Today's Paper

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Ever spend a week with only today's paper? I was on vacation last week down in the islands; hot, sunny, beautiful. But on this island there were no televisions, newspapers, or Internet connections. So my last link with reality was the Saturday, January 12th New York Times. I read it on the plane flying down. And again on Sunday morning. By Tuesday I was searching it for stories I had missed, and... well, you get the picture. I read six newspapers a day at home, so going cold turkey is not easy. Not easy, okay?

Of course Saturday's Times was full of the usual stuff. Forty-one movie advertisements (it was Saturday, after all). Half a dozen NFL stories, for the playoffs began that day. Ted Kennedy calls for a delay in the tax cut; he wants to spend the money on social programs. Nothing new there. President Bush makes two interim appointments since the Senate has failed to act on the nominees (every president does it). Thomas Junta is found guilty of beating a man to death with his fists at his son's summer hockey practice (there is always a crime du jour to be discussed). Montana environmentalists are up in arms about an underground silver and copper mine that would create 350 jobs and provide property taxes for a cash-strapped school district, but burrow under a wilderness area (there is always a growth v. environment issue).

And then there were the Enron stories, a big and nasty business failure that has political connections in the Congress and the White House. The Supreme Court is taking a death penalty appeal that will consider the constitutionality of some 800 cases in nine states in which judges, not juries, decide on applying the penalty. It has the possibility of throwing out a lot of death penalty sentences.

A story on New Jersey's 84 hour governor, one of three different governors the state had in the past eight days. Don't ask why, it's just New Jersey. And a nice touch on President Eisenhower's visit to Kabul in 1959; his staff aide, Gen. Goodpaster, recalled that Ike considered the Afghans "the most determined lot he had ever encountered." Still true of the Taliban.

A delicious piece too on cigar-smoking French lawyer Isabelle Peyre who is about to marry the Jackal (remember the Day of the Jackal? Yes, it's him). Mme. Peyre believes, you see, that Carlos the Jackal's conviction for murder was "political," for capitalism is oppressive and after all "Was not today's France born from a revolution?" Well, yes, and that is the problem, n'est ce pas? It seems Rousseau and Robespierre still stalk the corridors of Mme. Peyre's mind.

The most interesting story of the day is British historian Sebastian Mallaby's theory that with September 11th a new imperial moment has arrived: "The chaos out there in the world is too threatening to ignore, and the existing tools for dealing with chaos [foreign aid, the World Bank, the United Nations] have been tried and found wanting." Mallaby argues that the decolonization of the world in the '40s and '50s left a power vacuum, so perhaps the world is headed back to the age of empire. Harvard professor Stephen Walt adds, "One of the principal lessons of September 11th is that failed states are not just a humanitarian problem, they are a national security problem" that is going to have to be dealt with through cooperative efforts by powerful states.

Then a vicious editorial by one Bill Keller concerning the retirement of conservative Senators Helms, Gramm and Thurman, whose departure Mr. Keller says "will raise the median decency" of the Senate, and who represent "the Taliban wing of the American right." Do you suppose Keller would admit there is a Gulag wing of the American left? Or are both an editorialists mirage? Nasty op-ed pieces seem to be apart of the Times intention; Paul Krugman sometimes approaches that level. I once personally merited a very nasty column by the paper's enfant terrible, Anthony Lewis, who wrote that I was engaging in "hate, lies, and demagoguery" because I was in favor of a flat tax.

Finally, there were a half a dozen serious, worrisome pieces. An Indian general talks openly of war, maybe even nuclear war, with Pakistan. Serious talk of military buildups, nuclear threat and counter-threat. Arafat's interdicted arsenal of rockets, bombs and weapons implicates Iran in the anti-Israel terrorist effort and reinforces the fact that this crusade is a deadly serious international enterprise.

Taliban prisoners arrive in Cuba, handcuffed, manacled and very dangerous (one so dangerous he was sedated for the flight), reminding us of the virulent hatred they wish to practice in the world. And a chilling story on the rest of the 9/11 video of the World Trade Center disaster that we haven't seen, the rubble and the dust and the dying and the thunderous collapse of the two buildings. Another uneasy reminder of the day the world seemed to come unhinged.

Alan Greenspan told us on January 11th that the economy is going to recover only slowly, but then came a huge blow on the 12th with Ford's decision to close five plants, abolish four car models, and eliminate the jobs of 35,000 workers. This is no failure of a favorite dot-com or regional readjustment; it is a signal of real trouble in a basic industry. The American economy has serious, far-reaching and so far unsolved problems.

The overall impression left by Saturday's paper is one of unease. Light spots, yes; interesting articles too, but an overall unease about the state of the world abroad and our economy at home.

Well, we shall see, for today's impressions are but one small tile in a growing mosaic. Today's tile may be boldly colored or a pale pastel, optimistic, threatening or uncertain. Then tomorrow's tile will be placed next to it, and the next days and the next, until a picture becomes clear.

Saturday's paper was good reading. Worth the dollar I paid for it. But by Wednesday-- another sunny day in paradise-I would have given a hundred dollars for five minutes on line to feed my information addiction.