Archive for November, 2007

Holy red-baiting, Batman!

I recently submitted an essay in my academic life on the topic of the imperialism of ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

Unfortunately, my paper’s length went way over the maximum page allottance, so I had to cut out this section which critiques an absolutely incoherent attack on MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky from a paper published in 2003 by LSE professor, and part time professional red-baiter, Chris Brown.

Normally, I don’t let these sort of conservative anti-Chomsky attacks anger up the blood so much when I encounter them on the internet, but this sort of argument bothers me immensely when the author is able to get his or her work accepted by a peer-reviewed academic publication when even the most basic standards of decency show that this work is both fallacious and an ad hominem against another academic.

Thus, I have decided to reproduce selected quotes from this paper by Chris Brown along with my critiques of each quote.  I must apologize in advance for the lack of footnotes or endnotes because for some reason WordPress strips them out (although if anybody would like the specific citations I use, you can feel free to ask and I’d be happy to give them). 

The work being critiqued is:

Brown, Chris. ‘Selective Humanitarianism: In Defence of Inconsistency.’ In Ethics and Foreign Intervention. Edited by Chatterjee, D.; Scheid, D. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 31-50.

—————————–

At the outset of his work, Brown writes that:

“[A] second preliminary point that needs to be acknowledged is that many of those who charge the interveners with inconsistency actually have agendas of their own which are unconnected to this issue.  Chomsky, for example, clearly would oppose any exercise of power by what he regards as the American Empire, and the charge of inconsistency is for the most part a rhetorical device designed to appeal to those who, while not accepting his wholesale critique of American society, are, nonetheless, concerned by the way in which American power is sometimes deployed.”

It is important to emphasize here that insinuating that one ought to discredit those who charge American ‘interveners’ with inconsistency (ex. intervening in Iraq for ‘humanitarian’ reasons whilst assisting in the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion of Somolia currently underway or ignoring the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan) based on the existence of putative “agendas” is fallacious in three ways:  firstly, it constitutes an ad hominem attack on the character of the author in question based on political beliefs without consideration of the merit of the argument presented.  Secondly, it assumes that it is merely Chomsky et al. who have ‘agendas’ when it could just as easily be said of Brown’s work that it is no more and no less animated by ‘agendas’ (i.e. an anti-Chomsky ‘agenda’ or a pro-Wilsonian interventionist ‘agenda’ et cetera), than could be found in Chomsky’s work.  Thirdly, the word ‘agenda’ itself is a weasel word intended to connote nefariousness or duplicity and thus is not suitable for academic discourse.

Brown goes on to offer a moral explanation or defense of inconsistency in US intervention policy.  This argument states that:

“There is one possible answer to this question that would preserve the notion that the interveners where behaving consistently in accordance with some moral rule, and not simply selecting the case where they would intervene on the basis of non-moral criteria. Very crudely, it might be held that this particular case was chosen because it represented the most serious current violation of human rights or the situation where the most serious humanitarian disaster would follow from inaction — but this is, indeed, rather too crude because it ignores altogether issues of practicality. Better would be some notion of ‘triage’; thus, one might divide the world’s trouble spots into three categories — those where the difficulties are sufficiently minor such that forcible intervention would most likely always do more harm than good; those where the difficulties are of such magnitude that action would almost certainly be ineffective, either because of the scale of the problem (as, perhaps, with civil wars in the Congo) or because they are caused by states who have the power to turn any external military intervention into a full-scale war (as with Chinese depredations in Tibet, or Russian in Chechnya). [emphasis added]“

This argument is both morally coherent and extremely important.  Indeed, if this formulation were true, and if the United States’ inconsistent interventionism was motivated along the same lines as ‘triage’ then not only would this justify inconsistency in humanitarian intervention, but it would actually go much further and make it so that it would be immoral for the U.S. not to behave inconsistently. If, in a ‘triage’ situation, you frivolously waste the limited medical resources available on just any patient, then you potentially cause significantly more suffering and fatalities than if you limited your attention to the cases where the limited resources can be of most benefit.

This formulation is also relatively simple to test.  If it is true that a humanitarian ethics of ‘triage’ and efficacy is what animates the U.S.’s decision to intervene in a given crisis and not another, then there would be two factors which could explain specious arbitrariness both of which fall under Brown’s moral rubric of ‘triage’: First would be the scale of disaster, the second would be ease of remedy. So, if Brown’s ‘triage’ model holds up, one would expect that U.S. intervention to end human rights violations are avoided in situations which are likely escalate into a full-scale war against another hegemon such as China or Russia, and one would expect the actual cases of intervention to have occurred in situations which are easier to remedy and with less threat of an expansion of hostilities.

This ‘Ease of remedy’ notion — central to any ‘triage situation’ — can be interpreted in many different ways. It can have several factors, for instance:

-Geographic location (is the nation close to other co-operative allies?)
-Does there exist a definitive and coherent polis or political community that is being crushed by oppressors which, if left on its own, could establish itself as a viable state under international law’s so-called “principle of effectiveness”?

A cursory overview of the long history of U.S. interventionism clearly demonstrates that U.S. foreign action is not animated by any notion of ‘triage’.

Case studies to this effect:

#1) The U.S. decided to intervene in Kosovo despite massive Russian and Chinese opposition and eventual Russian land-based counter-intervention, thus greatly risking confrontation with at least one other major global hegemon.

#2) The U.S. decided to intervene in Panama at the dawn of the 20th Century and sever it from Columbian control, thus artificially creating a polis which did not exist previously and which was most certainly neither coherent nor viable under the ‘principle of effectiveness’. Indeed the evidence for this utter lack of its viability rests in the necessary presence of foreign (U.S.) battleships at port in Panama City for the declaration of independence and the outright mention of the United States as a protector and ally of Panama in state’s the new constitution — which, to my knowledge, is the only time ever in history that third party country other than victor and the country being declared independence from, is actually mentioned in such documentation.

Conversely,

#1) The U.S. chose not to intervene in Indonesia’s slaughter of the East Timorians which, between 1977 and 78 alone (although the oppression continued on into the 80s and for a majority of 90s as well), resulted in at least 200,000 dead, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. ally Australia. Moreover, East Timor, by every account, meets the second criteria of a definitive and coherent polis which could achieve viability if left on its own.

#2) The U.S. chose not to intervene in the Kurdish regions of Turkey during their oppression, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. allies Israel and Greece and the remarkable linguistic and social cohesiveness (not to mention territorially cohesive and contiguous) of the Kurdish regions.  Moreover, on this subject, Miller writes that:

“In Turkey, in the fifteen years prior to the bombing of Serbia, the death toll of a conflict over Kurdish autonomy and suppression of minimal expressions of Kurdish identity (including Kurdish names and cassettes with Kuridish songs, much less Kurdish-language schools), was 35,000, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate…. in the southeast there are 2 million people left homeless. The previous year, the UN Committee on Torture endorsed an Amnesty International allegation of widespread and systematic use of torture.”

Lastly, in both of these two aforementioned cases it wasn’t just that the U.S. callously gave a proverbial triage RTS (Revised Trauma Score) score of zero to the East Timorese and Kurds of Turkey.  The final blow to the ‘triage’ model is that during both of these crises, the U.S. actively engaged in assisting Turkey and Indonesia before, during and after the human rights violations in question.

Brown later goes on to give the most logically incoherent portion of his work when he poses the question:

“If to behave morally it is necessary to follow a non-arbitrary moral rule, then humanitarian interventions appear not to fit the bill — such is the charge made by critics to the evident discomfiture of supporters…. [But] is it always and necessarily wrong to be inconsistent or arbitrary in applying a moral principle?”

The context of this exerpt is extensive, but in this section, Brown is (correctly) making the argument that his critics hold the belief which, expressed using formal logic symbolism, would hold that:

moral behaviour → consistent behaviour
(“if moral behaviour then it must be consistent behaviour”)

However, Brown takes this logical formulation and attempts to deconstruct it by showing examples of inconsistency in US and UK tobacco, alcohol, drug and cannabis policy as a akin to US humanitarian interventionist policy.  Thus, what he is attempting to demonstrate using the example of US and UK policy in this area is:

 (¬ consistent behaviour ≠ ¬ moral behaviour) → opponents’ argument is flawed
(“if not consistent behaviour does not equal not moral behaviour, then the arguments of his opponents is flawed”)

However, the error Brown makes is that he assumes that ¬ moral behaviour = immoral behaviour in the same way that ¬ consistent behaviour = inconsistent behaviour.

In actuality, ‘not’ moral behaviour does not equal immoral behaviour since behaviour is not dichotomously moral or immoral.  There are any number of examples wherein a person can behave inconsistently and still be neither moral or immoral.  For instance, if, on the vast majority of days, I prefer to have sugar instead of sweetener in my coffee, my inconsistency one morning in asking for sweetener in my coffee is certainly, as demonstrated mathematically above, not moral behaviour, but it is also obviously also not immoral behaviour. My decision here would have been a pragmatic one — perhaps sweetener is less appetising, but also irritates my stomach less than real sugar — and thus was completely outside the dichotomy of moral and immoral behaviour.

Thus, what is clear is that inconsistent behaviour can be ‘not moral’ or outside of the realm of morality – which would fit within the formulation of Brown’s opponents.  But inconsistent behaviour cannot be moral behaviour unless this inconsistency is itself morally justifiable.  And, as the example of Brown’s ‘triage’ model demonstrates, Brown’s attempt to moralize the inconsistency of U.S. intervention simply does not coincide with reality.

Naomi Wolf on the end of America and the rise of fascism (audio)

socialist-podcast.pngEpisode #4 of the Paulitics Podcast has now been released.

This latest episode features a talk by Naomi Wolf on the topic of her new book entitled “The End of America”.

In it, Wolf discusses the historical evidence for 10 steps which are universally recognizable as benchmarks that a democracy is moving towards fascism or totalitarianism and how each of these ten steps is now being seen in one form or another in the United States under the Bush Administration.

To listen to Wolf’s talk or to download the episode, click here.

To find out how to subscribe to the podcast and have episodes brought to you automatically, click here.

To view past episodes of the Paulitics Podcast, click here.

Paulitics Polls: Now Bilingual! (Les sondages Paulitics: Maintenant bilingue!)

I’ve decided to brush up on my (very rusty) French, so as a preliminary step towards making some of the resources on this blog more francophone-friendly, I’ve decided to translate the Paulitics Polling Resource page into french.

Once upon a time, I once was fluently bilingual, but, unfortunately, those days are long gone.  If there are any good comrades who would be willing to help correct my errors or translate more, I’d be greatly appreciative.

You can access the new and improved bilingual Paulitics Polling Resource here.

As for the rest of the blog, don’t worry folks, I haven’t forgotten about it.  It’s just that this is the end of the semester crunch for graduate students, so as of this wednesday or so, I should be free to start blogging again with regularity.

Liberals surge, Tories plummet, NDP recovers

Several new polls have been released in the last couple of days and the Paulitics Polling Resource has now almost recovered from the recent flurry of bizarre Ipsos-Reid polls.

weird-polls.png

Since the Paulitics Polling Resource uses rolling-five poll averages and that latest absurd Ipsos poll showing 42% for the Conservatives is still included in the rolling average, you can probably expect the next poll released to reduce the Conservatives’ standings even more.

Other than the Conservatives, the Liberals have recovered and now stand 4 points higher than they were less than 10 days ago.  Unfortunately for the Libearls, however, this surge in support has only brought them back up to the less than stellar level of support the received in the 2006 election.

More importantly for the Grits, this surge in support has come where they need it most: Ontario.  While the Liberals remain either stagnant (or worse) just about every where else in the country, they have jumped over 5 points in Ontario in just 9 days and now enjoy a commanding lead in the vote-rich province over the Conservatives.

The NDP has maintained its strong standing in Atlantic Canada, but has droped precipitously in Quebec and to a lesser extent in the Prairies (Manitoba and Saskatchewan).  Less than 3 weeks ago, the NDP was tied with the Liberals in La Belle Province, now the NDP has lost 1 in 3 of its supporters and has slumped back down to the 10% range.

Meanwhile in Quebec, the Bloc has recovered nicely since its mid-October low and the Conservatives have slowly and steadily been increasing their support since the summertime.

The Greens have also slipped slightly in Quebec, losing roughly 30% of their support (dropping them from 10% to 7%).  The Greens have also shown lackluster performance in BC (where they have also lost between 30% and 1/3 of their supporters, but are still up considerably from their 2006 election showing), the prairies and, more importantly for Elizabeth May, in Atlantic Canada where they have continued their slow decline in support since their summertime peak at 10% and now stand at 6%.  Elsewhere the Greens are holding steady.

So, paradoxically enough, we have a situation where really every party can be unhappy with the recent poll results to some extent.  The only party who can reasonably be quasi-happy with the latest poll results, the Bloc, still finds itself badly down from its level of support in the 2006 election.

Two great cartoons from Class War Panda

I just came across a fantastic and fairly new blog called Class War Panda that’s definitely worth a look at for anybody who has even the slightest bit of a sense of humour.

Nick, the good comrade who runs the site, proves once again — if ever more proof was needed — that humour can disarm unlike any other weapon.

Here are a couple of selections from his work:

ann-coulters-beating-heart.jpg

~

neverforget.jpg

~

Lectures by Michael Parenti and Alex Callinicos now available

new-blog-banner-7.pngI was just talking to some readers of my blog who were asking me when I was going to do a second episode of the Paulitics Podcast. 

I actually did Episode #2 of the podcast a while back and I just released Episode #3 of the podcast yesterday evening, so both are up and available for download to either your computer or iPod (or other .mp3 player).

For those of you who are interested, you can either check the podcast’s main page regularly for new updates at www.paulitics.mypodcast.com or, probably easier for you, you can download any number of free “podcast catchers” which will automatically download the latest episode of all of your favourite podcasts to your computer and then you don’t have to go hunting around for episodes every time a new one is published.

The best podcast catcher is probably iTunes (you don’t need an iPod to use iTunes) but there are other goods ones such as Juice.

Conversely, if you like the idea of having a program bring you podcasts but don’t want them automatically downloaded, you can use an RSS feed aggregator to catch as many podcasts as you like (such as www.feedbucket.com).

Two of my favourite podcasts which you can put into your podcast catcher or iTunes by copy the hyperlink are:

Democracy Now!: http://www.democracynow.org/podcast.xml
Big Ideas: http://www.tvo.org/TVOspecial3/WebObjects/TVOMedia.woa?bigideasfeed

Also, the Paulitics podcast hyperlink to copy into your podcast catcher is:
http://paulitics.mypodcast.com/rss.xml

Or, conversely, you can download or listen to episode #2 featuring a talk by Alex Callinicos on imperialism and empire from a theoretical perspective here.

And you can download or listen to episode #3 featuring a talk by the fantastic orator Michael Parenti on globalization and capitalism here.  (Parenti’s talk is much less theoretical than Callinicos’s talk).

U.S. and Tanzania best at clawing back women’s rights

According to the 2007 annual report on the global gender gap, the United States and Tanzania have had the most success at clawing back women’s rights amongst the top-teir (top 35) of the ranked countries.

The World Economic Forum has just released its 2007 annual report on the global gender gap and, in addition to the data on the United States and Tanzania, the report illustrates some interesting trends.  Obviously the World Economic Forum is not exactly stacked with socialists, but interestingly enough, its data goes a long way towards showing that the countries which chose to be animated by socialist values (even though they may retain a capitalist system) tend to be the best places for women’s equality.

From the Associated Press:

“Women in predominantly Muslim countries are struggling to compete for jobs, win equal pay and hold political office, falling behind the rest of the world in eliminating discrimination, according to a report issued Thursday by the World Economic Forum. 

Nordic countries, by contrast, received the best overall grades for gender parity in education, employment, health and politics, according to the review of 128 countries.

[...]

Overall, Canada’s score on the categories studies improved slightly, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the country from slipping to 18th from 14th spot in the world rankings. The United States finished in 31st spot down eight places from last year.

Sweden, which has more women than men holding high political office, topped the list, followed by fellow Nordics Norway, Finland and Iceland.

[...]

Ex-Soviet states with a Muslim majority, such as Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, were in the middle of the field, but nearly all countries in the Middle East placed in the bottom third.

[...] [W]omen in Sri Lanka, South Africa, Cuba and Lesotho all fared better – relatively speaking – than women in industrialized countries such as Japan, Switzerland and the United States.”

The top 35 country standings are:

womens-inequality-ranking-2007-table.png

This is Cuba’s first year being ranked in the report yet already women in Cuba are ranked a full 9 places higher than women in the United States (as well as women in Japan and in Switzerland where women only got the right to vote in the last Canton in the 1980s).

Among the top-tier 35 countries, the countries with the greatest relative decreasing standard of living for women are:

#1: Tanzania (women’s global standing decreased by 8 places)
#2: The United States (women’s global standing decreased by 6 places)
#3: Macedonia (women’s global standing decreased by 5 places)
#4: Moldova and Canada [tied] (women’s global standing decreased by 4 places)

You can access the entire (lengthy) .pdf document on the gender gap, including the table included above, here.

One of these things is not like the others…

conservative-party-support-september-to-november-2007.pngOne of these things is not like the others.
One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

——

Ipsos-Reid just released another poll yesterday which, yet again, for the fourth time in a row, shows a dramatically divergent level of support for the Conservative Party than all of the other polls released by every other major polling firm.

Here’s the data in table form sorted by polling firm.

.

   

Cons

Lib

NDP

Bloc

Green

Ipsos-Reid

1 NOV ’07

39

28

13

12

7

Ipsos-Reid

27 OCT ’07

39

27

17

9

8

Ipsos-Reid

18 OCT ’07

40

27

14

9

8

Ipsos-Reid

13 OCT ’07

40

28

16

8

7

Decima

30 OCT ’07

33

29

17

9

10

Decima

9 OCT ’07

35

28

17

8

10

Decima

3 OCT ’07

33

31

16

7

10

Decima

17 SEP ’07

32

29

17

5

14

Angus-Reid

17 OCT ’07

34

29

17

9

9

Environics

14 OCT ’07

33

29

19

8

11

Strategic

14 OCT ’07

34

29

15

10

12

———————————–

UPDATE: Since this post, Ipsos Reid released another poll on November 8 which put the Conservatives at a whopping 42 percent while only three days later (with telephone interviews actually overlapping with the Ipsos poll) Strategic had the Conservatives at 32 percent.

Just a note for those of you who aren’t up on your statistical theory, polls with a 1000 person sample have a margin of error (MOE) of roughly +/- 3.1%. Thus, I invite my readers to critically consider for themselves whether they think it is more likely that Decima, Angus Reid, Environics and the Strategic Council all independently have developed for themselves a flawed methodology whilst Ipsos-Reid’s methodology is sound or whether the opposite is more likely. I also invite my readers to critically think about what role the scientific precept of Occam’s Razor would play in deciding which of these two possibilities is more likely.

More pro-conservative opinion manipulation at Angus-Reid

For those of you keeping tack, this is strike two against Angus-Reid in less than a month. (Strike one being this wonderful little piece of pro-conservative push polling which I discovered last month.)

Now Angus-Reid is finding new and more interesting ways to push pro-conservative propaganda on the public. This is a screen cap from Angus-Reid’s web page which I took approximately 20 minutes ago.  I haven’t altered anything except to add the highlighting.  The screen cap pretty much speaks for itself.

angus-reid-conservative-propaganda.png

So this is the top page of the press release that Angus-Reid sends out to the public and to all the media firms reads: “More Americans back long commitment in Iraq.”  Most people reading this headline would read this and likely think ‘oh, more Americans back a long commitment in Iraq than don’t.’

The only thing standing in the way of this is the pesky fact that a huge majority of Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq either immediately or within the next year while fewer than 40% want to stay there.  BUT, the number of Americans who want to stay in Iraq just rose from slightly under one third to slightly over one third.  So “more” Americans want to stay in Iraq… than the previous proportion of Americans who wanted to stay in Iraq.

Oh, how beautifully ambiguous the word “more” can be when you deliberately leave out its referent.


Resources:

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