Today's Papers

Well Hidden Treasures

The New York Times leads with an update on the Big Questions: Where is Osama Bin Laden, and is he still alive? New reports coming out of Afghanistan suggest he’s still in the area—breathing. The Washington Post leads with new polling data that suggests that the American public is still maintaining an arm’s distance from many political issues. The Los Angeles Times’ top story (at least online) is the inside tale of Afghan spies on the side of the U.S., and how this loose network has been able to pass along information to the Pentagon. 

Senior administration officials believe the elusive Mr. Bin Laden is in a remote terrain along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, or as one official identifies the hideout, “somewhere between” the two countries. The renewed conviction he’s still alive arises from “very fragile” intelligence evidence that the NYT fails to get and include, citing administration disclosure concerns.  Officials also decline to classify their new Bin Laden clues as having cornered the man and stress the mission to do so will be a “long term proposition.” 

With nowhere really to go with their leaky sources, the NYT spends some time analyzing the impetus behind flawed intelligence in the region, including the $25 million bounty offered as reward for Osama’s capture and an overreliance on Pakistanis to monitor the border. The “Bin Laden Is Alive” assessment in Washington is noteworthy, the NYT notes, because it contradicts Pakistani Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s statement that he’s “probably dead.” Musharraf, who recently said he believed Daniel Pearl was alive, would then be 0-for-2 on the alive-or-dead scorecard, something an unnamed U.S. diplomat says would “make one question the quality of the intelligence he’s acting on.”

“Still Disengaged,” is how the WP reads public attitudes toward non-war political issues, drawn from the results of a 19-question survey across the nation and a 10-citizen interview session in California. The top statistic from the poll is that 56 percent say that partisan politics is less important to them since the terrorist attacks last September. The poll results also suggest that neither Republicans nor Democrats are getting blamed for the Enron affair or the state of the economy. This bodes well for the incumbents in the upcoming midterm election, the paper says.  On the war front, people (eight out of 10) are following war and terrorist news “closely,” and while attitudes to expanding the scope of the war to other countries are mixed, approval is given for taking it to Iraq. What the paper doesn’t note from its own poll is that Iraqi campaign support is starting to wane (down 11 points in the last three months) and that, despite claims of the war being “closely watched,” only a third of the nation can identify who the secretary of defense is  (Question 12).

Whatever the public might think about Iraq, the WP also fronts a story reporting that the military might not have the necessary resources—equipment and human power—to launch a strike against the Middle East nation. And the “military reality” is that it might be up to a year until the U.S. is ready to do so.

The NYT reports that the Superfund waste cleanup program, the program set up in 1980 to clean up toxic waste sites under the motto, “the polluter pays,” will no longer be drawing the bulk of its funds from specialized taxes heaped on offending corporations. Instead, the Bush administration intends to designate fewer sites for restoration and shift the source of the Superfund to (general) taxpayers. Since 1995, when the Superfund tax expired and Congress failed to renew it, the program has been steadily running out of money.

Following the NYT lead last Sunday that the Bush administration is tightening the nation’s scientific secrets, the WP reports on some of the myriad ways various departments are tightening public disclosures. The IRS is shadowing visitors to its reading room, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency is no longer selling detailed maps over the Internet, and the documents librarian at George Mason University, “eager to do her part to help protect the country,” is ordering her assistants around, telling them to get scissors out and start cutting up CD-ROMs filled with info about the nation’s water supply data.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address, renewed his call for a new energy policy that will “increase our energy independence.” The Senate is expected to open debate on the issue this week. Both the WP and NYT stuff the story, but the LAT fronts it, pitting the issue of production versus that of conservation.  The paper also invokes the name “Enron” 11 times in the article, arguing that along with an expected Democratic filibuster, the Enron mess might make passage difficult. The WP, on the other hand, barely touches the Enron issue and cites belief on the Hill that a filibuster can be overcome.

The papers reefer the passing of Chuck Jones, who as an animator for Warner Bros. between 1933 to 1963, helped create the characters of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner, and countless other characters. Jones died of congestive heart failure at the age of 89.

The NYT fronts the story of a 1694 English battleship called the H.M.S. Sussex that was hit by a violent storm near the Strait of Gibraltar three centuries ago. All but two of the 500 crew died. A team of entrepreneurs and archeologists now believe they have located the wrecked ship in the depths of the Mediterranean. Even more intriguing, researchers believe the ship carried a treasure of gold and silver coins worth up to $4 billion today. What was the ship doing with that much money? Circumstantial evidence suggests the money was meant as a payment to the Duke of Savoy, who, in failing to get the money, decided to side with the French in the English-French war going on then, “altering the war’s outcome as well as a swath of European and American history.”