Today's Papers

Stee-rike 6?

The Washington Postleads with word that Russia and Iraq have agreed to terms on a new five-year trade deal worth $40 billion. The New York Timeslead says President Bush is “listening carefully” to senior Republican critics of his Iraqi war plans. The Los Angeles Timeslead says that public school choice, which will be implemented for the first time this year, thanks to January’s sweeping education reform bill, has fallen victim to a “severe shortage of classroom space” before the new program can even begin in many school districts.

According to the WP, theMoscow-Baghdad trade deal came as both a surprise and a setback to Washington. While Bush has sought to isolate the three countries he labeled the “axis of evil”—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—Russia has continued to strengthen ties with all of them. Coming at a time when Bush is preparing plans for war with Iraq, Russia’s decision to stand by its old ally could, says the WP, make it more difficult for the U.S. to build international support for an invasion. The Russians have stressed that the trade deal will not violate any U.N. sanctions against Iraq. After mentioning that the deal has only been agreed to, but not signed, the WP waits until the 17th paragraph to remind readers that “Russia and Iraq have concluded a number of economic deals that have only sometimes come to fruition.” The deal was apparently revealed to the WP by an Iraqi official and confirmed by senior Russian officials, though only one Russian official is quoted in the article. None of the other major papers cover the trade deal and it receives no mention this morning from either Pravdaor Saddam’s organs, Iraq Daily and the Iraqi News Agency. Which raises the question, why did the Iraqis leak the story exclusively to the WP of all places?

The NYT lead is a follow up to the paper’s lead article yesterday that noted the growing chorus of Republican dissenters to Bush’s war plans, including heavyweights Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. Yesterday, Bush said, “I am aware that some very intelligent people are expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. I listen very carefully to what they have to say.” The paper believes that “The swiftness with which Mr. Bush responded to Mr. Scowcroft’s warnings, which were published Thursday in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal, reflected how seriously he was taking the concerns of foreign policy experts.” But according to a senior administration official quoted in the article, no one is “pulling their hair out. … Scowcroft didn’t want to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first Persian Gulf War. … His position just reflects the same view he had back then.” However, this same official did suggest that the preisdent’s father also holds to the same view as Scowcroft that war with Iraq would be imprudent at this juncture.

The LAT lead reports that while nearly 230,000 Los Angeles-area students qualify for transfers to better schools under the new education law, as few as 100 seats are available in the better classrooms. In Chicago, there are only 2,800 open seats for 125,000 eligible students. According to the LAT, some educators believe the failure to deliver public school choice may benefit the private school voucher movement. In the last few paragraphs of the article, the LAT mentions that most school districts, including Chicago and Los Angeles, haven’t yet heard back from parents on their decisions to transfer their children, and thus are unsure just how big their roster of transferring students will be. One school district, Baltimore County, has heard back and found that of 30,000 students who qualified to transfer, only 347 families asked for new schools. Baltimore has just 194 open seats, meaning more than 100 students will be left in the lurch. This a problem, but hardly the “severe shortage” described in the article’s lead sentence. Indeed, if Chicago’s transfer rates are similar to Baltimore’s, the city will be able to fill all its transfer requests and still have quite a few seats left over.

The WP off-leads a story of much local import in the Washington area. The Bush administration has approved a plan designed to set in motion the evacuation of 1.8 million federal workers nationwide in the event of a terrorist attack or imminent threat. The new system will link key administration officials, local officials, and the news media in an orderly network that will hopefully avoid the massive communications debacle that occurred on Sept. 11. It should be noted that this plan is designed only to let federal employees know whether they’re being evacuated. Another plan is being developed independently to facilitate the actual evacuation. Today’s Papers looks forward to hearing how the government plans to move 350,000 D.C.-area federal workers out of the city in an emergency. Once they’ve got that figured out, maybe they can apply the same strategy to rush hour traffic.

The NYT is the only paper to front yesterday’s cancellation of more than a fifth of Amtrak’s trains running in the Northeast. In total, 10,000 passengers were affected due to the sidelining of all Acela trains and 15 additional locomotives found to have critical cracks.

Both the NYT and WP front Bush’s comments yesterday that he is considering several new initiatives to jump-start the economy and aid investors. Bush says he is thinking about increasing the amount of investment losses that can be written off on tax returns, cutting capital gains taxes, cutting tax rates on dividends, and raising the limits on IRA and 401(k) contributions. The WP notes that the still-nebulous economic package, which may be presented around Labor Day, “marks a shift in the White House’s longtime position that Bush has proposed all the measures the economy needs … if only Congress would enact them.” The WP also notes that “All of the proposals were floated publicly by discount brokerage magnate Charles Schwab at the president’s economic forum” in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday. The WP’sarticle is much more critical of Bush’s proposals than the NYT’s. Indeed, the WP points out that a capital gains tax cut and increase in the deductibility limit could end up doing the economy more harm than good by encouraging more stock sell-offs.

A NYT front–pager sounds alarm bells over the current state of affairs in Venezuela. The article reports that a strong opposition is building to President Hugo Chávez, the populist who was briefly ousted in a violent uprising four months ago. Now some Venezuelans are bracing themselves for what they see as an imminent civil war that could pit the nation’s largely impoverished supporters of Chávez against his growing body of opponents, who are increasingly disappointed with his feeble reform measures. Unless the country changes course, “there is a very good chance Venezuela will blow again,” an administration official tells the NYT.

The Major League Baseball players union yesterday set a two-week deadline to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with owners. If no agreement is reached by Aug. 30, the players will strike. It would be the ninth work stoppage—and sixth strike—in three decades (the other three work stoppages were management lockouts). The news is fronted by all the papers but gets the most play from the LAT, which gives over five of six columns above the fold to a box titled “BASEBALL IN TURMOIL.” The WP reports that the players and owners are close to agreement on most issues, but that a luxury tax—or competitive balance tax, if you ask the owners—on team payrolls is proving to be the sticking point. According to the WP, the owners want the luxury tax to kick in when payrolls hit $102 million and the union wants to limit the tax to payrolls over $130 million. The NYT quotes the players union’s Executive Director Donald Fehr: “The purpose of a tax is to penalize someone, fine him, take his money away if he wants to hire somebody. That’s a pretty strange thing to do in 21st-century America.” A front-page LAT profile of Bud Selig says the commissioner is “in a terrible slump.” Contraction, calling the All-Star game, financial woes, congressional hearings: It’s been a bad year for Bud. A WP editorial offers some suggestions: Get rid of baseball’s antitrust monopoly and make hometown hero Cal Ripken Jr. commissioner.