Today's Papers

Pentagon Fishin’

The New York Times leads with a top Chinese health official’s first-ever admission that China has an AIDS epidemic. The story also reports his concession that China has failed to develop effective countering education programs and that some local officials have covered up the extent of infection. The top national story at the Washington Post, which fronts China-AIDS, is an exclusive about what the paper calls a new “hurdle” faced by the just-propounded Bush administration policy authorizing stem-cell research only on cells that have already been extracted from embryos: Most or all of these cells have been mixed with mouse cells (that somehow keep the human cells healthy), which means, say pre-existing FDA rules designed to prevent deadly animal viruses from being transferred to people, they probably cannot be used in human clinical tests. The Post describes most people on Capitol Hill as being unaware of this issue. The story says low that only one company has claimed to have created mouse-independent stem cells, but that it’s unclear whether this was done before the Bush administration cutoff date of Aug. 9. The Los Angeles Times, which also fronts China-AIDS, leads with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson’s comment Thursday that the slowing economy makes it more likely that funds will not be available to make good on a Bush administration commitment to extend health insurance coverage to some of those Americans who don’t now have it. Thompson tells the paper that a pet program of his for covering children of low-income families is imperiled. He also casts financially based doubts on the prospects for the administration’s plans to reform Medicare or add a new prescription drug benefit. None of the forgoing is on the front at USA Today, which leads with last night’s televised interview of Gary Condit, which everybody else fronts. The bottom line: Condit denied having any involvement in Chandra Levy’s disappearance and repeatedly (“at least four times,” says USAT) refused to say whether he was “intimately involved” (the paper’s phrase) with her. A telling example of the papers’ exceedingly low Condit thrust-to-weight ratio: The NYT waits until the middle of its 790-word inside “news analysis” follow to its 1,450-word front-pager on the interview to describe it as an “absence of real news.”

All the China-Aids efforts are informative, but the NYT lead, by the paper’s Elisabeth Rosenthal (also a doctor) simply shines as an example of how to context official pronouncements via shoe leather. For instance, when passing along the Chinese official estimate of 600,000 HIV cases counted at the end of 2000, she adds that the United Nations estimates the Chinese HIV cases to number above 1 million, which says the U.N., probably will lead to about 13 times as many cases in 2010 as China is projecting. Also, she observes that China has spent only a fraction of the money spent on HIV education by Thailand. Plus, she notes that when one Chinese doctor won a prestigious international public health prize for her AIDS education efforts, she was prevented by local officials from traveling to Washington to accept it.

The big revelation from the Chinese health official’s remarks, which all the stories have, is that a major source of AIDS transmission in China, as opposed to other countries, is the prevalence there until the mid-’90s, especially among poor rural people, of selling blood. But, the papers say, the senior health official denied that the central China government had anything to do with the unsanitary rural practices. But Rosenthal adds that he did not mention that many of the donation stations were “owned or operated in collaboration with government bureaus, including the Chinese military.”

The NYT reefers President Bush’s comment yesterday that the U.S. “will withdraw” (the paper’s words) from the ABM Treaty “at a time convenient to America” (the president’s). According to the WP headline over its fronter on the same remarks, Bush merely said the withdrawal was “likely.”

The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s front-page worldwide news box, which is also folded into the LAT lead about the tightening federal budget and fronted separately at the NYT, is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s declaration that the DOD will fight with Congress for “every nickel” of the administration’s proposed Pentagon budget.

Hey, he really does fight for every nickel. As the Journal and other papers note, Rumsfeld also reported an interesting consequence to all the military-industrial stock he came into office with, some of which he still hasn’t gotten rid of: Thus far, he’s left decisions about weapons procurement to a deputy. The WP, in a separate insider about this, adds that for the same reasons, Rumsfeld has stayed out of reviewing the competing bids from defense contractors General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman for the major purveyor of ships to the Navy and has delegated that task to another deputy. In other words, on some pretty big issues, Rumsfeld isn’t really in the game. And the papers seem a bit too complacent about the reasons why. The WSJ says Rumsfeld “has had difficulty divesting himself of many of his holdings” because “he has interests in a handful of funds that require him to make additional investments during the next several years.” Well, wait a minute–what happens if he doesn’t make those investments and simply opts out? The answer almost surely is (and the papers should find out for sure) that he will lose money. But Rumsfeld is already a gazillionaire. In other words, the explanation for all this enforced lack of leadership at the Pentagon is … Rumsfeld is greedy.

USAT’s “Life” section reports on the latest in corporate team training and character building. For $410 per person, a Dutch tour operator will give you and your co-workers window cleaners, after taking away everybody’s cash and credit cards, and send you all out on the streets of Paris to beg for food. And as with any other executive field exercise, there’s a safety net: Afterward everybody spends the night in a four-star hotel.

The WSJ’s “Washington Wire” notices something interesting about the company to which the IRS has granted a $33.6 million Web design services contract: It’s incorporated in the tax haven of Bermuda.