The Washington Post leads with U.S. warnings of NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in Kosovo and reports that the Clinton administration is lobbying NATO for a quick escalation, should hostilities start, from a first wave of cruise missiles and precision munitions to strikes involving large numbers of American and European warplanes. USA Today leads with the House vote for reviving a national missile defense plan, following a similar Senate vote earlier in the week. The New York Times leads with January's new one-month record U.S. trade deficit: nearly $17 billion, primarily fueled by a flood of imports from China. Perhaps more worrisome, says the Times, is the falloff in exports, which could bode ill for the domestic employment rate. The Los Angeles Times goes with the University of California governing board's decision to guarantee a place in the U-C system for every high school student in the state who graduates in the top 4 percent of his class. The paper explains that the policy, once viewed by conservatives as an end-run around university and state bans on race-based admissions, got their support primarily because studies show the newly eligible students will not radically alter the system's racial composition. Although, the paper quotes California's governor as saying, it will probably bring in about 800 or 900 non-white students who would not otherwise be admitted. The suggestion is that this kind of plan might catch on elsewhere as a model compromise that opens up higher education to minorities while still emphasizing academic achievement. The trick is that, as the LAT story mentions, the California system is in effect two-tiered, and its prestige schools will alter their selection process very little and will still rely on high SAT scores. It's the bottom tier schools that will be accommodating the bulk of the social change.
USAT attributes the sudden leap by Congress onto the Star Wars Lite bandwagon to the spread of missile technology around the globe. Recent precipitating examples cited by the paper: missile tests by North Korea and Iran, and the China scandal. The program endorsed on the Hill this week is funded to the tune of $10.5 billion over six years and is described thusly by USAT: Satellites will detect missile launches, then ground-based radars will pick up their trails and cue the launch of interceptor missiles launched from Alaska and then these will launch special tracker killer vehicles that will destroy the enemy missiles in the upper atmosphere. And they said the Clinton health care plan was complicated. Neither this story, nor a wary NYT editorial, nor a cheering Wall Street Journal one addresses the biggest problem such a defense system faces: unlike any other weapon ever built, it must perform perfectly to succeed. Even one nuclear missile getting through ruins your whole day. The front-page WSJ story is on an evener keel, admitting that the contemplated system won't be able to handle terrain-following or ship-launched missiles and can probably be fooled by missiles wrapped in mylar.
The NYT off-lead reports that in the past month, Hillary Clinton has discussed her possible New York Senate run in telephone calls to more than 50 of the state's top Democrats, placed from the private quarters of the White House. She has been relying, says the paper, on a call sheet provided to her by veteran New York pol and former White House COS, Harold Ickes. She's also had people in to the White House, but with none staying in the Lincoln bedroom. According to the story, Mrs. Clinton retains the common touch--she places her own calls.
Meanwhile, the LAT front and inside stories at USAT and the WP report that a top prosecutor in Kenneth Starr's office doubted Ms. Clinton's Whitewater statements and even drafted an indictment against her. Note: this means some retroactive adjustment needs to be made in the Matt Drudge record. Articles about him ritualistically dwell on one of his prominent misses: that Hillary was going to be indicted. Now it looks as though he probably had a pretty good source. The WSJ reports that according to Michael Isikoff's almost-out book, in 1997, Starr's office drafted an impeachment referral to Congress, charging President Clinton with committing perjury about Whitewater dealings. But the OIC felt there wasn't enough evidence without corroboration from Susan McDougal.
According to a front-pager at the LAT and an inside effort at the NYT, the initial attempt by labor unions' health and benefit plans to mimic lawsuits pressed successfully by states against tobacco companies has fallen flat, with a federal jury ruling Thursday that the companies did not have to pay up. The papers apparently haven't gotten to debrief any jurors yet, because there's no indication in the stories about where the state/union analogy breaks down.
The WSJ reports that last year ex-president George Bush gave the highest paid speech made by anyone, anywhere. After giving a talk in Tokyo to customers of a fledgling Japanese telcom start-up, Bush accepted stock shares in the company in lieu of his $80,000 fee. The stock's value today? $14.4 million.
The WP reports that the congressional leadership is tentatively exploring ways to implement an increase in Congress' current annual salary of $136,700. Under discussion are a cost of living adjustment and a tax-free per diem payment. The paper reports Rep. James Rogan's argument that as a state legislator, he received a $20,000 a year per diem, a car in his district and in the state capital and the ability to earn an outside income. "I heard about all these perks of Congress," Rogan's quoted. "I'm still waiting for them to show up."