Planet Better

Planet Better

Planet Better

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 8 1999 7:08 AM

Planet Better

The Washington Post leads with the Clinton administration's announcement that it plans to play a role in the numerous city lawsuits against the gun industry. Federal officials, says the Post, will begin pressing gun makers to make concessions to settle the various city lawsuits and if the companies don't, HUD will bring a class action suit of its own against them on behalf of the nation's public housing authorities. The story is fronted at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The LAT leads with the first official bureaucratic reaction to the almost certain loss of the Mars Polar Lander: NASA's vow to completely reassess its interplanetary exploration program, a story everybody else fronts but the NYT. USA Today goes with a story everybody else stuffs: the decision by a federal judge to block a web news service's attempt to post the annual financial disclosure forms submitted by all federal judges. Paper versions of the forms are already available to the general public. The NYT leads with a local story: The claim of public school investigators that dozens of New York City teachers and two principals supplied answers to students for the standardized tests that determine how city schools are ranked and also whether or not students are promoted. The paper's top non-local story, which nobody else fronts, is Israeli P.M. Ehud Barak's call for a moratorium on further Jewish settlement of the West Bank, an apparent reversal of the policy Israel had been following since Barak came into power last summer.

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The WP lead observes that the new federal gun strategy could realize through the courts gun control measures that have failed in Congress. Measures like controlling sales at gun shows, limiting the volume of gun purchases at any one time, and cutting off dealers whose sold guns are disproportionately involved in crimes. The NYT story adds a White House-supplied stat that fleshes out the public housing angle: Typically, more than 70 percent of the 500 murders occurring annually in the nation's 100 largest housing projects are committed with a handgun. The papers point out that the federal government's move is patterned after its lawsuit against the cigarette manufacturers. But the LAT notes an important difference: the tobacco companies have many times the size and staying power of the gun companies.

The LAT NASA story goes high with the agency's administrator saying, "Clearly something is wrong, and we have to understand it." The coverage makes it clear that understanding might require postponement or even scrapping of already-scheduled space missions. A main object of NASA's reassessment, says the LAT, will be the "faster, better, cheaper," mandate the unmanned missions have been operating under, including the entire $356.8 million Mars two-mission package that failed this year. The LAT lead breaks a baffling silence that has marked the papers' NASA coverage in recent days: it finally identifies the Mars program's prime contractor--Lockheed Martin (although not until the 10th paragraph). In this, the paper's hand was somewhat forced, since it's now apparent that the company's performance will be a focus of the NASA re-look. The Wall Street Journal story also mentions Lockheed, but the NYT story doesn't, nor does USAT's, nor does the WP's front-pager, (although an inside Post NASA effort does).

The central issue of the federal bench financial data case--whether dissemination via the Web poses some sort of extra danger not posed by paper--is also raised in a front-page WSJ feature about a recently discovered scam in which someone applied for and got and used credit cards in the names of the top U.S. military officers, including more than 75 generals and admirals. This was possible because the officers' service numbers, which are just their Social Security numbers, were made available to Congress as part of the promotion process, and have since appeared on a Web site maintained to protest the use of the SSN as a national ID. But, the story points out, nobody can prove that the brass' SSNs weren't gotten directly from the Congressional Record. None of the brass are on the hook for the money cadged but the story points out a more serious angle: Since service numbers are now just SSNs, if a soldier is captured, as things stand now, he is required to provide his SSN to his captors, which they could use to find out all about his family, finances and personal background. The Pentagon is therefore, says the Journal, seriously considering going back to its old practice of issuing separate service numbers unrelated to SSNs.

An inside WP story reports that the tense situation between Cuba and the U.S. over custody of that six-year-old boy was compounded when Cuba demanded that the U.S. return the crew of a fishing boat it says was hijacked out of Cuba Monday, and is now in Coast Guard custody.

About Face! On Nov. 12., Today's Papers wrote that Bill Bradley joined the National Guard during the Vietnam War. In fact, he joined the Air Force Reserve. TP regrets the error and has fixed it in the online text.

The WSJ reports that Discover, American Express and MasterCard can now be used to pay income tax bills. But not Visa. The paper doesn't explain why. You'd think the company would want its piece of what's sure to be a record volume of tax payments, no?