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 15, 2005

The Myth of China Rising

For the last ten years or so we have all lived with the "knowledge" that China is fast becoming the next great "superpower". While right wing patriots worry about our trade imbalance and the strength of our military and our currency, Europhiles and lefties seem to enjoy the idea of an American decline in response.

New articles on China's rise appear this month in the Economist and the Atlantic Monthly. And the Carnegie Endowment even ran one by Robert Kagen that suggested that "managing" this rise was an illusion.

But the real illusion may well be this expected rise to power by a nation that could as easily be seen as barely hanging on. What few people seem to consider is just how precarious the Chinese position today really is... which is exactly what the government news censors in Beijing want.

The nasty truths that you might not know about include a few basic facts. First, most Chinese are poor, illiterate, and unhealthy. Second, most of China is a vast desert. Three, China has few natural resources compared to its population. Four, much of China, including its greatest cities, are horribly polluted. And five, ethnic divisions and the rise of Islam make these preceding points increasingly tricky for Beijing to "manage".

We have grown to think about China as one giant demographic, living in the prosperous, indeed "rising" cities of the coast such as Shanghai or Guangzhou. But while these ethnic Han are a majority of the overall population, they primarily live in these few cities, while they are a racial minority in the majority of the country. The Han designation itself is a bit like "Arab", in that the government encourages people to self-identify as "Han" in order to promote the idea of national unity. This unity may be as much a sham as in "the former Yugoslavia" and "the former Soviet Union".

In reality the Han are themselves differentiated into many sub-groups such as the Cantonese and Hakka. As economic and social pressures rise these divisions of Chinese society may prove extremely dangerous. Meanwhile non-Han Chinese such as the Uyghurs in the vast interior West are increasingly feeling alienated from the large urban centers of the small coastal region. They are turning to Islam; a religion and an ideology perennially at odds with the communists in Beijjing.

The Chinese income gap has also been growing rapidly. Some Chinese demographers worry that the divergence of rural and urban workers is now reaching an "institutional tipping point". This division between the urban and rural areas is mirrored in China's education gap. A majority of China's resources go to educating the urban coastal cities even though a majority of the population is still rural. The result is that fewer and fewer farmers make it into college every year.

This becomes a serious problem when the farmland in China is being destroyed by over-farming and development. The latest reports show that China is increasingly unable to feed itself and has become a net importer of food. This is the case with many developed nations and may be survivable, but it will force China increasingly into global markets and global competition, not to mention they will be seen more and more as taking advantage of the developing world that it used to be part of.

Meanwhile we now hear that more than half of China's 500 cities are seriously polluted with failing air quality and untreated sewage. The Red Cross reports that up to 75% of China's urban dwellers suffer from serious ill health and life expectancy is actually falling.

Environmental damage from industrialization is an old story in most of the world. However, some of the worst damage during the last century occurred without international scrutiny behind the "iron curtain" of the former Soviet Union and in China. One city in Russia's interior, Chelyabinsk, is listed as "the most polluted area on Earth". Today China's environment may now be the most damaged in the world.

Despite the risks China is pressing ahead with massive development projects to satisfy the needs of its growing population. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze displaced and upset perhaps 20 million people. Representatives sent to complain to the government disappeared never to be seen again. But this did not stop millions from protesting and winning a temporary stay on the latest dam project.

Perhaps as a result of such disregard for the environment much of the Chinese interior is becoming one the largest deserts on Earth. Overgrazing by sheep farmers and logging have reduced precipitation and damaged the soil. Now every year huge dust storms from this sea of sand have reached as far as the Rocky Mountains in the US and periodicaly hides Beijing and the Forbidden City in a thick yellow cloud.

Considering all these domestic challenges, the aspirations of China to become an international power are hopeless. The much vaunted "million man army" is composed of mainly illiterate conscripts wielding WWII era rifles (or wooden training dummies). Its tanks have already been defeated on the battlefields of Iraq, twice. And its navy is composed of second-hand Russian destroyers and diesel powered subs temporarily saved from becoming floating museums. Bringing this military into the 21st century and keeping it there is consuming more and more of China's economic output and is probably impossible to keep up much longer with out the excuse of a major military conflict (with Taiwan and the US, in which it would either lose or ruin its prize).

Islam is also fast on the rise, as the faith of a peasantry with little to live for in this life, and little faith in the Communist Party, gets desperate. The environment may simply give out on the Chinese and leave them to starve in a toxic waste. Meanwhile competittion with the US for oil may draw it into a military contest that it cannot win (as happened with Japan in the 1940's). These pressures threaten to tear China appart at the seams and fear of this dangerous future is explicitly used by Beijing to defend its brutal constriction of Chinese political and intellectual freedoms. China isn't going to "rise"; it will be lucky not to sink.
MORE: China's blogging crackdown, click here.

Sean: Wednesday, June 15, 2005 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere