Pentagon Awry

Pentagon Awry

Pentagon Awry

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 3 2001 7:09 AM

Pentagon Awry

USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times lead with the House's overwhelming passage yesterday of a bill that would raise the amounts Americans can annually put into individual retirement accounts and 401(k) pension plans. The New York Times folds that vote into its fronter reporting that President Bush and Congress have agreed to a just-under-5-percent increase in discretionary spending for the fiscal 2002 budget, but it leads with federal price-fixing indictments handed down yesterday in New York against the former chairmen of Sotheby's and Christie's, the world's two richest auction houses. The paper says the big break in the case came when a former Christie's executive turned over to authorities 500 pages of documents that "were a road map of the collusion" by the two firms.

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The coverage explains that the House bill would over the next few years increase the annual IRA contribution limit to $5,000 (it's now $2,000) and the annual 401(k) limit to $15,000 (it's now $10,500). But information about who this really benefits is a bit spotty. The NYT's fronter doesn't mention any such concerns. USAT goes low with a brief mention that the few dissenters to the bill complained it didn't do enough to help low-income workers. The WP lead puts the same point before its jump, adding that the number of those left out is "many millions." The LAT has the most on this. High up, it says the bill "provides too little help to the lower- and middle-income people who need it the most" and lower down reports that there are analyses showing that "70% of the tax subsidies provided by raising the IRA limit would go to 20% of the population."

The WP off-leads, USAT fronts, and the NYT reefers the Pentagon's decision to change the nature of its contacts with China's military. At first, all report, it was announced that all such contacts had been suspended, but later the stance was changed to a downgrading, meaning that all exchange visits of military officers, port calls, and training, etc., will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The official explanation is that an aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had misunderstood his boss. USAT sees the change as a situation where the DOD "backpedaled." The Post speaks of a "hectic round of telephone calls" between the two announcements and finds the aide-did-it explanation reminiscent of that offered last month when the secretary of agriculture blamed a low-level official in her department for a quickly retracted decision not to test school lunch beef for salmonella. The NYT sees the "reversal" as reflecting a "degree of confusion in an administration that had tried to project a disciplined management style" and says it came after the White House objected.

The Post has the best details on the actual military exchanges themselves, saying some senior officials feel they haven't been very productive, not helping very much, for instance, in the attempts to secure the release of the EP-3 crew from Hainan Island. Also, says the paper, U.S. military officials have been frustrated by what it sees as a lack of reciprocity--with visiting Chinese officers being welcomed onto military bases while U.S. service members visiting China are kept in reception areas drinking tea. USAT reports that in the past two years the U.S. has taught Chinese officers about low-level combat flying and computerized warfare.

The LAT fronts the continuing occupation (in its second week) of the main Harvard administration building by students calling for the university to pay its some 2,000 janitors, dining hall employees, and other blue-collar workers a salary of $10.25 an hour. The NYT's Bob Herbert, in his second column in a row on the situation, calls the occupiers "heroes." None of the Harvard officials quoted in all this say boo about why a school with a $19 billion endowment can't afford this modest raise.

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The NYT runs an op-ed by the former attorney general of Alabama, Bill Baxley, the courageous man who got the first murder conviction against one of the Birmingham church bombers back in 1977. Now that a second man has been convicted of the heinous crime mostly on the basis of FBI wiretaps, Baxley has a sobering revelation: Starting in 1971, as attorney general, he had tried to get the FBI to supply him with such evidence and was always turned down. In fact, the FBI always told him no such evidence existed. Baxley asks, "How can the F.B.I. justify this to the families of four precious girls?"