Today's Papers

Civil and Uncivil Actions

The New York Times goes local. New York Gov. George Pataki endorsed Mayor Rudy Giuliani, despite their chilly history, for the upcoming New York Senate race. The national Republican Party reportedly pressured Pataki to do it so there’d be a strong Republican campaign against the probable Democratic contender, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Washington Post also leads a local piece, about how two Maryland counties are handling a Wednesday gubernatorial announcement. It, not spelled out in the story, declared mandatory restrictions on water usage throughout the state. Montgomery County is printing educational pamphlets, fining violators, and authorizing police and county workers “to confront scofflaws.” Conversely, Prince George’s County hasn’t planned to do any of these things. PG officials note the “water authority serving both counties insists it has enough water to last into November” even with no rain till then. (All of which begs the question, not addressed in the piece, what does the term “mandatory restrictions” mean?) Clinton announced Friday that the drought was the worst in history for the agriculture of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

The Los Angeles Times goes with a U.S. economy update. In July, 310,000 jobs were added, wages roses at the fastest rate this year and unemployment was steady at 4.3 percent. The shrinking manufacturing sector added 31,000 jobs, its biggest gain in a year and half. (Back then, notes a similar NYT piece, in August 1998, striking General Motors workers returned to work.) The news increases the possibility that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at its next meeting, on Aug. 24, to protect against inflation.

A Texas manicurist, charging heart damage after taking a weight-loss cocktail called fen-phen, won a $23.3 million jury verdict Friday, fronts the LAT. This was the first case against American Home Products (AHP) for making fenfluramine, the dangerous half of the combination, which “cause[s] heart valve damage in some patients and lung problems in others.” The larger significance of the case: Defendants “usually win the initial cases in such product liability law suits” so that this loss “could lead to thousands of new cases.” The piece mentions other liability suits AHP has faced. It does not, and should, discuss other recent product-liability cases of national importance, such as asbestos, tobacco, and hand guns. The fen-phen ruling supports a trend of decisions against product-liability defendants.

“The wife of an Army officer who until recently commanded a U.S. military unit running anti-drug operations in Colombia has been charged with smuggling cocaine into the United States. Laurie Hiett, 36, wife of Col. James Hiett, surrendered to federal authorities in Brooklyn on Thursday.” The Post (quoted) and NYT off-lead this story; LAT fronts it. Both off-leads credit the Village Voice for the scoop and report that two other people, who received the packages, have also been charged. Hiett mailed about 16 pounds of pure coke via six packages. She claims to have sent them for her husband’s chauffeur, who charges Ms. Hiett abuses cocaine, without knowledge of their contents. Both Times report that the colonel voluntarily stepped aside last week in light of the allegations, though he doesn’t seem to have been involved; and that Columbia gets $289 million in American aid this year, most of it to fight drugs. The NYT sets the scene best, reporting an anonymous Columbian government official who said Colombians frequently ask foreign diplomats they know to send mail for them because lots of Latin American countries have unreliable mail services. However, says the source, it’s customary to leave such mail unsealed to show nothing illegal is being sent. The NYT piece also claims investigators have evidence that Hiett knew what she was sending, and reports the street value of the coke was in the $230,000 range. The LAT focuses on how the situation will affect the American anti-drug effort in Columbia.

The Post fronts a piece analyzing the budget shenanigans. Congress passed a tax bill Clinton has promised to veto, and passed spending bills intended to financially disable his priorities despite Clinton’s consistent triumphs in budget standoffs over the past four years. But even if Clinton does win this time, some have admitted that his goals of long-term Medicare and Social Security stability may not be realized. A NYT editorial makes similar points but is more aggressively anti-Congress. It also comments that presidential hopeful Gov. George W. Bush of Texas is rhetorically moving against his fellow Republicans in Congress. And the surpluses projected for the next 10 years are enough “to save Social Security, save Medicare, increase defense spending, run the Government in a way that would be satisfactory to most Americans and even provide a modest tax cut.”

The Post profiles Vice President Gore’s presidential campaign chairman, former House Democratic whip Tony Coelho. Gore reached outside his inner circle to recruit Coelho. Some like him; some don’t–such as former vice presidential chief of staff Ronald A. Klain, who resigned this week. TP doesn’t come away with much sense of whether to like Coelho, or Gore’s campaign, from the piece.