Today's Papers

Mother Truckers

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the apparent victory in Nigeria’s first free election in sixteen years of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. Both papers report that the defeated challenger has charged vote fraud. The Los Angeles Times goes with word that a congressional study to be released today concludes that despite the much improved air quality in the Los Angeles Basin, Angelenos are still breathing unusually dangerous levels of cancer-causing pollutants, yielding a risk of cancer 426 times the safety standard established by the Clean Air Act. USA Today leads with Janet Reno’s request that a federal commission study the legality of taking DNA samples from every person arrested in the U.S., as opposed to the current practice of taking them only from those convicted of violent crimes and sex offenses. An inside story at the WP reminds just how pressing this issue is with a report that research scientists are working on a palm-sized DNA lab that cops could use on blood, saliva or semen at a fresh crime scene to clear or implicate suspects within minutes.

Both Times report that the margin of victory in Nigeria was millions of votes, and that therefore the fraud observed on behalf of both candidates by international election monitors including Jimmy Carter probably did not affect the outcome. Given that allegations of fraud are the spine of the Nigeria story, both papers are rather vague about what is thought to have gone on. The NYT goes no further than quoting Carter as saying he’d observed stuffed ballot-boxes and inflated vote tallies. (He’s also quoted referring to “results that were manipulated,” but the paper doesn’t explain how this differs from the other two infractions.) The WP notes that in one location, residents complained about being unable to vote and leaves it at that. Also, both papers say Obasanjo was a former military ruler of the country, but neither mentions in their capsule governmental histories when he ruled or under what circumstances he ceased doing so.

The LAT reports that the congressional bad air news about L.A. will probably spur the EPA to establish a nationwide network for monitoring cancer-causing pollutants in the air. The story says that despite the breathing bummer, it used to be 40 percent worse before the Clean Air Act was adopted in 1990. Some of the biggest news here is buried after the “jump.” For instance, why wait until the 18th paragraph to reveal that the information in the study was previously collected by the state of California, which never released it? Or until the 22nd paragraph to mention that the risks of getting cancer from the Socal air are still much lower (about 250 times lower) than the risks of getting it from cigarettes?

The WP front says that a comprehensive study released yesterday concludes that mothers who work outside the home are not harming their children. The story says that via standardized tests and parent interviews, the study concluded children whose mothers worked during the first three years after giving birth were not significantly different from those with unemployed mothers. But since, according to the Post, the variables considered included how many hours weekly the mother was employed and whether periods of unemployment were interspersed with her working, it’s curious that the story didn’t include any comparisons across those parameters. Do the children of mothers who work only ten hours a week or who knock off completely during the summer fare better than those who work more? The paper doesn’t say. It also would have been interesting if the paper had mentioned whether the study’s author, psychologist Elisabeth Harvey, has any children. Ditto for the status of the Post reporter here, Barbara Vobejda.

The LAT’s “Column One” describes the blooming of a little-known economic phenomenon cropping up here and there in small communities threatened by the outflow of local cash to say, big retail chain stores in the nearby city: the creation of local currencies, good only in town. There are now, says the paper, 65 such local denominations, like the Ithaca (New York) HOUR (the original–created nine years ago), the Berkeley BREAD, and Kansas City’s (Missouri or Kansas? The paper doesn’t say) Barter Bucks. Surprisingly, local currency is clearly legal. U.S. law prohibits local governments issuing money, but not nonprofit collectives.

The NYT fronts a story by ace auto reporter Keith Bradsher on Detroit’s move to incorporate aging-friendly features in new cars, like oversized control knobs, larger trunks for golf clubs, and ignition keys that go on the dashboard rather than on the steering column (arthritic wrists find they’re easier to turn there). And stand by for seats that swivel out for easy entry and exit. This is driven by demographics–in the past decade, the median new car buyer’s age has gone from 40 to 47. But the car companies are proceeding slowly and minimally, lest they turn off legions of younger customers.

The WP’s Howard Kurtz reports that a forthcoming book on Al Gore says that after he had three daughters, he became a devotee of the book “How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby,” and subsequently fathered a son after following the book’s dictates, which included drinking strong caffeinated coffee before sex. The big news here: that Gore drinks coffee.