Today's Papers

Congress: Full of Cap

The Washington Post leads with Congress’ steady circumvention of the 1997 budget-balancing caps. The New York Times goes with a story the others run inside: the EPA’s imminent recommendation that Congress revoke rules it passed in 1990 requiring all oil companies to include an oxygenate additive in gasoline, on the EPA’s grounds that at least one such additive, a possible carcinogen, while promoting cleaner combustion, is polluting groundwater. The Los Angeles Times goes with the latest on the Yosemite murders: the apparent confession by the suspect. And USA Today, which led with that story yesterday, goes instead with the Midwest heat wave that has killed 23 since last weekend. Most of the dead, the story says high up, were sick and elderly, but the story’s very last sentence reveals that two were children left in cars.

The WP lead explains that the House’s main tack for nominally obeying the budget caps while proposing both a tax cut and more money for key domestic programs is to declare monies actually going for routine annual expenses to be “emergency” funding, which the caps don’t constrain. Some recent examples of such “emergencies”: medical services for veterans and the census. The paper calls this a “backdoor method.”

The NYT lead points out that in the past, the EPA has defended the additives against those fearing health risks. But, the paper adds, newer car engines can control carbon monoxide emissions without oxygenates. The paper says substances are now showing up in 5-10 percent of drinking water “supplies.” (Which are what, exactly? Does this mean in 5-10 percent of our drinking water or not?) One break: The most dangerous additive smells so bad when it’s present in water, that most people refuse to drink it.

The LAT says the Yosemite suspect, a wilderness buff who had been previously questioned by the authorities and then dropped, gave a full account of the murders of four women to a top FBI investigator. The paper adds that in a jailhouse interview Monday night, he told a TV reporter that he had dreamed about killing women for 30 years. The suspect had previously hidden evidence from investigators but had also written them an anonymous letter leading them to a body they couldn’t find.

The up-tick in the Middle East continues as the LAT fronts and the NYT stuffs the news that the head of the Palestinian Authority’s legislature visited Israel’s Knesset on Monday, becoming the highest ranking Palestinian to do so. (A trip of but 8.5 miles, the LAT informs.) The NYT piece mentions that two right-wing members of Israel’s parliament “did a little pro forma heckling” but otherwise, “barely a peep of protest could be heard.” The LAT story gives one of those heckling legislators several paragraphs and quotes one of his heckles, leaving the reader with an impression of more discord.

The papers report that the U.S. announced Monday it is pledging an additional $500 million in humanitarian assistance to Kosovo, thus raising the total U.S. commitment there to $800 million. One piece of perspective missing from all the stories: None mention the size of the U.S. foreign aid budget, or the amounts of humanitarian aid this country has sent to say, Rwanda.

The WP’s E.J. Dionne’s column on the tax-cut debate trots out an important fact: three-quarters of all taxpayers pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. In other words, the folks who have benefited least from the upswing in salaries or the stock market also benefit least from the Republican tax stance. An important piece in last Sunday’s NYT makes a similar point about the House GOP’s beloved estate-tax cut. Citing an article out yesterday in the policy journal Tax Notes, the Times noted that under current law, only the wealthiest two percent of Americans even pay estate tax, and the average tax rate on estates of between $600,000 and $1 million is 6 percent. Not to mention that the tax’s floor moves up to an estate value of $4.5 million if there’s a business involved, and $7.4 million if there’s a farm. One question about the piece: Why did it run on Page 16?

Both the LAT and the NYT front pictures of the aftermath of the looting and arson rampage that wound up Woodstock ‘99. The accounts in both papers steer pretty clear of sociological explanations–the only reason for the anomie that’s discussed seems to be $4 bottles of water and $6 pretzels. And there’s no discussion of the total dollar amount of the damage. This is not the standard newspaper practice regarding riots. Does the once-over lightly have anything to do with the festival’s virtually all white attendance?

A WP reader notes that in the paper’s recent reprise of three 20-year-old stories about Skylab, none of the stories gave the same weight for the space craft. Although the letter writer was being critical of the paper’s reporters, the episode probably left him with an improved appreciation of their job: He notes that finding out Skylab’s weight took him nine phone calls.