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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Sean LaFreniere
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Zero tolerance, 100 Percent Stupid

A six year old boy is being suspended, and a weapons charge lodged in his permanent school record, for having a butter knife in his book bag.

His parents say that he didn't know it was there, and neither did they, maybe his 4 year old brother put it there (actually makes some sense, I found raisins in my book bag from my two year old son).

"It isn't like we have a hammer and treat everything like a nail. We try to redirect the behavior," said OPS's Steve Nelson.

The Gray family said redirecting behavior implies the boy brought the knife to school on purpose.

"How can my son, who's still learning to tie his shoes, be responsible for a book bag that I shoved him out the door with?" Lynette Gray said.

This is where the zero tolerance nonsense gets us... Nowhere, fast.

Sean: Wednesday, September 28, 2005 [+] |
Friday, September 23, 2005
England's Fifth Column

ABC and other news sources have reported
that the London police have confirmed the report leaked by NY police earlier - that the London terror bombers used peroxide based explosives... packed all around with nails!

The bombs were made of homemade high explosives. The materials used are widely available products, such as peroxide. Some were packaged like pancakes, and others contained nails for use as shrapnel. An X-ray image of one of the bombs found in the attacker's car trunk shows the deadly concoction.

"When you put the X-ray machine on it [the bomb], you see what is bulging on the sides of the bottle are nails, many, many nails," said Ayers, while examining the photo. "And the nails are put there so that when the bomb goes off, the nails will tear tissue and kill people in the area. Bombs don't kill by concussion. Small bombs, they kill by the blast effects of fragments of glass or metal, and this is

Closed circuit TV footage shows the terrorists planning the attack, running repeated dry runs, etc. months before the attack. They planned it to be as violent, painful, and deadly as possible - this wasn't just a political message or a cry for help from a weaker foe, it was mass murder. And keep in mind that these were not foreign terrorists, or even recent immigrants, but second generation British Muslims.

When minorities, guests, newly arrived citizen groups feel threatened by acts such as these and the reprisals that may follow, they have a reason to be. This is the worst sort of betrayall. Many Britons thought they were offering safe haven, refuge, and a place to start afresh with hope to these immigrants. And this is the thanks they get, nails, bloody nails!

Sean: Friday, September 23, 2005 [+] |
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Bush Drinking Again

A leading national paper has revealed shocking allegations that President Bush has fallen off the wagon, again.

Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink.

"When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot," said one insider. "He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: "Stop George!"

A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him — but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He's been in a pressure cooker for months.

Evidently he is prone to falling off the wagon since he avoided counseling and therapy for his younger-self's alcoholism.

Another source said: "George had a drinking problem for years that most professionals would say needed therapy. He doesn't believe in it [therapy], he never got it. He drank his way through his youth, through college and well into his thirties. Everyone's drinking around him."

If by leading national paper you mean the Inquirer. Heh.

Like father, like daughters...

Sean: Thursday, September 22, 2005 [+] |
Monday, September 19, 2005
Schroeder Loses Election, Willing To Accept Surrender

Proving that some people just never get it, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats lost ground in this Sunday's election to become a minority party, then offered to "team up" with the Conservatives, who won ground to become the new majority, if they agreed to let him remain Chancellor and run the new "Left/Right" government. Doh! Your troops are running freely in the streets of our capitol, obviously, we will gladly consider your surrender.

Sean: Monday, September 19, 2005 [+] |
Friday, September 16, 2005
Hurricane Season

The St. Petersburg (FL) Times reports that hurricane Katrina may be just one of many monster storms to hit the gulf in the next few years. And no, it is not President Bush's fault, nor do Americans "deserve it" for not signing Kyoto. In fact, we are simply in a normal periodic state of big storms caused by a natural fluctuation of the Atlantic Current. What this means, of course, is we need to think long and hard about how to rebuild New Orleans.

Sean: Friday, September 16, 2005 [+] |
Thursday, September 15, 2005

Judge Roberts Confirmation

The Senate confirmation hearing for the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court has taken over NPR this week. Listening has been both informative and a complete waste of time. The Democrats do not have the votes to stop the confirmation and can do little else than attempt to annoy Judge Roberts into doing or saying something that he shouldn't. And we are learning that Judge Roberts cannot be so easily disturbed.

John G. Roberts was born in Buffalo NY in 1955. He attended Harvard as an undergrad and as a law student and completed his education in 1979. From 1981-1982 he worked for Reagan's Atty General William French Smith. From 1982-1989 he worked as an assistant counsel to the Reagan administration and from 1989-1993 for the first Bush administration. Roberts also clerked for Judge Henry J. Friendly on the US Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit and for Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (bio from the Washington Post).

As a Supreme Court nominee Judge Roberts is a politically inspired choice for the second Bush administration. As a mere assistant to other lawyers and judges Roberts left behind little paperwork that might give the Democrats ammunition against him. As a foot soldier of the past Republican administrations they know that he is onboard their program. And it turns out that Roberts has a sort of telegenic power, if not charisma, even angry Democrats have been forced to admit that facing the grilling of the committee without notes for 11 hours straight shows a powerful, even borg-like, intellect.

Roberts is going to be confirmed; the Democrats simply do not have the votes to block it. Democrats come from the urban coasts and are immigrants, blue collar workers, and college students. These people have a varied personal history and a habit for thinking for themselves. They do not have a common vision of their political future and they do not march in step to the voting booths - and this makes them weak.

For the last decade the Republicans have been working to take over local and federal government and use it to remake society into the 1950's - the Golden Era of American power, security, and comfort. Beginning with Newt Gingrich's take over of Congress in 1994 the Republicans have been on a role and with the terror threat since 9/11 they have been unstoppable.

With control of both Congress and the Presidency they have only awaited a few deaths and resignations on the Supreme Court to gain control of all three branches of government. Judge Roberts is very young (by court standards) and will be the Chief Justice for many, many years. His nomination appears modest due to his cool demeanor, but it is a homerun for this administration and the Republican Party.

With unchallenged dominance of government we should expect to see the Republicans, shrewd political operators that they are, redraw voting districts to entrench their power, rewrite parliamentary rules within Congress to strengthen their hand (such as ending the filibuster, the last defense of the minority party), and overturn past court rulings that protected individual liberties and rights (such as Roe v Wade).

This Republican putsch will not actually remake the country into a quasi-Nazi Germany. Soldiers will not be goose-stepping down your local main street, newspapers will still publish stories critical of the President, and you will still be able to move about the country (and out of it) at will. But you will be living in Pleasantville, which some of you might actually enjoy.

We should keep in mind that the Republican Party actually serves big business, it only pays lip service to the religious right and social conservatives to mobilize their votes. So the primary result of Republican power will be the end of regulations that constrain corporate greed today, but they will trade these gifts for political acts that expand the influence of religious conservatives.

The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the SEC, local PUD's and other regulatory bodies will be scrapped. We should expect to see the tax burden on corporations, already at a historic low, drop even further and there will be more tax cuts for the top income brackets. Meanwhile banks will be allowed to charge whatever fees they wish to the middle class and poor while they continue to offer America's richest citizens ways to cheat on their taxes. Alaska, the Rockies, the Gulf, and the coasts will be opened to unlimited oil exploration. Class action lawsuits, already gutted at the Federal level, will be made even more painless at the state level (probably by capping damages below the profit line of corporate malfeasance).

In many states where the Republicans hold a majority they will pass bans on abortion (allowable once Roe v Wade is gone), and vibrators and condoms will become scarce (as they are in Alabama today). The Pledge of Allegiance will keep its 1954 anti-communist addition of the words "under god" and will become mandatory in public schools - as will the English language. Biology classes will be changed to drop the scientific theory of evolution in favor of the religious story of creation. Gay people will be barred from marriage and the adoption of children, they may even be barred from certain jobs, and 19th century sex laws may be enforced to jail them or drive them out of these states. Churches will begin backing political candidates and funding ballot initiatives, while keeping their tax exempt status, and look for these churches to begin to merge into larger, more politically powerful blocs.

On the international scene we can expect the US to pull back from organizations that it does not control. If the UN cannot be reformed into the tool of American power that it was intended to be at its creation it will likely see less American money and continued pressure in the press over allegations of corruption and greed (from which it does truly suffer). Treaties will be reworked, bases opened around the globe, and more nations will join the British in the role of deputy global sheriffs. Meanwhile the French will continue to be mocked and ignored (as they richly deserve when selling banned weapons to rogue nations) as the EU crumbles into a seething mass of anti-Americanism. Terrorists will be hunted ruthlessly, but spawn continuously, which will give our military something to do for decades.

Not all these changes will win approval, even in the South, certainly NY and San Francisco will stay just the way they are. In fact, it may be in the interest of the corporate power class to see continued controversy and scandal regarding these very moves (the better to keep you distracted while they rob you blind). Therefore life probably wont make any drastic shifts anywhere. But slowly life might begin to feel a bit more black and white. Which should make it easier to accept the rulings of an unflappable Chief Justice Roberts on the Supreme Court. At any rate, resistance is futile.

Sean: Thursday, September 15, 2005 [+] |
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Free Portland

Our fair city, Portland, is hosting a few Katrina refugees (finally) from Louisiana. These people told reporters that they would like to stay a couple of weeks and then head back to the New Orleans area to restart their lives. There are only about 250 of them and about 2.5 million of us (greater metro) we can certainly afford to make their lives here as pleasant as possible. Not only is the right thing to do, it is the only way that these folks can possibly get by right now, it will send them away with the best possible impression of our town. I would like to call on all Portland restaurant owners to comp the meals of anyone with a Louisiana drivers license for the rest of September. If you are a Portland proprietor please let me know if you actually do this. Sincerely.

Sean: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 [+] |
Monday, September 12, 2005
Foreign Assistance

The international community has pledged more than $700m to the United States to help after Hurricane Katrina.

"There have been $460m in cash assistance received," ambassador Joseph Sullivan told reporters in the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge.

The remainder would be in the form of cheap fuel, technical assistance, vehicles, and food.

We don't really need the money, but that's not the issue. A nation gives what it has and what it can spare. Kuwait may not have much experience with flooding, but they have cash. Meanwhile the Netherlands has both, but we only need the dike experts.

Giving anything shows they at least pay attention to what happens to us. You can judge for yourself how much they care by weighing what they gave to what you think they could have given.

As far as I know, as of September 11th these nations have made the following offers...

AFGHANISTAN: $100,000 to American Red Cross (2).

ARGENTINA: Six disaster relief and rescue coordinators (2).

AUSTRALIA: $8 million to American Red Cross (1). UPDATE: $10 million per CNN (4).

AUSTRIA: $7.6 million to the American Red Cross, water pumps, plastic sheets, cots; An Austrian Red Cross team is in Houston to set up a communication network (2).

BAHAMAS: $50,000 for U.S. victims and additional aid to Bahamian citizens in stricken areas (2).

BANGLADESH: $1 million to American Red Cross (1).

BELGIUM: medical, logistics, civil engineering and diving teams, pumps, generators (1).

BRAZIL: willing to contribute but awaiting specific request from United States (2).

BRITAIN: 500,000 ready-to-eat meals; medical experts, search-and-rescue gear, marine engineers, high-volume pumps (1).

CANADA: three navy ships, a coast guard vessel, several Sea King helicopters and about 1,000 personnel (1). UPDATE: navy divers to help clear waterways and inspect damaged levees, and offered to pump an extra 91,000 barrels per day of extra crude oil (to be sold or donated?)(2). UPDATE: $4 million to the international Red Cross (3).

CHILE: plans to contact U.S. authorities to see what is needed. (2)

CHINA: $5 million to the American Red Cross (1).

COLOMBIA: rescue and paramedic teams. (2)

CUBA: 1,100 doctors and 26 tons of medicine (4).

CZECH REPUBLIC: rescue teams, field hospital and pumps and water processing equipment, as well as transport planes (2).

DENMARK: water purification units (2).

DOMINICA: police to help patrol disaster zone police to help patrol disaster zone (2).

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Rescue workers, doctors and nurses (1).

EL SALVADOR: 100 army troops, including medical personnel and engineers (2).

ESTONIA: rescue teams, medics and policemen as well as relief supplies. (2)

FINLAND: a search and rescue team. (2)

FRANCE: a fire brigade, 600 tents, 1,000 camp beds, 60 generators, three water treatment plants, and 1,000 jerrycans (filled with petrol?). (2) UPDATE: Also offering aircraft and two ships with helicopters, disaster unit with 20 soldiers, civil defense detachment of 35 people. (2)

GERMANY: medical supplies, vaccination teams, water purification equipment, medical evacuation aircraft and crisis management experts (2) UPDATE: Also 40,000 meals; 30,000 more coming. UPDATE: (5) On Monday Sept 5th they offered 3.6 million barrels of oil (to be sold or donated?), they also offered communications equipment, 25 tons of humanitarian aide, and the German Red Cross has sent seven rescue experts. (5)

GREECE: two cruise ships and an emergency rescue team (2).

GUATEMALA: 80 specialists from army, health and interior departments (1).

HONDURAS: a 134-member medical and rescue brigade (1). UPDATE: Mayor of capital, Tegucigalpa, offers a similar group (2).

HUNGARY: unknown at this time.

INDIA: $5 million to American Red Cross. Offering medical teams with experience in waterborne diseases and to set up community water purification plants (2).

INDONESIA: a medical team of 45 doctors and 155 other staff and 10,000 blankets (2).

IRAN: unspecified aid through its Red Crescent agency if needed (2).

Israel: hundreds of doctors, trauma experts and other medical staff as well as field hospital (2).

ITALY: 300 cots, 300 blankets, 600 sheets, a water pump, six life rafts, 11,200 chlorine tablets, first-aid kits; baby food (1).

JAMAICA: unknown at this time.

JAPAN: $200,000 to American Red Cross, tents, blankets and generators (4). UPDATE: now offers $1 million.

KOSOVO: $500,000 to American Red Cross (1).

KUWAIT: $500 million worth of oil and other aid (1).

LATVIA: disaster relief team, financial aid, blankets, bottled water (1).

LITHUAINIA: rescue teams, meals, building materials, (1). UPDATE: also medics and policemen (5).

LUXEMBOURG: two jeeps, 1,000 cots, 2,000 blankets (2).

MEXICO: a navy ship carrying food, amphibious vehicles, helicopters and medical teams, 15 army vehicles carrying food, health brigades, water-treatment plants and mobile kitchens with capacity to feed 7,000 people. Also the government set up bank accounts to collect donations from citizens and donated $1 million to American Red Cross (2).

NETHERLANDS: a frigate with water, medicine, helicopters and beds, three giant water pumps, as well as expertise in dike and water engineering, and forensic ID help (2).

NEPAL: $25,000 donated to the American Red Cross (7).

NEW ZEALAND: $1.4 million to American Red Cross. Government has also offered to send an urban search and rescue team, a disaster victim identification team or recovery personnel (2).

NICARAGUA: flooding and sanitation experts (evidently they are spending $200 million to repair their system after Sandinista neglect) (1).

NIGERIA: $1 million to American Red Cross (4).

NORWAY: navy divers, 10,000 blankets and unspecified financial aid (1).

PAKISTAN: doctors and paramedics (1).

PANAMA: 120,000 lbs of bananas (1).

PERU: 80 to 100 doctors with expertise in tropical diseases and disasters. But President Alejandro Toledo said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld requested Peru instead send medical supplies and canned foods. Peru will try to comply (2).

THE PHILIPPINES: 25-man relief team (1). UPDATE: $25,000 to American Red Cross (2).

PORTUGAL: Lending 2 percent of its strategic oil reserve, equivalent to 500,000 barrels of oil (1).

QATAR: $100 million in humanitarian assistance (2).

ROMANIA: two teams of medical experts (2).

RUSSIA: Three transport planes with generators, food, tents, blankets, drinking water, medical supplies (1). UPDATED: two cargo planes have delivered 44 metric tons of aid (6).

SAUDI ARABIA: $5 million to the American Red Cross and offered to increase oil production to replace shortfalls caused by Katrina (to be sold at a nice profit?) (4).

SINGAPORE: three CH-47 transport helicopters and 38 soldiers in training unit at Grand Prairie, Texas, to Fort Polk, Louisiana, to work with Texas Army National Guard in disaster relief operations, including resupply and airlift missions (2).

SLOVAKIA: water purification gear, cots, water (1).

SLOVENIA: cots, bedding, first-aid kits (1).

SOUTH KOREA: $30 million in government and civilian assistance and sending search team and relief supplies (2).

SPAIN: firefighters and equipment, medical staff, search-and-rescue expertise, tents, cots, blankets, water treatment units, heating equipment, meals, water, generators (1).

SRI LANKA: $25,000 to American Red Cross (1).

SWEDEN: first-aid kits, blankets, meals, generators, plastic sheeting, 2 water purification units and instructors; aircraft ready for immediate deployment (2).

SWITZERLAND: blankets, 50 tons of aid supplies, two logistic experts from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, two doctors and two water specialists (2).

TAIWAN: $2 million to American Red Cross (1). UPDATE: $3 million per CNN (4).

THAILAND: at least 60 doctors and nurses along with supplies of rice (2).

TRINIDAD: local Red Cross sending 10-15 relief workers (2).

URUGUAY: two mobile water purification units and two tons of powdered milk (1).

VENEZUELA: 1 million barrels of gasoline, $5 million to American Red Cross, water purification plants, rescue volunteers and more than 50 tons of canned food and water. Government's Citgo Petroleum Corp. pledges $1 million (2).

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Tents, clothing, food and other aid (1).

This was a night of data scraping from many sources but most can be found at these sources...(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), and (7).

If you learn of other aid offers please email me at sblafren(at)

Sean: Monday, September 12, 2005 [+] |
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Hurricane Disaster Disaster

Over the last week the news-waves have been filled with heartrending stories of personal loss, sacrifice, and heroism. There has also been a lot of political and emotional finger pointing. I am worn out hearing about "slow response" and "failure at the top". When I turn on the radio or TV it is to hear how many levy breaks remain, how many pumps are working, how much of the city is still underwater, and how many people are dead or alive. At this point I am not yet interested in an investigation into the response to the disaster.

If you think the response to the hurricane could have been better, I agree. But there are some very real, and probably unavoidable, obstacles to perfect disaster relief and we should probably work to understand them if we are going to do better next time.

The first thing to realize with Katrina is that it was not an earthquake or a tornado, it was not a fire or an explosion, it was a hurricane. The damage caused by hurricanes is probably only comparable to a nuclear blast, perhaps it is even worse. Hurricanes CAUSE tornados and fires and they leave damage similar to an earthquake but over a MUCH wider area. Katrina caused damage in 12 states and three countries. Railroad lines into the Gulf Coast were twisted for miles, roads and bridges wiped out, telephone and computer lines were cut, fields were flooded, trees were downed, and entire cities were destroyed from Texas to Florida, including New Orleans.

We have agencies and plans to handle most calamities, including terrorism, but nothing can possibly deal well with a category 5 hurricane. Mayors cannot contact their citizens to give directions nor can they contact the Governor to ask for assistance. The Governor doesn't know what condition their cities are in and cannot ask the President for help. First responders cant reach the injured and relief agencies have no where to set up to provide aide. About the only people who can be useful to anyone are the media in helicopters surveying the damage.

A discussion on NPR this morning noted that the Department of Homeland Security was formed to bring dozens of "orphaned" relief agencies under one roof, from airport security guards to FEMA. The reason this was done was that committees investigating 9-11 found that many security and relief agencies did not have a champion within the government and were suffering budgetary starvation. They also noted that the many different agencies had trouble talking to one another or sharing resources.

The Department of Defense was created after WWII to bring the various Secretaries of the military (Army and Navy) under one civilian, cabinet level position. Even by Korea the civilian personnel were still working to craft policies and get respect from the soldiers it was supposed to command. Historians believe that it took at least 20 years for the DOD to mature and become an effective organization. By comparison DHS is only in its second year of life.

The United States of America is comprised of sovereign entities, the states, that voluntarily accede to a central government to handle issues of national concern. Legally the Feds are limited to overseeing interstate and foreign commerce, national defense (mostly meaning overseas deployments), issues of civil rights, and the management of "unsettled lands" (BLM, think Alaska). When a disaster strikes a city such as New Orleans the Feds do not step in immediately and begin offering assistance nor do they "take charge" as we see in so many FBI and conspiracy theory movies (FEMA is NOT going to take over the world with black helicopters).

It is up to the mayor to send the city police and fire departments to respond to a crisis and when they find that they cannot handle the situation they can contact the governor. The governor can then send the state police or even the national guard to assist the mayor (who remains in charge on the ground). In extreme crisis the governor can ask the President to utilize DOD (the Army) to back up the Nat'l Guard and local police. However, there are a great number of restrictions placed upon the role of the Army within our national boarders (for good reason, ask the citizens of Imperial Rome or any Latin American country).

In the case of New Orleans the hurricane veered off its path at the last moment and slammed into Mississippi instead of New Orleans. Although the city suffered a great deal of wind, rain, and tidal damage it was still standing when the hurricane passed and the weather improved. Most people, including the mayor, thought that they had escaped the catastrophe. However, after being battered by surge waters for two days the levies were weakened and eventually broke. It was the flood of water from Lake Pontchartrain that destroyed the city of New Orleans, not the actual Hurricane.

Even after the levies broke, because of hurricane damage, it was hard for the mayor's people to ascertain the level of damage immediately. Similarly it was hard for the Governor to answer the Feds when they asked her if she needed assistance - again, try to keep in mind that States have to guard their sovereignty carefully and no governor wants to throw up their hands too early. This is why it took two days for the President to "cut his 'vacation' short" and come to New Orleans (never mind that a President's "vacation" is largely spent in diplomatic meetings with foreign heads or state or in cabinet level discussions of issues such as the war in Iraq).

Once the degree of damage was understood it was still difficult to get assistance to a city on the far side of a 12 state disaster area with few surviving bridges and roads along the way. Navy ships and cruise ships were sent in, although they had previously fled the path of the storm (and where do you dock?). Planes were unhelpful since most runways were damaged and even helicopters had nowhere to land (one that did so, trying to rescue pets, tipped over in the muck and destroyed itself with its rotors). Water and other supplies had to be dropped in dangerous and disease laden waters or onto pockets of dry land requiring residents to swim. People who agreed to leave, and many refused repeatedly, had to be located and removed one house at a time.

This storm was a gargantuan disaster. Although people had predicted it would come someday, such as National Geographic in eerily accurate detail, it was perhaps impossible to plan for. The Federal government had just spent $430 million dollars shoring up the system of levies and pumps that kept New Orleans separate from the lake. However, the city was still asking for another $250 million in 2004 and was describing the job not as a one time fix but as an ongoing program.

"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking [all the time], and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the [constant] settlement," said Corps' project manager Al Naomi, "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't [keep]rais[ing] them." - Editor and Publisher Online

Everyone knew the city was in danger, but that danger had passed them by so many times that when the Mayor finally gave the order to [voluntarily] evacuate the city 48 hours before the storm hit, many residents simply refused to go. The media has chosen to talk up the issue of black poverty (which needs attention), however most people who wanted to leave did so, even the poor, by simply begging or "borrowing" a ride. The residents who remain are representative of the average socio-economics of the city (which is poor and black) and included many white people of the middle class. And even after the storm and the flooding the Mayor has yet to order the police and soldiers to force people to leave their homes.

Hurricanes are a huge disaster and this country has a history of surviving disasters pretty well - we do so from the ground up. Leaders are helpful, but America's heroism is usually grass roots. The stories that impressed me involved a man taking over direction of a gas station to help get people out of town and a six year old boy who took charge of a dozen of his younger relatives during the evacuation. I also appreciate the police who showed up for work even after their own homes were destroyed and the photos of swarms of helicopters plucking the stranded from rooftops. As with all US military successes the real heroes are not generals or presidents but low level officers and enlisted men.

We could do a lot better at both preparation and recovery if we were not a democracy and not a federal republic. If the President could simply have ordered everyone out of the city at gun point no one would have died. If the President could send in the Army to bulldoze and rebuild people could be living and working in New Orleans in a month. However, when the storm passes I would rather live in these United States, as imperfect as they are, than in Stalin's Soviet Union.

Sean: Thursday, September 08, 2005 [+] |
Saturday, September 03, 2005
American Disasters

For those of us who are feeling despair while following the story from New Orleans I would like to offer some pale words of comfort in this simple thought... we have been here before. Yes, as is probably being said, this may be the worst single urban catastrophe. But America is not without experience of great disasters.

A recent article in the NY Times by a New Orleans resident and professor points out that the city has suffered repeated floods and fires since its founding and a yellow fever outbreak in 1905 that killed one in five residents - or 100,000 people in today's numbers.

Pittsburgh - Great Fire of 1848 destroyed the one fourth of the city; 982 buildings were destroyed leaving about 12,000 people homeless and causing up to $8 million of damage.

Chicago - Great Fire of 1871 burned for two days, destroyed 2,000 acres, 17,500 buildings, the entire financial district and the homes of 100,000 people, it did $400 million in damage, and killed perhaps 300 people.

Boston - Great Fire of 1872 burned for two days, destroyed 65 acres, 776 buildings, much of the financial district and caused $73.5 million in damage, and killed fourteen people.

Baltimore - Great Fire of 1904 burned more then seventy blocks or 140 acres. Most of downtown was destroyed, including 1,500 buildings and 2,500 businesses. The city suffered more than $150 million dollars in damage. Miraculously, no one died.

San Francisco - The Great Quake of 1906 destroyed 80% of the city and almost the entire downtown core. 490 blocks, 28,000 buildings, and 2831 acres were leveled to the ground. Damage estimates ran to $4 billion. Roughly 200,000 of the city's 400,000 residents were left homeless amd the official death toll of only 478 was revised to more than 3,400 in 2005 (Chinese immigrants were undercounted).

This is from Sec. of Labor Victor Metcalf's report to President Roosevelt on his survey of the damage.

In my judgment it will be impossible to determine the exact number of deaths... (he may have been right).

As regards industrial and commercial losses, the conditions are appalling...

The business [of] one-half million people disappeared, leaving them destitute financially and their means of livelihood temporarily gone...

The complicated system of [rail] transportation [over 26 miles of track], indispensable to one-half million people, has been almost totally destroyed.

[And] the scanty supply of animals and carriages remaining after the fire had been largely impressed into Civil and Military service, in order to prevent starvation.

The entire telegraphic and telephonic systems were destroyed, making communications impossible.

Practically every municipal building is destroyed, forcing the city officials into scanty quarters... difficult of access.

Three hundred thousand people were rendered homeless, and their ordinary methods of providing themselves with food, clothing and shelter, being entirely destroyed, their feeding and sheltering demanded extraordinary action and engrossed the attention of every one as soon as the ravages of the fire were checked.

I do not discount the human toll of such disasters. Perhaps millions of people will remember this month as the worst of their lives, if they survived at all. But good can come of these events.

Social problems such as racism and poverty are likely to be made worse by the stress of disasters, but they also finally make public notice and might earn national attention.

As thousands are displaced as far away as Arizona and Massachusetts they may begin new and even better lives.

Public accounts note that Chicago was completed rebuilt in just two years, perhaps more beautiful, with stately stone buildings replacing less secure wooden structures.

New Orleans will also recover and we are planning to attend next year's Mardi Gras.

Sean: Saturday, September 03, 2005 [+] |
Friday, September 02, 2005
Serenity The Movie

I was just treated to a press screening of the upcomming movie Serenity with my friends Patrick and Michael - thanks guys.

This film is based on Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly. Which was set in a future universe where low tech and low life rub shoulders with space ships and high civilization, a sort of Star Trek with cowboys.

Firefly was a fresh and intriguing take on the sci-fi genre and deserved a wider audience. Unfortunately it was canceled by the witless FOX channel in favor of yet more "reality" TV.

That was a horrible loss for the few TV viewers with a brain. Joss is the mastermind behind the Buffy and Angel vampire shows (also canceled before they had lived a full life). You might recall that those were two of the best written shows on TV.

Joss's shows are so good because he is a master of truly witty dialogue. His characters often get to say the things you wished you'd said in school, but only thought of when you got home. Maybe that isn't too realistic, but I forgave him after many hearty laughs.

His characters also have real hearts and souls. Their motivations and actions make sense and the "science" or the fabric of the universe he creates holds up to scrutiny, no matter how wacky it may be.

I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. It had all the humor of the TV series and some very cool special effects. We also learned more about the history of the mysterious character "River Tam" and the enigmatic "Reavers". The movie even had a "point" with out hitting you over the head with current politics.

Go see Serenity if you like sci-fis or westerns or just good TV, er, cinema (what's the difference today? I saw a trailer for DOOM the movie while waiting for the flick tonight, sigh).

Sean: Friday, September 02, 2005 [+] |
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Anniversary Of Terror

September was a bad month for everybody. We have 9/11 and the Russian people have the days of 9/1-9/3, when hundreds of school children were taken hostage by Al Queda led terrorists.

The nationalities of the terrorists included Arabs, Tatars, Kazakhs, Chechens, Uzbeks, and even Russians (or native Russian speakers). And although everyone blamed Russia's war against Chechen separatists the true motivations remain murky.

The terrorists themselves made few demands, certainly none that would be met, such as the delivery of four Russian regional presidents for presumed execution. They also offered little mercy, allowing in no food or water or allowing any hostages to escape. In the end a gun battle led them to set off dozens of explosive charges and kill 331 children and teachers.

Investigations have tied the Beslan attackers to Islamist terrorists, included Al Queda...

An Al Qaeda-connected group calling itself the Islambouli Brigades, which has been active in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for both the simultaneous downing of two passenger jets on Aug. 24, that left 90 dead, and a suicide bomb in Moscow on August 31 that killed ten more.

Ties between Chechen radicals and Al Qaeda stretch back to the first Chechen war (1994-1996). A radical element - spurred by would-be clerics who traveled to Saudi Arabia to learn about the Salafi fundamentalist strain of Islam - began to develop in the late 1990s.

By 1999, when Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev invaded Russian territory in Dagestan - prompting a second war - it became clear that Islamic radicals dominated Chechen rebel groups.

"Chechnya began to attract [Al Qaeda] emissaries, adventurers, and finances," says Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies in Yerevan, Armenia. "After 1999, the radical tendency grew strong, and became more internationalized."

"A very sophisticated group stands behind this - I don't want to single out Al Qaeda; there may be unexpected sources," says Vitaly Shlykov, an independent military analyst in Moscow. "There are some [Chechen] contacts with Al Qaeda, but to operate in real time? I'm doubtful [Chechens] receive orders and act on them. The guidance is more ideological."

Whatever the depth of the connection tactically, the ideological connection between Chechen separatists and Islamic fundamentalists is obvious. Just as the connection between America and Russia should be, both ideologically and tactically.

Like America, Russia is a vast nation of many time zones and climates, from desert to tundra. They have grown, sometimes by force, to encompass many ethnicities, languages, and cultures. They have always valued the arts, science, and athletics and sought to unite many people under a secular education system. Regardless the reality of popular rule they also preached the right of the people to self-determination.

With the fall of the Soviets, the return of capitalism, and the rise of democracy the new Russia should be a natural ally of the United States. If we were smarter we would have flooded them with aid and advisors after 1991 and sought to cement a new working relationship.

With the rise of international religious terrorism we have yet another reason to make common cause with the Russian people. Even as we deal with Hurricane Katrina and continue to offer the only international civilizing force in the Middle East we might still take a moment and remember the terror of the children and parents of Beslan. We are all civilized people under assault from dark age thugs.

Sean: Thursday, September 01, 2005 [+] |

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