Today's Papers

The Full Vermonty

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post lead with the continued imbroglio over the possibility that Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords might quit the Republican Party to become an independent, thereby putting the Democrats in control of the Senate. The papers report that Jeffords postponed yesterday’s scheduled announcement of his intentions until today and that the added time has been marked by intensive Republican efforts to keep him in the fold. But only the WP lead puts this counteroffensive in its headline. USA Today leads with the Senate’s passage of the tax bill (with Jeffords voting yes) but fronts two other Jeffords efforts. And the Wall Street Journal fronts an able and detailed look at how a Jeffords defection would effect legislative prospects in the areas of judicial appointments, health, energy, commerce, and defense. The press consensus is that Jeffords will indeed make the move.

The WSJ says that Jeffords’ leaving would be as historic as the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president. USAT has Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (himself a party switcher) saying it is a “political earthquake.” The NYT and WP quote Senate Republicans saying it would mean the tax cut passed yesterday and the education bill that just cleared the House would be all the legislation Bush would achieve before the next congressional elections. The NYT and WP do point out, however, that even if Jeffords were to vote with the Democrats, they would still be hard-pressed to come up with the 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster. And the Times adds that some Republicans are suggesting that even the R-to-D changeover in committee chairmen might be filibustered.

The coverage makes it clear that among Republicans an intense “Who Lost Jeffords?” discussion has already started. Blame is being especially heaped on the White House, mainly for insensitivity to Jeffords’ particular legislative concerns especially in the areas of education and taxes (the LAT says other policy disagreements nudging Jeffords away were the Bush administration’s banning federal funding for international groups that offer abortion counseling, its killing of workplace ergonomic protections–which he voted for, though–and Dick Cheney’s recent remarks dismissing conservation), and on the Republican congressional honchos for excluding moderates from all important leadership posts. The NYT quotes John McCain’s blanket explanation of hardball: “The lesson to the K Street lobbyists and the Republican apparatchiks is, Don’t threaten people.” The LAT, WP, and the NYT (especially in a second Jeffords fronter) depict the White House as virtually unaware of a Jeffords drift until this week.

The WP fronts and the NYT reefers new and surprising Danish research, coming out today in the New England Journal of Medicine, that seems to show that the “placebo effect”–getting positive medical results about a third of the time by doing nothing for a patient in the guise of doing something–is a myth. The researchers conclude that placebos don’t really do more than simply obviously doing nothing. They say that treatment for pain might be a slight exception, however.

Both the NYT and WP report inside that Attorney General John Ashcroft has written a letter to the National Rifle Association endorsing the view that the Second Amendment protects not just society’s collective right to gun ownership via state and federal militias, but also an individual’s right to own them. The papers point out that while some legal scholars also hold this view, the Supreme Court held the opposite in it last major ruling on the Second Amendment (issued in 1939). But both stories also report that Ashcroft went on to state in his letter that compelling state interests could be used to delimit this right, so as for instance to make it illegal for convicted felons to own guns. It’s unclear from the coverage if this letter actually means a change of policy at the Department of Justice.

A tough NYT op-ed argues against granting Beijing the 2008 Olympics because to do so would “ensure a continued wave of human rights abuses against China’s ‘undesirables’–dissidents, the mentally ill, the homeless, street children and the unemployed.” The piece says that currently, China operates more than 700 “custody and repatriation camps” housing more than 2 million Chinese, none of whom has been charged with any specific crime or brought before a judge or represented by counsel. The authors say that up to 20 percent of the camp residents are street children under 16.

The headline over the LAT front-pager on yesterday’s Senate tax vote is “SENATE OKS TAX RELIEF.” Doesn’t this wording imply that Americans are overtaxed? If the news section of the paper wants to take this stand, it should flatly come out and say so. Otherwise, it’s better to say “SENATE OKS TAX CUTS.”

Today’s Papers is sentencing itself to a long stretch in the Department of Corrections for wrongly saying last Sunday that the NYT overlooked the non-binding nature of the Arab League’s anti-Israel resolution.

Frankly, we were rather more struck by the resemblance to the Hanseatic League: The NYT editorial on the Jeffords matter goes about two turns too tight on its context meter when it is somehow reminded that: “Nearly a century ago, a cadre of progressive Republicans bolted from their conservative Congressional leadership and an inept President William Howard Taft over similar issues, particularly taxes.”