Today's Papers

Forest Gumption?

Both USA Today and the Washington Post have essentially the same lead story about how President Clinton has in his waning days in office made yet another executive decision–this time to ban road building and most commercial logging on more than a quarter of all federally owned land–that George W. Bush almost certainly disagrees with but may have trouble overturning. But give USAT credit for packaging the story better. The WP’s headline is “CLINTON SET TO PROTECT VAST AREAS OF FORESTS.” USAT’s is “CLINTON ACTIONS ANNOY BUSH.” (One tiny problem with the packaging: The story nowhere quotes Bush saying anything, much less that he’s annoyed; it merely cites unnamed Bush aides.) The top story at the New York Times (online at least) is the House Republicans’ wholesale replacement of their top committee chairmen, a move that pastures some of the party’s most powerful senior members, all because of a 1995 pledge of six-year chairmanship term limits. The paper calls the move more sweeping than any other possible turnover short of a change of party control but also notes that it created a new money funnel from corporations and individuals to contenders for the positions thus opened up. The Los Angeles Times goes with more on the California electricity crunch: 1) To help two main struggling private power companies, the state utility commission approved an emergency 90-day rate hike of 7 to 15 percent, which the financial markets almost immediately deemed insufficient judging from the plunge the utilities’ stock and bond prices took; 2) The governor and legislature appear to be moving toward a state bailout of private utility companies; 3) The Clinton administration has offered to host a White House meeting of all the crisis players next week.

The USAT lead says that the incoming administration is “becoming increasingly irked” by Clinton’s end-of-term measures–not just this latest decision about forests, but also his appointment of a federal judge while Congress was in recess, new workplace ergonomic rules, and even putting a new Washington, D.C., statehood-sympathetic license plate on the White House limo. But the paper contexts by reminding that former President Bush left in a similar flurry: bombing Iraq, signing a major arms treaty, sending troops to Somalia, and issuing an Iran-Contra-related pardon to former Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. The WP lead quotes a top official with the National Resources Defense Council describing Clinton’s forest move as perhaps “the biggest conservation achievement of any president in our memory” but also has unnamed timber industry spokesmen saying that it will discourage the proper forest management needed to avert a repeat of last summer’s wildfires. The story also has Alaska’s two senators charging that Clinton has violated federal law. The WP says that for the Bush administration to undo the decision it would have to first hold hearings and demonstrate “a compelling need.” But neither the Post nor USAT explains in general what sorts of decisions can and cannot be made by a president’s unilateral executive action.

The NYT reports that Clinton has also issued an order creating a new position of counterintelligence czar, who would have a broad mandate for identifying potential security threats and vulnerabilities. The story says that the Bush administration could change all this without congressional approval but also that the new position has the support of the current FBI director, who, the paper says, is staying on (as was fronted by yesterday’s USAT).

The WP goes inside with a story that’s been building for a few days on the wires and in the international press: concern among several NATO countries that their soldiers may have gotten cancer from exposure to depleted uranium ammunition used in the Balkans by U.S. forces. The story notes press reports that six Italian ex-peacekeeping soldiers died of leukemia recently and that four French vets of Balkan tours have also developed the disease. The Post also runs an AP report that the Pentagon has denied that the ammunition poses any health hazard.

Both the NYT and WP run inside stories about the German magazine Stern’s publication this week of some 1973 pictures of Joschka Fischer, then a leftist militant but now the foreign minister of Germany and a leading member of the Green Party, assaulting a policeman. Both stories report that Fischer has apologized, which, the NYT says, was a surprising departure from his usual stance of not regretting his part in the “generational struggle against a deeply conservative Germany.” The Post says that the pictures have “elicited barely a mumble” in Germany. And just when you thought all the really good foreign minister flicks had already been made, the Post says that Al Pacino is all set to play Fischer in a movie.

USAT goes long with a cover story about what happens when people write airlines to complain about bad flying experiences. The story surveys a bunch of passenger mail and serves up a few generalizations: 1) Asking for something helps you get something–about 70 percent of those who asked for some compensation got some; 2) It’s usually a coupon, rarely money; 3) Being a frequent flier doesn’t necessarily mean you will get anything. But the story really hits consumer abuse gold with the tale of one Quentin Hodge, who wrote to United about his attempt to visit his mother. His flight landed late in Chicago, which meant he missed his connection. But the airline refused to move him up from the standby list of another available flight, with the result that he arrived more than six hours late, two hours after his ailing mother had died. United’s response: An apology and a $100 coupon.