Today's Papers

Blood Thicker Than Oil?

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s decision by the Bush administration to proceed with the sale of federal leases permitting offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but within a much smaller area than it had originally proposed. USA Today doesn’t front the Gulf leases but goes instead with the administration’s lack of action on its earlier pledges to overhaul the federal bureaucracy this year. The paper says that moribund for now are one-time goals of eliminating half of the U.S. government’s midlevel management positions and of transferring nearly half a million government jobs to private employers.

The LAT efficiently describes the context for the Gulf lease decision: Oil and gas interests, big donors to the Bush campaign, wanted to open up exploration in a large expanse of the Gulf while environmentalists and Florida politicians including the state’s governor, the president’s brother, Jeb Bush, did not. The LAT says that according to the White House, while President Bush and his brother discussed the issue, the decision was made by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. The NYT says the plan “retreats” from the administration’s national energy strategy while the LAT says it demonstrates “some progress” in this area.

The WP and especially the LAT point out that the original, much more aggressive leasing plan, although endorsed this spring by the president, was actually put in place and extended by his predecessors. The White House spokesman quoted by the LAT is referring to the Clinton administration in his comment that “We are protecting more waters off the shores of Florida than they ever agreed to.” But the WP adds a relevant piece of information: Norton said that the protected waters could be reconsidered for development in six years.

The coverage says that most environmental groups and many Florida types were left unhappy by the deal. The LAT goes high saying that one of Florida’s senators vows to fight the proposal.

The NYT top-fronts and the WP goes inside with a letter from three Republican congressional heavyweights–Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, and J.C. Watts–urging President Bush to continue the prohibition on spending federal funds on research using cells derived from human embryos. The letter calls such research “an industry of death.” Both stories point out that House Speaker Dennis Hastert did not sign the letter, although it’s the Times that has his spokesman saying Hastert “wanted to see what the president would do.”

The NYT off-leads the U.S. and British abandonment for the time being in the U.N. of their attempt to change the current trading sanctions applying to Iraq so as to make them apply more specifically to arms and oil smuggling and less to most civilian goods. The reason was fear of a Russian veto, which would have killed the proposal for the foreseeable future. The WP fronter on the development emphasizes the cause for the Russian veto: the increased amount of financial muscle Iraq enjoys with its trading partners like Russia because of its ability to work around the current sanctions regime. The NYT calls the U.N. move a “setback for the Bush administration.”

USAT fronts word that Slobodan Milosevic, apparently in an attempt to express his rejection of The Hague U.N. war crimes tribunal’s legitimacy, has refused any offer to be represented before it by counsel. The story saves until its last paragraph any comment by any legal expert expressing doubt about the likelihood that Milosevic will be convicted. By contrast, the Wall Street Journal take-out on the Milosevic case goes high with this quote from The Hague deputy prosecutor: “It’s a circumstantial evidence case, basically …” although the story goes on to say that such evidence has been used in U.N. trials before to convict national leaders.

High in a fronter on Dick Cheney’s postoperative return to work, the WP sums up the immediate political fallout: “Republicans chattered yesterday about who would be most likely to take Cheney’s place if he decided not to run in 2004. Cheney’s operation renewed questions about Bush’s ability to do the job by himself.” One letter to the Post complains that since hospitals usually require patients discharged after operations to be transported to cars via wheelchair, George Washington University Hospital was guilty of “irresponsibility” in letting Cheney walk out for a “macho photo-op.” And another letter to the paper wonders, “Is the vice president having his tests done at a hospital of his choice, or is he being directed to have them done by an approved provider at an approved site? Will the vice president get generic drugs, or will he be allowed to have brand-name medicines? Will he have to pay out of pocket for the brand-name drugs if he wants them, or will his insurance cover them?” Meanwhile over at the NYT, a letter notes Cheney’s reference to his pacemaker as “an insurance policy,” something the writer and his wife and son cannot afford. By the way, would it be asking too much for the papers to verify that Cheney paid nothing out of his pocket for the procedure and also to report what ordinary Americans with various types of typical health coverage would pay?