Today's Papers

Fatah Field Trip?

USA Today leads with an exclusive: According to internal Department of Transportation documents, in tests conducted after Sept. 11 airport security screeners failed to detect nearly half of the items investigators sent through, including simulated explosives, knives, and guns. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that efforts to nail down a Mideast cease-fire “suffered multiple blows as the latest round of negotiations failed to produce an agreement.” The paper notes that Vice President Dick Cheney said he has “no immediate plans” to visit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (Yesterday’s NYT had suggested that a meeting might be imminent: CHENEY IS POISED FOR ARAFAT TALKS AT SIGN FROM ZINNI.) The New York Times also leads with the Mideast, but it emphasizes that the U.S. is pushing Israel to allow Arafat to attend this week’s Arab Summit in Beirut. Israel said it’s not into the idea, especially since there have been three suicide bombings in just the past three days. The Washington Post  leads with word that Israel is planning a “major assault on Palestinian cities, towns and refugee camps” if and when the cease-fire talks fail. The Post puts the news in context, “The Israeli warnings seem designed both to prepare domestic and international public opinion for a new round of bloodshed, and to induce the Palestinians to crack down on militant groups and accede to Israel’s terms for a truce.”

The papers note that Israeli soldiers shot and killed at least nine Palestinians, some of whom were allegedly terrorists trying to infiltrate the country from Jordan. Palestinian gunmen also killed two Israelis, including a kindergarten teacher.

The Post’s lead waits until the 21st paragraph to say that the U.S. may have already green-lighted at least some of Israel’s impending moves. Citing a report from an Israeli newspaper, the Post says, “When Vice President Cheney visited Israel last week, Sharon ‘reached an agreement’ with him that if [peace envoy Gen. Anthony] Zinni’s mission fails, Washington would support Israeli strikes on the Palestinians. U.S. officials did not deny the report.”

USAT’s lead notes that the newly created Transportation Security Administration has taken over responsibility for airport security since the tests were finished earlier this year. The paper must have some good buddies at the Department of Transportation. Last month, an FAA security agent gave the paper details about how the agency wasn’t responding to evidence of lax security.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a wrap-up piece on President Bush’s trip to Central and South America. The paper emphasizes that the president called for a free-trade pact between the U.S. and Central America. Everyone notes that the president also lashed out at Democrats, accusing them of engaging in “petty politics,” after Democrats yesterday said Bush’s Latin America visit was merely a ploy to “curry favor” with Hispanic voters.

(Should any of the papers be inclined to delve into this spitball war, here’s a quick way to get a rough guesstimate of how much Bush was counting votes during his trip. The president visited only three countries: Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador. Presumably, the largest percentage of Latino immigrants to the U.S. comes from Mexico. Where do Peru and El Salvador rank?)

The NYT goes inside with Bush’s trip and plays up the president’s talking points (free trade, good; Democrats, brats). The paper waits until the 14th paragraph to give what looks to be its take on the real deal: “Many Latin American analysts said that Mr. Bush’s stopover here amounted to little more than a photo opportunity, and that his administration had not provided enough money or follow-through to make sure that democracy took root.” The LAT’s does a better job. It states right in its subhead: “President pushes free markets but doesn’t bring plans.”

The WSJ goes high with news that gunmen in the eastern Afghan town of Khost opened fire on the region’s security chief, killing one and injuring two others. The chief himself escaped unharmed. The story says that the culprits are “suspected to have been allies of U.S. Special Forces.”

The NYT stuffs a piece pointing out that leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which are a largely autonomous region near the border with Afghanistan, don’t want U.S. troops coming into their neck of the woods. Last week, a U.S. general had suggested that American troops might head into that area if they were in “hot pursuit” of al-Qaida forces.

“Listen to me,” said one tribal leader. “There was a time, when Russia was in power, we liked Americans. Now we hate Americans. Under our tribal rules, we designate an enemy. America is now the enemy.”

A LAT op-ed writer reminds readers that though the Taliban are gone, the world still has despicable-acting religious police, specifically Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The author recounts what happened during a fire earlier this month at a girls school in Mecca: “Witnesses said the ever-present religious police quickly reached the scene and wasted no time carrying out their duties. When the girls tried to flee the fire without first making sure they were fully covered with their scarves and abayas, religious police beat many of the girls back.” Fourteen girls died.

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