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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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Russian Bears

When I visited Russia a few years ago as an architecture student I was shocked to see so many layers of armed police and soldiers roaming the streets and subways.

I arrived with my traveling companions from the Danish Royal Academy at the St. Petersburg airport and handed over my 3-page visa and passport to a severe-looking immigration clerk. After a long scrutiny and the pounding of a stamp I was waved inside to a main terminal.

The St. Petersburg airport appeared to be stuck in a frozen renovation - broken concrete and twisted rebar was only partially hidden by plastic beer ads. The paving was cracked and patched. Hot and cold air blew through windows, vents, and under doorways.

We passed through a simple sawhorse barricade in front of broken sliding-glass doors manned by blonde, blue-eyed boys with machine guns. They laughed, told jokes, and ignored us completely as we stepped out into the icy parking area to meet our tour bus.

During the ride into the city we were warned by our guides to keep our passports at the hotel and to never hand them over to police of any sort... especially those in "pleather" trench coats - actual soldiers, we were told, were a bit more trustworthy in part because they were younger and thus a bit less corrupt.

The Hotel Moscow sat on the south bank of the ice-filled harbor. I walked through an overly grand marble lobby, past the collection of hookers in fur coats waiting in front of the elevators, and checked in at the overly impossing counter. When the clerk returned my passport I and headed up to my room where I carefully tucked it into my luggage before heading back out to explore.

The parking lot was crowded with busses and taxis. Elevators also led down to a subway station and in front of the entrance squatted a gated kiosk with liquor and cigarettes for sale. Young kids drinking beer and vodka loitered on the steps, homeless beggars slept with cardboard signs in their laps, and stray dogs of various breeds and sizes fought and mated in the gravel and snow.

Across the street a rundown monastery welcomed a steady stream of normal-looking locals. I crossed over and stood near the guard in his little ticket booth. The locals ignored him, but he demanded that I purchase a ticket before entering. When I looked back at the hotel I saw snipers using large binoculars to watch a big black Mercedes with heavily tinted windows idling in the monastery parking lot.


Roads in big Russian cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow were designed to impress Western audiences on TV. During the Soviet era few could afford cars to keep the roads busy, but today it seems everyone has a car, truck, or van, and nearly everyone drives as though the government might take their vehicle away at any moment.

Now the eight-lane mega-boulevards are death races for pedestrians except where crossings were tunneled under the roads. Inside you will find booths selling everything from panties and bras to vacuum cleaners and CDs. Once I even stumbled upon a military band playing Tchaikovsky in the tunnel leading to Moscow’s Hotel Ukraine.

These tunnels can be just as scary as the pinball game above ground. One of our older, female guides had seen a man mugged, shot in the head, and left to die just a few months earlier. The lone soldier or policeman begging for spare change gave little hope of effective backup.

On one tram ride into downtown I overheard a young British diplomat telling his two girlfriends which of the casinos we were passing were safe to enter that day. He cheerfully described a cross between Chicago under prohibition and Vegas under the Mob, complete with executions and shootouts, as "much, much improved".

Later that night I found myself separated from my tour group near the picturesque "Swan Lake" in suburban Moscow. Unable to get clear directions from the citizens waiting at the bus stop (for a bus that apparently never arrived) I turned for help to the soldier standing near his official car. His windshield sported a large bullet hole on the passenger side and was blocked up with cardboard.

When I explained in simple English that I was a student trying to get to Red Square for an official function the young boy in “urban camo” flagged down a passing motorist and ordered him to give me a ride to the McDonalds near Lenin's tomb and the GUM shopping center.

My new driver turned out to speak very good English. He was an unemployed nuclear engineer who had once visited Los Alamos under a sort of scientists' exchange program. He asked me for a few hundred rubles for the ride and dropped me off at the motor pool parking area where I arrived just ahead of my wayward tour bus.

This time my trust of the Russian armed forces worked out. Although I had seen a few ominous-looking men at a distance, those I actually interacted with were all very friendly. I soon learned, however, that there was a darker side to the Russian military and those fresh-faced kids walking the streets with guns.


I met a Russian woman who told me that her little brother had recently returned from his first few months of "boot camp" in the Russian army. When he arrived home for a holiday dinner, his family found him a broken shell. He had been physically, psychologically, and even sexually abused as part of his “training.” His parents and siblings refused to let him return. They have been hiding him for months while trying to acquire papers to get him out of the country.

Many Western newspapers have documented similar suffering by Russian soldiers. The BBC and the Guardian recently ran stories on one Private Sychev. He lost his legs and genitals to gangrene after ritualized abuse by the comrades in his unit. Other recruits are forced into pornography and prostitution to enrich their superior officers.

All Russian men between 18 and 27 are required to report for military duty. However, more than three fourths manage to avoid the draft with college exemptions or medical excuses. Perhaps only nine percent are effectively drafted. Famously the veterans who do return from service are left without medical care, housing, or jobs and it is from these ranks that police and security professionals are often drawn.

When our honest hosts warned us to be wary of the soldiers and the police they risked their jobs and their personal security. Since 1993 more than 43 journalists critical of the government have been murdered under the newly soured mood of the Kremlin. However, despite the obvious risks, the Internet has allowed groups such as the mothers of soldiers to speak out for their children.

If Russian soldiers in Georgia, Moldova, or the Ukraine are financially and emotionally fragile children, then help may be on its way. Newsweek reports that new, much younger Defence Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, was the mastermind of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia. Anatoly wants to end the draft and turn the Russian military into a professional force that matches the US.

However, while the newly reformed Russian military that rolled into tiny Georgia last month sported tanks with fresh paint jobs, and was made up of only volunteers with 2 years of service, behind these "dough boys" trailed the usual assorted irregulars, motley bands of Chechens, Arabs, and other foreign fighters, who were more committed to the brutal needs of their mission. It was this collection of fighters who ushered the newly re-conquered Georgians back into the new Russia.

The best quote that I heard from a Russian citizen was an un-cynical appraisal of Joseph Stalin by a former KGB tourism agent as “no worse than Ivan the Terrible”. It seems that Russians do not expect much compassion from their leaders, rock hard willpower and the ability to inspire fear through (and through out) the military are the real requirements of power inside Russia, the same under Ivan, Joe, or Vladimir.

At the end of my visit I was driven through a cold gray rain, past the construction sites of suburban housing tracts, and delivered to the Moscow airport. My guide gave me an old textbook on the glories of the former Soviet Union, a gift for my father, who is old enough to have nostalgia for the Revolution. We shared a final toast of Russian Standard Vodka and a great bear hug and my new friend bid me a safe journey home. I may have imagined the sigh of abandoned hope, but I would say that most Russians that I met are both fiercely proud of their country and also desperate to get out.

Hotel Moscow in St. Petersburg

Nevsky Monastary

Back of the monastary

Church of the Spilt Blood

Russian military band in front of the Admiralty buildings

Russian tank at a war monument over looking Moscow

War memorial outside Moscow

Hotel Ukraine in Moscow, facing Parliament's White House

Unknown Soldier monument at Red Square

A Russian General on horseback in front of the Natural History Museum

The walls of the Kremlin

Sean: Tuesday, September 09, 2008 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere