Today's Papers

A Delhicate Matter

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with India’s decision to negotiate with the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight, still on the tarmac in southern Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that Israel’s Shas party may quit the government’s ruling coalition. Skeptics say the party is crying wolf. The USA Today’s lead reveals Gov. George W. Bush’s strategy for making up the nine-point lead held by Gov. John McCain in New Hampshire: He will spend time there. The Wall Street Journal “World-Wide” column leads with Russia’s stalled drive into Grozny and the Indian Airlines negotiations.

The deadline set by hijackers for India to respond to demands passed without any more bloodshed, the papers report. On Monday, they had threatened to kill two passengers at a time until India released an imprisoned Kashmiri separatist and Muslim leader. India has retreated from its position of not talking to terrorists, but negotiations have failed to resolve the standoff thus far, the LAT reports. Meanwhile, Taliban leaders, anxious for the plane to leave their country, have vowed to kill the hijackers if they hurt any more hostages. The NYT, which has assigned the story to the rewrite desk for the last two days, runs an Associated Press story inside today.

Bush’s advisers told the USAT that the governor will spend about two weeks in New Hampshire between Jan. 4 and Feb. 1, the date of the state’s presidential primary. The governor’s appearances will largely take the form of “town hall” meetings. Judging by McCain’s success, New Hampshire voters prefer more interactive settings, the paper reports.

The NYT waits until the fourth paragraph from the end to reveal the presumed catalyst for the Israeli religious block’s threat to quit Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s government. Over the weekend, Israel’s finance minister agreed to fund the budget requests of two other religious parties, proving to Shas that its help is not critical. Shas begs to differ. The Orthodox group, which has been the shakiest member of Barak’s coalition from the beginning, demands more anti-poverty programs and relief for its debt-ridden religious school system.

Internet pharmacies will soon fall under the FDA’s scrutiny, the papers report. President Clinton’s 2001 budget will seek $10 million for the FDA to hire staff and buy technology that will pick out suspicious online prescription drug sellers. At present, states are responsible for inspecting pharmacies within their borders. The FDA wants to get involved now too, since it’s possible, if not routine, for prescribers, pharmacists, and patients to live in different states. The NYT story ends with a VP from claiming, predictably, that the new regulation is unnecessary; the Post doesn’t talk to any online pharmacy sources.

Tobacco industry lawyers yesterday filed an 89-page document meant to halt a Justice Department’s suit filed to retrieve government health-care costs, the Post and NYT report. The lawyers argue that companies have already agreed to reshape tobacco marketing in the U.S. after last year’s $240 billion settlement with states. They also cite Congress’ decision to put warnings on cigarettes and tax them, rather than seek legal liability. The Justice Department will file an answer by Feb. 25, but due to the case’s complexity, it may not go to trial until January 2003.

The LAT fronts and the NYT runs inside stories on lawyers’ attempts yesterday to overturn a ruling that denied bail to former Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee. The defendant’s attorneys argued that Lee, charged on 59 counts of mishandling secret documents, never acted with criminal intent. A computer expert told the court that the files Lee removed from the system “were open to not very sophisticated hackers on the Internet,” the LAT reports.

Estimates of the number of Chechen fighters left in Grozny are growning as Russia’s advance into the city slows. The figure is said to fall between 2,000 and 5,000 in today’s Post, a rise from the equivocal 1,500 mentioned in Sunday’s NYT. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is cited in the NYT as willing to fight to the last, but an unnamed Chechen commander told the Associated Press (in the WSJ) that the president thinks the resistance in Grozny can keep up just two or three more weeks. The LAT off-lead focuses on a detail mentioned in the other papers’ accounts: The Russian military has been dropping on southern Chechnya fuel-air bombs, which release a gas into the air that then ignites. The device can reach people in sheltered areas, like basements or, in the Chechens’case, caves. The Post story carries a dateline from  the town Pobedinskoe, a name derived from the Russian word for “victory”–an ironic contrast to the headline above it, “Assault on Grozny Stalled.”

Zip it, zip it good: A NYT “Science Times” article unzips a new use for a 106-year-old invention. Instead of stapling or stitching surgical wounds, doctors can now affix paper strips to either side of an incision and gently pull them together with a polyethylene zipper. One enthusiastic patient sounds as if he’d just leaped out of an infomercial: “I had surgery on my chest a few years ago and it was closed with staples, and boy was it painful. With the zipper, I had no pain at all.” Today’s Papers is so impressed that he will buy four of them.