Ryan's Song

Ryan's Song

Ryan's Song

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 11 2003 7:03 AM

Ryan's Song

The New York Times leads with the response to North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush group condemned the move publicly but stepped gingerly behind the scenes, quietly seeking diplomatic solutions. The Washington Post leads with President Bush's big domestic initiative—his $670 billion tax cut proposal—which has some GOP senators up in arms. And the Los Angeles Times top non-local story is on the four men in Illinois whose death sentences were commuted by Republican Gov. George Ryan.

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The effort to form a coherent response to North Korea's treaty pullout has left the Bush camp in disarray, according to the NYT lead. "You step out of a meeting on this and you realize that you've heard 12 ideas and no consensus," says an unnamed foreign policy official. The WP says the engagement vs. isolation debate has "led to near paralysis in policymaking." Public comments on Friday from Messrs. Powell and Cheney were vague and noncommittal. Some Republicans object to the quietude of the Bush approach—which John McCain went so far as to call Clintonian. Meanwhile, for reasons that still aren't exactly clear, North Korean reps continue to meet with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. 

McCain and others also took a swipe at Bush domestically, knocking the president's tax cut package, the Post reports in its lead. The elimination of the dividend tax appears to be the major sticking point, as the WP counts five GOP senators who have "voiced serious doubts." But Bush is not expected to yield. "In 2001, the president was disciplined enough not to compromise unnecessarily," says a Republican strategist. "I think they'll be just as smart this time."

On Friday, Illinois Gov. Ryan pardoned four men who have each done at least 12 years on death row, according to the LAT's top national story. "I believe a manifest injustice has occurred," he said. The four were allegedly beaten and tortured into confessing to crimes they didn't commit. The NYT predicts that Ryan may commute the sentences of all of his state's 150 death row inmates before he leaves office on Monday.

The number of new death row inmates nationwide in 2001 (155) was the lowest since 1973, a NYT fronter reports. The country is still awfully fond of the death penalty, yet it is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the way it is administered. "We're in a period of national reconsideration," says an Amherst political science professor. "What was played out in Illinois will be played out across the nation." The Times reminds us that the Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1973 only to reinstate it three years later.

The NYT fronts some exceedingly bad job news for December, as payrolls in non-farm businesses dropped by 101,000. The Labor Department also adjusted the numbers for November, when 88,000 (rather than 40,000) jobs were shed. The news suggests a deep well of pessimism amongst execs, who refused to add full-time workers even though other indicators (like productivity) held steady.

The Supreme Court has accepted what the NYT calls its "most important case in years on the free speech rights of companies." The California Supreme Court voted 4-3 to reinstate a suit brought against Nike, accusing the company of making false statements about its overseas business practices. The case turns on whether Nike's claims can be considered political or commercial. "Under the Supreme Court's precedents," Linda Greenhouse writes in Times, "advertising along with other speech deemed 'commercial' occupies a lower rung of the First Amendment, permitting it to be regulated or even prohibited if necessary to prevent the public from being misled."

The NYT runs a piece in "Arts & Ideas" on "Give a Party for the Party," a recently rediscovered 15-page laugh-riot publication distributed by the Communist Party in the 1930's. Party indoctrination can be great fun, the booklet suggests and cheap, too. "Among the suggested high jinks: cutting editorials from The Daily Worker into little pieces and having guests compete to see who can put them back together fastest; passing around pictures of party leaders and having guests try to name them correctly; holding a mock convention on, say, nonintervention in Spain."

Finally, the LAT has breaking news on John Quigley, the tree-sitter who had made his home in an ancient oak since Nov. 1. He was told by an L.A. Superior Court judge to get the hell down out of there, and late Friday night that court order was enforced. Quigley was finally grounded. He had chained himself to the branches in an effort to disrupt Santa Clara Valley's development boom. But the developer played hardball, erecting fences around the tree on Thursday so as to cut off the modern-day Lorax from food and supplies. He was served his eviction notice Friday by a man on a fire ladder.

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