Today's Papers

Bang! Powell!

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with Israel’s brief invasion yesterday of some Palestinian territory in the Gaza strip. The event also tops the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box. USA Today stuffs it and leads instead with a story nobody else fronts: the Interior Department’s decision to move forward with plans to auction off 6 million acres of Gulf of Mexico seabed to bidders hoping to drill offshore for oil and natural gas, despite a personal letter of appeal to President George W. Bush from the governor of Florida, his younger brother Jeb Bush.The coverage reports Israel’s move on Gaza was its first occupation of territory ceded to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo peace accord. The Israelis’ action involved missile and artillery barrages on areas thought by them to have been the source of recent Palestinian mortar attacks on positions inside Israel, followed by tank-escorted bulldozing of trees and farm groves. Both the WP and LAT observe that the ground-clearing seems reminiscent of earlier military operations designed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he was a general.The papers emphasize that while Israel’s action was underway, it drew unusually harsh criticism from the Bush administration, in the form of a written statement released by Secretary of State Colin Powell calling it “excessive and disproportionate.” Everybody notes that Israeli army officials originally described the Gaza operation as possibly lasting months. The NYT lead has the most back-and-forth on whether Powell’s condemnation precipitated the Israelis’ pullout a few hours later, but the LAT comes closest to unequivocally answering yes. The paper says the U.S. stance “apparently stunned Israeli officials.” The LAT also reports that a short time after the Israeli forces withdrew, Palestinian mortar fire was once again directed at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.The WP, NYT, and LAT front the Bush administration’s decision to implement a Clinton administration proposal requiring more businesses to report to the government how much lead their activities release into the air, soil, and water. All three papers see this decision–together with Monday’s announcement that the Environmental Protection Administration would let a Clinton administration wetlands regulation take effect–as much more a political than an environmental decision, designed to blunt an increasing perception that the Bush administration too often sided with business on environmental issues. The Post flatly calls yesterday’s announcement “part of an environmental makeover” for the administration.Both the NYT and the WP go long on the Federalist Society, the nearly 20-year-old conservative legal organization that, both papers say, is enjoying unprecedented government influence in the Bush administration. The WP goes high with a scorecard: Three members lead Cabinet agencies (Justice, Interior, Energy), three are in the White House counsel’s office, and one is the solicitor general. Both papers add that many federal judges are members, with the Times observing that membership can be a crucial credential for law students seeking to get federal court (including Supreme Court) clerkships.USAT goes long with the complaint of the highest-ranking female fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Maj. Martha McSally, about the dress code the service enforces for its female personnel (like her) stationed in Saudi Arabia, at the behest of the host country. When women there go off base they have to wear a black head scarf and a black neck-to-toe robe to satisfy the Saudi interpretation of Islamic religion. (Male USAF types can wear casual Western clothes off-base.) “It is a customary Muslim outfit for women,” she says, “but I’m not Muslim and I’m not Saudi. I am a Christian.” The Pentagon sees the dress code as a necessity, but McSally views the Pentagon as abandoning American values in imposing it on women but not men. (The story also mentions that the Saudis won’t allow female Air Force air traffic controllers to talk to male Saudi pilots on the radio.) McSally is not arguing for unrestricted dress, but for being allowed to cover up in American clothes. She decided to speak to USAT after a quiet lobbying campaign inside the military got nowhere.Today’s tale of wealth woe comes on the NYT front, which reports that Seattle is abuzz with stories of Microsoft employees deep in dept and filing for bankruptcy because when they exercised their stock options, they borrowed against them to pay the taxes incurred in the process, and then lost much or all of their stock holdings as the value of their shares declined in the receding tech market. Some of the Microsofties are blaming stockbrokers at the firm the company hired to administer its option program, Salomon Smith Barney, for pushing them into the predicament. The paper says the official overseeing bankruptcy filings in western Washington state has recently seen 25 option-related cases filed by Microsoft employees.The LAT fronts the announcement that former Warner Bros. co-chairman Terry Semel will become the CEO of Yahoo!, a story carried inside elsewhere. In one small respect, the paper, along with the NYT, WP, and USAT seems a little less bullish on the move than the WSJ. Only the Journal punctuates the company name with its exclamation point.