Today's Papers

Fannie Won’t

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the unanimous House vote yesterday to allow most Social Security recipients to earn as much money as they want without losing any retirement monies. The Wall Street Journal puts the story at the top of its front-page news box. The Washington Post puts it below the fold and goes instead with an interview admission by a senior Housing and Urban Development official that tens of thousands of blacks pay higher mortgage rates or indeed cannot get mortgages at all because the nation’s two biggest suppliers of home loan cash, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have not been very actively involved in that segment of the home loan marketplace. USA Today leads with John McCain’s attempts to recover from the backlash over his comments that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are “forces of evil.” According to the paper, McCain explained that while he thinks the two men are a bad influence on the Republican Party, the use of “evil” was “an attempt at humor. … If anyone was offended I regret it.”

The Social Security stories point out that there is some debate about what impact the change would have on the labor economy. The NYT says that finally, the main justification offered by the bill’s sponsors was simple fairness, calling it unconscionable for the government to deny workers benefits they’d earned because of their desire to work. Both papers belatedly observe that the change means dipping into Social Security funds for an additional $22.7 billion over the next decade–the LAT putting this in the 10th paragraph, the NYT saving it for the penultimate paragraph. But both say that there would be no long-run adverse affect on Social Security’s financial footing. The NYT cites a resultant reduction in deferred benefits, although it doesn’t really give a good explanation of this. The LAT offers a different and plainer reason: The new rule would produce an upsurge in payroll tax revenue.

The Post lead explains that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are private (but government-sponsored) companies chartered by Congress to buy home loans from banks and other lenders to ensure a plentiful supply of mortgage money. The story also notes that the two concerns’ ads frequently feature black families. A Freddie Mac official is quoted offering the following explanation of the two organizations’ low rate of purchase of home loans taken out by blacks: By law, the companies can’t generally buy loans with less than 20 percent down. The story doesn’t look into, but should have, how many 20 percent-or-more-down black-held home loans there are. If there are a reasonable number, then the foregoing explanation is bogus.

Everybody fronts a profile of the alleged 6-year-old school shooter. They all find his home–a run-down house in a crime-infested neighborhood, a house that was no stranger to drugs and guns. The NYT quotes neighbors’ description of it as a crack house. The WP says flatly that’s what it is.

The LAT fronts last night’s Gore-Bradley debate, noting that it was distinctly less acrimonious than its predecessors. The story reports that Bradley frequently referred to Gore as “the vice president,” a bit of deference he’d previously eschewed, and sees the whole evening as a “valedictory of sorts for Bradley’s sputtering campaign.”

The NYT reports on a surprise raid yesterday on the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which conducted a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway a few years ago that killed 12. The authorities discovered that computer companies associated with the sect had developed software for at least 10 government agencies, including the Defense Ministry. The finding has produced a widespread fear in Japan, says the paper, that the sect has access to sensitive government and corporate computer systems, positioning it to engage in cyberterrorism.

The NYT reports inside on an important test coming up for e-commerce: The European Commission is planning to collect sales tax on music and software delivered over the World Wide Web. The main motivation is to protect the European market from the loss of value-added tax revenues created by Europeans’ Internet purchases of American-made software, music, and videos.

Among the early editions, it’s the LAT that reports that the British government has decided not to send Augusto Pinochet to Spain to stand trial for human rights crimes. Instead, the paper reports, after 17 months in custody, he’ll be allowed to return home.

The Republican presidential contenders took to the late-night airwaves last night and, according to the NYT’s Caryn James at least, McCain on Leno did a lot better than Bush on Letterman. McCain was “smooth and congenial,” at one point using Neve Campbell’s bunion complaints as a chance to plug universal health care. On the other hand, Bush “went up in flames.” When Letterman asked Bush (who was on via a satellite hook-up) the meaning of his signal phrase, “I’m a uniter not a divider,” Bush said, “That means when it comes time to sew up your chest cavity, we use stitches as opposed to opening it up.” The audience, says the story, booed.

The WP reports that CBS plans to air a show this summer, based on a German series, called Survivor, in which to win a lot of money, a group of people will be locked together in a house and videoed ad nauseam, and each week viewers will vote to evict somebody until only one person, the winner, remains. Better idea: How about Who Wants To Garotte a Network Executive?