The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the political chaos in Russia; Boris Yeltsin dodged impeachment. The Washington Post goes with a look at the ever-creative Congress’s newest squirrelly method of raising campaign cash. All the papers front follow-ups on how NATO came to bomb a group of Kosovar refugees Friday. It’s the by-now familiar tale: Bombing is a less-than-perfect science even with ground troops around to pinpoint targets, so accidents are going to happen. A Post editorial reminds everyone that it’s all the Serbs’ fault, but that sooner or later NATO’s going to crack if mistakes like this continue.
Few in the Duma, Russia’s lower house, like Yeltsin. (The big difference between him and Bill Clinton is that the polls don’t support him either.) But for reasons that aren’t well explained, a lot of legislators went AWOL and his largely Communist opponents couldn’t come up with quite enough votes to nail him on the variety of crimes he was accused of. In the NYT, particularly, you have to read for a while before you understand that the main Russian worry about impeachment was not that Yeltsin would be driven out of office, but rather what the increasingly erratic president would do to retaliate against his opponents and the various constitutional crises that could result.
In Kosovo news, a story fronted in the NYT answers the question of what’s up with those Apache helicopters. NATO Commander Wesley Clark wants to use them, but the Pentagon doesn’t: Clinton’s war advisers think the helicopters are vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles. The story clearly illustrates the conflicting political pressures that come from trying to prosecute a war in a way that doesn’t offend delicate but fickle American sensibilities. Everyone thinks that the home front will lose its appetite for the war if the helicopters start getting shot down; but Pentagon folks also remember Les Aspin, who lost his job in 1993 when soldiers were killed in Somalia after he turned down a request for tanks and gunships. In the meantime, Clark’s already lost two of the 24 copters in question to accidents.
The Post fund-raising story says that so-called soft money given to “leadership PACs” is the technique du jour for money-desperate pols to amass funds outside of regulated norms. There are no contribution limits and in a lot of cases the legislators can keep the sources secret. The amounts involved aren’t small (the paper says Missouri Republican John Ashcroft received a $400,000 contribution from a single direct-marketing firm) and everyone’s getting in on it: One new congressman formed his PAC before he was sworn in. It’s hard not to recoil from the arrogance of a money man for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, refusing to reveal who’s giving what: “We want to protect our donors. We’ll comply with the letter of the law, but we don’t disclose what we don’t have to.”
The NYT highlights a wowser investigative piece, about a virtually secret industry the paper says is worth billions of dollars annually. Pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to convince patients to be guinea pigs for new drugs. After detailing a litany of worries–medical dangers, potential conflicts of interest, a lack of oversight–the paper concludes: “At bottom, the only thing separating a trusting patient from a study that could be inappropriate or potentially harmful is the judgment of a doctor torn by these unseen conflicts and pressures.”
On the cartographic front, an LAT front-pager says the Chinese Embassy bombing and the gondola cable tragedy in Italy are just two of as many as 15 accidents since 1995 caused by faulty government mapmaking.
Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter reviews The Phantom Menace, though he tells us it’s a “thumbsucker” rather than a review, apparently because he’s violating an embargo. (At least two other big-city dailies, including the Los Angeles and New York Daily News, already have; the film opens Wednesday.) As every other early reviewer has, Hunter says the Star Wars prequel is short on plot, character, and dialogue. But true to his word he ruminates lengthily on the implications of Darth Vader. He says the childhood of the villain, shown in the new movie, is handled poorly, but says he can’t wait to see how George Lucas will, in future films, show how Vader went bad. Why does he care? Because no one–not even “the deep thinkers from A to Z”–has come up with an explanation for evil. Besides, he says, the moment when Vader saves his son in Return of the Jedi is “the most redemptive moment, arguably, in movie history.