Stages of Grief

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 3 2003 9:10 AM

Stages of Grief

The New York Times leads with the rise of lawsuits against foreign countries, foreign officials, and multinational companies for human rights abuses. The Washington Post leads with the increasing lawlessness in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Los Angeles Times goes with hard news rather than a trend story: Gov. Gray Davis' signing of the California budget, and the budget's role in October's recall election.

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The NYT notes that three federal laws—one from 1789 and two from the 1990s—allow lawsuits against foreigners, but that collecting on judgments requires an act of Congress, which is rare. (Congress takes the money from frozen foreign assets, or, in one case, the U.S. Treasury.) Critics, like the Bush administration, argue that such torts can undermine diplomatic negotiations. They say the courts, in judging right and wrong in a particular case, fail to see the larger strategic picture, in which U.S. interests are best determined by weighing pros and cons. Advocates note that court judgments are important symbolically and that their number will only increase, so the government had better adapt.

The Post's Kandahar report opens with the assassination last month of three Muslim clerics who publicly dissociated themselves from the Taliban's version of Islamic jihad. The violence in Kandahar, the piece explains, has reached critical mass, scaring off most of the non-governmental staff who were helping to rebuild. The Post attributes the increasing violence to regional warlords, Taliban soldiers from Pakistan, and local peasants paid by the Taliban. It paints a disturbing picture of a largely anti-Taliban city terrorized by outsiders. Nevertheless, the author's assertion that chaos in Kandahar "has ominous implications" because the city "has long been the trendsetter for the rest of the country" is not supported by the rest of the article, which leaves the impression that Kandahar is uniquely vulnerable because of its proximity to the Pakistan border. A Post editorial page praises President Bush's recent decision to increase aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion but warns that the country needs guns in addition to butter—specifically, the nationwide expansion of a NATO peacekeeping force now setting up shop in Kabul.

The LAT notes that California's $99 billion budget—signed a month into the new fiscal year—contains about $15 billion in borrowing, about $8 billion of which must be repaid next year. Last year Gov. Davis got the budget he requested from the legislature and then cut $235 million with his line-item veto. This year, Republicans in the legislature blocked his requested income- and sales-tax increases, and Davis cut virtually no line items. After the signing, Davis bragged about the vital services he saved from the miserly GOP, while the GOP blamed the budget gap on Davis' mismanagement.

Both the Post and NYT run above-the-fold photos of Udai and Qusai Hussein's funeral. The NYT's front-page story emphasizes, in its lede graf and headline, the chants of "Death to America" shouted by the Hussein brothers' relatives after the bodies were laid to rest. But the story goes on to note that the funeral was mostly peaceful and orderly, which is the emphasis given by the Post's brief inside report. (The datelines and sourcing indicate that the NYT's reporter was at the funeral, while the Post's was not.) The NYT piece reveals that the U.S. decided only yesterday morning to release the brothers' bodies to the Hussein family, on condition that the funeral size be limited. The relatives complained that the bodies were too decomposed to wrap in shrouds, as dictated by Muslim law.

The NYT fronts a feature on Washington state's housing program for sex offenders. Instead of releasing offenders onto the streets or placing them in solitary apartments, state prisons have begun to concentrate the released offenders in special apartment buildings. This arrangement makes it easier for them to find housing (or rather, it transfers the burden to participating landlords, who must fight their neighbors to establish the building), helps corrections officers keep an eye on their parolees, and encourages offenders to snitch on neighbors who relapse. (The Times piece, which focuses on an apartment building in Spokane, Wash., does not mention two of the security features planned for sex-offender buildings being readied in the Seattle area: GPS tracking bracelets and one-on-one security detail during commutes to work. Cost: $700,000 per offender.)

The Post fronts an interesting feature on the psychological dilemmas faced by Microsoft millionaires, pegged to the company's decision last month to discontinue employee stock options. To put the Microsofties' wealth into perspective, the piece includes these two staggering statistics: From 1994-2002, company employees exercised nearly $30 billion in options, which, if distributed evenly to the 3 million residents of the Puget Sound, would amount to $10,000 per person; in 1999 alone, 8,000 employees cashed in options worth about $8 billion, which equals 150 percent of the annual payroll for Boeing, Washington state's largest employer. The article chronicles the evolving mindset of the company's nouveau riche, which can be reduced to Kübler-Ross-like Stages of Adjustment to Sudden Wealth: 1) narcissistic indulgence; 2) disorientation, arrogance, and mistrust; 3) philanthropy and volunteering.

Readers of the NYT wedding announcements may happen across the name of a newlywed who several years ago made quite a name for herself by chucking her hubby out of their home. "After a public battle over alimony, the house … and even dog support," the Times writes, "[Donna] Hanover said she never expected to fall in love again.

Michael Brus, a former Slate assistant editor, is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. He is on the clinical faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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