Today's Papers

The Plane Truth?

USA Today leads with what it calls the “angry rhetoric” coming from the U.S. and China Sunday over the EP-3 episode. The Washington Post leads with fresh details provided by some of the plane’s crew yesterday, which are stuffed by the New York Times and USAT but fronted by the Los Angeles Times. The NYT goes with the steady easing of government rules concerning the growth and market share of media companies. The LAT leads with an up-to-speeder on the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement to be discussed at meetings Friday by the leaders of all the countries from Canada to Chile except Cuba. The agreement, a sort of super-NAFTA, would create a free-trade market of 800 million customers. The paper says that although this is a top priority of the Bush administration, with the U.S. economy slowing, it’s not clear President Bush can marshal the required congressional support.USAT’s lead contrasts the assessment offered by China’s official news agency–“the United States should take national responsibility for its illegal action”–with the U.S. pilot’s description of the Chinese fighter plane’s pre-collision behavior as “harassing.” The Wall Street Journal says that in stark contrast to such “heated rhetoric,” U.S. officials will tell the Chinese at meetings later this week that most Chinese fighter intercepts of U.S. surveillance planes are “conducted professionally” and that China has every right to conduct safe intercepts.The WP lead says that before the collision, one U.S. cockpit crew member saw the Chinese pilot salute and take his oxygen mask off to mouth something and then shoo the U.S. plane away with hand gestures. The story also says the collision caused a rapid cabin depressurization that made it difficult for some crew members to breathe and that after pulling out of their steep dive, the crew still had a big worry: that the damaged engine would throw its propeller into the plane’s fuselage. The pilot made repeated Mayday calls that the base should have been able to hear. Apparently, the aviators did succeed in destroying a significant amount of the classified material on board. And although there were interrogations (always videotaped) at all hours (USAT says the Americans saw this as “a campaign of sleep deprivation”), there was no physical abuse and even some amiable guards. Two of the plane’s officers wrote and put on skits (based on TV shows) to keep spirits up. The food was decent although it took the Chinese a few days to realize the Americans didn’t like the fish heads.USAT reports that one of the crew members sent a coded e-mail to his mom indicating that he was OK–based on a code word she had made him agree to when he joined the Navy.The NYT lead describes the current telecommunications climate of FCC and federal appeals court decisions as “a marked departure” from decades of Supreme Court opinions, with the result that the free speech rights of broadcasters are now accorded more sympathy and the government’s interests in media market diversity are now accorded less. The paper says that the trend will likely continue, citing as an example the FCC’s scheduled relaxation of one rule that prevented any TV network from buying another and of a second rule that kyboshed ownership of a TV station and a newspaper in the same market.The WP front says that the Bush administration energy task force, chaired by Dick Cheney, is operating in secret. Meetings begin with admonitions to participants that they are off the record, and documents are not shared with outsiders the group works with. The paper is reminded of another executive branch task force: the one on health-care reform chaired by Hillary Clinton.The NYT fronts a growing problem for the U.S. intelligence community: While it needs increasingly diverse language skills, the U.S. school system is turning out fewer and fewer language students, and most of those are in Spanish, French, and German. Last year, the story says, U.S. colleges collectively graduated nine Arabic majors.Everybody stuffs an Israeli airstrike deep into Lebanon that targeted a Syrian radar position and killed at least one soldier there. The Israeli government says the strike came because Hezbollah guerrilla attacks against Israeli forces are conducted with Syria’s knowledge and support.USAT fronts the U.S. military’s concern about “skyrocketing” use of the amphetamine Ecstasy among its members–up about 12 times what it was two years ago. And that estimate is based on the services’ drug testing, which misses much Ecstasy use because unlike many other drugs, it usually leaves no traces in the body after 48 hours. The paper says the Pentagon is set to introduce a new Ecstasy test next year.According to the WSJ, President Bush’s tax return casts an interesting light on his argument that the current top federal tax rate of 39.6 percent is too high. Thanks to existing tax breaks, Bush’s effective rate was 26.9 percent.The WSJ reports that the cause of a reduction in the capital gains tax is back on the congressional agenda. One reason for this, explains the paper, is “complaints from ordinary taxpayers.” You know, like Debbe Trachtman of Overland Park, Kansas, who after learning from her tax adviser that she was going to have to pay $10,000 in capital gains taxes (actually the story chooses to say she was “socked” with the bill) had to give up on her plans to buy a new Lincoln Town Car.