USA Today leads with the FAA's announcement, prompted by the discovery of serious maintenance problems at Alaska Airlines, that it intends to launch maintenance investigations of unprecedented scope at nine of the nation's largest airlines. The story says the agency has decided Alaska can continue to operate its fleet, but has made it clear that it will not hesitate to take action against any airline regarding significant safety issues it turns up. The Washington Post leads with the Senate's passage yesterday of a bill forcing those till-now secretive "527" issue advocacy groups to disclose their financial benefactors and beneficiaries. Since the bill has already cleared the House, and President Clinton said he would sign it, the paper explains this ensures the first new campaign finance reform in two decades. The New York Times also fronts the bill, but instead for its lead tracks the plans of abortion foes around the country, in the wake of Wednesday's Supreme Court strike-down of a raft of state bans of so-called "partial birth" abortions, to re-draft bans along lines suggested necessary by the court. The Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire," by the way, says the House GOP aims to pass a ban of such abortions in September so that President Clinton would be forced to veto it just before the election.
The NYT lead nicely explains the two main issues raised by the redrafting attempts: 1) Can the third-trimester procedure for which a ban is being sought be specified sufficiently while still allowing the already established legality of distinct second-trimester procedures? And 2) Can the bans, in order to preserve the legally required meaningful right of choice, be effectively crafted to incorporate a waiver in case of a threat to the health of the mother, as opposed to a threat to her life? But there is a hole in the account that has dogged much of the reporting on the issue, which is relevant to understanding the force of 1) and 2)--nowhere is it mentioned how often the third-trimester procedure is done, nor is it mentioned how often it's done to preserve not just the life, but the health of the mother. Yet, the story does end with a likely scenario for where all this is heading: Someday the Supreme Court will have to define "health of the mother."
The late metro edition of the NYT top-fronts the House's approval last night of a spending bill that includes more than $1 billion for fighting drug traffickers in Colombia (and in smaller measure those in Ecuador and Bolivia), including the provision of military helicopters. (Later editions of the other papers will no doubt front this too, but not so with the early editions available to TP.) The Times says the Senate is expected to follow suit and that President Clinton could sign the bill soon. The story waits until the 23rd paragraph of a 25-paragraph story to inform that the bill also entails sending up to 500 U.S. military folks to Colombia.
USAT fronts the latest installment of what's become an annual blow to the Medicare HMO program: the departure from it of 18 HMOs, with the upshot that some 711,000 Medicare members will have to search out coverage elsewhere, which means probably having to switch doctors.
The WSJ reports on increasing safety concerns at some major airlines over one of the newest creature features they offer: on-board power outlets for laptop computers. The fear is that the wiring involved in the power systems is a fire hazard. The paper reveals that last May, an American Airbus enroute from London to Boston diverted to Ireland after sparks flew around one of the in-seat outlets, and subsequently it was discovered that the wiring involved had been chafed by a seat. American is currently conducting a fleetwide check of the outlets. Meanwhile, United has barred use of the recharging systems on its 777s until wiring fixes are done.
The NYT's lead editorial rebukes Ralph Nader for running for president, stating that his candidacy "is saying in effect that he would choose outright defeat for the Democrats over small steps forward."
The NYT's coming-on-strong Gail Collins archly sums up the situation posed by the triumph of genome mapping coexisting with the decreasing power of antibiotics brought about by their overuse: The next generation will have the opportunity to live to be 150, but everybody will succumb to dysentery at 23.
The WP, following up stories it first did two years ago on expense-paid trips taken by federal judges, today writes on its front that more recently at least 19 fed bench-sitters took more than a dozen such trips to seminars put on by conservative groups but failed to report them in their annual financial reports, as required by federal law. The paper says the non-reporting judges say they weren't trying to hide anything, they just forgot. Somehow, according to the story, Judge Michael Boudin just couldn't remember that two weeks he spent in Hilton Head.