Today's Papers

Polemical Figures

The Washington Post leads with the Bush administration’s decision to boost defense spending by $18.4 billion in 2002. The figure is far smaller than expected, setting the stage for a political battle between hawkish Republicans and budget-conscious Democrats. The New York Times leads with a court ruling that federal regulators should not have stripped a bankrupt wireless phone company of its licenses. The decision throws into question three big wireless companies’ plans to improve service. The Los Angeles Times leads with a new agreement to combat illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The increase puts the defense budget at $330 billion, or about 10 percent more than this year’s, making this the largest boost in military spending since the Reagan administration. But the budget still seems to displease just about everyone imaginable. The sum is about $10 billion less than Pentagon officials had hoped for. Republican lawmakers are already saying they will try to add more money, but Democrats say there may not even be enough money to cover that $18 billion boost. If that weren’t bad enough, the budget shows that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is behind in his massive review of military spending, the WP says. Pentagon officials have been saying that the amended 2002 budget will include some new weapons purchases. But the proposal asks for just $3.6 billion for new weapons, which means Congress may be in for an even bigger fight next year.

An appeals court’s decision to give NextWave Personal Communications its wireless licenses back culminates a long-simmering dispute. NextWave agreed to pay $4.7 billion for the licenses in 1996, but the company declared bankruptcy two years later after having paid only $500,000. The Federal Communications Commission cancelled the licenses and resold them in an auction last January. The licenses went for about $16 billion in that auction, with Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular buying most of them. Those companies said the licenses would let them improve connections and roll out better data service in several key cities, but the appeals court decision throws that strategy in doubt by effectively giving the same licenses to separate companies. The NYT also calls the decision “a unanimous rebuke of the Federal Communications Commission’s auction process”–an interesting conclusion given that the auctions have generally been regarded as a success.

Mexico will do more to prevent illegal immigration, according to the new agreement. The U.S., in exchange, will review its policy of focusing resources at points where it would be relatively easy for Mexicans to cross. That policy forces illegals to cross at more dangerous places, critics say. The LAT says the agreement signals Mexico is willing to develop a joint policy on border crossings, something the U.S. has long wanted. But that cooperation will come at a price. Mexican officials said they would commit to substantial changes only if the U.S. agrees to a broader package that includes things Mexico wants, such as legal status for illegals that already live in the U.S. and more visas for Mexican workers.

The NYT fronts news that the government in Northern Ireland may be on the verge of collapse for the second time since a peace agreement was signed in 1998. And for the second time, the issue at the center of the controversy is the Irish Republican Army’s refusal to disarm. But there may be some grounds for hope, the NYT says. An array of Catholic political leaders, including the prime minister of the Irish Republic, are urging the I.R.A. not to stall any longer on disarmament. In the past, Catholic leaders have kept mum while Protestants raised the issue of disarmament. All of this, of course, comes as Belfast goes through some of the worst sectarian rioting it has seen in years.

The LAT fronts a puzzling piece on the death penalty in India. The Times tries to discuss the moral debate of capital punishment, but there just doesn’t seem to be much opposition to the death penalty in India. So the piece centers instead on Mammu Singh, who is believed to be India’s only hangman. The article describes hanging people as a highly skilled profession that has been carefully preserved in the Singh family. The LAT also says that Singh carried out the death sentences on Indira Gandhi’s assassins. But none of this has brought Singh, who comes from a low caste, any respect or wealth. In fact, Singh is serving out a two-week jail sentence himself, for failing to repay a loan to the government. The reason? The government owes him almost $400 in back wages, roughly 15 months’ salary.

The NYT goes inside with the canonization of Pol Pot. The Cambodian dictator died in 1998, but recently his ghost has taken to visiting villagers living in the mountains where he spent his last days. Many credit Pol Pot with healing their illnesses or–perhaps more importantly–giving them winning lotto numbers. These good deeds have not gone unnoticed. Some villagers now make offerings at his grave. This behavior would seem strange had the NYT not left some clues as to why people are reassessing the man responsible for killing more than a million of his countrymen in the late 1970s. It seems that few Cambodians can connect Pol Pot directly to the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. Pol Pot was a mystical figure behind the scenes during his four-year reign of terror and subsequent guerilla war. He remains a mystical figure in death.