In a tip-off to a slow news day, the New York Times leads with a bit of non-news: Weapons inspections are about to begin, probably on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times' lead says that oil tankers are sitting ducks for terrorist attacks. That's become a big issue for ship operators since a French tanker was bombed by al-Qaida in October. Member countries of the U.N.'s maritime agency are considering adopting mandatory security measures at ports world-wide. USA Today's lead says that while President Bush is going to sign legislation today allowing airline pilots to carry handguns, it will be months before the pilots will be packing. That's because the Transportation Security Administration needs to set up a program to train the pilots. And Congress hasn't appropriated money for such a program. The Washington Post leads with the settlement reached late Saturday night between the longshoremen's union and ports on the West Coast. The papers describe the deal, which still has to be ratified by the union's rank-and-file, as a win-win: It allows the port to install new labor-saving technologies while giving longshoremen big pension increases. (The LAT and NYT had news of the deal yesterday.)
Don't expect any eureka moments from the weapons inspections: The Times says inspectors will start with "essentially warm-up drills," visiting well-known sites that probably won't result in any confrontations, let alone significant discoveries. As the weeks go on, inspectors will move on to surprise visits of less-known locales. But even then, says the Times, inspectors probably won't uncover the mother lode. (Saddam is good at hiding stuff.) More likely, inspectors will come back with evidence of lying and obstruction.
The WP's off-lead says Republican congressional leaders and President Bush plan a "vigorous push" of a conservative social policy agenda, including a potential ban on late-term abortions. While the article's first paragraph attributes the drive equally to the White House and Republican congressional leaders, the story mentions much farther down that some White House aides think such a push would be a bad idea. Meanwhile, a WP piece earlier this month focused on that fretting: "LOTT'S PROMISE TO BRING UP ABORTION WORRIES BUSH AIDES."
A front-page piece in the NYT notes that the number of middle-income people without health insurance is booming: Last year, the number of uninsured grew by 1.4 million and, the Times says, "the largest group of the newly uninsured—some 800,000 people—had incomes in excess of $75,000." That seems odd: The median household income in the U.S. is about $42,000. That means that 57 percent of the newly uninsured on average make nearly twice as much (at least) as the typical U.S. household. Could that be? The Times should have at least spent an extra beat explaining it.
The LAT, alone among the papers, fronts news that a left-leaning former army colonel, Lucio Gutierrez, won yesterday's presidential elections in Ecuador. Gutierrez, who has never before held office, was jailed just two years ago for leading a coup. Unlike Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's former coup leader and current president, Gutierrez has promised not to rock the boat: He says he won't default on Eucador's foreign debt and will continue to let the U.S. use airbases in the country.
The Post stuffs leaked EPA documents that state that there are massive amounts of unexploded munitions, including "chemical and biological weapons," at many of the military's now inactive firing ranges and that cleanup of the sites "has the potential to be the largest environmental cleanup program ever to be implemented in the United States." One of the docs, written this summer by the EPA's top enforcement officer, also said there has been a "disturbing" trend of the Defense Department trying to "take ill-advised short-cuts to limit costs." Especially considering the pokey news day, why isn't this on Page One?
The NYT's White House dispatch follows President Bush to Lithuania, where he swung by to welcome it into NATO. It was the first time an American president has visited the country, and Lithuanians ate him up: "Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo!" they chanted during Bush's speech, eliciting, what the Times says were "puzzled reactions from Americans who wondered if everyone had suddenly caught a cold." In fact, the crowd was saying "aciu," which means "thank you." Bush eventually caught on, and shouted back, "You're welcome!"