Today's Papers

Hezbollah’s Hideaway

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the intensifying violence in the Middle East. Three Israeli soldiers were seized by Hezbollah guerillas on the Lebanese border, and Ehud Barak has given Yasser Arafat 48 hours to end the street battles raging in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip or face forceful retalliation. The paper says that for the first time since he was elected on a peace platform, Barak is bracing Israel for prolonged conflict with the Palestinians. The New York Times fronts the Middle East news but leads instead with the swearing in of Vojislav Kostunica as president of Yugoslavia. Although he now has nominal control of the government, he continues to struggle with old Slobodan Milosevic cronies who remain in office. The LAT and the WP front the story.

The troop seizures and the destruction of a Jewish shrine that Palestinian authorities had promised to protect contributed to an Israeli military buildup and the most pessimistic rhetoric from Israeli officials since violence broke out 10 days ago. Israeli helicopters and war planes were sent immediately to the northern border to strike back at the Lebanese guerillas while troops, tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers started assembling. Barak, looking especially tired (all the papers note this), went on television to warn Israelis that war could be imminent. Arafat shows no signs of backing down. Barak is seriously considering a national unity government with Ariel Sharon, the ultranationalist opposition leader whose visit to a Muslim holy site sparked the violence, which has claimed at least 83 lives thus far. President Clinton canceled a political trip to Ohio and Indiana to monitor the situation as it unfolds.

The stories on the transfer of power in Yugoslavia all stress its uncertainty. Although Milosevic stepped down, he has said he will not leave Yugoslavian politics, and his allies have been unwilling to make way for Kostunica. His swearing in happened hours late because was negotiating with a Montenegrin political party in hopes of winning its support for a majority parliamentary coalition. But the party stayed loyal to Milosevic, and Kostunica still has no clear majority in parliament. Other signs of instability: Kostunica forces have been arresting military and police outfits loyal to Milosevic, and Milosevic supporters have been destroying government records to get rid of evidence of scandal. The WP is alone in reporting that Milosevic supporters wanted to take over government television, but the plot was discovered before it could be carried out. The pro-Kostunica leaders are quoted in all the papers as saying Yugoslavia cannot rebuild itself until it gets rid of all traces of Milosevic.

All three papers run presidential campaign front-pagers. The LAT claims this could be the closest race since the Kennedy-Nixon squeaker. Both candidates are more or less acceptable to voters, but neither has captured their attention. The national polls are split down the middle on whether Bush or Gore is ahead, and almost all of them fall within the margin of error anyway. But perhaps an even better indication of how tight the race is is the number of states that are still up for grabs. Bush keeps spending tons of money in Florida, a state he was supposed to win easily. Gore just bought ads in his home state of Tennessee, where polls showed him a few points down. The NYT says that Gore is way behind among white men because they simply cannot identify with his wonkish personality. The WP reports that Bush will push hard on the credibility issue for the remainder of the race. Gore has had a tendency to exaggerate his personal history (to no great effect, incidentally) for his entire career, and his lie during the debate–that he accompanied FEMA head James Lee Witt to Texas when fires raged in the state–has become the centerpiece of the Bush campaign strategy. Bush advisers think pointing out Gore fibs can finally tie the vice president to Clinton and his character flaws. The exaggerations go back at least to 1988, when Gore was running for president and told reporters that he was a farmer and that he saw combat in Vietnam, neither of which is true.

The NYT fronts a story about a relatively new morning-after pill called Plan B, which, according to the paper, is as revolutionary as RU-486. Plan B can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after intercourse, and it is available in a number of states without a prescription. Most public health experts consider Plan B a contraceptive, not an abortion-inducing drug, because it works before a fertilized egg has implanted itself in the uterus. Though many pro-life groups oppose the drug, countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela–where abortion is illegal–have legalized Plan B. Morning-after treatments have long been available, but there had never been a single pill for them. Instead, doctors would simply have patients take huge doses of birth control pills, which often caused nausea and vomiting. Plan B has comparatively few side effects.

Boris Knows Best: According to the WP, in his new memoir, Midnight Diaries, Boris Yeltsin writes that “Fairly early on, I concluded that alcohol was the only means to quickly get rid of stress.” He also says that he picked Vladimir Putin to succeed him because he reminded him of the literary heroes of his  childhood and that he knew about the Lewinsky affair before the American public. By the way, Yelstin now drinks only a single glass of wine a day, on the orders of his doctor.