Today's Papers

We Must Destroy the Temple in Order To Save It

Each of the papers has a different lead. The Washington Post leads with the Democrats’ plan to attack Bush’s tax and budget policies in light of figures that show the budget surplus to be lower than expected. On a similar note, The Los Angles Times leads with how states are coping with tighter budgets due to decreased revenues. The New York Times leads with a debate over the role of behavior drugs in school. The only overlap on the front pages is the WP’s and LAT’s take on Russia 10 years after the military’s failed putsch.

According to the Post’s lead, the administration will announce a projected budget surplus of about $158 billion on Wednesday. This surplus is less than the White House had previously calculated. Minus Social Security receipts, it’s only $1 billion. And even this slender margin is a result of an accounting gimmick, concedes OMB Director Mitch Daniels. Either way, the Treasury will dip into Medicare funds to keep the government running. Though it’s unclear from the Post how Democrats learned of these figures, they are already using the numbers as evidence that Bush’s tax cut runs too deep. Republicans, privately worried by the projections, are still claiming the second-largest surplus in budget history.

After six years of good times, the state budget crunch is back, says the LAT’s lead. Last year, only one state had to reduce its spending in the middle of the fiscal year. This year, 16 states have been forced to reassess spending as slumping revenues did not keep pace with increased expenditures. The tight budgets are forcing governors and legislators to make difficult decisions. New York Gov. George Pataki has filed suit against the state legislature, arguing that lawmakers are cutting the wrong programs. Most of states in these predicaments are from the south and northeast. In fact, California still has a $2.5 billion reserve.

As children return to the schoolhouse, the role of behavior altering drugs–like Ritalin–is under scrutiny, according to the NYT’s lead. Parents and state legislators worry that these types of drugs are being overprescribed and overmarketed. A 1971 international treaty has prevented drug companies from directly marketing Schedule II drugs–the highest classification for substances that are still legal–to consumers. But in the absence of federal legislation, many pharmaceuticals are becoming more aggressive in their marketing strategies. As Evelyn Green, a Chicago teacher and the president of CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, notes, “The danger of the ads is that parents could get the message that medication is all there is.”

The LAT considers the 10-year anniversary of the military coup attempt by analyzing the rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. In a recent survey 74 percent of Russians say they regret the collapse of the Soviet Union and while 33 percent say their current troubles are Gorbachev’s fault, 25 percent blame Yeltsin. The Post compares the lives of a brother and sister: The brother stayed in the country to tend his farm; the sister opted for a life in Moscow as a member of Russia’s new middle class. Now their lives are different: She makes $1,500 a month compared to her brother’s $70; she drinks French cognac while her brother prefers home-brewed vodka.

The WP fronts an article that examines the effects of technology on energy consumption. While the energy crisis of the 1970s convinced businesses and consumers to install energy-saving mechanisms–like more efficient air conditioners–the boom of the 1990s led to bigger homes. And more technological gadgets–cell phones, computers, etc.–have also ratcheted up energy use. In the decade ending in 1997 (is this the latest data the Energy Department has?) average electricity consumption by electronic devices has doubled. Even so, per-capita energy consumption has dropped from 361 million British thermal units in 1978, to 350 million last year. Do consumers react to efficient technologies? Or are they more likely to conserve energy because of peak-time rate hikes or environmental consciousness?

A NYT fronter looks at the increase of HIV transmission and the decline of safe sex among gay men. According to surveys, regardless of age or HIV status, more gay men are engaging in high-risk sexual behavior. “I think the promiscuity of the 1970’s is back,” notes Dr. Virginia Cafaro. Part of the problem is the success of life-prolonging drugs, because “certain death was a powerful motivator for safe sex.” While the article heavily relies on anecdotal evidence, it also cites these figures from a San Francisco study: The number of men having such unprotected sex with more than one partner increased to 48.8 percent from 23.4 percent since 1994. Public health workers are worried by attitudes like, “Now I’ve got HIV and I don’t have to worry about getting it.”

The lead story in the WP’s “Outlook” section profiles Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill (“WHY DOES PAUL O’NEILL MAKE PEOPLE SO HOT UNDER THE COLLAR?”). The article takes stock of O’Neill’s strengths and weakness and, despite a rather condescending beginning, assumes a more explanatory and optimistic tone as the article progresses. The Post offers this assessment: “If he can’t learn to keep his lips buttoned and continues his gaffe-prone ways, he risks being branded permanently as a buffoon.”

A front-pager in the NYT relates the struggle between nature and architecture at the massive temples of Angkor, one of the world’s great cities between the ninth and 15th centuries. Deep in the Cambodian jungle, the temples were rediscovered by western explorers in the 19th century, long after their civilization had collapsed. Their walls etched with both Buddhist and Hindu images, the temples are now caught in a debate about how they should be preserved and restored. Complicating matters, the extant structures are in danger of crumbling away as the jungle re-stakes its claim. But it’s not as simple as cutting back the bush because the trees are saving the very structures they are destroying. Some Western workers have adopted a Buddhist indifference to the struggle: “They will all live and die, like us. Nothing lasts forever, the physicists tell us, and we recognize that.”