Public Displays of Religion

In response to the Alabama/10 Commandments flap which I blogged in “God and Man In Alabama” and “Moses Supposes“, Donald Sensing put up 2 thoughtful posts.

In the first, he challenges the parties to the decision to answer a set of thought questions designed to explore the boundaries of whether the State can honor God. In the second, he challenges the supposition that no state-favored display of religion is possible by pointing to the statue of Athena placed in a park.

I’m going to leave the first alone as more of an issue for Lawrence Solum or one of the Volokhs; but I do want to talk about the second.
In one of my comments to ‘Moses Supposes‘, I said:

I’ve always been irked at people who challenge Nativity displays or menorahs in parks, because I find that to be well within the tradition of ‘reverence’ I talk about above. Other, similarly celebratory expressions don’t bother me at all.

But to put it in the courthouse (or the legislative chamber) says to me that this law isn’t the law of the State, but the law of God, and at that point I start to itch pretty badly.

And that pretty neatly wraps my position; I think we should encourage public displays of reverence … of all kinds, including the occasional statue of Gautama and even Ganesha. Clearly there are some lines; I’d rather followers of the houdoun don’t slaughter goats in public parks, and believers in Bacchus hold their bacchanals on private property.

Now, in truth, some of these have become secularized through use over the years – Athena in most architectural art represents a generalized ‘wisdom symbol’, and there are no living worshippers at her temples as far as I know.

But displays tied to living religions must be carefully separated from the power of the state. I don’t want to walk into a courtroom and see a Torah, or a Gohonzon. Judges are certainly free to keep them in their chambers, or keep them on their person, but to display them as a part of the fabric of the building, or of the institution, is to imply that the fabric of the law is tightly bound with a religious – as opposed to cultural – doctrine. That is to me deeply offensive.

Believers and nonbelievers may come to the state capital and do business. Animists and Episcopalians alike may come to City Hall and get their zoning ordinances, and I think that anything that suggests otherwise needs to go.

So parks and public squares – sure! Courthouses, legislative chambers, city halls – nope. To me, there is a clear difference, in that there are many parks, which may embrace many historic or cultural or religious themes. I’m free to work to get my hero, god, or symbol incorporated into one.

But the instruments of state power cannot be escaped. And anything that suggests that they favor one religion or culture or group over another – that we are not all equal before the majesty of the law – is wrong.

Defending Cruz…For Once

OK, it’s time to make a confession. I’m remiss in not getting to this sooner, but Joe Katzman yanked my chain on it, and it’s time to say something.
I was a member of MEChA. Yup, back in my college days in the early 70’s, back when it was being started. As you may have noted below, I have a bunch of Hispanic in my background (even though my Spanish – now almost all gone in favor of French – sounds like California elementary-school Spanish, which it is), and while at school, I tended to hang out with the political kids. I was a member for a quarter or two, until my political interests became more theoretical, and I realized that talking identity politics with a bunch of poor Latino kinds from the Central Valley was a little hypocritical for the half white boy from Beverly Hills.
Back in the early days (as I dimly recall), the black students were well-organized, and they had their positions down. Simply being black trumped all other political arguments (remember this was at U.C. Santa Cruz, where Huey got his PhD). The Latino students felt …. how else can I say it? … left out. Brown Power and Chicano identity issues were beginning to get attention, and so, voilá, MEChA.
My recollection was of a group with three themes: a political identity discussion group, a fairly mainstream ethnic ‘interest group’ and mutual support group, seeded with a tiny group of radicals, lacking only the courage to cross the line into terrorism. While that described MEChA, it also pretty much described every left-of-center campus political group, Jewish, Christian, feminist, gay, etc. etc. during the early 70’s. Whatever brush MEChA can be tarred with can equally apply to the entire range of the campus Left from about 1969 to 1978, the time with which I had contact with it. By ’78 it had become institutionalized, as we see it today, with the ASB budgets diverted to identity-politics-pork.
But in the early years, it definitely held an edge.
Anyone my age (50) ought to be able to look back on a campus littered with fervent leaflets talking about the imminent collapse of Western civilization as THE REVOLUTION arrives. I’m pretty sure that the undergraduate engineering group did some as well, I know the physics support group did.
I’m sure there were some nutball Aztlan fanatics among the early members of MEChA. I’m equally certain that for the most part it served as a benign support network for a bunch of poor Latino kinds, newly offered the opportunity of a U.C. education thanks to affirmative action, who have gone on to become realtors, dentists, Rotary members, and semi-corrupt state politicians.
So while I’m no fan of Cruz in many departments, this is certainly a weak attack to make, and I can personally attest to that.

Who Will Bell the Cat??

In the comments to this post about the need for an international effort in Iraq, Porphy wound up and tossed a fastball over the plate, challenging me to show:

…an outline of

1) Who they think we will get on board that we don’t already have.

2) What terms they will demand.

3) Taking into account their stated position on the expansive, ambitious goals we have vs. “stability” in the region.

OK, here goes.

Typically, when I think about a market, one of the first things I think about is ‘the marketing universe'; how much effective supply or demand is out there? In this case, the issue is where is the effective supply of military power?

In 2000, the Top 10 looked like this:

| 1. China | 2,810,000 |
| 2. Russia | 1,520,000 |
| 3. United States | 1,366,000 |
| 4. India | 1,303,000 |
| 5. Korea, South | 683,000 |
| 6. Pakistan | 612,000 |
| 7. Turkey | 610,000 |
| 8. Iran | 513,000 |
| 9. Vietnam | 484,000 |
|10. Egypt | 448,000 |

The numbers are the total numbers of armed forces personnel.The rest of the Top 25 looked like this:

|11. Ethiopia|352,000|
|12. Burma|344,000||
|13. Syria|316,000|
|14. Ukraine|304,000|
|15. Thailand|301,000|
|16. Indonesia|297,000|
|17. France|294,000|
|18. Brazil|288,000|
|19. Italy|251,000|
|20. Japan|237,000|
|21. Germany|221,000|
|22. Poland|217,000|
|23. United Kingdom|212,000|
|24. Romania|207,000|
|25. Saudi Arabia|202,000|

So let’s assume that in the Top 10, South Korea is kinda busy right now. Pakistan is Right Out, as are Iran and Egypt (and the rest of the Arab world; right now to be a part of the occupation of Iraq means you may be deployed against some of these countries at some point in the semi-near future). That leaves China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Vietnam.

Let’s stick to the Top 10 right now. China and Russia both have huge dogs in this fight, as each of them faces their own issues with Islamists. India is certainly a possibility, but a) they probably realize that occupying – which will mean actively policing and intermittently killing people – a Muslim country right now won’t help tensions at home, and b) their eyes appear to be on the U.N. right now. But they are a possible player. Vietnam is a possible player, but they have no interests in the area. Turkey has been asked to dance, and has declined.

So we go back to China and Russia.

We don’t have much leverage in this area over China, and their willingness to see us taken down a peg certainly doesn’t motivate them to do much here.

But I think we do have huge leverage – positive and negative – with Russia, and that this presents a major opportunity that ought to be considered.

A few disclaimers: I’m not a policy wonk; I have access to nothing but the Wall Street Journal. The Economist, and Google. Foreign policy in the tactical sense isn’t my metiér, to say the least. But this notion has been nagging at me since I wrote the ‘Internationalization’ piece, and none of the research I’ve done since then has blown it up in my face. So I’ll toss it out here and see if you folks can blow it up.

I think we should be all over Vladimir Putin on this. I think the Russians have three strong interests in Iraq:

1) The Iraqis owe them a bunch of money for arms and oil equipment, and have outstanding contracts to allow them to explore for oil.

Russian weapons manufacturers have a powerful stake in Iraq. The latter owes Russia $7 billion for past weapons deliveries, which the Russian side still hopes to collect. Beyond that, Iraq is an attractive future market for their wares once the sanctions regime is removed. It has a long tradition of buying Soviet equipment. Both new equipment purchases and contracts to upgrade existing systems are a source of high hopes of Russian defense industrialists and exporters. Coupled with Iraq’s ability to finance its purchases with oil revenues, these hopes have resulted in a powerful domestic pro-Iraqi lobby in Russia.

For Russian oil companies, Iraq represents an attractive business opportunity — Iraqi oil is a good deal more accessible and cheaper to produce than oil from fields in remote regions of Russia, which is yet to be explored and developed. Russia’s special relationship with Saddam Hussein has put Russian companies in an advantageous position for political, rather than commercial reasons.

Thus, a handful of Russian oil companies have — depending on the mood of the Iraqi regime — held potentially lucrative contracts to develop oil fields in Iraq, once the sanctions regime is removed. Fully cognizant of the political motivations behind Saddam’s decision to award these contracts to Russian companies in the first place, Russian oil industry leaders and analysts suspect that in the event of regime change in Baghdad, Russian companies will be among the losers in the Iraqi oil sweepstakes–Saddam’s successors will be more likely to reward their backers with lucrative contracts.

2) The Russians have an immense stake in what happens to world oil markets once Iraqi oil comes on-line:

What quietly drives President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in Iraq is that Russia needs stability, especially in the oil markets. The pressure on Iraq has kept large volumes of crude oil off world markets and allowed the Russian government to navigate out of its debt trough on the back of high oil prices. But an American invasion is bound to upset everything. To be sure, in the first days of the attack, oil will jump to US$30 or $35 a barrel. But if the Americans establish the protectorate they say they are aiming for, then it is near certain that the spigot on Iraqi taps is going to open. The flood of new oil on to the market, by which the fresh Iraqi democracy will pay for its American tutors, will be so great, prices are likely to collapse to between $10 and $15. The American people will celebrate the victory all the way to their petrol pumps. The Russian people – approaching by then a parliamentary election, followed by a presidential poll – won’t be so cheery. They can kiss goodbye to much of the planned investment in the Arctic, St Petersburg and the Baltic shore, on Sakhalin and along the Pacific coast, all of which depends on the stability of oil prices at around $20.

3) The Russians have a similar worldview to the U.S., and even more at stake than the U.S. in combating Islamist terrorism:

Let’s take the following example. Europeans and Americans treat international terrorism in different ways. The US sees terrorism as an evil foe, which must be repelled by any means necessary. Bush has declared a war. US military policy toward terrorism is a wide-scale war, with bombings, offensives, soldiers, missiles, with death and destruction. If we don’t get them, they will get us. This outlook is rooted in the culture and messianic tradition of the US, their refusal to see shades of gray. A friend of mine told me that Americans are ready to defend a city whether or not its residents want to be defended.

If you look at the European approach to the same problem, you will see a fundamentally different outlook. Europeans see terrorism as criminality, not as a military foe, and fight it not with an army but with police force, with more stringent laws, stricter visa regimes – by sending the terrorists to jail. Americans don’t even want to bother with that, their position is to kill and destroy terrorists wherever they may be. And, starting from that dichotomy, the issue is not that the Europeans were against the war in Iraq. The issue is the appearance of diverging approaches to the same problem. In that sense, I am deeply convinced that Russia today will have a much easier time negotiating its military doctrine with the US rather than with Europeans, who live under a blanket of illusions and believe that nothing will harm them. Even in Great Britain, which is much closer, ideologically and mentally, to the US, Tony Blair has had a very difficult time convincing the public of the necessity of directly supporting the US. I believe that Putin will have a much easier time forming Russia’s military doctrine because Russia, in my view, looks at life and society in general more realistically than the Europeans.


Russia’s professional national security bureaucracy’s interest in the Gulf is of a less material nature. Lacking a concrete commercial interest, this group has not come to terms with the loss of superpower status. It harbors deep resentment of the United States and its preeminent position in the world–as well as in the Persian Gulf–and sees it in Russia’s national interest to oppose the United States, to undercut its influence and initiatives in the region regardless of their impact on Russian security or well-being. Thus, this group’s outlook is shaped by traditional, albeit outmoded, geopolitical considerations. However, given Russia’s diminished circumstances, this group’s ability to influence Russian policy is quite limited.

The professional national security bureaucracy has a further interest in the Gulf prompted by the increasing challenge of militant Islam to Russian national security. The war in Chechnya has attracted a good deal of attention in the Islamic world. The Chechen side is reported to have received support from a number of Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, in the form of both volunteers and material assistance. Russian authorities have also claimed repeatedly that Osama Bin Laden has provided support and training for Chechen fighters. As a result, curbing international Islamic support for the Chechen cause has become an active concern for Russian policy in the Gulf.

Overall, this presents a strong opportunity to do two things: first, bring the sponsor of much of the Arab Nationalist movement on board in striving for a remodeled Middle East, open a new rapprochement between Russia and the United States at a critical moment when the EU is attempting to create a EU/Russian anti-U.S. axis, and bring the resources of the second-biggest armed forces in the world to bear on the problems we will face.

There are huge obstacles; the Russian army has a history of brutal practices in Afghanistan which will be unacceptable; allying with the Russians will strengthen the mujads who remember fighting them; integrating our two armies will prove extremely difficult.

But for us, the benefits would be immense, in marginalizing the European opponents and taking the U.N. out of the center of the argument; bringing a major military to assist ours; and finally, in opening the doors for a real long-term association (“alliance” is too strong a term) with the Russians.

Ironically, the prospect of war in Iraq must be seen as an opportunity by some of Russia’s business leaders. They have been relentless in telegraphing to Washington with unprecedented clarity the price of Russian acquiescence to regime change in Iraq – a seat at the table when the time comes to divvy up the spoils of war, or in other words, assurances that they will get a piece of Iraqi oil after the war. With that they want acceptance and a chance to establish a dialogue with the political establishment in Washington. In exchange they offer their – considerable–influence at home, which they are prepared to deploy in order to help bridge the gap between the United States and Russia.

From a U.S. perspective, this is an opportunity that’s well worth exploring.

I couldn’t agree more.

So to answer Porphy’s 3 questions:

1) The Russians

2) Honoring prewar debts and oil contracts, stability in future world oil prices

3) See above.

OK, I step out and swing and…


* Flit comments.
* So do our readers. Very intelligently, as usual… to the point that they made this a “Best Of…” category post.

Moses Supposes

Sorry, that’s just a line from a song in what’s probably my favorite movie of all time (“Singin in the Rain”).

The issue keeps being raised that “the Ten Commandments are on the U.S. Supreme Court building, so why can’t they be placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building?“, in Chief Justice Moore’s column, and in Jeff Brokaw’s comments below. Andrew Case answered in the same comments, and I thought I’d add a little detail:

This sculpture is a frieze located above the East (back) entrance to the Supreme Court building. Moses (holding blank tablets) is depicted as one of trio of three Eastern law givers (Confucius, Solon, and Moses). The trio is surrounded by a variety of allegorical figures representing legal themes. The artist, Herman MacNeil, described his intentions in creating the sculpture as follows:
Law as an element of civilization was normally and naturally derived or inherited in this country from former civilizations. The “Eastern Pediment” of the Supreme Court Building suggests therefore the treatment of such fundamental laws and precepts as are derived from the East. Moses, Confucius and Solon are chosen as representing three great civilizations and form the central group of this Pediment (Descriptions of the Friezes in the Courtroom of the Supreme Court of the United States and of the East and West Pediments of the Building Exterior, p. 9).

The Courtroom friezes were designed by sculptor Adolph Weinman. These friezes are located well above the courtroom bench, on all four walls. The South and North wall friezes form a group that depicts a procession of 18 important lawgivers: Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, Augustus, Justinian, Mohammed, Charlemagne, King John, St. Louis, Hugo Grotius, William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon. Moses is holding blank tablets. The Moses figure is no larger or more important than any other lawgiver. Again, there is nothing here to suggest and special connection between the 10 Commandments and American law.

The Curator’s office makes the following comments on Weinman’s North and South frieze sculptures:

Weinman’s training emphasized a correlation between the sculptural subject and the function of the building and, because of this, Gilbert relied on him to choose the subjects and figures that best reflected the function of the Supreme Court building. Faithful to classical sources, Weinman designed for the Courtroom friezes a procession of “great lawgivers of history,” from many civilizations, to portray the development of secular law (p. 2, emphasis ours).

Look, Western Civilization isn’t called ‘Judeo-Christian’ for nothing. Our culture has deep roots in Christianity (and Judaism), and we’re better off for it. We’d certainly be far different without those roots, and we can’t and shouldn’t repudiate of them.

But the strongest trees aren’t defined by their roots; it is the branches and leaves, growing and reaching outward. (submitted to the Bad Analogy Hall of Fame)

God and Man in Alabama

A truly scary column by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Opinion Journal (registration required) this morning. I’m actually surprised that it hasn’t caught fire in the blogoverse today.

It’s a defiant screed on the issue of separating God and state, and his position can be well summed up by this:

For half a century the fanciful tailors of revisionist jurisprudence have been working to strip the public sector naked of every vestige of God and morality. They have done so based on fake readings and inconsistent applications of the First Amendment. They have said it is all right for the U.S. Supreme Court to publicly place the Ten Commandments on its walls, for Congress to open in prayer and for state capitols to have chaplains–as long as the words and ideas communicated by such do not really mean what they purport to communicate. They have trotted out before the public using words never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, like “separation of church and state,” to advocate, not the legitimate jurisdictional separation between the church and state, but the illegitimate separation of God and state.

For Chief Justice Moore, God … not in the abstract sense of an all-encompassing Creator, but in the very literal sense of the God of the New Testament … is at the root of our laws, and more, at the root of the legitimacy of our government which is, after all, founded on and defended by laws.
Now many of the founders were religious Christians, but many were also Deists:

…those thinkers in the 17th and 18th cent. who held that the course of nature sufficiently demonstrates the existence of God. For them formal religion was superfluous, and they scorned as spurious claims of supernatural revelation. Their tenets stemmed from the rationalism of the period, and though the term is not now generally used, the tenor of their belief persists. The term freethinkers is almost synonymous. Voltaire and J. J. Rousseau were deists, as were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

And while it makes clear historic sense to tie the roots of the American foundation to the Christian gentlemen who led the Revolution, the role of explicit Christianity in American politics has a complex history, and a deeply complex present.

The English immigrants came to the Americas, like the modern immigrants I’ve lunched with, to gain their fortune and to escape from religious and political oppression. Of that, we can be clear.

I’m not sure how Chief Justice Moore feels that displaying the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building – not in his home, not in a private business, but in the hall where the highest decisions of law and power are made in Alabama – ties his actions to that history and that desire for freedom to worship in our own ways.

Toward A New Internationalism

Over at Oxbog, Patrick Belton talks about Iraq and international cooperation:

This Weekly Standard piece by Bob Kagan and William Kristol is worth noting. The authors begin by repeating – correctly – that “American ideals and American interests converge … a more democratic Middle East will both improve the lives of long-suffering peoples and enhance America’s national security.” They then applaud statements to that effect by Condoleezza Rice and President Bush calling for a “generational commitment” to Iraq and the Middle East comparable to the U.S.’s commitment to Western Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. And in this, the security advisor and the president are also indeed applauseworthy: the intertwined task of promoting democracy and pursuing counterterror in the Middle East is as obviously central to U.S. security today as creating a secure, commercially prosperous free Europe was then.

I could not agree more completely, and endorse everything that I have quoted, as far as the authors go. However – and although they are two writers I respect deeply on the subject – I think they might be too quick to reject out of hand the prospect of looking overseas for soldiers. The authors seem to think of the matter as a choice between two options: simply asking our dedicated soldiers to do more of what they have been doing so well, or giving the entire enterprise over to the internationals – in which case either Kofi and Jacques Chirac will be the ones to determine the pace of Iraq’s democratization, or still worse, we may suffer “the possibly unfortunate effects of turning over the security of Iraqis to a patchwork of ill-prepared forces from elsewhere in the world.”

Hmmm. Though I agree with Kagan and Kristol on their other points, this particular bit seems a bit of a false dichotomy.

I couldn’t agree more; this nails the Thomas Friedman point I only alluded to below, about the need to alliance.

UPDATE: Once again, the Comments for this article feature some pretty smart people elevating the content of this blog.

Thomas Friedman Gets It Right

Thomas Friedman has a mixed reputation in the blogoverse. But today he writes a column that explains exactly what I’ve been looking for from President Bush; go read it and understand why we’re fighting, and what I’m talking about when I talk about ‘selling’ the war.

“We are attracting all these opponents to Iraq because they understand this war is The Big One. They don’t believe their own propaganda. They know this is not a war for oil. They know this is a war over ideas and values and governance. They know this war is about Western powers, helped by the U.N., coming into the heart of their world to promote more decent, open, tolerant, women-friendly, pluralistic governments by starting with Iraq … a country that contains all the main strands of the region: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.


“You’d think from listening to America’s European and Arab critics that we’d upset some bucolic native culture and natural harmony in Iraq, as if the Baath Party were some colorful local tribe out of National Geographic. Alas, our opponents in Iraq, and their fellow travelers, know otherwise. They know they represent various forms of clan and gang rule, and various forms of religious and secular totalitarianism … from Talibanism to Baathism. And they know that they need external enemies to thrive and justify imposing their demented visions.

In short, America’s opponents know just what’s at stake in the postwar struggle for Iraq, which is why they flock there: beat America’s ideas in Iraq and you beat them out of the whole region; lose to America there, lose everywhere.

So, the terrorists get it. Iraqi liberals get it. The Bush team talks as if it gets it, but it doesn’t act like it. The Bush team tells us, rightly, that this nation-building project is the equivalent of Germany in 1945, and yet, so far, it has approached the postwar in Iraq as if it’s Grenada in 1982.

We may fail, but not because we have attracted terrorists who understand what’s at stake in Iraq. We may fail because of the utter incompetence with which the Pentagon leadership has handled the postwar. (We don’t even have enough translators there, let alone M.P.’s, and the media network we’ve set up there to talk to Iraqis is so bad we’d be better off buying ads on Al Jazeera.) We may fail because the Bush team thinks it can fight The Big One in the Middle East … while cutting taxes at home, shrinking the U.S. Army, changing the tax code to encourage Americans to buy gas-guzzling cars that make us more dependent on Mideast oil and by gratuitously alienating allies.

We may fail because to win The Big One, we need an American public, and allies, ready to pay any price and bear any burden, but we have a president unable or unwilling to summon either.” (emphasis added)

That’s what I’m looking for from Bush; to take this war as seriously as I do and as seriously as our enemies do, and to make it clear to the American people – as FDR did, and Churchill did – that this war will take blood, toil, sweat, and tears. And that we will prevail, because we have no choice.

Because we really don’t.


· Porphy comments.

· Cameron over at BeetsWerkin gently hammers Needlenose on selective editing in his Friedman quotes…

· Atrios leads us to Swopa, and the Needlenose blog, who disagrees with Friedman:

Pardon me for suggesting that Friedman doesn’t believe his own propaganda, either, but just a couple of months ago he was telling a quite different story:

The “real reason” for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world.

In other words, as I happened to discuss in a post last Thursday, the war’s goal wasn’t to project American ideas into the Middle East — it was to project American power there. Which, not surprisingly, is a development that Iraq’s neighbors (who will be next on the “hit list”) and anti-Western fanatics throughout the region want very much to derail.

I’m in the attic plumbing this afternoon (after a morning of installing brakes), so a longer response is due. Let me leave you with a medium-length one:

It’s absolutely the case that our task in the Middle East is to break the ‘various forms of religious and secular totalitarianism‘, and that we’re in Iraq because we had to start somewhere, and they were the ‘low-hanging fruit.’ My own words from mid-March:

…I believe the answer is to end the state support of terrorism and the state campaigns of hatred aimed at the U.S. I think that Iraq simply has drawn the lucky straw. They are weak, not liked, bluntly in violation of international law, and as our friends the French say, about to get hung pour l’ecourager les autres…to encourage the others.

Does that make it any clearer?

Ashcroft, Depleted Uranium, and Other Dense Metals

Phil Carter (who I really have to buy a cup of coffee one of these days – he’s local) has a typically-for-him great post on Ashcroft and the politics of the Patriot Act and its successors. He has a great point on the cost of lost legitimacy:

The net result of this distrust was seen very clearly in the debates over TIA and the Pentagon’s planned terrorism futures market. Americans — and their legislative representatives — didn’t care how these programs actually worked. They didn’t care that academics on the left and right supported such ideas in the abstract. Despite TIA’s fate, we still need computerized tools to look for “non-obvious relationships”. And a closed-access futures market for experts could have been a great way to quantify collective expert opinion. Nonetheless, the American public answered these programs with a resounding “Enough already!”

Go read the whole thing.

Michael McNeal has a great compilation post on the health consequences of Depleted Uranium (DU) – often used in U.S. military projectiles (via Volokh). Hint: there don’t appear to be any.

(changed title)

Autarky in the U.S.??

Brad DeLong’s website is one of my regular visits and has been for about as long as I’ve been reading blogs. He’s a damn smart liberal economist (yes, Dorothy, they do exist) and knows one of my old professors from there, Steve Cohen, pretty well to boot.

So when I read this, I put it aside for a bit to see if it made any more sense.

Just came back to it, and it doesn’t. This raises three possibilities:

# I’m not salvageable when it comes to economics and shouldn’t read or discuss it any more;
# Brad wasn’t paying attention and phoned this post in;
# There’s something subtle I didn’t understand that someone may be able to explain to me.In the hopes that it’s #3, let me wade in. Brad says, in response to Dan Gilmour’s post on ‘outsourcing our future‘:

First of all, the number of jobs in the United States is not set by what happens on the sea lanes–on what exports and imports the container ships carry from port to port. The number of jobs is set in the Eccles Building, by the Federal Reserve, which tries to hit the sweet spot: high enough demand to produce effective full employment, without so much demand that vacancies become so abundant as to lead inflation to run away. Sometimes the Federal Reserve does a good job and is lucky, and we have full employment with price stability. Other times the Federal Reserve is unskillful or unlucky, and we have accelerating inflation or high unemployment. It is certainly true that what happens in international trade affects employment in America. But the Federal Reserve can and does offset and neutralize impacts of trade that push employment away from where the Federal Reserve thinks the sweet spot of full employment is.

To which my response is sha-WHAT?? Last time I checked, we weren’t an autarky. The world economy is, as I visualize it (and yes, I do spend all too much time visualizing trade flows when I ought to be thinking about, say, Uma Thurman…) a complicated network, with a linked series of subnetworks each of which has some measure of control over itself – but that is firmly bound within the larger. If the Fed can unilaterally set monetary policy and interest rates, with no regard to world markets, there are a whole lot of people working on international currency trading floors who have been faking it for a long time.

I simply can’t imagine any condition under which this is correct; my plea here is for someone to either confirm my impression or correct me, if possible.

He then goes on to discuss international trade:

So what, then, is the impact on the American economy when Singapore educates its people to become competent network developers, or India educates its people to become competent help-center technicians? It’s not that jobs leak away. Remember: trade balances. Indians want rupees, not dollars: they will only sell us as much as we can pay for in rupees, and the only way we get rupees is by selling things to Indians. Either way (if the Federal Reserve does its job) Americans’ demand for imports made in other countries is recycled into foreign demand that employs Americans in industries that export goods, export services, make producers equipment, or build structures. This is a consequence of Say’s law–an economic principle which is usually true, sometimes false, but which it is the Federal Reserve’s business to make as true as possible as much of the time as possible. This means that nightmare scenarios–3.3 million high-tech jobs moving overseas–are beyond the bounds of short-run probability. The current account plus the capital account must balance: if the work that used to be done here by 3.3 million people is to be done there, that means that our export industries here must employ an extra 3.3 million people as well.

I can’t think of the appropriate Snoop Dogg response except to say one simple word here: “eurodollar”.

As I recall, they’ve found a couple hundreds of millions in U.S. cash in Iraq recently…what was Saddam doing with that, if what he really wanted was dinars?

This is a kind of important issue, because in my mind, the ‘global averaging’ taking place in the economy and the consequences on jobs is one of the most pressing issues that faces us today; lots of the other issues fall out from causes rooted in this one.

I’m not advocating a return to Smoot-Hawley; in fact I’m not far enough through this issue to begin to know which path makes sense, except that any path we take must somehow deal with the issue, rather than ignore it.

And DeLong’s post somehow seems to ignore it.

So help and clarification from all quarters welcome.

How About This?

Is it me, or is this editorial in the NY Times surprisingly strong:

Palestinian leaders have been promoting the illusion that Islamic radical groups will ultimately transform themselves into peaceful political parties. That fantasy was shattered on Tuesday along with 20 innocent lives when a Hamas terrorist blew up a Jerusalem bus. The bombing occurred at the very moment the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, was meeting with Islamic radicals in Gaza. If anything positive is to come from this latest atrocity, it will be a conclusive realization by Mr. Abbas that organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have no genuine interest in cease-fire agreements or two-state solutions and must be forcibly put out of the terrorism business. Only then will the American-sponsored road map for peace have a chance of delivering Palestinian statehood.

Hamas described Tuesday’s bombing as retaliation for the Israeli Army’s killing of one of its militants in June. Hamas is a self-appointed gang of thugs with no right to kill anyone, Israeli or Palestinian. That is how it must be treated by Mr. Abbas and his security chief, Muhammad Dahlan.

Hmmmm. I feel the earth shifting ever so slightly under my feet.