Today's Papers

More Swiss Cheesiness?

A new game of chicken with Saddam over arms inspections leads at USA Today and the Washington Post. At the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, it’s signs that Indonesia is ready to shoulder real economic reforms.

Yesterday, Iraq halted the work of yet another U.N. weapons inspection team. USAT and the WP both report that the official reasons are that the team has too many Americans and that the team leader, former Marine Scott Ritter, is a spy. USAT reports that on a 1995 Iraq visit, Ritter, a seasoned inspector, discovered smuggled-in missile guidance equipment. The Post adds the detail that Iraq’s latest tantrum followed a day of aggressive surprise inspections conducted by Ritter’s team. The U.S. reaction is to re-emphasize that Saddam must comply and that all diplomatic and military options are on the table.

Both the NYT and LAT emphasize that Indonesian president Suharto has received more international attention, in the form of visits from U.S. and IMF delegations and calls from numerous foreign leaders, than he has in years, and that he seems to be responding with a real austerity pledge, including the postponement of several major government investments in the dubious projects of family members. The NYT reports on another public buck-up: a group of Indonesian tycoons joined the nation’s finance minister for a televised purchase of the local currency.

Although prior press reports have wondered if the 76-year-old Suharto’s failing health would impair his ability to lead his country out of the current crisis, neither of today’s Times stories emphasize this.

According to the LAT front, a study coming out today from the Simon Wiesenthal Center will charge that thousands of Jewish refugees were confined by the Swiss during World War II in special camps, sometimes behind barbed wire and at gunpoint. Often, says the paper, the Jews were forced to work for little or no pay, and even forced to pay special taxes to defray the expenses of their confinement.

The Wall Street Journal quotes fresh government research indicating that total U.S. health care expenditures rose but an inflation-adjusted 1.9% in 1996, the slowest growth rate in nearly forty years. The study cites the 90’s explosive growth of managed care as a major factor. But, the Journal points out, with spending in the public health care sector (primarily Medicare and Medicaid) coming under firmer budgetary control, the growth of private medical costs may be poised to rise above 5% per year for the first time since the early 90s.

The NYT front reports a major policy reversal on the part of the nation’s leading AIDS service agency. After years of actively opposing the reporting by New York’s doctors of HIV-positive people to state health departments, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis has just endorsed the practice. (But prefers tracking via a code system to one using actual names.)

Despite all the budget euphoria swirling about, business writer Allan Sloan uses his WP column to point out a familiar but forgotten fact: There is no surplus if you eschew “fedmath” and instead calculate assets and liabilities the way a business does, i.e., not letting the government’s pension system, Social Security, be used to draw down the deficit. Figured this way, states Sloan, the 1997 budget deficit was $103.9 billion.

The NYT front reports on an unpredicted consequence of the Asian economic crisis: the Asian arms race is cooling off because most of the region’s nations are suddenly unable to go through with planned weapons purchases. Just last week, Indonesia announced that it would put off buying $1 billion in Russian weapons, and Thailand and South Korea are delaying aircraft purchases. Malaysia is unusual in that it is canceling outright a helicopter and jet deal, but most of the other deals will probably only be delayed. Here’s an idea: why not require these countries to swear off such weapons deals as a condition of receiving any IMF or U.S. bailout money?

The WP reports that following a year of sensitive negotiations, the German government has finally agreed to spend $110 million to compensate 18,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis who are living in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While information is comparatively fresh and large numbers of the survivors are still around, why not institute similar reparations to be paid by Russia to victims of the Gulag? Again, why not make such payments a condition of U.S. and international aid packages?