Today's Papers

Cold Comfort Farms

The New York Timesleads with a troubling look at how it’s shaping up to be a bad year for global harvests. At a time when many are counting on increased output from farms around the world to alleviate the global food shortage, all signs are pointing to the likely outcome that this year’s harvests “will be average at best.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that the Bush administration has ordered all federal contractors to begin using a government system to check whether their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States. Thousands of companies will now have to use the system known as E-Verify to compare the immigration status of new employees to a Social Security database.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with a preliminary FBI report that was released yesterday and reveals violent crime in the United States dropped last year after two years of steady increases. But a closer look at the data reveals that crime continued to increase in certain regions and neighborhoods, particularly in low-income urban areas. The Washington Postleads with a look at how people are changing their habits in response to high gasoline prices. Many are driving less, and changing general aspects of their lives with the full expectation that prices won’t be coming down in the near future. Analysts say there are signs that people are thinking long term about reducing their gas consumption instead of simply waiting for the prices to drop. USA Todayleads with a specific example of these changes and reports that some police departments are encouraging officers to get out of their cars and walk more in their neighborhoods. Some say these cost-saving measures decrease security because cops are less visible and may take longer to reach the scene of a crime.

To meet the soaring demand for food, farmers have been busy trying to increase output by devoting additional land to crops and planting more frequently. But the weather hasn’t been helping, as many American farmers are seeing their production depleted by too much rain while Australia continues to suffer from droughts, to name just two examples. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, some farmers simply haven’t been able to keep up with the skyrocketing prices of certain key commodities, such as fertilizer and fuel. “The planting has gotten off to a poor start,” said a grains analyst. “The anxiety level is increasing.” As the NYT notes near the end of its story, it’s still too early to draw any conclusions about how this year’s harvests will shape up, and the outlook could improve. But, by the same token, things could also get worse. “I don’t know if this is the worst year we’ve ever had, but it’s moving up the list pretty quick,” one Indiana farmer said.

President Bush’s executive order mandating that contractors use E-Verify marks the first time that the once-voluntary system will become mandatory for a large group of employers. But the system has been criticized in the past because the Social Security database it relies on is plagued with errors that could result in complications for legal residents. Some are wondering how the government will enforce that all of its contractors are using the system, particularly considering that their numbers have greatly increased since Bush became president. “It’s a very large number and very difficult to track,” Paul Light, a federal contracting guru, said. “Who is responsible for making sure the sub-sub-sub-contractor is using E-Verify?”

Filling up the tank these days might lead people to curse gas-station owners, as many think the retailers are making a fortune with the high prices. But nothing could be further from the truth, reports the LAT. Some gas-station owners are closing shop because they can’t keep up with the rising prices and lower demand while those that are staying open say they’re being stretched to the limit.

Motorists aren’t the only ones suffering. The WSJ takes a look at the data and says that on certain routes airlines have to spend more than half the cost of the average ticket to pay for fuel. The rising cost of gas is part of the reason why airlines are imposing new fees for certain services, such as checking a bag.

The NYT fronts word that Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable have reached an agreement with New York’s attorney general to block access to Internet newsgroups and Web sites that  contain child pornography. The agreement won’t just affect people in New York because the companies provide Internet access to millions of Americans. The attorney general hopes to soon reach agreements with other service providers, many of whom have long resisted efforts that would cause them to police what their customers do online. Officials recognize the move won’t completely cut off access to all child pornography, but it should at least make it more difficult to find. Strangely enough, the NYT doesn’t include a single voice of dissent from anyone who might think this is not the best idea. Of course, it’s likely that no one wants to be seen as publicly defending child pornography, but TP finds it difficult to believe that there aren’t people worried about where this could lead if the government begins to ask service providers to block more and more sites that are seen as undesirable.

The WP fronts a look at how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development played a hand in the proliferation of subprime mortgages. HUD officials wanted those with a lower income to be able to own their own homes and so ordered the mortgage finance firms Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to purchase more of these so-called “affordable” loans. Now many of these lower-income and minority buyers that HUD was supposed to help are expected to lose their homes because they can’t afford the payments. “For HUD to be indifferent as to whether these loans were hurting people or helping them is really an abject failure to regulate,” a law professor said.

As the presumptive presidential nominees continue to criticize the influence of lobbyists in Washington, some lobbyists are feeling offended that they’re all being thrown in the same bag, notes the WP. Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama make no distinction between a lobbyist for a big oil company and others who push more socially conscious messages. There are even those who actually lobby to increase transparency in government. But to the campaigns, anyone who is registered to lobby has become persona non grata. “[T]here are many lobbyists who do remarkable work for the public good,” the president of the Humane Society of the United States said.

If you’re looking for an easy way to reduce the risk from a cornucopia of diseases, you might as well spend a little more time in the sun, reports the LAT. A new study released today reveals that men who don’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies have more than double the normal risk of suffering a heart attack. This is the latest finding that seems to suggest a little sunshine (or, of course, a little pill) could go a long way to promoting good health. Not everyone is convinced, and scientists emphasize the relationship between vitamin D and disease prevention hasn’t been proved yet, but as one scientist put it, “what’s wrong with keeping an adequate level of vitamin D in the blood in case it is?”