Today's Papers

Battlefield Congress

The Washington Post leads with results of a nationwide poll on guns and gun-related threats. Two-thirds of respondents said they believe gun control laws should be strengthened. The New York Times reports that labor unions are waging their most furious lobbying campaign ever, against the move to normalize trade relations with China. The Clinton administration and business leaders have been lobbying wildly for the legislation, but some labor leaders believe they can defeat the bill. The Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Gray Davis’ proposal to exempt California’s 238,000 public school teachers from state income tax. The offer, which the NYT fronts, is thought to be the first of its kind for any occupation during peacetime and is a part of an aggressive education agenda Davis first revealed during his State of the State speech in January.

The Post lead opens with three disturbing statistics: Twenty-five percent of Americans have been threatened with a gun, 10 percent have been shot at, and nearly half of all Americans keep a firearm in their homes. Men are twice as likely as women to be threatened with a gun, and blacks tend to be more than whites. The release of the data, which echoes earlier surveys, coincides with today’s Million Mom March, an anti-gun demonstration in Washington.

Burned by passage of the 1993 North America Free Trade Agreement, labor leaders have launched a broad offensive against the Clinton administration’s plan to normalize trade with China. Members of the Steelworkers have written 200,000 letters to members of Congress, and the AFL-CIO has organized demonstrations in 32 key congressional districts. Workers at an Ohio Rubbermaid factory sent a bath mat to a state U.S. Representative with a message on the back explaining that most of their plant was moving to Mexico and they did not want the rest moving to China. Congress will vote on the measure May 22.

About 20 companies around the world are genetically altering plants to grow pharmaceuticals, the NYT reports. “Biopharming” might produce a cheaper way of producing key proteins that are now cooked up in–exquisite image–“genetically modified mammalian cells grown in vats.” A sidebar appears with the jump: Almost all volunteers in a Baltimore experiment showed some immunity to a digestive track virus by eating potatoes modified to grow a viral protein. Unseen benefit: Next-generation vegetables might remove that lingering ambiguity for those who can never remember whether carrots really are good for your eyes or if that was just parental inducement to eat them.

Yale economist Robert Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance, says in the Post’s “Outlook” section that the stock market’s current speculative bubble will fizzle rather than burst. He reminds readers that the Wall Street crash of Oct. 28-29, 1929, had been practically erased by mid-April 1930; however, between Sept. 7, 1929 and June 1, 1932–a period in which the Standard & Poor’s Composite had fallen 86 percent–Wall Street had seen 365 up days and 431 down days.

No news about the 21 people held hostage by insurgents from the southern Philippines, but the LAT delivers an update on the nation’s 29-year-old civil war, which has killed 120,000 people. Although peace talks broke down two weeks ago, both the government and rebels have concluded that the only solution is political, not military. Which is not to say that fighting will cease. Rebels say that the government has repeatedly promised and failed to develop the predominantly Muslim Mindanao region. Critics of the rebels say their belligerence frightens potential investors.

With Pope John Paul II in attendance, the Vatican secretary of state revealed the long-fabled “third secret of Fátima” before 600,000 people in Fátima, Portugal, according to LAT and NYT front-pagers. On that site in 1917, three children are believed to have seen the Virgin Mary, who is believed to have revealed three prophesies. The last, a secret until yesterday, warned that a “bishop clothed in white” would be shot. Vatican officials believe that the 1981 assassination attempt on the pope, which occurred on the anniversary of the Fátima apparition, fulfilled the prophesy.

The NYTMagazine runs a six-page profile of Elie Samaha, producer of the spectacularly panned John Travolta sci-fi flick, Battlefield Earth. The article assumes a chummy neutrality toward its subject, lightly skeptical, which would be completely unremarkable had it not appeared immediately after spontaneous critical consensus this week that the $90 million movie makes Waterworld look like Gone With the Wind. Read this, this, and this, and then try to read this statement without biting your knuckles: ” ‘This movie is so strong,’ Samaha says. He is reminded that he hasn’t seen the finished version. ‘I know,’ he says, tapping his forehead. ‘It’s going to be great.’ ” The piece ends with a subtle nod toward the movie’s uncertain future, but the judgment is already in: The publicity machine did its job, but Samaha & Co. fumbled.