Back From the Beach

Back From the Beach

Back From the Beach

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 20 2005 7:58 AM

Back From the Beach

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the latest attempt by Congress to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old Florida woman who has remained in a vegetative state for 15 years: House and Senate leaders have agreed on a last-minute bill that would allow Schiavo's parents to argue before a federal court that Schiavo's feeding tube, which was removed on Friday at the request of her husband (supported by a state-court decision), should be restored. The Washington Post runs the story below the fold and leads with news the LAT broke yesterday: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plans to expand the Security Council and revise policies on fighting terrorism and human-rights abuses. (The NYT stuffs a Reuters story.)

The compromise in the Schiavo case sends legislators, on a two-week recess, and President Bush, vacationing in Crawford, Texas, scrambling back to Washington. Emergency votes are scheduled in both houses for Sunday afternoon, but since unanimous approval is necessary for the streamlined process, parliamentary maneuvering may have to continue into Monday. Everyone notes that Republicans in the House had hoped for a broadly framed bill that might serve as a precedent for future cases; but the Senate insisted that it apply only to Schiavo. The NYT and WP mention that Republican senators were fed talking points by the leadership; Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, is widely given credit for the interventionist project, and the LAT quotes him taunting Schiavo's husband: "I don't have a whole lot of respect for a man that has treated a woman in this way. What kind of a man is he?"

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Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Bishops reminds the NYT that Pope John Paul II has publicly declared that humans in vegetative states are humans nonetheless and therefore entitled to their dignity; in fact, it was one year ago today. The NYT stands alone in attempting to assess the mood on the street, but its methods are (admittedly) unscientific: We learn that a 37-year-old dental assistant in Alabama approves of Congress' actions but that a 40-year-old CPA in Illinois doesn't.

The NYT's off-lead reports the Pentagon's plans to close a number of the country's 425 military bases, every one of which is being scrutinized as a candidate for elimination. This would be the fifth round of base closures since 1988, and while none of the NYT's sources are clear on how many bases will be closed, how much money is going to be saved, or what alternative measures might be taken, what is clear is that something big is happening. "We know we have too much. We know that we have capacity in the wrong place, either over or under," says one Defense Department official.

The WP quotes "two officials with detailed knowledge" who say that the Bush administration lied to its Asian allies (and, we find out lower down, the WP itself) by suggesting that North Korea had sold nuclear material to Libya—when in fact it was Pakistan, another of America's allies, who had made the sale. The allies were suspicious from the start, though, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now traveling through East Asia to mend fences.

Two years and a day have passed since the beginning of combat in Iraq; the WP continues its coverage from yesterday, this time dwelling on the human aspects of war on each side, with a catalog of affectionate remembrances of the 70 fallen soldiers from the D.C. area and a recap of Anthony Shadid's conversations with the "bear"-like owner of a Baghdad bookstore ("with an exuberance that matches his girth") over the course of 29 months. Conclusion: Life (and with it, tobacco-smoking) goes on. Inside the NYT, eight reporters contribute to a story about the relatively small, peaceful, and—we're told—futile protests against the Iraq war held across the country. "President Bush did not comment on the protests," says the NYT, "which seemed unlikely to have any significant effect on national policy or on the glacial movement of public opinion in America."

The LAT fronts an atmospheric account of the American intelligence services' attempts to recruit informants from within Los Angeles' large Iranian community ("Irangeles"). Exiles brag of their meetings with Bush administration officials and speculate that any one of them might use his connections to spur revolution in Iran. The LAT acknowledges, though, that boasting is sometimes just boasting.

Smallest possible victories. After receiving a tremendous response to its New York Region story last week about triumphs over mundane annoyances (refusing to call a Starbucks medium a "grande," for example), the NYT can't resist printing a sequel. Is the result a celebration of the human spirit? Judge for yourself: One person refuses to order a "child-size" bag of popcorn at the movie theater and instead asks for "the smallest possible bag." Another hates having to bus his own table at fast-food restaurants: " 'Come on Ronald, hire some people to clean the tables,' said Mr. Jacobs, 70, a retired businessman from Manhattan, adding that he now just leaves his trash at the table."