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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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 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere