Beginning in Bethlehem

Beginning in Bethlehem

Beginning in Bethlehem

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 19 2002 5:20 AM

Beginning in Bethlehem

The Washington Post's lead says that according to leaked government documents, the Bush administration has agreed to a land-swap with Utah even though the deal, as the Post puts it, amounts to a "$100 million giveaway by U.S. taxpayers." The New York Times leads with news that in the past two weeks federal agents have arrested about 70 fathers who have crossed state lines in order to avoid paying child support. The paper says it's the feds' first big effort to nab deadbeat dads. USA Today leads with a survey that found that the families of New York City emergency workers killed on 9/11 are getting seven times as much money from charities as the families of other people who died during the attack. The paper notes that that figure doesn't take into account the money that will be distributed from the federal government's compensation fund, which will hand out, on average, $1.85 million to the family of every victim. The Los Angeles Times' lead, in another ding of the federal government, says that the U.S. Forest Service in California "is spending the biggest chunks of its fire prevention funds in some of the least populated parts of the state."

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The Post'slead on the land-swapping deal emphasizes that "at least six [government] officials" have complained that not only are the feds losing money on the deal, but the White House has also been trying to hide that fact. One government appraiser wrote in a memo that the Bush's administration's official "white paper" justifying the deal was "one-sided and inaccurate."(The Post never really explains away one wrinkle to the scandal-angle: The money is not going to a private corporation, it's going to a state, which are pretty regular recipients of federal funds or "giveaways.")

The NYT off-leads word that the Israeli and Palestinian officials have agreed that the Israeli army will begin withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in return for the Palestinian Authority's taking responsibility for security in those places. Israeli officials said may start withdrawing today. The Times calls the agreement a "pilot plan" for a full cease-fire. Nobody else fronts the story, which appears to have broken late in the day.

The NYT goes above-the-fold with news that CNN has gotten its hand on, and started broadcasting snippets of, 250 al-Qaida videotapes. Among the videos is a recording of a dog slowly suffocating as it's exposed to what appears to be a chemical agent. Experts said they weren't sure what type of chemical it was. But the NYT calls the tape, "the clearest evidence yet" that al-Qaida developed and tested chemical weapons. The NYT's reporter Judith Miller notes that she watched many hours of the tape last week, "at the invitation of CNN." None of the other papers have details on the tapes.

In another interesting bit, the NYT mentions that in one videotape, "Mr. Bin Laden" (as the Times refers to him) calls Saddam "a bad Muslim."

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The NYT notes that CNN said it hasn't handed the tapes over to intelligence officials yet, though it said it'll probably do that once the network has broadcast them. The NYT also congratulates itself, accurately, for noting that all the way back in January 2001: "Intelligence officials say [al-Qaida] is experimenting with chemical weapons at one of its camps." So far as Today's Papers can tell, nobody had written that before.

The WP off-leads news that the Department of Heath of Human Services is "reviewing" the government's financial support of more than a dozen U.S. AIDS organizations, after the groups heckled HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson at the world AIDS convention last month. HHS says it started the reviews at the request of 12 members of Congress, who were peeved, among other things, that Thompson was shouted down. An HHS spokesman said that the groups "need to recognize that Congress is watching what we do. Therefore, they need to think twice before preventing a Cabinet-level official from bringing a message of hope to an international forum."

USAT, in a fascinating and deeply reported cover story, notes that Russia has developed a strain of anthrax resistant to vaccines, and despite a promise to send the U.S. a sample, so far hasn't done so. The U.S. wants to get ahold of the sample in order to see whether U.S. soldiers who've been vaccinated against anthrax are still susceptible to this altered strain. The paper explains that part of the reason Russia hasn't handed over the sample is that the U.S. and Russia have no formal agreement to share bioweapons knowledge, and Russia, technically, has tight export controls on such things. Also, as one expert put it, "Secrets are secrets. The Russians have theirs, we have ours. A lot of people don't want to share."

The NYT notes inside that the U.S. has hired 10 ships to move military equipment to U.S. bases around the Mideast. The paper gives the sense that Pentagon logistics planners are just trying to prepare for the possibility that the military will be ordered into Iraq. Nor, as the Times notes, is the build-up anything approaching the size of what would be needed for an invasion. In other words, as the article paraphrases some Pentagon officials, the move shouldn't be taken as a sign that a Saddam Smackdown is "imminent, or even a certainty." The article's headline, though, seems pretty certain:  AMERICAN ARSENAL IN THE MIDEAST IS BEING BUILT UP TO CONFRONT SADDAM HUSSEIN. By the way, the Times doesn't say who first reported the story and instead blandly attributes news of the build-up to "recent interviews" with Pentagon officials. Reuters  broke  the story last week.

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal  basks in all the attention given to Brent Scowcroft's "Don't Attack Saddam" op-ed in last week's Journal. The editorial also, ever so politely, takes Scowcroft down. His position, the paper says, is based on the desire for " 'stability' even when it's imposed by dictators, over democratic aspiration. This is a legitimate point of view, but its track record doesn't inspire confidence. Mr. Scowcroft (and Lawrence Eagleburger) favored keeping Yugoslavia together, even under Slobodan Milosevic. That mistake kept blood flowing for a decade until even the Europeans begged for U.S. intervention."

Sunday's Post featured the results  of the paper's contest in which readers were asked to submit "a well-known story as retold by a famous person." One outstanding entry:

"Karenin's wife dumps him for Vronsky. It doesn't work out. She jumps in front of a train."

Anna Karenina, retold by Ernest Hemingway (Mike Genz).