Everybody leads with the Senate’s 90-to-9 passage of the homeland security bill, which will fold 22 agencies and nearly 170,000 workers into one new Cabinet-level department.
Despite the lopsided vote, many Democrats tried to amend the bill, arguing that it was stuffed with pork. In fact, as the Washington Post says up high, many Republicans had also opposed the porky provisions, one of which would have essentially guaranteed that Texas A&M would be chosen as the locale for a new research center. In order to get the renegade Republicans’ support, party leaders and the administration promised to remove a few of the provisions next year. “We’ve heard promises like that before,” said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., grumpily.
The Los Angeles Times and USA Today front, and others reefer, news that a tanker loaded with 77,000 tons of oil split it two yesterday and sank 140 miles off the coast of Spain. About 8,000 tons has spilled so far, but authorities are hoping that the rest of the oil will stay in the ship’s hold and solidify in the cold, deep waters. Let’s all hope so: The ship has twice as much oil as the ExxonValdez did. The tanker was damaged by a storm last week, and Portugal and Spain had been arguing about who should take responsibility. Finally, Spanish authorities decided to tow it farther out to sea rather than bring it to a port and try to unload the oil.
A New York Times editorial says the old, single-hulled tanker was an “accident just waiting to happen.” The Times says the sinking should serve as a lesson and should at least accelerate the schedule for banning single-hulled ships.
The WP’s off-lead says that Ramzi Binalshibh, the captured al-Qaida operative who allegedly was an organizer of the 9/11 attacks, has now told American interrogators that Zacarias Moussaoui met with the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. There have long been doubts about whether Moussaoui was intended to be the 20th hijacker, as administration officials have sometimes contended. The Post’s piece—headlined, “MOUSSAOUI TIED TO PLOT”— begins to clear that up, though it doesn’t mention the actual details until nearly the end of the article and even then doesn’t pick up on the implications: According to Binalshibh, Moussaoui was given money and told to take flight courses, but he wasn’t told about the specific mission. Binalshibh explained that he and Mohammed had concluded that Moussaoui was a big-mouth and thus would only be included as a last resort. In other words, Moussaoui may well have not known about the 9/11 plot, just as he has contended.
In a front-page piece, the Post, citing unnamed defense officials, says the Pentagon is planning a “major restructuring” of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The idea is to put small teams of GIs in regional centers in order to improve security and help with rebuilding. Despite the Post’s big news headline—”PENTAGON PLANS A REDIRECTION IN AFGHANISTAN”—it doesn’t seem completely clear yet whether this is a significant shift or just a small one with a big PR component. When asked by the WP for the number of groups that will be deployed, an unnamed Pentagon official said, “Frankly, I don’t think the number is the relevant thing. It’s making sure the concept is well-thought through and works.”
The Post fronts word that two companies with administration connections are working to get up to $900 million in government loans to help build a natural gas pipeline in Peru that has been beset by environmental problems. In order for the loans to be made, the government needs to find that the project is abiding by certain environmental guidelines. The agencies haven’t approved the loans yet, so there’s no scandal here so far. Instead, the article seems to be a pre-emptive strike by anonymous government leakers aimed at scuttling the loans before they happen. One of the companies looking for the loans: Halliburton.
The WP fronts word that Israel’s opposition Labor Party elected a dove as its new head: Amram Mitzna, the mayor of the coastal city of Haifa (basically Israel’s San Francisco). National elections are in two months, and Mitzna, who beat out former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said if elected he’ll move quickly to cool tensions. And he actually mentioned specifics: He said he’ll shut down settlements in Gaza and pull most troops out of there. By the way: Don’t think Mitzna is a complete peacenik. The NYT reminds, as a commander during the first intifada he apparently ordered his troops to break the arms of stone throwers.
The NYT’s military affairs correspondent Michael Gordon continues to travel around the Gulf, and today has a front-page dispatch from Kuwait headlined (in early editions), “G.I.’S TRAIN ON IRAQ’S BORDER.” That’s easily misread: The article, which is mostly a ho-hum, hanging-with-troops piece, only mentions the border once and says merely that soldiers are training “close” to it. (The final edition reads: “G.I.’S HONE SKILLS ON IRAQ’S BORDER.”)
The Wall Street Journal says that the Bush administration has included some Democrats in its list of possible candidates to head the SEC, including former President Clinton’s Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
In a fabulous front-page story, the LAT points to one of the Japanese government’s unique revenue streams: It has a majority stake in the country’s largest tobacco company. So, big surprise, Japan’s crusade against smokes isn’t cruising: The warning label on cigarette packs reads, “Please remember to follow good smoking manners. As smoking might injure your health, please be careful not to overdo it.” Not that Japan doesn’t do good deeds for its citizens: During “Respect for the Aged” day, the government-controlled tobacco company handed out 1.2 million cigarettes to 5,000 nursing homes.