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, June 22, 2007

Amanpour, Christiane Amanpour

Buckingham Palace has announced the annual list of knighthood awards. We already know about Salman Rushdie, but other notable figures are on the list as well. I appreciate this knighthood business as it is an honor for everyday people (not just Nobel Laureates) that we can all enjoy whilst they are still alive.

Soccer player (er, excuse me "footballer"), Ian Botham, will be made a knight. Ok, I guess that should have been expected. But also on the list....

CNN's Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, government lawyer-turned human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis and comedian Barry Humphries, who created the character of Dame Edna Everage, were all named Commanders of the British Empire, or CBE. -CNN June 16th

That's right... you can now call her Commander Christiane Amanpour, CBE. You dont have to call her Sir, however, as only the top two ranks of the Order (GBE and KBE) get that privilige. Yes, women can be "sirs" and you wouldnt call her Lady unless she were married to a Knight or was awarded the distinction of Dame of the British Empire. And yes, it is my understanding that she is a British subject.

Christiane was born to an Iranian father and a British mother in London and she attended school at Holy Cross in Buckinghamshire before moving to the US to study Journalism at the University of Rhode Island. She is now married to James Rubin, who worked in the Clinton Administration. She has worked for CNN since 1989 and is stationed at their London Beureau.

For those keeping track of such things, Ian Flemming's Spy is officially listed as: Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR. That is he is a member of the Royal Naval Reserves and is also a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. This order was created to honor citizens of the Ionian Islands while Britain was its ruler from 1814 to 1864. It was revised in 1868 to reward or recognize citizens of the British Empire for service in Foreign Affairs. It is not awarded, but appointed, and is often a prefunctory designation for government officials or diplomatic officers. However, James also holds the naval rank of Commander as well, which is why he is sometimes called Commander Bond in the movies, not because of his "knighthood" which is only of Companion level at any rate.

Oh, and also for those keeping track... Salman Rushdie was named a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire. So you would call him Sir Salman Rushdie (yes, he is also a British subject), but you would not add the post-nomials KBE.

Sean: Friday, June 22, 2007 [+] |
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Satanic Knighthood

Salmon Rushdie has been nominated for a knighthood in England. This has caused even the "moderate" nations of the Muslim world to erupt in protest. And some British citizens are calling for the offer to be revoked.

Rushdie was born in Bombay in 1947 to a Cambridge educated lawyer and British citizen. He later also studied History at Cambridge and, after a brief stint as a television actor in Pakistan, he returned to England to work for two British ad agencies (Salman is a British subject). Although his father was Muslim, Salman did not come out publicly as a Muslim until 1990 (perhaps in a (failed) attempt to appease his critics?).

Rushdie's first book, Grimus (1975), is the story of a Native American girl who gains immortality and searches the world for the meaning of life. His second book, Midnight's Children (1981), is the story of an illegitimate boy who struggles with Islam and Hindi life in India and Pakistan, it won the Booker Prize for Literature and was an international success. His third book, Shame (1983), is the story of a Pakistani woman who is so ashamed of her country's history that her blushing boils her bathwater.

The Satanic Versus (1988), is the story of two men who survive the terrorist bombing of their jetliner while traveling to England from India. These two characters spend their time falling to earth discussing secret missing lines from the Koran which name three goddesses along with the singular male god Allah. This book earned him a death sentence from the Ayatollah of Iran in 1989. His subsequent hermetic life of hiding also cost him his first marriage.

Rushdie's following books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) have been subject to the scrutiny and publicity of an internationally known public figure due to the Muslim outrage over his writing (more on his books and biography here).

How do people earn Knighthoods today, what does it mean to be a knight in the modern United Kingdom, and does Salman deserve the honor?

Knighthood is awarded to a person of any nationality by the British government through the Queen as a reward for service to the country (or today, more broadly, the world) in various fields that may include military service, art, science, or politics (since 1997 it has been granted to anyone who donates more than one million pounds to the ruling Labour Party).

The award of knighthood grants no special privileges to an individual (except bragging rights and better dinner reservations). It is not a hereditary title and does not allow one to sit in the House of Lords. However, a person thus recognized is allowed to ask to be addressed as Sir or Dame (if of certain ranks of knighthood and only by those who care about such things) and to put initials after their name noting the Order of knighthood (except for Knights Bachelor - who are not of any particular Order or for actors, like Sir Sean Connery, who traditionally leave them off their film credits).

Each Spring the individuals to be knighted are announced in the Queen's Birthday "honours" press release. The people on the list are nominated by British subjects, vetted by selection committees, and approved by the queen and the government.

The British literary group Pen was probably responsible for putting Rushdie's name in the list. This group gives vocal support to over 1,000 authors who are persecuted as a result of their writing.

Other committee members have said that they specifically ignored the politics of this award to focus only on merit. They note that Rushdie's books have been worldwide best sellers and have raised the profile of the debate of religion and world values.

Others complain that this award is inherently political (especially when granted to Party contributors) and was bound to stir up anger in the Muslim world. They want his award revoked before it is even officially granted... they even want Rushdie to decline it out of politeness (or fear).

A Pakistani MP on the BBC today equated Rushdie's Knighthood to Holocaust denial (he also proudly reminded the audience that he banned Dan Brown's The Devinci Code in the interest of the 1% of his country that is Christian). He said that he felt that insulting Islam was the same as insulting the Jewish people.

However, there is no corollary. To insult Islam is to insult the ideas of a people (bad), while to deny the Holocaust is to deny their history and their common humanity (much worse). More to the point, Holocaust denial is only a crime in countries directly effected by it and it only applies to citizens of that country.

When Muslims decry the free speech of other people in other nations, make threats against them (or murder them in the streets such as Theo Van Gogh), or attack foreign embassies (such as the Danish embassy in Beirut) they are attempting to impose their ideas (and their history and their future) on the world.

When citizens of the Free World worry about the public opinion of nations with out a functioning democracy or free press, whose political and religious ideas remain stuck in the late Middle Ages, they do not do them a favor, rather they are supporting the continued retardation of those people's rights and culture.

This is similar to the worry about racial tensions released after the death of a dictator (say in Yugoslavia or Iraq). It is not a good thing when a nation is "peaceful" due to violent repression. In fact, the clash of cultures released by the waning of government power (in either example) are ugly but necessary steps in resolving differences and learning to live together (or apart, if necessary).

Here in the US or in the UK it can be easy to take our freedoms for granted. It seems like such a small step to consider the feelings of others or the public opinion of other nations. We seem to forget that our freedom was hard fought and it clashed violently with the values of most other nations (in 1815 the rulers of Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed an alliance to stop the spread of Democracy).

Non-Westerners (and some in the West) are sometimes confused that discord is tolerated and even encouraged (in Islam it is the opposite, in Arabic the word "Islam" means "submission", both to the will of God and to society, in Islam one of the greatest evils is "fitna" or social unrest). But in the West this dissent is how we refine and assess science and culture. Salmon Rushdie's novels, offensive to some, are part of the cacophony of voices that produce our best ideas and most cherished art.

In this case I think the Queen has proved some of her relevance in the modern world. Her recognition of Salman Rushdie is a poke in the eye to some and a long over due honor to others. It also forces everyone to reexamine our values and our associations (is Pakistan, the most vocal critic, really an ally against terrorism?). Someday the Muslim world may accept Free Speech as a cultural value alongside Freedom of Religion. But even if it never does, we still should.

Meanwhile I hope God will continue to save the Queen and Salmon Rushdie from their critics.

Sean: Thursday, June 21, 2007 [+] |
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Hamas Stings Gaza

There is a new civil war in the Palestinian Territories. CNN reports that Hamas has taken over all the Fattah offices in the Gaza Strip, meanwhile the BBC reports that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed the Hammas led government and is ruling by decree in the West Bank.

Do you remember the story of the scorpion and the frog? The scorpion asks the frog to take it across the river to avoid a flood. About halfway across the scorpion stings the frog. As the frog and the scorpion both drown the frog asks the scorpion why he stung him. The scorpion simply replies: "Hey, I'm a scorpion!"

It is worth taking another look at the nature of Hamas. They have insinuated themselves into cities in the West Bank and Gaza much the way Irish gangs in Boston and Italian gangs in Chicago operated in the 20's.

Gangs provide a sense of identity and security for the disenfranchised. They also make a lot of money opperating beyond legal bounds. They often smuggle drugs, alcohol, or whatever is proscribed by the ruling powers.

They also provide social services to people who are overlooked and neglected by the official government. They also help matters in their favor by making it very difficult and dangerous for the government to serve these areas.

In the Palestinian Territories this model was made even worse by there not being an official local government for years. This was made possible and even inevitable by the larger politics of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

From Israel's declaration of statehood in 1948 until the 1967 war Egypt ruled Gaza and Jordan ran the West Bank. However, these Arab states cared more about the land as a staging area for another war with Israel than as a land with people who needed their care (indeed they saw their rule as temporary until they could defeat Israel).

After Israel won the war they ended up responsible for these lands themselves, but did not want to assume full control and thus annex millions of non-Jews (they also saw their rule as temporary until they could come to an accommodation with their Arab neighbors).

And so these territories have remained in limbo for years and this limbo is a perfect climate for gang-rule (indeed gang rule may have been the best solution at the time).

Recent efforts to bring about a "two state solution" are really a project to create a legitimate government, the Palestinian Authority, in the territories. This would naturally weaken gang rule in the same area. The obvious response of Hamas was to kick up trouble whenever possible to derail this Peace Process.

The people of the West Bank and Gaza blame the failure of the Peace Process and the Authority government on corruption within the secular political party Fattah, (which itself grew out of Arafat's old gang). In frustration they actually elected the terrorist gang Hamas to government last year instead of Fattah.

So now Al Capone is running City Hall and nobody wants to do business there anymore. The US, the EU, and the UN have all held back donations to the Palestinian Authority because they cant quite stomach funding a terrorist gang. Even other Arab governments have held them at arms length.

Meanwhile Fattah has attempted to run a shadow government that negotiates with Western Powers on its own and tries to funnel funding to its own officers. They have particularly resisted efforts by Hamas to sieze control of the police and the military in the territories.

The result is now a civil war in the Palestinian Territories. Al Capone and his men have taken out their tommy guns and occupied all the police stations in Gaza, while the old gaurd of Fattah is cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank. The two parties kidnap eachother's leaders and shoot RPG's into government buildings controlled by their opponents.

The people of the Palestinian Territories are huddled in their basements unable to even retrieve the dead from the streets. They are understandably angry and looking for someone to blame. Fattah and the West (the US, the EU, and the UN) have taken most of this blame, even from their old supporters in the moderate wings.

Palestinians complain that Fattah's resistance to Hamas forced them to their current level of violence. Much as Lefties in America tried to sort out the logical reasons for 9/11 they seem unwilling to accept the true nature of their enemies. Instead they blame themselves, or one subset, and their own behaviors.

But it is a bit pointless to ask why Hamas has launched this war on Gaza. They are a terrorist organization, a 1920's gang. When they provide free day care or welfare payments to Palestinians they are not doing anyone a favor. They are buying loyalty and forcing out the local government (or simply stepping in where it was missing).

Giving them the keys to the city will not make them act more responsible (as many of us hoped), they will not become the government. They are simply a better armed gang.

Perhaps the Peace Process and its Two State Solution is now officially dead. If so then the neighboring powers need to step in and fill the vacuum in the Palestinian Territories. Perhaps Jordan and Egypt need to come back, maybe the Palestinians would even accept Israeli intervention.

Otherwise we will have nothing but gang rule, Chicago, the Wild West, or the Dark Ages... pick your metaphor. Right now we have masked bandits running amok. The scorpions are just doing what comes naturally.

Sean: Thursday, June 14, 2007 [+] |
Friday, June 08, 2007
Putin Raises Ante

This week US President George Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Bush has famously claimed to have gazed into Putin's eyes and seen a good soul. But lately he has been complaining that Putin appears to be tightening the reins on Russian democracy (jailing businessmen and killing reporters).

Meanwhile, Putin, a former KGB head, has been complaining about Bush's plans for missile defense installations in the former Soviet satellites of Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin worries that a system based in Europe would be directed against Russia, not the Middle East as the Whitehouse claims.

So the meeting this week was seen as a possible fiasco, with both leaders trading verbal barbs and maybe not even sharing photo ops.

However Putin is a smart diplomat who still sees the world with complicated Kremlin colored glasses. He disarmed the conflict and sent the Whitehouse scrambling for a political position by offering up Azerbaijan, a different former Soviet satellite, as a base for missile defense.

The suggestion by Putin appears to show Russian "cooperation" on this issue and may be a bone thrown in Bush's direction to throw him off the scent of democratic reform.

When I was in Russia last year I had an hours long conversation with a pretty young woman studying for her doctorate in international relations in St. Petersburg.

She expressed a common Russian point of view that where the Soviet Union had pulled back the US would obviously attempt to move in - what one empire controlled another would want.

I reminded her that America is essentially a self-centered child with roughly good intentions towards the rest of the world - we are a potential friend (or at least trading partner) to nearly anyone (even countries that we fought vicious wars with, such as Germany and Japan).

We put up with social upheaval, economic sluggishness, and military over-spending during the Cold War with the expectation that we would get a Peace Dividend to spend on ourselves once the Soviet menace was resolved.

So we really do not want to spend money running the rest of the planet (particularly former Soviet states). We would rather they ran themselves serenely enough to do business with, while we ignored most of their problems of human rights and the environment.

Everyone forgets that Bush mocked "nation building" during his first campaign against Gore and when he took over the Whitehouse in 2000 he immediately tried to cancel all our treaties and obligations with our allies.

He suggested that we bring our troops home from Korea and Germany. He hired Wolfy and Rummy to "reinvision" a leaner (fewer soldiers, fancier equipment) fighting force, focused more on small tactical operations instead of winning invasions and occupations, and our top generals quit in protest.

Everyone (especially in the Mid East) wondered if the US was turning inward, and turning its back on, the rest of the world. Bush was even heckled by the press as having "zero foreign policy" (or experience).

Then 9/11 happened. Bush stood "bravely" on heaps of rubble in NY and appeared somber at Pentagon commemoration ceremonies. He took a while, much maligned in the press, to come up with any serious response to this reminder that we cannot ignore the rest of the world.

Then he authorized the invasion of Afghanistan, the overthrow of Saddam in Iraq, and pushed forward with plans for Missile Defense. He sent Condi to try to restart the Israeli peace process and began meeting with Central Asian leaders to set up new bases. The world now complains of a hidden US push for Empire.

Putin is probably not trying to help the US out of "friendship". They probably really are worried that we are trying to muscle into their turf and are just trying to gain control of the game (KGB experience and all).

Meanwhile no one seems to be noticing the creepiness of Russia complaining about losing control of Poland and Czech, both extremely unwilling members of the Soviet Sphere, while handing over Azerbaijan on a platter.

Bush and Putin in pajamas (in China).

Sean: Friday, June 08, 2007 [+] |
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Turkish Delight?

Turkey may or may not be invading northern Iraq a little lately. Ok, that doesn't sound like news really, or even information. But it is the latest rumour.

AJ has posted this photo of tanks on the streets of Cizre, still inside Turkey, but along the border.

Turkey released this photo of these same tanks and said they were just involved in exercises.

Michael and I were in Cizre about this time last year. Back then there were plenty of Turkish military check points in the countryside. But there were also men with checkered scarves on their heads with AK-47's riding openly through town on flatbed trucks. So it wasn't exactly peaceful.

The PKK, the Kurdish guerrillas battling Turkey for control of its mainly Kurdish SE, operates from bases in Northern Iraq. Turkey regularly crosses the border in "hot pursuit". But they also regularly threaten to invade wholesale.

I saw the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when I was in Cyprus this summer. He was touring the north to commemorate their military intervention there some 30 years ago. They had a military parade, an air show, and a tour of graves (the Greeks remember the day differently).

While I was there the TV news was talking about a possible Turkish invasion of Iraq. When Erdogan came to our hotel for interviews he was quite serious about the possibility of such a move. Michael was in Iraq at the time and told me that they were talking about it there too.

An odd facet to keep in mind is that the Turkish military is NATO armed. They carry M-16's and drive American M60A3 tanks (Pattons). Some of their soldiers are from Melbourne or Long Island (anyone of Turkish descent has to do a tour of duty).

The Kurds carry AK-47's, but they often ride in American hummers alongside G.I's such as Tony from Seattle. We gave them back their freedom and now they let our guys "guard them" while shopping at the local mall.

So it would be a disaster if Turkey ever followed through on its warnings. It would be almost a Civil War (on many levels). And it would break the one part of Iraq that has actually benefited from our intervention there three years ago.

However, I do understand the Turkish complaint that the PKK uses this region as a safe haven. It is much the same as the Pakistani/Afghan problem with the NW (Tribal) Territories. We would not tolerate the same situation with Mexico or Canada.

If anyone gets solid intel on the actuality of an invasion please leave a comment here (or email me).

Sean: Thursday, June 07, 2007 [+] |

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