Today's Papers

Eyes Shut

The Los Angeles Times leads with what it foresees as imminent renewed political and economic turmoil in Russia. The New York Times leads with the continuing rise in cable rates even as the medium approaches near-total deregulation. Relying on a confidential consultant’s report, the Washington Post goes with an exclusive, claiming that the newest federal edifice in Washington, D.C., the Ronald Reagan building, is quite vulnerable to terrorist attack. USA Today leads with a forecast that this week severe late-winter snow storms will hit much of the country east of the Rocky Mountains, while tornadoes will hit Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri.

The LAT says Russia may see yet another Cabinet shake-up as it faces a cash crunch in April, when it’s scheduled to begin making $4.6 billion in foreign debt payments. The paper says Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s de facto leader with President Boris Yeltsin so often in the hospital, has made getting more loans from the IMF his primary economic objective rather than substantive economic reform. But, of course, the IMF would like to see some reform before ponying up more money. The paper says that although Yeltsin is “largely incapacitated,” he would get involved in loan talks with the IMF if he thought it necessary.

Whereas the LAT lead’s headline says Russia is “amid crisis,” a Wall Street Journal front-page feature runs under the header: “Resilient Russia Dodges Calamities Predicted After Ruble’s Collapse.” The paper goes high with the claim by a former prime minister that “doomsday was a wrong estimation of what would happen, and what will happen.” The Journal enumerates some of the things it says have nonetheless not yet finished Russia off: Average wages down 40 percent from a year ago, 1.1 million folks have lost their jobs (since when?) and the ruble is off by two-thirds. But with imports now priced out of the market, domestic production is on the rise in some industries and Russia’s trade surplus is up twenty-fold from the beginning of last year. Which helps explain why GDP isn’t falling as fast as was forecast, and why the stock market is “stirring.” And the country’s entrenched barter economy means that companies can press on regardless of customers’ ability to pay in cash.

Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the NYT reports, cable rates have climbed overall about 22 percent–more than four times the rate of inflation. What’s happened, as if you didn’t know, is that while cable price controls came off, much of the expected competition–such as satellites and wireless cable–hasn’t materialized yet. The result threatens to be what Sen. John McCain is quoted as calling “an unregulated monopoly.”

The WP lead reports that since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the government’s agency in charge of federal buildings has been warned repeatedly about risks posed by the Reagan Building’s large underground garage and unrestricted entrances. But, says the paper, since the building opened with huge cost overruns, there has been tremendous reticence to create a strong visible security presence that would cut down on revenue by discouraging the public from visiting the retail stores, restaurants and convention facilities in the building. Note: like the Oklahoma federal building that was destroyed by a truck bomb, the Reagan building houses a day-care center.

The LAT, WP, and NYT front the death yesterday, apparently from natural causes at age 70, of Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick, was, the papers note, obsessed with control and detail (in a career spanning almost 50 years, he made only 13 features) and was one of the first commercial directors to wrest artistic control of his pictures away from the studios. According to the coverage, he completed his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, about sexual obsession and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, just last week.

The NYT “Media Talk” column reports that recently, shortly after the American Journalism Review ran a piece by a former Gannett editor criticizing her former employer for newsroom cost-cutting, the Gannett chain pulled all its annual advertising from AJR.

The NYT’s Fox Butterfield writes that a new DOJ study indicates that carjacking is far more prevalent than most crime experts had thought–the crime occurs about 49,000 times a year. About half of these involved use of a gun, and in 16 percent of them the victim was injured. Butterfield notes that the trend appears to illustrate several unintended consequences of get-tough-on-crime developments. With the advent of major improvements in car locks and security systems, unattended locked cars became much harder to steal, and drug-related forfeiture programs gave criminals an incentive to not be caught by police in their own cars. A separate Times item reports that yesterday morning Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala foiled an attempt to rob her at a bank ATM and gave the police a getaway car license plate that directly led to the arrest of three suspects in the crime.

Still not a clue, though. The WP reports that the rabidly anti-Clinton legal foundation Judicial Watch now has its own online store, where you can buy a Judicial Watch report or a Judicial Watch baseball cap.