Today's Papers

Tread On Me

The New York Times lead, on nobody else’s front, is the House vote yesterday to roll back most of the powers of property seizure ceded to law enforcement over the past 30 years. The move was driven, says the paper, by widespread concerns that the powers were being abused, especially in cases where those whose property was taken were never convicted, or often, never even charged. The Washington Post lead is that both the government and Microsoft rested their cases in their antitrust trial. The story is fronted at the NYT, while USA Today puts it on the business section front and goes instead with word that next week President Clinton plans to propose new prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. For a set additional premium (somewhere between $20 and $90 per month and no deductible), the government would pay half of all drug costs up to a fixed ceiling, somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000. The Los Angeles Times lead, which no one else fronts, is YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT VOTES TO END STATE OF WAR, although the bigger news in the story is that hundreds of returning Serb military reservists have set up roadblocks in central Serbia and refused to abandon them or disarm until they get paid. The soldiers, the paper informs, haven’t been paid since April. Their wage for terrorizing Kosovo: $5 a day.

The NYT reports that the Clinton administration response to the seizure rollback was that it would make crime-fighting more difficult. The story also notes a financial incentive for the status quo–the value of seized property now exceeds $1 billion, with much of this destined to be plowed back into federal and local law enforcement coffers. But the list of the sponsors for the bill passed by the House gives an indication of just how unpopular current forfeiture procedures are, in that it includes the NRA, the ACLU, the American Bankers Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Post’s take on the Microsoft trial is that no matter what the judge decides (probably this fall), the case has already profoundly affected the technology industry. It says MS, embarrassed by some of the tough talk and tactics exposed at trial, has already toned down its behavior. And its recent acquisitions and alliances, such as the investment in AT&T’s new cable TV venture, exhibit less reliance on exclusive distribution agreements. And competing firms are less afraid of crossing MS now, feeling freer to testify against the company and to develop devices that don’t run on Windows. The WSJ reports that three weeks ago, while hammering away at each other in court, the DOJ and MS met secretly to search for a settlement. The talks didn’t produce an agreement, but will, says the paper, continue, with increasing intensity as the judge’s ruling looms. The LAT lead editorial says the Rx for the case is for MS to auction or license Windows code to several companies. This is supposed to be a compromise because it would promote competition without making MS give anything away.

The WP off-leads a bit of a scoop: Intelligence sources tell the paper that Russia’s surprise deployment of 200 troops to Kosovo was part of a larger plan to send in 1,000 or more soldiers in order to stake out a Russian zone. The larger operation was thwarted, says the paper, when the governments of Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, under pressure from the U.S., denied Russian requests to use their airspace for troop-carrying aircraft.

Several front-page stories depict the increasing anomie and tension inside Kosovo. Both the WP and Wall Street Journal say that the situation is straining the capabilities of the 21,000 NATO troops currently in-country, and has put a premium on getting more peacekeeping troops in position right away. The LAT, in a dispatch from Paul Watson, says that the murder of three Serb men at Pristina University, a professor and two blue-collar university employees, has Serbs terrified at the prospect of further random revenge violence by Albanians. The WP says the point of the killings was to force all Serb faculty to resign. (The NYT also has the story.) A NYT report from a remote part of Kosovo describes how virtually every Serb left the village yesterday, with a dozen or so houses set on fire. In their wake, recently returned Albanians looted at will. “They took all our things,” a 19-year-old Albanian boy is quoted saying. “Now it is our turn to take all of their things.”

A top-front NYTpiece reports that the KLA leaders NATO signed an agreement with had previously consolidated their power by conducting an assassination campaign within the organization’s ranks. The campaign is said by the paper to have claimed the lives of half a dozen top leaders and to have been orchestrated by KLA leader Hashim Thaci and two lieutenants. State Department sources are quoted as saying there has been no confirming evidence for these charges.

The LAT and WP report that the State Department has announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Milosevic and other suspects indicted recently by a U.N. war crimes tribunal. Free suggestion: State should partner with America’s Most Wanted on this–the show simply has a phenomenal capture rate, including a number of overseas arrests.

A letter to the WP raises an interesting question broached nowhere else in the press: Could the American Army have pulled off a sudden and surprise occupation of the Pristina airport, à la the Russians? And the writer offers an answer: No. That’s because, he says, the U.S. Army has no wheeled armored combat vehicles that move rapidly on roads. Its only heavy armor is tanks on treads, which tear up roads.