The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with new Commerce Department indicators on the economy's 1999 performance. The good news: Growth remains impressive. The bad news: Long-awaited signs of inflation have finally materialized, and the markets know it. The New York Times tucks the story inside and leads instead with the latest glitches in implementing the Northern Ireland peace deal.
The papers' stories on the economic reports are virtually identical. The U.S. economy grew 4 percent as a whole in 1999, but in the final quarter of the year, wage and benefits costs to U.S. businesses swelled by a higher-than-expected 1.1 percent. With interest rate hikes a foregone conclusion, the Dow dropped 2.6 percent and the Nasdaq slid 3.77 percent Friday. Analysts are predicting the Fed's 5.5 percent target for overnight interest rates to climb by as much as a half point. The prognosticators almost sound relieved to finally touch and feel the signs of inflation they've been expecting for months. "It's as if there's been a murder, and we still don't have the body, but now bits of DNA evidence are starting to come in," one economist tells the LAT.
The NYT reports that the Irish Republican Army will miss its crucial Monday deadline for beginning to disarm. An impasse on disarmament could paralyze the 2-month-old power-sharing government in Belfast and may ultimately spur the UK to re-impose direct rule. The piece does not speculate on what's holding the IRA back: internal dissent, desire to alter the details of the signed agreement, or sheer bad faith.
In a striking contrast to today's reports about American prosperity, a NYT front-pager says that Japan has resorted to borrowing directly from local banks to repay its debts. Countries in debt usually prefer raising bonds, which are cheaper to finance than regular loans, but Japan seems skittish about issuing new bonds, which could upset its bond market or provoke scrutiny from credit companies.
A WP front-pager lends credence to Bill Bradley's recent assertions that Al Gore has lied about his record. According to the story, Bradley has successfully "identified several glaring misstatements or distortions by the vice president." Among other things, Gore contended that Bradley didn't take a stand on campaign finance until he ran for president (actually, Bradley co-sponsored several campaign-finance reform bills during his time in the Senate). This week Gore alleged that he has "always supported a woman's right to choose." But early in his congressional career, Gore denounced abortion.
A piece on the front page of the LAT bashes President Clinton's State of the Union promise to use $4 billion in government funds to bridge the so-called Digital Divide between wired haves and unwired have-nots. The Digital Divide "is all but gone," argues the story, citing several studies that show blacks and Latinos flocking to the Internet in droves. "Despite such evidence, Washington politics, a booming economy, and an unskeptical press have combined to raise the notion of a digital divide from a contentious statistical claim to a cause celebre," it accuses. While the piece dismisses the idea of a racial split between Internet users and non-Internet users, it does acknowledge gaps based on economics and education. If this is so, then why is helping more Americans get online a "waste of money"?
The WP and NYT report that for the first time, the federal government is admitting that workers who handled early generations of nuclear weapons were sickened by cancer-causing radiation. "In the past, the role of government was to take a hike," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "and I think that was wrong." The story predicts that the federal government will soon have to shell out tens of millions of dollars a year in compensation.
Yesterday the NYT reported that as part of their welfare-to-work efforts, New York City agencies have been recruiting former beneficiaries for jobs as telephone psychics. "Clairvoyance is not among the qualifications listed on the city's recruitment flier. Any public assistance recipient with a high school equivalency degree, 'a caring and compassionate personality' and the 'ability to read, write, and speak English'" could qualify, the story reported. According to today's Times, the program was killed yesterday after the story raised a fit of scorn. Apparently no one was more upset than the professional astrologers, who consider the new recruits inadequately schooled in, as the president of the New York chapter of Astrological Federation of America put it, "astrological studies that have been around for thousands and thousands of years."