Today's Papers

The Pentagon Spaces Out

The USA Today lead says “CAMPAIGN REFORM IN JEOPARDY” because many members of the Congressional Black Caucus are threatening to oppose the Senate-passed McCain-Feingold bill. The New York Times goes with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s expected call today for outer space to become one of the Pentagon’s top priorities. The Los Angeles Times leads with California’s scattered electrical blackouts yesterday, caused by a spate of hot weather and widely viewed as a precursor to an outage-packed summer in the state, but the paper’s top national story is that even with gasoline prices rising above $2 a gallon, the White House yesterday said that President Bush remains staunchly opposed to repealing the federal 18.4-cents-a-gallon gas tax. The story remembers that last year many congressional Republicans called for repeal, and Bush’s secretary of energy, then a senator, supported suspending it. The paper also connects the dots back to its lead, pointing out that cutting electricity to California’s refineries will reduce their output, driving up gas prices. The Washington Post’s top nonlocal story is the latest study of the nation’s worst traffic commutes, although the paper emphasizes the local news that Washington, D.C., dropped from second to third place. The story is also fronted by USAT–but not by the LAT, even though Los Angeles is still No. 1.

The USAT lead says black caucus members are tilting against the campaign reform bill because they think its soft-money ban will restrict get-out-the-vote efforts while its raised individual contribution limits will give candidates with access to rich contributors an edge. All bad news, many members think, for candidates in poor districts. The paper notes that in 1999, all but two members of the caucus voted for a reform bill that also included a soft-money ban.

The NYT lead reminds that Rumsfeld had served as chairman of a recent congressional commission warning of a “space Pearl Harbor” and calling not only for defending American satellites from attack but also seemingly for putting offensive weapons in space. Although the Times has Pentagon aides explaining that Rumsfeld’s remarks today will make it bureaucratically easier for U.S. space programs to compete for money, the story doesn’t say boo about what other countries have what weapons in space now or are developing them.

The NYT fronts the most dramatic result to date of an expanding investigation into questionable lab work done by an Oklahoma police scientist: the court-ordered freeing of a man who had been in prison for 15 years on a rape conviction primarily because of the scientist’s findings, recently proven by DNA testing to have been mistaken. The story reports that in 1987, the jailed man’s brother sent a letter to news organizations around the country saying that the lab work in the case was wrong–and didn’t get a single response.

The NYT reefers and everybody else stuffs a study out yesterday showing that chronic disabilities, such as stroke or dementia, are down sharply among the elderly. The main initial reaction is that this might mean that Medicare costs will go down.

The papers report inside that yesterday a 4-month-old Arab baby was killed by Israeli troops firing in response to a mortar barrage coming from the Palestinian refugee camp where the baby lived. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is quoted saying he is “certainly sorry” about the baby’s death. Also, the coverage reports that the Israeli navy intercepted a small boat filled with heavy weapons bound for the Gaza strip. The armaments included anti-aircraft missiles. The Palestinian Authority has denied any connection to the shipment.

Everybody goes inside with a Cincinnati grand jury’s tendering of two misdemeanor charges–negligent homicide and obstructing an official investigation–against a police officer in connection with his shooting last month of a unarmed black man he’d been chasing. The shooting sparked four days of rioting, and the papers see Cincinnati as still on edge.

The Wall Street Journal front goes long with a tough piece on the managed behavioral care insurance companies that dominate the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, focusing on Magellan Health Services. The litany of horror stories includes lists of Magellan-approved mental health specialists who actually aren’t in Magellan’s network or won’t be available for months, or who are actually not mental health specialists. And an “aggressive” approach to in-patient care that, for instance, kept an anorexic 15-year-old out of the hospital even though she’d lost 20 percent of her body weight–generally, the story says, the company wants to wait until the patient has lost 25 percent. The story notes that Magellan provides care to some employees of the company that publishes the Journal.

The NYT reports inside that a lawsuit heard yesterday in federal court is challenging a rather peculiar custodial arrangement for four early 20th-century watercolors by an Austrian artist. Since World War II, the paintings have been kept in a secret U.S. Army location, and the only people who are allowed to view them are carefully screened experts. The artist’s name? Adolf Hitler.