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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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Russia's Georgian Bride

This week former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev released an opinion piece to the NY Times in which he widely blames the US and Georgia for Russia's invasion and occupation of Georgia.

Gorbachev explains that Russian TV showed "horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire blocks... the barbaric destruction of ancient monuments..." Naturally, "The Russian president could not afford inaction..." rather he acted calmly, confidently, and firmly... and was not "confused" as the West might have hoped.

Gorbachev goes on to give an assessment that echoes the most paranoid conspiracy theories from the Arab Middle East... that America is so powerful that nothing happens with out its approval or direct involvement... "Saakashvili... would not have dared to attack South Ossetia without [American] support."

On the other hand, the standard European line is that Americans are incompetent at international puppetry (unlike themselves, who smoothly manipulated themselves into two World Wars and a 50 year Cold War). So that "It is not quite clear whether the West [America] was aware of Saakashvili's plans..."

Then Gorbachev notes that "Ossetians live in both Georgia and in Russia", so Georgian talk of "liberating our land" is false... and the problems of the Caucuses cannot be solved by force. Yet, "Within the first few days the Ossetian "capital" was a smoking ruin with thousands of people fleeing a city in which "no Russian troops were yet present".

Any appearance of Russian aggression was merely a Western media "attack" designed to unfairly blame Russia for worsening the situation in the region and the world. In fact, we should realize that the "Russian leadership did not need a little victorious war" and so had no hand in planning and arraigning this conflict.

Gorbachev considers threats of isolating Russia by barring admission to the WTO or booting them from the G-8 as empty because no one seriously entertains Russian opinions in these Western-led international organizations anyway. Instead, the West should end its practice of condescension and disregarding Russia's positions and interests.

Gorbachev suggests that the bi-partisan push in Washington for a new policy to advance America's national interests in relations with Russia will fail unless Americans are ready to "consider the interests of the other side" and work to "rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together".

This opinion piece was embarrassing in its apology for Russian military bullying and political manipulations. The obvious comparison is to a married couple where the husband blames the wife for his beating her... she dressed inappropriately, she talked back and gave him lip, etc. Does Gorbachev really expect the West to apologize and promise to work harder to please Russia?

Russian troops have been in the Georgian provinces of Abkazia and South Ossetia since a short war just after the fall of the Soviet Union and Georgian independence in 1992.

Russia has been issuing passports to South Ossetian residents since 2002, enabling them to claim that their intervention in Georgia was necessary to protect Russian passport holders.

The Russian military invaded and briefly held a Ukraine island in 2005 in a miscommunication that revealed Russian military and diplomatic confusion. It also suggests that they were actively planning for a seaborne invasion similar to their take over of the Georgian port of Poti this month.

Russia regrets the loss of its Soviet era empire and the respect and fear with which it was viewed by the West. The Russian leadership most certainly has cherished plans to retake every former Soviet State. Whether they exercise these plans will be determined by the Western response to their current Georgian campaign.

Image Source: New York Daily News

Sean: Sunday, August 24, 2008 [+] |
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Russia has just invaded its southern neighbor of Georgia, seizing the contested regions of South Ossetia and Abkahzia. Their soldiers wave to reporters while carting off the washing machines and the family cars of ordinary Georgian civilians. Their smiles and thumbs up from passing trucks and tanks reveal their happy sense of an easy victory.

Meanwhile Poland agreed to house US interceptors, the Czech Republic agreed to host US radar installations, and Ukraine threatened to lock out Russia's' Black Sea Fleet. Out of the 10 former Soviet states 9 have moved one step closer to alignment with the West in direct response to the Russian invasion of Georgia.

I visited Russia two years ago and toured Saint Petersburg and Moscow. I was pleased to see these big cities refurbishing their past culture and grand architecture. I felt that ordinary Russians were a lot like Americans... sure of their own country's general decency, yet deeply suspicious of their government, and with a great desire to gain a brighter financial future.

But there were some serious differences in worldviews. I had a lengthy conversation with a young woman who was a political science graduate student in St. Petersburg. She believed that Russia would immediately move to take over Alaska, Canada, or Mexico if given half a chance, so why wouldn't the US want to make a move on Ukraine?

Russians appear to have the classic European problem of looking at America and seeing themselves. Since France, Germany, or Russia would have invaded Iraq for nothing more than oil, so too must have America. Since these Europeans would have invaded each other and annexed territory at the first sign of weakness, so too must America.

The best tactic for getting through to such a person is to remind them of their own worst impressions of the US. America only wants to make money, right? Americans have no deep ideology to pursue, right? Therefore, why would the US waste money to annex some dysfunctional state millions of miles from the nearest sunny vacation spot?

The US does not want to seize anyone's oil fields and pay to develop and exploit them when the US can buy all that it desires cheaper and easier on the open market. In fact, America has a long history of tolerating foreign dictators who agree to play ball commercially. Even a Russian poly-sci student will accept such a cynical explanation of American foreign policy.

But Russia is another story. They may have renamed their military and intelligence agencies and moved towards a more open-looking society, but the old buildings and the government agencies they house are still decorated in gold gilt Louise XIV. Russia does not want a partnership with America or "the West", they want to WIN the old European game of world domination.

Leftists in Europe and the US would like to imagine a world beyond the nation state and with out the need for military might. In particular, the people who have never enjoyed much power would like to see a world where power is useless. But these former Soviet states have enjoyed a moment to say "I told you so" following the Russian exercise of naked might.

The invasion of Georgia has reminded the former Soviet states what they once feared in Russia... their own European greed and territorial aggression. In contrast, the United States is once again seen as a remote and benign ally. Russia may have gained two small scraps of Georgia, but they may have lost most of their former Soviet satellites who have now re-aligned themselves with the "Decadent West".

*image from Petersburg Lodging.

Sean: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere