Today's Papers

Don’t Ask Y2K

As befits the last day of a holiday weekend, the papers reheat and serve a smorgasbord of mostly familiar issues. The New York Times leads with a budget forecast story: despite ample surpluses, spending caps mean the Administration must scrounge together funds sufficient for its activist domestic and military agenda. The Washington Post leads with the final story in its series on tolerance and American values. Spouting a long stream of poll numbers and expert quotes, the story pronounces that Americans’ divergent opinions about President Clinton reflect “an unresolved debate about fundamental values”. Only the Los Angeles Times fronts the situation in the Gulf: the lead describes Iraqi attempts to lure American planes into missile range and threats to fire on planes patrolling the no-fly zone. The story appears inside the WP, but goes unmentioned in the NYT.

A Times front-pager reveals that condoms distributed to prevent AIDS in Africa are not only unpopular and scarce–they’re also defective. Condom manufacturers dump their second-rate products in the region, and scattershot inspection efforts fail to screen out the duds. As a result, many condoms dispensed by well-meaning governments and health care organizations are leaky, corroded, or ill-fitting. So even Africans who practice safe sex–the putatively reliable way to protect themselves and stem the continent’s AIDS epidemic– are still vulnerable to infection.

The WP front describes how anti-drug efforts have trumped human rights concerns in US policy towards Colombia. The US had cut off direct aid to the Colombian military because of its dodgy record of corruption and human-rights abuse. But now the US will provide the Colombian army with training and funding for its war against Marxist rebels, who are in cahoots with the Colombian drug traffickers responsible for the bulk of cocaine and heroin smuggled into this country.

An inside piece at the Times explains one factor behind Defense Secretary William Cohen’s recent call to raise military pay: lured by high salaries and quality of life, juicier retirement packages, and limitless opportunity for advancement, officers trained in finance and technology are retreating to the private sector. Only one of the five soldiers quoted mentions the “higher calling” of serving his country. But he also points out, “If you go to work for Andersen Consulting or Arthur Andersen or Coopers and Lybrand, at the 20-year point you’d be a partner and a millionaire.”

The LAT editorial page calls on the Senate “to fashion a strong resolution of censure that would require Clinton to acknowledge, at last, that he lied under oath”, and then to get on with the business of government. Meanwhile, the NYT “Week in Review” says it’s hard to predict how Chief Justice William Rehnquist would run an impeachment trial because a) his much-sough-after book actually gives scant indication of what he thinks of the process and b) Rehnquist would serve as officiator and not as judge. So all we have to go on, says the Times, is the Chief Justice’s general modus operandi, which is by all accounts decisive, commanding, and efficient.

An inside piece at the WP quotes comments made by President Richard Nixon while he was in office, but disclosed only this week in the lawsuit over his still-unsettled estate. On his advisors: “Screw the Cabinet and the rest.” On the military: “The sons of bitches are not interested in this country.” On women in government: “A pain in the neck, very difficult to handle.” On blacks: “There are just not enough competent ones, so you put incompetents in and get along with them, because the symbolism is vitally important.” Why? Well, said the former president, “you have to show you care.”

A NYT front-pager recites the litany of problems posed by Y2K situation: too much code, too little time, too many unpredictable consequences. The situation is spawning new cottage industries, including code-checking, litigation over compliance, and community-preparedness movements. Another Y2K growth area unmentioned by the Times : a surfeit of near-identical stories featuring an increasingly familiar cast of programmers, pundits, and predictions. Far more practical is the Times Magazine’s guide to America’s millennial soothsayers. Richard W. Noone predicts that on May 5, 2000, the planet’s crust will shift and oceans will be frothed into “maelstroms of death”; Meade Ministries warns that the “world will soon be engulfed in a sticky white substance”; and the High Priestess of Morningland preaches that Christ will land a UFO “the size of Texas” in Long Beach, California. The High Priestess does not comment on the possibility that under the burden of Y2K troubles, air traffic control will be down.