The New York Times leads with forecasts that the British foot-and-mouth epidemic may not be contained for months, jeopardizing Tony Blair's plans to call a general election this spring. The Washington Post leads with Russia's expelling American diplomats after the Bush administration said it would give 50 Russians the boot earlier this week. The Los Angeles Times leads with signs that the California economy is slowing.
The NYT says the foot-and-mouth outbreak is the Labor Party's worst political crisis since the gasoline protests last fall. Blair's stock has rebounded mightily since then, but now the prime minister has to decide whether to call elections in the spring, as planned, or delay them until next fall. It's a tough choice. Polls show the British public thinks Tony should put off elections until the crisis is over, but delaying the vote would mean admitting that the government did not take the outbreak seriously enough at the outset.
The expulsions from Moscow are clearly tit-for-tat, to borrow a phrase from the LAT. The Russians will follow the schedule that Bush laid out. Four Americans must leave Moscow within the next few days, and up to 46 more Americans will be sent home by summer. The ejections should not harm relations between the two countries, administration officials say. The LAT quotes Russian leader Vladimir Putin as agreeing.
California's economy looks fine at first glance, but sales are slowing, and companies are finding it a bit easier to fill positions, says the LAT. The state also has several factors working against it that others don't, including an energy crisis, heavy trade with weakening Asian economies, and a government that is highly dependent on stock profits for tax revenue.
The LAT off-leads with a comparison between the Academy Awards in 1972, when three African-Americans were nominated for major awards, and this year, when none are. The LAT says that almost 30 years after an apparent breakthrough, minorities rarely get the meaty roles that get nominated for major awards. Why? The easy answer is foreign audiences don't watch American movies starring nonwhites; overseas sales can account for up to 70 percent of a film's revenue. But there's more to it than that, the LAT says. The 15 top studio executives in Hollywood are all white, and 12 of them are male.
The WP off-leads an interview with Jiang Zemin. Among many things, the Post quotes Zemin as saying the U.S. is too rich and strong to worry itself with insignificant little individual rights cases. Zemin, of course, is specifically talking about the outcry in the U.S. over China's detainment last month of a Chinese researcher living in the U.S., her husband, and their 5-year-old son (an American citizen). Zemin also says the U.S. could touch off an arms race if it sells four Aegis cruisers to Taiwan. He rejects the premise that a deal with Taiwan would be unnecessary if China stopped pointing missiles at the island.
The NYT fronts a bill in North Dakota that would ban the planting of genetically modified wheat. The bill is one of eight pending in state legislatures that would ban or place a moratorium on a genetically engineered crop, but this one is noteworthy because it has the backing of North Dakota's farmers. Up until now, farmers have embraced genetic modification, but now they are beginning to worry that foreign consumers and governments will ban imports of their crops if even a hint of genetically modified material makes its way into shipments.
The WP fronts news that Bush is being pressed to get involved in the Sudanese civil war. The activists favor rebel forces in the South, who are mainly Christians and animists, over the Muslim government that controls the North. The U.S. has been participating in humanitarian relief missions in Sudan since 1989. But now some want Bush to do a host of things, ranging from tightening the economic embargo on the country to attacking Sudanese government forces. A column in the NYT complements this piece with tales from Southerners who were enslaved by Northerners.
The NYT and the WP front the response to a push in the Senate to cut taxes by $60 billion this year. Republicans hope the cut will jumpstart the economy and will be the basis for Bush's bigger $1.6 trillion tax cut. Democrats are wary of anything that brings the Bush tax cut closer to reality and favor a one-time tax rebate. But the most interesting tax cut news comes nine paragraphs into the NYT story. At an appearance in Maine, Bush indicated he'd consider letting Congress suspend parts of his tax plan if future budget surpluses don't pan out as projected. Until now, Bush has been adamant that his tax cuts must be irreversible.
Speaking of tax cuts, the WP runs an editorial by Henry Waxman, a Democratic congressman from California, that estimates President Bush alone would save $5 million to $11 million if the estate tax were repealed, as Bush has proposed. Meanwhile, Bush's Cabinet members could save a total of $100 million, and the 50 richest members of Congress would save more than $1 billion. Waxman tries to claim he's not accusing Republicans of selfishness, but he goes on to call the tax cut a "breathtaking act of self-enrichment."