Today's Papers

Poll Positions

Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with the landslide re-election of reformist incumbent President Mohammad Khatami of Iran. Khatami’s win underscores the country’s “widespread desire for a more democratic society,”  says the LAT. With a fraction of the votes in at press time, the LAT carries the prediction of election officials that Khatami will capture 75 percent of the vote, besting his own 69 percent majority in 1997. The New York Times off-leads the Iranian election and goes instead with the stabilization of the U.S. prison population. According to new figures from the Department of Justice, the state prison population increased by just 1.5 percent last year, the lowest annual increase in 29 years. In fact, 11 states (including New York and California) reported drops in prison populations, and in Texas the population grew by just 1 percent. The slowed growth is credited to the decline in crime rates that began in the mid-1990s, widespread reforms that shortened sentences, and increasing prison construction.

Local officials in Iran estimate an 80 percent voter turnout, and the polls were ordered to remain open an additional five hours to accommodate the crowds. The coverage stresses that many of Khatami’s attempts to bring democratic reforms to Iran during his first term were frustrated by conservative forces in the military, judiciary, security, and state-run broadcasting. The WP notes the “bitter disillusionment” these setbacks caused Khatami and his staunchest supporters; the LAT called the nation “cynical and weary, uncertain that he can push his reform agenda past the religious hierarchy yet convinced that he represents its last great hope for change.” As both the NYT and the LAT make clear, Khatami’s second term will be defined by the challenge of promoting reform in a country with an elected president and parliament, but with a religious leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with a religious mandate to overrule both.

The news about the shrinking prison population is not all good. The NYT waits until the 14th graf to note that the population of federal prisons, comprising 8 percent of the total prison population, grew by 11 percent, largely because of mandatory drug sentencing and the federal takeover of the District of Columbia’s prisons. The report cites the spokesman for a prisoners’ rights group who notes that as overcrowding becomes less of a problem, the treatment of prisoners, including racial discrimination in prison and the availability of vocational or treatment programs, will receive more attention. Conspicuously absent from the report’s flurry of numbers are any statistics as to the racial demographic of the incarcerated population. Is the population growth slowing equally for minorities?

An NYT front-pager fronts Irish voters’ surprising rejection yesterday of the European Treaty of Nice, crafted to facilitate the incorporation of 12 new members into the European Union. Irish voters are fearful 1) that Ireland’s payments to an enlarged EU would mean less economic support for them and more for needier Eastern European countries; 2) that a ratified treaty would cause an influx of Eastern European refugees into Ireland; and 3) that the treaty would sacrifice Ireland’s neutrality by forcing it to participate in the EU’s Rapid Reaction Force. Ireland is the only EU country whose Constitution requires a referendum on the treaty; the other countries will vote on the treaty in their legislatures, where ratification is “a virtual certainty,” says the NYT.

The NYT fronts the changes that the Senate shift of power will have on Washington lobbyists, who now must win the ear of Democratic committee chairmen. For many lobbyists, this means ditching now-dead lobbying options (tort reform, for example) for newly stylish ones, including environmental regulations and a patients’ bill of rights. Lobbying firms who once catered to Republican sensibilities have seen their stock plunge, and the salaries of Democratic lobbyists are rumored to have jumped by almost $20,000 over the past few weeks. The good news, says the NYT cheekily, is that unemployed ex-Clinton staffers may now find work.

The LAT fronts, and the NYT and WP reefer (with art), the violence that erupted in an elementary school in Osaka, Japan, yesterday, when a former school employee stabbed eight young children to death, wounding 15 other children and teachers. All the papers note that the attack was especially shocking in Japan, where the murder rate is one-sixth that of America’s (WP).

President Bush’s trip to Europe on Monday is previewed in a NYT front-pager. Bush will focus on easing European anxieties about his White House, especially its perceived unilateralism in international affairs. Throughout the trip, Bush will stress that his is an “internationalist government,” and try to combat Europe’s perception of him as a “shallow, arrogant, gun-loving, abortion-hating, Christian fundamentalist Texan buffoon,” as a senior administration official put it. Bush’s first major overseas trip will begin in Spain, then move to Brussels (where Bush will address NATO), Sweden (for a U.S.-EU summit meeting), Poland, and end in Slovenia, where Bush will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Though not part of the trip’s original itinerary, the talk could be most reassuring for European leaders if it suggests that the Bush administration “could manage the relationship with Russia properly.”

The WP goes below the fold with NASCAR’s attempt to overhaul its image and capture the mainstream market by seeking younger, cuter, preferably accent-free drivers. Corporate sponsors seeking NASCAR’s coveted demographic–mostly men, aged 18-49 and known for their brand loyalty–don’t want “pitchmen who look like they just crawled out from under the car.” Seven-time NASCAR  champ Richard Petty summed up the sponsors’ choice thusly: “If they think winning will sell the most product, they don’t worry about the celebrity part of it. On the other hand, if they look at racing and say, ‘We want to do a lot of T.V. commercials and stuff,’ they’ll say, ‘We’ve got to have somebody who can almost talk English here.’ “