Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
The Washington Post leads, the Los Angeles Times off-leads, and the NYT surprisingly goes inside with news that the finance ministers of the Group of 8 industrialized nations formally agreed to cancel at least $40 billion of debt owed to international agencies by the world's poorest, mostly African, nations. The New York Times leads with news that the FBI has relented and will allow national intelligence director John Negroponte to pick the bureau's third-ranking official—an associate director for intelligence.
In total, international lenders are owed roughly $55.6 billion. Under the G8 agreement, poor nations' debt to the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund would be wiped out and wealthier nations would replenish the reserves of the organizations. The United States has agreed to pay up to $1.75 billion in compensation to international lenders over the next 10 years. Fourteen countries in Africa (the full list) and four in Latin America are eligible for immediate debt forgiveness, and an additional 20 countries could qualify over the next two years. The WP explains that previous plans offered only partial relief and were criticized for forcing some countries to spend more on debt service than on health and education. Still, the agreement does not cover all poor debtor nations, and required serious compromise as London and Washington were split over how to handle the debts owed to the lending organizations *. Gordon Brown, the Brit behind the debt-relief effort, said the total size of the debt-relief package could eventually reach $55 billion. The deal is a big win for Britain, which assumes the G-8 presidency next month.
Technically, Mr. Negroponte will be choosing the associate director along with FBI director Robert Mueller, but apparently it's a huge deal that someone from outside the agency will have any say in hiring. The FBI is bowing to pressure from the White House, Congress, and more specifically from the Silberman-Robb commission, which set forth a laundry list of criticism of and recommendations for the bureau's intelligence gathering. As envisioned by the commission, the new director would supervise efforts to create a domestic security agency within the bureau—one of the bureau's most controversial tasks. Many critics think that in light of the 9/11 intelligence blunders, the bureau should no longer have authority over domestic intelligence. There's no word yet on who will fill the post or whether or not the candidate will be hired from inside the FBI.
The WP off-leads with a report that according to its own investigation, although the Bush administration claims that federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects and half as many convictions, only 39 people have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes. The WP analyzed the Justice Department's list of terrorism prosecutions and concluded that most people on the list had been convicted of minor crimes that had nothing to do with terrorism—making false statements and violating immigration law. According to the WP, among the 361 people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after the 9/11 attacks, there was no found connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them, and of the 39 convicted of terrorism-related crimes, only 14 had clear links to al-Qaida. The chief of the Justice counterterrorism unit explained that prosecutors often use lesser charges when they are not confident they can prove larger crimes, and that many defendants who were prosecuted for minor crimes provided valuable, nonpublic information. Watch this space as President Bush pushes for renewal of the Patriot Act.
The NYT fronts a story about the impact of longer life-expectancy rates on Social Security. Americans who turn 65 this year can expect to live, on average, until they are 83—that's four and a half years longer than the typical 65-year-old could expect in 1940. By 2040, an average 65-year-old will live to 85. The problem, however, is not just that Americans are living longer; they're also retiring earlier. Although some suggest the only way to offset the trend is to raise the retirement age, that solution couldn't be any less popular, and while policy hacks engaged in the debate may plan on working well into their 80s, one pollster remarked that "out in the country, most people don't look forward to working forever." Another pollster agreed: "Forty might be the new 30, but they don't necessarily believe that 70 is the new 65."
The NYT also fronts a report that the United States is seeking international support to persuade the newly elected Iraqi government to be more inclusive of "minorities" (read: Sunnis). With the new government significantly less susceptible to U.S. pressure than its predecessor, the Iraqi Governing Council, the United States had to go to Europe, the U.N., and the Arab world for support. Although it's unclear how successful the international offensive will be, one thing's certain—the U.S. could not push for more Sunni involvement alone. One "Western diplomat" explained that unlike the IGC: "This is not an American puppet government anymore. It's standing up to the United States because it feels it has been elected and has legitimacy."
From Iraq: At least 34 Iraqis and two American Marines were killed in violence on Friday night and Saturday, and a series of Marine war plane and helicopter air strikes in the western desert killed about 40 insurgents. A former member of the Wolf Brigade, an elite Iraqi commando unit, entered the brigade headquarters in eastern Baghdad and detonated explosives strapped to his body, killing three soldiers and one other person. Elsewhere in Iraq, gunmen south of Baghdad surrounded a minibus carrying construction workers and shot 11 of them to death.
The LAT fronts another story from Iraq, this one about the booming wedding business since the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Although the number of weddings dropped in the first few months of the U.S. invasion, they've doubled since then. Wedding fever seems to have gripped even those who aren't getting married: One of the most popular shows on Iraqi TV is a reality program that follows couples as they plan their weddings. Those interviewed were split on whether the surge in nuptials was a result of better job prospects or increased desperation.
Everyone fronts news that Afleet Alex won the Belmont Stakes, thereby staking claim to two-thirds of the Triple Crown; the 3-year-old colt won the Preakness Stakes but lost the Kentucky Derby. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown.
What's good for the goose: As evidence that men don't have a monopoly on the midlife crisis, according to a story in the NYT Sunday Styles section, women are having their own crises and buying their own corresponding sports cars. In fact, more women of a certain age are chucking their stodgy family-mobiles and opting for racy, sexy cars that scream midlife. One woman seemed to be ahead of the game. At only 41, she traded in her sedan and got a tattoo at the base of the neck. The tattoo? A "Z" to match the Nissan 350Z in which she's now cruising around.
Lea Rappaport Geller is a writer in Los Angeles.