Today's Papers

One Billion Underserved

The New York Times leads with the U.S. Treasury’s announcement that it would like to take advantage of projected budget surpluses by buying back some government bonds before their maturity dates. The Los Angeles Times leads with the settlement of differences among California’s leading water agencies dating back to the ‘30s about their individual rights to water from the Colorado River, but the paper’s top non-local story is the government bond buy-back. Water is also the top local story at the Washington Post–specifically the Maryland governor’s reaction to the drought there, new regulations that will shut off lawn sprinklers and end unrequested drinking water in restaurants. But the paper’s top non-local story is the Senate’s approval of a $7.4 billion emergency aid package for farmers, which is a response not only to drought conditions but also to falling commodities prices. The paper points out that this bill would spend more than half of next year’s projected budget surplus and comes on the heels of last fall’s “one-time” farm fix of $6 billion. USA Today goes with the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that the Boy Scouts’ ouster of a gay scout leader constituted illegal discrimination. In four previous cases in other states, the paper informs, the high courts sided with the scouts. The issue is considered ripe for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The two Times front the scout story, while the Post runs it inside.

The basic idea behind the government’s buy-back, the NYT explains, is to retire older high-interest debt and then to replace it with newly issued lower-rate securities. The plan probably won’t take place until next year. The paper points out that contrary to the current tax cut/surplus debate, this strategy does not require congressional approval. Both Times note that it also is a vehicle for reducing the government’s reliance on foreign lenders, who currently hold 39 percent of U.S. publicly held debt. In addition, they say, reduced government borrowing will also lessen competition with private companies for funds, thereby lowering interest rates. The Wall Street Journal notes that the announcement spurred a rally Wednesday in longer-term Treasurys, the supply of which would be reduced if the buy-back happens.

The NYT reports that in a matter of days, India, the fastest growing country on the planet, will reach a population of 1 billion. The country’s population explosion offers a mixed demographic bag: increased life expectancy (age 63, up from 39 just 50 years ago), a lower fertility rate (from six births per woman, down to 3.1 over that same period. But what good is this if there are so many more women having children?), 500 million illiterates, and 320 million abjectly poor people.

The WSJ reports that the war between No. 1 online service AOL and No. 1 software manufacturer Microsoft won’t stop with the instant messaging tiff: Microsoft’s next target is AOL’s dial-up business itself, which MS is planning to address by offering low-price or even free access to the Internet. There’s precedent, notes the Journal: Price-cutting was the strategy that enabled MS to catch Lotus and Netscape.

The NYT reports that travel agents are really chafing over airlines’ discounts for Internet ticket purchases. Travel agents now book about 80 percent of airline tickets, but increased Internet purchases are a clear threat. And since the airlines scrapped the traditional 10 percent agent’s fee for a $50 fee per transaction, agent fee rates overall have fallen to 6.3 percent.

A top-front-with-picture WP story describes how, yesterday, the national press distracted Hillary Clinton from her great interest in the Jamestown, N.Y., regional economy with still more questions about her comments in Talk magazine about President Clinton as child abuse victim. Asked why she agreed to discuss in an interview such a personal subject, she said, “Well, I’m not going to anymore.” The paper notes that the non-media types in the audience responded to this with applause.

Pollster Andrew Kohut writes in a NYT op-ed that fresh polls show that Hillary Clinton’s Senate prospects are not likely to be helped by any revelations regarding her relationship with Bill. Indeed, Kohut says, 74 percent of a recent sample say they are tired of all the problems of the Clinton administration. He concludes, “For most voters, there are no unanswered questions about the personal lives of the Clintons.”