Mortgage legislation would help businesses; Merck was deceptive while promoting Vioxx.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 16 2008 6:29 AM

Sneaky Feelings

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the bill senators approved last week to help Americans deal with the foreclosure crisis gives big benefits to a wide variety of businesses in the form of tax breaks that could be worth  billions of dollars. This is the latest example of how must-pass legislation can be a great opportunity for lobbyists to sneak measures into legislation, and it's particularly evident in this case because many consider it to be the last chance to get anything big passed before the elections take over. USA Todayleads with two new studies that claim Merck was deceptive in the way it marketed the painkiller Vioxx. Using thousands of pages of documents unearthed in lawsuits that give a rare look into the inner workings of a drug company, the researchers say Merck played down the risk of death in human trials and also wrote dozens of studies that it then passed off as the work of independent doctors.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with word that President Bush will propose setting a deadline of 2025 to stop the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions. In a speech today, he also plans to signal that he would be willing to accept legislation to rein in power-plant pollution. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a new poll that suggests Sen. Hillary Clinton might not be headed for the kind of big victories that she once expected in the upcoming primaries. Her lead in Pennsylvania has now shrunk to five percentage points, and she is behind Sen. Barack Obama by the same number in Indiana. But even if Clinton were to lose Pennsylvania, a vast majority of her supporters (79 percent) say she should keep on fighting, the Washington Postreveals in its lead story. In fact, almost 60 percent of Democrats agree that they should keep on fighting "until one of them wins a clear victory" (whether they understand that such a thing is impossible without the input of the superdelegates seems less than clear).

The fact that the Foreclosure Prevention Act included big tax breaks for home builders is hardly news. But today the NYT points out that a wide range of "struggling industries," including airlines and automakers, would also be eligible for tax breaks. And in another example of how a bill can become full of measures that are unrelated to its original purpose, it also includes a provision to encourage the production of alternative energy that could add up to around $6 billion over 10 years. It's unclear how far these measures will get, because Democratic leaders in the House have vowed to remove corporate tax breaks from their version.

The WP minces no words and says the two articles that will appear today in the Journal of the American Medical Association effectively "accuse one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical makers of various forms of scientific fraud." One of the articles says two studies sponsored by Merck to find whether Vioxx could be effective in combating Alzheimer's progression found that those taking the painkiller were three times more likely to die. But Merck reported lower numbers to the FDA and didn't publish the studies until years later.

The other article to be published tomorrow suggests Merck was active in ghostwriting dozens of Vioxx-related studies that then appeared in journals. This seems to show how journals are an important part of the marketing strategy for drug companies, and the editor of JAMA says these revelations are "just the tip of the iceberg." Merck dismissed the studies as a "trial brief masquerading as scientific debate" (most of the authors were paid consultants to plaintiffs' lawyers in lawsuits relating to Vioxx), and doctors whose studies are questioned also deny that they simply signed on to the research that had already been written.

The WSJ says today's speech marks a recognition by the administration that the United States is likely to adopt a comprehensive system to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the next few years. Bush will specifically call for power plants to stop the growth of emissions within the next 10 to 15 years. But despite all the hoopla, he won't actually put forward any specific suggestions or proposals. Regardless of what he does, though, it's clear that Bush will be criticized from both sides of the aisle as environmentalists are likely to portray it as another example of the president dragging his feet while conservatives don't want him to show any kind of flexibility on the issue.

Tuesday marked another deadly day in Iraq, where two bombings killed almost 60 people. Significantly, the deadly bombings were not in areas that have recently seen an increase in violence but rather in cities "that American forces say they had largely taken back from Sunni insurgents," notes the NYT. In a Page One story, the NYT describes how a company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned a critical position in Sadr City. It's an interesting story, and the paper says it was a "blow to the American effort to push the Iraqis into the lead," but isn't that a stretch considering that it involved 50 soldiers? Of course, if the desertions that were seen earlier this month are continuing, that is certainly significant, but there is no sign that this was part of a larger pattern in Sadr City. An interesting side note: One of the complaints of the Iraqi major was that he had no way of directly communicating with the American troops. The American captain said that was just an excuse, but is this lack of direct communication normal?

Probably the most significant revelation in the WP's new poll is just how much this presidential campaign has hurt Clinton's image. Obama now holds a 10-point lead over Clinton among Democrats, and not only do people widely see him as more electable, 54 percent claim to have an unfavorable view of the former first lady. While 52 percent of Americans considered Clinton "honest and trustworthy" in May 2006, that number has now fallen to 39 percent. The drop is slightly steeper among Democrats, 63 percent of whom now consider her honest, which marks an 18 point decrease from 2006.

USAT fronts a look at how even though Obama claims to receive no money from lobbyists, his campaign has plenty of ties to them. There are 38 people in his fundraising team who work for law firms that lobby the federal government, and most of them are partners who would receive some sort of percentage from the lobbying fees. Obama's spokesman says that while the senator's refusal to take money from lobbyists "isn't a perfect solution … it does reflect Obama's record of trying to change the way that Washington does business."

While some continue to be concerned that the battle between Democrats has gotten too negative and will hurt the party's prospects in November, Douglas Schoen writes in the WP's op-ed page that the negativity hasn't gone far enough. If Clinton has any hope of getting the nomination, "she needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama."

In a completely unrelated campaign story, the NYT points out that each side is carefully analyzing how their potential supporters eat in order to target them as specifically as possible. The paper's dining section compiled an interesting list of the overarching themes that can help identify supporters. For example, Clinton's like fruit-filled cookies, while Obama's, strangely enough, "intensely dislike vanilla wafers." McCain voters are partial to Hardee's, while Clinton's like Church's Fried Chicken, and Obama's skewed toward Panera Bread. How about snacks? Clinton's supporters prefer Newman's Own Pretzels, McCain's like Sun Chips, and Obama's are partial toward Kettle Chips. Of course, exceptions are plentiful, but these comparisons are more than a little addictive.

The LAT points out that new declassified memos show that al-Qaida, for all its reputation as a lean terrorist network, can be as bureaucratic as any government agency. Documents "depict an organization obsessed with paperwork and penny-pinching and afflicted with a damaging propensity for feuds."  In a particularly amusing memo for a terrorist organization, an al-Qaida leader accused a militant of stealing money and not submitting the proper "voucher to the accountant" while also reminding him that "furniture ... is not considered private property."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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