Today's Papers

Army Buds

USA Today

, the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with a story widely tipped in the press starting last week: President Clinton’s proposal for overhauling Medicare. The most high-profile change: In return for an added premium–starting at $24/month and topping out at $44/month in 2008, but waived for those with low income–beneficiaries would get government funding of 50 percent of the first $2,000 of covered drug costs. The New York Times, which fronts Medicare, goes instead with the FCC’s tentative approval of SBC’s $72 billion acquisition of Ameritech Corp. The government’s acquiescence has an unusual feature: It is conditioned on the new company opening its market to competition and also offering local telephone service in 30 cities. This insistence on expansion, the paper explains, is a departure from the traditional response of government regulators to such huge mergers: requiring divestitures of certain business units.

The Clinton Medicare proposal uses an infusion of budget surplus money and new price competition inducements (like letting beneficiaries keep some of the savings they achieve by opting for health plans that charge less, explains the WP), to extend, say the papers, the financial viability of the program out to 2027, from the currently projected bankruptcy year of 2015. The USAT headline stresses the Republicans’ misgivings, mainly because many of them perceive the drug coverage to be unnecessary. The LAT quotes at least one drug company’s concern that the scheme would lead to government-set price controls on prescription drugs. USAT also has Democrat John Breaux’s comment that more structural overhauling is necessary and that without it, pouring new money into Medicare is like putting new gas in an old car.

Fairly high up, USAT notes the Clinton proposal’s appeal to senior citizens, “the demographic group most likely to vote, gave it at least some political possibility even in a pre-election year when little is getting done in Washington.” Fair enough, but please note the difference between that and the following explanation of Clinton’s advocacy of the plan from the LAT: “The administration believes that the issue of prescription drug coverage will have more political appeal to Americans over the age of 65–who are more likely to vote than members of any other age group–than the abstractions of the budget surplus.” The latter comment doesn’t just observe the proposal’s appeal–it seeks to reduce the proposal to the appeal. If this is really what’s going on, the LAT should favor the reader with some reporting on this, at least a quote. Otherwise, it’s just the tic of assuming that in politics, cynicism is always the best explanation (instead of say, a genuine concern that drugs cost seniors too much).

The WP and the two Times front the first major public protest rally against Slobodan Milosevic held inside Yugoslavia since the war ended. A crowd estimated at 5,000 chanted “Resign, Resign, Resign.” The other main Yugoslavia news is that the papers widely report that NATO is basically satisfied with the KLA’s compliance with promises it made to disarm and disband.

The WP fronts and the NYT puts inside word that George W. Bush has in just four months already raised $20 million in campaign funds–a record. That’s more than all his opponents combined. Both papers also take note of Bill Bradley’s fund-raising efforts resulting in $11 million so far, pretty close to Al Gore’s totals.

With the papers’ tendency to personify issues and their recent concern with international terrorism, it’s a bit surprising that nobody fronts the death sentence handed down yesterday in a Turkish court to Kurdish insurrection leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Dun and Bradstreet listing of manufacturing companies in China lists 99 prison camp enterprises with annual sales of $842.7 million. A Chinese dissident group criticized D and B for including the listings, saying that this will only help the prisons secure international business. One listing: “Hebei Reform Through Labour General Team No.3”

The USAT front serves up a chilling memento mori for the upcoming holiday weekend: The most dangerous part of the trip to that 4th of July picnic at Grandma’s may just be the intersection down the block from your house. Intersections, says the story, are by far the most dangerous part of the nation’s road network, accounting for 40 percent of all crashes. Although highway fatalities as a whole are declining, deaths at intersections are up 17 percent since 1992. Poor design and congestion are the chief culprits. The left turn seems to be one of the riskiest things you can do in a car. The story says that after waiting two minutes to make a left, drivers start losing patience and start taking risks. Indeed one traffic engineer’s recommendation quoted in the story is that left turns only be allowed on green.

The NYT reports that the story, given wide play in yesterday’s papers, about a 13-year-old Honduran boy who claimed he traveled solo to New York in search of his father is largely fiction. It turns out that the boy’s father died back in Honduras last year and the boy knew this but had trouble accepting it.

The WP reports that if you are one of the 11,040 American Indians currently on active duty in the U.S. military, you’ll be relieved to know that there finally is a policy governing your use of peyote in religious ceremonies. It’s OK, under the new rules, provided that you don’t use it on a military vehicle, plane, or ship and allow 24 hours to elapse before coming back on duty. And, oh yeah, ixnay if you’re one of the 40 Indian service members working with nuclear weapons.