The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times (online) lead with news that the Yugoslav Cabinet passed a decree to send former President Slobodan Milosevic to stand trial in The Hague. A United Nations tribunal had indicted him for war crimes in Kosovo in 1999. The New York Times fronts the extradition decree but leads with its discovery that a group of personal injury lawyers and a top traffic safety consultant knew that Firestone’s tires were causing some Ford Explorers to crash back in 1996. They failed to report this information to government traffic safety officials until four years later because they didn’t want to compromise private lawsuits.
The WP reports that Milosevic, one of 16 Yugoslav war criminal suspects now eligible for extradition, is expected to be sent to The Hague within three weeks, after he finishes challenging the decree. Milosevic has Yugoslav law on his side: It’s illegal for the government to extradite one of its citizens. Still, the Yugoslav deputy prime minister remains confident that Milosevic will go, says the NYT. The extradition decree comes down a week before an international donor conference in Brussels. Yugoslavia hopes to come away from the conference with promises of about $1 billion in aid to fix its war-trashed economy. That money would not come easily without U.S. support, the papers report, and the Americans had indicated that they would boycott the conference if Yugoslavia failed to get serious about cooperating with The Hague. The LAT has the deputy prime minister insisting that the money is not important: “We are not selling anybody,” he declared.
The extradition decision comes after much internal debate and may end up unraveling Yugoslavia’s coalition government. The Cabinet acted unilaterally after the Yugoslav parliament would not pass a law to make allowances for extraditing suspected war criminals. Now a group of Montenegrin Cabinet members, former allies of Milosevic who refused to vote on the extradition, are considering leaving the government.
The NYT lead reveals that the traffic safety consultant, who worked with the lawyers, identified 30 cases in which Firestone tires failed in 1996. The paper relays this unfortunate statistic: 190 of the 203 reported deaths attributed to the tire failure occurred after 1996. Though they may have had a civic duty to report the defects, the lawyers broke no laws, nor did they even compromise any “ethical codes for lawyers,” the paper notes. The lawyers’ first priority was to get as much money as possible for their crash victim clients. Besides, the traffic consultant told the Times, some of the plaintiff lawyers did not trust government inspectors because they had been hurt in the past by government investigations that failed to find defects. The lawyers worked on contingency on these cases and collected up to a third of a settlement or award.
About a month after his last goodwill tour ended, Pope John Paul II is on the move again, report the NYT, WP, and LAT (online) fronts. The NYT calls the elderly pope’s five-day trip to Ukraine part of a “now-or-never” effort to realize his dream of uniting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity, which split in 1054. Tension between Catholic and Orthodox believers is especially sharp in this former Soviet republic for political reasons. Catholics embrace anti-Russian nationalism and members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are subordinate to Moscow’s Russian Orthodox Church, the LAT explains. The pope was welcomed by the Ukrainian president, who used the papal visit to remind everyone of Ukraine’s desire to ally itself with Europe. Orthodox leaders shunned him, however, and prayed that he would not visit Orthodox holy spots, the NYT reports.
The NYT and WP go inside with the news that Bush may have surprised Congress by announcing support for a law which would keep insurance companies and employers from discriminating against people based on whether they are genetically predisposed to getting a disease. The NYT gives an example of such genetic discrimination: A railway company used blood tests to check out whether union members who complained of carpal tunnel syndrome were indeed predisposed to developing the ailment. Though over half the states outlaw genetic discrimination, House Republicans have resisted creating such a federal law. Democratic senators plan to push such legislation through the newly Democratic Senate soon.
The WP front calls Bush’s approach to policy-making “Clintonesque,” because evidence suggests he cares what polls say about his policies. Though Bush promised that his presidency would not be a “permanent campaign,” his top policy and political advisers meet regularly, just as Clinton’s did. Some administration officials said that Bush’s decision to close Puerto Rico’s Vieques bombing range was made in part to please Hispanics, and the president’s stances on fetal tissue research and California energy prices reflect some political calculation. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told the Post that “every White House weighs principle, policy and politics,” and that this administration has it in the right order. While the paper notes that Bush’s dad may have suffered politically because he ordered those priorities wrong, it might have been interesting to look at how a few more presidents balanced these interests.