Today's Papers

Yanking Yasser

Everybody leads big with what the Wall Street Journal terms President Bush’s “surprisingly harsh” speech in which the president said that he will push for a Palestinian state if Palestinians dump Yasser Arafat, and if the Palestinian Authority moves, as Bush has previously demanded, to end corruption, crack down on terror, and become more democratic.

“Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders not compromised by terror,” Bush said. “When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions, and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Bush said that a final agreement and full statehood could come “within three years.” But the Journal says that Bush’s “many demands” mean that such a timeline “would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Palestinians to achieve.”

The papers note that the president also said, “Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop.” (USA Today reefers this, while the New York Times’ main story skips it.) Everybody also notices that unlike in some previous speeches, Bush did not call for Israel to immediately withdraw from Palestinian-held territory.

The Los Angeles Times sums up the speech nicely by quoting from an Israeli newspaper editorial, “Yasser Arafat, the seemingly immortal leader of the Palestinian national movement, was politically assassinated Monday by President George W. Bush.”

The NYT concludes that Bush “effectively endorsed” the position of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has long said that he won’t negotiate until Arafat goes.

Everybody notes that among those seemingly satisfied with the speech, was, interestingly, Arafat, who called it, “a serious effort to push the peace process forward.”

The Journal emphasizes that there’s a “real danger” that Bush’s tough talk could backfire with Palestinians and end up “strengthening those who oppose any compromise with Israel.”

A NYT editorial says the talk was fine as a “moral vision, but emphasizes that it’s “a plan without a map.” The Washington Post and LAT editorials both say that too.

At least one person in the White House seems to agree with the editorial writers. According to an unnamed administration official quoted in the 24th paragraph of a NYT piece, “How we move this forward, once everybody’s spoken to it, is still not clear to me.”

The WSJ, meanwhile, thinks the speech was wunderbar,calling it,“daring, and potentially a major leap forward in U.S. Middle East diplomacy.”

The Journal’s editorial also mentions an uncomfortable fact: “For years the U.S. and Israel both winked at the brutality of Arab leaders, in the Faustian hope that they would provide ‘stability’ and ‘peace.’ ” The editorial argues that with the speech, the administration is now breaking that habit and really pushing for democracy. Maybe. But according to a news article in the Journal, “Asked if the U.S. would accept Mr. Arafat’s election as the head of a new state, a senior administration official said, ‘the only hope is for a new responsible partner to emerge.’ ”

Everybody goes high with the Supreme Court’s ruling that only a jury, and not a judge, can impose the death penalty. By a vote of 7-to-2, the court ruled that Arizona’s death-penalty law violates the constitutional right to a trial by jury because it requires judges, and not juries, to determine whether there are “aggravating” factors that could call for the death penalty. The papers note that Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska all have similar laws, and combined with Arizona have a total of 168 death row inmates.

“At a minimum,” one law professor told the Post, “what the Supreme Court did today is to buy everyone on death row in those five states another 7.5 years of life. That’s the average length of time it takes to go from imposition of a death sentence to execution.”

The Post concludes, “The decision could ultimately take more people off death row than any other ruling by the court in three decades.”

Everybody notes that the massive Arizona forest fire, which is within a mile of the town of Show Low, slowed a bit yesterday, and firefighters said that there’s a fair chance they’ll be able to save Show Low. The NYT’s editors better hope so. A headline teased on the front page of the paper reads, HARD TOIL AND LUCK SAVE ARIZONA TOWN.

The papers note inside that a train crash in Tanzania killed at least 200 passengers and left more than 800 injured.

The papers all note that the Bush administration said it would keep Amtrak running past its threatened shutdown deadline of Wednesday. The White House didn’t provide any details, and Amtrak’s president warned that the choo-choo company could still stop rolling soon.

Everybody mentions that United Airlines, which says it’s been hit hard by the weak economy and post-9/11 travel slump, announced that it has applied for a $1.8 billion federal loan guarantee. The LAT, in a useful comparison, notes that the feds’ famous bailout of Chrysler in 1979 amounted to $1.5 billion in loan guarantees (though that’s probably not adjusted for inflation). 

The NYT goes inside with a profile of the latest happening restaurant in Lianbian, China. Named Sent Down Youth No. 1 Village Wild Flavors Restaurant, the place is a kitschy ode to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, complete with propaganda posters and waiters dressed in 1960’s Red Army garb. The eatery also happens to specialize in wild animals, everything from flying foxes to baby deer. The owner, “who sports a cellphone, a shag haircut, and two rings in his left ear,” explains: “I decided on a Cultural Revolution theme because in those days we suffered a great deal and never had anything to eat. Now we are prosperous and can eat anything we want.”