Economic trouble spreads across the country as many are cutting back due to rising prices.

Economic trouble spreads across the country as many are cutting back due to rising prices.

Economic trouble spreads across the country as many are cutting back due to rising prices.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 21 2008 6:11 AM

Warning: Hard Times Ahead

The New York Timesleads with a look at how economic hard times are slowly reaching parts of the country that some previously thought would be able to survive the credit crisis without much more than a scratch. As the crisis spreads and now affects confidence in practically all levels of the economy, many are worried this recession will last longer and be more painful than the last two. The Washington Postleads with a look at the depressing prospect that 20 years after scientists first started searching for an AIDS vaccine, they may be no closer now than when they first started. Some are worried that future efforts could be doomed after it became clear that "the most promising contender" for a vaccine was not only useless but potentially increased the risk of infection.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the failure of Michigan lawmakers to agree on holding a new Democratic primary. It marked another blow to Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was counting on do-over votes in Michigan and Florida to narrow Sen. Barack Obama's lead. USA Todayleads with the National Weather Service's warning that the floods in the Midwest that led to the deaths of at least 15 people this week could be just the beginning. Record rainfalls coupled with melting snow could lead to floods in many areas of the country this spring. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with news that officials in Southern California are beginning to reassess the values of homes after the recent downturn in the housing market. This could save homeowners hundreds of dollars in taxes, but it also means less money for counties that are already low on funds.

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The NYT makes sure to note that some segments of the economy are still doing well, particularly those that rely on exports for much of their business. But, as many have been saying in the past few days, most no longer believe the idea that markets abroad will be able to sustain a falling domestic economy. Backed up by widely reported figures that show "the economy is deteriorating at an accelerating rate," much of what the NYT is talking about is based on anecdotal evidence of reduced sales here, job losses there. "There's a general sense of caution," a manager at a Seattle store said.

The Post sheds some light on one of the reasons why this caution is so prevalent by off-leading a look at a factor that should be no mystery to anyone who has visited a supermarket in the past year: Prices are increasing. Prices for basic necessities—groceries, health care, gasoline—have increased 9.2 percent since 2006, while the prices for luxuries—such as clothes and new cars—have increased at a much slower pace. It doesn't take an economics degree to figure out that if wages aren't keeping up with the rising prices in basic goods, people will automatically cut back on the nonessential parts of their household budget. This "helps explain why American workers felt squeezed even before the recent economic distress began," says the Post.

Two trials of the potential AIDS vaccine were stopped in September, and since then seven others have also been put on hold and could be canceled. These recent developments are leading many experts to question the strategy behind the $500 million that the U.S. government spends annually in AIDS vaccine research. Some believe the vaccine made volunteers more vulnerable to the virus, which, short of actually causing HIV, is pretty much the worst thing that could happen and is bound to have a profound effect on testing for future vaccines. At the very least, it helps underscore how much is still not known about HIV, which has led some to suggest that the public money currently being spent on human trials should instead be devoted to basic research.

Now that it seems pretty certain that neither Michigan nor Florida will be holding do-over primaries, the question of what to do about the delegates from the two states is still open. Obama and Clinton can't seem to agree on a plan, and, as the NYT points out, "the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Howard Dean, have not offered any guidance." Clinton's camp blamed Obama for failing to agree on a plan and warned that disenfranchising voters in Michigan and Florida will hurt the party in November.

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The LAT fronts a look at how both Democratic contenders are receiving lots of money from Wall Street. Clinton has received at least $6.29 million and Obama $6.03 million, two figures that are much higher than the $2.59 million that has gone to Sen. John McCain. Some are worried the money will mean either candidate would be less willing to regulate the financial-services industry. In other campaign news, everyone goes inside with word that the State Department fired two employees and disciplined another for improperly accessing information from Obama's passport file. The department is still investigating, but its spokesman said the employees were motivated by "imprudent curiosity."

The WP fronts word that the United Nations presented donors with a supplemental request for almost $1.1 billion over the next two years. The move would increase U.N. expenses by 25 percent and lead to the largest administrative budget in the history of the organization. But here's the rub: The Bush administration is to blame for much of this increase. Even though the United States has long sought to decrease U.N. spending, the Bush administration has been pushing the organization to take on a variety of new and complex tasks that are proving to be quite expensive. But, of course, U.S. officials suggest the United Nations should find savings in other programs that the Bush administration doesn't think are as important.

The NYT fronts, and USAT goes inside with, a look at how the recent unrest in Tibet could have an effect in tomorrow's elections in Taiwan. The violence that broke out this week in Tibet has threatened what was once thought to be a sure landslide by the pro-China candidate. But now there seems to be a chance that he might lose, as many Taiwanese fear that what is happening in Tibet foreshadows what will happen in Taiwan if they don't take a stand against China.

Now that all the initial hoopla has passed, the NYT takes a look at some nagging questions that remain about the investigation of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Officials justify the highly aggressive tactics, which are rare for prostitution cases, by saying that they had to follow the evidence since Spitzer was a public figure. But there's also an interesting question of why there were so many juicy details about Spitzer's encounter in the affidavit, which several experts say "went far beyond what was necessary."

If you feel like starting out your Friday confused, be sure to check out the WSJ's look at how companies are explaining executive compensation in proxy statements. The Securities and Exchange Commission told hundreds of companies last year that they needed to be more specific, and many have responded with a slew of formulas and explanations that would challenge even the most hardened Wall Street expert. For example, this is how Adobe explains it: "Target Bonus x Unit Multiplier x Individual Results." That seems simple enough, but then goes the definition of what "unit multiplier" means: "Derived from aggregating the target bonus of all participants in the Executive Bonus Plan multiplied by the funding level determined under the funding matrix …" And after all that, Adobe's five top executives got the exact same unit multiplier, which (shockingly!) was the maximum number possible. 

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.