Today's Papers

To Surplus With Love

Everybody leads with President Clinton’s announcement yesterday that the booming economy will generate an unanticipated $1 trillion in government revenues over the next decade and a half, a windfall Clinton holds can be used to bolster Social Security and Medicare and also to completely eliminate the national debt.

Both the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal quote Clinton’s snap description of the development: “We have now cut up Washington’s credit card.” The papers make clear that the likely new revenues have, besides auguring well for Social Security, Medicare, and the national debt, also put into political play new spending for other programs, as well as tax cuts.

The NYT coverage is the most sensitive to the politics raised by these, saying that congressional Republicans remain suspicious of Clinton and that both sides are torn between the desire for a bipartisan budget deal and the need to carry forward unresolved issues into the campaign. The Times adds that for Clinton this means tension between a deal and the campaign prospects of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. The LAT is alone in saying that Clinton emphasized the impact the surpluses could have on the defense budget. A reflection of the many defense contractor plants in the L.A. area?

The NYT and WSJ are alone in providing a necessary context for this story: Federal budget predictions are often as not wildly inaccurate. All the stories could have benefited from some run-down of say, the last 10 years of such predictions from the White House and Congressional Budget Office.

The WP and NYT say that if the prospective surplus holds true, then the publicly held national debt could be wiped out, but neither paper explains what other sort of national debt there is, nor how large it is in comparison to the public portion. Also it seems rather churlish for news stories about the surplus announcement to pick at Clinton as “self-congratulatory” (USA Today) and “boasting” (Washington Post).

The WP’s off-lead looks at the consumer reaction to the V-chip, currently on half of all new TV sets, and finds it to be zero. The media has pretty much ignored the rollout, and set manufacturers haven’t advertised it. No wonder that at one Best Buys store the Post visits, not one customer has asked for it yet.

Everybody fronts word that Web Hubbell plans to plead guilty to a count relating to his concealing the legal work he and Hillary Clinton did on the Castle Grande real estate deal and to a tax evasion charge having to do with income Hubbell received but didn’t report after leaving the DOJ. The papers note this means one less day in court for Hillary who had been expected to testify, and also probably the beginning of the end of Ken Starr’s five-year special prosecutor effort.

Everybody reports that yesterday in a Philadelphia courtroom a 70-year-old woman pleaded guilty to smothering eight of her infant children seriatim from 1949 to 1968. Her sentence? No prison time, just 20 years’ probation. The reasons offered for the wrist-slap include: the woman is the sole caretaker for her 77-year-old husband, and this way researchers can study her to find out why new mothers sometimes kill their newborns. Uhmm, why do we think the husband’ll be safer than the babies were? And she couldn’t be studied in a prison?

The NYT front reports that according to the World Health Organization, about a third to a half of all shipments to Kosovo refugees of corporate donations of goods thus far have been “essentially useless.” Relief workers desperate for syringes, penicillin, and insulin, for instance, found instead that their shipment contained Chap Stick, Preparation H, and anti-smoking inhalers. The main problem is that there are simply too many incentives, including tax deductions, inclining a company to respond to a call for help by just emptying out its warehouse of old goods regardless of need.

The LAT front reports on one reason why NATO troops have encountered so many munitions and booby traps in Kosovo: Both Serbian and Albanian secondary school children have taken “civil defense” classes that cover how to use machine guns, throw hand grenades, and booby trap a lamp with high explosives. The classes had been a staple of Yugoslav schooling since Tito, who was ever wary of invasion.

A front-page LAT story details the spreading hanky-panky found in the unsolicited reader book reviews posted on There’s the pan by Jeff Bezos that’s not really by Jeff Bezos, and the 100 or so savagings of a book that turn out all to be by the same person. And then there’s the idea mentioned by a book publicist: Hire 12 people to write favorable pseudonymous Amazon reviews for all his clients’ books.

Today’s Papers continues to be mystified by WSJ “Work Week” items like this one: “Occasional jokes help lighten the mood as Chris Esposito, a 28-year-old white-water river guide for North American River Runners, Hico, W.Va., steers six-passenger boats down three of the state’s rivers. But he’s irked by people who ‘don’t understand that the river is stronger than they’ll ever be.’ He is paid as much as $125 a trip, plus tips.” Given that there is no news peg to this and no point either, why does this item exist? Is it the artifact of a staffer’s vacation rafting trip? You know, “Get me out of this alive and I’ll get you a free column-inch in the Journal“?