Today's Papers

Department of Defiance?

The New York Times leads with an exclusive: A new congressional report charges that the Pentagon illegally spent hundreds of millions of dollars on military projects not authorized by Congress. The Los Angeles Times and USA Today go with a story the NYT fronts, the discovery of the Kennedy death plane and the recovery of all three bodies it contained. The Washington Post fronts that too, but leads instead with the House Republican leadership’s attempt to retain GOP moderate votes for its big tax cut by stipulating that a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in income tax rates will be phased in only if the debt and the government’s cost of borrowing continue to decline. The move, says the Post, appears to clear the way for House passage of the bill. If so, this will, says the paper, be a sweet victory for Speaker Dennis Hastert, who jawboned many reluctant Republican members. The tax story makes everybody else’s front.

The NYT lead, by Tim Weiner, concerns an area that Weiner has long covered: the “black” military budget funding the Pentagon’s most secret projects. The story reports on the latest instance of the historical problem with the black budget: It’s not only kept secret from spies and the media, but often from Congress too. A just-released House Appropriations report expressed anger and astonishment at the Pentagon for what it says are illegal acts: The Air Force starting a still-secret project last year without informing Congress, and trying to buy an $800 million satellite without authorization, and diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from an unspecified program in order to finance updates for its C-5 transport plane. (The Times might have noted that 30 years ago, the scandal over the initial procurement of this same plane popularized the terms “cost overrun” and “whistleblower.”) The report also says that the Pentagon spent millions on a “Star Wars” program previously canceled by Congress. Other fiscal legerdemain is charged in connection with trucks, missiles, and tanks. The Times says the DOD spokesman officially conceded that military “redirecting” of funds had occurred, but characterized it as mistaken, not defiant.

The papers report that the Kennedy plane and the bodies were found in 116 feet of water 7.5 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. JFK Jr. will, the coverage reports, be buried at sea from a Navy ship very soon. Plans for his wife and her sister were still unresolved at press time. At his press conference yesterday, the papers report, President Clinton took full responsibility for the extensive multi-service search for the bodies. The LAT notes that Clinton also claimed to have hosted JFK Jr. on his first trip back to the White House since JFK was assassinated. But the WP’s “The Reliable Source” disagrees, saying that JFK Jr. made the trek with his sister and mother to the Nixon White House in 1971.

Yesterday’s NYT reported the arrest of leaders of China’s burgeoning spiritual and physical well-being group, the Falun Gong, apparently not so much because of its amorphous doctrines but because of its ability to quickly put large animated crowds on the streets of Beijing. Today’s WP front reports that protests ensued. Today’s NYT and LAT report that the Chinese government has now decided to ban the organization.

USAT and the WP front, and the NYT carries inside, word of a finding coming out today in the New England Journal of Medicine: Before the age of 50, women who suffer heart attacks are twice as likely to die as men who have one. The less aggressive care that many women receive does not fully explain this difference, which is still being investigated.

The WP and NYT run inside stories covering the Air Force’s struggle this week to save its pet fighter project, the F-22, which, on the verge of production, is suddenly under assault in Congress, not from anti-defense types, but from Congress members who would like to see the plane’s production kick-off money of $1.8 billion spent instead on other already-existing planes. The paper reports that President Clinton has endorsed the plane, while Speaker Hastert yesterday switched from nay to yea on it. A NYT editorial today basically calls for killing the plane, although not in so many words, while the historian of the Air Force pens a WP op-ed going–surprise–the other way.

In a NYT op-ed, Edward Tenner, an academic expert on technology’s unintended consequences, serves up some reasons why society shouldn’t become completely wired. First, if there were no more growth in users possible, then for incremental revenues, providers would have to turn to higher access charges or more intrusive forms of advertising. Second, if access became universal, book and CD markets would suffer. And then there’s the energy angle. Computers are getting hotter and hotter, says Tenner, literally. He quotes a recent Forbes stat: It takes about one pound of coal to create, package, store and move 2 megabytes of data. So a completely wired society would add to the global greenhouse effect.

According to the WP, the saga of professional JFK Jr. friend Douglas Brinkley continues. The Post says he shook hands with ABC News to be the net’s JFK Jr. go-to guy, but then at the last minute jumped to NBC News for the same money, $10,000. The folks at JFK Jr.’s magazine, George, not amused, have dropped Brinkley from the masthead.