Today's Papers

Going Boeing

Everybody leads with the ongoing saga in Kunduz, where the Taliban surrender continues, but only in part. The New York Times  reports that Northern Alliance leaders still expect that, in order to take the city, they will have to fight the “thousands” of Taliban who remain behind. The Washington Post  is considerably more optimistic, reporting that the alliance will likely take over Kunduz with “a minimum of bloodshed” today, if they have not done so already.

The papers also differ on the number of Taliban who surrendered on Saturday, with a high of 1,200 in the Post and a low of 700 in the NYT. At one of the surrender sites, according to the NYT, “300 Afghan Taliban soldiers came rumbling across the front lines, crammed into their signature Toyota pickup trucks still smeared with mud to camouflage them from American jets. They found Northern Alliance troops waiting to greet them. The two groups, enemies only hours before, embraced, shook hands and, in some cases, found old friends.” Keeping to the established pattern, many Afghan Taliban simply switched sides upon surrender, while their foreign counterparts were taken into custody. The Los Angeles Times reports that several of the “hardline foreign Taliban” had rigged their bodies with explosives and blew themselves up after being taken prisoner.

The Taliban’s fading presence in Afghanistan is a decidedly mixed blessing for Pakistan, according to an NYT fronter. Already faced with a hostile neighbor to the east, in India, Pakistan may also find, when the dust settles, an enemy to the west, if the Northern Alliance retains control of Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan. And that will depend largely on what happens after the war is over: Will the Americans pack up and go home after their objectives are achieved? Or will they ensure that a much-trumpeted broad-based coalition government is firmly in place? Pakistani officials already feel that their interests have not been protected by the U.S. When General Musharraf traveled to Washington two weeks ago, for example, President Bush “pressed” the alliance not to capture Kabul. But when Musharraf returned to Pakistan, “he arrived just in time to see alliance troops pouring into the Afghan capital.” Pakistan armed (along with Russia and Iran) and supported the Taliban before Sept 11, thereby making an enemy of the alliance.

“Mentally Ill Need Care, Find Prison” reads the headline on a Post fronter about the dearth of mental health facilities in the United States. Public mental hospitals housed 558,922 patients in 1955, compared with 57,151 in 1998. (The nation’s overall population increased by two-thirds over that time.) “America’s jails and prisons are now surrogate psychiatric hospitals,” says the director of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. Often relying on illegal street drugs rather than prescribed medication, people with a variety of mental illnesses are sent to prison and there many of them receive some semblance of care for the first time. “A lot of people with mental illness are charged with minor crimes as a way to get them off the streets,” says another advocate. About 5.4 percent of U.S. adults suffer from some sort of mental illness, while 16 percent of U.S. inmates are mentally ill.

The news from Seattle makes the LAT, and none of it’s good. The economy there has been especially hard hit by the “dot-com implosion,” Boeing’s partial relocation to Chicago, and Sept 11, which left the remaining Boeing plant in bad shape. The article takes us back to just last March, when a house in one Seattle neighborhood sold for a million dollars more than its asking price. That won’t be happening anymore. Hotel occupancy rates have fallen 22 percent, 22,500 Boeing employees will be laid off by the middle of next year, and Microsoft employees have seen the value of their stock options fall by $21.2 billion. “After this current round of layoffs, we’ll essentially have wiped out everybody below the age of 32,” says a union rep at Boeing. Forecasters say recovery might come in 2004.

Tony Kushner’s new play Homebody/Kabul, a three-hour, 12-character drama, is talked about in the arts section of the NYT. An actor friend in London asked Kushner to write a monologue for her and his new, “eerily prescient” play grew out of that. Its parallels to recent events are “so uncanny that after the terrorist attacks, some cast members thought Mr. Kushner should cut several lines, for fear that audiences would think he was taking advantage of the tragedy.” At one point, for example, an Afghan character, complaining about America’s responsibility for the Taliban regime, says, “Don’t worry, they’re coming to New York!” Kushner says was planning to sneak into Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass this fall, but was discouraged by an “unofficial Taliban contact.” “We had kind of an unpleasant conversation,” he says. “They’d gone on the Internet and read about me.” The play opens next month in New York.