Today's Papers

Kopping a Plea

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with news that a former finance exec for Enron, Michael Kopper, agreed yesterday to plead guilty to two felonies and to cooperate with the investigation against others in the company. The New York Times leads with word that the death toll from Monday’s crash of a Russian helicopter in Chechnya is now 114. The paper says it’s still not clear whether the copter was shot down. USA Today leads with Continental Airlines’ announcement that it’s going to cut capacity. The paper notes that Continental also announced it will begin charging for some services that are now free; the airline, ominously, didn’t provide details. Continental is the fourth airline in two weeks to announce cutbacks.

According to prosecutors in the Enron case, Kopper is going to admit to wire fraud as well as money laundering and will “surrender” $12 million he skimmed from the company. (Question: Where will, and should, that money go?) Kopper isn’t as well-known as some other Enronites, but as the NYT s notes, he was a “primary participant” in creating Enron’s sketchy off-the-books partnerships and thus might have the dirt to implicate tippy-top Enron execs, especially former CFO Andy Fastow.

The Wall Street Journal (at least online) tops its world-wide newsbox with news that a previously unheard-of Iraqi opposition group briefly seized control of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin yesterday and held the staff there hostage. Then German police stormed the compound and ended the siege. Two people were slightly hurt when the police moved in. The White House condemned the takeover, calling it “unacceptable.” Meanwhile, Iraq blamed the attacks on “mercenaries of the American and Zionist intelligence services.”

The WP’s off-lead, citing anonymous “U.S. intelligence officials,” says that “at least a handful of ranking al-Qaida members have taken refuge in Iraq.” The paper points out that the administration has previously charged that Iraq is housing al-Qaida members. What’s different about these allegations is the “number and senior rank of the al-Qaida members” supposedly hanging in Iraq. As one unnamed Defense official put it, “There are some names you’d recognize.” The article waits until the ninth paragraph—past the jump—to note that the al-Qaida guys seem to be in Iraq without Saddam’s permission. As one official explained it, they’re basically “on the run.”

The Post’s piece also mentions that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday echoed the belief that al-Qaida is in Iraq, though he declined to give details: “I suppose that at some moment, it may make sense to discuss that publicly. It doesn’t today. But what I have said is a fact—that there are al-Qaida in a number of locations in Iraq.”

The NYT’s lead editorial wags a finger at Rumsfeld for not sharing: “The country ought not to be led into war on the basis of information the American people are not allowed to share. That is not how our democracy works.”

The LAT off-leads what appears to be a scoop: According to anonymous officials cited by the paper, President Bush plans to announce Thursday new rules making it easier to log timber in fire-prone areas. The revised rules will loosen 30-year-old regulations that mandate environmental reviews before forests can be thinned out.

Everybody notes that one day after Israel and the Palestinian Authority implemented a new security agreement, a Hamas sniper killed an Israeli soldier in Gaza. Before that incident, Israeli soldiers in the same area exchanged fire with Palestinians and had shot and killed a 15-year-old boy. Also, Israeli soldiers killed a militant who reportedly shot at them while they were trying to arrest him.

The WP fronts word that the Bush administration is set to announce a series of modest programs focused on promoting democracy throughout the Mideast. The programs, which altogether will cost about $25 million, will include things like elections-monitoring training. The paper says the administration is looking to foster “incremental progress.” As the Post suggests, this could be a big change, because the U.S. has historically been unequivocal in its support of various authoritarian regimes in the region.

Continuing with the promoting democracy theme, a piece reefered in the NYT notices that the Bush administration yesterday said it’s going to promote democratic opposition to Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe, who won re-election in March through rigged elections, has launched a program to evict white farmers from their land and, supposedly, hand their property over to landless black farmers. Administration officials said that in reality Mugabe is simply giving the land to his supporters.

Meanwhile, NYT columnist Tom Friedman smacks the White House for “advocating democracy only in authoritarian regimes that oppose America, not in authoritarian regimes that are ostensibly pro-American.”

The NYT’s business page says that President Clinton’s people are talking to CBS about starting a talk show for Bill. The Times says it’s not clear how serious the talks are. Apparently, there’s a split between Clinton’s East Coast and West Coast crews. Bill’s Hollywood friends are pushing for a deal, while Clinton’s Power Corridor posse is against it. Nobody is talking about what the show would look like, but an exec at NBC, where negotiations with Clinton fell apart earlier this summer, said that the former prez and his entourage had been talking about doing a “weird talk show. They wanted a public affairs show, but there might be a band.” Clinton reportedly thinks that he deserves a $30 million annual paycheck.