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Briefs (right)

Short on Drivers,
Trucking Firms Facing Crisis

By Ian Urbina

The men gathered in front of the BZ Ballaz Club barbershop in a gritty, mostly Hispanic section of north Philadelphia are listening intently as Kimberly Cromer makes her pitch for a career in long-haul trucking.

“Why pull $7 an hour cutting hair when you can make $19 an hour driving an 18-wheeler?” Cromer said, handing the men a pamphlet in Spanish explaining the requirements for a federal commercial driver’s license. “Seriously guys, don’t you want to get a job with a future and get out of this neighborhood to see the country?”

Faced with what trucking experts describe as the worst labor shortage in the industry’s history, recruiters like Cromer are canvassing cities and holding job fairs to entice new drivers.

Fueled mostly by retirements, the driver shortage grew dire, industry economists say, starting in 2000 when average wages in construction and other blue-collar jobs surpassed those of long-haul drivers.

“Guys figured, why be out on the road for three weeks when they could swing a hammer during the day, make more money, and sleep in their own bed each night?” said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Assocation.

With predictions from the association that the current shortage of 20,000 drivers will grow nearly fivefold within a decade, trucking companies are offering generous 401(k), stock option, and health care packages to new recruits and cash bonuses and prizes to drivers who refer viable candidates.

Enron Figures Tell
How Results Were Manipulated

By Alexei Barrionuevo

Two minor figures in the Enron story added on Monday to testimony that the company padded earnings and shifted hundreds of millions in losses from one division to another to disguise problems that might have concerned investors.

The former chief accountant of Enron’s wholesale energy-trading unit, Wesley H. Colwell, testified that in 2000, the company dipped into reserve accounts set up for problem contracts to illegally pad earnings. And Wanda Curry, a former internal accountant, said she had led a project that uncovered problems with Enron Energy Services, the retail energy unit — problems that were covered up in part, she said, by transferring more than $500 million in losses to the wholesale energy unit.

Their testimony could be important in prosecution efforts to show that Jeffrey K. Skilling, a former Enron chief executive, knowingly directed manipulations of Enron earnings and financial results and then lied about Enron’s performance.

Skilling is on trial in Federal District Court, along with the founder of Enron, Kenneth L. Lay. Both men are accused of conspiring to defraud Enron investors and face the possibility of spending the rest of their lives behind bars if convicted.

Testifying in the trial’s fifth week, Colwell said he manipulated earnings on two occasions after receiving directions from Enron corporate officers that they wanted to beat analysts’ estimates for each quarter. In both cases, he said, he dipped into a $70 million reserve that had been set aside for a contract settlement with a utility. Colwell and previous witnesses have testified that it is illegal to dip into reserves to achieve earnings targets.

Colwell has admitted to manipulating earnings and has been fined $500,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He has an agreement with the Justice Department that requires him to testify to avoid criminal prosecution.

Taiwan’s Leader Defies
Beijing’s Warnings

By Keith Bradsher

President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan announced late on Monday afternoon that he was scrapping the island’s unification council and guidelines for any political unification with mainland China, defying warnings from both China and the United States.

While the move seemed intended to strengthen his political position at home, he also hedged his remarks, saying in a televised address, “Taiwan has no intention of changing the status quo.” He also avoided using the Chinese word for “abolish” in describing his action and did not say he would revoke the 1990 executive decision that created the council, leaving open the possibility that it could be reconstituted.

The council has been moribund since he took office in 2000, but has considerable symbolic importance. Chen promised in his first inaugural address that as long as the mainland had no intention of using military force against Taiwan, he would not undertake certain moves toward independence, and specifically declared, “There is no question of abolishing the Guidelines for National Unification and the National Unification Council.”

The mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office had no immediate comment on Monday night, but had issued increasing warnings over the last month against tampering with the council and guidelines. “The escalated secessionist push of Chen Shui-bian will certainly trigger a serious crisis across the Taiwan Straits and destroy peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” the office said in a statement on Sunday.

First Woman Elected
To Baseball Hall of Fame

By Jack Curry

Effa Manley, a savvy businesswoman whose gravestone reads, “She Loved Baseball,” became the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Monday when 17 people from the Negro leagues and the predecessor era in black baseball were selected by a special committee.

Manley, who co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe, handled the daily business operations of the team and was considered an expert in marketing and advertising. She was also diligent in fighting for better conditions for the players on the Eagles, who won the Negro leagues World Series in 1946.

“While Abe had the money, she was really the one running the show,” said Leslie Heaphy, a Negro leagues historian and member of the voting committee.