Today's Papers

The Fastest Way To Steal Money

The Los Angeles Times top nonlocal story is the Republican effort to nullify Bill Clinton’s new ergonomic workplace regulations. The New York Times and the Washington Post lead with an appeals court decision striking down regulatory limits on cable companies. To promote competition, the Federal Communications Commission mandated that no cable company could control more than 30 percent of the market or own more than 40 percent of its own programming. But the court ruled that such “concentration caps” violated cable operators’ First Amendment rights. The three-judge panel sent the rules back to the FCC for modification, and most experts believe the new chairman, Michael K. Powell, will relax the rules considerably. The NYT reports that Powell believes the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, should be in charge of maintaining competition in the cable industry. The big winners appear to be the cable giants, AOL-Time Warner and especially AT&T, which was about to spin off part of its cable operation to comply with the caps. Consumer groups say the industry, already plagued by limited choices and skyrocketing prices, will only get worse.

The NYT and WP both front the story about the new ergonomic rules, which are designed to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries. Sen. Don Nickles plans to kill the regulations with an obscure piece of legislation, the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 days to set aside final rules issued by federal agencies. Business groups have lobbied aggressively against the new ergonomic regime because they estimate that it will cost $100 billion or more annually. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the Labor Department, puts the cost at only $4.5 billion, and Clinton argued that the rules would save money by increasing productivity. Unions are trying to mobilize in favor of the regulations, but leaders of both parties say the Republicans have a good chance to block them.

The LAT fronts Napster’s promise to block access to at least 1 million copyrighted songs. As recently as two weeks ago, Napster claimed it did not have the technology to filter out specific songs, but faced with the possibility of a court injunction shutting the site down, it has been frantically developing filtering software. The music industry wants Napster to shut down voluntarily while it negotiates license agreements, but analysts say the site would alienate its huge customer base if it went offline and came back as a pay site. Meanwhile, many Napster customers have already started using copycat music file-sharing services such as Gnutella. Said a college freshman about the filtering announcement: “It doesn’t affect me at all. I think we’re all beyond Napster now.”

The NYT and WP front the border-tightening throughout Europe in response to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. The disease, which does not affect people and rarely kills animals but can have disastrous economic consequences (because infected animals stop eating and giving milk), has been discovered at roughly 40 farms so far. It is extremely contagious, and so far Britain has ordered the slaughter and burning of about 30,000 animals. Ireland placed 1,000 extra police officers on its Northern border to prevent the movement of animals south. European airports are requiring British passengers to disinfect by wading in shallow pools or wiping their feet on special mats. France, with no documented cases of foot-and-mouth, also ordered the slaughter of thousands of animals. The European Commission banned all livestock imports from Britain until next Friday. The British government has promised to compensate suffering farmers, but it has not released details.

The NYT off-leads the Mexican effort to reduce fees on money transferred from America to Mexico. Mexicans who work in America send home $8 billion a year, the same amount of money that tourism generates for the Mexican economy. But millions are lost to fees charged by money-wiring services. Middlemen such as Western Union often charge twice, once in the U.S. and once in Mexico, and they use exchange rates that are least favorable to consumers. The average remittance, about $300, can shrink by 25 percent ($75) by the time it gets to Mexico. Mexican President Vicente Fox established a new Cabinet position to deal with the problem, and he has set up credit unions that offer favorable rates and developed a system of automatic teller machines that allow Mexicans to access their American relatives’ accounts.

The WP off-leads news that high-school completion rates (not counting Graduation Equivalency Diplomas) have dropped from 80 percent to 75 percent in the last 15 years. Many education experts worry that President Bush’s accountability movement, which requires testing for promotion and graduation, could exacerbate the problem. Big cities in Texas, where Bush-style reform has been in place throughout the decade, suffer some of the worst dropout rates in the country.

Fuzzy math: The WP reports that President Bush says 22 percent of his tax cut will go to the richest 1 percent. The Democrats are sticking by their 43 percent figure.