Both USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with the mounting death toll--up to 20,000, both papers declare--in the Venezuela mudslides, now recognized to be that nation's worst natural disaster ever. The New York Times puts Venezuela inside (although it fronts a picture of troops maintaining order there in the aftermath) and goes instead with the New York state court ruling that the Giuliani administration's aggressive strategy for restricting the number of X-rated bookstores and movie theaters in the Big Apple was based on an overly broad definition of an adult-oriented business. The Washington Post leads with the likely unveiling today by President Clinton of tough new environmental rules (to take effect in 2004) requiring all oil companies to produce cleaner gasoline (via lowering sulfur content) while also requiring that SUVs meet the same pollution standards as cars (starting in 2009). The story, which nobody else fronts, quotes supporters of the new rules as saying their impact on air quality will be the same as taking 54 million cars off the road.
The papers report that hardest hit in Venezuela is the coastal state of Vargas, which has been transformed, says the LAT, into "a landscape of destruction filled with the stench of death." One U.S. official working on the international aid response is quoted by the paper saying, "You have areas where the mud is more than one story deep and the bodies will never be recovered. The areas may just be declared cemeteries." USAT quotes Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez as saying, "There are bodies in the sea, there are bodies under mud, there are bodies everywhere," while the LAT attributes this same quote to the country's foreign minister.
The NYT lead explains that at issue is not the strict zoning confinement of adult businesses championed by the Giuliani administration--that has been upheld in court--but rather its attempt to say that a business was adult-oriented if 40 percent or more of its floor space or stock was adults-only. This reg was a clever attempt to define a vague, moral concept--pornography--by a specific, non-moral one--square footage. But as the paper explains, the store owners were clever back, often lining their shelves with videos of cartoons, wrestling, and karate movies that were hardly ever sold. Although the city called such practices, "sham compliance," the court has ruled, says the Times, that they comply with the city's guidelines, which say nothing about the profitability or turnover of stock.
The WP and LAT off-lead, and the NYT goes above the fold with yesterday's decision by the Vermont Supreme Court that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to the same legal benefits and protections enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. USAT stuffs the ruling. The WP calls this the first real breakthrough for advocates of gay marriage. The court left it up to the legislature to decide whether this equal entitlement can best be achieved via legalizing gay marriage or, alternatively, by codifying the rights and benefits of domestic partners. The papers rough out how this decision could be not the end but merely the beginning of a legal morass: If the legislature does proceed to recognize gay marriage, then couples might come to Vermont to get married and then return to their home states citing the privileges of marriage there.
A front-page USAT story reports that for the first time in the past few years (it would have been nice if the story specified exactly how many), the average diversified mutual fund is beating the S&P 500 stock index. The edge isn't huge--only about 2.7 percent. But, the story explains, the margin would have been better still if it weren't for the average 1.4 percent of return the average mutual fund charges.
The Wall Street Journal reports that George W. Bush is launching an advertising push on the Internet that could demonstrate the feasibility of the medium for political pitching. It goes like this: GWB banner ads pop up when a Web surfer arrives at one of a number of sites chosen for their likelihood to be visited by Republican or independent New Hampshire or Iowa voters. The banners ask, "How much will the BUSH TAX CUT save YOU?" and then provide an interactive tax calculator to let the surfer answer the question.
All the papers check in with their assessment of yesterday's David Shaw assessment in the LAT of the LAT's Staple Center mess. (Today's Papers can barely wait for the Brill's Content analysis of these analyses of that analysis.) Thanks to all these term papers, TP has finally found an instance of towering journalistic integrity in the whole episode: At one point an LAT ad exec objected to the magazine's special issue's use of the locution "the Staples Center," because the facility's owners do not use the definite article. But LAT editor Michael Parks refused to drop it. (To read Chatterbox's take on the Staples Center incident--with links to background articles--click here.)