Today's Papers

Down on the Farm

The New York Times leads with Senate passage of a farm subsidy bill backed by President Bush, a story the other papers fail to mention. The Los Angeles Times goes with the better-than-expected jobless rate of 4.5 percent for July, unchanged from June, accompanied by a “modest” job loss of 42,000. Some economists say the numbers are indicative of a rebounding economy. Some economists say no. The Washington Post fronts the jobless rate, but leads with the IMF’s plan to pump big money (on credit) into Brazil and Argentina in an attempt to stimulate Latin America’s parched economy.

The NYT seems to go out of its way in leading with the farm bill, another in a recent string of legislative victories for the president. Shying away from a likely presidential veto, Senate Dems approved the $5.5 billion bill, which was $2 billion less than they’d hoped for. “The gun was held to our heads and the White House refused to compromise,” said Tom Harkin of Iowa. About halfway in, the Times story takes a rather nasty anti-Bush turn, however, suddenly examining the diminished budget surplus and calling it a casualty of the faltering economy and George W.’s tax cut. Senate quipster Robert Byrd is quoted at length. “Because of the flashy tax cut and a sluggish economy,” he says, “we are poised to spend the Medicare surpluses, disrupt our debt-retirement efforts and dive right back into the deficit doldrums.” He goes on to predict a “13-car pileup” when budget debates start up in the fall.

Farm subsidies began during the Great Depression and were abolished in 1997, replaced by the “emergency” aid packages that have been passed every year since. The Times story does not mention exactly where this money goes, but a Washington Post editorial on Friday argued that “there are far more productive ways for the government to shore up rural America than to fork over billions of dollars a year to mainly large producers of a limited number of staple crops.”   

The jobless rate stories in both the LAT lead and the WP front feel hesitant, as if making too much of the news will somehow plunge us into recession. “The economy remains weak, but hints of stabilization are emerging,” an egghead from Merrill Lynch says in the Post. Both papers provide a litany of good and bad indicators, from shoppers still shopping to the Dow still sinking. In the end, it feels like a draw, and not much of a story at all. (I couldn’t find it anywhere in the NYT.)

The NYT fronts the remarkable story of three states, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (perhaps not the ones you might expect), in which illegal immigrants are allowed to obtain driver’s licenses. “The ability to drive is very helpful to our newest residents in getting their lives established here,” says a state Senator from North Carolina, which has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the United States. “They play a crucial role in our economy, which would be severely hurt if we put a wall up around the state.” Who would have guessed that such enlightenment could be found in Jesse Helms country? A state pol in neighboring South Carolina takes the more conventional view: “These are criminals, who slip stealthily and evasively into this country and remain here as fugitives, and I don’t think we should reward that kind of behavior with the privilege to drive.”  And so on.

The WP fronts the rather tepid action taken by the Boy Scouts in Boston, who have adopted a quasi “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance regarding their gay members. Now it’s OK for scouts and their leaders to be gay so long as no one knows about it. The scouts hope the new policy will allow them to recoup some of their lost support in progressive Boston and Cambridge without running afoul of the decidedly less progressive National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. An Oak Park, Ill., scout group lost its charter last year when it admitted gay leaders. In videotaped remarks to the recent National Scout Jamboree, President Bush said the Boy Scouts values “are the values of America.” 

Finally, the WP fronts the trendy new target of crime waves everywhere: powdered baby formula. Apparently, “powdered baby formula cartels,” based mostly in the Middle East, are stealing huge amounts of the stuff, repackaging it, and selling it back to wholesalers at inflated prices. Many stores have taken the product off the shelves, and customers must pay first and then have “their formula brought to them by a clerk.” It’s an attractive crime for the free-lancers who work for the fencing organizations because, no matter how much you steal, it’s still considered shoplifting, only a misdemeanor. Perhaps this will put the organized back in organized crime.