Today's Papers

We Can’t Stand Pat

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with Boris Yeltsin’s dismissal of yet another prime minister (Sergei Stepashin, called back to get the news, says the NYT, from the province of Dagestan, where he was supervising the government’s military counter to Islamic rebels). Yeltsin has once again picked an obscure career intelligence man as the replacement. What’s different this time, the papers all note, is that Yeltsin has endorsed the new PM, Vladimir Putin, as his chosen successor, urging Russians to vote for him in next year’s presidential election. The papers agree Putin’s likely to be approved by the Russian parliament. USA Today leads with a story nobody else fronts, the inauguration today of a new digitized fingerprint system that will allow police around the country to send in suspects’ prints electronically to the FBI main lab from their patrol cars in the field and get a definitive comparison with the bureau’s prints on file, not in months as can sometimes be the case now, but in hours.

The papers (and the U.S. government) react to the latest Kremlin shuffle–the fourth one in 17 months–with a calm verging on bemusement. Both Times note that Yeltsin, in his televised announcement of the move, spoke very slowly. The WP goes even further, saying that he was “speaking as if the words on the teleprompter were moving one at a time.”

The papers trot out a range of theories for the change in Russia. The NYT notes the most idealistic one, that Yeltsin is intent on bequeathing to Russia, as his parting legacy, a government and president who are committed to completing the country’s democratization. The three leads all observe that the rise of a confederation of Russian governors led by a former prime minister and the mayor of Moscow is seen by Yeltsin as a threat he wants to head off. The WP says that Yeltsin is trying to engineer his succession by a friendly replacement because he’s worried about prosecution for corruption after leaving office. The NYT has this too, quoting one Communist Party official as saying, “He is not concerned about his legacy, or about Russia and its fate. He is afraid of a Ceausescu scenario.”

The NYT goes top front with the negative conclusions of a group of state securities regulators concerning many day trading firms. The outfits, they say, use deceptive marketing practices to lure customers into a rapid-fire trading approach that will probably cause them to lose money, and then often arrange for them to receive illegal loans (sometimes directly profiting from those loans). The regulators had been working on their report for seven months, long before last week’s stock shootings in Atlanta. Yet, the regulators cited questionable practices at the Massachusetts branch of one of the firms whose Atlanta office was one of the murder scenes. One striking conclusion: only 11.5 percent of day traders at that Massachusetts branch could make even a short-term profit. And the regulators noted that if people are bent on speculative investments, the futures and options markets present ample opportunity, at lower cost and greater leverage. The Wall Street Journal also runs a story on the report, noting that it likens day trading to gambling.

The NYT and WP report that Kenneth Starr says his office will turn in a final report on matters Clintonian in 2000, before the November elections. The Times notes that Starr is saying his report will be comprehensive, but will “not engage in characterization.” (In other words the exact opposite of the Starr report that was the basis for the impeachment proceedings.) The paper also reminds that it had previously quoted some Starr associates saying that the final report would criticize Hillary Clinton by raising unanswered questions about her behavior in Whitewater matters.

The LAT front-page “Column One” feature reports that just a few years after it was considered laughable, abstinence-based sex education is on the upswing. The concept is now blessed by the federal government and many states, and publicly funded to the tune of $500 million. And concomitantly (nobody knows if there’s a causal connection too), sexual activity rates among teen-agers have started to drop. Although, says the paper, those who are having sex are paying an increasing price–there are 3 million new cases of STDs diagnosed among teen-agers every year. Next goal among the conservative policy mavens who pioneered abstinence for teen-agers: abstinence for unmarrieds in their 20s.

Let him who is without sin fire the first shellfish toxin round: The WP reports that Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson said yesterday on his TV show that assassinating troublesome world leaders is an option the U.S. shouldn’t deny itself. “It would just seem so much more practical to have that flexibility,” Robertson is quoted as saying. “I don’t see anything un-Christian about it.”