Today's Papers

The Ties That Bind

Everybody leads with the United States’ and Britain’s bombing of five anti-aircraft sites inside Iraq. The attack is the first major military operation of the Bush administration, and it is widely interpreted as a signal that the new president will take a tougher line against Saddam Hussein. Everybody also fronts Bush’s business-casual trip to Mexico, the new president’s first official visit abroad. The New York Times off-leads news that the University of California system may drop the SAT in favor of a more “holistic” method for evaluating applicants. The move still has to be approved by the university system’s professors and regents, but everyone agrees that the decision could trigger the demise of the nation’s most common standardized test.

The U.S. and Britain have been bombing Iraq regularly for the last several years, but Friday’s campaign is remarkable because planes hit targets on the outskirts of Baghdad. Before Friday, they had not attacked a target outside Iraq’s two no-fly zones since December 1998. The attack was prompted by worry that the Iraqis are coming closer to hitting warplanes on patrol in the no-fly zones. The Washington Post says this is because the Iraqis have been building an underground, fiber-optic cable system that would link their anti-aircraft command-and-control units. The system is still under construction and would have been difficult to destroy once completed. The NYT and the Los Angeles Times offer similar explanations. They also provide some useful context, noting that there have been nine bombings in Iraq this year and four (not counting Friday’s) since Bush was inaugurated Jan. 20.

(Friday produced at least two other bombings of note. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo killed seven Serbs traveling in a convoy with a roadside bomb. Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an Israeli army convoy traveling near the Syria-Lebanon border, killing one soldier and wounding two others.)

The bombing in Iraq overshadows Bush’s trip to Mexico. Everyone agrees that Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox took their ties off and posed for a lot of pictures. But they can’t quite seem to agree what was newsworthy about it. The NYT gives considerable play to a comment Bush made that could suggest the U.S. will stop its annual reviews of Mexico’s drug policy. The Mexicans find the review demeaning. But the WP and the LAT make scant mention of drugs, instead emphasizing that Bush and Fox agreed to work together on immigration policy. Fox has said he wants to improve conditions for the millions of Mexicans who have crossed into the U.S. illegally.

Scrapping the SAT would be the latest aftershock from the University of California’s decision five years ago to drop race as a factor in admissions. As a group, Latinos and blacks score lower on the SAT, and not coincidentally, California’s admissions rates for those two groups have fallen since race left the equation. But there is a second reason why California may get rid of the SAT: The test is becoming too important. All three papers relate the same anecdote involving university president Richard Atkinson, an expert on testing methods. Apparently, Atkinson decided it was time for the SAT to go when he visited a prep school and witnessed a teacher drilling 12-year-olds on analogies, an important part of the SAT’s verbal section. Atkinson wants to drop the SAT by 2003 and rely on achievement tests that focus on particular subjects.

The Post and the LAT front updates on the USS Greeneville investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is probing the sub’s collision with a Japanese fishing vessel, said Friday that the Greeneville saw several nearby ships before its rapid ascent to the surface. Until now, there has been no suggestion that other ships were in the area of the accident. The fact that there were may suggest the Greeneville’s commanders acted recklessly, the LAT says. Both papers also say the NTSB is investigating a theory that the Greeneville didn’t spot the fishing vessel through its periscope because the ship blended in with the shoreline.

The NYT fronts yet another piece on Marc Rich, the formerly fugitive financier. Today’s news hones in on Rich’s ties to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Rich’s oil dealings in Iran and Iraq may have gotten him into trouble in the U.S., but they also put him in a good position to pass along information about two of Israel’s fiercest enemies. Rich apparently helped Mossad so much that Israeli diplomats began lobbying for him in 1995. Their efforts went nowhere until Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Clinton personally to lobby for Rich’s pardon. Clinton says that–not the hundreds of thousands of dollars Rich’s ex-wife donated to Clinton’s presidential library–is the reason why he pardoned Rich on his last day in office.

Finally, an LAT fronter notes the passing of Rose Freedman, the last survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Freedman was 107 (egad!) when she died Friday; she was 16 when she was hired by Triangle Shirtwaist to stitch buttons in the company’s Manhattan sweatshop. On March 25, 1911, a fire erupted there, killing 146 people. The accident led to a host of safety rules and legislation limiting the workweek of women and children.