Today's Papers

The Dolce Vita

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post all lead with the breakdown of antitrust negotiations between Microsoft and federal officials. The court-appointed mediator threw up his hands yesterday, claiming the differences between the parties to be “too deep-seated” to resolve. The case now goes back to Judge Jackson, who had given both sides a week to reach agreement after the DOJ rejected a settlement offer by Microsoft last Friday. Jackson is expected to find Microsoft in violation of antitrust laws sometime this week. After the verdict, the case will likely move into an expensive and lengthy legal phase, as Jackson considers court-ordered remedies.

The NYT examines the actual crumbling of negotiations, suggesting three-way differences–between Microsoft, the DOJ, and the 19 state attorneys general who are plaintiffs in the suit–contributed to the breakdown. Bill Gates, quoted by the WP concurs: The DOJ and states were so divided “it became impossible to settle.” Who’s to blame? It’s impossible to know. One informant told the Times that Microsoft’s final offer was “not even close” to the DOJ’s latest proposal, and the company had insisted on unrestricted freedom to tie software to its Windows packages. But this contradicts information reported by the LAT last Saturday (and again today) that Microsoft offered to remove its Internet Explorer Web browser from some versions of Windows.

The LAT reports that the mediator blamed the failure, in part, on the parties’ failure to keep the negotiations confidential. (A case in point: The LAT says Microsoft had offered to give other computer manufacturers some control over the Windows start-up process and to end price discrimination in licensing the software.) What can we expect from Judge Jackson? Most details have been kept under wraps, but unnamed WP sources “close to the case” say that the government has abandoned a demand to break up Microsoft. According to the LAT, a state attorney general admitted that the talks hadn’t been geared toward a break up but that the states had wanted Microsoft to release its source code to rivals.

The WP off-leads with Washington’s preparation for the onslaught of “opponents of global capitalism,” who are expected to protest against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during routine meetings later this month. Is the push for global justice just a fashion or does the movement have legs? Organizers insist it’s not a fad. But why single out the World Bank and the IMF? The WP suggests that activists identify with arguments against the loaning practices of the bank and fund (which are seen to hurt the poor and favor U.S. corporations) and suddenly “a pipeline through the rain forest in Chad, sweatshops in Singapore, the high price of AIDS drugs in Kenya, flat wages in Washington, and the ubiquity of Starbucks and the Gap [become] facets of the same problem.”

Below the fold, the LAT reports that the killing of 32 elite Russian soldiers ambushed in Chechnya could erode support for the war that recently elected Vladimir Putin vowed, as a candidate, to support. Putin seems to have missed the boat on the political fallout. He took to the slopes yesterday, in sunglasses and a ski suit, and was seen (on an independent television network) skiing down a slope in the Ural Mountains and jumping onto a lift. The LAT quotes an angry military analyst: “This is his real attitude toward the country, his people, and those servicemen who die in Chechnya.”

The NYT fronts an update on the tension between China and Taiwan–China has assured the U.S. that it will adhere to its “wait and see” policy, and that China is willing to resume talks with the island–but focuses on Clinton’s efforts to expand trade with China. The Clinton administration is especially keen on smoothing relations between China and Taiwan as it attempts to build support for establishing permanent trading rights to China. Any flare-up would be a fly in the trade-measure ointment.

Is Dubya up to the task? A WP front-pager examines George W.’s public persona, which some Bush supporters agree is neither presidential nor appealing. The real question is have the gaffes and the smirk (and the arrogance it implies) taken an irrevocable toll? A recent poll found that the percentage of voters who didn’t like Bush because of his personality rose from 19 percent before the primaries to 33 percent today. This doesn’t bode well for the supporters who claim Bush “wears well over time,” though one study does support this theory. In any case, Bushisms have given Al Gore the ammunition he needs to question the Texas governor’s general suitability and readiness for the job.

Al Gore’s break with the Clinton administration’s send-Elián-back-to-Cuba position continues to raise eyebrows and invite potshots. Three of the four NYT op-eds address Gore’s decision to throw his weight behind efforts to keep Elián González in Miami. Gary Hart implicitly chides the VP, and other politicians, for pandering to the Cuban-American vote and ignoring national interest (“The cold war is well over”–shouldn’t we normalize relations with Cuba?). Author David Reiff calls Gore’s pandering “dismaying but unsurprising” and warns–egad–that he might have miscalculated: The Cuban-American community is “nowhere near as monolithic” as recent events suggest. Leave it to Maureen Dowd to put it most bluntly: “This is Gore at his Goriest, standing firm on shifting principles.” And most facetiously: “As a doting father, the vice president should put his own family’s need to live in the White House ahead of Juan González’s need to live with his son in some shack in Cuba.” Right on.