Today's Papers

Gone Fission

USA Today

, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all lead with India’s surprise nuclear tests, which are also the subject of a lengthy WSJ front-page leader. The Los Angeles Times puts this development just above the fold, but leads with the California Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the admissibility of DNA evidence, provided prosecutors show that correct procedures were used.

The NYT and WP note that Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who announced the tests yesterday, came to power two months ago as the head of a Hindu nationalist party that has advocated the embrace of nuclear weaponry as a vehicle for achieving great-power status. The Times reports that basically, within India the tests met with neither political dissent nor Gandhian pacifism.

Most everywhere else was different. The papers report that President Clinton was “deeply distressed” (but, says USAT, he will still make his planned trip to India and Pakistan later this year). Japan, Australia and New Zealand condemned the tests, report the papers, and Japan–India’s largest foreign aid source–and the U.S. are considering suspending aid to the country. Although the amount of direct U.S. aid is minuscule, the Times and Journal explain that the Clinton administration is considering invoking a 1994 federal law that would, besides cutting off aid, also bar billions in American bank loans and World Bank and IMF aid. The NYT adds Britain and Germany to the ranks of those not amused.

And there was Pakistan, whose Foreign Minister Ayub Khan responded, reports the NYT, by hinting that his country would consider conducting its own nuclear tests. The papers all note the widespread fear that the tests could signify heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and even a nuclear arms race between the two countries. Neither country, the papers note, has signed the treaties that constrain nuclear tests. Most of the papers observe that many Indians feel the tests were really designed to send a message to China, especially, as the Times, the WP, and the Journal report, since the Indian Defense Minister said just last week that China, not Pakistan, is India’s “potential enemy number one.”

The Times nicely captures the bizarre scene of the Indian announcement, in which Vajpayee ignored the likely geo-political shockwaves and spoke instead of measured yields and expected values and offered his warm congratulations to the scientists and engineers responsible. The NYT and Post observe that one of the three tests was of a thermonuclear device. The Post reminds the reader that is a hydrogen bomb. The Times and WP say that despite spy satellites, the Indian tests seemed to have caught the U.S. and the other established members of the nuclear club by surprise.

Everybody’s off-lead is Janet Reno’s decision to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations that Labor Secretary Alexis Herman peddled influence and was involved in an illegal campaign contribution scheme. This is the seventh time Reno has asked for an independent counsel. The NYT editorial page wishes Reno’s sensitivity to conflicts of interest and campaign fund-raising improprieties extended to “the broader and more important matter of the 1996 presidential fund-raising scandals.” A Wall Street Journal editorial, “Democrats and Coverups,” makes the same point.

The LAT front says there’s a limit to how big these mega-mergers can get: $250 billion. That’s how much, the paper figures, it would cost for General Electric, the nation’s largest company, to buy Microsoft, the second largest.

Buried fairly deep inside the metro edition of the NYT is a very brief item reporting that a defense contractor was sentenced in a procurement case. What did he do? He sold defective parts for the cable system used to catch U.S. Navy planes as they land on aircraft carriers. When these cables fail, aircrews plunge to watery graves and flight deck personnel quite literally get cut in half. What was the executive’s sentence? Three months in federal prison (Club Fed, no doubt) and three months of house arrest. Do you think that punishment fits that crime? Another question: It’s bad enough that the law tends to downplay these cases, but why don’t the papers make more of being willing to kill service members to make a profit? Maybe it’s because they’re too into profit and not enough into service members.

Incidentally that WSJ editorial “Democrats and Coverups” makes the slyest reference yet to the Monica problem. The piece is ostensibly about Whitewater and the Web Hubbell tapes and the House Democratic counteroffensive vs. Rep. Dan Burton. But it includes this: “Now, we don’t doubt that it’s possible to wave all this away as partisan tit for tat. Problem is, serious Democrats know that this scandal is about a lot more than tat.”