Today's Papers

Foreign Drug Abuse

The New York Times and the Washington Post each lead with reports on flaws in the Food and Drug Administration’s scrutiny of foreign drug manufacturers. The Los Angeles Times leads with the battle over insurance claims by civilian contractors who return from Iraq and claim to be afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The WP reports that a growing number of medicines, particularly generic drugs and over-the-counter remedies, are made in factories in China and India. While the FDA does inspect foreign plants that ship drugs to the U.S., it lacks the resources to do so with the consistency it polices domestic facilities. The FDA performed more than 1,200 such inspections in the U.S. last year, compared with only about 200 abroad.

The NYT’s drug story seeks to make the problem of unregulated foreign medical manufacturing less abstract. Their piece focuses on two incidents in which Chinese counterfeit drug ingredients killed dozens of people: one in Haiti in 1996 and one last year in Panama. In both cases, the FDA tried to determine the source of the chemicals, hoping to prevent further poisonings and in each case the agency was stymied by an ambiguous supply chain, poor record keeping, and unhelpful Chinese officials. The paper concludes that no agency has the authority to police the pharmaceutical industry at every stop in the supply chain, leaving makers of tainted or counterfeit components to continue operating with impunity.

Civilians working as contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan often return suffering from post-traumatic stress, says the LAT. Defense contractors are required by law to purchase health insurance for their workers, but insurance companies have taken to denying an unusually high number of cases involving post-traumatic stress, leading to protracted court battles. In the meantime, the contractors must make do with little or no treatment. 

The LAT’s story makes a point of saying that these contractors don’t receive veterans’ health benefits, leaving them at the mercy of their insurance companies. As the WP reports in its ongoing series of veterans’ health articles, however, veterans also have difficulty securing treatment for post-traumatic stress. The problem begins with the burgeoning number of troops suffering from the disorder: perhaps as many as one in four serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The paper reports that even if the Department of Veterans Affairs had enough money to treat all these troops, the department has a backlog of cases that prevents proper diagnosis and timely treatment. If the department caught up on its paperwork, it still wouldn’t have enough therapists to treat all the new cases and many of the ones it does have lack experience. Even if all those problems disappeared, the stigma of mental illness still keeps more than half of troops with serious mental problems from seeking treatment.

The LAT off-leads with a story about residents of suburban communities in California that are using controversial legal tactics to revoke the Section 8 housing subsidies of their neighbors. Some residents say they’re using the law to prevent lawbreakers from lowering property values and increasing crime rates; meanwhile, those who have lost subsidies claim they were the victims of warrantless searches and racially motivated accusations.

The NYT off-leads with reports that U.S. troops in Iraq are beginning an offensive against al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. With the last of the surge troops finally in place, commanders are using the increased manpower to undertake a sustained effort to choke off cells of the terrorist group in the areas around Baghdad. Commanders acknowledge, however, that this new offensive will reduce the number of troops available for neighborhood security patrols within the city.

In a news analysis piece, the LAT takes the occasion to begin assessing President Bush’s surge strategy, noting that many of the early security gains of the plan seem to be eroding. The paper argues that while the number of civilian deaths in Baghdad dropped after the surge, the increase in security has failed to yield political gains in the country’s legislature. The paper then asks if the problem might lie with diplomatic tactics, not troop numbers. The LAT says that the U.S. should give Iraqi factions incentives of cash, weapons, and equipment in exchange for cooperation.

The NYT runs a new analysis piece in the wake of last week’s dissolution of the Palestinian government, discussing both the opportunities and the potential pitfalls of treating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as two separate entities.

The growth rate of Internet sales appears to be slowing down in every retail sector, reports the NYT. As growth rates of 25 percent or more become difficult to sustain, online retailers are diversifying. Some stores are developing hybrid business models that allow customers to browse online but pick up merchandise at a retail location.

The wait list for a security check to become a naturalized U.S. citizen is now more than 300,000 applicants long, says the WP. Public officials blame poor coordination between agencies and inefficient processing methods. Critics point out that these delays are more than an inconvenience: If an applicant is a real security threat, the delay buys them time in this country.

The LAT runs an item under the fold on a paradox in voter attitudes: Most voters say they’d like a Democrat to win the presidency in 2008, but some voters change their mind when asked about specific Democratic candidates. The paper conducted a poll comparing voter’s preference for an unspecified candidate of either party with matchups of the leading candidates of both parties. Though a generic Democrat would lead a generic Republican by 8 percent, specific Democrats, most notably Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., poll lower than their Republican rivals. The paper doesn’t discuss the poll’s methodology, except to say it had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The article is so focused on Clinton’s polarizing effect on the election that it barely mentions the one clear exception to this trend: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who leads all the top Republican candidates by healthy margins.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is closely associated with the efforts of city firemen during the Sept. 11 attacks, but not all firemen support Giuliani’s presidential bid, says the NYT.

Game theory: The NYT Magazine looks at the life of Chinese “gold farmers” who toil in online fantasy video games, earning virtual currency to be sold to wealthy American and European gamers. The NYT also has an amusing slide show comparing photos of gamers and their online avatars. Meanwhile, the LAT asks if professional gaming could be the next big spectator sport.