Today's Papers

Springtime for Haider

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the release of 1998 statistics on health insurance coverage in America: 44.3 million Americans are uninsured, up 1 million from 1997. The Los Angeles Times reefers this story, leading with tobacco companies suing for access to the raw data from anti-smoking studies, so that they can better refute them. USA Today leads with BellSouth’s offer of $100 billion in the Sprint Corp. takeover battle. The NYT and Wall Street Journal say that Sprint’s chief executive favors a friendly merger with MCI Worldcom (which offered $93 billion); either would make the takeover the largest ever. The Wall Street Journal front reports that Russian troops have entered Chechnya for the first time since a 1996 truce, and that skirmishes with Chechen troops ensued. (An untimely NYT front reports that troop insertion is imminent.) The LAT fronts the results of Austria’s parliamentary elections, where the far-right Freedom Party made major gains, possibly supplanting the conservative People’s Party as the second largest party in Austria. The LAT, WP, and the WSJ report that this could topple the current ruling coalition, but the NYT (which reefers the story) downplays the results, and the menace posed by the party and its leader, Joerg Haider.

The Census Bureau’s 1998 figures suggest that access to health insurance has not kept pace with economic prosperity. More than one-third of all Hispanic Americans lack coverage, outpacing all other racial and ethnic groups. The number of uninsured women climbed by over 1 million, while the number of uninsured men actually dropped by around 100,000. The number of uninsured children has changed little, despite a major 1997 program targeting America’s 11 million uninsured youngsters. The papers blame the lack of coverage on welfare reforms that have trimmed Medicaid rolls. They disagree as to how well private employers have taken up the slack. The WP says a “bright spot” of the report finds that more people now receive insurance from their employers, but doesn’t mention the possibility that this is simply because Medicaid cuts removed a more affordable alternative. The NYT suggests that employer-provided insurance has exacerbated the problem: many businesses have cut benefits or raised premiums, and many new jobs come from small businesses, which are less likely to provide insurance.

The coalition between Austria’s Social Democrats and the People’s Party was formed in 1986 specifically to keep Haider’s anti-immigrant, anti-NATO party from power. The People’s Party leader had threatened to withdraw his party from the coalition if they lost too much ground in yesterday’s polls, which is exactly what the WSJ, the WP, and LAT say happened. The NYT claims that a close finish and low turnout make the elections a nonevent, and that the People’s Party leader is backing down from his earlier statements. The LAT and the WP allude to Haider’s controversial 1991 praise of the Third Reich’s “sound employment policies,” while the NYT notes his resemblance to Kevin Costner, right down to his “amiable grin.”

Philip Morris has subpoenaed data from an influential study linking secondhand smoke and lung cancer. Researchers say that surrendering the data would violate the confidentiality participants were promised and threaten future research. Though defendants traditionally win such cases, the LAT predicts a victory for Philip Morris because the presiding judge has ruled in favor of the tobacco industry before.

Russian officials deny that the Chechen skirmishes are the beginning of a full invasion; they only seek to establish a security zone to control traffic in and out of the republic, and to protect Dagestan from invasion. The NYT focuses on one Chechen village, a former refuge for a Chechen rebel commander, which has recently suffered severe attacks even though there is currently no indication of rebel presence in the village. The death of Sony co-founder Akio Morita gets front page mentions at the LAT, WP and USAT (a story ran in the NYT yesterday). All agree that Morita and Sony revolutionized the consumer electronics industry, helping Japan emerge as a postwar economic giant.

According to the WP Pentagon officials were “ecstatic” after a ground-based missile interceptor tested well this weekend. Defense officials warn that this success was only a first step, and much more work is required to provide comprehensive protection. Skeptics warn that such protection is virtually impossible, and that further efforts will dampen relations with Russia and China. If current plans (beginning with 100 interceptors in Alaska) are implemented, the U.S. must either amend or break its 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

It’s crazy, but it just might work: It’s a testament to our cynical times that a politician can make news by declining to sling mud. The WP reports that Steve Forbes’ upcoming TV ad blitz will deploy a radical new tactic, addressing George W. Bush’s stances on education and tax cuts while ignoring, or actually praising, his character.