Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Just War

I'm frustrated by the fact that the current problem in Gaza is so frequently posed as one of "what is Israel supposed to do about the fact that Hamas is shooting rockets at them". I've never experienced living in fear of constant rocket attacks, I'll grant that I don't know how terrifying it might be. Let me also stipulate to the fact that Hamas is nasty and engages in terrorism. But, given all that has gone on in the Middle East, is that really the only question demanding an answer?

More fundamentally, I wonder what has happened over these last few years to our perspective on war and killing. When did we become so blase about the killing of unarmed civilians? (the killing of the unarmed civilians associated with our enemies, at least; we're still pretty good at stirring up righteous indignation when our civilians or those of our allies die) And more fundamentally yet, when did we stop thinking that war and killing is a really terrible thing? I'm not so naive as to suggest that nations should never go to war but I do believe strongly that wars must meet the criteria of just war. And that's not just naivete speaking, without just war, we're just in the jungle practicing "might makes right", no further ahead than wild beasts. But, so far as I can tell, the current attack being carried out by Israel fails the requirements/constraints of just war in at least three ways:
a) It's not proportionate: The force used in the conflict must be proportional to the wrong endured, but that's not true in this case. Palestinians casualties far oustrip Israeli ones.
b) Distinction: The Israeli attack fails the "distinction" criteria, i.e., " Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create".
c) Probability of Success: "Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;" Will Israel emerge from this having their problems solved? If in trying to eradicate Hamas, they manage to get the Palestinians to hate them that much more, will they have ended the threats to their safety? I doubt it.

But what of the fact that Hamas practices terror? They're not a conventional force, doesn't that justify extraordinary means of retribution? This isn' t clear to me. If an agent ends up having to routinely kill women and children in fighting terror, hasn't that agent become a force of terror itself?

Bush and free market principles

"I readily concede I chucked aside my free-market principles when I was told ... the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression," -GWB (link)

So, if it's a good idea to chuck them aside in the face of economic disaster, what's the argument for retaining them we don't face economic disaster? Or, more generally, what's the rule specifying the economic conditions in which free market principles should be used and those in which they shouldn't?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Bush Administration, by the numbers

Salon and Harper's have both recently published "Harper's Index" style breakdowns on the Bush admin. I've extracted a few "highlights" here, the actual lists are much longer

1) From Salon (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/01/08/damage/index.html)
  • Budget / surplus deficit 2000: + $128 B
  • Budget / surplus deficit 2008: - $900 B
  • Median household income 2000: $51,804
  • Median household income 2007: $50,233
  • Ultimate cost of Iraq War: $3 trillion
  • Amount the Bush administration estimated it would cost: $60 billion (1/50th of the actual amount!)
  • Number of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan who have died in U.S. custody according to Human Rights Watch: nearly 100 (report)
  • Number of people in U.S. custody who have disappeared according to Amnesty International: at least 36 (report)
  • Cost of healthcare as a percentage of GDP: 16% (As I regularly note, it's worth comparing that number to the health care expenditure levels of other Western countries while also comparing life expectancy and infant mortality rates. It's hard not to conclude that the U.S. pays a lot more to get a lot less.)

2) From Harper's Magazine, January 2009: (http://harpers.org/archive/2009/01/0082319, I believe one needs a subscription to access the link)

  • Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8
  • Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200
  • Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79
  • Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62
  • Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10
  • Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40
  • Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4
  • Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4
  • Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000
  • Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172
  • Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15
  • Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130
  • Ratio of the entire U.S. federal budget in 1957, adjusted for inflation, to the amount spent so far on the Iraq war: 1:1

Thursday, 8 January 2009

all star balloting

I could go on a long rant about why all-star fan balloting is unfair and unwise, etc. But I think it suffices for me to note that this year there are 4 Montreal Canadiens on the starting lineup of the NHL's Eastern conference all star team, including a forward, Alexei Kovalev, who is 70th in the league in total points scored, and a defenceman, Mike Komisarek, who has 3 points and is +1. Maybe he's just having a bad year, right? Nope, last year he had 17 points and was +9, 99th and 37th among defencemen. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Gaza Conflict

I'm hard pressed to summon up the deep moral indignation for or against Israel or Hamas that many seem able to muster, so this isn't an attempt to spread propaganda or convert anyone to my side, but I think there are a couple of really good articles or links to articles on Salon:

First, Glenn Greenwald points to a transcript of a very good, mostly civil discussion between two people, Greenwald and Hugh Hewitt, holding opposing views on Israel's recent actions.

Secondly, there's an article by Gary Kamiya that uses a comparison that I think is close to the right one, i.e., consider a conflict between native Americans and the U.S. government. To be clear, I don't think it follows from this that Hamas is justified in and/or should be allowed to continue firing rockets into Israel, but it really does baffle and trouble me that so many seem willing to pretend that this conflict exists in a complete historical vacuum, i.e., that suddenly, just to be evil and malicious, Hamas started firing rockets, and that therefore Israel is justified in taking whatever force is necessary to ensure that that stops happening.