Today's Papers

Sick Transit Tyrant

USA Today leads with the revelation–first reported by Navy Times–that the USS Greeneville was two nautical miles outside a submarine training area when it surfaced into that Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii. The Washington Post leads with a story that only got sporadic coverage yesterday because it broke late in the news cycle: a Palestinian bus driver–who had for years been cleared by Israeli authorities for his job–veered his vehicle into a crowd of Israeli soldiers and civilians, killing eight (five of them women) and injuring another 20. The New York Times goes with the U.S. attorney in New York initiating a criminal investigation into former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, with an emphasis on determining if anyone involved in the process sought to buy the pardon or to obtain it by fraudulent misrepresentation. This inquiry (which is the off-lead at the WP), undertaken by a Clinton appointee said to be “livid” about the pardon, comes, notes the NYT, at a time when President Bush and his attorney general, John Ashcroft, have expressed little enthusiasm for pursuing the matter. The Los Angeles Times lead detects a loss of steam in Congress for the idea of repealing the estate tax. Although considerable bipartisan support remains, the paper says that an emphasis on getting an income tax cut passed have overtaken it. Other factors: a group (described in detail on yesterday’s NYT front) of more than 100 high-profile rich people including Bill Gates’ father has been working against repeal, and the Bush appointee in charge of implementing faith-based public service programs recently came out against it in an interview (the LAT doesn’t say where), with the common concern being that elimination could significantly reduce the amount of charitable contributions made by the rich. The Wall Street Journal tops its front-page world-wide news box with a report attributed to White House sources saying that the Bush administration is considering plumping for a new tax the president had mentioned in passing during the campaign–on large legal fees. The paper suggests that the proposal would target mostly Democratic-leaning (and Democratic-contributing) trial lawyers.

The USAT lead quotes a Navy spokesman saying that submarines are not required to operate within training areas, but doesn’t point out in response that whenever they do, then as long as surface ships stay out of those chunks of water identified on navigation charts–as the Japanese craft indeed did–then collisions couldn’t happen. The story also doesn’t say whether the sub was intending to perform the maneuver inside the training area, although it notes that the positioning information raises new questions about whether its crew was distracted by civilian guests, which on Wednesday the Navy admitted was a possibility.

The LAT front goes long with a look at the Navy’s civilian ship visitation program, an attempt to create popular familiarity and support for the service. In recent years, says the story, increasing numbers of those visitors (some 25,000 on West Coast-based ships in the past two years) have come aboard submarines. The story says that sub skippers tend to put their ships through their paces during the show-and-tell cruises, with plenty of fire drills and emergency dive drills, and the emergency surface drills of the sort implicated in last Friday’s accident. Once, several years ago, says the paper, a civilian shot a blank torpedo. The paper’s lead editorial on the accident expresses impatience with the negligible amount of official disclosure to date under the headline: “ALL THE FACTS, NAVY.”

The WP lead has a quote from an Israeli that while obviously not true, is an indicator of Israel’s current mind-set: “Today every Palestinian is like a Scud missile. … He gets up, puts on his clothes and mows people down.” The story goes on to report that in reaction, caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak tightened the blockade preventing Palestinians from entering Israel. It also carries Yasser Arafat’s reaction: At first he blamed Israel–which had earlier admitted assassinating (the Post’s word) an alleged Palestinian terrorist–and later, he said he believed the bus episode was an accident. The paper reports however that at least three Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the bus attack. President Bush condemned the killings (including that of the alleged Palestinian official?–the paper doesn’t say) and called for an end to the region’s cycle of violence.

The NYT goes long inside about the conditions for workers at Alcoa factories in Acuna, Mexico. The reader learns of such details as wages of $6 a day, workers being overcome by gas leaks and limits of three sheets of toilet paper per worker in the company bathrooms. When one of the workers came up to a stockholders meeting in Pittsburgh to relate all this, he was told by the company CEO, “Our plants in Mexico are so clean they can eat off the floor.” The CEO? The current treasury secretary Paul O’Neill. The story says that O’Neill later discovered that worker complaints were valid and began to improve conditions at his plants. But even today, says the paper, Alcoa and other companies in Acuna pay such miserable wages and such minimal taxes that half of the town’s 150,000 residents use backyard latrines. The Times says the company’s Mexico operations are “quite profitable.” And that in 1999, O’Neill exercised $33 million in stock options on top of his $3 million salary.

Perhaps feeling a bit boxed out on the sub collision story, the NYT, which apparently let its Navy Times subscription lapse, goes inside to report that the fateful civilian cruise was arranged by a retired Navy admiral who was forced out of the service in 1995 after he said that the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three servicemen under his command could have been avoided if the three had simply paid for a prostitute. Hey why not go all the way with “SUB NAME ONLY ONE LETTER DIFFERENT FROM LOCATION OF BOB JONES UNIVERSITY”?