Today's Papers

Gen. Giap Gets a Gap

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with the imminent signing of a sweeping trade agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam that promises to produce real commerce between the two countries for the first time since the Vietnam War. The top non-local story at the Washington Post, also fronted by the LAT, is today’s publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of a giant study of more than 89,000 people (all either identical or fraternal twins) suggesting that the vast majority of cancers are caused by environmental and behavioral factors, not genes. USA Today leads with Al Gore’s decision, sourced to senior campaign officials, to announce his choice of a running mate immediately after the Republican convention. Gore’s objective: to neutralize the traditional “bounce” a candidate gets coming away with his party’s nomination. The top story in the Wall Street Journal worldwide news box is Israel’s decision to call off its planned sale of an advanced airborne early warning radar system to China, a story also fronted by the two Times. The papers view the decision as helping Israel attract something quite useful in the post-Camp David world: additional aid and support from the White House and Congress.

The two Times don’t have much in the way of details on the U.S.-Vietnam trade pact, but both observe that it could become official within the next few days. Both stories note that after several years of fitful negotiations, what seems to have jump-started Vietnam is its acute awareness of the benefits to be reaped by its regional competitor China if it gains the trade access to the U.S. that comes with permanent normal trade status and membership in the WTO.

The Post and LAT say that in the NEJM cancer study, environmental factors caused about twice as many cancers as did genetic ones. Key environmental factors included cigarettes, poor diet, lack of exercise, radiation, and pollution. Prostate cancer had the strongest genetic component, followed by colorectal cancer and then breast cancer. The upshot of this study, the two papers point out, is to strike a blow against fatalism and one for lifestyle changes. The WP headlines the story, “CANCER STUDY DEEMPHASIZES GENES’ ROLE” while the LAT tags it, “STUDY TIES MOST CANCER TO LIFESTYLE, NOT GENETICS.” But the NYT (online at least) goes with the true-but-hardly-the-whole-truth, “GENES MAY CAUSE 25% OF 3 MAJOR CANCERS.”

The WP fronts word that surgeons in Taiwan and the U.S. have restored vision to people with previously untreatable eye damage (not helped even by cornea transplants) using stem cells taken from the patient or a close relative and then grown on a piece of womb membrane in a laboratory before being applied to the cornea.

USAT bottom-fronts another bit of medical news stuffed elsewhere. It seems that, based on a study of nearly 1,000 women, using the spermicide Nonoxynol-9 to protect a woman against HIV has a slight drawback: It triples her risk of getting HIV.

USAT reefers, with a picture, what might become the next police brutality controversy: In Philadelphia, local TV news video shows police beating and kicking a man on the ground for about 30 seconds. The man had stolen a police car and an officer’s gun and shot at cops numerous times before the video was made. The NYT runs a wire story about the incident inside.

The NYT brings national attention to a local Washington, D.C., story that deserves lots of coverage. It seems that a D.C. TV reporter recently unearthed Treasury Department pay slips from 1792 to 1800 showing that 400 of the 600 workers who helped build the White House and the Capitol were slaves, whose wages were “appropriated” (how about “stolen”?) by their owners. A NYT op-ed by social historian Eric Foner further drives the point home by observing that “slaves built New York” and that “on the eve of the Civil War, the economic value of slaves in the United States was $3 billion in 1860 currency, more than the combined value of all the factories, railroads and banks in the country.” It’s time, says Foner, to fully acknowledge the widespread role slaves played in building the U.S.

WSJ columnist Al Hunt salutes a much undernoticed social and economic development: the rise of social entrepreneurs–folks with the social ideals of ‘60s liberals but the business skills of the dot-commers–in fact even better ones, because unlike Internet startups, some of these folks have been around for awhile. Teach for America, for instance, observes Hunt, which has put more than 5,000 teachers in the schools of 13 cities over the past 11 years. Or City Year, an urban Peace Corps that since 1988 has grown from a single pilot service team in Boston to a $25 million annual venture with programs in numerous big cities. Hunt observes that the way in which social entrepreneurs cut across traditional political lines should have attracted more attention from politicians than they have. One reason he cites for this failure: a lack of attention from the business press, such as the WSJ.

Apparently, who you are depends on where you write. Appended to a (pretty funny) piece on the NYT op-ed page by Andy Borowitz is the credit line identifying him as the author of The Trillionaire Next Door. But Borowitz’s most recent piece in the LAT, which ran just last month, thumbnails him as “the creator of the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”