Today's Papers

Fueling Around

The Washington Post leads with coming changes in military strategy and planning due to the Pentagon’s imminent abandonment of its long-held belief that it must be able to fight two major wars at once. USA Today reports in its lead that more than 20 gas station owners in California and the Chicago area contacted by the paper say they have been told to expect pump prices in the $3/gallon range. (Did lots of other owners in those cities and elsewhere forecast price stability? The story doesn’t say.) The New York Times lead picks over census findings about cities. And the Los Angeles Times goes with John Paul II’s visit to the main mosque in Damascus, Syria–the first time a pope has visited and prayed in a Muslim house of worship.

The WP lead headline–“PENTAGON PLANS MAJOR CHANGES IN U.S. STRATEGY”–takes honors for vagueness: It doesn’t mention dropping the two-war posture nor the likelihood, mentioned in the Post’s copy, of increased defense budgets. (When USAT tipped Pentagon changes in a lead story last week, it used its headline to give a heads-up about the attendant spending increases.) The Post explains that dropping the two-war rule will allow the personnel level of the United States’ active-duty military to drop below where it’s been for years–1.4 million people–which in turn would free up money for the new space-, missile-, and intelligence-related weapons Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to buy. The paper says that many top military officers (especially those in the Army) are worried that Rumseld is going to spend so much on these priorities that their own weapons programs will suffer.

The USAT gas price lead quotes by name one owner of California Shell and Chevron gas stations saying that both companies had told him to be prepared for $3/gallon gas. But the story also quotes a Chevron spokesman by name saying the company “never” gives retailers advance notices on prices.

The NYT lead says that the largest U.S. cities grew nearly twice as fast in the 1990s as in the 1980s, with western and southern big cities growing the most. Trends: Cities with educated residents grew while those with large numbers of poor people and/or big public transit systems shrank. USAT fronts an urban demographics story, which says that core downtown populations are trending up, even in many cities losing people overall, and that this countertrend is buoyed by increasing numbers of whites. (Along the way, the story has this stunning stat: The number of people who live in downtown Cleveland is … 9,600, which is a 32 percent increase over the last census.) Fulfilling the standard newspaper hunt for an expert gloss, the Times lead comes up with this doozy from a Harvard prof: “City officials need to worry about what makes their city an attractive place to live in. They need to make streets safe and schools solid.”

The LAT lead reports that the pope was well-received at the mosque by Syria’s grand mufti–also an octogenarian–and Muslims at prayer. The story also reports that later the grand mufti echoed Saturday’s statements by Syria’s president telling the pope to side with Arabs in their conflict against Israel. The paper calls both comments “posturing in the papal limelight” but keeps them out of the story’s headline. The NYT fronter on the pope does refer to this aspect of his visit as does the smaller print in the headline over it. The USAT’s pope fronter stays mum about it in both head and body.

The WP fronts its newest reporting on the Bob Kerrey controversy: A man still living in Thanh Phong, who says he was at the time of the incident a Viet Cong fighter operating in the area, tells the paper that there were communist officials in a bunker in the village that night, including the local leader Kerrey says was the target of his SEAL team’s mission. The man says none of the bunkered VC ever fired at the SEALs. The paper also reprises, as if it were new, the alleged eyewitness Kerrey-refuting account of a woman first given in the LAT last week.

The LAT front goes long (with links online to primary documents) on concerns about the performance of John Negroponte, the Bush administration’s nominee for U.N. ambassador, while he was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. The story says that recent interviews, declassified documents, and newly discovered Honduran military correspondence indicate that Negroponte failed to report one U.S.-backed counterinsurgency operation that resulted in the execution of nine prisoners and the disappearance of an American priest. Also, the story says U.S. embassy staffers in Honduras at the time say they were told to downplay (apparently true) reports that a CIA-backed death squad was involved in the torture and disappearance of nearly 200 opponents of the Honduran military.

As the White House plans to make a case once again that the top income tax rate should be cut from 39 percent to 33 percent, the Wall Street Journal “Politics and Policy” page reports that although President Bush once claimed that more than 17 million small-business owners would benefit from this cut, the total number who pay the 39 percent rate is less than 800,000, all of them earning more than $288,000, and the number of active business owners who would benefit from the cut is “relatively small.”

The NYT reports the passing of Clifton Keith Hillegass, creator of CliffsNotes. The obit says that after he sold his company in 1998, the books dropped Hillegass’ note to readers advising, “A thorough appreciation of literature allows no shortcuts.”