Today's Papers

Bush (Still) Wins!

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timesleadwith the Northern Alliance’s winning streak. Though the papers emphasize that the alliance’s claims are unsubstantiated, it does appear that they’re making major gains. “We have liberated almost the whole of northern Afghanistan,” one rebel commander said. USA Todayleads with a piece that explores why former President Clinton didn’t stop Bin Laden. The article doesn’t offer many original answers: “The bottom line: The Clinton administration took significant steps against Bin Laden but, reluctant to lose American lives and fearing a lack of public support, decided against the most aggressive responses.” The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide news box and the  Washington Postlead with a study of the Florida recount they jointly undertook (along with the NYT, LAT, and various other papers) that found that if the U.S. Supreme Court had not intervened and the vote count had continued under the rules devised by the Florida Supreme Court, President Bush would have likely still won the election. On the other hand, the study, which examined 175,010 disqualified Florida ballots, also concluded that more people probably meant to vote for former Vice President Al Gore than Bush.

The study concluded that Bush would have won any count that included undervotes (reminder: Undervotes are ballots that contain a single invalid or unclear mark). But Gore would have won a vote that included overvotes (ballots that included marks for more than one presidential candidate). The catch: Gore’s lawyers never pushed for overvotes to be counted. (For those who have—happily—tossed these terms from their minds, the LAT includes a glossary.) The report was originally going to be released Sept. 16, but was delayed after the World Trade Center attacks.

The LAT maps out eight different counting scenarios, from least- to most-restrictive. Bush and Gore each would have won under four of them. In a fun little twist, it turns out Gore would have won under Bush’s fallback position (that optical scanners read hand markings and some ballots with hanging chads), while Bush would have won under Gore’s proposed recounting method (a hand count of undervotes).

So, case closed? Well, no. The LAT reports in the 50th graph (aka the fourth to the last) that although the study “doesn’t have a margin of error,” it’s “not entirely precise” either. That’s because some counties in Florida didn’t keep good records and don’t know if some ballots were included in the original certified vote.

The WP tells readers who want to see the raw data to visit the Web site of the National Organization for Research, the group that actually crunched the numbers. As of Today’s Papers press time, the site didn’t contain any such data.

The WP notes that while in the past anti-Taliban troops have celebrated taking a town by engaging in a bit of raping and pillaging, this time officers told their troops to refrain. And, says the Post, the troops seem to be following orders. The paper also says that while alliance commanders have frequently bickered (and occasionally fought) among themselves, they’ve now reached an agreement to let civilians control Mazar-i-Sharif.

Residents of the city were ecstatic about the Taliban’s defeat. The LAT says there was a six-hour line at the barbershop. “We’ve all shaved our beards,” one resident said. “It will be nice to kiss each other on the cheek again.”

While the battles in the north may be going well, the south will be much harder. The NYT notes that near Kabul, Taliban troops outnumber their opponents 3-1. The Journal adds that Taliban troops who’ve been routed in the north may end up simply retrenched in the south, thereby “making U.S. battles there even more difficult.” All this would be surmountable if the U.S. government had a plan. But, according to one White House official,  “There is no southern strategy.”

The result, as many papers note, is that this round of fighting could end in stalemate, with the Taliban controlling the south, and the Northern Alliance controlling, well, the north.

The Post reports that the two sides also engaged in heavy trash-talking. “You only took Mazar-e Sharif because the Americans helped you,” one Taliban fighter radioed to a Northern Alliance commander. “How come you haven’t been able to take the Shomali Plain in five years?” the commander dissed back.

The WSJ reports that when the United States opens bases in Tajikistan, which should happen in about a month, at the least it will be able to triple the number of sorties U.S. planes make against the Taliban.

The NYT reports that the war is costing the Pentagon $1 billion a month. As the war progresses the cost will likely soar, particularly if a lot of ground troops are deployed. So far, Congress has allocated $20 billon for the campaign. “My worry is not that this money will stretch into spring,” said one administration official. “I’m worried it won’t last into late winter.”

USAT off-leads with Pakistan’s acknowledgment that al-Qaida and the Taliban approached 10 Pakistani nuclear scientists and requested their help to build a nuke. Some of the scientists were interested, but the paper, citing Pakistani intelligence sources, says only one actually traveled to Afghanistan. (The LAT contradicts that. It interviewed another one of the scientists who says he traveled to Afghanistan, though only to work on a relief program.) In any case, U.S. officials don’t believe that Bin Laden has the bomb.

New York’s furriest: As of yet, no has designed an alarm that would alert people to the presence of anthrax in the air. One letter-writer to the NYT offers some potential soldiers for the cause: “Is it conceivable that New York City’s rat population, estimated at 70 million, could serve as a type of low-tech anthrax spore monitor?”