The Los Angeles Times leads with the steepest one-day decline in stock prices in more than two years. Friday marked the third straight day of more than 100-point drops in the stock market, the first time that has happened since January 2003. It all led to the lowest prices of the year. Throughout the week, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 3.6 percent of its value. The New York Times and the Washington Post front the stock market news but lead with Amtrak canceling its Acela Express services at least until Wednesday. A government inspector found cracks in the brakes of a train after a speed experiment. Subsequent checks found similar problems in the rest of the 20 high-speed trains that connect New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. It could take months to fully restore the trains, which will likely affect Amtrak’s revenue as the high-priced service transports approximately 10,000 passengers every weekday. Both papers point out this problem comes at the heels of President Bush’s proposal to cut all subsidies to Amtrak in order to force a restructuring of the company that has lost more than $500 million each year for the past 10 years. Congressional support for Amtrak remains strong so the proposal is not likely to get very far, but this latest setback adds to the numerous problems currently faced by the company.
A weak earnings report released by IBM and a survey declaring that consumer confidence declined in early April were the major catalysts for the sharp decrease in stock prices on Friday. The heavy selling, however, began on Wednesday when data released made it clear that economic growth has slowed, partly because of the persistently high price of oil. Some analysts, however, claim that the recent decline is more due to an overreaction of skeptical investors rather than economic figures.
The NYT fronts a look at how reconstruction projects in Iraq have been canceled to pay for increasing security costs since the breakout of violence last year. Water and sewage projects have been among the most affected by these cuts. Of the 81 projects originally planned in the waterworks sector that were financed through the Public Works Ministry, all but 13 have been cut. Those that remain have been reduced in scale.
The NYT is alone in dedicating a story inside to the latest violence in Iraq, where a suicide bomber killed four police officers and three separate bombings in Baghdad injured at least nine civilians. On Friday, the U.S. military announced that two marines were killed earlier this week, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday (the LAT and WP include this detail at the end of different Iraq stories).
All the papers mention an inspector general’s report that reveals two Education Department officials raised concerns to a White House policy adviser about the contract with conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. Although the adviser said he shared the concerns, he did not prevent the contract from being renewed. In the end, the report stated the contract was not illegal or unethical but it did question whether the department got its money’s worth. The inspector general did not look into whether the contract constituted covert propaganda. The LAT focuses on the White House angle with the headline: “INQUIRY FINDS WHITE HOUSE ROLE IN CONTRACT.” The WP, on the other hand, waits until the 10th paragraph to bring it up, choosing to go with: “HIRING OF COMMENTATOR IS CALLED POOR JUDGMENT.”
Democratic senators urged Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to withdraw from a national telecast on Sunday that will characterize Democrats as “against people of faith.” The telecast, called “Justice Sunday,” is seen as a way of gathering Christian conservative support for the fight over changing Senate rules to prevent filibusters from blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees. Democratic senators complained that Frist is improperly bringing religion into a political fight.
All the papers go inside with, although the WP fronts a picture of, an early morning fire in a hotel in Paris that killed 20 people, half of them children, and injured 59. Most of the victims were immigrants who were placed in the hotel by the city’s social services. As the fire engulfed the building, many jumped to their death.
The Lebanese president appointed Najib Mikati, a pro-Syrian member of parliament, to be the country’s prime minister-designate. The appointment comes two days after the previous prime minister-designate resigned, saying he could not form an interim cabinet. Despite Mikati’s strong ties with Syria, he gained support from the Lebanese opposition. He promised to hold elections on time and to assist in the international investigation into the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
President Bush and Laura Bush paid a total of $207,307 in federal income taxes on a total income of $784,219, according to their 2004 tax returns. The Bushes reported giving $77,785 to charities and churches. According to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, the tax cuts signed into law by President Bush saved the couple $28,846.
The LAT fronts a look at the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill., that vows to get the younger generation interested in the former president by making the museum seem more like an amusement park. The museum cost $90 million and contains special effects created by a studio that has done work for action movies. Walking through 12 sets, visitors travel through Lincoln’s life, often seeing graphic portrayals of the Civil War and a sometimes-unflattering view of the former president. At one point, Lincoln is described as “a teller of vulgar stories” and “a negligent spouse.” Visitors will also hear whispers of women complaining about Mary Todd Lincoln’s dresses that reveal her “milking apparatus.” The museum’s creator said he wanted to “knock Lincoln off his pedestal” so people could see the regular man behind the president.