Money Talks

Money Talks

Money Talks

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 11 2002 6:33 AM

Money Talks

The Washington Postleads with a scoop. In an exclusive interview held yesterday at his private residence, Saudi Prince Saud Faisal told the Post that 16 suspected al-Qaida members fleeing Afghanistan had been arrested in Iran and turned over to the Saudis. The Los Angeles Times lead previews two important economic meetings that will take place this week. On Tuesday the Federal Reserve Board will meet to discuss a possible interest rate cut and President Bush will host an economic form in Waco, Texas. The New York Times lead reports a troubling piece of economic news: Wages have remained stagnant over the last year.

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When Iran turned over the captured al-Qaida suspects to Saudi Arabia, it did so with the knowledge that any information the Saudis could extract from the suspects would be conveyed to the United States. According to Prince Saud, "Iran has … cooperated extensively with the United States." The WP points out that Iran had long denied that any al-Qaida operatives were present in its territory. The article provides no substantiation or denial from a U.S. official of the prince's claims, and doesn't even fish for a "no comment" from a background source. Nor, apparently, do any Iranian officials have anything to say on the subject. According to the prince, the handoff of the al-Qaida operatives occurred in June. Unfortunately, the WP declines to conjecture on the intriguing question of the Saudi prince's motivation for making this information public now.

According to the LAT lead, "Washington has already used most of its weapons for handling economic trouble." Following the conventional wisdom on Wall Street, the paper predicts the Fed will not cut interest rates at its Tuesday meeting, but the paper does predict a rate cut later this year, a matter on which the WP last week reported much disagreement among analysts.

At Tuesday's other major economic meeting, the president's economic forum in Waco, the LAT says, "the weapon of choice will almost certainly be words, not deeds." The paper tugs the Democratic line in calling the convocation a "gathering of corporate chiefs" in its online edition's sub-headline, despite the Bush administration's insistence that workers and small-business owners have been invited to the table (the paper tones down its rhetoric in the print edition, removing the line about "corporate chiefs"). The LAT doesn't much speculate on what will be discussed at the meeting, but cites presidential aides who say its goal is to highlight the economy's fundamental strength.

The NYT lead reports that in an effort to cut costs, companies are doling out meager raises this year and cutting back on overtime hours. They're also asking their employees to shoulder a greater portion of health insurance costs. But there's some disagreement about what this wage stagnation means. Some experts say personal income—a measure of wages plus unemployment payments, plus Social Security benefits, plus other forms of income—actually rose substantially in June. When stock market losses are factored in, it's hard to say how large the net effect will be, but economists fear stagnation in personal income could lead to a decrease in consumer spending in the months ahead.

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The WP fronts a piece on the plight of Steven J. Hatfill, the ex-Army scientist, who is currently a top suspect in the investigation of last year's anthrax attacks. Once a respected researcher and teacher, Hatfield was booted out of one job and was recently suspended from another thanks to the ongoing government and media scrutiny. The evidence against him is entirely circumstantial. The government claims Hatfill had access to anthrax as a bioweapons researcher at Fort Detrick and also had a motive: He was supposedly disgruntled after losing security clearance. He is also accused of lying on his résumé about possessing a doctoral degree and having served in the Army Special Forces.

Hatfill's lawyer alleges that the FBI has been leaking all its major moves against his client to the press in an attempt to remind the public that the bureau is still hot on the case. The NYT ran its own piece on Hatfield yesterday. Both today's WP article and yesterday's NYT piece recall a name that the FBI would probably just as soon forget: Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security guard who was pursued doggedly as a suspect in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing but was eventually exonerated to the bureau's chagrin. The WP piece has an exclusive quote from Hatfill in it's fourth paragraph: "I went from being someone with pride in my work, pride in my profession, to being made into the biggest criminal of the 21st century, for something I never touched. What I've been trying to contribute, my work, is finished. My life is destroyed." It's heart-wrenching stuff—if he's innocent, that is.

The LAT off-lead looks at the first major wave of "personalized medicine." One company is now offering genetic tests that can tell clients what combination of vitamins would be best for their bodies. Another company soon plans to recommend skin creams and anti-aging formulas based on genetic makeup. Other tests supposedly can tell patients whether their bodies are built to break down certain drugs efficiently. These genetic examinations are being marketed directly to consumers, a fact that worries many specialists who fear that people may end up purchasing tests that are either unnecessary or useless. The FDA hasn't yet decided whether it will regulate these new DNA tests.

The WP fronts a surprisingly recycled article headlined, "For Bush, a New Vulnerability." The "new" vulnerability of which the WP writes exists on the domestic policy front, where Democrats are most aggressively challenging the president. "It's no longer enough just to be a wartime president," the paper reports. "[T]here are growing signs of concern about his handling of the economy." The point is so well grounded in the conventional wisdom that it hardly merits mentioning. The article has virtually zero new reporting, and its analysis is long past fresh.

The lengthy NYT off-lead sees a health-care crisis, like the one that helped put Bill Clinton in office a decade ago, "looming on the horizon." Though health-care costs had stabilized during the mid-'90s, they're once again on the rise due to the expensive fruits of the last decade's biomedical revolution. There are more and better medicines than a decade ago, but they come at an ever more burdensome price that some employers say they just can't afford to absorb. The increasing costs of insurance are being transferred to workers, many of whom are being priced out of the market and into the ranks of the uninsured. Meanwhile, Medicaid is straining to keep up, and Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over how to deal with the issue. Bush believes tort reform and tax credits for the uninsured will solve the health-care problem; Democrats think what's needed is an expansion of existing government programs.

Both the NYT and WP front, and the LAT stuffs, yesterdays comments by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to a gathering of Iraqi opposition leaders in Washington. Both leaders delivered a message of U.S. resolve to oust Saddam Hussein and both discussed the makeup of a post-Saddam Iraq. The NYT makes much of the fact that both Cheney and Rumsfeld spoke of replacing Saddam with a democratic regime, saying the declaration has "important implications" and "comes at a particularly important juncture." Interestingly, the WP barely mentions democracy at all in its article. Both papers quote Bush's remark yesterday that Iraq will be considered "an enemy until proven otherwise."

The LAT fronts a story on the idiocy of school zero-tolerance policies. The piece tells the story of Taylor Hess, an upstanding Texas high-school student who was expelled when a round-pointed bread knife was found in the back of his pickup truck in a school parking lot. It had fallen out of a box while Hess was carrying some of his grandmother's things to Goodwill. The school district's zero-tolerance policy denied the principal the opportunity to exercise his own discretionary judgment on the matter and called instead for a mandatory one-year expulsion. But after a media brouhaha that turned into a PR disaster for the school district, discretionary judgment is exactly what ended up being used. Hess was ultimately reinstated.