Today's Papers

Medicare Bears

Only the Los Angeles Times leads with the latest from Kosovo. A Russian and a French plane landed at the Pristina airport, officially ending the standoff over Russian participation in the peacekeeping mission. The LAT story also relays that a 70-car caravan of Serbian intellectuals filed out of Kosovo yesterday, dashing NATO’s last hopes that Kosovar Serbians would remain in the province. “It’s the beginning of the end of Kosovo as we know it,” said a British soldier. The New York Times and the Washington Post file similar stories inside.

A blurrily sourced LAT front-pager outlines president Clinton’s not-so-covert effort to oust Slobodan Milosevic. “Aides” tell the paper that the President believes that deposing Milosevic is the most direct way to democratize Yugoslavia. The story ticks off Clinton’s various MOs: hacking into and draining Milosevic’s bank accounts; encouraging the Yugoslav military to stage a coup; bolstering opposition leaders; and promising lavish reconstruction funds to a post-Milosevic Serbia. One still-unapproved plan would grant dollars to municipal governments headed by anti-Milosevic democrats.

The WP fronts the previously covered-but still-chilling topic of Serbian rape of ethnic Albanian women, while the NYT tucks a terrific account of Milosevic’s ever-robust propaganda machine inside. Serbian state TV describes how, “Serbs have not lost control of Kosovo, how the once-villified NATO forces are merely carrying out Slobodan Milosevic’s policy of protecting Serbs from Albanian terrorists and how, despite the odd hiccup, things are going pretty darned well” in Kosovo. But the propaganda may backfire; the cognitive dissonance between the rosy pictures on TV and their own on-the-ground reality is eroding Serbs’ trust in their government.

Details on President Clinton’s Medicare revamp continue to filter in, today via the NYT lead. The story is headlined, “Clinton Planning to Cut Long-Term Cost of Medicare.” This seems incongruous, since the piece focuses on his determination to the cover prescription drugs for all beneficiaries, an expensive proposition that will hike up the cost of the program. Readers are reminded that the original impetus for reforming Medicare was to pre-empt a financial crisis caused by the enormous and rapidly aging baby boomer population. This prudent tack has been “lost in the hubbub over new benefits.” (But the Times doesn’t cite some of the strongest evidence of the president’s abandonment of his fiscal goals– namely, yesterday’s WP report of the eleventh-hour decision to scrap a plan to prorate Medicare fees according to income, which would save billions). Medicare will stay solvent, insists the president, by relying on discounts from big hospitals, competitive bidding, and a $700 billion cash hit from federal budget surpluses.

The NYT reports that despite her scalding experience with health care reform, Hillary Clinton is once again deep in a policy fight. The banking and credit card industries are trying to stiffen bankruptcy laws and make it tougher for the bankrupt to leave their debts behind. The first lady agrees with the legislation in principle. But she also believes the credit industry should be held responsible for offering credit to those too poor to carry it, and that the proposed rules will have a disproportionate and punitive effect on women and children (example: mothers who receive child support would have to compete with debt-collection agencies for their bankrupt ex-husbands’ cash). Clinton helped kill similar legislation last fall, and an expert says she “has essentially been functioning as a senior adviser to the President.” The piece concludes that her stance may add wrinkles in her proto-campaign for Senate, both because the credit card and banking industries are reliable sources of fat campaign contributions, and because many fellow Democrats support the legislation.

The papers deliver their verdicts on the Supreme Court’s just-closed term. A WP front-pager declares that the court’s supposedly leftish block–consisting of Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer–are ideologically wan successors to their high liberal predecessors such as Brennan, Blackmun, and Marshall. A similarly dramatic piece in the NYT Week in Review section declares that this term, the court “reconfigured the Federal-state balance of power” and put its imprimatur on “every branch and level of government.” But legal scholar Kathleen Sullivan takes a more moderate view in the NYT’s opinion pages, calling the reaction “hyperbolic.” The final cases of the season didn’t remove power from the Federal system, she argues, but just shuffled the way those powers are enforced.

The NYT magazine serves up a rare unflattering profile of Bill Bradley (unflattering profiles, that is, being rare for both magazine and subject). The former senator is more aura than substance, promising big ideas that he never actually articulates. The writer isn’t sure if he is “incredibly deep or just a shade dotty.” And despite his genial on-stage persona, he’s crotchety and condescending in person.

This Sunday, the NYT offers earnest stories on elderly people who can’t pay for medicine, New York kids who can’t afford to attend college, and golf aficionados who can’t afford the sport’s exorbitant costs. But the paper’s magazine apparently thinks that privation is fabulous; its fashion spread depicts models vamping around a trailer park in $970 skirts. The accompanying copy reads, “Say what you want about minimalism, but in the context of trailer living, less is definitely more.”