Today's Papers

Open Gates?

A gruesome refiguring of the Central American toll for Hurricane Mitch–now revised to be upwards of 7,000 deaths–leads at USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. The Washington Post leads with the news that the Washington D.C. financial control board will re-delegate most of the local government’s executive powers–stripped from Marion Barry–back to the new mayor chosen today. The Post’s top non-local story is that the Supreme Court has agreed to review the criminal statute banning a wide range of gratuities to public officials. The statute was used to convict Sun-Diamond Growers for its largesse towards former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, a conviction that was then overturned. At issue is what exactly must the link be between a gift and any subsequent act by the official receiving it before it constitutes an illegal quid pro quo.

Hardest hit by Mitch were Honduras and Nicaragua. The papers all quote the president of Honduras’ on-scene assessment: “There are corpses everywhere.” The NYT reports that mudslides were a big killer, quoting a Nicaraguan rescue worker saying he could do nothing for the people buried in the debris he could hear begging for help. The Times says at least five Nicaraguan villages were “entombed” by the slides. The LAT reports that 70 percent of Honduras’ crops were destroyed. The NYT says it’s 70 percent of the country’s entire infrastructure that was wiped out. By yesterday, the LAT reports, the region was experiencing food shortages and price gouging. USAT says that if the death count is confirmed, Mitch will end up as the second deadliest Central American storm ever.

USAT and the LAT front fresh Commerce Dept. data showing that in September, Americans spent more money than they earned–$100.20 going out, explains the LAT, for every $100 that came in. The papers report that this hasn’t happened in ages. (USAT says it’s been at least 50 years, the LAT says 65.) The consensus explanation is that the roaring stock market has made people feel more prosperous and willing to spend. The LAT quotes this economic analysis from a man who just dropped $170 on sweaters at the Burbank GAP: “If all the consumers keep getting more and more into debt and keep spending, nothing bad is going to happen….”

The NYT, and WP front the much-awaited playing in court yesterday of the Bill Gates deposition videotape. The LAT and USAT put the story on their business section fronts. The Wall Street Journal flags it in its front-page news box. The NYT finds that in his confrontation with DOJ lead attorney David Boies, Gates was “evasive and uninformed, pedantic and taciturn,” (USAT and WSJ also opt for “evasive”), and observes that when confronted with company e-mail he’d authored, he frequently said he did not recognize the messages or recall the circumstances behind them. The Times and WSJ observe that sometimes Boies’ questions were met by more than 20 seconds of silence before Gates responded. The Post notes that Gates-on-video is a staple of Microsoft trade show presentations, but in the court tape there was this difference: Gates was a “scowling, slouching man.”

The papers note that much of yesterday’s questioning focused on whether or not Microsoft threatened canceling its version of “Office” software for the Macintosh as a means of forcing Apple to promote MS’ Internet browser. The Post and Journal report that at one point Boies showed Gates an email sent to him by a Microsoft executive that said, “Mac Office is the perfect club to use on them.” The Post doesn’t give Gates’ account of that e-mail, but USAT says he testified that he didn’t recall receiving it.

The LAT front reports that the federal government has chosen an odd way to save some money: by eliminating the only program designed to test the ability of the nation’s commercial nuclear plants to protect themselves against terrorists. The program was established after the Gulf War and, reports the LAT, had in its short lifespan identified serious security lapses at 47 percent of the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors. For instance, in one mock attack, an agency team was able to simulate bringing about a core meltdown. And last March, an inspector was able to smuggle a fake pistol into the nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont. The reason for the shutdown? The LAT suggests it’s that the nuclear power industry doesn’t like shouldering the extra cost of participating in the security exercises.

Back to the videotape: The WSJ makes it seem that Bill Gates may have been influenced by another famous testifier named Bill. When asked by David Boies if Microsoft was competing with an Apple video technology, the paper reports that Gates answered, “Depends on what you mean by compete.”