Today's Papers

There’s No Place Like Homeland

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with Congressional response to President Bush’s proposed Homeland Security agency. The big numbers—169,000 employees, $37 billion budget—and the anticipated turf battles could make for a long, hot, rancorous summer on Capitol Hill. The Washington Post fronts the impending ruckus, leading instead with a breakdown of the new agency’s responsibilities.

“Lawmakers: Bush’s Plan Will Pass, With Changes” is the optimistic view, found in a WP headline. “Shame on us if we don’t,” says Joe Lieberman in the Post. “This is one of the most important things we will ever do here, so we want it to come out right.” And they want it to come out fast—by year’s end at the latest. One problem, the LAT reports, is that the new agency will be cobbled together from pieces of existing bureaucracies, all overseen by congressional committees fearful of losing their authority. 

Not included in the stew are the intelligence agencies, the FBI and CIA, which would remain separate. “We need some intelligence scheme that can sort out the few relevant bits of information from the background noise, that can show deviations from what’s normal,” says a director at the General Accounting Office, in the NYT. “The proposed reorganization does not necessarily solve that problem, or our fundamental problems with information sharing and coordination among agencies.”

The Post’s lead reports, however, that the new agency would have more authority over intelligence matters than Bush indicated when he announced the plan on Thursday. The Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection department would be “responsible for analyzing nearly all the intelligence information on domestic threats compiled by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies, and would be charged with devising strategies to guard against specific threats as they develop,” it reports.

The agency would also take on responsibilities that don’t usually figure in the fight against terrorism. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which sets federal standards for the humane care and treatment of animals in circuses and zoos, would be folded in, for example, according to the NYT. Same with the INS. “When you put an immigration agency in an agency whose mission is to fight terror, you’re changing the whole focus of how we view immigration,” says an aide to Ted Kennedy in the WP.

Everybody fronts the killing of Martin Burnham, an American missionary held by Muslim guerrillas in the Philippines for over a year. Burnham and another hostage were killed in a gun battle between U.S.-trained Philippine troops and Abu Sayyaf rebels, according to the LAT. Burnham’s wife, also a hostage, was shot in the leg, but survived and was rescued. The Burnhams had been kidnapped from a seaside hotel while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary, the LAT reports.

Everybody fronts the conviction of Michael Skakel for the murder, 27 years ago, of pal Martha Moxley. Both were 15 at the time. With no direct evidence and no eyewitnesses, the prosecution’s case was “dependent on the testimony of the dead and the mentally unbalanced,” in the opinion of the Post. According to one of his former classmates (now deceased) at a drug treatment center, Skakel said he would “get away with murder because I’m a Kennedy,” the Post reports.

The papers all get in on the courtroom drama as the verdict is read. Skakel “peered at the jurors with a look of surprise” (WP). He “began to shake” (LAT), “his face flushed, his lips pursed” (NYT).

He faces 10 years to life.

The NYT fronts consumer confidence under the headline “Consumer Confidence Index Goes From an Aha to a Hmm,” which is to say this particular index ain’t what it used to be. “The fact is there is just sheer randomness in consumer spending,” says a NYU economist. “No index or statistic is the silver bullet that anticipates consumption.” The two main consumer confidence indexes have been rising of late, meaning, perhaps, nothing.

The papers stuff the latest unemployment figure—5.8 percent, down .2 from March’s 6.0. But only a disappointing 41,000 jobs were added last month, and that index is “often considered a more reliable measure of current conditions than the unemployment rate,” according to the NYT.

Finally, an odd bit of anti-Arab rhetoric (or what could be read that way) creeps into a NYT editorial on, of all things, the Belmont Stakes. “War Emblem is not a sentimental favorite,” the Times writes. “He is owned by a Saudi prince, who bought him three weeks before the Derby for $900,000. It is not the sort of story that’s likely to have people lining up to commission a movie about his life. But if he wins, we will get over it.” Aha. Hmm.