Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Due to Orin Kerr's blogosphere challenging, I am enabling comments today. If I get some good comments, I may leave them on indefinitely.

For anyone coming here from The Volokh Conspiracy, welcome! This blog, The Religious Middle, discusses political issues from a religiously informed but moderate and pragmatic perspective. As the name suggests, I find both the Religious Right and the Religious Left unsatisfying. In particular, I don't like seeing religious people approach politics as an arena where they can fight the same battles again and again. Such battles often waste energy that could be used more constructively on issues of greater moral concern.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Orin Kerr's Questions

I'm taking a short break from my usual blogging goals to answer Orin Kerr's questions for hawkish bloggers. I supported the war at first, so I should be up front about where I stand now:

1. Today, I believe the Iraq War was a bad idea. The primary reason I have changed my mind is that the war's opportunity costs have been greater than I expected. E.g., the U.S. presence in Iraq has left the U.S. less able to respond to the genocide in Darfur, to Iran's nuclear weapons program, and to crises in Haiti, Venezuela, and the Ivory Coast. I think the world is clearly better off without Saddam, but, I would prefer a world with Saddam but without a nuclear Iran and without a Sudan capable of getting away with genocide.

My opinion here has been less affected by events in Iraq than by my wrongly expecting the peace treaty in Sudan to work and Iran to be further from getting nuclear weapons than it is today. Worse, it is possible that their knowledge that the U.S.'s attention was elsewhere may have emboldened those countries to do things they knew the international community would oppose.

2. None of the negative stories Orin has linked has affected my judgment of the war very much, although the deaths of U.S. soldiers have affected my emotions greatly.

The reason they haven't affected my opinions much is that most of what I've heard suggests the U.S. is currently stepping up its offensive operations, first vs. Sadrists in Najaf, and now vs. Sadrists in Baghdad and holdouts in the Sunni triangle. I am no military strategist, but, I would expect greater U.S. military action in Iraq to lead to a surge in attacks against U.S. forces and in Iraqi unhappiness. The test will be whether it is a surge of attacks followed by a U.S. military victory, or a surge of attacks followed by still more attacks.

3. The primary criterion I would use to judge the success or failure of the Iraq War is whether the war causes other nations critical to the war on terror to bend to U.S. pressure more quickly, or whether it causes them to take U.S. threats less seriously due to our troop commitments, perceptions of U.S. failure, or loss of international goodwill. Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are all test cases for this.

A secondary criterion I would use is whether Iraq becomes a haven for people like Al-Zarqawi and Al-Sadr. I never had high hopes for a democratic Iraq, but I really don't want it to become the world's biggest terrorist training ground.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Wash Post gets one right

The Washington Post picks up on the expulsion of Montserrat refugees from the United States, and correctly calls it "Volcanic Absurdity."

This is why the WP is my favorite newspaper -- they're great at developing small but indicative stories from places as different as rural China, the Caribbean, Maryland suburbs, and the Virginia hi-tech corridor. Anyone can clip wire stories on Iraq, outsourcing, etc., but the WP puts real shoe leather to work finding stories that others might miss.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

quote of the day

"The secret isn't just lower wages. It's also the attitude of workers who take pride and are willing to do what is necessary to succeed, even if it means outsourcing parts production or working on weekends or altering vacation schedules." -- Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post, "Europe's Capitalism Curtain," describing the growth of manufacturing in Wroclaw, Poland.

I think this is a great point to keep in mind when discussing outsourcing -- while low wages are a factor, no company would outsource anything if it couldn't find intelligent, hard-working people in Eastern Europe, India, or China. People concerned about the effect of outsourcing on American workers should keep that in mind.

In particular, any time I hear politicians say that the U.S. is losing jobs due to 'unfair' competition or lax environmental and labor regulations, I worry they have missed the point -- we are facing real, effective, perfectly fair competition, driven by hard-working and intelligent people who have every right to better their own lives. Ditto for people on the right who claim that the U.S. will always have an advantage in the highest-skilled, highest-paying jobs.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Send us your tired, your poor, so we can kick them as soon as they start to get back up.

Absolutely unconscionable:

The U.S. has decided to terminate the 'temporary protected' refugee status we gave to 292 people fleeing the volcanos that leveled Montserrat in the 90's. Why? Because their situation isn't temporary, but permanent.

All 292 came here legally, at US govt. invitation; most have been here 7 years or more, with jobs; and many have children who are U.S. citizens. The official US recommendation for the ones with citizen-children: move to Britain, spend 12-20 years there waiting for a green card, and then come back with your children.

Even if this wasn't a moral outrage, it would be an economic one -- the last thing our economy needs is to send people out of the country for their most productive working years, so they can return after a 20 year delay for their retirement and social security benefits. The economic evidence is overwhelming that legally admitted refugees help the US economy, and do not bring the problems associated with illegal immigration.

This brings me back to the core goal I have for this blog -- a lot of religious people approach politics with a sense of outrage about the same old issues, over and over again -- thus, the leaders of the big Protestant churches complain about the treatment of Palestinians, the religious right continues to fight for school prayer, and the Pope is still wondering whether capitalism is a good idea.

I'd like them all to take a 90 day hiatus from being outraged about their old outrages, so that they can all wake up and see the new issues where outrage is justified -- but where positive change is still possible.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Links on the Fissile Material Control Treaty

That's the treaty which, as discussed below, Bush is watering down by removing the inspection requirements. Some relevant links:
-- NYT editorial today
-- Original story from the Washington Post
-- the FAS has a great history and background page on the FMCT. I often disagree with FAS' spin, but, they rock at assembling detailed, unbiased background information.
-- a really nice analysis of the Treaty, its technical details, and its pros and cons from Steve Fetter and Frank Von Hippel.

As I said below, I think the US decision to oppose inspection requirements is a really bad idea. What's not to like about a verified, international ban on producing the materials that terrorists or rogue states could use to produce their own nuclear bombs?

The best thing about the FMCT treaty is that it recognizes that it is easier to control things (plutonium) than ideas (the know-how and intention to build bombs). The existing Non-Proliferation Treaty tries to control ideas while making it easier for additional countries to make things like plutonium and HEU for 'peaceful' purposes. IMHO, the NPT is much more likely to collapse than the copyright laws, internet gambling restrictions, censorship attempts, and other
idea-controlling policies that some people expect the internet to sweep away.