Bam

Bam

Bam

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 29 2003 4:23 AM

Bam

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with dispatches from Bam, where Friday's earthquake killed between 20,000 and 40,000 people—out of a town of 80,000. Aid from about 20 countries is rushing in, and the NYT says that the city's little airport can't handle the crush. The Post suggests the problem isn't the amount of aid. "I think most of the people still in Bam have got a six-month supply of food now," said one official. "Where we have a problem is with distribution. That has been uneven." USA Today leads with the mad cow recall expanding to eight states, though officials said that the health risk from eating meat from the infected cow is "essentially zero" since the potentially infectious tissue from the spinal cord, brain, and other nervous tissue areas was removed at slaughter. The Wall Street Journal, which also goes high with mad cow, says some scientists question the assertion that it wouldn't be bad to eat non-nervous tissue meat from an infected cow. Government officials "are making these sweeping statements for which they don't have the data," said the scientist who discovered the protein that causes mad cow disease. The Los Angeles Times' lead notices that the Iraqi Governing Council is becoming more independent and feisty. For instance, it has tried to fire some U.S.-appointed provincial governors. "The Americans have done nothing to give the Iraqi institutions more authority," complained one council member. "The Interior Ministry can't hire one single policeman now because of an alleged lack of funds."

The WP fronts word that the Pentagon has barred "more than 40,000" soldiers from carrying through with their scheduled retirements and ends of service. "It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said one military sociologist.

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Everybody notes inside that a bomb in a Baghdad shopping district killed one GI and two Iraqi children and wounded five soldiers. Another GI was killed and three more wounded in an attack on a convoy near Fallujah.

The NYT goes above the fold with the results of an investigation into the allegations that Halliburton has been overcharging for its oil services in Iraq. The paper says its examination of the massive oil contract "shows no evidence of profiteering by Halliburton, but it does demonstrate a struggle between price controls and the uncertainties of war, with price controls frequently losing." The Times found that Halliburton's profits from Iraq have so far been "minimal."

The NYT has been tops among the papers in suggesting that Halliburton has been making extra bucks. So, the paper deserves credit for publishing a piece questioning that earlier suggestion. But why doesn't the article's headline clearly reflect the revised conclusion? Instead it's mushy: "HALLIBURTON CONTRACTS IN IRAQ: THE STRUGGLE TO MANAGE COSTS."   

In a great front-page piece, the Post's Jonathan Weisman scrutinizes IRS commissioners' recent decision to make corporate audits quickie jobs, doing them in half the time they usually take. The plan, which would allow some companies that have good records to provide only limited information, is meant to increase the overall number of audits. Only 4 percent of mid-sized companies are audited nowadays, while corporate tax receipts are at a near record low. But the WP says that even the former officials who came up with the general idea of quicker audits think the commissioners' edict is overambitious and could result in agents ignoring "tax dodges and suspicious transactions." According to the IRS's recently departed chief counsel, "It's a bad way to run a railroad."

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In another story inside the Post, Weisman looks at the revolving door between top IRS jobs and private, shady practices. One IRS official who had created a program to ensure that companies couldn't hide profits abroad recently left to work for a big accounting firm where he's helping companies avoid the rules he wrote. And then there's the IRS's newly nominated chief counsel who has been working at a law firm that bills itself as "the nationally recognized leader in tax controversies."

The NYT reefers word that a Serbian ultra-nationalist party led by a man indicted for war crimes has won a plurality of seats in the country's parliamentary elections. As the Times emphasizes, the party probably doesn't have the seats or relations with other parties to lead a coalition. The paper reminds that hard-liners in the Balkans have been making a comeback: They returned to power in Bosnia in 2002 and more recently in Croatia.

A front-page LAT piece reminds that the real unemployment rate is higher than the official one, which is 5.9 percent. About five million workers are part-time but want to be full-time, the highest number in a decade. Another 1.5 million aren't looking for work because they're "discouraged." The LAT adds them up and gets an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, up from 9.4 percent a year ago. And that doesn't take into account the growing number of people who are going on disability as a kind of alternative to welfare.

TP isn't sure why people who are underemployed should be counted the same as the unemployed. But the general point still holds. As one professor told the LAT, "There's certainly an arbitrariness to the official rate. It irks me that it's not put in proper perspective." Newspapers usually don't do so.