Today's Papers

Don’t Cry for Menem, Argentina

Analyses of budget and spending battles lead at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. The NYT highlights a fringe benefit to the current spending impass: national debt repayment. The WP notes the rise of “earmarking,” a popular form of pork barreling, in this round of the spending fracas. USAT focuses on the GOP’s proposed across-the-board spending cuts, which the other papers covered on Saturday. The cuts are depicted as a measure designed to leave Social Security untouched and placate seniors. According to another story on the USAT front, this is because seniors are the swing voters of the 2000 elections. The Los Angeles Times leads with massive demonstrations in Colombia, where over 10 million people took to the streets urging a swift peace between the ruling government and leftist insurgents.

The NYT paints the debt reduction measures as a major policy event brought about by default. Since Congress and the White House can’t agree on how to spend budget surpluses, most of the money will likely go to pay off the nation’s debt, including $3.6 trillion in public-owned Treasury bonds. This component of the debt could be paid off in 10-to-15 years, putting downward pressure on interest rates and freeing up capital.

Earmarking, the process of tacking pork-heavy provisions to spending bills, is on the rise in Washington, according to the Post. Though most politicians say such measures benefit the majority, and help speed bills through the House and Senate, critics feel that earmarking undermines the executive branch: By the time administrators get ahold of discretionary funds, most of the money has already been allocated, rendering the administrators nearly powerless.

Colombia’s government and representatives of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will try to hammer out agreements on such topics as judicial reform, human rights, drug trafficking, and agricultural policy. The conciliatory overtures began early this year, after nearly four decades of violence, when the government removed security forces from a large FARC-controlled territory, but stalled when officials requested that an international verification committee monitor the zone. Talks began again on Sunday, after the government withdrew this request.

Buenos Aires mayor Fernando De la Rua’s projected presidential win is a setback for the ruling Judicialist/Peronist Party, but a victory, according to the Wall Street Journal, for democratic capitalism. The election marks the first time the Peronist Party has lost power by popular mandate (as opposed to a coup). A NYT below-the-fold article quotes an observer who claims that the election signals the “end of the era of the caudillo (strongman).” De la Rua has pledged to maintain the fiscal successes of his predecessor, included a fiscal policy that helped stem the nation’s hyperinflation. He also pledges to combat the corruption and tax evasion that have plagued previous administrations, an angle emphasized inside the WP. Carlos Menem, the current president, did not seek re-election, but is expected to remain a formidible force in Argentine politics.

Two related WP fronts discuss Bill Bradley’s campaign. One paints him as a reluctant but incredibly effective fund raiser, whose outsider image, basketball superstardom, and Senate Finance Committee background have activated a network of super-rich, generally apolitcal supporters, including Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch. The other discusses how his commitment to old-guard liberal issues such as child poverty and health-care woes have helped distance him from Al Gore’s more centrist policies. The biggest problem with these passions? There’s little evidence of them in Bradley’s extensive political past.

Not exactly Ossi and Harriet: The NYT runs a front-page story that is nearly a decade old: the continued economic and attitudinal rift between Western and Eastern Germans (known as Wessies and Ossies). The controversy re-emerged this summer with a book written by a Wessi woman, relocated to the east, who is very critical of her Ossi neighbors. Aside from lots of Ossi/Wessi name-calling (a phenomenon much older than the German republic), the NYT offers no evidence for its portentous claim that nostalgia for the old Eastern Germany is spreading. Despite this mildly alarmist tone, the NYT is quick to remind us that “There is nothing inherently sinister about a unified Germany.” One can almost hear Poland and France sighing with relief.

Stale gender roles: In one of its twin Bradley articles, the WP notes an interesting gender split in a poll of New York voters: gentlemen preferred Bill 56 percent to 33 percent, while women favored Gore 48 percent to 29 percent. Why? Maybe, the Post suggests, because Bradley is a former pro ballplayer. It’s an interesting assertion, but one that should be supported by more than the reader’s own sexist preconceptions. Without facts to support their analysis, the WP may as well argue that women preferred Gore because of his sculpted jaw and tight buns.