Today's Papers

Defiance and Alliance

Everybody leads with President Bush’s unequivocal demand that Israel withdraw from Palestinian cities in the West Bank. “I don’t expect them to ignore [me],” Bush says in the Los Angeles Times. “I expect them to heed the call.” Instead, Prime Minister Sharon said he would move “expeditiously” to complete the offensive, but gave no definite timetable, the papers report. “Ferocious fighting” raged in the West Bank on Saturday, according to the New York Times.

The LAT floats the theory that by not giving a specific deadline, Bush was providing Israel with “wiggle room,” allowing Sharon to continue the offensive and save face while still appearing to cooperate with the U.S. Pressed on the issue, however, an administration official said the deadline was “now, immediately,” the Washington Post reports. But Israeli officials, according to the NYT, believe they have a “grace period” in which to continue the fighting until Colin Powell arrives in the Middle East next week.

Bush held the news conference at his ranch in Texas with Tony Blair by his side. He then phoned Sharon directly, speaking with him for the first time since February, the NYT reports. The conversation was “pretty brutal,” according to an unnamed administration official quoted in the LAT. All of the papers agree that Sharon is in a delicate political position, caught between his people, who largely support the West Bank incursions, and Washington, which (as of Thursday) does not. Bush, too, may be in a pickle if Israel defies his directive. “He’s got a problem,” says a policy expert in the LAT. “It could blow [the Powell trip] up.”

Bush also had words for Yasser Arafat on Saturday. “He needs to speak clearly, in Arabic, to the people of that region and condemn terrorist activities,” the president says in the WP. “At the very minimum, he ought to at least say something.”

In his op-ed in the NYT, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, writes: “There is a nearly unanimous global consensus that United States policy has become one-sided and morally hypocritical, with clear displays of sympathy for Israeli victims of terrorist violence and relative indifference to the (much more numerous) Palestinian civilian casualties. At risk is America’s ability to maintain international support for the war on terrorism, and especially for plans to deal with Saddam Hussein.”

An article in the NYT’s “Week in Review” under the headline “Europe Knows Who’s to Blame in the Middle East” echoes Bzezinski’s perceptions. Support for Arafat and the Palestinians is growing throughout Europe, while anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise, especially, according to the Times, in France. “The general attitude has changed in Europe and it is a very dangerous moment,” says a member of Germany’s parliament. “It could open anti-Semitic doors, and we must do important work in the next days and weeks to forestall that.”

The financial war on terrorism, oft touted by U.S. officials, has been something of a bust, according to a LAT off-lead. Treasury has been bickering with Justice, foreign allies are refusing to cooperate, and new regulations have been difficult to implement. Curiously, toward the end of the piece, the paper concludes, “Everyone agrees that financial investigations are critically important in uncovering, and even thwarting, terrorist activity.” This is clearly false, as the bulk of the article illustrates. The Sept 11 attacks, for example, were carried out on $500,000 and set off no alarm bells. “This was the Super Bowl of terrorist acts, and even in retrospect, knowing what we do now, we would never have caught that,” says an anonymous law enforcement official.

The NYT fronts the myriad ways wealthy taxpayers outwit the government. It’s well known, according to the Times, that the IRS audits the working poor more often that it does the filthy rich. “What has not been discussed is that the agency does not track nonwage income as closely as wage income—and in some cases does not verify it at all, even as the I.R.S. says that cheating on nonwage income is rising.”  The piece describes in patient detail the ways the wealthy slip by and then ends with “the wealthiest member of Congress,” Rep. Amo Houghton (R-NY), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the IRS, saying he’s unaware of the problem.

A researcher at UNC-Greensboro has found, under certain circumstances, an inverse relationship between health and prosperity, the NYT reports. Any number of infirmities—death, for example—drop off during short-term recessions. Smoking, obesity, heavy drinking, and some kinds of back problems also decline, perhaps because there’s no extra money (for booze, say) and lots of free time (for exercise). Some numbers: A one-point rise in a state’s unemployment rate translates into a .5 percent drop in the total death rate. Conversely, a point drop in unemployment brings fatal car crashes up 2.4 percent. The inevitable kicker from the Times: “What’s money when you have your health?”