Bachelet Party

Bachelet Party

Bachelet Party

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 16 2006 6:05 AM

Bachelet Party

The Washington Post's top nonlocal story—fronted by everyone but USA Today—is Michelle Bachelet's victory in Chile's presidential election, the latest in a string of wins for left-leaning candidates down south. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a trend story: States are increasingly adopting strict policies aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants. USA Today trumpets news that the number of soldiers wounded in Iraq fell by more than a quarter in 2005. The Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox, playing catchup to the Sunday papers, is topped by the ongoing fallout from the CIA's apparently unsuccessful attempt to knock off Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant with an airstrike in Pakistan. The New York Times leads with disastrous problems with the new federal prescription drug benefit program.

Bachelet, the latest leader of a coalition between Socialists and Christian Democrats that has ruled Chile since the fall of General Augusto Pinochet in 1990, "is the first woman in the region to win an election without an assist from the coattails of a more famous spouse," the NYT notes. All the papers recount her remarkable rise to power. The daughter of an air force general who died in prison under Pinochet's right-wing dictatorship, she was persecuted and spent time in exile in East Germany before returning to Chile to practice medicine. A divorcee and a professed agnostic who has had a child out of wedlock, Bachelet cuts an iconoclastic figure in a devoutly Catholic country, but she projects a "soft, motherly image" that won over voters, the WP says. But the NYT, in its standout front-page profile, hints at a tougher side: Bachelet studied military strategy upon entering politics and eventually served as the country's defense minister. "The symbolism of her leadership of the institution that had killed her father appealed greatly to Chileans trying to reconcile with their bitter past," the story says.

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The new president referred to her own suffering in an eloquent victory speech, quoted heavily all around: "Violence entered my life, destroying what I loved," Bachelet said, according to the WP. "Because I was a victim of hate, I have dedicated my life to turn that hate into understanding, into tolerance and, why not say it, into love."

While everyone else focuses on Bachelet's big day, the WSJ takes a step back and divines something of a leftist resurgimiento in Latin America. Though Chile's socialists tend to shade light pink, favoring free trade and close ties with the United States, the rulers of Venezuela and Bolivia have taken a "more radical and populist" path, attacking the United States and turning to Cuba's Fidel Castro for guidance. The next domino to fall may be Peru, where a fire-breathing former army officer, the leader of a failed 2000 coup attempt, is now leading public opinion polls ahead of April's presidential election.

"Frustrated by congressional inaction and pushed by rising anger at home," the LAT reports, states are increasingly taking matters into their own hands when it comes to immigration issues. That's not good news for illegal aliens. Arizona, for instance, has cut off public funding for day-laborer centers and is talking of sending National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. Other states are debating proposals to cut off public benefits to undocumented workers. It's unclear, though, whether these efforts will have much real effect: California's Proposition 187, adopted during the last nativist vogue more than a decade ago, has largely been blocked by the courts. But the story suggests that symbolic victories are exactly what advocates are looking for, as "some states are openly striving to develop a reputation for being tough on illegal immigrants in hopes of discouraging any more from settling."

If the NYT's lead story sounds familiar, that's because the WP catalogued the same set of Medicare ills on Saturday. To recap: The feds have made a hash of implementing the gigantic new prescription drug entitlement that went into effect on January 1; some poor people aren't getting their drugs or are being hit with big co-payments, and state governments are being forced to step in and fill the funding gap. Now the Bush administration is twisting the arms of private insurers to assure no one goes without needed medicine while the mess is sorted out.

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USAT's casualties story is intriguing, but it leaves some questions unanswered. Even as the number of soldiers reported wounded in combat in Iraq dropped sharply, the number killed remained almost exactly the same, at 844. Why? The piece repeats Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's theory that insurgent attacks have grown deadlier but more infrequent. Is this true, or could it be that something has changed in the way the army counts casualties? TP can't help but be reminded of the craze for "downgrading" that hit some police departments in the 1990s: Unsolved felonies were reclassified as misdemeanors, and statistics showed falling crime, but the murder rate stayed the same, because dead bodies were impossible to lose in the paperwork shuffle.

In other Iraq news, the NYT reports that the army is stepping up efforts to train a professional local police force, assigning more than 2,000 military police officers to act as advisers. Senior American commanders, the paper says, "have vowed to make 2006 'the year of the police,' " a change of pace from last year, which was lawlessness-themed.

The WP fronts an outraged feature on the legal plight of an NYU graduate student convicted of terrorism charges. The man, who is not religious and is married to an evangelical Christian, simply acted as a translator for a lawyer defending Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman. When government prosecutors charged the lawyer with helping Rahman to smuggle messages from prison to his followers, they charged the translator, too.

USAT has a pair of Hurricane Katrina-related stories on its front page today. Returning to a story it's followed, the paper reports that local prosecutors are impaneling a grand jury to investigate reports that doctors euthanized hospital patients during the hot, chaotic days after the flood. There's a separate "Cover Story" about storm-related lawsuits: Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of them, and they are moving slowly.

The WP off-leads a lengthy recounting of former Washington mayor and current City Councilman Marion Barry's ongoing drug-abuse woes. Barry, most famous for being busted smoking crack with a "model" in a Washington hotel, seems once again to be enjoying the night life at age 69; a recent drug test, ordered by a court as part of an unrelated tax case, came up positive for cocaine again. As the 1960s generation ages, drug addiction is an increasingly common problem among the elderly, the story says.

The LAT fronts news of the successful end to NASA's "audacious" seven-year Stardust mission. In 2004, the probe intercepted the tail of a comet, picking up particles. Yesterday it finally returned to Earth. Scientists hope the dust it brought back will reveal secrets about the universe. No one else fronts the news, but the NYT splashes an array of Stardust-related photos across the top of its front.

Another for Chatterbox's aptronyms file … Quote of the day, from the WP's Marion Barry story:

"People start thinking, 'I'm different. I can still do it. Look, I'm mayor. I can get elected to the city council. I can control my use…' You might start using a little bit here, a little bit there. And then it gets out of control."

—Psychiatry professor and late-life drug-abuse expert Frederic Blow.