Today's Papers

The Skinny on Zinni

The papers head in all directions today. Only two stories are shared by the front-pages: The New York Times lead article on Gen. Anthony C. Zinni’s efforts to arrange a truce in the middle east is also fronted by the Washington Post. The two papers also run front-page stories on the pedophilia scandals rocking the Catholic Church. The Los Angeles Times leads with the budget crunch universities face all across the country. The Post leads with the U.S. military’s new plan to attack pockets of enemy stragglers in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Zinni’s second full day in the region was marked by a false alarm Saturday evening when an Israeli spokesman announced that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had agreed to meet with senior officials from all sides. Sharon later backtracked. For their part, the Palestinians are demanding a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories under Palestinian control before they sit down at the negotiating table. Just how exactly Zinni plans to reach a cease-fire is unclear and the matter of some speculation. The NYT reports that the “consensus” is that Zinni needs to offer “some larger idea” if a cease-fire is to be achieved and then maintained. But Zinni is keeping his plan under wraps.

Neither the NYT nor the WP relay much optimism that the violence will end anytime soon. The WP quotes the chief of staff of the Israeli army: “I don’t think it will end in the next month or two. It could last anywhere from several months to longer than that.”

The Post leads with the U.S. commander of ground operations in Afghanistan saying that they are planning an attack on two or three areas, based on information from intelligence-gathering planes flying around-the-clock. There are three options for carrying out the attack: one by allied Afghan forces, one by mainly U.S. special forces, and one by air strikes. Army Maj. Gen. Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck declined to provide a timetable saying, “I don’t feel like a stopwatch is running.”

The LAT leads that the recession has stung many public colleges and universities around the country, prompting midyear tuition increases, enrollment caps, and faculty cuts. For example, the University of Wisconsin system has stopped admitting new students and has imposed a hiring freeze. Last week, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst announced that it plans to eliminate seven of its 29 varsity sports teams. According to a College Board survey, tuition at public schools—which serve more than three-quarters of the nation’s 15 million college students—was up 7.7 percent.

The NYT reports that the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church is far from being over. A district attorney in Maine has asked the local diocese for every accusation ever made at a living priest. “Even if it was triple hearsay, let me decide,” she tells the Times. While the NYT dwells on the damage done to the church’s moral authority, the WP’s focus is more on how Catholics are dealing with the crisis in parishes all across the country. Many are comforted by their faith and, although they are withholding financial contributions, they are supportive of their local priest. One Maryland priest received standing ovations after all four of his sermons last Sunday, something he has never experienced before in his 50 years in the clergy.

Both stories note that many Catholics view the scandal as an opportunity for fundamental reform, such as ordaining women and eliminating the celibacy strictures for priests. Given the conservatism of Pope John Paul II, such changes are not considered likely. Even so, many Catholics are demanding action: “I think this is like a second Reformation, this is like Martin Luther,” the Post quotes a Virginia lawyer as saying who has filed a civil suit alleging that he was abused by a priest as a 14-year-old.

Reporters for the NYT have collected over 5,000 pages of al-Qaida documents from abandoned safe houses and training camps destroyed by bombs in Afghanistan. The documents provide a glimpse into the minds of al-Qaida operatives, their indoctrination, and their training. With over 20,000 recruits passing through Osama Bin Laden’s organization, the NYT notes, “this community of militants had progressed so far that it took on the feel of a bureaucracy. There were forms to keep track of ammunition, spending and more.” 

The article claims that its documents paint a different picture of the training camps than the one offered by the Bush administration. Instead of factories churning out terrorists, as the White House has maintained, the camps were more focused on producing an army to support the Taliban in its long ground war against the Northern Alliance.

The NYT fronts news that more and more doctors are refusing to take new Medicare patients, claiming the government pays them too little to cover the costs of caring for the elderly. Medicare cut payments to doctors by 5.4 percent this year, with a total drop of 17 percent by 2005 expected. Even with the cost-cutting measures, government spending on Medicare has risen 24 percent in the last five years. Says one Brooklyn doctor, “My expenses go up and up and up every year. For the government to lower what it pays me when my expenses are rising—that doesn’t make sense. It’s an insult.”

Israel’s prime minister finds himself on the psychoanalyst’s couch in the WP “Outlook” section. The author suggests that to understand the apparent inconsistencies of Sharon, “we need to recognize that at any particular moment there are, in fact, three different Sharons competing for the mind of the Israeli prime minister: the general, the politician and the statesman.”

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