Today's Papers

The Bridle of Frankenfood

The  Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the adoption in Montreal of an international trade agreement on genetically altered food products. The cornerstone of the treaty is its support for the “precautionary principle,” which allows countries to ban the import of genetically altered products without conclusive scientific proof that said products are hazardous. The New York Times off-leads with the Montreal agreement and leads with an article exploring the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996. Under the act, cities and states are suing to take control of their prisons back from the courts. Ten localities have sued successfully, with at least 10 more suits in the works.

The NYT notes that the Montreal talks were focused on reducing biotechnology’s impact on the environment and didn’t address 1) potential risks to human health caused by biotechnology products and 2) regulations on human pharmaceuticals. The treaty also requires exporters to secure permission from target countries before importing “living modified organisms” such as genetically altered seeds. The most contentious issue was the establishment of a notification system for foods produced with genetically altered seeds. U.S. representatives claimed that such a system would be a bureaucratic nightmare, and after four days of intense negotiation, the delegates agreed to table the issue for at least two years.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups mourn the effects of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, saying that it leaves no way to prevent prisons from backsliding into the inhumane conditions that warranted judiciary intervention. Some also maintain that the act is unconstitutional: the Supreme Court agreed last year to review a case claiming that the law, in effect, allows Congress to dictate judicial policy. Supporters of the claim that many judges had overstepped their authority, and that overly strict standards made it very difficult to end court intervention.

A story fronted by the NYT, reefered by the LAT, and stuffed by the WP relates Al Gore’s admission that his stance on abortion has “evolved” throughout his career. Bill Bradley had attacked Gore’s previous claims that he always supported abortion rights and produced letters Gore wrote to constituents calling abortion “arguably the taking of human life.” Gore now maintains that while his view of the morality of abortion has evolved, he has always stood behind Roe vs. Wade. The NYT has good evidence disputing this claim, but buries it below the fold: In 1984, Gore backed a proposal to broaden the definition of “person” in civil rights laws to include “unborn children from the moment of conception.” The other big news from New Hampshire is that George W. Bush has finally pulled out the big guns: his parents. The WP and NYT front pictures of the Bushes on the stump Saturday, and the NYT explains that, faced with a tough New Hampshire contest, Bush finally overcame his reluctance to flaunt his political pedigree. As this story went to press, Today’s Papers was still unsure whether it was endearing or alarming that George the elder referred to the 53-year-old potential Leader of the Free World as “this boy.”

The LAT fronts the latest from Austria: The country’s controversial far right Freedom Party may join a ruling coalition this week. The party, which finished second in October’s general elections, is currently negotiating with the conservative People’s Party. The WP and NYT tuck the story inside, but everyone mentions party leader Jörg Haider’s infamous statements praising the employment policies of Nazi Germany. Coalition negotiations between the People’s Party and the Social Democrats broke down last week.

The NYT front notes that the price of oil, which has nearly doubled since last winter, is inflating gas, heating, and airline ticket prices. The raise in prices are a result of last March’s OPEC production cut and diminished domestic stockpiles of heating oil, brought about by milder winters and stricter regulations on storage facilities. Given the overall health of the economy, no one believes that the price hikes will cause a recession.

The Post runs a front-page obituary of Harold Greene, a “legend of the American bar.” Greene, who fled Nazi Germany with his parents in 1939, helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and presided over the 1981 breakup of AT&T.

Unable to afford hefty bribes or airfare to Canada, Russian mothers are looking for other ways to finesse Russia’s Byzantine draft laws and keep their sons out of the Chechen conflict. According to an NYT front-pager, Russians are looking to student deferral, adoption, and a battery of illnesses and injuries to keep off the front line. Some plans sound like they’ve been hatched by sitcom writers: One woman said that she would divorce her invalid husband to keep her son out of the army. He could then legally claim to be his father’s only able-bodied caretaker and evade the draft, even with mom living under the same roof. There’s just one problem: What are they gonna do if Mr. Roper shows up?