The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with a big settlement in an Enron-related lawsuit yesterday. Financial services giant Citigroup will pay $2 billion to Enron shareholders for abetting the erstwhile energy giant's accounting shenanigans. The Washington Post leads with NASA's decision to can 20 top officials, in what the paper says is just the "first stage of a broad agency shake-up."
The lawsuit alleged that Citigroup committed fraud when it participated in a series of loans to Enron that the company disguised as more benign-looking transactions. The LAT has the most detail on these complicated "swap" deals. The paper also plays up a local angle, a potential big recovery for the University of California, the lead plaintiff, which lost $145 million on Enron's stock.
While the LAT plays up the size of the settlement, the NYT suggests the bank got off easy. By settling now, it says, Citigroup "may have cut itself a better deal" than some other financial institutions named in the lawsuit, such as J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch. Legal analysts tell the paper they're surprised the bank didn't have to pay more. The NYT says the settlement is all part of a strategy by new chief executive Charles Prince "to wipe Citigroup's slate clean and put the bank in a new direction."
As many as 50 senior managers at NASA may eventually lose their jobs, the WP says, which would be "a housecleaning rivaling the purge after the 1986 Challenger explosion." Michael Griffin, President Bush's new NASA chief, wants his own team in place before pushing Bush's ambitious mission to Mars. Classily, the "senior NASA officials" sourced on the story declined to be identified, because the people targeted for replacement won't be informed until Monday. Have a nice weekend, Buck Rogers!
The NYT fronts a long dispatch from Zimbabwe, where tyrannical President Robert Mugabe, having run out of white farmers to chase off, has moved on to dispossessing poor blacks. Under a campaign called Operation Murambatsvina (the word means "drive out the rubbish" in Shona), the government is bulldozing shantytowns and illegal markets in its cities. According to the United Nations, at least 200,000 people have been left homeless, and the real number may be much higher, the story suggests. Mugabe says the settlements were illegal eyesores, but the story notes that poor urbanites just happen to be his regime's "most hardened opponents."
Meanwhile, in semi-goofy dictator news, the WP reports inside that North Korea's Kim Jong-Il is lightening up a little bit. Among other things, he allowed a British filmmaker to shoot a (fairly docile) documentary in the country, and ABC News has been there, too. He's also launched a Web site, http://www.dprkorea.com, where readers can "download North Korean cartoons as well as helpful tips on taekwondo, the popular Korean martial art."
Earlier this week, TP wondered why the LAT buried a story about "a fascinating but murky" confrontation between a detachment of Marines and a group of private security contractors, which ended up with the contractors being thrown in jail. Today, the paper fronts a follow-up that explains how the incident "reflects the long simmering tensions between the military and private business in Iraq." It's a nice piece with a great lede: "Matt Raiche knew he was in trouble when the Marines handed him an orange jumpsuit, a bottle to urinate in, a Koran and a Muslim prayer rug."
The WP off-leads a feature on the sad history of lynching in America. The paper says 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, often in a carnival atmosphere, complete with macabre souvenirs: "victims' ears, fingers and toes." The Senate is set to vote Monday on a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation. Bills to ban the practice were filibustered to death as late as the 1930s. One of the sponsors of the bill, Confederate flag-flying Virginia Sen. George Allen, a possible presidential candidate, also happens to oppose some modern uses of the filibuster. Coincidence?
The LAT fronts a dispatch from wine-growing town of Lodi, Calif., where a father and son were arrested this week over allegations that the son trained at a terrorist camp in Pakistan. The small Muslim community there is now feeling besieged and worried about hate crimes, as radio talk show hosts wonder if Lodi has become an al-Qaida "stronghold."
The WP has a fascinating—and horrifying—front-page feature on a group of former elite Israeli soldiers who have come forward to say that they killed nine Palestinian policemen without provocation in 2002. The attacks on the policemen were meant to revenge the deaths of six Israeli soldiers killed earlier that day, but the targeted cops had nothing to do with the attack. Guilty, two former soldiers are now publicly talking about what they did. "This is what we dreamed of, being the sexiest warrior," one tells the WP. The allegations have already been aired in Israel, and so far, the paper says, "public reaction has been minimal."
As if single-handedly reviving the AIDS epidemic weren't bad enough, the drug crystal methamphetamine is implicated by a NYT fronter in yet another public health crisis: "meth mouth." Crank apparently rots teeth out in months, turning them black and giving them "a peculiar texture less like that of hard enamel and more like that of a piece of ripened fruit." Still up for that drug-fueled orgy?