Today's Blogs

Sunset Diplomacy

Now that North Korea has tested its first nuclear weapon, bloggers discuss the options for other Pacific nations, especially China. They also inveigh against tax exemptions for pastor housing, and boggle over a whopping new statistic about Iraqi deaths since 2003.

Sunset diplomacy: North Korea’s display of its atomic prowess Sunday has got cyberspace buzzing about how other countries in the region will go about the business of defending themselves and dealing economically with the peninsular state. Will Japan amend its constitution and activate its own nuclear program? Will Beijing end its warm ties to Pyongyang? And is the era of South Korean “sunshine diplomacy” with the Stalinist North finally at an end?

At The Adventures of Chester, former Marine Josh Manchester comments on a New York Times op-ed penned by David Frum, an ex-speechwriter for the Bush administration, which suggests inviting South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and Singapore to join NATO: “[W]hat Frum proposes, the idea that all of these countries would be allowed to join NATO, would revolutionize the security system in Asia in two ways: a) every state’s relationship with the US would be upgraded to the highest status: that of an alliance, wherein the US gives security guarantees; and, b) every state’s relationship with all the others would be upgraded in the same way.”

Salon radio blogger Jan Haugland at Secular Blasphemy thinks China is caught in a delicate game of both face-saving and butt-covering: “If China applies pressure and manages to force it to abandon its nuclear programmes and return to actual negotiations (not to mention if it actually results in a ‘controlled collapse’ of North Korea), it will be seen as more an American victory than a Chinese one. It will be a vindication of Bush’s refusal to engage NK in two-party talks. China may have to do just that, seeing as it has lost control of its crazy neighbour, but it will not like it.”

Matthew Tompkins at military blog Defense Tech worries more about Japan’s countermeasures against Kim Jong-il, especially with a more right-wing premier leading the Diet: “[Shinzo] Abe had already appointed a number of fellow conservatives in Foreign Ministry and Defense positions in the cabinet, he’s declared his intent to modify the constitution’s limitations on Japanese military capacity … [R]esistance will be drastically weakened by the North Korean test. From there, it’s a short logical step to the usual scenarios of a Sino-Japanese arms race in East Asia. And there’s only one word for how that scenario plays out: Gulp.”

Read more about the long-term impact of NoKo’s nuke show. Read Slate’s Fred Kaplan’s columns about North Korea here.

Bless this house, IRS: The fourth installment of a New YorkTimes series on the politics of religion in America addresses the issue of tax exemptions, specifically for real estate purchased by churches on behalf of clergy. Pastors may do good works, but many bloggers believe secular charities ought to receive equal government benefits.

The person behind, invoking Jefferson and de Tocqueville, argues that all exemptions violate the separation of church and state: “Could I establish the ‘Church of Christ the Consumer?’ We could declare Walmarts and Targets to be holy sites for our communion and thereby earn tax exempt status for these businesses. That sounds far fetched, but given the role of churches in creating day cares, and other businesses, it is not entirely implausible.”

Underalms, the charity-industry observer at Where Most Needed, says the success of clerical tax breaks is rooted in clerical ambition: “Secular charities do not share the same focus on lobbying for special treatment.” But Pastordan at the Daily Kos-sponsored religion blog Street Prophets is for the tax exemptions, at least for the little guys: “All I’m going to say is that it’s really easy to make a sweeping call to ‘tax religion like any other business.’… [I]t takes out the smaller churches, leaving intact the larger, typically more conservative institutions. Oh, and smaller churches have a proportionately greater effect on the charitable economy in their community, so now you’ve taken down at least part of the support system for hundreds of thousands of groups doing good on a grass-roots level.”

Read more about religious tax exemptions.

That high? According to a new study published today by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there have been approximately 600,000 violent civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003. Researchers surveyed 1,849 Iraqi families in 47 different neighborhoods across the country—a wider data set than was used by British medical journal The Lancet in its controversial 2004 paper on Iraqi deaths since the U.S. invasion.

The editors at The Unalienable Right, a Web log of the conservative American Federalist Journal, question the study’s accuracy but, if the numbers are true, want blame for the toll placed squarely on the bad guys, not the United States: “Whether the number of innocent civilians killed in Iraq is 6,000, 60,000, or 600,000, it is too many. But the blame for these deaths should go to those who are doing the killing - the terrorists and insurgents who are deliberately targeting innocent civilians - not to the United States military and coalition forces, who are working very hard to stop the killing.”

But lefty Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal can’t get past the staggering figures: “This is remarkable. If you do the arithmetic, it means that coalition forces have killed 186,000 Iraqis in the 39 months between the invasion and the period when the study was done. That’s about 4,700 per month — and the numbers are on a steady upward trend.”

Read  more on the study.