Today's Papers

Hard to Swallow

USA Todayleads with word that “top Bush administration officials were in contact with Enron executives at least 14 times last year, more than the administration first reported.” White House officials say, though, that they never agreed to help the floundering company. The New York Timesleads with news that Medicaid, the country’s medical insurance program for low-income people, is in “fiscal crisis,” forcing states to cut costs and reduce benefits. The paper says the program “is caught in the financial vise of soaring costs and declining state revenues.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with, and everybody else stuffs, Colombia’s ultimatum for rebels to abandon by tonight a swath of territory the government gave them three years ago as a peace offering. The paper says, “the rebels prepared to evacuate the demilitarized zone, bringing this nation a step closer to a full-scale war.” The NYT, in the first sentence of its Colombia story, says that the rebels announced they would withdraw “peacefully.” The papers agree that fighting will probably increase as the guerrillas are forced to roam around again. Meanwhile, residents of the demilitarized zone are afraid that after the guerrillas leave, right-wing death squads will sweep through the area, killing indiscriminately. The Wall Street Journal’s top worldwide newsbox item reports that another 30 al-Qaida and Taliban suspects were flown to Guantanamo Bay yesterday. The Washington Post’s top non-local story says that in the wake of Pakistan’s promise to crack down on terrorism, Islamic militants in the country are going underground.

The militants vowed that they’d change their names and employ all sorts of deception. But India says that’s not what they’re worried about. “The real question is what will the military and the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence service] do?” explained an Indian official. “If they really crack down on these groups, then it doesn’t really matter if they try to change their names or go underground. Where will they get their guns from? How will they get money?”

Everybody goes high with India’s lukewarm response to Pakistan’s promise to crackdown: Thanks for the kind words, said India, but until we see them backed up with actions, we’ll stay on a war-footing.

“Pakistan is a land where deception, double deception, double double deception is the history,” said India’s foreign minister.

President Bush was happily watching a football game yesterday when he choked on a pretzel and then fainted. “He said it didn’t seem to go down right,” the White House’s doctor explained. “The next thing he knew, he was on the floor.” Bush figures he was only unconscious for a few seconds because when he got up, his dogs  were in the same position as when he first passed out, although, according to White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, “the dogs were looking at him funny.” The president, according to his doctor, is fine.

Today’s Papers hates to be a fuddy-duddy, but: Why do we have to rely on Bush’s recollection of his dogs’ lounging locations to judge the length of time our president was unconscious? For example, where was the Secret Service during this episode? Perhaps they reacted flawlessly; but it’s worth finding out. 

The papers credit Time magazine with breaking news of an e-mail sent out by Enron’s auditor, Arthur Andersen, advising its employees to destroy Enron-related documents. “I think it is a violation of our securities laws,” said a former head of the SEC. “It’s highly unusual at best.”

The WP off-leads with continuing concern that al-Qaida still has terrorist tricks up its sleeves. “What we worry about is that there are operations already trained, populated, planned and funded, and they are simply waiting for an opportunity.” According to the paper, at least six al-Qaida plots have been foiled since Sept. 11.

In the middle of the article (18th graph), the story notes, “[M]ost of the al-Qaida members captured so far are low-level functionaries with limited information about the group’s broader goals and objectives.”  As one FBI official put it, “We haven’t gotten the big cheeses yet.”

The WSJ reports that after a six-day session, Islamic scholars at a conference in Saudi Arabia announced that they had come up with a definition of terrorism. It is, “all acts of aggression committed by individuals, groups or states against human beings, including attacks on their religion, life, intellect or property.” The scholars said that includes “heinous terrorism currently perpetrated by Jews in Palestine.” And how about violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israel? Nope, that’s “jihad,” which is “the way of Allah.” Does that include attacks against civilians? The paper doesn’t say. 

The NYT’s William Safire writes that he’s a “card-carrying scandalmonger.” So it’s all the more interesting that he is “moved to ask: Where’s the scandal?”  Safire concludes, “Based on what we now know, Enron is not a political scandal. Bush’s people did right by refusing to bail a campaign contributor out of its mess at public expense. Taxpayers should be grateful.”

USAT’s front-page graphic has an interesting stat: In the past 15 years, the average cost of full-time day care has more than doubled, from $232 to $516 per month. Is that adjusted for inflation? Good question. 

The LAT reports that Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, a former professional tennis player, is seeking child support from her former husband, financier Kirk Kerkorian. It’s a pretty normal story: a love child, a brief unhappy marriage, etc, etc. Then there’s the $350,000 permonth Bonder Kerkorian contends is required to keep their 3-year-old little girl, Kira, living in the style to which she is accustomed. Mr. Kerkorian is worth about $4.6 billion. Among the monthly expenses for Kira: “$144,000 for travel; $14,000 for parties and play dates; $7,000 for charity; $4,300 for food, plus $5,900 to eat out;  $2,500 for movies, theaters and outings; and $1,400 for laundry and cleaning.”