Today's Papers

Aum My God!

The pledge by Indonesia’s new leader, B.J. Habibie, to hold elections within one year leads at USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times puts Indonesia on the front but leads with the dispute between California’s Gov. Wilson and the Clinton administration over how much to pay former welfare recipients for the state-supplied community service jobs they are offered when they cannot find work on their own. The feds say pay minimum wage. The state says that’s not necessary, since welfare-to-work is an assistance program not an employment program.

The election pledge is one of several reforms announced yesterday in Indonesia. The NYT lead reports that two prominent political prisoners were released late Monday night, one a labor leader jailed for inciting a riot, and the other a former legislator jailed for insulting Suharto. (The WP puts this in a separate piece deep inside.) The country’s justice minister said that the release of other political prisoners will follow soon. Also, USAT reports (and the WP implies), plans are underway for a trial of the fourteen soldiers suspected in the killings of six demonstrators during the riots that toppled Suharto. And, says USAT, the government also announced it will review its business dealings with companies owned by former Suharto. The WP describes this move in stronger terms: the beginning of “severing” the government’s close links with those companies. The LAT says that already under the new policy some small public works contracts have been canceled. The WP and LAT note that Habibie’s pronouncements came just one day before the International Monetary Fund is due to begin negotiating terms for release of the latest installment of a stalled $43 billion bailout package.

The Post says that the military is strongly supporting reform. The LAT says that Habibie does not enjoy military support and that these moves appear to ensure that he will be an “interim figure.”

A NYT front-page story reports that the Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, whose members have been implicated in the twelve-fatality nerve gassing of the Tokyo subway in 1995, had previously conducted numerous biological warfare attacks in Japan. Using rooftops and truck convoys, the group conducted, concludes the Times, at least nine germ attacks on such targets as the Japanese Legislature, the Imperial Palace, and the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka. Hearteningly, the attacks failed because the terrorists couldn’t obtain or produce germs of sufficient virulence. Dishearteningly, neither Japanese nor American authorities–including the U.S. Navy or the CIA–detected any of them.

On the WP front, ace political reporter David Broder checks in from California to report that Prop. 226, which would require unions to get annual permission from individual members to make any political use of dues, is, despite a commanding early lead in the polls, now sinking fast. The main reason, Broder reports, seems to be the huge amount of money–nearly $20 million–unions have poured into anti-226 ads. Doesn’t this kind of turnaround power of union spending pretty much drive home 226’s point?

The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to Manpower Inc.’s latest employment-outlook survey, nearly a third of U.S. businesses intend to increase staffing in the third quarter. The paper quotes the gloss provided by Manpower’s chairman: “There has never been a job market even close to this.”

OK, OK, so you already know it’s just about impossible to get any Viagra. But that’s in this country. What about, wonders an LAT front-pager, the rest of the world? The paper turns up a $42 bottle of the stuff in a Mexico City market, but it’s counterfeit. In Taiwan, the real thing goes for $60 bucks a pill on the black market. And in Turkey, the under-the-table price is up to $800 a bottle. But, says the LAT, Viagra is legal in San Marino–however, the place has been overrun by would-be Italian stallions, so good luck finding any. In a world of lurid myopia, it’s refreshing to see that a paper is still willing to put seven staffers on an overseas story.