Thursday, September 22, 2005


Slate-Papers: Redux in Rita - Sept. 22

By Eric Umansky - Posted Thursday at 3:48 AM CT

Everybody leads again with Hurricane Rita, below left, which is now a Category 5 storm and is on track to hit the central coast of Texas early Saturday. About 1.1 million have been ordered to evacuate -- that includes residents of low-lying areas in Houston, the country's fourth-largest city. The hurricane is expected to slow down a bit before making landfall. But as it stands, Rita is the third-strongest hurricane ever recorded. (Katrina clocked in at No. 5.)

Hurricane RitaRita is currently slated to miss New Orleans by a wide margin, but levees could give way if the city gets just heavy rain. The Financial Times says officials are worried about the possibility of even 3 inches. Other papers put it at 6 inches.

Knight Ridder and the Los Angeles Times both have pieces explaining why Rita and Katrina blew up into super-storms. The two lingered in a spot of the Gulf that currently has "perfect hurricane fuel: ultra-deep, super-warm water."

As USA Today notes in a front-page piece, officials on all levels are, not surprisingly, going the extra mile to prepare. After Katrina, officials in Galveston went door to door making a list of citizens who would need help evacuating. They were all out by yesterday afternoon. As for Washington, Bush signing disaster lawPresident Bush, right, has already declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana. And thousands of active-duty troops are on standby. The Wall Street Journal notices that the administration has named another Coast Guard admiral as the fed's point man for Rita, "bypassing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a second time."

Texas has far more refineries along the coast than Louisiana and Mississippi do. "We all sort of hope that Rita is not as strong as Katrina," said one analyst. "But if you put them on an equal basis you are talking about nearly three times the amount of refining capacity that is at risk." Oil prices picked up again yesterday, and the stock market took a small dive.

The New York Times has a particularly glum piece about the prospects for the energy market. "Even if you restart [refineries] on Sunday, it's going to be two, three or four days before they are fully operational," said a market analyst. "Can we afford to have that much supply out of the market? It doesn't seem that we can."

The Washington Post says that in a break with tradition, the gambling industry will be allowed to take part in the tax breaks to be offered in the "Gulf Opportunity Zone." "The casinos don't need this," said one local economist. "If they are [eligible], that would be a complete waste of money." The WP actually has a better story buried -- and barely mentioned -- within its story: So-called opportunity zones have been tried before in the region, with questionable results. Western Mississippi has had one since 1994, and one economist said it has "had zero impact." Follow-up, anyone?

The Post flags a GAO report concluding that the Pentagon's accounting books are so FUBAR the military doesn't know much it's spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Really. Here's how the government report puts it: "Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent." The story is stuffed onto A23. That's better than the other papers, which put the public report nowhere that TP sees. The Pentagon has been losing billions for years. Does that make it a non-story? (Bonus annoyance: Why didn't the Post link to the actual report?)

Citing a "church official," the NYT fronts apparently pending Vatican rules barring men who are gay from becoming priests even if they're celibate. Pope Pope BenedictBenedict, left, hasn't put the proposal to paper yet. But according to the "church official," the question is not "if it will be published, but when."

The NYT fronts and others go inside with two studies showing that flu vaccines are only moderately effective. They also found that resistance to vaccines is seriously spiking, from less than 1 percent of the samples 10 years ago to 12 percent in 2004.

The NYT peels back the picture a bit of the surprisingly murky world of medical-implant devices. "Some" surgeons who implant the devices, say knee replacements, have consulting deals with the manufacturing companies. It's hard to know numbers because the deals are "largely hidden." The Times says the feds actually have a few investigations into what appears to be implant payola, but the paper doesn't adequately cite the regulations around all this. For example, what's the AMA's stance: Are doctors required to disclose the deals?

Something for the news pages? The Post's David Broder says the White House is dragging its feet on making Katrina survivors eligible for Medicaid.

The Post announces on Page One: "IN OFFENSIVE, IRAQI FORCES SHOW SIGNS OF PROGRESS." And indeed the paper does give evidence that the Iraq soldiers fought hard. What's buried -- not mentioned until the 12th paragraph -- is that most of the soldiers were rebadged militia men, in particular, Kurdish peshmerga hated by the locals. There was one Shiite unit fighting; the Post says U.S. commanders "grounded it … alleging overly aggressive tactics." A Time reporter who was embedded during the offensive focuses on one other small detail: Most of the insurgents got away.

Eric Umansky (www.ericumansky.com) writes "Today's Papers" for Slate. He can be reached at todayspapers@slate.com.  Source:  Slate Magazine.

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