Today's Papers

Giving Us Too Much Grief

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with dissension among House Republicans over the House leadership’s advocacy of a 10-year, $792 billion tax cut, which is likely to come to a vote today. The Los Angeles Times leads with a story on nobody else’s front: that fully normalized trade relations between the U.S. and Vietnam could be just days away. USA Today also goes with a story that isn’t on the other fronts: After a two-year study, federal investigators have criticized the way U.S. hospitals are inspected, finding that the system is too lenient and too apt to miss poor care. The biggest problem seems to be not enough surprise inspections. Also, the paper explains, currently only 20 percent of the nation’s hospitals are inspected by the states; the other 80 percent are checked out by a single private accrediting group, which, critics say, is too close to the hospital industry. Pass rate under the status quo? Ninety-nine percent.

The WP says the proposed tax bill would cut rates across the board by 10 percent, give tax relief to married couples (although the NYT lead and a piece on the LAT front note that House conservatives don’t think the proposed relief of the “marriage penalty” goes far enough), cut the capital gains tax, and gradually phase out the estate tax. And although President Clinton and the overwhelming majority of House Democrats reject using so much of the budget surplus to fund tax cuts, according to the WP, the House Republican leadership still has hopes that advocacy of such big tax relief would serve to define the party for the 2000 election. And, the papers report, in closed-door sessions with the membership yesterday, the GOP leaders made their case. But with about a dozen Republican moderates opposed, even this symbolic goal seems in doubt. As the NYT explains, the situation illustrates how the votes of as few as five Republicans can deprive the party of a majority.

The LAT lead explains that the U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement would remove the last economic vestiges of the war. Under the status quo, says the paper, the U.S. is not a player in such Vietnam markets as bicycles (controlled by China and Taiwan), hotels (France, Singapore, South Korea, and other Asian countries), oil (Russia), cars (South Korea and Japan), meat (Australia and New Zealand), and airliners (France). The agreement would sharply lower tariffs and could for instance, mean that Nike could considerably add to the 20 million pairs of shoes it now makes in Vietnam.

The WP off-lead gets at a growing problem in biotechnology: genetic tests–especially those that can predict a person’s medical future by measuring his or her predispositions to various conditions–are growing phenomenally (last count: 400), but are not regulated by the FDA, which says it lacks the resources. Which means the companies offering the tests are free to decide on their own just how accurate they need to be. Which means stand by for a whole lotta folks thinking they’re not gonna get ovarian cancer when they are and vice versa.

The JFK Jr. crash recedes in the coverage a bit, with the stories mostly nailing down the idea that he became disoriented and inadvertently put his plane into a spin he couldn’t get out of. The WP front goes in big for “want-of-a-nail” reasoning with this syllogism: “If only Kennedy had waited until Monday to see his orthopedist [to get a cast removed from his leg], he likely would have taken along a copilot, if grudgingly, and perhaps his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, might be alive today.” Please.

The NYT and WP report inside that surging imports to the U.S. driven by the continued strength of America’s economy pushed the U.S. trade deficit for May to another record. It’s apparent from the figures, remarks the Times, that China is continuing to increase its exports to support its lagging economy. The U.S. exports in greatest decline are autos, auto parts, and machinery. They are also among the products being imported in increasing numbers.

The WP reports inside that Russia’s Far East nuclear strike force was left without electrical power this week because it didn’t pay its utility bill. Believe it or not, this has happened before.

The NYT reports in an inside story that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Tuesday copped to the practice of stations giving their donor lists to organizations affiliated with either or both political parties, a story broken recently by the Boston Globe. The revelations have prompted some Republican members of Congress to call for revoking CPB’s tax-exempt status and canceling its public funding.

The Wall Street Journal reports that multinational corporations are finding filing their taxes inordinately complex and expensive. Citigroup’s 1998 return, for instance, took up 30,000 pages and was prepared with the help of 200 tax professionals.

A letter writer to the NYT points out a flaw in a story in the Times and elsewhere about how Microsoft’s market capitalization of $500 billion is so large that if it were a country its gross national product would rank right behind Spain’s, the ninth-largest in the world. The problem is that GNP is a measure of output of goods and services, and as such is more like gross sales than market value. Therefore, the correct comparison, says the letter writer, is between a country’s GNP and Microsoft’s $20 billion in sales.

The LAT op-ed page features a call for the entertainment industry to begin meaningful self-limitation of what sorts of TV, movies, music, videos and Web sites it makes available to kids. The piece appears over nearly 60 signatures, including those of Jimmy Carter, Gens. Powell and Schwarzkopf, Steve Allen and Naomi Judd.

The WP’s “Reliable Source” notes that George contributing editors and JFK Jr. acquaintances Carl Sferrazza Anthony and Douglas Brinkley are apparently tragically stuck in the first stage of grief: going on television. In recent days, says the story, Anthony has done Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, the Sunday Today show, Monday’s CBS This Morning, and Larry King Live. Brinkley has been on CNN; MSNBC; NBC’s Today, Dateline, and Meet the Press; and ABC’s Good Morning America and has penned essays in the latest Newsweek and last Monday’s NYT.