California Scheming

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 9 2003 6:56 AM

California Scheming

The Washington Post leads with an article on the "torrent of political spending" that is expected to top $50 million in California's gubernatorial recall election. The Los Angeles Times' lead says California Democrats are coalescing around Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as their backup candidate in the event Gov. Gray Davis loses the recall vote. The New York Times leads with a long-overdue policy reversal in South Africa's battle with the AIDS epidemic. After years of resisting a national program to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-infected citizens, the South African government finally agreed to develop a plan to offer the life-extending drugs through the country's public health system. Both the WP and LAT stuff their coverage of the announcement inside.

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The WP leadexpects everyone from Indian tribes to unions to go all out in support of their candidates during the next nine weeks before California's Oct. 7 recall vote, driving the money race to "amazing extremes." On top of the "independent expenditure campaigns" that will be waged by special-interest groups, the candidates themselves will have boatloads to spend on the race. Since Gov. Davis is not technically a candidate, he faces no legal limit on the amount of money he can raise from individual contributors. And Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger should have no problem staying toe-to-toe with Davis in funds, since he'll be able to dip into his own deep, deep pockets.

While Democrats plan to fight hard to win the recall vote, they're hedging their bets, according to the LAT, by rallying around Lt. Gov. Bustamante as their second-choice candidate, should Davis lose. While the LAT sees Bustamante emerging as the consensus candidate, the NYT senses more internal party strife over whether to throw the party's full weight behind Davis or to attempt a two-pronged strategy by also backing Bustamante. According to the LAT, polls show Bustamante trailing Schwarzenegger by just a few points. Meanwhile, another Democrat, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, has refused to bow out of the race despite urgings from party leaders to clear the field for Bustamante.

A LAT piece chronicles Arnie's first rough day on the campaign trail. On ABC's Good Morning America he ducked questions about tax hikes and gay marriage ("I don't want to get into that right now"). Then, on NBC's Today Show, he managed to avoid giving any specifics about his plans to turn the state around. When Matt Lauer asked if he'd disclose his tax returns, Schwarzenegger fiddled with his earpiece and pretended not to hear the question. Even some Republicans—at least one quoted in the article—are beginning to wonder whether they may have misestimated the Austrian Oak's brains-to-brawn ratio, or perhaps just his political readiness. 

The NYT off-leads,and the LAT fronts, a $55-million offer by the Archdiocese of Boston to settle 542 outstanding sexual abuse lawsuits. Each plaintiff will have 30 days in which to decide whether to accept the offer, and the settlement will take effect only if 95 percent of them agree to the terms. The proposal comes just a week after the installation of a new Boston archbishop, Sean Patrick O'Malley. The WP stuffs its Associated Press coverage of the story inside.

The WP runs an article on a new face for American public diplomacy in the Arab world: a glossy Arabic magazine called Hi that is backed by the State Department and is now available on newsstands across the Middle East for $2 a copy. The magazine is a part of an effort to make American values seem more appealing to young Arabs in the potential-terrorist demographic consisting of 18-to-35-year-olds. The premiere issue, which came out last month, featured stories on yoga, sandboarding, jazz singer Norah Jones, and marriage counseling, as well as a cover piece on the experiences of Arab students at American colleges. Critics say an apolitical pop magazine misses the point: Young Arabs like American culture plenty; it's American foreign policy that they can't stand. How's the magazine selling? Current circulation is only 50,000, but the State Department hopes to eventually sell five times that number.

A NYT front-pager rehashes the rift between Pentagon and State over the role of American peacekeepers in Liberia. The headline in the print edition reads, "Pressure Up, Washington Split on Libera," a change from the headline available earlier in the evening on the Web: "U.S. Facing Rising Pressure for Liberia Role." The latter headline more accurately reflects the contents of the article, which focuses on international pressure from Kofi Annan and several of our European and African allies, who want to see U.S. troops on the ground in Monrovia securing the capital and opening up corridors for humanitarian relief. As for the split in Washington, the article implies that the Pentagon wants to keep the 2,300 American Marines in the area out at sea, while the State Department wants to see them on the ground. While there have indeed been interdepartmental disagreements over American policy on Liberia, the NYT isn't able to scrape together the quotes in this article to justify its claims that "the rift in the Bush administration is reaching a climax." The one State Department official that the Times gets on record is a bit cagey about Secretary of State Colin Powell's position. The most decisive thing the official says on record is, "What the secretary supports is meeting the humanitarian goals in the best way." That could mean inserting 2,000 Marines, as some foreign nations are calling on the U.S. to do, or it could mean providing Nigerian peacekeepers with low-level logistical support, which is what the Pentagon seems to want.

The WP is the only paper to pick up on yesterday's revelation in Newsday that in 2001 Pentagon officials met secretly with Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-discredited Iranian arms merchant who had been a key middleman in the Iran-Contra scandal. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged yesterday that the meeting took place but said that nothing came of it. What the WP apparently finds disturbing is last night's disclosure by a senior defense official that a second "unplanned, unscheduled," and apparently unsanctioned encounter occurred between Ghorbanifar and a Pentagon official after the first meeting. It's not clear what might have been discussed with the Iranian arms merchant, but the WP insinuates that the meetings might have been part of Pentagon efforts to conduct diplomacy in Iran behind the State Department's back.

A NYT exclusive reveals that classified findings of engineering experts in the Defense Intelligence Agency discredit the Bush administration's claims that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq in April and May were mobile biological weapons labs. The team of engineers has come to believe that the trailers were instead most likely used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, as several Iraqi scientists had earlier claimed. Though this is not the first time elements in the intelligence community have disputed the official claims about the trailers—the State Department contested the claims in a June 2 memorandum—it is a new revelation that experts within the Defense Intelligence Agency disagree with the findings.

In addition to being the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura, Joshua Foer is the author of Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, which grew out of a story he wrote for Slate.

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