Today's Papers

Oh, What a Rogue and Peasant State

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with President Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agreement to reduce their nations’ plutonium stockpiles by 34 metric tons each over the next 20 years and to establish a jointly operated missile monitoring center in Moscow. A stalemate remains on amending the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty to allow a U.S. missile defense, but Putin acknowledged a growing–though exaggerated–threat from “rogue nations,” such as North Korea. The story tops the Wall Street Journal’s “World-Wide box” and off-leads at USA Today. The latter goes with a tally of court-authorized wiretaps, from Justice Department records. A “secret federal court” last year gave the department a nod for 880 taps in cases involving spying or terrorism, up from 601 in 1998 and 484 in 1992.

The WSJ reports that funding for the $5.7 billion plutonium-reduction program is scarce and that officials had hoped to remove a great deal more. As it is, though, 34 tons is enough to fuel thousands of nuclear weapons. The NYT describes the two presidents’ dialogue as stately and correct, but not informal, like Clinton and Yeltsin’s. A member of the American delegation summarizes Putin’s personality for the paper: “They say he’s a control freak.” The LAT emphasizes that future negotiations may link a missile defense with cuts Russia would like to make in long-range nuclear weapons.

Civil libertarians and Arab-Americans cry havoc in the USAT because the court that authorizes the wiretaps is not required to explain why the taps are sought. The FBI claims that the requests were necessary to track “foreign agents” who might be up to no good in the U.S. The court has rejected one such request and approved more than 13,600 in 22 years. The information was retrieved by “privacy advocates” through the Freedom of Information Act. The identities of all the privacy advocates apparently remain private.

Multimillion-dollar campaigns for state judgeships may be threatening the impartiality of benches nationwide, according to a NYT front-pager. Ethics dictate that candidates may not say how they would rule on an issue, but mudslinging in ads and general kowtowing to corporate, religious, and other interests have begun to assault those standards. Issues are diverse: An Idaho judge unseated an incumbent for the first time since 1944 by claiming the theory of evolution to be untenable; in an Illinois contest, one candidate accused his opponent of sending innocent men to their deaths and letting murderers walk.

The Post reports that the military will put in for a budget increase of about $30 billion a year for most of the next decade–an amount close to the entire Department of Education budget. The unprecedented request may be an attempt to encourage the two presidential candidates’ already hawkish statements about military spending.

The LAT reports that air pollution raises chances of heart attacks for people with heart disease. Tiny specks called particulates can throw off heart rhythms in susceptible people; about 10,000 people a year die from exposure to this pollutant. Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix claim the highest levels of particulates nationwide.

United Airlines’ move to acquire US Airways last month has prompted further consolidation in the airline industry, the WSJ reports. American Airlines may be contemplating a deal with Northwest Airlines, despite the latter’s difficulties with labor and customer relations. Across the Atlantic, British Airways and KLM, the world’s two largest international airlines, are holding exploratory talks about a merger. KLM and Northwest have merged their transatlantic operations; American and British Airways have been unable to do so because of the Brits’ reluctance to sign an “open skies” treaty like the one the U.S. signed with the Netherlands.

Clinton granted an interview to the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, the Post reports in a front-page sidebar. The interview, which consisted mostly of questions from listeners, covered everything from the 1972 ABM treaty to the last time Clinton handled cash (an hour before the broadcast). Background on Clinton’s symbolism: The station is owned by oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-MOST, the NYT reports. This is the best thing that has happened to them in a while: The company was raided last month by tax police in a move widely perceived as intimidation of independent-minded media; and, the weekly political satire (à la Spitting Image) Kukly (Puppets), which airs on the company’s independent television network (NTV), was forced to remove its Vladimir Putin puppet because the Russian leader found it insulting.

Big payoff, small intestine: The Alaska Supreme Court awarded Lawrence Allen, a cook at a trans-Alaska pipeline work site, worker-disability benefits and legal fees for “gastric distress” experienced after consuming pork chops, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts in a company cafeteria, according to the Journal. Doctors blamed the sprouts for Allen’s blocked small intestine and state officials held the company responsible for serving it to him: “Doyon [the company], however, disputed that it sanctioned his eating Brussels sprouts and appealed.” Today’s Papers had never seen the appeal of Brussels sprouts until now.