As with many a Monday, today's top stories are about what could or will happen rather than about what did. The Los Angeles Times leads with the recommendations expected today from a special Department of Transportation commission: tougher state laws plus tighter parental supervision for children in cars. The New York Times goes with the low hopes and corresponding low fanfare associated with the new round of Kosovo talks starting today in Paris. The Times attributes the low odds for peace to the continued intransigence in both Serb and Albanian camps and the increased tempo of violence in the region. The top non-local story at the Washington Post is the latest twist in the debate about whether or not to destroy the world's last known samples of smallpox virus now that the disease itself has been eradicated: the fear that without stocks of it to use to develop improved vaccines, scientists would be vulnerable if a rogue nation or terrorist group had secret caches of it to wield as a threat. USA Today goes with the late winter snowstorm that has hit much of the country.
The LAT says that the federal commission will focus on reducing the still-rising automotive death and injury rate for kids 4 to 14. The paper says one recommendation will be that all states pass laws requiring children to wear seat belts. In many states, belts are mandatory only if the child is in the front seat. In 1997, of the 1,600-plus kids killed in crashes, 60 percent were not wearing belts. And, the story continues, the panel will urge parents to put their 4-to-9-year-old kids in booster seats, which would improve the fit of a seat belt--only 5 percent of kids now ride in boosters. Also, there will be a recommendation of a half-cent increase in the gasoline tax to fund such research items as a crash test dummy the size of a 10-year-old. The paper doesn't explain why a kid-sized dummy would require new money or new research.
The fronts at the LAT and WP feature stories about what politicians elected on a commitment to term limits are doing as those limits come into sight. The LAT says that of the eight House Republicans whose stump commitment to term limits would put them on the street next year, three are openly considering reneging. The lawmakers typically cite the value to their constituents of their increased clout. Since most of the term limit advocates are Republicans, voter ire on this point could, says the LAT, be what swings Congress back to Democratic control. The poster boy for the issue, according to the coverage, is Rep. George Nethercutt, who is wavering despite originally using a three-term pledge to gain his seat against major term limits foe Tom Foley. The WP points out a reason the likes of Nethercutt have been willing to switch: Term limits have been all but invisible in exit polls of voters' concerns.
The WP and NYT report inside that a former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo, is under investigation after she checked a bag last Friday at the Columbus, Ohio, airport that contained suspicious-looking items. When Schiavo did not accompany her bag, security officials viewed it through an X-ray machine and, based on what they saw, they evacuated hundreds of people from the concourse, and closed an airport runway. Schiavo says she was working with a local film crew on a story about airport security and that the harsh reaction was designed to discredit her role as an airline safety advocate.
The Wall Street Journal breaks the news that in the mid-1980s, Wen Ho Lee, the scientist fired from Los Alamos last week for allegedly violating lab security, arranged for Chinese scientists to invite him to conferences at a Chinese scientific academy with ties to the military. At the conferences he presented two papers, probably in his field of expertise: designing the nuclear triggers of hydrogen bombs.
USAT fronts an exclusive stating that, according to DOD statistics, white women are leaving the military before the end of their obligated service at a far greater rate than any other group--43 percent don't make it. Most common reasons mentioned by the paper: physical problems, pregnancy, and failure to adapt to the military. By contrast, a third respectively of black women, black men, and white men are discharged during their first enlistment. The rate is even slightly lower for Hispanic men and women. The only explanation put forward in the story is that white women unhappy in the service may feel that they have more economic opportunities on the outside. The story mentions that military authorities are perplexed. The story doesn't note that if the economic explanation makes sense then those pregnancies are for the most part intentional. Therefore, here's a change the big brass might consider: make getting pregnant except in cases of rape a court-martial offense. That would cut down on women getting pregnant intentionally to get out.