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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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The People Have Spoken, The Bastards

Ballot initiatives have infected our democracy. This sickness allows outside influences to trick voters into passing bills that do themselves harm. We need to wake up to this danger and cure what ails us.

Referendum or "direct democracy" was introduced to America from Switzerland in the 19th century. Initiatives might work fine for small, homogeneous populations with a short order of political business. However, in Switzerland they were also used by Napoleon to trick the nation into voting away their own independent government.

In America what started as a specific effort to pass progressive reform over the heads of legislatures perceived as corrupt has grown into a flood of measures designed to benefit the very moneyed powers behind such influence. We now regularly pass bills that no self-respecting legislator would attempt to pass through their colleagues.

In California a disastrous property tax cap (proposition 13) was passed that slashed state income and destroyed the school system. In Colorado a state spending cap (TABOR) was passed that did the same damage from the other direction. And in Oregon, a state admired world-wide for smart land use planning, measures have passed that largely block both usage zoning (measure 37) and urban renewal (measure 39).

The initiative process requires an educated and active electorate, which we do not have. We are not paid to sit in committees for months to learn about the pros and cons of a legislative solution. And we are extremely open to media scare campaigns by outside interests, while our local governments are often barred from even explaining their own positions.

In a recent Cato Institute review reporter David S. Broder points out that "most of the checks and balances [of the legislative process], except for judicial review, are missing in the initiative process". There is no give and take, or compromise, to address the conflicting needs of interested parties.

In some cases referenda are crafted by skilled and careful lawyers, such as Prop 13 (the property tax cap) in California which future Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had a hand in writing. But this is rarely the normal model. Today many initiatives are thrown out by courts either before or after the election for simply being poorly worded.

Another important step missing from this process is accountability. If the legislature passes an unpopular bill the people can "throw the bums out" in the next election. However, who do you throw out when a referendum passes? On the flip side, legislatures often use referenda to avoid casting controversial votes themselves, such as when Oregon lawmakers forced the citizens to directly pass the "Death With Dignity Act" a second time.

Since referenda on constitutional amendments do not require a super-majority, as they do when moving through the legislature, major changes can be made over night. Since these changes are often aimed at minorities, and since voters quickly lose interest with out expensive TV ads, it can be very hard to fix a bad ballot measure.

From a handful of such initiatives before 1978 this process has swelled, with Oregon circulating over 65 propositions in one year alone. In Oregon the voters' "pamphlet" is regularly two thick newsprint books or more. From nameless incumbent judges we now have to wade through scores of referenda carefully worded to obscure their intent or even flat out trick the voters.

The day after important elections our local television news usually presents interviews with dozens of voters who are surprised to find out exactly what their votes will actually enact. The last hope is often left to the courts to find fault with these measures and Oregon has been saved from disaster more than once (such as Measure 3's term limits, and Measure 8's anti-anti-discrimination effort).

Referenda can certainly be useful, as in the case of reforming a truly corrupt legislature (I guess they serve the same role as an independent sovereign in a parliamentary system). However, we usually do ourselves harm by playing our own doctor. The process of passing legislation, like giving a drug prescription, should be very limited and undergo some formal oversight.

We should make registering a ballot measure require a high number of signatures relative to state electorate population - to ensure that there really is a local problem that needs fixing.

We should require that ballot titles be written by impartial sitting judges (who face elections) - to ensure that voters are not tricked at election time.

And we should allow the government to campaign for its own position the same as any newspaper editorial or television ad - to ensure that both sides of an issue are heard.

Last, there should be an automatic constitutional challenge of every referendum passed, rather than waiting for an "injured party" to speak up - to ensure that our long-term values are respected.

As for accountability we might put the petitioner's name into the ballot title itself... Bill Sizemore's 53rd Ballot Initiative kinda puts a referendum into perspective.

Only in this way will the people be speaking up directly, and the bastards forced to say what they mean, and someone be accountable for the results.

Sean: Thursday, November 09, 2006 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere