Today's Papers

Chase to the Cut

Everybody leads with Tuesday’s widely anticipated Federal Reserve interest rate cut. The headlines at USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times indicate that the move was taken to protect the U.S. economy from the global troubles. The headline over the Wall Street Journal front-pager on the cut doesn’t say why it was made but the story immediately mentions concerns about how weaknesses in foreign economies might affect our own. The Washington Post headline says the move was meant to help (“quiet”) overseas markets.

The Fed dropped the fed funds rate–what banks charge each other for overnight loans–from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent–but, contrary to some expectations, left the discount rate it charges banks for loans at 5 percent. Although all the papers have, as usual, no problem finding some experts to foresee up trends on rates and some to foresee down ones, their lines on the interest rate future shake out this way: the LAT suggests in its third paragraph further rate reductions of up to a full percentage point; USAT, in its sixth paragraph, quotes an economist saying there’s no indication of another Fed move anytime soon; in its sixth paragraph, the Post says the narrow language of the Fed announcement strongly indicates this also. The NYT holds off its initial rate forecast until the twenty-third paragraph, a comment that many analysts think further reductions are likely. All the papers except the WSJ tend to suggest that rates are driven by Fed policy. Characteristically, the ever-market-oriented Journal stresses that the Fed’s action had already been anticipated by long-term bonds with yields at thirty-year lows.

The WP off-lead is a strongly reported effort towards a scary conclusion: the Iraqis are surprisingly close to having A-bombs. (Surely this should have been the lead story!) According to the story, UN arms inspectors reported twice to U.S. authorities–in 1996 and in 1997–that they had credible intelligence indicating that while still lacking the fissile fuel for such bombs, the Iraqis had built and maintained three or four implosion devices. If fueled, says the paper, they’d each be A-bombs larger than the one dropped at Hiroshima. These charges were first made by former UN inspector Scott Ritter but when he made them they were assessed by senior U.S. policy-makers as not credible. However, the paper says, new evidence emerging this week has convinced the U.S. officials most responsible for such assessments. The Post says the information was obtained from Iraqi defectors. It includes such details as that the Iraqis used a fleet of distinctively marked Mercedes trucks to shuttle the bomb frames among hiding places. Ritter says that one defector sketched a map depicting seven of these depots. The paper says U-2 spy planes found five of them.

The LAT and NYT carry front-page obits on Tom Bradley, the first black mayor of Los Angeles, (the NYT points out high up that he was the first black mayor of a major city and of a largely white one) who died yesterday at age 80. Bradley, the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, was mayor from 1973 to 1993. The LAT cites as his principal accomplishments, a downtown building boom, the 1984 Olympics success, creating coalitions between blacks and Jews and labor and management, with an accompanying racial peace lasting most of his tenure, and establishing civilian control over the LAPD. The paper also notes the personal financial scandals and the Rodney King-inspired riots of his last term in office.

On a relatively Monica-free news day, the NYT op-ed page, in clear contrast to the NYT editorial page, is still working hard to keep scandal pressure off Bill Clinton. Today’s palaver palette offers Frank Rich excoriating Beltway pundits, Gene McCarthy arguing that special prosecutors are inherently anti-democratic, Maureen Dowd mitigating the presidential prurience with a sexual ineptness defense and an Alabama reporter’s discussing what a nice scandal break folks down his way got by being clobbered by Hurricane Georges.

The WP reports that starting tomorrow, all airlines are required to ask any U.S. citizen traveling to or from the United States something they’ve not routinely asked before–the name of their next of kin. Why? Well, in case of what the paper notes Icelandair calls a “disruption of our service.”