Today's Papers


The Los Angeles Times leads with the Federal Aviation Administration-directed inspection in the days ahead by the airlines of the 1,100 airliners they have in service that are similar to the Alaska Airlines crash plane. The New York Times stuffs the inspections and goes instead, along with USA Today (which fronts the inspections), with the House’s passage yesterday of a sweeping reduction in the marriage penalty, so sweeping, note the two papers, that it would apply to all couples, not just those now paying extra tax because they file jointly. USAT nails the spirit of this generosity, introducing it as an “election-year tax cut.” The Washington Post fronts the proposed cut (as does the LAT), but leads with the latest revelation about nuclear hazards at an Energy Department facility in Paducah, Ky.–a story the Post has been out in front on since the middle of last year. Today’s revelation: Although workers or civilian supervisors were never informed, for many years more than 1,600 tons of nuclear weapons parts have been scattered about the place, posing a risk of radiation and even of an accidental nuclear reaction.

The papers note that the event precipitating the mass aircraft inspections was that investigators had recovered a damaged stabilizer part from the crashed plane that many of them think showed defects older than the effects of the crash itself.

The NYT quotes a Treasury Department finding lending much perspective to the marriage penalty discussion: According to the latest available figures, nearly the same number of people receive a marriage bonus (21 million joint returns) as pay a marriage penalty (24.8 million). And the amount of money at stake is about the same too. The penalty payers fork over an average extra of $1,141 and the bonus receivers get an average extra of $1,274. But why hold this data until the 22nd paragraph?

At one point, the Times quotes a Republican House member’s question, “What is more immoral than taxing people just because they fall in love?” Oh, that’s easy … not letting them get married.

USAT’s front features another couples-and-money story: the boomer-driven growth in the second home market. Thirteen percent of all 1999 home purchases were of secondary residences, says the story, up from 8 percent just four years before that. A surprising 38 percent of all these purchases were all-cash. But that still means 62 percent involved mortgages, which gets at one of the goofier features of the tax code, which USAT (why should it be any different from Congress?) doesn’t broach: The deductibility of mortgage interest paid toward second, or fifth, or 11th homes. The idea behind the mortgage deduction is to help everybody own their own home, but why should poor people help rich people add to their vacation holdings?

The WP off-lead reports that gene therapy experiments on more than two dozen cancer sufferers at two prestigious research centers accidentally exposed the patients to HIV. The paper says that researchers admitted to the problem and communicated it to the patients’ families only after they learned that the Post was on to it.

The LAT and NYT front, and the WP carries inside, the confusing aftermath of that Afghan airliner hijacking: Scores and scores of people from the plane have applied for political asylum in Britain. British authorities, the papers say, still haven’t figured out exactly who was a perpetrator and who a victim in all this, but they’re beginning to suspect that a large number of people on the plane knew about the hijacking in advance. Still, the NYT says that the episode is not suspected of being a vast asylum-seeking plan. The LAT says the Brits are on the fence about this, and the WP says they think this might indeed have been the case.

The WP fronts and the NYT goes inside with the ratcheting of negative campaigning in the South Carolina Republican primary. A woman at a John McCain campaign stop said her teen-age son had taken a call from a pollster–implied by the McCain camp to have been in the employ of George W. Bush–who portrayed McCain as a “cheat and a liar and a fraud.” McCain reacted by becoming, in the paper’s words, “obviously emotional,” and he later called on Bush to end such “push-polling.”

A piece in the Wall Street Journal reports that McCain is starting to concern incumbents in both parties. Democrats are worried that his appeal to swing voters could make him electable in the general election, while Republicans are worried that the independent voters McCain might well bring to the polls would vote in droves against Republican congressional candidates.

“The Reliable Source” in yesterday’s WP reported that when George W. escorted his rarely heard-from brother Marvin Bush back to the press corps traveling with the Bush campaign, Marvin immediately let loose with, “That great sucking sound you hear is the sound of the media’s lips coming off of John McCain’s …” George W. immediately said the comment was “off the record.” Two questions about that: 1) Was the Post wrong then to print the comment? 2) And even if not, was the paper acting out of a personal animus toward George W. when it printed it? In other words, do you really think the fact that you’ve not read a similar comment from John McCain or one of his circle means that he’s never said such a thing in the presence of a reporter?