The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Times lead with, and Washington Postfronts, the late-breaking news that North Korea launched a long-range missile at about 10:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday night, in open defiance to “the United States, China, and a series of U.N. resolutions,” the NYT reports. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates predicted the launch this week and said the administration had no plans to interfere. The LAT quotes President Obama from Prague calling the launch “provocative” and capturing Western leaders’ view that the missile test is part of North Korea’s well-known nuclear ambitions. The WP adds, in a story with a Tokyo dateline, that the missile floated over Japan, but the Japanese government did not deploy its missile-defense system. The rocket’s second stage fell into the Pacific Ocean, proving North Korea’s ability to successfully launch a multistage weapon.
The Washington Post leads with delays in the “landmark” $1.4 billion in aid that the U.S. government pledged to Mexico for its large-scale fight against drug traffickers. Congress appropriated the first $400 million last June, but by December, only $197 million had been dispersed—only two small projects have been completed. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has doubled his defense budget and deployed 45,000 troops in the most ambitious effort to control Mexico’s drug cartels in history. Calderón and others previously involved in the partnership see the delays as an example of the way “the U.S. government, while praising Calderón as a courageous crime-fighter, is leaving him hanging out to dry.”
As protestors raged outside in Strausbourg, France, President Obama stressed to NATO leaders that defeating al-Qaida should be the primary goal in Afghanistan, overshadowing even important human rights outcomes the NATO nations hope to encourage. The administration has increasingly seen a need to create limited, reachable goals in the deteriorating country and hoped to include European leaders in the planned troop increases. Europe committed only 5,000 troops compared with the United States’ planned increase of 30,000, and 3,000 of those will be deployed only temporarily. The NYT sees it as a “brushing aside” of Obama’s requests, but the WP calls the small commitment “a sweeping demonstration of support for the new administration’s leadership.”
Another WP story takes an aerial view of Obama’s European tour so far, lengthily dissecting the “sharp change in tone” that characterized the president’s dealings with G20 leaders last week. Several experts weigh in on the president’s “tone,” noting that, on issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama has changed the style a lot more than the substance.
The NYT digs into the final days of Jiverly Wong, the gunman who killed 13 at a civics center in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday. There were “hints of mounting frustration and evidence of premeditation” before what increasingly looks like a recession-fueled rampage. Wong had lost his job and was living on $200 a week in unemployment benefits, frustrated with his poor English and his inability to find financial stability. The LAT also fronts a follow-up story on the Binghamton shootings, landing a few quotes from members of the killer’s family.
A heartbreaking front-page NYT story calls attention to child trafficking in China, most of it fueled by families so desperate to produce a male heir that they’ll steal someone else’s if they have to. “A girl is just not as good as a son,” says one Chinese tea farmer who recently paid $3,500 for an abducted boy. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you don’t have a son, you are not as good as other people who have one.” Anguished Chinese parents find the police indifferent—even when they obtain video footage of their children being abducted—because opening missing-person reports is institutionally discouraged. Beijing has also shut down parents’ groups who have tried to call attention to the issue.
The LAT off-lead has an equally unsettling revelation and this one a lot closer to home: The FBI suspects a ring of serial killers disguising themselves as long-haul truckers in the killings of “hundreds of prostitutes, hitchhikers and stranded motorists.” A series of unsolved murders along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma led to the creation of the Highway Serial Killings Initiative, which now has information on more than 500 female crime victims. Investigators speculate that the nature of trucking—mobility, lack of oversight, access to victims—makes it an ideal cover for mass killers.
The WP Sunday “Style” section excavates American suspicion of do-gooding celebrities, especially stars who make multiple highly publicized attempts to adopt foreign children. Some celebrities—Madonna for example—are so culturally associated with self-indulgent behavior that we’re hesitant to believe they’ll do anything without an ulterior motive. “Throw in photos of [Madonna] in sunglasses, camouflage cargo pants and layered T-shirts against the backdrop of an impoverished Malawi as she searches for an orphan to adopt, and the stench of self-aggrandizement is nearly overwhelming.” When stars are sincerely interested in making the world a better place, their celebrity can be more of a punishment than anything.
The NYT briefly profiles Matt Muro, creator of the blog “People Who Sit in the Disability Seats When I’m Standing on My Crutches.” Muro started the blog when, temporarily on crutches, he needed a way to channel his outrage at healthy commuters who occupy reserved seats on New York subway trains.