Today's Papers

The GOP’s First-Class Senator

USA Today and the Washington Post lead with the news from the FBI’s latest crime report (for 1999): Serious crime has continued to decrease nationwide. The New York Times stuffs the crime report and, on a front with four out of six stories set overseas, leads with increased fighting between government and rebel forces in Sierra Leone. The Los Angeles Times fronts crime, but leads with the concerns of a growing number of arms control policy types that the unilateral deployment of a national missile defense system would seriously damage relations with Russia and China and leave the U.S. more, not less, vulnerable to attack.

The USAT account of the crime stats broaches the matter of explanation in the fourth paragraph, with a quote from a former NYPD commissioner strongly suggesting that the reasons for the decline are rising incarceration rates and increased numbers of cops. Then, a bit down from there, a professor is quoted as citing a break in the violence associated with the rise of crack cocaine, meaning that the drug killed many criminals and put many others in jail for long sentences. In short, USAT makes it seem like the stats can be explained and that the explanations are conservative ones.

But the WP says high up that criminologists disagree about the causes. And the paper carries a quote from Janet Reno that USAT left out, in which she credits her administration’s “preventing 500,000 prohibited persons from obtaining guns”–a liberal explanation. Also, USAT does not mention as a factor something both the WP and NYT do: demographics, which in recent years have meant fewer young people in their peak crime tendency years, but which could, with the post-boomer bulge, soon enough be reversed. The NYT is alone in mentioning that these latest stats mean that the country is now experiencing the longest-running crime decline on record.

The NYT gives a reason why, despite Sierra Leone’s relative political unimportance, the dustup there is taking on significance: It’s shaping up as a test of the West’s commitment to international peacekeeping in Africa. That’s because there was a considerable U.N. force there (mostly African soldiers), and so far there hasn’t been much of a response to the abduction of some 500 U.N. troops by the rebels, and indeed, the story reflects that locals are wondering how committed the U.N. troops were to their mission, if so many could have been disarmed and taken away.

The LAT lead competently reviews what’s been stirred up by the recent bipartisan vogue of a limited missile shield: the problem that it will prompt Russia to upgrade its nuclear threat, that it is technically untested and probably vulnerable to comparatively cheap countermeasures like decoys, and that it promises to fray U.S.-Anglo and U.S.-Euro relations (after all, the shield won’t cover those folks). But the simplest, most glaring problem–the reason the 1972 ABM Treaty was signed in the first place–is not stated. For the record it is: The 50 years of nuclear peace the world has seen since the U.S. and Russia have been nuclear adversaries has been based on mutually assured destruction, and a national missile shield threatens the mutuality of the destruction.

The WP, NYT, and LAT all front the formal inauguration of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia. Boris Yeltsin was in attendance, although by all accounts, his stumbling presence was the supreme reminder of why he was given the hook. The LAT calls the ceremony the first constitutional succession since Russia became independent in 1991. True enough, but leave it to the NYT to get the full historical context: It was also, says the paper, the “first democratic transfer of executive power in all of Russia’s 1,100-year history.”

The USAT “Money” section fronts an Agence France-Presse report that Philippine and FBI investigators are focused on a single suspect in the love bug caper: a female, perhaps a university student, in Manila. An arrest could come, says the paper, as soon as today. The WP effort says that Clinton administration officials are upset about how long it’s taking the Philippine authorities to obtain search warrants.

USAT goes inside with the tabulations compiled by a consulting firm showing that over the past five years, Trent Lott has been the Senate’s leading freebie flier of corporate aircraft: $101,000 worth (at first-class rates) of flights. Far behind, in second place, is Ted Kennedy at over $18,000. Lott flew most frequently on planes owned by the Unites States Tobacco Co. These flights were paid for by Lott’s campaign committee.