Today's Papers

Missing Inaction

Everyone leads with the discovery of the missing computer hard drives at Los Alamos, found stashed behind a photocopier near the vault in which they belong. The area had already been searched twice since the disks were discovered missing over a month ago. The big question, of course, is whether this is espionage or a simple case of misplacement. Either way, one theory is that whoever took the drives panicked under the FBI investigation and decided to return them. The cartridges are now being checked for authenticity and tampering.

The  New York Times fronts the unanimous approval of a Senate bill to give electronic signatures the same validity as pen and ink ones. The Times asserts that passage “catapults electronic commerce to a new level” by allowing users to buy insurance, take out loans, or set up brokerage accounts online. Turnaround time will be nil, administrative fees will plummet, and all the paperwork (or whatever it will be called) will be stored online. Because of security and privacy concerns, a few extra-sensitive transactions will still be limited to paper, such as foreclosure of mortgages, execution of wills, and termination of insurance policies. Neither the law nor the papers specify how the electronic signatures will actually work (click here for Slate’s primer). Another question the papers don’t answer: When President Clinton signs future bills into law, will he do so with a pen or a mouse?

A Washington Post front-pager profiles the hardball fund-raising tactics being used by Sen. Robert Torricelli, the chief Democratic fund-raiser. Torricelli woos large corporpations by backing the same bills they do and shamelessly solicits soft money contributions. One example: Torricelli is supporting a bill that would limit the liability for asbestos manufacturers, earning his party over $200,000 from GAF, the New Jersey company pushing the legislation. “My job is to win by the rules as they’re written,” Torricelli tells the reporter. The piece also suggests that Torricelli has made some ethically dubious personal investments, mentioning that he trades high-tech stocks and made almost $100,000 in paper profits on a $5,000 investment in a Web startup. But the piece doesn’t quite spell out what’s wrong with the latter two activities. And while such a dramatic return on an investment in, say, cattle futures, would be remarkable, aren’t twentyfold returns pretty common in the dot-com industry?

The NYT reports that the Federal Communication Commission has OKed the merger of AT&T and GTE. The new company, called Verizon, will handle–deep breath–a third of the local telephone market, about 63 million local lines, and 25 million cell phone customers.

The NYT reports that Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schröder got along famously at their summit. After Germany agreed to invest $1.7 billion in Russia, Putin announced that “Germany is Russia’s leading partner in Europe and the world.” “What do you want us to say,” Putin asked, “that we’re in love?” Meanwhile, the NYT and WP stuff stories about the release of Vladimir A. Gusinsky, the Russian media magnate whose recent jailing had raised concerns about freedom of the press in Russia.

A WP front-pager explains why Ralph Nader’s campaign is no longer a joke. Nader could decide the election by taking a chunk out of Gore’s western votes and stealing his Midwestern labor support. His anti-corporate harangues haven’t changed much in content since the late ‘60s, but they’re attracting new and strange bedfellows, such as fundamentalist Christians, who don’t want their children’s lives saturated with ads and displays of consumption. “The man is as serious as a dioxin spill,” concludes the piece.