Last Ditch Pitch

Last Ditch Pitch

Last Ditch Pitch

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 23 2002 6:50 AM

Last Ditch Pitch

The New York Timesand the Los Angeles Times lead with Paul Volcker's plan to save Arthur Andersen. The former Fed chairman wants to lead a new, seven-member board and make Andersen exclusively an accounting firm, dropping the consulting side of the business. The Washington Post's top non-local story finds President Bush at the U.N. Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, where he talked about tighter controls on foreign aid.

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The LAT calls the Volcker effort "last ditch," noting that many of Andersen's clients have already gone to rival firms. Volcker must convince the Justice Department to dismiss or suspend criminal charges against Andersen and also persuade the firm's partners to stay put and press on. "Everyone's being asked a question," Volcker says in the NYT. "Do you have an interest in the survival of this firm?" Enron investors who are suing Andersen certainly have an interest. If Andersen goes belly-up, the NYT observes, they stand to lose a lot of money. Volcker hopes to settle the civil claims quickly and not too painfully, though Andersen's $750 million settlement offer has been dismissed by investors as insufficient.

In Mexico, George W. introduced "Millennium Challenge Grants," foreign aid available to developing countries that "end corruption, reform their economies and help their own people," in the WP's words. Colin Powell and Paul O'Neill will be in charge of separating the good from the bad and rewarding the former accordingly. Half the Post's story on the conference is given over to the hot gossip of the day: that Fidel Castro went home to Havana early because organizers were pressured to exclude him once Bush arrived. "I don't know what you're talking about pressuring anybody," Bush said when asked about the matter.

The NYT fronts the discovery of a laboratory under construction near Kandahar that was intended for anthrax production by al-Qaida. "It is another example that they had an appetite for developing biological agents," says a U.S. official. It's more than an appetite, the Times argues, noting that Osama Bin Laden sees his quest for weapons of mass destruction as "a religious obligation."  U.S. intelligence still maintains that al-Qaida could not produce such weapons without help from foreign experts or governments.

The WP goes high with U.S. textbooks in Afghanistan. In the 1980's, U.S.-produced primers spurred resistance against the invading Soviets, using illustrations of tanks, missiles, and landmines to teach Afghan children to count. These days, although the violent images are being excised, the books still contain Islamic teachings, violating, it would seem, a constitutional ban on using tax dollars to promote religion. "It's not AID's policy to support religious instruction," says a spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which supplies the books. "But we went ahead with this project because the primary purpose ... is to educate children, which is predominantly a secular activity." Legal challenges are underway.

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In his op-ed column in the NYT, Bill Keller says a few conservatives "swallowed their gum" when Bush made light of Tom Daschle's presidential aspirations at a recent Gridiron dinner. "What are you going to run on, Tom?" Bush rattled. "Patients' bill of rights? I'm for it. Enron? I'm against it. Campaign reform? I'll sign it. Child care? Tom, I'm gonna expand child care to those who don't even have children." Keller says Bush "has no intention of dying the one-term political death of his father, even if that means selling out principles from time to time."

An analysis in the business section of the NYT concludes that it's government spending that has "eased" the recession. Although Congress failed to agree on an economic stimulus package last fall, government spending "surpassed the amounts envisioned in the stimulus measure, exceeding what even the most vociferous advocates wanted." The increases were not only for defense and homeland security, but also for highways, school construction, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and municipal projects. The president's tax cuts, much maligned by the Times last summer, are also credited with lifting the economy.

A letter-writer to the Post takes issue with yesterday's story on the academic prowess of the Terp cagers. "To write an article about Maryland's basketball players graduating at a low rate, to put it on the front page and pretend it is 'newsworthy,' and to time that decision on the very date that the Terps are playing the biggest game of their young lives—is flat out wrong."

Finally, the LAT kicks back with the California lettuce shortage, reporting from a school cafeteria where a kid named Luis disassembles his sandwich in search of the missing leaves. The high price of lettuce has forced some schools to rely on a "crisis blend"—lettuce mixed with cabbage—but the kids aren't having it. Luis demands a refund. "Some classmates turned to snack machines to fill their stomachs," the LAT reports. "They don't have to be a slave to lettuce," says a nutritionist. "Substitute a banana. Substitute a mango. I happen to love Brussels sprouts." And so on.

Four LAT staffers collaborated on the story.