Today's Papers

Ranch Dressing

The Washington Post leads with President Clinton’s approval of a humanitarian aid plan to bolster Iraqi opposition groups working to oust Saddam Hussein. The program will clandestinely distribute food, medicine, and propaganda to government-controlled areas via the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella group for forces opposed to Hussein’s government. The New York Times leads with President-elect George W. Bush’s plans to review and possibly roll back some of the initiatives that Clinton has taken in his final weeks as president, including regulations that preserve some 60 million acres of forestland. Bush also suggested that he might reverse the Clinton administration’s position on aid to family planning groups working overseas. The Los Angeles Times leads with California Gov. Gray Davis’ announcement yesterday of a plan to stabilize an electricity market that has been plagued by the specter of blackouts and what the LAT calls “economic chaos.” On Tuesday, the same day that its largest utilities could go bankrupt, California’s legislature will consider a proposal under which the state would buy electricity through long-term contracts at “vastly reduced rates” and resell it to the companies at cost.

The $12 million in humanitarian aid appropriated for the Iraqi opposition program is in addition to $97 million in arms and military training Congress authorized in 1998 as part of the Iraq Liberation Act, only $2 million of which the Pentagon has spent to date. Blocked from acquiring “lethal aid,” the INC proposed this relief operation as a first step in getting the organization back on its feet, which, according to the WP, opposition leaders see as a precursor to the armed insurrection they hope to mount with the help of U.S. weapons and air support. The WP points out early on that this plan has important political and security implications as the U.S. will be committed to assisting the INC (founded in 1992 with CIA backing) in re-establishing an operation inside the U.S.-protected “safe area” of northern Iraq, from which it was ousted by Hussein’s forces in 1996. A former Bush adviser is quoted as predicting that the incoming administration will support the opposition.

The NYT lead, from a Friday interview at Bush’s Texas ranch, details Bush’s plans to review Clinton’s initiatives. In the second paragraph, the NYT quotes Bush on his own land use policies: “I understand the Western mentality, and I want the Western mentality represented in this administration,” which the NYT follows with Bush’s declaration that he has lawyers examining “every single issue, every single opportunity” to reverse Clinton’s final acts as president. The paper points out Bush’s desire to adopt a tough-love approach to Russia, limiting aid for its conversion to a market economy until Russian President Vladimir V. Putin cleans up corruption and enacts economic and legal reforms. Although the NYT’s use of a vague patois, as in “he suggested” and “he signaled,” made unclear to what degree Bush actually verbalized his game plan, his own words spoke loud enough on the issue of federal aid for family planning groups that promote or perform abortions abroad. Quotes the NYT: “‘Organizations that promote abortions are organizations that I don’t want to support’ with American taxpayer dollars, Mr. Bush said.” Although Congress has allocated $425 million for such family planning activities, Bush can still return to a former President Ronald Reagan-era policy that prohibits these private organizations from receiving public funds.

Following two moderate earthquakes that shook its own hometown, the LAT fronts news of Central America’s devastating Saturday morning 7.6-magnitude quake, which left at least 61 dead and 1,200 missing in El Salvador and neighboring Guatemala. The worst destruction, reports the LAT, beset a middle-class suburban neighborhood north of the capital city of San Salvador. “Whole families have been buried,” said one emergency volunteer.

The WP and the LAT front word that Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority executed yesterday the first two Palestinians ever convicted of collaborating with Israel. Both men were accused of providing information that led to the assassination of suspected Palestinian militants by Israel. The WP notes that these executions mark a change in Arafat’s policy as the Palestinian Authority had never before tried or executed anyone for collaborating with Israel. The shift, writes the WP, follows nearly three months of assassinations by Israeli military hit squads who, ostensibly aided by paid Palestinian collaborators, have killed Palestinians suspected of attacking Israeli targets.

The LAT goes below the fold with the news that Reagan, who suffered a broken hip due to a fall on Friday, made it through surgery yesterday without complications and is now recovering.

W-hiplash. The NYT lead on the Dubya juggernaut gets its own above-the-fold companion piece, “From the Ranch, President-Elect Gazes Back and Looks to the Future.” Amidst references to Bush’s winter wardrobe (“open-collared purple shirt, blue jeans and brown leather cowboy boots stamped with his initials”) and the gustatory pros of living in the White House (“The dessert menu is unbelievable,” says Bush), the NYT drops this less than illuminating rumination: “he seemed at once to be looking backward and forward, to be dwelling simultaneously in the past, present and future.”