The New York Times leads with an anonymously sourced report that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has urged President Clinton to compromise with the GOP on abortion in order to repay U.N. dues, and she has volunteered to take the flack from pro-choice groups. The Washington Post leads with a look at the many deals being given to lobby groups during the frenetic, last-minute budget negotiations on Capitol Hill. The Los Angeles Times leads with the emergence of California's growing privacy-rights movement and says that next week advocates will file for a proposed ballot initiative giving protections to victims of identity fraud. USA Today leads with Al Gore's assertion, in an interview, that a cousin offered to help him join the National Guard in 1969, when Gore was struggling with his decision to enlist or possibly be drafted (he ultimately enlisted). Gore did not take his cousin up on the offer, he says, "because a lot of those decisions were made with political influence ... it did not feel right." (Both George W. Bush and Bill Bradley used [perfectly legal] insider contacts to join the National Guard and Air Force Reserve, respectively, during the Vietnam War. On Nov. 2, the Post published an excellent examination of Bradley's draft dilemma [see also that day's "TP"]; on Oct. 15, the LAT did the same of Gore's choices [requires free registration, use Gore and Serrano as keywords; see also that day's "TP"].
The NYT says that Albright wants to give in to GOP demands that U.S. funds not subsidize abortions provided by the U.N.--the last major sticking point in budget negotiations with Congress. The White House leak, the Times notes, helps prepare pro-choice groups for the impending compromise and puts pressure on wavering Clinton advisers. (The NYT quotes a pro-choice group's reaction to the Albright strategy, but not a pro-life group's.) The Post's story on special-interest budget feeding notes that 7-Eleven managed to get repealed a Civil War-era tax on stores selling liquor--a GOP gift to compensate for a likely forthcoming hike in the minimum wage.
A separate Post roundup of the budget talks (run inside) notes that despite early promises from both parties, almost nothing has been done to reform Medicare and that the parties' pledges to protect Social Security largely amount to accounting gimmicks. The LAT fronts a story emphasizing Clinton's victories on most budget issues. "A year that began with Republicans trying to drive President Clinton out of office ended with the GOP agreeing to much of his wish list," it notes. The Wall Street Journal focuses on House Republicans' anger at their Senate colleagues for taking the weekend off rather than finishing the budget.
The LAT fronts, and the Post runs inside, the results of a large Pew Research Center poll on political and economic attitudes. The findings are no surprise: Americans are moderate and centrist "from virtually every angle" (LAT). The poll largely replicates the results of Wednesday's NYT/CBS News poll (see Wednesday's "TP"): The Congressional GOP is extraordinarily unpopular, despite George W. Bush's popularity; Gore will be hard pressed to beat Bush, despite Clinton's high approval rating; people are happier with their finances and more tolerant of government intervention than five years ago. The Post identifies a group of swing voters that Pew calls the "New Prosperity Independents." They are young, well-educated, secular, and libertarian (but pro-gun control). In 1996 they gave Clinton a slight edge over Dole, but in 1999 they prefer Bush to either Gore or Bradley by 30 to 40 points. The Post also notes that Bush's popularity papers over an extremely fractured GOP base, which stems not from Clinton's impeachment so much as from Newt Gingrich's leadership.
On the LAT opinion page, James DeLong, general counsel for the National Legal Center, writes that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's findings of fact offer much proof that Microsoft deals rough with competitors, but virtually none that these hardball tactics harm consumers. "This case is not about antitrust," he writes:
which involves businesses getting together to raise prices and restrict output. This case is about how business firms deal with each other. It raises issues that go under such names as property rights, contracts, commercial law, and business torts. These are important and useful legal domains. ... [But] they are not antitrust questions.
The NYT fronts a summary of the legal community's reaction to Jackson's findings. Although Jackson's conclusions are "mostly solid," the Times writes, his conclusion that Microsoft's integration of its browser into Windows provides no technical efficiency or consumer benefit is weak--especially because it flies in the face of an appeals court ruling last year. (Microsoft, by the way, publishes Slate.)
It's a jungle out there: These are trying times for yuppie dads and moms. The Journal reports that United Airlines has been replacing its crystal salt and pepper shakers in first and business class with tubular paper sachets. United claims that the salt often condenses in the shaker, but victimized travelers aren't buying this explanation. As one harried frequent flyer laments, "If the airplane hits a bump, you have all the salt on the wrong spot." As if that weren't enough, the LAT reports that Burger Kings across the land are running out of Pokemon toys to go with kiddie meals. Those franchises with toys left have lines of SUVs and minivans wrapped around the block at the drive-thru; a BK spokesman tries to calm the panic by reassuring distraught moms and tots that the company is "working around the clock to move toys [to out-of-stock franchises]. We have toys making their way by planes, trains, and automobiles as well as ships." But what will this do to BK stock? The LAT asks a "restaurant consultant": "In the short run, this clearly hurts Burger King," he says. "The chains can't afford to have an unlimited number [of toys] on hand so they just do the best they can and kind of regroup after the disaster."