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'Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.' Alasdair Gray

Welcome to The NeoProgressive, where people of all political persuasions can debate vigorously within a framework of basic American values and mutual respect -- NeoProgressivism.

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(NeoProgBlog, The Neoprogressive, The Neoprogressive Magazine, and original material © 2005, 2006.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bush: "We Never Said There Was a Direct Connection Between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein."

From a George W. Bush speech in Cleveland, OH, March 20, 2006:

First, if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -- at least I know I didn't say -- that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein.

Yet 90% of U.S. troops in Iraq believe they're there as retribution for Saddam's supposed role in 9-11.

This one's being added to my laundry list of reasons why sane, patriotic people can be opposed to the war in Iraq. Hat-tip to Crooks & Liars.

Afghani On Trial for Being Christian

and could face the death penalty.

But it's sure a good thing we brought Democracy to Afghanistan, huh? And leaving Afghanistan to start a war in Iraq was still really wise, right?

Yergh. (h/t to Moonbotica.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Heading Off the Upcoming Propaganda About Venezuela

Once the Administration digests the reality that it has turned the Middle East into even more of a quagmire than it was pre-Iraq-invasion, it will need to create a new enemy to distract us from our ignominious pullout and to maintain its "we'd-love-liberty-and-democracy-at-home-but-we-just-can't-risk-it- right-now" rationale for consolidating power. So who will be the new non-Middle-Eastern "Dangerous Other"? My bet is Hugo Chavez' Venezuela.

Venezuela is imperfect, and Chavez is imperfect, but compared to most other Latin American countries over the past fifty years, it's on the high end of the scale. Chavez is a sort of "Castro-lite" President who combines realpolitik (his party does seek to use its currently position in government to consolidate its control) with liberal social policies; think Karl Rove working for Jerry Brown and you'll get a sense.

During the Cold War, the U.S. didn't like South American countries that leaned socialist, because it was trying to keep them from falling into the Soviet camp. That was a legitimate concern then, because Cuba was, indeed, a serious danger to the U.S., and no wise politician would want a repeat elsewhere in the hemisphere. Today, however, there's no reason to care one way or the other whether a sovereign nation has liberal or conservative government policies -- I don't see us talking about invading Sweden, for example. Yet President Bush keeps talking down Chavez, calling him a dictator and making vague threats to unseat him in order to "free" the Venezuelan people. Why?

Well, duh. Oil. Venezuela is the largest oil exporter in South America. And Chavez, wisely raising his profile in hopes that any American coup attempts will receive immediate American media attention, has embarrassed Bush by such tricks as providing low-cost fuel oil -- subsidized by the Venezuelan government -- to low-income Americans struggling to keep their homes warm in the Northeastern U.S. (I've written about Chavez' other tactics to make friends and help South American nations free themselves from U.S. influence here.

You just know Bush turns purplish whenever his limo cruises past a Citgo station (which sells Venezuelan, not Middle Eastern, gasoline).

So Bush amps up his claims that Venezuela is a dictatorship whose people need to be liberated. To "catapult that propaganda," here's a contrary view, from someone who's been there: John Hofer, a Peace Corps volunteer with extensive South American experience, writing in the Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard:

No one showed the least hesitation to talk about Chavez. One fellow in the Caracas metro even walked up to me and asked about him. Not waiting for a response, he said, "I hate Chavez."

A bus driver said that ordinary people get more respect now that Chavez is in office. Many offered complex opinions, citing the good and the bad, winners and losers. Many talked about disliking Chavez's tendency to talk too much, a view I share about politicians in general.

A few days later, in a heated interview on one of the private television networks, an opposition figure was visibly agitated about elements of Chavez's elections law. At one point, the interviewer asked, "Are you threatening Chavez?"

The guest responded, "No, I'm putting him on notice." I could only sit in awe, trying to remember the last time an American opposition politician showed such gumption.

If anything, some Venezuelans enjoy too much freedom. Four years after the Chamber of Commerce led a failed violent coup, those responsible have not been tried, indicted or jailed.

In the meantime, the government's prosecutor on the case was assassinated, the only major act of political terrorism in recent Venezuelan history. I can only imagine that Chavez's tolerance shows his commitment to the rule of law and to the judicial process - however slow, inconvenient and dangerous.

Hofer's whole article is worth reading. Venezuela may not be perfect. Chavez's regime may not be a model of pure democracy. (Is ours? Ask Bev Harris.) But Venezuela sure doesn't sound like a dangerous dictatorship to me.

Supplement, 3:50 pm PT: Condy Rice gave an example of what's to come just last month.

Supplement #2, 9:15 pm PT: An EXCELLENT and comprehensive analysis of Venezuela-U.S. relations by Common Dreams.

Ideology and Competence

I’ve written extensively here on what I hope becomes a bipartisan meme: that whatever size government we choose to create, and whatever we choose to ask it to do, we should demand, expect and enable it to do well. Incompetence is simply not an option in either a conservative or a liberal government.

I’ve also written about the fact that certain tenets of modern conservatism are self-defeating -- specifically, people who fundamentally believe that government by its very nature is hopelessly inept and fails miserably at everything it tries to do tend to be very bad at governing, since they do not expect themselves or others to succeed. A government run by self-fulfilling prophets of doom is very likely to fumble the ball when it comes, say, to organizing an adequate response to a major hurricane, maintaining civil order and enacting a swift return to local control when occupying another country after a war, or balancing a budget.

In that regard, it’s fun and reassuring to see that
conservatives themselves are starting to recognize
this administration’s fundamental incompetence (though they have not yet realized that their own philosophy is at least partly to blame).

Still, I have to say, no conservatives have put it as eloquently as -- ahem -- I have:

Under the current administration, the government succeeds at almost nothing it sets out to do. It spends money like a drunken 1970s Democrat, embraces global imperialism and foreign wars with the misplaced enthusiasm of a William Randolph Hearst, prostitutes itself to donors and lobbyists with the promiscuity of Ulysses Grant, and does less for the average American than Cal Coolidge. It has done almost nothing skilfully except gain office.

Or here:

[C]ontrary to the ideologies of both liberals and conservatives, the Bush administration is giving us government that is functionally incompetent and fiscally incontinent. It's the worst of all possible worlds.

I also wrote on this topic here.

So what SHOULD we expect from our government? I discussed it at length in one of my first NeoProgBlog posts, which I’ll excerpt at length below to close out this post:

7. What Government Does, It Should Do Well – Which Imposes Obligations On We Citizens To Help It Do So.

We can debate what it is we want our government to do, but we should all agree that what it does, it should do well.

This seems like a facile proposition, but it has important ramifications. There is a direct connection between a government’s ideology and its effectiveness. When the government is run by people who ideologically are opposed to government action and who doubt the government’s ability to act competently, then any action it does take will be slow, hesitant, incomplete and inadequate. Hurricane Katrina showed this kind of government at its worst. There is a direct connection between the ideology that wants to suppress the federal government in favor of states rights and personal responsibility, and Michael Brown’s Congressional testimony blaming Louisiana and its citizens for the failures of FEMA.

We should have made up our minds. If FEMA was not going to act, it should have said so early and loudly, so that the states and their citizens knew what to expect. If FEMA was going to act, it should have done so rapidly and effectively. The tepid compromise that actually occurred cost lives, hurt our nation’s morale, and undermined our faith in our government – which means it undermined our faith in ourselves. The Neoprogressive assertion that there are proper times and places for government involvement in the civil affairs of our nation carries with it the assertion that, when the government acts, it should do so boldly and well. A Neoprogressive FEMA would have stepped up to the plate and gotten the job done.

However, our expectation that our government work well obligates we citizens to help it do so. First, we must insist that government agencies be staffed by people who believe in the mission of those agencies, not (as is often the case) by people who, prior to taking office, lobbied against the very agencies they now head. There is no place, in a Neoprogressive nation, for a Michael Brown, overseeing the hobbling of FEMA, or a John Bolton, recess-appointed ambassador to an organization he believes should not even exist. Effective government cannot be accomplished by people who question the legitimacy of the very agencies we citizens have hired them to administer.

Practically, this means that we must continually lobby our President to appoint competent and committed administrators, and we must support the right and obligation of the Senate to exercise oversight over Presidential appointees. As James Madison made clear, the Senate’s right of advice and consent and the minority’s right of filibuster exist, not to frustrate the President’s right to choose his executives, or to allow the minority party to unfairly advance an ideology that failed at the polls, but to shine sufficient light on the President’s choices that he will be embarrassed to appoint anyone who is not competent and committed to the task. Neoprogressives should refuse to be drawn into debates over party ideology in executive agency appointments, but focus on competency. We should make ourselves aware of these obscure appointments, and write our editors and Senators to register our opinions about them. We should act like employers conducting a job interview -- which is what we are.

Second: if we ask our government to undertake a job, we should give it the tools to accomplish that job. No National Guardsman should have been deployed to Iraq with Vietnam-era body armor. No teacher should have to buy classroom supplies from her own paycheck. To ask government to act, then inadequately fund it, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that government is incompetent. It betrays our citizens, it betrays the soldiers, sailors, teachers, and others who work on our behalf, and it betrays our integrity.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oh, Gawd, Not MORE Mind-Numbing Economic Stuff!

Yes! More mind-numbing economic stuff! But it's short:

I've already warned about the government's discontinuation of M3 reporting, which will tend to conceal a particular kind of economic activity that both anticipates economic trouble (meaning most of us won't have as much advance notice as the insiders do) and can reveal who's doing semi-insider-trading that insulates them from slowdowns (meaning we won't catch the fat cats who DO see trouble coming and sell the rest of us short to insulate themselves from it).

Now the government also is eliminating the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which provides meaningful long-term data on how real Americans, including poorer Americans, are actually doing -- i.e., a key measure of how Main Street and the Mean Streets are doing, rather than Wall Street.

But I'm just a Cassandra. Screw the regular people. It's not like they're allowed to vote anymore anyway.