Today's Papers

Absentee Al

The Washington Post leads with the Senate’s vote yesterday to increase the limits applying to any individual’s contributions to candidates for federal government office, which would be the first such increase since 1974. This is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times fronts the vote but goes instead with an inside-sourced report that the Bush administration is going to review all American aid programs designed to help Russia contain and control nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Although the story notes growing U.S.-Russia tensions, it also suggests that some of the programs–such as those for deactivating warheads, missiles, silos, and sub-launching tubes, and for buying weapons-grade enriched uranium–will probably be assessed as worth continuing. Looking shakier in the story: the plutonium disposal program and the effort to reduce the size of Russia’s nuclear cities while keeping its nuclear scientists from taking up weapons work elsewhere. USA Today leads with, and the WP and LAT front, a federal court ruling that the First Amendment protects an Internet site and “Wanted” posters that identify and disparage doctors who perform abortions. The decision reverses a $109 million judgment awarded two years ago to some abortion clinics and doctors. The paper quotes one of the appeals judges as concluding this was protected speech because it “merely encouraged” unrelated terrorists and therefore wasn’t an immediate threat to the doctors.

The coverage reports the Senate bill would raise the limit on individual contributions to candidates (= hard money) from the current $1,000 to $2,000 per donor (with the LAT pointing out that this is reset from a primary to a general election) and also would raise the aggregate annual total for an individual from the current $25,000 to $37,500. The bill would also double the amount national parties can give candidates, to $35,000 per election, and would subject all such limits to inflation indexing. The papers see the compromise that carried this bill through as presaging good chances for the soon-to-be-voted-on McCain-Feingold bill that would ban unrestricted donations to the political parties (= soft money). Despite this, both the WP and LAT stories point out that the bill poses a political problem for Democrats because while the two major parties raise roughly an equal amount of soft money, the Republicans are far more successful at raising hard money. And the Post says yesterday’s Senate action could compromise McCain-Feingold’s prospects in the House, quoting one “senior Democratic aide” there as saying, “Nobody said the U.S. Senate gets to tell us what campaign finance reform is. … The fact that they wrote themselves an incumbent protection bill is not our problem.”

The LAT has Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, when asked if President Bush would sign the campaign reform bill that’s emerging, saying, “Every indication I get is yes.”

The NYT, WP, and LAT front Israeli helicopter gunship attacks on bases and training camps of Yasser Arafat’s personal security forces, a reaction to a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed two Israeli teen-agers and the first Israeli military operation against Palestinian forces since Ariel Sharon became the prime minister. Two people were killed in the Israeli air strike, although among the headlines, only the LAT’s mentions this.

The WP’s Richard Cohen notes that amid the recent controversy over all the Bush administration’s environmental backsliding, there hasn’t been a peep from Al Gore. “This is a peculiar characteristic of American politics. When a presidential campaign ends, it ends–as if all issues have been settled,” writes Cohen. “In a parliamentary system, the losing candidate would resume his seat in parliament and continue to play an important public role. Here, though, the losing candidate goes on vacation–and seems never to return.”

Some new economy new math from the WP business section–total amount of money lost this year through AOL-Time Warner’s investments in other companies: $300 million. Total value earned last year in exercised stock options by AOL-TW’s top three execs: $245 million.

Citing a report compiled by Public Citizen, the NYT’s Bob Herbert op-eds an example of what he calls the subversive power of soft money: the gambling industry’s thwarting of a bipartisan bill to ban betting on college sports. Herbert says the bill would easily pass, yet after Nevada casinos gave $4 million to Republican and Democratic campaign committees, it still hasn’t come up for a vote. And yet representatives from the NCAA, which doesn’t make political contributions, have not been able to get a meeting on the matter with casino executives.

The USAT sports front reports that yesterday the NFL banned do-rags as a game-day accessory. Players may still wear team-color skullcaps or if a doctor finds a medical condition requiring it, some other head covering. Keeping the gang/prison look only got the support of one team–here’s a surprise–Oakland.

The Wall Street Journal brilliantly front-features the story behind that familiar “No animals were harmed in the making of this movie” deal. Turns out this is zero tolerance at its zeroest. If an ape works for more than three days straight, then an area for play and relaxation is mandated. “No animals,” explains the Journal, “doesn’t just mean no horses or dogs or cats; it also means no crabs or roaches or flies.” In L.A. Confidential that reeking corpse under the house may have been fake, but the maggots all over it were real, and they were not mistreated. And when animal wranglers find a dead ant or roach, they often keep it in the freezer for when a script calls for a dead ant or roach because if it does, you can’t go kill one. The story says the crab Tom Hanks impales in Cast Away was battery powered (and took a month of work by a half-dozen model makers). Yeah, but what about that horse’s head in The Godfather?