Today's Papers

Medicare Bears

New and newly awful bloodshed in Kosovo leads at the Los Angeles Times and garners front-page coverage elsewhere. The Washington Post starts off with a tug of war over Medicare funding of prescription drugs; at the New York Times, the lead is the federal appeals courts’ speedy but possibly brusque new caseload management system.

All three papers recite the grim details from Kosovo: As ethnic Albanian leaders headed off to Paris for peace talks with the Serbs, three bombs exploded in a bustling market, killing at least six people and wounding others. No one has claimed responsibility, and each of the two factions is loudly blaming the other. The NYT announces that the bombs constitute a dramatic escalation in the conflict, because previous attacks were limited to grenades and shootings. Not according to the Post , which points out that a improperly detonated bomb was placed in a Kosovo marketplace Feb. 13. The Times doesn’t give a diplomatic progress report, but the WP and the LAT recount that the Albanians intend to sign the Western-backed peace accords, while Milosevic remains intractable. The LAT suggests the latest theory as to why: Milosevic might welcome a few days of NATO bombing to distract his people (and shield himself from) their desperation and anger over Yugoslavia’s economic distress.

The WP lead anatomizes the legislative fracas over whether Medicare can and should cover prescription drug treatments, which have become far more effective, expensive, and common since the program began in 1965. The Post piles on a hefty series of statistics to convey the staggering cost: prescription drug prices rose by 14 percent in 1997; the typical age-65-or-older American uses 18 prescription drugs a year; and a third to a half of the 39 million people on Medicare must pay the full cost of their prescriptions. Democrats see funding for prescriptions as a holy social crusade and a surefire winner with older voters, but the pharmaceutical industry, fearful of government-mandated price controls, is lobbying against expanded coverage. The federal commission appointed to make recommendations to the White House and Congress is locked in disagreement and will disband if it doesn’t generate some consensus by Tuesday. The story doesn’t articulate a Republican position on the issue, but editorial page columnist David Broder takes the president to task for promising to fund prescriptions–and thus “raising expectations” and shattering budgetary discipline–in his State of the Union address.

The NYT lead details the new procedural end runs made by federal appeals courts around their congested dockets. In order to hustle things along, judges delegate case selection to staff lawyers; many decisions are issued as a single word (“affirmed”); and a large chunk of them aren’t published, meaning they won’t become precedent. Cases that pose elaborate questions of federal law still attract thorough attention, but more pedestrian appeals, such as petitions from prison inmates and claims for disability benefits under Social Security, are rubber-stamped through the system. “We have a system where there is often no argument, there is no requirement for a judge to write a decision, and the decision-making is largely done by people who are not judges,” one legal scholar protests. A case in Atlanta is challenging the streamlining procedures, claiming that one-word decisions offer insufficient explanation of why a case is passed up for review.

Twin NYT front-pagers describe Russian and German reaction to NATO expansion. The former is skittish and resentful of Western power and has already forced NATO to limit its involvement in Polish, Hungarian, or Czech crises. Germany, meanwhile, is luxuriating in the newfound comfort of stable and friendly borders, with the worrying exception of Russian instability.

A beautifully reported front-pager in the NYT dolefully describes the lives of teenage boys who come to the United States illegally and alone. They suffer from the standard set of illegal alien privations–squalid working conditions, meager wages, constant threat of deportation–but without the support of a family structure and with only the faintest promise of better lives. Manufacturing jobs held by immigrants of yesteryear offered lifetime security and some opportunity for advancement, but the service jobs common today offer neither.

A story inside the Post includes a sampling from David Duke’s new, 736-page-long, self-published autobiography, which lays out his principles and politics in running for Robert Livingston’s House seat. “I’m opposed to any sort of racial supremacy,” Duke vows, and continues blithely, “A physical revolution may be required someday to free [white] people and secure our survival, justified by the highest laws of Nature and God.”

An AP story in the Post includes fresh Republican reaction to Vice President Gore’s recent statement on CNN that as a junior congressman, he “took the initiative in creating the Internet.” The Defense Department began funding the Internet’s antecedent in 1969, when Gore was eight years away from his seat. In a response reported in yesterday’s NYT and LAT, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has claimed that he invented the paper clip. “Paper clips bind us together as a nation,” he boasted. Today’s story includes a fresh detail: Lott’s office is now intimating that he may have been the fifth Beatle.