Today's Papers

Bush Whacks, Wall Street Wanes

Everybody leads with details on yesterday’s much-anticipated presidential speech on corporate reform. As had been expected, the president called for tougher criminal penalties against execs who fudge numbers. He also proposed increasing the SEC’s budget and announced the creation of a federal corporate fraud task force. USA Today echoes the papers’ general sentiments when it says that Bush essentially called for “tougher enforcement of existing laws, rather than sweeping changes.”

The papers’ analyses of the speech all basically come to the same conclusion: Tightening the criminal code and enforcement probably isn’t going to solve things; instead, what experts say is needed is what Bush didn’t call for, better regulation of the accounting industry. The Washington Post, for example, zings the president for “preferring exhortation to regulation.” The analyses also point out that some of Bush’s proposals appeared to be, as the Los Angeles Times says, “even less exacting than existing regulations.”

The LAT’s analysis is headlined (at least online), “REACTION TO BUSH’S CALLS FOR STIFFER LAWS IS MIXED.” That’s sounds very even-handed, but it’s not accurate, or at least it’s not representative of the article: The story quotes five experts responding to the speech; all of them are critical of it.

Meanwhile, the LAT’s subhead gives a better, though more charged, sense of the story: “Critics say the president failed to address a core problem and his proposals were nonspecific, irrelevant, and redundant.” (The late-edition of the paper toned that down and has that the president’s “proposals are unlikely to restore investor confidence or curb business excesses.”)

A piece in the Post’s business section emphasizes that former SEC folks were unimpressed with Bush’s proposal to add $100 million to the agency’s budget. “It’s not even close to enough,” said a former Republican SEC chairman. The Post points out that the extra bucks still leave the agency $210 mil belowwhat the House authorized for it last week. 

The papers also point out that Bush didn’t come out in support of the Senate’s fairly tough Democrat-sponsored accounting reform bill. A Post editorial on the speech notes that the White House released a statement yesterday critical of the legislation.

Everybody notes that traders didn’t seem to be impressed by Bush’s speech. The Dow fell 179 points yesterday.

Another piece in the WP’s biz section takes a whack at the Democrat-sponsored reform bill. It says that buried in the legislation’s “fine print” are provisions that actually limit its scope, including one that allows an oversight board in some cases to keep secret any reports that an accounting company may have been involved in sketchy stuff. The WP says that that means the new system could be potentially “even less illuminating” then the current one.

A New York Times editorial calls for Bush to “come clean” on his past business dealings and also says that any “clear-sighted administration” would recognize that SEC chairman Harvey Pitt should be shown the door.

Everybody notes up high that the Senate overrode Nevada’s objections and voted to go ahead with planning for a national nuclear waste repository in Yucca, Nev..The House has already approved the plan, so further battles about the construction will now be waged in court. The Wall Street Journal notes that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a long-time opponent of the project, called the vote the “Screw Nevada Law.”

The papers report inside that the feds have uncovered a scheme at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar in which at least one employee there appears to have forged visas in return for bribes. The papers say that 71 people got the bogus visas, including two roommates of Sept. 11 hijackers. According to authorities, one of those guys is already in custody and is cooperating.

The WP fronts what appears to be an exclusive: Last month the U.S. “secretly” deported 131 Pakistanis who had been detained in post-9/11 sweeps, mostly for immigration violations. A U.S. spokesman acknowledged the airlift and explained it had been kept quiet because of “security concerns.” According to the spokesman, none of the deportees appears to have had any connection to terror groups.

The NYT says that the Pentagon is “considering” using bases in Jordan to eventually launch strikes into Iraq. The Times emphasizes that Jordanian officials “have criticized” such a plan. But the article’s 20th paragraph hints that a deal might be in the works: The White House has already requested money to expand some airbases in Jordan.

The papers all report that actor Rod Steiger, who won an Academy Award for his performance in In the Heat of the Night, died yesterday at the age of 77.

Everybody notes that baseball’s All-Star game yesterday was tied at 7-7 after 11 innings, at which point the teams’ managers had run out of available players and baseball’s commissioner declared the game a draw.