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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Culture Shock

Posted: 09/28/05 12:39, Edited: 05/26/13 11:25

by Dave Mindeman

Buried in the back pages of the newspaper you maybe found the article talking about Karen Hughes, the "spin" guru for the Bush administration, and her Saudi Arabian tour. She was dispatched to the "Kingdom" to promote all things American. On one of her stops she was giving a speech (well, maybe more of a lecture) about her sincere desire that someday, Saudi Arabian women would be allowed some of the basic freedoms American women enjoy, such as voting or driving a car.

Now, it should be explained that she was speaking to a group of highly educated Muslim women who were living in a "reform" minded area of Saudi Arabia. But the response Ms. Hughes got from these women stunned her. They indicated that they were happy with their situation and were somewhat offended that an American spokesperson would assume they were not. One of the women told her, "The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy...Well, we're all pretty happy!" And the room burst into resounding applause.

Americans make a lot of assumptions about themselves. We think our lifestyle is the envy of the world. We think our motivations and aspirations are what everybody else in the world wants. It is inconceivable to us, that our culture is not a universally desired destination.

Compound those assumptions with an American administration that believes its destiny is to impose those American ideals on the rest of the world to "save" it, and you have the prescription for unmitigated disaster.

It is hard for me to believe that if those women were suddenly given those rights, that they would refuse them. But until they, themselves, decide that this is something they want, our message cannot be, we know what's best for you.

We have to have more respect for other cultures. A genuine desire to understand different traditions. Instead of working to bring "Christian values back to government", maybe we should be learning more about Mohammed, Buddha, Confuscious, or Jewish traditions. We can't isolate ourselves anymore -- the world demands our respect.

We have to promote our values without imposing them. We need to explain ourselves in a context of one culture among many, rather than the only culture that has worth. I wouldn't trade my rights and freedoms for anything -- but let's not make the assumption that other cultures want to trade their values away either.
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Two Different Americas

Category: US Politics
Posted: 09/22/05 18:19

by Dave Mindeman

During the 2004 election, I worked as hard as I could for John Kerry and I believe he would have made a fine President. But leading up to his nomination, my personal support was behind John Edwards. I believed in him and his vision, and I was always moved by his "Two Americas" speech.

The meaning behind that speech was brought into clear focus when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The pictures and stories coming from the Gulf region were incredibly vivid and it told a "Two America's" story in ways, even I could not imagine. We have ignored the plight of the poor for far too long. It isn't "class warfare" to discuss the incredible gap between the affluent and those in poverty. And it isn't shrill "the sky is falling" rhetoric from liberal do-gooders; it is a fact we have chosen to live with.

Our government has ignored the plight of the poor because it is suddenly "out of fashion" to discuss the reality of "capitalism's" failing. In our frantic quest to make ourselves "safe" from outside enemies, we have made ourselves more vulnerable to the everyday dangers of normal human existence.

How much more of our resources are going to go to building other nations? How much more debt will we accumulate so that our nations's wealth can continue to be accumulated by fewer and fewer people? When you look into the eyes of that New Orleans child with nowhere to turn, your compassion overwhelms you. You want to know how this can be....

We are all culpable... liberal minded people included. We felt inadequate about the shortcomings of the last generation's attempts to address this issue. But the real guilt comes from giving up. There aren't any easy solutions.... excesses are bound to happen, but the real crime continues to be looking the other way.

We must face poverty the way Bobby Kennedy and Paul Wellstone did... head on! We need to face the reality of its existence and work to destroy it. Don't let another election cycle escape without confronting this failure of the American dream.

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FEMA's Failure

Category: US Politics
Posted: 09/10/05 14:03, Edited: 09/10/05 14:07

by Dave Mindeman

It has been a little bit surreal to read the side stories coming out of New Orleans. I'm referring to the Duke University students who swiped press passes and cruised on down to the supposedly "unreachable" convention center... or Al Gore evacuating 200+ people with medical needs, by-passing red tape with ease... or Sean Penn taking a boat down the watery streets picking up people and getting them medical help and his own cash....

It emphasizes the frustration we have all felt at the inadequacy of our government's responsiveness to disaster. Whether this disaster simply overwhelmed our capability or we just blew it, will be the subject of a very long term debate. However, it is clear that the changes made to FEMA, when it folded into the Dept. of Homeland Security, were an abject failure.

I don't question the good intentions of the 9/11 Commission or Congress' sincere wish to upgrade preparedness, but paper ideas don't always translate into solutions. Going forward, we will have more disasters -- there are just too many dangers out there, both man-made and natural. And since we are in total denial about Global Warming, we are daring Mother Nature to respond. Each time we try to address one of these calamities, we should learn more of the practical needs for our preparation.

With regards to FEMA, some things seem self-evident:

1) FEMA needs to be a full cabinet or cabinet level position.

2) The director must have Senate confirmation approval.

Other points are reasonably clear but need a defined structure:

3) Once a disaster has been declared by the President, on the Federal level, FEMA must be given a very high level of appropriation authority, that initiates without Congressional approval.

4) Conversely, Congressional oversight must be maintained and appropriations can be cut off if Congress has evidence of problems.

How money would be spent should have a direct link to the FEMA director and his or her Congressional liason. There would be direct accountability this way and the red tape would be minimized.

When discussing preparedness, the FEMA department should be locating the potential areas in our country where natural disasters could pose extra risk. Then it should work with the local authorities to draft realistic plans that can be implemented efficiently and with proper coordination, in the event of a devastating event. Local authorities must have the final say on any approved plan but Federal involvement must be clearly defined with immediate availability once activated.

The Department of Homeland Security has been a total failure in my view. It hasn't contributed much, and its involvement with the agencies now under its control has hampered their effectiveness. It doesn't have a clearly defined role and no accountability structure. It appears to have been slapped together too quickly and with little chain of command definition.

One of its main reasons to exist was to clear up the communication problems between the agencies that need to work together. During the Katrina crisis, that problem was worse than ever.

We have got to get the politics out of this. The protection of our citizens can't be a political football. The role of government can be debated philosophically all you want, but our Constitution clearly defines one item as having paramount importance.... "provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare... to ourselves and our posterity".

To that end, we have failed miserably.
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