Today's Papers

Chinese Food for Thought

The Washington Post  and Los Angeles Times  (online) lead, and the New York Times  goes above-the-fold, with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s first meeting with the Chinese yesterday in Beijing. The leaders discussed human rights, weapons proliferation, national missile defense, and other irritants in U.S.-Chinese relations. The NYT lead examines a new House bill to reform Social Security that would follow Bush’s plan to create investment accounts for workers but would sharply reduce guaranteed benefits. The paper says the bipartisan legislation is an early look at the trade-offs Bush must grapple with as he devises his Social Security reform plan.

While everyone notes that the tone of the discussions between Powell and Chinese leaders was cordial, that the U.S. and China have substantial policy differences, and that the leaders agreed to a series of talks in the future, the papers differ on how well this meeting went. The WP and LAT headlines announce simply that China and the U.S. are prepared for more talks, whereas the NYT’s analysis of the meeting is a little more bah-humbug than the others’, beginning with its headline, “CHINESE UNSWAYED AS POWELL PUSHES U.S. MISSILE SHIELD.” The Post announces the good news it heard coming from the talks in its top paragraph.  The Chinese will restart a dialogue on human rights with the U.S., which they put a stop to after NATO bombed their embassy in Belgrade in 1999.  They also have agreed to consult American experts on regulations for exporting missile technology. The LAT reports that Powell’s top aide for human rights will remain in Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterparts. In other positive developments, the papers report that a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry chose not to reiterate China’s objections to missile defense and noted that talks on the issue will continue. The NYT emphasizes early on that disagreement over missile defense hurts U.S.-Chinese relations and Powell made little progress in overcoming that obstacle. Its coverage includes Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joseph Biden’s warning that if China feels threatened by missile defense, it will build up its arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles.

The NYT reports that to fund Social Security’s transition to personal accounts of stocks and bonds, the bill, authored by Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and Charles W. Stenholm, D-Texas, would cut the guaranteed benefit, increase the level of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax, and reduce cost-of-living adjustments. Other measures the plan would take to pay for the program include using some of Medicare’s money.  The paper says the bill is unlikely to pass but will be a good way to test political and public reaction to Social Security privatization. A Bush-appointed commission is starting to work on the presidential plan for reforming Social Security. For those who decide that today is the day to finally figure what the debate over Social Security’s future is all about, the WP reefers a Q & A on the topic. The first question the paper answers: “What is Social Security?”

The WP front points out that while many tech companies want the judicial system to stop the release of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows XP–they believe Microsoft is trying to extend its monopoly power by bundling unrelated software products into its dominant operating system–they are eagerly preparing for the product to go on sale this fall. They hope that the operating system sells well and will boost sales across the technology sector. Computer manufacturers such as Compaq are adjusting their higher-end computers to handle Windows XP and adorning their machines with “XP-ready” stickers. Thousands of companies are modifying their software to use Windows XP’s new features. According to industry analysts, the government is unlikely to stop the release of the operating system.

On its front, the NYT sums up data from the recent release of quarterly profit reports and gives additional insight into why tech companies may have no choice but to jump on the Windows XP bandwagon. For the first time in a decade, America’s corporate profits are dropping, large publicly traded companies’ earnings are down an average of 17 percent this quarter compared with last year–and technology companies have fared the worst. Wall Street analysts now predict that earnings will drop 8 percent this year, reversing estimates made seven months ago that they would rise 9 percent. Though some economists believe that the tax and interest rate cuts could coax the U.S. economy back to prosperity, others fear that these poor profit reports mean the economy is close to recession.

The Hardy Boys will be 75 years old in 2002, and their publisher, Simon and Schuster, plans this summer to evaluate how to keep the series fresh, according to the NYT front. Hardy Boys stories are still selling over a million copies a year. These days, the boy detectives have updated their sleuthing equipment, replacing roadsters with cell phones and computers, and are now trailing online criminals and terrorists. No word on how the Hardy Boys’ female counterpart, Nancy Drew, is doing these days.