The LAT, NYT and WP lead with President Clinton's quickie trip to Mexico for a meeting with President Ernesto Zedillo that focused mostly on the two countries' future plans for combating drug trafficking. USAT puts Clinton in Mexico on page nine, leading instead with the Army's expected announcement today that it will initiate the creation of quick response "strike forces" of 3,000 to 5,000 troops to ultimately replace its current World War II-era organization based on divisions of between 12,000 and 15,000 soldiers. The new smaller units will be designed to better meet the exigencies of post-Cold War threats and scenarios. One issue not decided yet, says the paper, is whether the time-honored names and insignia of current divisions will survive in the new scheme.
The backdrop to the Clinton trip is the continuing skepticism in Washington about the vigor of Mexico's prosecution of the drug war. The papers take Clinton's remarks yesterday that Mexico should not be penalized for its performance in this area to mean that he plans to recommend later this month that Congress again certify the country as a reliable anti-drug partner. Failure to do so, explain the NYT and LAT, would mean possible trade sanctions against Mexico and a frosting of relations between the two countries.
The visit also addressed non-drug matters, the papers report. The two presidents signed agreements to increase air travel between their countries, to suppress the spread of tuberculosis, and to improve communications between law enforcement on both sides of the border to cut down on migrant death and injury. And according to the two Times, both Clinton and Zedillo, in their only public appearance of the visit, cited the success of NAFTA. In true Beltway fashion, the WP spends most of its lead discussing the visit's domestic political angle--that for the first time in more than a year, Clinton can undertake a foreign trip without being dogged by scandal. Indeed, the Post big print relegates "Mexico" to the story's subhead and never mentions drugs or trade, opting instead for the headline: "Clinton Enters a Renewal Phase."
A WP front-pager looks beneath the veneer of Elizabeth Dole's self-described accomplishments as head of the Red Cross to discover in her tenure there a more mixed record. Yes, she is a fund-raiser par excellence, and she did preside over the resolution of the agency's tainted blood problems. But, the paper says a 1996 outside study of the Red Cross found Dole's management style wanting and critics have noted her tendency to add political allies to her payroll, including Mari Masing Will, the communications director for her husband's 1996 campaign. Then there was the prime-time television Red Cross "spectacular" made with $1.3 million of the charity's funds that prominently featured Ms. Dole and ran eleven days before she stepped down to consider a presidential run.
The WSJ reports that net income at companies in the Dow Jones Global stock index rose 3 percent in the 4th quarter, a sharp improvement over the third quarter, which the paper takes to signify that the American consumer's appetite continues apace.
The NYT and LAT run front-page obits on Watergate figure John Ehrlichman, while the WP and USAT put theirs inside. The H-bomb-headed domestic policy maven turned criminal was convicted and imprisoned for his role in the Watergate cover-up and the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Henry Kissinger is quoted in the LAT epitaph saying of Ehrlichman that "he was a victim of the Vietnam War and a tough-guy atmosphere in the Nixon White House." The NYT effort credits Ehrlichman with a bit more of a stand-up attitude than that, quoting him saying in 1977 that he ran into trouble because "I abdicated my moral judgments."
A reader's letter to the WP notices something telling in a previous Post story about "deadwood" federal employees. The story had mentioned that in its effort to better understand the problem, the government's Office of Personnel Management had "interviewed 200 supervisors who directly managed 3,114 employees. Of that total, 429 were supervisors themselves." In other words, notes the reader, 629 supervisors in the sample were directing the work of 2,685 nonsupervisory workers, which translates to one manager for every 4.3 employees.