Pro Bono

Pro Bono

Pro Bono

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 12 2002 8:37 AM

Pro Bono

The Washington Postleads with Pakistan's reluctance to engage al-Qaida soldiers who have crossed the border from Afghanistan into Western Pakistan. The New York Times leads with the failure of some U.S. agencies to respond to the threat of terrorism after Sept 11. The top nonlocal story in the Los Angeles Times unravels Enron's role in the creation of California's energy crisis.

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"We are trying to encourage, wheedle, coerce, urge the Pakistanis to move more aggressively," a Pentagon official says in the Post lead. The U.S. believes most remaining al-Qaida fighters are not in Afghanistan but across the border, in Western Pakistan—and relatively safe for the moment. Already in a standoff with India to the east, Pakistan is reluctant to commit resources to the al-Qaida fight—if there is even a fight to be had. "There can't be any such large-scale concentrations in any area of Pakistan," says a Pakistani official. "It isn't possible." A small number of U.S. special forces are currently working the Pakistani-Afghan border alone.

The NYT reports in its lead that many U.S. agencies were slow to shore up security in the wake of 9/11. The Department of Agriculture, for example, didn't know the whereabouts of some "dangerous biological agents," including three billion doses of a dangerous vaccine. That was late September. The agency said in October that the problem had been fixed, but in January inspectors general found that "the situation had not significantly changed." Similar shoddiness was uncovered at Energy (which lost track of some nuclear materials) and Transportation.

The LAT's Enron story, based on three memos released by the company last week, concludes that the big, multicolored E may have manipulated California's energy markets. A variety of questionable tactics was employed. An Enron strategy called "Death Star," for example, created the appearance of congestion on transmission lines, which the company then collected a fee from the state for relieving.  

The NYT fronts Congress' newfound interest in AIDS, "more than two decades" into the epidemic. The disease has been repackaged as a children's—rather than a gay or intravenous drug user's—issue. "You can get them to agree on children," says a former Clinton official who now runs the International AIDS Trust. "Them," in this case, includes Dick Gephardt, who saw the light while visiting a pediatric AIDS ward in Johannesburg in 1999, and Jesse Helms, who was "heavily influenced" by Bono, according to the Times. Congress has added $200 million to the $780 million George W. budgeted for the disease, and another $500 million is likely, all of which will still fall short of the $2.5 billion Kofi Annan thinks the U.S. should contribute.

The WP goes above the fold with a disheartening survey of postwar Afghanistan. The Post reporter travels along what was once a major, paved highway from Kabul to Herat, finding it "disintegrated by war and neglect into a rutted track in places." Outside of Kabul, which the paper calls an "island of progress," chaos and intimidation are commonplace. In Kandahar, after six years of in-house confinement under the Taliban, girls and female teachers returning to school have received death threats. The city "looks and feels like a place slowly being left behind by the new government in Kabul," according to the Post. Interim leader Hamid Karzai says part of the problem is that billions of promised dollars in aid have yet to materialize.

Speaking of pledges, the LAT stuffs the ratings at PBS, which are at an all-time low. Facing steep competition from like-minded, better-funded cable channels, the network is contemplating sweeping changes. "We are dangerously close in our overall prime-time number to falling below the relevance quotient," says PBS' president. "And if that happens, we will surely fall below any arguable need for government support, not to mention corporate or individual support. There is a level beyond which we cannot go and still claim to be a universal service."

A strangely wistful NYT editorial calls Mother's Day a "curious holiday"—we're born year-round, yet celebrate mothers "all at once as if we were lambs of a single flock." After receiving thanks on this day, mothers "watch us march off into the coming week, full of the separateness of our busy lives." Not all the greeting card writers are working at Hallmark.    

Finally, the NYT fronts NASA's eBay obsession. The space agency goes online to unearth outdated computer parts—some going back more than 20 years—that are still used not in the shuttles themselves but in the "servicing and support gear." "One missing piece of hardware can ruin our day," says a logistics man. "NASA's growing reliance on antiquated parts is in some ways a measure of how far its star has fallen," the Times observes. And it may get sadder still. The "current" shuttle crop, already in its dotage, was to be retired in 2012 but now may be stretched to 2020 and beyond.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.