Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Goal in Libya

Much has been made lately about what our "goal" is concerning the military action in Libya. Obama has stated that Gadhafi has got to go. But he's also stated that this is a humanitarian intervention and not a regime change action. I guess we'll get the details on Monday during his speech. As far as pragmatism goes here's my take on it.

Our goal is apparently to simply negate Gadhafi's significant advantages in the realms of (1) air power, (2) armor, and (3) command and control. Calling this a no-fly zone makes point 1 obvious -- since Gadhafi can attack via helicopters and planes with impunity, we are there to negate that advantage. When we consider the targets that have been reported by the press, we can see that this is more than just a no-fly zone. Tanks and other armor have been targeted as well. Those don't fly. Obviously we aren't just worried about a no-fly zone. The resistance does not have many (if any) armored assets. We've also targeted his own compound and other infrastructural buildings. The resistance themselves have commented on their difficulties in organizing especially between cities.

I agree on the importance of having a clear goal in a mission. I also realize that this is a difficult thing to articulate in situations of extreme dynamics with the risk of massive civilian deaths. So in some cases I can let the clear goal slide. I don't think, however, that our job should be simply to level the playing field. If our goal was humanitarian intervention, our targets would be limited to ones that threatened humanity. But now that things are becoming clearer, it is also becoming more apparent that this intervention is not justified.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just War and Libya

This is a tough one. First, there's some considerable differences between Libya and both Iraq and Afghanistan. Concerning a legitimate authority, Libya is the only one of the three to show that there is a resistance force capable of self-governing at least parts of the country. If it weren't for this, the resistance itself would not be legitimate. The second side of the legitimacy issue is who authorized the "no fly zone." In this case, it went through the UN with a vote of 10-0 with China and Russia abstaining. That is pretty substantial. This is the sort of multilateral effort that was lacking certainly in Iraq and to a degree in Afghanistan.

Considering just cause, the waters get a little more murky. Sure, defending unarmed civilians is a great cause, I'm just not sure if it merits millions of dollars worth of aircraft, logistics, and cruise missiles. The word "genocide" has been tossed around as well. I admit not knowing a lot about the population of Libya, but can it really be considered a genocide? Are the resistance fighters of a specific race or ethnicity? Not sure. "Massacre" or "bloodbath" would seem more accurate. Do we have a responsibility to prevent massacres and bloodbaths? I suppose so. But this no-fly zone seems to have been pushed more by European nations than by the US. France especially appeared the most hawkish. Which begs the question. While a blog isn't an academic publication, I do like to cite when I'm able. This next tidbit I can't though. Probably some NPR show -- Europe is more dependent on Libyan oil than the US because Libyan oil is chemically better for diesel (Europe uses a much higher % of diesel than the US). This might be a small cause and would definitely be unjust, but I think there's a bigger issue at hand -- refugees and immigrants. Continental Europe already has huge problems with Muslim immigrants. France and Italy especially. Given these two countries' geographic location compared to Libya, I could see this being a greater cause than any aversion to massacres. Just cause, in my opinion, is not met.

Last resort is a toughy. In a situation that is so rapidly developing and amorphous, it's very hard to tell what other options might have been pursued. It definitely felt like Gadhafi was on his last leg about a week ago. Could the world's leaders have either persuaded or coerced him to step down when his position seemed bleakest? Possibly. I suppose we'll know in 15 years when "True Hollywood Stories" takes up the issue. Last resort is going to have to be a push for me. Not enough information on hand right now (unfortunately I don't have to time to research it any more).

So, is the action over the weekend in Libya justified under the "rules" of Just War? I'm not really sure. I'd lean towards "no." But I am heartened at the multilateral cooperation and specifically the reliance on the UN. In this respect, I can state confidently that whether or not this action is justified, (and this next part admittedly is irrational -- in a "yes" or "no" question you can't have "less of a no") it is more justifiable than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

James Burke is Awesome

This Foucault class got me thinking about James Burke again and his series "Connections." I saw this back when I was in High School and it was running on TLC (back when TLC had LEARNING shows -- go figure). Burke's view of history is very similar to Foucault's -- there are so many seemingly random events that come together in history that there is no way to portray history on a linear timeline, much less any way to accurately predict what might happen in the future. Here's a link to it in case anyone is interested in learning more about the series. It's a DVD set and a book. Connections

I'm going to use two quotes from the first episode in my paper on the financial crisis. Burke's illustration of the technological trap can be expanded by Foucault's notion of "technology" where it isn't related only to scientific advancements, but also social, structural, power, etc. advancements that work on us. Anyways, the quotes:

And as the years of the 20th century have gone by, the things we take for granted have multiplied way beyond the ability of any individual to understand in a lifetime. The things around us, the man-made inventions we provide ourselves with, are like a vast network each part of which is interdependent with all the others . . .. Change anything in that network and the effects spread like ripples in a pond. And all the things in that network have become so specialized that only the people involved in making them understand them.
Yea, welcome to post-modernism!

And the technological trap:
This is one of the more perfect examples of the of the kind of technological trap that we set for ourselves: the lift, the elevator; I mean, what is this? It's a steel box with some buttons in it and maybe a trapdoor for emergency. But whoever looks that close except when this happens [lights go out]: Where is it? And even in this situation, closed in, with an escape route that we can't handle, we behave like many of those New Yorkers did: we strike a light and we look around to see how badly things are. And, if we find in this case an emergency button, absolutely great; we sit back, and we wait for help to come. We wait for technology to come back and save our lives, because it's inconceivable that it won't isn't it? I mean if you admit that, you've got to admit that every single day of your life, in some form or other, you unconsciously walk yourself into a technology trap, because that's the only way to live in the modern world. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gambling with other people's money

I'm reading Russ Roberts's report on the financial crisis an came across a paragraph that I think directly relates to the debate on racism found two posts ago. I dug myself a hole by using "evidence" and "hints" as two different forms of proof. I should have gone with what Roberts ends up using: "direct" and "indirect" evidence. While Roberts is talking about the effects of low-probability of loss on risk taking, if you read this paragraph in relation to racism I think it also makes a lot of sense. Bold is mine.

While direct evidence is unlikely, the indirect evidence relies on how people generally behave in situations of uncertainty. When expected costs are lowered, people behave more recklessly. When football players make a tackle, they don’t consciously think about the helmet protecting them, but safer football equipment encourages more violence on the field. Few people think that it’s okay to drive faster on a rainy night when they have seatbelts, airbags,and antilock brakes, but that is how they behave. Not all motivations are direct and conscious.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mike Foxtrot Takes on Wall Street's Charlie Foxtrot

Still working on my Foucault paper. It'll attempt to be a Foucaultian analysis of the subprime financial meltdown. Here's a brief summary. Stay tuned for more!

The neoliberalism beginning in the late 70s and gaining steam in the Reagan/Thatcher years was a technology of power that boasted of increased freedom but which actually increased subjection. The deregulation of neoliberalism, a prima facie reading of which would yield increased egalitarianism, actually resulted in increased income polarization. This came to manifest itself in the technological trap of the subprime financial crisis.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is the Tea Party Racist?

Thanks to the brouhaha of NPR executives and speaking off the record, this question is again in public view. I thought it was strange that the exec would be in hot water for speaking the truth. Several people replied to this comment by asking for "evidence." It seemed to something so obvious that it was common knowledge -- just something no one talks about. Like cancer. But I guess some "evidence" needs to be provided. Another key difference is what exactly "racism" is.

For starters, a cursory glance over the evidence is available by typing "is the tea party racist" into a Google search. Many of the articles are several years old now, but they detail how this idea got started. But the great majority of the "evidence" is available only after one considers what "racism" is (please permit me a mini-genealogy of racism).

Slavery in the South made it easy to identify racism. If you were pro-slavery, you were racist. Racism was obvious. Blatant. Concrete. But as the "war against racism" has been fought, racism has given up its obviousness for a more inconspicuous form. If racism were obvious, it would be denounced by (almost) all sides for what it is. So racism moved into the cracks. It became amorphous in order to take the shape of the institutions and power relations that it found itself in. It was no longer concrete, but abstract. This can even be seen immediately following the Civil War. Slavery was blatantly racist. But poll taxes . . . poll taxes on the other hand were a bit more slippery. "What do you mean 'racist'? We charge EVERYONE a poll tax. You couldn't be more equal than that!" This same insidious racism has been alive and well since Jim Crow. It's just become more and more hidden.

This brings us back to "evidence." Because of the slipperiness of racism, there is no "evidence" for it. There are only hints. Only vestiges that remain. There is no "smoking gun" to prove racism. But there are motives and clues that point to it. One of these is to consider who benefits from something. So we look at the Tea Party's platform. Who stands to benefit from it? If the Tea Party were magically able to push through their top 5 legislative wishes, who would be better off because of it? Who would be worse off? Of course we are talking about hypotheticals, but it seems pretty clear to me that cutting taxes and cutting spending would disproportionately benefit whites and disproportionately hurt minorities. Just like the poll tax.

We can also point to another hint. Again, it's no smoking gun, but it points to something fishy. If the Tea Party is a national movement counting some hundreds of thousands of "members," and 90% of those members are white . . . well something's a little bit funny there.

Another hint -- is it a coincidence that the Tea Party movement gained steam at the same time that our chances of electing a black president increased? A little fishy.

Lastly, there was the issue of several racially suspicious signs and statements made in the formative months of the Tea Party. Hurling racial slurs at black lawmakers. Depicting Obama as a monkey. Now maybe these were just the rebellious outliers who ended up being thrown out of the movement. But again, it's a hint. Maybe they just cleaned up their act but maintained the ideology.

So is there "evidence" or "proof" that the Tea Party is racist? No. Are there hints? Definitely. Do I think the Tea Party is racist? You betcha.

Update: John has posted his own take on this over on his blog: What is racism and Why the Tea Party is Not