Today's Papers

No Chinese Checkers

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s revelation that a special House committee’s secret report concludes that over the past two decades American companies have transferred significant amounts of military technology to China, thereby damaging U.S. national security. This story is also the off-lead at the Washington Post, which leads instead with Sen. Trent Lott’s proposed plan for a streamlined and quick impeachment trial, and at USA Today, which leads instead with polling showing an easing of Americans’ fears about Y2K. Despite any general Y2K calming, a Wall Street Journal front-pager notes a dawning realization among technology workers: come next New Year’s Eve, many of them will be not at parties, but at work monitoring their computers’ Y2K performance.

The NYT, LAT and WP note that the China report was unusually bipartisan, receiving unanimous committee approval and finding Chinese acquisition of military secrets transpiring during Republican and Democratic administrations alike. The WP sees in the findings a criticism of the Clinton administration policy of loosening export restrictions, which, according to the papers, the committee wants re-cinched. But the WSJ points out that the pot-and-kettle aspect of the findings may help deflect criticism of Bill Clinton. The congressional report, prompted by a NYT story last spring describing the unsupervised flow of sensitive satellite technology to China’s strategic rocket programs, confirmed that transfer, but, say the papers, went much further, also uncovering the theft by the Chinese of nuclear weapons design technology from American labs and examining the too-loose export controls governing advanced computers. Also included was a look at the covert donations to American political campaigns made during the 1996 election by a Chinese aerospace executive. The papers draw their information from remarks made by the committee chairman, Rep. Chris Cox, but, says the NYT, it’s unclear exactly how much more the general public will ever be allowed to learn about the committee’s findings.

It’s been known for a few days that Sen. Lott favored a streamlined trial for Clinton, but what’s new today are some of his details. According to the WP, the proposal would have the Senate voting by the fourth day of the trial about whether or not the alleged offenses, even if proven, would count as high crimes and misdemeanors. If that proposition didn’t get a two-thirds majority, then the Senate would move on to consider censure. The paper says leading House impeachment manager Henry Hyde expressed “major concerns” about Lott’s plan to the senator yesterday–mainly that it doesn’t provide for the calling of witnesses.

The NYT succinctly explains why the Lott plan is gaining ground in the Senate: it gives the Senate an opportunity to avoid a long trial, while at the same time affording senators some kind of vote on Clinton’s impeachment.

For a second straight day, Iraq anti-aircraft fire drew a tough U.S. response. This time, after a British plane was shot at, American warplanes hit the three ground targets implicated with missiles and smart bombs. As it did the day before, yesterday Iraq again claimed to have shot down a U.S. plane. The papers all note that the U.S. denies this, but none observes that Iraq hasn’t done something that countries who have shot down planes have done since the Red Baron got bagged–produced wreckage. If Hussein’s goal is not so much to shoot down a U.S. plane as to keep the no-fly zones in the news, his strategy may be self-defeating: The LAT puts the story above the fold, but repetition is driving it inside elsewhere–page 12 at USAT, page 29 at the Post.

The WP finds front-page space today for what you might call the Y2K problem for classicists–there is no agreed-upon way to write out 1999 in Roman numerals. Who cares? Well, explains, the paper, there are the architects (How to mark the cornerstones of buildings?), and the movie producers (How to write the copyright date at the end of the credits?). Thank God the government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology is working on this.

The WP’s Richard Cohen makes the point that the rescue of those balloonists is rich-dude welfare. How much welfare? Well, Cohen asked the Coast Guard to run the numbers and learned that rescuing Richard Branson and company cost taxpayers $130,275. And, he adds, under the law the Coast Guard cannot even send Branson a bill. Today’s Papers says hooray for Cohen and is still amazed that news stories don’t routinely do this kind of math. For instance, TP is still waiting for a news story that states the cost so far of the Houston octuplets.