Unsettling Developments

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 20 2005 6:14 AM

Unsettling Developments

The Washington Post leads with the announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Israeli and Palestinian officials have agreed to demolish, rather than leave intact, the hundreds of homes Israeli settlers in Gaza will vacate later this summer. It was the first accord between the two sides in many months, with Rice's participation suggesting that the United States has a considerable stake in a smooth resolution to the highly fraught withdrawal process. The New York Times leads with the victory of the anti-Syrian alliance in the Lebanese parliamentary elections. The coalition, headed by the son of assassinated Prime Minster Rafik Hariri, won a majority of the parliament's 128 seats to become the first group in 30 years to take control of the government without Syrian approval.

The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at how jihadist training camps have become increasingly difficult for counterterrorism authorities to locate and neutralize. The new camps, many of which are in Pakistan, no longer operate in plain view and tend to be smaller and more difficult to track. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a wire story on the widespread violence in Iraq yesterday, including the bombing of a popular Baghdad restaurant that killed at least 23 civilians, an attack on a police station that killed eight, and smaller attacks across the country that killed an additional 14. In late-breaking news, another 10 police recruits were killed, and 50 other were injured, when a car bomb exploded this morning in the Kurdish city of Irbil. USA Today leads with the lackluster results of government efforts to train Arabic speakers. Existing programs, says the article, are poorly organized and too slow in producing proficiency. (See Slate's recent take on learning Arabic here).

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Some Israeli officials advocated simply abandoning the 1,200-plus homes (1,600 according to the sharper NYT and LAT coverage), but Palestinian officials deemed the upper middle-class villas unsuitable to the needs of the impoverished Gaza population, many of whom have families that "number 20 to 30 relatives" (NYT). Moreover, settlers have objected to the idea of Palestinians living in the houses they built. For their part, Israeli officials did not want to leave troops in the area to preside for months over the demolition process, saying they'd be too vulnerable to attack. The solution was to pay Palestinians to dismantle the homes themselves—a process that could cost up to $60 million.

The new, sleeker terrorist training paradigm has meant increased recruitment for the al-Qaida-associated groups, several of which are tolerated and even relied upon for military support by Pakistan's government. The result, in the words of one senior U.S. official, has been camps that are "flourish[ing] as never before," even while Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been portrayed as an ally in the fight against terrorism. One FBI official said the policing of these groups has become "exponentially harder than it was even just a few years ago."

The LAT fronts an interesting look at the preparations liberal and conservative groups are making for a possible Supreme Court confirmation battle.  Should Chief Justice William Rehnquist retire soon—as some suspect he might—both sides will launch large-scale campaigns to sway public opinion for or against President Bush's new nominee. The article likens the potential PR war to "an extended championship bout" and quotes one conservative campaigner as saying, "The selection of a chief justice is approaching the contours of a general election."

For Watergate and Deep Throat buffs, the Post fronts a column one feature on "The Two Lives of Mark Felt." The famous Watergate source is shown to be a shrewd careerist bent on taking down the Nixon administration, which he saw as encroaching on the FBI's sovereign territory after the death of J. Edgar Hoover.

The NYT fronts this week's recall of one company's surgically implanted defibrillator. After the death of a 21-year-old college student who had one, Guidant Corp. decided to recall all 29,000 of the devices, which are in danger of short-circuiting (this AP article says 50,000). People who have the device must decide if they want to undergo the potentially risky removal surgery.

Both USAT and the LAT run fronts on tomorrow's launch of the solar sail, the first space expedition funded by a large group of hobbyists/enthusiasts. The sail moves by absorbing the energy of photons that slam into its 0.0002-inch-thick Mylar surface—a process that makes for very slow, but very consistent, acceleration. Over a period of years, the windmill-like craft could reach speeds in excess of 100,000 mph—all without a drop of fuel.

Hard to Swallow: Reuters tells of a bizarre contest at a pub in southwest England where participants vie for title of World Nettle-Eating Champion. This year's winner, Ed Brooks of Wootton Fitzpaine, downed 48-feet of the stinging plant (the number indicates the cumulative length of stems from which the leaves are eaten). "We've never had any serious injuries," said the pub's landlord, "but we do have ambulance men standing by, just in case."

David Sarno is the founder of Lighthaus Inc, which develops interactive storytelling for news, education, and health care. He was a technology and culture writer at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 to 2013.