The New York Timesleads with an unreleased report written by health officials in the Bush administration that illustrates the extent to which the United States is unprepared for an outbreak of pandemic flu. The Washington Postleads with data that shows prescription of antidepressant drugs to children fell 20 percent in the last year as concerns over side effects continue to increase. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally, but off-leads the discussions that will begin on Tuesday among policymakers that might reduce several key tax benefits that are now granted to homeowners. Although the mortgage-interest deduction, which saved homeowners $61.5 billion last year, is not expected to go, other benefits could be eliminated, which would mean a significant increase in taxes for many, especially those in high-priced markets. The reduction of incentives might decrease demand and ultimately make housing more affordable.
The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with a catch-all on recent congressional activity, focusing on the narrow passage of energy legislation in the House of Representatives, which the rest of the papers mention inside. The bill to increase the nation’s oil refinery capacity by speeding up environmental checks, among other incentives, passed 212 to 210 after Republicans had to keep the vote open for approximately 45 minutes (while Democrats shouted “Shame! Shame!”) to convince certain members of their party. Opponents of the bill say that it will only help oil companies. Rep. Tom DeLay, who is no longer in the House leadership, played an important role in convincing representatives to vote for the bill. It does not face a good chance of passing in the Senate.
In the worst-case scenario of the flu-pandemic plan, which the NYT describes as having the “feel of a television movie-of-the-week,” more than 1.9 million Americans would die as a result of the outbreak, despite any travel restrictions or quarantines. Although the plan does not mention key points, such as how the military would be used or who would be in charge, it does illustrate some severe shortcomings, particularly in vaccine production. To deal with this problem, President Bush met with the leaders of major vaccine and pharmaceutical companies on Friday. The Post goes inside with the meeting, where everyone agreed that obstacles must be overcome to increase vaccine manufacturing, but not much seems to have been decided.
Although no one knows what the effects could be of the strong decline in the prescription of antidepressants for children, with some worrying that it might increase suicide, they do seem to agree that the problem is the lack of longterm studies about the effects of these drugs. Recent studies paid for by the government have shown shortcomings in the early drug company results. The WP quotes a pharmaceutical company lobbyist saying these studies should be paid for by the government because they’re too expensive and would “probably bring drug development to a halt.” This claim is left unexplored by the Post even though widely available data could raise questions about the assertion. In an article published by the New York Review of Books last year, Marcia Angell wrote that the combined profits of the 10 drug companies in 2002, listed in the Fortune 500, was $35.9 billion, which was more than the profits of all the other businesses in the list put together. Also, on average, the 10 biggest drug companies spent 14 percent of their total sales on research and development in 2000, compared to 36 percent on marketing and administration. (Last year, Slate contributor Peter D. Kramer examined whether teenagers should take drugs for depression.)
Everyone fronts the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei. All the papers mention the prize could be seen as a critique of President Bush’s administration, which tried, but ultimately failed, to remove him from his post for much of the last year and faced disagreements with ElBaradei over how to deal with Iraq and Iran. Nobel Prize officials denied this was a political statement and said ElBaradei had been a strong advocate for diplomacy while working to rid the world from the threat of nuclear weapons.
The LAT catches late word of a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan early on Saturday. Early morning wire reports say the death toll is still unknown, but could be “in the hundreds.”
The NYT and WP front more details on the origins of the New York terrorist threat, which apparently came from an informant in Iraq who approached officials on his own. The Post says that this seems to be the first time officials have acted on information collected in Iraq about a threat on U.S. soil since the 2003 invasion. So far, three men, who trained together in Afghanistan, have been taken into custody in Iraq in connection to the subway bomb threats. Some officials in Washington said the threats were not credible, with one official telling the NYT they haven’t been able to corroborate any of the information, while another told the WP the threats seemed too far-fetched to be true. Both the NYT and LAT go inside with New York officials defending their decision to take the threat seriously.
The NYT and LAT stuff news that two roadside bombs killed six U.S. Marines in western Iraq.
The NYT fronts, while the rest go inside, with Bush’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Timothy E. Flanigan, withdrawing himself from the running. His confirmation has been delayed several times, particularly after questions came up about his connections to über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his lack of experience as a criminal prosecutor, and his role in the creation of the administration’s policies on the treatment of terrorist suspects.
All the papers mention President Bush continued to support his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet E. Miers, despite increasing skepticism from conservatives about her qualifications and beliefs. The WP also fronts, while the LAT goes inside, with an analysis of Miers’ two years at the Dallas City Council. They both say she took on controversial issues but often stuck to herself and was never able to get used to the world of politics. The Post details that when Miers met with advocates of abortion and gay rights, she plainly told them she disagreed with their views. The LAT fronts a story on the curious 30-year relationship between Miers and Texas Supreme Court Judge Nathan Hecht, who has recently spoken out in favor of her nomination to the media. Although Hecht says they are not “currently” romantically involved, several people close to them said they never married, despite their conservative beliefs, because they both wanted to focus on their careers. (Slate’s Emily Bazelon looked into Hecht’s track record on abortion.)
The NYT reefers a look at how former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton still have not decided how they are going to distribute the more than $108 million they have raised to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. The presidents also haven’t distributed the $10.7 million that was sent directly to their offices during the tsunami fundraising effort.
The WSJ fronts, and the rest of the papers mention, the first rise in unemployment in seven months, to 5.1 percent in September from 4.9 percent. This increase was largely concentrated in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and was lower than expected, so most analysts saw it as good news.
Despite increasing worries about identity theft from hackers and high-tech gadgets, the people you should really be worried about are your friends. The WSJ reports that most identity theft still results from old-fashioned methods, such as forgery or stealing statements from the garbage. According to one study, 26 percent of all fraud victims knew the person who took their information, and as much as 50 percent of those who committed debit card fraud are a family member or friend. Computer viruses or hackers only accounted for 2.2 percent of all identity theft.