Today's Papers

Bomb Letter Bomb

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post each lead with the latest development in the White House’s attempt to stave off a Senate defeat of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty–President Clinton’s submission of a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott asking him to postpone his planned floor vote on the treaty. The papers report Lott’s reaction: The letter isn’t enough–Clinton must also agree not to bring the treaty back to the Senate until January 2001. Which, so far, Clinton has not agreed to do. USA Today plays the story on Page 9, leading instead with its latest poll (undertaken with Gallup and CNN) showing that Bill Bradley is 21 percentage points closer to Al Gore than he was in the paper’s last survey a month ago, and that Bush would beat both Democrats. The only expert quoted in the story says Gore/Bradley is headed toward a “toss-up” and that Bush seems to have his party’s nomination “wrapped up.” (The story saves the number of people polled–976–for the last sentence.)

The WP’s account of Clinton’s letter to Lott makes it seem that the fate of the treaty is genuinely up in the air, whereas the LAT’s first paragraph suggests a deal may be in the works that will avoid the treaty’s certain defeat. Ditto the NYT, which says (even in its headline) a “plan” is in the works that will achieve just that. But even the Times sees a lot of brinkmanship yet to come and admits a vote could come as early as today.

Everybody explains that ratification (which is what the Senate is contemplating) by the 44 perceived nuclear capable countries is required to make it effective. But the NYT helpfully adds that Russia and China have signaled that they will “take their lead” from the Senate vote. The Times also does the best job of explaining the politics in play right now, noting that 1) Lott is “tiptoeing” between a majority of Republicans who are probably against the treaty but don’t want to give the U.S. a diplomatic setback on the one hand, and hard-liners in his party on the other who want to kill the treaty at all domestic and international costs; and 2) Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle has to contend with a minority of Democrats who want a vote now so that once defeated, the treaty becomes a viable campaign issue.

But the LAT does better on the big picture, explaining that Lott’s additional demand for postponement until 2001 is designed precisely to immunize Republicans from the treaty during the 2000 election. And although everybody notes that President Clinton signed the treaty two years ago, it’s the LAT that explains where it’s been since then: bottled up in Sen. Jesse Helms’ Foreign Relations Committee.

The LAT and WP front the likelihood that today (or one day soon) will mark, for the first time ever, the planet’s population totaling 6 billion. The thrust of the stories–and of a Wall Street Journal op-ed (and of a NYT “Week in Review” takeout a few weeks ago)–is that, in the shadow of the dizzying number there is non-Malthusian news. It’s noted that thanks to education efforts and the wider dissemination of birth control, the population growth rate in most places is about half what it was a generation ago. (The Post, by the way, makes the point that this fact doesn’t show that books like “The Population Bomb” were nuts–it was because of such alarms that experts and governments started attacking the growth rate problem.) The main storm cloud the Post sees is that food distribution (not food supply, which is generally adequate) needs to improve, while the LAT wonders if governments will continue to stay on top of reproductive “care.”

The WSJ runs a fine feature about the military’s obstinate attachment to anti-Soviet era big ticket weapons systems and its concomitant failure to fully tap the potential of newer, smaller ideas. This is no cliché-spouting editorial, but rather a long detailed narrative of what’s become of unmanned aerial drones in the hands of the Pentagon in the past 20 years. The primary problem has been that traditional weapons advocates in uniform have seen drones as threats. For instance, in the Navy, so the story explains, the plan to develop unmanned bombers ran into the formidable opposition of the carrier admirals. The upshot is that the Pentagon is still spending only millions on this idea, compared to say, the $3 billion it wanted for the next Air Force fighter.

The WP reports inside that last week the U.S. military’s Atlantic Command held a formal ceremony where it was renamed the Joint Forces Command. The change involved new banners and command insignia and new stationery. But the regional area of responsibility–the Atlantic Ocean–remains basically the same. The point of the name change is to emphasize the importance of the various U.S. service branches working together. But it’s a real lapse for the Post not to have told the readers what the non-change change cost taxpayers.

The NYT fronts a Frenchman leading the revolt against McDonald’s in his country. And off a front-page picture, the WP inside reports on the egg-throwing protest by French chefs in Paris against a new tax structure they feel hurts traditional cuisine and aids fast food. These are interesting sorts of stories, but one has to wonder if there isn’t another reason why they are staples of the big dailies: to help justify having reporters stationed in France, which although a great place to live, produces virtually no real news.

Upon seeing the headline over NYT op-edder Gail Collins’ effort, Today’s Papers braced for embarrassing personal revelations of an un-Timesly sort. The column, which instead turns out to be about Ronald Reagan being so profoundly solipsistic that he couldn’t remember the names of his dogs or children is slugged “My Boy Spot.”