Today's Papers

Lenders on a Bender

The New York Times’ national editionleads with defense lawyers in a handful of top terrorism cases saying they’re going to try to force the government to reveal if the presidential-approved extrajudicial snooping was used in their clients’ cases. Some DOJ prosecutors suggested they’re less than thrilled about the spying, figuring it might taint their cases. “If I’m a defense attorney,” said one anonymous Justice Department prosecutor, “the first thing I’m going to say in court is, ‘This was an illegal wiretap.’ “ USA Todayleads with the government planning to train security screeners at major airports to chat up passengers and look for people who start fumbling under the grilling. The program is already used at a handful of domestic airports, and some high-security countries like Israel have been doing it for years. For what it’s worth, the ACLU doesn’t like the questioning, saying it opens the door to racial profiling.  

The Washington Postleads with, and NYT fronts, Enron’s former chief accountant flipping and agreeing to testify against the company’s two top honchos: Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay. The trial for Skilling and Lay is scheduled to begin in three weeks. The accountant was originally slated for the trial, too. The Los Angeles Timesleads with sub-prime mortgage lenders—that is, those who lend to people with sketchy credit—lobbying Congress to water down states’ consumer protections against predatory loan practices. There are no federal-level protections, which, as one lobbyist explained, is something approaching a Platonic ideal. “The market works because it regulates itself,” he said. The House has a mortgage-lobby-friendly bill pending; one of its two sponsors is Bob Ney, R-Ohio, perhaps better-known these days as the “Representative No. 1” cited in an indictment revolving around fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

As most of the papers reefer, Russian President Putin’s top economic adviser resigned in protest over Putin’s creeping authoritarianism. “The forces of state interventionism have triumphed,” said Andrei Illarionov after he handed in his badge. “Russia is no longer a free country.” The NYT calls the move “unexpected but unsurprising at once.”

Illarionov had been complaining—and on the outs—for a year. “Illarionov has been window-dressing for the authorities, someone they can point to show how liberal they are,” one analyst told the Wall Street Journal. “Now things will be more honest. It’ll be easier to understand the real essence of this regime.”

The Journal goes high with a fascinating and foreboding bit of market news: Interest rates on long-term bonds have just dipped below that of short-term bonds. That’s the first time that’s happened in five years, and it’s often a sign of bad times a-comin’. “This is a warning signal, that we are on recession watch now,” said one economist. Not all analysts are on the same page, with some arguing that the inversion isn’t a big deal, so long as it stays small. “The big question is how dramatic [the inversion] becomes,” says one numbers-watcher.

The LAT fronts and WP goes inside with the Iraqi government cutting subsidies on gas; the price has jumped about eightfold recently. Iraqis have been protesting the hikes, and, as the Post emphasizes, a few gas stations have come under attack. The jump was mandated by the IMF as a condition for forgiving debt. “Because of the government subsidies, Iraq had the lowest gas prices in the world,” said an IMF spokesman. “The idea is to redirect subsidies for petroleum products—that were actually subsidizing the black market—to improving public services.”

As the NYT local edition leads with, NYC transit workers and their bosses reached a formal contract deal. It jibes with the outline that was leaked last week: Management dropped its demands for pension cuts, and the union agreed that employees will contribute a bit more to cover their health-care costs.

The NYT’s national edition goes above the fold with police across the country offering big bonuses and the like to push up lagging recruiting numbers. It’s an interesting trend and one USAT led with about two months ago.