Today's Papers

Alaskan Pork Chops

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with President Clinton’s berating, at a conference in Istanbul, of Russian President Boris Yeltsin over the Russian military’s assault on Chechnya–a story fronted (below the fold) by the Washington Post. USA Today   leads with the U.S. Army’s decision to boost enlistment benefits. It nearly doubled the signing bonus for some recruits–from $12,000 to $20,000–and decreased the minimum enlistment period needed to receive a bonus from three years to two. Total benefits can now reach $85,000. No other paper carries this story. The Post leads with the House’s 296-135 passage of a final budget bill, seven weeks into the fiscal year–a story off-leaded  by the NYT and reefered by the LAT. The Senate continued to bicker over pork, and both houses renewed an emergency-spending bill for another two weeks. The House bill increases spending on health and education, pays U.S. debts to the United Nations, and restores $12 billion worth of cuts to Medicare. The Wall Street Journal  notes high up that spending will increase by tens of billions of dollars from last year and will break appropriations caps set by the 1997 balanced budged agreement.

At a 54-member meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Yeltsin decried the “sermonizing” by the West over his attack on the rebellious province of Chechnya. Although speaking immediately after Yeltsin, Clinton noted the heavy civilian casualties inflicted by the Russian army and made an analogy: If Yeltsin had been jailed (instead of elected president) after standing on a tank in defiance of the 1991 Soviet coup, Clinton argued, “I would hope that every leader of every country around this table would have stood up for you and for freedom in Russia, and not said, ‘Well, that is an internal Russian affair that we cannot be part of.’ ” Many other leaders at the summit spoke in support of Clinton, and Yeltsin agreed to an external review by OSCE’s chairman. Most papers do not make much of Yeltsin’s leaving the conference a day early, but the news summary in the Journal’s “Woldwide” box claims that the Russian president “walked out” of the conference (the corresponding Associated Press story on the Journal’s Web site makes no such characterization). The papers do not mention a possible political motive for Clinton: George W. Bush is expected to launch a similar attack against Yeltsin’s Chechnya campaign in a foreign-policy speech today, a position that the Clinton administration has now triangulated.

The Post reports that Chinese diagrams of a miniaturized nuclear warhead–the W88, designed by America–contain a telltale measurement error that can be traced back to several weapons manufacterers in the U.S. The anonymously sourced, front-page story reports that these manufacturers include Sandia National Laboratories, Lockheed Martin, and the Navy–but probably not Los Alamos National Labratory, where an employee, Wen Ho Lee, had been targeted by a much-criticized espionage investigation.

An inside NYT story says that CIA documents declassified yesterday reveal that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s the CIA was more aware of impending Soviet collapse than previously thought. Although it continued to stress the likelihood of a hard-line revolt against perestroika, it did conclude that Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist inclinations were sincere.

The Journal says that an anonymous FBI source has retracted an earlier assertion that the co-pilot suspected of sabotaging EgyptAir 990 said, “I have made my decision now,” before uttering the widely reported phrase, “I put my faith in God’s hands.” (The first phrase has been mentioned by some, but not all, of the newspapers for several days now. Suspecting that this first phrase was spurious, Today’s Papers now regrets not having mentioned this anomaly.) This is not, the Journal notes, a petty detail: If the co-pilot had actually said, “I have made my decision now,” that would seem to rule out the Egyptian government’s theory that the co-pilot’s “second” phrase, “I put my faith in God’s hands,” was a reaction to an as-yet-undiscovered mechanical problem. USAT, which ran both phrases in a top-front pull-quote yesterday, does not make a similar retraction; in fact, it repeats both phrases in an inside story today. Meanwhile, an anonymous source tells the NYT, in a story run inside, that a re-examination of the flight data recorder shows the plane to be “rock steady,” with no hint of mechanical failure, before its fatal dive.

The LAT fronts an appraisal of California’s pork in the new House budget bill: $3.5 million to dredge Marina del Rey harbor, $600,000 to remove burros from the desert, $50,000 for a mural in Twentynine Palms, $100,000 to build an international trade center in Tulare County, and $50 million to reinforce levees on the lower Los Angeles River and relieve nearby residents of a federal mandate to buy flood insurance. The NYT profiles the goodies secured by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, including $15 million for the University of Alaska to study the aurora borealis, $100,000 to conduct a census of walruses, $4 million to help stranded sea lions, and $13 million to build a parking ramp for a C-130 at Fort Richardson. Stevens’ pork is so legendary, says the NYT, that a recent episode of the NBC sitcom West Wing features two legislative aides joking about a $2 million outlay to monitor Alaskan skies for volcanic ash–an appropriation that, unlike the rest of the sitcom, is not fictional.