Today's Papers

Borderline Democracy

The increasing Hispanicization of America and a nearly newsless holiday weekend conspire to make the Mexican election results everybody’s lead. In a contest watched by many Mexican and foreign monitors and deemed largely fraud-free, the victory of Vicente Fox Quesada means that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party has lost the presidency for the first time since 1929.

The Mexican coverage is awful horse-racy. The New York Times lead never identifies the actual election issues. The Washington Post says the main issue was the corruption and mismanagement that developed under PRI’s presidential monopoly. The Los Angeles Times says the same. USA Today mentions corruption but goes a bit further, saying that both candidates had promised to deepen economic and political ties to the United States. The Wall Street Journal makes both the corruption and economic points as well, but suggests that breaking the PRI’s hold may have been the main issue: “Mr. Fox campaigned on a platform of kicking the ruling party out.” But the LAT reminds that this is no small thing, comparing the Mexico result with the U.S. election of 1800, the first democratic power hand-over in U.S. history.

The NYT goes inside with word of a new book from Scott Ritter, the American former U.N. arms inspector who quit his gig in Iraq two years ago because he felt that Kofi Annan and senior U.S. diplomatic and national security officials were undercutting his efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein. The book’s gist: the Iraqis have no prohibited weapons of any importance left. Because of this, Ritter says, less aggressive monitoring of Iraq is now OK–presidential facilities and other security sites needn’t be looked at anymore. However, the LAT fronts a story flatly stating that Iraq isn’t out of the sneak-around-sanctions game. Robin Wright reports that Iran provides Iraq access to an island oil offload facility so that oil smuggled out in violation of the U.N.’s sanctions can then be transferred to ships (bound for the United Arab Emirates) that can disguise their cargo and carry much more of it and at much higher speeds. With the help of this arrangement, says the paper, Saddam Hussein is now netting as much as $42 million a month in proscribed oil revenues.

The WP runs an editorial about the abortion debate in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision throwing out state laws banning so-called “partial birth” abortions. The paper supports the court, referring to those laws as “clumsy legislation” and “a ploy,” but nonetheless pushes the idea of regulating post-viability abortions, concluding that properly drawing a viability-based law is what both abortion rights activists and their foes should work together on. This is classic editorial stuff: Sounds good as long as you move on to the funnies pretty quick. Sure it makes sense in general to draw the line between permissible abortion and infanticide at viability, except there’s a small problem: In any particular case in which an actual pregnant woman is trying to stay on the correct side of that line, there’s no way short of an autopsy to tell if the particular fetus inside her was in fact viable. Yes, there are rules of thumb, but that doesn’t help in the moral dilemma the pregnant woman faces–she won’t be relieved to find out that the fetus she had aborted was in fact viable even though most fetuses of the same age wouldn’t have been.

The Sunday LAT reports on the first public comments made by Sara Jane Olson–who after 20-plus years as a fugitive will stand trial soon on charges of conspiring with Symbionese Liberation Army members to blow up two LAPD patrol cars–about her case (a gag order on her was just lifted by the trial judge). At a fund-raiser for her defense, Olson, says the paper, lashed out at Patty Hearst: “I guess the LAPD tries to write its version of history through Ms. Hearst’s crystal clear memory. She should remember–she was a member of the S.L.A.” As long as the LAT was going to pass this nugget along, it should have mentioned that Hearst says she was locked in a closet and sexually tortured for much of her time as an SLA captive.

This Month–How to Choose a Defense Attorney: The NYT reports on a brand-new magazine, Pro, distributed free to current or recently retired American professional athletes in an attempt to give the magazine’s high-end advertisers access to this mega-affluent demographic. The magazine will not feature any negative stories about athletes.

The Times also passes along a mini-scandal that broke in an Israeli tabloid last week: It seems that many, if not most, of the trees planted at the most popular tree site in Israel as part of a worldwide effort among Jews and other supporters of the country to commemorate loved ones and friends while making the desert bloom, are routinely and somewhat covertly removed by the organization that manages the program because the trees tend to die in the arid conditions.

The Sunday NYT’s “Week in Review” includes a piece demonstrating that Darva Conger’s enthusiastic comments about her appearance in Playboy are but the latest in a long line of remarks from women (Farrah Fawcett, Katarina Witt, Faye Resnick, to pick a few) who somehow came to love this Western form of genital mutilation at about the same time as their PB checks cleared. But the Times doesn’t mention the degree of complicity of the writer, Bruce Kluger. The story omits noting that Kluger was a long-time Playboy editor who managed somehow to shut up about this nonsense while his checks cleared.