GM shrinks. Prozac tested. ETA calls it quits.

GM shrinks. Prozac tested. ETA calls it quits.

GM shrinks. Prozac tested. ETA calls it quits.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 23 2006 6:12 AM

GMC You Later

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today all lead with General Motors' announcement that it will offer buyouts to around 130,000 employees (the numbers vary slightly from paper to paper), a move that could cost the company $2 billion—and perhaps much more—but that also might allow it to avert a costly strike and stave off financial collapse. The Washington Post leads with a study that concludes antidepressant medications work for people about half the time. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with President Bush's latest Iraq speech, in which he was "pledging no retreat" amid increasing sectarian strife.

Three of the papers use the same adjective to describe GM's mass buyout offer: "landmark." It came about as a result of weeks of talks between the company and the United Auto Workers union, which had to sign off. The union hasn't made concessions like this since the dog days of the early 1980s, the NYT says, and its willingness to bargain reflects "a tacit recognition by the UAW that it can't hope to save the jobs that GM's market-share losses have effectively wiped out already," adds the WSJ. The company says it needs to eliminate 30,000 jobs in all.

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America's auto industry is dying … as usual. "GM invented the modern corporation, and it worked really well, but now it's over," an economist tells the WP, summing up the general view. How bad is it for GM? The company lost $10.6 billion last year, and its credit rating is mired in junk-bond status. The NYT raises the specter of bankruptcy. GM's biggest immediate problem—this gets complicated—stems from financial troubles at its parts supplier Delphi. Delphi needs to cut payroll. It was once owned by GM, so some of its employees are covered by the buyout agreement. But the unionized workers that remain at Delphi could still decide to strike over wage cuts, which would cripple GM, because it can't make cars without parts. The automaker's long-term problem is that generous salaries and benefits negotiated by the union back in the industry's halcyon days are now dragging it down. With benefits figured in, the average autoworker costs the company around $73 an hour, according to USAT, which has the most clear and concise coverage. The buyout offers range from $35,000 to more than $140,000.

The mood on the assembly line is grim, according to accompanying features. Reporters seem to know where to find autoworkers in the wild: "Crammed inside a smoke-filled bar  …" (the LAT); "at the Wooden Keg, a smoky, dimly lighted tavern  …" (the NYT); "sipping a Bud Light in a Romulus bar last night  …" (the WP). There are lots of beer-soaked quotes, but few real indications of how many will take the buyout.

The depression study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, lasted six years and cost $35 million, and it represents "the first scientifically based roadmap for treating depression," according to the LAT, which fronts the story. The results are something of a muddle, and the study "quickly lent itself to interpretations that the glass was either half empty or half full," the WP lead says. The disagreement evidently extended to the Post's composing room. While the story's lede sentence begins, "Antidepressants fail to cure the symptoms of major depression in half of all patients," the piece is headlined: "Drugs Cure Depression in Half of Patients."

The LAT and NYT front news that after almost 40 years, the Basque separatist group ETA announced a "permanent" ceasefire in its war against the Spanish government. Three members of the group, clad in masked getups and looking uncannily like the bomb-throwers from Spy vs. Spy, appeared on a videotape played on Spanish television yesterday to say the group would now try to achieve independence through "the democratic process." ETA's campaign of terrorism, which included car bombings and political assassinations, claimed more than 800 lives over the years. The LAT credits "a fierce crackdown" for the change of heart and notes that "ETA has also seen its support fade amid public outrage over deadly bombings in Madrid two years ago by Islamic radicals."

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The WP fronts the Supreme Court's 5-3 ruling that police could not legally search a couple's house "unless both partners present agree to let them in." The LAT and NYT also front the story. The case came about when police responded to a call about a couple's quarrel. The woman invited the officers in and told them where to find her husband's cocaine, over his objections. Linda Greenhouse, the NYT's oracle of SCOTUS, delves deep into the footnotes of the opinions, divining a "pointed, personal and acerbic tone" that reveals "the strains behind the surface placidity and collegiality of the young Roberts court." For instance, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the dissent, calls Justice David Souter's majority opinion "a bit overwrought." Fighting words, indeed.

The WP has a dispatch from Kabul about an Afghan man who has been arrested for having converted to Christianity, an offense that is punishable by death according to Islamic law. The man is becoming a cause célèbre for American evangelical groups, but the story suggests he may be a little nutty, and that the case is unlikely to move forward for political reasons.

USAT, which has a good front page today, reports that President Bush is closing in on a venerable record. On this, his 1,889th day in office, he becomes the first president since Thomas Jefferson go so long without issuing a veto. He passes James Monroe, who nixed a bill on Day 1,888 of his presidency, back in 1822. Good Feelings  aside, Monroe opposed placing a toll on the first federal highway.

Inside, the WSJ has an interesting piece on the blessing—and curse—that the discovery of oil could prove for the African island statelet of São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé's rulers say any windfall will go to the public good; the recent experiences of countries like Chad suggest otherwise.

Fit for a Duke … He paid for it in court. But now, for a low, low price, you too can own the very antiques for which former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., sold his soul, reports the WP. Now that Cunningham is headed to jail, many of his ill-gotten goods are up for auction, including that notorious Louis Philippe commode, and many fine rugs. No word on the fate of his Rolls Royce, or his yacht, The Duke-Stir. "His personal style veered toward large, dark, wood Frenchy pieces, with lots of marble and mirror and stained glass, and a certain amount of decorative flourish," the Post assesses. "Was the man was just begging to be caught?"