The China Monologues
The New York Times'and Los Angeles Times'leads, the Washington Post's top nonlocal story, and the Wall Street Journal's top world-wide news item all report on President Bush's talks with the president of China, noting that the Chinese government was mostly unresponsive to Bush's appeals for economic and political reforms. USA Today leads with the CIA chief's denial that his agency uses torture.
Bush's trip to China "meets low expectations," snarks the WP headline, although everyone agrees that officials had specifically warned that progress would be slow. The NYT headline emphasizes China's promise to quicken the pace of economic reforms but goes on to talk about China's "quiet resistance" to Bush's requests, quoting an American official who says, "No Chinese leader was going to act immediately under the pressure" from a foreign leader. The WSJ is more skeptical from the outset, focusing on China's unresponsiveness with the headline "Beijing Brushes Off Bush's Plea" and noting that the Chinese president said China would address U.S. concerns "as it saw fit." The WP article emphasizes that the Bush administration had predicted no breakthroughs but is promising that this trip will lay the groundwork for future progress. The LAT article emphasizes questions about how forcefully Bush pushed the "freedom agenda," noting that although administration officials may have had low expectations, human rights advocates had high ones.
Among other things, Bush wants China to crack down on movie and video game piracy and allow the market to set its foreign exchange rate. The Chinese president indicated he was aware of Bush's concerns but said he would tackle them on his own timetable. Bush told reporters that the talks were "good" and "frank" but euphemistically added that America's relationship with China is "complex." China had not released any of the people the U.S. said were unjustly imprisoned and in fact apparently rounded up new political and religious dissidents before Bush arrived specifically so they wouldn't demonstrate during his visit. Bush also attended a Protestant church service near Tiananmen Square and urged Chinese leaders not to "fear Christians who gather to worship openly."
The CIA uses "unique and innovative" methods to extract information but does not torture, said Porter Goss, the agency's director. Goss said that officially, the CIA is neutral on John McCain's proposal to ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment but that such methods have been valuable in the past. He said such methods are legal and do not include torture. McCain's proposal would restrict psychological techniques that some Republican representatives believe are necessary, such as isolating a detainee or calling him a coward. The White House has threatened to veto any bill including McCain's measure.
A related NYT front reports on the three Republican senators (including McCain) who are "making trouble for the Bush administration" by supporting the proposal.
The WP reports that money set aside so far for Hurricane Katrina relief is only "a drop in the bucket" compared with what the final tally will be. The money spent so far on removing debris, housing evacuees, and financially assisting victims already equals the money spent on Iraqi reconstruction. But the bulk of the Katrina cost will come when the government rebuilds infrastructure, including "roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, sewers, power lines, ports and levees." Estimates of the total price tag vary wildly, but everyone agrees it will be well over $100 billion.
In related news, USAT reports on post-Katrina donor fatigue, noting that people are feeling tapped out after having donated to Katrina relief. Food banks say they are seeing bare shelves as a "direct result of Katrina." Food donations are down 30 percent in New York and 50 percent in Milwaukee and Denver.
The NYT and LAT front the news that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon will leave the Likud Party to found a new centrist party with which to seek re-election. The NYT's sources are Israeli army radio and a senior Likud member, while the LAT gets a Sharon spokesman. The Israeli president will most likely dissolve the parliament and call for a new election within 90 days. Sharon has been battling dissenters within his own party who opposed his decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. But he has received "significant support" from President Bush, and early polls predict that Sharon's new party might win more seats than a Sharon-less Likud would.
Goats story … The LAT reports on the rising popularity of goat, "the other red meat." Demand for goat meat in the U.S. is growing, largely due to the millions of Americans who were born in "goat-eating nations." Even Whole Foods sells it, banking on Muslims, Latinos, and Asians, and on consumers who want to try "new and interesting meat choices."
Jay Dixit is a writer in New York. He has written for the New York Times and Rolling Stone.