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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Monday, July 31, 2006

Ripples From Lebanon

ISTANBUL, Turkey- Wandering the always crowded Grand Bazaar in Istanbul's old city it is easy to believe that Turkey's tourism trade is booming.

However, sitting on a rooftop terrace near the Blue Mosque and St. Sofia you can look onto other rooftop terrace restaurants and see empty tables.

The war in Lebanon has done Turkey no favors. Their efforts to assist in the evacuation of Westerners from Beirut went largely unheralded. Meanwhile major tour operators saw nearly half their guests cancel when Israel and Hezbollah went to war this month.

Annual tourism numbers for Turkey are already down roughly 10%. Hotels sit empty, buses are half full, and tourist attractions have slashed prices.

Similar effects can be felt in nearby Cyprus and far off Tunisia. Tourism from oil importing countries has been in decline since troubles in Iraq and Lebanon drove up oil prices. Tourism from oil exporting countries from the Gulf and Russia are up, but not enough to restore the balance.

I spoke with a Turkish hotel owner that worked in Germany during college. His job then was to process asylum claims. He worries that these immigrants help spread a bad image of Turkey by making up or exaggerating reasons to flee to Europe.

Tourism is a vital part of Turkey's economy and therefore its bid to join the ever fiscally cautious EU. However, increased exposure to Western tourists is perhaps more important for improving the nation's image abroad.

War in the Middle East is horrible for the obvious reasons, but it also increases fear and misunderstanding between the East and the West, and this is always bad for Turkey as it sits at the crossroads.

Everyone hopes this conflict ends soon. However, around the Middle East I found a surprising lack of interest in the conflict itself. Israeli airstrikes are not always front page news. The number one news story in Istanbul last week was the IMF economic review of Turkey.

I have not been lectured by an Arab or Turk about US policies or support for Israel. These comments have come solely from European and Australian journalists and tourists.

When I asked Arabs on the streets of Tunis about Lebanon I heard the same reply as from Istanbul... Israel is always fighting its neighbors. However, these countries are no friends to these far off members of the Muslim Street.

These people want no part in negotiating cease fires or patrolling a UN buffer zone. They are worried enough about falling tourism and rising energy prices. Thus far, the ripples from Lebanon are primarily economic.

UPDATE: The airstrike on Qana has pushed the war into public forefront, pressure on Arab governments to comment on the war is on the rise.

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Sean: Monday, July 31, 2006 [+] |
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Talking Turkey

ISTANBUL, Turkey- Evacuees from Beirut arrive daily in Turkey's southern port city of Mersin. A large passenger ferry, with a military escort, brought thousands of Australians yesterday. This brings to nearly 5,000 the number of Westerners who have escaped Lebanon with Turkey's assistance.

Turkey also offered to mediate a deal between Israel and Hezbollah and to contribute forces to any UN or NATO peacekeeping force. This would bolster legitimacy for such a force in mostly Muslim Lebanon. Turkey also has a history of military cooperation with Israel that includes joint training exercises.

On the other hand, Turkey's relations with the West have been under question recently. Last week Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned that there is growing anti-western sentiment among the Turkish people. The latest shot came from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he warned of a military incursion by Turkey into northern Iraq in pursuit of the PKK.

I saw the Prime Minister in Cyprus last week at photo ops and cocktail parties. During his speech at the Peace and Freedom parade he vowed to protect the Turkish people anywhere they live. And everywhere he went in Turkish Cyprus he was applauded like a football star.

The Turkish people have watched the EU talks stall and Cyprus admitted to the EU in 2004 with out its Turkish half and they have come to realize that Europe still dislikes the Turk. A Turkish woman from California even began her own magazine to counter negative impressions of Turkish people in America.

Europeans from Ireland, England, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Greece repeatedly warn me that Turks are Muslim, Turks are poor, and Turks have done brutal things in the past as the Ottoman Empire. Americans simply are not sure what a Turk is or where they come from.

This is despite the fact that Cyprus, both sides, and the Turkish Mediterranean coast in Anatolia, are prime vacation spots. Scandinavians regularly soak up the sun in a modern metropolis filled with glass towers and busy highways such as Izmir or at coastal Riviera style resort towns such as Alanya. Americans mostly visit Istanbul and find it exotic and pleasant.

These tourists have seen for themselves nearly naked women, both foreign and Turkish, sunbathing on the beach; they have sipped EFS, local Turkish beer; and picked up The New Anatolian to read wide-open news and political commentary as they sip coffee on their hotel veranda.

Yet none of this evidence that Turkey is instep with Western development and values can convince the European or American observer. They recall with horror how quickly Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq went from 1960's miniskirts to 16th century abayas. And they are sure that the coin can flip at any moment.

No one wants to tell Turkey "no" outright. Everyone admires their military prowess and finds it valuable to have a Muslim nation "on their side". As noted, Turkey will be a major boon to any NATO or UN force in Lebanon. Therefore EU membership and a resolution to the Cyprus Question are dangled just out of reach.

Meanwhile forces from the Kurdish zone harass Turkish soldiers and send bombers to Ankara and Istanbul. Turks watch the US and Israel chase their foes right over national borders and claim self-defense. So there is a growing grassroots call for action against the PKK and no Turkish politician can ignore this sentiment.

My waiter in Sultanahmet tonight served in the Turkish army ten years ago. He says they have 400,000 soldiers on the border and that they could cross just 5km into Iraq for only 10 days and solve the problem of the PKK. He says he has a Kurdish friend and has nothing against them, but could not understand the point of giving away territory.

However, an invasion of Iraq would mean running roughshod over the US military presence in the area or stealthy avoidance. Neither option is acceptable for NATO partners. The US is also Turkey's largest arms dealer. Good relations with the US are vital to Turkey, especially if it remains outside the EU.

The Iraqi Peshmerga military force is not the limited PKK presence it is inside Turkey. When I was there in March the professionalism and equipment level of the Peshmerga impressed me and every person that I spoke to about their Turkish cousins expressed a willingness to suffer losses to protect them. Any war for Turkey inside Iraq would be a dangerous venture with disastrous diplomatic damage.

All this worry may be for nothing. The Turkish military is still the guarantor of the Turkish state and they have remained silent on Iraq (as they have on Lebanon). At this point the Turkish PM's talk is for domestic consumption, as the Foreign Minister's is for international consumption.

In the end the status quo will probably continue to rule. Turkey will remain on the outside looking in to the EU. Meanwhile the people of Turkish Cyprus, Palestine, and Kurdistan will remain stateless while Beirut burns. People in all these areas will continue to suffer while the West and the Middle East redefine their relationship.

UPDATE: Miscommunication between Israel and Turkey leads to warning shots and a pitstop in Cyprus...

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Sean: Wednesday, July 26, 2006 [+] |
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Beirut Update

TUNIS, Tunisia- I met a young Lebanese woman who works for a German company and was evacuated to Tunis on Monday. She gave me some details on conditions in the city and we talked about the general politics behind the current conflict.

Asra lives in the city with her family. She says they still have electricity and phones and are surviving. Her company moved her in order to continue business rather than due to any specific security threat.

She told me that Hezbollah is indeed seen as a legitimate resistance movement and has credit for forcing Israel out of S. Lebanon in May of 2000. She believes that they are still necessary as Israel holds hundreds of Lebanese prisoners and the Sheba Farms region claimed by Lebanon.

I asked if Hezbollah really would or could release the soldiers if Israel gave in, but she did not know. She agreed that the Lebanese army could do nothing. She also thought that two Israeli soldiers on border duty were a fair trade for hundreds of Lebanese, (many who may well have been combatants). As she said, Israel has made swaps before, why not now?

Asra acknowledged that Israel has thus far only targeted Hezbollah areas in the south of the country and the south of the capitol. The historic, reconstructed downtown and the north are still safe. Although the road links out of the country and the port are out of commission.

In this target-poor war Israel has been reduced to hitting the same targets again and again, first the airport and then the Hezbollah headquarters building in Beirut. It looks like massive, indiscriminate bombing on television, but I doubt her family would wait it out in the city if it was. Meanwhile, despite the blockade and cut transportation lines, she did manage to get out.

The sad thing here remains the pointlessness of the entire affair and the manner in which Israel and Lebanon have both been used as pawns by Iran. Asra confirmed that Lebanon had been serious about finding away to turn Hezbollah into an un-armed political party. She thought it could have been done in ten years, perhaps. And cross border contacts between Israelis and Lebanese had been growing this year especially.

I asked her if Israel stopped the war today, released all the soldiers, gave up Sheba Farms, and paid reparations, could she ever forgive them. She thought about it and acknowledged that things had been getting better lately - this is a sweet girl with an open mind. But she honestly replied that it would take generations to bury the anger and that the clock has been reset to today, or whenever the current crisis ends.

UPDATE: An on-the-ground-perspective from an American who wont go...

UPDATE: First shipment of US aid arrives in Beirut today.

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Sean: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 [+] |
Monday, July 24, 2006
The Cyprus Angle

NICOSIA/LEFKOSA, Cyprus- I was in the Greek Cyprus port city of Limossol on Friday and I tried to find news from Lebanon. The island is in high season for English tourists. However, the current news that Cyprus is sinking under refugees was not in evidence.

I did see many ships waiting off the coastline and I could easily imagine the passengers baking in the record heat. It is so hot on the island this week that my metal camera often was too hot to hold in my bare hands.

Those fleeing Lebanon are being kept at the British bases and have not been filtering into the cities. It is odd to see tourists going about their shopping instead. I find myself wondering how people can compartmentalize enough to have fun this week.

Meanwhile the Turkish side of the island hosted the PM of Turkey and held a military parade to celebrate the Turkish intervention of 1974. Between reviewing tanks in the morning and sipping cocktails at night by the pool of a resort near Gazimagusa the Turks seemed to be doing a good job of ignoring Lebanon as well.

However, the President of Turkish Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, noted that they had offered to assist with the Lebanese evacuations, but the Greek embargo makes this impossible. This really underscored the bizarre nature of the Cyprus Question - as it is called.

Meanwhile the problems in Cyprus have so many parallels. It is similar to Ireland and England, Kurdistan and Turkey, and Israel and Palestine. In Europe and the Middle East emotions, grudges, and feuds are held onto with a tenacity that Americans simply do not understand.

UPDATE: An American evacuates to Cyprus and then Seattle.

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Sean: Monday, July 24, 2006 [+] |
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Beirut Blues

I was supposed to be in Lebanon this week. However, circumstances have prevented this. Instead I spent some time in Cyprus, Turkey, and Tunis. I was able to talk with refugees from the Israeli anti-terror campaign. And I did some investigation of the "Cyprus Question". The clash of civilizations can be felt through out the region and I will give a report in a few days. Here is a photo of the beautiful city I was supposed to be writing from today. I wish everyone involved all the best.

Sean: Sunday, July 23, 2006 [+] |
Friday, July 14, 2006
The Levantine War

In response to the kidnapping of several IDF soldiers by Hamas and also by Hezbollah, Israel has re-entered the Gaza Strip in the south and the Lebanon security buffer to its north.

In each case the Israelis had recently pulled out of these areas, allowing the Palestinian Authority and the government of Lebanon to assume sovereignty.

It wasn't really a "land for peace" exchange as Israel never expected anything in exchange except the ability to "disengage". This is the same theory as the wall in the West Bank.

But "dis-engagement" is a dream. It is similar to "turning the other cheek", it works as a moral maxim, but is a lousy tactic. One just gets hit on both cheeks.

At the time I warned my friends that the withdrawals would be seen as a sign of Israeli weakness and a victory for terrorism. It was no different than negotiating a trade for hostages, in that it encouraged even more violence.

So now the Israelis are in a difficult spot. They must reassert themselves and win a war they tried to turn away from. While the Palestinians are technically inferior fighting forces, they have the benefit of emotional momentum. They think they are winning.

Of course Israel can win this one, but they will have to take the gloves off. And that wont be pretty. And it might not be fair.

The engagement of Gaza seems necessary and logical, that is where the terrorists live. However, the action against Lebanon doesn't make sense.

Syria purposely kept the Lebanese army weak, the US even limits arms shipments today. So the Israeli attitude that Lebanon, or Beirut, should be policing the southern buffer zone is ridiculous. Hezbollah, armed and supported by Syria and Iran, is much stronger. They rule the buffer zone, not Lebanon.

Lebanon should de-annex (is there such a term) the territory of Hezbollah and deport those token members currently in the Lebanese government to this strip of land. Then let Israel mop up. But then again, they simply can't, Hezbollah wont let them.

Still the action by Israel needs to be extremely careful and sensitive. Lebanon, free of Hezbollah, might have been a surprising ally of Israel. Recent blogging from these two countries was showing a bit of detente. I hope everything is not blown up in this new Levantine War.

Sean: Friday, July 14, 2006 [+] |
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Bombay Train Bombings

Yesterday seven explosions detonated on Bombay's train system. At least 185 people are dead. The victims range throughout India's many ethnicities, religions, and class levels.

No group has claimed responsibility yet, but most people inside India are fairly certain that this was the work of Pakistani Muslim militants. Ostensibly they struck mainly India as a blow for Kashmiri independence. However, this issue has long since ceased to be a real geo-political game.

Like Cyprus, or Palestine, the movement towards resolving the status of Kashmir is not a military issue nor one to be solved by religious extremists on either side. It will be solved by political expediency among the governments involved on the ground.

The explosions are probably the work of a Muslim splinter group that draws its "soldiers" from the dregs of Pakistan's society and rules them by sending them into action. The bombings do nothing to advance the cause of Kashmiris, but they keep the splinter group in control of its demographic.

Yet another Democracy is under threat from violent terror cells. Yet another violent terror cell is linked to Islamist rhetoric. Yet another attack hits Muslims victims indiscriminately from other targets. When will Islam shed its monsters?

Sean: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 [+] |
Friday, July 07, 2006
Anniversary of Terror

One year ago today four suicide bombers killed 52 people in London.

In rememberance two minutes of silence was observed at noon through out the UK. Prime Minister Tony Blair observed the silence with emergency service workers in London. Queen Elisabeth II and family were at St. Giles Cathederal in Edinburgh.

And yet the city, and country, continues to use the subway, trains, and busses. Life must go on and England has a long history of standing firm in the face of crummy weather and acts of war.

But these kinds of attacks are truly moronic... the US and the UK are high immigrant countries. The 9/11 and 7/7 attacks killed Puerto Rican Janitors and wounded Greek bus drivers.

As someone put it on TV recently... these types of attacks are simply misogynistic... attacking London or NY is attacking the world.

Sean: Friday, July 07, 2006 [+] |
Monday, July 03, 2006
Counting Corpses

The LA Times reported last month that the death toll for Iraqis has topped 50k, with more than 2500 American deaths as well.

These deaths were calculated by adding the number of bodies in the Baghdad morgue to those found in the provinces by NGO's. It is a very rough number and probably hides many errors (it is probably an undercount).

Most of the bodies are said to have signs of torture and execution by "insurgents" and to have come from areas with little Coalition activity (e.g. Anbar Province). Many are undoubtedly insurgents themselves - killed by Iraqi soldiers or police.

Others were probably killed the old fashioned way, by robbers, thieves, and other criminals (Saddam let many thousands of hardened crooks out of jail just before he fled for his "spider hole").

Many probably died due to sanitary conditions little improved or even worse than under Saddam (who famously switched power and water away from rebellious districts).

However, if we lay all the dead at the feet of the US then Iraq suffers from a daily death toll of between 30-50 a day. Baghdad now has a murder rate of 27.51 per 100k.

Some people would like the US to act like a physician, doing no harm while trying to do good. These people worry that the US-led invasion may end up more deadly than the regime that was removed.

In the months before the invasion John F Burns wrote in the NY Times detailing the death toll under Saddam (and this was before the invasion turned up even more mass graves).

Burns reported that nearly a million died fighting Saddam's wars with Iran, Kuwait, and the US. Around 200,000 were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the government. And around 250,000 Kurds and Shia were ethnically cleansed from the north and the south

Newer estimates put these numbers all much higher, e.g. the Documental Center for Human Rights puts the number executed by Saddam at 600,000 and encyclopedia entries now have the Iran-Iraq War at about 1.5 million.

Most calculations put the death toll under Saddam at around 150 per day, or 54k a year (it started lower and went higher). That is three times the number killed today. And these people died to please one man's desire for dominance, not to further a national struggle to Democracy.

I sympathize with the moral calculus here. However, I do not believe that freedom, dignity, or hope have a price in either blood or treasure. So, I don't think that support for the invasion should depend on the death toll.

NOTE: there is a bit of controversy about comparisons between DC and Baghdad murder rates today. But back in 2002, before the invasion, bemoaned Washington's listing as Murder Capitol yet again... John Aravosis noted that LA only posted a 17.5 per 100k rate as compared to D.C. with 45.8 per 100k).

Sean: Monday, July 03, 2006 [+] |

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