Today's Papers

Caucus Crazy

The Washington Post leads with the news that North Korea showed an unofficial U.S. delegation nuclear fuel, but not an actual warhead. (The New York Times reefers this.) The Los Angeles Times goes with a poll showing Howard Dean leading Dick Gephardt in Iowa, 30 to 23 percent. (John Kerry has 18 percent, John Edwards, 11; the sampling error is four percent.) The New York Times leads with a dispatch from the campaign trail, which cites the LAT poll. (The Post fronts a similar piece.)  

All the papers quote Pyongyang’s boast that, “As everybody knows, the United States compelled the [North Korean government] to build a nuclear deterrent. We showed this to Lewis [an academic in the delegation] and his party this time.” The NYT and WP quote anonymous “officials” stating that the delegation, which has yet to brief the White House, was shown either plutonium or plutonium-producing facilities at the Yongbyon complex. (The LAT quotes delegation members on the record, but they don’t reveal anything.) The Post is clearest on the current diplomatic standoff: North Korea has promised to “freeze” its nuclear program if the U.S. sends food and oil, and would dismantle the program and open itself to inspections if the U.S. built it nuclear power plants. The U.S. refuses to offer any aid until the North Koreans dismantle the program. The Chinese want to broker a compromise.

LAT political ace Ronald Brownstein breaks down the Iowa poll results: Although Dean’s lead falls within the margin of error, he clearly has made more inroads into Gephardt’s base (those without college degrees, earning $40K or less), than Gepradt has made into Dean’s (those with degrees, earning over $40k). Dean even leads among union members and ties Gephardt among moderates and conservatives, who constitute half the caucus voters. (Kerry and Edwards poll evenly across demographic groups.) Two thirds of voters opposed the Iraq war, but three quarters were willing to support a candidate with different views. Perhaps most importantly, 40 percent of voters said they could switch candidates before the Jan. 19 voting.

The Post and LAT run inside pieces on former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s charge that the administration planned to remove Saddam Hussein from power shortly after the president’s inauguration. O’Neill—who also portrays the president as uninvolved in policy making and discouraging of dissent among his advisors—makes his allegations in a book by journalist Ron Suskind on O’Neill’s White House tenure. Suskind also claims to have uncovered a pre-9/11 White House document speculating on how Iraqi oil wells should be divvied up among international contractors. Some administration officials scoffed at the charges, while others reframed the Saddam contingency planning as a low-level dialogue dating back to the Clinton administration.

A federal appeals court ruled against the Florida government’s contention that the fetus of a raped retarded woman needs a guardian. The NYT story reports that Gov. Jeb Bush intervened on the behalf of a woman seeking to protect the mentally impaired woman’s unborn child from the woman’s court-appointed guardian, who might have arranged an abortion. The 2-1 majority could “find no Florida statute or case law that has determined a fetus to be a person.” (The Post runs a wire piece.)

In the “Business” section, a Post investigation reveals that mutual fund managers often secretly use investor funds to lobby Congress against rules to ensure management transparency and prevent conflicts of interest. The link between the lobbying and specific SEC decisions is weak, however, and the amount of investor money used for the lobbying—less than $1 per investor per year—is small. The story is most useful as a primer in how a corrupt industry was created: During the boom-boom ‘90s, the number of mutual funds doubled while the number of SEC oversight officers remained stagnant; mutual fund affiliates routinely underwrote IPOs, which gave fund managers an incentive to artificially inflate share prices with investor money; and fund directors routinely sat on multiple boards and were hand-picked by managers.     

A NYT op-ed uses a statistical index of family “income volatility” to argue that American economic anxiety has increased in the past 25 years, even as the country has grown richer. The data, which is controlled for change in family size and change in national average income, shows how the fluctuation of year-to-year family income increased fivefold from 1972 to 1998. The author, a political science professor, attributes this partly to reduced welfare and Social Security benefits, but mostly to private-sector risk-shifing from employers to employees—such as shrinking health-insurance coverage and the end of guaranteed pension plans. As correctives, he advocates, without much specificity, “tax-subsidized savings accounts” and “a new, flexible universal insurance program” to save families facing economic catastrophe from poverty.

The LAT reports that the ex-wife of Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, D-Texas, plans to run against him this year. Becky Whetstone, who divorced Gonzalez in October, has written a book about her marriage and created a Web site,, where “you can read about my own situation of being squashed like a bug by a United States Congressman who happened to be my husband at the time.” But this doctoral candidate in marriage counseling swears that she isn’t acting out. “This is not about revenge. I’m not doing this just because I got a bad deal. Instead of sitting around and saying, ‘Look what happened to me,’ I’m taking action. I really do believe I’d make a much better congressperson than Charlie Gonzalez.”