What U.S. newspapers are saying

Feb. 27, 2002 at 9:38 AM
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New York Times

Conspicuous consumption generally trips itself up with a single anecdote, like Imelda Marcos's shoe collection. Now the symbol of '90's excess, a year and a half after the fact, seems to be a $62,700 restaurant tab that six investment bankers ran up last summer in London.

The bankers, who worked for Barclays Capital, celebrated a deal at the elegant Pétrus Restaurant by ordering five bottles of wine with pedigrees so illustrious that the awed proprietor threw in their gourmet meal free and preserved the tab for posterity. The mysterious details of the dinner are enough to keep the story going for some time. Did the bankers know anything about wine at all, or did they spend $48,000 on three bottles of half-century-old Château Pétrus because it had the same name as the restaurant? And which of the diners passed up the Bordeaux for two bottles of beer?

Since the Pétrus Six paid their tab with their own money, Barclays was content to let them off with a mild rebuke for spending too freely at a time that their peers were suffering from layoffs and exiled to coach class. But later the bankers, apparently feeling the chill wind of recession themselves, quietly tried to pass off some of the bill as client expenses, and most of them were quickly canned. ...

As a recent Times article pointed out, while Enron was wildly shifting its debt from one cleverly named partnership after another, its employees were playing musical chairs with their expense accounts, leaping from one division to another and then running up bills on their old cost centers before the bean counters had time to close them.

It may been only in hindsight that we can see doom written all over the fact that Enron's idea of cutting back on holiday spending was to merge all the department Christmas parties into one $1.5 million bash at Enron Field. And it's possible that while a $62,700 bar bill now looks like lunatic extravagance, it might have been seen a few years back as a sign of wholesome high-spiritedness among the equity derivative set. It's a good thing, though, that the restaurant kept the bill. It won't see another one like that for another business cycle.

Baltimore Sun

Jonas Savimbi was a survivor.

He outlasted Cold War rivalries and apartheid South Africa, which financed his long struggle to topple Angola's Marxist government. After outside support dried up, he kept the war going by mining some of the world's finest diamonds. His slaying last week, at the age of 67, may finally bring a chance for peace in that southwest African country.

This is why timing was so opportune for this week's meeting between President Bush and Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Momentum toward peace was gaining before Mr. Savimbi's killing, with the United Nations trying to broker yet another effort to end the 27-year civil war.

Although disorganized, Mr. Savimbi's rebel UNITA movement carries on despite his death. Its territorial hold has steadily shrunk, but UNITA can afford to continue the war because it still controls some of the most profitable diamond mines in Angola, a country more than three times the size of California.

During the Cold War, the Soviets and Fidel Castro's Cuba propped up the dos Santos regime and the United States aided Mr. Savimbi's guerrillas.

All that is now largely irrelevant history. For the past 10 years, the Angolan battle has been a non-ideological war fueled by greed. UNITA has its diamonds, but the government controls oil deposits so rich they are believed to exceed Saudi Arabia's. The revenue, though, has enriched only a variety of thugs; ordinary Angolans are among the world's poorest people.

There are few good guys on either side in Angola. The government is inefficient and corrupt. UNITA is no better. But Mr. Savimbi's death has created one of those rare opportunities to put Angola and its 13 million people back on the path toward normalcy. Enough killing, enough maiming by land mines.

There have so many false promises in Angola that it's difficult to be optimistic about a lasting peace. But Washington can and must play a constructive role in efforts to bring hostilities to an end.

Chicago Tribune

It has been one year since Ariel Sharon rode to a landslide victory as Israel's prime minister, promising conflict-weary voters he would deliver "quiet, security and peace."

A year later, Israelis have neither peace nor security. There is no quiet. The worst fighting in a generation is escalating as Palestinians wage war against Israel's occupation of land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. More than 200 Israelis and 500 Palestinians have been killed in the year since Sharon took office--more than 1,200 in all have died since the intifada began 17 months ago.

Now Sharon has the opportunity to do the unexpected: Negotiate for peace. Much as fellow Likud leader Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt, Sharon has a chance to surprise the world and grab a chance offered by, of all places, Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom's Crown Prince Abdullah has suggested that in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands and establishment of a Palestinian state, much of the Arab world would sign a peace treaty with Israel and restore normal diplomatic and commercial ties.

The plan may have started off as a public relations gesture. But it is being entertained now by Sharon, the Palestinians, Arab states and the United States as a possible way to break the logjam. ...

President Bush reached out Tuesday to Crown Prince Abdullah, a very hopeful sign. The United States can encourage the Saudis to lobby Arab states to line up behind it. Arafat needs their support, and their political cover, to make the final difficult commitments for peace.

These are difficult times for Ariel Sharon, who has seen his efforts to provide a secure state rocked by near-constant mayhem. Perhaps, in his darkest days, Sharon will seize opportunity.

Dallas Morning News

The Bush administration and Congress should give serious consideration to Colombian President Andres Pastrana's desperate plea that it allow him to use U.S. military aid against his country's leftist rebels.

At present, U.S. law limits Colombia's use of U.S. military equipment and training to anti-narcotics operations.

But the civil war in the South American country took a defining turn last Wednesday when Mr. Pastrana seized the territory that he had ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in November 1998 as part of an effort to engage it in peace talks.

Mr. Pastrana had no choice but to take back the land. The rebels had demonstrated no inclination to engage in meaningful talks, and they were using the area to plot more mayhem.

Since Mr. Pastrana sent the army in, the situation has grown more tense. Last week, the rebels hijacked an airplane carrying a prominent Colombian senator, whom they still have not released, and on Saturday they kidnapped a presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt.

Given the administration's commitment to fighting "terrorism with a global reach" and to defending democracy in the Americas, it is difficult to ignore the Colombian's plea. ...

If the United States can send military aid halfway around the world to help the Philippines put down an insurrection, it can do the same in its back yard.

New Orleans Times-Picayune

After enduring years of bloody conflict, the people of Angola deserve a chance for peace. A civil war broke out soon after the African nation gained independence from Portuguese rule in 1975. Since then hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and Angola has been mired in grinding poverty.

Now Angola has a chance to end that war. Late last week, government troops killed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight deep in the country's interior. Without its charismatic leader, Mr. Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known by its Portuguese acronym UNITA, may have little choice but to come to the negotiating table.

Now is an ideal time for other governments, including those of the United States and Angola's neighbors, to push for a peaceful settlement of the war.

So far, American diplomats have approached Mr. Savimbi's death cautiously. When asked to assess whether Mr. Savimbi's death would bring peace to Angola, a department spokesman would say only, "We'll have to see." ...

For now, the State Department is right to urge both sides to lay down their arms. Angola has an opportunity to rebuild from decades of war. The Bush administration must turn up the diplomatic pressure to make sure that the opportunity is put to good use.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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