Today's Papers

Mine Kampf

The USA Today lead is what it calls “harsh attacks” on the United States’ successful weekend missile-defense test by Russia and a powerful Senate Democrat. The Washington Post leads with European leaders’ plans to get President Bush to relax his opposition to the Kyoto emissions treaty when they are all together with him at the summit later this week for the leading industrial countries. The paper cites as background growing “resentment” in the European Union that Bush broke a pledge he made to EU leaders last month that he wouldn’t urge other countries to spurn Kyoto. The story goes very low with another piece of the background: At a conference last week in Amsterdam, scientists from around the world were shown evidence that if current Arctic ice cap shrinkage is not checked, the stretch of land from London to Stockholm could become almost uninhabitable. The New York Times lead notes that as Dick Cheney and numerous other top members of the Bush administration fan out this week in an attempt to build up public support for its supply-increasing energy plans, the United States’ sense of energy crisis is dissipating. To wit, says the Times: Gasoline prices have been going down for six straight weeks and now average $1.47 a gallon. Natural gas prices have been sliding even faster, and California’s electricity, which front-burnered the energy issue for the new administration, is now as cheap as it was a year ago, thanks mostly to new power plants coming online, a state-led conservation effort, and federal price controls. The Los Angeles Times lead also chips away at the Bush energy stance, quoting experts saying that administration plans for a massive buildup of power plants nationwide could lead to much dirtier air, particularly in the Midwest and South, especially because the Bush White House has stalled Clinton administration efforts to force older, dirtier power plants to update their pollution controls.

The USAT lead quotes Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman saying the U.S. test “threatens all international treaties in the sphere of nuclear disarmament” and Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asking on a Sunday TV chat show, “Are we in a more secure world if we could knock down eight out of 10 missiles that are fired from North Korea sometime in the future, if in the process there are now 800 instead of 18 ICBMs … in China, 800 ICBMs in India?” An inside effort at the NYT reports that the Air Force general who heads up the missile-defense program said of Saturday’s test that “We do not know for certain that every objective was met. … In all probability, some of them were not.” And the Times piece reminds that a 1999 missile-defense test was first proclaimed a success by the Pentagon, but it was later proven that the kill vehicle had drifted off course and had at one point homed in on a decoy.

The NYT front reports that the Bush administration is beginning to discuss ways to overhaul or replace the entire federal tax code. The three leading options: simplifying the existing progressive system, a flat tax, or a national sales or value-added tax. Down low, the story also says that Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill thinks it would be worthwhile to consider whether the corporate income tax makes any sense.

The Wall Street Journal fronts a home-run feature by Douglas A. Blackmon on a dark chapter in U.S. business history: the 60 years (1868-1928) in which mining companies participated in a forced labor program in Alabama during which some 100,000 convicts, almost all black, often in custody for rather minor crimes, were leased by the state to the firms to work in mines in brutal virtual slavery. Many (more than 4,000) of these forced laborers died in mining accidents, from disease or as a result of abuse by company guards. In 1907, U.S. Steel bought one such company and retained the program. At a time when German and Japanese companies are being pressed in court on behalf of slaves they once employed, the story includes this question from a U.S. Steel in-house lawyer: “Is it fair in fact to punish people who are living today, who have certain assets they might have inherited from others, or corporate assets that have been passed on? … You can get to a situation where there is such a passage of time that it simply doesn’t make sense and is not fair.”

The NYT off-leads a Floyd Norris report that Albert J. (“Chainsaw Al”) Dunlap, fired from his Sunbeam CEO job in 1998 and more recently the subject of yet-unresolved fraud allegations concerning his tenure there, had, unbeknownst to Sunbeam, been accused of similar accounting misdeeds and fired during a CEO stint with another company. The story also says that Dunlap erased this previous job from his employment history and ditto for an earlier one he was also fired from. These details are not, for instance, in his best-selling autobiography. The Times discovered the pre-Sunbeam fraud allegations and firings in records obtained from the National Archives.

The WP off-leads word that five of the septuplets born in a Washington, D.C., hospital last week are now breathing without respirators. The story says the births resulted from fertility drugs used because the Saudi parents had already lost two children but wanted a family of “12 children.” The WP also suggests that the Saudi government will pay all medical costs. The paper seems so thrilled–its story is peppered with gee-whiz and God-praising quotes–that it forgets to nail that down or to determine if the amount to be covered includes the medical costs after the kids leave the hospital. And why aren’t there any hard numbers in the story about cost? And by the way, the paper ought to have reported on if the couples’ doctors had considered whether the early demise of the couple’s previous two children (at 6 months and 3 years) was a reason not to administer fertility drugs.

The NYT yesterday reported that former President George Bush called the Saudi crown prince last month to reassure him about his son’s good intentions toward the Middle East. The story pointed out that the prince had complained that President George W. Bush is too close to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. According to the Times, the elder Bush has been making far more use than other former presidents of a privilege they all have: getting world briefings from the CIA, where some refer to the updates as “President’s daddy’s daily briefing.”