Today's Papers

Your Pentagon Inaction

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the failure last night of a key test of the Pentagon’s prototype anti-missile defense system. The “kill vehicle” was anything but, missing the surrogate incoming warhead 140 miles above the Pacific. USA Today leads with its latest political poll, which finds that no issue is considered extremely important by more than 40 percent of the respondents, suggesting that in the presidential election, the candidates’ perceived personal qualities may be more important than their positions on the issues. The Washington Post goes completely local above the fold, with its top non-local story the Russians’ fiercely contested advance into Grozny. (The early editions of the WP and USAT that Today’s Papers works from closed before the missile test results had been released.)

The NYT explains that the Pentagon’s failed test was the first time the system’s anti-missile was evaluated while being governed by a fully integrated system of sensors. Both Times say there will be only one more test before President Clinton decides up or down on the program. The LAT high up says that yesterday’s failure “measurably increases the odds” that Clinton will choose not to go ahead with a national missile shield.

On the heels of yesterday’s studies from two think tanks suggesting that the income gap between rich and poor continues to grow, the LAT fronts and the Wall Street Journal front-indexes similar word today from the Federal Reserve. The difference is that the Fed focused not on income but on accumulated wealth. Some of the more striking findings: Although from 1995 to 1998 the median family net worth rose from $60,900 to $71,600, the median family with a main breadwinner younger than 35 saw its net worth shrink by nearly 30 percent; during that same time span, median family debt rose from $23,000 to $33,300; and the percentage of families that own stock went from 31.6 percent in 1989 to 48.8 percent in 1998 and, notes the WSJ, fewer than 10 percent of American families don’t have a checking account. The WP and NYT stuff the story.

In the half-full, half-empty department, the LAT headline reads, “BOOM TIME A BAD TIME FOR POOREST, STUDY FINDS.” The Journal’s reads: “STOCK GAINS PROPEL U.S. WEALTH; MORE AMERICANS OWN SHARES.”

The NYT reports that President Clinton announced that he agrees with Bill Bradley and Al Gore that the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the South Carolina Capitol building. William F. Buckley Jr., in an LAT op-ed, says that the matter should be put to a national plebiscite. Buckley says that the flag doesn’t enshrine slavery but rather “nostalgia and a sense of Southern idealism and cultural particularism.” And he mentions a raft of dead Southern idealists who he thinks might well have voted to keep the Capitol flag in place, but it’s significant that he doesn’t mention any living ones. (For more on the politics of the Stars and Bars, click here.)

USAT reports on Page 8 a story that in most alternative universes would have been front-page news: Hillary Rodham Clinton denies that she’ll leave her husband when he leaves the presidency. HRC says she will “spend the rest of my life” with her husband.

The WP and NYT report that former Angolan rebels say their leader, Jonas Savimbi, ordered the shoot-down of two U.N. aircraft that crashed mysteriously on separate days just over a year ago, resulting in 22 deaths.

The WP reports that the Department of Justice will announce today that it will receive nearly $500 million (enough for five missile tests) to settle a health-care fraud case it brought against a national chain of kidney dialysis centers. The government alleged that the centers caused Medicare to pay for hundreds of thousands of needless tests for patients and had paid kickbacks to obtain referrals.

In a WSJ commentary on the TV networks/drug czar flap, John Podhoretz claims that the government’s attempt to influence the content of shows is “nothing untoward.” After all, he observes, the Pentagon reviews scripts all the time when filmmakers seek to use its facilities and equipment. And the filmmakers don’t protest that the government has exploited them. But one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens: The Pentagon script-vetting process seems outrageous to Today’s Papers, all the more so because unlike the drug-TV case, all the money and assets involved come from public funds. Why should taxpayers only get to see war movies the Pentagon agrees with?