Today's Papers

On a Wing and a Prayer

The New York Times   and Los Angeles Times   lead with the U.S.-China trade agreement (the NYT goes with a three-row, three-column headline)–a story off-leaded  by the Washington Post   and fronted (below the fold) by USA Today. The papers run packages of stories covering all the angles–the diplomatic intrigue, the technical details, etc.–of the breakthrough accord, which effectively lets China into the World Trade Organization. One detail: China will let U.S. firms buy stakes in Chinese telecom companies, but only up to 50 percent  (“The forces of darkness in the Chinese telecom bureaucracies are going to have to slink under the rocks again,” the LAT quotes one exultant pro-trade lobbyist). President Clinton must now shepherd the pact through Congress; passage is likely but not certain. (To read Moneybox’s take on what the WTO accord means for the Internet–and what the Internet might mean for China–click here.) USAT and the Post lead with the National Transportation Safety Board’s announcement that EgyptAir 990’s cockpit voice recorder indicates foul play, a story fronted (above the fold) by the NYT and the LAT.

The NTSB did not give any specifics about the contents of the cockpit voice recorder, but the papers publish leaked details: Just before EgyptAir’s autopilot is turned off, the cockpit door apparently opens and shuts several times and then a pilot utters what appears to be an Islamic prayer–whether as an expression of alarm or of suicide is unknown. Seconds later the plane goes into what appears to be a pilot-induced dive, and soon it appears that another pilot has re-entered the cockpit and is working at “cross purposes” with the first. Eventually, someone apparently shuts off the engines. (The Post story implies that this sequence of events is certain rather than merely apparent.) The NYT and Post say that Arabic translators did not notice the religious utterance at first, but the Post says that when Egyptian-dialect specialists were brought in, they spotted it right away. All the papers report the NTSB’s announcement that it might surrender the investigation to the FBI. The NYT says that the NTSB offered to step down yesterday but that the FBI demurred; USAT and the LAT quote anonymous sources predicting that the transfer will happen today. The Post says that the NTSB tightened security at its headquarters. Conspiracy theories abounded in the 1996 crash of TWA 800, the Post notes, partly because the FBI effectively took control of the investigation and ran it secretively.

The Post fronts an anonymously sourced report that the U.N. Security Council is near agreement on a resolution that would suspend the nine-year-old sanctions against Iraq in exchange for its compliance with international arms inspections. The proposal would require the Security Council to reaffirm the suspension policy every 100 days, and any member would, as usual, have a unilateral veto.

The NYT fronts a long feature on the backlash against ATM fees, which took form most concretely in last week’s ATM-fee prohibition by the San Francisco and Santa Monica city councils. (In response, California’s two largest banks–Wells Fargo and Bank of America–denied ATM access to non-customers.) But the NYT fails to report that yesterday a U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction against the fee prohibitions–a story off-leaded  by the LAT (this same LAT story runs inside  the Post in abbreviated form).

On the Wall Street Journal   opinion page, think-tank scholar Bruce Bartlett mocks would-be presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the federal debt by imposing a one-time, 14.25 percent tax on the net wealth of every American with over $10 million. To pay off our $5.7 trillion debt at a 14.25 percent rate, you’d need a tax base of $40 trillion. This, Bartlett notes, is approximately the net worth of every American (including the businesses they own) and every nonprofit organization in the country. Even if the 14.25 percent tax was applied universally–as the numbers would seem to require in order to raise $5.7 trillion–this would mean taxing university endowments, foundations, churches, and even the smallest bank accounts. It would force the sale of trillions of dollars of stock, as owners either paid the tax or hid their assets. And in the end, Bartlett writes, Congress would likely replace the $229 billion in annual interest payments with new spending.

The NYT LAT, Post, and Journal report that Al Gore received an interrogation by Microsoft employees upon visiting the company’s headquarters. Peppered with hostile questions, Gore defended the Justice Department’s lawsuit and insisted that the nation’s antitrust laws represent a “basic American value.” “Throughout the session,” the Post notes, “Gore attempted to defuse tension by making jokes, mentioning obscure scientific theories and repeatedly announcing his Web site address.” Only the LAT and Journal report that Gore nonetheless received a standing ovation when he left. Afterwards, Gore dropped in on Today’s Papers. Well, that’s not entirely correct, but he did stop by the offices of Slate–where his daughter Karenna worked several years ago–to write a diary of his day at Microsoft. To read it, click here. (The vice president, it should be noted, missed his deadline.)

From the NYT’s EgyptAir story:

Transportation investigators also stressed that they had not yet synchronized the voice tape with the flight data recorder tape, which would record events occurring on the airplane and could put the statements in context. For instance, a prayer being said after the plane began plummeting so fast that passengers were rendered weightless would not be suspicious.

From the Post’s EgyptAir story:

The key to understanding the sequence of events was that the safety board laboratory was able to correlate the exact timing on the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. They therefore knew exactly when the troubling words were uttered and when the door was opened, in relation to the plane’s dive.