Today's Papers

Fast Strain Coming

The Los Angeles Times leads with a drive-by shooting and a car bombing in Baghdad that killed 24 people. The Washington Post leads with news that the number of gay soldiers discharged from the Army under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has fallen by half since the 2001 terrorist attacks and has reached the lowest level recorded by the Pentagon since it started keeping statistics in 1997. The New York Times goes with President Bush’s vow to veto any attempt to repeal the prescription-drug benefit he pushed through in 2003, despite revised figures that show the estimated cost of the program nearly doubling.

Yesterday’s attacks targeted Shiites and were presumably carried out by Sunnis. They will likely worsen the already-high tensions between the sects, the LAT reports. They came during a Shiite holiday commemorating the death of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and a revered figure in the Shiite tradition. Meanwhile, “Sunni groups are divided over whether to fight the Shiite ascendancy or participate in the drafting of a new constitution for the country.” Elsewhere, the NYT fronts an examination of the problem of Sunni alienation, and the WP goes inside with a story predicting big victories for Islamic-oriented parties in the southern, mostly Shiite, part of the country.

Gay-rights advocates, the WP says, see an obvious reason why fewer homosexual soldiers are being cast out of the military these days: “Pressed for personnel since the battle against terrorism began, the military needs to keep its numbers up” and so is not digging deeply into soldiers’ private lives. But oft-quoted Northwestern University military sociology professor Charles Moskos adds a layer of nuance, pointing out that most of those kicked out of the military under the policy “out” themselves, perhaps because it’s “the easiest way to get out with an honorable discharge.” Since 9-11, he theorizes, the Army may simply be refusing to let gay soldiers go.

As the prescription-drug benefit swells like Violet Beauregarde, some members of Congress—including the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee—would like to roll it offstage for some serious de-juicing. In November 2003, the White House promised leery lawmakers that the program would cost no more than $400 billion. Two months after the bill passed, the estimate went up to $534 billion, and now it’s $724 billion. Responding to the discontented rumblings from his right, Bush vowed yesterday that “any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors and to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto.” The WP, which stuffs the story, adds some context to the threat: “Through more than four years in the White House, Bush has never vetoed any bill.” (The last president to make it through two terms without using the v-pen? Thomas Jefferson.)

The NYT floods the zone with a big front-pager and two accompanying pieces on a story that its own coverage suggests may not to be such a big deal: the discovery of a new strain of HIV that is resistant to most drug treatments and develops rapidly into full-blown AIDS. The new strain was diagnosed in a patient who met men through the Internet for methamphetamine-fueled orgies, at which he had unprotected anal sex with “multiple partners.” (An inside story helpfully names—and, online, includes embedded links to—Web sites where such risky casual sex can be arranged.) The patient was diagnosed with HIV in December and developed AIDS by January, “an astonishingly quick assault by an infection that often goes unnoticed for a decade.” Public health officials sounded the alarm at a press conference yesterday, calling the new strain “a major potential problem.” Other specialists caution against drawing conclusions from a single case. “My guess is that this is much ado about nothing,” said Robert Gallo, the “co-discoverer” of HIV. And, TP is not an epidemiologist, but isn’t the normal HIV strain’s long period of incubation without symptoms one of the things that makes it so suited to epidemic spread?

The NYT off-leads, and everyone else fronts, playwright Arthur Miller’s death at 89 of heart failure. In its headline, the NYT calls Miller the “Moral Voice of American Stage.” The WP calls him “the greatest social dramatist this nation has produced.” And the LAT says he was often likened to “an American Henrik Ibsen.” Everyone notes the big moments: his early days working in an auto parts warehouse; the stunning success of Death of a Salesman, which premiered when he was just 33 and was even a big hit when he staged it in China in the 1980s; his refusal to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee; his brief, tumultuous marriage to Marilyn Monroe, which inspired After the Fall. Curiously, only the LAT mentions that, in addition to his commonly acknowledged children, Miller had a son named Daniel, who was born with Downs syndrome and institutionalized. “It is not known whether he survives his father because Miller never mentioned him in his autobiography or in any public way.”

The WP fronts a dispatch from the eastern Congolese village of Shabunda, where a civil war continues to sputter, causing widespread misery. It’s estimated that half of the children in Shabunda will not live to see their fifth birthdays. The story is full of harrowing description; unfortunately, in more than 1,500 words, it contains no explanation of the causes of the war, or the parties involved, beyond a fleeting reference to “soldiers from a hodgepodge of armed groups.” Readers interested in knowing who’s responsible for the suffering in Shabunda (Rwanda, mostly) can check out this Slate  article or this report.

Guarding the guardians … The WP business front reports that government contractor Science Applications International Corporation recently warned employees and board members that thieves had made off with classified personnel information, including Social Security numbers, which was stored on company computers. Those who identities might have been swiped include former secretaries of Defense and CIA directors. Among other things, SAIC consults the government on … computer security. The thieves, the article notes, hacked in the old fashioned way: They “smashed windows to gain access” and made off with SAIC’s computers.