Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

British "Apologize" For Bloody Sunday

The BBC reports on the findings of the inquiry into Bloody Sunday and the British Prime Minister David Cameron apologizes; the full text is here.

"Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry." said Prime Minister Cameron in his official address to the House of Commons on June 15, 2010.

Cameron goes on at some length explaining [away] the events and giving [exculpatory] context before coming back to his apology: "Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."

The name "Bloody Sunday" refers to a march and rally of Catholics and to the subsequent shooting of these unarmed civilians by British paratroopers on Jan 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Catholics were gathering to protest the continued occupation of Northern Ireland; politically by the British government and militarily by British paratroopers.

The paratroopers claimed to have been fired upon by IRA members in the crowd before they opened fire. Catholic leaders have always denied that any armed IRA members were present or that shots were fired.

The now public official findings conclude that the paratroopers acted prematurely or in error and do not conclude that anyone in the crowd fired first. The report even notes that many killed were either running or crawling away.

Nevertheless Cameron began by praising the military in general before offering stern criticism of the event in question...

Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world.

And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve.

But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.

The BBC's N. Ireland political editor Mark Devenport notes that "The actions of the Parachute Regiment in shooting dead 13 unarmed civil rights protesters immeasurably strengthened Irish republicans' arguments within their own community and provided the Provisional IRA with a flood of fresh recruits for its long war".

However General Sir Mike Jackson, who served in the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday said "Northern Ireland is a very different place from what it was 40 years ago, not least because of this sacrifice [of service by the soldiers] and I ask that Lord Saville's report is seen in that context".

Prime Minister Cameron gave just such an explanation:

Mr Speaker, while in no way justifying the events of January 30th, 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday.

Since 1969, the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly.

Three days before Bloody Sunday, two RUC officers, one a Catholic, were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles.

A third of the City of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. And in the end, 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland's bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed.

And let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007.

This was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, spanning 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served.

Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland.

Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible.

And over 1,000 members - 1,000 members - of the security forces lost their lives to that cause.

Without their work, the peace process would not have happened.

Of course, some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learned.

And once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe to those who served in Northern Ireland.

I was much more impressed with this apology when I first heard it noted on NPR yesterday. However, upon reading it I am much less satisfied.

The PM made his apology specifically to the people of N. Ireland. Many of these people are Protestant loyalists who might not be very pleased with this apology. Meanwhile the people of the Irish nation itself received no recognition or apology, despite family and partisan ties to those who died.

Of course, to have recognized that the actions of 1972 were not just the violent suppression of a local rebellion, but also armed aggression against a sovereign peaceful neighbor would have been too much to expect.

But we in the global audience might want to keep in mind that in 1972 the Irish constitution still claimed six of the nine counties of Ulster province that the British occupied [claim revised somewhat in 1999].

When Prime Minister Cameron gives his praise for the work of over 250,000 soldiers over almost 40 years he seems to miss the true significance of this story.

First the British occupation of N. Ireland cannot be viewed outside of the context of their larger campaign to occupy and colonize or ethnically cleanse their peaceable neighbor.

The larger campaign lasted for more than 700 years and cut the population of the island from a high of 9 million to about 4 million through either death, deportation, or flight.

The final 40 years that he mentions is merely his reckoning of the last attempt by the British to hold onto a scrap of their former (and first) great colony.

I would also dispute that the recent quieting of what the British euphemistically call "the troubles" was due to the "sacrifice" of thousands of soldiers, rather it was almost entirely the result of successful EU efforts to raise the living standards on the entire island.

Added to the financial incentives for peace were promises of a (finally) desegregated police force [not yet a completed venture] and greater political power for the Catholics [also not complete as the government is often under suspension].

The "troubles" of Northern Ireland may come roaring back as the economy of the entire island slides during the current global economic slump.

Rather than half apologize and half praise the British army after their own report of unlawful and unwarranted killings, Prime Minister Cameron should have truly apologized to their Northern Irish subjects, to their Irish neighbors, and to the Irish diaspora.

And not just for this one Sunday, but for the entire sordid history of their war on the Irish nation. Then maybe they could discuss their complete withdrawal and return of the island to its people?

Not Bloody Likely.

Sean: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 [+] |
Monday, March 29, 2010
Moscow Subway Bombings

Lubyanka station and Park Kultury station were hit by female suicide bombers during rush hour on Monday morning around 8am. Up to 35 people were killed at Lubyanka and perhaps 12 at Park Kultury.

The Lubyanka station is the second busiest in the world, with around 7 million passengers a day, it sits directly beneath the FSB (former KGB) headquarters. Both stations had been scrubbed clean and reopened by the time the evening commute began at 4pm.

The Russian army is currently battling Chechen rebels, once again, in the Caucus Mountain region. In March of this year two Russian "policemen" were killed in a shootout with rebels and a few days later a notorious Arab terrorist leader was killed by "police".

It is not truly clear if the government agents were truly police, paramilitary, or military. News from the region is very hard to come by and no major western news source has been reporting on the latest military activity in the region.

However, the last time Moscow suffered a suicide attack on its subways was in August of 2004, That attack followed another round of military activity in Chechnya and was later claimed by Chechen rebels. It is likely that this attack is similar.

In the East, the land of the Conspiracy Theory, it may be interesting to some that this attack follows a brief moment of soft public support for the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, however it would be unlikely for the official investigation to raise such questions.

Sean: Monday, March 29, 2010 [+] |
Sunday, March 21, 2010

CNN Camerawoman Margaret Moth has died. I did not know this woman. But now that I know of her, I am sorry to have missed her.

Most camera people in journalism are invisible, they are behind the camera. They are like the mom who always holds the camcorder, they care more about you than themselves. Margaret cared for all of us.

I identify some with Patti Sabga, Christiane Amanpour, and the unnamed journalist in Afghanistan who remember her showing them the ropes in the field. I had a similar, in a small way, experience with Sunday Mail reporter Ross Drinkwater in Cyprus who helped me get out from under a government run press junket and see the country for myself. I understand the impact this woman had on her colleagues and I empathize with them in their loss.

I imagine that much of what I saw on the news from the Balkans to the Middle East was often her camera work. It was partly due to these images (and to the books that I read and to my father's travel stories) that I so wanted to get out and see these places myself. As Margaret put it, I wanted to see the places where history happened, was sometimes still happening, or might again.

I will continue to travel the world, looking for history on the ground and sometimes history in the making, and I will remember Margaret Moth as my exemplar with every journey and every image that I record. Thank you Margaret.

Sean: Sunday, March 21, 2010 [+] |
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our Glowing Energy Future: Part One Consumption

In the sixties and seventies most Western nations rejected nuclear power outright. Notably the United Kingdom was the scene of protest marches and people chaining themselves to fences. Apparently the protests of past years were tied more to a rejection of nuclear weapons and the energy source that was tainted by association, not a true understanding of the real risks and costs of nuclear power itself.

Today many former critics, such as Patrick Mooore - once a founder of Green Peace, are now working for the nuclear lobby. Their argument is that we simply need more power and all other options lead to Global Warming. Their lobbying appears to be working as President Obama recently announced loan guarantees for the first new US nuclear power plant in decades. Should we celebrate or worry?

This will take several steps to analyze the question of nuclear power in general, from consumption and demand, to efficiency, and finally to safety (and that may take several parts alone). Let's look at the consumption argument first...

The primary reason for the rehabilitation of nuclear power (to borrow a Soviet term) is the perception that our reliance on oil-rich regions to satisfy an endlessly growing demand for energy produces political and military security threats. However, this demand has not always been spiraling out of control. Due to both government and private sector initiatives consumption may well be on an overall declining trend over the last few decades.

The USGBC estimates that heating, cooling, and lighting the buildings we live and work in accounts for over 70% of electricity consumption. However, advances in building technology and design goals such as the success of USGBC’s LEED standard for sustainable construction – now required by several municipal and state governments – offers a chance to greatly reduce this demand. Current results of the LEED program are still being analyzed, but one study found a 20% cut in energy use for LEED buildings over conventional buildings.

Industrial production accounts for most green house gas emissions as well as most of the remaining 30% of electricity consumption. However, political or economic troubles can greatly reduce this demand as in the former Soviet Union after 1990 and in the US during recessions in the 80’s and 00’s. In the Ukraine power consumption has declined from 224TWh in 1990 to just 156TWh in 2008 and net consumption per person was cut in half from 4,308 to 2,400 kWh.

In fact, in October of 2009 - at the theoretical height of our current recession, the US Energy department announced that US power consumption did in fact decline by 7.6% and US power producers actually cut production by 5.4% as energy prices steadily dropped along with demand. During the mid eighties our use of energy declined to less than 80 quadrillion BTU's and from 1975 until about 1990 per capita use dropped from 8,800 to about 7,000 kWh. This decline was only briefly interrupted during the easy credit economic boom of the early 21st century.

Improvement of energy consuming equipment accounts for much of the decline in energy use. As any computer geek knows, electricity and resistance equals heat, which is the big force limiting processing power and which Intel works to overcome with each new generation of their chips. Network hardware maker CISCO just announced their new hardware uses 76% less power, from 42 million W-hr’s to just 10 – they further claim that you can drop your cooling load from 143 million BTU's to just 35, and your carbon footprint from 2,400 T’s to under 600.

Not only are companies more aware of their energy use, even household consumers are worrying about their wasted BTU's. Home builders often incorporate energy monitors to watch over appliances such as dishwashers and water heaters. Now you can even buy a power cord that glows with the intensity of your home electricity use from your TV or PC. We can also shop for Energy Star appliances and receive government tax credits for swapping for more efficient water heaters, dish washers, and central air conditioners.

Improvements in technology are making our devices more efficient, government and private sector programs are making our buildings more efficient, and the loss of easy credit is making the consumer more efficient (or at least efficiency concious). Therefore we have every reason to believe that energy use might actually be on the way down for the foreseeable future. Thus there seems little need to begin building new nuclear power plants 30 years after our parents first made them unpopular with songs and sit-ins.

Title Image From "Inhabitat".

Sean: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 [+] |
Monday, February 08, 2010

Afghanistan’s Imperial Lessons

On January 7th the Middle East Policy Council held a panel discussion on Afghanistan in Washington. Former CIA Near East Division Chief Frank Anderson, Brookings Institute Middle East expert Bruce Reidel, German terrorism author Marc Sageman, and New America Foundation terrorism expert Peter Bergen gave presentations and took audience questions.

Inevitably, the comparisons to the British and Russian (Soviet) experiences in Afghanistan were made and of course Rudyard Kipling was quoted. These allusions are usually the prelude to arguing for American (and European) withdrawal. However, after finishing Peter Hopkirk’s "The Great Game" I am left with a very different conclusion… and with some surprise, so was Anderson.

The British invaded Afghanistan twice, in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838-1842 and again in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880, with 20,000 and then 40,000 men respectively. In both cases famous acts of treachery and murder resulted in the massacre of some British soldiers. Rudyard Kipling’s "Arithmetic on the Frontier", published in 1886, warns us that hundreds of pounds of British education and class can be cut down with ease by Afghanistan’s much "cheaper man".

A more modern example would be the Soviet invasion of 1979. The Soviets committed more than 100,000 soldiers – eventually over 600,000 would rotate through the theater. Meanwhile the US sent in Stinger missiles to help the Afghans down Soviet helicopters and by 1989 they had withdrawn in shame over the "friendship bridge". The Soviets were given their Vietnam - as Kissinger is supposed to have quipped.

The easy lesson to take from these summaries is that Afghanistan is the "graveyard of empires" and cannot be won. We are expected then to conclude that no good can come from our own "empires" being involved with the region. We are usually urged to make some limited show of force and get out, damn the consequences to world peace and our own security.

However, in both of the British examples the result was certainly not defeat. In each case the goal of the British incursions was to fend off Russian advances and to secure India’s northern frontier. In each case the British military quickly defeated Afghan forces, and aside from famous acts of treachery and rebellion, they succeeded in installing rulers to their liking and Afghanistan remained a British protectorate until 1919.

The Soviet goals were not limited to strategic advantage such as those of the British Empire. The Soviets invaded to support a friendly Communist government and to extend their cultural sphere of influence. However, the Soviets were not fighting the Afghans, but the rest of the world. With nations from Iran and Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the USA arming and funding the Mujaheddin, early military success inevitably turned to exhaustion and collapse.

Today the West seems to be following both tracks. Like the Soviets before us we are trying to support a friendly regime and to extend our cultural, or at least political, values on the region. We are also trying to capture or defang a global terrorist network that is using the country as a forward base, much as the British worried the Russians would do.

It might seem reasonable to assume that only the limited goal of helping to secure the nation is possible. However, if the coalition forces can secure world cooperation, instead of intrigue and upset, it might also be possible to secure the larger goal of transforming and developing Afghanistan.

In Kipling’s time the "cheaper man" of Afghanistan used a long range sniper rifle, the Jezail, to pick off gentile and educated English officers. In the Soviet era the mujaheddin were similarly armed with shoulder fired missiles, Stingers, that could bring down millions of dollars of Soviet helicopters and their crews.

The lesson here was that poorly armed guerrillas with simple goals, keeping invaders out, could defeat professional soldiers with more complicated geopolitical aspirations. Perhaps the way to upset this model is to invest in the Afghans themselves? If the coalition would pour millions into building up Afghan agriculture, villages, and cities then could they simply better arm the Afghans to defend themselves (much like the Anbar Awakening) from the Pakistani supported Taliban and the Arab backed Al Queda invaders?

As the former CIA chief recognized; the cost of pulling out without achieving either the simple or the more complicated goals is simply too great. The larger region itself, Pakistan and Iran included, could devolve into nuclear armed civil wars. Meanwhile, as Peter Bergen noted, all evidence from recent polls suggests that the Afghans themselves do not want to be abandoned.

The imperial lesson that I see is to stop treating Afghanistan as a pawn in the "Great Game" of international politics and to start treating it as a worthy subject of its own. With little economic or agricultural activity the Afghans have turned to the Taliban and the drug trade to support themselves. Without either something to fight for or with, what other choice does the "cheaper man" have?

Hat Tip to David Zincavage who also picked up on the Kipling meme at his blog Neveryetmelted.

Sean: Monday, February 08, 2010 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere