Today's Papers

Great Inspectations

The Washington Post leads with news that Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinian laborers early yesterday and says that with a total of 14 Palestinian civilians killed in the past four days, Israel announced it will investigate the incidents and try to figure out how to avoid them. The Los Angeles Times leads with the results of a poll the paper conducted, which found that 59 percent of those surveyed said they support invading Iraq, but of those supporters 61 percent said that the U.S. should only go in if it has international support. The New York Times leads with word that the number of people on federal disability has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. There are 5.4 million getting it today versus about three million people back in 1990. The program is expected to cost $69 billion this year.

Everybody notes that there are conflicting reports about the four Palestinian men who were killed yesterday. The Israeli military said the men were carrying “a club, axes and cutting gear” and apparently were trying to sneak into some farmland owned by settlers. But Palestinians said the men were just working in a near-by rock quarry. The Post, which has the most details on the incident, interviews the brother of one of the men killed. He says he ran away after he saw Israeli soldiers approach the men, and then he heard gunfire. An Israeli military spokesman said, “Nothing like that happened,” and said that the men wandered into an army ambush.

The Post mentions that the men were “unarmed.” Are you unarmed if you’re carrying an axe?

The Times says that the reason for the increase in disability claims isn’t that more folks are getting hurt; it’s that people have come to rely on it as a de facto unemployment insurance and welfare. Or, as the Times states at the top of the article, “The growing numbers signal a reliance on disability benefits by low-end workers who had ignored their ailments as long as their limited skills brought them steady employment.” The paper, meanwhile, waits until way down (the 25th paragraph), to mention that “reasons offered” for the increase “vary.” Another possible explanation, “Congress [made] it harder for Social Security officials to declare people cured and no longer eligible for disability.”

The same articlealsomentions, “Some who would have gone on welfare now apply for disability pay instead.” The Times doesn’t explain why that would be. It seems one potential answer, and what the NYT may be implying, is that the1996 welfare reform laws, which tightened eligibility, had a sort of squeeze-the-balloon effect and caused some of the increase in disability claims. But the Times never explicitly raises that issue or tests that hypothesis. It could’ve pretty easily: Judging by the front page chart that accompanies the article, there was a steady rate of increase from 1990 through 2000. That makes it look like the ‘96 welfare tightening didn’t cause a jump in the rate of disability claims.

Everybody goes high with comments Secretary of State Powell made to the BBC in which he said he wants weapons inspectors to return to Iraq: “The president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return. … Iraq has been in violation of many U.N. resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years. And so, as a first step, let’s see what the inspectors find. Send them back in.”

The Post, which has the best coverage of the comments, notes that “Powell’s remarks surprised White House officials.” The Post also points out that the BBC only released “a small portion” of the actual interview and says that Powell did try to toe the administration’s “inspectors are lame” line: “We should not think that the inspections, in and of themselves, should give us the kind of assurance that we can take to the bank.”

The NYT says that Powell’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise because“[t]heydiffered little from what he said as long ago as February in testimony before Congress.” (It would have been nice if the paper had provided a snippet from that talk.) Everybody notes that a White House spokesman clarified the president’s position and said, “Unfettered inspections are not enough.”

The Times fronts a piece saying that South Carolina’s federal judges, in what could turn out to be a national trend, are pushing to ban secret lawsuit settlements. The NYT points out that some experts say that adopting such a rule is a bad idea, because it might discourage some people from filing and settling suits.

Post columnist Jackson Diehl has a good op-ed about the $25 million the U.S. is giving Egypt this year to promote “democracy-building.” The problem, Diehl says, is that the money isn’t actually going to help build democracy. That’s because the U.S. has given Egypt the right to review and veto any of the program’s projects. “By definition that means that any group that gets funded is not working on real democratization programs, since the government opposes that,” said one American human-rights worker. So, where’s the money going instead? $17.8 million of it was budgeted for, as the government put it, “raising the quality of judicial decision-making” in the country’s courts. Those are the same courts, Diehl points out, “used to throw democracy advocates in prison.”