Dear Ann

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 23 2002 8:54 AM

Dear Ann

The Washington Post leads with sneak peek at 2001 crime statistics from the FBI—incidents of "major crimes" increased by 2 percent in the U.S., the first rise in nine years. The New York Times leads with the discovery that the anthrax found in the mail last fall was "made no more than two years before it was sent," which suggests that whoever sent it could make more (the WP stuffs this story). The Los Angeles Times leads with an investigation of overcrowding in L.A. County emergency rooms and off-leads the forest fires still raging in the West. The NYT also has a fire story on page one. All three fronts mourn the death of Eppie Lederer, better known as advice columnist Ann Landers, of multiple myeloma, a form of bone- marrow cancer. She was 83.

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According to the FBI report, which will be released later this week, crime increased most sharply in the western U.S. and actually decreased slightly in the Northeast, with slight drops in homicide in New York City and D.C. Most of the increase came from property crimes like auto theft, which jumped 6 percent. Violent crimes rose by less than 1 percent overall, which is comforting as long as you don't live in Boston, where the number of murders increased by 67 percent. Criminologists attribute the increase to worsening economic conditions and the swelling ranks of teenagers (statistically the age group most likely to commit crimes) and released prisoners (around 600,000 last year). The Post also observes that deaths from the Sept. 11 attacks were not counted in the homicide tally—if they had been, murders would have risen 26 percent from 2000.

Both the NYT and the LAT see the rampant forest fires as decades of misguided policy coming home to roost. The NYT observes that "a century-long policy of knocking down all fires has created fuel-filled forests that burn hotter and faster than ever," and notes that the cost of fighting the increasingly intense fires has grown to around $2 billion annually.

The FBI's conclusion that the mailed anthrax was "fresh," based on radiocarbon dating, pretty much torpedoes the theory that the perpetrator somehow stole an old laboratory sample of the germ and suggests that the culprit "has a direct and current connection to a microbiology laboratory and may have used relatively new equipment." Despite the discovery, the NYT says, the bureau's list of possible suspects "appears to be expanding."

Former Enron executives told investigators that the company used "'cookie jar reserves' or a kind of corporate slush fund" to hide windfall profits during the California energy crisis in late 2000, according to the NYT. The execs say these reserves were then manipulated to help the company report steady profit growth. The Times calls this practice "outlawed but not uncommon," and notes that Microsoft (which owns Slate) this month settled an enforcement action with the SEC relating to a similar practice.

The WP examines "The Expeditionary Task Force" an armed unit of some 1,500 former Bolivian soldiers paid and trained by the U.S. to help eradicate Bolivia's coca crop. The unit has successfully sabotaged a lot of coca since its inception in 1998, but the failure to set up farmers with alternative crops has sparked a growing protest movement, and accusations of excessive force and human rights violations against the force are mounting—a Bolivian judge recently issued a preventive arrest order for the group's commander, after he was accused of shooting and killing an unarmed protester.

The NYT also warns of first real danger of famine in Africa in a decade. The U.N. says that "two years of erratic weather … coupled with mismanagement of food supplies have left seven million people in six countries at risk of starvation."

The NYT fronts the World Cup news—Turkey will take on Brazil and South Korea will face Germany in the semifinals. The Times observes that a win for South Korea could set up an "intriguing payback, giving South Korea a chance to hoist the World Cup trophy in Japan, its colonial ruler from 1910 to 1945." Mercifully, the story doesn't explore the geopolitical ramifications of a Germany-Turkey final.

The LAT's Kenneth Turan delivers a neat history of nuclear explosions in the movies, pegged to the much-ballyhooed nuking of Baltimore in this summer's "The Sum of All Fears." The people behind the movie, including star Ben Affleck, wanted their explosion to be a disturbing reminder of the dangers of nuclear proliferation, but it seems they forgot to tell the people of Baltimore. Screwball auteur and Baltimore native John Waters quipped "I have no problem blowing up Baltimore in a movie if it's done with joy and style," and the city's mayor was just grateful for the attention: "I think Baltimoreans are always kind of thrilled to see their city make the big screen, even if we are getting nuked."

Andrew Nieland is a writer in New York.

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