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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Friday, January 26, 2007

Military intelligence

This month the President chose Lt. General David Patraeus to take over command of US forces in Iraq.

This week the new commander was grilled by members of Congress from both political parties and then confirmed with a unanimous vote and loud acclaim.

Politicians from all sides have noted Patraeus' long and distinguished military career as well as his academic work at Princeton.

The media notes that the man survived being shot in the chest with an m-16 and falling from a plane with a snarled parachute.

Everyone agrees that this man is tough, smart, and bluntly honest.

Yet the same politicians who praise Patraeus are also working to pass resolutions against his mission.

When asked by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) whether he could carry out his mission without the additional troops, Petraeus said "no".

When asked if he could achieve success with the new troops and new plan he said "maybe", that it would be a long and difficult campaign, but that is was now the best possible strategy.

When asked what would happen if the US failed and pulled out, Patraeus warned that the terrorism and sectarian violence would explode and that other nations in the area would be pulled in.

When asked about possible non-binding resolutions from Congress condemning the reinforcements or the President's handling of the war, he said they would clearly please the terrorists and give them confidence that their violence was working.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-Con.)put it very well this way:

"I want to urge my colleagues to consider your testimony this morning and to put the brakes on... [any] resolution of disapproval will send [Patreaus] over there with us saying [he's] a good and great general but we don't agree with what [he] believe[s] we need to do in Iraq."

If Congress truly thinks that the general is smart and honest, and he says he needs more troops, then how can they deny his request and criticize his plan?

If they don't think that he knows what he is doing then were they just grandstanding their pro-military (presidential) qualifications?

Sean: Friday, January 26, 2007 [+] |
Monday, January 22, 2007

New Orleans is Ground Zero

The War on Terror has a lot of critics. The advocates suggest that if you can make Arab countries "work" then their young people will not fly airplanes into skyscrapers in NY City. The critics complain two-fold, maybe three, they suggest that these countries are not fixable and that we should be fixing things at home instead. New Orleans is that home front.

In 2005 an enormous hurricane swamped the south. It broke the levies in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a major US city. The evacuation exposed the limits of US government, law enforcement, and military response here at home.

US soldiers are not authorized to deploy and to arrest US citizens at home (the National Guard can, but is often used overseas by the military to fill manpower shortages). Emergency response is also limited by the transportation and infrastructure network. When the US is hit by a natural disaster the size of a hurricane (which includes tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires) we learn the limits of our system.

So New Orleans was laid low. It was "bombed back to the stone ages" by nature. It was evacuated and depopulated and the poor were abandoned as triage victims. Nearly two years later the city is still a ghost of its former self.

Today the city suffers a murder every other day... 150 a year or so. These deaths are largely among a minority community riddled with gang and drug problems before the hurricane and worse today. They are largely excused and ignored by the authorities as unavoidable.

This month two prominent New Orleans citizens were murdered. One was black and one was white, one male and one female. These people were not involved in gangs or drugs, they were in fact prominent members of the N.O. cultural community. Their deaths prompted massive protests and even a cross community march on city hall.

To their credit, mayor Ray Nagen and police superintendent Warren Riley both attended these protests and sat only a few feet from protest speakers. The seemed to sincerely "get" the issues facing their communities. However, they also appear powerless to stop the violence and decay.

One of the lessons of Iraq, for me, is that money talks. In the first few months after the invasion, when local officers had discretionary use of Saddam's money stash, problems were few and commanders appeared to easily win the "hearts and minds" of local community leaders. However, when the occupation took on a more official stance and commanders had to apply for funds, the problems started and one province after another fell to "insurgents" with a better cash supply.

During the 70's and 80's, when American cities were besought with employment trouble, inner cities famously decayed. Apparently unaware of the positive effects of the economic boom years of the 1990's most Europeans still believe that inner city LA, NY, Philly, and Boston are "doughnuts of decay".

In reality most inner cities in America, especially my hometown of Portland, OR, have experienced downtown real estate booms. These have been followed by significant drops in urban crime (not the other way around, mind you). Today people are begging for "affordable housing" downtown.

New Orleans is missing out. It was missing out before. The hurricane exposed deep rooted social problems, gangs and drugs ruling poor minority neighborhoods even while downtown real estate and employment benefited from increases in tourism.

After the hurricane New Orleans is laid bare. Most who could afford to flee the city have not returned. Those that could not afford to leave are still there, still desperate, and still infected by drugs and gangs. Those upstanding citizens who chose to stay or to return have literaly put their lives at risk. The recent murders have made this plain.

I actually agree that if we can improve the economic and political position of foreigners that we will decrease their rage and despair and lessen terrorism directed towards America. With this view I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq (and would support other moves in other places). However, if we cannot take time, money, and ease to help our own, to "fix" New Orleans, then our efforts overseas are just as doomed.

We need to save New Orleans. Even as we try to support Iraq, save Afghanistan, or argue for retreat from both... we need to move here at home. We need to save ourselves as well as try to help others. Please visit Liberal Blogs For Hurricane Relief to see how you can help.

Sean: Monday, January 22, 2007 [+] |
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Hang On A Sec!

This storry out of Morrocco clearly illustrates a major difference in cultures. Children are dying whilst reenacting Saddam's execution!

In the West children play cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, axis and allies, etc. In most cases the kids all want to be the good guys... in a few examples from the inner city we might finds kids wanting to be da ganstas, but then those are broken societies by definition.

In the "Arab World" the kids seem to be raised on death. They even dress their toddlers as suicide bombers for their holidays (you know, like the anniversary of the prophet's grandson's murder).

So, naturally, aftern Saddam's hanging they line up to play "hang me like an ex-dictator!". Yikes.

Sean: Thursday, January 18, 2007 [+] |
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Children Of Men

I just saw the latest "Mexican-invasion" of cinema... a remake of a P.D. James novel called "Children of Men". It is directed by Alfonzo Cuaron, the same guy who made "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien", and stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

The movie opens with Clive's character "Theo" getting coffee in London. Then we follow him through a really bad couple of days where he meets his ex-wife, Julianne Moore, who leads a bunch of terrorists fighting deportation. We learn from her and from Michael Caine's modern hippy that during the last twenty years mankind has suffered environmental and social collapse.

But the terrorists have found the first pregnant woman on Earth in twenty years and want to use her as a symbol to rally the people to an uprising. Clive gets tasked with leading the girl through the English countryside to a refugee camp on the coast from which she hopes to be rescued by a kind of human-oriented Greenpeace.

Alfonzo directs the film as one long chase scene. The camera follows all the important action and we get to pick out the character development and environmental details as we go. Since the future in this film is tense, gritty, and depressing we become progressively frazzled ourselves as we watch. Then all the action just kinda ends and we are left adrift to think about the lessons we should have learned. In this way the movie is similar to other "conscious-ness raising action films" such as "Blood Diamond" or "Tears of the Sun".

Although this is a very good film, it was not quite the spectacle that I was hoping for. I guess I have become jaded by a plethora dystopian films, expensive special effects, and visual art work. The Chinese film "Hero" was filled with panoramic scenery and vibrant costumes, Mel Gibson's "Apocolypto" over-deliver on gruesomeness, and "Code 46" nailed the future-has-no-future-multicultural-hyper-realism thing. Unfortunately "Children of Men" had little new to add.

Fortunately there were two good acting roles... Clive Owen was great in his world-weary action hero thing and his bit with his feet was excruciating (although not perfectly consistent). Michael Caine had a fun and touching role as a modern John Lennon. I really wanted to learn more about these characters and their back-story, but the chase scene style of the film would not allow us the time.

Some of the contemporary political criticism in the film was unnecessary and distracting. A rather obvious Ab-Ghraib torture scene ignores that Abu-Ghraib happened in the shadows, where teenagers were forced to play prison guards for terrorists from another country... while these scenes are of British soldiers detaining British residents out in the open. I didn't buy the implications of man-against-man brutality. Perhaps only a Mexican director can imagine Allied soldiers acting like Nazis, but I just didn't think it was necessary.

The most humane deportation would still be dramatic and horrifying, especially considering what kind of a world was suggested beyond England's shores. Sometimes keeping things simple and realistic works better that hitting the viewer over the head, just as with porn or horror we can imagine far more effective images than any the director can show us. But I am quibbling, this was a very effective film.

I was pleased that the movie ended where it thematically should have. Other viewers have wondered "what happened?" at the end, but I thought it was rather obvious. Actually, I would have preferred that the film had ended just a few minutes sooner. One of the themes of the story was the interplay of faith and chance and I would have liked the ending to dangle a bit more to force the viewer to make a choice of faith themselves. But it was fine as it was. This is a good movie and it might actually raise your awareness of the environmental and social calamities that are warming up and coming our way.

Sean: Saturday, January 06, 2007 [+] |
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Saddam Hussein Is Still Dead

Saddam Hussein was executed just three days ago, at the start of the the Muslim holiday of Eid, and at the end of the festival he is still dead. This means that the regime will never return and closes a thirty year chapter in the history of Iraq.

America was deeply involved in the fall of Saddam. We helped create pockets of resistance to his rule in the north and the south of his country. We pushed for UN inspections of his weapons plants and sanctions that crippled his economy. In 2003 it was US-lead forces that invaded his territory, arrested him, and handed him over to a new Iraqi government for trial and execution.

Today many Americans wonder if the US effort to bring down Saddam was a good thing. Over the last three years we've seen nightly news footage of looting, car bombs, and now civil war. Stories on NPR tell us that prominent academics have fled to nearby Syria to restart secular university education(?!). Millions of pro-Western, or at least Western-educated, Iraqis have fled to Europe and the US. Some 50,000 Iraqi's and more than 3,000 US troops have died.

The fall of a dictator is often a brutal affair, sometimes the death toll is higher in the chaos after the regime collapses than under its rule. On the death of Josip Tito in Yugoslavia his communist empire split into the independent states of Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Between and within these states Muslims and various Christian factions fought to ethnic cleanse and hold as much territory as they could. Eventually the UN and NATO were forced to intervene (with only NATO successful).

When Spain's dictator Franco died in 1979 his nation had already endured bloody civil war and had witnessed WWII and 30 years or so of European reconstruction. Perhaps they were too tired of violence to erupt again upon his death, or maybe his plans of democratic reform and succession by the old royal line worked brilliantly. This quiet path is the rarity, violence after revolution, assassination, or death after dictatorship has always been more common.

Life under a dictator can mask many problems. As CNN's Eason Jordan admitted, Saddam's regime simply forbade the reporting of bad news or unfavorable facts whenever possible. News of atrocities was slow to leak out, officially denied, and diplomatically ignored until the great powers decided to end the regime (at which point they became highly publicized).

In Yugoslavia ethnic tensions were controlled by deportation and internal exile, arrest and detention, and often execution. In China the regime actually edits the world wide web and foreign news services to rewrite the history of its own internal dissent - today most Chinese do not know of the Tiannamen Square protests and crackdown, others believe that it is a Western lie.

The conditions inside Iraq today are horrible and due to get worse. When the US pulls its troops out before the next election in 2008 (trust me, it will happen) strict Muslim fanatics will most likely take over the government. Open ethnic civil war with partition of the country into Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni zones will be the probable (and perhaps preferable) outcome.

In the areas controlled by hard-liners civilized life will suffer, although day to day security will return. This new regime will probably be an ally of Iran and Syria. The immediate result of our toppling of Saddam will be to create yet another enemy and to literally break the nation of Iraq.

However bad the fall of Saddam may appear for both Iraqis and Americans today I still believe that it was the right thing to do. The worst situation for a liberal democracy is to sacrifice one's freedom for security (the current debate by Lefties about the Patriot Act is one example). However, it is also horrible (and debilitating) to sacrifice one's values and ideals for security (as we did through out the Cold War when we backed dictators such as Pinochet and Saddam). By turning on Saddam, for whatever ulterior motives one wishes to believe, we at least were recognizing an enemy (both of ours, and of many Iraqis) and finally acting accordingly.

We successfully restarted Germany and Japan after WWII. We also helped rebuild the economy and civil society of western Europe and much of Asia (we may have even helped the Soviet Union by playing the role of "the enemy"). It would be nice to think that could have done the same for Iraq.

However, this is a different era, we are a different nation. We do not spend our tax dollars willingly on civil projects at home, let alone over seas. And we do not risk our soldiers to police other nations (even if their security might benefit our own). So Iraq did not get an occupation force of hundreds of thousands, nor did it get a Marshal Plan of hundreds of millions. Aside from about a year of CPA administration, there was no Occupation Government of Iraq.

Instead Iraq has been left to the efforts of Iraqis (and its neighbors and a handful of US soldiers). This is sending Iraq down the Yugoslavia path to civil war and partition. This may also send it down the Iranian road towards extremist Muslim rule. The next 30 years may actually end up worse for Iraqis that its 30 years under Saddam.

So why is this a "good thing"? Because the artificial quiet under a dictator is the retardation of a nation and of a people. When ethnic conflict is only held in check by fear and force people do not grow out of it - tensions may actually get worse as the dictator plays one group against the other. And in the Middle East it seems that a period of religious rule simply must be endured (Europe had its share, for instance under Spain), Iran is in this stage, and Egypt is on its way (once its own strongman passes).

The pain of fighting over borders, ethnicity, and ideology may simply be inevitable on the way to a more peaceful, multicultural, and democratic future. At any rate, it is a far better thing for an American to be rooting for recovery from war and political progress for other nations rather than to be ignoring or coddling dictators and repression. I am as depressed as anyone to see the current conditions in Iraq, but I am hoping for the best in the future. I would not be if Saddam were still in power, so it still good that Saddam is dead.

Sean: Wednesday, January 03, 2007 [+] |

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