Today's Papers

Poison Control

The Washington Post and the New York Times lead with the House’s decision to support a tough standard for arsenic in drinking water that was implemented in the Clinton administration’s last few days. Bush ordered a review of the new standard soon after he took office in January. The Los Angeles Times leads with a local story on the firing of five state energy advisers for conflicts of interest. (A sixth resigned.) The advisers own stock in utilities that have recently done business with the California government. The LAT also goes high with the arsenic vote.

Clinton’s new standard would reduce the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb by the year 2006. Republican argue this standard will make it too expensive for rural water systems to continue operating, forcing people to turn to untreated water supplies. Friday’s 218-189 vote, which includes 19 Republicans, would force Bush to accept a standard at least as tough as Clinton’s. The WP focuses on the political: Bush’s decision has reinforced the notion that he is unfriendly to the environment, the paper says, and it goes on to recount his various environmental missteps. The NYT and the LAT focus on the scientific, saying that the National Academy of Sciences opposes the old arsenic standard and that the World Health Organization and most European countries use the 10-ppb rule.

Everyone goes above-the-fold with news that the U.S. economy grew by a slight 0.7 percent in the spring 2001 quarter. This is actually good news to some economists, who feared that the economy might have slipped into a recession. Many economists believe growth will pick up in the summer and fall quarters. Everyone agrees that consumer spending, which increased 2.1 percent, was a major reason the economy remained as strong as it did. This offset a steep decline in business investment. The NYT points out that the economy was also aided by a rise in government spending initiated when the economy was strong.

The WP fronts the Department of Justice’s decision to kill the $12.3 billion, United Airlines-US Airways deal. The decision is expected to put to rest merger talk in the airline industry. If United had been able to complete the deal, it and American Airlines would have controlled about half the nation’s air traffic. Other airlines would have needed to merge to stay close. But Justice’s opposition is probably good news for United, which has been criticized for overpaying. US Airways, however, faces an uncertain future, as it is being squeezed by both the major airlines and the smaller, low-fare carriers.

The NYT goes high with the Israeli foreign ministry’s warning that Israeli officials should avoid traveling to countries that claim global jurisdiction over human rights cases. Israel fears that foreign governments–mainly European ones–are biased toward the Palestinians and could attempt to try high-ranking Israeli officials for human rights abuses. This is not idle paranoia, the Israelis insist. Twenty-three Palestinians are urging a Belgian court to bring charges against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a 1982 attack on two Lebanese refuge camps, and the Danish are upset that the new Israeli ambassador is a former manager of the Israeli secret police. The irony, the NYT concludes, is that Israel itself has been a leading advocate of international human rights law, as it sought to bring former Nazis to justice.

The NYT fronts a feature on Florida’s two major-league baseball teams: the Florida Marlins, which play in Miami, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both were added in the 1990s, and both are failing miserably. There is now talk of eliminating them. The Times gives a number of reasons for their failure–poor marketing, lifeless stadiums, Florida’s frequent summer thunderstorms–but both cases ultimately boil down to one thing: winning. The NYT says the Marlins’ fan base was destroyed when the team unloaded most of its top players soon after it won the 1997 World Series. The Devil Rays, meanwhile, have been pathetic since starting play in 1998.

Finally, the LAT fronts a piece on the high number of celebrities running for seats in Japanese parliament this year. The article–cleverly slugged “jesse” on the Web–notes that Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, President Reagan, and former Philippine President Joseph Estrada have all won high office, so these guys are hardly trailblazers. But Japan does seem to have an abnormally large number of stars running–30 celebrity-candidates seeking 121 seats. Many of them have incredibly inane platforms. A professional wrestler promises to return Japan to “a samurai age without hara-kiri” (ritual suicide), and a comedian says he will build a combination hospital-spa-comedy club in downtown Osaka. This is the first time Japanese have been allowed to vote for individual candidates, rather than parties. If many of these celebrities win, one wonders if they’ll ever be allowed to vote for individuals again.