Today's Papers

A Moo Point?

The USA Today lead reports that the Bush administration is weighing a proposal to sharply increase U.S. foreign aid–now at a rather low level compared to other industrial nations–and deliver most of it via faith-based and other private relief organizations, along the lines of President George W. Bush’s proposal for getting religious and other private social organizations more involved in the provision of domestic social services. The paper reports that longtime foreign aid opponent Sen. Jesse Helms is on board for the increase if the U.S. Agency for International Development–which currently manages most nonmilitary overseas aid–is abolished. With luck those making decisions about U.S. foreign aid will read the New York Timeslead carefully. It details how famine conditions have collapsed North Korea’s health care system. The well-reported story by Elisabeth Rosenthal (not only a staff reporter, but also a physician) opens with malnourished 12-year-old boys shivering together in a shared hospital bed and goes on to such horrors as a teen-age boy’s broken leg being immobilized with planks of wood because no casting material was available and doctors forced to forge their own operating tools in a backyard metal shop. One aid worker is quoted saying, “You probably have more in your home medicine chest than some county hospitals here have.” The Los Angeles Times lead assesses the chances for a U.S. outbreak of “mad cow” disease–linked to the deaths of 94 people across Europe–and assesses them as “tiny but real.” Minuses include: Even though the disease spread in Europe via mistaken inclusion of parts from stricken cows in the feed given to live beef and dairy cattle and other animals, the FDA recently found discrepancies in labeling in 20 percent of the 1,000 U.S. feed mills it inspected and also that 9 percent did not have a system for preventing cattle feed from commingling with feed meant for other animals. Pluses include: No case has ever been found in any U.S. livestock; live animals from Britain (the home of mad cow) have been banned in the U.S. since 1989; and animals, meat, and animal feed from European countries affected by the disease have been nixed since 1997. The Washington Post lead reports that California-style power crunches may soon crop up in other parts of the country, such as New York City and the Northeast generally, the Southeast, and the Great Lakes region all because of a shortage of high-voltage transmission lines. The piece explains and illustrates the political and financial obstacles to straddling miles of cable on giant towers across suburbs and farms. And then there is the reverse incentive structure: Under deregulation, more long transmission lines would allow customers to have access to cheaper power from other markets, thus braking profits (and prices) in more markets.

The NYT lead depicts the International Red Cross and two private U.S. outfits, AmeriCares and the Eugene Bell Foundation, as doing great things to help hungry and sick North Koreans. The Times also explains that the North Korean authorities told Dr. Rosenthal she could not work as a reporter while visiting their medical facilities.

The Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box is topped by the paper’s report that the Iraqi air defense systems hit in last week’s raid by U.S. and British jets were being installed by the Iraqis with the help of Chinese military and civilian officials, a clear violation of U.N. sanctions. The story is sourced to unnamed Pentagon officials but also states that State Department officials didn’t know about the Chinese involvement.

The WP fronts a profile of Bush chief of staff Andrew Card. The story focuses on his “loyalty” and “discipline” and his tendency to “think mathematically, not emotionally.” It goes high to report that when Card was an assistant manager at McDonald’s and learned that somebody on the staff was stealing money, he fired everyone. But it waits until the 22nd paragraph to mention that while Card was the auto industry’s chief lobbyist, he opposed tougher fuel economy standards and tougher emissions laws and opposed the Kyoto treaty limiting global warming.

The NYT fronts word that some medical specialists claim that a widespread belief that girls are on now on average starting puberty much earlier, as early as age 6 or 7, is mistaken because they say it’s based on a single, flawed study. The dissenting doctors argue that wrongly assuming the normalcy of early development can lead to missing serious medical problems like tumors or genetic disorders whose principle symptom is early puberty. While not taking a stand on the disputed study, the Times says it is well-documented that the typical onset age for menstruation–about 12-and-a-half years old–“has remained constant for half a century.”

Both USAT and the WP report inside that the captain of the U.S. sub that surfaced into a Japanese fishing boat has, citing the advice of his attorney, refused to be interviewed by government civilian accident investigators. He agreed to respond in writing only to written questions pertaining to the sub’s search and rescue efforts after the collision. The WP quotes one of the investigators saying the captain wants to talk to them, but only after the Navy inquiry proceedings are over.

USAT has a look at the University of Michigan’s collection of Unabomber papers now being regularly inspected by curious scholars. The paper reports that Ted Kaczynski, who got master’s and doctor’s degrees in mathematics at the school in the 1960s, sends new shipments from his Colorado prison cell every six to eight weeks. (Just to, er, make sure, all the boxes are opened by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.) The materials cover a wide range of theoretical topics but also include Kaczynski’s recommendation letter for an applicant to Harvard Divinity School. The story doesn’t say if he got in, but it’s a little hard to imagine the admissions committee responding, “The Unabomber says he’s ‘impetuous and undisciplined’–we’ll take him!”

Back to mad cow disease for a beat. Buried at the bottom of the LAT lead story is the biggest plus of all: According to the paper, experts say that consumers, to stand a significant chance of getting the human version of the disease, would have to feast on the brains and backbones of cows. Today’s Papers is much relieved, having not had a spinal burger in weeks.