The New York Times leads (and the LAT and WP front) the Labor Department report that the unemployment rate rose to 4.2 percent in January--the highest it's been in 15 months. The Washington Post leads the Clintons' announcement that they will pay for approximately half of the $190,000 in gifts they accepted while in the White House (a story that both the LAT and NYT front). The nonlocal lead in the Los Angeles Times reports that China is sending its top foreign policy official to Washington next month to try to persuade the Bush administration not to approve new weapons sales to Taiwan.
All three papers report that the Labor Department's findings were actually more encouraging than expected. The huge service sector produced enough jobs partially to offset those eliminated in manufacturing, and consumer confidence, which dipped dramatically in the past two months, appears to be stabilized. One significant consequence: The Federal Reserve now might not be inclined to reduce interest rates further. The NYT and the WP cite, however, the director of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who cautions that the number of new jobs reported could have been inflated by a statistical quirk resulting from unusual weather patterns in December and January that may have distorted the seasonal adjustment of data. The Bush administration seized on the increasing unemployment rate as evidence of the need for its proposed tax cut.
The LAT fronts below the fold a story on the increasing desire among both parties for greater tax cuts. GOP leaders want to reduce taxes on dividends and capital gains, and there is bipartisan support for expanding tax-deferred individual retirement accounts, though Democrats continue to advocate caution about the bottom line.
Post-presidential damage control: Bill Clinton responded to criticism of his decision to pardon rogue financier Marc Rich, stating that Rich had been prosecuted under federal racketeering laws that hadn't been applied in similar cases. He also announced that he and Hillary would pay for nearly half of the gifts (which the WP does a good job of cataloging, along with their reported values) that they received over the last eight years and that his private foundation would put up $300,000 annually toward the cost of his Manhattan office. The NYT reports that the total rent will be $650,000 per year. The WP, rather than citing specific figures, quotes Clinton's chief of staff, who said that the difference (the public's share) would be comparable to that spent on former president Reagan's office.
The LAT reports that China's vice premier, Qian Qichen, will meet with Bush next month to urge the U.S. not to sell arms to Taiwan. The visit, yet to be announced formally, was confirmed by a senior administration official's response to LAT queries. The meeting will mark the first high-level contact between China and the new administration and will serve as the first glimpse into Bush's China policy. During the campaign, Bush pledged that the U.S. would "help Taiwan defend itself," and there is now strong support in Congress to supply Taiwan with advanced military hardware.
The WP off-leads the seventh part of its election series--a retrospective on the Florida vote. In this thrilling episode: The Supreme Court makes it dramatic entrance, and Bush boosts the morale of his troops with upbeat personal phone calls at dawn.
The LAT off-leads a profile of the XFL (which debuts Saturday night) and the billionaire behind it, the World Wrestling Federation's Vince McMahon, who is regularly chastised as a purveyor of violence and sleaze. But the XFL has already sold 80,000 season tickets, and Wall Street analysts project the league could become profitable in its third year. The WP also fronts the story, focusing on the targeted audience (males 12-24) and assessing how the league plans to distinguish itself from the NFL, namely with rules designed to make the game more wide open.
The NYT goes above the fold with a report on the staff Cheney is assembling, which now numbers about 50. As the National Security Council shrinks in size, Cheney is looking to hire several full-time experts on military affairs in Russia and the Middle East. The WP fronts a Cheney profile, the upshot of which is that Bush officials consider him to be the ideal vice president because he has no personal political aspirations and therefore is not encumbered by mixed motives or cross-allegiances.
The LAT and WP both front Ariel Sharon's substantial lead over Ehud Barak in public opinion polls for Tuesday's election. Sharon, a veteran right-wing politician, is now running as a proponent of compromise and peace. Despite opponents' attempts to portray him as a candidate of violence and discord, emphasizing his September visit to the Temple Mount that triggered bloodshed, voters haven't reacted negatively to his bellicose, defiant political record.
The NYT fronts a piece on the widespread political corruption that beset Peru under President Alberto Fujimori, who resigned in November. Scandalous videotapes that Fujimori used to blackmail and control the political establishment have surfaced. The tapes are currently being reviewed by an investigative committee, but the people's faith in the political system has been so drastically undermined that it's unlikely to be restored any time soon.