Today's Papers

Going South

The New York Times leads with George W. Bush’s vow in Florida yesterday to rescue Latin America from the neglectful hands of the Clinton-Gore administration and establish the region as central to his foreign policy agenda. The Washington Post’s top non-local story analyzes the contradictory picture of Russia’s national health emerging amidst the fallout of the Kursk submarine disaster. The Los Angeles Times goes with data suggesting that only 700 people nationwide have signed up for a Clinton administration program that would save the poor from expensive check cashers by giving them access to bank accounts. None of the papers’ leads are fronted by anybody else.

Delivering his remarks at Florida International University in Miami, Bush promised as president to “look south not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental commitment” (NYT). Bush attacked the Clinton administration’s Latin American “summits without substance” and its aimless south-of-the-border policies, citing Clinton’s failure to expand NAFTA, his failure to pursue a wider zone of free trade throughout the hemisphere, and his failure to get the authority from Congress to expedite trade agreements with individual countries. To right Clinton’s wrongs, Bush sketched out what the NYT characterized as a series of modest proposals: small-business loans to Latin American entrepreneurs, debt forgiveness for countries working to protect tropical forests, and a program to promote Latin American employment in U.S. government agencies. Bush’s remarks preceded his afternoon meeting with Mexican President-Elect Vicente Fox, during which he promised a substantive summit with Fox before their respective inaugurations. The NYT comments that Bush’s turn to international affairs at the end of a rocky week for his campaign was a strange choice and speculates that the speech was an attempt both to seem like an “engaged” world statesman and to woo the Hispanic vote in key states, such as Florida.

The WP’s analysis of the crisis in Russia reads national morale and Putin’s uneasy political maneuverings following the Kursk tragedy as symptoms of deep-seated contradictions in the state, including its massive but decaying military complex, its great but incompetent leadership, and the blustery public rhetoric masking Russia’s internal poverty. For now, Putin’s negotiation of these contradictions has allowed him to survive the tragedy’s political backlash: From a high of 70 percent, his approval rating in Russia now stands at 60 percent. The WP calls his meeting with the relatives of the dead officers–where he sympathized with the families while defending his decision not to ask for foreign help and promising them economic aid–a “remarkable display of political savvy.” One Russian pollster attributes Putin’s continued popularity to provincial Russians’ reluctance to transfer allegiances, but another Russian analyst calls it differently: “Putin remains popular because there is no other choice.”

The LAT reports that the disappointing response to the federally subsidized electronic transfer accounts–for which the government pays U.S. banks $12.60 apiece–is due largely to the fact that banks, fearing risky business, have gotten cold feet. The accounts were supposed to move roughly 6 million low-income Americans into the financial mainstream but have so far been offered by just one major U.S. bank, Wells Fargo. A consumer advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group observes that “the idea of paying banks a $12.60 bribe to open affordable accounts clearly isn’t working.” The LAT waits until deep in the report to offer a more convincing reason for banks’ reluctance: Many are themselves entering the check-cashing business and aren’t inclined to support future competition.

Both of the Timeses front, and the WP stuffs, coverage of a fake press release for the Emulex Corp. that caused its stock to plummet 62 percent yesterday morning, from $113 to $43 a share. Emulex, a fiberoptics manufacturer, lost $2.4 billion in market value before the stock rebounded to $105.75 after news of the hoax circulated. The faux release–which claimed Emulex was revising its quarterly earnings of 25 cents a share profit to 15 cents a share loss–was distributed by Internet Wire, a Los Angeles-based news service that charges corporations a fee to distribute their press releases publicly over the Internet. All the papers note that such hoaxes are becoming more common as competition amongst financial news providers on the Internet heats up. Emulex blames Internet Wire for not checking to see whether the company’s release was the real thing, as do Internet Wire’s competitors. The chairman of Internet Wire claims his company the victim of a “sophisticated fraud.”

A Hail Mary: The NYT carries an AP story about a South Carolina high-school student body president who kicked off his school’s football season last night by (arguably) violating a 2-month-old Supreme Court ruling against school-sponsored prayer at sporting events. To get around the ruling, the high school has instituted an unofficial policy: At every home game, students can volunteer to “speak” to the crowd before the game. So far, the speeches have assumed the formal trappings of Christian prayer. No one at the South Carolina high school openly protested the prayer, though one touchdown Buddhist in the crowd remarked sagely: “It is very difficult to have a totally universal-type prayer that would be applicable to everyone who might attend a football game.”