Today's Papers

Excess Baggage

The blow-by-blow of the Mideast peace talks continues to dominate, leading at USA Today, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. This is also the top international news story at the Los Angeles Times, which leads instead with word that bilingual education continues to thrive in California’s public schools despite passage this year of a statewide initiative substantially restricting it.

The big peace talk development yesterday, the papers report, is that Benjamin Netanyahu warned Yasser Arafat that he would take his delegation home if his country’s West Bank security demands were not met. The most pressing demands appear to be for the Palestinians to repeal the PLO charter’s provision calling for the destruction of Israel, and to turn over to the Israelis a number of suspected terrorists. The NYT, WP, and LAT report that things had unwound so much that the Israel delegation had packed their bags and some of their luggage was transferred to the airport.

It’s not clear from the coverage why the Israelis didn’t make good on their threat. The NYT quotes an American official saying it was just the Israelis’ “childish ploy,” intended for domestic Israeli consumption. The LAT notes that both settlers and the right wing of Netanyahu’s own party are warning him not to roll over. The WP cites this factor and adds another: Netanyahu, who is inclined toward GOP sentiments, knows how much a breakthrough before the congressional elections would mean to Bill Clinton, and hence wants to deny him this success. This American political angle is very prominent in the WP reporting, which says flatly that Clinton wants a deal far more than the participants he’s hosting do. At one point, the LAT makes a bathetic and rather yuppyish reference to Clinton’s role, saying that thus far, he has “invested more than 55 hours” in the summit talks. Do you think the papers ever wrote about Ralph Bunche or Dag Hammarskold as if they billed by the hour?

The USAT runs a front-pager reporting that as part of the just-concluded budget agreement, U.S. researchers will receive $23 million to continue work on a drug-eating fungus that could destroy opium poppies and coca plants. A congressman who co-sponsored the funding says that the technology should be finished in about a year.

A Wall Street Journal feature makes the point that the Border Patrol, the unit of the INS that most directly polices the Mexican border, is no longer just Anglos. Currently, 38 percent of the patrol’s rank-and-file officers are Hispanic. This is a result of the INS’ beefing up of its Operation Gatekeeper, which targets illegal entries from Mexico into the San Diego area. The expanded hiring recruited heavily from southwestern border states and emphasized fluency in Spanish. The Hispanic agents often come in for special pleading in Spanish and failing that, special abuse, from those they detain.

The WP front features the surprisingly successful Minnesota gubernatorial candidacy of Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a libertarian former professional wrestler, bodyguard, Navy Seal and talk show host. Ventura has, reports the paper, stimulated the electorate with an unpackaged campaign the likes of which have not been seen since early Perot. Before dismissing Ventura as any kind of a stereotype, consider his response to a question about his stance on gay rights: “I have two friends that have been together 41 years. If one of them becomes sick the other one is not even allowed to be at the bedside. I don’t believe government should be so hostile, so mean-spirited….Love is bigger than government.”

Both the NYT and LAT fronts feature stories about so-called “smart guns” that can only be fired when held by the designated shooter, because of a distance-sensitive transponding device such as a finger ring. The guns could, the papers write, unify both sides of the gun debate in that they promise to boost gun sales for manufacturers developing them, while reducing accidental shootings by children and “take-away” shootings of cops. But, notes the NYT, there are still concerns: a government test has found that there are reliability problems, many due to limitations of battery life, and even if perfected, the technology would make no dent in gun suicide by rightful gun owners, or in the gun deaths lurking in the form of all the “dumb” guns already out there.

Today’s Papers mourns the way-too-soon passing of a friend and colleague, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Georges. Readers are encouraged to discover the legacy of fine stories he left behind, at the Journal and before that, at the Washington Monthly.