Today's Papers

Roadblocks to Peace

 The New York Times leads with investigators saying that the former treasurer of Enron has begun cooperating with federal authorities. The paper says that the executive, Ben F. Glisan Jr., is considered to be “a crucial participant in the events that led to the debacle at Enron.” USA Today leads with the news that this past month was the “biggest January ever” for the sales of previously-owned homes. The paper attributes the surge to mild weather and low, low mortgage rates. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with President Bush’s statement that he wants the suspects in the murder of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl to be extradited. Until his comments yesterday, the White House hadn’t taken a clear position on the extradition. The Washington Post leads with the arrest of a “top associate” of Victor Bout, the man behind what officials believe to be the world’s largest arms smuggling operation. The Post says that the associate is now trying to help police nab Bout, who sold lots of weapons to al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Los Angeles Times leads with an upsurge in violence in the Middle East. The paper focuses on three pregnant women who were wounded in the past two days, two Palestinians and one Israeli.  The two Palestinian women were shot as they were driving through the same Israeli roadblock, at different times.

The papers all report that a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at a crowded bus stop, wounding about 10 Israelis. None of the papers, though, actually refer to the attacker as a terrorist. They all say “gunman,” except the LAT, which simply refers to him as “a Palestinian.”

The LAT’s Middle East correspondent, Tracy Wilkinson, explains why some Palestinian civilians appear to be running the roadblocks: In order to avoid ambushes, Israel has been setting up “surprise” roadblocks, and Palestinians sometimes don’t recognize them until its too late. In addition, the papers all point out that the Israeli soldiers manning the roadblocks have been on edge since six soldiers were ambushed and killed at a roadblock last week.

The WP and LAT both pick up an extraordinary quote from an Israeli officer who spoke on a local radio program and said he finally decided to abandon his post at a roadblock. “We’ve reached the state where we shoot out of fear,” he said. “We use these bullets as a kind of shield, a wall, because we don’t have a wall or concrete to protect us.”

The LAT’s Wilkinson clearly feels strongly about the roadblocks. In a news article, she states, “The proliferation of checkpoints further punishes, antagonizes and endangers Palestinian civilians.”

The NYT says that even with the violence, a Saudi Arabian peace proposal appears to be gaining momentum. The plan calls for Israel to pull back to pre-1967 borders in exchange for all Arab countries declaring peace with Israel.

The NYT, which fronts a long piece on the possible extradition of Pearl’s suspected killers, says an agreement to extradite “could come as early as Tuesday.” The Times also notes that last November a U.S. grand jury secretly indicted Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the main suspect in the plot, for a 1994 kidnapping of another American. But the Pakistani government didn’t act on a U.S. request that Sheikh be arrested.  

The NYT off-leads word that despite fears to the contrary, officials are now confident that al-Qaida has not obtained any nuclear materials. The Pentagon had been particularly concerned because U.S. soldiers had found suspicious barrels at al-Qaida camps, marked with skull and crossbones. But after analyzing the containers, officials concluded that al-Qaida had been duped into buying faux-radiological materials: “They were swindled,” explained a Pentagon official.

Citing law enforcement officials, the NYT reports that authorities now have a list of 18 to 20 people who could have sent the anthrax-laden letters last fall. The officials pointed out that contrary to previous reports (including comments by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer), these people are not “suspects in the classic sense.” Instead, they’re just the few scientists thought to be capable of making the stuff and who may have some sort of grudge.  

The LAT fronts a piece questioning testimony based on fingerprint matching. According to the paper, “Nearly half the examiners who take national certification tests flunk the part that requires them to correctly match fingerprints. Yet they still can testify in court.”

USAT goes inside with an intriguing story: Contrary to previous reports, the paper asserts that Ken Lay and President Bush have always had a distanced relationship. The paper points out, “Lay was never invited to spend the night at the Governor’s Mansion or Bush’s lake house. He had no special role in the 2000 GOP convention or at Bush’s presidential inauguration.” The iciness dates back to 1993, when Lay snubbed Bush’s offer of a position in W’s gubernatorial campaign. 

Priceless … The NYT’s business section reports that five investment bankers were fired by their firm after they expensed a pleasant dinner, including a bottle of 1947 Château Pétrus ($17,500), a 1945 vintage from the same vineyard ($16,500), and a bottle of 100-year-old Château d’Yquem dessert wine for $14,000. Total price of the meal: $62,700. 

USAT goes inside with a piece noting that Enron isn’t fudging numbers anymore, it’s selling real stuff, including 400 flat-screen monitors, 11 Schwinn spinning bikes, and two “devices used to squeeze water out of wet bathing suits.” All items are from the now-defunct Enron House, the European headquarters of the company, and are being put up for auction.