Today's Papers

Laughter in the Dark

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with House passage of a homeland security bill that grants President Bush plenty of leeway in creating and managing the new agency. The Senate is somewhat less enthused about the president’s wish list. The New York Times shows little interest in the homeland bill, leading instead with the trade bill George W. is trying to marshal through Congress. The bill would restore to the president the power to make trade deals that Congress can only ratify or reject, not change.

In the conception the House favors, Homeland Security, with 170,000 workers, would be the third largest Cabinet department (behind Defense and Veterans Affairs), according to the LAT. All or part of 22 federal agencies would be consolidated into one. Some in the Senate (i.e., the Democrats) would deny George W. the power to limit the staff’s union rights, which he says is necessary for national security reasons. (The staff stand to be denied collective bargaining rights, the LAT reports.) At any rate, the Senate is not likely to get to the bill before its August recess, which starts after next week.

As for the trade bill, the president used to have the power to make trade deals without Congressional tinkering, but that authority expired in 1994, the NYT reminds, and Bill Clinton was never able to convince Congress of the need to re-establish it. Now Bush is arguing that the measure will help the ailing economy. The Times went to print with Bush still lobbying, but the paper’s Web site gives away the ending: The bill passed the House at 3:30 this morning by a vote of  215 to 212. The roll call is not provided yet, but Democrats were generally opposed, as was organized labor, although Tom Daschle has called the bill “a very strong bill for workers adversely affected by trade,” according to the Times.

The LAT fronts a possible Democratic resurgence in the South this fall. With three pillars of Republican conservatism—Helms, Thurmond, and Gramm—finally calling it quits, the Dems have a chance to reclaim some of the ground they began losing in the 1960s. “I think all of these open-seat races are going to be competitive,” says a political scientist at Rice. “I would give Republicans a modest edge in all four, but nothing that amounts to any kind of certainty.” (Moderate Fred Thompson is also on the way out.) During Bill Clinton’s administration, in 1996, the number of Southern Democrats in Congress fell to its lowest point since Reconstruction.

A broken drill bit is featured prominently in the news, perhaps for the first time. The 1,500-pound carbide steel bit was being used in the effort to rescue the nine Pennsylvania coal miners who have been trapped 240-feet below ground since Wednesday, the WP reports. After the bit broke, it took 18 hours to remove it, delaying the dig. The miners have not been heard tapping on their air pipe since Thursday.

The NYT fronts more flaws in the 9/11 rescue efforts. An independent consultant hired by the NYPD has found that the department had not prepared for a terrorist attack and that its response was somewhat disorderly. Many officers did not know who was in charge or whom to report to, for example. While there is praise as well, the Times calls the report “an unblinking in its assessment of the lapses that day.” The same consultant is now having a close look at the fire department.

An “Arts & Ideas” piece in the NYT takes us back to December 17, 1941, 10 days after Pearl Harbor, when FDR demanded the first of eight investigations into U.S. unpreparedness in the Pacific. “Roosevelt had a major problem,” says a Harvard historian. “The public outcry to hold people responsible after Dec. 7 was much, much greater than what we have seen since Sept. 11.” Conspiracy theorists—among them, future GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey—alleged that FDR welcomed, and perhaps invited, the Japanese attack so as to draw America into the war. The investigations—carried out largely by the president’s cronies—proved otherwise.

Finally, in the same section, the NYT features laugh therapy as practiced in over 1,000 laugh clubs worldwide. It all started in India in 1995, with the Giggling Guru, a practitioner of hasya (laughing) yoga. These days it’s possible to click your way to and find a “Certified Laughter Leader” in your own backyard. The Times (being the Times) traces the first laugh back some six million years to when we (or something like we) stood upright for the first time, a position that later allowed for stand-up comedy. (It also freed up the lungs and larynx for laughter.) The laughter movement’s mantra, in case you want to get going on this, is ho-ho-ha-ha-ha.