Today's Papers

The Arms Race: There and Back

The New York Times leads with the lower house of the Russian parliament’s overwhelming approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Duma’s vote is the Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story, and it’s also fronted by the Washington Post. The treaty’s ratification is widely seen as a diplomatic coup for Russia in general, and for newly elected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in particular: Putin has made nuclear arms reduction a cornerstone of his foreign policy. The Washington Post leads with the State Department’s announcement (fronted by the NYT) that a computer that vanished from the department’s offices in January held “thousands of classified documents about arms proliferation issues, including highly sensitive information about the sources and methods of U.S. intelligence collection.” If the case was in fact stolen for these secrets, said one WP source, the theft could constitute “one of the most serious single losses of classified information ever by the United States.” The LAT leads with the state legislature’s findings that California’s insurance commissioner acted without legal authority when he coerced insurance companies to make large donations to charities instead of paying fines in the wake of the Northridge Quake. A great deal of this money went to fund TV ads in which the commissioner appeared and paid political consultants who worked on the commissioner’s campaign.

As the headlines (e.g., “RUSSIANS PUT PRESSURE ON U.S. OVER ARMS PACTS) indicate, the Duma’s vote is important not for what it does, but for what it says. The pact won’t take effect until 44 nations named in the treaty ratify it. These nations include the U.S., China, North Korea, Iran, India, and Pakistan, who have all refused ratification. The U.S. rejected the treaty last October, but the papers don’t remind us why: Republicans felt it lacked adequate enforcement mechanisms, couldn’t account for rogue states, and involved too permanent a commitment. Russia also ratified the START II treaty last week after seven years of inaction, and the Russian foreign minister is expected to push for START III talks further limiting the size of U.S. and Russian warhead stockpiles during his visit to New York and Washington next week.

In a related story, the NYT reports that the GOP is wary about further arms reduction talks with Russia. Clinton wants to negotiate amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that would allow the U.S. to pursue a scaled-down missile defense system. The GOP insists on a full system, and some representatives have indicated that they would vote to ignore the treaty altogether if it blocked them from deploying such a defense.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was reportedly “furious” about the State Department’s lost computer. She is again thinking of shifting responsibility for top-secret information from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The WP also recaps some of the State Department’s recent bloopers, including a 1998 incident in which an unidentified man strolled into an office six doors away from Albright’s and strolled away with a sheaf of classified documents that were never recovered.

A news analysis piece on the NYT front scrutinizes the lack of conservative criticism for some of George W. Bush’s recent repositionings. Despite his call for an increased federal role in education and health care, and his reaching out to gays and gun-control advocates, “not one leading conservative organization has aggressively spoken out against Mr. Bush,” since the South Carolina primary. The main reason, leading conservatives tell the NYT, is that they’re too “hungry” for the White House to quibble. The paper also surmises that budget surpluses have made everyone a bit less wary about federal spending.

The WP fronts the White House’s announcement yesterday that President Clinton and Vice President Gore were both questioned this week by Justice Department officials looking into misuse of campaign finances. No one disclosed the content of the discussion, but one administration official told the WP: “I presume they asked the questions that they’ve been criticized for not asking previously.” Clinton was last questioned about these affairs in 1998, so the paper sees the renewed inquiry as a sign that the scandal will continue to dog the Gore campaign.

Who wants to marry an uncharted desert isle? With the premiere of CBS’s TV show Survivor less than a month away, the WP already smells another “reality TV” fiasco. The show drops 16 contestants on an island, and the one who remains the longest wins a lot of cash. Unfortunately, though CBS’s Web site said that no humans have lived there for centuries, the island is actually a popular destination for Malaysian tourists, and there’s an 80-bed air-conditioned resort on the other side of the island from CBS’s castaways. CBS later amended the description to a “remote tropical island.” Thus far, however, the network has not addressed rampant rumors that the contestants’ repeated attempts to escape the island were stymied by the incompetent bumbling of a sailor in a white hat.