Soldiering On

Soldiering On

Soldiering On

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 28 2002 7:32 AM

Soldiering On

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with more U.S. troop deployments to the Persian Gulf. The buildup is intended to increase diplomatic pressure on Iraq while preparing for a quick response should the order to invade come from the White House. The New York Times leads with (and the others front) North Korea's announcement that it will expel nuclear inspectors and restart a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.

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"If the president is going to decide to go to war early next year, a lot of very visible, real world things have to happen," a U.S. official says in the LAT lead, referring to the proliferation of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. The LAT is alone in providing the hard numbers: 25,000 troops will join the 50,000 already in place at bases and on ships in and around the gulf. An additional 25,000 will be on the way soon. The NYT dedicates a fronter to the activation of the Comfort, a 1,000-bed hospital ship. "Hospital ships make a profound political statement," the Navy's surgeon general says in the NYT. "It's a national statement that we're serious about this mission."

The WP observes that the buildup thus far has been low-key, perhaps to soften the impression that the Bush administration "prejudged" the outcome of the U.N. weapons inspections. The new deployment order heralds a less reticent approach. ("The next big thing we're doing is high optics," says an official in the LAT.) The final count after the buildup will be smaller than the half-million assembled for the '91 conflict.

The Bush administration says it is not considering military action against North Korea, according to the NYT lead, despite that country's apparent violation of a nonproliferation agreement it signed with the U.S. in 1994. In a letter to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, the North Koreans said basically that since they've decided to end their freeze on nuclear weapons, there's really no point in having inspectors around anymore. Just the same, the IAEA said, the inspectors would prefer to stay. The North Koreans are expected to insist, meaning "the world [will have] absolutely no eyes—no cameras, no inspections," says a Korea expert at Georgetown in the NYT. "The real red line is if they start doing something with that reprocessing plant. If they start tampering with those cans, everyone knows the time line is six months." It would take that long after the lab is reopened to start producing weapons-grade plutonium.  

Everybody fronts the suicide bombing in the Chechen capital of Grozny that killed 46 and wounded at least 76 others. A truck and a jeep, laden with explosives, somehow gained access to Russian government headquarters, which the NYT describes as "deliberately set on a barren stretch of land and divided into sectors walled off by concrete fences." "The rebels have proved in their own way that they can do anything they want," says a Chechnya expert in the WP. "It's very bad for Putin because he had hoped to say something about triumph and now he has this." Two months ago almost 800 hostages were freed from a Moscow theater after it was taken by Chechen militants. The gas used to subdue the guerrillas killed 129 of the hostages.

The NYT fronts a new study that demonstrates the futility of so-called "high stakes testing" in the schools. The study shows that while students have improved on the state exams themselves, their performance on other measures of academic achievement, such as the SAT, tends to suffer. "In theory, high-stakes tests should work, because they advance the notions of high standards and accountability," says the study's lead author. "But students are being trained so narrowly because of it, they are having a hard time branching out and understanding general problem-solving." The study found, most disconcertingly, that when states tie test performance to graduation, fewer students get diplomas. The authors determined that administrators, under the gun to increase scores, often pressure the underachieving—or slower—kids to drop out.

Finally, along with all the other detritus—the unopened packs of baseball cards, the diet pills, the X-men chess set—the town of Bridgeville, Calif., was sold on eBay on Friday, the LAT reports. The "hard-luck hamlet" (LAT's phrase) 260 miles north of San Francisco fetched a high anonymous bid of $1.77 million, sight unseen. And for what? "All the roofs need to be replaced. There's fungus and dry-rot everywhere," says a local real estate agent. "We have hit bottom," says one of the 20 remaining residents, "and there is nowhere to go but up." Unlike other eBay transactions, this one is not binding, meaning the buyer can still come to his/her senses. "I'm sure it's somebody's imagination that's running away with them," says another realtor, who called the winning bid "ridiculous."

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