Today's Papers

Presidents Just Wanna Have Funds

USA Today

leads with a look at the new federal and state tax breaks coming in with 1998. The Washington Post leads with President Clinton’s decision to shut down his legal defense fund. The New York Times goes with the ban on smoking in bars that California puts in place tomorrow, mentioning the possible advent there of “smoke-ins” and “smoke-easy’s.” The Los Angeles Times leads with word that a task force appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson will call for increased state oversight of HMOs to make them more patient-oriented.

The WP reveals that Clinton’s decision to shut down his defense fund was prompted by controversy over the fund’s implication in shady DNC fund-raising practices and by dwindling contributions.

The Clintons, says the paper, now have nearly $3 million in legal bills. And the real story, which the Post buries deep and leaves out of the headline, is that they are actively looking for a better way to raise the cash. The NYT, in its front-page coverage, does more justice to this angle, mentioning it in the headline and in the story lead. Yesterday, the WP reports, Clinton said he’d asked the White House counsel to study the ethical and legal requirements governing future fund-raising efforts. (Thereby exemplifying one dubious but legal cost-saving device he’s making good use of: getting taxpayers to pay for research into what is essentially his private legal problem.) Sources tell the paper the Clintons have approved a new vehicle that, it is hoped, will avoid the restrictions that kept the old trust from soliciting money for their use–by having it “independently” set up by some third party. (Isn’t it amazing how this triangulation can be discussed so openly and still be legal?)

The WP and USAT (in its off-lead) say the lapsed defense fund had not been used to pay for any legal expenses arising from the Paula Jones case. The NYT says it had been used for some.

The LAT front reports that California’s Latinos’ longstanding reluctance to vote–a trend that has consistently kept them politically under-represented there–appears to be changing.

The Wall Street Journal passes along word that millionaires continue to proliferate. According to the latest available tax stats, in 1995 there were 87,000 seven-figure earners in the U.S., an increase of 24 percent over 1994.

Both the NYT and WP run stories on a development sure to be cited in this country by libertarians chafing against proposed Internet regulation: China’s imposition today of stiff fines and prison sentences for distribution or consumption via the Net of “harmful information,” defined as that which “defames government agencies,” “impedes public order,” or “damages state interests.” Both providers and consumers can be held in violation.

Just in time, the WP seems to have come up with the Most Amazing Headline of 1997. Amazing because true: “D.C. Woman Who Killed Daughter Is Awarded Custody of Young Son.” The woman, despite having been convicted of smothering her daughter in 1992 to stop her from crying, and who is still in prison after violating her sentence of probation (!) by engaging in credit card fraud, was nonetheless awarded custody by a judge citing the need of a child for his biological mother and his belief that because the boy is black, he’d be better off with his black mother than with the white woman who filed papers to adopt him. Dear Reader, this is why judicial recall procedures were invented.

Maureen Dowd adieus ‘97 with an interesting jeremiad against the 90s version of vice. She notes that there now seems to be much more emphasis on say, being seen drinking martinis and smoking cigars than in actually enjoying the activities themselves. “Once,” she notes, “martinis and cigars were stylish vices. Now they’re vice-ish styles.” And Dowd repeats a friend’s observation: “The only reason they light up a cigar is because their mouths are too small to light up a Porsche.”

But Dowd must have had a little trouble making her word count: she hits Nexis (aka “Columnist Helper”) pretty hard, filling out her wicked but simple point with quotes from Alexander Woolcott, P.G. Wodehouse, Paul Gigot and Mary McGrory.

Back to that NYT California cigarette ban story: The Times headline writers missed a big chance: “Smoke Bar Bars Bar Smoke.”