USA Today leads with yesterday's arguments before the Supreme Court regarding whether or not it's constitutional for the Boy Scouts to prevent gays from being troop leaders. The New York Times top-fronts gay scouting but leads instead with the assessment of "senior administration officials" that their current meetings in Washington with the Russian foreign minister suggest that Moscow may be willing to work out a resolution of the impasse over the U.S. desire to construct a limited nuclear missile defense system. The Washington Post lead also concerns nuclear negotiations with Russia: Jesse Helms' vow yesterday in a Senate speech to block any arms agreement President Clinton might broker with the Russians during his final months in office. The Los Angeles Times leads with a big salvo in its ongoing exposé of California's insurance commissioner's lax supervision of insurance companies after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The paper has gotten a hold of a confidential agreement the commissioner signed with Farmers Insurance absolving it sans investigation of any wrongdoing in quake claims settlement. In return, says the paper, Farmers promised to donate $1 million to a foundation run by political allies of the commissioner and later made $10,000 personally available to him, which ultimately went to his wife. The paper captures a classic reaction quote from a state senator: "I'm trying to say something printable here."
The USAT lead spends its early paragraphs focusing on what the decision might mean to the Scouts and to gays. Only in the fifth paragraph does it address the broader point that this case is a significant test of the limits of freedom of association. The NYT effort starts off noting that from yesterday's oral arguments, it's clear it's these limits that are the court's main concern. "If the Boy Scouts cannot exclude gays, can they still exclude girls?" is one question the paper quotes. "Could a gay organization be forced to include heterosexuals?" is another. The Times' Linda Greenhouse does a nice job of distilling the other issue facing the court: If it's simply the Scout leader's sexual orientation that got him excluded, then the case falls into a family of gender discrimination decisions in which the exclusionary barriers of clubs were ordered brought down, but if it was his implied or explicit advocacy of the message that being gay is OK, then it might well fall under a 1995 precedent, which held that a Boston parade did not have to include a gay pride marching group, because the group's message was unwanted.
The WP lead quotes Helms saying, "This administration's time for grand treaty initiatives is at an end," and "[W]e will not consider any new, last-minute arms control measures that this administration negotiates in its final, closing months in office." The Times says Helms had "seemed to suggest that talks with the Russians be suspended during the Clinton administration's final months." Seemed to suggest?
An inside NYT story reports that George W. Bush also met yesterday with Russia's foreign minister. (The Wall Street Journal runs a brief account as well.) The one-hour meeting was wide-ranging and included the topic of nuclear negotiations. The Times says Bush told the Russian FM that if Russia won't amend the ABM treaty that currently is understood to rule out any U.S. missile shield, then Bush would as president back out of the treaty. The story ends with a paragraph mentioning that early in his presidential campaign, Bush mispronounced the names of various nationalities and failed a pop quiz on lesser-known world leaders. This seems pretty bogus. Either such gaffes are important and should be the subject of higher and more extensive coverage or they're not and should just be dropped.
USAT fronts, and the LAT reefers, the reaction of seven gun companies to last month's plan by Housing and Urban Development and several state and local governments to give preferential treatment in purchasing to gun makers that adhere to specific conditions, such as monitoring retailers, putting trigger locks on all guns, and working toward a "smart" gun: The companies filed a federal lawsuit yesterday claiming that the rules violate their right to free trade.
The WSJ and USAT biz front write that Boeing will announce today that it will be offering Internet access, e-mail, and satellite TV on its planes starting next year. The Journal explains that the project will be developed by a global partnership including Loral, Mitsubishi, CNN, and CNBC. One issue bound to come up: How to handle TV news and news sites when a plane crash is a breaking story.
USAT and the WP front the latest Columbine development: After a judge ordered that a fire department training tape that shows the immediate aftermath of the shooting (no bodies, but plenty of blood) be made available to victims' families who are suing authorities, Columbine officials decided to sell it to the public for $25 a copy. Parents of murdered and wounded school children are outraged, the papers say. By the way, shouldn't there be some kind of Son of Sam law that prevents not just perpetrators but also municipal authorities from profiting from murder?
The WP off-leads a profile of Donato Dalrymple, "the man who found Elián." The story reveals that there's been a falling out between Dalrymple and his cousin who was with him in the fishing boat that fateful day. The cousin tells the Post that Dalrymple didn't always hold the view that the boy should remain with his Miami relatives: "The boy belongs with the father, which--I don't care what Donato says now--is what Donato originally believed. ... He said it to me. He'll flip positions as many times as necessary to get on television and stay in good with the relatives. Dontcha see? This is his big chance."
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