Today's Papers

Recovering All Bases

USA Today, the New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with President Bush’s call yesterday for $60 billion-$75 billion in new anti-recession relief in the form of tax cuts and emergency spending, which apparently has the support of the congressional leadership and Alan Greenspan. The Washington Post fronts this but leads instead with Vladimir Putin’s latest indication that Russia aims to transform its security relationship with the West–his declaration that Russia is prepared to reconsider its long-standing opposition to NATO expansion into countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

The recovery spending coverage says that the size of the Bush proposal exceeded Congress’ expectations, and the LAT says flatly that enacting it will mean an imminent return to deficit spending, but the papers also strongly suggest that the terror attacks have supplied a sense of inevitability about the package. This even though, as the coverage makes clear, there are hardly any details on what form the relief will take, although, as the LAT neatly summarizes, the main contenders seem to be speeding up the personal income tax cuts already passed, sending rebates to those lower-income workers who didn’t qualify for the ones just sent out, letting companies write off new plants and equipment faster, providing extensions on unemployment benefits, and grants for workers who lose their jobs because of natural disasters or emergencies. The loudest dissents seem to come from Republicans. “I have a hard time seeing where the administration’s coming from on this,” Sen. Fred Thompson tells the NYT. Sen. Phil Gramm is quoted in the LAT and WP saying, “These are all the same old ideas that were rejected in the last tax package, primarily giving tax cuts to people who do not pay taxes.”

Much of the economic stimulus coverage says that some ideas often bandied about before Sept. 11 are no longer on the table, such as a corporate income tax cut and a capital gains tax reduction, but even here murk lurks–the LAT says there seems to be little support for raising the minimum wage, but USAT says Democrats advocate including this, and the WP says that discount broker magnate Charles Schwab met Tuesday with Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and various congressional heavies on behalf of a capital gains cut.

The WP lead sees Putin’s new stance regarding NATO as part of a positive trend in which he’s “won praise in Western capitals for his strong endorsement of an international campaign against terrorism and gained greater sympathy for Russia’s brutal conflict with Muslim separatists in the southern region of Chechnya.” But the paper’s lead editorial is underwhelmed, arguing that Putin’s attempt to equate his war in Chechnya with the incipient U.S. anti-terror campaign is fundamentally flawed because “Chechnya is not a terrorist syndicate or an Islamic movement but a nation that was conquered by Russia in the 19th century and that for more than a decade has been seeking to regain self-rule. Its leader, Aslan Maskhadov, is not an Islamic extremist or even a man of arms but a pro-Western politician who was democratically elected in 1997.”

A NYT fronter, although admitting that the on-the-ground situation in Afghanistan is confusing, says that the Taliban’s top clerics have left their headquarters in Kandahar, while others have even fled to Pakistan or at least have sent their families there. The story cites reports that the once omnipresent Taliban religious police and soldiers have disappeared from many cities, that looting of shops and homes has begun, and that ordinary Afghans are becoming increasingly panicked about an imminent U.S. attack. The paper adds that the latest from the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan sounded “like a last, desperate plea for America not to attack” and quotes him saying about the 9/11 attacks, “We know this was un-Islamic and this was a very, very dangerous action and we condemn that. If Osama bin Laden is involved in this action we need to do something.” A WP fronter mostly goes the other way, reporting that despite some defections, the Taliban seems to have retained considerable force, and that after an early period of disarray, it has begun fortifying Kabul.

Everybody reefers yesterday’s incident in Tennessee in which a Croatian illegal immigrant nonfatally slashed the throat of a Greyhound bus driver with a razor or box cutter, which led to the bus rolling over, killing the assailant and five other passengers. The Justice Department says the episode does not appear to have been linked in any way to the Sept. 11 attacks and wasn’t a terrorist plot but rather the action of a lone deranged person.

The NYT goes inside with a classified report from last July in which the General Accounting Office concluded that the security for shipping U.S. military explosives–including ready-to-fire, hand-held Stinger missiles–around the U.S. by truck is so weak that it poses a “substantial” national security and public safety risk.

Positively buried in a WP story–itself buried on Page 24–about the ongoing investigation into the hijackers’ computer usage is the revelation that two hours before planes hit the World Trade Center, two employees of a high-tech company in Israel received anti-Semitic e-mail instant messages declaring–“almost to the minute”–that some sort of attack was about to take place.

The NYT and Wall Street Journal report an incident in India that may point to a problem with an anti-hijack policy that tells pilots to stay locked in the cockpit. Air traffic controllers received an anonymous phone call about a hijacking aboard a plane going from Bombay to New Delhi, and they alerted the pilots, who immediately locked the cockpit, thinking the hijackers were in the cabin. Meanwhile, the passengers thought the hijackers were in the cockpit. And the plane landed in New Delhi, where it was taken to an isolated area and then boarded by commandos. There were no injuries–and no hijackers.

On the LAT op-ed page, William F. Buckley Jr. writes, “It is thought to be a sign of toleration to defer to Islam as simply another religion. It isn’t that. It is a form of condescension. Carefully selected, there are Koranic preachments that are consistent with civilized life. But on Sept. 11 we were looked in the face by a deed done by Muslims who understood themselves to be acting out Muslim ideals. It is all very well for individual Muslim spokesmen to assert the misjudgment of the terrorists, but the Islamic world is substantially made up of countries that ignore or countenance or support terrorist activity.” Buckley reminds that only one of the 18 Muslim governments in the world–Turkey–is a democracy.

The WSJ front identifies a place that’s a stark exception to the current wave of patriotism–Harvard, which persists in its Vietnam-era banishment of ROTC programs. And actually, the piece reminds, it’s not just Harvard–Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and Brown also don’t allow military officer training on campus.