Trending the Buck

Trending the Buck

Trending the Buck

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 25 1999 3:01 AM

Trending the Buck

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the Commerce Department's upward revision yesterday of the American economy's third-quarter growth, to an annualized rate of 5.5 percent, signifying even more prosperity than had been predicted. The Los Angeles Times puts that story on Page 3 of its business section and goes instead with the announcement of a sweeping free-trade agreement between Mexico and the European Union that would (if given final approval by the participating governments) eliminate most trade barriers between the two by 2007, a development that, the paper observes, should help Mexico expand its already booming exports and reduce its economic dependence on the U.S.

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Both the WP and NYT leads state that the latest numbers mean the U.S. economy is flirting with record-setting prosperity, but the Times is clearer on this: it's now becoming likely that with January, the economy will see 107 consecutive months of growth, which would break the mark set between 1961 and 1969.

Both papers appeal to the now-familiar productivity revolution to explain various aspects of the boom. The Post notes that spectacular productivity growth has more than offset companies' increases in labor costs (brought about by a more competitive pay-and-benefits environment), thus insulating prices from lockstep increases. And the NYT says that productivity gains have meant better compensation for workers than they anticipated, leaving them feeling more satisfied, which in turn encourages them to buy more consumer goods. The Times also says that the Asian and Russian financial crises get some credit for braking inflation because of all the overseas money they drove into the American financial markets, helping to keep interest rates low. (For a Slate take on what the Fed should do about all this, click here.)

The LAT fronts a story that only deepens the sense of national well-being: about the individual investor's increasing participation in the bull market. The technology-intensive Nasdaq exchange, the paper reports, which has had its 12 biggest trading days ever in this month, is seeing an increasing percentage of small block trades. And in the third quarter, brokerages added 1 million new accounts.

The NYT front weighs in with the second part of its series airing charges that Operation Smile, a charity that sends plastic surgeons to poor countries to do pro bono facial operations on deformed children, is guilty of shoddy medical practices due to an emphasis on volume and publicity. Today's installment focuses on the group's activities in China, which have resulted in "complications," "faulty operations," and "some angry families." Although cleft lip and palate surgeries are considered low-risk, the Times says Operation Smile has had 16 deaths doing them since it started in 1982, three of them in China.

The WP runs an AP dispatch reporting that an Egyptian transportation official suggested today that EgyptAir Flight 990 wasn't brought down by a suicidal co-pilot but by an explosion in the plane's tail. The NYT passes this theory along but spends most of its EgyptAir ink reporting that American crash investigators have been drawn to the role of the relief pilot not just for the reference he made to God shortly before the plane went down, but also because of the abrupt way he took the co-pilot's seat just minutes before the catastrophe. The Times relies on the interpretation of three American investigators for this, who spoke to the paper under a guarantee of anonymity. It's a mistake for the paper not to mention that just such nameless investigators were also behind now-discredited press reports in the Times and elsewhere that the black box tapes had the relief co-pilot saying, "I've made my decision now," shortly before the plane's terminal dive.

An AP story in the WP states that the Air Force has finally officially confirmed that the F-117 stealth fighter shot down last March over Kosovo was hit by Yugoslav forces. The paper reminds that immediately after the loss (the pilot was rescued), the Pentagon suggested that the cause was mechanical malfunction. The way-afterward news came as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the El Paso Times, the paper in the town where the F-117 was based. Question: Why didn't the big-time papers this column covers use their considerable resources to also pursue this question?

Yesterday, this space erred in referring to ex-Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry as a convicted felon. What was meant was that he is an ex-convict (he was sent up the river on a misdemeanor). Today's Papers apologizes to anyone--including convicted felons--who was offended by this mistake.

The Thanksgiving holiday clearly inspires the papers. There is for instance, the WP's Richard Cohen saluting the country for being so thanksworthy. And the NYT op-ed by Jedediah Purdy commending the holiday for its encouragement of "scrupulous memory" of all "the sources of our pleasures, privileges and obligations." But by Today's Papers' lights, there's a more prosaic truth communicated by the practice of the holiday. This after all, is when the president enters the White House Rose Garden and in a public ceremony pardons a turkey, but then later on in the utter privacy of Camp David sits down to a turkey dinner.