The Los Angeles Times leads with, and the others front, word that China released it leading dissident yesterday, Xu Wenli, sending him to exile in the U.S. Everybody suggests that China finally decided to release Xu, who has spent 16 of the last 20 years in jail, as part of a bid to cozy up to the U.S. The Washington Post leads with word that the FBI is asking universities across the country to provide personal info on all its foreign students and faculty. The Justice Department says that last year’s Patriot Act makes such request OK, even without a court order and without notifying the people being looked into. But a few senators, and the U.S. Department of Education, say that’s wrong: The Patriot Act only gives the FBI that power when it’s involved in a specific terror-related investigation. The New York Times leads with word that the White House is considering proposing a 50 percent cut in stock dividends taxes. The proposal would cost the Treasury about $100 billion over 10 years Since it involves stocks and since there’d be no upper limit on the amount covered in the cut, the wealthiest Americans would be the biggest beneficiaries by far. But the stock market overall would probably also get a boost. Supporters of the cut argue that the way the system currently works, corporate profits are taxed twice: once as income and once as dividends to shareholders. According to a front-page WP story, Canadian officials have arrested a suspected al-Qaida member who, they say, has recently been in phone contact with still unknown al-Qaida sympathizers in the U.S. The LAT has an interesting front-page analysis of the administration’s North Korea position: While the Clinton White House assumed that North Korea was off its rocker and thus wasn’t a good partner for a game of chicken, the Bush administration thinks that Pyongyang is rational. As one analyst explained it, the White House has concluded that North Korea’s leaders “wouldn’t do anything that would risk suicide and we can ratchet the pressure up as much as we want.” Yesterday’s LAT added this interesting bit: Some former Clinton officials think that the current White House approach to North Korea amounts to what the LAT calls, “a policy of attempted strangulation.” “I don’t think this administration cares if the North Koreans build weapons,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was coordinator of the 1994 nuke deal with North Korea. “It serves a very cynical purpose on their part, which is to push all other countries into our lap. According to our cynical game plan, then [the North Korean regime] will collapse.” Meanwhile, the NYT fronts North Korea’s warning of “ merciless punishment” and an “uncontrollable catastrophe” unless the U.S. agrees to start negotiating. Everybody says that a storm swept through the Plains yesterday, causing at least 12 deaths. The papers all mention that holiday sales blew: According to the NYT they only grew 1 percent from last year. The Times adds that the holiday sales rate of growth has tumbled in each of the last three years: from a 9.5 percent increase in 1999 to a 4 percent gain in 2000 to a 2.3 percent jump last year. The NYT has a wire story on the latest hot item to make it onto eBay: Bridgeville, Calif. The town, 260 miles north of San Francisco, comes complete with nine houses, a cemetery, and a backhoe (which you’ll need since the place is a fixer-upper). Interested? A Christmas Story … According to a wire story on the LAT’s Web site, Christmas is no fun for Christians in Saudi Arabia: Public displays of Christian worship are illegal as is carrying around a Bible. The wire dispatch also has this charming bit about U.S. concern for Saudi sensitivities: According to one former U.S. diplomat, during at least some of the 1990s State Department personnel officials used to put a ” ‘J’ next to the names of Jewish diplomats, so that selection panels would not select them for service in Saudi Arabia.” Is that accurate, and if so, is it still policy?
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