Today's Papers

Hurricane Fatigue

The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with Hurricane Wilma. After causing extensive damage to Mexico’s coast, it is now moving along as a Category 3 storm with winds of more than 110 miles per hour and is expected to hit southwestern Florida by Monday morning. The Washington Postleads with the military’s new trend of publicizing insurgent death counts after operations in Iraq to illustrate progress and increase morale. This practice was common in the Vietnam War but was discredited for being inaccurate, and military leaders have been hesitant to release these figures ever since. The Pentagon still says its policy is to avoid releasing the numbers, but field commanders in Baghdad can choose to release these tolls after certain operations. USA Todayleads with the increasing sophistication of roadside bombs in Iraq. Insurgents are learning from their mistakes and different groups are teaching each other how to create deadlier and more precise bombs, which is the most important weapon used against U.S. forces. The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that Americans with a good credit rating frequently get stuck with “sub-prime loans” instead of the traditional loans that are cheaper. According to Freddie Mac, more than 20 percent of people who received these expensive loans could have gotten a better deal, but they simply failed to ask the right questions or went to the wrong lender.

The rest of the papers front Wilma and describe the devastation that she left on Mexico’s Yucatan coast, where looting broke out as soon as the storm subsided. The LAT says that the storm has left 15,000 people homeless. Despite this devastation and plenty of warning, approximately 80 percent of Florida Keys’ residents and 25 percent of the people in Naples, Fla., did not evacuate. This will be the eighth hurricane to hit Florida in a little more than 14 months. Meanwhile, the NYT mentions that Tropical Storm Alpha hit Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Sunday, killing at least one person. This latest storm, which has since been downgraded to a tropical depression, broke all records and has officially marked this hurricane season as the most active since officials started keeping track 150 years ago.

In related news, the WSJ fronts a story on the coming financial troubles for the state-run companies that insure thousands of homes in areas that have been severely affected by hurricanes this season. These insurers are used by those who are deemed as too high-risk to be insured by private companies. The high payout by these state companies will mean an increase in the insurance rates for all homeowners, since they get their money by charging a certain amount to private insurers.

The WP fronts a story based on documents it received from a Washington-based nonprofit that show how the FBI has investigated hundreds of potential violations during secretive surveillance operations. Agents have spied on U.S. residents without the proper authorization and used expired warrants to get information, among other transgressions. Congressional leaders are currently discussing whether to modify the USA Patriot Act.

The NYT fronts Republican strategists close to the White House saying that if the probe by Patrick Fitzgerald results in any indictments, they will say these consist of legal technicalities and are a result of an eager prosecutor. On Sunday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she hoped Fitzgerald wouldn’t indict on a technicality, comparing it to the Martha Stewart trial. The Post reports inside that others in the Republican Party said that anyone indicted should step down from the White House. It will be difficult for Republicans to cast doubt on Fitzgerald, because, as the Post notes in a separate story inside, he is seen as a fair, nonpartisan prosecutor who knows his cases.

The WP fronts news that, as some suspected, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s trust, which he had previously described as “totally blind,” may have not been so blind after all. Letters show that managers regularly informed Frist of activity in his trust, including the acquisition of HCA Inc. stock. Frist is currently under investigation over whether he was in possession of inside information when he sold stock in his family-founded company, HCA, right before it plunged as a result of a weak earnings report.

All the papers stuff the plane crash in Nigeria on Saturday night that apparently killed all 117 people on board. The Post focuses on the confused response to the crash by Nigerian officials, who took 15 hours to confirm where the crash had taken place, even though it was only 20 miles from the country’s largest city, Lagos. Nigeria’s first lady also suddenly died on Sunday while undergoing surgery in Spain.

The NYT mentions inside that violence in Iraq killed at least 17 people on Sunday. Elsewhere in Iraq, the LAT reports that lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his codefendants refused to appear at a special court hearing, saying they are worried for their safety after one of their colleagues was killed.

The NYT goes inside with Saad Hariri saying that a special international tribunal should be set up to try the suspects in the assassination of his father, former prime minister of Lebanon. This came at a time when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the U.N. Security Council would pass some sort of sanction against Syria. USA Today says that the United States has been working with France on a resolution as a reaction to last week’s report that Syria was involved in the assassination.

The WP fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, further preliminary findings that illustrate how the failures of the levees in New Orleans were due to design flaws. There are currently three separate and independent investigations into what happened with the levees during Hurricane Katrina. On Saturday, the LAT published a story that reported on the preliminary results of an investigation that also blamed the levee failures on design and maintenance problems.  

The WSJ notes that experts are worried about what will happen next spring when millions of birds that have migrated from Northern Europe come back, potentially infected with the H5N1 virus.

Both the NYT and WSJ mention that the huge conglomerate Cendant, which consists of such prominent companies as Century 21, Avis, Budget, Orbitz, and Ramada, among others, will break up into four different companies. The NYT says it’s “perhaps the most vivid acknowledgment that the latest era of conglomerates built through mergers and acquisitions may be over.”

Seems to work just fine for the news business … After years of rumors, New Times Media, the largest publisher of alternative newspapers, will announce today that it plans to acquire Village Voice Media. The merger means the chain will grow to 17 weekly newspapers. The merged company is planning to create an alternative media Internet portal with the Village Voice as its brand. The deal still has to be approved by the Justice Department. The first sentence in the memo about the merger posted this morning on the Village Voice’s Web site? “Sometimes, rumors turn out to be true.”