Today's Papers

An Axis To Grind

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times lead with the Federal Reserve deciding to hold interest rates steady amidst some signs that the economy may be on the mend. The move came just hours after the Commerce Department announced that the economy grew in the fourth quarter—albeit by a teensy-weensy amount (0.2 percent). USA Today leads with an agreement between the EPA and the timber industry to phase out the treatment currently used to protect lumber for outdoor use, because the treatment contains arsenic, a carcinogen. The industry will have about three years to develop an alternative. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide newsbox leads with an article headlined, “BELLICOSE STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH RESHAPES U.S.’S DIPLOMATIC PLANS.” The paper explains, “The president’s strong rhetoric reflected his own impulses on those countries—but not, administration officials rushed to say, a comprehensive strategy for moving toward military action. Nevertheless, Mr. Bush seemed to move the U.S. closer to a possible confrontation with Iraq.” In fact, according to the Journal, “One White House official characterized the president’s words as laying the groundwork for future action, especially against Iraq.”

The administration doesn’t appear to have sent a crystal clear message. BUSH AIDES SAY TOUGH TONE PUT FOES ON NOTICE, headlines the NYT. While the West Coast Times headlines, WARNING TO 3 NATIONS DOWNPLAYED.

The Journal concludes that the speech left the administration’s doves, particularly the State Department, hanging. “The State Department appeared to have had little warning about the speech’s content,” says the paper. The result is that State appeared to be a bit out of sync yesterday, particularly when its spokesman insisted that the United States was prepared to sit down with North Korea “anytime, anywhere.”

Meanwhile, the WSJ picks up on the idea, mentioned in yesterday’s Today’s Papers, that Bush sent somewhat warm and fuzzies to Iran’s moderate reformers (led by the country’s elected president), by using the State of the Union to blame Iran’s “unelected” religious leaders for the country’s nasty habits. (The NYT spends a number of paragraphs pondering the president’s tough talk on Iran, but doesn’t mention this issue.)

The NYT notes that Bush’s speech could be a real bummer for the effort to improve relations along the 38th parallel. “South Korean officials fear that the State of the Union address set back the cause months or years,” says the paper. 

The NYT off-leads heavy fighting that’s broken out between two Afghan militias in the Paktia province, about 80 miles south of Kabul. “I’ll send in heavy armor,” one warlord told the paper. “I’ll send in multiple rocket launchers, I’ll fire, and fire, and fire, all night and all day, until I bring this to a finish.” Late reports say about 60 people have been killed.

The papers mention that the Pentagon says it’s investigating whether a U.S. military raid last week killed the wrong people. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld defended the attack, saying, “As the American and Afghan forces approached, they were shot at by the people in the compound, which is something.”

Everybody goes high with news that the men who’ve kidnapped WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl sent another e-mail out saying that Pearl will be killed within 24 hours if the U.S. government doesn’t meet their various demands. The kidnappers also said they no longer believe that Pearl is working for the CIA. They’ve now decided he’s a Mossad agent.

The NYT mentions that the White House said it will start giving money again to Iraq’s main opposition group. The United States had cut off funding a few years ago, citing mismanagement of money. 

The NYT reports that an al-Qaida operative suspected of helping to plan Sept. 11 has been arrested in Malaysia: “The operative, a former Malaysian Army captain, has acknowledged meeting in Malaysia with at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, as well as with Zacarias Moussaoui.” Yesterday’s USAT emphasized the Malaysian connection to Sept. 11.

Speaking of Moussaoui, a front-page piece in the WP reveals that prior to Sept. 11, the FBI was desperately trying to figure out what he was up to. And since it didn’t think it had enough evidence to get a search warrant to confiscate his hard-drive, the FBI considered deporting Moussaoui, and his hard drive, to France, which wanted to nab him for being an Islamic extremist. Then Sept. 11 happened, and the FBI got its search warrant.

The Post, in an honest admission, notes up high in the article that sources for the story were probably motivated by a desire to counter criticism that the FBI was sitting on its butt while Moussaoui was in detention prior to Sept. 11.

Everybody goes high with the General Accounting Office’s announcement that it will indeed sue the White House in an attempt to force it to release records detailing contacts between the administration and energy industry executives. Unlike earlier this week, the NYT no longer implies that the contacts were only with Enron.

The LAT fronts word that the nation’s immigration judges have asked to no longer be overseen by the Justice Department. Unlike other judges, immigration judges are really not part of the judicial branch—they work for Attorney General Ashcroft. Especially after Sept. 11, the judges don’t seem to like that arrangement. “The taint of inherent conflict of interests caused by housing the Immigration Court within the DOJ is insidious and pervasive,” the jurists explained in a report that the LAT snagged. 

The LAT and NYT both profile Wafa Idris, likely the Palestinian’s first female suicide bomber. Idris blew herself up, along with an elderly Israeli man, last week. “If I had known what she was going to do, I would have stopped her,” her mother told the LAT. “I am proud of her, of course. But I still feel sad.” 

The NYT fronts the administration’s plan to cut job-training funds for young people. The Times, which is obviously outraged by the proposed cut, offers Bush’s defense, then eviscerates it. According to a White House spokesperson, the cuts aren’t really cuts, “The president is seeking an increase in total resources available to support job training.” The NYT says that’s true, if you assume states won’t spend anymore of their job-training grants, which the paper says would be stupid since “states have made commitments to use much of the money.” The NYT also notices that Bush didn’t mention the proposal in his State of the Union

Finally, the article mentions the following statistic: “The number of unemployed people rose 40 percent last year, to 8.3 million in December from 5.9 million in January.”

Everybody notes that thousands were evacuated from San Francisco’s airport yesterday after guards detected explosives ingredients on the shoes of a man who then disappeared into a crowd. Authorities never found the guy—but they stressed that the material could be anything from fertilizer to residue from nitroglycerin tablets.

Let’s Get Ready to Ruummbbble!! Basking in the president’s tough talk, the NYT ‘s Bill Safire dreams of the possibilities. “B-52’s could take out Kim Jong Il’s key nuclear bomb-making sites,” he writes. And, “I’ll bet it was recently agreed in Washington that Turkish tank brigades and U.S. Special Ops troops will together thrust down to Baghdad.” Safire is confident, “It’s not a pipe dream. It’s the action implicit in the Bush doctrine enunciated this week.”