Today's Papers


The New York Times   leads with the 218-211 House passage of an $85 billion spending bill for health, education, and labor–a story off-leaded  by the Washington Post   and run inside at the Los Angeles Times   and USA Today. President Clinton promised a veto, citing a Congressional Budget Office study concluding that the GOP is $17 billion over the spending limit needed to protect Social Security–this despite the bill’s .97 across-the-board spending cut. His negotiations with Congress begin next week. The Post and LAT lead with President Clinton’s unveiling today of sweeping privacy rules protecting patients’ medical records, a story already broken by the NYT (see Wednesday’s TP). USAT leads with the news that Saudi businessmen have transferred tens of millions of dollars to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden over the past five years. Sourced to anonymous intelligence officials who cite an internal Saudi audit of the nation’s largest bank, the story says that the transfers are protection money to prevent bin Laden from attacking the Saudi businessmen. The funds have been used to finance several terrorist operations, including the 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The head of the suspected Saudi bank also heads banks in New York and London–also under investigation–and is represented by Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan (the Vernon Jordan? USAT doesn’t say.)

Under Clinton’s privacy rules any patient will have unrestricted access to his own medical record and will have to approve of their release for purposes not related to treatment or billing. Doctors will be required to hire a privacy “point person,” says the LAT, who will be trained to edit records for release; currently, when an employer inquires about a job-related injury, for example, he is usually given the employee’s entire record. The rules do not need the approval of Congress, which in 1996 imposed on itself an (unmet) August 1999 deadline to pass legislation. But Congress did limit Clinton’s rules to cover only electronic records–even though the majority of records are still on paper. And while the rules cover providers and insurance companies, they cannot cover the lawyers or pharmaceutical companies who consult for them.

Both the Post and LAT stories on the privacy rules are well done, but there are some lapses. For instance, in its second paragraph the Post tells us, breathlessly, that Clinton officials “have worked on [the rules] for years” (should we pat them on the back for that?). And the LAT inexplicably devotes its entire third paragraph to an airy statement from the text of this morning’s speech by Clinton–a statement that does nothing to help explain the proposal. Also, the NYT story on Wednesday did a better job detailing the objections of psychiatrists and police.

All the papers front (and the LAT reefers) yesterday’s astonishing economic figures, which show an annual growth rate of 4.8 percent in the third quarter, up from 1.9 percent in the second. At the same time, an inflation gauge–the Employment Cost Index, which measures wage pressure–was lower than expected. (To read Moneybox’s take on the ECI, click here.) The Commerce Department also revised the way it measures GDP to account for productivity in the tech sector; this revealed that growth this decade was stronger than previously thought. The stock and bond markets soared. Despite this miraculous news, the Wall Street Journal   says that nearly one in three Americans expects a recession by next year’s elections–the highest percentage in three years–and that one in four is not satisfied with the economy. (Question: If Greenspan were to appear before Congress and turn lead into gold, what percentage of the country would complain it was not platinum?)

The NYT fronts last night’s second GOP debate, in Hanover, New Hampshire. The debate included little sparring and much criticism of George W. Bush for not showing up. (For Ballot Box’s dispatch from Hanover, click here.)

Writing on the LAT commentery page, Alexander Cockburn alleges that the putative Serbian genocide of Kosovar Albanians is a myth. Since June, forensics teams from 15 nations, including the U.S., have turned up hundreds of bodies, not thousands or tens of thousands, as has been alleged. The Serbs “were fighting a separatist movement, led by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and behaving with the brutality typical of security forces.” But nothing they did before the West intervened justifies the 2,000 civilians killed by NATO’s bombs.

The Post fronts a feature about ambivalence in Silicon Valley over the impending verdict in the Microsoft trial. (The preliminary findings will be posted on a government web site  after the markets close on “a Friday”–probably either today or a week from today.) On the one hand, the libertarian Valley entrepreneurs dislike government intervention. On the other, they hate Microsoft. “The Jesuits have this concept of holy effrontery–in defending their cause it’s okay to use any means, including false statements,” says one executive. “I’m not sure Microsoft’s effrontery is that holy. It’s certainly very shameless. But you’ve got to admire it at some level.” Meanwhile, the Journal reports that Microsoft, which has been contributing heavily to the Republican Party since the anti-trust trial began, is making overtures to Democrats as well. Its group vice president, Jeff Raikes, has become a Gore financial advisor, and its top Washington lobbyist, Jack Krumholtz, sat next to Clinton at a recent fund-raiser.

So, you’ve lost $1 billion in the market–single-handedly bankrupting a 233-year-old bank–become an international fugitive, and spent three years in jail. What do you do now? Go to Disney World? No, but the lecture circuit is a close second. The Journal reports that Nick Leeson, whose reckless derivatives trades sunk Barings P.L.C. in one day in 1995, got $100,000 to speak to a group of Dutch stock traders yesterday. It’s the first of a string of scheduled speaking engagements, product endorsements, and television roles. But unfortunately for Leeson, his new career is not all Fantasy Island: His assets are frozen, and sixty-five percent of all his revenue goes to Barings, whom he owes $164.4 million. He didn’t see a cent from the book and movie rights he sold, and the 35 percent he can keep from his current media work must go either for medical bills (he has colon cancer) or into pension and mutual funds.