Today's Papers

From Russia, Without Love

The Los Angeles Times leads with a letter penned by a bloc of 10 moderate Senate Democrats to President Bush assuring him that education reform, his top domestic priority, is “well within reach,” provided his administration scraps demands for private vouchers and agrees to large spending hikes for federal education. The centrist Democratic coalition, led by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, urged Bush to up his overall education spending proposal by $7 billion per year over the next five years, and to allot roughly two-thirds of the extra funds to Title 1, which provides aid to students from low-income families. The Democrats also encouraged Bush to establish safeguards so that the increased flexibility the president has proposed for distributing federal funds at the local level does not divert money from programs targeted at underprivileged students. And the group reiterated its opposition to vouchers for parents who feel their children’s schools are failing. The New York Times goes with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s three-day tour of the Middle East, which he kicked off yesterday by meeting in Cairo with Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov. And the Washington Post leads local, with a congressional stalemate in the Virginia General Assembly over a proposed car-tax cut, which Republicans in the state hope will be the “defining issue” in the November elections.

Powell’s meeting with the Russian foreign minister, fronted by the LAT and reefered by the WP, was the first official encounter between the Bush administration and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The foreign policy leaders discussed their countries’ respective plans for a missile-defense system (earlier this week, Russia proposed a less ambitious version of the Bush plan to America’s NATO allies), as well as Powell’s chief business on the trip–marshalling support in the Middle East for sanctions against Iraq. Both papers quote Powell’s version of the meeting as “very, very excellent,” but the LAT plays up “the increasingly problematic relations between Washington and Moscow,” and quotes a Stanford foreign relations expert as to the current climate between Russia and the U.S.: “They’re exhausted with us, and we are with them.”

Ivanov agreed with Powell’s proposition to strengthen sanctions that would restrict Saddam Hussein’s capability to build weapons of mass destruction, but Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Powell that current sanctions are harming the people of Iraq rather than Hussein. The LAT, which reefers Mubarak’s comments, characterizes them as a “rebuke” to the U.S. According to the NYT, Powell acknowledged that convincing Arab leaders in Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia (who share Mubarak’s sentiment) to tighten sanctions would be a tough sell. Powell met late last night with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and will meet today with his successor, Ariel Sharon.

Pressed to answer the burning question, “How could a God-fearing, Commie-hating American go bad?” all the papers front profiles of F.B.I. counterintelligence agent Robert Philip Hanssen, alleged double-agent for Russia.  The reports chronicle Hanssen’s Midwestern roots; his work as a Chicago police officer on a secret task force to identify corrupt cops; his right-wing politics; his affiliation with the conservative international Catholic organization Opus Dei; his reputation in the bureau as 1) a Christian and 2) an fervent anti-Communist; and his overall demeanor: brainy and boring. Both papers note that his understated bearing earned him the endearing nickname “Dr. Death” at the office. Though the WP report admits Hanssen’s motive for spying “remains unexplained,” it emphasizes both the financial pressures besetting an underpaid federal employee with six privately educated children and the intellectual rush of outsmarting his peers. The NYT downplays the poor salaries of Fibbies and focuses on what its headline calls the “PARADOX OF PIOUS SPY FOR GODLESS FOE.” The LAT waxes Conradian, calling Hanssen’s double life a descent “into the heart of darkness.”

An NYT front-pager takes stock of the current state of the New York’s electricity industry, noting the “striking similarities” between it and the crisis-ridden California system, including plodding development of new power plants, a dependence on natural gas to run generators, and deregulated electricity markets. The immediate consequences for New York are “less dire” than in California, since the state’s six utilities are financially healthy, but over the next three years–given the lack of new plants and transmission lines–the state’s risk of shortages and blackouts is likely to increase.

Anent the Clinton’s pardon mess, and via documents and e-mails assembled as part of the congressional investigation into the Marc Rich pardon, the WP front asserts that the billionaire financier’s “Israeli connection” is “vital” to the pardon. The documents reveal–among other things–that Rich’s January visit to Israel, ostensibly to attend a charitable convention for Israeli youth, “provided a perfect opportunity for rubbing elbows with American Jewish leaders and senior Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak”;  that Rich offered to swap economic incentives to the Middle East peace process for relaxed restrictions on his own international travel; and that Rich began exploiting his Israeli connections to resolve his legal problems in the U.S. as early as 1995, though his decision to apply for a pardon last November was presented by his lawyers as a spontaneous long-shot.

An  LAT front speculates that Clinton’s pardons were fueled by the desire “to go out looking magnanimous,” according to aides. While its headline charges that Clinton’s “EGO FED A NUMBERS GAME” for racking up clemency petitions, the report itself emphasizes the “overwhelmed and leaky” clemency system. A related NYT front rehashes the strategies of a number of successful pardonees and, after interviewing “more than a dozen” lawyers who worked on pardon applications,” concludes that access to the president was the common ingredient.  Bypassing the Justice Department and submitting their apps directly to the White House at the 11th hour, it seems, also did the trick for 31 newly exonerated “friends of Bill.” Several of the lawyers also speculated that Clinton changed his stingy attitude towards pardons after surviving the Whitewater scandal and impeachment. As one lawyer put it, “He got religion.”