Today's Papers

Don’t Send in the Clones?

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush’s nomination yesterday of federal prosecutor Robert Mueller III for director of the FBI. USA Today stuffs Mueller and leads with signals from the White House (delivered by its budget director) that in the face of a forecasted federal surplus reduction, induced in part by the recent passage of the 10-year tax cut it championed, the Bush administration will probably delay its plans for winning congressional passage of further cuts relating to charitable giving and investments in alternative energy devices, including hybrid cars. According to the story, the administration has decided not to finance these cuts with selected tax increases.

Mindful of the Hanssen spy case, the McVeigh evidence flap and the Wen Ho Lee mess, the NYT says Mueller would inherit a “deeply troubled” agency and the WP says the FBI is “struggling.” The coverage depicts Mueller as a non-flashy but accomplished hands-on prosecutor and manager. All three Mueller leads report that in the White House selection process, his low profile delayed his being named, while several better-known figures (none identified) were given serious consideration. The LAT says that other hindrances were conservative concerns because he had been appointed to his U.S. attorney spot (in San Francisco) by President Clinton (although he was also a DOJ official in Bush I) and complaints that 10 years ago, he’d been too lax in pursuing the fraud case against the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Both the WP and LAT report that in the end, Mueller’s chief competitor for the slot was George Terwilliger–favored by some in the White House, says the WP. But the two papers say that since Terwilliger figured importantly in the Florida recount fight as a Bush lawyer, confirming him in the Senate would probably have been stickier.

The NYT fronts and the Wall Street Journal reefers word of Bush administration plans coming out of Health and Human Services that would, if enacted, increase government insurance coverage for poor women’s prenatal care and subsequent deliveries by holding that an “unborn child” is a person eligible for a government children’s insurance program. The plan is in a draft of a letter to state health officials that attributes it to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, a foe of abortion. The NYT quotes an abortion rights advocate calling the idea “a backdoor attempt by the Bush administration to perpetuate its opposition to abortion rights. …” A Thompson spokesman denies this to the Times, saying that he only “wants to give states as much flexibility as possible to increase access to prenatal care.” Both stories point out that under current policy, states can already expand the coverage to include prenatal care by requesting a waiver from the federal government to do so–something the Journal says only New Jersey has done, while the NYT says both New Jersey and Rhode Island have done this.

The NYT top-fronts the phone call President Bush made yesterday to Jiang Zemin, president of China, a call timed, says the paper, to coincide with yesterday’s return to U.S. soil of the EP-3 spy plane that was detained this past spring on Hainan Island after colliding with a Chinese fighter, because Bush wanted to signal the start of a new diplomatic opening. Nevertheless, the paper emphasizes, Bush brought up the recent arrest and detention in China of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, telling Jiang they should be “treated fairly and returned promptly.” The NYT says Jiang made “a noncommittal response.” The story also says that the State Department has confirmed it was notified by China that trials of two of these detainees, on spy charges, have begun.

The LAT and WP front research coming out today in Science suggesting that lab mice cloned from embryonic stem cells can harbor unpredictable genetic abnormalities. The LAT says the results “bolster misgivings about the basic biology of cloning.” Both stories point out that because the problems in the mice showed up in a cloning experiment, they don’t necessarily impugn all therapeutic uses of stem cells.

Who’s the top sex victim in the sheets today? Is it the male porn stars reported on in an LAT fronter who are popping Viagra like crazy to get the reliable and quick erections required by the XXX biz’s ever tighter production schedules? Or the stage dancers over on the WSJ front who accommodate the conflicting demands of the Las Vegas nudity revival and of Nevada’s liquor laws by nightly gluing a patch of fabric over their pudenda?

The WSJ front features a relatively new feature of the U.S. social landscape: 24-hour day-care centers. The story says that: in Florida, since late 1999, the number of facilities offering child care between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. has grown 14 percent to more than 1,500; a Philadelphia day-care chain called Dusk-2-Dawn now serves 140 children, with 45 children spending all or part of each night; and Ford, auto-parts maker Visteon, and the UAW are building 13 round-the-clock child-care centers–the first one scheduled to be in service has already received more than 1,000 applications for 220 slots. The story quotes misgivings from a few doctors, one of whom emphasizes the particular anxieties experienced by children at bedtime, and reports that at one center, bedtime hugs by staffers are forbidden. The priorities of many U.S. parents are expressed best, albeit inadvertently, by a night-shift steak house waiter when he says, “It’s nice to be a couple of hundred yards away from your child.”