Today's Papers

The Plane Truth

The Los Angeles Times leads with late developments in the Indian Airlines hostage crisis in Afghanistan. India sent an official to meet with the hijackers, an indication that they were looking for ways to end the crisis. The Washington Post and the New York Times lead with the speedy trial, conviction, and sentencing of four leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned by the Chinese government July 22 as “a cancer on the society.” The USA Today lead documents increased gun sales toward the year’s end. The Wall Street Journal tops its “World-Wide” column with Russia’s most aggressive attempt yet to seize Grozny, a story the USAT’s off-leads.

Hijackers set a 12:40 p.m. deadline (12:10 a.m. PT) for India to respond to demands, namely the release of a Kashmiri separatist and religious leader imprisoned there since 1994, the LAT reports. The WP and NYT report that finger-pointing among the international players has begun before the crisis’s resolution. Pakistan and India have accused each other of orchestrating the whole thing; Afghanistan’s Taliban militia, which India does not recognize, wants the plane out of its country and U.N. mediation in. But India did not want U.N. help. Eventually, the hijackers agreed to leave Afghanistan today, according to the LAT. A U.N. official checked up on passengers during the day yesterday and persuaded the hijackers to release a diabetic man. Taliban officials have delivered food to the passengers, but conditions are worsening. The WP reports that there were still 161 passengers on board. The NYT counts 155 and the LAT goes with a conservative “more than 150.”

The nature of the Falun Gong trial–that is, artifice–betrays the government’s intolerance for members of its ruling party who belong to the organization: All four accused were in the Communist Party, the Post reports. The prison sentences range from 18 years for Li Chang, a police ministry official who helped organize the group’s 10,000-person silent demonstration in April, to seven years for Yao Jie, the sole woman in the group, who was charged as an accomplice. The four were officially accused of using the organization to undermine law, contributing to the deaths of some 1,400 people who were taught to avoid modern medicine, and obtaining and dispersing information about the state’s crackdown on the group.

Y2K fears have contributed to an increase in gun sales, a trend that gun industry marketing has to some extent encouraged, USAT reports. Wilson Combat sells a Millennium Protector .45 Automatic for self-defense, against whom or what it is unclear. Authorities conducted about a million background checks this month, up 14.7 percent from last year.

A 95 mph wind yesterday swept through the Champs-Élysées, the rest of northern France, and parts of Switzerland and Germany, according to a NYT front-pager. As many as 62 people are believed dead in the rare hurricane-strength storm.

An article in Sunday’s LAT does more than lambaste U.S. politicians for using 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to advance their own interests. The writer traces Fidel Castro’s behavior through a sordid four-and-a-half year international tug-of-war for his own son. In 1954, Castro’s wife left him for the U.S., taking along their 5-year-old. Castro requested that his son visit him in Mexico a year later and promised, “as a gentleman,” to return him in two weeks. Instead, Castro put Fidelito in the charge of his inner circle. The boy would be abducted again two weeks later and returned to his mother. When Castro rose to power in 1959, he took back his son, now 50 and living in Havana. Castro’s reasons for demanding Fidelito’s return resemble those currently claimed by Gonzalez’s family. The lesson: “The shattered family is the emblem of Cuba.” The revolution has ripped thousands of Cuban families apart, not the least of which is Castro’s own.

By contrast, the WSJ reports in today’s “Marketplace” section that Americans can’t get enough of Cuba. Unauthorized trips have jumped about 20 percent a year in recent memory. “Loopholes in the travel ban wide enough to sail a cruise ship through,” not to mention the attraction of taboo, encourage Americans to explore any of a catalog of ways to get to Cuba: enlist as an educator or researcher, sail in from Key West, or fly in from Canada or Mexico. The U.S. government has fined fewer than 100 people for going to Cuba since the travel embargo kicked in 36 years ago.

A NYT “Business” section piece looks at the evolution of Internet news sites, which now “include speedy, professional crafting of original material, multimedia options, clean packaging and lots of self-promotion.” How does the article’s own Web version compare with this description? There’s no multimedia option, and the self-promotion simply falls like a brick at the end, but best of all–no inky fingers.