Today's Papers

Rubles and Rubble

The death toll in Turkey rose past 4,000 by press time, with 17,000 reported injured and thousands more still missing. Rescue and relief teams from all over–the U.S., western Europe, Russia, and Israel–flocked to western Turkey where domestic efforts were faltering or nonexistent.  Only the Los Angeles Times leads with post-quake events. The fire in Turkey’s largest oil refinery continued to blaze out of control, threatening to blow up a nearby fertilizer plant and forcing tens of thousands of local residents to flee. The New York Times lead reports that law enforcement investigators have discovered Russian mobsters may have used accounts at the Bank of New York to launder some $10 billion. The Washington Post lead, dwarfed by the quake headline below it, carries yesterday’s warning by Maryland officials and environmentalists that a fractured response to the drought by regional officials could impede effective conservation of water. USA Today goes with results of the annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. 

Finger-pointing over western Turkey’s ill preparedness for the quake began in some places before rescue and relief efforts, the WP reports. Survivors interviewed by the paper blamed the government for not conducting adequate building inspections, failing to create food reserves, and failing to equip them for emergencies. A NYT story cites residents’ complaints in Izmit that contractors slapped together many buildings with greater concern for cutting costs than risk. Only the LAT mentions that Turkey’s top-heavy government leaves regional authorities without the resources to cultivate local civil defense teams. Earthquake experts tell the LAT that strict building codes make the city better prepared for a 7.4 (it’s official) temblor than Turkey, despite similarities in their fault systems.

The two-column NYT exclusive reports that investigators may have cracked one of the largest money-laundering operations in U.S. history: Investigators say that a notorious Russian mob figure, Semyon Yukovich Mogilevich, may have filtered $10 billion through the Bank of New York since early 1998. The bank suspended two women in its Eastern European division, both of whom are married to Russian businessmen. Western investigators have been on the lookout for suspicious Russian economic activity since the August 1998 ruble crash sent money flying out of the country even more furiously than usual. Money sifted through the Bank of New York account may have gone to pay contract killers and drug lords, the paper reports. 

The federal survey reveals that teen use of cocaine, marijuana, and other illegal drugs fell to 9.9 percent in 1998 from 11.4 percent the year before, according to the USAT lead.  The overall level of drug use stayed about the same. Officials said they see the drop in use among 12-to-17-year-olds as an indication that messages from parents, schools, and the government are getting through. The WP, which also fronts the story, says that young people aged 18-to-25 saw an increase in both drug use and smoking. A substance abuse researcher told the NYT that results in the 12-to-17 group may be flawed because parents must consent to their child’s interview and tend to stick relatively close.

The NYT runs a response from the Energy Department to charges that Los Alamos researcher Wen Ho Lee has been a victim of unfair racial targetting. Notra Trulock, a department intelligence officer, deflated the accusation, saying that of 12 suspects initially brought to the FBI’s attention, three were Chinese-Americans and the rest Caucasians.

Kenneth Starr’s decision to leave his post as independent counsel before his final report is complete raises a thorny issue: Do the three judges who sit on the panel that appointed him have the right to name a successor now that the prosecutor statute has expired? A new appointee might face legal roadblocks from any of a number of sources, the WP reports. An NYT editorial on Starr’s exit does not ask this question yet solves it anyway: Editors ask that Starr stay on, dot his i’s and cross his t’s.

Long-awaited economic recovery in Asia and Europe may cause some strain in the U.S., according to Wall Street Journal and LAT front-pagers. Increased production abroad may make resources more scarce and finally tug prices upward at home. With other places in the world to invest, investors may pull money from U.S. stocks. Economists expect that interest rates will head north to attract foreign investors. The WSJ also sees a global recovery as a turning point that would solve minor problems at home: “In order to save the world, U.S. consumers pushed their own savings rate into negative territory.”

Yes, the drug surveys were anonymous: On the Post op-ed page, Richard Cohen speaks with candor of his Time magazine-inspired conversion to the belief that Gov. George W. Bush should answer rumors that he has used illegal drugs:  “I happen to think Bush is a Fifth Amendment cokehead. If he had not used the stuff, he would certainly say so. After all … he has told us much about his past–his drinking, his carousing, his lost youth, his meandering career path and how he gave up booze and found God. This is a stirring tale, and I am moved every time I hear it.”