Today's Papers

Not Passing Gas

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both lead with word that a federal judge ruled yesterday that the nation’s largest national gas pipeline company, El Paso, illegally withheld gas from the market during California’s energy squeeze in 2000-2001. The judge concluded that El Paso left 21 percent of its capacity in the state off-line, thus driving up the price of gas and helping to induce rolling blackouts. The company said it’s going to appeal the verdict. The Washington Post leads with, and the LAT fronts, former Vice President Al Gore’s  speech  yesterday in which he said that a move against Iraq could “seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism.” Gore added, “Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another.” As the Post notes, that kind of tough anti-invasion talk is much farther than most other Democratic politicians have gone. USA Today leads with—and the NYT fronts—the administration’s newly unveiled plan to respond to possible smallpox outbreaks. As the WP said yesterday, the administration would move to vaccinate everybody in the U.S. in the event of even a small outbreak. Some critics quoted in the papers worried that the plan lacks detail and relies too heavily on local health departments.

Everybody notes that newly re-elected German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took a few steps to try to patch up relations with the White House, though he also reiterated his opposition to a possible invasion of Iraq. Schröder didn’t reappoint the country’s justice minister, who had compared President’s Bush’s tactics to those of Hitler. The WP adds up high that Schröder also gave the boot to his party’s parliamentary leader, who in a less-noticed gaffe had compared Bush to Augustus, the Roman emperor who quashed the Germanic tribes. The make-nice moves didn’t seem to have an immediate effect. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld refused to meet with his German counterpart yesterday.

A front page piece in the NYT notes that the U.S. proposed a relatively strongly worded U.N. resolution condemning Israel’s recent demolition of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters. The proposed resolution stated that the operation “aggravates the situation.” An article inside yesterday’s WP, meanwhile, seems to have underplayed the administration’s position: “U.S. RESPONSE TO ISRAELI SIEGE IS MUTED.” (According to late-night wire reports, the U.N. passed a European-sponsored resolution that represented a middle-ground between the U.S.’s proposal and one from Syria. The U.S. abstained.)

In what may have been a move against Hamas or Islamic Jihad—both of which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing last week—Israeli tanks made an incursion into Gaza. Nine Palestinians were killed during the operation. The NYT notices that some Palestinian officials “have expressed hope” that Israel will crack down on the two groups since that would take pressure off of Arafat to try to do it. Meanwhile, a Palestinian gunman in Hebron killed an Israeli man and wounded three of his children.

A piece reefered in the NYT says  that the U.S. has evidence that Ukraine has been secretly selling super high-tech radar to Iraq. The U.S. even has audio recordings of Ukraine’s president OK’ing the deal. As a result, the administration has suspended some aid to the country. The Times emphasizes that the radar can track U.S. planes without American pilots being aware of it. But the paper doesn’t explain the implications of that and thus leaves readers guessing about how big of a deal it is. The answer: It could be a really big deal. Here’s why: Currently, U.S. planes scare Iraqis into keeping their radar turned off—and thus their air defenses effectively blind—because anytime the radar is turned on, Americans will target it and send a missile down its throat. With these new radars, that whole dynamic is kaput.

The Wall Street Journal  has a great piece pointing out that while the U.S. relies heavily on GPS systems to guide its smart bombs, the devices can be fouled-up with easy-to-buy jamming devices. The Journal says you can get them on the Web, and points out that Iraq probably already has them. According to the paper, there’s no easy fix.

Early this morning—too late for the papers—the British government released its long-awaited—though apparently bombshell-less—dossier detailing the threat posed by Saddam. (You can read the dossier.)

Everybody notes that the Nasdaq fell to 1,184, its lowest level in six friggin’ years.

USAT’s “Lifestyle” section (that’s the purple one) points out that a coalition of “pro-family” groups has launched a campaign to rid hotels of pay-per-view porn. A Justice Dept. spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the effort but said that Attorney General Ashcroft is supportive of what the paper terms “assertive enforcement” of obscenity laws.

The WP’s White House Notebook mentions one of the more difficult parts of the president’s job: W.’s buddies are afraid to phone him. “There’s a little bit of, ‘He’s probably talking to Putin now. I shouldn’t call,’ ” explained one friend. That’s a bad thing, because as it turns out, even presidents get lonely. One friend says that when he calls, even if the president is chatting with, say, the vice president, Bush will still do a call waiting thing, pick up the other line, and explain, ‘I’ll call you right back.’ “