GDP and consumer spending drop; Bush deregulates

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 31 2008 5:56 AM

Economic Scare

The New York Times gets readers in the Halloween mood by leading with yesterday's scary economic news, including that consumer spending has dropped for the first time in 17 years. The Washington Post leads with another ominous tale, about how the Bush administration is planning a blitz of new business-friendly (and consumer- and environment-unfriendly) regulations in his last weeks in office. The rest of the top stories are election-related: The Los Angeles Times leads with the presidential campaign, where each candidate talked about the bad economic news, with Obama blaming it on Bush policies and McCain saying his mortgage-buyout plan would fix it. USA Today leads with campaign-trail interviews of Obama and McCain. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with a campaign catchall, including the two candidates taking shots at their opponents' running mates. Although, at this point, election news is more likely to elicit exhaustion than fear, the NYT does front a poll showing that half of voters said they were "scared" of what the other candidate would do if elected president.

"The new rules" sought by the president, the Post writes, "would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms." The new regulations, up to 90 in total, would ease commercial ocean-fishing activities and reduce limits on carbon dioxide-increasing emissions from power plants and pollution near national parks. Environmentalists say the rules "will force Americans to choke on dirtier air for years to come," while an electricity lobby group said they would bring "common sense to the Clean Air Act."

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Gross domestic product shrank 0.3 percent over the last quarter (July through September), the worst drop since 2001, and bad news was all around. "Thursday's GDP report showed pervasive economic weakness," the Journal wrote. The Times notes that one aspect of the economic news—that capital spending by businesses declined—is especially ominous, because those sorts of cuts can rapidly spiral downward. Some are now forecasting unemployment rates of 8 percent by the middle of next year. And while government spending and exports were both up last quarter, there are signs they, too, are slowing down. "We are now entering the harshest part of the recession," one economist told the NYT.

The lead stat in the NYT poll is that 59 percent of voters think Sarah Palin is not qualified to be vice president, an increase of nine points since the beginning of the month—an increase, the paper said, driven almost entirely by Republican and independent voters. Overall, 52 percent said they supported Obama, 39 percent McCain, 2 percent Ralph Nader, and 1 percent Bob Barr.

Still trying to think of a Halloween costume? How about a pirate—not the old Johnny Depp kind but the newer, edgier Somali variety. Both the NYT and LAT run dispatches from Somalia's pirate country, where offshore banditry is the biggest employer. Says the NYT: "Flush with cash, the pirates drive the biggest cars, run many of the town's businesses—like hotels—and throw the best parties, residents say. Fatuma Abdul Kadir said she went to a pirate wedding in July that lasted two days, with nonstop dancing and goat meat, and a band flown in from neighboring Djibouti. 'It was wonderful,' said Ms. Fatuma, 21. 'I'm now dating a pirate.' "

Maybe wear a suit and monocle and go as a corporate fat cat? The Journal fronts a good analysis of how the banks now being bailed out by the government owe roughly $40 billion in unpaid executive pay, bonuses, and pensions. While the Treasury Department is putting restrictions on what executives at bailed-out banks can now earn, it won't affect these debts. At some companies, the debts to executives are greater than their entire pension program. (The $40 billion figure, however, is as of the end of 2007, and the paper notes that given that much of the debt was in stocks, it is likely lower now.)

Or an angel: The Post fronts a long, nuanced feature on Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and how the election is playing out among evangelical college students.

Several of the papers have fun Halloween-related features. The Journal fronts a profile of a Brazilian man whose fear of being buried alive led him to construct an elaborate ventilated tomb stocked with food and water—just in case. The Post fronts a feature on Japan's quirky monsters, yokai: "One yokai likes to plunge a large, hairy disembodied foot through the roofs of rich people's houses. Another is made entirely of discarded dinnerware and is more dangerous to himself than to others." And the LAT has an evergreen about restrictions on sex offenders at Halloween: In Maryland, they have to hang signs outside their homes saying they have no candy. In other states, police will check on sex offenders to make sure they're home. New Mexico has required them to post signs saying, "Sex offender lives here." Boo!

Joshua Kucera is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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