Today's Papers

Scams and Smokes

Corruption and cigarettes dominate today. There’s even corruption involving cigarettes. USA Today leads with the call by Teamsters union presidential candidate James P. Hoffa for a special prosecutor to look into allegations that union president Ron Carey and the Democratic party may have been illegally funding each other in 1996. The Washington Post leads with rampant abuses of the D.C. employment disability system. The Wall Street Journal front-page “World Wide” news box refers to an AP story about the head of the World Health Organization saying that cigarette makers now under increasing restrictions in the U.S. should not be allowed to expand into other countries. The New York Times goes with a lengthy expose charging that the world’s largest tobacco companies are selling billions of dollars’ worth of cigarettes each year to traders and dealers who funnel them into the black market. The Los Angeles Times lead is that according to Census Bureau projections, a steady rise in births and a continuing stream of immigrants will add nearly 18 million people to California’s population by 2025.

Although the tobacco companies deny doing anything to abet the smuggling of their product, the Times piece surveys recent criminal cases in Spain, Italy, and China that show otherwise. The reason this is an important story is directly connected to the WHO director’s remarks. If governments can’t regulate the illegal inflow of cigarettes into their countries, they can’t generate effective health programs for discouraging smoking, especially, notes the NYT, because smuggled smokes tend to be cheaper, which means teenagers can buy more of them.

The NYT front page has a story sure to further turn up the temperature about the ease with which potential donors of dubious backgrounds have gained access to this president. It seems that the organizers of a Ponzi scheme based on jewelry sales were, through a third-party political donation to the DNC, able to wangle a photo op with President Clinton, and then used the resulting photo in their promotional literature to snare more investors.

The WP is using the occasion of the recent takeover of many departments of the Washington, D.C. government by a new governing board as an opportunity to look carefully at some of the city messes that need cleaning up. Today’s lead details how since 1990, the District has spent more than $170 million on salaries and long-term medical expenses on city workers who file disability claims. The article reveals that the government allows people to file false claims with virtual impunity, because of generous rules and a lack of investigators. Often workers never have to go any further to get the money rolling in than getting a note from their own doctor.

A letter to the editor in the Post provides a picturesque example of the mentality that drives many such a problem inside the Marion Barry empire. The writer happened to be in a city water department office to discuss a water bill when she noticed what the employees were drinking from a large commercial tank supplied for the staff’s use–imported bottled water.