Today's Papers

The Comical Revolution

In an unusual turn, foreign policy leads at all the papers. The New York Times goes with an exclusive report that $1 billion in public funds and international aid has been stolen by Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Washington Post leads with its exclusive interview of the former chief of counterintelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who says that the Chinese did not steal nuclear information from any Department of Energy facility and that the investigation of alleged Chinese spy and former Los Alamos employee Wen Ho Lee is racist. USA Today goes with the Russian Duma’s confirmation of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s new prime minister–an odd choice considering the confirmation was a fait accompli . (Putin’s confirmation was reefered by the Post.) The Wall Street Journal puts atop its “Worldwide” box a powerful earthquake in western Turkey, which killed at least 286 people and injured 2,500. The quake–which was reefered by the NYT–was a 7.8, or nearly as powerful as the 1906 San Francisco quake. The Los Angeles Times goes with a dispatch from Kosovo describing the de facto ethnic partition forming in the province. Serbs, fearing widespread revenge killings, have fled to a northern, French-controlled city named Kosovska Mitrovika. As Albanians and Serbs are cleansed from north Kosovo and south Kosovo, respectively, they flee to their own racial ghettos, despite the efforts of NATO-controlled troops.

An American-led anti-fraud group–part of a civilian bureau set up by the Dayton peace accords–says that most of the $1 billion in stolen aid was funneled to the three nationalist parties that govern the partitioned state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The report, which was leaked to the NYT, says that the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Dayton-created civilian bureau have each lost tens of millions of dollars. The missing funds–nearly a fifth of the total aid received by Bosnia since the end of the war in 1995–were to have gone to infrastructure repair and municipal services.

Former Los Alamos official Robert S. Vrooman–whom Energy Secretary Bill Richardson recently targeted for punishment–says Wen Ho Lee is being scapegoated because of his race. Vrooman–a former CIA operative–says there is not a “shred of evidence” against Lee, and that China’s stolen nuclear secrets could have come from any of hundreds of government agencies and defense contractors outside the Energy Department. Vrooman says the Taiwan-born Lee has been singled out because he attended two physics conferences in China in 1986 and 1988, but that 13 Caucasian officials from Los Alamos who went to the same conferences have never been investigated. (To read Slate’s take on racism in the China-DNC campaign-finance scandal, check out Robert Wright’s 1997 article “Slanted.“)

The Post analyzes the finances of Steve Forbes. Forbes, it turns out, is rich but not very liquid. He has been cutting down on his father’s more lavish expenses–such as his famous “Capitalist Tool” jet–and is even selling pop’s island in Fiji. (Fortune magazine valued it at $70 million in 1996, but Forbes is selling it for $10 million.) To match George W. Bush’s campaign spending, the article concludes, Forbes may have to sell part of the family business, liquidate real estate in his home town in New Jersey, or go heavily into debt.

Most people living outside the farming states–Today’s Papers included–enjoy a good laugh every four years when presidential candidates go to Iowa and become disciples of farm subsidies. But the politicians’ promises may not be entirely cynical, because the farmers’ pain is real. Fresh evidence: The WSJ’s “Work Week” column reports that calls to mental-health clinics and hotlines in farming areas have soared with the recent decline in commodity prices. Calls in Spencer, Iowa, for example, have risen 30 percent this year, and kids are known to get ulcers worrying about their parents’ fate. But wait! “Work Week” also reports that farmer retraining programs at community colleges are swelling, and state-subsidized retraining can often be had for less money than a farmer’s annual subsidy.

The LAT’s “Column One” feature takes note of the latest youth fashion trend: bra-strap flaunting. Many young women now purchase bras not as underwear but as fashion accessories–even choosing bras to match their outfit, or sporting bras with patterns and prints. Some wear headbands made of faux bra strap. “Even Mennonite girls are wearing it at church functions,” sighs the editor of Apparel Industry magazine. A textile manufacturer pins down the appeal: “You can peek but not touch. It’s sexually baiting but not in a conscious way. It’s just naughty enough to get away with.”

The NYT’s China correspondent, Seth Faison, notes the appearance in China of government-sponsored comic books defaming Li Hongzhi, founder of the banned sect Falun Gong. One comic book, with the subtle title Li Hongzhi: The Man and His Evil Deeds, proclaims that “[Hongzhi’s] illegal doings seriously disrupted the normal order of society, causing chaos in people’s social and moral principles.” Faison notes that the propaganda comics are reminiscent of those circulated in the 1970s about the Gang of Four–the leftist Mao advisers arrested after the chairman’s death in 1976. The comic books, Faison says, “drip with so much political venom that they capture the labored nature of the campaign [against Hongzhi] in a way that verges on parody.”