Missilany

Missilany

Missilany

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 27 1998 7:32 AM

Missilany

The New York Times's top national story is that despite three years of contrary assurances to the U.S., Russia is helping India build a nuclear missile. The Washington Post's top national story is an account of how, fifteen years and $50 billion after Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, the U.S. still doesn't have an anti-ballistic-missile defense system. The Los Angeles Times goes with the Clinton administration's decision to oppose the California ballot referendum measure calling for an end to publicly funded bilingual education, a measure thought to be favored by 70 percent of the state's voters. USA Today leads with Defense Secretary William Cohen's warning to Congress that failure to approve an emergency spending bill and a new round of base closings will mean big layoffs of Pentagon civilians and fewer high-tech weapons.

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According to the Times, in 1995 Russian officials told the U.S. that its help on the Indian missile project was limited, and didn't involve the missile design. In return, the Clinton administration cleared the way for American/Russian cooperation in space. However, U.S. intelligence reports have continued to suggest a bigger Russian role. The Times points out that Russia's technical assistance raises fears of a stepped-up arms race between India and Pakistan, against whom India has fought three wars, and which has just tested a nuclear-capable missile of its own.

The WP reports that out of twenty intercept tests in the past decade, only seven anti-missile missiles struck their targets. Since the last success in 1994, there have been six straight failures. While the Clinton administration has not committed to deploying a national anti-missile shield, under pressure from the GOP (national missile defense was a tenet of the "Contract With America"), it has promised to accelerate testing. But, the paper reports, only one actual flight trial of the entire system is planned before the administration must decide whether or not to place it in operation.

According to a big USAT investigative piece, two years after the ValuJet crash, airline passengers are still being endangered by improperly labeled or packaged hazardous materials on their flights. For the story, USAT shipped unmarked boxes with six different courier services and three of them did not do what FAA rules require: ask for a photo ID and a declaration that the boxes were free of hazardous goods. Although the FAA seems to be catching more violators, the paper quotes one of the agency's top officials saying, "We wouldn't know whether hazardous materials are inside if a package doesn't leak or break open."

The Wall Street Journal's main "Politics and Policy" piece says that Asia views as smart the U.S. economic strategy of getting the IMF to come in with rescue packages that don't directly cost the U.S. that much. And hence if Congress defeats the Clinton administration's proposal to pony up $18 billion for the IMF, the Asian economic players will be at least confused and possibly hostile.

The NYT reports the latest sign of the Mafia's decline: according to federal experts, the "Commission," the mob's equivalent to the U.N. Security Council, where deals between New York's five "families" were made and disputes ironed out, hasn't met in almost two years. Why? Convictions and indictments of top mobsters have created chronic uncertainty about who can speak for the various families as well as increased concerns about exposure at meetings to informers and undercover police officers.

Sunday's NYT front had a home run piece by Jill Abramson detailing the current investigation fad in Washington, along the way coining a good phrase for it. There are currently, Abramson reported, 31 separate official inquiries into reported wrongdoing by Bill Clinton, members of his administration or figures in the Democratic Party. Not to mention all the lawyers, PIs and journalists this entails. "Washington has become," she writes, "the center of a scandal-industrial complex." The piece also carried this quote from Clinton staffer James E. Kennedy in response to congressional complaints about the number of White House lawyers working to defend Clinton: "It's like an arsonist complaining about the size of the fire department." Kennedy, by the way, is termed "the White House scandal spokesman."

Never let it be said that the WP doesn't kick you when you're down. In its "Style" section debrief of Saturday night's star-studded White House Correspondents' Dinner, the paper says that "Dick Cavett was there, trying to remember which year he was the dinner's featured entertainer."