Today's Papers

Amateur Night

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead with Vladimir Putin’s remarks on his plans for strengthening Russia’s nuclear capacity. The newly elected president stated that Russia would retain its position as a nuclear power by increasing the efficiency of its existing nuclear programs. Anticipating concerns about a renewed arms race, Putin stated that his goal was to establish greater economic and social stability within his own country, not to make an intimidating martial overture. The non-local lead in the Washington Post examines the software licensing deal between NCR Corp. and MicroStrategy to show how millions of dollars can ride merely on how a company chooses to present–or finesse–its financial reports.

Speaking at a closed nuclear city, Putin sought to clarify the comments he made about creating a strong Russian state. He reaffirmed his commitment to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and he denied that he is seeking to bolster his military power as a means of pursuing authoritarian rule at home. Putin insisted that the strong state he referred to was one in which “rules are secured by laws and their observation is guaranteed.” All three papers implicitly ask what these “rules” mean for Chechnya, but the NYT expresses the greatest skepticism about Putin’s comments: First, Russia clings to its nuclear arsenal as a vestige of its superpower status, and therefore it might be unwilling to follow through on promises to reduce its nuclear stores; second, to scale back an already faltering nuclear industry would deliver another painful and unpopular blow to the increasingly frail Russian economy. The LAT notes that Putin supports the sale of nuclear technology to allied countries–a more alarming prospect than the buildup of arms in Russia itself.

All three papers front the census, which is due today. The LAT and the NYT report that many people view the survey as a nuisance and a threat. Most households receive the seven-question short form, but one in six gets the 53-question long form. There are those opposed to any information-gathering whatsoever on the part of the government, but it’s the longer version of the survey that has caused the greatest uproar. The most frequent complaint? Invasion of privacy. Many people interviewed about the census were suspicious of questions regarding income, mortgages, and whether one’s bathrooms have toilets that flush. The WP, however, extols the merits of the survey, explaining that every question on the form is essential for the planning and funding of public programs such as mass transit, Head Start, and the location of veterans hospitals.

The LAT off-leads an Internet cautionary tale., strapped for cash, is looking for a buyer. CDNow saw its shares plummet as news spread that the online music seller was low on money. And–C. Everett Koop’s online health site–is looking a bit under the weather. (The WP runs an inside piece on that is likewise downbeat.) The market is saturated, investment dollars are dwindling, online retailers are failing to generate the revenue necessary to support the cost of operations, and many Web companies have grossly padded their financial reports to disguise financial weaknesses that are just now becoming apparent (see NCR/MicroStrategy, above).

The NYT fronts the increasingly tense Elián González situation in Miami. Some Cuban-Americans say that they plan to defy federal authority if the court rules that the boy is to be returned to Cuba. The language of the debate has risen at times to the pitch of secession: A Cuban-American academic remarked that Miami now has its own local foreign policy.

The WP, on the front, below the fold, further examines the flak Gore is receiving as a result of his break with Clinton to support a bill that would grant permanent residency to Elián González and some members of his family. Critics accuse the vice president of political machination. They argue that Gore has pandered to the traditionally Republican Cuban-American community in the hope of winning votes.

The LAT reports on the front that Maryland is taking steps to enact some of the toughest gun-control legislation in the U.S., despite fierce attacks from the NRA. The proposed legislation stipulates that by October new guns are to be equipped with external safety locks and that within three years all new guns are to have internal safety locks.

The NYT fronts a piece on campaign finance. While Gore and McCain argue about who’s more committed to reform and who’s more qualified to bring it about, 115 candidates for the state legislature in Maine have agreed to participate in the Maine Clean Election Act system, by which they will not accept donations beyond what they have already raised in qualifying contributions and seed money.

The WP and the NYT front stories on the call for the reform in NCAA athletics–specifically men’s basketball. The NCAA complains that unethical scouts, middlemen, and sporting goods companies ushering young athletes into professional leagues are depriving college basketball of its talent. In order to retain players who are bypassing college, the NCAA wants to expand the definition of “amateur” so that college athletes can take out loans based on their potential earnings, thereby removing some of the incentive to skip college for the pros.