Today's Papers

Boom or Robust

The papers all lead with the U.S. economy’s latest and cleanest bill of health yet. Figures released by the Commerce Department show that the economy expanded by an unexpectedly vigorous 5.6% in the last quarter of 1998, with inflation and unemployment still deep in remission. The papers explain that recession anxiety may actually have helped ward one off: fiscal turmoil in Asia resulted in low long-term interest rates and commodity prices, which in turn have kept business brisk and spending high. Only the New York Times story actually quotes a Commerce official; most of the valedictory analysis comes from exuberant Wall Street analysts. The giddiest of the lot is quoted in both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post: “The US economy is the wonder of the world,” he tells the Post.

The WP and the LAT report more slaughter of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo at the hands of Serbian police. The latest atrocity is a mass killing of 24 civilians and rebels during a raid on their supposed stronghold. In response, the NYT fronter relays, the Clinton Administration is shopping a plan around Capitol Hill to commit 2000-5000 American ground troops to an international cease-fire-monitoring force in Kosovo. While the other two papers report on the killing, the Times devotes a large chunk of its story to fretting over whether Richard Holbrooke will be involved in the monitoring effort. Although he’s been busy fending off an ethics investigation and tending to his investment bank’s business, he’s still solidly in the loop, and will probably find a way in.

Speaking of ethics and investigations, everyone reports U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno’s decision to spare Harold Ickes an independent counsel investigation into his alleged cover-up of campaign finance chicanery in the last Presidential election. All papers report that Reno’s decision effectively truncates the possibility of further investigations into President Clinton’s fundraising for the his 1996 run. The Post writes that the Department of Justice’s campaign finance task force has been continually stymied by unfavorable court decisions and lack of cooperation from essential witnesses, and will soon close shop.

As for the daily impeachment trial update: the three witnesses have been subpoenaed, and their depositions scheduled for Monday. Meanwhile, the WP and the LAT report on the waning popularity of the conviction-without-removal plan posed by some moderate Republicans earlier this week, whereby the President would be found guilty of the facts of the case but allowed to stay in office. The plan is drawing criticism from both ends of the spectrum: conservative Republicans fear it will siphon off pro-impeachment support, and Democrats argue that it’s a backhanded way of punishing the President without satisfying Constitutional standards. “You can’t be a little bit pregnant,” Democratic Senator John Breaux tells the WP. Instead, most Democrats are leaning towards brisk, bipartisan, post-trial censure of the President. The NYT piece focuses on the culture clash between zealous House Managers and their more deliberative Senatorial hosts. The Senators lord it over the managers, acting “wiser and better” than their House peers, claims one irate House Republican.

An LAT front pager describes how the U.S. Department of Labor has added teeth to its efforts to eliminate the wage gap between the genders. Women now make 74 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers-a mere 15-cent improvement since the Equal Pay Act outlawed gender-based pay discrimination way back in 1963. Now the days of simple coaxing and lobbying are over: a well-funded compliance office at Labor conducts “glass ceiling reviews” of male and female managers at businesses that hold government contracts. Those found to intentionally discriminate against women must pay punitive damages, back pay, and/or wage increases. Some businesses have called this approach too aggressive: “it’s like trying to catch a fish with an A-bomb” protests one dissenter. But even more of these bombs may detonate soon: President Clinton’s budget allocates more funding to equal-pay enforcement, and Congress may soon expand the 1963 Act to allow for greater damages awards.

Finally, the WP describes the near-hysterical reaction to a recent foray by a much-worshipped icon who made a rare venture out to share his message with the masses. Preceded by pomp, shielded by minions, and thronged by reverent devotees, he meditated and preached on race, poverty, morality, and the significance of the coming millennium. “Children screamed. Grown women shrieked. Little girls cried from happiness,” the story recounts. Sure, the pontiff was in St. Louis this week; but this story describes Michael Jordan’s visit to a Washington, D.C. public school to plug his new charitable foundation.