USA Today leads with a poll that found that President Bush’s approval rating remains high, at 86 percent. The poll also found that most Americans don’t blame Bush for the country’s current economic problems. The Democrats said a bit of reeducation is in order. “We intend to spend part of January explaining to the American people how the economy got to where it is,” explained a Democratic Party spokeswoman. The Los Angeles Times leads with the breakdown of negotiations in Congress for an economic stimulus bill. The House is expected to pass a Republican version of the bill that Democrats argue contains too many corporate tax breaks and not enough relief for the unemployed. Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle promised the bill would die in the Senate, explaining, “A bad deal is worse than no deal at all.” The net result is that Congress will likely adjourn for the year without having passed a bill to shore up the economy. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide newsbox and the Washington Post lead with yesterday’s revolt by al-Qaida prisoners in Pakistan. The prisoners killed six guards, while seven of the al-Qaida troops were themselves killed and 20 or so escaped. The New York Times puts the story in the 26th graph of its lead, which instead focuses on the fact that the Pentagon is pondering a plan to send troops into Tora Bora on a mission to search caves and clear out any pockets of resistance.
The WSJ says such a mission is already underway: “U.S. forces have begun a long, methodical search of the Tora Bora caves.” The discrepancy seems to be that the NYT, although it waits until the 21st graph to put it all together, is referring to a more ambitious plan involving hundreds of regular U.S. Army troops.
The Bin Laden mystery continued. “We have nothing new on him,” a senior military official said. “There are two main theories now. Some think he was blown to kingdom come. Others say it is more likely that he escaped. We are trying to gain clarity in a situation that has no clarity.”
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld insisted that the United States would “find him some day.” Asked what would happen if Bin Laden somehow ended up thumbing his nose at America, Rummy responded, “We will go see about that thumb.”
The papers all mention that Pakistani forces have captured hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the past few days. Meanwhile, the Marines are expanding their detention facility in Kandahar in order to handle up to 500 prisoners.
The NYT goes above the fold with word that “virtually the entire top leadership of the Taliban has survived and eluded capture.” The WP fronted a story on Monday that reported, “The Taliban has been driven from power, but almost all its top leaders remain at large.”
Meanwhile USAT reports, “The Taliban’s army chief of staff and its intelligence chief are believed to be in U.S. custody.” The Times’ article doesn’t mention that. But the NYT does add what seems to be new info that most Taliban officials have abandoned Mullah Omar.
The WP reports on a crew of injured al-Qaida fighters who are convalescing at a hospital in Kandahar and happen to insist on keeping grenades and other weapons strapped to their bodies. The NYT ran a story about these folks last week.
The papers note that Yemen is still battling with tribal militia who refuse to turn over suspected members of al-Qaida.
The WP unveils the 2nd half of its Clinton vs. Bin Laden package, which reports—breaking news alert— “neither Clinton nor his administration treated terrorism as their top concern, because it was not.”
In fairness, the report does have some interesting bits about the administration’s lack of enthusiasm to wage war against al-Qaida on the financial front.
And in fairness to Bubba, the paper also says, “Clinton left office having given greater priority to terrorism than any president before him.”
The papers say that the British-led peacekeeping force on its way to Afghanistan will be under the authority of the United States. Germany isn’t happy about that and has threatened withhold its troops. By the way, you have a new acronym to remember: ISAFK. It stands for International Security Assistance Force for Kabul. Twenty-one nations have offered troops for the force.
The LAT notes that Israel has, quietly, resumed contact with some officials in the Palestinian Authority. The NYT, in a prescient new analysis last week, predicted that would probably happen.
The NYT fronts an interview with an Iraq defector who claimed that he worked at “secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons” (NYT’s words) as recently as a year ago. The Times emphasized that the defector seemed legit but that his assertions couldn’t be verified. The paper says the allegations could provide ammo for White House officials who’d like to take down Saddam.
The WP and LAT front news that riots and political protests broke out across Argentina yesterday after the government introduced a financial austerity program aimed at helping it avoid economic collapse. Among the steps in the program, says the Post, “the government partially froze bank accounts and seized retirement funds to raise money to pay foreign creditors.” Five people died in the unrest, the worst in over a decade. In response, Argentina’s President announced a “state of siege.”
“We are on the verge of a total social eruption,” said one Argentinean analyst.
Today’s Papers, who admits to being a life-long Lakers fan, would like to send his best wishes to Chick Hearn, the basketball team’s broadcaster who, until tonight, has not missed a game in 35 years. That’s 3,338 consecutive broadcasts. Hearn, 85 years old, went in for heart surgery on Wednesday, and his doctor, using a Chickism, said everything went well. “The surgery,” he explained, “is in the refrigerator.”