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, March 19, 2007

What War Is Good For

In 1969 Motown asked America what war was good for. Edwin Starr's version of "War" made it to no. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1970 in protest of Vietnam. Bruce Springsteen remade the song in 1986 in protest of Reagan's involvement in Latin America. The song has been remade again today in protest of the Iraq war.

The question is simple and seems to have only one answer "Absolutely nu-thing!". Then the Slovenian band Laibach did a cover in 1994 in which they gave the ironic counter answer listing IBM and CNN as direct benefactors of war. Either answer is too facile, ignoring any complications.

As it turns out, war might be good for quite a lot. War does indeed benefit capitalist corporations, the industrial-military complex, and media conglomerates. But it has also led to developments in governance, medicine, and engineering. These advances save and improve billions of lives around the world.

Under the Roman Empire war brought lands formally ruled by despots and warlords into a democracy. Military service in the Roman Legions was open to anyone from any country and was the fastest (and perhaps only) route to full citizenship and landholding (veterans earned a small farm on the hinterlands after 25 years of service).

Military success convinced the Emperor Constantine to convert to Christianity n 313 ad, ending centuries of persecution and spread the peaceful teachings of a renegade Jewish rabbi to millions in the Empire. A similar battlefield miracle around 500 ad convinced Clovis and the Franks to convert to Christianity and led to the "progressive" rule of Charlemagne and saved Christianity in Europe during the Dark Ages.

The Crusades later combined military conquest and religion in the most brutal of fashions and was very expensive in lives and treasure for conquered and conqueror alike. However, it also brought back to Europe advances in medicine, science, and art. Meanwhile the Arabs were finally united under Saladin in an effective counter empire in which ideals of honor, tolerance, and chivalry were enshrined (Saladin's example may be one of the few counters to bloodthirsty terrorism today).

Europe during the ensuing centuries saw nearly constant warfare as Protestantism spread across northern Europe limiting the arbitrary power of the Catholic Church. Violent urban unrest brought popular rule to France, Holland, and Germany. In 1653 Cromwell's revolt in England forever limited the rights of the monarch. Meanwhile the American Revolution brought about the first codification of civil rights, including freedom of religion. The later rampage of Napoleon across Europe in the 1850's spread his advances in military organization but also solidified numerous nation state's and established a universal legal code across the continent.

The American Civil War ended slavery in America with the death of millions. However, it also saw major developments in surgery and anesthesia. Technical advances in transportation and communication such as the railroad and the telegraph were also spurred by this conflict.

Military doctors during the Spanish-American War were the first to prove that mosquitoes carried disease (one of the doctors was Walter Reed). This lead to major advances in the treatment and prevention of many diseases, especially in the tropics of Africa and S. America. Swamp drainage, sanitation, and inoculation eventually saw the near eradication of malaria and small pox and saved the lives of tens of millions.

WWI saw major advances in battlefield triage and treatment. Horrific advances in chemical and biological weapons led to later treatments and major advances in chemical engineering and pharmacology. Industrial advances necessary to equip massed armies led to inexpensive textiles, plastics, and other goods that brought decent clothing and consumer goods to the masses of Europe and America. The League of Nations was a first international attempt to formalize foreign relations and avoid war.

WWII saw developments in wireless communication, sonar, radar, jet aircraft, atomic energy, geography, geology, and meteorology. It also lead directly to the de-colonialization of Africa and the Middle East. A new monetary system allowed governments to continue to function and feed their people during recessions. A new trade organization allowed dispute resoltions other than war. The failed League of Nations was replaced with the more robust (although still deeply flawed) United Nations.

Cold War innovations famously led to space travel, satellites, digital computing and the internet, and the rise of science research centers like MIT and JPL. With the conclusion of the contest, Western ideals of democracy and the freemarket were finally spread to former Soviet states. Meanwhile, the tension of the Cold War is now recognized as responsible for keeping the lid on many regional conflicts in Africa, Asia, and S. America.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars led developments in medical evacuation by helicopter, field hospitals developed extensive trauma care, and the military further developed responses to sexually transmitted disease. Along with Kosovo and Somalia, these conflicts proved that West would at least attempt to defend smaller democracies, developing nations, or ethnic minorities from foreign and home-grown threats.

The War on Terror is responsible for thousands of dead soldiers and perhaps tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are medical technical advances such as a bandage made from shrimp parts that helps control bleeding, a laptop heart and lunch machine, and the use of whole blood or blood parts to assist in clotting and healing. And a government run by illiterate students was replaced by an international protectorate and a regime run by a mob-style family that fed its critics feet first into plastic recyclers was arrested, tried, and punished (executed).

No one wants to go on record as "advocating war". One of the silliest bumper stickers has to be "No War!". One might as well urge free college and universal health care for all, or call for an independent Tibet. A recent anti-war rally here in Portland gave aging Boomers, who long since sold their moral high ground for a Volvo and a Starbucks card, the opportunity to once again revel in being "right".

But the decision not to fight, not to support wars, also means abdicating on issues such as Darfur, Thailand, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, etc. Ignoring such problem spots kills people just as dead as any bomb.

Meanwhile, serving in the military of a liberal democracy such as in Denmark, the UK, or the USA trains millions of young people in the real cost of their independence. And their support helps keep the balance of military power, technical know-how, and economics fully on the side of freedom and democracy.

I am not arguing that war is a wonderful shinny thing. I am noting that the question is much more complex than fits on most bumper stickers. War has both positive and negative outcomes, for different people, that reveal themselves at different times.

On this fourth year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq we should indeed look at it critically and ask ourselves if we are in this fight for the right reasons, and if this is the best way we can fight it. A serious, critical look. Not a Motown anthem.

Sean: Monday, March 19, 2007 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere