Today's Papers

Congress Drifts and Coasts

The near-global stock market plunge, with an especially deep crisis in Moscow, leads at USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. A behind-the-scenes look at the just-unsealed ruling against the White House’s use of executive privilege in the Monica Lewinsky investigation leads at the Washington Post (and is the top national story at the NYT, LAT and USAT).

On Wednesday, market indexes dropped in Hong Kong, Japan, Frankfurt, Paris, London, and the U.S. (although by the end of trading, the Dow had recovered most of the day’s losses). Nothing compared with Russia’s troubles though, where yesterday’s 10 percent dip in the stock market meant a cumulative shrinkage of 40 percent this month. USAT says the proximate cause was Moody’s downgrading the rating of five Japanese banks and deploring the entire banking system of Indonesia. The WP cites that as well as indications Hong Kong is set to announce its first GDP slip in a decade. All of this fits under the NYT’s general explanation: investors are increasingly shunning markets in developing countries.

Sometimes the narrative in economic flash stories is a little brisk. What can the non-economist get from such sentences as USAT’s “In a bid to restore confidence, the Russian central bank tripled key interest rates to a staggering 150%.”? Staggering interest rates just don’t sound confidence building. The NYT and LAT leads, which focus on the Russian economy, meet this challenge with the sprinkling of additional Econ 101 information required: jacked-up rates of return encourage investors to hold on to their rubles rather than selling them for dollars. Still, the reader can’t help but be confused by the widely quoted pronouncement by the head of the IMF: “Contrary to what markets and commentators are imagining, this is not a crisis.”

The dailies report that federal judge Norma Johnson agreed with President Clinton that executive privilege for both the president and First Lady, as well as lawyer-client privilege for certain presidential discussions with aides, are legitimate notions. But, they add, after Ken Starr made a private presentation to her of secret grand jury evidence, she decided the privileges are trumped by the particulars of the Lewinsky case. The Post says the legal papers Clinton submitted make it clear that early on, the Lewinsky scandal, despite public assertions by aides to the contrary, was seriously affecting his ability to focus on his job. The papers also show that the specter of impeachment was very real for him–so real, Clinton claimed, that he needed candid and private advice from aides about how to combat it. Snippets from Starr’s brief suggest nothing short of Absolute Power: “If a president were to murder a political opponent, he would argue that the resulting uproar could impair his legislative program, distract him from his duties, affect his dealings with foreign heads of state, and potentially give rise to impeachment proceedings–the very arguments raised by the White House here…”

Ready for another high-profile digital anti-trust case that will no doubt also drag on for years? Well, the Wall Street Journal and NYT fronts report that Federal Trade Commission investigators are recommending civil antitrust charges against Intel Corp., alleging that the chip maker used its dominant market position unfairly against smaller competitors. (The WP carries the story inside.)

Everybody reports another computer development, which the NYT business section calls “a glimpse of the future the government is seeking” in its case against Microsoft: namely, the Gateway computer company negotiated permission from MS to make Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer equally convenient choices from Gateway start-up screens.

In a gimlet editorial, the WP says it may be too early to call this Congress “do-nothing,” but not too early to call it “done-nothing.” Sure, notes the Post, there was the (budget-busting, drunk-driving-ignoring) highway bill, but what about tobacco legislation, campaign finance reform, a student loan bill, health care, food stamps for needy immigrants, child care subsidies, reforming the Endangered Species Act and Superfund, or paying up our U.N. bill?

But, according to the NYT, in at least one area, Congress has taken charge. In hearings last week, a House committee heard from various Platters, Drifters, Coasters, and Vogues all requesting that federal law be amended to protect oldies groups from other performers using the their group-names. They can say what they want about our schools, our health care, and our campaign financing, but this country takes a backseat to no one when it comes to fighting against doowop knockoffs.