Today's Papers

Moon for the Misbegotten

The New York Times leads with December’s anemic job growth. The Washington Post leads with President Bush’s proposal to make NASA’s next-generation spacecraft a 21st century version of the versatile Apollo rocket. The Los Angeles Times leads with Gov. Schwarzenegger’s new budget, which attempts to bridge a $14 billion shortfall.

The economy gained only 1,000 jobs last month, after most analysts had predicted a gain of 150,000. The Labor Department also revised October and November’s job gains downward by about a third. The papers trot out the usual statistical suspect lurking behind the recovery’s relative joblessness: increased worker productivity (which is just another way of saying that businesses are using efficiency, rather than hiring, to grow). The LAT also points a finger at the government’s outdated method of seasonal adjustment, which may set December hiring figures artificially low; the NYT blames the inadequacy of the government’s payroll survey method, which undercounts self-employment and underground employment. The LAT and NYT note that the economy has now lost jobs for two years in a row, for the first time since 1944-45. A NYT news analysis argues that nothing President Bush does between now and Election Day will alter the economy; his only hope is that previous tax cuts will do their magic in the next six months. (All the papers report that the unemployment rate actually dropped last month—but only because thousands of workers gave up looking for a job. Since this figure is misleading, why does the Post use it in its headline?)

A NYT front-pager consults space experts who estimate that NASA could achieve President Bush’s proposed moon and Mars landings without large budget increases. To do this, politicians would have to end the shuttle program and the international space station. But such a policy shift would come with a political price: The shuttle program employs 14,000 people in Florida. As if responding to the analysts, the Post’s lead reports that Bush plans to replace the shuttles with a “crew exploration vehicle,” which could simultaneously travel to the moon, space station, and Mars. Meanwhile, a Post editorial mocks the financial recklessness of Bush’s plan—in 1989 NASA estimated a Mars mission would cost $400 billion—but calls it no surprise: “Mr. Bush’s contempt for the constraints of fiscal prudence has been evident for a long while.” (The Post and NYT report Bush will request a 5 percent increase—$750 million—to NASA’s budget next year.) On the Post’s “Style” page, Hank Stuever imagines Bush’s moon colony as yet another reality-television program: “Eventually, people on Earth won’t watch the moon show anymore, and the settlers will become the loneliest people not in the world, forgotten and living in a lunar trailer park.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget calls for cutting $2.7 billion from social services (including $1 billion in Medicaid cuts that a court previously ruled illegal), $729 million from higher education, and $438 million from corrections (through early prison releases). It assumes revenue increases of $1.3 billion in property taxes (existing revenues to be “diverted” from cities to the state), $2.9 billion in other taxes (new revenues resulting from economic growth), $500 million from a renegotiated contract with Indian casinos, and $350 million from the U.S. Treasury. The governor will attempt to borrow much of the rest. A separate piece notes that $239 million in “fee increases” could be construed as a tax hikes, which the governor has forsworn. The Times offers good analysis, but its tone is relentlessly critical without offering alternatives. The paper also does not mention that many of the governor’s budgetary targets—such as Medicaid, corrections, and higher education—have been similarly targeted in state capitals around the nation.

The LAT and NYT front word that the U.S. has granted Saddam Hussein P.O.W. status, which entitles him to Geneva Accord treatment supervised by the International Red Cross. The LAT (as well as the Post’s inside piece) says that the Geneva Accord requires P.O.W.s be tried by an international tribunal or by an occupying power. But the NYT quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell as reiterating America’s pledge to hand Hussein over to the Iraqis.

The LAT reefers, and the others report inside, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s endorsement of Howard Dean. The Post looks at the candidates’ Iowa ad campaigns and concludes that they are admirably, and surprisingly, issue-oriented. In New Hampshire, Wesley Clark told a newspaper that future domestic terror attacks are not inevitable and promised that if he were president, “we would not have one of these [terrorism] incidents.” (The Department of Homeland Security lowered the national threat alert yesterday, but kept eight airports at the higher level.) 

The NYT and WP report inside that the un-official U.S. delegation in North Korea visited Yongbyon, the site of North Korea’s claimed nuclear warhead manufacture. They will announce their findings next week. On the NYT op-ed page, Nicholas Kristoff urges the Bush administration “to negotiate with North Korea directly instead of trying to wish its nuclear programs away.” (Read Slate’s Fred Kaplan’s take on the trip here.)

In its piece on Saddam Hussein, the LAT mentions that the Geneva Accord allows P.O.W.s to receive care packages. It does not, however, provide an address.