Today's Papers

Oracle Knows Dick

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with a deal struck among key House Republicans that would allow direct sales of food and medicine to Cuba for the first time in 40 years. The Wall Street Journal puts Cuba/sanctions atop its front-page world-wide news box. The New York Times top-fronts the story but goes instead with another congressional development: a House vote to require donor and expenditure information from a growing number of what the paper calls “shadowy” tax-exempt political advocacy groups that currently raise and distribute unlimited funds without disclosure. If this change becomes a statute, it would, remarks the Times, be the first major change in campaign-finance law in two decades. The early-this-morning vote isn’t on anybody else’s front, but makes it inside the LAT. Flashing its characteristic sensitivity to airline issues, the USA Today lead is the only front-page coverage of a Department of Transportation report that finds airlines’ recently renewed promises of improving customer service largely ringing hollow. According to the report, the 14 largest carriers are still falling short when it comes to informing passengers about the lowest available fares, ticket refund conditions, luggage issues, and delays. Also, the report says airlines need to do a better job of spelling out what sort of food they will provide when passengers are stuck for hours in planes on tarmacs.

The WP explains that the Cuba proposal would also allow exports to Iran, Sudan, Libya, and North Korea, but unlike those four countries, Cuba still wouldn’t be allowed to get private U.S. financing to pay for the newly allowed goods and would not be allowed to export any goods to the U.S. Although the economic impact of the deal would be slight, and although it in return for the opening codifies the current ban on American tourists in Cuba, the Post says proponents–mainly representatives of farm-belt districts, led by Republican George Nethercutt of Washington–hail it as an important turning point in the debate about U.S.-Cuba relations. The LAT also sees in it the suggestion that the anti-Castro Cuban-American lobby has lost political muscle as a result of its efforts to keep Elián González in the U.S.

The Post piece waits until the fifth paragraph to state that the compromise is all but certain to be approved by both the House and the Senate, while the LAT lead gives this context in the second paragraph, adding that the votes might even come before the end of the week. Both papers get Dick Armey’s reaction to being groundswelled by his own party on the issue: “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug. In this case I’m the bug.” But neither flashes that in saying this, Armey’s quoting a Dire Straits lyric. Cool.

The NYT lead explains that the House version of the bill on tax-exempts is virtually the same as the version the Senate has already passed and that in addition, President Clinton supports it. But the paper implies that Senate Republican foes may still be able to derail it. In particular, the question is, Will Trent Lott go to the mat against John McCain on this?

The WP off-lead reports that if a crucial missile test goes well next week (hardly a sure thing, the paper should have added), President Clinton is likely to give a “limited green light” for a national missile defense system, which means long-lead construction work, especially on a radar station on the remotest tip of the Aleutians. The upshot, says the Post, is that a real up-or-down decision on the system and the concomitant abrogation of the ABM treaty the U.S. signed in 1972 will be left to the next president. The story leaves out one detail that makes this analysis seem a bit naive: Breaking ground on the system now would unleash a multibillion-dollar money train of the sort Washington usually finds hard to put in reverse.

The NYT and WP front a new U.N. report asserting that, despite some outcroppings of progress, AIDS might well cause early death to as many as one-half of the young adults in sub-Saharan Africa–a far more severe impact than even the considerable ravages experienced in the region thus far. South Africa is the worst-off, with 20 percent of its adults HIV-positive.

The NYT and WSJ have the latest on the Watergate-like shenanigans recently reported being directed against Microsoft. America’s No. 2 software manufacturer, the Oracle Corp., has now admitted that it hired a prominent Washington detective firm (once hired by President Clinton as part of his response to the Paula Jones lawsuit) to investigate groups sympathetic to Microsoft. The objective? Obtaining embarrassing internal documents, a goal that was on occasion achieved. The stories say however, that Oracle made it clear to the investigators that nothing illegal could be done in the acquiring of such documents. One investigative technique apparently used by the firm in this matter shows how much that standard doesn’t rule out: offering to buy office trash. The Journal says Oracle also hired a Washington, D.C., PR firm, which distributed to the media internal information showing that George W. Bush political consultant Ralph Reed was at the same time also a paid lobbyist for Microsoft.

The NYT runs an AP story reporting that nearly 80 percent of 556 seniors who attend one of 55 top colleges and universities, including Harvard and Princeton, received a D or an F on a 34-question high-school-level American history test. More than one-third did not know the Constitution established branches of government and 40 percent could not say within 50 years when the Civil War was fought. But 99 percent could, you’ll be thrilled to know, identify Beavis and ButtHead. A suggestion for parents: Call the AP for a copy of the test and administer it to Junior before signing that fall ransom check to dear old Siwash U.

The WP reports that the National Park Service has been cleared to launch a major overhaul of the White House and some adjacent grounds. The project will include expanded recreation facilities for the first family and will require $300 million from Congress as well as additional privately raised funds. At one point the story straight-facedly states that “[a] president, especially one with children or grandchildren, has no place to escape for fun, because living in the family quarters seems like being in a museum.” Think again, WP: There’s that swimming pool, that putting green, that movie theater, not to mention that hideaway behind the Oval Office …