MicroStasi

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 7 2003 6:47 AM

MicroStasi

The New York Times leads with the Army's new, Israeli-esque anti-insurgency tactics in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. The Washington Post leads with a report from Moldova documenting the disappearance of several dozen 8-mile-range missiles outfitted with radioactive "dirty bombs." The Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new political strategy: Ignore the recalcitrant legislature (on Friday it rejected his spending-cap-cum-bond proposal) and take his budgetary ideas directly to the people as initiatives.

The NYT top story profiles the town of Abu Hishma, which the United States has enclosed in 5 miles of barbed wire. Residents must enter and exit through a guarded checkpoint wearing identification tags printed in English. Only one other town has been fenced in like this, but since early November the Army has begun using tactics such as bulldozing and bombing suspects' houses and arresting their relatives. The strategy has halved the number of attacks on U.S. soldiers, though it has Iraqis muttering that they have become the new Palestinians.

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The NYT also fronts, above the fold, the death of a Taliban suspect and nine children in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan. A Taliban bomb in Kandahar missed U.S. soldiers and killed 20 Afghans. The WP and LAT run Associated Press stories inside.    

The Post's lengthy lead is a portrait of a shadow nation—Transdniester, a tiny, unrecognized breakaway country in a corner of Moldova—whose main industry is manufacturing arms for unscrupulous buyers. Several "electric engine" factories produce rocket launchers, antitank mines, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms; the country is also home to enough Soviet-era artillery shells, mines, and rockets to fill 2,500 boxcars. Much of this weaponry leaves the country via the main airport, by truck into Moldova or Ukraine, or by train to the Black Sea port of Odessa. Mid-'90s documents from a Transdniester civil defense commander show that several dozen small missiles—initially designed by the Soviets for weather research—had been outfitted with radiological warheads. Their location today is unknown.

Yesterday's NYT also ran a piece on arms proliferation. It interviewed policy experts to identify the main barriers to weapons containment: 1) the increasing tendency of nations like North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan to ignore or renounce treaties, or to sell arms for profit; 2) the inability of enforcement to keep pace with technological advance, especially in biological weapons; and 3) the reluctance of the United States and Russia to take the lead by reducing their own stockpiles and by spending money to guard vulnerable stockpiles around the world.

All three papers run inside accounts of Rep. Bill Janklow's testimony at his own manslaughter trial. Janklow, R-S.D., a former four-term governor, said that he has no memory of his Aug. 16 crash into a motorcylist. The congressman admitted to habitually running stop signs—his lawyers said he ran one at over 60 m.p.h. before wrecking—but argued that hypoglycemia from his diabetes dulled his reflexes that day. The LAT notes that Janklow suffered bleeding in his brain after the incident, which lends support to his claim of amnesia; the NYT notes that he suffered no memory loss while talking to police and rescue workers at the scene, which does not.

An AP story inside the Post reports that the National Rifle Association plans to buy a television or radio station and claim a First Amendment exemption to new campaign-finance rules prohibiting corporate- and union-sponsored lobbies from running candidate-specific ads before elections. The NRA already has 12 publications and an Internet news outlet.

The Post runs a fascinating dispatch from Berlin about a new computer program able to piece together torn and shredded East German secret police documents from the late 1980s. For three months after the Berlin Wall was breached, the Stasi destroyed 600 million pages of documents identifying spies in the West and informants in their own country. Some pages were shredded, but many were simply torn by hand. Archivists had been reconstructing an anemic 10 documents a day, but the new software—which scans the paper shreds and matches them by shape, texture, and handwriting type—will reconstruct them all in five years, if the government chooses to fund the project.

In his inaugural column, the NYT's ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, gives readers insight into his politics and his sense of mission: "By upbringing and habit, I'm a registered Democrat, but notably to the right of my fellow Democrats on Manhattan's Upper West Side. … I'd rather spend my weekends exterminating rats in the tunnels below Penn Station than read a book by either Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore. … I believe the Times is a great newspaper, but a profoundly fallible one."  

Gen. Wesley Clark has proven himself a quick study on the stump, if this Miami Herald excerpt (reprinted in today's Post) is any indication: "Asked how he would pay for his ambitious AIDS plan, Clark pointed to a bunch of red, white, and blue balloons. 'I can bring this country together,' he said. 'I believe we can come together on this, because I believe in this country. I love those colors; I love the flag.' "       

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