommittee that funds the program. Mr. Durbin gave lip service to his possible support but has been content for Congress to let the program go down the tubes.Indeed, at one point, Mr. Durbin pretty much dared local officials to take over the program if they thought it was so important. The program is important to low-income families who see it as their children's only path to a good education. If the president and Congress won't see that, then we hope that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council will.