Today's Papers

Oily Criticism of Bush

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with Bush Attorney General-pick John Ashcroft’s approval by a Senate committee on a close vote mostly on party lines. This moves the last unresolved Bush Cabinet nominee forward for a vote soon by the full Senate. Both papers say that Ashcroft will almost surely be approved although they note that opposition to him in the committee was quite pointed and that more of the same can be expected on the Senate floor before Ashcroft finally gets the job. The Wall Street Journal, which tops its worldwide news box with the story, observes that critics credit the lack of attention given during the committee hearings to worries about Ashcroft’s fund-raising practices to “how deeply the Senate itself is steeped in the techniques of fully exploiting the campaign-finance system.” The coverage notes that leading campaign reform advocate Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold voted for Ashcroft. Both USA Today and the Los Angeles Times go with the biggest drop since the 1990-91 recession in a closely watched survey of consumer attitudes, which, they say, suggests the economy is on the verge of a recession and will probably prompt the Fed to make a half-point cut in short-term interest rates when it meets today, although both papers pass along the idea that the cut could even be bigger.

The consumer attitudes coverage tries to eff the ineffable. USAT says the survey showed “the biggest one month decline since October 1990, and it capped the largest four-month drop since January 1991” and has a scare-quotes expert saying that “We have never had a decline of this magnitude in consumer confidence over the past 30 years when the economy was not already in recession.” The NYT consumer front-pager likewise quasi-quantifies, saying, “The gap between people’s attitudes about the current climate and their expectations for the future is now wider than it has ever been in the 34 years of the poll.” But the coverage feels strongly both ways, with the LAT lead also reporting continuing strong sales in women’s clothing and jewelry and also at some car makers, and USAT and the NYT noticing a slight upwelling in this month’s overall consumer spending.

The LAT fronts the latest upsetting revelation to rock Britain’s National Health Service. On the heels of the news that a small-town doctor may have killed as many as 200 of his elderly patients without the system noticing for 25 years, a government report revealed Tuesday that one of Britain’s leading children’s hospitals had between 1988 and 1995 harvested hearts, brains, eyes, and other organs from thousands of dead children without telling their parents. A separate government report released yesterday said that such removal without informed parental consent is common in English hospitals. The government is blaming a Dutch pathologist also wanted in Canada for stashing children’s organs there, but investigators have also found stockpiled body parts at the English hospital that predate his tenure.

The NYT fronts (with an accompanying picture) and the WSJ also covers the latest move by the Chinese government to combat the Falun Gong movement. Last night, the government lifted a total media blackout on the events of a week ago when several alleged movement members set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. How? By broadcasting grisly police videos of the event. The footage included close-ups of a badly charred 12-year-old girl (who is still alive) writhing on the ground and crying, “Mama, Mama!” The Times says the broadcast stunned many Chinese viewers and hardened their attitudes toward Falun Gong. Both papers say that movement representatives in New York question whether the self-immolators were in fact genuine members.

The LAT fronts word that a dog that killed a San Francisco-area college lacrosse coach in her apartment hallway was one of a number being raised in a fighting dog breeding business controlled by and producing income for two members of the white supremacist gang the Aryan Brotherhood, who are currently incarcerated at California’s most secure prison. The story says that the prison investigated the operation between October 1999 and April 2000 and then turned the matter over to the FBI, which has been looking into it since and which has verified that the inmates were indeed receiving profits from the sale of fighting dogs, some of whom may have been sold to members of another gang, the Mexican Mafia. The big question left unanswered by the story is why the feds didn’t pursue this information even though, as the paper notes, it is illegal for inmates to operate a for-profit enterprise.

The NYT editorial page, its main economics columnist, Paul Krugman, and the LAT editorial page all come down hard on President George W. Bush’s nascent energy policy reaction to the California electricity crunch. Regarding the Bush idea of developing oil and gas resources in a federally protected region of Alaska wilderness, the NYT editorial says that less than 1 percent of California’s energy comes from oil, that there are other available lands for natural gas exploration in Alaska, which heretofore the oil and gas companies have not shown any interest in, and that the wilderness refuge’s amounts of oil are “relatively trivial.” And the LAT editorializes that drilling in the Alaskan wilderness “would not generate one kilowatt of electricity for California. It wouldn’t even produce any oil for an estimated ten years.” Krugman takes note of a quote that previously ran in the LAT from an energy company official who described the idea–also suggested by Bush and others in his administration–that tight environmental regulations contributed to California’s current problems, as “absolutely false.”

The WP reports that police in Danville, Ky., are looking for a customer who paid for a $2 order at a Dairy Queen–and got $198 in real change–with a phony $200 bill that featured a picture of George W. Bush and a depiction of the White House with a lawn sign out front reading, “We like broccoli.”

The WP’s “Reliable Source” amuses by flashing parts of the proposal that recently garnered ex-Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal a $650,000 book deal. After looking it over, Today’s Papers is left wondering how Blumenthal could have possibly been of much use to Bill and Hillary as an adviser. After all, as his pitch breathlessly reveals, “My personal knowledge and information … has been exclusively reserved for this book.”