Today's Papers

Trimble’s Gamble

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all lead with Northern Ireland’s largest loyalist party’s (the Ulster Unionists) vote to join the region’s local coalition government. This body, established by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, aims to replace direct rule from London with an autonomous local body representing both Catholic/nationalist (including Sinn Fein) and Protestant/Loyalist factions. The Unionists, led by David Trimble, had previously refused to take part in the government until the IRA had disarmed. This reticence had rendered the government impotent since its initial meeting last July.

What’s the next step? The Unionists now expect Sinn Fein and the IRA to begin disarming. All the papers quote Trimble’s message to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president: “We’ve jumped. You follow.” Sinn Fein will appoint a delegate to a disarmament committee when the government convenes this Thursday, and Trimble has threatened to resign and pull his party out of the joint government if the IRA hasn’t handed over some weapons by February. The WP and the LAT mention that Adams was unhappy with Trimble’s remarks, but only the LAT says why: such ultimatums, Adams told the BBC, merely fuel the hopes of naysayers of all faiths who want the peace to fail.

In general, the papers and pundits see the vote as a big step. Though the 58 percent support among Ulster Unionists was less than the two-thirds majority Trimble hoped for (NYT and LAT), he managed to effect a major change in policy without splintering his party. The NYT and LAT emphasize this “we’ve come a long way” angle, noting that one of Trimble’s deputies helped derail the last attempt at a shared local government 25 years ago (the NYT says Trimble was also involved). A Belfast Telegraph editorial calls the vote “the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” but some opponents claim the measure was “akin to turkeys voting for Christmas.”

Both the NYT and the LAT front stories on the upcoming World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. The summit, and the protests raging around it, will help shape the debate over the nature and aims of globalization, with many protestors decrying the secretive, undemocratic nature of the organization itself. The NYT also reports that union workers will dump Chinese steel into the harbor during a “Seattle Steel Party,” but it doesn’t say why.

A popular Iranian reformer, Abdullah Kouri, was sentenced to five years in prison and a five-year banishment from publishing for blasphemous statements, says the NYT. His newspaper, one of the country’s leading pro-democracy publications, was also shut down. Kouri was initially tried openly, but officials brought the process to a quick behind-the-scenes conclusion after Kouri used the trial as a forum to vent his grievances with Iran’s religious dictatorship. Barring some unlikely last minute intervention by the ayatollah, Kouri’s conviction should serve to further increase tensions between hard-liners and reformers, making February’s parliamentary elections all the more volatile.

The NYT also examines the link between childhood sexual abuse and women on welfare. According to rough estimates, around 35 percent of women on welfare roles claim they were sexually abused as children, compared with around 20 percent of the female population. The problem is cyclical–poor children live in dangerous neighborhoods and in single mother families, which expose them to greater risk of abuse. Sexual abuse victims are then more likely to become teen-age mothers or drug abusers, increasing the chance that they’ll have to go on welfare, and making it harder to get off the rolls once they do.

An LAT story reports that even while Holocaust museums and monuments increase public awareness of the event, the survivors themselves are being forgotten. Pride, the pain of their memories, and red tape are making it difficult for thousands of America’s 100,000 graying survivors to obtain the money and services to which they’re entitled. For example, to obtain a share of the $1.25 billion in assets two Swiss banks may pay to survivors this week, they must fill out forms asking them to: “Please describe, in as much detail as you can, where the Subject was from 1934 to 1945.”

The WP fronts a profile of eBay’s general councilor, who is largely responsible for policing the site. In the past few months, he’s intervened to prevent people from selling human organs, tombstones, and even their virginity on the site. eBay maintains that fraud is still very rare, with only “dozens” of auctions being halted each day. The chief problem from an enforcement perspective is that you can’t just lock up the perps and throw away the key–users can simply come back with a new username when their accounts are suspended. One repeat offender has done so an estimated 157 times.