Money Down the Drain

Money Down the Drain

Money Down the Drain

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 10 2005 6:12 AM

Money Down the Drain

The New York Times leads with a Bush administration proposal to increase monitoring of international wire transfers involving American banks, an initiative that has met with opposition from some financial executives. The Los Angeles Times leads with an investigation into mismanagement and waste in the multibillion-dollar initiative to improve Iraq's infrastructure. The Washington Post's top non-local story is an investigation of its own into what the paper alleges a "seriously flawed national system" for disciplining doctors with substance-abuse problems.

No one really knows how much money is involved in the financial transactions the federal government wants to look at, though rough estimates suggest "at least a half-billion international wire transfers a year totaling trillions of dollars," the NYT's lead says. The feds suggest that, with more access to private bank records, they could detect schemes to launder money and finance terrorism. (The 9-11 hijackers used such wire transfers, the paper notes.) But banks say the paperwork will be onerous, and the paper suggests al-Qaida money will be difficult to pick up, "in part because terror operations are conducted on relative shoestring budgets."

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The LAT's lead, citing an anonymous reconstruction official, says that "hundreds of millions" of American taxpayer dollars invested in refurbishing electrical, water, and sewage-treatment plants in Iraq are going down the drain, so to speak, because the locals who run the plants on a day-to-day basis lack the skills to maintain them. United States officials, predictably, blame the untrained, undisciplined Iraqi workers. Iraq's Ministry of Public Works, reasonably enough, points out that as security has deteriorated, "the U.S. has slashed the budget for water projects from $4.3 billion to less than $2.3 billion—with further cuts planned." Meanwhile, many normal Iraqis must drink sewage-tainted water.

Perhaps not coincidentally, all the papers report on—though only the NYT fronts—a huge rally in downtown Baghdad, held to commemorate the second anniversary of Saddam Hussein's overthrow. Protesters chanted "No, no to the Americans," and "Yes, yes to Islam." The rally was organized by militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Amid the burning Bush effigies, the LAT's reporter finds an Iraqi National Guard lieutenant who offers a bit of hopeful spin: "In the old days, people would only have been able to do this if they were hailing Saddam. Now they are protesting for their rights."

The WP's investigation into drug-addicted docs seems determined to prove that "bad doctors are … coddled by hospitals and other employers as part of a culture of clemency and second chances." It calls out by name a physician who regularly snorted cocaine in his office and a gastroenterologist who shot up painkillers between operations. (One of them decided to retire after being contacted by the Post for comment.) But isn't there a more nuanced story here? Alcohol and drug addictions are, after all, treatable illnesses. And, exhaustively researched as it is, the piece never addresses one crucial question: How big is this problem? The investigation found that over five years, 74 doctors in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia were punished by medical boards for substance-abuse problems; 39 of them were repeat offenders. TP, squinting at the fine print of a graphic and pulling out a calculator, totaled up some 40,000 doctors in the three jurisdictions, meaning that just one doctor in 1,000 is a proven recidivist substance abuser. Shouldn't that number have been in the story?

The NYT fronts and everyone else stuffs the latest word from Rome, which is … no more words. A Vatican spokesman announced yesterday that the cardinals who will soon meet to pick the next pope had voted unanimously to cut off all contact with the media. Reporters, the NYT adds archly, were "invited to abstain" from the sinful business of asking questions. The WP says the ban was the work of prickly prelate Joseph Ratzinger, himself an oft-mentioned candidate for the top job. Everyone chews over the possible contenders again, to no particular end.

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The WP, meanwhile, fronts a well-written piece on the shrinking number of priests in America—"far more priests die each year than are ordained," the paper says—and on "the coming power struggle" between cassocked church officials and lay leaders, who have taken on increasing importance over the last generation.

The LAT files from Latin America, where it manages to track down the last lonely believers in liberation theology. The movement, which had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, mixed Marxism and the gospel, as politically active priests championed the rights of the poor. John Paul II crushed the movement, but a few diehards are hoping for a comeback under his successor.

The NYT appears to be the only paper filing from Angola, where a worsening outbreak of the grisly Marburg virus has so far claimed at least 181 lives. Saturday's front-page piece described how locals in the hard-hit town of Uige had turned on health-care professionals. Today's (stuffed) article says that the organization Doctors Without Borders is asking the Angolan authorities to shut down hospitals in the area, because they have become epicenters of the outbreak themselves. (Read Slate's take on Marburg here.)

The WP and NYT front, with big pictures, yesterday's royal wedding between Prince Charles and his longtime mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. While both papers engage in some lighthearted Windsorology—everyone agrees that the Queen Elizabeth wore an expression she'd previously reserved for occasions like the Blitz—the NYT's Sarah Lyall (an occasional Slate contributor) has a delightfully catty report from the reception-going trenches, complete with a hat critique.

Keeping up with the day's themes of royal pageantry and guard-changing, the NYT carries an inside story from the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco, which is mourning the death last week of its longtime ruler, Prince Rainier, aka Mr. Grace Kelly. The tax-dodging denizens of Monaco are a tad concerned about Rainier's successor, the "enigmatic" and "shy" Prince Albert, who is "unmarried and has shown no public inclination to produce a royal heir." Though he "has been linked to a long list of high-profile women known for appearing on the arms of middle-aged bachelors," the paper notes, "[there] have been no signs of anything like a romance." TP has no idea what the Times is trying to imply, but he wishes Albert well in his search for a wife. Every prince deserves one. Or two, as the case may be.