Talking points

Iraq: Fight now, pay the bill later? Happiness: Why women find it so elusive; Climate change: Bad news from the North Pole; and, North Korea: Diplomacy stages a comeback

Iraq: Fight now, pay the bill later?

If you thought the war in Iraq was unpopular now, said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, imagine if we actually had to pay for it! So far, despite President Bush’s insistence that “the struggle against radical Islam is the fight of our generation,” he’s chosen to fund the Iraq war by putting the entire $600 billion cost—soon to be $1 trillion—“on our children’s Visa cards.” Last week, a group of House Democrats proposed the obvious: Rather than funding the war by simply adding it to our already monstrous national debt, we do what this country has always done in wartime—pay slightly higher taxes until it’s over. The White House, of course, immediately ridiculed the idea. But the reasoning of the proposal’s sponsor, Rep. David Obey, is difficult to dismiss. “If this war is important enough to fight,” Obey says, “then it ought to be important enough to pay for.”

Ah yes, those fiscally responsible Democrats, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Where would we be without them? The truth is that this proposal has nothing to do with Iraq and even less to do with fiscal prudence. In reality, we’re spending “relatively little on defense by historic wartime standards.” During the Vietnam era, we spent 9 percent of our gross domestic product on defense, while it’s only 4 percent today. We don’t need to raise taxes. Even the Democratic leadership sees this cheap stunt for what it is, said The Washington Times. That’s why Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the “war tax” almost as quickly as President Bush did. Pelosi’s worst nightmare, with elections looming, is for Democrats to once again be “labeled the party of tax and spend.”

Too bad the Democrats don’t have more courage, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. For years, Republican hawks have been able to get away with making stirring speeches about our need to pay the cost of freedom, while simultaneously reaping the political benefits of cutting taxes and spending the taxpayers’ money on pork. A vote on the war funding bill would be “a magnificent way to test the seriousness” of the war’s defenders. If the great economic theorist Adam Smith were alive today, said George Will, also in the Post, he’d be all for imposing an Iraq tax. If the costs of war had to be paid for by “revenue raised within that year,” Smith once wrote, “wars would be more speedily concluded and less wantonly undertaken.”

Happiness: Why women find it so elusive

Women are spending more hours working outside the home, and less time on cooking and cleaning. By most measures, their lives are vastly better than they were 30 years ago, with more material goodies and more choices. Yet “in an intriguing—if unsettling—finding,” said David Leonhardt in The New York Times, two new studies report that women are significantly less happy today than they were a generation ago. In a long-term study, University of Pennsylvania economists found that in the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. “Today, the two have switched places,” and this “happiness gap” seems to be growing. Princeton University economist Alan Krueger has one possible explanation: Women spend 90 minutes more per week than men performing duties deemed unpleasant, such as doing laundry or paying bills. At the same time they’re doing the chores, women are comparing their career achievements and income with men’s, and worrying if men think they’re still “hotties.”  

So, feminists, how’s that Superwoman thing working out for you? said Shaunti Feldhahn in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The main problem with feminism is the notion that women have to have a career to be fulfilled—and that there is no cost to working outside the home. No one warned today’s “frazzled” multi-taskers that trying to have it all is usually “a recipe for a nervous breakdown.” Nor did anyone tell the women who opted for the corporate jungle that they might find, at 42, that it’s too late for a family. “If feminism had been content with just pressing for equality,” instead of the right for women to aspire to everything simultaneously, we might all be a lot happier.

Nonsense, said Karen von Hahn in the Toronto Globe and Mail. If women are unhappy, it’s because the gender revolution hasn’t come far enough. For decades, we’ve outperformed men in school and worked harder just to prove that we’re worthy of respect. Yet we’re still underpaid and “underrepresented in the cozy inner sanctums” of most of the major professions. And when we get home from work, we still clean up men’s messes. Perhaps, though, we have only ourselves to blame, said Andrea Cornell Sarvady in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Men find it easy to kick back, pop a beer, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Women, by contrast, are very hard on themselves, with a never-ending “To Do list.” So, my fellow multi-taskers, here’s some advice: “Add up your accomplishments, cut yourself some slack, and learn to say ‘no.’” And don’t forget to tell your man to do the dishes.

Climate change: Bad news from the North Pole

Santa might want to trade in that sleigh for something seaworthy, said Andrew Revkin in The New York Times. Or perhaps he should just move his workshop away from the North Pole, where 1 million square miles of sea ice—the size of “six Californias”—simply melted away over the summer. The ice’s “vanishing act” was a shock to even the bleakest of eco-pessimists, who now say global warming may be happening faster than even they expected. A few optimistic souls managed to be heartened by the brief appearance of the mythical Northwest Passage shipping route through the Arctic, said Jane Kay in the San Francisco Chronicle. But that’s little consolation to the various species for whom the melting ice cap spells disaster: polar bears, walruses, penguins, and eventually, humans.

No need to panic, said Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg in The Washington Post. Even if we do nothing about greenhouse-gas emissions, climate scientists say, sea levels will rise by a mere 12 inches over this century. That’s roughly how much the seas have already risen over the last century, and we seem to have coped with that. “We do need to fix global warming in the long run,” but it hardly poses a threat to human civilization. Imposing major cutbacks on carbon emissions now would cost trillions of dollars that could otherwise be spent ending hunger or eradicating malaria—and all we would achieve is to delay the sea-level rise by a mere five years. The only sensible, long-term solution to climate change is to focus the world’s best minds on developing new, low-carbon sources of energy, so we can halve emissions without having to wreck our economies.

Before this summer, that argument might have made sense, said Thomas Homer-Dixon in The New York Times. But with the Arctic turning into a vast, open expanse of water this summer, panic is beginning to look appropriate. In their previous predictions of global warming’s pace, it now appears, climate scientists didn’t fully take into account the various “feedback” loops inherent in Earth’s “interlinked climate systems.” Higher temperatures don’t only mean melting ice caps. Because the ice cap has shrunk, it then reflects less sunlight back into space, which results in even higher temperatures. And as the oceans warm, they absorb less carbon dioxide. It all adds up to a “vicious circle” of ever-accelerating global warming. We need to act now, and not 30 years from now, if we plan to have a future on this “swiftly melting planet.”

North Korea: Diplomacy stages a comeback

The Bush administration has rediscovered a mysterious art once practiced by “past civilizations,” said Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times. It goes by the name “diplomacy.” For the first seven years of Bush’s bellicose reign, the president and his aides disdained the very notion that they ever negotiate with unfriendly foreign governments, preferring instead to provoke and threaten them. So it came as quite a shock last week when the U.S. and North Korea—a charter member of the “axis of evil”—announced a breakthrough agreement. In exchange for food, fuel, and other aid and the lifting of economic sanctions, North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities and subject itself to international inspections. North and South Korea also agreed to negotiate an end to the simmering hostilities that have endangered the peninsula for decades. Funny what more talk and less “saber rattling” can accomplish, said Newsday in an editorial. Kim Jong Il may still be nuts, but he no longer poses a nuclear threat.

For that accomplishment, Bush deserves credit, not ridicule, said Investor’s Business Daily. Let’s not forget that the new agreements resulted from the six-party talks the administration insisted on—as opposed to the one-on-one approach favored by Democrats “and their media toadies.” It was the combined pressure from the other countries, especially North Korea’s only real ally, China, that apparently brought the paranoid “Dear Leader” Kim to his senses. But don’t start celebrating yet, said Richard Halloran in The Washington Times. Kim has a long history of “deception, lies, and broken promises,” so we shouldn’t believe him until every bit of nuclear material is turned over.
In the meantime, we can only marvel at this stunning turn of events, said Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post. “Why has a secretive government addicted to power politics and flexing its military muscles abruptly turned to negotiations and peaceful compromise?” I’m referring not only to Kim’s Communist regime but to the Bush administration, too. The answer may well be that with only a year left in his presidency, Bush is desperate for an international legacy other than the Iraq war. As for Kim, he faces a different kind of desperation. As his country’s “economy implodes and its people starve,” he may have decided that food and fuel were more useful than nuclear bombs he couldn’t use anyway. In diplomacy, as in life, “timing is everything.” And for Bush and Kim both, it was time to drop the threats and make a deal.


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