Suits or Consequences

Suits or Consequences

Suits or Consequences

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 30 2002 6:49 AM

Suits or Consequences

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with the investigation of Thursday's car bombing in Kenya. Twelve foreigners have been arrested, though the evidence against them is, as the NYT puts it, "unclear." The Washington Post stuffs the Kenya story, going instead with the substandard protective wear issued to U.S. troops who would be the first-responders in a war with Iraq. 

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The death toll in Kenya has risen to 16 (including the three bombers), with another 18 seriously wounded, according to the NYT lead. Although the attack looks like the work of al-Qaida or Al Ittihad al Islamiya, a Somali terrorist group funded and trained by al-Qaida, no direct evidence has been uncovered. The 12 rounded-up foreigners, including one American woman, had already been detained before the attack for entering the country illegally, the NYT reports. They were rearrested after the bombing. Kenyan authorities have a history of rounding up alleged terrorism suspects but never charging them, according to "observers" quoted in the LAT.

Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, has taken over the investigation of the bomb site from Kenyan authorities. The LAT story, after quoting a Kenyan Muslim leader who fears retaliation, reminds us that after Palestinians killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany, "Mossad agents tracked down and killed every alleged participant except one, even when it meant killing bystanders in the process." 

"Counterterrorism officials in the United States and overseas have already been struggling to find ways of guarding traditional and somewhat predictable targets, like embassies, military installations, airports, landmarks and reactors," the NYT writes in a news analysis. "Soft" targets, such as hotels and dance clubs, are virtually impossible to protect.

According to the WP lead, the Defense Department can't keep its protective gear in order. "We don't know where some of our best suits are—they are God knows where. And in some cases, we've mixed bad inventory with good," says Republican Rep Christopher Shayes of Connecticut. The suits he's talking about are designed to protect against biological and chemical weapons, and they are an improvement over the old suits, which "are good for only a day or two after they are removed from their protective packaging," according to an unnamed Capitol Hill source. Some of these old suits—250,000 of them—are missing and may be in circulation among the troops. A Defense Department administrator says the suit problem will be ironed out in advance of a war with Iraq.

The Post goes above the fold with the kid gloves with which U.N. inspectors are being treated in Iraq. Hostile attitudes—once printed in newspapers and espoused by Iraqi officials—have vanished in favor of eager cooperation and compliance. This all may change soon, the WP observes, when more inspectors arrive on Dec. 8 and more sensitive sites—presidential palaces, for example—come under scrutiny. "While we know America wants to attack us no matter what, we hope that our attitude toward the inspections will convince the world that war is the wrong option," says an Iraqi professor and member of Parliament. Iraq's declaration of its weapons programs is also due on Dec. 8.

If geography spells destiny, the Democrats are in for more trouble in 2004, according to the LAT. Strategists from both parties have determined that "a disproportionate number of the most competitive races will be fought in the places where President Bush is strongest." The numbers make for torturous copy, but, to take one example, of the 11 House Dems who got in with the narrowest margins this year, seven will be running in districts Bush carried in 2000. Ten of 19 Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2004 will be competing in states that went to Bush. "Anybody who is running in 2004 and knows the president is going to be on the ballot has to worry," says Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

Finally, the LAT fronts the flood of foreign words—most of them English—inundating (some would say crowding out) traditional Japanese, much to the consternation of purists. "It's becoming incomprehensible," says a 60-year-old Tokyo restaurant worker. "Sometimes I feel like I need a translator to understand my own language." A committee has been formed to replace new words with Japanese ones—at a rate of about 100 every six months. That may not be fast enough. The foreign words are gaining currency and connotations. "Companies advertising for staffu are seen as progressive, flexible and more equitable toward women," says the LAT. "A competitor's search for jyugyoin"—the Japanese equivalent—"evokes respectability, security and—to some—mind-numbing boredom." 

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