Today's Papers

Revenue Game in Town

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with the Senate’s vote to overhaul the IRS. USA Today runs that as its off-lead and goes instead with the FAA’s order of urgent inspections and repairs to 152 older-model Boeing 737s, a story that, of the other majors, only the Wall Street Journal puts on the front page. (The NYT national edition runs it on p. 14, freeing up front-page space to wonder instead about what killed the artificial turf at Giants stadium.) The FAA move was prompted by Continental Airlines’ discovery in one plane of fuel leaking into a wire-conduit going through a fuel tank, a situation, USAT explains, not unlike that suspected of precipitating the TWA Flight 800 explosion.

Apparently, not a single Senator believes the IRS ever deals with anyone who’s not an abused ex-wife or Howard Baker. The Senate voted 97-0 to put the IRS under a board of directors and to create new limits on the agency’s ability to impose penalties on taxpayers. Like all feel-good legislation, this one will cost money–some senators estimated that the extra obstacles to collection would cost about $18 billion over the next decade, say the papers. But the Senate discussion utterly failed to put such figures in the larger context, which is that already the “too-powerful” “abusive” IRS is missing out on at least $100 billion a year in legally owed taxes and is already auditing less than one percent of all returns. What’s worse, the dailies don’t mention this either.

The NYT reports that in Half Moon Bay, California a 14-year-old eighth-grade boy has been the first student suspended from school under a new state law that allows removal of students who threaten violence. What makes the case unusual is that what precipitated this were the two papers he turned in for an English class writing assignment: “The Riot,” in which students set fire to the school library, blow up the science labs, and beat the principal, and “Goin’ Postal,” in which a boy shoots the school principal. The boy and his parents are suing his school’s principal and the school district.

The WSJ “Washington Wire” reports that the Army general who heads up the 1st Cavalry Division had this assessment for acquisition officers of the high-tech gear they’re providing him: “You are fielding pieces of crap.”

A front-page LAT story and one inside at the NYT cover a sociological finding coming out today in the journal Science. It’s well known that people will under-report their questionable behavior when asked about it by an interviewer, but it has long been assumed that this problem was addressed by conducting surveys via paper and pencil questionnaires. However, by comparing paper-and-pencil surveys to those self-administered on a computer, the new study shows that’s not true. Which means that many accepted paper-and-pencil surveys have rendered a distorted sense of how people behave. The Science study, for instance, purports to show that among 1,600 15-19-year-old males, those computer-queried were almost 4 times more likely than the paper-and-pencil group to report homosex, 5.5 times more likely to admit they were often or always drunk or high when having sex with women, and 14 times more likely to cop to sex with an intravenous drug user.

In the modern age, and especially in the modern newspaper, the pursuit of money takes on the full aura that was, in a bygone time, reserved for the pursuit of something else. Witness today’s WSJ front-page account of the Daimler/Chrysler merger. You have to wade pretty far down to get to “revenues,” “earnings per share,” or “non-recurring income tax benefits.” First you get the secret hotel meetings, the furtive use of code names, the artful deflection of an outsider’s nosy question about the relationship. There’s even, according to the Journal, an important shower scene. And of course, there is, once the liaison is on the verge of consummation, the age-old question of whose name to take. “It was a very emotional issue at the end, emotional on both sides,” Daimler’s CEO is quoted saying. “We both felt strongly.” But then they merged. And it was good.